Monthly Archives: April 2012

Spinning for Beginners, Trying Something New!

So I finally got around to taking a Spinning class at the gym, known here as “Cycling”. It was Sunday evening, 6 PM, and after all my talk about wanting to change up my gym routine, I figured I might as well go ahead with it!

Spin Master!

I made my way to the gym closest to my house, (I have a universal pass so I can use any of the 6 gyms around Berlin whenever I feel like working out,) and got my Spin pass (popular class so you have to get there at least a half hour early.) Since I had some time to kill before the class started, I decided to hop on the treadmill and get in a quick 10 minutes to warm my body up. I was feeling good.

The class before us ended and we were able to enter the workout room and rearrange the spin-cycles. I found a perfect balance where I could see the teacher, see myself in the mirror, and stay wayyyyyy far back in the room so no one else would pay attention to me.

The teacher came in and asked if this was anyone’s first time. Unfortunately by the time I had figured out what she asked, (in German,) it was too late to awkwardly volunteer in broken German that I was a first timer. So I stuck to praying I would make it out all right, (I kid. I kid.)

The class started with some upbeat tunes and I got into a rhythm on this strange machine. It’s not like the normal bikes at the gym, it feels much more like a real bicycle and you can shift the “gears” to add more or less resistance as you see fit. I was busy watching everyone around me to make sure I was understanding the teacher ok, but for the most part I had a ton of energy.

As we went through the 50 minute routine of speeding up, slowing down, standing, sitting, etc etc etc, I felt like I was flying. I had so much energy I could still burn, and the teacher could even see it – so she kept coming over and increasing the resistance on my bike. You can’t keep me down, woman! I was a force to be reckoned with. Lookout cycling gods!

The class winded down and I have to say I felt great! Almost 5 months of running had more than adequately prepared me for 50 minutes of spinning, and I guess all the months of commuting by bike must have helped too. I really felt invigorated after the workout. I think it mostly had to do with not having to suffer the usual boredom I feel when I run on the treadmill with nothing to distract me but my own thoughts and music, (which now sounds repetitive. Note to self: make new playlist for gym!)

I will definitely incorporate Spinning into my regular gym routine as its always nice (and good for the body) to change it up a bit and train some new muscles. But I must admit, I’m afraid I had a bit of beginner’s luck and maybe the next one won’t be so easy! Will let you know how round two goes.

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Good Morning, Quinoa!

So I decided to experiment with some healthier food options that don’t involve pasta. After doing some reading, I realized my perfect culprit would be Peruvian-grown Quinoa. It is a good source of protein, amino acids, lysine, fiber, magnesium, iron, and lots of other fancy words that mean “healthy”.

Trying to vary my menu a bit more each day, I decide I would combine Quinoa with roasted eggplant and zucchini, chickpeas, lemon, garlic, and cherry tomatoes.

Who doesn't love bright and shiny tomatoes?

So I started by chopping up an eggplant and a zucchini, coating them both in olive oil, and sprinkling them with salt and pepper, and then placing them on a baking sheet covered in tinfoil. I put them in the oven somewhere around 300 degrees farenheit and let them roast for about 25 minutes. No clue if this was the “right” amount or not, but I was happy with how they came out!

Roasted Veggies!

Then I boiled about 2 cups water and mixed in 1 cup of the grain, reduced the heat and let it sit covered for about 15 minutes before taking it off the heat entirely. (Please read cooking directions before attempting to mimick my methodology, which is often flawed!)

Quinoa after cooking

In a separate bowl, I combined 1 can of chickpeas with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, (pretty sure I used half a lemon) and raw, finely chopped garlic. I let these items sit for about 30 minutes to combine flavors before combining with the cherry tomatoes over the cooked Quinoa.

Chickpeas and Cherry Tomatoes

I then chopped up the roasted zucchini and aubergine, (that’s eggplant for you Americans!) and combined the whole mess together in one giant bowl and tossed to mix all the flavors. What I ended up with was an amazingly delicious meal (with leftovers for a week) that I will happily recreate in different variations for years to come.

Hot Cocoa and a Spot of…Sunshine?

The weather in Berlin has been fantastically bizarre. One day there are clear skies and sunshine, the next gray clouds and plummeting temperatures. There is really no easy way to tell if you need to layer up, or wear easily peal-away-able clothing. And generally from the time you leave your house to the time you get wherever you’re going, the temperature has most likely changed.

It was one such sunday when I met a friend for brunch in Prenzlauer Berg. We headed for Zuckerfee on Griefenhagener Strasse 15 for their promise of pancakes and waffles – for brunch! (I know this seems normal to most of the Anglo-Saxon world, but in Germany it is not.)

We placed our orders and received our meal on typical Berlin brunch towers. Think 3 tiers filled with layers of pancakes, breads, cheeses, and fruits. Only this time there was also syrup and some type of blackberry sauce to drown our pancakes in.

