Monday, December 8, 2014

2014 Holiday Running Wish List

Less than 2 weeks until Christmas!

I'll admit that I'm a little behind this year. The tree went up this week.

Yes, this week. A month later than a lot of people I know.

The good news is that I have most of my gift shopping done. I hope to finish it this weekend, wrap, and be ready to enjoy the holiday! However, I also have my eye on a few running goodies for myself. You see, we runners can never have too much running gear.

Running is theoretically the simplest sport known to man.

Start at point A. Run to point B. The fastest person to do it wins. The end.

Yet we runners have made it as complicated and expensive as we possibly could. Gone are the days when people put on a T-shirt, shorts, and running shoes and just went outside and ran (maybe with a regular stopwatch, but that was pushing it).

We must have our running clothes, high support sports bra (for the ladies), shoes, athletic socks, Garmin, RoadID, fuel belt or handheld water bottle, phone and/or iPod and headphones, armband to carry said device, and ponytail holder and/or headband, or we just simply can't run today!!! Or maybe that's just me. I almost left a half marathon once because I didn't have my Garmin.

And that doesn't even include cold weather and reflective gear for winter. I'm training for my first full marathon in March (it feels so cool to say that!), so I have many long runs ahead of me in the cold, dark winter months.

If you're new to winter running and aren't sure what you need, or you are buying for a runner in your life, check out these ideas:

Holiday 2014 Running Wish List
Holiday 2014 Running Wish List by amy-coffeescarvesandrunningshoes 

Polyvore is so much fun!!!

Clockwise from top left:

Lululemon Neck Warmer - I've heard good things about these. Not only do they keep your neck cozy during winter runs, you can pull them above your mouth and nose to look like a ninja help you breathe in really cold air.

Petzl Tikka Plus Headlamp - I don't like wearing headgear such as hats or visors (yeah, I'm weird), so I've avoided a headlamp. With many long runs ahead of me in the dark winter months, I can't avoid the need for safety and visibility. It is time to get over my quirks and succumb.

Alex and Ani bracelet charm - No, it won't keep me warm, comfortable, or safe while running. What it will do is look adorable and keep me motivated. I love jewelry and have started an Alex and Ani bangle collection, and what could be more appropriate for a new marathon runner?

Fuel Belt in pink - So far, I've been a handheld bottle kinda girl. My waist is not an area that I want to draw attention to with a fuel belt. Alas, my hydration needs for marathon training require that I succumb.

Moving Comfort sports bra - You can never have enough of these bad boys for running. Great support for running - check. Stylish - check.

Running Gloves - Self explanatory. Regular knit gloves just don't cut it for running.

REI Running Jacket - Believe it or not, I don't get that cold while running. After a mile, I feel pretty warm. Usually two layers of running shirts (or a running shirt and pullover) do the trick. However, we had a pretty cold winter last year, and this winter has already started off cold. I saw this jacket in our new local REI store, and I love it because it is breathable yet warm, and has thumb holes in the sleeves.

As an FYI - While some of these are pricy, you can find less expensive (but still pretty good quality) alternatives to some of these at stores like Target or even T.J. Maxx or Marshall's.

Other Favorites

These aren't on my list this year, as I own all of them, but here are some of my other favorite running items that could also make great gifts if you're new to running gear or buying for a runner.

Bigger Ticket Items

Lululemon Running Tights and Crops - I'm asked a lot if it's really worth it or necessary to buy name brand running clothes like Lululemon. My depends. For shirts, I think any technical fabric will do (check out Target or TJ Maxx for good deals).

Higher end running clothes make more sense for pants or shorts. In my opinion, you don't need the higher end stuff unless you do longer distance running. Think about it - if you run for two hours or more, that's two hours of the same back and forth leg motion. Keeping your legs comfortable and preventing them from rubbing is a must! I've found that Lululemon, Athleta, and Moving Comfort do the trick.

Garmin - We runners live by our GPS watches. I use the entry level model, the Forerunner 10, which measures pace, distance, and time. There are plenty of models with more bells and whistles, but the 10 will meet your basic running needs at a reasonable price point (lots of fun colors, too!).

Running "Hardware" Displays - We runners love to brag on our accomplishments. Displays for medals and bibs helps you (or your runner) celebrate your accomplishments and special race memories in a visible way. You can find these on Etsy and other websites.

Stocking Stuffers

Running socks - Socks are one of those things you feel like you never have enough of. Regular socks are fine, but I think that socks made for running prevent blisters and other discomfort (which is REALLY not fun to deal with for a 1 or 2+ hour run!). I'm a fan of Balega, which I find extra cushiony. I also like Swiftwick, which has a good compression offering if you're into compression socks.

Road ID - Buying someone a RoadID is telling them, "I care enough about you that I want to be contacted if something happens to you." Talk about commitment. No one wants to think about this, and of course it's unlikely, but it's always possible that we could get hurt while out running. If something happens and you are not able to answer someone helping you, your Road ID can tell them simple information about you (i.e. your name and any medical conditions they should be aware of), and who to contact in case of an emergency. It's smart to have as a runner. I do NOT recommend running alone, but sometimes you might get separated from other runners and a Road ID is good to have.

