I tend to try and see the best in people, and want to make sure that all my friends and family are happy. I’m often told that this is an impossible goal. But whoever said you can’t please everyone underestimated my skills in dessert experimentation, because I’ve finally concocted a recipe for birthday confetti fairy cakes guaranteed to please any birthday boy or girl AND all of their friends and family, no matter what allergies or dietary restrictions they have!
It’s hard enough to make gluten-free and nut-free cakes and treats, but these are not the only allergens that can cause problems. So I came up with a recipe that is free from all of the ‘Big 8’ allergens. Obviously, you won’t use fish or shellfish much in baking, and I already eliminate gluten and tree nuts. But these fairy cakes are also made without dairy, eggs, soy, or peanuts. They’re vegan and kosher too. And you know what? Even without all of these ingredients, they taste exactly like a classic vanilla birthday cake! I call them fairy cakes because they’re smaller than the typical cupcake and made without icing, instead using allergen-free sprinkles for a pretty top. But the recipe is adaptable for a full-size birthday cake or larger cupcakes with icing (recipes for those coming soon). They’re a guaranteed palate-pleaser and they’re safe for most people, with little tweaks in the event that someone you want to bake a treat for has other dietary restrictions. I hope one day to be a mom who can make birthday treats for my kids that EVERY one of their friends can enjoy – making these for a good friend’s birthday for a group that includes gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free eaters was a perfect test run!
Well, the Snowpocalypse did not descend on New York City. It was instead a simple storm, with about a foot of snow falling. However, it was cause for a snow day, and who doesn’t love snow days? Sledding, building snowmen, drinking hot cocoa…so many wonderful activities feel more special on a snow day!
Much of Manhattan was pre-emptively closed. The shop windows along every street on the Upper East Side were dark, schools were shuttered, restaurants locked up, and gyms and yoga studios on delayed opening schedules. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, perfect haunts for a stormy day, were not options. But just because all the places with walls and a roof were closed doesn’t mean there was nowhere to go. After all, the great outdoors is always open. So it was off to Central Park for a stroll for me and for thousands of other New Yorkers.
Kids and kids at heart sledding on every hill, from the North Woods down to Sheep Meadow. Dogs were walking with their people, rollicking in the winter wonderland. Couples walked arm in arm sipping from steaming thermoses.
All around, New Yorkers were taking advantage of the weather to exercise. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tugging friends or kids on sleds. I even saw a few dozen joggers (proving that running in the snow is possible, delightful, better than the dreadmill, and also wins because the gyms were closed.)
I always love the park in the snow because it’s transformed into a winter wonderland. Even with the crowds out in full force on a citywide snow day, it seems quieter than if the same number were present on a summer afternoon. Nothing beats a snowy stroll in the woods, but a snow day in the park is imbued with its own sort of magic.
These guys bring a bit of the Old World into the new, transporting me back to Oxford for just a moment, remembering their counterparts surrounding the Sheldonian Theatre and how majestic they looked in winter.
It can be tempting to curl up inside with your mug of cocoa on a snow day. I am all for spending some of the day making warming winter treats (like my Peanut Butter Cup breakfast) and watching the flakes fall outside the window. But in my humble opinion, bundling up afterwards and heading out to explore is the way to go. A blanket of fresh snow transforms the world, and making tracks in sparkling powder feels like an adventure even if you’re in your own backyard.
Yesterday, I was snowbound in my apartment post-run since my school cancelled classes after 3pm and through today. So in other news, even though it wasn’t really a Snowpocalypse, it was a SNOW DAY! Of course, rather than use the time to get ahead on reading for school, I decided to organize the kitchen cupboards and test out some recipes. I was rooting around and found an unopened jar of powdered peanut butter that I bought on a whim. I’ve found it tough to bake with regular peanut butter because it sticks in globs rather than spreading evenly throughout batter, so figured I might try the powdered version. Turns out, it works wonderfully well as the key ingredient for these darling and delicious Peanut Butter Cup Muffins!
New York may not be as cold or snowy as, say, Alaska or Chicago or Minnesota. But we still get our fair share of wintry skies and snowflakes (with more than our fair share of slush in the streets). Usually, New Yorkers just carry on, clad in boots and parkas to trudge determinedly to their destinations. After all, snow is better than rain. Central Park becomes a winter wonderland if we’re lucky, with skating rinks to maneuver and hills to sled. And us runners? Well, we keep on running!
