Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Scent of a Coffeecake

After double-checking the turkey roasting timetable in my handy-dandy Better Homes and Garden Cookbook last night, I figured that in order to serve up a perfectly roasted bird to my 20 guests, I had to get it in the oven at 5am.

Before heading to bed, I made sure everything was in order. The roasting pan was placed on top of the stove, the baster and electric knife on the counter by its side. An onion sat patiently on the cutting board, waiting to be quartered, and the celery stalks were washed and set out to dry.

I set my alarm, allowing for my oven's baking time idiosyncrasies, and was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Springing out of bed seven hours later, I tiptoed downstairs to retrieve the bird from the fridge. Turning it on its side, I checked the cooking times on the label - just for kicks. According to the brand I bought, my 21.5 pound bird only needed 5-6 hours of roasting time, not 6-7 as my trusty cookbook advised.

A choice lay before me - I could go back to bed for an hour or, since I was up, I could make something for breakfast before my boys woke up.

I have fond memories of waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the warm, just-made buttery-walnut-cinnamon scent of my Grandma's German coffee cake.

My mother always got up at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving. I could never figure out why. That she seemingly whipped up her mother-in-law's coffee cake with no effort at all was a completely misguided assumption. To this box mix loving plate spinner, this recipe (below) is down right labor-intensive. Especially first thing in the morning.

Nonetheless, when my boys were little, I tried making it, hoping to replicate the same yummy-smelling memories for them.

What a disaster.

The streusel top had clumped into the middle of it as it baked and the cake itself was just this side of solid. The house, however, did smell lovely.

But that was years ago. I'm older and wiser now. And, I have reading glasses! The time has come to give it another try.

Scanning the recipe, I was certain that I had all of the ingredients and began filling my counter top with them. Sugar, butter, cinnamon, eggs, and flour - check, but where was my little tin of baking powder?

Realizing that I was completely out, I scurried to my laptop, pulled up Google and asked, "what can I substitute for baking soda in a recipe?"

The answer was simple - two parts cream of tartar (which by some miracle I actually had in my spice rack) to one part baking soda.

The recipe call for two teaspoons of baking powder. Let's see. So that means I have to mix 2/3 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/3 of baking soda twice, right?

This is too much math so early in the morning. I glanced at my cup of coffee cooling on the counter across the room and decided to give it a shot. Before long, I slid the pan in the oven and hoped for the best.

Forty minutes later, the timer dinged and I pulled it out.

Seeing that the streusel topping had once again clumped, I cursed at my oven and set it on the counter to cool.

Well, at least my kitchen smells yummy.

Now about that turkey...


German Coffee Cake
Preheat oven to 375o
2 cups sugar                                                              2 sticks butter, softened
4 eggs, separated (will whip whites)                       2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk                                                                   3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
Streusel Topping:
½ cup sugar                                                               2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts                                             1 stick butter, melted
Combine dry topping ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.  Melt topping butter and let cool while mixing cake ingredients.  Cream sugar, vanilla and softened butter.  Add egg yolks and beat. Add milk, flour, baking powder until blended.  Batter will be thick.  Add whipped egg whites and combine until well blended.  Pour into prepared 13x9 pan and sprinkle dry topping mixture over batter. Drizzle melted butter on top. 

Bake for at least 35 minutes or until tester comes out clean (may take up to 45 minutes). Cover with foil if browns too quickly before batter is baked all the way through. Serve warm. Can be frozen and reheated morning it is served.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And the Winner Is....

...not me.

But that's OK. The only goal I wanted to meet as I ran my first 5k this morning was to finish. I didn't even care if I finished last. I wanted to run the entire time and I did.

My official time was 34:44 and I came in 57th out of 87 women in my age group.


I think it helped that I prepared for it as much as I possibly could. Like a bride on her wedding day, I had something borrowed (my son's running pants), something blue (my hat), something old (well, me) and something new (the nifty knee support thing-y that I ran out and got yesterday, just in case).

I'd like to thank all of you who have offered your support and advice along the way. I'm not sure I would've had the confidence to go through the race without it.

I also learned a few things. While the kind people of the town hosting the race lined the streets to cheer the runners on, it did not make me any faster or more powerful. In fact, I was surprised by how distracting it was. I just wanted to finish and it took every ounce of my concentration to do that. As such, I will do my best to not yell and scream at my sons' cross-country meets ever again.

