Jennifer Galardi is kicking my butt!

Because I love nothing more than living a cliche, my goal for 2009 is to get in better shape. I'm thin but don't have the endurance/strength that I'd like (as I learned from spending a year with my superfit boyfriend). As much as I love yoga, I'm going to focus more on cardio and strength training. The problems with me and exercise are many: I get bored easily, I need variety, I need it to be fun so I'm distracted from the fact that it's exercise, I am averse to looking looking like a fool in public, I hate cold weather. In one swoop, that eliminates the gym, most aerobics classes, evil exercise machinery, and running/jogging.

My tentative solution is dance. I enjoyed it growing up, and through the wonderful world of dvds, I can make a fool of myself in my very own home. I ordered a boatload of cardio dance workouts since they're cheap and with enough variety I won't be able to cop out and say I'm not in the mood. With ballet, ballroom, latin, hip hop, and more to choose from, surely I'll be in the mood for something on a given day.

So far, my favorite instructor is Jennifer Galardi. She's perky without being annoying and cues well enough that I can catch onto the moves fairly quickly. The workouts aren't overly intense, but I'm out of shape enough that they get my heart rate up. The best part is that it's fun, and I actually look forward to my daily workout. I didn't see that coming!

Collage Video has a great selection of dvds with reviews and clips. The clips are incredibly helpful in sorting out the instructors you'll enjoy from those that will make you throw something through the tv. For those who find tracking their workouts (or weight loss or diet) helpful, checkout SparkPeople. They have articles, recipes, message boards, and an easy to use system for setting fitness goals and monitoring progress.


Homemade chai mix

I fell in love with chai in Tokyo and was happy to discover David Rio's Tiger chai mix earlier this month. My canister of Tiger chai ran out this week, so I decided to try a homemade version in hopes of saving both money and trips to Carmel to feed my addiction.

I modified a well-reviewed recipe I found online with decent success. The result is less sweet than the Tiger mix and has a more pronounced tea flavor. The spices differ but are each good in their own way. The homemade mix is more spicy while the Tiger chai has a sweet flavor akin to gingerbread. The Tiger chai also has a floral note that the homemade mix lacks. My hunch is that this comes from the honey granules listed in the ingredients. If I can track some down, they would add a nice layer of flavor to the homemade version.

My verdict? It's a matter of taste. I prefer the spicier homemade mix, but those looking for a "dessert-like" flavor should stick with the Tiger chai. The upfront cost of the homemade version is high due to the spices (especially the cardamom!), but in the long run it should be considerably cheaper.

Homemade instant chai mix

1.5 c vanilla sugar (see below for instructions)
1 c nonfat dry milk
1 c powdered non-dairy creamer
1.5 c unsweetened instant tea
2 t ginger
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t allspice
3/4 t clove
3/4 t cardamom
1/4 t white pepper

To make vanilla sugar: Add 2 t vanilla extract to sugar. Stir well to incorporate. Let dry and break up any clumps before continuing with the recipe.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer in batches to a food processor and grind to a fine powder.

For hot chai: Add 3 T mix to 8 oz hot milk.

For iced chai: Heat 2 oz milk. Add 3 T mix and stir to dissolve. Pour over ice and add 4 oz cold milk.

It's hard being a shih tzu today


Note to self: If ever flying from Mumbai to London, BRING SNACKS

We've all felt like this on a long flight, I'm sure. I've just never put it into words (or pictures) quite so well.

More free music!

Sign up for a 30 day trial at Emusic and receive 100 free mp3 downloads and 1 audiobook! Yes, I know it says 35 songs, but they gave me 100 for reasons unknown. Apologies if reality catches up to marketing and it's down to 35 by the time you get there.

My only complaint so far is that there is so much music available that it's hard to know where to start. The jazz and new age sections seem strong, and there are lots of good options for yoga and meditation music. Their downloader application works well and transfers the songs directly to iTunes. Easy easy!

They have a wide selection of audiobooks which tend to be more mainstream than their music offerings. I'm not much for audiobooks generally, but they have foreign language primers, so I thought this would be a good time to cross an item off my life list and learn some Italian. Rome is also on the life list, so I'll put it to good use some day.


Must see video: Tara and Bella

I should amend something I said earlier: dogs AND elephants are good people. Wonderful!

Thanks to Bev for sharing this link!


