Monday, March 1, 2021

Making "cheaty" Hamantaschen

Purim is a lesser-known holiday among non-Jews, but it's arguably the most fun holiday in our repertoire. I have fond memories of dressing up as Queen Esther to go to temple and enthusiastically boo'ing and shaking groggers during the service before adjourning to a mini carnival of sorts.

(The story of Purim is fairly short and Wikipedia does a great job explaining it. Click here to read the story, and here to read about how it's celebrated.)

It's been years since I've done anything for Purim, but this year I wanted to try my hand at making hamantaschen, the iconic triangular cookie meant to represent Haman's hat (or pockets, or ears, or...other body parts, depending on who you listen to).

Hamantaschen are notoriously tricky, often exploding in the oven due to compromised folds or overfilling. I also haven't eaten a hamantaschen (gluten free or otherwise) since childhood, so I had no idea what it should taste like. I vaguely remember eating a fig one as a kid and finding it bland and gross.

I found this recipe from The Nosher, which is kind of cheaty and therefore perfect for me. Apparently using yellow cake mix is a great shortcut that makes for sturdy dough that holds its integrity (and its fillings) in the oven.

I opted for raspberry jam (particularly this brand because of its alleged history, which I've shared below) and Nutella for fillings. If the cookie was bland like I remembered it, I wanted something very sweet and delightful in the center.

So, without further's the recipe!

Prep: Preheat your oven to 375°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Set up your mise en place.
Step 1: Make the dough. This is as easy as can be. You just dump all the ingredients (except the fillings, of course) into a bowl and beat them with a paddle attachment until they loosely come together. I used my stand mixer and it took no time at all.
I've never worked with such a crumbly dough, so I was nervous at first, but it quickly came together into a ball with some gentle kneading.
Step 2: Divide the dough. I broke my dough-ball into four equal-ish chunks. Because my workspace was small, it made sense to avoid rolling out the entire thing in one go.

Step 3: Roll & cut. Most recipes, including the one I'm working off of, call for rolling the dough out to 1/8 inch. I definitely could have gone a bit thinner than I did, and next time I want to spend over an hour making cookies, I will.
I used the rim of a pint glass (my 3rd place AG award from the Howl at the Moon 5k eons ago) to cut the circles out. Place the circles under a damp kitchen towel as you work, so they stay moist. Re-incorporate your scraps of dough back into a ball and keep rolling and cutting until you have all your circles.
I ended up with exactly 6 circles per quarter of dough, but if I had rolled it thinner, I could have gotten more.

Step 4: Fill, shape, & chill. Work with one cookie at a time. Fill your circle of dough with 1 tsp of filling. Fold the top two edges of the circle together to form a point at the top. I recommend folding the right side over the left.
This is where a small bowl of water comes in handy. I dipped my finger in the water and used it to seal the folds, as well as to smooth together any bits of dough that cracked. (Thinner dough won't crack as much, but like I said, I didn't roll these thin enough.)

Fold the bottom edge of the circle up, tucking the left corner under the existing flap. You know you've folded it correctly if all your edges have one corner under and one over, like when you're trying to reuse a really great cardboard box but don't want to tape the top.
I moved each finished cookie back under the damp towel until all six from the batch were done, then moved them to the cookie sheet, which I stuck in the fridge while I rolled out and completed the next batch. This recipe claims refrigerating isn't necessary with the cake mix, but it's better to be safe than sorry!
It took me awhile to figure out the right way to fold these, so some of them aren't correct. But none of them exploded in the oven!
Step 5: Bake. I made sure my last batch had at least five minutes in the fridge before I moved the cookie sheet to the oven. I baked them for 12 minutes. They didn't really turn golden, but the edges and bottom did brown a bit.
I couldn't decide how open I wanted the hamantaschen to be, and next time I think I'll leave them more open so the filling is more visible.
That's it!

The cookies turned out nicely. The cookie itself is firm, crisp, and a bit crumbly. It's definitely a drier cookie, and it turned out sweet, but not too sweet. It's definitely not bland like I remember from childhood. The fillings, of course, offer a nice extra punch of sweetness as well. 
Next time I may give them a sprinkle of sugar on top before baking, to give them a nice crust à la my apple pie. 

Honestly, they're pretty great. This is a super simple but time-intensive recipe. I've never made anything that involved really shaping dough like this, so it was a fun, new endeavor for me. I like learning to make foods from my culture, and this is another I can add to my list!


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Featured Follow: Connie Pollina, @learningtorunat52

Today's Featured Follow is someone who used to be fairly local to me. I found her page back when the IG algorithm worked and I was recommended accounts that actually interested me. These days it's all annoying TikTok accounts.

