Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Best Friend Friday No. 29: Knitting Day

Friday, April 24th was in a nutshell, a knitting day. Basically this is a nice way of saying Lauren and I spent the majority of the day watching "Friends" while working on our respective knitting projects. However, that's not to say the entire day was spent sitting on my butt. I did manage to make it to the gym (weights anyone?) and whip up some dinner (pizza anyone?).

Lauren mainly worked on my Grandpa Cardigan this weekend; she finished the body and has a good start on the first sleeve! Once it's complete, this sweater will certainly become a quick autumn staple for me. I can't wait! When she needed breaks from cable knitting, Lauren also dove into some of her other works in progress. She finished up a pair of cute mittens and knit a few rows on a pair of socks. Lauren even started a completely new project and is now working her way through a shawl.
On Wednesday I cast on my new yarn to make a cowl. I got halfway through the first skein of yarn when I made the tough decision to frog it. I grossly overestimated the number of stitches I needed and quickly realized that I would run out of yarn if I kept knitting. In the past I've had a hard time accepting that I just need to start a project completely over. While it pains me to rip out my hard, time consuming work, deep down I know that I'll love my finished knit so much more if I just start over and learn from my previous mistakes. Lauren called me out on it this weekend, and so now I'm vowing to not let that bother me so much. Plus for me, I not only want to knit because I appreciate the finished product, but also to enjoy the process. It shouldn't matter how long it takes me to finish something as long as I'm having fun doing it. Knitting is a true hobby, not just a means to an end. Likewise, while certain yarns can be on the expensive side, I'm okay with indulging in special yarn every once in awhile because I'm not just paying for the finished piece, rather my money is also going toward the experience. Sure I spent over $60 on yarn for a recent cowl, but 1. I don't do that often, 2. I know that it will be loved and well taken care of, and 3. it took me hours, days to finish that cowl so when I calculate how much money I spent per hour doing something I actually enjoyed, it doesn't seem that bad at all. Some people enjoy going to concerts and whatnot on the weekends, I on the other hand choose to spend my money knitting. Find something you truly like to do, and do it.

Best Friend Friday was filled with knitting and more relaxing, but even more importantly, yarn epiphanies! 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Running: West v. East Coasts

When running first became a hobby almost two years ago, I was happily sweating through those miles in California. I never really thought that people living elsewhere have completely different running experiences until I moved across the country to Pennsylvania. Since I made this big move in September, I didn't realize how drastic running would change, but now that I've lived in a different part of the country for bits of each season, I have a better understanding of what to expect in various conditions and locations.

Running in California, I never really had to think about what to wear. March-October I threw on a pair of shorts and a short sleeve tee; November-February I wore pants, some type of long sleeve shirt, and gloves. In the Winter I even sometimes wore a fleece lined ear warmer, but that was the extent of changing things up. As far as severe weather changes go, one of the first half marathons I ran was extremely hot, and it was only May! I don't remember the exact temperature, but towards the end of the race people were literally lying along the course, unable to get up and being hauled away via ambulance. While California can get extremely hot, this race is an anomaly. As long as you get your run out of the way in the morning and wear appropriate clothing, heat really isn't an issue. On the reverse side of the equation, the coldest I've ever been in California was running the CIM in the beginning of December. I'm pretty certain that the temperature stayed below freezing throughout the entire race. This was the only time on the West Coast that I needed to wear layers upon layers of clothing; I even added a heavy-weight fleece jacket to my race attire and wore it for a quarter of the marathon. Again, I'd consider this a rarity. Since seasons are pretty mild here, I never had to seek out special clothing to feel comfortable. However, I do run perpetually colder than most people.

After a brief running hiatus, I took up the hobby again in Philadelphia in the beginning of October, basically the heart of fall. I ran mostly in the afternoons or evenings. Like in California, in the beginning of the month I didn't have to think about what to wear, I didn't even check the weather before getting dressed. Shorts and a short sleeve shirt were perfect. It wasn't until the middle of the month where I truly needed to consider my running attire. Capris were a usually a good choice around this time. Eventually towards the end of the month though, pants and long sleeve shirts were my go-to running uniform. It was a gradual shift, but still required a change in my running wardrobe. This is also the month I stopped wearing shorts as part of my non-running daily outfits; I wore pants from here on out. Side note: I wore shorts for the first time since October this past Saturday! November and December were no brainers- pants, long sleeves, and another long sleeve light sweater. I added ear warmers and gloves as well. I even asked for the warmest pair of running pants I could find for Christmas because I could start to feel the temperatures quickly dropping. Come January though, things got interesting. I just always assumed that I'd still run outside in the snow, I'd just wear multiple layers of warmer clothes, no biggie. I was evening planning on buying special gadgets to slip-on over my shoes for added traction. It's a good thing I didn't invest in those though. January-mid March were filled with only treadmill and indoor track runs. Even though I was running inside I still wore pants, but I was able to get by with short sleeve tees. I did see a few people running outside during these months. All the power to you if you're able to withstand these single digit temperatures. My only advice to you is to find the warmest running gear ever invented, buy several of each piece, and simultaneously wear all of them. Mid-March it warmed up enough that I was comfortable running outside. I still wore my warmest pants, two long sleeve layers, and gloves. I dressed this way until the beginning of April or so. I ditched the gloves and second long sleeve layer, and started mixing things up by occasionally wearing capris. Mid-April I started getting toasty and switched to short sleeves, keeping long pants but mostly capris in rotation. Lauren even started wearing primarily shorts. There have been a handful of days this monthly that have been grotesquely humid and I wish I would've worn shorts too. The humidity causes me to profusely sweat even more than I already do (which is a ridiculous amount to begin with), which I think has caused a little bit of bra/back chaffing as well. I suspect that within the next month or so, I'll be wearing shorts and short sleeve tees all the time. I know that the humidity is only going to get worse in the next few months, so I may have to look into different running bras to prevent the rubbing and chaffing. Other than that, I think I'm set and very ready for the summer.

