Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"You Butthead," and Other Traditional Holiday Greetings

We got home from our Christmas travels yesterday. Everyone's asking, "how was your Christmas?!" Ah, it was pretty crappy, but thanks for asking!

Three-year-old Darling Son #2 had a seizure on Christmas morning.
Hospitals are not good places to spend Christmas. FYI.
It was absolutely terrifying. He was totally incoherent in the ambulance en route to the hospital. He finally perked up as the nurse was taking his rectal temperature--his eyes flashed open and he shouted, "I HATE THIS! YOU BUTTHEAD!"

On one hand, it was very reassuring. Our precious son spoke! A proper sentence! Subject and predicate! And so relevant to the task at hand!

On the other hand, our precious son just called someone A BUTTHEAD. That's so rude. Where did he even learn that word? I don't call people 'buttheads.' At least, not audibly.

Turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next thirty hours, poor little potty mouth was poked, pricked and prodded such that anyone who walked in the room was verbally assaulted with whatever hateful vitriol he could come up with. All his 'bad words' were pressed into service, including, but not limited to, 'butt,' 'wiener,' 'stupid,' and 'idiot.'

I kept apologizing for his rudeness, assuring everyone that under normal circumstances, he really is a very sweet little boy! Truly! I'm not just saying that because I'm his mother. Other people think so, too. Except when catheters, blood pressure cuffs and pulse ox monitors are involved.

We did have to cut the DS2 some slack--it was a rough time, and quite frankly, when you're three and this cute:

You can get away with a lot.

Calculating Rudeness Tolerance
The whole thing got me thinking, what's the rudeness tolerance threshold for a grown woman giving up coffee? Because that, Lord help me, is what I'm about to do.

Kicking Joe to the Curb
I've been toying with the idea for a while. Mostly because I know I'm an addict. The thought of giving it up scares me. Last year, I put off getting blood drawn for months because it required a fasted state. I didn't mind not eating, but I minded not having creamy coffee when I woke up. I could have had it black, but ewww....

See, that's the rub--it's the cream. I don't take sugar and I never have. I like my coffee just like me--light and slightly bitter.

But the truth is, I often don't sleep well. And I have to admit, coffee has mastery over me. Should I really be enslaved to a beverage? Especially after I threw off the shackles of sugar earlier this year (which, by the way, I consider to be one of the best decisions I've ever made--right up there with marrying the Darling Husband.) I don't want to be enslaved to anything else.

Honestly, I don't even think it's the caffeine. I couldn't leave DS2's room the morning after Christmas, at least not without a veil of tears, so I didn't have my coffee until a good three hours after I woke up. I had a mild headache, but it wasn't really that bad. It's more the comfortable ritual of my warm, creamy cup.

But after Christmas and traveling and hospital food, I feel quite yucky. I'm feeling the need to do some sort of reset, and the great thing about doing it this time of year is that practically everyone else is doing one, too. There is an element of camaraderie. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

This time, I'm toying around with doing Whole30, a paleo-type plan that involves eating pretty much any whole food (including fruit) and not eating the usual suspects (processed foods, alcohol, sugar,) as well as giving up grains and dairy.

I've given up grains before, but never dairy. I like dairy. I've never been a big milk drinker, but I like cheese and I *love* yogurt. But I can live without them for 30 days. It's the cream... oh dear.

Apparently I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Whole30 creators Dallas and Melissa Hartwig are pretty adamant that you follow the plan to the letter, and they have a tough love essay on their site, in which they tell us: "It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard." 

Oh. Ok. I guess if you put it that way...

So we'll see how it goes. I'm sure I'll blog about it. At least if I call you a 'butthead' you'll know why.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We Don't Need an IV Drip: A Holiday Art Show Rant

I just got another email from the PTO president from Darling Son #2's school--we still need people to bring refreshments for this morning's holiday art show!! I can't stop off to get refreshments. I have to take DS#1 to school before coming to the show. Stopping off at Dunkin' Donuts will get me to the show with only fifteen minutes to peruse my budding little artist's oeuvre d'art. I feel badly, though. Poor PTO president is doing a job I would never want to do in a million years. God bless her.

The whole thing got me thinking... why do we need refreshments at the holiday art show? It's 8.30 in the morning. Didn't everyone just eat breakfast? Why do we need food at every. single. function?

Back in October I went to the doctor. The practice treats children, too. As I was checking out at the desk, I noticed a plastic orange pumpkin filled with lollipops. Really?? We're giving out lollipops at the doctor's office? My kids get a lollipop at the barber shop, and somehow that doesn't bother me. I guess because it's just the barber. It's not a supposedly health promoting enterprise.

Later that week, I notice another health blogger has seen lollipops at the doctor's office and ranted about it, and I read the comments. Everyone agrees it's ridiculous to offer lollipops at the doctor's office, but one commenter says, "They should offer fruit!"

Certainly, fruit would be better, but why do they need ANYTHING!?? It's the DOCTOR'S OFFICE! It's not a restaurant! Why do we have to have food everywhere we go? It's everywhere.

