Wanted: More car-free travel opportunities

I hope July won’t be as rainy as June was, because I’ve set a personal goal of walking, running or biking at least 100 miles this month. Last month I had set an informal goal of 60 miles in June — and I was worried that would be way too difficult. Luckily, I was wrong, and my miles for the month totaled 71!

Most of those were biking miles. The Boyfriend had taken a new job that was much farther from our house than the old job, making the car much less available to me. So I’ve been doing more commuting by bicycle.

My plan for the month: Ride the bike to work twice a week, which would take care of 80 miles of that goal, and walk a mile or two most other days. I already have 2 miles of the walking done!

Low-sodium garlic paprika roasted potatoes

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The boyfriend and I frequently have tuna salad sandwiches for dinner, and we used to have them with French fries (the frozen kind you bake in the oven). But we are trying to eat less salt, and started making our own roasted potatoes instead. It turns out they are way more delicious anyway. :)

Like most stuff I cook, this is not a recipe that demands precision. If you want to use more or less of something, do it!

Ingredients:
3 pounds of potatoes, chopped in 1 inch to half-inch pieces (I’ve used red and gold potatoes with equal success)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes and mix to coat. Then sprinkle the spices on the potatoes and again mix to coat.

Put the potatoes on baking sheets, making sure they don’t overlap too much, and bake for about 35 minutes.

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They are good with ketchup, with salsa or by themselves!

Made a bar chart in Illustrator

I finally a chance to use that Illustrator knowledge I looked up but didn’t do anything with in my last infographic experience. This time, the goal was a bar chart. And it came out looking just like a bar chart!

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Not the most thrilling page ever, but the art was an empty intersection. :) I’ll have to work on adjusting line sizes and type sizes and such, but I’d call this a success.

Low-sodium roasted green beans recipe

I’ve been looking for healthier recipes in the past few weeks. Green beans are one of favorite veggies — possibly my very favorite. But the canned kind have a lot of sodium, and I eat too much sodium as it is. (French fries are my second favorite vegetable.) So I decided to try making roasted greens beans. Many of the roasted veggie recipes I saw on the Internets included salt; I skipped that and the results were delish.

The recipe is not complicated, though I didn’t measure any of the ingredients because I don’t like to have my food creativity stifled.

Take bunch of fresh green beans (I had about 12 ounces), drizzle a spoonful or so of olive oil on them and shuffle them around to coat them. Sprinkle the beans with toppings of some sort (I used a Mrs. Dash garlic and herb seasoning that has been chilling unused in my kitchen cabinet for a while), and shuffle them around some more to evenly distribute the seasoning.

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Put them in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, shake them around a bit so they don’t stick and put them back in the oven for five more minutes.

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They come out a bit crispy on the outside and squishy on the inside. I like the little burnt bits the best. :D

The first time I made these, I used a lot of seasoning — perhaps too much. They were very peppery and the boyfriend was not thrilled with their serious pepperiness. (I actually rather liked them that way!) The second time, less seasoning was used and we were both happy.

Got a book about the Appalachian Trail

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A former colleague worked until recently at a Central Virginia lifestyle magazine called Breathe, and I won a book about the Appalachian Trail in a giveaway of theirs! It’s pretty and very solid. I’m looking forward to reading it — the trail was a big thing in Lynchburg, Va., where I worked for two years, but I never took the time to check it out. :( Here’s hoping the book inspires me to make a visit back.

Another newspaper is gone

If you work in the newspaper industry, closures and layoffs are in the back of your mind every day. But news of them still comes as a shock. And their loss still hurts.

The company that owns the papers I used to work for in Virginia, World Media Enterprises, fired about a hundred people and closed down the paper I used to design, the News & Messenger. Many of those losing their jobs are my friends and former co-workers. I hate that this happened to them at the holidays. I hate that it happened at all.

While my department in Lynchburg designed a lot of papers, the News & Messenger was the one I worked on the most. It was a hyperlocal paper on the edge of Washington, D.C.  The coverage area included a famous Marine Corps base, Quantico, and the site of the first battle of the Civil War. Over the spring and summer of 2011, there was a lot of coverage of the battle’s 150th anniversary. Like, A LOT. Several stories per day. But that led to one of the coolest projects I’ve worked on as a designer — the editions commemorating the battle.* Designer Matt McWilliams created these gorgeous historical front-page templates inspired by how newspapers of the era looked (obviously with some exceptions, as modern papers are much narrower and include bar codes). Lots of display type, tiny gutters, .25pt rules everywhere… It was such a fun concept. I laid out two of the Battle of First Manassas editions, and I’m really proud of how they came out.**

Like a lot of papers that strive to do the “hyperlocal” thing, there were days when the paper was heavy on press release rewrites and crime blotter. But I know the journalists who worked there, and if the paper was ever lacking, it wasn’t due to lack of effort from them. They did a lot of great work, and I’m glad I got to present it in newsprint for them. I wish everyone who worked there the best.

* One complaint: The number of times I had to edit out the word “celebrate” from stories leading up to these events? Ridiculous. The anniversary of thousands of Americans killing each other is not a cause for celebration. Commemorate? Mark the anniversary of? Sure. But no “celebrate.” The authors shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.