Running in the cold doesn’t bother me much. I prefer cold to constant rain, although I make tracks as the raindrops come tumbling down too! Warm, breathable layers are a must. I usually start with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabric on both top and bottom, with a long-sleeved top and long running tights or leggings. I occasionally add another layer of thin regular tights on the bottom if it’s lower than mid-20s Fahrenheit or if it’s very windy. On top, I add a running jacket with a thin Polartec inner lining and a wind-and-water-resistant outer shell (and sometimes another layer in-between). Outer extremities are protected by the requisite hat and gloves – and, of course, a pair of running shoes. If it’s really cold, I sometimes use hand and/or foot-warmers.
That is all you need for running in the cold as comfortably as me. However, running in the snow requires a few extra tools and tricks of the trade. Snow is wet and slippery, and can be dangerous to run in if your shoes are not appropriately festooned with extra traction. I use Due North traction aids, but have heard good things about YakTrax as well. If it snows a LOT wherever you live, investing in Icebug sneakers (with permanent spikes) might be a good idea. Whatever you choose, traction aids should help to keep you on the straight and narrow – running path, that is! Just remember, traction aids are NOT magic, so you’ll still need to keep your run slow and steady and pay attention to the ground beneath your feet. If it looks slippery, it probably is, and even if it doesn’t, there may still be black ice!
It’s also helpful to wear a hat with a brim in addition to a beanie if snow is actually falling while you run, to keep precipitation off your face and enable clearer vision, just like if it was rain. I usually wear a baseball cap over a beanie, or wear a headband and baseball cap, and then use the hood of my wind-and-water-resistant jacket as another insulating layer for my head. After all, it’s where most of the heat escapes from your body. And after that, you’re covered – so get out there and embrace the chance to run in a winter wonderland! (Just remember to exercise caution and good judgment. So if it’s truly a blizzard, stay inside and jump on the dreadmill! Or if the Snowpocalypse comes, like this afternoon, stick with the Gilmore Girls workout – watching Netflix, moving your limbs to reach the cookies you’ve put on the coffee table.)
Whatever you want to call them, good old-fashioned pancakes are delicious. My traditional birthday breakfast has always consisted of pancakes with strawberries and bananas, drizzled with maple syrup. Lately I’ve been experimenting with my own batter, because I like to use whole foods as much as possible and to try different combinations of flavors. I already have a favorite basic pancake recipe that uses oats, but after whipping up so many flourless oat muffins I got to wondering if I could do the same with pancakes. This morning, I landed on a winner…so good, I just had to share!
I started with rolled oats. Frequent readers will realize by now that I am obsessed with oats. I often use them as a base rather than gluten-free flours, simply because I’m not a big fan of rice flour and many of the others use nuts as a base or additive, and I’m also nut-free. The good news is, they work great as a base for pancakes. I almost called these oatcakes, but there is already a food called oatcakes (very popular in the UK!) and that would be confusing. So I decided on Saucy Cinna-cakes, because the next ingredients to go in the bowl were applesauce and cinnamon, one of my favorite flavors (similar to my Caramel Apple Cinnamuffins). From there, I figured out the rest, and after a failed first flip, the rest of the batch came out hot, creamy, cake-y and delicious!
1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats (here, I abandoned my usual Country Choice in favor of Chex quick-cook rolled oats, because I didn’t want to bust out a blender and the slightly broken-down consistency is better for the batter. Up to you to try your favorite brand!)
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt (you can also use one of the seasonal apple flavors – Dannon Greek Caramel Apple is scrumptious, as is the Chobani 2% Apple Cinnamon)
1 large egg OR 2 egg whites
2-3 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tsp stevia or other sweetener (to taste)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup chopped apples
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
Olive oil, butter, or cooking spray (to grease the pan)
Optional: berries, powdered sugar, or any other preferred pancake toppings.
1. In a small bowl, mix the oats, applesauce, yogurt, egg, cinnamon, sweetener, and baking powder. Beat until batter is light and frothy.
2. Bring a nonstick pan to medium heat and coat well with oil or butter.
3. Measure out just under 1/4 cup of batter and pour into pan. You can usually fit two cinna-cakes in the pan at a time.
4. Let cook for 2 minutes, watching to ensure there is no burning. Carefully flip each cake (this can be tricky!) and let cook another 1-2 minutes.
5. Transfer cinna-cakes to plate and repeat with the rest of the batter. It should yield 4-5 small cinna-cakes.
6. Chop 1/2 a small apple and toss with cinnamon. Ensure the pan is still greased well, and toss apples in to cook for 5-10 minutes (the exact time will vary based on how thoroughly you like your apples cooked, I like them with a little bit of crunch!)
7. Pour maple syrup over the cinna-cakes. Top with the apples and fresh berries.
Today’s recipe for Cocoa Chocolate Chip Muffins is all about cocoa and cacao, the things that make chocolate by any other name and which I’m very particular about.
