Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ready, Steady, Cook! Using a Cook Up to Simplify Meal Planning

I've long been committed to avoiding processed food, making things from scratch and buying local. But by the time I prepped three meals a day for my family of four and the odd snack here and there, I felt like I was spending half my day in the kitchen. It was ridiculous.

Something had to change.

Lack of time is often a reason cited for not cooking at home, and I can appreciate why. It is time consuming to shop, chop and cook. And then there's the clean up... oy. But peeps, it's worth it! You can cook a great dinner for a fraction of what it would cost in a restaurant, and you know what's in it. You can control what goes into the pot and how much. Yes, it takes time, but there are ways to cook at home that won't require you chained to the sink well into the evening. One way is...

The cook up! Also called 'batch cooking,' and maybe a few other words I can't mention on my family blog, the cook up will take you some time, but only on the front end. It involves making different things all at once, then mixing and matching those foods to create a variety of meals you can have throughout the week.

Here's how it works in my house:

  • Plan to make a soup or salad, at least two vegetables, and at least two protein sources. 
  • Clean out the fridge and determine what needs to be used up, then shop for whatever else is needed.
  • Block off about two to three hours when you won't be distracted and gather all your ingredients and equipment (pots, pans, etc.) Try to reuse as many items as possible to make clean up easier.
  • Make sure you have plenty of leftover dishes for all your yummies.
  • Cook the items that need the longest cook time first, then work down from there. 
Last Monday morning I did a cook up for the week. I planned to roast several different root vegetables, saute onions, peppers and broccoli, prep carrots and broccoli for a stir fry, cook chicken breast and ground beef, make a pot of rice and and a stir fry sauce. I budgeted two hours and targeted using only one cutting board, a knife, vegetable peeler, large saute pan and a roasting pan.

(I posted this on Instagram (@momsatthebarre) and most people were interested in whether or not I actually only used one cutting board, a knife, vegetable peeler, large saute pan and a roasting pan. Stay tuned for THAT...)

Here's how it went:

I started by preheating the oven for roasting. I washed four small sweet potatoes, pricked them with a fork and put them in the oven to bake whole on the roasting pan, which I had covered in aluminum foil.

While the potatoes were baking, I peeled a butternut squash and chopped it into cubes. I tossed the cubes in olive oil and sprinkled them with salt. I pushed the sweet potatoes to one side of the roasting pan and tossed the squash on the pan. 

Then I peeled the parsnips, another sweet potato and the beets, and halved the acorn squash and scooped out the seeds. I chopped each vegetable separately, tossed them in oil and sprinkled with salt and roasted them--again, separately so I can use them how I want later. I did use another roasting pan here, but I covered it in foil, so clean up was easy.

Next, I chopped up a few onions and some garlic and sauteed them in oil. I took out about half the onions and set them aside, then I added a bell pepper to the pan. While those were cooking, I chopped the broccoli stalks and added those to the pan. Finally, I added the florets and cooked them until they were just barely done. (This way, when I reheat the vegetables later, the broccoli won't be overdone.) 

I also chopped up some carrots and broccoli and left them raw. 

Finally, I cut up the chicken. I did this last so I wouldn't have to wash the cutting board before using it on the vegetables. I cooked the chicken in the saute pan, then I browned the ground beef. I made a gravy of sorts with the pan juices, which took all of two minutes. 

While the meats were cooking, I mixed up the stir fry sauce, started some rice in the rice cooker and put the soup together in the slow cooker. I made the soup with the butternut squash. I put the roasted squash, the onions/garlic I had set aside, and some chicken broth I had made yesterday. I'll add cream later and puree with a stick blender later. (I LOVE my stick blender, by the way. I have a Cuisinart model. The blade detaches and can go in the dishwasher! Score!)

So how did I to use these delights?

I made a stir fry, a shepherd's pie, a lentil stew, quesadillas, and a frittata. We had the soup as a side dish a few times. Last night I made some fish and we had what vegetables remained. 

This cook up took about two and a half hours, including clean up. That's longer than I had planned, but I decided to assemble the soup. I also made a little mini pie with an apple that one of the little darlings had bitten into and left to die. Clean up took maybe ten minutes, tops. I planned this one pretty well so I was able to reuse the same equipment. Yay!

