Kelly the Culinarian: March 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 Circular Logic Marathon Race Report

Six-word recap: No PR during this legacy race.

I did Circular Logic last year and hope to keep doing this race every year. There are so many reasons to run Circular Logic: it's cheap, it's close, it's well-supported, it's flat. The only drawback is it's 26 one-mile loops. Some would say this is boring. However, it's easy to find the silver lining. You're never more than 1 mile from your car or a bathroom. You can set up your own aid station. Your support team doesn't have to move an inch to see you start, finish and pass by 26 times.

See why I'll keep doing this forever?

Not to mention, the swag is great. You get a gender-specific tech T-shirt with your name on it and a stellar medal, complete with additional charms if you do it more than one year. So I had to not only do this race, but finish it.

We assembled the same crew as last year and recruited a few more friends to make the uneventful two-hour drive to West Lafayette, where we stayed at a very nice suite procured by Mo. It was nicer than any of my college apartments, and made it easy for us to reheat our Costco pizza for dinner, turn in early and sleep well before cashing in on the free breakfast. We had a short 15-minute drive to Cumberland Park and found a spot right next to the course without incident. There were four port-o-potties this year, along with two normal bathrooms, and th
e same aid station as last year. Volunteers refill your bottles for you and return them to the table, making this a zero-waste race.

I started with the 9 a.m. crowd, although there's a 7 and an 8 a.m. start option. This year's timing was upgraded to triathlon-style anklets, which worked quite well and there were no issues with missed laps. I didn't have high hopes for this year. My training, while it included two 20-mile runs, was not exactly text book. I really just wanted to finish this race and smile. So I settled into an 8:30 to 8:40 pace, which I kept up for probably the first 10 miles. My tummy started rumbling around six, but I kept it together until 17. At that point, I stopped for a much-too-long bathroom break. Oh well.

Basically, you can split this marathon into three parts - the first 10 miles, I maintained a respectable 8:30-pace. The second 10 miles, I was closer to a nine-minute pace. The last 10k, I ran/walked what I could. I finished in 4:11, which was faster than last year, so I can't really complain.

Here's to running around in circles for years and years to come.

Time: 4:11:41.66

Cost: $43

Pros: It's cheap, it's well-supported, it benefits the local running community, it's easy to get to, great shirt and medal, lots of incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.

Cons: It's a circle. Over and over again. You pass people on a sidewalk and on the street. The weather is unpredictable this time of year in Indiana.

Would I do this race again?: Every. Damn. Year.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My meal at El Tapeo Oakbrook Center

I was recently contacted by the PR team behind El Tapeo, a Spanish tapas place located in the Le Meridien in Oakbrook Center. They're hosting an Easter brunch at El Tapeo next weekend and invited me to partake in their offerings. In addition to tapas and a really nice view on the ninth floor of the hotel, the restaurant has an expansive menu offering seafood, steaks and signature cocktails. It's also a very sleek space that feels like it belongs in a sophisticated downtown locale. It's nice to have something so upscale and romantic this close to home, meaning I don't have to fork over cash for parking or worry about how I'll get home.

After a warm welcome from the staff and a review of the menu with the head chef, we were ready to get to the first course of every meal: cocktails!

We got the Mediterranean pink lady and the Paraiso, as well as a number of pre-dinner tapas. From the top: bacon-covered stuffed dates, Palpo (grilled marinated octopus) and the mushroom croquettes with cilantro sauce. I enjoyed the dates, which contained marcona almonds, which were a crunchy contrast. The tomato sauce they came with was also fantastic. The vegetables served with the octopus were also really tasty. Moving on, the next course was my favorite: Spanish-style charcuterie featuring the most delectable black footed iberico pig, an assortment of olives, pickled green beans and toasted bread rounds. It was so good alongside the white wine sangria. The combo would be an awesome happy hour offering.
Why bother with lettuce when this salad has seafood?! Our salad course was a jumbo lump crab salad with avocado, blood orange gelle, chervil and toast points. It was so creamy and the seasoning on the toast complemented the salad accouterments.
For the main course, the chef recommended the paella, and when in Spain ... we order the paella, obviously. It had a little bit of everything in it - lobster, mussels, shrimp and clams over seasoned rice, served in a giant pan perfect for sharing.
On the recommendation of yelp, we ordered the seasoned potatoes, which were topped with creme freche and a tomato sauce. We also went for the setas, which is  wild mushrooms, garlic, fresh herbs and cana de cabra cheese, which I thought worked well with the earthy flavor of the mushrooms.
And finally, dessert. I didn't care that I would need to get rolled out of that place. The answer to dessert is always yes at a place like this. We went for the manchego cheesecake and the chocolate pastry, which was a lava cake served with pistachio ice cream. Paired with the espresso, the dish was molten chocolate bliss. It came with caramelized bananas and some crunchy bits under the ice cream, which was a nice contrast of textures throughout the dish.

