Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

I so wish I had a good reason to go trick-or-treating this year! Who doesn't love collecting candy from everybody?

2009: When Lauren, Nate, and I made our own cow costumes for Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Best Friend Friday No. 3

This week's "Best Friend Friday" post should really be called "Best Friend and Family Friday" since some of my relatives were in town for the weekend, and we spent the majority of Friday with them. It was nice to be able to get some errands done and be driven anywhere we needed to go. We could've gone shopping or do basically anything in Philadelphia, but we chose to go to Target and Trader Joe's, typical!

We stocked up on essentials from Target and filled up our pantry with delicious snacks from Trader Joe's. It really can't get much better than that. The maple cookies are to die for!

I took a pretty long nap after that, and then Lauren and I met up with my family back at their hotel for dinner. We ordered take out from the best vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia, Su Xing. My favorite dishes were the veggie fried rice, General Tso's tofu, and the sesame seitan. Everything there is so good, and I love that all of their dishes are vegan. It makes it really easy, yet extremely difficult because there are so many choices, to order.

Last Friday wasn't our typical adventure day, but it was great nonetheless. Back to our normal Fridays this week! Also, I suck at taking pictures now. You can bet November will be filled with hundreds of photos to make up for October.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vegan Larabars

One of my September goals was to make something out of dates. Lauren and I have a favorite farmers' market in Sacramento; they have the widest selection and best prices by far! One Sunday morning when we were there (before moving to Philadelphia), we came across a booth selling dates that offered us samples. I don't recall ever eating a date before, but this one was super sweet and really chewy! The two nice ladies there told us that they keep well in the refrigerator. We were sold!
I've seen so many recipes for raw desserts using dates that I figured I would make something like that. The plan was to make something in Sacramento, but time passed so quickly and we never got around to it. So we did the next best thing. We brought the packaged dates with us to Philadelphia in our suitcases! Crazy? Perhaps. But definitely worth it!

One of our favorite snacks to eat has been Larabars, but since moving to Philadelphia and not having easy access to Target, our cheapest supply of Larabars has been cut off. Because we're living on a budget and doing our best to stick to it, that meant a lot of our favorite unnecessary foods had to be cut out, like Larabars. Since I was craving these wonderful, tasty snacks, I decided to ditch the raw vegan cheesecake idea and opted to make Larabars instead!

If you know me well, you know that I can be a pretty impatient person. I hate doing research; I just want to jump right into the project. So I googled "vegan Larabars" and chose one of the first few links that popped up. I quickly scanned over Chocolate Covered Katie's recipe and decided to give it a go. They were delicious; Lauren and I devoured them within a few days. So of course I had to make them again and use up the remainder of the dates. I altered her recipe a bit to fulfill the need for Larabar-lookalikes and also because I don't own a food processor. The following method is what worked best for my situation.
I used the exact amounts of all the ingredients the recipe called for (but I made 3 batches at once); I just adjusted the process. I blended the cashews and  chocolate chips together in my Magic Bullet until they were a powder-like consistency. I pitted the dates and then chopped them up as fine as I could get them. I found that it worked best to ball up the dates and chop the ball up into super skinny cross sections, and then cross section them again. When I got tired of chopping, I dumped the dates, the powdered cashew and chocolate chip mixture, vanilla, and salt into a quart sized Ziploc bag and mixed everything together in there. When I was satisfied with the texture and taste, I emptied the deliciousness into a lined Pyrex dish and used my hands to spread it out evenly. I found that it tastes so much better once it's been refrigerated, so I let it chill for a few hours before slicing and digging in. 

Making these Larabars for the second time was a much easier process than my first go-around. I learned what works best and what ends up being a complete failure from my first attempt. Initially I tried using the Magic Bullet as a food processor; I added everything, including the dates to the blender. Bad idea. Because the dates are so sticky, they stuck to the blades, stopping them from turning. Basically, the Magic Bullet wouldn't blend with the dates in there, and the whole apparatus smelled like burnt rubber. I just assumed the cashews and chocolate chips wouldn't blend well in the Magic Bullet either, so the first time I made these Larabars, I chopped all of the ingredients by hand. While this worked, it took forever and was exhausting. With the above modifications however, the Larabars were a breeze to make and I have no issues with making them again in the future.
I don't remember how much we spent on the dates, so I'm not sure if our homemade Larabars are actually cheaper than store bought ones. Regardless though, they're delicious and I definitely see myself making them again...just as soon as I find another (closer) source of good dates! Philly dates, where you at?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Baby Project Life Scrapbook

I finally finished Marissa's birthday present from last year!

