Monday, June 30, 2014

Cleveland’s my gym: Kopf Family Reservation

Me, before the race...

Last Saturday I ran my first race ever (that is if you don’t count those “Turkey” races I was forced to run at school that always ended in shame and shortage of breath). It was the Running for hope 5K, and it was organized by Love without boundaries, a charity aiming to aid impoverished children in China. I did OK, finishing at an official time of 29:26 (position 55/135). I did finish more than a minute before that, but I was supposed to rip the number off my shirt and hand it over to the volunteers so I could get my time registered, but I was a bit distracted and didn't turn it in immediately. First I forgot I had to do it, and then I was concerned with leaving holes in the shirt. Oh, Angel… Anyway, it was a fun, well organized, and well attended 5K. The volunteers really did a great job. At the finish line they had water, bananas, and most importantly, they had peanut butter & chocolate cookies, so I was a happy camper (runner). The event was followed by free yoga classes and massages, but I had plans afterwards so I had to skip those. You can see the official pics here.

Me, after the race...

The course itself was in the Kopf Family Reservation, a beautiful park maintained by the Lorain County Metroparks, the City of Avon Lake, Avon Lake Public School District and Avon Lake Public Library. The park features 2 miles of paved trails through wooded areas (plus dirt trails) covered by beautifully green vegetation. There is shade almost everywhere within the reservation, giving much needed relief from the sun on a hot, hot day. Besides running, I’d say this park would be perfect for leisure walks. The terrain is flat and easy, and you can easily adjust how much you would like to walk. As a side note, I was very impressed by the numerous runners I saw running along Lear Road and Electric Boulevard on my way there. Also, I saw bike lanes (a bit narrow, but they were there) and many signs alerting the drivers. The roads are in great condition, and the houses and their lawns seem to be well cared for, making this area beautiful, and great for outdoor fitness.

If you want to go to the Kopf Family Reservation, you can park at the Avon Lake Public Library. In fact, the entrance to the park is on their lot. Although I did not check, I would assume there are restrooms at the library as well. Bring some water, because I don’t think you’d find any unless you go into the library building.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Coconut rum frozen yogurt cake with walnuts and cherries

Two summers ago, I was at the mall minding my own business when I made a life-changing discovery. Let’s ignore for now that minding my own business at a mall usually involves hours of me collecting all sorts of items through the store, only to spend about 10 seconds deciding I’m leaving it all behind. I know, terrible; but we’ll leave that discussion for another day. I was at the book store, (and whether or not I successfully bought something there isn’t important) and on my way to the car I saw this “ice cream” place I’ve been seeing absolutely packed for years but never ventured in. That day I went in, and I realized it wasn’t ice cream but frozen yogurt, and after a few “trying cups” I was hooked. Over the last couple of years I’ve had so much frozen yogurt (and by so much I actually mean so many times, because I never actually buy more than 6 oz.).  From chains to local, to organic, I’ve tried them all. I love my froyo. I’ve made frozen yogurt at home too, and it has even made its way to this blog as well.

This week I went to a friend’s house for a summer party. She and her fiancé  had an array of great food, but somehow I was especially fixed on their desserts: homemade éclairs and homemade ice cream cake. Éclairs I absolutely love, so no further explanation is needed. I ate more than I should have, I know so. But the ice cream cake really surprised me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never thought of ice cream cake as “home-doable”. It’s not like I thought it was impossible either. It just that it never really occur to me that you could make it at home. I loved that ice cream cake, and of course, now I want to make one. 

Three days after my epiphany, I decided I had to make an ice cream cake. I had a few issues, though. I am busy, so I wanted something fast and easy to make. I also wanted to keep the oven usage to a bare minimum because it has been really hot and some of us don’t have an AC to chill afterwards. Lastly, I had just overindulged at the party a few days before, so I wanted to keep the calories down. My 10 second decision was to make a “frozen yogurt cake” instead. I used a store bought, ready-to-use Graham crust I’ve had sitting in the pantry for months now. For the filling I used fat-free Greek yogurt, I added some coconut rum for both flavor and to prevent it from freezing into a block, and I added shaved coconut to give it a “cake-ier” texture. Listo. I just mixed the ingredients, poured it over the crust, and froze it overnight. No ice cream machine needed. Just for fun, I made a honey-walnut-cherry topping just before serving. 

