Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Two of my favorite runners ever: the Americans, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher

I recently had to take 2 weeks off from running due to illness & just being seriously over-worked.  A couple weeks after having gotten back into it, I took another 6 days off for vacation.  And to be perfectly honest, the thing that was the hardest for me during those times off was…frankly, not being able to run.  I thought about it frequently, even had dreams about it!  I missed it so much.  I missed how it makes me feel physically, spiritually (that’s a biggie), and emotionally.  And so I fully realized how much running means to me in my life.

I’m not a marathoner by any stretch of the imagination, but I do consider myself a serious runner in that I pay close attention to my times, my speed, my running frequency (i.e. I write it on my calendar, document my mileage most of the time, etc).  I started running in 2004 when I went home to NC for the summer and became a regular visitor of the Cane Creek Middle School track a couple miles from my parents’ house.  Said track happens to be in one of the most spectacular valleys in western NC.  Lucky me!  Anyway, I had put on quite a few pounds during the last year of my Master’s degree, and was just feeling down about a lot of things.  Running seemed like a good way to kickstart feeling good again.  My dad was a runner all my growing up, which may have had something to do with my particular choice of exercise.  So I dabbled in running for the next couple years and then became quite serious about it around 2007-2008.  I reached my peak fitness last summer, 2010, able to run about 6.5 miles in just over an hour.  For a marathoner, that’s nothing; for me, that’s tremendous. Unfortunately, I’ve gone a bit downhill the last couple months, hence this manifesto to the importance of fitness, and more specifically, of running (if that’s your exercise of choice).

Running changed my life and continues to do so in every positive way imaginable.  If there is any space that I consider my own church or temple, it is the space I enter when I’m having a really good run.  A good running mix on the ipod is key — I have various visualizations I use depending on the song, what I need to keep myself going, etc.  My self-esteem seems to be directly correlated to how much I’ve been exercising; which really means, my self-esteem is directly related to how my body feels physically and the degree to which I’ve had a good dose of endorphins.  The mind-spirit-body connection is in its full glory with running.  I’ve had a similar experience with Bikram yoga, probably because it too is an extremely intense form of exercise…I love Bikram, but I prefer running.

A chubby kid who began dieting probably at age 9 (if not earlier), I’ve had my battles with body dysmorphic disorder and feeling unworthy physically.  As women in 2011, I think most of us have had to contend with socio-cultural expectations of how women are “supposed” to look, what is considered desirable, and so on.  And I admit, there was a time when I ran simply to “get thin,” and it is with a degree of embarrassment that I admit that.  But I say with total sincerity that my desire to be a great runner and to get my body in great physical shape goes so far beyond anything having to do with appearance.  Sure, I like to fit into my jeans without effort just as much as the next person; but running and the space that I enter when I’m running has to do with transcendence — transforming consciousness through intense physical activity, taking care of one’s body to live life to the fullest.  Running has also changed my relationship with food, because I think more about eating to fuel and nourish myself.  So I’m more diligent about considering foods’ nutritional value, rather than just how many calories or fat grams they contain.

I’m not one to get preachy (unless I’m waxing poetic about Tori Amos or something nutty like that), but I do think that exercise and taking care of oneself physically can and does change peoples’ lives.  I hope I will be one of those 75+ year-old women who you still see kicking ass at races — they are out there, no doubt.  So in the meantime, I’m going to get myself a new pair of running shoes, and continue on my goal to run a hearty half-marathon.

Enjoy these clips!  The first one is the American runner Shalane Flanagan coming in 2nd at last year’s NYC Marathon.  What an inspiration!  The second clip is from yesterday’s Boston Marathon.  Huge congrats to fellow American Desiree Davila coming in 2nd.

Some running mix ideas — these really get me through tough runs:

1. Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”

2. Y Kant Tori Read – “On the Boundary”

3. Almost anything by Nine Inch Nails

4. Bangles – Hazy Shade of Winter

5. B-52’s – Juliet of the Spirits

6. John Legend – Give me the Green Light

7. Kate Bush – Be Kind to My Mistakes

And as a cool down, try Sade’s “Smooth Operator”!  🙂  Happy running!

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Three of my favorite things: cats, cheese, wine

Two things: 1) I love to eat.  2) I am and have been extremely skeptical of anything even remotely resembling fad diets, no-carb funny business, vegan or macro-biotic malarchy, etc.  It all just seems so silly.  I mean…right?

For all serious food-lovers who saw “Julie & Julia,” I think we all nodded (and perhaps giggled) with understanding at one key scene in particular:  Julia and her husband are discussing possible activities and potential professional endeavors with which she may want to become involved — this was before she was a chef.  Paul asks her, “What is it  you really like to do?”  Julia’s answer, plain and simple, is “Eat.”

Honestly, I couldn’t relate more to Julia’s answer.  I am profoundly passionate about food & cooking (and all permutations thereof, involving cooking classes, cook books, talking about food, wine, etc), and am unbelievably thankful to have some absolutely fabulous cooks & food lovers around me – almost all the time, in fact.

But I’m also, as many die-hard food lovers are, quite concerned about health, fitness, and maintaining a healthy weight.  Herein lies a bit of an obvious dilemma.  How often does one indulge?  What does “indulge” mean when looking at the scope of, say, a week?  To what extent should or can we indulge when we do?  Is indulging really that important?  How strict should we be with our diets?  How can we enjoy food passionately – and even cook with butter once in a while – and not turn into a pork chop?  Trust me, I was a chubby kid — these are serious questions, esp. considering I’m part of the “eat fervently” and “clean the plate” club.

Before I get into the aforementioned “fad” diet, I should explicitly state that I am not overweight.  In fact, I’m more fit than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m probably a mere, say, 5 pounds above what I would consider to be my “ideal” weight, that is, the natural weight at which my body seems most happy.  I’m too tall & too athletic to expect to be much less than my natural weight.

I state this to emphasize that I have not entered into this diet because I have unreasonable expectations of how my body “should”  look.  Someone close to me was interested in trying it, and so I’ve joined in solidarity.  And I’m happy I did because my indulgences the last few weeks were over-the-top, and I do feel this has gotten me a bit back on track health-wise.  But there, of course, is another question mark — were my indulgences really that bad?

Okay, so the diet: I’m not doing to mention it by name, though I have managed to disclose the secret to a couple friends.  In any event, this post is not an advertisement for the diet itself, but rather a diary documenting two things I love – eating and being healthy – and how I’ve entered into something of which I was extraordinarily skeptical. Alas, it seems…well, so far, so good!

The key points of the diet (many of you will know what this is right off the bat, but it’s more fun for it to remain nameless):

1. Stay away from refined carbs – so no bread or pasta or fruit (esp. during the first 2 weeks)

2. No alcohol during the first 2 weeks; after that, wine is fine.  THANK GOD.

3. Eat lots of veggies & lean protein – that includes eggs & turkey bacon at breakfast

4. No butter, no fatty cheeses; low-fat cheeses are fine

5. No sugar or honey; artificial sweeteners are fine.  This I have trouble with because I just don’t see how artificial sweeteners are good for you.  How can they be?  In any event, they seem to be doing the trick right now.  Mix in some splenda with non-fat Greek yogurt, a little bit of vanilla or almond extract, and you have quite a yummy treat.

I actually think this diet seems quite reasonable and balanced, and I’m finding myself pleasantly surprised.  I’m on day 3 and I feel pretty good – definitely way, way better than I did after I pigged out at a friend’s Memorial Day BBQ…it’s indulgences like that that make me glad to be on this path right now.  I mean, super sugary sangria, heavy cheeses, guac, greasy burgers, chips & salsa galore…oh, and someone brought a chocolate-peanut dessert treat that basically tasted like a combination of 10 different delectables from the Halloween bag, all chocolate in nature.

Here is a downfall of this diet I’m on: the creator says that exercise is not key to losing weight on this particular plan.  Now, that might be true, but no exercising?  Really?  That is an absolute key ingredient of good health and is usually my excuse for allowance of excessive culinary indulgences.  I wouldn’t recommend the latter attitude towards exercise, but I think if I didn’t run as much as I do, I most definitely would be a porker.

In the last, say, 10 years of my life, I couldn’t have begun to imagine that I would be doing a diet like this.  It seems to go against my philosophy of eating, cooking, enjoying food, enjoying what the earth provides for us without much fuss or worry or obsessing or indulging our body-insecurities we probably picked up in our terribly awkward youth.  But I have to say, I’m pleased with this current – and perhaps longterm – lifestyle choice.  It seems to be reasonable & I feel pretty good.  I’m eating tons of veggies, which is great, and I haven’t had to contend with that horrible full feeling after a decadent bowl of pasta.  So my body seems to like this.

Pumpkin custard profiteroles; a holiday treat since 2002 and no, it is not an acceptable dessert on this diet I'm doing

Thanksgiving in Maine last year; what a spread! No dieters around that day, that's for sure.

I will follow-up this post with a couple homemade recipes and an update on how I feel 10 days from now…when I can FINALLY have a glass of wine.

Best wishes for health this summer.  🙂

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Stonewall Kitchen peach-amaretto jam next to a Big French Haut-Medoc

Jason's chana saag + some arugula

Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer (Pickles at left)

The plank pose (not me in the photo obviously)

One of Henry Giroux's books

Maria Bonnevie from the film "I am Dina"

A beautiful view from Kennebunkport, Maine (the only thing missing from this picture are cliff-dwelling pugs)

Cat photography: Mr. Fernzee having a blissed-out moment

So my blog-skeptic friends would take one look at this and say something to the effect of, “why would you think people would find your ‘best of” list to be remotely interesting?”  Said question implies, of course, that bloggers are narcissistic enough to have the audacity to think other people would be interested in what they think.  I totally see the point.  Alas, considering the only people who read my blog (I think) are members of my immediate family and pretty close friends…I mean, if any of them wrote this sort of list, you better bet I’d be interested.  Ya know?

So anyway, spring this year has been pretty special and beautiful, so I decided to compile the aforementioned “best of” list for spring ’10.  I know a hearty handful of my friends and family share very similar interests, so hopefully at least some of you will find this interesting.  🙂

1. Music: I know it’s old news at this point for those of you who have any knowledge whatsoever of my music taste, but SHEARWATER – their entire catalog is amazing.  A beautiful combination of rock…and well, just mystical music, some of which does indeed sound a bit “folksy,” though I know Jonathan Meiburg, their frontman, doesn’t care for said label.  And two, TORI AMOS: her live catalog from the late 90s.  Anything from 1996-1999.  Watch out.  She is the world’s ultimate musical bad ass and never fails to amaze me (minus her recent ventures into plastic surgery & strange fascination with the word “sin”).  See youtube video for amazingness predating plastic surgery.

2. Food: Vegetables prepared at home.  My foodie quartet members and I always seem to come back to one topic of discussion: brussel sprouts and/or cauliflower & the preparation of such.  My personal favorite: roasted brussel sprouts drizzled with olive oil & honey with some fresh ground pepper & sea salt.  Thanks to Kate, I now know to put nutmeg on my cauliflower.  What a savory sensation!  Hannah recommended preparing brussel sprouts with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil & salt/pepper.  Wonderful!  The picture I’ve included above is of a remarkable dish that Jason made — it’s basically Indian chana saag, using whatever spices we had at home.  Cheap, delicious, healthy.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

3. Wine: I’ve had many a wonderful bottle of wine in 2010, but I think the robust red given to me by Angie Sommerfeld takes the cake (no pun intended, though she did indeed so generously give me said bottle at my 30th bday party…thanks, Angie!!!!).  It is a BIG RED: “Chateau Larose-Trintaudon Haut-Medoc” 2005.  Sadly, I am not drinking it right now, but it was bursting with cherry and just too delicious to not mention here.

4.  Treat: Stonewall Kitchen peach-amaretto jam.  I swear, I could eat the stuff by itself.  And if you’re vacationing in Maine, do visit Stonewall Kitchen.  They have outstanding cooking classes, a wonderful cafe, and TONS of food-related merch.  Thanks to Gillian for introducing me!

5. Vacation destination: Kennebunkport, Maine.  This is a beautiful, charming town with an abundance of fabulous restaurants.  Check out HB Provisions for lobster rolls, “crabster paninis,” dog treats, coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and the world’s BEST ice cream.  Last holiday season, when J & I went there for Thanksgiving (after the birth of my niece!), we got pumpkin ice cream AND peppermint stick ice cream.  Totally to die for.  Oh, and whoopie pies are native to Maine.  They’re basically giant oreos, but the chocolate part is like devil’s food cake.  Utter decadence.

6. Exercise: yoga plank pose.  After years & years of doing crunches with very so-so results, the plank pose really targets your core muscles.  You will notice a difference, I promise.  I do many reps, holding as long as I can.  I have the “squishy middle” gene, no doubt, and this has helped.  Pair it with some cardio and maybe some weight training & you’re good to go (wow, that sounded really corny).

7.  Movie: “I am Dina” with the Scandinavian actress Maria Bonnevie.  It’s a very, very intense & dark movie, but Bonnevie does one of the best imitations of a cellist I’ve ever seen.  I mean, with the exception of the narrow, nervous vibrato, she really does look like she’s actually playing.  Plus, she’s just amazing to look at, in addition to a couple other beautiful male actors (NOT including Gerard Depardieu! sorry…) in the film.

8. Authors/theorists: Henry Giroux.  He’s written on everything from Tiger Woods to the messed up messages of Disney movies to the films, “Kids” and “Fight Club” to the Bush administration to the Obama administration…  He’s a genius, in my opinion.  http://www.henryagiroux.com/online_articles.htm

9. Beauty: Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer.  After years of dealing with weird white stuff around the corners of my mouth (apparently very elderly people are NOT the only victims of this problem), I’ve finally found lip balm that does not render me with this unfortunate issue.  Happily, you can buy Burt’s Bees at Duane Reade, Ricky’s, and a million other beauty purveyors.  It also has tea tree in it, I think, so it has this lovely cooling sensation.  Long lasting too.  LOVE it.  It beats, Kheil’s, for those of you who love Kheil’s.

10.  Task of the moment: Broadening one’s career horizons.  Need I say more?

11. Hobby/pastime: Cat photography.  I have three cats & they are all like my children & my best friends.  Jason would agree, though we could both do without the unbelievably excessive amounts of white cat hair EVERYWHERE.  Anyway,  Mr. Burns is the most fun to photograph while he’s “bathing,” because he just looks sooooo happy &  blissed-out.  When anxious, look at a photo of him with that blissful look on his face.  It will lower your blood pressure, I promise.  His little pink nose is too much.

One of my favorite Tori performances from the late 90s.  It’s from “Sessions at W 54th” hosted by sexy Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne.  This performance gets more & more intense as it goes along.  Amazing.  Sorry, people, this makes Lady Gaga look like she’s in kindergarten.  With all due respect to Lady Gaga, of course.  😉  Also, a 1999 performance of Blood Roses.

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Jason outside of Cafe Hans in Cashel -- I think this was one of our very favorite lunch spots in Ireland

Lunch in Port Magee, Ireland: Seafood Chowder, Brown Bread, Hot Whiskey, Guinness

I’m very proud to state the following: I love food.  I love wine & hot whiskeys.  I don’t ‘diet,’ and therefore don’t count calories or fat grams. I don’t do anything fad-oriented such as no-carb eating.  I’m not vegan or even vegetarian.  BUT…I do put a great deal of thought into what I put into my body.  No question about it, health is one of my #1 concerns in life.  I love to eat (and drink!) and I love to feel good physically & mentally.  I eat for pleasure & sensuality, I eat for energy, I eat for life.  And a good wine can help with all of that too.  🙂

In August, 2009, the Riley-Rigby-Rooney clan embarked on a journey to & around Ireland.  A truly momentous trip…one of the best of my life.  At the airport, Jason & I purchased two of Michael Pollan’s well-known bestsellers: the Omnivore’s Dilemma & In Defense of Food (subtitled: Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants).  Jason read the former, I read the latter.  The irony here is that I spent a good 7-8 days eating my way through a very NON-plant-centric diet in Ireland, which was truly fantastic!   Lots of shepherd’s pie, Guinness stew (with beef or lamb), seafood chowder, brown bread with butter, the occasional fish ‘n’ chips, etc., etc.  Oh!  And porridge with Irish Mist or Jameson in the morning!  Garnished with milk & sugar, of course.  The Irish know how to cook, that’s for sure (quite opposite, I might add, from my & J’s culinary experience in Scotland, which was unfortunately horrid to say the very least).

Anyway, I’m not interested in giving a book report on In Defense of Food, but there are a few poignant morsels of information that I’ve carried with me these last few months.  Basically the main idea presented in the book is that, historically speaking, people who have followed ‘traditional’ diets (for most of us this means our ancestors and/or those who probably grow their own food, and consistently don’t consume processed foods with 500 ingredients, 99% of which have names we can’t pronounce…said foods wouldn’t have been around for our ancestors anyway) are by far the healthiest people on the planet.  (But processed food aside – I mean, really, did our ancestors do the no-carb thing?)

Anyway, I think a lot of this is common sense, but it’s always nice to have guidelines….Some of these are mine, some straight from Pollan’s book, more or less…

1.  Buy local food when possible (i.e. Farmer’s markets & such)

2.  Eat LOTS and LOTS of fruits & veggies, preferably organic.  Especially leafy greens.

3.  (Try to) stay away from refined flour — this was not about to stop me from enjoying the freshly baked baguettes from our December dinner excursion with Bert & Noel (see below for info on their amazing books) at L’Ecole, the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute on Broadway, btw. Broome & Grand.  Such a fabulous dinner!  We went home with FOUR baguettes.  🙂  🙂

4.  (Try to) stay away from refined sugar (This & #3 went out the window over the holidays and I do very occasionally indulge with a sugary treat such as candy corn or gummies).

5.  (This is more my own tip) Cook when possible, i.e. don’t go out so much…this is also economical!  And you know what’s going into your dinner.

6.  Try not to pig out.  This is a biggie for me since I find myself feeling like I have the appetite of a 16-year old boy.  Maybe because I’m so active???  Not sure, but I absolutely hands-down know how to EAT.  Alas, try not to pig out…even if you have run 6 miles that morning.

7.  This is obvious: stay away from processed foods, which for me is no problem since I’ll eat pretty much anything BUT chef-boyardee, cheese whiz, & wonder bread.  I do, however, like marshmallows.

8.  Don’t do fast food (sadly, I really think this includes a great deal of the food at places like Starbucks – even their fruit cups are pitiful.  Thumbs down to that, though I will give them credit for telling people the INSANE number of calories in one of their little muffins or cookies.  Sheesh.  I don’t count calories, but I’m not about to buy a 400+ calorie muffin from said coffee purveyor).

9.  I don’t have an exact number in front of me, but Pollan talks about purchasing foods that have very, very few ingredients, so I’ve been paying more attention to that.

10.  Last but not least, stay away from high fructose corn syrup.  Read the book for an explanation as to why (try not to let your eyes glaze over), but it’s nasty stuff for your body and the production of it has all sorts of seriously negative environmental implications.  I was shocked when I discovered that Special K with berries has corn syrup in it.  I haven’t had cereal in probably 4 months, though apparently Kashi makes a good health-conscious one.  I opt for oatmeal (but no, I don’t put Irish Mist or Jameson in it).

Ps — This isn’t hugely pertinent to New Yorkers, but try to stay in the perimeter (i.e. away from the center) of the grocery store.

Foodies abound in my family, I’m happy to say.  Another book to check out!  My “uncle” Bert Sonnenfeld (really my second cousin’s husband…I think that’s right) wrote the English edition of Food: A Culinary History (Penguin Books, 1999).  And Bert’s wife, Noel Riley Fitch, wrote Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child and also has a gorgeous book with amazing photographs entitled The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe. She another gem entitled the Literary Cafes of Paris.  Thanks to Bert & Noel, I got to sit right across from Julia Child at a dinner in my freshman year of college.  Julia was giving a class at BU, so I think it was a student prepared meal perhaps???  I have a vague recollection of her forgetting to put the lobster in the soup, so I’m sure she was assisting the students.  I believe I also remember her talking about what a lovely person Yo-Yo Ma is.  🙂  What a memory!  Truly special thanks to the Riley-Fitch-Sonnenfeld pair!

I truly feel food should be good for you, yes, and enjoyed to the absolute fullest.  Food should be savored, shared, ritualized into our lives for health…and hedonism!  And I say this mostly for (what I think) are the crazy dieters — the no-carb eaters, the vegans, the macrobiotics — I don’t think some slices of baguette with yummy Saint Andre triple cream (in moderation) is going to kill you, particularly if you’re an active individual and you care about what you put into your body.

Best wishes for health, hedonism, & happy eating in 2010!  Let’s hope it’s a good year for wine as well.  🙂

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