People don't need to be hooked up to food and drink every waking hour of the day. I've been reading about this lately, and it's quite interesting. When we eat, our blood sugar rises. Especially when we eat carbohydrates. Elevated blood sugar is toxic (this is why diabetics have problems), so the body pumps out insulin to lower blood sugar. Then all is right with the world again. But if we eat constantly, over time, our bodies start sticking their metaphorical fingers in their metaphorical ears. Lalalala, insulin, I'm not listening! This is called insulin resistance and it's a precursor to diabetes.

We don't need to eat all the time. We really don't.

But the poor PTO president... everyone's sticking their fingers in their ears. LALALALA! I don't want to go to Dunkin' Donuts before the art show! So I tell her, I have clementines. Is that ok?

At least it's fruit??

Friday, December 12, 2014

Thoughts on Paleo

Ever since I first gave up sugar back in April, I've been learning more and more about the interesting and somewhat cultish world of Paleo living. I say 'living,' because while most people focus on the diet aspect, it really is a way of life. I'll admit, I was not favorably predisposed to Paleo from the start. It just seemed too restrictive, too isolating, too expensive.

For those unfamiliar with Paleo, it's a lifestyle that's meant to mimic our 'paleolithic ancestors'--before they settled down to grow crops, before sugar was processed down to neat little white cubes, before animals were husbanded, etc. Paleo typically eschews all grains, legumes, dairy and most sweets, but it's reach extends beyond the kitchen. Delve deeper into the Paleo world and you'll start slathering your body with coconut oil and doing CrossFit in the noonday sun in Vibram five-fingers. And maybe going to bed earlier than your kids.
Image: paleogp.com

Honestly, there is a lot of wisdom and good hard science in many of these practices. It just seemed like such a radical departure from normal life. How can people live this way?

Well, I decided to try it.

Over the summer I did a little Paleo experiment. I can't say I went whole-hog primal. There will be no oil-in-the-noonday sun for this very white girl with a history of skin cancer, but I did eliminate grains for a while. I whittled my dairy consumption to a splash of (grass-fed, raw) cream in my coffee. I took greater pains to source local foods. I read Paleo books and cooked from Paleo cookbooks and listened to Paleo podcasts. I went outside for limited periods without sunscreen and went to bed at sundown. I didn't trade the barre for CrossFit, but I still learned a lot.

Things I REALLY like about Paleo:

The emphasis on whole, real, unprocessed foods. This seems to be the heart and soul of Paleo, and it's wonderful. I think it's pretty safe to say that just about everything is better as close to it's natural state as possible--healthier and better-tasting. I have come to redefine what I even think of 'processed foods.' Truly, I suspect the lion's share of most people's health transformations on Paleo is due to ditching all the refined, processed foods.... even those we don't think of that way.

Learning to think outside the grain box.
I've really enjoyed making 'rice' from cauliflower, 'noodles' from zucchini and carrots, and putting sauce over spaghetti squash rather than actual spaghetti. Yes, it's more work than boiling a pot on the stove, but it also yields significantly more nutrients for far fewer calories. And speaking of calories...

I haven't even thought about calories. Once you remove grain and most sugars from your diet, you can pretty much eat your fill of what's left without fear of putting on weight. In fact, you might even lose some. There are lots of great Paleo cookbooks to help you put together some really delicious dishes.

Using the whole animal. Last time I talked about nose-to-tail eating, and it's is one of my favorite things about ancestral diets. And we don't have to go back far in history to find people using the whole animal. It really breaks my heart when I think of all the good food that has been wasted by our picky, fat-phobic society over the years. There are minerals in those bones! Crazy concentrations of nutrients in those organ meats and skin! We could probably end world hunger if only we could get back all the egg yolks that have been flushed down garbage disposals. Nose-to-tail is healthy and so efficient, all of which you become aware of when you are...

Buying local, quality, and yes, somewhat more expensive food. Paleo introduced me to far more high-quality food, all the nutritional benefits contained therein, and the advantages of getting it locally. So much of the food in our big supermarkets is not from local farms, which is hardly surprising given the short growing season in New England. But shipping food here from California is hardly sensible or efficient, nor is it likely to be especially fresh. I've been amazed how much longer the local produce lasts. I've actually stopped buying produce at all from Trader Joe's. So much of it has been spoiled, and they were selling cranberries shipped in from Wisconsin. Really?? Massachusetts is the largest cranberry producing state in the country, and we're getting cranberries from Wisconsin? Ridiculous!

Also, buying local contributes to the local economy and reduces fuel use. The farm from which we've been buying our milk estimates that 68 cents of every dollar spent at the farm goes right back into the local economy, versus only 14 cents for milk bought from the grocery store. Let's face it--no one running a small-scale local farm is getting rich. They do it for the love of it. I love supporting them, and getting fresher, better quality food.

