Sunday, February 28, 2010

I got the guts up to go to the primo yoga

Two weeks ago I went to yoga with a friend of mine at this really nice place up in the Riverwoods. It's a cute boutique with clothes I could never afford to buy, and then in the back is a beautiful yoga studio. I've got some pictures here, but not pictures of the actual class, because that, of course, would make me a really annoying nerd. People all doing these focused movements to clear their head, and then "click click" --yeah, didn't do that.

This class though, part of the time I just looked around with my jaw dropped at the stuff people were doing. Think handstands with the splits in the air, twisting around with your arms wrapped around your back and stuff.... but hey --I did a headstand that I held for a really long time, totally controlled. If you know me in Tae Bo classes, I'm not the balance girl. I run over and hold onto the wall for balance stuff, so one of the reasons I really need yoga. I hadn't done a headstand like that in a decade. I just had my focus for the first time in forever.

Here's the cute dressing rooms --there are hand painted flowers inside. Back to the class. The teacher uses all Sanskrit names for things, so I had to peek at other people to figure out what to do most of the time, but I started to recognize down dog, and up dog, and warrior poses --no I can't tell you the names, the dog ones sound like "luka", but I recognize them when I hear them. Good enough. The music? She's playing U2 and Pearl Jam along with the exotic world music stuff you usually hear in yoga. That really resonates with me --I know I'm dating myself. Whatever.

So I wanted to tell you, my friend went to do a century bike race this weekend, and guess what? I went by myself! I did it. Even though I really am pretty sure I'm not cool enough for this class or this studio, I still went. I was so excited, I ran out of the house without my mat. Nerd. They had some to borrow, and they were frankly much better quality than my Wal-mart special (sigh), but when I went to put it back and looked for the sanitizing wipes? There weren't any. Not even an empty canister. Yuck. This isn't your waltzy schmaltzy yoga, you really sweat on those mats. Also I've been reading about gym equipment lately on some bodybuilding sites and all the stuff you can catch...eeew.

Here's where you enter the actual studio from the shop. There are some big puffy brightly colored round cusshions you can sit on, and some rattan couches, and pictures of yogis....why don't I decorate my house like this? It makes me so happy. I guess people might think I was a freak. I'm serious though, I love it--it reminds me of gardens in San Diego.

So this time I had the borrowed mat, and it was turquoise with little squares on it, and my eyes kept going out of focus weird, and the squares popped out like I was wearing 3-d glasses. Why do you think that was? Do you think I was tapping into my inner psychadelic self? Or do you think it was maybe too early in the morning? hmmmm. Anyways, I did OK this second class. I missed a couple of moves because I couldn't figure out what I was doing soon enough, but the teacher came over and spotted me in a "feathered peacock pose"at least that's what it looks like, but I wasn't (noone was) against a wall. That was cool. But for the real inversion time, I needed to go against a wall.

There's the shop (it's like I take time out for commercials huh?). So the only spot against the wall was over in the corner, in kind of like a little annex part of the room, and then I kind of felt like a little add on part of the class...that felt a little pathetic. I did the handstands though. Suddenly I discovered that handstands are HARD! There is some serious shoulder strength needed to maintain it. I really thought it was just a balance issue, but I think now, that if I keep practicing, my shoulders will build up, and I'll be able to control it eventually, just like standing up and walking around. This may sound like a bummer, but it's an encouraging thing for me. Strength --I can do strength. So, the night yoga classes aren't working for me anymore, because I'm gone tues. and wed. already, and it's the last thing I want to do to leave the family again on thurs. nights. Maybe once a week yoga on Sat. (with the occasional podcast) isn't going to get me very far, but I figure it's better than nothing, and I'm loving it. I'm hoping Jenny will get some day classes at Omega someday. I'd be all over that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our Annual (like it would be semi-annual --right) Chinese New Year Party

We've been celebrating Chinese New Year for the last five years or so, ever since Tia became obsessed with everything Chinese. We started out with just a little family party (we watch Mulan and eat rice with chopsticks), and it's slowly evolving into kind of a big deal (for us at least). We try to invite some different people everytime, and have looked for other movies that have a Chinese theme that the kids like. After Mulan for three years in a row, we did "Around the World in 80 Days" (they visit China right? and it's got Jackie Chan who we all love), and this year thank goodness for "Kung Fu Panda".

I've got to say up front, we're not politically correct I know. I hope we don't offend anyone by our choices, we're just trying to have fun, and I too have been fascinated with Asian culture since I was pretty young. My family probably remembers me eating everything (even cheerios) with chopsticks for a good while, and trying to learn the Laotian language from a book I got in the library, and keeping a card file on Asian facts from different countries..... OK, moving on now.

The funnest parts of our party are always the decorations and the food. The hardest part is the games. More about that later.