** Ack! Cannot find these fronts to show what I mean. I’m sure I have clips of them… somewhere. Will update if ever they are found.

Walgreens vending-machine coffee — not so bad

The Walgreens near our house just underwent a renovation. They added more windows, a fresh food area — and a coffee vending machine. I am not usually a big fan of the coffee vending machines, which seem to be mostly found in gas stations and sketchy lunchrooms. This one says it grinds the coffee beans for you so it’s fresh; as a matter of principle I doubt all vending machines’ “fresh” claims.

Mitch and I went on a walk yesterday and stopped by the Walgreens afterward. He wanted to get a hot chocolate, which the machine also makes, and suggested I try a coffee. I went with cafe latte, and was … pleasantly surprised! I expected crappy gas-station-quality, but it was more in a Dunkin Donuts vein. Slightly sweet, mild flavor, definitely not the XTREME ROAST that you sometimes get at Starbucks — though I like those, too. :D

Verdict: Would drink again, especially because it is super cheap and within walking distance of the apartment.

Making layered pumpkin cake for Thanksgiving

The sugar and butter in the last layer make a delicious crumbly crust.

I came across this recipe a few years ago while working in Lynchburg. It was published in the Danville Register & Bee, a paper my department designed. It was a reader-submitted recipe, so credit must go to Mary Jenkins.

I brought this over to my parents’ house for our Thanksgiving celebration. My little brother, Paul, finished his piece in about 2.5 seconds and began looking around furtively hoping someone would offer him another (they did).

Layered Pumpkin Cake

Layer 1

1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg

Take 1 cup of cake mix and set aside. Mix remaining ingredients together and press into bottom of pan.

Layer 2

2 cups canned pumpkin (just plain pumpkin, not pie filling)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin spice (or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger and 1/4 tsp cloves)
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

Beat until smooth and pour over cake crust.

Layer 3

1 cup dry cake mix, which had been set aside
1/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup if you want the top layer crispier)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

Cut together with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is lumpy. Sprinkle over the filling and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve warm or chilled. Also yummy covered in whipped cream. :)

The soundtrack to my walks

I usually listen to podcasts while taking a walk (or run, if I’m feeling energetic), so I tend to go for ones that are at least half an hour or longer. These are the ones I listen to the most:

Judge John Hodgman: A very silly show from author/actor/Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman. People call in with disputes; he legislates and is snarky. This podcast is my favorite. There’s a lot of in-jokes and references to past shows, so for best enjoyment I’d suggest listening to the older ones in addition to newly posted shows.

Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! A news quiz radio show, taped mostly in downtown Chicago. A revolving panel of guests chat about current events and people call in to answer questions for a chance to win a voicemail greeting recorded by the show’s scorekeeper and question-reader, Carl Kasell. The Boyfriend and I actually went to a taping of the show once. It was awesome, and makes listening to the podcast even more fun since I know how it’s made. :)

• Point of Inquiry: A science- and politics-focused show in which authors, scientists and other folks are interviewed on their fields of study. Chris Mooney is likely the more well-known host, but I think Indre Viskontas is way cooler. She’s a cognitive neuroscientist and opera singer. A recent good episode delves into the art of rhetoric, and why more people should get good at it. A note of warning: The show comes from a very secular liberal perspective. If that would bother you, best to avoid it.

• This American Life: Sort of my gold standard for podcasts, though it’s actually a radio show released in podcast form. They pick a topic and tell 1-4 stories based on that topic. Many are journalistic reports, some are fiction, some are “based on a true story.” I’ve really enjoyed ones that involve people with a very different life than I’ve known. One episode that sticks in my mind has a story of a guy who was addicted to drugs, and decided to volunteer as a coach of a boys’ baseball team. Other really good ones are The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, in which a young boy goes missing in 1912 and is found with a man who may or may not be his kidnapper, and Switched At Birth, which is just what it sounds like. Compelling stuff.

Brilliant coffee ideas

Being a big fan of coffee, I’m always looking for variations on the usual beans, hot water, sugar, cream recipe. I’ve found that flavor extracts (like you’d use in cooking) are yummy in coffee. I use vanilla extract, almond extract, hazelnut extract and mint extract. A drop or two per cup is enough, so the little bottle lasts a long time, and they add virtually no calories (as opposed to the flavor syrups you can buy from Starbucks and such) if you’re worried about that sort of thing.

For fruit flavors, I’ve found a tasty option is using drink packets — the kind that you pour into a bottle of water. Obviously not all of these are suited to coffee. I suspect lemonade coffee would be gross, though I haven’t tried it… But raspberry and strawberry are excellent flavors for coffee. I recommend NOT using a whole packet, unless you’re making a full pot of coffee. For me, about a third of a packet in 12-14 oz. of coffee works best.

Another favorite coffee hack is coffee cubes. You pour coffee into an ice cube tray and freeze. Very easy, and no watering-down of iced coffee drinks. I make mine out of decaf to avoid over-caffeinating. :) Also a good idea is to have a dedicated tray just for coffee cubes — they leave a film of coffee oils on the tray. I read about this on the Internet, but it was a while ago and I’ve forgotten where I saw it first. So, thank you, Internet user who came up with this before me! The only part I can properly take credit for is using decaf.

Please note that I could not have implemented these ideas without having first consumed coffee, as it is required for brain function.