I was in a mood last night. A productive mood!

First up was the almond butter. Seriously people, I don’t know why I don’t make this all the time. It’s so easy. Just pour in some raw almonds into a food processor and press ON. Then wait about 12 minutes; the almonds go through stages of releasing their oils so patience is key. In the first few minutes you start to think that maybe processing isn’t going to work because the almonds get crumbly for a while, but then it starts getting creamy and oily and all is right with the world. THEN the butter starts to get crumbly again and you wonder where you went wrong and if you should’ve quit while you were ahead. And just when you think the processor might just up and die on you (mine starts to get hot), the butter turns creamy again. So there you go: make it and love it.

Then I decided that I needed to do something with the leftover quinoa and brown rice I made earlier in the week. I thought maybe something Greek inspired that I could eat on top of a salad for lunch this week. So I chopped up half a red bell pepper, halved some cherry tomatoes, and tossed in a spoonful of herbed feta and mixed everything along with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The result is a flavorful salad that I can’t wait to enjoy for lunch today. I thought after the fact that chopped red onion would’ve been a nice add – next time!

That salad was inspired by a trip to Pasta and Co., a local joint I can only describe as a type of deli (actually the website calls it gourmet take-out, a good description), though whatever you buy they can plate and serve to you in-store if you would like, as they have some seating for customers. They have all kinds of salads: pasta salads, vegetable salads, rice salads, you name it! Plus, there are free samples everywhere: yesterday we sampled two different cheeses, a house-made granola, and the best white chocolate raspberry cheesecake I’ve ever had. Really, if you’re in Seattle (or Bellevue), you’ve got to go!

Running resolutions

This March will mark my four-year anniversary of the month I started running recreationally to prepare for my first half-marathon. After that race, I told anyone who would listen that I would NEVER EVER do that again.

I ate my words last year and logged a second half-marathon, and even shaved off 26 minutes from my time. I also enjoyed it a heck of a lot more, and upped my running days from twice a week in 2009 to three times a week to prep for the race.

2013: I’m signed up for not one but TWO half-marathons, within a month of each other! The race in June is the Rock n’ Roll, the same one I’ve done twice before. The race in May is the Rock n’ Roll in Portland, which I’m especially excited for since it’ll be a new course and location. And I have a goal: I want 2013 to be the year I break two hours in my half-marathon time. It’s a lofty goal. My first half-marathon time was 2:43 and my second was 2:17. So if I aim for a repeat of 2012 and shave off another 26 minutes, I’d for sure break two hours. Never mind the fact that breaking two hours will require running near 9-minute miles, which I’ve never actually accomplished before (well, once… for only one mile). So I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Since the addition of a third day of running helped greatly last year, I’ve decided to add a fourth after listening to advice from my running co-workers and searching online for tips on breaking the two-hour barrier. I also want to utilize the high school track near our house for speed work and make friends with my nemesis, the treadmill. We’ll see how THAT goes.

Monday Monday

So… I feel like Mondays are like an eyebrow wax. Just when you get all comfy and relaxed, you’re forced BACK TO REALITY when someone rips off half your face. And as if it isn’t bad enough to have someone armed with hot wax tearing out those stragglers, THEN they have to go back over and tweeze. Just like those Monday morning projects. It’s bad enough that you get dragged out of bed at an absurd hour but then you get slammed with all the little things that cropped up over the weekend.

At least an eyebrow wax cleans up my face.

An upside to Mondays: I get back to my healthy lunches! We continued our Sunday afternoon football tradition of ordering wings and fries with our friends during the Seahawks game, so I was ready for some healthy food today. Today’s lunch was a black bean burger (Morningstar), brown rice topped with some sriracha hot sauce, and steamed green beans. Lunch got healthified.

On my bookshelf

I’ve been a library fanatic lately! Soon they’ll know me by name. At least, they would if I didn’t scan out my items myself since I know my library card number by heart. Nerd.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

This is a science fiction novel about a boy in a military school in a future where the human race has successfully fought against an alien race for survival. This is a much different type of book than I usually read – according to Wikipedia, this book is suggested reading for the United States Marine Corps. But I read it because the movie will be coming out in November and I wanted to be able to compare the two (nerd). I hate to make this distinction but it’s undoubtedly a “boy” book – lots of military strategy and violence. I’d recommend it if you like science fiction but if you don’t, you might want to wait for the movie. Perhaps my imagination isn’t as geared toward science fiction but I had a hard time imagining some of the scenes in the book so I’m curious how the movie will do. It will star Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) and Harrison Ford, so hopes are high!

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo

What a gem of a book. I LOVED it. This novel is short and reads like a parable. It’s about a shepherd in Spain but it’s really about YOU. The boy learns throughout the book to pursue his personal dream, overcoming obstacles with the help of a mentor, a man known as the alchemist. I definitely recommend this book and think everyone should read it. It’s inspiring.

