Monday, January 30, 2012

Yoga: It's Not the Worst.

Okay.  Fine.  After giving it a try a few times, I will begrudgingly admit that yoga does not suck.  In fact, I kinda like it… under the right circumstances.

I’ve been to two classes in the last week – both billed as vinyasa yoga, but with two different instructors.  And what I’ve learned from this two-class wealth of experience is this:  not all yoga instructors are created equally not douche-y.

Instructor number one:  laid-back British lady.  Focused on teaching and helping perfect poses and sequences of poses.  Walked around the room and offered assistance.  Complimented my form twice (maybe that’s why I liked her…).  Referenced the spiritual side of yoga but did not harp on it (no, THAT’S why I liked her… but also the compliment thing).

Instructor number two:  spent an hour and a half lecturing the class about the spirituality of it all.  Very few actual poses.  Mostly just a series of movements while balancing on one foot at a time.  Compared us to flowers, various animals, and the wind.  He told me to “relax my cell membranes.”  I told him to shove it.

…I didn’t actually.  But I wanted to.

Now, I understand that half of yoga is the spirituality of it, and many many people swear by it for that reason.  I absolutely respect that, although personally I’m, uhhh… noottt super spiritual.  Instructor number two was (duh), but that wasn’t the problem.  I’m sure every yoga class is going to have a spiritual component to it. 

But I’m sorry, I really can’t help myself – when someone starts taking about letting your energy flow through your fingertips, imagining you’re a flower who needs to detox after hibernating all winter, relaxing your cell membranes… my eyes just start rolling uncontrollably. 

Luckily, I was in the back corner of the room where no one could see me being a douche.

That all said, there are some things beyond the physical aspects of yoga that I can appreciate.  Centering yourself, being in tune with your mind and body, a certain degree of meditation – this I can get behind.  Even after the class I didn’t like as much I left feeling better and calmer.  I think all fitness classes benefit the mind because they have that element of focus, but somehow the atmosphere of a yoga classroom lets you relax even when you want to die because you should NOT have tried that backbend.

Sooooo fine, all you yogis.  You win.  Consider me a convert.

Sidenote:  During class #2, I spent an hour and a half doing quite well in various one-footed positions.  When we finished, I stood up to put my shoes on aaaand immediately toppled over.  Because I am nothing if not graceful.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Culinary Adventures

Today, I begin with four heartfelt words – f*** you, Whole Foods.

To be fair, I mean that less towards the establishment itself and more towards the inevitable end result of my trips there.

Every time – every DAMN time – I walk into Whole Foods simply intending to buy, oh I don’t know… some apples and a carton of milk… I walk out many tens of dollars poorer, but with many pounds of organic-y goodness in tow. 

Today, for example, on my way back from the gym (took my first “cardio kickbox” class this morning, and consequently hate life very much), I strolled (hobbled) into Whole Foods with the aforementioned apples-and-milk grocery list in mind.

Aaaaand this is what I walked out with:

That big yellow thing on the right?  Spaghetti squash.
Stoked to try it.
Don’t look at me like that, it’s all health-tastic and I felt a range of good ingredients would help me refine my budding cooking abilities in this restaurant-free challenge.  

(I also bought an organic kitty, but he wouldn't pose
with the rest of the groceries.)
Incidentally, the restaurant-free challenge is four days in and going strong (much to my own surprise).  I mean, I haven’t done MUCH cooking yet other than my daily breakfast…

Scrambled eggs, baby spinach, grape tomatoes, avocado.
Occasionally wrapped in a tortilla if I'm feelin' carb-y.
I did, however, also made a contribution to my friends’ nascent club, currently identified as “Food Group,” in which each participating chef is given the monthly “mystery ingredient” – yeah, we’re all Iron Chef and s*** – and assigned a course in which they must utilize said ingredient.  This month’s ingredient of choice was vinegar.  I was assigned the hors d’oeuvres.  And while the rest of my very organized friends had their recipes planned out several days in advance, I, the eternal procrastinator, decided on my plan of action the morning of the dinner – spring rolls, with a rice vinegar-based sauce.  Minimal cooking.  Loves it.