Another Etsy find: Cute monogrammed necklaces

I am becoming an Etsy-aholic. There are so many cute finds if you poke around. The creativity is amazing! It makes me wish I were crafty, but it's not to be. If I had a glue gun, I'd probably end up gluing my fingers together. Not pretty.

I remember my mom had a family birthstone necklace back in the '70s. La Bella Jewels are a cute, modern alternative. You can personalize necklaces and bracelets with names, initials, and birthstone charms. Non-moms can enjoy a cute monogrammed necklace. I've got my eye on the Flutterby and the Squarely Modern. You can even add a colored crystal or pearl at no charge. Adorable!

If amoebae were pretty ...

I'm loving Jessica Doyle's style. With muted colors, fluid lines, and a wonderful surreal quality, I'm reminded of a kaleidoscope or a beautiful microscopic world. Her heart series would be perfect for an unexpected (and not at all cheesy!) Valentine.


MakeMeBabies.com: Freaking out boyfriends since 2008

This is why George Clooney and I can never be:

But Brad Pitt and me? Not too shabby!

(In the interest of not freaking the boyfriend out, I'll keep our results to myself.)


In anticipation of tomorrow

Preparations for the presidential inauguration

I'll be at a writing workshop and miss tomorrow's ceremony. Maybe I can get a Barack watch (#22) to make up for it.

They're from France

Am I that easy? That predictable? Apparently so. This Christmas, I received two presents that were chosen for me simply because they were imported from France. Maybe my "everything is better in Paris" bias is showing?

Mama and Papa Kurt got me a jar of Bonne Maman blueberry preserves along with several other fab gifts. I'd had Bonne Maman cookies in France but never tried their jams. I was pleasantly surprised to find the preserves full of small, whole blueberries. The consistency is fairly thin with the blueberries adding a nice texture. Even though it's quite sweet, the strong blueberry flavor makes it addictive. I've been spreading it on toast for a mid-afternoon snack. I'm itching to see if their peach and cherry are as good as the blueberry. If so, Bonne Maman may become a staple in my fridge.

My dad came through with a box of French truffles from Trader Joe's. With their irregular shape and dusting of cocoa powder, they don't look terribly appetizing (I won't mention what they bring to mind), but their melt in your mouth consistency and deep chocolate flavor won me over. Their small size makes them the perfect answer to my daily chocolate craving. Hopefully they won't follow my other favorite Trader Joe's products and mysteriously disappear. I think I'll grab a couple boxes next time just in case.

No brainer dinner: Spaghetti with balsamic stewed tomatoes

This is my go-to dinner when I don't feel like cooking. It reheats well, so I always make a full batch and save the leftovers for lunch.

Spaghetti with balsamic stewed tomatoes

2 14.5 oz cans stewed tomatoes
1 box whole wheat spaghetti (I like Barilla Plus)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
black pepper

You have two options: smooth or chunky. For a smooth sauce, puree the stewed tomatoes before cooking. For a chunky sauce, leave the tomatoes whole, but be sure to break them up with a spoon as they cook.

While the pasta cooks, bring the tomatoes and olive oil to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low, and allow the tomatoes to thicken. If they start to become too thick, reduce heat and add a little water to thin them out.

When they're reached the desired consistency (it's best to leave them a little thin), stir in the balsamic vinegar, and season with black pepper. Assuming you've seasoned the cooking water for the pasta well, there should be no need to add salt.

Drain the pasta, return it to the pan, and stir in the sauce.

Serves 4.


Easy snack: Roast chickpeas with garlic and thyme

I made these today with thyme, but you could easily substitute other seasonings. I think a spicy version with crushed red pepper or cayenne would be especially nice. Be generous with the salt. My method is to taste and adjust once they're out of the oven.

Roast chickpeas with garlic and thyme

1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
1/2 t dried thyme
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients until chickpeas are coated and seasoning is well distributed. Bake in a glass casserole dish at 450 for 15 to 20 minutes or until chickpeas start to brown.

Mission: King cake

For Mardi Gras this year, Kurt's job is to score a paper crown while my task is to learn to make a New Orleans style king cake. I think he has the easier end of the deal (especially if Burger King is still giving out crowns).

For the unfamiliar, a king cake is a round cake with a brioche-like dough that is filled with cinnamon or cream cheese and topped with icing and colored sugar. A bean or small plastic baby is hidden inside, and whoever finds it becomes 'king (or queen) for the day'.

