6.13.2016

Good habit: Head to the bar

Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday after work, I head home real quick, say hello to the gang, change my clothes and head to the bar. I usually find myself there first thing on Saturday morning, too. Now that I've possibly made your eyebrows rise in judgement/horror, the bar I'm referring to is not my local watering hole. This is the kind that's bolted to a wall, one that aids in balance and stretching and is at the center of a complete workout at Bar Method. Har har.

Last spring, finding myself lacking the personal motivation and time to exercise outside of my daily walking routine, I thought maybe what I needed was a Pilates class...or something. I loved taking classes at the Y when it worked for my schedule - there's something about the camaraderie, accountability, shared misery, encouragement and the variety that helps me actually want to go. So last April, after noticing a few different studios pop up around town, I signed up for a barre class. I had googled it a bit and decided it was my kind of workout: a lot of micro-movements that build long, lean muscle and maybe just a light layer of sweat. Barre studios are similar to ballet studios in that they're usually lined with mirrors that have bars affixed to them. There's a lot of work at the bar itself, but also a bit of floor/mat work that is akin to Pilates. Many classes use light weights and small exercise balls, too.

When I got to my first class, I instantly went into comparison mode. For me, the comparing is not so much about my fitness level as it is about what I'm wearing. Fortunately this studio's website had a "what to wear" section, and also a heads-up that it was a barefoot studio, so you don't have to worry about what's on your feet. Still, when I got there, I felt a bit out of place. I was greeted by a super-perky 20-something who instantly made me feel old. The other women there were, for the most part, younger than me. They wore long spandex tights with no panty-lines, their hair was expertly wrapped into messy buns, and they were stretching at the bar like they've done it their whole young lives. Among these Lululemon all-stars, I felt pretty frumpy in my outfit that I probably spent no more than $30 on seven or so years ago. At least my hair looked awesome (I told myself), albeit too short for a messy bun.

Around the room were framed inspirational posters with shabby-chic lettering with sentiments like, "Embrace the shake." I learned during my googling that "the shake" happens when  you work your muscles so deeply that they start to give out. The way you "embrace" this is that you keep pressing through them, despite the fact that your legs and then your entire body are a little bit out of control. Like convulsing.

Ready to begin?

The music started and the instructor came out and got us right into it, and though it was a bit fast-paced, there wasn't a lot of coordination needed. (Good news for me.) As we worked through the first few muscle groups, the one I dreaded most was yet to come: thigh. This was where the shake tends to happen violently. Since most of these exercises are repetitive, isometric movements, it's easy to begin confidently because it seems easy. One of the thigh exercises involves standing with your feet hip-width apart, on your tip-toes as high as they can go, with your tailbone tucked in. From there, you hold onto the bar with one hand, your other hand on your waist, and bend your knees to about a third of the way down from standing, and from there you bend your knees down an inch, then up an inch, and repeat. Simple. You got this. But after a 30 seconds or so you start to lose your mind with the shaking and burning that is happening as you're staring yourself down in the mirror, clinging to the bar for dear life. They tell you if you're shaking a lot, don't even worry about moving up and down. This is the time to - you guessed it - embrace the shake. It's almost laughable. After an hour, I left feeling well-worked, refreshed, and shaky for several hours. My muscles had never been worked quite in that way.

And...surprise. I loved it and felt empowered. I just wasn't totally sold on that studio. I looked up a different place a little further from my house called Bar Method. It's a franchise and there are hundreds of them across the country. Where the first studio had more of a cool downtown loft aesthetic, the Bar Method was more like a spa, thoughtfully built for flow. You walk into a reception area, where there is a sign-in, then a waiting area with an assortment of magazines and a bouquet of flowers, a mini fridge with bottled smoothies and water, a Keurig machine, etc. You keep walking through to a curtained-off area to find the changing room and lockers - all very clean, all very white. Truly, you walk in here and you feel like you've escaped from the grind. They also offer stuff like daycare and even have a monthly bookclub and some incentive programs, like earning "Bar Star" status (which earns you your own locker and monogrammed towel), and lavender socks after taking a certain number of classes. This place is a socks-ON studio, which was great news for my foot joints, because that means it's also carpeted (which I thought would be gross, but isn't).

Here were the young 20-somethings (but they tend to wear their hair in high pony tails and also have giant diamond rings), and even some teens, but also ladies more my age - professionals and working moms - as well as women who are nearing retirement if not already there. But what I ended up appreciating most was the level of attention by each of the instructors. Each one learns every person's name. Throughout the class, they may correct your form or they may cheer you on - out loud, on their mic, in front of everyone. I am usually the kind of person for whom this would be mortifying, but strangely, it's a nice reminder that I'm seen and cared for and working hard. I also like how we "thank our bodies for working hard for us" at the end of class. The whole thing is a surprisingly mindful experience. And then we clap and cheer for ourselves. It all sounds a little silly but gosh darn it, I'm into it.

Bar Method folks are sure to tell you you're building long, lean muscle. It's true. The muscles are there and some are kinda visible! I aim to go 3 times a week, thus fulfilling one of my original Day Zero goals. I rarely make excuses to not go because I know how good I always feel at the end - better than I'd feel if I didn't. I even went on the Saturday morning of my birthday, just so I could wear the birthday tutu. Who knows how long I'll stick with this particular mode of exercising, perhaps long enough to earn those coveted lavender socks. Either way, whatever I do, I'm just gonna thank this body for working hard for me.

Birthday tutu

6.05.2016

Shortbread: an appropriate pre-summer bite

And suddenly, it's pretty much summer around here. With a big vacation behind us, I'm kind of looking forward to a pretty chill summer spent mostly in my city and within 400 miles. To a fault we've always kind of been last-minute summer planners, partly because summer is not always equated with time off or school vacation for us (though it's easy for people to think I get summers off because I work at a college). No, it's more like a really nice time of year to be working, a time to take advantage of all the weekends and everything that happens after 5 p.m. on weekdays. I'm cool with that.

Right now, my running list consists of picking strawberries at Greenbluff, riding bikes to new breweries, keeping the flowers properly watered, finding some new hikes with the dog, watching baseball, going swimming, sleeping with the windows open, eating al fresco, going to the movies, figuring out if we can redo the deck, visiting family, paddling down the Little Spokane, turning on the air conditioning, staying up late, getting up early, reading some lighthearted books (I seriously need this), making sorbet and freezer jam, and sweating. 

And baking when it's not unbearably hot.

Still reflecting on my Whole30 experience, I've reincorporated pretty much everything back into my diet, but eating isn't quite the same. It's enjoyable, but I'm finding that I'm more annoyingly discriminating. I'm almost back up to my normal weight (and normal is fine), and while it's possible some of this could be muscle, I'm hoping I didn't just screw up my metabolism. So I'm being a little more careful than I might otherwise be for a little while, which is probably good anyway. 

What this means: I'm back to making very small cookies. 



This recipe for Sprouted Kitchen's Chocolate-Drizzled Oatmeal Shortbread is delightfully simple and another one of those recipes that I almost always have the ingredients for. The recipe, as written, makes 20 cookies, but with my "make it smaller" mentality, I was able to churn out about 33 cookies by rolling the log a bit thinner, more like 2 inches thick instead of 3, before cutting it into 1/2-inch thick cookies. I just kept a closer eye on the oven, but the timing worked out to be about the same. Refrigerated dough logs are also nice because you don't have to bake it all at once, and if you decide that it is, in fact, too hot to turn on the oven, just wait for a different day.

Chocolate-Drizzled Oatmeal Shortbread
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook

1 1/2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 c. sugar in the raw (turbinado sugar)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
3/4 c. all-purpose flour (or rice flour for GF)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 1/2 oz. dark chocolate
Flaked sea salt, for garnish

Pulse the oats in a food processor to create a course flour, not completely smooth. Place oats in bowl and set aside.

Wipe out the food processor bowl and add the butter and sugar. Cream until light. Add the vanilla and egg and mix, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the oats, AP flour, salt and nutmeg and pulse a few times to combine. The dough should be fairly tacky.

Carefully turn out the dough onto the counter. Using your hands, roll the dough into a log, 2-3 inches in diameter (per my note above). Roll up the log in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill in the fridge at least an hour, if not more.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Working quickly, slice the log into 1/2-inch cookies and place them on the baking sheets 1-2 inches apart (mine didn't spread that much). Bake until the edges just begin to brown, 14-16 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

As the cookies cool, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. When cookies have cooled, place them back on the parchment paper used for baking (you can keep them on the cooling rack, too, with the paper underneath). Using a spoon or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookies as you'd like. Sprinkle the flaked salt. Let the chocolate firm up completely before storing. 


6.01.2016

Paul Simon life goal

He was with me during the sentimental awkwardness of high school when we sang "Old Friends" in jazz choir, when we were too young and not self-reflective enough to appreciate the words until our choir director told us to stop thinking so hard about the harmony (that we were butchering) and listen to the lyrics. He appeared after 9/11, singing "The Boxer" on Saturday Night Live and gave me a lump in my throat. He was there, with Art, to help me through a tumultuous college summer with the help of the entire Bookends album, gently letting me know there was a world to be explored; my own life's poems were yet unwritten. He sang "Still Crazy After All These Years" to me from the other room while I wallowed in heartbreak and bathed in self-care. He accompanied me on a windy trip down Chuckanut Drive in "American Tune," a moment when I had never felt so happy.

This past weekend I was with him, watching him perform from a rain-soaked field, drinking wine and celebrating the life that brought me to that place with hundreds of other people who have their own Paul Simon moments. I'm pretty sure many of them are now finding that "Old Friends" lyric, "...how terribly strange to be seventy..." all too true.

An older man standing next to me took one look at me and said, "You're too young to know these songs!"  I said, "Paul's been part of my whole life!" He looked at me, smiled, and gave me a high five.


To sum up how I felt at the end of it all: in love with the soggy world and those people who share in the joy of this music. And thankful to Paul for bringing us all together.

5.25.2016

And the heavens rejoiced





While doing the Whole30 thing, I felt like a part of me died. I'm talking about the part that could spend hours looking through cookbooks, marking recipes I want to try, and then resolving to cook or bake my way through each day of my life, because there are so many recipes. Over the last month, though, I tried to shut that part of my brain off, or refocus it on all the wondrous things I could do with nuts, vegetables and meat. But there was a certain sadness I got each time I opened the pantry and glanced down at my baking drawer.

Now that I'm done with all that restriction, I feel like I can do anything. I'm trying to hold myself back a bit, but the other day I was mad with newfound freedom and thus decided to make a tea cake. Because something was missing with my afternoon tea, after all.

Maple and blueberries seemed wholesome enough (I know, it's still sugar), as did whole wheat flour (yes, it's still flour). It's a Melissa Clark recipe, and I can count on her to develop recipes to my level of sweetness (i.e., not too sweet). It's not mind-blowing, as I've made many loaves over the years that look a bit like this one. But for now, one slice of this for the day and I am happy with my lot in life.


Maple Blueberry Tea Cake
Makes one loaf

3/4 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. plus 2 T. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 c. maple syrup (grade B, if you have it)
1 egg, lightly beaten
6 T. butter, melted
1/2 c. milk
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (see note if using frozen)

Glaze:
2 T. maple syrup
2 T. butter
3 T. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease an 8- or 9-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Stir the wet into the dry until just combined. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool completely in the pan. Loosen the sides and invert it from the pan to a plate, then back onto a rack on top of a parchment-lined pan.

Make the glaze by melting the butter with the maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the powdered sugar, then drizzle over the cooled cake.

Note: if using frozen blueberries, do not thaw. Reserve a spoonful of the flour mixture and combine it with the frozen berries in a small bowl before folding in.


5.22.2016

Whole30: Complete

I know the feeling, Margot


When I started Whole30, I had these goals:

1. To test myself on whether I had the stamina to change my lifestyle for 30 days.

2. Confirm whether eliminating certain foods could do certain things for my energy, sleep and mood; and to understand my emotional connection to food.

3. To develop greater sympathy for people who have legitimate allergies and health concerns related to food, and to help me add to my repertoire in finding great recipes in those situations.

On the first point, I'm patting myself on the back.  I didn't slip once in the grand scheme of things, unless you count that bag of veggie chips I desperately needed that one time (I don't). I have to especially thank my mom who kept me encouraged and checked in with me along the way as she was doing it herself. I got through the worst days, and there were quite a few.

On the second point, that was a yes in certain ways. I wasn't overwhelmed by any changes - maybe just delighted by a few subtle differences. Overall, my energy stayed pretty even throughout the process. I developed a greater understanding, which I already knew, that when I eat protein, I didn't get hungry as quickly and I didn't feel sluggish at certain points in the day. However, I never felt like my body ever fully adjusted. My headaches continued throughout the challenge, and during the last few days I had some serious digestive issues that made me wonder if I had a virus.

In terms of sleep, this was a good experience in that when I fell asleep each night, I didn't ever get jolted awake and spend an hour trying to go back to sleep, which happens frequently. I woke up each morning and felt ready to get up.

As for my mood, it was altered for the better in certain ways. But can I truly attribute it to what I was eating? Or the fact that the weather is changing? Or that I was getting a better night's sleep (which I suppose could be related to diet)? Or that I was finding other ways of spending my time rather than snacking or drinking, therefore contributing to a better day overall?

The emotional connection thing was perhaps the best revelation. In my mind, eating and drinking is ceremony, celebration, communing, but these 30 days reminded me of the times I just quickly grab stuff to eat out of the pantry without much thought, or pick a couple Corn Chex off the top of Joel's cereal (I know, weird), or drink a half a glass of wine without really appreciating it. After Whole30 and adding back in my regular foods, I hope to be able to apply this knowledge a bit more in making conscious choices, thinking about how the food I'm about to eat is really wonderful and meant to be savored, otherwise it isn't worth my time. And I do need to drink less. I think this is the number one reason I have problems sleeping, and it does affect my mood.

On the third point, yes, yes, yes. Those days that people brought treats to the office were difficult days. I instantly thought of my friends and family with celiac disease to whom this happens all the time - something delicious sitting right in front of them that they are unable to partake in. Or going to a restaurant and just trying to find something - anything - that might work on the menu, while not completely trusting that what you're eating really doesn't have gluten or dairy or whatever it is. Not to mention the high likelihood that the only thing you can eat isn't all that appetizing or filling (hello, undressed arugula salad with almonds and a squeeze of lemon). I am so much more aware now of these realities. And yes, I am glad I have more recipes in my arsenal that really are delicious without the offending ingredients.

In thinking about adding foods back into my diet, I have been nervous about my body's reaction. Will I discover that bread makes me bloated? Will dairy make me break out? Will I get tired around 3 p.m.?

But now that I'm here, I can honestly say I am okay with all of it. As I said in the beginning, I love food too much to do this all the time; and really, Whole30 is a bit extreme by design and is only to be done for 30 days. However, on a more personal level, this experience was a good time to evaluate some skepticism I've been struggling with over the years, which Whole30 has fit right into, and that is how eating is becoming more and more a personal, scrutinizing journey of input-output, sometimes to the point of eating disorders in more extreme cases. I've been concerned about how we're losing the concept of eating as a communal experience, a time to savor and share with friends (dinner parties are so much more difficult to plan these days when you're trying to work around everyone's varied diets), and that we instead are plagued with fears that what we're eating is evil and will do damage to our bodies to the detriment of having a well-balanced life.

I came across this piece a week or so ago, and it captures much of this skepticism for me. It's a longer read, but definitely worth the time.

In the end, I do think that processed food has become too prominent in many of our diets, that sugar is indeed added to so many things that don't need it (it's kind of incredible, actually), and that food manufacturers are keenly aware of how to market and engineer food to play to our emotions. That knowledge is power, but it shouldn't paralyze us or make us feel horrible for eating a few things we simply want to eat. Calling sugar or gluten the devil, or "cheating," as the article discusses, is kind of a mixed-up view of our relationship with food.

In conclusion, I did learn a lot - about food, about myself, about how much meat I can handle in 30 days, about my bad habits. I am very, very glad I did this. I encourage anyone to do it, and to stick with some version of it if it makes them feel better than ever before. It's a great diet jump-start, an effective education, and it can change your life for the better with the choices you make down the road. I did lose about five pounds and am feeling really great about that added benefit, too. But I'm really tired of preparing and eating meat every day. I never thought I could get sick of avocados, or that the smell of coconut oil could be off-putting, but I need a break. I'm ready to be a true omnivore again, to take pleasure in every single thing that nature has given me to wield in the kitchen and over the grill - which may or may not include sugar, gluten, dairy, legumes, etc. - and adhere once again to my personal food mantras from Michael Pollan ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.") and Julia Child ("Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything.").

I started a couple days early with the dairy reintroduction (I figured I'd rather start over the weekend in case I feel horrible). I started with Old Amsterdam cheese (my favorite right now) and some milk in my coffee. No ill effects. And I also partook in a real aperitivo hour, with a real beverage, and did get a headache shortly thereafter, as can be expected. We had wine with friends last night, too,  and I also had a couple bites of bread. I'm trying to be as sensible as possible so I can still monitor my reactions to things, but this could be a rough week of choosing what to try next and being patient as I count the days to pasta or a sandwich.

5.15.2016

Whole30: Week 3

On a non-Whole30 week, this would have been a week for wine. Instead, I found comfort in tea and toasted coconut flakes at the end of four very stressful days at work. I only cried once, for a few seconds, but it was all I needed to just release that pent up emotion I didn't know how to otherwise express. These situations are so much better when you give yourself a moment to acknowledge your emotions and to mindfully release them. Whole30 didn't teach me this, but I know that mental clarity allows for these kinds of revelations, which I do think Whole30 helped with. If I had come home and dealt with stress in a glass or three of wine, I still might have cried but it would have been followed by feeling sorry for myself and a headache and puffy eyes in the morning. And I would have been off on a grumpy, defensive foot rather than stepping boldly into a blessedly new day.

In all, this week was a good lesson in stress eating/drinking. I only bent the rules once in buying a barely-compliant bag of veggie chips while running errands on my lunch hour. I ate a few giant handfuls with great appreciation. Otherwise, I made it through and feel stronger for it. I let off steam with a couple good sessions at Bar Method, kept my hands busy with knitting and gardening, and Joel made pasta, like old times! Except my "pasta" was spaghetti squash. But that sauce was delightful. We also went to the movies twice and I didn't fall asleep either time, which has been a common occurrence for the last five or so years.

This week was also easier in having a ready-made breakfast for several mornings (that nut porridge I mentioned in the last recap), some good leftover dinners-as-lunches, and lots of La Croix in all sorts of essences (Target had a screamin' deal). I didn't find myself thinking about what I was going to eat as much as the past couple weeks. I just made stuff that sounded good to me and made sure I wasn't breaking the rules with it.

One thing I learned this week is that my diet apparently has no effect on my attractiveness to mosquitos and my over-reaction to bites (very red, very swollen). I am currently suffering from a vampire bite on my neck, and earlier this week I got one on my knee. I also get a couple hives when I'm working out and get a little over heated. They disappear after a few minutes so it's not a big deal, but if I thought Whole30 was truly going to be magic, it's proving itself not to be in these areas of what I consider to be inflammation.

I've also experienced a number of low-grade headaches over the past few weeks, the majority of them having been this week. Headaches are a very rare occurrence for me so that's not cool. It could have been the stress, but who knows.

I'm really glad to be in the final stretch.

5.14.2016

Let's talk about crafts again

Usually when I decide to knit a sweater, it's the beginning of fall, and by the time I actually get around to finishing it, it's spring, and sweater season is pretty much over. This time I've somehow managed to start a sweater before summer hits. I hope I can count on it being ready by the fall, though right now I'm really motivated to get it done sooner. I'm excited about it. Perhaps it's the yarn, or my new knitting corner, or the need to keep my hands busy when they're otherwise tempted to pour a glass of wine, but let's run with it. Here are the elements.

The yarn: I must start with the yarn because I picked up something really special in Amsterdam, and it was what led me to find a pattern that would really highlight it well. The shop from whence it came was called Stephen and Penelope, named partly after Stephen West of westknits. [For those of you who don't read knitting blogs or listen to knitting podcasts or follow knitters on social media the way obsessive hobbyists like me do, Stephen West has been making waves for a few years now. He uses wild colors and bold geometric designs, sets up elaborate, makeup-heavy photo shoots to show off his patterns, and he makes knitting more weird and fun than it ever has been before, in my opinion. (Check out his blog.) Turns out he now lives in Amsterdam though he was born in Oklahoma.]

I bought a skein of this Hedgehog Fibers Skinny Singles in a colorway called Potluck 2. It's a variegated yarn, meaning that features multiple colors in one skein, and as I've seen in many of West's patterns, also features a really fun confetti speckle throughout.

The second color is MadelineTosh's Faded Parka, which I purchased after I got home having landed on a pattern. When I purchased the MadelineTosh yarn at Paradise Fibers, I had brought the Hedgehog yarn with me for color comparison, all the store clerks crowded around me when word got out that I had a skein in my possession so they could see it for themselves. I felt like they just found out I was related to a celebrity or something. #nerdville

The pattern: Breathing Space. This is an asymmetrical sweater which I'm nervous but excited to try. It involves alternating stripes of a solid color with the variegated colors, which is a great way to showcase all the different colors of my Hedgehog skein without overwhelming the eye.

Over the winter we worked and worked on my Kraft Zimmer re-do (or craft room, for those of you who don't come up with clever names for everyday rooms). I've since started decorating it just the way I like, and piece by piece, it's slowly coming together. I have my piano, my sewing desk, and a new chair with pouf ottoman. There are azaleas out one window (and the neighbor's trash), and a nice view of our front walkway and porch out the other window. It's a perfect space and I'm having fun with it.


(Flowers were not actually in the Kraft Zimmer, but they're going with the color theme)
So now that we've talked about crafts again, it's time to talk about cats again. Specifically, this one.