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!

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

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!

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!

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

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.

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!

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 

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:


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