Anyway, I immediately gave Connie (@learningtorunat52) a follow when I saw she had been at the same race as me that past weekend, and I realized we were in the same area. I soon discovered so many more reasons to follow her besides proximity.

We all know picking up running can be tough; Connie did so at 52 (as her handle so aptly describes) and is absolutely killing the game. In the early days of following her, I loved seeing her reports on her runs as her paces steadily increased and she began to podium in some of our local races. Connie was dedicated to running but also well-rounded fitness, and I enjoyed seeing someone her age get stronger all the time.

Unfortunately, injury has sidelined Connie from some of her original goals, but she has realigned running and working out in her life to fit her new reality. Her tenacity is admirable, and her positive but honest IG posts are refreshing in a sea of nothing-special. I still absolutely love following her, especially now that I feel like I know her so much better after reading her answers to my questionnaire.

So, let's get started and get to know Connie!

Getting to Know You:

Tell me a little about yourself.

I live in Naples, Florida where I work as a high school counselor. I have been in education for 32 years. I have five kids ages 25, 23, 19, 15, and 11. I have had 35 foster kids and have adopted two.

Besides fitness, my other hobby is my Corvette. I used to race Corvette autocross.

I know that you used to race frequently. What’s your favorite distance?

Yes, I was doing races [pre-COVID]. I started running for the first time ever at age 52. I have run 15 half marathons and one full. I totally loved it. I have to say that my favorite distance is the half marathon. I’m not fast, but I like endurance. 

Races have opened up here awhile ago, but due to herniated discs and bad arthritis, my running has scaled down a lot, so I probably won’t race anymore. I will just run for me.

What does your running look like these days?

Right now I am running as my body can. Some days I can do long runs or speed-work, and other days I can’t run at all. It is dependent on the back pain from discs and arthritis. I am okay with these changing goals and expectations though and have concentrated a lot on strength training too.

What role does running/fitness play in your life?

Running is a great outlet for me. It gives me the time to clear my mind. I like the way I feel after a run and the energy it creates in me. I never thought I could run, so it makes me feel strong. When I go to the gym or run in the morning, it is the best way to start the day. When I don’t get there, my days are just not the same. I like how I was able to improve my fitness in my mid-fifties. It is something I look forward to now. 

The Deeper Stuff:

You have such an interesting running origin story. Can you share some of that?

The day after Thanksgiving 2017, when I was 52, I was disgusted with my body. Although I was not overweight, I had no muscle tone or muscle mass whatsoever. My brother had always been a marathon runner, and I thought he was crazy. But I also saw other people, of all ages and body shapes, out there doing it. So I asked, how hard can this be? 

I set out and made it barely a mile in about 16 minutes. I thought I would die! But I decided that day to keep doing it, every day, and not give up. 

I remember running 1.18 miles nonstop after a week and calling my brother with great excitement! So, I kept going. I ran my first 5K the following January in 29:45. After that, I kept running, entered more races, and then fell in love with the once terrifying half marathon!

At what point did you feel you could call yourself a runner?

I really started considering myself a runner when I ran my first 10K. At that point I had gotten new running shoes and lots of running outfits!

Is there something you struggle with in particular when it comes to running/fitness?

Unfortunately, I struggle with some very herniated discs in my lower back that have significantly affected my nerves. I also have arthritis that impacts my running even more now. My mind wants so desperately to run but my body just can’t do it at times. I have learned to adjust, though, and have also fallen in love with weightlifting.

What do you love most about running?

I love how it makes me feel free, strong, capable. I like running alone so that I can think and clear my head. Since it is something I never dreamed possible in my life, it has really made me believe in myself. My marathon mantra was: "She believed she could, so she did." And I use this everyday in my life when things get difficult. I also love that I do now consider myself an athlete.

Has running helped you through any difficult times in your life?

I tend to get very stressed and have a lot of anxiety about things I cannot control. There is a particular situation with someone in my life that seems to be all-consuming, even though I know I am doing my best. Running helps me to put things in perspective, to remain optimistic, and to know that hard things are possible.

What is something running has taught you?

Running has taught me that I am capable of doing whatever I set my mind to. It has taught me to believe in my capabilities, even when I didn’t know I had them! It continues to teach me to relax and enjoy the scenery of life.

Can you share your hardest running moment?

After I successfully ran my marathon, I had signed up for a half marathon. Whereas I would normally have glided through it, I sustained an IT band injury after the marathon, so I was in pain. At mile 9 of that half, the pain was excruciating. But I had to keep going to finish. I just remember how tough that was to persevere.

What is your proudest running moment?

