Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Reflections & Gingerbread Cookies

On new year's eve, I like to take some time to reflect on everything that's happened that year. This year I'm starting early because of all of the big changes that have gone on in my life in 2015. Personally, it's felt like my life has been slammed into fast forward ever since I was offered my job at Carnegie Mellon early in 2014. You'll note that this was around the same time that the blog posts started to be less regular... So here are the highlights of 2015.

1. Marriage. On 05/31/2015, I got married! The wedding was fun: we got married in the MIT chapel, and then headed up to spend the weekend celebrating by Squam Lake in New Hampshire. I had obsessed over every detail to make sure that everyone had fun and I think it paid off. In hindsight, despite a rainy wedding day, my wedding photos are my only complaint-- the ones from the chapel and by the Charles river are still MIA and the ones taken at the rain location for our big ceremony are lack luster. (Oh, and if you were there... thank you notes are on my "To Do" list for tomorrow. I was hoping to have all the photos before I sent thank yous, but since half of them still haven't showed up...)

2. Move. Three days later, on 06/02/2015, two moving trucks showed up early in the morning in Providence RI and Somerville MA to pick up our and belongings to take to our new home in Pittsburgh PA. Because of the conflicting geographies of Brown & MIT, my husband and I had never lived together before our wedding, so we did the moving in together thing old school: after marriage! There has been a lot to get used to: living in a house instead of an apartment (3 floors to lose things on!), living with each other (whose sofa should we use? whose pots and pans? when do we go to bed?), and simply Pittsburgh. My husband has never lived outside of New England and we had both been in the Boston area since we graduated from college so it was a big change for us.

3. Thirty. On 07/29/2015 I turned 30! Given all these big life changes going on, it felt "right" that I should be starting a new chapter of my life chronologically. On my 30th birthday, I watched the sun rise over the ocean at Revere Beach with my best friend and the loaded up the last of my office/ books/ lab supplies that I left at MIT in my car to drive west. All in all, I spent 8 years in Cambridge at MIT and I will say that it was a fantastic place to spend my 20s. I was given so many opportunities and was challenged constantly over that time. Without these years, I would not have become the person/ scientist/ athlete I am today. For the first week I was 30, I was excited about it. Stable adult life, with a house, husband, and paycheck, yay! But after a week, I grew to resent what stability responsibility cost.

4. Professor. My official start date at CMU was 08/01/2015. I had been going back and forth for a nearly a year, but this was when the reality hit. I hired two postdocs and taught sophomore organic chemistry this fall. I have to sign emails Professor Sydlik. The grant writing is ok, but I have to show up to lecture 4 times a week at a specific time and prepare problem sets and exams!  Fortunately, I have excellent colleagues and mentors who were able to remind me that being a professor is about as good as it gets: you have the perks of stability and such but still about 90% of the freedom you had as a student (and perhaps even more freedom in some aspects).

5. More bikes. To complete the most eventful 10 weeks of my life, I got my Cat 1 road cycling upgrade on 08/08/2015! I had been doing well early in the season, but after moving to Pittsburgh, I suddenly got a lot faster. Over the course of a few weeks, I won the PA Elite TT title, two more local RRs, and then shocked myself at the Tour of the Catskills. After a disappointing TT, I launched a vicious attack on stage 2 but then got a flat that relegated me to 4th. On stage 3, it all came together and I beat some pros who came down to race to win the Devil's Kitchen RR. That stage race is my favorite and I am sad to see it go. I also traveled to Ireland to compete in a stage race, found that I absolutely loved it, and made some history winning Pittsburgh's Dirty Dozen bike race. After 3 years of local racing and moving up the categories, I am excited to train hard (with the help of Finish Fast Cycling) and try my legs at some big races in 2016.

Well, that's the highlights of 2015. New Year's Resolutions to come tomorrow (and you already have my recipe for vegetarian pork and sauerkraut). For now though, I'll leave you with an awesome gingerbread cookie recipe that I developed to take to New Year's parties with me. These are gingersnaps that don't really snap... instead, they have a crispy exterior and chewy interior that is downright amazing. And it's all accomplished in a recipe that doesn't even have any oil!

Gingerbread Cookies

2.5c (whole wheat) flour
2.5c dark brown sugar
5t baking powder
1T ginger
1T cinnamon
1t cloves
1t nutmeg
1c molasses
1/2c almond milk

1. Mix dry ingredients, the add the wet.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes. (This just makes it easier to shape into balls for a nice even circle.)
4. Shape chilled dough into balls.
5. Bake 13 minutes, then remove from oven. Let cool at least 5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas & Almond Espresso Chip Cookies (GF!)

Merry Christmas! In this year of exciting firsts, this was yet another. 2015 was the first Christmas that I was not at home to spend it with my family in Allentown. In fact, Christmas went so not according to plan this year, I'm not even sure what to make of it. Through the type of disluck that comes from two people in the first year of very demanding jobs, my husband had the week before Christmas off of work, and I had to give one of the last finals at CMU. Thus, I was working through Christmas eve, while my husband has to return to work at 5am on 12/27. It was not the end of the world though-- we decided that I would fly to Connecticut-- meeting up with my brother & sister in law on a connecting flight-- on Christmas morning to have Christmas dinner with his family and then help Aidan with the drive back to Pittsburgh the following day so that he would be rested for work the next day.

