Kelly the Culinarian: August 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

We're Moving!

It's been a busy year - I donated bone marrow, ran a marathon, we got engaged, trained for Ironman Wisconsin and are planning a wedding. Might as well take on another project, right? I'm pleased to share that this weekend, we're moving on, up and out.

Our current home has served us well, but the time has come to move on. The kids are getting older and have more activities and playdates, and need more privacy and room. We've found a house closer to their school with more space, indoors and out. There are trees for climbing and a cul-de-sac for biking. There's a park for swinging and lots of quiet, traffic-free streets for strolling with poley. There's a loft for my office (I'll be above ground!) and the walk-in closet of my dreams. We have a deck for entertaining, a deep-pour basement for working out and so much storage I might have to just buy more decorations.

We actually closed on the property last week, and have spent the past week moving and renovating. A crew has been hard at work painting and upgrading the doors throughout.

My live-in handyman has also started working his magic on the place: 

So here's to a new beginning in a new location. We're looking forward to making this our own, sharing our projects and tips, and filling this place up with memories together.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. As I suspected, my tomatoes went crazy this month, all developing delicious fruit at the same time. We're having a huge tomato side salad every other night and I have zero regrets about the amount of tomatoes I planted. Three bushes with small fruit was the right call for our family. 

2. He's lucky he's cute, because Napoleon is on my short list. We kenneled him over the weekend and he's returned forgetting where the bathroom is.  I'm not sure what's up with him but it is not cute.

3. He went to the kennel because we were in Madison making the most of our peak weekend of Ironman training. We met up with Alyssa and swam 2.4 miles in Lake Monona Friday night, biked 100 miles on the new Ironman bike course on Saturday and ran 16 miles on Sunday morning. Lots of cinnamon rolls and Pizza Ranch was consumed as a result. We're Ironman ready.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cooking with Kelly: No-Bake Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Box Cake Recipe

Summer is gradually slipping away in the Midwest. All my friends are posting their kids' back to school photos and I know the onslaught of pumpkin spice everything is only a few weeks away. That doesn't mean I'm ready to turn on the oven, though. When I got my August DeGustaBoxUSA, my mind was whirling with the recipe possibilities. I saw the Maria cookies and knew an icebox cake was in my future.

If you're not familiar, Maria cookies are a bit like round, less sweet graham crackers. When I saw them, I immediately thought about spicing up an icebox cake. Since Maria cookies are a traditional Mexican treat, I focused on bringing my favorite Mexican hot chocolate flavors into this cake. So many different companies have Aztec or Mayan chocolate bars, which typically feature a dash of cinnamon and a lingering hint of spice.

So off I went to combine some of my favorite flavors with savory spices. This "cake" is a simple combination of Maria cookies tucked into layers of nutella custard. Other than some vigorous stirring to prevent the eggs from scrambling, this is a no-fuss combination that yields an impressive-looking, refreshing dessert. It was so easy that when I finished making the custard, the small ones helped me assemble the dessert. It won't heat up your kitchen and is served cool, which is a nice change of pace. I served mine cut into squares, but whipped cream would be another great option.

No-Bake Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Box Cake Recipe
1 package Maria cookies 2/3 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
6 1/2 oz Nutella
2 Tablespoons coffee
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Start by lining an 8x8 pan with parchment paper. Place a single layer of the cookies in the bottom of the pan. Combine the milk, heavy cream and half the sugar in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat that until the milk just starts to boil, then remove from the heat.

Beat together the egg yolks and remaining sugar. Temper the eggs (so they don't scramble from the heat) by adding a spoon or two of the hot milk mixture to the eggs, then whisking vigorously to combine. Do this twice, then pour the entire egg mixture into the saucepan with the milk.

Return to the heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Allow it to boil for a 15 seconds, which will cause the mixture to thicken to a pudding consistency. 

Remove from the heat and place in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Allow to cool to room temp.

To assemble, simply add tablespoons of the pudding on top of each cookie and smooth into a layer. Repeat the cookie and pudding layering until you're out of cookies. Refrigerate for at least three hours to allow the cake to come together, then cut with a sharp knife before serving. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. I've been trying to write the same blog post for three days. Peak week is no joke. All these workouts are not only time consuming, they're also draining. My laundry is starting to pile up, but it will wait for me. This weekend marks our last big workout weekend. We're headed to Madison to swim in Lake Monona, bike the course and run some big miles before resting up for our Ironman adventure. I can't believe Ironman Wisconsin is less than a month away.

2. Napoleon finally got a haircut, doesn't he look dapper?

3. It's car-washing season! I never ever used to wash my car. It had wrappers and loose change and half-drank sports bottles rolling around in the back. Now, I drive a pristine car because these folks enjoy spending the evening scrubbing and drying. So many upgrades!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. I got this month's DeGustaBox while I was traveling for work and can't wait to dig into this. I make a recipe with one of the ingredients and already have something in the works. Hint: it includes nutella. It'll be awesome.

2. I love Amazon, but it totally screwed me this week when it comes to wedding planning. I ordered a custom cake topper and this is what arrived. WTF? How am I supposed to put this sticker on top of a cake? I've been pestering Amazon to get my money back.