Hopefully those two long cluttered paragraphs weren't too confusing. But if they were, I'll summarize. On the West Coast (specifically California), you don't really need to think about what to wear. Even if you wear shorts in the middle of winter (I know a few people who do without issue), you'd still be fine. However, on the East Coast besides remembering what the current season is, it's also equally important to consider the fluctuating temperatures and the humidity percentages. I'd also recommend a gym membership for those below-freezing winter months, but that's just me! There are pros and cons to living on both sides of the country. The West Coast provides the perfect climate to make feeling comfortable all year long easily achievable. On the other hand, the East Coast offers real, changing seasons. Different strokes for different folks!   

So now my greatest climate concern is what type of running clothing to wear during the San Francisco Marathon in July. Being a West Coast city, you'd think it would be a pretty warm run as it's set in the dead heat of summer. However, also being a Bay Area city set along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, I'd expect it to be pretty breezy and slightly chilly, especially in the morning. I think I have built up my tolerance for cold temperatures over the past few months, but I don't know that this is going to be enough to keep me warm in shorts. I'll probably get too warm in pants, especially over the course of over 26 miles. I could always go with the ever-pleasing capris, but on the other hand, I'm most comfortable running  in either shorts or pants. I haven't found the perfect pair of capris yet, all of mine slip down. Decisions, decisions. Yes, this is definitely a first world problem.

I hope I shed some light on the differences of running on opposite coasts. Perhaps it seems way too obvious and this post was just silly. But, I have my best, most enjoyable runs when I'm most comfortable. For me, this means wearing comfortable weather appropriate clothing and having well-rest muscles of course, but that's an entirely separate story!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Vegan Cookies 'n Cream Ice Cream

Recently I've been craving sweets all the time, like I've needed to eat dessert every day. Lately I've been munching on gummy candies, chocolate covered pretzels and almonds, and chocolate truffles. But, I've been missing a very important component to the dessert equation: ice cream! So, I decided to make my own. Not just any old ice cream though, cookies 'n cream!
Makes about 4 servings 
- 1- 15 ounce can of coconut milk
- 3/4 cup of raw cashews (soaked overnight)
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- 1 tsp. of vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- 3 tbsp. of maple syrup
- 2/3 cup of soy milk
- 15 Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's or Oreo cookies

Place ice cream bowl in the freezer for at least 24 hours. Also, soak the cashews in water in a covered bowl overnight.

When you're ready to make the ice cream, drain and rinse the cashews several times. Pour the cashews into the food processor.

Add coconut milk, salt, and vanilla extract to the food processor and blend until the cashews have become completely liquified.

Add sugar to the food processor and blend until combined. Add maple syrup and soy milk, blend until completely mixed. Taste the mixture; you may need to add additional maple syrup/sugar since this ice cream isn't super sweet.

Place cookies in a zip-loc bag and smash them.

Place the liquid mixture into your ice cream bowl and let the ice cream maker run for approximately 40 minutes. When it reaches your desired texture, let the machine continue running while you slowly add in the crushed cookies.

When the ice cream is thick and the cookies are mixed in well, stop the ice cream maker and scoop several scoops out for yourself and dig in! I apologize for only having one not-so-great photo. It was nighttime and the lighting was horrible. That, and I couldn't wait to eat it...which just shows how delicious this ice cream was!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Best Friend Friday No. 28: Long Weekend

Technically every weekend is a long weekend now since Lauren only has class Tuesday-Thursday, but I'm choosing to drag this past Best Friend Friday out to include Saturday, otherwise this post will pretty much be a repeat of last week's.
Like last week, Lauren and I spent this Friday, April 17 mainly watching "Friends" while doing crafty stuff. Lauren worked on my Grandpa Cardigan almost all weekend, and I finished Lauren's quilt Friday afternoon! We finished off the evening with our weekly Friday pizza tradition. Let me just tell you that Benevolent Bacon tastes amazing on pizza; the flavor complements pizza perfectly! Last Friday I jokingly told Lauren that I wanted a sheep-shaped pizza the following week, and she remembered! Amazing, right?

Saturday morning we woke up much earlier than we would normally to get a good head start on our long run so we wouldn't get stuck in the afternoon heat. Even though we started our 15 miles in the mid-morning, the humidity and rising temperatures were almost unbearable. After several miles I really had to stop to go to the bathroom. Usually I hate and refuse to stop, but this time I had to go. I stepped into the port-a-potty, closed the door, and without any ventilation massive amounts of sweat kept dripping down every inch of my body. I did my business and got out of there as fast as possible. The rest of the run wasn't so bad, although I did manage to get my first awkward tan lines and sunburn of the season. Those were bound to happen though.
We eagerly walked back to our apartment, grabbed a quick bite to eat, showered and cleaned up, and headed out the door to our next fun adventure. Loop was celebrating their 10th anniversary with raffles, a complimentary tote bag with purchase, and 10% off everything in store. Of course we needed to go; one can never have enough yarn. On our way to Loop, we decided to make a pit stop at Rita's for a cup of Italian ice. I tried blue raspberry, Lauren had island fusion. Despite walking around with a blue tongue and lips, Rita's was the perfect treat. Once at Loop, we easily spent over an hour meandering through the shop trying to narrow down our preferences and find the perfect yarn to take home. Initially I was going to get a skein of their Studio yarn because I love the colors so much, but I didn't have any project in mind for that particular yarn. Normally that's what I do; I buy a single skein that I like with the intention of knitting something with it in the future. I'm pretty certain that's exactly why I have a huge box of stashed yarn. I definitely don't need to hoard anymore yarn without an actual purpose for it, so I ditched the Studio yarn idea. I scrolled through my Ravelry queue and I kept coming back to this cowl. I stumbled upon the sale area of Loop and found the perfect yarn for this project. I wanted something pretty neutral, but still have some color to it. I picked up four skeins of Spud & Chloe Fine Sock in Orangutan and deemed them perfect. After looking the pattern over, I want to make a slight modification to it, but I really like the basic concept. It's a really easy knit and I should be able to finish it without any big issues.

