Thursday, October 23, 2014

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Race Recap: Chicago Marathon


It has been 10 days since the Chicago Marathon. The race I had been training to complete for the past five months of my life. So much of my focus and effort was, with reason, on preparing for the race. I wish someone would have prepared me for post-marathon life. Now that I am not training for a race, I feel just a little lost with what my fitness goals should be. I'm crazy enough to even miss my late night runs on the track!

The week before the race I was in Canada for a conference and that was probably the best thing to happen to me because I was forced to taper. Kind of hard to run every day when you've only packed two workout outfits, right? I was still anxious about the race and my ability to complete the race. Things started settling for me when I went to expo on Saturday and picked up my bib. I was actually going to run this race! The night before the race I did the crazy thing of estimate my time. My goal had always been to finish under 4:30, but that night, with the numbers I saw, I realized that under 4:15 was within reach and, if I really pushed myself, a 4-hour marathon could be possible.


Even with that, I woke up race morning with the idea that 4:30 would be my goal and anything under that would be the sweetest cherry on top of this magnificently long victory lap. I did not make it in time to get in my corral (G) because Cati woke up early and was not too happy about me leaving to run a race, but I was able to hop in on corral H.

I started running at 8:18am and told myself that what mattered was how I felt, not the time on the watch. I saw my family in that first mile and was cheered on the rest of the way by friends and family through the Motigo app (best. app. ever.). Looking back, I remember the first half of the marathon so much better than I do the second half. I did the first half in 2:02 and was so proud of this time. Here I was, running comfortably and happily knowing I still had 13.1 more miles to go, and I still managed a 2:02 half marathon. This was just the bit of encouragement I needed to get through what I felt would be the hardest part of the race for me: miles 13.1 through 20.

Like I said, the second half of the race is a blur. I remember running, but I wouldn't be able to tell you where I ran, what I ran past, who I took water from, or the faces in the crowd. Once I hit mile 20, the mental pep talk began: 6.2 miles more to go, 60 more minutes of movement. That pep talk continued for every subsequent mile. When I saw the mile marker for mile 24, I almost lost it. I wanted to cry, explode, yell, anything to release the sense of pride that was building up in me. I WAS DOING IT. I WAS TWO MILES AWAY FROM BEING A MARATHONER.

Those last two miles were the most emotional miles of my life. Just thinking about those last two miles brings me to tears. I worked so hard, I sacrificed so much, and I worried even more and I was so close to seeing the payoff of all that work, dedication, and commitment. I kept telling myself to keep it together because I didn't want people to see me and think I was in pain and falling apart. I mean, I was falling apart in that the old me who thought she couldn't was crumbling away to make space for the new me that knew she could.

Crossing that finish line was amazing. It took every ounce of my strength to not stop right then and there and sob. I was so proud. In the days after the marathon, I likened the experience of running and completing the marathon to being pregnant and giving birth. The months of training were like the nine months of pregnancy, full of hope and preparation. Then running the actual course was the labor, a mixture of feelings and sensations. Crossing the finish line was the birth and that medal the baby. As with my births, I recall the feeling of being there and experiencing all the pain, but I cannot remember specifics for the life of me or remember just how bad the pain was during labor. This is exactly how the marathon was for me with fuzzy details and a real out-of-body experience.

Once the running stopped, it was as if the pain of the previous 4 hours rushed to my legs. I had heard others talk about lactic acid, but I was not expecting that kind of pain. I could still walk (although I was afraid to sit down), but any other motion seemed like murder to my legs. I tried to numb my pain through free Goose Island Beer and talking to my Instagram friends. I think what really helped me was the mile walk home. What didn't help was the giggling girls who seemed to only want to jump, climb, and sit on my sore legs. The day after the marathon was the worst on my legs, but the soreness subsided after three days. I waited longer to run (7 days) because I wanted to soak in the finish and take a break from the intensive running.

I finished the marathon in 4:07:32. So much better than I ever imagined for my first marathon. I finished with a smile on my face and with deeper connections to Chicago and the running community up here. I still prefer the 13.1 distance, but there is something so magical about 26.2 miles.