Thanks, El Tapeo, for the awesome meal and service. Learn more about El Tapeo's Easter brunch and experience it for yourself.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Five Things Friday

1. Congratulations to Julie, my Allied Medal Display $50 gift card giveaway winner! This was a super popular giveaway, eliciting nearly 300 entries. I love my medal hanger and intend to put it to good use because tomorrow ....
I love medals

2. I'm running a marathon. I'm running my second-annual Circular Logic Marathon in West Lafayette, Ind. I am not prepared, and I don't think I can PR, but hell, I'll probably keep running this race every year just because.

3. I've had the same set of business cards reprinted by VistaPrint for the second time. The first time, the printing turned out cheap looking. The second time was awesome, except for a small oversight: I am not an Eastern Medicine Practitioner. Here's what I sent VistaPrint:

I got the new cards and on the back it says I'm an acupuncturist. I am not. I am a social media expert. I'm going to need a new set ASAP. I've never had a problem before, and now it's been more than a month since my initial order.
-Kelly (not an acupuncture guru)
I'll be getting a new set by Tuesday.

4. I got a new shipment from Cabot this week that I'm pretty pumped about. I've been mulling over firing up my square foot garden again this year, so this was just the pushed I needed. Time to get to planting this weekend.

5. Just a friendly reminder that time is almost out to enter my giveaway for a Moxie Cycling jersey. I've got three to give away to Esprit de She participants who use my code (EDS023), so make sure you comment on the post by Tuesday to let me know you registered.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Win it Wednesday: Liquor Lab 1-year membership

Hi readers! I hope you're having an awesome week. I myself am enjoying the sun and fun of Florida while working a conference ... right before tackling my second-annual Circular Logic Marathon.

Moving on, because who wants to talk about anxious things, you may have caught my Liquor Lab Review experience. In short, I had a blast learning about cocktails and imbibing with a cool set of people in a slick downtown location. If you'd like to do the same, I have an offer for you. I'm pleased to offer a one-year Liquor Lab membership valued at $175. Rafflecopter will randomly select a winner after one week, so good luck!

See you at the next Liquor Lab, lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My 12 hours at O'Hare Airport

I can't even believe this happened. I'm slated to do social media for a meeting in Florida and it snowed a touch in Chicago overnight.
Cue the horror music.

I knew it was going to be a crappy day as soon as I got into my Uber. It took me 45 minutes to make a trip that normally takes 25, and I was worried I wouldn't make it on time. I could see the plane at the gate, and our flight was on t
ime, then delayed, then canceled.
Luckily, I was right by the check in desk and immediately got on the next direct flight ... at 2:10. Everyone else I work with on that flight was booked onto a 2:50 connecting through Miami.
I'm VIP on the wait list
I waited, waited and waited. Check my e-mail, worked on long-term projects, bid my time.

I got on the second flight and they took my carry on at the gate because it was so full. We sat and sat, then found out that there was no pilot. Then they said it would be another two and a half hours until we had a crew and asked us to vacate. Then it was canceled.
And they still had my bag.

I had to wait another two hours for my bag, and was booked onto a 2:10 flight today. Luckily, I took the first flight out today on stand by, but that was only after 12 continuous hours at O'Hare with the possibility of a repeat again today.

God bless smartphones and credit cards.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Liquor Labs 11: A barrage of beer beverages

Cedric of Liquor Labs contacted me a while ago about his business venture, which is an underground dinner club of sorts focusing on elevating and refining the world of cocktails. His concept is that people join a club for an annual fee, then get exclusive invites to pop up parties themed around different liquors. The location is announced just a few days before.

I was super excited to see a beer-themed night on the books, because I am a beer geek through and through. I don't drink often, but when I do, it tends to be beer. This particular event was hosted at The Chop Shop downtown, which I've never been to and felt not quite cool enough to be at. Nonetheless, we got a table at the front of the room and sat down to start imbibing. We waited about 40 minutes for the event to start and get kicked off with our first beverage. How it worked was there was a six-course menu of drinks paired with small bites to be shared by the table.
Look at all those noms! My favorite drinks included this beauty:
It's a porter-based cocktail infused with coconut liquor and topped with coconut flakes. It was so, so good.
And this dessert was divine:

The dessert was a panna cotta with balsamic infused berries, which was more savory than sweet, and complemented the dessert drink deliciously. It was my beloved Not Your Father's root beer topped with vanilla ice cream. So creamy, so boozy!