My proudest moment was undoubtedly crossing the finish line of my marathon. Even my finisher pic shows me “flying” over the finish line! I ran that marathon with my brother. He finished in just over 3 hours, so he came back and waited for me at the 25 mile marker. When I approached it, he saw me coming and was so shocked that I was doing so well. I had no pain, felt great, lots of energy, and a huge smile on my face. He ran that mile with me and we chatted and had fun the whole way. I knew I was on track to run a sub-5 hour marathon. I kicked it up and finished in 4:58:21, far surpassing my expectations!

How has running/fitness changed your life?

Running has made me an athlete. it has steered me in the direction of fitness in general, and I am in better shape now at 55 than I was since I was 25! It gives me something for “me” every day. 

What is a non-running accomplishment you’re proud of?

I am proudest of my kids. Two have graduated from college, have great careers, and are getting married this summer. One is graduating from college this year and moving on to her doctorate. The two youngest are doing well in school. Even though their accomplishments are not mine, I sure hope that my raising them had some part in their success.

Favs and Feedback:

What is some advice you’d give someone who is interested in starting to run?

Take one step at a time. Don’t compare yourself to other people.. run for you! Do what you can, don’t give up, and believe in yourself every day. It’s not about pace, distance or strength….it’s about getting out there, having fun, and being the best “you” possible.

Do you have a favorite running item or article of gear to recommend?

My favorite running item is “runningluv”.  I sweat a lot, and this little towel wraps around my hand, so I have a little towel and it’s hands-free.  I also love my hats!!!!

What is your preferred running shoe?

Absolutely a Brooks Adrenaline fan!!!

Recommend an essential accessory you think every runner needs.

I think all distance runners should have a good hydration pack. I carry lots to drink and eat on my long runs, and I think it made all the difference in how much energy and stamina I had during my marathon! I never hit a wall.

Can you share a fellow runner or athlete you love to follow on Instagram?

I love following all the runners and I learn so much from all of them because they are so very different. I really like @cjtherunner, Corey Joyner. We actually met at the finish line of a half marathon in Sarasota, FL and took our pic together. It was a great race.. the last mile was a “floating” mile in the water!

Connie, thank you for taking the time to participate in this series! Remember to give Connie a follow @learningtorunat52 for running, swimming, and weightlifting inspiration.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Seattle Snow (and birthday stuff)

One reason Matt and I chose Seattle for our big move was the weather. We loved the idea of seasons, but neither of us wanted to live somewhere with snowy winters. Been there, done that.

Seattle winters are wet, sure, but they're not snowy. Temperatures in the 40s are completely doable, and I've acclimated quickly. We had a sprinkling of snow back in October or November, but it didn't stick and barely counted as a flurry. Still, it was exciting. I realized I wouldn't mind some snowfall now and then.

Early in the week leading up to the Snowpocalypse, we had some light snow and I got to experience my first snowy run. This is something I've seen other runners post about all winter long and I've always wanted to run in snow. It just looks so pretty and fun! I loved conquering this milestone; I was honestly elated the entire time, and I got to figure out what kind of clothes work well in freezing temps.
Then came the weekend's Polar Vortex. While the timing was inconvenient, the snow was welcome. We watched in awe as the sky just absolutely dumped big, fat flakes that stuck. It started out light; we were just leaving Scott and Robby's that Friday night when the heavier snows began and we realized we may be homebound all weekend.
Valentine's Day and my birthday were duly interrupted, but honestly, it was a blast!
This article is full of absolutely fascinating facts about snowfall in Seattle. I can't believe we got to experience a record-breaking weekend our first winter here!
We got over a foot of snow over the next two days and made the best of it.
Saturday we took a walk around the neighborhood to get a lay of the land.
Sunday I was like, well I guess we're truly not going anywhere anytime soon.
Meet George.
Sledding for the first time in decades!
By Tuesday, the temperatures were back up into the 40s and the snow was melting. I was able to get my belated birthday run done and we had dinner and cake with Scott and Robby.
I ran 3.5 miles for 35 years. My 5k was 26:59, which is my second fastest 5k ever. Considering I haven't been training and this run was a moderate effort, I am pretty stunned. Hills and the Peloton pay off!
Robby cooked an absolutely delicious chicken piccata and risotto dinner. 
Matt ordered me a Seattle Fog cake from Nuflours. It's vanilla cake with lemon and Earl Grey frosting. YUM!
Okay guys, 35 isn't so bad!
By Wednesday, the snow was virtually gone, existing only in random patches in the grass. I don't think I've ever experienced such heavy snowfall that melted away so quickly, and it was kind of perfect. 

We got a real winter experience our first winter here, but it didn't overstay its welcome. While some of our Florida friends have wondered if the snowfall has made us regret the move, the opposite is actually true: we are even more excited to be here after experiencing our first Seattle Snowpocalypse!