My sewing plans didn't really pan out, but there's always next weekend. Me Made May will be happening!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cross Stitched Knitting Pouch

A few months ago I sewed my first pouch as part of my swap for the Secret Valentine Exchange. Both Lauren and I loved the colors so much that Lauren requested a similar one as part of her Easter basket goodies. We both loved the mint colored linen, and I had just enough to make one more pouch. I bought several yards of this linen a few years ago, and as soon as I had it cut, I remember thinking, "Why am I getting so much of this? I can't think of anything to make out of it.". My how things have changed though. Now that I no longer have any linen left, I want to make everything with it- skirts, tops, more pouches/bags. I do have a dress already cut out in this linen, so hopefully that project works out.
Back to the pouch though. I didn't have any of the light pink cotton left, so I went through our tub of scraps and picked out several other contenders. Out of the various choices, Lauren selected this aqua and black dots fabric for the inside.
She also suggested a cross stitch patch be sewed to the outside of the pouch. Of course she loved the patterns related to knitting, so we picked this little design from the Autumn Sampler. I thought it would be cute to personalize it a tad. Lauren has been knitting a pair of socks on ChiaoGoo circular needles. So, I changed the colors of the cross stitch pattern, making the needle cable red and the socks blue/purple, just like her actual socks in progress.

The trickiest part for me when sewing a pouch is always the zipper ends. On my last pouch I mentioned that I would try this method next time. Well, I started using this tutorial and then I just assumed I knew how to do the rest and stopped following it. Bad idea. I didn't realize the pouch fabric needed to be longer than the zipper, which created multiple problems. I ended up having to unpick the top corner seams countless times. This was the only way I could get this pouch to look decently finished. This whole project took way longer than it needed to because of this problem. I've learned my lesson, and will now follow every single step in a tutorial for now on.

Despite the setbacks, I still love this pouch. The color, the style, and the little cross stitch detail make it so fun. I hope Lauren likes it just as much as I do, otherwise I guess I'll have a new pouch!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Favorite Foods

Lauren says that I'm a creature of habit, but I prefer to say that I know exactly what I like. When we're walking back from the gym in the evening, we like to pass the time by talking about how I have an unwritten list of foods/meals that I always tend to crave over others. Well, I think it's time to make the list official, so here it is!

1. Almond butter. I'll eat almond butter on pretty much anything- bread, rice cakes, pancakes, oatmeal. You name it, almond butter belongs on it.
2. Pizza. I bet you already knew this one though since I beg Lauren to indulge in my Friday Night, Pizza nights weekly.
3. Trail mix. While there are tons of packaged trail mixes out there, nothing beats making your own. Whenever I eat trail mix (which is often), I always toss together some roasted cashews, raw almonds, raisins, pretzels, and chocolate chips. You can never have enough trail mix, seriously. It's the perfect, non-messy snack to munch on while watching TV. Trail mix also makes the perfect meal when your fridge is empty, just saying.
4. Pancakes. Like pizza, I make it a point to eat pancakes on the regular. More specifically, I like to have pancakes for breakfast every weekend day. I like my pancakes with chocolate chips, almond butter, and maple syrup.

5. Smoothies. My fifth favorite food was a tough one to come up with. I've always thought it would either be beans and rice, or oranges. But lately, we've been eating beans and rice for dinner at least once a week without chips or tortillas (trying to be a little healthy over here), so Mexican food isn't as exciting anymore. But don't worry, I still love this meal, it just doesn't make the top five list anymore. Oranges would have made the list if I were still living in California. The quality (and prices!) of produce in Philadelphia is so different from what I'm used to having on the West Coast. Don't get me wrong, oranges are still my favorite fruit, but they don't make the cut anymore either. I've had a smoothie as part of my lunch the last few days and I've really come to enjoy and anticipate them, so as of right now, they've earned a highly coveted spot on my favorite foods list. My usual smoothie consists of frozen fruit (strawberries, peaches, pineapple, apple, blueberries, banana), spinach/kale, and soy milk. Basically, deliciousness in a cup.

Just so you know, I do eat plenty of vegetables. In fact, I just finished a huge salad with a ton of veggies for dinner. These five foods are just my favorites, but I do supplement them with other basic nutrients ;)

This is probably way more than you'd ever like to know about me. But just think of it as a little insight into my weekly routine, because let's be real, I easily eat all of these foods/meals on a weekly basis. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sewing Plans

Lauren and I have dubbed this upcoming weekend, a sewing weekend! I really want to be able to participate in Me Made May this year, so I'm hoping to make a lot of progress on my handmade wardrobe this weekend.

In the past two years I've bought a ton of fabric with the idea to sew a lot of garments. Sadly, I've only made several pieces for myself since then. Being optimistic, at least I have seemingly infinite yards of fabric to work with which should be plenty to carry me through May. However, a lot of this hoarded fabric are knits and I've been terrified of using it. I know I just need to power through it and eventually I'll get used to it, but it's so daunting! I'm hoping to get tons of practice sewing with knits this weekend though. With both of our sewing machines running, I'm thinking we'll be having a mini sweat shop in our apartment.

My favorite patterns are definitely Grainline patterns. I have numerous Scout Tees, Tiny Pocket Tanks, Lindens, and Hemlock Tees already planned out in my head. Relatively speaking, these should be fairly quick sews. If I can get over my fear, I plan on living in these tops sewn from knits. Even though it definitely won't be happening this weekend, I also hope to eventually make a few Alder Dresses as well.

I already have a few garments cut out that just need to be sewed. So, my number one goal for this weekend is to sew up all of these projects and get them to the wearable stage. If all goes well, I'll also cut out several additional garments. This encourages me to keep sewing, and it makes sharing the cutting mat/rotary cutter with Lauren so much easier.