The result was a great tasting summer dessert! The frozen yogurt cake was just 255 calories plus an extra 44 calories for the topping. Loved it! Of course, I still have to make a more “traditional” ice cream cake, but the summer has just started, so I have plenty of time to make it. And I have a feeling I’ll be making this frozen yogurt cake a few more times as well.

On the road shortcut

Coconut rum frozen yogurt cake
252 calories, 39 g carbs, 7 g fat, 7 g protein
16 oz. (2 cups) Nonfat Greek yogurt plain
0.5 oz. coconut rum
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoon unsweetened coconut flakes
1 9-inch Ready to fill crumb Graham cracker crust
Using an electric mixer at medium power, mix the Greek Yogurt, coconut rum, and vanilla extract until well incorporated. Add the sugar, and the coconut flakes and keep mixing until they are well incorporated into a fluid mixture. Pour the mixture into the Graham crust, cover it and freeze it overnight.

Walnut and cherry topping
44 calories, 5 g carbs, 3 g fat, 1 g protein

¼ cup walnuts
¼ cup dried cherries
1 teaspoon honey
Pinch salt

On a skillet on medium-high heat, toast the walnuts until browned and fragrant (about 5 minutes). Make sure to stir constantly to prevent them from burning. Remove from heat, and let them cool to the touch. Chop the walnuts and the dried cherries, then transfer them to a mixing bowl. Add the honey, a pinch of salt, and mix together well.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cleveland’s my gym: Shaker Lakes

These are the last days before my 5K race, so it is time to get serious. Come on Angel, you better work (B****)! Having this race as a goal has really motivated me to keep running during late spring, a time I usually allocate to bike rides. It may have been the realization that my race was coming up, or the eating “out of control” while at our friends’ party the night before, but I had a strong desire to go running this weekend. And running I did; I went for an outdoor run along one of my favorite places to do so: the Shaker Lakes. 

Four manmade (dammed) lakes actually make up the “Shaker Lakes”. The ones I like running around are the Horseshoe and the Lower Shaker Lakes. These are located between North Park and South Park Boulevards, and go from west to east from Coventry Rd to Park Dr. (respectively) and they separate the cities of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. It’s an area about 2 miles long if you go straight from one end to the next. However, there are many trails that will provide additional area for your run or hike; some are close to the road, and others go all the way down to the lake. Along the way, you’ll see the people who visit the park by foot or bike, and of course, you’re bound to see a few dogs taking their “me-time” along the trails. The trails are a combination of paved trail, dirt trail, and boardwalk (thankfully not all at once), with a very short segment that’s loose gravel, and it’s clearly labeled as such (in case you ride your bike). 

Around the Lower Lake, there’s the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. Beyond the building that houses an educational center, a gift shop, and restrooms, the center has nice boardwalk trails where you can see, and hear the birds that call this area home, and a beautiful marsh. If you go towards the north side (right side if you are walking from the building), there’s a gate that allows you to go out to the street, to the intersection of North Park, South Park and South Woodland Boulevards. Across S. Woodland lies the Lower Shaker Lake Park. The north side of the park is mostly an “upper” level paved trail that goes parallel to North Park, and a “lower” dirt trail that’s really close to the water. I personally worry about tripping on a root and falling into the lake while running, but I’ve been known to be overly cautious sometimes. The south side of the park has dirt trails only, but this side is mostly at the street level. The south side is wider than the other side, and there are benches where some people go to read, to rest, or just to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

There’s another park around the Horseshoe Lake, called the Horseshoe Lake Park (of course). Once again, the north side is narrower than the south side, and it’s mostly a paved trail at street level. As of June 2014, there’s construction at the Belmont School so there’s a bit of what I’ll call “construction smell” while you are by the intersection of North Park Blvd. and Lee Rd., but as soon as you pass the construction site it fades away. The trail turns into a dirt path as you intersect Shelburne Rd (where you start going south). At some point, the trail narrows dramatically, and many people choose to walk on the road (opposite to traffic, with caution), but you can technically still fit on the trail. You’ll quickly reach the entrance to the Horseshoe Lake Park. This park has a few barbecue and picnic areas, it has restrooms, and there are areas for kids to play. There are some short trails that loop around and take you very close to the lake (great views), and some of the trails can take you to towards the south side of the park. At this side you’ll find benches, gardens, and a beautiful path along the lake that connects back to North Park Blvd. Across from South Park Blvd. you can see the Shaker Historical Society Museum, and  there are other shaker landmarks along the park as well.