My sister and I don't have a lot of baby pictures of ourselves because my mom likes to hoard them. In middle school my class was assigned to make a scrapbook of our lives, from our birth up to eighth grade. Since it was a school assignment and my grade depended on it, my mom surrendered some baby and toddler pictures so that I could make copies for my scrapbook, with the understanding that I would give her back the originals. Well, needless to say, I didn't follow through with that entire plan. To this day, almost seven years later, I still have those pictures. Marissa, doesn't really have any though. But fortunately for her, since we're only a year apart, she's in a lot of the pictures I have of myself. A few times last year she was complaining that she doesn't have any baby pictures to share with her friends (because that's what friends do, we share baby pictures of ourselves). I just knew I needed to make her a baby album so that she had some tangible memories of her tiny self.

Another day, a month or so later, I was at my grandma's house and I was helping her organize her belongings. With five children of her own and nine grandchildren, you could imagine the countless boxes full of photographs she has and the humungous amount of space they take up. So, as I was helping her condense those boxes, I mentioned my idea of making Marissa a baby album for her birthday. My grandma was more than accommodating and quickly gave me many of the double prints she had of mine and Marissa's early years. With the photos from my grandma and the ones I already "borrowed" from my mom, I set out to make Marissa's birthday present.

It started off well. At the time I was obsessed with the Project Life concept. I scanned the pictures onto my computer and ordered prints from Shutterfly. I bought a binder, page inserts, and baby-themed card inserts. I cropped all of the pictures, rounded the corners, and inserted them into their respective pockets. But after that, the unfinished scrapbook sat. And it sat uncompleted for about a year. I was so stuck on how to "decorate" the blank pockets and make the overall scrapbook something to be proud of.

As her birthday approached this year, I was reminded of this unfinished and super belated gift. I promised that it would be done by her birthday this year (September 4). So I got back to work on it. I rearranged a lot of the pictures and  made a rough outline of the text I wanted to include. I wanted to ask my parents about several of the pictures and events, so I was hesitant to write anything down permanently in the scrapbook until I got their advice. So once again, the scrapbook sat unfinished and her birthday passed with no present in sight.

I really wanted to finish her scrapbook in early September so that I wouldn't have to move across the country with it. But that didn't happen. I made a second promise to get the finished gift mailed to Marissa by the end of September. On one of the last days of September (shocker), I spent an entire day working tirelessly. I added all the text, fancy titles, and lots of cute and random (yet appropriate) quotes to the pages. The end was in sight! But I still had a few empty pockets to fill and I needed to order a 12 x 12 photo to cut up to fill an entire page. The shipment on that alone would take up to a week, so my September deadline was out of reach.

The 12 x 12 photo actually came much quicker than I expected, although September was already over. As soon as it arrived, I manipulated it until it was just the way I envisioned. I spent another day finishing up the rest of the empty pockets. Then the next day, I completed all the necessary sewing. And boom, it was complete!

So there's the story of Marissa's very belated baby scrapbook birthday present. Now I need to get to work on her presents for this year (belated of course, once again). I want to have them finished and mailed to her before Christmas!

Because it was so long in the making and this project has been on many of my "goals lists", I just had to share some pictures of the album. My focus is to share the layouts rather than the personal photos and text, so the photos aren't that sharp, but hopefully still enjoyable.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Best Friend Friday No. 2

Lauren and I have been dying to go to Grindcore House ever since we decided to move to Philadelphia. Being the weird one that I am, I find myself checking the "veganphilly" and "phillyvegans" hashtags on Instagram, and they're flooded with delicious looking pictures from Grindcore! Since we're getting a lot more comfortable with taking public transportation (meaning we haven't been getting lost or stranded), we decided earlier in the week that this Friday's adventure would highlight a Grindcore taste test.

We took the Subway AND a bus just to get to Grindcore. It was pretty easy to figure out the logistics and everything, but the commute cost an extra token. You know I'm really looking forward to going somewhere if I'm eagerly willing to spend that extra token ;)
I arrived at the cafe and was pleasantly greeted by the employees. Lauren and I scanned the menu, which I must add was perfect. The menu wasn't so overwhelming, yet there were plenty of options, and everything is vegan! Grindcore has several different bagels and a variety of spreads, like different flavored cream cheeses, hummus, and butter. They also offer several sandwiches and a display case full of desserts. I chose the whole wheat everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and a pumpkin muffin. Lauren opted for a marshmallow flavored latte, a plain bagel with pumpkin cream cheese and a cannoli, but we pretty much shared everything.