I've been reading lots of posts about other bloggers' wardrobes, many of whom are using a capsule wardrobe. While this concept is so interesting to me and I think it's a fantastic idea to live as minimally as possible, at my current stage in life (no storage space, way too many clothes, unpredictable weather patterns), it's not for me. But, this has made think a lot about my own wardrobe; what I own, what I always tend to grab from my closest first, what I need, what colors I wear most often. Because I have so many clothes that fit and I love, I've been trying really hard to not buy any new clothing items that I don't need or can't make. I'll purchase work out clothes (when needed) without hesitation because I don't want to challenge the chaffing issue. I also don't mind buying jeans (always from Gap) because they fit me so well, and basic tank tops/camis for layering under other tops. Because I enjoy sewing and it's one of my hobbies, I'm okay with making myself new garments and expanding my wardrobe even more in this way. In the not so distant future, I'm planning on doing a major closest clean out and only keeping the items that I truly enjoy wearing. If it makes me look or feel funny, it's got to go! Please hold me to this task; I have the hardest time parting ways with things. One of these days, I want to be able to open my closest and see a bunch of handmade items staring back at me. Tops are fairly easy to make so I'll start there, and I think it would be fun to also try sewing my own undergarments from scrap knits. Hopefully this all works out well and I get a good start on my Me Made May wardrobe!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Overnight Oats Pancake

You read that right, PANCAKE!
I love my precious almond butter so much that every time I reach the bottom of the jar and I can no longer scrape anymore nut butter out, I always make overnight oats in the jar to use up every last bit of that deliciousness. The other day I realized I still had two jars of overnight oats that had been sitting in the fridge for close to two weeks. "Gross", you may think, but don't worry, I did the smell and taste tests and the oats were still perfectly fine. I decided that I better polish them off soon though, before they reach the three week mark! The problem though, was that I really hadn't and didn't feel like eating overnight oats. I couldn't just let them go to waste, but all I really wanted to eat was a pancake. So I thought, why not make a pancake with my overnight oats?

- Almost empty jar of almond butter (or just an empty jar and 1 tsp. of almond butter)
- 1/2 cup of old fashion oats
- 3/4 cup of soy milk
- 1 tsp. of baking powder
- 3 tsp. of water
- Chocolate chips (optional topping)
- Additional 1 tbsp. of almond butter (optional topping)
- Maple syrup (optional topping)

1. Make your overnight oats at least one day in advance. Combine the oats and soy milk in the almost empty jar of almond butter. Shake it up really well and refrigerate overnight.

2. When you're ready to make your pancake, heat a skillet on low/medium heat. Add the baking powder and water to the overnight oats and stir until completely combined.
3. When the skillet is hot enough (test by dripping water on the pan, if it sizzles, it's ready!), pour the overnight oats batter onto the pan and spread out to desired pancake size. Don't spread it out too thinly though, otherwise the pancake will be impossible to flip.
4. Like with any other regular pancake, flip the pancake over when the top starts to bubble and the bottom looks firm enough. This oat pancake will still be slightly gooey so I found using two spatulas to be very helpful in the flipping process.
5. Place your finished pancake on a plate, top with whatever sounds delicious (chocolate chips, more almond butter, and maple syrup for me!) and eat up!

Full disclosure: I still enjoy regular pancakes so much more (these are my absolute favorite), but this overnight oats pancake is still tasty and a good way to turn an ordinary meal (I eat oatmeal for breakfast almost every morning) into something more exciting!

And just in case you have the overwhelming desire, you can also read about my trials and tribulations when I first started making overnight oats over a year ago. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April Randomness

- Just finished eating a vegan chicken bacon burger with homemade buns. Delicious, to say the least.
- Binding the quilt surprisingly pretty fast. I'm already done with three sides.
- Already able to tell that my allergies are going to be bad this season.
- Feeling excellent after a great long run yesterday. My first road (unofficial) half marathon since June!
- Loving chocolate chip pancakes smothered in almond butter.
- Getting pretty darn excited to not have to wear a heavy jacket over multiple layers every day.
- Wanting to sew and knit a whole new wardrobe, but knowing this isn't likely going to happen.
- Replaced two of the four light bulbs in the main room of our apartment, and now it feels like a completely different place. So much better.
- Bummed that I broke the needle on my sewing machine, and putting off changing it.
- Almost finished submitting my taxes. Almost.
- Thinking I need to start going to yoga again.
- So sad that the vegan truffles and almond butter chocolate covered pretzels that Lauren made me are almost gone.
- Successfully meal planning each week.
- Watching every single episode of "Friends" from the very beginning. We're already on season three.
- Finding my new running shoes to be so comfortable.
- Really looking forward to spending several weeks in California this Summer.
- Deciding which project I should start knitting next.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Best Friend Friday No. 27: Mariposa Co-op

Yesterday, April 10 was the 100th day of the year...how exciting! Okay, it's not really that awesome, but my Friday still was.

Lauren and I spent the morning devouring banana pancakes. I added chocolate chips and almond butter to mine, of course.

In the afternoon, we took a little walk to a local co-op. Really we were on the hunt for nutritional yeast since our regular grocery store has been out of stock for like two weeks, but also I truly have been wanting to check out Mariposa, so we basically killed two birds with one stone. Mariposa carries a lot of vegan specialty items that our neighborhood grocery store doesn't. They have an assortment of dairy-free yogurts, meat alternatives, packaged sweets, and even Dottie's Donuts. But best of all, they had the Earth Balance potato chips that we have eagerly been waiting to try. We've gone to countless stores in the past, just looking for these chips without any luck. So, we bought both the cheddar and sour cream & onion flavors, and had to try some before we even made it back home. I enjoyed both flavors; they taste exactly like their non-vegan counterparts. The cheddar chips had the most flavor, but I liked the taste of the sour cream & onion ones better. Lauren and I decided that we'll have to go back to Mariposa again and pick up a different treat next time.

I made pizza with marinara sauce, cashew cheese sauce, green bell pepper, black olives, tomatoes, purple onion, Celebration Field Roast, and green onion for dinner. Luckily, I managed to save a piece since pizza makes great leftovers.
Maybe even more surprising than not finishing my whole pizza, I also worked on THE quilt. It's only taken me two years to start binding it. I've been intimidated about the whole binding process, so I've been putting this last step off for a while. But when I finally started hand sewing the binding yesterday, I actually found it to be quite relaxing. Once I got into the zone, I was able to successfully finish an entire long side of the quilt without any major difficulties. I did have to start over a few times, but once I realized what I was doing wrong and corrected my mistakes, I began to enjoy the binding process. The one month I don't make "finishing THE quilt" one of my goals, it's actually going to happen. Lauren knit my Grandpa Cardigan while I was working on her quilt, so we were both a little crafty together yesterday.

