Monday, September 1, 2014

Protein-Packed Raspberry Mango Smoothie


Aaron and I go through a huge smoothie phase in the summer. I typically adhere to a pretty standard combination to craft our smoothies: yogurt, bananas, frozen fruit from Trader Joe’s, and whatever juice is in my refrigerator.

Lately, however, we've been mixing up our smoothie mix-ins. Aaron began the trend when we went blueberry picking. He made us a smoothie with blueberries, spinach, and honey that was amazingly tasty. So I started adding ingredients to bump up the vitamin value, like kale and edamame, and both were a success.

Before we go on, I need to share with you all my smoothie manifesto. I’m all about proper texture of my smoothies. I like them a little crunchy, and I hate adding apples to my smoothies because I think they utterly ruin the texture. I believe that good smoothies should have yogurt, bananas, or both.


Yesterday’s smoothie met the requirements. It had yogurt (unfortunately we’re out of bananas), no apples, and good texture. I snuck in an unexpected source of complete protein that was not only tasty, but gave the smoothie an amazing texture.

Please note that I prefer to dump random amounts of ingredients into my smoothies, but I listed approximate amounts below for those who like to stick to a recipe. If I were you, though, I’d take the following ingredients and dump in any amounts you want; it’s hard to mess up mangoes and raspberries, although it can be done if you add apples! Beware of those devious apples!


Protein-Packed Raspberry Mango Smoothie

Ingredients

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
¼ cup frozen mangoes
¼ cup frozen mixed berries
¾ cup to 1 cup of orange juice; add more if necessary to maintain a proper consistency
The secret ingredient: ½ cup cooked quinoa!

Directions

1. Add yogurt, mangoes, quinoa and juice, and blend together. I like to build a liquid base before adding in a lot of frozen fruit.

2. Add the rest of the frozen fruit, and any more juice you may need to keep it blending, and blend until mixed together.

This smoothie serves 2 people. 


That’s right…quinoa! I've talked before about how quinoa is a great source of protein. It’s also practically tasteless on its own, and blends in well with a myriad of different foods. Aaron and I slept in on the day I made this, and didn't have a proper lunch, so this smoothie was a great addition to our afternoon, and added necessary nutrients back into our lazy selves.

I love Greek yogurt because it is so much thicker than regular yogurt. However, the reason is not its purported health benefits. I prefer the texture of Greek yogurt to regular yogurt. By itself, the regular kind that I buy can be a little strong, even though I spoil myself sometimes with the amazing honey vanilla version from Trader Joe’s. The strength of regular Greek yogurt is diminished when added to a smoothie, and it adds that extra protein bump to this smoothie.


Use whatever frozen fruit you have on hand. I always have mangoes and some sort of berry blend on hand. Obviously you can use fresh fruit as well, but I like to add at least some form of frozen fruit, again, for the texture. I prefer to add frozen fruit over ice so the smoothie isn't watered down.

Wow, I really sound like a smoothie snob! I've hit upon some tried and true blends that yield satisfying, nutritious smoothies, but I would be happy to hear about your favorite combinations, as well! What's your smoothie manifesto?

Enjoy the smoothie, and tell me if you try it and what modifications you make! Have you experimented with any unusual ingredients in your smoothies lately?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gen Con Part 3: "The Road goes ever on and on..."


Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

I had time to run out and get Indian food from a food truck, which I carried with me into yoga. I’d passed an epic Gandalf on my way out, but didn’t have time to take a picture with him. After waiting in line for a long time, I only had time to run to my yoga class and no time to eat. It was 3PM at this point and I was pretty drained.

Our yoga teacher took one look at the class and decided we would have a mellow practice. We all must have looked exhausted. It was an absolutely incredible class. I’d felt so sore, but my soreness dissipated over the course of the class. We began with a long sitting session, and ended with a long shavasana. It was so relaxing, and exactly what I needed at that moment in time.

Unfortunately, yoga ran late. Although I was only about five minutes late for my next Dominion tournament, they’d already given my seat away to someone else. Defeated, I walked out to a main walkway, and sat down to eat my lunch.

It was still warm. I haven’t had much Indian food since I got sick in India three years ago, but I devoured that food. As I ate and people watched, I began to feel a lot better. I wandered down to the gaming hall, found two of my friends who were hobbying, and crocheted with them. Again, it was just what I needed.

Terrain for Aaron's Infinity tournament.

After a while, the three of us walked over to Georgia Street, sat along a raised sidewalk area, and just talked while we waited for the others to finish their tournaments. It was fun to sit and laugh and hang out. The others finally joined us a few hours later and we all got dinner at the food trucks, sat, and laughed some more. We ended the evening with more laughter and pictures of the new Infinity models in one group’s hotel room.

Sunday came too early. After three days of early mornings, late nights, and fervent activity, we were wiped out. We said goodbye to Dee, the first to leave Indianapolis, and then Aaron and I sat in the main hallway outside the vendor hall and mainly people watched. That was about all we had the energy to do. I did go into the hall, and bought some loose leaf tea, and we got lunch at a mac and cheese food truck, but other than that, we just sat. We were so tired. 



Finally Aaron and I decided to leave and get to the airport early. We said goodbye to our friend Christian, and as we were getting ready to leave, I saw Gandalf again. I was so excited! I ran over to him and asked to take our picture. Of course he acquiesced and I took a picture with Gandalf. It was one of my favorite moments of the convention. Of course I had many favorite moments, but it was a highlight.


At the airport, I got a bolt of energy from a frappachino, and did quite a bit of work, which was awesome, because it made my transition into last week far easier. We flew home and at last I saw my kitten baby again. Hobbes was overjoyed to see us! We spent that night at Nana’s house, as we flew into Boston, and we had Hobbes locked in Nana’s room to keep her away from Eddie, and whenever I’d leave the room, she would howl and howl. Nana said that (luckily) she did not do that when we were gone! So she was definitely letting me know how she felt about me leaving the room. But when I would come back, she would want more snuggles and purr and purr.

Monday we drove home and then slept for about twelve hours that night. It felt so good to be home, back in the Hobbit Hole, just the two of us with Hobbes.


Next year we’ll separate the California and Gen Con trips. (Oh, we thought we were so clever!) We also agreed never to take a red eye again. We truly enjoyed seeing everyone, however, and can’t wait for Gen Con next year!

Thanks for reading!

Quote in the title comes from The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 3, page 73.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gen Con Part 2: "...there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."


Continued from Wednesday's blog post...

Friday at the convention dawned bright and early. Luckily our hotel had a continental breakfast for me to eat while I busted out an hour of work. The first class of the morning was yoga again, attended with Dee, and it was so awesome! We had two instructors there to help out the class, which was larger this time around, and they helped me get into a flying lizard pose and a handstand pose. I was thrilled since I've been working towards more intermediate yoga poses. I’m definitely not quite able to get into them myself, but it was fun to walk through the process with instructors.

Right after, I ran off to make fantasy wine charms, and was able to use neat beads, charms, wire, and tools that the instructor provided. I made an elephant, phoenix, Celtic triquetra, tree, cat, and dragon. The dragon was a pretty obvious choice; after all, this is the year in which the third Hobbit movie will be released. 


I had time after the wine charm class to dash to a bathroom and change into my Lyanna Stark costume. When Aaron was making preparations for his Driver costume, we were at his Nana’s house, and we all decided I needed a costume too, and that I should be Lyanna Stark. Nana helped me make a headdress and a necklace, and we found cute dresses at Target in the Stark colors. 

Blue roses for Lyanna...
Then Aaron, Dee, and I headed off on our Indianapolis brewery tour! We went to four different breweries in Indianapolis, and found that the city has a thriving craft beer scene. Our tour guide was awesome, and since we hadn't eaten lunch yet, got the three of us po’ boys and beignets at one of our stops. As we drove around the city, our tour guide also told us some of Indianapolis’ history. We had such a fun time! It was a great opportunity to learn more about the city, because I’d bet most of the convention attendees only saw the inside of the convention hall.


After the tour, we went over to the vendor hall. It was incredible. It was huge and had just about any kind of nerdy item you could want. You could also play test several games, talk with some of the game inventors, and obtain free items from vendors. One could literally spend their entire convention in the vendor hall. We met up with the rest of our Santa Barbara crew at the Privateer Press booth (I had recently purchased a sweet Kromac pin) and explored the hall together. I’d missed them so much; it was fantastic to see them and hang out and laugh.

The amazing Privateer Press booth!
The whole crew had dinner at the Ram, which Aaron discovered two years ago when he attended Gen Con. The Ram creates a new menu for each Gen Con based on Warmachine/Hordes, a tabletop wargame made by Privateer Press. They name their food and beer based on characters from the game. Plus, they play geeky movies like Indiana Jones on the big screens where they normally play sports. I’d heard about the Ram for two years from Aaron, and it was so enjoyable to finally be there.

Saturday morning, I had planned to dress up again, but felt too tired to do so, especially since I had yoga in the middle of the day. So I forewent my costume, only to see a Jon Snow walking around the convention later. Missed opportunity! If I had been in costume, I totally would have walked up to him and said, “I am your mother.” That’s the kind of thing you can do at Gen Con. (Yes, R+L=J!)

Dominion was our first order of business, and I got to play one game with Dee. I got trashed, losing both of my games, but once again, thoroughly enjoyed the people I played with. So it was worth the losses!

My next activity was across the street in the Westin hotel. I began crocheting a Hobbit Hood! Oh, yes, precious! A Hobbit Hood! Unfortunately I am very much a beginner and did not finish it, otherwise I totally would have worn it. However, Aaron’s Nana told me that she would graciously help me finish it, so I plan to have it ready in time for the third movie.

It was at this class that I learned one of the best kept secrets of Gen Con: the craft room. Apparently there is a craft room at Gen Con where people can go and make crafts, for free. They have a sewing machine, paper, yarn and needles, and other craft items. The woman sitting next to me let me in on this little secret and offered to help me finish the hood if I had time to come to the room later. She said it had a really friendly atmosphere, where people could come and receive help and learn new things. She said that last year, a woman came in whose boyfriend had told her that if she could knit him a Jayne hat, she could spend $100 in the vendor hall. She’d never knitted or crocheted before, but the other crafters gathered around her and taught her how. She made the Jayne hat!

Stay tuned for the final installment of my Gen Con experience next week...

Quote in the title comes from The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 3, page 74.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gen Con Part 1: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door..."


Aaron and I just got home from Gen Con 2014, the largest gaming convention in the country. Around 50,000 people attended this year, and we all packed into the charming Midwest city of Indianapolis.

I've written up a journal-style account of my adventures, which I’ll spread over the course of three days. I really felt like I had to go in-depth to create a true picture of our time at Gen Con. My hope is that it will be insightful both for Gen Con diehards and those who have never even heard of tabletop wargaming or Dominion (what Aaron and I play). Here goes!


We had indescribable amounts of fun! I reveled in the opportunity to be in a like-minded community of nerds, where it was perfectly acceptable to dress up as wizards and elves, and not uncommon to be in line at Starbucks only to see Ned Stark walk by.

However, Aaron and I made one fatal error: we took a red eye flight from California to Indianapolis.

We’d spent the previous five days visiting family and friends in California. We flew into SFO, worked our way down the coast, and flew out of LAX just a few short days later. First off, that was not enough time. It was so, so good to see people we love, eat Mexican food, and drink coffee at Joe Momma’s. We squashed as much fun as possible into our time, and still, of course, didn't get to do all that we wanted.

So flying away from LAX, we were already exhausted and while I was so happy to have made the California trip, I had a really hard time leaving. We flew out of LAX at 9:30 at night, made a connecting flight in Phoenix, and arrived in Indiana at six in the morning. We were so tired we figured we’d most definitely sleep on the plane. We were sadly mistaken.

We met one of our Santa Barbara friends at the airport, and shared a taxi into the city, and immediately located the nearest Starbucks, which luckily was across from the convention center. We weren't able to check into our hotel until 3 PM, so we had to lug our luggage around with us the whole day, and our schedules were packed.

I bid Aaron good luck at his Infinity tournament, and headed to my first seminar, Worldbuilding 101, which started at 9 AM. It was going to be a long day! However, I really enjoyed the seminar, and forced myself to take notes so I wouldn't forget everything. The seminar was led by a panel of writers, editors, a game writer, and a professor, so it was very insightful. To create a believable world, ask questions such as “What is normal to the everyday life of a character?” and “In what world would a situation be as difficult as possible for the characters?”

I left the seminar still exhausted, yet totally excited about the convention, and headed straight into yoga, which was exactly what I needed. Yoga at the convention was taught by yogis from a local studio, and they were amazing. Those yoga classes almost made me want to live in Indianapolis just to practice at that studio! It was definitely worth the time and money, and an activity I will definitely make time for next year. (Oh yes, we’re totally going next year!)

Shortly after yoga, I went in to my first Dominion tournament. I was nervous, because I certainly didn't know what to expect. To my surprise, the competition was not as cutthroat as I’d expected, but was incredibly friendly. Plus, the Dominion room was stocked with food, tea, and coffee, which made me happy. I won my first game and placed second in my next game, which gave me a boost of confidence. I really enjoyed getting to know the people I played with, which included a Bible translator originally from California and a ten-year-old girl who nearly won last year’s tournament.

After Dominion, I had a break. Finally! I checked into the hotel and climbed into bed. A little later, our good friend Dee arrived, and I said hello to her, and then climbed into bed again. I slept until dinner, which was Caribbean food from a food truck.

Outside the convention, Georgia Street was set up with food trucks and tables. The food trucks parked there for each day of the convention, but throughout the year, food trucks set up on Fridays, and they have a free workout session on Wednesdays, as well as other community gatherings. Just another sample of the cool local flavor of Indianapolis!

After dinner, Dee and I attended a class to learn how to etch geeky glasses. The etching material we used was nontoxic (usually etching is accomplished through heavy chemicals that require gloves and extreme care). We’d picked out designs in advance, and after the instructor walked us through the process, we dove right in. I’d picked out the Gen Con logo and the Firefly logo for two glasses, Celtic designs for another glass, and Harry Potter designs for a fourth glass. We had so much fun and came away with awesome glasses (which totally survived the trip home!). 



To be continued…

Quote in the title comes from The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 3, page 74.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How To Spend a Friday Night Home Alone


Have you ever spent a Friday night home alone? What did you do?

Growing up, I always viewed Friday nights as a time to do something special, with Aaron or friends. After we married, we set aside Friday nights as date night, and we've done some fun things and consumed some delicious food.

I can’t remember the last Friday night when I didn't have plans, even if it was just testing out a new recipe at home with Aaron.

But last Friday night, I had absolutely no plans. Aaron was at a wargaming tournament in Massachusetts; the friends I contacted were all busy.

The prospect of an evening all by myself was a little daunting, since I've held such high expectations for Friday nights. However, I put together a plan, and told Hobbes that we were going to have a date.

The date started off with a book: the only one by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I haven’t yet read. She’s currently one of my top favorite authors. It was beautiful outside, and I pulled out a chair and read Half of a Yellow Sun for a few hours.



Next on my list was to try out one of my Pinterest recipes. I picked out cookie dough brownies, and spent time creating the combination of two of my all-time favorite desserts. Inspired by Adichie’s book, I found some Nigerian High Life music on YouTube, and listened as I baked. 



I’d planned on giving myself a facial or foot soak, but I was way too absorbed with Adichie’s novel, so I decided to take a rain check. After all, it was my date night, and half the fun was that I got to do literally whatever I wanted. Hobbes and I did make time, however, to take a few selfies.


I climbed into bed, with brownies, and called Hobbes over. I spread out her blanket on the bed; it was a Christmas present to Aaron and I until Hobbes claimed it and totally took it over, and now we can’t travel without her blanket. (Yes, we’re ridiculous, and yes, she’s totally my cat baby.) When I spread out her blanket on the bed, she usually comes running over, settles down on top, and starts purring.

We spent the rest of our lazy night right there, me with my book and Hobbes with her blanket.


I’m an introvert, and definitely need time alone to recharge. Yet when I went to college and lived in the dorms, I realized how much I really enjoyed having people around. I really cherish Aaron’s presence even when we’re doing our own things, because being with him is as good as being alone for me. So I was afraid that I would get lonely on my date night with Hobbes, even as cute as she is.

I've tried to seek out a good balance for my introvert self, since my natural tendency is indeed to read books at home all the time. Even though that’s exactly what I did Friday night, it was okay, because I’d made an effort to spend time with others, and instead of trying to shut out the world, my heart was in a place of peace. Even though I was alone, I was still able to use the time intentionally to rest.

I've been thinking lately about intentional use of my time, since I make my own schedule now. I have to work to be productive, because it’s way too easy to spend hours goofing off online.

I can’t always be productive, but I hate feeling like I've unintentionally squandered time. I’m finding that even lazy time can seem intentional to me if I have a plan for it, as long as I remain flexible and open to change. Last Friday, I made a plan, but I allowed the plan to adapt to the texture and feel of the evening. And I enjoyed my solo Friday night immensely.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Exploring Connecticut: Blueberry Picking


When you can walk into the grocery store and buy blueberries at any time of the year, it’s hard to know when exactly they are in season. I certainly don’t know when most foods are in season, except for a vague knowledge that pumpkins and squash are harvested in autumn, and strawberries are in season in the summer.

This past weekend, when Aaron and I decided to go berry picking, I discovered that I had completely missed strawberry season, at least here in eastern Connecticut. I was very disappointed! Luckily, it is still blueberry season, so Aaron and I decided to pick blueberries. Aaron had only been berry picking once when he was about 9 or 10, and the only berry picking I ever did was along the creek behind my friend’s house as a little girl, where blackberries grew wild and delicious. (I sneaked the red ones when no one was looking.)

So we drove out to a blueberry farm about twenty minutes away, and realized we hadn’t brought any cash as we pulled up. Luckily, even in rural areas, one still encounters Dunkin Donuts, so we quickly drove back and got money out at the ATM.

Returning with our freshly withdrawn dollars, we arrived at the berry farm and walked down a slope to join the other pickers. I don’t think I’d ever seen a blueberry bush before that day. The farm was huge; the pickers only occupied a small section of the whole farm.


The price was only $2.70 a pound, which certainly beats the teeny containers in the grocery store! I enjoyed the satisfying plunks as blueberries fell into my plastic bucket, but plastic buckets are deceiving.

Aaron and I each had a small plastic bucket, about as big as a 16 oz. yogurt container. In addition to that, we had a gallon container lined with a plastic bag, into which we dumped our individual buckets. 


We never filled up our small plastic buckets. When you dump small amounts of blueberries into a gallon bucket, it doesn't seem as if there are all that many blueberries inside. However, when we walked up the hill to the checkout stand, we discovered that we had inadvertently picked over 3 pounds of blueberries!


We arrived home and Aaron made us smoothies: a blend of the blueberries, pomegranate lime juice from Trader Joe’s, and frozen mixed berries. Usually we add bananas and yogurt to smoothies to even out the texture, but even though we were out of both ingredients, the smoothie was amazing. I used to blend smoothies using only frozen fruit and juice, yet have recently discovered the tantalizing textures that a smoothie gains when we use fresh fruit.

I could snack on blueberries all day, but 3 pounds is way more than it seems, and we won’t be able to finish the blueberries simply by snacking! So we need your help, readers: what are your favorite blueberry recipes?

Also, I’d love to hear your berry picking experiences…who else managed to pick way more fruit than they anticipated? We had a lot of fun berry picking, and I’m hoping to take advantage of all the farms in the area, especially when fall arrives.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Write Journey


Get it? It’s the write journey for me…the right journey?

Anyway…

This is my first complete week of writing full-time at home!

It’s incredibly exciting to make this step, but it wasn't an easy process.

About a year ago, when Aaron and I moved to the East Coast, I decided to pursue writing. I loved writing intensively in college (and have been writing for my whole life), but my initial plan after college was to obtain my teaching degree. I spent two years as a preschool teacher, and I’ll always treasure the relationships I made with the kids, but I realized that I really didn't want to become a teacher. I just wanted to write. I began Sputnik Prose midway through my teaching stint in Santa Barbara (although in those days it was Work in Progress).

So I viewed our move as an opportunity to pursue my dreams as Aaron pursued his.

My first job on the East Coast was with a start-up women’s magazine. It was unpaid, but I loved seeing my name and words published online. However, unpaid is not going to pay the bills. I’d toyed with the idea of working in a coffee shop for a long time, and got a job at a local café.

At the café, I was treated like I was in high school. It wasn't all bad; I enjoyed my coworkers (most of whom were in college, not high school) and the food was delicious. But I was spending 30 hours a week in the café, instead of writing.

In mid-October, I started at a local preschool. As I worked part-time, I pursued writing as a career, but my next job didn't arrive until the end of November. However, this one paid me to write about books.

Around February, I realized that I needed to focus more effort on writing. So from February until the end of June, I job hunted wildly, with few results.

Aaron and I estimate the number of jobs I've applied for to be in the hundreds range…as in, more than two hundred. Most of the places I applied to never responded, even after multiple attempts to contact them via phone and email.

Here’s what a typical day looked like for me when I was working at home: I’d wake up, hopeful that this would be the day I’d find a job. I’d brew a cup of Irish Breakfast Tea, flip open my computer, and send a slew of follow-up emails. Then I’d scour my typical websites (Ed2010, Mediabistro, and Journalism Jobs, to name a few) and send applications.

Around mid-afternoon, I’d despair of ever finding a job. On good days, this led to half an hour of yoga and a cup of peppermint tea. On bad days, it led to tears on Aaron’s shoulder.

By the end of the day, I’d realize that once again, another day had passed in which I had not gotten a job.

Of course, that wasn't the end of the story.

In May, I was contacted by Arkleus. I absolutely loved interviewing inspiring people and hearing their stories. Many of them were young people pursuing their dreams as well. I've heard so many incredible stories through Arkleus, and am excited about every article I write for them!

June 30 was a magical date in Cooke family history. I received two job offers in the same day, and accepted both. They allowed me the flexibility to start writing from home, and a few days later, I gave my two week notice at the preschool. As I finished at the preschool and began to write full-time, I often clocked eleven hour days, and worked weekends.

Aaron was incredibly supportive throughout the entire process, and I firmly believe that if I wasn't married to him, I never would have done all this writing. He’s inspired me to be the best version of myself, and to grow continually. He’s critiqued my writing and supported me no matter what.

It’s been an uphill journey to get to this point, but I wouldn't trade the process. A year and a half ago, I doubted that I’d ever be published. Now I’m writing every day (outside when the weather is nice!), getting paid, and practicing yoga on my lunch break. I’m beyond excited that I have the opportunity to do this, and look forward to all that I will learn.