Things I don't like about Paleo:

The Dogma. Like any movement, there is dissent in the paleo ranks. Some adhere rigidly to the most minute tenets of the faith, while others are open to a degree of wiggle room. I have pretty much no patience for the purists. I mean, that's fine if that's what they want to do, but I really don't care what cavemen ate. The idea that everyone should eat this way because we're not adapted to a host of common foods strikes me as absurd. My food landscape and way of life is so radically different from that of a caveman. I just can't get worked up over restricting myself to what cavemen ate. Or didn't eat. Which brings me to...

The Restriction. Yes, Paleo is restrictive. There is so much to eat on Paleo that you might not even consider, but you're still limited, far more so than I feel the need to be. As it turns out, there are very simple ways to prepare certain grains and legumes, making them both easier to digest and more nutritious, which I'll talk about another time. I find these preparations work great for our family. So why would we not expand our diets to include them? Maybe I'll revise my opinion on this point someday, but for now, I see no need to completely eliminate all grains or legumes.

Many of the Paleo authors and bloggers I've read have very dramatic stories of healing and wellness thanks to adopting a Paleo lifestyle. A lot of people have gotten their lives back--sometimes quite literally. I would strongly encourage people with digestive issues, autoimmune conditions or other health challenges to try Paleo for a couple of months and see how they do. It is a radical departure from the way most people eat, but it is doable, and there are so many great resources out there to help.

However, our family is mercifully very healthy. I do still limit our grain consumption, simply from a nutrient density perspective. I'd rather fill us up with lots of vegetables than grains, no matter how properly prepared they may be. But we do not struggle with digestive distress or any other particular condition. We can eat a wide variety of whole, unprocessed, properly prepared foods (yes, even beans and rice!) with no negative effects, and for that, I am very thankful! But I'm glad I tried Paleo. I've acquired a collection of great recipes that are now in regular rotation.

Has anyone else really given Paleo a fair shot? Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Eat the Skin! The Glories of Peau de Poulet

Last week I wrote about liver, how wonderful it is for us and a few ways to enjoy this nasty-tasting-but-whoa-so-good-for-you food. Well, my Darling smoked a turkey for Thanksgiving. This bird mercifully came with all it's innards intact, and last night I ground up it's heart and liver along with some grass-fed ground beef and fashioned it into chili! So yummy and no one tasted any yucky liver flavor! It's neck and some bones are currently in the slow cooker for broth, along with divine gelatinous bits that were at the bottom of the drippings pan.

This is called nose-to-tail eating, and it's they way to go, people. Use up every part of that animal! There is so much goodness in the other creature bits. Somehow we've gotten away from eating the whole bird (or pig, or cow, etc.) and it's a shame, because there is a lot of goodness to be had, not to mention the simple efficiency of it all. Especially when you're buying pastured animals (read: expensive), you don't want anything to go to waste.

Well, now that I've thoroughly grossed some of you out, I'm going to talk to you about chicken skin.
Bone-in, skin-on thighs--YUM!

Yay! Chicken skin!

You may find liver kinda nasty, but just about everyone loves a good bite of crispy skin. Sadly, however, skin is one of those foods that was put on the 'no' list during the dark, withering years of fat-phobia. It's a bit of a head-scratcher, though, because really--chicken skin doesn't even contain all that much saturated fat, which we have been erroneously taught to fear. Saturated fat is a post for another time, but even if you're very calorie conscious, eating the skin only adds about fifty calories.

A lot of people are jumping on the chicken skin bandwagon. When I started researching why we should eat the skin, I found a number of mainstream media outlets touting the 'go ahead and eat the skin' message. The reasons given were typically what I mentioned above--it's really not that bad for you, and it's yummy, so go ahead and enjoy a 'guilt-free indulgence.'

But I'm going to tell you more--not only is it 'not bad for you,' it's also GOOD for you! 

Chicken skin contains glycine, an amino acid that performs a host of functions in your body. Glycine plays a role in healthy metabolism, muscle development, sleep... wow, lots of stuff. In fact, I first learned about glycine and chicken skin in my never-ending sleep research. It's called a 'non-essential amino acid,' which means our bodies can manufacture it on their own, which is a good thing, because we'd be basically screwed without it.

Eating glycine-containing foods is a good idea. Other rich sources include bone broth and gelatin. Interestingly, muscle meats are high in another amino acid called methionine, which can deplete glycine, so that's another good reason to eat the skin.

The One 'Con'

The only caution I'd mention about skin is don't eat it every day. I learned it is quite high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6's are good for us, but they must be balanced by omega-3s, and most of us in the west get plenty of omega-6 and not enough omega-3. So maybe have some nice, wild salmon the day after eating your chicken skin.

And it's just yummy. Oh my, good, crispy chicken skin is so incredibly yummy. The best recipe I can recommend is Michelle Tam's Cracklin' Chicken, which you can find here. I will warn you that it is incredibly messy--you need a splatter screen. Or just wait until your kitchen is filthy and needs a good cleaning anyway. You will weep bitter tears if you have just scrubbed your stove top--mark my words.

