Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cold Breaking

So there are a ton of home remedies out there on how best to get rid of your cold. Seeing as I've caught a hold of the latest nasty bug going around, I figured it'd be a good time to consider these. And I figure some of you might be in the same boat as I am.

Chicken soup - so it appears this isn't just an Old Wives' Tale. Sure, it's grandma's remedy, but CNN reported that chicken soup contains several ingredients that affect the body's immune system. It turns out that chicken soup and many of its ingredients stop the movement of neutrophils, which are "white blood cells that eat up bacteria and cellular debris and which are released in great numbers by viral infections like colds." Neutrophils also stimulate the release of mucous and may cause coughs and runny noses. In addition, the steam from the soup may soothe inflamed airways. I think that perhaps I should defrost some of the chicken spinach soup in my freezer tonight...

Vitamin C - you've probably heard it a million times. You get a cold, and everyone starts telling you to take C, or drink orange juice, or take Airborne, or eat oranges. So you do, because honestly, you'll try anything to get rid of the mucous invasion and body-rattling cough. I know...I had three colds in the span of four months last year. The scientists are on this one too, and they've compared studies over the last 60 years about the effect of C on the body.

It turns out that once you're sick, vitamin C isn't going to do much for you (unless you take a bunch of it the first day you're sick, then maybe maybe it might make your cold a bit shorter). However, if you take vitamin C regularly when you're well, you can help prevent colds to some extent (about 50% less chance of getting a cold). So taking Airborne isn't going to help get rid of your cold, and won't necessarily prevent it either (they actually were sued for having claimed that it prevents colds, and they lost).

But if you take a vitamin C supplement, it could help out in the long run. One thing to pay attention to with your vitamins, however, is that it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Many vitamins have 300% or 500% or whatever of daily value of a vitamin. And for vitamin C, this isn't a big deal. But for the fat soluble vitamins, the ones that build up in your system and don't wash out every day (A, D, E, and K), there can be detrimental effects to having too much. So check the specs on your multi-vitamin before taking it every day. I take Centrum Chewables, which has a max of 100% daily value, and the fat solubles are less than that due to food sources (plus, it's tasty, like eating candy).

Vitamin E - Tufts University did a study of the effect of vitamin E on people 65 or older. It turns out that having 200 IU daily of vitamin E decreased the chances of getting a cold by 20%. The effect isn't as great among younger people, and the supposition is that the immune response declines with age, so vitamin E has more of an effect on older people. It's also best to take vitamin E with a meal containing some fat, since it's a fat soluble vitamin. However, as I mentioned above, it's best not to get too much E, because it doesn't wash out of the system right away. Getting 400 IU or more per day can increase the risk of dying, according to Johns Hopkins research. Adults get about 10 IU from diet. My multi-vitamin gives me 30 IU and lists it as 100% of daily value. Long story short - don't take too much vitamin E and don't take super-doses when you're sick (because there's nothing that says it will get rid of an entrenched cold).

Garlic - this article mentions a 2001 study concluded that garlic supplements can help to prevent colds, or to reduce the length of the cold. However, that study has not been replicated. But seeing as garlic is one of the ingredients in my chicken soup recipe, maybe I'll stick with getting it that way.

Water/Juice/Broth - "drown a cold, starve a fever." I've had this rattling through my head the past couple days. And while you can't wash out a cold just by drinking lots of fluids, keeping hydrated is important. Water, juice, broth, or warm lemon water with honey can help loosen congestion as well as hydrating. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration worse (oops, wasn't thinking of that when I had all that alcohol on Saturday night... maybe that's why the hangover was that much worse, with the alcohol + cold).

OTC medications - reduce symptoms of colds, but don't prevent them or reduce their duration. So they'll perhaps make your life a little easier for a few days, but don't actually impact the cold itself. And here's my take on it - you take this medicine to reduce symptoms, then you feel better. So maybe you stay up later, or you go to the gym, or basically put more stress on your body than you should, considering that you're sick. I think that sickness is our body's way to tell us to slow down for a little while, until we're better. So I don't take medicine unless I have to (for instance, if I can't breathe because of the mucous, or I'm coughing so much I can't sleep).

Echinacea/zinc - studies are mixed on this. Some of them show that they help, some that they have no effect at all. I think some of the effect is in believing that they're going to help, because the mind does work in funny ways.

Antibiotics/antihistimines - in this country, we're all about the quick fix. Why suffer through a cold if you can just twist your doctor's arm into giving you antibiotics? Antibiotics will kill bacteria, but don't do anything to a cold virus, and using them so much also leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ergo the rise in resistant infections recently). So as hard as it is (especially if you're a parent and your child has a cold), better to just let it run its course.

Neti pot - otherwise called a "nose bidet," this "new" trend caught on when Oprah discussed it last year. It's claimed that it reduces sinus headaches, respiratory issues, and possibly even can affect colds and flu. I've never tried it, but it sounds intriguing (though strange and bordering on gross).

Rest - I almost put this number one on the list, but since it's the final one you're going to read, maybe it'll stick in the mind. Rest rest rest. In the fast paced city world I live in, it's hard to remember to relax sometimes, even when we're not feeling well. But I firmly believe that rest will help me get better faster. So I went home early yesterday. I watched DVDs and cross-stitched. I subbed out my classes at the gym. I drank lots of tea. And while I'm coughing up a storm, the congestion is gone (apart from a little runny nose), and I don't feel like I'm thinking through a cotton ball.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Recipe - Peach Pear Crisp

I noticed last week that the farmer's market was starting to bring in some pears, and there are still the last of the peaches on hand. So I decided to get both and make a crisp (the pears were Asian pears, so they look like green apples with that nubbly pear skin). To be honest, it finished cooking last night after I'd already brushed my teeth, so I haven't tried it yet. I had so many pears and peaches that I ended up with three layers of fruit, topped with the sugar oatmeal mixture. I think if I make that much again, I may put a second layer of sugary goodness in the middle.

Note: for the quantity of fruit below, I'm really not sure how many I used, this is just a guess. I used a large casserole dish and it made three layers of sliced fruit, about half peaches, half pears (maybe slightly more of the former than the latter).

I'm making the same recipe with fresh picked apples next weekend.

Peach Pear Crisp

8 medium peaches, sliced
8 large Asian pears, sliced
1 1/2 C flour
2C brown sugar
3/4 C oatmeal
C butter, softened
t cinnamon
t cloves
1-2t minced ginger

Layer peaches and pears into the casserole dish. Totally personal preference, but I put the pairs on the bottom, then the peaches, and filled in the third layer with a little of both.

Mix together flour, sugar, oatmeal, spices, and ginger. Sprinkle over top of fruit until covered. Pop into the oven at 350 for about 50 minutes (or until browned on top).


Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Rant....and Thanks: Gym Edition

So for the past year, I've been teaching Tuesday night spinning at a small independent gym in my neighborhood. Now, I'm all for supporting the local indie business (the Evil Empires of Walmart, Costco and the chain bookstores are a rant for another day), my mother has a small independent store and I worked at an independent bookstore for a while. But there are some instances where the small indie just doesn't have it together.

The Beginning
I was hired with no audition, no references called, and while they did asked whether I was certified, they never actually asked to look at the certification. That's warning bells right there, but since they were paying me considerably more than the other gyms where I teach, I figured I'd just roll with it. I stopped by one morning to fill out some paperwork and take a tour of the gym and that was that, "show up on Tuesday to teach class." Excellent.