Running fuel - To a non-runner, this may sound lame, but I always thought it would be fun to receive a stocking or Easter basket with "running candy". If you've never read my story when I discovered I needed running candy, check it out here. Honey Stinger Chews and Sport Beans are my fuels of choice. Other runners swear by GU. I also drop Nuun into my water to add electolytes.

Handheld running bottle - If they don't have one already, help them hydrate! You can find these at any sporting goods or running store. I'm moving on to a fuel belt, but a handheld bottle is also a great option. I used one throughout all of my 5K and half marathon training.

Headband/ear warmers - To help prevent using the Road ID, make sure drivers can see you or your runner at night!

Visibility gear - Clip on lights, reflective vests, etc. Also found at sporting goods or running stores.

Seriously, you could make a stocking for your runner with their favorite running fuel and/or electrolytes and a pair or two of running socks. Throw in a reflector or a light and something motivational and running themed - a piece of jewelry, Christmas ornament, picture frame, etc. They'll love it!

Christmas. Done. What are your favorite running items and gift ideas?


I was not compensated by any of the above brands for this post, nor are they affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences. The views expressed in this article are solely my own.

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Espresso Yourself - Part 2

Happy End of Cyber Week!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and weekend! Me, I'm not so much of a Black Friday shopper. Fighting crowds and waiting in lines is not exactly my thing. I'm more of a "hang out in my yoga pants and t-shirt" all weekend kinda girl. I do check out the deals online. My family loves to play board games and watch movies, so we hole up at my Mom's house and do just that all weekend.

This is a good representation of how my weekend went.

Carly dancing with my BIL

And so that you can see Carly a little better in her Thanksgiving outfit...

But I did get to sneak in some blogging time...

Which leads me to today's post! Let's talk about espresso some more!

I mean, I could talk about it all day, but you might get bored after a few hours...

Making Espresso in 5 Easy Steps

In Part 1, I shared all of the tools you need to get started to make espresso and lattes. Now to get started! 

Again, don't expect me to get too technical. I'm a newbie to espresso myself, but I've figured it out over the last year. Also, these instructions are based on my own machine and equipment. They should be pretty general if you have a semi-automatic machine, but refer to your machine's specific instructions if you have a different model.

1) Start with finely ground espresso (ideally ground fresh). I shared the brands of the coffee I use, as well as the grinder I use in Part 1. It has to be ground finely so that it can slow down the water being pushed through the machine, but not so fine that the machine struggles to get the water to push through. You want the grounds to be fine enough that they're "fluffy" but not so fine that they're completely "powdery". Honestly, as all grinders and espresso machines are different, it will likely take some experimenting and trial and error to find the right fineness setting to make great espresso.

2) Scoop espresso into the portafilter. My machine (again, see part 1) came with two portafilter baskets - one that makes a single shot, and one that makes a double shot. My machine came with a scoop that scoops out the right amount of espresso for a single shot. I always use the double shot (because, why not?), so I scoop out two rounded scoops. You want the scoop to be rounded, not level, since you're going to tamp it (see next step).

3) Tamp it! Tamp it real good!

Side note - have you seen the Geico commercial with Salt'n'Peppa telling people to "Push it"? I love the guy with the lawnmower - "I'm pushing it! I'm pushing it real good!"

Okay, back to seriousness. Part of what makes espresso, well, espresso, is pushing water (Push it real good! - seriously, I can't stop myself!) through the coffee with pressure, so the grounds have to be packed tightly in there. Use a tamper to press the mountain of grounds so that they are level with the portafilter. I've read it is recommended to use a lot of force.

This is just me placing the tamper. I pressed down with both hands to tamp it.

4) Twist the portafilter into the machine, and prep the machine for brewing. It will likely take some elbow grease to get the portafilter into the machine (again, everything has to be tight to create pressure). The rest is pretty easy - make sure there's water in the machine, and turn the machine on to preheat it. My machine turns on a green light when it is preheated and ready to go.

5) Once it is preheated, you're ready to pull a shot! This is so exciting! Have your espresso cup(s) ready to go in the machine. On my machine, I flip a switch so that the machine starts running water through the portafilter. You should start to notice a very slow but steady stream of espresso coming through the portafilter. If the espresso is coming out really fast (a heavier stream), the espresso might be ground too course. If the espresso is barely dripping out and the machine is struggling, it might be ground too finely. Again, it's a trial and error process. You also have to watch the espresso as it is going. Once the cup(s) are full, flip the switch back to turn it off.

Now you have espresso! Ideally, a shot of espresso should have rich, dark, coffee with a layer of crema (fluff) on top. Getting a layer of crema is a tricky art, and I've only accomplished a thin layer. It requires the right type of coffee. the Starbucks and Trader Joe's espresso blends both produce a decent crema. I've had less luck with other coffee blends. It also requires that the coffee be finely ground - grounds too course won't result in a crema.

But what do I do with it?

I like to make two different types of drinks with espresso - cups of Americano for every day, and lattes as special treats. I'll walk you through them.

