Healthy Eating on a Budget? We’ve Found a Chocolate Cake That’s Good for Your Wallet and Your Waistline!

cooking

BY MARSALIE MACKENZIE

Since starting my new job downtown, I’ve been guilty of going out to eat a lot more than I should. In my defense though, it’s really freakin’ hard to say no to cappuccinos and Double Chocolate Cake at Rare Sweets Bakeshop – especially, when your co-workers are always game for a mid-day coffee break.

However, I’m fully aware that my current eating habits are taking a serious toll on both my wallet and my waistline – so I’ve started to consider new ways to get excited about food prep. On a recommendation from my food-loving Aussie friend, Susan, I’ve recently started following a handful of food bloggers who make eating healthy on a budget look easy and delicious.

In an effort to be more conscious about what I consume, I decided to try my hand at recreating a *relatively* simple recipe from my favorite blog, Not Quite Nigella (a reference to famed TV chef, Nigella Lawson). I picked the wholesome vegan chocolate cake with sweet potato frosting because it’s similar to my beloved Double Chocolate Cake, making it easier to compare how many dollars and calories I save by making it myself.

The Shopping Trip:

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I had a few of the ingredients at home (salt, bicarb and safflower oil) but had to buy the rest. This particular basket of goodies cost me $17.22 at Harris Teeter, plus an additional $7.99 for raw cacao powder (which is harder to find than you might think).

At a total of $25.21, this isn’t an insignificant investment, but when you consider that the recipe serves 15, it ended up being $1.70 a slice – $3.30 cheaper than the Bakeshop.

The Process:

I’ve never been a great cook, and, until recently, I lived by myself with no one around to judge me for my lack of domesticity. Luckily, Susan was a great sport and agreed to provide some adult supervision as I made my first foray into vegan baking.

With her help over the course of 2 hours, we baked a delicious cake made entirely of natural ingredients. It wasn’t the most difficult thing I’ve ever made, but I certainly learned a few things in the process that I think would be useful for anyone looking to try this at home.

1. 2 cups of steamed or roasted sweet potato is 2 large sweet potatoes (or 275g). For best results, wrap in tinfoil and bake for 50 minutes, cut open and scoop out the insides.

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2. You need a food processor. Even with a high quality food processor, I still had small lumps of sweet potato in the icing.

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3. Maple syrup is a powerful sweetner. Use liberally until you’ve reach the desired frosting sweetness. That said, taste as you go to avoid adding too much; you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.

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4. Don’t be fussed about the decoration, unless of course you’re baking this for a party. Below is a picture of Lorraine’s cake, which is beautiful; however, bagged cacao nibs work perfectly fine as sprinkles and take absolutely zero effort.

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Picture by Lorraine Elliott

The Verdict:

The cake had a brownie like consistency that was moist and decadent. The sweet potato frosting was also delicious, and allowed us to avoid the 6 cups of sugar typically added to commercial butter cream frostings.

How did it compare to the Double Chocolate Cake? Let’s be honest, no amount of cocoa and maple syrup tastes as satisfying as real sugar, but it was pretty darn good, and more importantly – good for us. At $25.21 for 15 servings, you get 3 times more bang for your buck, without worrying about your sugar intake. I’ll definitely be making this again, but next time I’ll make sure to share!

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Workout Wednesdays: Is SoulCycle Really Worth the $34 Drop-in? We Saddled up to Find Out!

BY MARSALIE MACKENZIE, DANIEL GOMEZ, MARIBEL PADIAL AND DOMINIQUE YOUNGBLOOD

SoulCycle is one of the hottest fitness chains in the U.S. right now, but at $34 a class, it’s as well known for its star studded clientele as it is for its outrageous drop-in fees.

Still, with frequent waitlists at each of SoulCycle’s 4 D.C. locations, we couldn’t help but wonder: Are we missing out on the best workout of our lives?

To put our curiosity to rest, we saddled up at SoulCycle locations across the city to see for ourselves what the hype is about. The reviews are in, and let’s just say that some of us weren’t quite “soul’d” on this new fitness craze.

MARSALIE: I like to think of myself as a spin enthusiast. I cycle an average of 5 days a week and have sampled 90% of the boutique spin studios in the District. That’s probably why my friends were shocked when I mentioned that I’d never been to SoulCycle before; although, I was quick to point out that I’d also never been offered a free pass before (which matters when you’re paying $34 a session after shoe rental).

Before I start my review, I’ve got to say this: guys – I wanted to love this class. I really, really did – but no matter how many times you tell me that Oprah and Lady Gaga are clients, it won’t change the fact that it’s just a normal spin class. Well, a normal class that costs as much as a full tank of gas.

In case you think I’m being totally unfair here, let me break it down into 3 categories for you: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal of SoulCycle. It’s modern, clean and totally elitist.  It’s also the fitness home of Washington’s most beautiful people, which makes it a place to see and be seen.

On top of the superficial reasons to like SoulCycle, the teacher was incredibly talented. He brought a ton of energy and provided clear instruction over some very loud music. He’s the biggest reason that I’m giving the class three stars instead of one.

