Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Weekend

I had a great Memorial weekend, how about you?
One of the reasons it was so fun is I had some visitors.
Specifically, this little one greeted me first thing Saturday morning:We started the day with a walk and stumbled onto quite the site - a mama red tailed hawk with her babies high up in a tree
the papa bird was near by too (or at least I suspect he was the papa)
Here is the whole crew of visitors since my niece didn't show up on her own: my brother, his wife and her sister (a first time visitor to NYC):
after our long morning walk enjoying the bright sunny weather (despite gloomy forecasts for rain), we went to the Museum of Natural History - one of my favorite places in the City
while there, we saw the butterfly exhibit
then we ate at Shake Shack for lunch
followed several hours later (after naps for everyone) by pizza for dinner
Jason and I spent the evening in trying to root for Denver in an attempt to cheer against the Lakers before giving up and watching a French movie I had on hand - Au Revoir L'Enfant. His wife and her sister hit the town for a Broadway show.
The next day we took things a little easier and played on my roof to take in the view
and I had a chance to cook for house guests -
including baked eggs and bran muffins Saturday morning and oatmeal Sunday morning
and a full sit-down dinner (a rarity in my small apartment) on Sunday afternoon
which was the grand debut for these fun new dishes I recently purchased
what did I cook?
baked asparagus, pork chops, this salad (minus the steak) and mushroom risotto
(which was almost a disaster when I realized I somehow left the arborio rice off my grocery delivery order but google came to the rescue and I learned pearl barley is a good substitute, which I happend to have on hand!) with banana bread with cinnamon whipped cream for dessert. Delicious - if I do say so myself.
My guests departed early Sunday evening and I had Monday to myself. Once again the weather turned out significantly better than predicted and I attended a rooftop bbq in Brooklyn where I pushed my home-baked brownies on unsuspecting strangers and a beyond-inebriated-chest-shaving dude who only managed to button a couple of buttons in the middle of his shirt decided to flirt with me. Despite his intoxicated state, I was flattered and entertained. I finished the weekend with some laundry and the tail end of Au Revoir L'Enfants (which J and I did not finish Saturday night).

I just wish the weekend hadn't flown by so quickly because this morning I crashed hard into reality with lots of work and much cooler temperatures.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

baked sweet potatoes

Growing up, my absolute number one favorite item on the Thanksgiving menu (possibly even ahead of pie) was candied yams. Once a year (and occasionally at Christmas) I had the privilege of biting into this amazingly sweet, brightly colored vegetable. Of course, it was doused in loads of butter and brown sugar and topped with marshmallows so what was not to love for an 11-year old with a sweet tooth? It was practically dessert smashed in with turkey and mashed potatoes and the smattering of green vegetables on the table.

At some point in my adult years I discovered that sweet potatoes are available at grocery stores year-round! I also discovered that sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and do not require all of that butter and brown sugar and certainly not the marshmallows for every day eating. As a result of this epiphany, I started incorporating sweet potatoes into my diet more and more. Especially after seeing it consistently land in all kinds of super food top 5 lists for its vitamins, minerals and fiber. Did you know the sweet potato is a super food all star? Similar to carrots, bright orange sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene and Vitamin A. They also offer Vitamin C, potassium and are a fat free Vitamin E source. Wait, did you catch the part about being fat free? If that isn't enough, sweet potatoes also contain the uber-trendy buzz word of the day: antioxidants. You get the picture, they are good for you.

But also, and this is the really important part, they taste delicious without a lot of work. Or really any work if you just bake them. Baked sweet potatoes are sweeter than any other mode of preparation and baking makes the texture smoother since slow baking changes the starch to malt sugar and some of the malt sugar to caramelized sugar, which equals yum!

And baking a sweet potato is the simplest form of cooking. This morning when I got back from the gym I realized I had eaten all of my leftover pasta from the weekend and didn't have anything to take to work for dinner. But what I did have were a couple of sweet potatoes in my fridge. So, prior to jumping in the shower, I followed these simple steps:

  • heat the oven to 400 degrees
  • line a baking sheet with foil
  • scrub sweet potatoes (I just cooked 2 this morning)
  • poke sweet potatoes with a fork all over
  • dribble a bit of olive oil on top (this is optional)
  • bake for 45 minutes

And that was it! By the time I got out of the shower and readied myself for work, the sweet potatoes were ready! I simply plopped each potato in a tupperware container and I had a dinner to go for today and one for tomorrow!

Curious about what to do with it once it is cooked? Here's what I do:

Slice it open and add a little butter and cinnamon

it is like a mini-Thanksgiving treat in May!
or - and this is my new favorite thing when I take it one to work - grab some plain yogurt I prefer Fage 0% Greek yogurt for its deliciousness

dollop the yogurt on top and enjoy!

Paprika and butter is another favorite combo of mine but at work I generally stick with just the yogurt for the convenience factor. And let me tell you, it is a satisfying meal in and of itself, or you can serve it as a side dish.

I have some other fun and tasty sweet potato options I'll have to share with you later, but in the meantime, tell me how you like your sweet potatoes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

set-back

Sunday I had this really great 2.75 mile run. I ran the whole time and felt great doing it (or at least felt good enough to complete it) and afterwards I convinced myself that this little 3.5 mile run I have approaching on June 11th is more than do-able, it is just the first step and maybe I could start thinking bigger . . .

But Monday morning my knee hurt.

I tried to take it easy on my knee Monday morning working out with my trainer but all day it just hurt. Around 6 I finally took some ibuprofren. Then I walked home and my knee felt worse. And looked kind of swollen and squishy. I elevated it and iced it last night and decided I would make the call this morning as to whether I should run.

I was supposed to run 2.75 miles again today.

My knee felt okay as I stumbled around my apartment pulling running clothes on and brushing my teeth so I decided to go . . . even though it was only 45 degrees outside! What is up with that May?

After my warm-up walk, I set out and felt off. I checked my pace and I was running much slower than two days earlier when I set a personal best pace. I kept pushing myself but then worried whether it was better to ease off the knee or push through it. Argh. My knee did not feel good at all. When my ipod told me I was at the half-way point I turned around and kept up my slow jog for a couple of minutes and then decided I should walk for 90 seconds. Then I jogged a bit until my knee hurt too much and I walked again. I stopped completely when I hit 2.5 miles, stretched out in the park and walked home feeling dejected.

It is so hard to go from seeing improvement each time I run to taking a giant step backwards - all because of my dumb knee. I iced it this morning and decided exiting my apartment by stairs is out for now. I'm going to give myself two days off from running and try again Friday. Maybe on the treadmill instead of outside. I think I will also buy a knee brace. In the meantime, lots of leg lefts and icing for my pesky left knee. The jerk never wants me to have any fun.

p.s. If I'm still having pain on Friday I realize I should probably find a knee doctor - something I was hoping (am still hoping) to avoid in this new little endeavor of mine.

Monday, May 18, 2009

not martha

I tried to do a week in review on Friday but it quickly devolved into a far more depressing therapy session than it was meant to be so I scrapped it. I had some pretty high hopes that my weekend would be full of amazing recipes I'd be able to share throughout the week with you. Unfortunately, the Friday night therapy didn't entirely soothe my subconscious and it sought vengence on me in other ways.

Observe:

Saturday afternoon I was slated to co-host a bridal shower. My only role was food. I ordered all my groceries online and had an ambitious menu for an afternoon girly tea party all ready to roll. I felt confident in the timing of it all because the shower wasn't slated to begin until 3 pm. All the time in the world to create an original cupcake, make two types of tea sandwiches, a fancy new tomato and watermelon salad I discovered, scones and ginger hibiscus iced tea and possibly some macarons . . . right? Well, maybe not the macarons. That was a bit over the top, but I was completely up to the rest of it. Especially since my co-hosts (that sounds like we are on some sort of television show or something) were coming over to assist at 1 pm. So much time! I mean, on Friday I thought this sounded like so much time I could even squeeze in a run in the morning . . . okay, maybe not, but the thought did cross my mind.

That is, the thought crossed my mind before I was forced to add: shop for gift to my Saturday itinerary. You see, way back on last Monday I had this nagging little thought that I should jump online and order some pretty little filmy thing for the bride-to-be. But the thought never came at a convenient time and suddenly Thursday was staring me in the face and I knew the gift would require an actual trip to a store. I don't like stores. They are full of things that distract me by telling me to buy them for myself. Plus, to get to these stores I have to push through crowds of tourists on Fifth Avenue. And, on this particular day, there was a threat of rain. Ugh. But I went anyway. I went to Anthropologie which, in the past, has always had some pretty lingerie choices. But on that particular day? Nothing. I searched and searched and searched but walked out empty-handed. Actually, I walked out with a book of love quotes I considered giving instead but it didn't seem to suit her so I vowed to go to trusty Victoria's Secret on Friday.

But on Friday work kept me glued to my desk until 1:30 and even then I only had a few minutes to run out for a sandwich to bring back to my desk. Before I knew it, it was after 6 and I thought I could finish up just a few more things and then run to the store. But a few more minutes turned into more than an hour and I realized I needed to run up the street to VS and come back to work. Friday was the most perfect, beautiful day. I left my office just before 8 and stopped at the Gap on the off chance that Gap Body had anything. I found something pretty but it wasn't very . . . bridal. So I continued up the street a few blocks, past Madison to the closest VS. Closed. What? Why would a store close at 8 pm? Argh. Now what? I returned to 5th Avenue with the hope of purchasing a certain delicious candle I love from Henri Bendell's as Plan B to go with the love quotes. The door was open but when I started toward it a man bellowed "WE'RE CLOSED!" at me. He was very aggressive about it. Dejected and discouraged I returned to my office for a couple more hours of work. I briefly considered mailing a late present but decided that was lame so I decided I would just take a 20 minute break in the morning to hop in a cab and head to the Lincoln Center VS.

Saturday morning my groceries were delivered around 8 and I got started with the cooking. I made lemon cupcakes, a lemon curd filling, a blueberry coulis and ganache and realized I was crazy to think I could go running or add macarons to the menu. I adapted. And when I was at a good stopping point (one at which I needed more eggs a couple of oranges and more watermelon), I hopped in a cab to 68th and Broadway - the approximate location of VS. Only, it wasn't there. I went to the grocery store across the street first before I worried too much thinking I had just remembered the wrong block for the store. But no, when I was back on the street I remembered where the store should be but in its place was . . . nothing. Absolutely nothing. The entire building is gone. Now what? Well, with my eggs and orange juice and oranges and watermelon in tow, I began traipsing the streets of the upper west side in search of lingerie.

I finally found a tiny little boutique that required me to ring the bell to get buzzed in where two sales girls stared me down from behind the counter as I searched the racks in the 4x5 space and declined their offer to try things on. I finally picked something and rushed back out to a cab. My 20 minute trip took an hour.

And I forgot my phone so I was worried the other girls had tried calling or had arrived early and I wasn't there. I was pushing close to one.

Here is something I know about myself and hosting. There are certain jobs I do not like to delegate. Sure, that means I often put more work on myself but I recognize that is a problem. Baking is one of those things. Except, on Saturday I had to start delegating or things would not get done. So I had one of the girls fill half my cupcakes with lemon curd and half with blueberry coulis. Then I had her cover them in ganache. I played no part in it other than the initial demonstration. I later hurriedly topped them with blueberry coulis whipped cream but couldn't tell which were filled with lemon and which were filled with blueberry so I abandonded my plan to top half with a blueberry and half with lemon zest. Argh.

More helpers arrived and there were more and more jobs to be done. Questions were flying at me and I felt . . . frenzied. No one wanted to make the decision about keeping the party in my apartment or holding it on the roof as originally planned. It had rained a lot in the morning and the sky was still gray and gloomy at that point despite the heavy humidity. I finally made the call - we'll stay in the apartment for food and go to the roof for presents.

At one point I delegated the tea sandwich making to another co-host who took the job and ran with it. She knew how to cut and slice and rummage through cupboards to find what she needed without peppering me with questions and distracting me from the 50 other last minute things that suddenly needed my attention - do you have scissors, tape, tablecloth, where does this go? how do we do xyz . . . . She saved me.

Oh, and the other reason I was frantic? Right before I passed off the tea-sandwich prep, I was pulling the balsamic vinegar and olive oil out of a cupboard to top off the salad. In the process, I knocked a brand new almost completely full bottle of sesame oil to the ground.

Yes, this is the third time I have had a catastrophic breakage incident in my kitchen far too recently. First, there was the spaghetti sauce jar, then a few weeks ago it was the bottle of vanilla, and now sesame oil. All three, the day after my cleaning lady came and two of the three, within an hour of expected guests arriving.

I nearly cried.

While I know the bride-to-be quite well, I only knew the two other hosts moderately. I have never really hung out with them and only know them from being in the same ward briefly a couple of years ago. The third girl who was there helping out I had never met previously. I don't think they knew what to do to help. I didn't know what to do. So they just moved into the living room to chit chat while I tried my best to clean up my now greasy with bits of tiny glass floor.

At that moment, I wanted to quit. I wanted to thank the others for their help but ask them to leave and tape a sign to my door indicating it was all cancelled. Mean, I know. But I have had a non-stop month and this little incident was just not helping.

But I pushed through it and just felt even further set back on my timing. The scones were done, the salad was done, the cupcakes were done, the tea sandwiches were underway but I had forgotten the ginger hibiscus tea. But there was no longer time. So I scratched that idea, ran to my storage unit for my punch bowl and just dumped a couple of cans of frozen limeade, some ginger ale and a pint of passionfruit sorbet in and called it good.

There were already guests arriving and there were still dishes piled up in the sink and the counter was barely visible from preparation debris. If my kitchen was a little more hidden, this wouldn't bother me so much. But my kitchen is not hidden - it is highly visible and the only thing I ever want to be doing when guests arrive is finishing the punch or a cheese plate or fruit platter or something simple and non-messy like that. I do not like having my food processor and several bowls and spoons and pans all piled up. While the sandwiches were being finished I stole a brief quiet moment in the bathroom. I lingered a little longer than necessary to right myself. I could not figure out why I felt so out of sorts and panicky. It felt like the whole thing was spinning out of control. When I walked back out, more guests were arriving and I realized everyone was . . . smiling. And the guest of honor - she was beaming. This party was not about me. I hurried into the kitchen, finished up the sandwiches and shoved everything into the dishwasher and cleaned off the counters.

The cupcakes did not have identifying garnish on them but guests seemed to enjoy guessing whether they would bite into lemon or blueberry.

The scones were not set up next to the extra blueberry whipped cream and coulis for topping and I completely forgot to set out the extra lemon curd. But guests ate all of the scones anyway and there wasn't much coulis left at the end of the party either.

There were probably around 30 guests crammed in my apartment with no room to sit for a large number of them. But no one seemed to mind standing as the blushing bride tried guessing what her groom-to-be had to say in response to a set of pre-posed questions.

There was very little food left as everyone pitched in to carry the sizeable stack of gifts to the roof for present opening and everyone seemed to enjoy the bright sunshine that broke out with the light breeze 40 flights above the city. It was there that I finally relaxed. Wooden deck and lounge chairs had been pulled into an oblong circle with the bride at the head. We were one chair short so I perched on the arms of two chairs pushed together and let my legs swing and the tension in my shoulders melt away. Someone ran back downstairs to retrieve the paper and pen to write down the gifts and I asked the bride for stories to entertain the group and captured a fantastic story of the couple's first kiss.

By the time it was over, I wasn't ready to have an empty house yet. I caught up with friends and took photos and posed in others. As the final guests made their exit I realized the food was all gone but for one lone cupcake and someone had cleaned the last of the dishes.

While this may have been my most frenetic start to a party, I was happy to see that it all worked so well for the guest of honor. I have never been quite so nervous/anxious/upset/frantic at the start of a party and now I understand that it really is something special that I can usually be calm and low-key when people start showing up with expectations of food. I do not think I would ever choose to host anything if all parties started as rough for me as this one did. On the other hand, the way this one ended makes me willing to jump in again.

But next time, I hope I don't have quite so many last minute obstacles thrown in my path.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

crockpot steel-cut oatmeal

Interested in a tasty breakfast to entice you with its aroma while still in your bed? I recommend making some crockpot steel-cut oatmeal tonight. It is really simple to make, tastes delicious and it is good for you!
Curious as to what Irish steel-cut oats look like? Here is the can I usually buy of McCann's. I should have taken a quick picture of these full grained oats so you can see the difference from your standard Quaker rolled oats, instead I will point you to this nifty side-by-side comparison I found with the magical powers of google images.

As with many things, I learned how to make this nifty crockpot oatmeal by googling. But sadly, I did not mark the blog(s) where I found the instructions so I can't give proper credit. Sorry if I stole from you!

Essentially, we are going to turn the slow cooker into a double-boiler. Fill the cooker's bowl about 1/4 to 1/3 full of water.

Find a second bowl that fits comfortably inside the slow cooker bowl and place it in the water. The water should come close to the top of the inside bowl but not be close to splashing into the inner bowl.
You can follow the directions for how much water and oats to add that are on the package - mine calls for 4 cups of water. However, I found using the full 4 cups leaves the oatmeal a little mushier than I like so I have lowered the water to about 3 and 1/2 - 3/4 cups of water. Or - and this is a really new modification - I replace 1 cup of the water with skim milk. This is my new favorite.
Add 1 cup of oats to the water (or water/milk).
Then you can get creative by either leaving it plain or adding your mixins - I love blueberries. Seriously, I am obsessed with them!
I just tossed in what I had left in my fridge - frozen would work well too.
For this batch I also happened to have a handful of blackberries, so in they went.
I also always add cinnamon. . .
lots of cinnamon. You can give it a good stir or just leave it be.
Put the lid on top,
Switch the dial to low and go to bed.
The next morning this will be calling you from your bed:
Delicious, no?
Lately I have been pretty good about making this Sunday night and then putting the remaining servings in handy little to-go containers which I can either reheat in the comfort of my own kitchen when I have some morning leisure time. OR grab on my way out the door and eat at my desk at work. For me, the added cinnamon and berries make it unnecessary to add anything else although I do like scooping a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on top. If you crave something sweeter you can add some brown sugar or maple syrup the night before.

Enjoy and let me know what you like in your steel-cut oatmeal!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

improving a relationship

I rarely walk away from relationships lightly. Whether it is a casual friendship, a romance, a family member or a long standing friendship, it takes a lot for me to give up and stop trying. I will fight to bring life back to a dying friendship. And I have done this. Sometimes a relationship cannot be saved and I am forced to accept defeat but I make a commited effort to not give up until I have exerted as much effort as possible on my end to make it work.

Somehow this tenacity has not always carried over into the relationship I have with myself. I am more critical, judgmental and defeatist with myself than I would ever be with any of my friends or family members. It reached a point where I had to ask myself why.

Sure, self-criticism can lead to new goals and efforts toward improvement but it can also result in a reduced sense of self, a warped perception of oneself and unnecessary feelings of isolation and worthlessness. I would never tell a friend her butt has grown out of control or scold her for eating those two extra cookies, so why do I say these things to myself?

I am not going to blame the media with its unattainable images of beauty or over the top obsessions with dieting.

I am no longer going to blame my own self-criticism on my ex-husband either.

I am not even going to blame myself. Instead, I decided to just change it, regardless of the genesis of these thoughts and feelings, I need to be the change. This is the turning point.

As I mentioned last week, over the last several weeks I have been taking a closer look at my relationship with food as I have delved into a stricter exercise routine. You see, and don't hate me when I say this, growing up, I never had to worry about my weight. I could eat and eat and eat and I never had to think about consequences. Oh, and I could eat. And luckily I had friends who were the same. There may or may not have been a point in time when one of us uttered "is this heaven" in a tacky booth in a Vegas casino after returning for another helping from the endless buffet lines. And that buffet may have been located at Circus Circus, no accounting for teenage taste buds. Ahem. We were lucky. We were able to enjoy our teenage years free from the guilt and calorie counting, fat watching, carb depriving pressure that is everywhere these days. The 90s were a special time with the oversized grunge clothing - but maybe that was just my personal oblivion.

That doesn't mean I didn't have my own health obsessions. As a general rule I did not (and still don't) like fast food or chain restaurants with their disproportioned servings. I stopped eating hamburgers when I was 17 or or so. Growing up I preferred wheat bread to white and recall a family road trip when I threw a fit over being forced to eat white bread when I was too old to be throwing such fits. As a sophomore I took a salad for lunch every day. Granted, that salad came with a side of ranch dressing and a packet of oyster crackers, but still. It was what I liked and it wasn't about weight. My college nutrition course set me off on a philosophy of omitting excess salt, avoiding processed foods (despite a freshman diet comprised almost exclusively of mac & cheese and ramen noodles) and shunning vitamin supplements in favor of seeking the nutrients out in real foods. I still ate chocolate and baked goods and fries but I was focused primarily on balanced meals - which I cooked.

I'll skip over the crazy ex-husband inducing weight paranoia phase for now and refer you to the sidebar for my divorce story if you want more insight into that shift and skip ahead a few years.

To the end of my 20s. When my weight, for reasons I did not fully understand decided to settle about five to ten pounds higher than where it had always been. I didn't understand this but I was comfortable in my body and I was in great shape and working out on a regular basis.

But then, I hit 30. And I moved back to New York City. And I was diagnosed with asthma. And I had knee surgery. All in about a two-month span which was immediately preceded by the ailments that led up to diagnosing the asthma, the symptoms that caused the knee surgery and a breakup that left me . . . broken emotionally.

When I landed back in NYC four years ago I reaquainted myself with Ben & Jerry pretty intimately and stopped working out and started ordering in. Another ten pound reality check later, I settled up to my larger size (I often fluctuated between two anyway) and blamed my job for the shift. And ultimately felt awful inside which often reflected on the outside as I turned into myself more and felt self conscious and out of sorts in social situations. I was hyper aware of the fact that I had gained weight since I left New York two years earlier and felt this was everyone's first impression of me. I kept having this feeling of "this is not my body!" reverberating through my head and convinced myself that I was being ignored or neglected or snubbed or whatever because I wasn't thin like everyone else.

Rationally, I knew I wasn't actually overweight and in fact I was still within my recommended body mass index. I knew then, as I know now, that I am not fat. I am not gross. I just did not feel like myself and that was being reflected externally to others through a lack of confidence, a lack of comfort in my own skin.

I hired a trainer and started re-dedicating myself to working out. But it was hard. And I was sporadic. I tricked myself into thinking I was doing more than I really was and usually only managed a couple of workouts a week, and nothing too tough. I had phases where I was regularly going to yoga and I made small improvements but I easily fell out of those habits and slid back into feeling slugish.

I forced myself to start eating salads for lunch, switched to diet soda and I tried weight watchers. My weight dipped briefly as I obsessed over points and portions but mostly I was just hungry. All the time. Losing 4-6 pounds did not seem worth the effort.

Another year or two passed of up and down workouts and takeout meals eaten at my desk or in front of my tv until another 10 pounds had crept their way onto my thighs, my butt and my stomach. I was uncomfortable in everything I owned. I felt awkward. I became hyper critical of every image of myself. It never seemed quite right.

I tried one of those meal delivery diet plans. You know the kind that deliver all of your meals each day, including snacks? I hated it. I hated every last second of those three test weeks last October. I starved and starved and my hunger controlled my every thought. I got to the point where I eyed dinner rolls on tables on sidewalk cafes and seriously contemplated snatching one for myself. They gave me a shockingly low number of calories to begin with. Low enough that I doubt they could have sustained a gnat for very long. It was bland and life felt tedious.

So I decided working out was the key. Last summer I felt strong and capable and confident on my river trip. I trained in the months leading up to it with workouts tailored to build muscles in my back and arms. I walked more to prepare for hikes. I was not one hundred percent happy with my weight or dimensions, but for that blissful week in Idaho and the weeks that followed while my skin was still tanned and toned, I felt good. Until I no longer had a goal.

So I prepared for my trip to Peru with extra workouts and truly pushed myself by climbing the 40 flights of stairs in my building a couple of times a week. My body refused to lose weight because the holiday season was in full swing and the food was too good to ignore, but I started to once again feel better physically which again led to more confidence. At one point my trainer made an offhand comment about how I would probably be very athletic if I didn't work so much. And I allowed her to hook onto the excuse I have made for myself - I work too much to worry about ridding myself of 10-20 unwanted pounds.

But suddenly that excuse seemed lame. This is my body and I know what it is capable of and it has the potential for so much more than I was currently allowing it.

For me, I was doing the little things. I was taking stairs and walking to and from work and fitting in moderate workouts here and there. I was eating what I call "cheat foods" that have lower calories and lower fat but are most often not sustaining and are only covering up the hunger rather than satisfying it.

None of it was enough for me because I know what my body can be. And I don't mean the body I had when I was 19 or even 25. I want to know that my 33 year-old body is at its best. That I am striving toward and reaching my own capabilities today. Because when I put in the effort, this little relationship I have with myself thrives.

I decided work could no longer be an excuse. I no longer wanted my age to be an excuse. I no longer wanted to hide behind "bad knees" or asthma. I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin again and recognize my own body in the mirror.

I started small and quiet.

In February, I did not eat any meat for a month to show myself I have restraint and to see what, if any effect, the ommission had on my body. Granted, I don't eat a lot of meat so this was not a challenge initially. But by the end I was happy to reintroduce meat into my diet. Vegetarianism is not my goal. I admire and respect those who live that lifestyle but it isn't a permanent choice for me. This deprivation did not lead to weight loss. It simply gave me the confidence that I am in control of my choices.