Once across the finish line, everything was fantastic. People handed me dixie cups full of water, bananas, cups of soup and hot dogs wrapped in foil - all because I was sweaty and had a number pinned to my shirt.

This race thing rocks.

The only thing missing was chocolate, but the happy endorphins coursing through my veins kept a smile on my face despite the glaring omission.

  As we sat on the curb nibbling on Cliff bars and sipping our water, my coach asked me what we should do next. Before I could reply, "Shower!" he started detailing a training plan that will ready us for our next race.

Well, what have I got to loose? My time can only improve, right?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wool Socks and a Little Nitsche, Please...

Less than a week to go until my first 5k and I'm starting to get cold feet. That I checked out the race day forecast didn't help matters.

Forty degrees and mostly cloudy.

That little voice inside of my head that's been whispering, "What have you gotten yourself into?" is now screaming. Thankfully, between a mysterious virus that's infiltrated two of my boys this week and the impending onslaught of Thanksgiving guests, I have had enough going on to keep me too busy to focus on it. 

Wimp that I am, the majority of my training has taken place inside. Knowing this, my second eldest is already giving me some sage advice to make sure I'm mentally ready. 

"Take one mile at a time."

"Why?" I reply, feeling the panic well up inside of me.

"Because one mile is easier to conquer than three."

"I suppose," I mumble as I contemplate withdrawing my registration.

"And make sure you're dressed in layers."

Having run inside for the duration, I am just now realizing I have no outdoor cold-weather running gear.

"Where did I put that Kohl's ad...?"

"You can borrow my sweats."

At that, I put my one remaining bit of anxiety on the table.

"What if I'm the last one to cross the finish line?"

My son smiled. "No one will know. Well, not then anyway. Not until the results are posted."

This was a bad idea. I didn't say it, but he knew I was thinking it.

And that's when Mister I'm-Taking-AP Psychology-So-I-Know-Everything said, "Just remember, what doesn't destroy us makes us stronger."

That's all this plate spinner needed to hear.

Bring it on...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mythbuster #1 - I Don't Have Time to Exercise

I used to be one of those people who never exercised. I blamed it on my schedule. "Who has the time?" I would argue.

I agree. Squeezing in workouts is not for the faint of heart. But, if you are determined, it will happen.

Yesterday, like all my days, was jam-packed with obligations - work, oil changes (both cars), doctor appointment for one son, checking on my folks, and helping my husband pick out frames for his new glasses. You know, the usual...

In between all of that, I just had to squeeze in a workout. Not just any workout, mind you. With my first 5k just a week and a half away, I had to know - can I go the distance without stopping? If not, I was going to take advantage of the promoter's generous cancellation policy and try again next time.

After much re-arranging of plates, shelving some and sharing others, my husband suggested that after I drop him off to pick up one car from the shop, I take off in the other to go workout while he then zips to the optometrist to have his eyes checked.

I considered this proposal. It could work, but I had to be back in time to get my fourth child off to religious education class, feed the others and ready myself for choir practice back at the church.

Leaving him behind at the repair shop, I made my way to the park district building. With temps rapidly dropping, rain threatening and the wind howling, there was no way I was going to attempt running outside. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one with this mindset. It was crowded. Lots of walkers had taken to the inner lanes and a couple of runners were flying along the outer lanes. Adding to the mix was a mother who had popped by with two little kids and one toddler who were chomping at the bit to run on the track.

"Just one lap," she called out.

I looked on in horror as she let the kids disrupt the rhythm and flow of those already there while she stood by, chatting on her cellphone and sipping a Starbucks.

I waited until she retrieved them before joining the others.

And when I did, I joined them slowly. On this track, 36 laps = 3 miles. I took heart in the fact that I hadn't eaten in four hours and had done my best to stay hydrated throughout the day.

I counted the laps as I shuffled along...10, 11, 12. As I rounded around for the 18th time, I started to question if it was indeed lap 18 or if I had moved on to 19 and forgot to count it. But, I just kept going. I figured if I did more than 36 laps, that's OK. The more the merrier.

By lap 28, I was feeling downright euphoric.

By lap 36, I was feeling so good, I was actually considering doing a couple of more laps, just because.

Then my phone rang.

Panting, I answered as I kept going. "Yeah?"

It was my husband.

"Are you still working out?"

More panting. "Yeah. Why?"

"Oh, sorry, I was hoping you could help me pick out frames..."

When he didn't follow that up with "But don't worry about it", I responded, "I'm not done yet. Still have to cool down."