The biggest fan of skin in our house is the Darling Son #1, who will troll around begging crispy skin off anyone who will listen. So if you still can't bring yourself to eat the skin, bring it on over. I have a very willing customer who will take it off your hands.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Feasting

Le Moi de Janvier from Les Tres Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry  
Musee Conde, Chantilly
As you might imagine, I follow a number of health and fitness people on social media (follow me on Twitter @stephaniehsiang, Instagram @momsatthebarre, or on Facebook here.) This time of year I see numerous posts on how to handle the onslaught of delectable treats that surround us. Some very useful tips on how to be restrained. How not to go overboard. Restraint. Discipline. Etc.

Somehow this doesn't sit well with me on the fourth Thursday in November. Not that we should stuff ourselves on Thanksgiving. That just feels yucky. But this is a feast day! It's a day for wine and song. It's a day for treats. Is it so terrible to feast on a feast day?

No. It isn't. Feasting is a blessing. It's a celebration. It's for our benefit. To sit around a table with people we love and/or like (that's not always the same thing) and feast together. And be thankful. There is feasting all over the Bible. There are feast days built into the church calendar. To celebrate with food is a beautiful thing. There is a season for everything under heaven, and Thanksgiving is for feasting.

The problem is not the feasting on the feast days, it's feasting on all the other days. It's when we're hiding from our kids in the basement with the potato chips so we don't have to share. It's when we're mindlessly noshing in front of the TV. If you don't feast on the ordinary days, then you can really enjoy the feast days, not fear them.

The thing about a feast day is that it's usually just that--one day. The exception, of course, is Christmas, which was traditionally twelve days, starting on Christmas Day and culminating with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th. Now Epiphany really gets the shaft, which is a shame, because it's a great day. Three kings day! It's the last hurrah.

Now, however, it seems people feast from Thanksgiving all the way to January 2nd, at which time some strict regime of penitence is undertaken. A period of atonement for all the excessive feasting. Oh dear. It should not be so. The atonement is finished. We feast for that on Easter Day. But, really, if you bypass the cookie jar on the ordinary days, the feast days are much more fun.

And so, my friends, let us enjoy this day. Let us eat good yummy food until we're satisfied, not stuffed. Let us enjoy our people and our food and drink. Let us keep the feast!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We're Organ-izing: Liver, Mediterranean-Style!

I have to give a big shout-out to the Darling Husband. He's been a real sport over the last few months as I've been tweaking our diets. He's been seeing a lot less of his favorites, like rice, and a lot of more of things that really don't light him up... like liver. Oh yeah, and he's been paying a little more for the privilege. Good food doesn't come cheap.

Anyway, back to liver. I had some years ago in this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in France. I don't remember loving it, but it wasn't super nasty. I mean, it was France. Pretty much everything in France is yummy.

Liver has really fallen out of favor in my lifetime, but the more I've been reading about it, the more I've been wanting to incorporate it into our diets. Here's why:

Liver is massively, wildly, insanely nutritious. It is absolutely a super food, especially beef liver, which is very high in Vitamin A, folate, copper, biotin, phosphorus, Vitamins B6 and B12... I could go on and on. This post by Chris Kresser includes an interesting chart on how beef liver stacks up to muscle meats, apples and carrots. No contest--beef liver wins every time. And it doesn't just have a little more of most of these nutrients. It has WAY more.

Liver is also blissfully cheap. Even grass-fed beef liver is cheap. Cows are supposed to eat grass, not grains. It's better for them and it's better for us, but meat (and milk) from grass-fed cows is more expensive. I recently bought a pound of grass-fed beef liver at Whole Paycheck for... wait for it... FOUR DOLLARS!! The cheapest I've ever seen grass-fed any-cut-of-beef was ground beef for five dollars a pound on sale (it's normally at least $7 a pound), so four bucks is crazy cheap for a nutrient powerhouse like liver.

So what's the problem? Why isn't everyone slurping down liver with reckless abandon??

The Taste

It's just too much of a coincidence that 'offal' and 'awful' are homonyms. It's yucky. Oh dear. Liver is so yucky. The flavor is very strong, the texture is weird and it really stays with you. I mean, aftertaste... whoa. A few months ago I bought a very small piece of beef liver for only $1.50 and fried it up with onions for my lunch. I couldn't even choke it down. I threw it away. And that's saying a lot, because I *never* throw food away. But I hadn't given up on liver. It's a food worth fighting for.

So I was very excited to crack open a cookbook I just bought and find several recipes for liver! 

Mediterranean Paleo Cooking is a compendium of recipes created by Algerian-born chef Nabil Boumrar and his nutrition-consultant wife Caitlin Weeks. I heard about this book from Diane Sanfilippo, author The 21 Day Sugar Detox program I did earlier this fall and the NY Times bestseller Practical Paleo, which is pretty much open on my kitchen counter all the time. Diane collaborated with Nabil and Caitlin to produce an absolutely beautiful cookbook with great recipes and LOTS of information and modifications to accommodate a host of dietary conditions.

A couple of weeks ago I packed into a local Barnes and Noble shop for a book signing and talk by Nabil, Caitlin and Diane. It was quite a thrill for me and all the other health geeks seated around me. Nabil gave us some great cooking tips and look! We took a picture!
Nabil, Caitlin and Diane
I came home all fired up to cook from the book, especially, you know, the liver dishes.

Liver, Take 1

I decided to try Braised Liver and Mushrooms (page 300.)
The recipe description said, "Braising liver in a sauce is a great way to improve it's texture and flavor." Well, those are our primary beefs with liver (haha! couldn't resist) so I decided to give this one a whirl. I told the DH we're having liver tonight! He wasn't super psyched but was willing to give it a go. I decided to just tell the small people we were having beef, which was entirely true.

The dish was easy to prepare and smelled delicious. I simmered it much of the afternoon and, as is my custom, forbade snacks to get everyone to the table nice and hungry ready to sup on our marvelous healthy dinner. The small people tucked right into it. Only at the very end did Darling Son #1 say, "I don't want anymore of the meat, Mommy. But I like the mushrooms." He ate most of it, and the DS#2 schnarfed down the whole thing. Win!

The DH, however, struggled with the liver. He said, "I liked the recipe. It definitely took the edge off the liver. But if you had made it with stew meat, I would have eaten three bowls." Ok, good to know.

Liver, Take 2

I remained undaunted, and scoured the book for another recipe. I settled on Liver Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy (page 312. By the way, both these recipes are located in the 'odd bits' section of the book, which cracked me up.)
I know. It looks a lot like the other recipe. I blame the cilantro.
This one involved mixing the liver with ground beef to disguise it's, shall we say, less palatable qualities? The recipe called for calf's liver, but I decided to use chicken liver instead. I couldn't find beef liver that day, and I had read the taste of chicken liver is a little milder. It isn't quite the nutritional badass that is beef liver, but it's still pretty potent.

Score! It was delicious. No discernible liver flavor whatsoever. Super yummy. Small people asked for seconds.

The DH said, 'Is there liver in this?' Why yes, my Darling, I cannot tell a lie.

"Well. It's good."


I highly recommend Mediterranean Paleo Cooking. It doesn't just contain organ meat recipes. There are tons of tasty dishes using a variety of ingredients... not just variety meats. Later this week we're having the cover recipe, Chicken and Olive Tajine. It looks delicious and should go over well, since no one in the family finds fowl, well, foul.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All About Chocolate Cravings

Goodness, I'm such a chatty Cathy lately! Just posted last night and here I am again!

Well, I have a lot to say. I realized I need to update you on week 2 of the 21 Day Sugar Detox. Happily, it went much better than week one. That was *such* a crappy week. But week 2 has gone much better. I'm not even missing sugar.

Of course, then Halloween comes along. I'm looking at the kids' stash last night and really, most of it isn't even looking that good to me. Except the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Normally, I Mommy-tax the living daylights out of those. Darling Son #1 tasted his very first PB cup last night because typically, I eat them before he's even had a chance to try them. (I know. That's bad.)

Even so.... I, ah, might have fallen off the wagon and had one... or... maybe two.

Honestly, they weren't even that good. I don't know why I had the second one in light of this fact, but there you go. The funny thing about stuff like this is the memory of it is better than the actual item. When I was pregnant with Darling Son #2, sweets made me sick the whole 37 weeks 5 days. I'd look at sweets and think, I bet that's tasty. Then I'd eat it and realize it still wasn't. Funny how the mind works.

This brings me to Almond Butter Cups!
This is one of the not-sweet treats in the 21 Day Sugar Detox. You can find the recipe here.

The first time I bit in to one of these bad boys (good boys?) my taste buds freaked a little bit. I *thought* it was going to be sweet, but it wasn't. It was still strangely satisfying, though. I've made this recipe a few times over the past however-many-days (15? maybe?) The fats are mostly good saturated fats from coconut oil and butter from grass-fed cows. The amount of almond butter is fairly small, so  you're not getting a crazy-lot of polyunsaturated fats, which we talked about in week 1.

And yes, I called saturated fat 'good.' I'll write more about saturated fat another time, but for now I really want to talk about the cacao powder.


We've talked about chocolate before, and all the health benefits contained in good quality, dark chocolate. One I didn't mention is magnesium.

Magnesium is a mineral, and it's very important. Some 300 functions in the body are dependent on magnesium, and it turns out, many of us aren't getting enough of it. Poor mineral content in soil is part of the problem, but the main one is absorption--I read that we absorb only about 40-50% of the magnesium we consume.

According to Dr. Elson Haas, author of the book Staying Healthy with Nutrition, "To function optimally, magnesium must be balanced in the body with calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium chloride." Vitamin D levels also affect magnesium, and since many people supplement with vitamin D and calcium, in particular, this can throw off the balance of these other minerals. This is a big part of the reason I try to get my nutrients from food, rather than isolated supplements.

There are other reasons we don't absorb magnesium--drinking soft water, alcohol, caffeine and general sugar consumption can affect how well we assimilate magnesium. Phosphoric acid found in diet sodas also hinders magnesium absorption. (Diet Coke is a 'sometimes' food!)

The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is between 300-400 milligrams, but many people who know more than I do suggest it should be much higher--closer to 700 milligrams per day. Happily, if you consume more than your body needs, it seems you just pee it out, so there's little worry about overdoing it.

I really became interested in magnesium a couple of weeks ago. I was wicked sore after my barre3 class, so I took an Epsom Salt bath. Epsom Salts are magnesium sulfate, and taking baths is one way to up magnesium intake through your skin. I noticed I slept really well that night, so I tried it again the following night and wow! Another great night. I don't know that a couple of Epsom Salt baths really did that much for my mag. levels, but it turns out insomnia can be related to magnesium deficiency. So I was taking hot Epsom Salt baths every night until my skin kind of revolted, so I'm looking into other things.

Anyhoo, what does this have to do with almond butter cups? Cocoa is rich in magnesium, which is why chocolate cravings might be an indication of magnesium deficiency. Of course, oatmeal is also rich in magnesium and I think I can safely say I've never craved oatmeal. The first time someone told me about the chocolate/magnesium craving thing, I figured she was just trying to make me feel better. "You're not a glutton! You're just need magnesium!" (Maybe it's a bit of both?)

Other good sources of magnesium include Brazil nuts (along with several other nuts and seeds), avocado and bananas. So I made a magnesium smoothie! Here's the recipe:

1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1/4 avocado
1 small banana, preferably frozen
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder*

*I've found raw cacao powder for the best price at TJMaxx, of all places. Locals: please don't go clean out the shelves on me, k?

Toss all ingredients in a blender and mix. You may want to thin it a bit or add ice cubes. Mine came out quite thick:

It was almost like ice cream! ('Almost' being the operative word.)

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve, so expect to hear more about magnesium. In the meantime, if you find yourself tempted to dip into the cheap Hershey-type chocolate in your kids' Halloween baskets, try the smoothie or some almond butter cups. Maybe you're deficient in magnesium! I can promise, the cheap chocolate isn't going to help you on that one.

Friday, October 31, 2014


I just turned off the porch light and blew out the candles in the pumpkins. I knew the party was over when a pair of 16-year-olds in hoodies showed up at my doorstep. I winked at them, gave them the last of the Kit Kats I bought this afternoon at CVS for only 26 cents (yes, I'm that good) and told them they were scamming the system. I was tempted to explain how to stack coupons so they could get candy for 26 cents on their own, but I thought better of it. We all laughed and I'm hoping the laugh and the wink means they aren't going to egg my house in an hour.

Now I'm surfing Facebook, reading all the articles about how we're supposed to manage the onslaught of treats our children are getting for Halloween.

I'm reading 'let's give out cheap plastic trinkets instead of sugar-filled candy! We can stimulate the Chinese economy and contribute to landfills! Yay!'

I'm reading about all the swap out candy schemes and let's send candy to the troops! Because, yes, these people are defending our country so what they really need to maintain mental clarity and physical prowess is high-fructose corn syrup and red #5!

We're not going to be doing any of these things.
This year's haul. Pretty manageable.

Here's how we handle Halloween: we don't go to scads of houses. We hit about a dozen. It's getting cold around here, we're not seeing the neighbors quite as much, so we visit the near ones, have a wee chat and let the kids collect some candy. We also end up with a few made-in-China trinkets and a pack of Doritos, but that's about it.

We don't end up with an 'onslaught of treats' because we don't make a career out of visiting 50 neighborhoods. The kids will enjoy a treat or two everyday for the next few days, then it will be over and we'll move on. Really, this is not a long-term dental-cavity-waiting-to-happen kind of thing for us.

One article I read included a comment from a woman saying, "I hate it when people say, 'It's just once a year!' They're getting junk all the time!" Umm... really? Mine aren't. In our home, Halloween really IS just once a year. As a parent, I stoke my kids up with uber-nutrient-dense foods and limit the living daylights out of sugar so they can enjoy treats on Halloween. A few treats, from the near neighbors, and then it's over.

Though next year I'll be saving up some coupons. For the 16-year-olds in the hoodies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Two Buck Cluck: The Blessing of the Backyard Chicken

We love eggs. In fact, it was Darling Son #1's first word. Not 'Mama.' 'Egg.' (He's very food-motivated.)

Eggs are a wonderful food. An egg delivers easily-assimilated protein and other nutrients, including vitamins D and B12, the latter of which is especially important if you're not eating a lot of other animal foods. But here's the catch: you have to....


I wish I had recorded my aunt's rant when she learned back in the 1990's that we were supposed to pitch the yolks. The yolk contains the cholesterol, which it turns out, is actually good for us. The American Heart Association recanted it's position on eggs in 2000, but Auntie called foul from the beginning. "That's ridiculous! That's the most absurd thing I have ever heard!" And she went on. Auntie is quite entertaining when she gets her knickers in a twist. I should have her do a guest rant on the blog some time.