This post is long enough, so I will end things with saying that I cannot wait to run my next marathon! For more on my running follow me on Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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The Fitness Games App Review

2014 has truly been the year of fitness for me. I got new PRs (personal records) in the 5K and half marathon distances and I completed my first marathon (Chicago! Post coming soon). My yoga practice has improved and, in general, my commitment to fitness has changed my whole outlook on life. Yoga has taught me how to live in the moment and running has taught me that, when times get tough, all I can do is keep moving forward by putting one foot in front of the other. 

With fitness on my mind, I jumped at the chance to review The Fitness Games, an app that aims at creating a social fitness community where you can connect with "workout partners" from around the world, share workout pictures and videos, and challenge your partners to workouts. I love the idea of this app as I'm one of those people who will randomly text people with "workout commands" of 10 squats or push-ups or other moves that can be done almost anywhere. 

The app has four categories: strength, cardiovascular, full body, and cross training. Within each category, there are workouts at the beginner, intermediate, and expert level. Once you select a workout, you can challenge yourself, a friend, nearby, or worldwide. You can also create a workout, which might be the coolest part of this app. In this part of the app you can select pre-existing exercises based on the body part and, for those exercises, there are pictures and video tutorials. Taking it a step further, you can create custom exercises and upload your own pictures and video tutorials. Other features of this app are the feed section, where you can see the pictures and workout summaries (similar to Instagram) of your workout partners, the workout tracker calendar, and rankings (couch potato, gym rat, athlete, and rookie to name a few).

What I didn't like about the app was that I didn't know how to use it at first in terms of finding workout partners and challenging them. That was honestly the only complaint I had about the app and, once I played around with the app some more and actually paid attention to the video tutorial all was good. I love the motivation and the way you can create your own workout. One of the biggest challenges of working out and sticking to that lifestyle is motivation and accountability and this app is looking to address those shortfalls by connecting you to others, allowing you to challenge yourself, awarding points for workouts, and giving you positive messages after each submitted workout.
I still have more toying around to do with the app as my review for it came at the peak of my marathon training and my brain was only registering running. The Fitness Games app has varying versions and you can buy workouts for $0.99.


This post was sponsored by The Fitness Games through my partnership with Fit Approach as a Sweat Pink Ambassador. I was not compensated monetarily, but was provided the Platinum Version of the application for review. As always, all opinions are my own.

For more on my approach to fitness follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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Race Recap Spartan Run!

This past weekend I learned how difficult and rewarding it really is to be a mom and an athlete. I'm not a professional athlete, but I dedicate enough time and energy to my fitness that I feel like an athlete. Before we moved to Chicago, I signed up to run the Chicago Spartan Race. Back then, my plan was to run the Super Spartan and I even managed to get my cousin in on the action. Fast forward to last week and being superwoman by working full-time, being a mom, and training for a marathon, I kind of forgot about the Spartan Race. Me forgetting means, I forgot to tell Alex so that he could make sure he wasn't scheduled to work. What happens? He's scheduled to work the weekend and there's no getting around that. Saturday's Super Spartan was not going to happen as I had no one to watch the girls. Thankfully, there was a Spartan Sprint scheduled for Sunday and I did have someone who could watch the girls that day. Lots of scrambling and emails leading up to Sunday, but I was able to get myself signed up and was able to run without worrying too much about my girls because they were at the best place possible: my cousin's house with lots of toys and even more snacks.

My cousin was able to switch his date too and we were both able to experience Spartan for the first time together. This would be my 9th mud run and my cousin's first so I was really hoping he would love these runs as much as I do (I need a mud run partner). Complete success! The Spartan Race did an amazing job at putting Sunday's event together. Checking in was easy and so was trying to change your time to earlier waves. The people were great and their course was stocked with volunteers. This is the first mud run I have ever done where volunteers were at the showing station looking out for open showers for the runners. The trails were no joke and I wish I had a watch so that I could have recorded the level of upness.

As expected, the running was the easiest part for me, even with those trails. I am proud to see that I have gotten stronger with my upper body. The mud was something else; this was definitely the thickest and most slippery mud I have even experienced. The obstacles were as expected with lots of climbing, but there was no way to prepare for that mud. As horrible as the obstacle was, crossing the mud mounds and ditches filled with water between the mounds, was probably my favorite obstacle. I don't think I have ever laughed so hard at myself or worked so hard to get myself out of mud.