In March, I cut out soda. I knew I could tackle this one because I have had several phases in my life where I didn't touch the stuff for years. I don't think I drank carbonation through all of high school and very rarely in college. I distinctly remember becoming reaquainted with coke during my study abroad in Europe the summer of 1997. Even during law school I managed to steer clear of a soda addiction other than during finals when my diet consisted primarily of Dr. Pepper and Triscuits. Those two products practically sponsored my finals! But working in a law firm requires long, tedious hours. Often on very little sleep. And since I don't drink coffee, soda crept its way back into my life and over the last couple of years it had managed to make itself a permanent fixture with my lunch. I told myself it helped prevent me from snacking all afternoon. Despite the whole springing forward thing, some long hours and a cross-country red eye flight, I made it through March with only one or two sodas. And despite the fact that I have a Coke Zero on my desk right now (the first in weeks!), I have rarely touched it since. (Today was terrifically stressful and I'm here late, that is my excuse.)

In April, I decided to give up something a little more difficult for me - M&Ms. Not a big deal, right? Have you met me? No? Well, do you know that my absolute favorite snack is popcorn with peanut M&Ms tossed in? Do you know that my secret single behavior includes (included, I should say) indulging on this snack multiple times a week? It is an easy one to rationalize because it doesn't seem like a terrible thing. Light popcorn, just a handful (or two) of m&ms and you have something to munch on. But like anything, this snack can be abused. And abuse it I did. So I cut out m&ms. Not all chocolate, just m&ms. And I haven't had any since.

BUT that does not mean I did not devour every last chocolate covered treat from my Easter basket (and there were a lot) in a record two days. That was the breaking point when I realized enough was enough. I could not complain about my body if I was treating it like that. Exercise would only get me so far, my eating philosophy needed to be set back on track as well.

I was a couple of skeptical weeks into my couch to 5k program and I did not want to diet. I fail at diets. I hate diets. Diets make me irritable and food obsessed. Diets make me crave everything that is forbidden. Diets make me think thoughts like: I have given up so many things for religious purposes - coffee, tea, alcohol, drugs, smoking, SEX! (um, not that I have or have not partaken in any or all of these things, just that I refrain from them already) - that I should be allowed this one thing. That, my friends is a dangerous line of thinking. Because it made me feel I was entitled to and deserved this one good indulgence of being able to eat whatever I wanted. Which would not be a problem if I was comfortable with the results. Except I wasn't.

Enough was enough. It was time for me to stop adjusting my waistband out and to stop accepting that another 10 pounds isn't really so bad and was probably just a sign of getting older.

So I embarked on my own intensive spring training routine. I told my trainer to work me out hard twice a week. I committed full throttle to the 5k goal and began running three times a week and attending pilates class once a week. On the 7th day I sometimes rest. And sometimes I run some more. I'm in the midst of week seven and I feel better than I can remember feeling in about five years. I mark my workouts on a calendar with stickers and somehow that feels like a bigger incentive than you would think. I absolutely love looking at my kitchen calendar with only a few solitary days without stickers.

On Sunday I realized I am reminding myself what it feels like to be athletic. To have muscle definition and tone. To feel strong and capable. To have confidence in my body. For the first time in my entire life I ran more than two miles without stopping and without walking. It felt great! I felt like I was capable of improving and going further and going faster. And this morning I did. I ran 2.5 miles at my best pace yet. All along the way I had to keep checking in and reminding myself that I am capable of running this distance but I did it. I ran in the cool morning air along the river and felt a unity with the other runners and walkers and cyclist who were out in the chilly sunshine. I felt privileged to see the family of geese swimming near the shore just below the trail. My body felt invigorated and alive as I slowly worked myself through my stretching routine and I took note of my marked flexibility improvements. My knees did not hurt. My lungs did not burn. I realized today I can comfortably call myself a runner.

I have lost six pounds so far but the overall effect is so much more than that. My waist is about an inch smaller but looks so much less blah. My legs and arms feel muscular. I remember why I have always striven to be physically active. I do not necessarily love every minute of my workouts - especially not mat pilates class which always feels like a chore - but I love how my body feels when it is over. I also love the shift in my mindset. I love that despite only subtle changes, I now look in the mirror and see ability. I am more comfortable with myself and so I view my body through a less critical eye.

But I am not just working out, I am cooking. I am focusing on fresh produce, whole grains and home cooked meals. I am paying attention to my ingredients but not obsessing over them. I choose lower fat dairy products in general but I have not omitted butter or bread from my diet. I have not eliminated chocolate or sugar. I am just refocusing on real, natural ingredients that do not come from a bottle or can. And I am planning ahead. I bring snacks to work. I pack dinners for work. I make a week's worth of oatmeal on Sunday night in the crock pot. And it is working for me because I feel better.

And when I feel better, I view myself in a much more favorable light than when I do not feel good inside my body.

My starting goal was to run a 5k at the end of this spring training. And I am signed up for a run on June 11th. I had a secret hope to lose 10 pounds by June. I'm more than half-way there. My next secret goal was to lose the next 10 pounds by the end of August. But I am revising both of those goals. I know it is not about the weight. The weight is a concrete measurement that can signal success. But what I am really seeking is so much more subjective. I want to continue to rediscover a love for my own self. To remember that life is not about deprivation, starvation and guilty binging.