Anyway, I had a great Friday full of delicious food and some fun crafty time with my best friend! I wouldn't have it any other way!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dreaming of Knitting

Lately I've been obsessed with all things hand knit. While I do know how to knit and even just finished an awesome Three Color Cowl, I'm nowhere near perfect. Recently, I've been pretty good about trying to fix my own mistakes before asking for help. Believe it or not, I've actually come a long way since my very first try at knitting. But, I still need tons of help just navigating my way through Ravelry.

Even though I'll never be a master knitter, I still dream big when it comes to starting and finishing projects. Seeing what other people are making/have made has really inspired me. I'm starting to believe that one day I'll actually be able to knit a sweater. Once I use up a significant amount of my stashed yarn, I'm definitely buying a sweater quantity and getting to work on that. I need a lot more practice with knitting cables, so I'll leave that technique to Lauren. She's knitting me a Grandpa Cardigan right now!

I still have a long ways to go before I start a sweater, but I also have a few more realistic goals for right now. Currently, I'm really into the shawl trend. Before, Lauren would pick up a random skein of yarn from my stash and ask me what my plans were for it. I would always reply, "a cowl". But now, I want to knit up all my previously-destined-to-be cowls, into shawls.

For the past few days I've been wanting to join a knit along (KAL). I'm sure I knew about them before, but I was never interested in participating or following other people's progress. Now, all I can think about is finding the perfect stashed yarn so I too can be a member of a KAL. Lauren's been helping me by sending me various links to different KAL's. So far, I'm deciding between a hat or a shawl. I'm thinking a hat will be a lot more doable, but hat season is hopefully over, and a shawl just seems so exciting! Regardless though, I'm definitely going to be participating in a KAL in May!

I have a lot of planned knitting projects, but they haven't gotten past this planning stage. Some projects just seem so daunting which I think scares me from starting. I hope to move past this anxiety filled stage and cast on something new this weekend!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cross Stitched Bookmark Tutorial

One of the items I made for my contribution to the Secret Valentine Exchange was a set of three cross stitched bookmarks. Cross stitching is one of those hobbies that I think creates a beautiful finished project, yet not that many people choose to do. For these reasons, I wanted to incorporate a cross stitched present into my swap package. Since my swap partner likes to read, Lauren came up with the idea to turn miniature cross stitched patterns into bookmarks.

After I finished these bookmarks and sent them on their merry way to their new owner, Lauren decided she wanted one as well. So, I decided a cross stitched bookmark would be the perfect addition to her Easter basket. I let her choose the design (she picked a "scene" from the Summer Sampler and adapted it), and then I whipped it up like a short order cook! And when I say I "whipped it up", I really mean that it was a slightly belated Easter gift.

- Cross stitch pattern (I used an adapted design from the Summer Sampler)
- Evenweave fabric (like this one)
- Embroidery floss (colors and quantity depend on your chosen pattern)
- Sewing machine
- Natural colored fabric
- Any other fabric (I used a solid blue, but patterns work just as well)
- Felt (color doesn't matter, it will be hidden)
- 5 inches of 1/2 inch twill tape

First you need to decide the finished size of your bookmark. For example, my finished bookmark is 7.5 x 3.5 inches.

Cross stitch whatever pattern suits your fancy, making sure it's centered on your evenweave fabric (linen). Aim for the linen piece you're cross stitching on to be about 1/2 inch shorter than your finished bookmark on all four sides. My linen piece ended up being 6.5 x 2.5 inches. It works a lot better to cross stitch on a larger piece of linen and then cut it down when you're done. Lauren wanted the arrow patterns repeated three times, with a slight variation to each set of three arrows.
Cut out the natural colored fabric so that it's 1/4 inch longer than your desired finished measurements on each side. Cut out the other fabric of your choice and the felt the same exact size as the natural fabric. You'll need one of each piece per bookmark. I cut my pieces out to be 8 x 4 inches.
Pin the linen cross stitched piece onto the center of the natural colored fabric. Use a tight, short zig zag stitch to sew around the entire linen piece. This helps prevent the linen from fraying from future use. Stitch as close to the edge as possible (while still making sure to securely fasten the linen down) to prevent excess fraying.
Next, place the felt under the natural colored fabric/linen piece. Place the right side of the unused second fabric on top of the right side of the linen piece. Make a loop with the twill tape and sandwich it in between the two top layers at the top of the bookmark. Make sure the loop part is being sandwiched (hidden) and the ends of the twill tape are sticking out of the top. Pin all three pieces together.
With a 1/4 inch seam allowance, sew around 3 sides of the bookmark and all four corners. Sew around the two longest sides, the top, and the bottom corners. Leave the straight part of the bottom side unsewn though.

Trim the corners and the excess twill tape hanging over the edge. Turn the fabric so the right sides are now showing. Poke the corners out. Fold the unsewn side so that it matches the rest of the sewn sides. Iron all four sides, and pin the open side shut.
Top stitch around the entire bookmark, as close to the edge as possible.

Trim all of the loose threads, and now you have a wonderful, finished bookmark. Find a book and put that beauty to use! Lauren is using hers in a Biostatistics textbook, how nerdy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry

I know, I know. How hard can it be to make stir fry? The truth is, I agree it's actually pretty easy, but the trickiest part is cooking the tofu just right! Of course if you own a deep fryer (I wish!), it would be pretty simple to just plop the cut up tofu right into the boiling oil and let that tofu get super crispy. Although I would love a deep fryer, it's probably a good thing I don't own one. I would seriously deep fry everything.

Lauren and I have experimented with cooking tofu in various ways in the past, but we never could really get it just right. Lauren did make marinated baked tofu a few times that was really good, but I wanted to come up with a way to cook it on the stove (less dishes!), yet have it still be delicious without being super greasy. I'm really not a fan of the silky texture of tofu and much prefer it to be a tiny bit crispy. Lauren likes to call homemade stir fry, "stir fry of my eye". That's how good it is!

Makes 4 servings
- 1 1/2 cups of uncooked rice (I used half brown, half black this time)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 package of extra firm tofu
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 of a yellow onion
- 1 bell peppers (any color, I used yellow)
- 1 pound of green beans
- 1 cup of frozen, shelled edamame
- Pepper to taste

1. Start cooking the rice. I find that the easiest and most reliable way is using a rice cooker. I add 2 cups of water to the 1 1/2 cups of brown/black rice, and simply just turn the rice cooker on. It takes about 45 minutes to completely cook, which gives me plenty of time to prepare and finish the rest of the meal.