The spring rolls were easy enough, other than those little douche spring roll wrappers being occasionally feisty.  The sauce looked simple enough as well, so off I went, boiling peppercorns in vinegar until it reduced and then adding some ketchup, just like the recipe told me.  I let it simmer.  I tasted it.  And my reaction was essentially this:


And so Noah, my lovely chef of a roommate, swooped in like a curly-haired Superman and saved the day with ginger and garlic.  Et voilá – delicious sauce. 

And then there was today’s dinner, which was actually rather miraculous.  Miracle number one was that I turned down going out to a restaurant. 

Actually, that’s a lie.  What happened was this:  boyfriend wanted to get dinner, to which I gave a shaky response of, “Ehhh wellll I kiiinda want to stick to this no restaurant thing, buuutt I also don’t want you to go hungry… so, we can go out.”

Why yes, that IS a blurry picture of me cooking.

Thankfully, he decided to brave my cooking.  What a nice guy.  Didn’t stop him from giving me nonstop crap during the process, of course.

Stew portion
So what I decided to attempt was a healthier version of a childhood favorite of mine – chicken and dumplings.  It used to be my #1 request for my gourmet chef of a father, up until just a few years ago.  It was… just… awesome.  Stew-y and gooey and delish.  Such fond memories of helping him make it.  And of course, of eating it.

Enter: dumplings.

Today's culinary adventure began, unsurprisingly, with half an hour of badgering Noah with yet more cooking questions.  But while he talked me through the beginning stages, I actually did the rest of it on my own – and I am delighted to say it did NOT crash and burn!  In fact, it was pretty solid.  I cooked it a little long so there wasn’t much actual stew left, and the dumplings were just a tad dry, but taste-wise it was pretty on point and overall I think it was a damn good first shot.  And it was Noah and Devin-approved, so… that’s a success in my book.

A little brown on the bottom,
but a lot delicious everywhere else.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dad.  I think you woulda liked this one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Challenge Accepted

One of my favorite pastimes is reading article after article about healthy eating.

I subscribe to a newsletter entitled “Eat This, Not That.”  I frequent, I’ve read hundreds of accounts on the healthiest foods in the world, foods you should eat every day, breakfasts that flatten your belly.  Which foods will speed up metabolism, slow down aging, give you energy.  I read ‘em all.  I absorb the information.  I get inspired.  I vow that tomorrow I will take the first steps on the road to ultimate health food-ness.

And then tomorrow comes.  I wake up determined.  I roll up my sleeves… aaannnnddd never implement any of it.

Okay, that’s not an entirely fair assessment.  I’ve definitely tried to be better about making my meals at home healthy ones.  My grocery lists are always very wholesome, but I’ll keep up my determination for two days… then maybe one more lunch… and then by the following dinner… disaster.

All.  I want.  Is Thai food. 

Yeah.  I found a random picture of pad thai.
Don't tell me it doesn't look delicious.
Peanut sauce beckons to me.  What I wouldn’t give for just one drunken noodle.  My palate aches for subtle citrus and creamy coconut flavors of tom kha gai.  And Grubhub – that fiend, that little devil on my shoulder – makes it horrifyingly easy satisfy my cravings.  Why, Grubhub?  WHY?

So now, I feel it’s time to back away from the curry and embark on my first self-imposed challenge – ban the restaurant food.  Because Thai isn’t the only culprit.  In general, eating out is standard for socializing.  My roommates and I have an alarming weakness for wings.  My boyfriend and I order pizza all too regularly.  There are culinary dangers around every freakin’ corner, and what am I supposed to do, NOT eat them?? 

…Challenge accepted. 

No restaurant food for… I don’t know, what do you think?  Two weeks sound reasonable?

Not too hard, right?  But of course, here’s the truly challenging part about this – I work at a restaurant.  Two, in fact.  Which means a few things:

1)  I generally leave for work at 4:00 and get home anywhere between 10:00 and midnight.  Tough to get in a nice homemade dinner with those hours.
2)  I get to eat food at said restaurants at little or no cost, which makes my frugal side suddenly veeeery hungry, even if the rest of me is not.

