Kelly the Culinarian: December 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Superlatives

It's crazy for me to think another year is almost down the drain. This year has been one I'm ready to leave in the history books. It had its highs - I became an Ironman, took 41 minutes off of my marathon time, set a new 5K PR and got promoted to the director level at work. I also moved cross country twice, got divorced, gained 20 pounds and spent more time in an airport than I ever hope to again. They can't all be diamonds, I suppose.

Even more amazing to me is that I've been pouring my heart out to the Internet since 2007, inviting strangers to weigh in on my life, recipes and races. This will be my fourth year of looking back at the best of the posts (Read2013 Superlatives, Best of 2012, My Favorite Posts of 2011) and I'm still surprised with how much I can capture and change in a year. Granted, these are just small snapshots into my life, but I'm grateful I've kept track through the years so I can look back at my greatest hits and memories. Without further adieu, the greatest hits of 2014:

Most Popular PostOh Baby! No-Bake Biscoff Bars Recipe. This by far has received the most traffic this year, thanks in part to Pinterest and the Biscoff website.

Most Popular Pinterest PostHomemade Cherry Pie Filling. This pin has been repinned more than 1,400 and liked 120 times! It is really tasty, after all.
Favorite Crockpot RecipeLight Crock Pot Thai Peanut Recipe. Not only did this turn out repeatably delicious, the photos were keepers.

Most Delicious Dessert RecipePerfect Peanut Butter Bomb Brownie Recipe. This was heavenly. The tray of brownies was probably 10 pounds with everything that was loaded and layered into this decadent treat.

Most Helpful Life Advice: Career advice for my sister and 30 lessons learned in 30 years. I've been a bit introspective this year, starting with my youngest sister's graduation from college and continuing with my 30th birthday. I learned a lot about myself, life, relationships and work this year, much of which I'm still processing. We're constantly evolving, and I'm hoping someone can learn from my hard-fought wisdom.

Most Helpful Racing Posts: Tips and tricks for tackling the Circular Logic Marathon and 16 Secrets for Your First Sprint Triathlon. The first post has been one of my most-viewed for the year, and the second was a quick list of tips and tricks you learn along the way to an Ironman.

Biggest Accomplishment: Ironman Wisconsin. I finished it. Smiling. Through technical errors, undertraining and one hell of a summer, I could still dig deep and cross the finish line of my greatest adventure, just as I had dreamt of for years.

Best Race MedalCircular Logic Marathon. It's just cool. Simple, interesting and visually stunning. So much so I'm going to run this race again this spring.
I Ran One-Mile Loops In a Park And Finished The
2014 Circular Logic Marathon But Never Got Far From
My Car Since

Best Race ShirtEsprit de She Naperville Triathlon. Not a shirt, per se, but way, way better. Esprit de She gives out Moxie Cycling jerseys, which are by far my favorite cycling tops. I actually wore a Moxie jersey for 2/3 of the Ironman because it's comfortable, flattering and has pockets. PS - if you sign up for the Esprit de She Naperville Tri by 12/31, you get an extra Moxie jersey. Use EDS023 for your promo code!

Favorite Vacation: My run-cation to Vermont where I PRed the Vermont City Marathon by 25 minutes as part of the #CabotFit Team. The whole place was gorgeous, and the trip was victorious. I hope I have the opportunity to go there again!
Most Personal PostSuddenly Single: New Me Manifesto. Because 2014 was the best of times and the worst of times, too.

Favorite Rant Posts:#BikiniBridge B.S. and My Thoughts on Dean Reike. Sometimes, I just have to clear the air.

Coolest Blogger ExperiencesMeeting Hungry Girl, AKA, Lisa Lillian, and getting smooched by cows at a Cabot farm. Blogging opens doors that I am very fortunate to walk through and savor. Thank you to the amazing brands and organizations that have trusted me to share their mission with my readers.

And an even bigger thank you to my readers for joining me throughout this crazy, unprecedented year. Come back for more in 2015, please?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Photos from Christmas 2014

A banner year at Mahoney Manor! My parents were here and got everything set up while I worked.
We got a few entertaining gifts (not gag gifts at all).

The dogs of the manor were apparently very good this year and got presents as well.
Then we got to the serious business of a lovely dinner together.
And now I'm learning how much the earth's mightiest sheeb hates baseboards.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Few Christmas Reflections

I get introspective at the weirdest times, and this certainly is one of them. My whole family is within a few miles of my house in anticipation of the big day tomorrow. None of us have been all that good this year, but we have high hopes St. Nick will overlook our transgressions. Otherwise, I'm getting coal, a dictionary and pajamas.