The Sleepy Hollow, which is on the left, was also amazing. It was even better as the ice melted and it mellowed.
This was a very cool experience - I learned a lot about how to blend my favorite beers into cocktails and enjoyed some really great charcuterie in a new environment. It's also great to see mixologists doing their thing and applying all their talents in such an intimate setting. It was easy to ask questions and learn more, as well as network and make new friends.
Want to try Liquor Labs for yourself? Stay tuned ..

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. I'm finally feeling back to myself. After a visit to a minute clinic, antibiotics, boxes of kleenex and a humidifier, I think I'm in good health again. I've gotten in a few runs this week and hope I didn't do much damage as I'm running a marathon a week from Saturday. Eek.
2. I'm happy to be back to normal because I have a really cool event to attend tomorrow night. I'm going to a meeting of Liquor Lab, which is a pop up, underground gathering of beverage enthusiasts. It's a membership-based club with monthly events themed around different spirits, with the location announced at the last minute. Think Diner en Blanc except for alcohol. I can't wait to see how it goes.

3. Sorry, Aaron. And also, sorry BuzzFeed, my student newspaper used that headline like a decade ago. The highlight of this scandal thus far is Aaron Schock's dad.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Win it Wednesday: $50 Allied Medal Hangers Giveaway

Hard-earned Ironman bling
I race for bling. I'm super transparent about this. My medals are very important to me. Sure, they're just trinkets that cost pennies on the dollar, but they represent hours upon hours of work and sacrifice and research and conversations. I have my medals hanging up in the basement with race posters and photos to remind myself what I've accomplished. It's a nice boost when I'm feeling down or wondering why I'm awake at 5 a.m. again to workout.

So it's only natural that I take care in how they're displayed. I got my Allied Medal Hanger two years ago and have proceeded to fill it with memories and mementos. I love the way it looks, the message and the company. I was excited to see the revamped, which now includes a very nifty customizer tool. In honor of this new gadget, which allows users to choose from a plethora of display options to create the perfect medal holder, Allied Medal gave me a $50 giftcard to raffle off. 

I love this tool - you can mix fonts, add images and logos, move things around, change the height and width and add room to grow with up to three bars. This would be a great gift for any athlete, including runner, skaters, skiiers or anyone mildly competitive.  

I'm using Rafflecopter for this giveaway, which will randomly select one winner in a week. I'll announce the winner here in next week's Three Things Thursday post. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Food Swap Packaging Tips

An assortment of goodies from a past swap
I'm a big fan of the food swap community and have attended a number of Chicago Food Swap get togethers. I love the camaraderie of hanging out with people who have a passion for culinary pursuits. Julia Child was right - Food people are the best people.
I often joke that I tend to "win" at food swaps. What I mean by that is I'm usually very pleased with the haul I take home as relates to what I put into my swap items. A huge part of this is the packaging. As kids, we wanted to open the pretty presents first. That drive doesn't dissipate in adulthood and the fact is, the nicer packaged food tends to do better. I've wondered if it's the psychology of a swap - since you have to trust that the other people prepared their items with care and in a sanitary environment, more care placed in packaging appears to be a manifestation and confirmation of that.

So that's a little deep to just talk about pretty ways to pawn off your baked goods, but that's my reasons as to why it's important to put a little thought into how you'll box up and display your wares. Here are a few of my tips on making your goodies more swapable:

1. Think disposable and cost effective. At my first food swap, I brought kombucha. The bottles were roughly $2 a piece. Learn from my mistake - I think about the packaging when decided what to bring so I don't spend a small fortune on the part that people throw away. Instead, I look at low-cost, disposable alternatives like plastic cups, plastic CD sleeves and favor bags. Check out Amazon and Oriental Tradings for these items. I am lucky to have a restaurant supply store nearby, which is where I often get small cups with lids and little sample cups, too.
These are small cocktail cups with cling wrap and ribbon

2. See through is the way to go. People like to see what's inside. Think glass or plastic, not cardboard.
3. Label with contents, creator and contact info. This is pretty standard so people remember what the got and who they got it from. I like to include my business card in case people want to contact me for the recipe, too. Just google "Free label template" or variations thereof for all sorts of stuff to manipulate and print.
Cute, neat and uniform labels

4. Display it like it's jewelry. A few years ago I interviewed a spice shop owner who took over a store front that was once a jewelry store. She kept a lot of the display windows and lighting, showcasing her spices in a way reserved for engagement rings. When you display something as valuable, people will perceive it as more valuable.
My biscoff bar on display, then the swapables in CD cases

5. Think small. Portion size is important. You can barter better with cupcakes than a cake. It also makes it easier to transport. You can always trade two pre-packaged cupcakes v. trying to hack a cake in half, too.