2. While the rice is cooking, start heating the olive oil in a large sauce pan on high heat.
3. Drain and squeeze as much liquid as possible from the tofu. Chop the tofu into bite-size cubes. Toss the tofu into the sizzling pan of oil and reduce heat to medium. Keep a continuous eye on the tofu so it doesn't burn. Using a spatula, flip the tofu onto its various sides so that the entire cube gets an even golden brown color. I end up needing to flip my tofu every five minutes or so. Once the majority of the tofu achieves its golden brown color, pour the cooked tofu into a separate and set aside. Leave the pan on the stove, add just a little bit more olive oil and reduce to low.

4. Chop the onion into thin strips and saute on low heat until lightly browned and translucent.

5. Wash the bell pepper and green beans. Chop your vegetables however you desire. I like to chop my green beans into bite-size pieces, and my bell pepper into strips.
6. Microwave the green beans in a covered bowl with a little bit of water for two minutes. Drain the green beans and add to the pan with onion. Also, mince the garlic and add with the green beans. Turn the heat up to medium.
7. Add the bell pepper strips.
8. Put the edamame in a colander and run warm water over it until all pieces are completely defrosted. Add the edamame to the saute pan. Continue sauteing until all veggies are completely cooked. 
9. Add the cooked tofu and soy sauce to the veggies. Pepper to taste. Mix and saute for 2-3 minutes.

8. By this time, your rice should be finished, or almost ready. Throw some of your veggies and tofu on top of a scoop of rice, add a bit more soy sauce (if you wish), and enjoy that stir fry of your eye!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hummingbird Pieced Pouch

Last month when my family was visiting, Abby showed me one of her favorite books and drew a picture about it. I now have a wonderful crayon-colored picture of three different species of birds. With Easter coming up, I knew I wanted to make something for my cousin and it just had to incorporate a bird somehow.

I saw this on Instagram, and really wanted to try to make something like it on my own. I decided to piece together a hummingbird from random fabric scraps, and then use it to make a zippered pouch. I made my first zippered pouch for a swap recently, and ever since then, I've been itching to sew up some more.

It took me basically an entire day just to piece together and sew the the front hummingbird panel. As you can probably tell, this was my first venture in piecing odd shaped fabric scraps together. It didn't turn out so bad, but I could definitely use a lot more practice. Perfecting the corners was so frustrating and still seems impossible to me. The bird's beak is positioned at the wrong angle, but by the time I realized it, I would've had to basically start completely over. I'll definitely go the tried and true, actual pattern route next time, instead of going rogue and free-handing it. I say this now, but I'm a pretty stubborn person, so we shall see. I added a sequin for the eye and called the front piece finished.
Assembling the actual pouch didn't take nearly as long as that front panel. I used Noodlehead's tutorial which is very well written and easy to follow. I had a little trouble with both of the corner seams at the top of the pouch. Lauren suggested I try this next time, and I think I will.

This project took me a little bit longer than anticipated, so I mailed Abby's package late. I was hoping that she would receive it by Easter Sunday, but one day late isn't so bad. Lauren also knit a bunny nugget for her. I hope Abby enjoys her little Easter goodies! Abby doesn't really know it yet, but she's our new pen pal! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Vegan Easter Brunch

I know I've said it before, but I"ll say it again just once more. This year was my first Easter away from my family, and since I'm really into celebrating the holidays, I had to adapt and recreate some of the traditions I'm accustomed to. One of the most important Easter traditions is of course, brunch.

I didn't really want to go through the whole hassle of finding a restaurant that met every single item off of my long list of needs for this long-anticipated brunch. For me, Easter brunch most certainly needs to have plenty of vegan options, and it wouldn't hurt for it to be a buffet either. Hey, Easter only comes once a year, so why not indulge?

One night when I couldn't fall asleep and my mind was racing, I decided that Lauren and I should just make our own Easter brunch. This way would could cook whatever we wanted and there would be plenty of food for seconds and leftovers. That same restless night, I went through my "Vegan Food" board and Pinterest and created an Easter menu in my head. The next morning, I told Lauren about my plans and she was gladly on board.
Yesterday we stuffed ourselves with:
- Fruit salad (strawberries, oranges, pineapple, pink lady apples, and raspberries)
- Caesar salad
- Sauteed green beans with slivered almonds
- Smashed potatoes
- Mini sandwiches made from dinner rolls, Celebration Field Roast, Chao cheese, and herb cream cheese
- Chocolate cake

Everything was so delicious and now we have plenty of leftovers to last us the next couple of days. Brunch is the best! 
Also, Lauren made me an assortment of vegan truffles, almond butter-chocolate dipped pretzels, and chex mix as part of my Easter goodies. They're even better than brunch!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter Day!

Abby sent me an Easter card the other day; the inside read, "Dear Courtney, Happy Easter Day. Love, Abigail". So, Happy Easter Day to you too!
These pictures are our family Easter pictures from 1998 and 2014. 

Typically on Easter, I would attend church with my family then we'd head out for a bite to eat with the rest of my dad's family. It really didn't matter where we ate, but it always had to be a brunch buffet. My mom would give us all Easter baskets filled to the brim, and some years we would even have a huge Easter egg hunt in the backyard.

This year is different though, and that's okay. It's both mine and Lauren's first Easter away from our families, so we had to get creative. We've filled Easter baskets for each other this year, and we're diving into them first thing today. We'll be walking to church in the morning (thanks for coming with me Lauren), then coming back to our apartment and making ourselves a huge, fancy brunch. We're even going to have an egg hunt in our tiny apartment later on in the day.

In case your head is just spinning in circles at this point and really want to know more about my previous Easter adventures, here are Easter recap posts from 2012 and 2013. Hop on over and enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Best Friend Friday No. 26: Easter Prep

Yesterday, April 3 Lauren and I spent the day gearing up for Easter. It's going to be our first Easter away from our families, so we're doing everything we can think of to still make it a joyous occasion. This means two things for us: Easter baskets and food. 
Our Friday started off on a great note, receiving Easter treats in the mail from my grandma and Abby. Both of them sent us cute cards and Abby also included some delicious vegan chocolate bars! Have I mentioned that I love getting mail?