Recently I was in a supermarket and overheard a man telling someone he eats Egg Beaters, 'you know, because of the cholesterol.' I really wanted to shout, 'No! Eat the yolks!' But I restrained myself. That's why I have my blog. I can shout at people without being the crazy lady in the supermarket.

So much of the good stuff is in the yolk. I would tell you that's the end of my lecture, but wait! There's more!

Not All Eggs are Created Equal

Chickens are meant to roam around. They travel in packs and peck around at the ground, gobbling up bugs and worms. Chickens are not vegetarians. They are omnivores--big time. And they make great pets!

Our friends Adam and Annie keep chickens in their backyard. They purchased each of these delightful little creatures for -- wait for it -- TWO DOLLARS! What a deal!
Annie introducing Hezzie the Hen to a somewhat reluctant DS#2

Adam and Annie's hens are fine layers, too. Sometimes they have a surplus and sell a dozen to us. I love buying eggs from them for several reasons:

They eat what chickens are supposed to eat. Annie feeds the chickens table scraps. They supplement with a bit of chicken feed, but mostly they eat what the family eats. And they eat bugs, worms, grubs on the lawn, you name it. Annie told me they used to have to pick ticks off their three boys every night, but since they got the chickens, they don't have to anymore. The chickens eat the ticks. Win-win!

When you read a label on eggs or chicken in the market, it will often say 'all-vegetarian diet.' I guess this sounds healthier? Well, it's not. Chickens are not vegetarians. Feeding animals what they're designed by their Creator to eat is not only good for them, it's good for us. A well-fed chicken produces better quality eggs.

Annie's hens live in the open air. They get plenty of sunlight, which means (the yolks!) of their eggs are rich in vitamin D. Many people (including me) tend to be low in vitamin D. (Well, I'm not low anymore, but I used to be.) Because we slather on sunscreen and many of us work indoors, we just don't produce enough D from the sun, which really is the best source. I also live in a part of the world where it's mighty chilly much of the year, so people like me really need to maximize D in our diets.

If you don't have a friend with backyard chickens, look for eggs from chickens that are free to roam in the open air, ones that get plenty of sunlight and delicious bugs. Sadly, the term 'cage-free' doesn't always guarantee this. You kind of have to do your homework.

The downside is cost, and they're not available everywhere. Eggs from pastured chickens are more expensive than those from chickens cooped up indoors. You can find them at some supermarkets and farmer's markets. Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offers an egg share, too. Even though they're more expensive than eggs from poor little chickens kept in battery cages, they're a bargain compared to other high-quality protein sources.

I like to support these smaller, local family farms, and I love to support our friends Adam and Annie. They co-founded a great organization called Waypoint Adventure that offers outdoor sporting opportunities for people with disabilities. It's win-win!

Honestly, I never thought about egg quality until I met Adam and Annie's hens and did some exhaustive internet researchtm. But even lower-quality supermarket eggs are better than a lot of other breakfast options. You have to do the best you can. If it's a toss up between eggs and Pop Tarts or even a so-called 'healthy' cereal, the eggs win every time!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Barre Crawl: barre3!

Barre3 is the only major barre franchise I hadn't tried. Based in Portland, Oregon, barre3 is understandably best represented on the west coast. There are a few here and there in the east, but none were near me or convenient to anywhere I have traveled lately.

I was itching to try it, though. I know people in other parts of the country who *love* barre3, so I was very excited to learn that a studio was opening up near me! Really near me. They opened this week, so I headed over this morning to take one of the (free!) opening week classes.

Before I go any further, I would like to mention that this review is based on only one class. Normally, I like to try a few before I share my abundant thoughts and strong opinions with the world, but it didn't work out in this case. And just so you know, the 'b' is meant to be lower case. Like e.e. cummings. And exhale. This is a thing, apparently. I'm going to capitalize it at the beginning of sentences, though. It looks too freaky otherwise.

About barre3

Barre3 was founded in 2008 by Sadie Lincoln, her husband Chris, and some other guy. Sadie is cute as a button and is definitely the face behind the brand.
Isn't she cute? Image: barre3.com
In addition to the studio classes, barre3 has a very large and affordable online workout library, for which they offer a free 15-day trial. (I'll link it at the bottom of the post.) I've tried the online workouts and honestly, they didn't light me up, but some people really click with them. 

Sadie has also written a book, and there is an iPhone app that offers a variety of fun stuff. I'd generally say barre3 gets an A+ for accessibility.

Barre3 has definitely targeted a niche audience: mothers. In fact, the owner of my local greeted me at the door with someone else's baby on her hip. Studios offer childcare at certain classes for a small additional fee. This is a huge plus for mothers of little kids. It costs an arm and a leg to hire a sitter in my area, especially during the week as the cheap labor force (read: middle and high schoolers) are otherwise engaged. 

There are studios in 24 states, including Washington, DC, which isn't technically a state (but I won't open that can of worms.) There's also a studio in Canada (Toronto) and several in the Philippines. Quirky, huh?