I can't take credit for this idea--I've read about it in a few different places. For me, it's been great, especially when my husband is traveling for work, which is often. My early attempts were not great successes (translation: HUGE mess at the end), but after a few tries, I've gotten more efficient. Each time, I learn something new. This time I wish I had made more of some of the vegetables. I used up most of them early in the week and had to make more, which was a pain.

Ah well, live and learn.

If you're a fan of the cook up, or want to be, give me a shout! I'd love to hear what works and what doesn't. Happy cooking!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

If Step and Barre had a Love Child: Pure Barre Platform!

Goodness gracious, so many months since I posted last. My computer died. I know, you were all hanging on by a thread, roaming through your lives bereft... well, I'm back. On the darling's computer. I'm wearing horse blinders to block out the mess that is his desk.

Anyway, I've missed sharing my spicy thoughts and opinions with you all. And believe me, I have a lot to say. Today, instead of prepping the overwhelming talk I'm supposed to give to my son's third grade class tomorrow, I'm going to talk with you about....

Pure Barre PLATFORM!

Barre classes typically follow the same basic format--warm-up/arms, thighs, seat, abs, and stretch. It's a formula that works, but if you're a barre junkie like me, sometimes you want to... well, step it up.

Which is why I was delighted to see that Pure Barre, the nation's most prolific barre brand, offer up something a little different from their usual fare.

Pure Barre's typical class is not boring. They tend to go out of their way to make the exercises interesting, almost to the point (I find) some are a little awkward, but I appreciate the effort. There is a nice variety of movements in a typical PB class, but sometimes you want a change, so PB launched Platform a few months ago.

What to expect:
It's basically step meets barre. Platform uses what I'm guessing is about a 6-inch high, square step, along with the usual PB props of light weights, and maybe a tube and/or small ball.

The class starts out with a fast-paced warm-up using the step. You move on to combo work with the weights and step. Typical barre moves are interspersed with cardio bursts on the platform. You still work thighs, seat and abs, but the pace is FAST. Not a lot of breaks. A lot of sweat. Yay!

What I like about Platform:
Everything. Seriously, I love Platform. The class flies by. It is SO FUN! There are fewer reps than you do in a regular PB class, and the exercises change more frequently, so you're never bored.

You also sweat, sweat, sweat. I was definitely anaerobic at times, but there were sufficient intervals that I didn't find it overkill. You'll also clock some steps on the Fitbit, and that's always nice.

You also don't have any flat- or round-back abs. I hate those.

What I didn't like about Platform:
Ummm.... not much. There really isn't much I didn't like about Platform, and I've taken it quite a few times from several different instructors. There are a couple of funky moves that feel a little awkward to me. For example, we tend to bounce up and down on one leg with the other leg up around my head. I mean, it's not exactly functional fitness, that one. But it got my heart rate up so hey, not complaining.

Also, it's not offered that often at my local studios. I mean, just a couple times a week that I can actually make, but that's ok. I'll clear the calendar because....


Check out your closest local Pure Barre (or 'Pure Barry', as the guy on Google Maps likes to call it) at www.purebarre.com.

Next up on the blog--I'll review Bar Method Bar Move, and I'm going to talk about doing a weekly cook up! I posted about that on Instagram and Facebook the other day, so stay tuned! (and follow on IG @momsatthebarre). I'm lonely out here in blogger land after all this time, so talk to me. I'm back, peeps!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How I'm Paid as a Housewife

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Churchill's Secret, a made-for-TV movie about the late British Prime Minister's recovery from a series of strokes in 1953. Ramola Garai plays Churchill's plucky nurse. She delays her emigration to Australia to marry her sweetheart to care for Churchill. According to the movie, she loves her job and is having some angst at moving to Australia to become 'just a wife.' (Do we know Millie Appleyard was feeling this way? Or is this some feminist spin injected into the life story of a woman about whom, really, we probably know very little?)