I’ll be honest here, the food was OKAY, but not the best I’ve ever had. Some of these brunch places really do an equisite job of displaying food and giving the highest quality and cuts of meat and cheese, etc, but for the most part the typical brunch is pretty much the same wherever you go, varying only in the types of dishes the food is served on. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go back here. It definitely tasty, I’m just saying there wasn’t anything particularly unique or exceptional about it.

After we finished our brunch, we decided to wander around the gloriously sunny and warm streets of a spring morning in Berlin. Errr, wait, wasn’t it sunny and warm when we entered the cafe? As we exited, a cold gust of wind blew through our hair and stung our noses and we thought, well, it should still be warm enough to sit outside for another coffee, or hot chocolate so we made our way towards Kollwitzplatz. My favorite, Anna Blume, was packed to the brim (with shivering patrons) and so we found a nice spot in the sunshine across the way at Kaffeehaus Sowohlalsauch.

Perhaps we should have taken a sign from the customers doubling up on the restaurant-provided blankets, but we still had high hopes for those slivers of sunshine peering through the ever enclosing cloud cover. We ordered our hot drinks, I opted for a hot chocolate to try and steal some sugary warmth, and waited as our fingers grew numb.

While the drinks were delicious, mine even came with an overflowing mound of whipped cream, after about 30 minutes on the cold and cloudy corner, we had to call it quits and escape to warmer grounds. Our respective beds!

Almost too cold to enjoy my cocoa!

Delights From a Hummingbird

While in London I kept drooling admiring all of the cupcake  bakeries that were scattered around the city. While Berlin is choc-ful-a bakeries, the type of baked goods and sweets they serve up are quite different from the typical American cupcakeries, (except, of course, for Cupcake in Friedrichshain where a good friend of mine is a baker and which is the real deal Americano Cupcakes!)

Anyway, they are all over London and I knew I had to try them at least once…comfort food purposes only, of course. (Wait, does that make it better?)

So I kept passing by this one bakery, (which has locations all over London,) called The Hummingbird Bakery and finally decided to step in on my last day.

The Hummingbird Bakery

The interior is a bright, shiny, and happy (if you will) pink.

With so many choices, the selection was not easy…

All it took was, “This is our bestseller” from the bubbliest and most friendly cupcake hostess I had ever met, and I knew instantly I should trust her and eat whatever she gave me. So I walked away with a Red Velvet Cupcake. And a Vanilla with Chocolate Frosting – just for good measure.

So I walked out of there with my illicit goodies ready to chow down at the hotel before catching my flight.

Cupcakes to go, please!

And my first thought after taking a bite was, “Why do these look so small?” and then “OMG I should have gotten more!” Though I must admit that the number 1 bestselling Red Velvet Cupcake was definitely the better of the two! 

Boring Running Routine…or Changing it Up!

So I tend to get into a routine when I go to the gym. And currently, that routine consists of, well, running. I usually run at about a 10 minute mile pace, (so 6mph or 10km/hr.) Depending on the day I may run for about 30 minutes (resulting in 3 miles) up to 50 minutes (giving me a grand total of 5!) But I can’t tell you how boring it is to run in place on a treadmill for 50 minutes with no distractions.

Okay, so I have a TV on the machine, which is 99% (maybe even 100%) of the time German-only broadcasting. Or there are the giant windows that stretch the full length of the wall in front of the treadmills, (much to the delight of passersby on the street below,) which give great entertainment watching lost tourists, homeless men searching in trash bins, hippies, pigeons, etc.

But mostly the workout is just monotonous and boring and I need to change it up! I have gotten many recommendations from good friends, (most of whom are fitness gurus for the fun of it and have a vested interest in my well being…maybe,) but sometimes I try them out and sometimes I don’t. E.g. I have not yet attended a Zumba class because I just can’t bring myself to do coordinated dance classes at the gym! If my body is made for moving, it needs to be a little more risque than dancing in a line with 20 other sweating women. Maybe…or I might take this back when I finally do attend a class and think, THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER!

So I recently tried out another suggestion from the lovely Miss Marissa who suggested I do distance intervals to give my workout a boost. She recommended 5-7 sets of 400 m at about a 6.5 mph pace and then 200 m recovery (involving either a walk or jog.) Never wanting to cut myself short, I increased the speed just a bit to 6.9 mph, kept the steady intervals, and extended the sets to 11. Overall I ran (and walked, if I include my ‘recovery’ periods,) a total of about 4 miles over around 45 minutes. And I felt like I had really kicked my butt in the process!

I noticed a few things stepping of the treadmill from this workout; 1) I wasn’t bored! Managing the time I was running to recovery and speed, etc didn’t leave much room for boredom and the workout was continuously changing so it kept it interesting, 2) I had no blisters! It seems everytime I run these days I walk out of the gym with new (and very painful) blisters that pretty much make me want to cry by the time I finish up a run. I know, I know – time for new sneakers!, and 3) I felt like I had accomplished a new feat which somehow gave me an extra surge of energy and pride, and maybe even feelings of invincibility!