Spartan Race hits you with the obstacles in the last 1/4 mile: rock climbing wall where you can't touch the floor, climbing up a slanted wall, straight rope climb, swim, wall climb, another slanted wall climb, and jumping over fire. When we first got to the race we watched people climb that last wall and we wondered what must have happened over those 4+ miles to make the runners look so worn and tired. Now I knew.

As soon as we finished, I felt so accomplished. I love doing these events because I feel like a complete badass. I feel strong and, really, just incredibly proud of myself for going outside of my comfort zone and trying something new. I was especially happy I did this event because I felt I deserved a good physical challenge after the mentally challenging week I had before the race. This race reminded me so much of how I felt after my first mud run that it has me dreaming of accomplishing the Spartan Trifecta (Sprint, Super, and Beast) next year. I also got to try Pumpkin beer, so that helped with my elation.

What I liked:

  • The camaraderie: I crossed the monkey bars on my cousin's shoulders. 
  • The course was definitely challenging with those hilly trails. 
  • The obstacles were challenging. Holy cow, were some of them hard. The hardest one for me was carrying a 65-lb stone. 
  • Free beer!
  • Cool medal. 
  • Easy packet pickup. 
  • Lively crowd. 
  • You could get your time as soon as you finished. 
  • Finish line obstacles were perfectly set up for spectating. 
What I didn't like:
  • I'm cheap so I didn't like paying $10 for parking and $5 for bag check. 
  • I liked the shirt, I just didn't like how big it fit me. 
  • Burpees, ouch! (I'm just being a baby)
Next official race is THE CHICAGO MARATHON!!!! I'm so over marathon training so October 12th can't get here soon enough.

For more on my running and training for the Chicago Marathon, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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Apple Walnut Bread

I'll let you in on a little secret: I was the one that really wanted to go apple picking because I wanted to have a reason to bake with apples. Aside from eating them as is, I love just about every apple dessert in existence. Sure, I wanted the girls to experience apple picking because I had such great memories of my first time apple picking, but I also have even better memories of all the things I baked. The only glitch in this plan is that whatever I bake has to be something that comes together quickly and easily as time is short during the weeknights. Thankfully, most apple desserts come together quickly (I usually spend more time chopping apples than doing everything else) and I can put something in the oven to bake while we sit down to have dinner.

The first apple recipe of the season that I conquered was an Apple Walnut Bread. I chose this recipe because I knew I had all the ingredients and because I got a craving for apples and walnuts after seeing so many great recipes on Pinterest. I made minor changes to the recipe, used a Golden Delicious apple, and halved the recipe (below). The end product was so good! We ate slices of the bread with and without butter and I think I preferred the buttered slices because it made me feel like the fall season inside. Even more surprising to me was that Alex liked it; he usually doesn't like anything I've tinkered with to make healthier. 

Apple Walnut Bread
Source: Slightly adapted from On Sutton Place

1/2 cup vanilla Chobani Greek yogurt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg 1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
1 medium apple, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare one medium loaf pan or 2 small pans by spraying them with non-stick cooking spray.

Beat together first 4 ingredients. Add the dry ingredients mixing well and scraping sides of the bowl.

Fold in the apples and the nuts. Pour batter into loaf pan(s). Bake for  35-40 min., or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let sit and cool for 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Follow me on Pinterest @steppystar to see what I else plan on baking with these apples. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner to see more about my Chicago and baking adventures!
Stephanie

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Jonamac Orchards Apple Picking

Yesterday was the first day of the fall season. After living in Boston for four years, fall became my favorite season of the year because I loved the kaleidoscope of colors, the cooler temperatures, and, most importantly, the flavors! I loved how the season was filled with hot chocolates, apples, pumpkin, cinnamon sugar, and butter. Now that we are in Chicago and the weather is becoming more fall-like (really though, what's summer weather in Chicago because I missed it), I find myself in that familiar place of wanting long walks outside and baking anything and everything with apples. 

Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

This past weekend we took the girls to experience a quintessential fall activity: apple picking! I had been researching different orchards beforehand and on Sunday decided we would be visiting Jonomac Orchard. This orchard was close to an hour and a half from home, but it seemed to offer the most bang for the buck and I liked that they didn't charge a per person rate for the apple picking. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

We bought a half peck ($13 for about 5 lbs of apple) and went to town picking Golden Delicious, Ruby Jon, and Jonathan apples. The girls had so much fun (we adults did, too) and I couldn't get over how cute they looked picking apples. Little things like this make me so happy we are in Chicago and able to give the girls such unique experiences. The best part of this experience was being able to eat the apples right then and there. We tried all three varieties and Cati determined "delicious golden" was her favorite. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

After apple picking, the girls played in the huge Barnyard that had slides, haystacks you could walk on, a mini maze, a corn shed, and tricycles. Then, we had the crazy idea of doing the corn maze. This was fun at first, but then we couldn't figure out how to get out and our anxiety must have trickled down to the girls because Elina started asking for home and Cati started saying her legs wee hurting. The funny part is that our anxiety was due to wanting to get out before the girls started complaining and here we were instigating that! It was still fun though, but because it took us so long to figure out the first half, we didn't get to do the second half. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

Before we left I knew I had to get us apple cider donuts. The line was out the door by 1pm but it moved quickly. Everyone loved the donuts. I also bought a slice of apple pie and I wish I would have bought more as that pie had the best crust I have ever tasted. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

It was such a great experience. The girls loved it and Cati has already asked if we could go back this weekend. We'll definitely be making another trip before the picking season ends in November. 

Apple picking Jonomac Orchard
See? Adults had fun, too!
Jonamac Orchard is located at 19412 Shabbona Road in Malta, IL. A half peck (about 5lbs) of apples is $13 and a full peck is $26. A half dozen donuts is $4.50, a dozen donuts is $7.95, slices of apple pie are $2.75, and a full apple pie is $12.95. Corn maze and barnyard admission is $10 for kids (2 and under are free) and $8 for adults. The orchard accepts credit cards, but not American Express and all the bathrooms are port-a-potties (Elina refused to use these bathrooms). My advice would be to try to get there early as it's less busy and the lines are shorter. However, as an adult it seems like a fun place to go later because of the live music and wine tastings. For more information visit their website http://www.jonamacorchard.com/

Apple picking Jonomac Orchard
Follow me on Pinterest @steppystar to see what I plan on baking with these apples. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner to see more about my Chicago adventures!
Stephanie

Saturday, September 20, 2014

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Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Not only is it delicious, but it's also a meal that is always quick and easy for me. Since I started working, we've had more breakfast-for-dinner meals and, thankfully, no one is complaining! I saw this recipe for Sour Cream Pancakes on Pioneer Woman's website and knew I had to try it because (1) sour cream and (2) it's Pioneer Woman! The pancakes absolutely did not disappoint as they were soft and buttery. We ate all the pancakes in one sitting (!) because they were that good.

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes
Source: Pioneer Woman

1 cup sour cream
7 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter, for frying and serving
Warm syrup, for serving

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream with the dry ingredients until just barely combined (don't overmix.) Whisk in the egg mixture until just combined.

Heat a griddle over medium-low heat and melt some butter in the pan. Drop batter by 1/4 cup servings onto the griddle. Cook on the first side until bubbles start to form on the surface and edges are starting to brown. Flip to the other side and cook for another minute. (Pancakes will be a little on the soft side.)

Serve with softened butter and syrup.

Follow me on Pinterest @steppystar to see what's on my baking and cooking To-Do list. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!
Stephanie

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Bailey's Irish Cream Cake

I'm all about balance so to balance out my fitness post from Monday about my record-setting half marathon time at the Chicago Half Marathon, today I give you a post about cake. Not just any cake, but a Bailey's cake that Alex gave me the recipe for and requested I make. This recipe came highly recommended and I was happy to fulfill the request, especially since I have been baking more (mostly tried-and-true recipes).

Other than being a Bailey's cake, I really liked and appreciated how quickly and easily the cake came together. I was able to make a home-cooked meal and dessert in the same night and that makes me feel like such a champ!

I will warn you, there's no denying this cake has alcohol in it. I even halved the syrup recipe (full recipe is posted below) and it still felt like more than enough syrup for the cake. I actually tasted the cake before putting the syrup on it and I think I liked it better that way. Alex, on the other hand, loved the cake and ate two not-so-small slices.
Better lighting the next day so you can see the layer of nuts.

Bailey's Irish Cream Cake
Yields: 1 bundt cake
Source: Cooks.com

Cake:
1 cup nuts (I used pecans)
1 package yellow cake mix
1 (3 oz.) pkg. Jello instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a tube or bundt pan. 