My history with yeast bread is spotty at best. I've turned out a couple loaves of edible wheat bread, but I've also had a four hour donut disaster that I'm still trying to forget. Hopefully, if I start now with basic bread recipes, I'll be in good shape by February 24th. If not, well, that's why God gave us bakeries.


Ahh memories, bitter (cold) memories ...

The Indianapolis Star is reporting that our low of -10 tonight will be the coldest since 1994. This brings back long repressed memories of The Day That Warmth Forgot.

I was a sophomore at IU, there was a boatload of snow on the ground, and everyone was grumbling that classes should be canceled due to terrible weather. I waited all morning, but class was still a go. I had a cognitive psychology exam that day, so blowing it off and staying in bed wasn't an option. The radio was reporting wind chills as low as -25, but nonetheless I wrapped up in every cold weather accessory I owned and headed out to catch the bus to campus. I've never been so cold in my life. My two pairs of socks, leggings under my jeans, and scarf wrapped double around my ears were no match for the bitterly cold wind. The walk from the bus stop to the psych building was pure, unadulterated misery.

The kicker? When I arrived, I learned that they finally had the sense to cancel classes for the first time in the school's history .... while I was in transit. Urgh.

The coolest thing you'll see all day



No brainer lunch: Tuna cakes with dill sauce

Add a salad, and you have an easy and surprisingly satisfying lunch.

Tuna cakes with dill sauce

1 can tuna packed in water, drained and flaked

2 slices bread, torn into small pieces (I've used both potato and white with success.)
1 egg
1 t Worcestershire

Hot sauce - to taste
1/4 t salt
1/4 t onion powder
1/2 t dry mustard

Mix all ingredients until thoroughly moistened. Form into 4 patties. Fry in olive oil over medium heat until golden brown, turning once. Serve with dill sauce.

Dill sauce:
2 T mayo
Splash milk
Fresh or dried dill to taste (approximately 1/2 t)

Add a splash of milk to 2 tablespoons of mayo and stir well. Continue adding milk until the desired consistency is reached. Add dill to taste.

Does this mean my girl card is revoked?

I'll come straight out and say it: I found Mamma Mia! unwatchable. Ok, let me amend that: I found the first 45 minutes of Mamma Mia! unwatchable. The rest could be fabulous, but my mind was wandering so much that I gave up halfway in. Yes, I am a girl. Yes, I love disco. Yes, I love silliness. What should have been a slam dunk went terribly wrong.

My only concern going in was that the actors couldn't sing. While Pierce Brosnan could be described as charmingly bad, the rest of the cast did well, with Amanda Seyfried having an especially nice voice. The problem was that the singing was incessant. One review estimated that there was only a half hour of dialogue in the entire movie. I expected a silly plot, but even silly plots need more than 30 minutes to hold them together. Added to that was a premise that stretched credulity well beyond the breaking point.

The song and dance numbers (especially Money) were often cringe inducing. I give the actors credit for diving into such nonsense wholeheartedly and seeming to have a great time doing it. Unfortunately, watching people have fun isn't quite the same as having fun yourself. In fact, it quickly becomes tedious. I've read that there are audience participation/sing-along showings in some theaters. Maybe that would make for a better experience. On a dvd in my living room, the film alternated between absurd, painful, and dull.

And why was Meryl Streep's hair glowing? Inexplicable!

Verdict: Two thumbs WAY down. 2.5/10

(If you're wondering how an unwatchable movie managed a 2.5, two of the songs 'Gimme Gimme Gimme' and 'Voulez-Vous' were wonderfully catchy, and the cast version topped the ABBA original. I bought them from Amazon and have been overplaying them all week, so at least some good came from the experience.)


The best quarter I ever spent

While visiting Kamakura just outside of Tokyo, I discovered what has to be the best value in travel. For only 25 cents, I was able to go inside the belly of the Great Buddha.

Cast in bronze in 1252, the Great Buddha (aka Daibutsu) stands 32 feet tall and weighs 121 tons. It was of the best sights I saw on the entire trip. The statue itself is impressive, but it's also perfectly situated in parklike grounds with hills in the background. I found myself staying longer than intended just to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

The interior is cramped and rather dark, but it is remarkable to see how the giant statue was assembled. Plus, you get a fabulous story to take home.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Me and the Buddha

Back of the Buddha

Inside the belly of the Buddha


On the radar

Several things have caught my eye lately - some practical, others not so much.