Last year, I finally got around to watching the last couple of seasons of Foyle's War. You know, the ones that tragically did not include Sgt. Milner. Less eye-candy, for sure, but still a great show and worth watching. In these, the character Sam(antha) is now married, and at the end is expecting a child. As per the dictates of 1950's culture, Sam has to leave her job to be home full-time with her baby. She's not too happy about it, and makes some pretty disparaging comments about the horror of being 'stuck at home changing nappies all day.'

My firstborn is in a World War II phase. He's like his mother--he gets a topic in his mind and reads voraciously about it until his obsession is spent or he has read through all the books on it in the library, whichever comes first. So we're reading a lot about World War II, and invariably, the Rosie the Riveter chapters tell glowing stories of women thrust into the workforce during the war, and their GREAT, SEETHING DISAPPOINTMENT at having to go back home after the it was over. I mean, really, according to every book, every single woman absolutely *LOVED* her factory job and was severely disappointed at having to chain herself to her kitchen when the men came home. You can almost hear the 'clink' of the prison gates as she shuts her front door.

From all this, we can only presume one thing: housework is inherently dreary, oppressive and demeaning. You can't possibly be 'fulfilled' doing housework. No way.

But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I'm 'just a housewife.' I'm 'just a wife,' 'just a mother.' And I love it. I thank God everyday that I can be home, and I have pretty much no desire to go back to work. I actually like cooking. I don't mind working in the yard. I get a little thrill when I can use up all the leftovers without anything spoiling. I get jazzed when I find a good deal on raspberries or chicken (I got a whole chicken for free once. For real!) I like making crazy birthday cakes for my kids. I feel immensely satisfied when a room is tidy, or I tuck my kids into beds that smell like clean sheets dried on the clothesline, or when order has been restored to the chaos that is the LEGO corner or our upstairs playroom. (That doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's nice.) I like teaching my kids to vacuum and dust even though it's easier to do it myself.
Yup, that's me. Except I'm in yoga pants.

I like doing letter worksheets with my five year old. I like reading World War II books with my eight year old. I like tying them into their train and pumpkin aprons and baking cookies, talking about fractions and macro-nutrients and yumminess as we pour things into a bowl.

I like paying bills and saving money and strategizing how we can pay off our mortgage early.

I couldn't do all these things if I worked outside the home. I'm just not that productive. And I don't think people should feel like they have to do all these things and work outside the home. Yes, some need doing (laundry), others are just for fun (birthday cakes.) There are only 24 hours in the day. Something has to give.

When people ask me 'what I do,' I tell them 'I'm at home.' No one has ever been snarky or rude about it. People are always very nice and polite, but the conversation usually stops there. There's typically a rather awkward silence. People just don't usually know how to engage me in conversation once I admit I'm not splitting the atom. Feeling the awkwardness, I usually end up saying things like, 'I do volunteer work.' Which is true. 'I help out at the kids' school.' Also true. 'My husband works crazy hours and travels a lot, so I don't even know how we would manage if I had a job.' 'I'm very involved with my church.' 'I have a child with special needs.' True, true and true. But it's as if I feel I have to justify being home. As if keeping house is not enough. Because although people are very nice and polite, I feel like they're thinking.... what does she do all day?

Sometimes I think I'm probably just projecting. That people aren't really thinking that. And they probably aren't. They probably aren't thinking about me at all. They're probably making their grocery lists in their minds. Or thinking about a work deadline. Or maybe they are thinking, how on earth do I relate to this dinosaur from the 1950's? How do I make conversation with someone who washes dishes and does laundry all day? Her house must be so clean.

Well, it's not. Right now the upstairs toilet is kind of nasty, but I'm procrastinating by writing on my blog. I lose my patience and my temper and my keys. And I'm certainly not the world's greatest mother. I lost my temper in a kind of epic way last week, and begged my firstborn's forgiveness with tears in my eyes. And he gave it so freely.... that I cried even more.

Whatever any family decides to do with paid work and housework is up to them and it's none of my--or anyone else's--business. But we have elevated paid work above the unpaid. Whether someone works a paid job all day or not, those household chores need doing. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it, it needs doing, and it blesses people when it's done. Just because you didn't receive a check for the doing, doesn't mean it isn't worth something. Betty Friedan told us we couldn't be fulfilled without paid work, and as a society, we believed her. The irony is that I now hear feminists complain that 'care-giving,' which is usually done by women, is undervalued. Ummm, yes. It is. And who started that, I wonder?