Where the Going Gets Murky
So, then I show up for the first class and there's nobody there to take class. Mind you, this is a small club which is mostly cardio and weight equipment, no frills. The small cycle room doubles as a yoga studio and triples as a stretching/personal training room. That's fine, whatever. I set up the bikes (all seven of them), crank up the music, get on the bike, and start pumping. A couple people came in to find out what was going on, I chatted with them about class, and hopefully started to spread the word.

The next week, one person came to class. Great, ok, I can work with this. It all builds slowly (they had just bought the bikes, so it was an entirely new program). Plus, the bikes have these very cool computers on them to tell you how fast and how fast you've gone. Which is great when you want them to match a particular cadence.

The following week, I show up and go to get my paycheck. And I'm paid $20 less than was (verbally) agreed. And my name isn't on the schedule. My class isn't even on the schedule. And, the only two evening cycling classes of the week are both on Tuesday night. ????

So I email the manager. Tell him there seems to have been a problem, I wasn't paid what I was told I would be. And here's what I was told - "since you only had one person in class, it's considered personal training, so you're being paid that rate." And as to the fact that I'm not on the schedule? "We're going to see how it goes."

Um, hell no.

Agreement was for a certain amount, not based upon attendence. It's not my fault he's not advertising the class (and even crazier, after a whole year of teaching....I'm still not on the schedule! Not online, not on the paper copies they give out. The only place I'm on the schedule is on the ones they post on the walls where I've handwritten my class in), and it's not my fault if the weather's nasty or people are busy or what have you. I can go along with not getting paid for nobody showing up (though the other gyms do pay me for that, since I showed up, I blocked out the time, and it was the member's decision not to come). If there's low attendence, you don't pay the instructor less, you just cancel the class permanently. Screwing with the instructor's pay just pisses them off and makes them not feel loyal to you. That issue was "resolved" by saying that if only one person showed up, I could cancel class.

I've asked him several times over the last year to change the website and schedule fliers, because if people know about class, then more people are likely to come (this seem emminently logical to me...a basic for marketing - people can't go to a class they don't know about). He usually ignores emails.

Regardless of all these marketing shenanigans, I did start to get a core group of people coming to class. Usually about 3-5 on any given Tuesday (max is 7). But again, because the two evening classes of the week are back to back, we end up splitting attendence between us.

When the Burnout Begins
Last week, the train was delayed, so I got to the gym at exactly the time class was supposed to start. Whatever. The management has never seemed to care, and the members are usually late, since it's hard to get there on time right from work. I poke my head in the spin room, but there's nobody there. I go change, set up all the bikes, and there's still nobody. I go out to the front and see one of the regulars from my class on a stationery bike. He was willing to take class, but since it was just him, that fell under the cancel-class rule. So I'm kind of psyched, now I can just lift some weights and go home. Then someone else approaches me to ask about class. At this point, it's a good 15-20 minutes after class is supposed to start. And I just wasn't prepared to start class at that point. So I told her I had to have at least two people, and unfortunately I was cancelling class that night. At any of my other gyms, where they actually have oversight (and treat their instructors well), there's no way I would do that.

This week, I had three people in class. One wanted a 45 minute class (it's technically a 60 minute class, but I give the option), the others were kind of on the fence, but would've done 60. And I was really tired. I didn't feel like dealing with it. We did 45 minutes.

The World Works in Mysterious Ways
So I've just started meditating, and a local meditation center was recommended to me. And their beginning meditation group meets on Tuesday nights. My immediate reaction to this is "damn! I have to teach." Then I think about it, and I say "hmmm, I wonder if I should try to change the night I teach, or just cancel, because dude is a hassle to deal with" (all the people and employees and business partners at the gym are wonderful, it's just the one guy who's hard to deal with, for everyone not just me). Because going to that beginner's guided meditation would be helpful...it's hard to do on my own!

Then I get a call yesterday from the gym. They need to change the schedule. They want to put both spinning classes on Monday nights (uh, hello, why move both to the same night?). I teach two classes at another gym on Monday nights, definitely not going to be able to do that. So I talk to Manager Dude this morning. They have a yoga instructor who's really popular who has to change her schedule and can only teach Tuesdays, so they need to switch the spinning. All well and good. But I can't teach Mondays. I suggest he break up the spinning classes, since members have been asking to have them on separate nights. His response? "Yoga does better for us, I'm kind of regretting getting the spinning." Well, he should be regretting not actually advertising that there ARE spinning classes, but I didn't go there. I just told him that if he ever wanted to put a spinning class back on Tuesday or Wednesday, to let me know.

And Then Comes the Thanks
So yes, I'll miss the money, because it wasn't inconsequential. But man, I feel kinda free! I no longer have to deal with the Manager Dude, I have an extra day of the week when I could teach somewhere else, or get my own workout, or go to the guided meditation at the center. I find it funny that this all happened within a week of even finding out about the meditation center. But I think it's a good development, going from stress to calm or social (or both).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debunking the Bunk - Coconut

Coconut was one of the Big Evils when I was growing up. High in sat fat, bad for cholesterol, one of those foods that just wasn't worth it. It helped that I've never liked coconut, so it was one of those "bad" foods that I never missed. Something about the texture of it just doesn't sit right with me.

The Bad Stuff
And this post isn't to totally debunk coconut as bad, because it's never going to be one of those antioxidant superfoods we keep hearing about. It is high in saturated fat (one two-ounce piece contains more than 13g, two thirds the recommended daily limit) and delivers a higher sat-fat punch than butter, lard or margarine. Coconut oil also substantially elevates LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Given all this, you're probably asking right about now how coconut made it into my Debunking the Bunk series, right?

The Not-So-Bad Stuff
Well, it turns out that coconut isn't as bad as we thought it was. Sure, it's got sat fat, and it will raise your LDL if you eat too much of it. However, companies are now researching using coconut oil in place of the all nasty partially hydrogenated (trans fat) oils (shout out to my mother for being thoroughly ahead of the curve and teaching me at a very early age that partially hydrogenated was bad, before any of us had even heard the words "trans fat"). And the reason they're looking to use coconut oil is that while it does raise LDL, it also significantly raises HDL (good) cholesterol, whereas trans fats raise LDL and lower HDL. (Source)

The Good Stuff
So I read up on the good side of coconut at this obviously biased very helpful site. They claim that coconut is used by those with thyroid issues to increase body metabolism and for others to lose weight (wait, saturated fat helps us lose weight? Yippee!!). It's also used for soaps and they claim it's one of the healthiest products you can put on your skin (unless, of course, you're going to go out and fry in the sun in it). The claim is that the past studies done on coconut were done on hydrogenated coconut oil, which is altered from its original form (the source listed in the not-so-bad section makes no mention of what kind of oil was studied).

In studies, the medical community seems to be on board with the fact that coconut can be a powerful tool to use again immune diseases. Published studies in medical journals (mentioned at a site which conveniently doesn't link to them) list the following as some healthy applications of coconut:

- Kills a variety of fungi, bacteria, and parasites
- Improves absorption of vitamins and minerals
- Reduces certain problems associated with pancreatitis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, osteoporosis, gallbladder disease, Crohn's disease, ulcers, cancer, periodontal disease, epileptic seizures, kidney disease (and disolves kidney stones), liver disease, psoriasis, and eczema
- Reduces inflammation and aids in tissue repair
- Helps prevent obesity and is lower in fat than other oils
- Softens skin and prevents dryness and cracking, prevents wrinkles and age spots, promotes healthy hair and complexion
- Helps control dandruff
- Does your laundry and pays all your bills

Ok, so that last one was just to see if you were paying attention.

Do I detect a note of cynicism?
Now, thing is, what with this litany of benefits from coconut, you'd think that that's all we'd be hearing about, right? Coconut this, coconut that. It would be the new blueberry, the new pomegranate, the new acai berry. Pardon me if I'm a little skeptical, but seriously, if coconut were all that, wouldn't doctors be prescribing it by the boatload? Our supermarkets would have a whole aisle devoted to coconut. And while it may have the effect as listed above on people, I tend to be skeptical about one kind of food that seems to be able to do absolutely anything. Cancer? Diabetes? Beautiful skin? Hmm.

So I'm debunking the fact that coconut is the evil is was always thought to be (at least, when I was growing up). But I'm not entirely swayed in the other direction. I'll wait it out and see whether all the happy happy coconut joy holds out (hope it does) or whether we should just put the lime in the coconut on special occasions.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In search of my yoga high

So I'm on a quest, a yoga quest. So far, I've tried three kinds: Astanga, Vinyasa, and Kundalini.

Lately, I find that I need to get back to my center, find my calmness and focus back on my breathing and inner self. And man was that weird to say, because I've never thought of myself as all that new age-y. But there you have it. So I'm trying to find the right yoga for me, and I'm learning how to meditate (and damn is that meditating hard!). The past four years has been aerobics pounding and weight pumping fun, and now it's time to balance it out.

Thus far, these are the styles I've tried:

Astanga - In one word? Lost. The movements were very fast - through the first three reps of each sun salutation, the movements flowed so quickly from one to another that I didn't have time to take a proper breath. When we were given the reins to go at our own speed, I could slow it down. Since breathing's what I'm after, this one didn't cut it. Plus, I had the feeling it was just a bit too advanced - in between every sitting pose, we were supposed to do a vinyasa (plank, hover, downdog). I just sat there and tried to look serene. It was definitely a good work out, and used muscles I hadn't used in a while (ouch!), but not a good way to get back into yoga.

Vinyasa - This is interesting...I didn't realize until just now when I went to research it that vinyasa yoga is just a derivative form of astanga yoga. The main difference I could see was that vinyasa was a bit slower and easier for me to follow (though that could've been the instructor). I was able to breathe through the moves, though the forms were definitely athletic more than meditative. And that's what many superhuman yoga guru people are looking for. But not me. I may continue doing this style every now and then, just to increase my flexibility and get more comfortable with the flow. The instructor has a tendency to be very chatty, in that annoyingly chipper more like aerobics kind of way that is, in fact, rather like how I sound in step class.

Kundalini - I got to this class right after class started, and at first it sounded like there was music on. Then I realized they were chanting. I almost walked out right then, because while I'm all for people following their spiritual bliss, the whole mystical connection has never been that interesting to me. But I sat down, figured I'd give it a chance. And man did I feel strange humming along with them. Then we got into the yoga part, which was so totally different than astanga and hatha that I almost didn't recognize it. It was basically all small movements (front-back, side-side, rotating hips, lift leg off downdog) with fast breathing. I felt myself start to hyperventilate pretty quickly with trying to match their breathing until my fingers started to tingle. So rather than find myself splayed out embarrassingly on the floor with the teacher hovering over me, I decided I'd slow it down. So I did one movement for every one of their two or three, and instead of breathing out with the out movement and in with the in, I'd breathe a full breath and just move separately. I know, not the purpose of the breathing with the yoga, but I figured the modification was better than fainting. One of the things that I really did like about class is that they had a long section at the end of meditative yoga - basically sitting with arms up (or, in my case, hands on knees) and some chanting. By that point I wasn't as self-conscious.

There's a really nice yoga studio right across the street from work that I want to try, but it's about $20 per class, which is a lot steeper than the free astanga (since I work there) or cheap kundalini (work there, but don't have a membership). I'm going to check out Kripalu at some point soon, maybe a three day stint or something of the kind. I understand they have lots of different styles there, so I can go yoga shopping!

I have this wacky idea rattling around in my head. There are some people who meditate sitting. Some people meditate while walking. I wonder if there would be a way to combine spinning and meditation? And it seems that I'm not the first to have this idea. Now, I'm not talking spinning in the same way I'd normally teach a class, which involves standing up, sitting down, speeding up, slowing down, raising and lowering resistance. But just the act of spinning is a rather meditative act, it seems to me, at a steady cadence, steady resistance, it would be easy to just "slip into the zone" as cycling instructors would put it. I think that it would be hard to do meditative cycling on the road (or bike path) because you'd have to pay attention to not wrapping yourself around a tree, or a person (though the link above says that it's not that different than walking meditation, just keep your eyes open). First step, though, get comfortable with meditation, then add cycle...Don't start thinking about it class or timing cues will be missed as I start thinking about how meditative it is (oops, too late, turn your gear! Stand up! Pedal faster!). Too bad the weather's getting so much cooler...I could start cycling outside now!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Foiling the Lunchroom Thief

So you haul your lunch to work, managing not to pop open the tupperware or smoosh the sandwich. And you're feeling great because you have (hopefully) food you want to eat that's also cheaper than eating out, and potentially healthier. Woohoo!

And then 12:00 hits, you wend your tummy-rumbling self over to the communal fridge and..... nothing. Your sandwich/salad/leftovers that you so lovingly packed up and carried is gone. Poof.

Enter some choice expletives.

So now you have to not only pay for and haul that lunch that you can't eat, you have to go out and spend more money and time to buy another lunch. Humph.

You have no idea who took your lunch, so there's no retribution to be had. But you don't want to admit defeat. And you don't have to!

There's now an anti-theft sandwich bag. There's "mold" on the plastic (or at least, the appearance of it), so that lunchroom thief will avoid it like the plague it seems to be. And you can enjoy your sandwich in peace.

Next step, tupperware with mold! Since I hardly ever have sandwiches at work (and if I do, I assemble them there), the sandwich bags aren't going to help me much (and thankfully, my co-workers are of the other-peoples'-food-respecting kind). But a "moldy" tupperware container? Hell, yeah!

Have any of you fought with the lunchroom thief before? What solutions did you come up with?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Recipe - Tomato Sauce

I'm posting this recipe with the caveat that I haven't actually eaten it yet. I've tasted it, and it tasted yummy, but I haven't had it with a whole bowl of pasta (that's what I'll have tonight, and then post the results in the comments).

September is Tomato Month, with an abundance of ripe local tomatoes at the farmer's markets and farm stands. I picked up some really good tomatoes (and spent wayyyyy too much on them - $23 for 10 tomatoes. But they're the kind you would eat with mozzarella and basil, rather than make tomato sauce out of. I'm hoping this means that they just made better tomato sauce...) at my local farm stand. And having a food processor makes it so much easier (chopping onions and carrots takes literally two minutes instead of 20, and the pieces don't fly everywhere. And I finally figured out that the way to get my food processor not to puree the onions is to just put a little onion at a time instead of filling the thing up). I even used the food processor for the tomatoes, which made a nice puree sauce consistency, rather than just chopped up pieces of tomatoes (what I ended up with last year).

I didn't actually measure some of the ingredients, I just poured and tasted, so please forgive the vague amounts below.

Vodka Tomato Sauce

9 large tomatoes
2 large onions, chopped finely
2-3 handfuls of baby carrots, chopped finely
garlic oil (or oil and garlic)
a couple teaspoons of minced garlic
fresh chopped ginger (about a thumb's worth, though next time I'll add more)
fresh basil
red pepper flakes
vodka (1-2 second pour) - optional
parmesan - optional

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil the tomatoes whole (you may have to do this in two shifts if making the quantity above) until the skin starts to peel away from the flesh. Remove tomatoes from water with a spoon (and add remaining tomatoes if necessary). Set tomatoes to cool, or run cool water over them. Peel skin off and discard. With your fingers, peel off the outside layer of the tomato flesh and set in food processor. Discard seeds and juice from middle layer. Remove stem, and split the center into chunks. Process to a pulp and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the tomatoes.

In a large pot, saute onions, garlic, and ginger in oil until onions are fragrant and translucent. Add tomato, carrots, red pepper flakes and basil (to taste). Set to simmer a while (maybe 15 minutes), then add vodka. Simmer a while longer (I wasn't keeping track, maybe another 15-20 minutes or so). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat. Serve on pasta with a sprinkle of parmesan and some jalapeno chicken sausage.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Thanks

It's Friday, yippee! And what better way to end a week than on a positive note, right? So I'm going to go all upbeat and chipper on you and list the things I'm thankful for (and so that I'm not here ALL DAY typing all of the things I'm every thankful for, I'm restricting myself to the subject of the blog, which is food and fitness).

C'est parti!

I'm thankful...

- that I am free of allergies and can eat pretty much anything I want without fear (well, except that time I opened the tupperware with the avocado in it and discovered mold about five inches deep. I was scared of that...)

- that I have the wherewithall to buy healthy, yummy, local veggies (and hormone-free meat, if I'm not lazy and drive to the store that has it)

- that I have a farmer's market two blocks from work that sells organic and local veggies (this farmer's market has won out against yoga today. I'm going to be sad when it's gone in November!)

- chocolate. I'm very thankful for chocolate. And mint chocolate. And ginger chocolate. And orange chocolate. And red pepper chocolate. And...you get my point...

- that my kitchen and living room are basically the same room, so I can cook all day long while entertaining myself with the television. I wouldn't cook nearly as much otherwise.

- that I've been teaching aerobics for four and a half years now with very little injury (and the one chronic foot injury I have is manageable as long as I pay attention to it).

- that I was raised to try new things (even if I was an extraordinarily picky eater, I still went out to sushi with my parents and ordered rice rolls. The point is that I was exposed to it, so it seemed normal and desirable later in life, now that I eat most everything).

- that I have great friends and family who don't try to undermine my food and fitness choices.

- ice cream. Mint chocolate chip (Breyer's is my personal fave). And pumpkin pie. Mmm.

And there's probably so many more things than that. That's just my short list. What are you thankful for?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday Rant - Germophobes Beware!

I'm changing things up this week! So, just to addle your brain (and mine), here's my Friday rant post...on Thursday!

I went into the kitchen at work on Monday for my normal morning snack (toast with nutella, tea). I'm setting the tea to steep, cleaning out my mug, filling my water bottle, putting the bread on to toast. Then I happen to look up at the closet door above the plastic cutlery. Here's what the sign posted there says:

These plastic utensils are meant to be disposable.
Once removed, do not return the utensils to the drawer.
Doing so could contaminate the rest of the utensils in the drawer.


My first thought, "ok, maybe someone's been stirring their tea with a knife or something, then putting it back in there. That's not great, but it's not terrible."

But no. It's worse.

Somebody (and we don't know who, and on what floor) would take out utensils, use them TO EAT WITH, then wash them and turn them to the drawer.

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a germophobe. I think that being exposed to a variety of microbes is good because it helps to keep our immune systems healthy and strong. But this is just wrong. I could deal with this if it was a good friend or family member, and there was no other plastic cutlery left. But some random stranger with god knows what in their mouth? Blech.

If they're trying to be all environmentally conscious, that's very good of them. They should reuse the plastic themselves, and not force other people to. Or bring their own silverware to reuse. But I'd rather not have some random stranger's germs marinating amidst the rest of the utensils that I use every day, thank you very much.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fitness Pitfalls

We all know how hard it can be to get to the gym. After a full day of work and commute, you try to squeeze in a workout before dinner or whatever fun other activity you've planned for the evening. Alternatively, maybe you've gotten yourself out of bed early to virtuously head to the gym before work. And you've finally gotten that motivation, gotten to the gym, done the workout. But maybe you have a goal, and you're not there but you're plateauing already. Or maybe you get injured or your muscles just don't feel right. What's the deal?

The 3 Biggest Fitness Mistakes

1. Not warming up and cooling down.

Let's start with the question of warming up. This is just as important as the workout itself. If you come in off the street (especially if it's winter and freezing), and you start jumping around right off the bat, it can lead to injury. Any kind of lateral jumping movement shouldn't be added to the workout until at least 5-10 minutes into the warmup (by this I mean jumping jacks, leaps, shuffles, anything involving both feet leaving the ground and moving laterally). Muscle elasticity depends on how much blood is flowing through it, so cold muscles with less blood running through them are more likely to become injured or damaged because they aren't able to absorb shock as well. And because of the lack of muscle elasticity, you should never warm up with static stretching (holding a stretch in place), but with more dynamic stretching (lunging down and up instead of holding the lunge down). If you want to do a stretch after the warm up, your muscles should then be warm enough. What kind of warm up should you do? It depends on your activity. For something aerobics like kickboxing try step touches, grapevines, hamstring curls, alternating knees up. For running, try walking, elliptical, even jump roping (because it's up and down and not lateral - just start with some marching first).

Then there's cooling down. In my mind, cooling down is as much (if not more) important than the stretch (though neither should be skipped). If you're doing cardio and you go from high heart rate to stopped and standing in place (even if for a stretch), your blood pressure will drop, bringing on dizziness or fainting. A proper cool down also prevents the sudden pooling of blood in one spot of your body, and recirculates it back to your heart and brain. Like the warm-up, the cool down should resemble the activity you're doing. For cycling, turn your gear down to a low resistance and keep pedalling, for running take it to a walk. The cool down can be a different exercise than you just did, provided it uses the same muscle groups.

And finally, there's stretching. The debate's not totally resolved about whether and how much stretching really helps. Common wisdom is that stretching helps prevent injury by increasing flexibility. A muscle group with a greater range of motion will be less likely to tear when used actively. This is the activity that's so hard to really do fully, because at the end of our workout, we're tired and just want to be over and done with it. But try to stretch each major muscle group you worked out, and count it out and hold for at least 15-30 seconds each.

2. Not varying your exercises

We all have certain kinds of exercise we like and certain kinds we don't like. I tend to gravitate towards group exercise and shun solo exercise like running or erging. To each their own. The problem comes in, however, when you do one kind of exercise only, and rely on that for all your fitness. Our bodies are amazingly adaptable, and they get used to an exercise really quickly, they learn to anticipate it and it becomes less challenging over time. And you start to plateau. This is often what happens in March - all the New Year's resolution people at the gym start plateauing and then start questioning why they're coming to the gym so much if they aren't seeing the same results they started with.

So it's important to keep your body guessing. AFAA recommends 3-5 hours a week of cardio exercise, 2-3 hours a week of weight training, and 2-3 hours a week of flexibility training. So, if you're a group fitness person, for example, you might do step twice a week, cycling and/or kickboxing once or twice, then a couple weight classes and a couple yoga classes. That's kind of a daunting schedule, but you get my point. But say you're a runner, and you really just don't do any other kind of exercise, just running. How do you vary your workout then? Add some intervals! So a couple times a week you do some straight runs for however long you want. Then a couple times a week you do intervals (running really fast interspersed with some slower recovery periods, or running hills). Some thing with cycling. This goes with weight training too. If you always use the same weights for the same number of reps, you won't find the same benefits. Try playing around with it - add weights and do fewer reps, or do an extra set one day.

3. Not using correct form

This is harder to work on if you don't know you have incorrect form. Here are some brief notes on some of the major cardio and weight exercises:

- Step: make sure your foot comes entirely onto the bench (don't let your heel hit air in back). It's tempting to think that having your heel off makes it harder for your calf, but it actually will strain your achilles and can lead to a nasty injury like plantar fasciitis. I've had it, it's not pleasant. Rather like nails through the heels/arches.

- Cycling (stationery): make sure your seat is high enough. When you sit on the seat and take your feet so they're the same distance from the floor (one in front of the other), the front knee should be right over the ball of the foot. If you have trouble with this, ask for help in setting up your bike. Also, when you're out of the saddle, keep your butt back over the seat so you don't put extra pressure on the knees.

- Running: injuries could be due to body mechanics (pronation or supination of the foot), or from an improper motion of your weight through the arch of your foot (as I'm not a running, I can't really advise the proper way, sorry...).

- Squats/Lunges: keep your knees over your ankles (or front knee for lunges), no further forward than your toes. Try not to bend forward too far at your waist or it can put a lot of stress on your lower back.

- For other weight lifting exercises, there are many ways to do them improperly without causing injury. It's always best to either ask the instructor if you have a question, or if you're in the weight room, ask one of the personal trainers, someone else on the equipment, or just stand watch someone do the exercise (the one problem with this is you don't know if they're doing it properly).

Exercise can be very fun if done properly and without injury. So once those basics are down, let's focus on the ways we can make it fun (stay tuned for next week's post...)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Crazy for tea, but not for caffeine

So I don't react all that well to caffeine. I love caffeinated beverages, but apparently, they don't really love me. I'm still waiting for a caffeine-free coke that tastes the same as a regular coke, but it just isn't quite there yet. Better for me (and for my bones, and my waistline) that I don't partake of the soda anyway.

But I do drink tea every morning, and there is a serious dearth of tasty decaf teas out there (I buy looseleaf tea from Tealuxe, rather than the supermarket). A couple months ago, I bought a slew of yummy teas (mostly caffeinated) from Tealuxe, but then they started to give me headaches on the weekend, for one, so I cut back. But they're tempting me, sitting in that drawer next to me at work and calling to me. So I decided to test out a potentially apocryphal theory I'd heard that when you steep tea for 30 seconds, it leaches out the caffeine, then you pour out the water and steep it again.

And so far, good to go. I googled it, and it turns out not to be apocryphal. Caffeine does, in fact, leach out within the first 30 seconds.

Do any of you have work-around solutions you've used for you favorite food/drink that doesn't sit right with you?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Recipe - Cauliflower Leek Soup

So you may be getting kind of tired of hearing about leeks. Pasta with white wine and leeks, lasagna with leeks, leek soup. But leeks are local now, and I'm all about local. I was going to make this recipe several weeks ago (when I ended up making spinach soup), but the leeks at my local farm stand (not farmer's market) were from Guatemala. And my whole point of making a big vat of food made from local veggies around this time of year, is to freeze it and have "microwave dinners" with fresh frozen local veggies around the January/February time when it's all grey and overcast and cold.

I made triple the recipe below. Triple was about 10 servings, I think. I made the recipe listed below a couple weeks ago and it was only about two tupperware's worth (3 servings or so).

Recipe can also be made with broccoli, which adds some color, and it's a stronger flavor as well.


Cauliflower Leek Soup

lb Cauliflower (you can weigh it, or it's probably about the same as a small cauliflower)
2C leeks (three leeks, give or take)
3C chicken/vegetable broth
1/2C cream (light, heavy, whatever you want)
2T butter

Remove the green part and the roots from the leeks. Remove the outside layer. Wash thoroughly. Slice leeks into disks (or better yet, use a food processor, which makes it sooo much easier and faster). Melt the butter in a large soup pot and add the leeks. Cook until leeks are soft but not browned.

Add chicken/vegetable broth and cauliflower to the leeks (the broth should be nearly to the top of the vegetables, with the cauliflower still poking out of the liquid a bit. More than that and it may be too liquidy). Cook about 5-7 minutes until cauliflower is soft.

In several batches (if necessary), transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot. Add cream, salt, and pepper to taste.

Can be frozen and reheated while retaining its yummy flavor!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Rant - And my celebrity BMI is...

In this That's Fit post, there's a link to a site which lets you type in your height, weight, and gender and it will provide your BMI (body mass index, the percentage of body that is fat). The fun spin is that it will tell you what celebrity has the same BMI as you.

You remember those handy dandy charts on your doctor's walls, the ones where you look at your height and cross it with your weight and it tells you whether you're normal, overweight, or obese? That's BMI. And I have a major problem with the system.

Here's the thing...some people are clear cut. Obviously obese, obviously underweight, that kind of thing. But what this doesn't take into account is dimensions and how fit someone is. Because someone who's 5'5", 160lbs and very fit is going to come out with the same BMI as someone who is 5'5", 160lbs and hasn't exercised a day in their life. But obviously their fitness and health is going to be very different (for the means of this random example, assume their diet is the same), and they're going to carry that weight differently too. Plus, all that muscle is heavier than fat (true, though lots of people use it as an excuse for gaining weight).

So, for example, I type in my vital stats into the celebrity BMI calculator. Who do I come out with? Queen Latifah. Now, don't get me wrong, she's got a great hourglass figure. But I also think that she's considerably heftier than I am. Part of the problem is that she's also 6 inches taller than me, so to have the same BMI, she'd have to be a lot heavier, proportionally. So to be more accurate, they shouldn't just pick a celebrity with the same BMI, but one who's at least a bit more the same height (6 inches? Come on!).

The alternative gaining ground is the waist-hip ratio. Basically, divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference, with the ideal ratio for women being below .80. I like this one much better, because it does take fitness into account (if you exercise and eat appropriately, you're more likely to have a lower ratio). And of course, some people (the classic "apple," a term which I hate) will have more of a risk because they hold more weight around the middle (this has been shown with several studies to increase the risk of diseases and early death, unlike the "pear" which doesn't seem to increase risk).

The most effective way to determine BMI is DEXA, which is expensively done at a radiologist, or water displacement, which requires total immersion in a pool. So neither are all that realistic for the basic population. Calipers are also effective, if done properly. And that's the caveat, because it's really easy to do improperly. Given the impracticality of the former two, and the ease of tester error on the latter, waist-hip ratio is one of the easiest methods we can use to determine our own BMI (there's also the electrical impulse machine, but really it's not the most effective, plus it requires equipment).

I understand that we're trying to be all healthy, and that's important. But I think that we've found these easy way to slide people into categories, without really looking at the specifics or how people are different.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

MacGyver in the kitchen

Most of you probably don't know that one of my favorite cheesy 80s/90s show of all time is ... MacGyver. When it was actually on the air, I watched all the new episodes, then I watched it on USA syndication every night at 7. I probably saw every episode about 3 times. Now I'm rewatching it through Netflix. Very nostalgic, really. And bad acting. But I can overlook that.

Because seriously, how can a show not be cool where a guy uses a chocolate bar to stop up an acid leak, running an clock on a potato, or using a binocular eyepiece to catch laser beams?

I think one of the appeals of the show is that he uses everyday objects to kick ass so decidedly. It's like a puzzle. They start playing that MacGyver theme, and you know he's going to throw together the ammonia, peanut butter, and vitamins into some new combo which gets him and the female heroine out of some totally hammed up cliche sticky situation.

So how can you be MacGyver in your own home? Your own kitchen even? No, we're not building bombs out of potatoes and dish soap. But I can tell you some tips on how to fix kitchen glitches, or ways to use kitchen products to get out of sticky situations.

1. Flour - Say your cat jumps on your lap and starts kneading your stomach with some seriously long claws. So you grab the nail clipper and set to it. And then the blood-curdling shriek lets you know that you really shouldn't have been distracted by the tv (MacGyver, of course), and you notice you've cut her nails a little too close. Then you start to freak out, because you've heard that cats can lose a lot of blood through their claws if you cut them too short. And what if she goes into her catbox and rousts around in there with her cut claw and it gets infected? So you grab your phone and dial the vet, which (because it's the weekend) reroutes you to the animal hospital. And what do they tell you to do to clot up her poor poor little kitty claw? Put flour on it. Seriously. And it works! (Not that I've personally been through this situation, no no not me...)

2. Potato - I seem to remember from Mr. Wizard that a potato actually can run a clock. But since I doubt you could get a potato clock to play Debussy's Arabesque as an alarm, I think I'll stick to my cell phone. Digression. Anyway. Point is, if you accidentally over-salt your dish, drop a peeled potato in while the dish is still cooking. The potato will absorb the excess salt.

3. Potato - So one day I'm sitting around and happen to glance at my hands. And the tips of my fingers are all black. Wtf? How did the tips of my fingers get black? So I grabbed my scrubbing rock thing (I have no idea what it's called, that probably indicates how much I actually use it...) and scrub the black off my fingers (I later realized that it was basil juice from tearing up basil leaves). Having sensitive skin, scrubbing is not the best option for me. Other options? Potatoes. Slice and rub raw potato on the stain and rinse with water.

4. Apple - If you're like me and only bake once a year (Christmas cookies, yum), then you may have a block of granite brown sugar sitting in your cabinet. And if you're like me, you looked in the cabinet and said "oooh, I have brown sugar, I don't have to buy any more!" And then leave that particular cookie recipe until you're covered in flour with hair going every which way, and thus in no condition to go out to the store (unless you want to get people running away looking at you funny). And so you scrape and scrape and scrape at the danged block of brown sugar, and grab out your grater on it (idea! would the slicer function of a food processor work on this?), and basically kill your shoulder getting a 1/4C of sugar off it. And really all you need to do is place a slice of apple in the container to soften it up. I also have a cute little pottery (terra cotta) bear that I got for Christmas (after the cookies, thank you very much) that can be soaked in water and then put in the container, same purpose as the apple, but more expensive.

5. Wine - Don't throw out your leftover wine! (you have leftover wine? Seriously?) It can be frozen into ice cubes and used in casseroles and sauces. Or if you're having a party and run out of alcohol, you could always just start sucking wine cubes. Now I'm curious how that would taste.

6. Marshmallow - My dad has a very cute cockapoo named Nik. Nik loves chocolate, and desserts, and well really any kind of food. They were eating ice cream cones the other day (the people, not the dog), when Nik started to whine feel really left out of all the sugary fun. So he takes an ice cream cone. Bites it from the bottom. Proceeds to get chocolate ice cream all over his white fur. And hasn't this happened to all of us (well, not the dog stealing your ice cream cone, but the bottom of the cone dripping all over your face and shirt)? Your remedy - stuff a miniature marshmallow at the bottom of the sugar cone to prevent any drips. Which won't help if you take a big bite out of the bottom, but it will stave off any unwanted drippage.

7. Lime - Bad headache? Throbbing like a techno club in your skull? Possible old wive's tale Potential miracle remedy - cut a lime in half and rub it on your forehead. Rumor has it the throbbing will go away.

Any other tips? MacGyverisms?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Update: My Abs/Pushups Program

So the first week of my new abs/pushup program was for working out the kinks. So here's a bit of a revision. I didn't feel like I was doing enough pushups, and I wasn't feeling my abs much either after the 2 sets. So I'm revising it a little bit, adding some planks to hit the abs even more. And because the back to back exercises are different muscle groups, you don't need a rest in between (but you can take one if you want).

Some tips:

Bicycle crunches - make sure your shoulder comes up off the ground as you're bringing your elbow towards your opposite knee. It's better to do a couple full crunches (shoulder/back up off floor) and take a rest than it is to do a bunch of crunches that are barely going to hit your abs). A 4 count bicycle crunch is going slowly from one side to the other (and back), counting to 4. 2 count crunches are a little faster.

Plank - make sure your body is completely straight (think plank/board). Don't let your hips sink down or you can put a lot of stress on your back (in a bad way). Pull your abs in (belly button to spine) and hold. For the counting, I don't use a stopwatch because that's a pain in the ass. I just count slowly.

Pushups - I'm doing them on my knees because my wrists don't like me otherwise. Keep your hands out wider than your shoulders so then when you go down, your elbows are over your wrists. Your goal is to bring your chest down to the floor (without resting on it). If you're not quite there to start with, that's quite all right - it takes time to build up the chest muscles. Just try to come down a little further every day you do your pushups, until you can come all the way to the floor.

Week 1 - 2 sets (what's listed below is one set)

Day 1
Bicycle crunch - 3x 4count, 6x 2count
Pushups - 6
Plank - 20 seconds
Pushups - 6

Day 2

Bicycle crunch - 5x 4count, 8x 2count
Pushups - 8
Plank - 20 seconds
Pushups - 8

Day 3
Bicycle crunch - 7x 4count, 10x 2count
Pushups - 10
Plank - 20 seconds
Pushups - 10

Week 2 - 3 sets each

Day 1
Bicycle crunch - 3x 4count, 6x 2count
Pushups - 10
Plank - 25 seconds
Pushups - 10

Day 2
Bicycle crunch - 5x 4count, 8x 2count
Pushups - 12
Plank - 25 seconds
Pushups - 12

Day 3
Bicycle crunch - 7x 4count, 10x 2count
Pushups - 14
Plank - 25 seconds
Pushups - 14

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

More crap is better

Unfortunately, "crap" in this sense doesn't mean all those tasty wonderful foods like cake, french fries, greasy pizza, fried snickers bars, cheesecake, potato chip sandwiches on white bread. I mean it in a more literal sense.

Today's post is about fiber. Thing is, all those handy dandy little health listings on the side of your food containers will list fat, calories, protein, salt, and so on. But usually no fiber. We see commercials on tv (for Total for example), where we learned that fiber is good for us. But do any of us ever really talk about it? Apart from keeping us regular, is it really important?

Up until recently, I honestly thought it was really just a digestive tract thing. But it turns out that fiber has so many more health benefits than I ever realized!

- Fiber can help keep weight under control. Because they tend to have more bulk than other kinds of foods, if eaten in sufficient quantity and at the right time of day, they can help to stave off hunger for a longer period than other food choices.
- A Massachusetts General study showed that higher fiber consumption lowered the risk of stroke.
- While scientific results remain inconclusive, many people advocate that fiber helps prevent against colon cancer. My philosophy on this? Ok, so many it's not going to reduce my risk that much. But it's not bad for me, and it's got other benefits. So might's well, right?
- Fiber may lower the risk of other diseases (breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diverticulitis, diabetes, gallstones and kidney stones, heart disease)

So what is fiber exactly? And what does it do?

Insoluble fiber - whole grains and the outsides of seeds, fruits and legumes. These swell up like a sponge, absorbing many times its weight in water. This can help eliminate digestive disorders.

Soluble fiber
- fruits, vegetables, seeds, brown rice, barley, oats, and oat bran. This one works chemically to prevent or reduce the absorption of various substances into the bloodstream. Helps lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and regulates blood sugar.

Where do I find this fiber stuff? Try this list. The highest foods on there? Bran cereal, cooked beans (lentils, kidney beans, lima beans), dry rolled oats, avocados, raspberries.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Monday Recipe - Party Edition

A while back, my father told me about a restaurant he went to where they had a big glass vat of pineapple soaking in vodka. So this starting my brain-a-whirling. Sounds incredibly yummy to have at a party, right? Then I figure, I should get one of those glass jar with tap things, so I went to BB&B to pick one up. Chop up two fresh pineapples, put them in. Then poured a BIG bottle of vodka overtop....and the vodka starts leaking everywhere. So I figure, the tap must be on the "on" position. Nope. It's just that much of a piece of crap. Transfer to plastic pitcher (sealed). Set to steep for three weeks before party. The pineapple did turn colors a little bit (a little brownish, some of them bleached to white a bit), but it tasted fine. So here's what I did with it:

Orange pineapple vodka
(I wasn't measuring these out precisely, especially after I got through one or two of them. I just kinda poured and went with what I got)

2 parts pineapple vodka
1 part orange curacao
1/2 part orange juice
1/2 part 7up
dash grenadine (optional)
dash ginger liqueur (optional)

I just discovered the ginger liqueur the other day and haven't tried too much of it yet, but it comes in the prettiest bottle ever and looks great as decoration.

This drink is definitely quite strong. I only had three and that was fine for me for about five hour span (including the requisite headache the next morning).

Since it's corn season, I wanted to make a corn with butter, lime, and cilantro recipe I've done before. Then I went to the farmer's market and found a whole slew of yummy stuff. I'd never tried kohlrabi before, and in this dish it doesn't have much flavor, but adds a nice crunch. Also, I managed to find fresh local ginger, which is very hard to find (most ginger comes from Hawaii). The only difference (apart from price) is that it doesn't have that thick brown skin on it, and it's not very fibrous in general. So when I chopped it up for the slaw, you get the ginger flavor without feeling like you're chewing on gingery strings. I'm a convert now, really I am.

The recipe below made enough for a small party, plus leftovers for several meals.

Gingery Corn Slaw

8 ears of corn
1 kohlrabi bulb, peeled and julienned
4 large colorful radishes, sliced and quartered (I used 2 purple and 2 red radishes, which adds yummy color to the dish)
1/4C scallions (give or take, mix it around and just judge on how many you think you'll need to spread evenly throughout)
2-3T butter (or olive oil)
basil (or cilantro) - I think I might have used a 1/4C, but I don't know. I have a basil plant and I just kept plucking more until I thought it was evenly distributed
2" ginger, julienned

Cook the corn lightly (so that it's just barely cooked. You don't want it to get soggy). Take ears out of water, let cool. Slice corn kernals off of the ears and return to pot (without water). Add butter, salt, pepper, ginger, lime, and basil. Cook until fragrant and flavors are mixed through. Put corn in a large bowl to cool.

Add kohlrabi, radishes, and scallions. Adjust salt/pepper as needed. Eat leftovers cold.

This is one of my standards that I've made for parties. You could probably substitute chicken or turkey instead of the pork, if you wanted to. This is a dangerous recipe, because the wontons are so small and tasty, they tend to disappear pretty quickly! But because they're cooked relatively healthily, they won't add to your waistline as much as fried ones would. I made a double recipe from the one below and it made a full plate of wontons which nearly disappeared at the party, as well as having 2-3 "meals" of leftovers.

Pork Apple Currant Wontons

6.5oz ground pork
1 tart apple (granny smith is a good option), grated
3T dried currants (or more)
T hoisin or fish sauce (I used hoisin)
T plum sauce
wonton wrappers (one package should be fine)
1-2 eggs
olive/grapeseed oil

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat oil in a pan, add ground pork. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add grated apple and cook until pork is browned. Remove from heat. Add currants and sauces. Let cool.

Grease baking sheet (or use silicon cookie sheets on top). Set up assembly line of wonton wrappers, plate to wrap the wontons, bowl with egg(s) scrambled up, and pan.

Set out wonton wrapper. Put a small dollop of the meat mixture in the middle of the wonton. Using your finger, line the outside edges of the wonton wrapper in egg. Fold the wonton in half, sealing the edges together, in the shape of a triangle. Turn the triangle so the hypotenuse faces you. Fold the right bottom corner of the triangle towards the left as far as it will go (without tearing the wrapper or folding the meat over). Fold the left side on top of that. It should now look like the picture.

As you finish each wonton, put it on the pan. Once the pan is full, pop it in the oven and cook about 10-15 minutes, or until browned. Let cool (trust me on this...hot wontons, while tasty, will sear the taste buds right off your tongue).

To reheat, just set out again on a pan and bake until warm.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Rant - Let's ban thinking next, mkay?

So there've been rumblings about the evils of fast food lately. I'll agree just as much as the next person that fast food is bad for you and it's a factor in our country's "obesity epidemic." But seriously, banning fast food? Now, this ban doesn't threaten current fast food restaurants, but it only would prevent new ones from opening up within the limits of LA County. Councilwoman Jan Perry even seems to think that not opening new fast food restaurants will give people greater food options. And I guess this is the case if the fast food restaurants that didn't open are instead replaced by healthier options (and no, Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden aren't necessarily healthier, depending on what you order). But we can't assume that.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for people eating less fast food. Grease and corn syrup shouldn't be the main staples of our diet. But this isn't the way to do it.

Because obviously people want to eat there, or the fast food places would go out of business. They're not going to stop getting fast food just because there's now one McDonald's per block instead of two. And honestly, I could see some people following the reverse psychology of it and eat there more specifically because they're pissed off at the new law. Who knows. Same psychology that for the show Cupid (inane reality tv show that I watched start to finish, about a woman who lets America pick her husband) made America vote for both the guy she wanted and the guy she really hated in the final. We're an ornery bunch, that we are.

I don't think that making it against the law to open new fast food is going to change anything. While healthy food is too expensive for some people, and fast food is their most practical option, it's not going to change. While fast food still tastes just so damn good, it's not going to change. While people don't have the nutrition info available to them to make educated choices, it's not going to change.

We can't do much about #2 (tasting too damn good). #1 - that food is just too damn expensive and fast food is most financially practical for many people - is a major problem we can address (see my related post on local food here). And as for #3 - nutrition - I don't remember once talking seriously about nutrition in school, and I had a whole year of health education. Looking back on it, I was either staring at the dots on the floor too much, or they really wasted a lot of that time.

Because honestly, banning fast food because it's bad for you? What's next, smoking?

Oh, wait, you say they have banned smoking?! You mean, you can't smoke in any public spaces, restaurants, or bars (at least, in my state you can't)? But hold on, doesn't stopping at a fast food restaurant just impact you and your arteries (yes, I know that obesity does put more strain on our health care system), but smoking will impact your lungs and my lungs and the lungs of everyone around you. Positive side of the smoking ban: all the smokers have to go outside to smoke, so there's a group outside and you can bond and chat people up easily (the one situation where "got a light?" doesn't sound like an ultra-cheesy pick-up line). Smoking is a counter-culture activity, nearly. Fat and grease, not so much.

Ok, how about banning thinking next?

Because the lawmakers must have all our best interests in mind, right? Uh huh. Well, pardon my skepticism, but nuh uh.

How did I get on the side of the fast food companies here? Yikes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


What time of year is it if you're the only editorial assistant in local office of my publishing company? List review! Now, what does this mean, you ask? This means booking conference rooms, helping co-workers from off-site print, or connect to the network, or give directions around town. And it means lots and lots of food. Catering. Eating at restaurants. More catering. I don't have recipes for you today, but I'm going to list out all of the food that we've had in the last 30 hours or so. And given my love of food, mmm mmm mmm!


Frittatas (with mushroom, spinach and cheese, and optional salsa)
Home fries
Fruit Salad

Eggplant parm (extra sauce, ziti)
Chicken enchiladas (mexican rice, salsa, sour cream)
House salad
Caesar salad
A plethora of salad dressings

Tapas!!! (Spanish)
Open bar - chambord martini and chocolate martini for me
Salad with peaches and apples, pistachios and a balsamic glaze dressing
Ricotta ravioli with asparagus and creamy sauce
Fried shrimp over risotto and balsamic glaze
Chocolate bomb with cherry filling and hazelnut wafer

(Note: drinking a lot and preparing a presentation for the next day can definitely turn into morning hilarity. So note to all you editors out there, to bring a little life to your presentations, have lots of alcohol in a big group (this may involve singing), then put together your presentation slides after all the festivities)

Stuffed french toast (stuffed with berries and something dairy, maple syrup)
Home fries
Granola and yogurt
Fruit salad

Assorted sandwiches
Wild mixed greens (I'm sure this'll come with various and plenty dressings as well)

I'm so swimming in food right now, it's awesome! And the awesomeness is that I got to order the food for this, so I could be sure to order something good, not the same old stale sandwiches we always seem to get at these functions. We had sooo much food left over too, but it always seems to evaporate in two seconds flat when put out into the communal kitchen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Six Week Abs/Pushup Program

(Since I'm not a man, and not likely to get 6-pack abs, this isn't the look I'm shooting for. But hey, any excuse to post a picture of some hot abs, right? ;)

So I fully intended to go back and complete the 100 Pushup Program. Really I did. Then, well, I didn't. Week 5 just seemed so daunting. And my wrists were so not loving me for doing so many pushups. So I stopped. And I still do have the cute little shoulder dimple which was the pleasing result of all those pushups. So I tell myself - maybe I should figure out a program for myself which does include some pushups, but not the crazy number of them from weeks 5 and 6.

Then I start thinking...hmmm...I should look up an ab program. And you know something? A six week ab program is a hard thing to find on the web (without paying for some kind of booklet or something). And most of the sites I came across require some kind of equipment (like a captain's chair, or a ball, or a bosu). While I love the ball crunches because of how wonderfully effective they are, they're problematic (just like captain's chair and bosu) because while some gyms have them, I don't have them at home). So I had to find a very effective exercise that will kick my butt without equipment. Check this site out for their top 10. And guess what? #1 is an exercise which requires no equipment, and not only uses abs but obliques. I think we have a winner!

The key to the bicycle crunch is doing them slowly. Singles will hurt your abs, but not quite the same burn as the slower ones. But because I'm always trying to mix things up, and fool my body into working hard, I'm going to do them at different speeds.

Because they're slower, each count is going to be going from one side to another (right elbow/left knee slowly moving on a count of 8 over to left elbow/right knee). So when I say 2x 8 count, this means counting out 8 (about 10 seconds) to one side, back, then repeat (so 1x 8 count is one time each side).

So here's my Week 1:

Day 1 - Tuesday - 3 reps of pushups, 2 reps of crunches, alternating
Bicycle crunch - 2x 8 count, 4x 4 count, 8x 2 count
Pushups - Sets of 6

Day 2 - Thursday - 3 reps of pushups, 2 reps of crunches, alternating
Bicycle crunch - 3x 8 count, 5x 4 count, 10x 2 count
Pushups - Sets of 8

Day 3 - Saturday - 3 reps of pushups, 2 reps of crunches, alternating
Bicycle crunch - 4x 8 count, 6x 4 count, 12x 2 count
Pushups - Sets of 10

Let's see how that goes. I've never done this before. Who knows whether that's too hard, too easy or whatever. I guess we'll see how it goes this week before I figure out how to tweak it. Maybe I should go buy a ball.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday Recipe - Clam Stuffed Tomatoes

So we know that tomatoes are good for us. And now they're in season. For me, September is tomato-tastic! Tomato sauce, stuffed tomatoes, however I can make them to freeze and eat in the middle of winter. Because waxy mid-winter tomatoes are better than no tomatoes, but they're still not all that great. One of the problems inherent in freezing tomatoes is that the water separates from the tomato flesh, which makes sauce, chili, and such a little less appetizing de-frosted. But while these stuffed tomatoes do the same thing, the taste doesn't suffer at all, and they still stay sweet and yummy even after several months of freezing.

I made this recipe for my father once, and he never wants me to make them again. Now you're asking yourself "what?! You're telling me he didn't like them, and now you're saying WE should make them?! Are you mad?!" But I think it's more an example of individual taste. The original recipe had olives and sardines. I don't like either one, so I replaced it with clams. And it's one of my favorite recipes ever.


Clam Stuffed Tomatoes

8 medium tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
~8-10oz minced clams (either bought in small tuna-sized cans of minced clams, or a larger can of whole clams and then chopped up. I prefer the latter)
1/4C bread crumbs
1/4C grated parmesan
1/4C parsley, chopped
t-T lemon zest (the recipe called for a teaspoon. I put a tablespoon by accident and it was quite yummy)
T lemon juice
t minced garlic
olive oil

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and discard (think jack o' lantern top). Scoop tomato-insides into a bowl and set tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain. Cut up any large tomato pieces (from the insides). Drain juice.

Put onion, garlic, and a little oil in a pan and cook until onion is translucent, but not brown. Add tomato pulp and parsley to onions and cook for about five minutes. Add clams until heated.

Remove from heat. Add bread crumbs, parmesan, lemon zest and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Place tomato shells on a baking dish and stuff with filling. Drizzle with olive oil over the tops and cook for 30 minutes. Tops with be slightly browned.

If you want to freeze, I recommend first sticking the pan into the freezer (unless it's glass, then put them on a different tray) to firm up the tomatoes. Once they're more or less hard, wrap them individually in Saran Wrap and store in a large tupperware.

I used to just stick them all in the tupperware without pre-wrapping them, but then you have to eat the entire tupperware worth of them, since they freeze all stuck together. So while individualizing them isn't really environmentally friendly (with all the plastic), it's a lot more practical...