3. Traveling for work isn't as glamorous as one would think, but coming home to these notes is pretty rad: "We love you inside and out. We will be home soon."

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Race recap: Swim for Freedom 2016

Six-word recap: I'm Ironman ready after this swim.

This is my first year tackling this swim, which traverses Lake Geneva. There are some that complete the entire eight-mile swim solo, as our boat owner/team leader extraordinaire Mark did a few years ago. You can also establish a relay team and split up the miles as you wish, which is what we did this year.

A support boat is required for every team or individual, and Mark put the boat in the lake the night before. We left the house at 4 a.m. and arrived at Gordy's at 4:30, just in time for instructions, bagels and the most delicious coffee ever. I don't know if it's because it was really early or something about these beans are extra special, but the coffee tasted like liquid maple syrup. The gist of the talk was to stay safe, because it's not a race. Swim for Freedom raises money for the families of Special Operations. In eight years, they've raised more than $200,000 to provide college educations to surviving children of special operations personnel killed in combat or training.

After the briefing, we took a team photo and then went to the boat. We crossed the lake and met on the beach opposite Fontana for a group photo before our swimmers took off. We were each given a swim cap with our team number, although for next year, I might wear my own. It was difficult to spot our first swimmer in the chaos, and you have to stay within 40 feet of your swimmer.

Mark took off straight from Lake Geneva beach at 6 a.m. and made a beeline for the first buoy. Race organizers places buoys at the first three mile markers, and then after that, you could sight off of The Abbey in Lake Geneva. I went in the water right after Mark came out. I wore a wetsuit, even though the water was warm, and regretted it by 20 minutes in. It was good practice for the Ironman, but I didn't need it at all.

My goal was to make it to two miles. Sighting was very difficult. Anytime I could see the buoy, another boat meandered into my sight line and I just hoped for the best. I stopped right around 1.17 miles because I could see all my boat mates staring at me and wondered if I'd gone off course or was losing ground. They assured me I was fine, so I checked my watch when I passed the three-mile buoy. I felt awesome when I checked off my two miles and got out of my wetsuit. From there, I refueled with a mimosa and hung out while Alyssa completed 1.2 miles, then Brent followed suit. Jess made it a mile, and then I took to the water for a second round of fun. I closed another half-mile gap, then Mark went back in, and then we all finished together. In all, we came out of the water right before 11 a.m. (1 p.m. was the cut off) and signed ourselves out before hitting the post party.

We each got the best cheeseburger ever, deviled eggs, chips, cookies and beer. We hung out and purchased lottery tickets before retrieving the boat for the day and driving home.

In all, I think I swam three of the eight miles and felt pretty good doing it. The water was very calm in the morning, and slightly less so as we approached the final two miles. This event is super cool - it's basically tailgating with a side of swimming. You can push yourself as much as you want, and it felt very safe. It's well-supported and well-run, and supports a great cause.

Time: 1:02:35 for a two-mile swim

Cost: None, but donations are encouraged

Pros: It's well-run, you get shirts and a water bottle and can koozies, the time limit is generous, it supports a good cause, there's a breakfast and lunch for participants

Cons: It's a damn early day, and there's still boat traffic going on, you have to have a support boat to do the swim (but volunteers are there if you don't have one)

Would I do this again? Yes, for sure

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Training Tuesday

I finally had a really good training week, in spite of a lot of travel. When I was in Florida last week for work, I managed to run 10 miles on the treadmill, swim for 40 minutes in the pool, swim a mile in the ocean and participate in our 5K fun run while logging a ton of hours before heading home.

This weekend was an epic training occasion. Because we're getting close to the whole tapering thing, we drove up for a weekend on the course. We started with a 4-mile jog once we checked into our hotel, and on Saturday, bike two loops on the new bike course. I was gunning for a century but ran out of time and decided 92 was close enough. I felt like I could have kept going, so I'm feeling confident on the bike.

My bike mechanic hard at work on new tires
Sunday was an even better training day. I'll write about it soon, but I participated in a relay swim across Lake Geneva. In all, I think I swam about three miles. My wetsuit still feels ridiculously tight and constrictive, but I'll adjust. Speed, endurance and ability wise, I feel awesome. I was swimming alone, which is much different than traversing the Ironman swim course, but it was a great start.

Left to do is another big run - probably 16 miles - and one last weekend of getting every last ounce of training I can before tapering. It will feel weird not driving north to hammer out miles anymore for a few weeks, but I'm sure my body will thank me in the end.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What You Need to Know about the New Ironman Wisconsin Bike Course

Six word summary: This course sucks so much more.

I earned at least 10 times more froyo than this
After I don't know how long of keeping a standardized bike course, construction has required a new bike course for the 2016 iteration of the race. Since finishing the original course when I did Ironman Wisconsin 2014, I've probably rode the course another half dozen times for training and for fun. When they officially unveiled the new course last week (!), I knew I had to go out and tackle it for my own news. Who changes a bike course six weeks out from a race that typically takes six months to train for? Here are my thoughts on what's new and what to watch for.