Ultimately, my goal is to not compare my outward appearance to those around me to measure my own worth. I am learning how to accept who I am and loving myself in each stage of the process, even as I strive to reach my full potential with constant improvement. I just have to remember, now that I have started, it is easier to just keep going than it is to stop and have to start from scratch all over again.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Week in Review

Below is a very honest look at this past week so you can see for yourself why I do not make this a regular Friday feature (I don't need to bore you with the monotony of it each week).

Saturday
I attended a 2-year old's birthday party in Central Park and then went to work. I arrived around 1 pm and left a little after midnight.

Sunday
Not wanting to return to the office, I set up a work station in my living room and worked most of the day - including a couple conference calls. I made steak and arugula salad and went for a run in the gym - too rainy to venture outside. I'm not ready to face severe elements yet. Finished the evening with some popcorn and The Amazing Race.

Monday
Met with my trainer at 730 for a pretty intense workout. Was at work by 930 and didn't leave until 8 pm. Finished the day on the couch watching shows off my dvr.

Tuesday
Slept in and skipped the gym. Was very disappointed in myself for breaking my morning workout streak for no good reason. Made it to work just after 9 and left around 830 pm. Again, finished the day on my couch watching Biggest Loser. Felt even worse about skipping the gym that morning and re-committed.

Wednesday
7 am pilates mat class. Work from 930 am to 9 pm. Conference call to plan bridal shower for a friend and then call with my sister and mother until my brain couldn't follow along anymore. Watched America's Next Top Model (the most ridiculously addicting show out there) and Make Me A Supermodel. Went to bed.

Thursday
740 am running in the gym. Discovered I have lost 5 pounds since starting my intense spring training routine 6 weeks ago. Rejoiced! Work from 930 am to 930 pm. Started the day with an email from someone I supervise with the subject line: "catastrophic failure", luckily the day could only improve from there and it did.

Friday
730 am met with my trainer. Tried on skinny black pants and happily discovered they fit and look great! Arrived at work at 10, hoping to get out before 7 or 8 tonight so I can go to a birthday party for a couple of friends and still have enough brain cells for social interaction.

Intense week, right? The week nights are not my worst since I was out before 10 each night but piling this on top of working a full weekend and keeping up my workout schedule was tough. Last night a partner called me around 7 pm and I told him he was lucky that he caught me right before my brain turned off for the night. He laughed and asked how I do that and I told him it was a mandatory forced shut down after a certain number of thinking hours. I ended up working for a couple more hours after that call but this has been an extremely busy week with pieces moving in several directions at once and I have been stretched and my brain really is on the verge of mandatory shut-down.

But, there was one more piece to my week. A key piece that made me realize I am where I need to be right now. Something that pointed out to me what I had forgotten, that I really love my job. Not all aspects of my job, but overall, I really love it.

You see, on a whim, a number of weeks ago I applied for a very different kind of job. A job in a kinder, gentler city with kinder, gentler hours. A job where 4 weeks of vacation are not only offered, but where employees actually take 4 weeks of vacation each year. A job where billable hours are not required. A job where I would be working with a very good friend of mine.

I panicked and wondered what I was doing. I daydreamed about the new lifestyle I could have with that new job. I freaked out over the prospect of picking up my life and moving. I weighed the pros and the cons shifting each day as to where I ultimately wanted to be. I felt disloyal as I was given a key role in a new and exciting project at work.

Then last week I had a phone interview. The most intense interview I have ever experienced. I went in with a good attitude, still unsure as to whether this was the job for me. I was more focused on the social/lifestyle consequences of the shift than the actual day-to-day job. I asked questions, the four people on the other side of the phone questioned my experience, my abilities and posed an elaborate hypothetical scenario to test my skills. After more than an hour, I hung up the phone and realized I was sweating. I felt good about how I had presented myself. I was forthright and honest. When there was something I did not know, I admitted it. I felt I had nothing to lose.

On Monday night I called my mother and told her I didn't want the position and even if they called me for a flyback interview, I would decline. After working an intense weekend doing something I love, I could not imagine walking away. And that surprised me. It did not surprise my mother.

On Tuesday I had a message to call the place where I had interviewed. I was not nervous. I kind of knew what they were going to say before I even dialed the return call. The woman on the other end of the line cautiously and apologetically tried to let me down easy. I kind of felt bad for her as she delivered the news that while the panel really liked me, they were going with someone else blah, blah, blah. I wonder if she was surprised by my cheerful response as I thanked her for the experience.

As I hung up the phone, I suddenly realized, I don't need a new job. I don't need to move to another city. I am right where I want to be and I am doing what I want to do. Even if I am doing too much of it at times, this is where I need to be.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

steak and arugula salad

I've been meaning to write this clever little post idea I've had stewing for a while about how I have re-committed myself to my relationship with food. Real, healthy food. The kind that comes from a natural source rather than a box, a can, a delivery guy. And really, my worst culprit is that delivery guy because in New York, there are plenty of them running around delivering pretty much any thing your palate craves. But I am convinced that no matter what calorie counting, fat watching, carb depriving diet I try (and really, I'm a terrible dieter), the best thing for me personally is just to get myself back in the kitchen and start cooking for myself again. It is a journey. One that takes time and commitment, but since I love food, I think this is one relationship that is worth the effort.