Making a Cup of Americano

An Americano is a simple concept - add hot water to a shot (or shots) of espresso to turn your espresso into an (American style) cup of coffee. I like it because I can sip it like a regular cup of coffee, but I get that bold espresso taste. All you have to do is heat a kettle of water to boiling while you make your espresso. 

1) Heat a kettle of water to boiling.
2) Make a shot (or shots) of espresso - again, I prefer a double shot (2 oz) of espresso.
3) Pour your cup or cups of espresso into a regular coffee mug.
4) Take the kettle of water off of the heat so that it's not quite boiling anymore.
5) I use the just used espresso cups to measure 4-6 oz of water (depending on how strong I want the coffee). This way, I add the residual espresso and crema left in the cup to my coffee.

Voila! You now have a cup of bold yet sippable coffee to enjoy. Add whatever you would typically add to a cup of coffee. I only use half and half (no sweetener), but you could add sweetener if you want.

On a side note, there are many variations of this - you could add a shot of espresso to regular brewed cup of coffee for a very caffeinated drink! A coworker introduced me to the "dirty chai latte" - adding a shot of espresso to a chai tea latte. It's on Starbucks' secret menu if you're so inclined to order one while you're out (request a "filthy" chai latte to add two shots of espresso if you dare!).

But now for the fun part. If you want a special treat...make a latte!!!

Turning Espresso into a Latte

Once you have your shot (or shots) of espresso, the rest is easy. 

1) Pour your espresso into a large mug.

2) I like to add flavored syrup to the espresso before adding the steamed milk. You can buy flavored coffee syrups, but you can find great recipes to make your own batches here at Annie's Eats. I have tried all of them except the raspberry syrup, and can personally vouch that they are delicious! The coconut syrup is my favorite! If you don't have a batch of syrup made up, in a pinch you can simply add 1-2 tsp of sugar, and a drop or two of an extract (vanilla, etc). Note - a little extract goes a long way, so start small and add to taste if needed.
Pumpkin Spice Syrup (recipe below)
3) Steam the milk. Start with 4-6 oz of your preferred milk. If you use cow's milk, skim or 2% will froth the best. I've tried almond milk, which froths fairly well, too. 

My machine has (as do most machines), a built-in milk steamer. After pulling the shot of espresso, I switch the machine to preheat to its milk steamer setting (a higher temperature than the espresso setting). Again, the green light will come on when it's ready. 

Pour the milk into your frothing pitcher, and place the steam wand into the milk. There are two ways to approach this. If you place the wand in the bottom of the pitcher, you'll get steamed milk (heated and lighter texture than milk, but still liquid). If you place the wand at the top of the pitcher, you'll get a lot of frothy fluff that expands quickly. I do both: I place the wand in the bottom of the milk and twist the steamer knob to turn on the steam. I keep it there until I feel the bottom of the pitcher is hot to the touch, Then I briefly bring the wand to the top of the milk to build a little fluff at the top, and turn off the steam.

Steam wand placed in the bottom of the pitcher

Steam wand placed at the top of the pitcher for "fluff"

4) Pour the milk into the mug, give it a quick stir, and enjoy your latte!

Other Tips

  • To help keep your Americano or latte hot, pre-heat the espresso cup(s) and mug by running hot water in them before using.
  • Your machine and tools provide you cups of joy every day. Return the favor and clean (hand wash) the portafilter, cups, tamper, pitcher, and steam wand attachment immediately after using. Or at least soak them in water while you enjoy your latte and go back to them later. Also, don't forget to wipe down the machine with a wet cloth. Take care of your equipment, and it will take care of you!

Pumpkin Spice Syrup Recipe

And now for the moment you've all been waiting for! As promised (I know it's December and I'm behind the ball), here is my recipe for pumpkin spice syrup. Mine is a mashup of two recipes by Real Simple and Sugar Crafter. I made a small batch since I'm the only latte drinker in my household (sad, I know). This recipe is very "pumpkiny" and more spicy. If you like a syrup that is sweeter and less "pumpkiny" and spicy, try Sugar Crafter's recipe. :)


1/2 cup water
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp granulated sugar (not pictured in the ingredients picture- I decided to add it while making my first batch)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp pumpkin puree


Combine all ingredients except the pumpkin puree in a small saucepan. Bring to almost boiling, whisking frequently. Just before boiling, turn temperature down to medium low and whisk in the pumpkin puree. Simmer 10-15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool before transferring to bottle or container. The syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for about a month. Simply add 1-2 tbsp of syrup (to taste) when you follow the latte instructions above.

Bottle found at Target

The final product with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Yum!


  • Many recipes I've seen recommend you strain the syrup through a cheesecloth before transferring to a container. I didn't (I'm so bad!). The syrup turned out fine - I just shake the bottle before adding to my latte. If you'd prefer the syrup to be more uniform, try straining it.
  • Oil bottles make great coffee syrup dispensers to store in the fridge. You can even label them or add a label you can write on with chalk.
And there it is! Espresso part 2 is in the books! Do you make espresso? Do you have any tips or tricks of the trade?


I was not compensated by any of the above brands for this post, nor are they affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences. The views expressed in this article are solely my own.

Want more? Follow the CSRS Blog on  FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Instagram for the latest updates, articles, and more!