This is my first Christmas that isn't heavily scheduled and timed and synchronized in many years. It's going to be a very low-key few days filled with cooking, unwrapping, board games, movies, dog walks and naps. I've been sick for a week solid now, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to rest and recharge.

We live in a cult of busy. "How are you?" is just as frequently answered with "busy" as anything else. I like to occupy my mind, no doubt, but I've spent the last year in airports and transitions, bustling from one meeting and engagement to the next. My life has been a constant check list, so it's nice to not have a ton on my plate right now. My only goals for the next few days are to spend time with my family and maybe run a few miles.

So cheers to unscheduleness and the lack of busy. Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Food Tasting Panel at Now We're Cookin'

So in my dreams, I've always had a spacious kitchen perfect for entertaining. Multiple sinks, a roomy stainless steel refrigerator, spotlessly clean wall mounted double ovens and a range with six burners. Because when I dream, I dream big. When I walked into Now We're Cookin', it was like peering into the Pinterest-fueled kitchen of my dreams. I was invited this weekend to the facility to test out new products and provide my feedback, which is cool enough in itself. The product were interesting and we had a chance to work with some of the items hands-on in the kitchen to find out what it was really like to use it in a home kitchen.

Now We're Cookin' is a food incubator featuring a rentable commercial kitchen that helps small start ups create their products or demonstrate their culinary techniques. It's a massive kitchen and dining area that celebrates food and the entrepreneurial spirit.

And I had to be spirited that day - we were cooking with bugs. We started with tasting Chapul protein bars, which were made with cricket flour. It's a gluten-free paleo option that's high in protein. We gave feedback on the packaging and flavors before tasting one of my favorite products on the planet, coffee. Chapin coffee is a Guatemalan product that provides three meals for a child in need for every bag sold. It was really tasty, too.

Then, we were off to the main event - baking with Bitty cricket flour. There were several stations set up and all the ingredients were laid out for pizza, savory crepes, chocolate chip cookies and a rustic apple cake. My station, the apple cake, was clearly the winner in terms of ease. I sliced apples while my partner mixed up the batter and it was in the oven in no time.

This gave me a nice pocket of time to try out Majani Teas, which is a newly launched line of luxury teas that have the cutest packaging. I like the breakfast tea the best, and am presently sipping on some with a puppy on my lap.

By that time, the buggy entrees were coming together nicely. I tasted everything and was really happy with how our cake turned out - the only issue was that since the flour is brown already, it was hard to tell when the top was browned. The recipe was supposed to bake at 350 for 35 minutes. I think it would have been better if we baked it at 325 for 60 minutes.

We rounded out the day with my favorite product of the whole experience, Macbubl. These babies were coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate. So image those fudge-dipped Oreos that are super popular this time of year, except moist, with better ingredients and a tastier filling, and that's what Macbubl is. I enjoyed every last bite and was sad I didn't take one home.

Anyhow, what was cool about this experience was the ability to help small business in the food industry by providing my feedback. It's also great to see a facility that helps people break into food production, which can be daunting because of the need to process and create products in a commercial kitchen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three Things Thursday

1. I am so excited - I secured a super sweet blogger in for the Chicago Auto Show first look for charity courtesy of the Chicago Food Bloggers. It's going to be amazing - I get a preview of the event and what it takes to pull off this black-tie affair, then I get to attend it on Feb. 13 and see everything come together. Problem - it's black tie. Which dress should I get?
Colors are changeable, just looking at styles

2. I was reading Runner's World and can't believe this tiny dog - he has his own medals! I had no idea dachshunds were such avid runners and able to log 35 miles a week. Impressive pup.

3. I got the new Influenster #FrostyVoxBox and am already enjoying the context. My hair is finally long enough to require a hairbrush, so it was a nice surprise in addition to the normal hair care and make up items.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How to Not Have a Mean Dog

Napoleon is six. He was a bit of a jerk. Well, a lot of a jerk. The neighborhood kids called him the mean dog because he barked at them violently when they rode by on bikes.

A lot of it was me - I was always anxious when he was around people because he would react erratically, so he sensed that and behaved in kind. During the past few months, I've made a concerted effort to make my dog less of a jerk and more socially acceptable. It's had mixed results. He still wakes me up in the middle of the night by barking at who knows what (I hope it's not a ghost), but he has stopped barking at every person relaxing on the couch, he doesn't beg at the table and I'm not afraid to take him places anymore. I even took him to a holiday party this weekend. It went well for everyone ... except maybe not Prince Napolio, king of the castle and tamer of toddlers:
So here are the things I did to make my dog more socially acceptable:
1. Sweater training. This sounds weird, but it works. Instead of spraying him with water, shocking him or shaking keys at him when he's bad, I preemptively put a costume on him when I know he's in a situation where he might freak out. It's like those thundershirts they sell on TV, but cheaper. It calms him and puts him into what I call a cost-oma: a costume-induced coma.