Recently I was craving a certain steak and arugula salad from one of my very favorite restaurants in the city - Vynl. If you know me, you know I am not much of a red meat eater so this craving may come as a surprise to you. You may also be aware that historically I was never much of a salad person. That should just tell you how good this salad is. Instead of responding to the craving by reaching for the phone (or my laptop since I usually order online - see, NYC makes it too easy to eat out!), I reached for my own cupboards. Except, really, this takes more planning then that. I first ordered all the ingredients I needed online, because grocery shopping that way is a dream! By commiting to bi-weekly grocery deliveries, I can plan better meals with real food instead of being stuck with what is left in my cupboards or what I can grab near work.

On Sunday afternoon, I dove into my imitation steak salad.

First up, I started with some baby arugula.
The package claims it was pre-washed but I don't really trust that. Besides, I don't have a lot of opportunities to use my salad spinner - so I tossed some greens in and gave it a whirl.
Next up: one red pepper. Let me tell you a little something about red peppers. Until quite recently I thought I did not like them. For years I steered clear of peppers of all colors all due to a genuine aversion to green bell peppers. I assumed they were all alike - bitter and gross. But somehow, some way, I convinced myself to start trying these babies and low and behold I learned . . . they are tasty! Unlike their green cousins, red (and orange and yellow) peppers are not bitter at all. In fact, they are kind of sweet. See. . . .
I decided to delve into uncharted territory for me and roast this red pepper. My cook book and internet resources suggested a long tedious process involving the oven and 45 minutes which seemed a bit overkill for one measley red pepper so I tried my Cuisinart grill instead. I just turned it on high heat and attempted to balanced the red pepper between the grill plates.this was easier said than done as the pepper made a couple of escape attempts which I quickly thwarted with the use of a hot pad.
I rotated the pepper a few times to ensure even roasting and since I was doing other things during this process, I have no idea how long it took to completely roast the pepper. 20 minutes? 30? I just let it roast until I was ready for it, or, more accurately, until I needed the grill for the meat. Meanwhile, I chopped up one shallot and a few cloves of garlic in my mini-chopper.
Then I tossed them in some olive oil, gave them a quick stir and let them brown up.
When they looked like this, I removed the pan from the heat and set it aside.
Then I pulled out this wonderful "low-fat"! goat cheese out of my fridge. I absolutely LOVE goat cheese and if it really is lower in fat, then all the better.
Goat cheese is a soft cheese so while I started by slicing off a couple of generous medallions (of which I used about 2/3), I was ultimately trying to get some crumbles.
So I chopped it up and got this:
By now, I think the red pepper is sufficiently roasted, so I removed it from the grill to make way for the meat. And since one of my online guides recommended putting the pepper in a jar with the lid on to help steam off the skin, I did that. Although I can't say I was entirely clear as to why I needed to remove the skin. And since I found it difficult to remove, even after I let it steam it up in a covered dish, I skipped that step and went straight to the chopping and de-seeding stage. I have no tips here. Just remove the top, dig out the seeds and dice.Meanwhile, you should grill your meat. I used skirt steak that came pre-marinated in lime and cumin - deliciously spicy. I don't have a bbq on hand in my apartment so I tossed it onto my Cuisinart grill: Skirt steak is a pretty narrow cut which slices into nice and easy to eat strips. And just fyi, this was cooked medium-rare, it looks far more rare here than it did in real life. Now it's time to put it all together! Toss the arugula on a plate:
Add some of the garlic and onions,
Add the goat cheese crumbles,
and the roasted red peppers,
Add the meat [pretend there is a photo of that part here],
And drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the top as dressing.
The verdict: Delicious! Even better than the original!
Except, I was pretty sure I could add just one more thing to make it better. As I was putting everything away I realized what that one thing might be: an Asian Pear!
Have you ever eaten an Asian pear? They are on the pricier side as far as fruit goes but oh, so worth it. I L O V E them! I sliced this one up after my salad and ate it for dessert . . . they are so sweet and juicy and delicious that they are a great answer to sweet tooth cravings.
I prepped my salad leftovers and used some very thin slices of pear to the mix to take for dinner at work the next day:
I prepared the arugula, pears and goat cheese in the tupperware,
and put the meat and red peppers and onions in a plastic bag (so I could reheat it before eating).
And since I couldn't find a small enough container for transporting a small amount of balsamic vinegar, I poured some of that in a plastic bag as well.
The meal was originally for dinner on Sunday and I had two more salads - one for dinner on Monday and one for dinner last night. Each time I was happy to pull something out of the work fridge that I had prepared rather than wandering down to the lobby to pick up a delivered meal. And the addition of the pear? Wonderful! The salad is complete.

But I still had some red peppers leftover, so I put them in a jar,
added some olive oil,
and tossed in the remaining garlic and onions.

I was told they can be stored like this for a couple of weeks. I dont' have this much left now but what I do have is a good start for spicing up a sandwich or maybe some pasta.

One more thought, I think this salad could be great without the meat as well by substituting in some walnuts. I think this might become a new summer staple for me.

Related Posts with Thumbnails