To counteract all that, I guess what I’ll have to focus on – beyond healthy cooking for myself, of course – is timing meals / snacks appropriately and cost-effective grocery shopping.  Yes?  Yes.  Time to put my wealth of healthy-eating knowledge to use.  We shall see how I fare...

Cards on the table, I was going to start today, but after working all morning on an empty stomach I decided to get just a little something at the Bistro. 

So naturally, I had a giant bowl of linguini bolognese.  Like… GIANT.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Life Without A Meal Plan: The Sequel

Yes. I’ve decided to reopen the box of boundless goodies that is “Life Without A Meal Plan.”

I suppose I should have started a new blog with a new title, but I liked this one so much that I couldn’t bear to part with it. AND, while I’m now several years out of college, I still feel that the title is applicable… although Blog 2.0 intends to function with a little more focus. Not much more. Don’t get too excited. But after an unwieldy couple of years, I’m determined to just, ya know... focus. Point my life in the right direction.

Because the last year has indeed been a tad directionless. A little background, just for some context:

Just about this time a year ago, I was finally beginning to feel put together. I’d quit the Border Cafe (glory hallelujah) and gotten a job as a singing waitress on the Spirit of Boston, my mom and I had our jazz blog going strong and garnering interest, I had just gotten a job writing for a lifestyle blog, and, if all went according to plan, I was going to help write website copy for my dad’s burgeoning company. In January I headed to London, where I was to meet my dad and spend the week. I had a grand old time exploring the city, spending one-on-one time with my dad for the first time in years (in his favorite city in the world, no less), and getting to learn about this company that he was building. He was, in his own very understated way, bubbling with excitement about it, as it all seemed to be falling into place.

On January 28, we parted ways as he headed back to California and I took off to visit a friend in Kenya. I hugged him goodbye at Heathrow Airport, he told me to have fun and be careful, and off we went.

That was the last time I saw him. He died less than three weeks later.

To be clear - I don’t mean to sound dramatic and I’m certainly not trying to inspire sympathy. Just trying to explain why it was a rather rocky, disorienting 2011, and why now it’s time for a reboot. In many ways I think I handled the situation well, and in many ways I feel that I crashed and burned - to be expected, I suppose. In any case, the feeling of finally having my life put together promptly shattered, and I have spent the last many months trying to make everything fit again.

So, this incarnation of my ramblings intends to focus on how I attempt to accomplish this. I made a list (oh, how I love lists...) entitled “Things I Want to Work On / Challenges.” Not the pithiest title, but whatever. It included many of your classic New Year’s Resolutions such as exercise more regularly and eat healthier (classics for a reason), but I also threw in things like... oh, I don’t know... get a full-time job. Learn to quiet my anxiety. Read and write more, watch less TV. Listen to more jazz. Try yoga (and I hate yoga).

In terms of literal "challenges"... yet to be determined, but some preliminary thoughts are:

- A month of no restaurant food, no exceptions - learn to cook, damn it.
- Go unplugged for a week - no internet or TV. NO. STOP IT. You do not need to watch How I Met Your Mother in its entirety AGAIN.
- Read ___ books a month.
- A few weeks of pushing the bedtime and wake-up time back a few hours... starting the day at 8:00 am? Novel idea.
- Try every class at my gym (ugh, I'm sore just thinking about it... okay, maybe MOST classes at my gym).
- Experiment with what helps ease stress - yoga? Meditation? Better diet? Writing it all down in a blog for the world to see?

Essentially, doing things that will enhance my life - physically, emotionally, intellectually - and learning how to kick some bad habits. Seeing if immersion in these things for a week or a month will teach me that all of my "resolutions" are also doable in a long-term, less immersion-y way. And yes. I am aware that everyone and their mom is blogging about “healthy living” and “wellness” and yada yada. That, of course, turned me off to the idea at first. And then I remembered that one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to just say... F*** it. I DO WHAT I WANT.

Okay, fine. Honestly, I just wanted a project. And you're looking at it.