1) Homemade Girl Scout cookies - I am itching to try these recipes for homemade Girl Scout cookies. Tagalongs and thin mints have always been my favorites, but I'll likely make a batch of samoas as well for my dad. Updates forthcoming on how it goes!

2) The Ramen Girl - I know in my heart that this movie will disappoint me, and yet I am itching to see it anyway. I find Brittany Murphy quite likable, and the premise of an American girl in Japan is too good to resist (even if I did see it in Lost in Translation already). If nothing else, I can be on the lookout for familiar Tokyo sights and enjoy the memories.

3) Baby shih tzus! These two are sisters of my Ernie (but from another litter, obviously). I keep repeating my "I do not need another dog" mantra, but they have some powerful fluffball mojo at work on me. I do not need another dog. I do not need another dog ...

4) Around the world cruise - This would be the 'not so practical' that I mentioned above. Still, it's fun to daydream. This itinerary is amazingly perfect - South America, Antarctica, Africa, India, southeast Asia, Russia. Many trips include a leg in Europe or the Middle East, but that doesn't appeal to me nearly as much as crossing the Indian Ocean and docking in exotic tropical ports. There is the pirate concern, but since this is in the realm of daydreams, I'm not letting that get in my way.


Tiger Spice Chai

I tried chai for the first time in Tokyo of all places. Japanese food and I weren't getting along very well, so I decided that an Indian dinner at Maharaja would be a nice change of pace (actually that getting through a meal without feeling sick would be a nice change of pace, but that's another story). The meal was good, but the highlight was the cup of chai at the end. I was instantly in love with the steaming sweet and spicy drink and vowed to make some when I returned to the States.

There were so many recipes out there that I didn't know where to begin. It looked like the mixes were generally not well received, except for those by David Rio of San Francisco. I finally tracked some down at the Cost Plus World Market in Carmel. Four flavors were available - Elephant Vanilla, Tiger Spice, Orca Spice and Flamingo Vanilla. I ruled out the last two because they contain Splenda and settled on the Tiger Spice for no better reason than the name pleased me.

The website describes the drink as having a "traditional masala chai flavor of cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and ginger with black tea." The reviews generally describe it as being less sweet than the Elephant Vanilla. There are three recipes on the canister - one for hot chai, one for chai on ice, and one for a chai ice blend. I started with the traditional hot chai made with milk tonight but will try a cold version tomorrow.

The flavor was quite sweet and well spiced. It's a bit like drinking gingerbread if you can imagine that. I don't think I would be a fan of the sweeter Elephant Vanilla version. My one small complaint is that I wish the Tiger Spice were slightly less sweet and more spicy. Regardless, the comforting flavor and creamy texture make it a great way to warm up on a cold day. That it's as quick and simple as heating up milk and stirring in a few tablespoons of the mix is an added bonus. Until I find a recipe for homemade chai that catches my fancy, I expect to going through many canisters of Tiger Spice. Now I need to find a teacup worthy of my new addiction.

All local commercials should be this awesome

Words can't express how much I love this.


Best pretzels EVER

Actual conversation Kurt and I had in Meijer:

Kurt: You should try these pretzels.

Me: I don't like pretzels.

Kurt: But these are good. Try them.

Me: No.

Kurt: They're butter sesame.

Me: No.

Kurt: Seriously, you'll like them.

Me: No.

This went on for a while. In the end my stubbornness won out, and we left sans pretzels. Fast forward a couple months, and Kurt brings out a bag for us to snack on during a movie. I was skeptical. I don't like pretzels. Never have. I'll only eat them out of desperation on long airline flights, and even then I grumble. They're hard and flavorless except for the offensive level of salt. Bleh.

As usually happens when I get fervent and dig my heels in, I must eat my words. Snyder's Butter Sesame Sticks are unbelievably addictive. Granted, I'd prefer them unsalted, but that's a minor point. They have a fabulous sweet butter flavor perfectly balanced by the nuttiness of the sesame and a texture that's crispy without being hard. Awesome!! Kurt mentioned that they're good for dipping, but I wouldn't want to mask the buttery goodness. Two thumbs WAY up.


Pimp Your Blog

If you get sick of the basic Blogger templates, check out over 300 free backgrounds at The Cutest Blog On the Block. Several are tempting me to give this blog a(nother) makeover, but my inherent laziness is putting up a valiant fight. Stay tuned!