My bagel was delicious! The scallion cream cheese was over the top and gave the meal such a great flavor. The pumpkin muffin was also really tasty. Next time I think I'll try the fieldroast sandwich with pesto!

After brunch, we walked about half a mile to Target. This was a huge outing because we haven't been to Target in over a month and we didn't think we would be able to until going back to California in December. I don't think I've ever been so excited to see the big red bulls eye symbol. Since we had to lug our purchases back with us, we couldn't go too crazy. I did buy Lauren a Christmas present (that she picked out), a cute ghost print Pyrex bowl, and a yoga mat. I think I see some yoga in my future!

We then made a quick stop at Whole Foods so Lauren could pick up some ingredients for her homemade deodorant, then it was back home for us.
The majority of the afternoon was spent updating our Ravelry yarn stashes (mine and Lauren's). I must say, I need to thank Lauren for pressuring me into purchasing the "Yarma" app over a year ago. Today was the first time I've used it, but it made uploading pictures to Ravelry a thousand times easier.
Of course, no Friday would be complete without pizza! I've gotten used to making homemade pizza every Friday back in California; it had become a weekly tradition. Since moving to Philadelphia that tradition was never really reinstated until today. We did however wind up at Blackbird Pizzeria the last two Fridays, coincidentally. One of the those Fridays was for Lauren's birthday dinner. Hey, I love pizza, don't judge! Anyway, we had homemade pizza for this week's Friday Night Pizza night. Think homemade white dough with sauteed broccoli, spinach, onions, tomatoes, olives, and vegan cheese that we picked up from Trader Joe's last week. Delicious, if I do say so myself!

Now to finish off this wonderful Friday (Friday is the best day of the week), it's time to go for a short run to get my mile in for #streakingwiththeCOOLKIDS. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Project 365

This post has been a long time in the making. I mentioned a long time ago that my New Year's resolution is to be an active participant in Project 365. I want to take lots of pictures throughout the whole year and select my favorite shot from each day, so that by the end of the year, I'll have a stack of 365 photos. I was also interested in documenting my everyday life through writing and I wanted to incorporate this with Project 365. So, I decided to come up with my own variation of this brilliant concept.

Not only did I want to have a collection of 365 pictures, but I also wanted to have a permanent way to hold these photos and document my days through writing as well, kind of like the One Line a Day journal.

So, I decided to use some Project Life accessories and other scrapbooking supplies to help me accomplish this. I purchased photo pages (6- 4x6 horizontal photos) and 3 albums from Amazon. I also bought StazOn ink in black and silver (no longer available) from Amazon as well. I picked up some black Sharpies and a date stamp at Office Depot.

Going into my project, I knew I wanted to do this over the span of several years. I thought it would be cool to compare the same date over multiple years. I decided to use one side of a photo page per date; so I needed 183 (365/2 = 182.5 --> 183). Since there are 6 picture slots per photo page, my Project 365 will span 6 years!
Starting January 1 I also started writing a brief caption about my day, not necessarily having anything to do with the picture. I hoped to incorporate this message into the pictures somehow. Because some of my pictures have dark backgrounds, I needed a pen that would stand out on dark colors, and have a fine tip as to not distract from the picture itself. This mission was impossible. I searched online and at an art store before realizing I needed to change my plan. I settled on simply using a fine tip black Sharpie to comment on the back of each photo. I can easily pull out the photos to read the backside whenever I want to do so.
For extra fun and to help me label the date and years, I chose to stamp the date on each photo. Time consuming, yes, but also relatively simple and timeless. After some online research, I bought StazOn ink in black and silver (for those darker photos). Stamping was pretty easy and I assumed the ink would dry pretty fast. So without really thinking about what I was doing, I stamped all my photos, stacking them on top of each other when I finished. Bad idea. A lot of the dates smeared and I ended up having to redo about half of them. Luckily though, the dried ink wipes off pretty easily using a damp paper towel. However, wiping the pictures clean take off the finish of the picture. Although it's unnoticeable, you can definitely touch the difference, and you're unable to restamp the photo in the exact spot. Since I mainly plan on leaving the photos in the page protectors this doesn't bother me so much. The messy, smeared dates did though. When I was erasing some of the dates, the color of the photos changed to a pinkish color. This does bother me because it is a little noticeable. I'm keeping those pictures for now, but I may end up reprinting in the future.