2. Fewer treats. I swear that I used to go through a bag or two of treats a month because he would get one every time he went out, and I'd ply him with them to calm down when I was working from home. Now, he has to actually work for treats, and they're doled out at random.
3. Patience for everyone. Napoleon now has to wait. If I'm cooking in the kitchen or eating at the table, he has to put his butt on the wood and wait. This means no begging while we're eating.

4. More time with other dogs. Napoleon has a lot of quality time with other puppies now, learning that he is not the only furball to ever walk this Earth. It's a good reminder for him that he is not in charge all the time.
5. More cuddles. This little guy needs attention. I try to sit with him when I work from home, and spend time with him each day so he's not needy or sad.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Things Thursday

1. Napoleon's vast and varied contributions to the cuteness factor on this blog are really paying off. WellPet sent him Old Mother Hubbard Jingle Jangle P-Nuttiers and he was ready to learn how to empty the dishwasher to earn one. They're on the smaller side, too, which I appreciate as Napoleon is also on the smaller side.

2. My holiday shopping is done, I just have to finish assembling and wrapping stuff, but I got an e-mail this week that would make a great gift idea. RawSpiceBar is a brand new subscription service that send three spice blends monthly for $6 a pop, and offers three-, six- and 12-month subscriptions. I think it's cool because they're sending out spices from around the world that aren't quite popular in America yet, as well as suggestions on how to use them. It's a pretty easy gift to spice up dinner for the cooks in your life (see what I did there?).

3. Does anyone know how I can display my pressed pennies? I've been picking these up everywhere I go since I was a kid and have quite an expansive collection these days. They're currently in my wallet, which is a shame since they speak a story of all the places I've traveled to and things I've seen throughout the years.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Win it Wednesday: Sky Zone Elmhurst Passes

If you creep on my Instagram, you already know I had an awesome visit at Sky Zone Elmhurst. It's a really cool facility that's every kids' dream - a giant room full of all kinds of trampolines in different permutations and combinations.
Spoiler alert, it's pretty fun for adults, too. There's a foam pit for practicing your next acrobatic feat, along with a basketball court that allows even a shorty like me to dunk for real.

The whole visit was pretty simple - you sign a waiver and then get a pair of sticky-bottomed socks to wear around the facility. There's a lot of adult supervision and assistance, and there's only a single entrance, so it would be tough to lose a kid in this place. When I went, there were three distinct areas open that provide enough room to move around and be silly. In addition to be fairly empty that night, it was spotlessly clean, which is refreshing. There's also space for a private party and a snack bar.

I went for an hour and was pretty wiped out at the end, so I can see how this would be an excellent workout ... or manner to exhaust the little ones in your life. Either way, it's money well-spent, but you don't have to spend it if you're the winner of this giveaway. Sky Zone gave me one-hour passes to raffle off so you can try it for yourself, enter below and give it a go for yourself!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cooking with Kelly: Napoleon's Favorite Dog Treat Recipe

This headline is a bit of a lie - Napoleon loves all treats. Some of his favorite human food snacks include bananas, sweet potatoes, boiled egg yolks, green beans, pumpkin, peanut butter and tuna. He can hear bananas being unpeeled and cans opening. He's a little rascal.

But for Christmas, now that we all have dogs, we thought it would be nice to include the furkids in the holiday festivities. The PR people behind Kretschmer's also sent me a coupon for wheat germ to use, so I figured I'd try a recipe that incorporates it. Wheat germ is a power food that I stir into oatmeal or add to granola. I added it to these treats to provide structure and keep them from falling apart.

A word on the peanut butter: I prefer natural peanut butter, but for baking, you have to use the normal stuff. It has stabilizers that prevent your baked goods from spreading and falling apart. Which is integral if you want to create a Jurassic Park of treats for your pups to destroy.

Peanut Butter Banana Dog Treat Recipe
1 egg
1/3 cup regular peanut butter
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 cup mashed up ripe banana
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup Kretschmer's wheat germ
water as needed

Start with whisking the egg, then add the peanut butter and honey and whisk until smooth. Continue to whisk in the banana, then switch to a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients.