Archives for posts with tag: health

On my new crusade to save money, I have been scrutinizing my spending habits. A year or so ago, my doctor told me I had high cholesterol. One of the ways I chose to combat that was by adding oatmeal to my diet (it didn’t hurt, btw – my cholesterol dropped 60 points in a couple months, although oatmeal wasn’t the only measure I took). I was buying boxes of pre-made, microwavable oatmeal at the health food store. They were about $5 a box and contained six packets of oatmeal.

At the grocery store not too long ago, I spotted this in the health food section:

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Organic oats, ELEVEN servings for $1.40. That’s right. Twelve cents per serving!! Versus almost a dollar per serving in the packets! I bought the bag.

Obviously, I needed to doctor up the boring oats. I played with a variety of additions that I had on hand until I found a combination that tastes good and keeps me full until lunch. Most mornings, I add a packet of stevia, a splash of maple syrup, some flax seeds, sliced almonds, dried berries, and apple pie spice. The prep takes me all of four minutes, and it’s kind of fun. I pour almond milk over the mixture and let it soak until I get to work. Then I pop it in the microwave for 75 seconds, and voila! My cheap-a$$ breakfast is ready.

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Even if you add the cost of the almond milk, stevia, and other miscellany it is still cheaper than $1 per serving. Who knew saving money could be delicious?

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I’ve seen the spinners at the gym. They’re the ones lined up a half hour before class starts, clutching two water bottles and a towel. They stand there patiently, shifting their water bottles from hand to hand, making quiet conversation. When the instructor arrives, they file into the room and proceed to pedal furiously on stationery bikes for the next 45 minutes while a slim young lady yells at them. LIKE A BUNCH OF LUNATICS.

Seriously, who does that?

Apparently, I do.

I recently joined the bike club here. In an effort to not embarrass myself on the first ride, I decided to try some spinning classes. While it’s not the same as riding my bike, it would at least get my leg muscles ready and add some much-needed cardio to my workout regimen.

It began easily enough. I shoved my feet into the pedal cages and tried a tentative revolution. Obediently, the beast sprang to life, whizzing the one non-fixed wheel with a satisfying mechanical purr. A knob at the base of the handle bars set the degree of difficulty.

The instructor, a perky brunette, cued up her music and climbed on her bike. “Hey guys, are we READY?” she yelled as a Lady Gaga song came crashing through the speakers at maximum volume. My fellow spinners whooped enthusiastically. I smiled nervously, wondering what kind of exercise class encourages battle cries prior to commencing. The instructor yelled out unintelligibly over Gaga. I caught snippets of what sounded like instructions, possibly important ones: “…then you…three positions….water…use your CORE…and then…stand UP…okay?”

“Okay!” we yelled back. I realized then I had passed the Point of No Return. There was no way of getting out of the class now without faking some kind of illness or injury. I hunkered down and grabbed the handle bars. “LET’S GO!” the teacher yelled.

We began spinning furiously. The first couple of minutes weren’t too bad, honestly. I spun happily along for the rest of the Lady Gaga tune. “HA! Who brings two water bottles to THIS kind of class?” I thought with very premature cockiness.

“Alright gang,” the instructor called out, “turn that knob a quarter up!” A quarter turn? No problem! I obliged, noting the slight increase in resistance. “Oh no! We’re hitting some wind!” she hollered, “Half turn up!” Some wind, you say? I laugh at you, wind! I cranked it up by a half turn. “Keep going,” she encouraged, “until it feels like you’re biking through wet sand!” The wet sand part was when I felt the smile evaporate from my face. My heart started to pound loudly and beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. I glanced down at my watch: Ten minutes had passed. TEN MINUTES ONLY.

“Keep it up, guys!” yelled the teacher. “Quarter up!” Again I complied, my thighs burning in protest.

“QUARTER UP!” the teacher screeched. “QUARTER UPPPPPP!!”

For the next ten minutes, I heaved my way though varying degrees of difficulty. Sometimes we were standing and pedaling. Other times she had us sitting. There was also this sadistic hybrid called “hovering” – not quite sitting but still, always, pedaling.

About halfway though the class, it dawned on me that no one was monitoring our bikes. WE set the difficulty. The instructor could sit up there yelling instructions at us all day long, but she couldn’t see how hard (or easy!) our bikes were set. Panting, thighs burning, I employed a life-saving technique I’ll call “the Phantom Turn”. When she screamed for us to turn the setting another “quarter up!”, I moved my hand, not the knob. Yes, it’s true, I was only cheating myself but I was okay with this.

By the end of the class, I noticed with a sense of rugged accomplishment that a few drops of sweat had accumulated under my bike. Looking around the room, though, I saw that most people (including and especially the instructor) had veritable pools of sweat under their bikes. I slid off the bike for the cool-down feeling fully humbled – just because I’m a fitness instructor I am by no means Master of the Gym Universe. In fact, if that class taught me anything, it was just how badly I need an ass-kicking cardio workout in my life.

I survived the class. I even felt pretty good afterwards. I still prefer riding an actual bike, outdoors, with no one yelling at me. But I WILL be there tomorrow, two water bottles and a towel in tow, ready to spin.

Always up for a new “experiment”, I got excited when a friend of mine (who happens to be an extremely knowledgable and awesome wellness coach) offered to send me a sample of coffee and tea. On Facebook, she’d been posting about the wonders of mushrooms for quite some time. Sadly, mushrooms are one of those “vegetarian’s best friend” items that I just can’t get behind, taste-wise. However, I am always curious when someone I respect gets excited about something. She’s been really jazzed about the medicinal and healing properties of mushrooms for a while. I have to report, the coffee (I think it was part instant coffee and part mushroom powder, doesn’t sound very good but the taste was okay) was awesome! I drank a cup and I felt very alert, but in a very clean way (if that makes sense). Not jittery at all. I might be sold on this product:

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I’m interested in learning more about these magical mushrooms (not the “I’ve been following Phish since ’94, man” kind). Supposedly they are the next “big thing” on the wellness horizon. You heard it here first!

Another experiment I am conducting has to do with essential oils. Basically everyone at the yoga studio where I teach has been going on about these damn oils for months. I was extremely skeptical and hesitant, but I finally, tentatively, jumped on the bandwagon. I teach a restorative yoga class and I think I will be able to use some aromatherapy for some of my students who really struggle with stress and anxiety. I still have some doubts, but I will be sure to report back on my success or failure!

As the title of this blog would suggest, I am a born skeptic. Although I have an adventurous streak that leads me to try just about anything, I remain firmly planted in reality and sometimes wonder if I’ve gone off the deep end when I try these things (I get especially nervous when I catch a whiff of a pyramid scheme). The wellness world gets weird very quickly. I’m trying to stay out of the deep end, but the nature of teaching yoga lends itself naturally to homeopathic and holistic health. Lately I’ve been struggling to strike a balance. I’m off to Vancouver for vacation later this week, that should keep my inner scientist/skeptic busy for bit.

I have been burning the candle at both ends lately. I’ve been subbing a lot at the yoga studio, and my day job has been extra demanding. On top of this, I’m trying to do as much reading and writing as I can.

I learned an easy, very FUN shortcut for making my new favorite “candy” smoothie. These little life hacks cut off a minute of prep here and there, and also make you feel like a frickin’ genius (even though, if you’re like me, you read it on Buzzfeed or something but happily preach to every willing ear – “oh I saw this thing on the Internet, you have to try this!”).

Here’s the trick:
If you have a blender with a screw-off bottom (mine is a Hamilton Beach), you MIGHT be able to attach it to a wide-mouthed mason jar and make your smoothie right inside the jar!!! Even if you’ve heard this and do this every day, please just pretend to be impressed right now!! This blew me away! When I tried it the first time, I was (very) afraid that the Internet lied to me and I’d soon be picking glass shards out of the kitchen wall and maybe my face. Nope! The Internet came through, as it always does, with 100% accurate information (to my intense relief, let’s be honest, I was really expecting the glass shards).

Here’s my recipe and below that, photographic proof of this awesome life hack:
The “Candy” Smoothie
1 banana, cut into pieces and frozen
1 cup (ish) of coconut or almond milk
1 or 2 dates because I get the unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons of cacao nibs
Shake of cinnamon or nutmeg if I feel spicy
Scoop of almond butter if I want more protein
Sprinkle of chia seeds or flax seeds if I remember

Stuff it all into a mason jar, then screw in the blending attachment and hook it up to your blender (if you’re feeling brave! Also fine to regular blend; I may not be totally over the fear of this going horribly, horribly awry). Here’s how mine turned out:

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Imagine, if you would, a dystopian future where cheap, careless corporations pollute the water source for hundreds of thousands of people. These people first, of course, turn to government authorities for assistance. However, these authorities also prove to be cheap and careless and massively bungle aid efforts. This leaves these people quite without recourse and trust, but more importantly, without water.

Sadly, this is not the plot of my sci-if graphic novel, but my actual life. My life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow humans who inhabit the part of West Virginia that is fondly referred to as “Chemical Valley”. Even though we were given the go-ahead to use the water normally last week, the water company quickly amended their statement to say that pregnant women should NOT drink or bathe in the water. Then a spokesperson for the statewide pediatrics association spoke up and added that small children should also stay away from the water.

Even though I, like most of my neighbors, gratefully rushed into the shower the moment we were given the go-ahead (the “pioneer days” novelty of bathing out of a bucket of cold water quickly loses its charm), I couldn’t deny that the water did not smell right. Even after flushing the system as recommended by the water company, it does not smell right. Everyone I’ve spoken to since we’ve been given the green light to use the water normally agrees that something is still not right about our water supply. People vary in their degree of reticence to use the water – some people are taking showers, others still don’t trust it enough to even bathe. I don’t know anyone who is drinking it.

That said, I’m certainly not going to cook with it. However, a person can only eat so many Amy’s frozen burritos before yearning for something homemade. I miss my green smoothies in the morning. Yesterday, determined not to live another day on burritos, I made my first foray to the grocery store since the spill. I was ready to cook, dammit.

But even cooking uses water in more ways than you’d think – simply rinsing vegetables takes on a new level of challenge. For this reason, I decided to stick with a couple old standby recipes that were quick, used few ingredients, and required minimal cleanup. Improbably, both of these recipes are for soup. I’m using bottled water! The combined eight cups of water the recipes call for will use only half a gallon of water, and will make enough food to feed the boyfriend and me for the week.

This black bean soup recipe is tried-and-true. The boyfriend loves it and it freezes very well. It’s vegan but a sprinkle of cheese on top is nice!

This cauliflower soup is excellent. Since basil is out of season, I use the blended cauliflower base to make a creamy, hearty potato soup. It’s a very fun recipe to play with.

The lack of potable water has been a very unsettling glimpse into what life is like for people around the world who don’t have regular access to clean water. While it sucks, it does make me appreciate how much we take for granted!

Wishing you all a fun, chemical-free weekend!

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I read an article a while back about chefs in New York who were cooking up delicious recipes while under the influence of The Pot.  While it was interesting, and certainly explained the whole cupcake fad, it didn’t provide much insight into exactly how one puts together a Brand New Recipe.  What were the steps? Are there even steps?  Is it more art than science?  More science than art?

Last weekend, I decided to take a stab a creating a recipe of my very own.  Since I don’t participate in Illegal Drugs, I was left to rely on my own creativity and, er, skills.  This is what I came up with:

DELICIOUS BLACK BEANS

Since I enjoy steps,  I will include some steps for beginner recipe inventors (like me):

STEP 1) Pick something to make.  Amendment:  Pick something EASY to make.  We’re aiming for success here.  Remember Icarus.  Save that Coq au Vin attempt for another day, fancypants.

STEP 2) Consult The Internet for many versions of your recipe to rip off.  Make note of ingredients that make repeat appearances, and approximate amounts/measurements.

STEP 3) Start cooking! In my case, I knew I wanted to make a spicy, flavorful black bean dip.  So, I started with a can of black bean and a can of diced tomatoes.  I sent them into the blender with a teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder.  I added a few shakes of garlic powder, sea salt, and a liberal pinch of cayenne.

STEP 4) Secure an honest taste tester.  My boyfriend was was nearby, and I know I can depend on his reliable, albeit charming and Southern, honesty (“I don’t really care for that”=”This is disgusting”).  He dutifully took a corn chip piled with the blended beans, and chewed thoughtfully.  “Eh,” he finally determined with a shrug.  “What does it need?” I followed him, “Corn? Something sweet?  Or spicy?? Maybe it should be spicier?”

STEP 5) Revise, taste.  Repeat.  I tried the dip myself and found it to be blander than I’d hoped.  The consistency was also too thin.  I added two chipotle chilies in adobo sauce to the blender and gave it another whirl.  While they gave it nice, smoky kick, they didn’t help the fact that it more closely resembled soup than dip.

STEP 6) Use The Science.  At this point, I knew I had to do something to thicken this up.  It also needed texture.  To that end, I diced an onion and sauteed it over medium heat.  After it was translucent, I dumped in the “dip”.  To fix the consistency, first I would invoke evaporation – how much could this thing cook down? If that failed, I would try adding a bit of cornstarch.  Either way, I had A Plan.  If I hadn’t had A Plan, I would have consulted The Internet for A Plan to rip off.

STEP 6.5) Take a leap.  After it had cooked for a bit, I was thunderstruck by a Great Idea.  I spooned a small amount of The Dip into a bowl, grinning in anticipation. The smell of the cooking chipotles jarred loose the distant memory of a meal I had enjoyed years ago while on vacation in Mexico.  It was shrimp served in a luxurious, buttery chipotle-cinnamon sauce.  Cinnamon!!  Of course!  I eagerly sprinkled the spice onto the beans and lifted it to my mouth in triumph…only to be bitterly, bitterly disappointed.  However, it was worth a try! (Maybe another day, cinnamon-chipotle sauce!)

STEP 7) Fail or gloriously succeed.  Dubiously watching the beans bubble in the saucepan, I was fully prepared for either of these outcomes.  The sink was piled high with spoons and small bowls, smeared with the remains of The Dip at various stages.  It had cooked down to a more dip-like consistency, and the chipotles and cayenne had melded nicely to create a rich, smoky layer of spice.  But it was still missing something.  Suddenly, something from the dusty, forgotten reaches of my brain sang weakly out:  Sweeeeeetness, moron!!  It needs sweetness!

I made a face.  Sweetness?  Really?  I mean, I guess I could try it.  As I rummaged for sweeteners, I considered the idea carefully.  I HAD put a whole can of tomatoes into the beans, and a time-honored Italian trick to perfecting some sauces is to add sugar or carrots to bring depth of flavor to the tomatoes.  I ended up choosing honey.  I spooned some beans into a ramekin (out of bowls at this point) and added a tiny drop of honey.  Upon tasting it, my eyes widened in disbelief.  It was EXACTLY what the dip was lacking!  I added a teaspoon of honey to the beans on the stove and brought a loaded chip back to the Boyfriend.  He took a bite, then gave me the thumbs up.

I had done it!! I had  invented a recipe!!

And now, you can too.  No drugs required.

 

The past week has been so crazy with holiday stuff and work travel, all of my smug wellness efforts have fallen to the wayside. Green smoothies? Haha! Kale salads? Nope! Raw until dinner? Not unless French fries are now considered a raw food! 

I have really been trying to stay as healthy as I can, but demands on my times have forced me to pare back to the ultimate bare minimum.  In the absence of time and access to groceries/kitchen, here’s what I’ve been doing to cling to some semblance of sanity:

Water! Drinking plenty of water is pretty easy, and honestly, sometimes it is the only healthy thing I can do in a day. It’s what holds me back from a complete slide into “I’m officially Jabba the Hut” self-loathing.

Yoga! Even if it’s just a couple of sun salutations, I try to squeeze in even the tiniest bit of yoga each day.  Lately, I’ve been teaching Restorative Yoga, and let me tell you: That sh!t is NO JOKE! Legs-up-the-wall pose! Have you tried that? Do it! Do it right now! Find a wall, face it, and sit like 6 – 10 inches away from it.  Gently lay yourself back and straighten your legs, sending your feet up the wall. That’s it. Stay there for three to five minutes. Get up. Dance away like Bob damn Fosse because you feel SO REFRESHED! 

Breathing! Yes, I realize this is involuntary but doing full yogic breathing isn’t.  At least for me, it’s not yet.  Periodically during the day, though, I try to check in with myself: Am I doing wimpy little chest breathing? (Yes, usually the answer is yes here.) If I am, I forced myself to take some full, deep breaths.  Sometimes I even go back to pranayama 101 and put a hand on my abdomen to make sure. No cheating!!

So that’s my little arsenal of tricks! I’m thrilled to report that, so far, I have been arrested zero times in spite of the sometimes homicidal rage that the “not enough sleep + crappy food + unrelenting stress” cocktail induces.

Happy friggin’ holidays! 

With the holidays fast approaching, I’m doing what I can to eat as “clean” as humanly possible.  See, I realize the caloric onslaught will be unavoidable (technically, I could avoid it, but that’s not any fun), so I’m doing what I can to minimize the damage.  One of my stop-gap measures has been having a green smoothie for breakfast.  It’s cheap, it’s pretty quick, and by God it feels healthy going down.

I normally prepare my smoothie shortly before I leave for work, after my boyfriend has already left.  Last week though, I had to be in early so I was in the kitchen blending away when my boyfriend was leaving.  He peered at the blender, a look of unmasked disgust across his face.  I was happily shoving another handful of spinach into the frothy green concoction.

“You know,” he remarked, “this process usually takes place inside the body.  It’s called mastication and digestion.”

“You know,” I calmly replied, “this process (gesturing to my blender) usually takes place when you’re already at work, so I don’t have to hear commentary from the peanut gallery.”

Zing! Hee-hee!

There are a million different green smoothie recipes out there. Mine is the down and dirty, cheap as sh!t version.  I can’t always afford to buy organic produce, so I’ve pared this down to ingredients I can reliably find for a reasonable price.

Handful or two of spinach

If you have it, maybe a little kale although romaine is a little more palatable

Two apples, cored and chopped.

One banana, cut into pieces.

Extras: juice of half a lemon, a stalk of celery, a pear if I feel fancy.

I chuck these into my blender a bit at a time with a good amount of water, and blend the crap out of them until it’s like a green milkshake.

Then I drink it.  Allllll of it.  It tastes pretty good, in spite of my boyfriend’s snarky comments (he won’t even try it, so what does he know!). The trick is to really blend it well.  If you have a Vitamixer: USE IT, fancy-pants!

Let’s raise a glass of green goodness to our health, happiness, and ability to zip our jeansgreen without pliers and prayer come January!

Xoxo,

SY