I try to use my big camera frequently, but unfortunately a lot of pictures have been taken with my phone. I print out my photos via Shutterfly about every three months, which is working out well for me. It gives me plenty of time to sort through and select the photos I want to use.

Since the beginning of the year, my plan has been to take all of the pictures by myself, whether they be selfies, taken by a timer, etc. So far, I've missed three days, I think. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to use to fill those pockets or if I'll simply leave them blank.

My initial purpose for this long-term project was to get into the habit of taking my pictures, especially with my big camera. I know I'll also enjoy comparing what my birthday, holidays, etc. looked like over several years in the future. Also, I wanted to make more of an effort to enjoy and appreciate the normal daily things I would've taken for granted.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Best Friend Friday No. 1

Let me just start out by saying how much I love and appreciate Trader Joe's now. Of course there were Trader Joe's in the Sacramento area, but I never really frequented them much, mainly because they were out of the way. But since living in Philadelphia without my car and my comfort snacks at the nearby grocery store, I've come to seriously love making the kind-of-out-of-the-way trip to Trader Joe's. Lauren and I went a little bit crazy in the store, buying whatever the heck we wanted. Just to ramble about a few items...the pumpkin Joe-Joe's are so good and I seriously can't wait to try the pumpkin rolls with pumpkin spiced icing! We also bought supplies to make trail mix, and I have to admit, Trader Joe's carries the best cashews (the 50% less salt ones are my favorite, just saying).

 Anyway, this morning Lauren and I also tried one of the neighborhood eateries, Metropolitan Bakery. I had read reviews and seen pictures on Instragram, so I was pretty certain they would have some vegan selections, but if not I would be content with a chai. When we got there I was actually pleasantly surprised that they labelled everything that was vegan. Metropolitan Bakery specializes in breads and pastries, and even though I didn't try any of there mouthwatering breads (I love bread), I'm really looking forward to trying different loaves in the hopefully near future. What I did order however, were the chai-der (think chai mixed with apple cider) and the spicy tofu burrito. At first the chai-der was a little weird, but after adding some soy milk to it, I enjoyed it. I'm glad I tried one of the seasonal products, but I think I'll stick to a regular chai next time. The burrito was also good, although I asked for it without guacamole. Halfway through my meal though, I found a bunch of guacamole so that pretty much threw me off and I didn't like it as much after that. The spices from the burrito also didn't mesh that well with the chai-der. Perhaps next time, I'll get either a drink or food, rather than both. The veggie chicken salad also sounded good, so that may be happening next time.

Because Lauren has Fridays off from school, we try to do "best friend activities" on Fridays and explore Philadelphia. My favorite parts are of course trying new restaurants, but really the whole day is fun. For this week's Best Friend Friday we tried a local bakery and went shopping at Trader Joe's and I couldn't be happier! The little things in life, right?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Getting Back into Running

Since moving to Philadelphia I've been pretty bad a keeping a consistent running schedule. The whole moving across the country ordeal and the ensuing packing, unpacking, organizing, reorganizing shenanigans were so time consuming and exhausting. Also, my dad was here for a week along with Lauren's, family time trumps running.

My "running hiatus" became even longer when I thought it was more important to add lots of different exercises to my normal routine. I tried lifting weights and taking a core conditioning class. Lifting weights, mainly squats, hurt a ton and I was sore for almost two weeks! That has now been put on hold for an undetermined amount of time. I didn't mind the core conditioning class, but all of those crunches truly made my tail bone hurt like no other. I definitely need to continue working in a lot of core exercises, but I'm going to have to start doing this on my own, on a more cushioned surface. I also have plans to incorporate swimming, yoga and/or zumba into my normal routine.

But, I couldn't push running to the side entirely. It's only fair that I give this exercise that I have actually come to enjoy, a spot on my schedule. Now that I've been living on the East Coast for three weeks (woah!), I figured it was time to break out my beloved running shoes yet again.

One of the biggest things that motivates me to run is admiring the running hashtag on Instagram. I started following "pinkcupcakegirl" on Instagram awhile ago, but towards the end of September she announced that she's going to lead #streakingwiththeCOOLKIDS. Basically, the goal is to run at least one mile everyday in October. So I thought to myself, "Courtney, what better way to jump back on the running bandwagon?" Challenge accepted.