6. Uniform is appealing. This is a trick I learned in retail. Repeating patterns and organized rows of like items are ascetically pleasing. If you can, package all the items the same.

7. Cruise Pinterest. There are so many creative people out there sharing their ideas and insights. I maintain my own Food Swap Ideas board with recipes and packaging inspiration for future swaps and I know I'm not the only one.

8. Have a display version. I usually set aside the nicest-looking bar, cupcake or whatever and set it aside for my model version. I have a tiny cupcake display dome, but you could totally DIY a cake stand with a plate and candlestick. Alternatively, the ones that turn out looking less than stellar can be sliced and diced for samples.

Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Official: Welcome to #CabotFit Team 2015

Running Vermont
Ahhhh, I'm so excited! My love for Cabot runs deep. I've been making recipes with their products for years, and have proudly been a member of their Cheese Board for more than a year. Last spring, my partnership with Cabot grew when I was named to the 2014 Cabot Fit Team. I traveled to Burlington to run and ultimately crush my person record at the Vermont Marathon in what was easily one of my best races ever.

And now, the fun shall continue in 2015! I'm so proud to join seven other inspiring food and fitness bloggers for the Beach2Beacon 10K, happening Aug. 1 in Maine. I've never been to Maine and can't wait to eat all the cheese I can handle while crossing another state off my list.

Here's to training for a new 10K PR!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Excuse me While I do the Sick Thing

Ugh, I hate this. I used to have an immune system of steel. I went seven years without taking a sick day. And now, I'm without a voice, can't sleep, for the second time this year. I got antibiotics for a sinus infection and look forward to actually sleeping more than two hours tonight.

I'm not quite sure what's behind my recent bout of colds and such, but I must remember to get a flu shot next year. It's a bummer to be stuffed up/down and out when it's this nice outside.

Here's to sleeping, Netflix, couch time and puppy cuddles.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Three Things Thursday

I had so many blogging plans for this week, but alas, life threw me a curveball and a cold, so you get what you get.
1. I have the death rattle. I'm coughing and sneezing and can't sleep because I can't get comfortable. Fun fact: you can get Sudafed, the real stuff, at Costco for $1.19 for 48. I wish I didn't know that fact.
2. Circular Logic is mere weeks away. I am very concerned about the potential for disaster at this race. My training has been lackluster, and my two 20-mile runs were piecemeal at best. This might be another "get it done" scenario rather than "push myself to PR above all else." You can't win them all, especially when you haven't put in the work.

3. The Chicago Food Swap is this weekend and I'm trying to figure out what to make. I'm thinking something St. Patrick's Day-themed would be apropos. So what say you, dear readers? Soda bread cookies, whole wheat soda bread muffins, potato soup?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Kitchen Renovation Reveal

First thing's first. I've lived in my home for nearly six and a half years. I can remember before I ever set foot in the place, when I was looking at photos online, I thought "nice bones, but that place needs new counter tops."

Uh, guess I had to really ease into this. So my kitchen looked like when I moved in in 2008:

And here's what it looks like today after a month of work, many hours of toiling and some cold, hard cash, here's what it looks like now:
River white granite, stainless steel appliances, cherry cabinets, mosaic tile back splash and slate floors

River white breakfast bar
It all started with removing the counter tops, painting the walls back to beige and re-routing the plumbing from two sinks to a single basin:

Because I added a breakfast bar, new brackets had to be fitting flush into the existing half wall to support the weight of the new granite.
The counters came in one afternoon and immediately made a difference and brightened the whole place up.
Next up, I had to make a choice on tiles. These mosaic sheets came from Costco, which had them on sale for $25 per box. Each box contained 5 one-square-foot tile sheets and was available in two colors. I ended up going with the brown of the two, and needed eight boxes.
Brown is on the right, but the difference is miniscule
Then I had to select grout color (Haystack, in case you're curious), purchase a bunch of supplies and rent a tile saw.
It took six hours of nonstop work to put in the back splash. It was pretty simple once I got going, but piecing together the cut outs for the outlets was super time consuming.
The grout was a complete messy disaster. That took me another two or three hours of work to get it up onto the walls, then it was a solid week of cleaning up, wiping and touching up before sealing it.
Mid-grout mess
Next were the undercabinet lights. These are LED strips from Amazon that have a dimmer switch. They give off very little heat and can stay on all the time as a nightlight.
The cords had to be bundled and tucked up under the counters before the final step of extending the outlets so the outlet covers would sit flush on the tile.

And a few progress shots: