28 Feb

DIY Marathon Medal Frame

From this:

DIY Medal Frame

To this:

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I’ve been wanting to frame my marathon medal since I ran the race in January. I finally got a couple of pictures printed out from race day and put together a little shadow box of my marathon keepsakes.

Get a shadow box frame.

Shadow Box Frame

I found that shadow boxes were deeper that I wanted for my medal display so I opted for this shadowbox frame that I picked up from Michael’s craft store for $17.00. It provides only about an inch of depth between the glass and the medal.

Use Scrapbooking Material

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That blue paper is a 12″x12″ square of sparkly, navy blue sheet of scrapbooking paper which perfectly fit my 12″x12″ frame. It cost me $1.00. I went with navy because I thought the gold medal stood out really nicely on this colour, plus my race bib had a strip of navy on it too.

I wanted to put some marathon/running themed scrapbook stickers, but they were basically all out at Michael’s. Someone had the same idea as me, perhaps?

Print Some Pictures

I stopped to take lots of pictures of during the race and my friend Tina took a bunch for me as well, so I had plenty to choose from for my frame. I probably would have purchased official race photos if I hadn’t taken any, though they are quite expensive ($20 for two 4×6’s) compared to the less than $0.50 to print them from Shopper’s Drug Mart.

I printed out my favourite pictures and taped them to the scrapbook page along with my bib from the race.

Pin the Medal

DIY Medal Frame

I used safety pins to set my medal in place on the cardboard backing of the frame (though I suspect straight pins would be easier, but I didn’t have them). I wanted the medal to hang at an angle from the corner, so I taped it in place with some heavy duty masking tape. I’m not sure how long it will stick, but it works for now and gives me the effect that I was going for. I might have to adjust my choice of adhesive if it starts to slip. Any suggestions?

I tucked the lanyard in the back of the cardboard, and put the frame backing on top to hide it.

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So after a very minimal time commitment and minimal cost I ended up with a sweet homemade collection of my marathon memories. Fun times.

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25 Feb

Kettlebell Swings

My sister sent Matt and me home from Illinois with a 16kg kettlebell that she’s had lying around in their apartment for a while now. It was on my Christmas wish list and Matt’s too.

Don’t be fooled– a 16kg kettlebell is heavy. I was just barely able to squeak out a solitary Turkish get-up in poor form. I definitely can’t bicep curl it. I can, however, swing it with relative ease.

The kettlebell had been in the back seat of my car, but the thumping it made when it rolled around made me think I hit a pedestrian, so I moved it in the house and got it as far as the front door where it’s been for the last few days.

The other day when I came in the house I did 12 kettlebell swings and decided to make it a thing for Lent– do 12 kettlebell swings whenever I get home.

Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width, each foot pointed outward.
Keep your shoulders pulled back and down to avoid rounding your back.
Squat down and swing the kettlebell back between your legs. 

Thrust your hips forward, straighten your legs, and swing the kettlebell up overhead, keeping your arms straight. (I couldn’t get a picture right at the very top of the swing, so this is my progression up to the top)

23 Feb

Learning Guitar

I cut my fingernails off. They’ve always been an extention of my finger and it feels weird not having them. Tapping my fingers feels weird. Picking my nose feels weird. Scratching my head feels weird. I’m starting to get used to it.

I keep my fingernails long because they make my fingers look longer. Scratch, that. I keep them long because they can pass for looking nice even if I’m too lazy to cut them. I’m not particularly attached to them. I don’t file them or paint them– I’m always impressed by people who take the time to paint their nails when the polish only seems to last a day. Two, tops. I don’t have time for that kind of tedium.

I do, however, have time for a whole different kind of tedium: learning to play guitar.

It’s why I cut my fingernails off in the first place.

Guitar
My new acoustic guitar on a floral papasan. Matt dubbed this my hippie workstation.

Matt’s told me his friend is learning to play the violin. Which, I thought was pretty damn cool. Lots of people (ahem, me) will say that they want to learn an instrument, but how many times do you hear of people actually doing it?

I should learn to play the guitar, I told Matt. I’ve always wanted to do it. Then I can jam.

You should! That was his response. If someone had told me that they should learn an instrument I probably would’ve told them that they wouldn’t actually do it (I’m a dream-crusher like that). Matt was pretty positive about it though (he’s cool like that).

So after searching online for an inexpensive acoustic to learn on, I bought this bad boy from Amazon on the cheap.

Guitar

It’s a Jasmine S35 by Takamine, if that means anything to you. I’ll keep calling her Jasmine after my friend named Jasmine who is herself a pretty mean guitar player.

I have limited musical knowledge from my years studying piano in grade school (which I was never really good at anyway) and my finger dexterity is poor at best so learning guitar is pretty tough. I’m using some youtube videos and websites to learn and they’ve been pretty decent so far.

Since Monday I’ve learned about 6 chords that sound buzzy and it takes me way to long to switch between them, but hey, it’s something. I actually like practicing and so I’m betting that I’ll get lots of hours in until I’m playing guitar, Level: Asian.

22 Feb

Visit to the Shedd Aquarium

For the long Family Day weekend Matt and I visisted my sister Vicki and brother-in-law Sean in Illinois. It’s been about six months since the last time visited.

We brought Bagigis with us to play with her little doggie cousin, Ruxin. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake. Aside from one night when my sister fell asleep on the floor with the pups beside her, the dogs were terrors in the middle of the night– chasing each other and fighting in the middle of the night and scratching at our doors keeping us awake. Lesson learned: sleep on the floor next time. Or, ya know, bring the crate.

(source)

We spent the better part of the weekend watching almost all of Season 1 of the Game of Thrones. I read the book last year and thought they did a really good job with the casting and the settings, keeping it true to the book (for the most part). The books are long though so I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest or just watch the series.

Saturday afternoon the four of us went to the gym. Vicki teaches group exercise classes and she set up a circuit of 8 exercises in the aerobics room:

We followed up by playing a bit of basketball (which I haven’t done since I was 14) and stayed at the gym until it closed.

Sunday afternoon involved heading into Chicago, eating Jimmy John’s subs, and visiting the Shedd Aquarium.

Shedd Aquarium
Vicki and Sean in front of the Shedd Aquarium

It’s member appreciation month and since Vicki is a member she got to bring Matt and I for $5 each. A steal! We had to cut our visit short though since Sean got a call halfway through our visit from his landlord complaining about the dogs crying. That was all Bagigis, I’m sure. She’s a big suck that cries whenever we leave her somewhere.

Chicago
Matt and I in front of the Shed Aquarium

At least we got to see most of the exhibits- the jellies and the sea otters were my favourites- though we missed out on the sharks and the coral reef.

(Click for Larger Pictures)

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Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

In typical Fat Tuesday fashion, tonight’s dinner included oatmeal pancakes with maple syrup :-d

I used a combination of oats, oat bran, and flour in these pancakes.

Pancakes

Every Lent I practice some form of self denial. This year I’m giving up sugar starting tomorrow.

It’s going to be tough. I always always have cravings for sweets and I think those cravings will be tough to quash. Here’s hoping I can make it through all forty days : /

16 Feb

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day was probably my favourite day as a kid. I don’t care what anybody says, nothing beats celebrating Valentine’s Day between the ages of 6 and 12 in the good ol’ grade school days.

You spend an entire weekend afternoon writing out valentines on those little perforated cardboard cards to everyone in your class and sealing them with kisses.

You make sure to scrutinize each pre-written message so that your friends get the “Best Friends” cards, your crushes get the “Be Mine” cards, and those kids that you don’t even talk to get something generic like “You’re A-okay valentine!”.

Or maybe just the girls do this. Yeah, it’s probably just a little girl thing.


This card would definitely have been reserved for the grade school ‘love of my life’

At school you make a little paper bag with a heart and your name on it and you go around spreading the Valentine’s day joy into each person’s bag. Everyone is excited and happy and running high on the sugar from candy hearts.

I’m not gonna lie, I still have most of my valentines cards from grade school. I don’t even keep cards from my family and yet those cards from kids I don’t even see anymore are still hiding in the nightstand at my dad’s house.

That atmosphere of excitement is entirely lost when you reach high school and you’re not friends with everyone anymore. People start dating and it feels like Valentine’s Day is just for couples and you feel left out of the fun. But it’s even more distant when you’re in a relationship and you feel pressured to go over the top for Valentine’s Day with flowers, and fancy dinners, and heart-shaped jewellery.

Luckily, Matt totally gets Valentine’s Day. It’s about small thoughtful gestures, random acts of kindness, and candy. Last night Matt made me coconut chocolate pudding, and we ate it together while watching our favourite show: Top Chef.

Chocolate Pudding for Valentine's

That’s my idea of a great Valentine’s Day.

P.S. I asked Matt for the chocolate pudding recipe, but he lost it 🙁

Update: Here is the recipe he used, but he added shredded coconut and orange blossom water.


Matt also e-mailed this lovely collection of cards to me and I swooned.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll understand.

15 Feb

Creamy Buttercup Squash and Artichoke Pasta

I’m taking part in a new recipe link-up called Eating the Alphabet.

Eating Alphabet JPG

Each month the group makes a recipe featuring a fruit, vegetable, legume, or whole grain from a different set of letters of the alphabet.

February’s letters are A and B, and I decided to incorporate a vegetable from each letter into my recipe:

A for Artichoke

Artichoke Hearts

The artichoke comes from a type of thistle plant native to the Mediterranean. It was considered an aphrodisiac by Greeks and Romans, probably because the hearts look a bit like a vagina. I’ve read that women were banned from eating artichokes in until the 16th century because of this, but can’t confirm if that’s true.

The heart of the artichoke is the only fully edible part of the plant.

B for Buttercup Squash

Buttercup Squash

Buttercup squash is a winter squash with a flat cylinder shape. It has a dark green inedible rind with light green stripes. The flesh of the buttercup is a deep orange colour, indicative of its high vitamin A content, and it is denser and less fibrous than other winter squash varieties. It has a sweet, nutty taste often compared to sweet potatoes.

The creamy consistency lends well to this recipe, but my favourite way to eat buttercup squash is oven-roasted.


Squash and Artichoke Pasta

Creamy Buttercup Squash and Artichoke Pasta

adapted from Simply Recipes
serves 6

Likes: This recipe was tasty. It is a really rich, creamy pasta sauce that tastes decadent but is quite healthy.

Dislikes: You have to eat it right away. Unfortunately it doesn’t make for very good leftovers. To be honest, I think I would have liked it better without the artichokes, but Matt thought they were a good addition.

Ingredients:

*Oven Roasted Squash (see below)
1 to 2 c water, as needed
1 T olive oil
3 shallots, diced
1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/3 c plain yoghurt
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 T finely chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper to taste
1lb pasta, cooked

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat and sauté the shallots until they start to brown (about 8 to 10 minutes). Add the artichoke hearts and cook another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the roasted squash in a blender or food processor with water (I used starchy water reserved from the pasta making), adding more as needed. Purée the squash until smooth and creamy.

Add the pureed squash to the shallots and artichokes. Stir in the yoghurt, nutmeg, sage, salt, and pepper. Stir until just heated through. Toss with 1lb of cooked pasta.

*Oven Roasted Squash

Peel the squash, removed the seeds, and cube the flesh. Toss with 2 T olive oil, 1 t salt, and 1 t pepper. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes stirring occasionally. The outside of the squash cubes will be crisp and the insides will be soft and sweet.


Eating the Alphabet series:

A or B: Creamy Buttercup Squash and Artichoke Pasta
C or D: Grenadian Oil Down with Cassava

13 Feb

The New Blog

It’s been a while since my Bikini Birthday goal and the blog isn’t just about improving my body image and confidence anymore. It’s about all my hobbies like travelling, running, weightlifting, and eating, and all the hobbies that I haven’t yet discovered.

So I decided to switch over Bikini Birthday to a new domain: SamanthaMenzies.com

I’ll continue to write about the same topics, and I hope you continue to read them.

 

09 Feb

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies

Breakfast Cookies

So I found this recipe online for something called Carnival Cookies filled with popcorn and chocolate chips. I had made a pact with myself last month to stop baking so many goddamn cookies after overdosing on cookie dough in the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies bake-off.

And then I saw these gorgeous little creatures with the super-cute name that don’t call for any butter or sugar and I decided to give them a go.

I like them, but they’re not sweet enough or rich enough. Most of the sweetness comes from the banana and the chocolate chips. They’re not really cookies, ya know?  They don’t deserve the moniker and, no, I don’t think everything rolled into a golfball shape and baked should be called a cookie.

Matt came home and tasted one and immediately asked, “What are these?”

“Ummm… they’re like cookies, but they don’t have any sugar?” It was definitely a response in the form of a question.

And then he grabbed another—the one with the most chocolate chips because it tasted the best.

I ate two of these this morning for breakfast without feeling all that guilty, and they were surprising more filling than I expected. So I changed the name of them from carnival cookies to breakfast cookies so

1) I don’t fool myself into thinking I’m going to be eating a delicious dessert
2) I do fool myself into thinking it’s cool to eat some for breakfast

Plus, I changed a bunch of ingredients so I have some liberties with the recipe title.

Chocolate CHip Breakfast Cookies

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies

adapted from Carnival Cookies

makes 20

Ingredients

2 really big ripe bananas, mashed (or 3 normal sized bananas)
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 T. all natural peanut butter
1/2 c. rolled oats
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. semolina flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. mixed spices (incl. ground pepper, clove, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom)
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. chopped walnuts
3/4 c. chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. popped popcorn

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the mashed bananas, vanilla, peanut butter, and oil. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix to combine.

Fold in the chocolate, nuts, and popped corn.

The dough may be looser than most cookies. Heap 1 tablespoon worth of cookie dough on to your palm and shape golfballs. Place about 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for approximately 15-18 minutes until golden, rotating the baking sheet 180deg halfway through baking.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

07 Feb

Weightlifting Check-in

I get random, unforseen urges to test my fitness from time to time. I’ll be sitting in my cubicle at work fighting off the compelling impulse to get down and do as many pushups as I can. I could be at my dad’s house and I’ll absolutely need to go into a headstand. I will get up from a cozy reading spot on the couch to do a wall sit for as long as I can. It’s really a curious behaviour of mine.

Tonight before my leg workout I tested my push-up ability. It wasn’t a compulsive impulse though, I was checking my progress toward my 100 push-ups Beast Mode goal.

Drumroll please . . .

I can do 28 push-ups before crashing. I still have a lot of work to do!

Today was the last day of my most recent 4 Day Upper/Lower Body Split Weight Training Plan (download here). I noticed that I had lost a bit of strength when getting back into it after the marathon but I’ve made pretty decent progress and I’m pretty happy with how the last 4 weeks have gone.

Particularly for these exercises:

Squats: increased from 155lb to 165lb
Bench Press: increased from 105lb to 115lb
Turkish Get-Ups: increased from 10lbs to 25lbs (<– HUGE!)
Close Grip Bench Press: increased from 50lbs to 80lbs

Here’s my Week 1 vs Week 4 progress for all exercises:

Next Steps:

I’m going to keep with the same exercises for the next 4 weeks, but make a few changes to how I do it.

1) Do push-ups first
2) Superset the arm (ie. biceps & triceps) exercises
3) Superset the shoulder exercises
4) Increase rest time to 2:00-3:00 rather than my current 1:00-2:00 for the heavier lifting (squats, bench, deadlifts, etc)

06 Feb

Trainwrecker Beans

When Matt and I were at the icewine festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake I mentioned that we tasted the Trainwrecker Beans at Konzelmann Winery and thought the were the greatest. They’re basically baked beans to the max with bacon and ground beef and mushrooms and a sweet/smoky flavour.

I picked up the recipe while we were there and promised Matt that I would make it. This Saturday night I decided to make this recipe instead of us going out for dinner because we’ve been spending a lot on eating out lately. We had a nice evening in, eating dinner and watching Crazy Stupid Love.

For fun (or shame, perhaps) this afternoon I did a quick calculations on the nutrition facts of this dish. Given the 1/4lb bacon and that most of the ingredients come from a can I was expecting the sodium to be through the roof. And it was worse than I expected. 1300mg of sodium! Holy shit.

Well, that explains why I’ve been so, so bloated the last couple of days.

So I guess this will be a ‘once-in-a-very-very-long-while’ treat because in spite of the nutrition facts, I can’t deny that this dish is tasty. Matt preferred the version I made to the Konzelmann one because it was sweeter, thanks to the use of honey garlic bbq sauce instead of the smoky barbecue sauce that was called for. I added back in the smoky flavour with chipotle chili powder and smoked paprika.

Tranwrecker Beans

Makes 8 cups
adapted from Konzelmann Estates Winery

Ingredients

1/4lb bacon, diced
3 small onions, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1lb lean ground beef
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained
19oz can diced tomatoes
1/2c tomato sauce
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 bottle red wine
1/4 c. real maple syrup
1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. honey garlic bbq sauce
19oz can red kidney beans
19oz can white kidney beans
19oz can romano beans
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

Directions

Drain & rinse the canned beans well.

Fry the bacon over medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven until almost the fats begin to render. Add onion and jalapeno and cook until the onion begins to soften and sweat. Set aside the bacon and onions mixture.

Add the ground beef to the pot and cook until browned. Add the mustard, mushrooms, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, and red wine. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.

Stir the bacon mixture and the remaining ingredients to the ground beef. Pour into large baking dish (if not already in an oven-friendly pot) and cook uncovered for 45 minutes at 350F.

Nutrition Facts per cup:

Calories: 456 / Fat: 11g (sat. fat: 4g) / Carbs: 48.8g / Protein: 32g / Sodium: 1333mg / Fibre: 10g / Sugar: 17g