I only really enjoy dark chocolate, which I absolutely as a bar, as a truffle, or chopped into chips. I throw dark chocolate chips into yogurt, ice cream, and oatmeal, and sometimes I snack on them straight from the bag, along with handfuls of dark chocolate covered berries 🙂
Since I love dark chocolate but am not a fan of the lighter stuff, I generally don’t delight in anything that is “flavored” with chocolate, like chocolate cake or ice cream. When it comes to that, I’m a classic vanilla girl. Or berry, or caramel… And yet, I have lots of family and friends who DO love chocolate cakes and cookies and cupcakes. Some want to eat chocolate for breakfast. But not chocolate in their oatmeal. And thus, these Cocoa Chocolate Chip Muffins were born. Of course, muffins by any other name are essentially cake for breakfast. If you really wanted, you could just have my Dark Chocolate Cupcakes or Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake Bars. But if you want a rich, dark cocoa muffin gooey with dark chocolate chips, look no further than these.
Well, it’s back to the daily running and law school routine after a whirlwind Christmas break and wonderful race in Florida (that went by all too quickly!) In my normal life, I eat eggs in some form almost every day of the week. Scrambled, fried, whipped into an omelet or frittata or baked into a crustless quiche. Eggs are nutritious, delicious, and a great source of protein. When you eat a lot of protein like me, eggs are great because they’re much less costly than fish or poultry, and they’re so versatile you don’t feel like you’re munching on the same meal every day. One of my favorite ways to make eggs is in omelets, so here I’m sharing one of my tried-and-true tasty omelet creations.
2 large eggs
2 oz turkey breast (I prefer honey roasted or smoked)
1 oz sharp Cheddar cheese (sharp is best as it retains its yumminess AND melts well)
1 tbsp grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
Olive oil, butter, or cooking spray
Salt and pepper
Optional: garlic and/or parsley (fresh or dried)
1. Beat two eggs with a pinch of dill in a small bowl.
2. Bring a nonstick pan to a medium heat and then to a high simmer. Grease the pan with olive oil (my preference), butter, or cooking spray.
3. Pour egg mixture into pan. As it begins to cook around the edges, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on one side of the flat circle.
4. Once the eggs are cooked through to your taste, place slices of turkey on the same side as the cheese.
5. Flip the eggs into a half-moon shape and press down with a spatula for just a few seconds, then flip the omelet and repeat.
6. Carefully transfer the omelet to a plate.
7. Add sliced cucumber, tomato, or carrots as a veggie side.
The main thing is the magic of running a Disney race. I’d heard stories from fellow runners whose twin loves of running and Disney are so great that I didn’t really trust their view out of rose-colored glasses, and from those who came away disappointed because of the frustration of racing alongside too many first-timers. As for me, the extremely early wake-up call was not much fun, and my early arrival meant an extra hour out waiting in the cold, but otherwise my race morning was smoother than expected. As long as you provide a proof of time that puts you in the top corrals, it’s easy to avoid the congestion. I’d imagine it was worse further back, but if you’re faster than me (a solid 9-10 minute miler) unless you stopped to wait on a long photo line you’d avoid the traffic.
Speaking of those photos – yes, many of the lines were long. Disney races do cost a pretty penny, and part of the experience many people feel they are paying for is the chance to get some pictures with characters along the route. I decided only to stop at the castle and where lines were short. Luckily for me, starting in Corral D and running steadily for the first 4-5 miles at a <10:00/mile pace, when I made it into the Magic Kingdom the only crowded part was running up Main Street, U.S.A. Otherwise, the bathrooms were mercifully empty in Tomorrowland for a quick stop, and running through the castle archway, when I pulled to the left for an official photo, there were NO LINES. As in, five photographers, and only two runners in front of them, with race directors pointing out the quickest path to the nearest photographer to make it a one-minute photo stop. Of course, along the stretch of highway from Miles 7-10, the character lines were long because even the faster runners chose this point to take a short break – so I kept on running.
In Epcot, the photo area in front of Spaceship Earth was crystal clear with directions as well, I just think most of the runners in the first corrals who were finishing around the time I did felt the same way as me – a stop at Mile 12 was not worth breaking the finishing momentum. And MarathonFoto is very pricey, but most runners were pulling out their own cameras for character stops (as I did around Mile 7) and since MarathonFoto is the race photographer for literally every New York Road Runners race, I’m accustomed to ridiculous prices and had planned to buy one special photo (my castle shot) and let my memories suffice for the rest of the race.