Lobby of my building decorated for Christmas!

This plan began smoothly. Grades were good for my organic chemistry class and I managed to finagle some really steep discounts from vendors on the last few big pieces of equipment my lab still needed. Aidan got to Connecticut safely and Christmas eve was lovely-- it started with a really great warm & sunny ride. I'm discovering the riding is absolutely incredible around Pittsburgh-- so much climbing! I think my only complaint is that most of the climbs are only 5 minutes, so the terrain will help train my 5 minute power, which is already comparatively my best. After running a few errands (last minute gifts for my nieces!) and attending an early Christmas eve mass, I went over to a friends house for Christmas eve dinner. This was awesome because he has kids who were excited for the big day and watching a Santa tracker, among other reasons. I also barely had time to think about missing my family's traditional Christmas eve feast of the seven fishes!

Christmas morning was when things started to unravel. The day opened with coffee and a bunny sleeping outside my bedroom door, so that was a plus. However, I quickly brought it down with a lack-luster trainer session. Between the abbreviated warm-up and my head already worrying about making my flights on time, I lacked focus and was all over the place like I have't been in some time. Each training session is an opportunity, and that was definitely an opportunity missed. Sigh. I guess I'm allowed to mess up sometimes and it's been a good 6 months since the last time I disappointed myself so I guess I'm doing ok. As long as I do better next time...

The trainer wasn't so abysmal so was still in a great mood as I arrived at the airport. However, when I went to check in, I discovered that my flight was cancelled, and I wasn't scheduled to get into Hartford until 5pm. I actually could have rolled with this pretty well, but I was appalled that I hadn't gotten any notice from Delta before arriving at the airport! I was apparently supposed to spend the whole day sitting in the airport, and potentially take the risk of getting stuck in whatever city my flight was connecting through. I panicked that I was going to ruin my in-law's Christmas! After spending a good couple hours negotiating with the airline representatives about earlier flights and hemming and hawing with my husband and family about what the right thing to do was, I decided to ask for a refund and went home. I was very disappointed and lonely, but fortunately my husband was able to keep my spirits just high enough to avoid a meltdown in the cab.

After a lengthy nap, I spent the day watching Christmas movies, snuggling my bunny, and Facetiming/ Skyping with my family and Aidan alternately. In the end, I know that I am lucky to have a nice house and lovely bunny to come home to, and so many loved ones concerned enough about my unlucky travel day to spend the time talking with me. Plus, I have this job that I like and a fast bike and good roads to ride so what more could I ask for? :)

Biscuit demonstrates proper lounging technique. He got a bed for Christmas this year, and I've shamelessly taken dozens of pictures of him snoozing in it!

Anyways. Recipe time! I developed these gluten free cookies for my best friend because well, everyone has to give cookies to friends at Christmas! Inspired by espresso chips that I found recently, I decided to keep these cookies on the healthy side with oats and almond butter, since I knew that her sisters would be sure to have her covered with unhealthy Christmas treats! I taste-testing, I learned that saw the these espresso chips have plenty of caffeine, (I didn't sleep one night...) so there should be enough to classify these as a performance enhancer. It only takes 5mg/kg according to a recent study! These cookies are perfect out of the oven or the next day... they are crispy on the outside, but stay soft and chewy inside. Just how I like them!

Almond Espresso Chip Cookies

1c quick cook rolled oats, ground to oat flour
1T baking powder
1c brown sugar
dash cinnamon 
1/2c unsweetened almond milk
1/2c almond butter
1c espresso chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Food process oats to make oat flour.
3. Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and stir to combine.
4. Cut in almond butter.
5. Stir in almond milk, then add espresso chips.
6. Bake 13 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown.

That's all for now. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

I've been making "bike cookies" for a while (a recipe that shamefully, I've still not shared in over 2 years of blogging), but this fall I decided that I wanted to take it up another notch. I challenged myself to come up with a substitute for my afternoon Cliff bar snack that didn't include a big dose of sugar. Remember last winter when I was inspired by Engine 2 and posted about my adventures in sugar-free baking? Yeah... minus the scones, it didn't go so well... So, I wasn't holding my breath for these. But I thought they might be ok since my grandma does use applesauce in her oatmeal cookies. Of course, she adds it along with butter and sugar, rather than instead... but hey! I thought these were worth a shot. The result is the best homemade bars ever! Three cookies approximates the nutrition of a Cliff bar on awesome: 200 calories, 3g fat, 39g carbs, and 9g protein. (Or for those of you who aren't starving at all times and would only want to eat one... that's 65 calories, 1g fat, 13g carbs, and 3g protein.) Yum!

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

2c rolled oats
1 scoop protein powder (Whole Foods now has a fantastic vegan protein called "fit protein" I used the Vanilla-Cinnamon flavor for these)
1T baking powder
1 ton cinnamon (ok, maybe an exaggeration, but maybe not. You've seen me cook...)
1c raisins
1.5c unsweeted applesauce

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix oats, protein powder, baking powder and cinnamon. Add raisins, then applesauce. Shape into balls and press flat onto a baking sheet. It should make ~15 2 inch cookies. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn brown. Take on your next ride, or enjoy as an afternoon snack!