Sprinkle nuts on the bottom of pan. Combine the rest of the ingredients. Pour over nuts. 

Bake 1 hour. Cool cake completely. Prick cake and pour glaze over top and sides.

Glaze:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream

Melt butter. Stir in water and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. 

REMOVE from heat. Stir in Bailey's Irish Cream.

Note: If using cake mix which includes pudding, omit pudding from recipe, decrease eggs to 3, and decrease oil to 1/3 cup.

By the way, I rediscovered Pinterest and I'm in trouble! Follow me @steppystar on there to see what's on my baking To-Do list. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!
Stephanie

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Race Recap: Chicago Half Marathon

On September 7th I completed half marathon #13, Chicago Half Marathon. I had been meaning to post about it, but with the new job and learning how to balance working full-time with parenthood and marathon training has been no easy task. As always, I thought I was busy before!

Anyway, back to the race. I'm in the last third of my marathon training and I've been running 5-6 days a week and averaging 45 miles a week. I ran 10 miles the Saturday before the race and, including this Saturday run, I was at 36 miles for the week so my expectations for a PR (personal record) was low. I didn't know how my legs would feel come race morning-would they feel tired, sore, or heavy? Also, would my mind be into running strong and fast for 13.1 miles? With all this in mind, I woke up race morning with the intention to treat this race as another training run and, if I bettered my half marathon time of 2:04, then great!

The weather on the day of the race was spectacular. Or at least, it was perfect running weather for the first hour or so of the run as the temperatures were in the 50s. I knew that first mile would determine how the rest of the race would go so I ran purely based on how I felt and not by looking at my watch. When I saw that first mile was in the 8-minute range and I didn't feel like I pushed myself too hard, I knew that as long as my mind held out, I would be able to get the sub-2 hour finish I was hoping for.

I fueled as I normally do, stuck to my run-walk intervals (1:30 run/:30 walk), and kept a mostly consistent pace. Even so, mile 9.5 is where I began to struggling. I wasn't in pain and my body felt good, but for some reason my brain started getting louder with the "you can't do this" messages. I did the only thing I could do, which was to keep moving forward. I was so thankful for my intervals because I forced myself to focus on just running for a minute and a half, instead of just having three more miles to go. I recovered by mile 11, but even so, I did cadences that last mile to help me get to the finish line.



Crossing that finish line felt so good! Even better was realizing that I smashed my previous time by almost 10 minutes! My official time was 1:55:20 and I could barely believe it. I was hoping for a sub-2 hour finish but I was thinking I only had it in me for a 1:59 finish since my PR times in the half marathon distance have usually gotten better by 5-minutes at a time between races I've ran for time. I'm still on a runner's high from that race. To think that I ran my first half marathon in 2:30 in January 2013 to this last one in 1:55 is amazing.


This race reminded me that if you train consistently, you will see results. It also reminded me that most of the time, I'm my biggest enemy and that the person I have to prove myself to IS myself.

What I liked about the race:
  • Packet pickup was quick and easy.
  • Race day weather was perfect at first.
  • Nice course. I especially liked the part that was on Lakefront Drive.
  • Lou Malnati's pizza!
  • Long-sleeve technical shirt.
  • I really liked how they organized the groups. I was in corral G and, based on other races, was expecting to start running 10 minutes after the first group of runners left, but this wasn't the case with this race. There was no wait time between corrals going off and I started a little over 2-minutes after the first group of runners started.
  • Motigo: this is an app where people can leave you messages that you get during the race. There was a glitch and I got all my messages in the beginning, but the idea behind this is awesome. If I would have gotten the messages when they were intended, I would have been that person at mile 10 crying and laughing.
  • Plenty of water and Gatorade on the course.
  • Meeting Instagram friends, like @runningprado in person. 

What I didn't like about the race:
  • I love expo and expo seemed small for this race for some reason.
  • I didn't see any pace groups.
  • This relates to all races, but I heard it more at this race: "it's ok, you can do it" or "don't give up" or "you're almost there" from spectators every time I was on a walk break. This is my fourth race in Chicago and I am realizing that the run-walk method is not very popular and people don't understand that my walks are intentional. I wish I could have gotten more "you go girl" or "looking strong!"

Next official race is Spartan on September 27th and I'm debating whether or not to sign up for the 20-mile run this upcoming weekend.