The Bad: The studio felt reminiscent of an experience I had in my early twenties in an Eastern European discotheque: sweaty bodies crammed in a room like sardines, the smell of heavy, stale air doing its best to muffle the very loud, pulsating techno music….

The workout definitely got my heart rate up, but I’m pretty sure it was just my anxiety. They offer ear plugs at the front desk, which in hindsight would have been really helpful.

The Ugly: What kind of sadist has 60 bikes in a 400 sq ft space with NO FANS. Actually, I’m lying- there were 4 tiny fans, but you’d never know because they were never switched on.

I was covered in sweat at the end of class and I’m pretty sure only half of it was mine. This is especially gross because I’m sweating in someone else’s rental shoes. It actually makes me want to throw out my socks just thinking about it…..

Rating: crop three star

DANNY: As a 24-year old male who had never attended a spinning class before, I was not disappointed with my first experience at SoulCycle Georgetown. My 7:30 p.m. class was led by a spirited instructor named DJ who encouraged first-time riders to find their form and focus on pace, playing hip-hop songs while the studio was almost pitch black.

Although the class lasted roughly 45 minutes, it took me less than 10 to work up a full sweat considering the crammed space inside the studio and the fact that only four small fans were used to regulate air periodically throughout the workout. The session and shoe rental cost about $34, which is a lot considering I pay $30 a month for my membership at WSC.

Now, was it worth the money? Yes, but after your first session (which covers the shoe rental) it is difficult gauge the value of training at SoulCycle.

The Good: 1. Great atmosphere-openness to both men and women, friendly staff, proactive instructors; 2. It makes you sweat A LOT (which as my 11th grade phys ed coach used say is the point of a good workout); 3. Loud Hip-Hop Music + Lights Off + Bike = Fun, energizing workout.

If it works for Bradley Cooper and Tyler Perry, it can work for men everywhere. That being said, it is an expensive workout. But it is also one that with the right amount of practice and dedication can easily tone your body and quickly burn calories.

The Bad: It is pricey at $34 a session for just 45 minutes. Most guys I know could do without the loud music and fancy equipment, and put that money to better use.

But it is not a complete waste of time because there is some method to their madness. Still, finding people in the District who are willing to throw down that much money for a 45-minute workout is unrealistic.

The Ugly: Although I felt great after I left, the actual workout inside the studio was one big, stuffy, sweaty mess. The bikes were crammed together, the doors were closed, and the fans were turned off for a majority of the workout. I have never tried Zengo or Flywheel, but I imagine there more focused on making you sweat through exercise instead of conditioning.

But as someone who’s played team sports his whole life, the sweatiness didn’t bother me as much as it bothered some of the others in the class.

Overall, I give SoulCycle 4 stars out 5. It didn’t live up to all my expectations, but it did teach me something: men shouldn’t feel intimidated to enter a cycling studio. It’s a great and invigorating workout. Was it worth the price? Not to me, but the experience was worth the curiosity, and I definitely recommend everyone try it at least once.

Rating: fourstar

MARIBEL: Spinning is one of my favorite exercises. I have tried Soul Cycle, Fly Wheel, and Zengo. When Soul Cycle first began opening studios in New York City a few years back, I bought a package and was a regular there. Now I typically go to spin classes at Zengo because it’s cheaper and I like the classes better. In my opinion, the instructors are better, classes are harder, and the bikes are more sturdy.

I hadn’t been to a Soul Cycle class in almost a year and I thought I would enjoy it. I took the class with Dominique and Danny. I went into this class excited and with an open mind but I left disappointed. Let’s just say you won’t be seeing me at another Soul Cycle class.

The Good: Spinning is a great form of cardio. Your heart is pumping and your legs burning from all the sprints, hills, and dance moves you do on the bike.  I came out of the class  looking like I had just done laps in a swimming pool, which is typically a good indicator that it was tough workout. The instructor does a good job of motivating you throughout the class by screaming encouraging words through sprints and counting down until you sit back in your seat to get a sip of water. I also like that the room is dark, so you don’t feel self-conscious if you need to take a break or struggle keeping up with the other cyclists. Another plus, is that the studio is well kept and the bikes are clean as well.

The music was also very upbeat, which especially helps during an intense workout class.

The Bad: My biggest complaint is the instructor. I thought he did a poor job of directing the class. The class did not seem to have any flow. He just bounced around from song to song and wasn’t even on his bike, so the cyclists could mirror him. Especially if you are new to Soul Cycle, it would have been especially hard to follow the class.

The previous classes I have done the instructor would mix it up making the class more engaging and time went by quicker.

The Ugly: Another big thing I didn’t like were the bikes. They felt so flimsy and my back hurt a lot after my workout. The bikes at the other studios I go to are in much better condition and sturdier. I also feel like the studios are too crammed. It is obvious that the set up of the room is aimed at trying to fit as many spin bikes as possible. I felt crammed in the room as you can have someone next to you in a four directions.

I hope my review doesn’t completely deter you from trying a class out. I think spinning is a great exercise and everyone should try it at least once. There are so many spin studios in D.C. I recommend going to one because the classes are usually free!

Rating: twostar