The day before the challenge began, I went running to make sure I'd actually be able to accomplish the feat. I hadn't run in so long that I didn't know if my legs would still be able to carry me that far. I also wanted to make sure that I wasn't so out of shape that my lungs wouldn't jump out of my body. Fortunately I was able to run a 5k with no real issues. I was actually impressed that I was able to do so without taking any walk breaks. I normally run with intervals (run 6 minutes, walk 1 minute), so not needing these intervals was a pretty nice surprise. I decided to make one of my official October goals: run at least one mile a day.

October 1 I laced up my light blue running shoes and headed outside. I ran 4 miles, no sweat (actually there was a lot of literal sweat, sorry). The next few days went off without a hitch as well. Yesterday Lauren actually wanted to come running with me!

Many things motivate me to keep running. Instagram of course, but also the desire to run more races and earn those medals and new race shirts spur my legs to keep on moving. I still haven't signed up for any future races, but I'm keeping my mind and eyes open. For now though, #streakingwiththeCOOLKIDS is the perfect challenge for me.   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

10.14 Goals

In an effort to be more productive and accomplish my goals during my 24th year of life, I've decided to post a "to-do list" of sorts at the beginning of each month. At the end of the month I'll go back over my list and talk about what I was able to conquer and note the tasks I have yet to tackle.

1. Read a book.
2. Run at least 31 miles (one mile a day).
3. Take clothes and other donations to a thrift store.
4. Sew something.
5. Go to a local fabric shop.
6. Make something with beads.
7. Try zumba and yoga.
8. Start swimming laps.
9. Use my juicer and ice cream maker.
10. Finish Summer Sampler blocks 11-15.

Ready, set, go!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

09.14 Goals Roundup

Guess what? I still love making lists, in case you were wondering.

1. Knitting: I started a knitting project, but then I took it out because I didn't like it. So crossing off my knitting goal is a no go.

2. Summer Sampler: I finished the tenth square towards the end of September and am looking forward to stitching more this month. The cute little scenes are keeping me going.

3. Make something with dates: I adapted this chocolate chip cookie dough babies recipe, making homemade Larabars...they're delicious by the way. However, they're much harder to make without a food processor. At first I used my magic bullet, but it just wasn't strong enough. So, I chopped up each ingredient separately and then mixed them all together.

4. Hair cut: Check! I went to Paul Mitchell, a teaching salon, and chopped off like 6 inches of hair.

5. Read a book: I ordered a book on Amazon towards the beginning of September, hoping it would arrive pretty quickly. Unfortunately though, it didn't arrive until I had already moved to Philadelphia, so I'll have to pick that book up when I go back to California in December. Then towards the end of the month, I found a used book store within walking distance to our apartment and picked up "Middlesex" and have been reading a little bit of it each day since. I finished the book just in time (on the last day of September at like 11 PM). Score! Middlesex is a great  book, by the way. It's hard to get into at first, but once I got through the first two chapters or so, I was hooked. I'm going back to the used book store tonight to pick out another book...I'm excited to see what I'll find!

6. Marissa's birthday present: I'm kicking myself for this one. Her birthday present is so close to being finished. I had to order something online for it though, and it won't be here for like another week, so I was unable to finish it in September. It is my fault though, I should've been more productive with it earlier on in the month so it would've been completed on time. I will be mailing it to her in October though!

7. Have a successful move: So, this was bound to happen. I moved to Philadelphia in the middle of the month, and I say it was pretty successful. I've already found my favorite places to eat in the city and am getting acquainted with the neighborhood. 

8. Tearing out the container garden: Major fail here. I was planning to clean up the garden space at Leti's house before we moved. But I had so much to get done the week leading up to leaving, that I just didn't have the time or energy to do this.

9. Running: I didn't run even close to 75 miles. I haven't run since the second week of September, and my longest run of the month was the Buffalo Stampede. I was too busy to go running when I first moved, and now that I'm more settled here, I've joined a gym. I started lifting weights (a little bit) and taking group exercise classes (okay, I've only taken one so far), and my legs have been so sore from the weights that I haven't been able to run. I really want and need to work running back into my schedule though.

10. Create the perfect chili: Technically I didn't make the chili, Lauren did. But regardless, I helped come up with the "recipe" and it was delicious. Think lots of beans! Therefore, the perfect chili has been created in our apartment. I call that a win.

Score for September: 6 out of 10
Much better than August!