We went to the little Asian grocery a few miles north of us, and found some cool little treats. Sesame candy, and some funny little cashew cookies the size of nickels; some edible paper wrapped rice candy (remember those little guys?), and best of all --ginger chews. Love them. The kids hated them and kept trying them and spitting them out when they got hot.

The Asian grocery also had Lai See, the red envelopes filled with money you give out traditionally on the new year. The store didn't have theirs already filled with money though, bummer for us, so we bought chocolate gold coins to put in ours. We did monopoly money last year, but it really didn't go over as well as chocolate. Read more about Lai See here. Along with the red envelopes, we bought Chinese finger traps and Chinese yo-yos (it doesn't look right without an apostrophe. huh.) for other prizes for the kids' game. Here's our kid game which we found after much searching online: You fill plastic eggs with two colors of confetti (I know --confetti all over my floor I'm still picking up, but it was worth it), and hand one of each to each kid behind their back. They have to pick one to crack over their own head, and if it's the unlucky color (we used white) they have to do something silly, and if it's the lucky color (we used red) they get to pick a prize. So it's got the whole new life egg thing going on, and the superstitious thing. The kid game worked.
The adult games, kind of like these cheap paper lanterns we bought, didn't work as well. I swear I looked for Chinese party games, and spent two days studying the directions, but they were a little tricky. The first one we called "Junk, Rickshaw, and Orient Express" (told you we're so not P.C.) it's based off of this game here , and actually was pretty fun, except one of our number was really pregnant, and couldn't do the rough and tumble part of it. I'd play this again with a group.

The other game called Beijing Baffles was a complicated mess with a big group, using threee decks of cards. Although we finally figured out some working rules kind of on the fly, and had some fun moments --such as when I was faked out by my own PARTNER, and one couple totally whipped the rest of us with their cool undecipherable signals.

...and hey, at least I found some games. Next year I swear I'm going to find a big life size version of mah-jong, and call it a day. But the decorations were good:

We had a platter of citrus out and available, it's a traditional decoration, and all the babies loved chewing on them. I did have to toss out a few tooth-marked specimens...

Tia had the idea of hanging our banners in the front window this year, which I thought looked kind of neat. Tia also found the dragon puppet craft from the first picture (what would I do without her?). We had great food too: one neighbor brought chocolate dipped fortune cookies --which actually makes them worth eating (and I got a spectacular fortune this year that I taped on the fridge), and we had a great chicken stir fry (kind of a kung pao kind of thing), and gyoza, and I did a beef (yep, using up the freezer meat) and Chinese noodle dish (you've got to have longevity noodles on new year) with baby bok choy I found in the Asian market. Sorry I don't have pictures of the food. The food's usually the best part. So, are you ready to try your own party now? What weird excuses for parties does your family do?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cake Buffet

We did a reception last night at city hall which turned out beautiful. My friend has a wedding decor business, and every time we do a reception together she just wows me with her abilities and resources. For my part we did a served cake buffet. This reception was supposed to be for 500-600 people, and I was really nervous about serving that many people by hand without having a big line back up, but it turned out fine. I don't think we had quite that many, but still, I really appreciate the opportunity to try it, because now I've got the confidence to do it again. I had some of my favorite helpers too to serve, and that makes it more fun.

OK, now for the cakes. The star of the show was Lenora's world famous cake from Magleby's. I had one of my ladies cutting just this cake. With it's four layers, it's got amazing presence, but also takes some skill and patience to serve.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake. Cheesecake is always popular, but the flavors my client chose went over really well.

Classic Carrot Cake --also one of the popular choices. I think carrot cake is almost always my favorite.
The little girls especially liked this Peppermint Chocolate cake (it IS pink). The crumbs were pretty yummy though --that's real melted chocolate drizzled down the sides, with crushed starlight mints on the top.

Double Chocolate Godiva Cheesecake. Noone had to push that one.

The kids really liked this fancy Oreo Cake too. I think the Oreo cake and the Peppermint Chocolate were the prettiest on the table.

Anyway, we did it. The bride was beautiful, everyone was happy with their cake, and now I'm going to go put my feet up!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Xantolo in the garden

My great gramma's garden with me.

When I started my first garden, I asked my Dad what to do. "What should I plant? What grows here?" "Just try everything you want he said, and then you'll know." I did what he said, and grew everything I wanted. A lot didn't overwinter or produce fruit or flowers where I lived, but it felt so fulfilling to get it in the ground; to see the big bushy green everywhere that summer. I wore sunscreen that first time I planted, the not-nice-scented kind, the kind that smelled like 20 years ago sunblock, and now whenever I smell it, I'm on my hands and knees again, digging little holes, and putting in seeds next to the fence in that first yard.

I asked my Dad once why he got into gardening, and as I remember it (I could be manufacturing this memory mind you) he said his Grandpa Earley always had a big garden. His own parents, when I knew them at least, employed a gardener for their yard, and never had any kind of vegetable garden or fruit trees, but he'd connected with his grandparents. I knew my Great Grandma Earley, and by herself she'd still maintained a decent garden in her 70's and maybe early 80's. She had a banana tree growing in her San Diego yard!

One of my Dad's gardens

So my Dad always had a garden. We moved a few times as I was growing up, and he'd take whatever he had and made a garden: a huge, incredible garden with every fruit tree you could think of in some places. Have you ever eaten a loquat? a persimmon? a pomegranite? a fig? they all grew in our yard.

I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle" this week, and one section really spoke to me. OK, a lot of it spoke to me, but this one part about the "dia de los muertos" brought a little aha! moment for me:
"People's sadness was not for the departed, but for themselves, and could be addressed through ritual visiting called Xantolo, an ordinary communion between the dead and the living. Mexican tradition still holds that Xantolo is always present in certain places and activities, including wild marigold fields, the cultivation of corn, the preparation of tamales, and pan de muerto. Interestingly, farmers markets are said to be loaded with Xantolo."

My front side garden

The author goes on about the food tradition and how it connects the generations, but I feel it in the garden. I come from a long line of gardeners, and gardening brings us together now --with my Dad and me it's one of our strongest connections, and it's nice to think of my great grandparents, and their parents and THEIR parents all going through the same motions through the centuries -getting that satisfaction from creating a personal oasis, and growing their own food. Why then wouldn't my garden be a good place for xantolo? I've got the field of wild marigolds. In the last two years the marigolds have started to take over. I've let them --loving their bright bright sunny orange-yellow, and their strength and thrift. They reseed themself with a vengeance, creating new, healthy plants everywhere there's a bit of water. Almost half of our 1/3 acre is marigolds now I'd estimate (outside of the vegetable planters). Why wouldn't the peace I feel in my garden in late summer have a little to do with a few ghosts visiting and hanging out with me? This is the kind of place I'D want to go if I were a ghost, and my grands and great-grands had to be something like me and my Dad. I'd like to think so anyway.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oats tweak

I told you all from the beginning I wasn't qualified to make a judgment call on all of these diets. I want to particularly apologize for trying to summarize the paleo diet, while I apparently only described a variation of such.

OK, so here's the idea of the day: Mango with coriander.

I always have a protein powder, spinach smoothie first thing in the morning, but after lifting, eat some whole grain, usually oats or oat bran. I've been dipping a little almond butter into it lately for yum, but after binging last night on pistachios, told myself that was enough nuts for a few days (at least the edible kind!). So today, before lifting, I put dried, chopped mango into a cup of water to soak, and when i came back upstairs, cooked it up with my oats. I added some stevia, then wanted some spice in it, and decided on ground coriander. Only about 1/4 t. does it, and it's a great combo.

Monday, February 8, 2010

China Study versus Paleo diet/Weston Price

I'm not qualified to answer this question. Ready for me to get preachy? Just skip this whole post if you think it will make you uncomfortable. I'm struggling with some things I've seen around lately, and sometimes just have to get it all out on (ha! I was going to say paper!) my blog to straighten my thoughts out.

One of the favorite blogs I follow: Heather Eats Almond Butter has moved over to a high saturated fat diet (her words not mine). Weston Price has a "Cholesterol for Health" website. Then there's the Paleo diet and its followers that claim that prehistoric man would fast for 18-20 hours and then gorge on high fat animal protein. I also read an article in Outside Magazine "The Athlete's guide to food", where a man tried 4? 5? different diets over the course of a year, and tracked his cholesterol, and body fat, and a bunch of other markers for health, and this type of diet does seem to work. He got the best results following the paleo or the atkins. There are a lot of people that swear by this too --there's the whole Atkins following, and man, a lot of these people really look lean and sculpted. Bodybuilders are probably a lot closer to Weston Price than anything else.

The China Study guy wasn't trying to sell a diet and merchandise however. He was just stating results from peer-reviewed scientific studies he conducted, and those of others such as Esselstein. Long term health, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other auto-immune disorders are most positively affected by this type of diet according to these studies. What may be less important to many people, but is a little concern of mine, is how the large scale meat industry runs (I'm not talking about small family operations, but the big industrial operations). They are using so many resources that are subsidized by our tax dollars (I'm talking a lot of oil to transport for one thing, and not just their product, but the corn used to create their product), and raising these animals so inhumanely. This, like I said, is not the reason I'm doing the vegan thing, I'm doing it for health.

I'm puzzled though by all of the anecdotal evidence however that says that people's healthy cholesterol numbers went up, and their bad numbers went down following these high animal fat, "grains are the bad guy", diets. Maybe it's a case of short term results versus long term results, or maybe it's a case of these diet promoters doing what my grad school professors called "massaging the data". Maybe their test subjects were eating fewer calories, and hence the results. Maybe though, there is something valid here.

We've been doing this vegan type of diet for a few months now, and although we're not perfect, (sometimes my one free meal a week is REALLY FREE), we seem to be doing OK. My strength has gone up in my lifting sessions, I recovered from a bout of stress-induced Graves just as quickly, replacing the muscle loss, and Jeff says his muscle mass has literally gone up during this time. We've been really careful whole food, high protein vegans, and we haven't skimped on the nuts and nut butters, but then again overall, we've been pretty low fat. Jeff uses no salad dressing, and mine is usually based on a blended vegetable or fruit, with a pinch of nut butter sometimes to smooth it out. We use salsa as a topping on our bean burgers or burritoes, and use tamari alone on stir-frys. I've been really slow taking off pounds gained during the holidays, but then again that's not unusual for my body, especially when I've had a Graves attack, and I've had about three since then. I always get more in winter (especially with Christmas treats), and this has been a pretty stressful couple of months for me.

I just can't see how it's possible that eating a lot of saturated fat can be good for your arteries and heart. It doesn't make intutitive sense to me. These articles claiming it's the way "nature" intended it, have to believe that nature intended us to heavily rely on cow's milk and its fats for our diet, and intended us to kill a lot of animals, and I'm not sure either was the case. Once again, this isn't about the "poor animals" though, it's about what's good for us. We do have a couple of canines, so maybe once in a while meat eating is reasonable. We don't however have a mouthful of shark teeth. We don't nurse beyond infant stage, so I'm thinking dairy (even just dairy fat) is probably not the most logical diet base. Who knows for sure though. My free meals will still probably always involve dairy or meat in some form, and more power to everyone I know who do great on whatever diet they choose. I'm a caterer too, and I still have my Paula Dean side that periodically gets me into trouble. Sigh. You can't beat cream for making almost any recipe taste better, unless you use butter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

fake it 'til you make it

Things are going better for me. I made the decision for Ari's school, and though part of me is crushed by the outcome, I'm at peace with it and know it's the best thing for her. Once the decision is behind me I'm always better anyway. At least the anxiety is past.

I'm still going with the high protein "vegan" (in quotes because I still use whey and boullion --and honey sometimes --I never got the whole "save the bees" thing) thing, and have a couple more vegan bean dishes I wanted to post. I don't know if anyone is interested in these, but at least I have a place where they're written down.

I dated someone in college from Costa Rica, and the best thing about that relationship was his cooking. It wasn't that great of a relationship frankly, but I got some good recipes. One of them was just a simple black bean mix using bacon and cilantro that was so perfect. I don't miss bacon very much being a vegan, but I do miss it as a flavoring. I made a vegan version the other night to use in burritos (I just put mine on top of a salad instead as usual) that turned out satisfyingly close to the original.

3 cans black beans rinsed and drained
1 onion chopped small
2 big cloves of garlic
1 1/2 T. EVOO
1 1/2 T. chili powder
1 t. smoked Spanish paprika (I love this stuff)
1 T. xylitol or sugar
1 C. hot water
4 t. chicken boullion paste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Saute the onion and garlic until onion is translucent, and add chili and paprika. Saute for a minute more. Add black beans and mash partially with potato masher in pan, mixing with onions. Mix boullion paste with hot water, then add to bean mixture with sugar/xylitol. When heated through, sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve.

I also wanted kind of a "chicken" burger for last night's dinner. (see why this post is called "fake i"t?) This is one made of white beans, and the family had them on hamburger buns while I did the salad beast thing again (with a fantastic roasted red pepper Italian herb vinaigrette whipped up in the blender). Warning: I always make a lot for my recipes because I want leftovers to use for my protein portions throughout the next couple of days. This makes like 12-14 patties, so scale down if you need to.

3 cans white beans (rinsed and drained)
4t. chicken boullion
2 cup hot water (divided)
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1 t. evoo
3 large cloves garlic (pressed)
1/2 cup brown rice protein
1 cup WW bread crumbs
1 t. thyme
1 t. sage

Saute onions, bell pepper, and garlic in oil, and add boullion paste mixed with 1 cup hot water. Remove from heat. Mash beans partially in bowl, and mix with protein ,breadcrumbs, and herbs. Add onion mixture, and second cup water (it doesn't have to be hot). Form into patties, and brown in a non-stick skillet coated with cooking spray, 5 minute on each side on medium heat. Really good with that Jack's fresh salsa from costco on those thin wheat buns (according to my family), or crumbled over a salad.