“White Jacket Required” by Jenna Weber

Jenna is one of my favorite bloggers and runs the site Eat Live Run. I’ve tried a few of her recipes including this white chicken chili, chicken and biscuits to fix your life, and chicken parmesan with a twist and I’ve loved them all! Jenna seems so genuine and wonderful that I knew I had to read her memoir. I loved the behind-the-scenes look at her culinary school experience – I’ve always wondered what culinary school was like. Believe me, this girl knows her way around food! It makes me trust her recipes even more.

What is everyone else reading? I love hearing suggestions!

My favorite hair products

Favorite hair products

Do you ever look back at a period in your life and think, “Man, if I knew then what I know now…” Call me crazy, but I wish I knew in high school what I know now about how to control curly hair. I could’ve told you that the secret wasn’t so much in the product, though the product does make a difference. The secret is in the hardware. My first week at college changed my life. My hair’s life, that is. My roommate introduced me to a tool called a diffuser: a cone-shaped hunk of plastic that attaches onto the end of the blow dryer and softens and redirects the air flow so your delicate curls don’t get blasted (and frizzed) by a jet stream of air. The only problem with diffusers is they aren’t exactly travel-friendly because they’re oddly shaped and rather large. But now I can’t do without! Blow-drying my hair straight in the morning can easily take 40 minutes while diffusing it takes only 10 minutes. More time for make-up. ;)

Curls still need some type of styling product though, and this is where the trial and error begins. Believe me, I’ve spent a bundle through my life trying to find the product that works for me. L’Oreal, Pantene, Dove, Herbal Essences, trust me, I’ve tried them all! My go-to curl products in college were a mousse and a curl setting spray by a brand called Got2Be. They reformulated their products though and removed them from stores for a while. I can find them online but I don’t care enough to pay for shipping, plus I’m nervous that the reformulation won’t be as good as I remember. If I could find the products in stores again then I might try them out again! The product I’ve been using for a couple years is actually by TRESemmé. I don’t know why I find that so surprising; maybe because it took me several years to try any product by TRESemmé so I was surprised when the first try hit it out of the park! I use TRESemmé’s Flawless Curls Mousse and love it – my hair isn’t weighed down and the curls are defined. I also love TRESemmé’s Ultra Fine Mist Hair Spray – it’s very light and doesn’t feel like it’s coating my hair or making it heavy.

And now for the secret weapon. This product is the SECRET to looking like you just got your hair cut when you actually haven’t been in four months. I don’t know how it works but Redken Smooth Down Butter Treat is a miracle worker. My hair gets pretty tangled after a shower, even after using a regular conditioner. But if I apply and leave on the Butter Treat for even just one minute, I can get a comb through with no problems. Plus it keeps the ends strong, smooth, and shiny. This WILL weigh down your hair if you use too much, so I avoid the roots and put it on the lower half of my hair and concentrate on the ends. You can either apply it in the shower and rinse it out, like a regular conditioner, or use it as a leave-in conditioner, which is how I choose to use it. Note: on a quick search for an image of this product, I found that Redken has DISCONTINUED THIS PRODUCT. I’ll believe it when I can’t find it in stores anymore but seriously, why this one?? The site says another line, Smooth Lock, has taken its place, so perhaps I’ll have to give the new product a go.

As for shampoos, I’m not particularly loyal to any one brand. I used to be a diehard for Dove but I think I used it for so long that one day my hair revolted and decided Dove didn’t work for me anymore. I’ve lately been sweet on Redken’s Full and Soft shampoo but I wouldn’t say it’s crazy awesome or anything. Ulta seems to always have sales where you can get the huge bottles for half off, and those bottles last me ages. I recently tried a new-to-me brand called Abba; they make sulfate-free and paraben-free products that are supposedly healthier for your hair. I really liked it but if you can't find it on sale then it's a little pricey for me.

Any recommendations out there for products or brands you like?

#34: See the Nutcracker in Seattle

Mark surprised me with tickets to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker here in Seattle! I've been wanting to see this for YEARS because I was obsessed with the music of the Nutcracker as a child. I had a tape of the music that I listened to every night when I went to bed. Really, every night. I actually wore out the tape because I listened to it so much. My favorite Christmas special on TV as a kid was "Care Bear Nutcracker," where the Care Bears have to go into Toyland and save Christmas (I think) and the storyline is based on the Nutcracker. I tried to find it on YouTube but I could only find a clip of the last four minutes and MAN is it cheesy. But I loved it.

Back to the Nutcracker in Seattle: what a beautiful performance! The orchestra was amazing and the show was everything I thought it would be. Of course, I forgot to take the camera so we didn't get any pictures except a blurry cell phone shot that I'll spare you from seeing. Afterward we went to a Thai restaurant in lower Queen Anne called Bahn Thai where I had some stellar noodle kee mao. You should try it: noodles and TONS of vegetables in a spicy, salty sauce. Delicious.