Yet no work is unpaid, not really. Last night, as my boys and I were supping on chips, salsa and olives after flag-football practice, my firstborn said, "Mommy, this is my refuge." I looked at him for a moment with alarm. He's not usually the introspective, mushy type, so I wondered.... Why does he need refuge? Did someone bully him on the school bus?!

"What do you mean?" I replied. He said, "You told me once that our home is my refuge. That no matter what happens in the world, this is where I can come for peace and rest, and it is."

And that was payment, larger than any check I could ever be given.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Quick! Fast! Learn How I Lost 15lbs. This Summer

Years ago, when I was single, childless and living in low-maintenance, rented apartments, I was something of a mystic. I read Julian of Norwich and went on silent prayer retreats. I walked labyrinths and even made a pilgrimage to Taize, the French monastery known for it's moving chants.

That's what I did, but really, to be a mystic is more about what you don't do. In Christianity, the way up is often down. The way to salvation rests on someone else's doing, not your own.

I was led to try out some of the traditional Christian disciplines that have been almost totally abandoned by modern American protestants. I learned to sit in a verse (or even just a word) of scripture for a long time. I rested on the Sabbath, instead of stopping off at the grocery store on the way home from church. I made a Lenten sacrifice every year, and... I fasted.

The practice of fasting--that is, intentionally going without food for a period of time--is an ancient one, and it is not limited to Christianity. All the major religions have advocated fasting. Early Christians fasted, typically on Wednesdays and Fridays. It's a practice that's all over the Bible.

I'll be honest, I never really took to fasting. I enjoyed Taize chants a whole lot more. I found fasting profoundly difficult and uncomfortable. Of all the traditional practices that have fallen by the wayside since I've become a mother, fasting was probably the first to go.

However, I've recently learned how profoundly good for us it is! Contrary to modern advice, going without food for a day... or two or three... is extremely healthy. It is when we abstain from eating that our bodies can divert energy to the business of repair. By depriving the body of food for a time, our insulin levels drop. Insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas to deal with blood sugar, is a healthy response to eating. It is a storage hormone. Insulin scurries around, putting away all the glucose--first for immediate fuel, then into muscles as glycogen, then whatever is leftover is stored as fat. Without it, we're in big trouble, but over time, the constant eating advocated by the snack manufacturers can lead to insulin resistance, which is the precursor to type-2 diabetes. This nasty disease is so preventable--and, it turns out--reversible!

Fasting makes our bodies more insulin-sensitive. So does exercise. Going without food for a bit is not going to throw our bodies into 'starve mode,' that state in which the body cannibalizes muscle to survive. Most of us have plenty of stored fuel in our bodies to last us a few days... or weeks, even. And, contrary to other weight loss diets, people who lose weight by fasting lose far less muscle. One study found the average lost muscle in the fasting group was only one pound, compared with a 10lb. muscle loss average in the low-calorie diet group. And fasting is, in my opinion, much easier to stick with. You eat normally on non-fast days. It's not a free-for-all, but it's normal eating. It might involve ice cream. Or wine. You're not forsaking treats forever and ever. Just for today.


I'll admit, my renewed interest in fasting was not to get in touch with God in a deeper way, nor was it motivated by a desire to understand the suffering of the poor. I was driven by my growing weight gain.

As I've mentioned before, a couple of winters ago, I put on some weight. I was surprised to find that my summer clothes did not fit at all well after the long, harsh winter of 2015. I had gained 15lbs, which slowly started to increase to 20. I tried all my usual tactics to reign things in, and to my great surprise, NOTHING worked. I even went very low-carb for a few weeks. And I lost a pound. Way to much good stuff to give up for only a pound!

I eventually tried to make my peace with it. I had read that many women gain around 10lbs. during perimenopause, that this was a normal and healthy thing and not something to be feared, so I tried to console myself with that. Yet my weight continued to climb. Despite the healthy eating, despite the workouts, I was getting heavier and heavier. (And no, it wasn't muscle, but thanks for asking.) I went shopping earlier this summer and I could not believe what I saw in the mirror. I didn't even recognize myself.

The next day, I decided to fast. I didn't eat for 24 hours, then had a small, reasonable dinner. The following day, I ate normally. I alternated fast and feed days, and within the first two weeks, I had lost 6lbs. Whoa!

I continued the alternate day protocol for a total of four weeks, at which point I was getting a little sick of it. I transitioned to fasting two days a week,

Many people have taken an interest in fasting, so I'll try to answer my most frequently asked questions:

Did you read any books about fasting? Of course, because I'm a tool. The best book I read was The Obesity Code by Canadian physician Jason Fung. If you're interested in the science of weight gain and loss, this book is must-read. I really couldn't recommend it more highly.

I also read the The Fast Diet by Michael Mosely and Mimi Spencer (aka 'the 5:2 diet.') Mosley is a non-practicing English doctor who presents health-related documentaries for the BBC. The Fast Diet is basically what I'm doing now, though I don't strictly monitor my calories as they dictate. More on that later, but it's a good book that is easily readable.

Probably my least favorite book is The Every Other Day Diet by Krista Varady. She's a PhD nutritionist who has done numerous studies on fasting. Her schtick is eat 500 calories a day every other day, then eat normally on the feed days. Much of her research is interesting, and the 5:2 diet was influenced in part by Varady's work. It might be worth a read if you get it from the library, but the writing is terrible and she advocates a lot of processed frankenfoods. Yuck. I get that they're easier for the sake of compliance, but Lean Cuisine is gross and I have a hard time with a nutritionist advocating the consumption of frozen dinners with any regularity.

Is fasting hard? At first, yes. The first two weeks in particular were hard. At times, I was tempted to throw in the towel and tuck into a can of Pringles. If I hadn't been seeing such great results, I might have bailed. But I'm so glad I didn't! I'm actually pretty used to fasting now. I'm fasting today, and while I do feel a bit hungry right now, it's totally manageable.

How do you get through the hunger? The interesting thing about hunger is that it goes away. Seriously, it does. I find if I keep busy, out of the kitchen and I don't watch The Great British Bake-off, I'm fine. On fast days, I do things that keep me out of the kitchen. I run errands, work in the garden, clean out closets, whatever. Just stay out of the kitchen.

For me, the hardest time is the afternoon. I breeze through the morning. I'm seldom hungry for breakfast anyway, so mornings are easy.

What does a typical day look like? It sort of depends. Some days I will start my fast after lunch. I just won't eat dinner. Then I'll break the fast at lunch the following day. Usually, I'll go dinner to dinner. I do have coffee in the morning with heavy cream. Since heavy cream is just fat (no protein or carbs) it doesn't stimulate insulin as do other foods. Hard-core fasters would tell me I shouldn't even have that, but coffee is a non-negotiable for me, and it keeps me in the game. If I couldn't have creamy coffee, I would be a beast and I would hate life and everyone would hate me, so for the sake of world peace, I have the coffee.

Then I just don't eat. For the rest of the day, until dinner, at which time I will eat something whole, real and reasonable. Tonight I'm planning on a green salad with steak and a mustard vinaigrette. Ok, now I'm hungry. Let's move on.

Do you exercise on a fast day? Yes (you knew I was going to say that.) At first, I was doing a short, HIIT-type workout. I was afraid doing anything longer would make me ravenous, but now I just do whatever I want on a given day. (I'm trending towards shorter workouts anyway, but that's for another post.) Today I did a 30-minute Physique 57 video, and I felt great.

Are you really strict with it? NO. I'm really not strict at all. The 5:2 and Every Other Day diets say you should restrict your fast-breaking meal to 500 calories, but I don't bother. It's not that I hoover everything in sight (though I might have done that once or twice.) I just really, really hate weighing, measuring and tracking my calories. It feels really obsessive to me, and it makes me crazy, so I don't do it. I just stick to whole, real and reasonable. It might be under 500 calories, it might be over. I don't know and I don't care. What I'm doing seems to be working for me.

On non-fast days, I eat whatever. I might have breakfast, I might not. I might have ice cream, I might not. I really just eat normally, which for me is whole, real food with occasional treats. I am not very restrictive on those days, and I've still lost weight. I know some people still have to be fairly strict on non-fast days, but I just won't do it. To me, life is too short to be strict all the time! I'm still a few pounds over what I used to be, but it's ok. If I don't lose any more, that's fine.

As for Christians fasting, is it commanded? No! You don't have to do it, and I'd say most modern Christians probably never have. But I find there is great blessing to this and other spiritual disciplines. I find my mind does turn to other, deeper things on fast days. I do reflect more on the plight of the poor and others for whom hunger is not optional. I approach my fast-breaking with a more grateful heart than I normally have. It is not a burdensome requirement, but I wonder... in our post-Reformation fervor to avoid legalism, are we missing something very precious when we jettison these old practises? I think we do. The traditional disciplines are good for both body and soul.

I do hope this is helpful for some of you. If you have other questions, please post a comment below! I'll write a follow-up if there is interest.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nine Tips to Reduce Food Waste

This summer, the bigger little and I have been studying World War II together. He's all jazzed about the tanks, battles and bombs, and I, of course, am fascinated by... the food. While he maps out his tactical maneuvers, I'm reading about ration books and victory gardens.

Food scarcity was a big thing during World War II. Britain, for example, imported a whopping SIXTY PERCENT of it's food in the 1930's. The looming threat of war, with it's inevitable shipping blockades and shortages, meant the British government had to scramble to provide sustenance to it's nearly 48 million inhabitants. Flower gardens were turned over to vegetables, every patch of available land was plowed for cereal crops, and Women's Institute members relieved countryside bushes of their berries and fashioned them into jam. Rationing was immediately enacted and persisted until 1952.

Food waste was curbed dramatically. Any remaining scraps that couldn't be eaten were composted, or thrown in the scrap bin to be fed to pigs. Wasting food became a crime. Literally. In August 1940, wasting food became a prisonable offense.

Rationing and shortages existed in America, too, but since we are a significantly larger country with a far more varied landscape and climate, conditions were not so desperate here. Oh yeah, and we didn't have bombs raining on us every night. That helped, too.

Fast forward seventy years, and we have lost all sense of wartime thrift. Watch this (FYI, there are some bad words):

Whoa. FORTY PERCENT. We're wasting forty percent of the food produced in this country. This hurts my heart.

This is insane, especially when you consider one of the big justifications for GMOs and increased pesticide use is 'the need to feed our growing population.' We're told tinkering with plants will make them more drought-resistant and enable farmers to grow more food on less land. Well, that sounds just super, but how about we start by actually EATING the food we're growing now??? Does it strike anyone else as utterly ridiculous to spend millions of dollars developing frankenplants that use less water, while we use MORE water to grow plants that get thrown away? Anyone? Beuller?

Then there is the complicity of our own government in this. My friend Dietitian Deb, whom you may remember from the chocolate milk post, sent me this article about millions of beautiful cherries sacrificed for the sake of 'market regulation.' Insane.

What can we do about this?

On the grand scale, I don't entirely know. I'll work on that, but I do know there is plenty we can do at home. We can make a concerted effort to eat whatever food we bring into the house. I don't want to sound braggy or anything, but I've got our food situation down to almost no waste. Here's how we do it:

1. Clean out the refrigerator every week. Years ago, I happened upon a blog that had a weekly feature called 'food waste Friday.' The blogger cleaned out the fridge every Friday and posted a picture of whatever she had to throw away. The idea was to hold herself accountable to waste less food. It's a good practice and it inspired me to do the same. I actually peruse the fridge every couple of days to see what needs using up, then do a weekly clean-out to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks. It only takes a few minutes!

2. Simplify your cooking. I read that all the great chefs of the early twentieth century had specialities--only about 10-12 dishes they would simply cook in rotation. In the past, I've done a lot of experimenting with cooking and making different recipes, and I've ended up with cupboards full of obscure ingredients. I'm working on using all that up and just sticking with a skeleton menu. Yup, we're becoming a 'Tuesday is spaghetti night' kind of family.

3. Eat leftovers. I know this seems obvious, but a lot of people don't like leftovers. I don't fully understand why. Plenty of food is actually better-tasting the next day, but I can appreciate sometimes you're sick of whatever you made, or it seems pointless to hold on to just a little bit of this or that. However, you can re-purpose those bits and bobs into new, exciting meals! Quesadillas, frittatas, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink chili, fried rice... they're all great ways to use up little bits of things, and you might even be able to postpone a trip to the market.
Some random leftovers we made into quesadillas one night

4. Eventually, you need to go, and when you do, shop with a list--and stick to it. When people don't use a list, they buy more things they don't need. A friend of mine turned me on to a great iPhone app called Wunderlist. It has a share function, so you can create a list and share it with your spouse, roommate, whomever, so if anyone else is going to the store, you don't end up with duplicates. You buy only what you need.

5. Ignore 'best by' dates. If you watched the video above, you now know that those dates are completely arbitrary. Just because something is 'expired' doesn't mean it isn't still perfectly edible. A better guide is your nose. Even if it smells 'off,' you might still be able to use it. We use soured milk in baking or pancakes, I make banana bread from over-ripe bananas. Use common sense--if meat smells rotten, well, don't eat that. But fruit with a little bit of fuzz? Just cut off the fuzzy part and eat it. It's fine.

6. See if you can use things you didn't think you could--like bones. We save bones from meat, for example. I collect them in a bag in the freezer and when I have enough, I make bone broth. I never buy broth anymore. It's healthier, it's easy, and it's basically free.

7. Preserve what you can. Greens can be chopped and frozen, herbs can be dried or preserved in ice cube trays, lots of things can be canned. That's a bit of a process, but I'm learning. I had a tutorial from my friend Kelli last year. I'm a little intimidated and afraid I'll screw it up and kill my family, but Kelli says my cans will tell me before they kill us, so that's a comfort.

8. Let things rot--on purpose. Fermenting food is a great way to extend it's fridge/shelf life AND improve it's nutrient profile. Foods actually become more nutritious when you ferment them. Pickles and sauerkraut will last for weeks in the refrigerator, buying you more time to use them up!

9. Lastly, compost. Fruit and vegetable peels, corn husks, coffee grounds, grass clippings.... they can all be tossed together in a compost bin (either purchased or of your own making) and over time, they will become beautiful, nutrient-rich soil for plants. Do I compost? Umm, not yet, but I'm working on it. Our town sells bins at a reduced rate to residents, so I'm planning to get one soon and get started.

One of the best parts of not wasting food is the money you save! We pre-pay for our weekly farm share box, and we buy half a grass-fed cow every year, but apart from that, I spend $50-$75 a week on groceries. That includes lunches I pack for my husband and small people. That's milk, cheese, baking supplies, fish, chicken, tortillas, grains like rice and oats and most of our fruit (since we don't get much fruit in the farm box) for $50-$75 a week. We save a lot of money by not wasting food.

I know, I have a real bee in my bonnet (that I would put to work making honey for me, by the way) on this topic. I'm probably on the more extreme end of this issue, but whatever you can do... it helps! I don't want to be preachy, but I really, really encourage everyone to think about how we can reduce food waste. It just makes sense! (cents?! I'm slapping my own knee.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fire and Water: American Arrogance Outside the Pool

Like most of the rest of the world, I'm glued to my TV in the evenings, watching the Olympics. Every two years (Winter and Summer games alternate) my bottom grows roots while I delight in the heroic physical feats of the world's best athletes. They're sweating and suffering and I'm just chillaxing away. Sometimes I foam roll while I watch, just to break up the sloth.

Last night, Michael Phelps won his 20th AND 21st gold medals. The man is a machine. The 200m butterfly competition included a side dish of intense public rivalry and trash talk outside the pool. Yummy! South African Chad le Clos has been goading Phelps over this particular race. He bested Phelps in 2012 to win gold in this event. Apparently avenging this loss was part of reason Phelps came out of retirement to swim again in Rio.

For some insane reason, le Clos thought it was a good idea to stir the pot with Phelps, to rub it in that he won last time and challenge Phelps to another duel. Yes, challenge the greatest swimmer (athlete, maybe?) of all time.

People, this is never a good idea. Michael Phelps is an amazing physical specimen. I'm sure he trains very hard to be as good as he is, but he is also genetically gifted. His wing span is ridiculous. He is a machine.

But sports at this level is not just about the body, it's also about the mind, and Phelps is all about the mind game. I remember he sat down with Bob Costas during one of his previous four Olympics and talked about how he psyches himself up before a race. He explained to Costas that he imagines slights from other athletes. Another swimmer might glance in his direction, and Phelps will take affront in his own mind and nurture the 'grievance,' for hours, days, weeks, months before the race. He will work himself up into an embittered frenzy and unleash his fury in the pool. Seriously, he said he does this. Yikes.

Phelps won last night's race decisively, earning is 20th Olympic gold medal. He relished in his victory, perched atop the lane divider, he urged the crowd to bring on the praise.

As for le Clos, he finished fourth, and NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines offered sage advice--"Don't poke the tiger." Words to live by.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, Twitterland erupted with heaping shame and humiliation for le Clos. We Americans do many things well, but increasingly, tact, kindness and graciousness are nowhere on the list. We've always been chided as an arrogant people, and it seems to reach new heights everyday. Honestly, I fear for my country. Phelps has earned the right to be proud and maybe a little smug, but the rest of us? The armchair/foam roller athletes? No. Sorry.

Of course, I'm happy for Michael Phelps, but I can't help but feel sorry for le Clos. Poor guy. He's eating a massive slice of humble pie, and apparently BOTH his parents have cancer?! Good grief. Let's all give the guy a break. I just don't have the stomach or the steely heart for great athletic feats, let alone the physical capacity.

I'll just go back to my foam roller.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Barre Crawl: barre3 Revisited

Lately, I've been taking classes at barre3. I reviewed one class I took there when it first opened, but I did so with some trepidation. I really don't like reviewing studios with only one class under my belt. Somehow, it doesn't seem quite fair. You need a few swigs to get a really accurate perception of a barre, and at the time I was in the tank for the Bar Method. I still really like the Bar Method, by the way. They're tops for form corrections, and the carpet... oh my. But I gave up my membership there last summer. My wonky bits were acting up too much for me to get enough use out of it, and I was ready for a change.

So color-me-happy when my local barre3 had a sale on ten class packs. Yippee! A sale on barre classes is to me what a sale on shoes is to other women.

Here are five things I'm loving about barre3:

  1. I sweat. This is not usually that hard for me, as I've mentioned before. I tend to be a sweat-er. But not all barre classes will get you more than misty. Barre3 is a full-on sweat. This is because b3 always includes a set of compound exercises. You're working upper and lower body together, and it's intense. 
  2. They use large range of motion exercises, along with the up-an-inch-down-an-inch isometric contractions for which barre is famous. Usually, a set of tiny pulses is followed by some big movements. Honestly, this just feels good after the tiny pulses. And it gets your heart rate back up. See #1.
  3. It's different. We all know how I feel about barre. I *heart* it to the moon and back, but sometimes it's nice to do something a little different from the standard barre workout format (arms/thighs/seat/abs.) The layout of a barre3 class is not like a classic barre class. Everything is all jumbled up. You know, in a good way. Not like my kitchen gadget drawer. Anyway, moving on...
  4. They are all about modifications, and that makes my heart sing. After my year of 1000 injuries, I need modifications, and I love that I am encouraged to modify up the wazoo if I need to. Every studio I've ever been to sanctions modifications if you need them, but sometimes it feels a little less-than if you are doing them. Not at barre3. They're all over making the workout work for you. And that leads me to my fave aspect of b3....
  5. The vibe. It's very supportive, and very non-competitive. You won't hear any of that 'see if you can get one inch lower than your neighbor' nonsense. You know what? Some people could maybe get a little lower in wide-second, but maybe they shouldn't. Not everyone's body is designed to get the femur parallel to the floor. For some people, that's an injury waiting to happen. I've now taken classes with five different instructors, and they are all about making the class work for you. On that day. Even if you're normally an amazon, if you're just not feeling it that day, that's A-OK. And that, peeps, is really nice for recovering badasses like me. 

The only thing I'm not loving about barre3 is the floor. It's hard. And the mats are rigid so you can't just fold one up and stash it near your spot for when releve is hurting your bunion. But that's ok. I can work around that. barre3 is getting two thumbs up.