But first: The 112-mile bike course used to be comprised of two loops around Verona, Mt. Horeb and Cross Plains, beginning and concluding with "the stick" to and from Madison. The cornerstone of this course was the three sisters/bitches, a series of challenging hills you tackle twice. These were in Mt. Horeb, on Timber Lane Road and at the very end of the course before returning to Verona.

Now, the course consists of two distinct loops. The new course completely removes the Timber Lane road hill. The first loop takes riders up an new challenge on Barlow Road and let me tell you, I am not pleased. There is one hill that you think is the Barlow hill people are complaining about, until you crest it and realize you haven't even begun climbing. I was out of the saddle, huffing and puffing and weaving before I resigned myself to walking up the top third. Worse, it is mosquito infested and completely obscured to spectators. One of my favorite parts of the previous course was the party going on on Timber Lane Road as you try to beat the elevation. The Barlow hill would require spectators to don their finest mosquito repellent apparel and make at least a one-mile trek with coolers and chairs in tow. Additionally, I didn't see a place for port-o-potties, so I doubt many race observers will make it to those confines. At least no one will be there to document me walking up a hill with my bike.

The course on my "I destroyed #TheLoop" shirt is now a relic
You still get the pleasure of Witte Road, but you miss the jostling of the poor pavement on Stagecoach, which also means you miss the tempting siren of Lake Katherine as well.

The second loop does not include the ridiculous hill on Barlow, but it does include some significantly challenging rolling hills. Here are the takeaways:

  • The new course removes Stagecoach road and all of Cross Plains
  • The new course is well-marked. Look for orange arrows as cues.
  • The new course includes Mt. Horeb and the last hill before Verona, but cuts out Timber Lane Road, which is where many spectators usually gather
  • I will be walking up the hill on Barlow, which you only ascend once. It's not worth the mental of physical assault of frying my legs 40 miles into my bike.
  • The new bike course is far less spectator friendly.
  • If this course remains into 2017, I'll be skipping IMWI until it reverts back to the old course.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. I went to a work conference in Florida this week, and stuff got weird. I gave a presentation on social media and worked the interwebs to drum up a serious sense of FOMO for people who didn't show. We had a beach party scheduled that got rained out, but not before this:

2. I also had a rough swim in the ocean. The water was very warm, but I didn't want to go out far because I was alone. I swam along the shore, which mean every wave felt like warfare. I feel ready for the Ironman after that swim alone.

 3. I also ran 10 miles on the hotel treadmill. It was a nice machine and all, but man it's monotonous. Good training week, all things considered.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lessons Learned During my First Kids' Party

I love planning parties. Even in college, my roommates and I would host chocolate fountain parties where we supplied the chocolate and all our friends brought different ingredients. I never thought I'd be planning a kids' party, but here we are. Z wanted a unicorn party this year, so off to Pinterest I went. I figured the same rules applied for parties for the younger set: lots of food, activities a plenty and forced mingling set you up for success. What I didn't anticipate was a heat advisory which forced all our activities inside. We got creative and made this thing work. Here's what I learned:

1. Start with Dollar Tree. We got all the cutlery and plates there, along with table cloths, favor bags and the candy that went in them. I also got wrapping paper, birthday cards and supplies for one of our crafts there.

2. When that fails, Amazon Prime hooks it up. I couldn't find a unicorn pinata, but Amazon had it, along with a giant bag of pinata filler and a pin-the-horn on the unicorn game. It was a hit:

3. Costco cake can't be beat. For less than $20, we had generous slices for everyone. Plus, it was personalized and delicious. Life hack - you can get a chocolate cake and chocolate filling with white icing. You just have to ask.

4. Snacks, snacks, snacks. Over feed people. You can't go wrong with offering too much food. Move what you can to a cooler with ice to avoid kids standing in your refrigerator, and label what cans are where so guests don't have to riffle through cold water to find the right beverage.

5. Set up a kid-specific snack station. These healthier munchies and juice boxes were easy for the small ones to grab and go. The dollar-store snack cups let them take their munchies with them. In retrospect, we should've gotten actual juice boxes, since the straws on the pouches are tough for small fingers.

6. Plan more activities than you think you'll need, because you need them. We set up a craft table in the basement, which meant no one would congregate and stay in one area. It was also the coolest part of the house in spite of the heat. As kids arrived, they made their own unicorn horns. Once we had a quorum and they were getting squirmy, we did the pinata, then moved inside for pin the horn on the unicorn. When they were inside and done with that, we did pizza, cake and presents, then finished it out with a unicorn ornament craft.

7. Dressing up the dog in themed apparel is always a good idea.

8. Space out gifts, and take notes for cards. It can be overwhelming for kids to open everything from their friends, family and relatives in a single go. We let Z open one from my mom the morning of the party, then she had gifts from her friends. The next day, she opened stuff from her grandparents, and on the morning of her birthday, she opened items from us. It helped us all enjoy the process more. With the notes we took on who got her what, she worked on her thank you cards in batches of four or five. That was about all she could muster, and when we said she could play with her new toys if she finished four thank you notes, she was in.

What did I miss? What else have you learned from hosting kids' parties that I should know for next year?