Lauren and I aren't really good at keeping gifts a surprise from each other. Since we share a small apartment, there aren't too many places to keep things hidden, and when we're working on a project, it's always in plain view. Lauren spent the majority of the day in the kitchen, working on items for my Easter basket. I saw her making a huge batch of chex mix (she also asked me to pick up Chex from the grocery store), and she had me taste test various vegan chocolate truffles. I've never been a huge fan of truffles, but these are seriously amazing, especially the pretzel coated ones! I'm not allowed to open the freezer, so I know there's something else hiding in there for me too. I can't wait to get my hands on my Easter basket tomorrow morning!

I also spent Friday working on presents for Lauren's Easter basket. She already knew the handmade items she was going to get (since she requested them), but she didn't know some of the tiny details. At first I was trying to keep parts of the project a surprise, but it was too hard. So I let Lauren watch me cross stitch goodies for her basket. One of these days we'll be able to keep each others' gifts under wraps though. 
We obviously needed to end the day eating pizza. White dough, marinara, cashew cheese, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, olives, and kale for the win! Seriously though, kale is now our favorite pizza topping! Last week we added kale to our pizzas on a whim because we were out of spinach, and we ended up loving it. While we ate dinner, we also watched "Friends" and finished the first season. Lauren didn't care for the show at first, but now she's starting to find it slightly funny. I on the other hand, think it's hilarious!

I for one had a productive Friday getting things ready for Easter. We still have some grocery shopping to do, lots of cooking, and I still have a lot more crafting to get done by tomorrow morning. I better get to it! 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Marathon Training Update

I was looking at my most viewed posts the other day and I noticed that "What Did I Get Myself Into?" was pretty high up on that list. But in all honesty, I had no idea which post that title was referring to. I clicked on the link to check out what exactly was going through my mind over a year ago, and I realized that it was in reference to joining SacFit. Boy, was I nervous at the time. I hated running then and was really hoping to learn to somehow like it enough to get some regular exercise in. A month later, "I did it..." and registered to run my first marathon. I remember back then, doubting that I'd be able to finish the entire 26.2 miles. Knowing myself though, I had to take that huge leap and sign up in order to hold myself accountable. Well, it worked. Training and practice really do pay off. Even though I was in an immense amount of pain right after the CIM, shortly after I signed up for SacFit Ultras and registered to run my first ultra marathon with just as much uncertainty about finishing the race. During those three long months of following the rigorous training schedule, I finished the 50 mile race, reveling in all its glory. I even ran a half marathon race not too long after that, and PR'ed! But then the running pretty much stopped.

My body was exhausted; I was was exhausted. I didn't want to look at another schedule of planned daily runs. I was done at that point and really just needed a break. I definitely took my much needed break from running, although it ended up being a wee bit too long. From May till September I only ran whenever I felt like it. I still participated in SacFit's Tuesday and Saturday group runs during the Summer, and even joined in on a few long trail runs every now and then. While I didn't completely lose all the progress I made during the grueling ultra season, I definitely didn't push myself to become a better runner either. This past fall as I was starting to get back into the habit of running again, I realized how easy 15 miles used to feel while at the time, I was currently struggling to hit the 10k mark. Mind you I was running quite a bit faster than I had in the past, but I just couldn't get over how easy running to be.

Lauren and I talked about this and immediately realized that we needed to have races in mind for the next year in order to make running easier and more enjoyable again. We used to spend almost all weekend just running and we actually liked that. Now, the terrain here in Philadelphia is much different than California's. On the West Coast, drive an hour in any direction and you'll find yourself some pretty good sized mountains and hills to run. I know of one "trail" in Philadelphia, and without a car, just getting to that location is a long run in and of itself. Even though we desperately wanted to finish another ultra distance, we knew that wasn't a smart decision right now. We eventually decided to train for another marathon and focus on speed more than distance. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get back into shape and really train hard. The San Francisco Marathon happens to fall in July, right around the time we were looking at completing our first race "post-retirement". It also gave us a good excuse to come home to Sacramento for a few weeks.

We decided to use our old SacFit marathon training schedule because we were successful with it the first time. We're a lot faster than we were when we originally started the program, so we chose to use a faster pace group's schedule which meant adding on an extra few miles every week. We signed up for the SF Marathon in early January and I immediately bought a year long calendar from the dollar spot at Target to use as my running schedule. I find that I'm much more successful when I'm able to actually see what I need to do on paper versus my phone/computer. Every month I go through our old SacFit schedule and write down the respective workouts for each day. Every day that I complete a workout, I highlight that day's task. At the end of each week, I add all my miles for the week and circle the total. Then, at the end of the month, I calculate my monthly mileage and write that number really big on the top of the page to remind myself of how far I've come. This has been working so well for me.

In January I missed just one run. Lauren was sick the whole first week of the month and really couldn't run. I got myself to the gym even when Lauren wasn't able to. I did skip one run that week and like a good best friend, stayed home and made her chickenless noodle soup instead. That's basically one huge excuse for missing that run. I could've easily run and cooked, but I was just lazy and refused to put my running shoes on. Then in February I got pretty sick and even needed to go to the ER. It wasn't that serious, but it was bad enough that I needed to miss two days of running. Even though I so badly didn't want to skip another run, I truly needed to. There was no point in stressing my body out at that time; I really just needed to rest. In March my family visited for an entire week. Even though there was a gym with dreadmills (I mean treadmills), we only used them once. Lauren talked me out of running almost the entire week, saying that it was more important to spend time with family than go running. While I was hesitant to skip a week's worth of training, she was completely right. We started training for our July marathon in plenty of time, so it wasn't that big of a deal pushing our schedule back one week.

The real reason I don't like to skip runs (besides feeling guilty all day long), is because it's so much harder to get out the door and run the next day. From personal experience, I know that when I miss one day of running, the following day I'll tell myself, "oh you skipped yesterday, what's another day?". Then the horrible no-running cycle continues until it's just too late and you show up the morning of the race, completely unprepared. True story.