Otherwise, Disney’s attention to detail made this race experience so much fun. There was entertainment at the starting area and for the corrals, and shooting off fireworks as each corral was released was a nice touch. The long walk from the buses to the corrals was unfortunate, but whenever a race starts anywhere in Central Park that is not smack in the middle, my walk is more than a mile so I’m used to it. The NYC Half last year had all runners enter at 59th Street, and then walk up to start near 72nd, so I had a two-mile trek before I started there as well. Disney organized the starting area very well and manned the corrals conspicuously, so cast members didn’t let slower runners try and sneak into earlier corrals. And the music playing and cast members cheering along every mile of the course made even the boring stretches of highway go by quickly, which was particularly good for the first few miles when it was still pitch-black outside.
Entertainment and people amped me up and kept me going. It wasn’t just Disney characters and cast members; the Reedy Creek Fire Department came out with their truck and all the crews to cheer about Mile 8, and friends and family members of the runners were grouped at various points rather than just the finish line. I’ve volunteered for the New York City Marathon before, so I know that the cheering sections are somewhat similarly dispersed; in New York there are more crowds in certain areas, and the same is true at Disney. But the highway doesn’t have views of the five boroughs where the crowds are lacking, and they more than make up for it with the music, characters, and signs.
The finish line was fantastic. Hearing my name called out over the speakers was great, and the assortment of refreshments offered a much wider variety than I’m used to. Most NYRR races offer a bagel and either an apple, orange, or banana, so I take the bottle of water and the apple or banana if I’m lucky, and go. At Disney, there were boxes of carby treats that I obviously couldn’t eat, but in addition to bananas there were fruit snacks and other goodies. There were also tents for self-treatment and for $1/minute massages, with packets of Advil and Tylenol, and a giant reunion area for family and friends, helpful for my parents to find me. I remember desperately trying to call them after the NYC Half with my frozen fingers unable to handle my phone as I searched for them near the Wall Street subway station – this was much better!
Finally, the overall experience of the weekend was marked by the feeling of accomplishment I had throughout. Runners are encouraged to wear their medals in the parks and around the resorts, and cast members, fellow runners, and regular Disney guests were all quick to offer me congratulations on the race. This felt particularly sweet because it took me a long time to think of myself as a runner. When I first laced up my sneakers, just about two years ago, I was loath to call myself by that name, feeling I didn’t deserve it until I could run at least a 10k. Even then I didn’t quite feel worthy of it. But the whole weekend, I kept thinking that even two years ago, I never imagined I could run a half marathon. And now I’ve run two and have a third coming up! I run for myself, and not to meet a certain time goal or to keep up with anyone else, but it is wonderful to feel that accomplishment acknowledged just for a day or two. And having run for Team JDRF and raised money for juvenile diabetes for this race, I felt the recognition was also for the cause – achieving both goals was doubly wonderful.
My family and friends find it funny that I loved running Disney so much. Actually, I’m the sort of person who, according to statistical analysis, is supposed to loathe Disney. I love quiet and natural beauty, I hate crowds and I’m pretty claustrophobic, I prefer good books read in cozy libraries to clubbing at the hippest haunts. I read David McCullough and Joseph Ellis for fun, and keep up with financial independence writers, whereas Disney has a reputation for being corporate, expensive, anti-intellectual, and so on and so forth. But for some reason, the magic still reels me in. Watching the Wishes fireworks, hearing the voice of Jiminy Cricket telling the audience to believe that wishes do and can come true, I’m filled with the same hope and optimism I felt as a child. So running up toward the Magic Kingdom, I felt like a real runner, and someone who had everything to run towards and to keep moving forward for. And that’s the greatest feeling in the world.
Whether fueling up for the race to come, or tucking in to a celebratory feast, food is essential for the health and happiness of all runners (and really, all humans)! As a gluten-free runner with several other allergies, I’m used to making my own pre-race meals so there’s no risk of illness or allergic reaction before I even toe the starting line. But lucky for me, Disney is so wonderful with allergies, I didn’t need to worry during my Walt Disney World Half Marathon trip. First, Disney sent me lists of gluten-free and nut-free foods available at certain restaurants in the parks and hotels prior to my trip so I could peruse and plan. Then, when I made each dining reservation, there was a place to note any allergies to give the chef a heads up. And each eating experience over the course of my trip far surpassed my expectations, making running Disney gluten free a dream!
The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is a bona fide bonanza. There is no other way to describe it. While I’m used to races with a few thousand runners for a regular charity 4- or 5-miler in Central Park, and my inaugural half marathon had more than 20,000 participants, the sheer number of runners who show up to participate in the four races over the course of this marathon weekend was astounding. The Pluto 5k on Thursday, Minnie Mouse 10k on Friday, Donald Duck Half Marathon on Saturday, and Mickey Mouse Marathon on Sunday are just the tip of the iceberg. Some runners take on the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, running both the half and full marathons, and the truly hardcore go for the Dopey Challenge, which includes all 48.6 miles across all four races. I’m just happy I can run a half marathon!