Overall I’ve learned that it really is crucial to change up the routine so working out does not become monotonous and boring, but that you can look forward to a new an exciting workout, and challenging your body in new ways each time you enter the gym. And I’ve also learned that as long as I’m not willing to pay a trainer for my fitness (yet) I need to take the suggestions of friends more seriously, and attend more of the classes included in my membership, (German language be damned!)

How do you overcome your gym rut?

Breaking the Monotony

Saying Goodbye…

Before I came to Berlin I fell in love with my brand new Specialized Vita Sport bike, (which you can read about here,) which I had full intention of speeding along the streets of Berlin on in winter, spring, summer, and fall. And so I did! Not so much in the winter, as it’s just too cold for bike riding, but all through the spring, summer, and fall my bike was by my side (or sadly chained up to a pole somewhere waiting for my return!)

My Faithful Friend

Now I am writing a post to say goodbye, as this beauty was stolen from my courtyard about a week ago. Without so much as a ransom note  😦

Goodbye, my friend, you will be are sorely missed!

Brad Pitt Knows Good Food, and Other Adventures in Berlin Food Science

One of the best parts of living in a new city, aside from making new friends – of course, is the endless possibilities for delicious culinary experiences. My new friend, Soledad, and I decided to go for a nice meal out in Berlin, (that did not consist of The Bird Burgers, or any other Vietnamese, Turkish, or Italian options that overly populate the city.) After a bit of research, and largely due to convenience for us both, I chose former kebab shop turned fine French dining at Bandol sur Mer.

Bandol sur Mer

Unassuming Bandol from the Street - Exquisiteness Lays Beyond

First, the reviews on Unlike Berlin were great, and since the restaurant does not have a web site – which they told me “keeps it Urban and works out pretty well for them,” you have to rely on the recommendations and blog postings of other diners who have raved about them before. Second, Brad Pitt has recently eaten there. Sold!

So we headed from UBahn Rosenthaler Platz west on Torstrasse and came across a very nice looking restaurant on the corner where I proudly announced my name and reservation, only to be told I should probably check next door. So, feeling slightly less proud, but equally excited, we entered restaurant number 2 and found they had our reservation in a nice cozy table by the corner. Though any table would have been cozy, since there were only 7 in the whole restaurant!

You open the menu to see “Menu I” and “Menu II” for a price tag of 49 and 59 EUR, respectively, but you quickly learn that you can order any of the dishes they have a la carte, or basically just tell them anything at all in the world you want and they will make it happen. THIS is fine dining! Most of the options consisted of seafood of some sort, with scattered poultry options. Anyone who knows me knows I was squirming at this point wondering how I got myself involved in a seafood restaurant (yet again!) with my only escape being chicken or pork belly.

I hesitantly asked the waiter if they had any vegetarian options, to which he smiled wide, (it didn’t hurt that he had a very nice smile,) and said of course, we can do whatever you’d like. I can make you a 5 course tasting menu of all vegetarian options if you’d like? As compared to the nearby Themroc who’s concept is based on having one meal option per day, take it or leave it, this was a pleasant surprise.

I eagerly accepted his proposal and went for the vegetarian option. Sole chose the Foie Gras with Chicken Crisps and a Rhubarb Salad. Accompanied by a couple of glasses of Rose, we were set for the night.

Before our meal, our waiter brought out two small starters, or perhaps palette preparers is a better word. It was a combination of some type of cooked tomato, creamy cheese, seeds, and a dehydrated olive. It sounds so strange, but it was amazing, actually. Then follow that with a type of celery root drink that accompanied the dish, and your mouth was watering for the next stage.

My Vegetarian Starter

Sole's Meat-Infused Option

We were also served a basket of delicious bread with homemade Rosemary and Fennel Butter. You could tell this is the kind of restaurant where people go and order their 6 courses for a 3+ hour dining experience. For our minimalistic 2 courses we managed a good 2.5 hours inside!

The next course came. Since I hadn’t specified any specific type of vegetable, my stomach’s happiness was completely in the hands of the two very capable (and very happy) chefs who were obviously having a blast in the open kitchen. Oh, did I forget to mention you can watch them as they cook up a storm? At one point we watched them deliver a dish with such enthusiasm to a table of 4 Germans, that we had to ask our waiter if they were food critics. No, it turns out the chefs were just so used to working in stressful Michelin Star Restaurants and so they were excited that they got to play around and make magic happen with food at the very small Bandol – so they had just made a dish that was very fun for them and couldn’t wait to see the reaction of the diners on the other end of it.

If they had been watching my face closely they would have also seen pure delight! They served me a dish of various preparations of eggplants, including diced with nuts, roasted and served with a type of light sour cream, hummus, and pomegranate, and gratinated with goat cheese. OMG – these people spoke my language!

Veggie Foodie Heaven!

Sole’s dish was equally artistic, and decorated with Rhubarb.

Happy Dinner Companion 🙂

Between the delicious French wine, the happy chefs, the amazingly well thought out dishes, this was a tasting experience I won’t soon forget. And will actually seek out in the near future. I highly recommend you check out this place when in Berlin if you want a dining experience that will blow your taste buds away.

My "I'm so excited to eat this" Face!