Luckily though, that hasn't happened so far. This time, I'm a lot more motivated. I've run this distance before, heck, I've run much further than a marathon. I know I can do this. I actually want to do this for myself. I don't have to prove to anyone what I'm capable of. Even though it takes a few miles to get in the groove sometimes, I actually do enjoy running most days. I think that, so far, Lauren and I have been successfully crossing off our daily workouts because this is our big goal and we want to devote a lot of our time into it. We know how much work and energy goes into training for something so daunting, and yet we still want to give it our all. Even though many days it's so hard to push the start button on my watch, once I get going, I'm so happy and proud of what I've done.
We both also signed up to run the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia half marathon on Halloween and the Philadelphia marathon (along with Marissa, Heather, and Leti- they also ran CIM with us in the picture above) towards the end of November. I'm hoping that will multiple races planned throughout the year, I won't fall victim to the way-too-long running break that typically follows the "big race".   

Thursday, April 2, 2015

04.15 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. Go to the gym every single day.
3. Photograph my recent handmade items and share them on the blog.
4. Sew/finish sewing at least three wearable items.
5. Hit the 10,000 step mark every day for an entire week. Sundays are killer.
6. Create two new recipes.
7. Blog daily.
8. Run/walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge into New Jersey.
9. Finish all of the planned Easter goodies.
10. Figure out a mother's day present for my mom.

I had a tough time coming up with ten good goals this month.That being said, I'm really hoping to hop on the sewing train and make a good dent in my fabric stash. I realize three garments really aren't that many, but I wanted to make this goal achievable. I also hope (cross my fingers) to start May off with enough handmade clothing items to participate in Me Made May this year. Last year I loved scouring Instagram and admiring all of the beautiful handmade items. Basically, I want to be cool like that!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

03.15 Goals Roundup

In the beginning of the month my family came to the East Coast and spent a week in Philadelphia visiting. This was way more exciting and fun than accomplishing any of my goals for the month. Seriously though, my goals were put on the back burner while they were here and I don't regret that one bit.
1. Read a book: I sure did! I read "Still Alice" and loved it so much that I finished it in less than two days. While that may not seem super impressive, I'll let you know that doesn't happen too often around here, unless we're referring to "Eleanor & Park" that I read last month .

2. Take lots of pictures when my family visits: I could have taken a lot more photos because you can never have enough, but I'm definitely pleased with the amount and quality I did take. I really wanted to make sure that I took pictures of people, not just things. Pictures where people are the focus of the image are always my favorite and most memorable to me.

3. Finish Lauren's belated birthday cowl: I'm actually really surprised I managed to complete this in less than a month! While I did get stuck and frustrated a few times, this goal was really important to complete. I took a lot of "breaks" from knitting, but all in all I loved the pattern and will probably knit another Three Color Cowl someday. Don't worry, there will eventually be a separate post all about the super squishy cowl!

4. Reach 450 miles on my running shoes so I can get new ones: After my last long run on Saturday I easily broke past the 450 mile mark, just in the nick of time. Since I started running in the Summer of 2013, I've bought all of my running shoes at Fleet Feet because I love their shoe fitting process. Even though I always ended up liking the same exact brand and model, I kept going back even though I could've saved money and time just ordering the shoes online. Unfortunately this time though, I was on the completely opposite side of the country when I needed new running shoes and wasn't able to go to Fleet Feet. I decided to try a Philadelphia-based running store, Philadelphia Runner, that I walk past almost every day. While their shoe fitting process wasn't as comprehensive as Fleet Feet's, I'm still happy with their overall service. They still took the time to watch how I walk, looked at how my old running shoes wore, and talked to me about the various shoes I was trying on. The last three pairs of shoes I've bought have been stability shoes. I've been noticing though that the outside of my heels have been wearing much faster than the rest of my shoe, so I went into the shoe fitting process thinking that I could actually benefit from a neutral shoe. I was right; I do tend to supinate. I still found Asics to fit my feet the best, and so far I'm very happy with my new Asics Nimbus. I joked to my mom that I'm like Harry Potter and his Nimbus broomstick, at least she thought it was funny. 

5. Try a new recipe each week: Although I haven't used the definition of a "week" strictly, I did manage to bust out four new-to-me recipes this month. The first week I made Asian noodles, adapting The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Both Lauren and I enjoyed it, so much so that Lauren used my adapted sauce recipe to make a noodle cabbage salad a few weeks later. Even though Lauren made it before, I made Thug Kitchen's banana bread (best banana bread ever) and made sure every last bite was devoured with almond butter. We had a butternut squash to use from our CSA box so I decided to make butternut squash sauce over pasta. It was delicious and I thought it tasted really similar to macaroni and cheese. Although Lauren still liked it, the recipe didn't have the same connotation for her as it did for me. A few days ago after dinner, Lauren suggested we make dessert together. Normally we take turns cooking; it can get a little tricky with too many cooks in the kitchen. But I'm happy to report that everything went smoothly and we ate every last morsel of these vegan gluten free cookies by Minimalist Baker.

6. Finish THE quilt. (Let's try this one again): I still didn't bind the quilt. The shame.

7. Mend all of my clothes that need some TLC: I finally got around to patching a hole in a pair of warm, fuzzy Christmas socks. I even mended a broken strap on a night shirt. But alas, there's still a few clothing items that need some mending.

8. Fill three more frames for my art/gallery wall: I only got one more frame filled and I used paint chips to do it! There are still a lot more to go though, and I was still shy of fulfilling this goal.

9. Beat Lauren at least once in the Work Week Hustle using my FitBit: I beat her twice, actually!

10. Incorporate weights into my workout routine: I actually lifted weights several times this month. Even though this is more than all of last year combined (probably), I can't quite cross this off my goals list because lifting weights never became routine. I hit the weights on occasion, when I had an extra half hour to kill at the gym. Even though I wasn't successful, I figured out that in order to be, I need to lift lighter weights so that I won't be too sore to lift again within a reasonable amount of time. One day I'll get there.

Score for March: 6 out of 10.