There’s ample parking at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, and also some street parking around the entrance to the Horseshoe Lake Park. Some people park on the bicycle lanes along North Park, but that’s just not nice. Bicycle parking (a few racks) is available at both parks. The two parks also have nice, clean restrooms and water fountains. Both the Shaker Historical Society Museum and the Nature Center have bicycle oriented activities during the summer that are worth considering!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Roasted sweet potato with pecan and maple

The last couple of weeks have been CHAOS!!! Ok, chaos may be somewhat of an overstatement, but it certainly has been stressful (now an understatement). We’ve had people doing work around the house…  You can probably guess where this is going, but I’ll still give you a quick description of where the stress comes from. The workers arrive at 8 am, so you need to either be gone to work by then, or you better plan on staying out of their way. They’re nice people doing hard work, so you have to work very hard at choosing your words when you are voicing your concerns. And of course, you have to go behind them fixing, or at least trying to fix, all of the things they break along the way. That’s actually quite some work, but unlike them, I’m not getting paid to do it. But like they say back home “There’s no evil that lasts 100 years, nor a body that can survive it”, so I’m glad it’s almost over. We all know it wouldn’t take the project 100 years to take me to my grave; an extra couple of weeks would do the trick.

I did have my share of drinks through the whole process, and they got me through it. Two sets of friends got married as this madness was going on, so I had two weddings to celebrate (and to drink away my stress). The two ceremonies were very different, but they were both absolutely beautiful, and the venues were just gorgeous. I had good food with good friends, so I had the best of breaks from all the chaos. I may have eaten more than I should, but hey, you can’t measure your buddies’ happiness in calories (nor your sanity in drinks), so I “partied”.

But the last two weeks have not been just me pigging my problems away. I’ve had my share of exercise - some of it reflected on my “Cleveland’s my gym” posts. I’ve been going to the gym 4 days a week, I’ve been commuting by bike and I’ve been running 5K twice a week. On that note, I won a free registration for a 5K race on a giveaway from one of my favorite local blogs –Poise in Parma. This will be my first race, so I’m excited. Maybe I’m a little too excited. I’ve been driving people INSANE talking about the race, and asking for advice. I’m just pumped! BTW, anyone has good training tips for races?

I’m back to normal now (or at least close to), so I’m back on track cooking and blogging about it. I made this beautiful dish that I absolutely HAVE to share with you: roasted sweet potato with pecan and maple. I adapted it from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook – Ottolenghi, The cookbook – and he in turn adapted it from the website Epicurious. It’s technically a warm sweet potato salad, dressed with maple and other goodies. It is absolutely delicious, and like all great recipes, there’s room for your interpretation, so it can be adapted to work with the ingredients you have. I substituted lovage (which I’ve featured on another post) for cilantro and parsley and I made a few other changes from the original(s), and the result was a damn good dish. I’ll share my version!

On the road shortcut

2 small sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
35g (1.5 oz.) pecans
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
6 Tbsp. roughly chopped lovage (you can substitute for 4 of parsley and 2 of cilantro)
2 Tbsp. roughly chopped chives
1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
¼ cup raisins
Salt and pepper

For the dressing
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. pomegranate champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1.      Preheat the oven to 375 F.
2.      Cut the unpeeled sweet potatoes into 2 3/4 inch wedges. Spread them out on a baking dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, mix well with your hands and then roast in the oven for about 30 minutes.
3.      On a separate baking sheet, toast the pecans for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and chop roughly.
4.      While waiting for the sweet potatoes, make the dressing. Whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl with some salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
5.      When the potatoes are ready, transfer them to a large bowl while still hot. Add the red onions, lovage, chives, chili flakes, pecans and raisins. Pour the dressing over and toss gently to blend, then season to taste. Serve at once or at room temperature.