Fifteen minutes later, red-faced and sweaty, and really enjoying the cold temps, nice breeze and refreshing pelts of rain, I dashed to my car and made my way over to the optometrist's office down the street.

Everyone looked at me when I burst into the shop, but I didn't care.

I just ran 3 miles (at least). Without stopping!

Even my bespectacled husband was impressed. Frames selected, I shelved that plate and moved onto the next.

Just keep spinning, just keep spinning...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Couch to 5k - Lessons Learned

As I write this, I have just two more workouts to complete before I officially graduate from the Couch to 5k  program (

Go me!

While my accomplishment hardly warrants a spot on the cover of Runner's World magazine, I am mighty grateful for the support of friends and followers that I've received along the way.

As I've written here before, the benefits of this regime are many and, happily, I no longer consider myself sedentary. The horizontal expansion of my waistline has stopped and is actually going in the other direction. My concern about my weak knees proved to be unfounded and, best of all, I recently mustered the moxie to register for my first ever 5k race.

All in all, a successful endeavor. Mission accomplished.

In case you're looking to try this program, here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. Find a running buddy, fitness pal or kindly coach who can cheer you along, encourage you when you want to give up (especially during the first couple of weeks) and keep you motivated. I picked my youngest son. Just 9 years old, he's already an accomplished runner, but more importantly, he is a generous soul. Play date conflicts notwithstanding, his unending optimism, sweet silliness and masterful form inspired me to keep going on even the toughest days. I see cross-country trophies and, eventually, coaching in his future.

2. Perseverance really does pay off. After the first few workouts, my lungs burned and I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I'll be honest. It was horrible. When I complained to my cross-country runner son, he smiled knowingly and said, stick with it - it will get better. Then, mimicking Dory, the oblivious, but happy fish from "Finding Nemo", he started chanting, "Just keep running, just keep running." So, I did. And I'm glad.

3. It really is all about the shoes. I started out using an old pair of running shoes that I never actually ran in. After the first two weeks, my knees would start to throb soon after I got moving. As providence would have it, that pair went missing - likely during a quick clean of our foyer. Searching for them in my son's closet, I came across a pair that he had out-grown. Just for kicks, I tried them on and felt bouncier than I ever did in my old shoes. I hit the track, making sure that I remembered to land on the balls of my feet instead of my heels (thanks again, MM!) and kissed the knee pain good-bye.

4. Music. If it's got a good beat, you can run to it. Since a person's taste in music is highly personal, I'm not going to take up space by recommending that you adopt my favorite playlist.  I just know that my first few music-free workouts would have been much more enjoyable if I had brought some tunes along. However, as much as I love James Taylor, I did learn the hard way that selections from his greatest hits are best saved for cool downs only.

5. Finally, food matters. What you eat and when can have a huge impact on how you feel during workouts. Duh, right? Well, this was news to me. Taking to the track several hours after eating anything, I feel like I can go on forever. Jostling around too soon after eating, though, makes for a rough time of things. There's no better way to make one mile feel like 15. I'll say no more...

In conclusion, with my first 5k less than two weeks away, I know I may not exactly fly across the finish line, but as long as I finish, even stumbling and gasping for air, I'll be happy. And then I'll sign up for another one and eventually a 10k.

Just keep running, just keep running...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Procrastinators Who Plan - An Oxymoron

My first job out of college was with AT&T, writing user documentation for their manufacturing sites. I know. Fun stuff.

Back then, "Just-in-Time" manufacturing or JIT was all the craze. That's when I first learned about back-scheduling -- working backwards from your project's due date. I found that this approach worked very nicely with my procrastinating nature. The closer the date got, the higher my adrenaline levels would climb and my productivity would go through the roof.

Since procrastination is not exactly a virtue, let me just say that I still use JIT to manage my big projects.

Take Thanksgiving. I'm hosting and it's just 21 days away. I have many family members coming to dine. Already, I'm scoping sales on frozen turkeys and snatching cans of pumpkin and cranberry before any reported shortages threaten to disrupt my jello mold and pie production.

The long list of invitees have been informed of the details - 2pm, come hungry, wear loose clothing, be prepared to lay on a piece of furniture for several hours afterwards while watching football or holiday flicks.

I've delegated all there is to delegate - sides, desserts, stuffing.

Let's see, that means I have approximately three weeks to clean my house and figure out a way to make our card table look like VIP seating instead of a square around which the kiddies eat.

I'm sure I'll come up with something the night before...