For more on my running and training for the Chicago Marathon, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Thursday, September 4, 2014

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Chicago Eats: August Edition

When I first started this blog, I did so because I wanted to keep track of all the new places we ate at in Boston. Then, I started baking and stopped keeping track of where we ate. Then, I had kids and started running so the baking and eating out when down. Now that we are in Chicago and in full exploration mode, I'm going back to the roots of this blog: talking about the places I've eaten in the new city. Funny enough, my girls have gotten to the point that they know they have to wait to eat until I've taken a picture of their food. I am, however, not going to write full blown reviews of places. Instead, I'm just going to highlight the best things I've eaten in the month. With that said, here are my August favorites:

Cheesie's

Lunchtime in Lincoln Park. Cranky, hungry kids. I walked into the first place I could find that had no wait and that place was Cheesie's. I knew it was going to be a winner because everyone in the family loves grilled cheese. What I didn't know was how cheesy the sandwiches were going to be. I ordered "The Melt," a grilled cheese sandwich with chicken, bacon, Thousand Island dressing, American cheese and Chihuaha cheese. All this on Texas toast. This was so good, but oh so bad. It was delicious, but it felt like the ultimate cheat meal for me. (Cheesie's is located at 958 West Belmont Ave.)

Hoosier Mama Pie Company

A friend recommend Hoosier Mama Pie Company and told me it was the best pie on the planet. Curious, I went on a trip with the girls and we ordered their apple pie and chocolate chess pie. The pies were delicious! I loved the apple pie and the girls tore up the chocolate pie. The apple pie had apple chunks in it and the crust was so buttery. The chocolate chess pie was creamy and had a cookie-like crust. After eating these two slices and leaving, I felt guilty for not grabbing a pie to go. I have been plotting a return trip ever since I swallowed the last bit of apple pie. (Hoosier Mama Pie Company is located at 1618 1/2 Chicago Avenue).

The Pub at Mayne Stage

The Pub at Mayne Stage is another place we just happened to dine at after an afternoon of walking around a local art show. They were still on the brunch menu and I indulged just a little and ordered their Steak and Eggs. This dish came with skirt steak, onion strings, black beans, potatoes, and two eggs. Everything about this dish was amazing. The beans surprised me a bit because I have never seen beans served with steak and eggs but I was pleasantly surprised. The steak was tender and almost made me wish I eat steak more often. I think, however, that my favorite part of this restaurant was the $2 mimosas. (The Pub at Mayne Stage is located at 1330 West Morse Ave).


Mekato's Colombian Bakery

Mekato's is a bakery that a colleague recommended to Alex. Being Colombian myself and having a deep love for Colombian food, I was anxious to get out to this bakery. We went on a Sunday (free parking) and basically ordered everything they sold. What you see in the picture below are traditional Colombian foods like empanadas (turnovers), arepa de choclo con queso (corn cake topped with cheese), papa rellena ("stuffed potatoe" or fried pastry filled with meat and potatoes), and bunuelos (fried cheese balls). I was basically in love after the first bite. We cleared the table! This is another place that I can't wait to go back to so I can pig out again. (Mekato's is located at 5423 N. Lincoln Avenue).


It's the beginning of the month and I'm already eager to get out and eat. I have a list of restaurants I want to try but I love the ability to go out with no plan and just stumble on something new. If you have any recommendations please let me know!


For more on my move to Chicago and my food-finding adventures, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Thursday, August 28, 2014

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Baking in Chicago: White Cupcakes

First cupcake batch in the new city happened a couple of weeks ago and it felt so good to get back to basics with my baking. I started really baking in Boston and was a part of different baking groups that had baking challenges each week or each month. I was able to really expand my knowledge of baking and go outside of my comfort zone. Being in Chicago takes me back to that time when baking was so new and exciting for me. It's even better now because I have kids and I can really have fun with what I make, like the frosting for these cupcakes that were an orange and green (Go CANES!) swirl. This recipe is probably the best white cake recipe I've tried and I loved how easily it all came together; I spent more time on making the frosting than the cupcakes themselves! I make my frosting from scratch but I never measure it out and it's some combination of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. 

Simple White Cake
Source: Scottosman on Allrecipes.com
Yields: 12 cupcakes

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth.

Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cakes spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

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Stephanie