The workout is a hybrid of barre, yoga and pilates. Honestly, lots of barre classes I have tried have yoga and pilates overtones, so I was interested to see how the fusion schtick would play out at barre3. 

The Class

Barre3 is definitely different.... not because of the yoga or pilates elements so much, more because the brand uses a lot of compound exercises. This means you're working the upper and lower body simultaneously. I really like compound movements. It brings extra challenge to the workout and it gets your heart rate up. And there were some large range-of-motion exercises sprinkled in among the up-an-inch-down-an-inch movements you usually do in a barre class.

The format was also a little different from most barre classes I've tried. You work various body parts throughout, rather than isolating parts as other barre brands tend to do. On one hand, this made the class a little more interesting than the standard arms/thighs/seat/abs format. But wow--there were a lot of reps. The instructor said there were a lot of reps, and she wasn't kidding. I'll admit that had me watching the clock a bit. Are we done yet?

'Pros' about barre3

  • It was a little different and it was challenging. Not crazy hard, but still quite challenging. I'm sure I'll feel it tomorrow. 
  • Childcare is a huge feather in barre3's cap. They are the only studio in my area that offers this. I don't need it now that both the little Darlings are in school, but wow... If they had opened a year ago, I would have been banging on the door with cash in my fist. I'm very happy for mothers in my area to have access to a barre with babysitting!
  • Barre3's pre-opening deal was a little unorthodox. The terms weren't such that I was willing to bite, but their overall standard pricing is a bit more affordable than other studios near me. 

'Cons' about barre3

  • I didn't get a single form correction or individual challenge. The instructor called out general modifications, but there was very little personal interaction. Granted, the class was quite full, and as expected for free opening week classes, there were a few newbies. Instructors tend to channel their attention on beginners, but still... I didn't see a whole lot of form correcting going on. (I'd say this class was middle of the pack in terms of instructor engagement.) This is kind of a thing for me, as I've mentioned before. As a more experienced/advanced practitioner, I'm really looking for that extra something-something from the instructor. It's hard to find, and I definitely didn't find it at barre3 today. 
  • This isn't really a 'con' for me, but at my local studio, the children's space is just a half-walled corner of the reception area.
    It's filled with books and toys, very cute, but the presence of children plus people coming and going made the environment slightly chaotic. This doesn't really bother me, but for some people, this might distract from the lovely lalala feeling of getting to a class.
  • I didn't love the actual studio space. The acoustics weren't great, the floor was hard, and only one wall was mirrored, so it was tough to check form.
  • For a brand that targets mothers, I found the core work in this class to be pretty light. And let me tell you, my abs are NOT my strongest part, so it's not that I'm such an ab badass. Maybe it was just this particular class? I don't know, but I definitely didn't feel challenged in my core.

Would I go back?

Sure, I'd consider going to barre3, but I can't say I was hopelessly over the moon about it. Maybe I'll be looking for something different in the future, and if they offer a super deal, I might bite at some point, but it wasn't enough to lure me away from the Bar Method, even though barre3 is closer to home. 


If you're interested in barre3, you can find studio locations here. The link to the free 15-day online workouts is here. There are DVDs and also some workouts you can try on youtube. (FYI, I found the live class significantly more challenging than the online workouts.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We're Going Nuts! Week 1 on the 21 Day Sugar Detox and All About Almonds!

I'm just finishing up my first week on the 21 Day Sugar Detox and I thought I'd delight you all with a little update.

What a crappy week. Really, it was a crappy week. I developed a miserable head cold, and I have this wonky shoulder thing going on. I have to do push-ups from the knees. Not that there is any shame it that, but do you know how hard I worked to get to full-form push-ups?? HARD. I worked hard. And now I'm on my knees. Harumph.


Anyway, this week was a good indicator of how often I tend to comfort myself with food. 'Oh, I feel lousy. I'll have some dark chocolate/greek yogurt with maple syrup/carby yumminess, etc.' No can do on the 21DSD. So I've had to stare down my addiction.

But the good news is, I'm winning! Cravings have diminished and... I've lost 3lbs. So that's nice.

I've also become quite intimately acquainted with the almond....


Almonds are nutrient rich and very versatile. You can make 'milk' from almonds, as well almond meal, which can be a substitute for grain flour in baking. Growing them apparently sucks up a lot of water, which was kind of an issue for California almond growers. They had a crazy bad drought out there this summer.

Anyway, I've been keeping almond milk in my fridge for a few years now. I never drink it straight, but use it in place of cow's milk pretty often. I'd never tried making it on my own before, but since I'm not eating sugar, I have a little more time on my hands. (That's sad. I know.)

Here's how you do it:

Start with two cups of raw almonds.

Soak almonds in water for about 8 hours. This may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but soaking the almonds disables the anti-nutrients. Nuts contain enzyme inhibitors, which can make them difficult to digest. They also contain a component called phytic acid, which binds to minerals, preventing your body from properly absorbing them. If you're just grabbing a few nuts as a snack, it's probably not a big deal, but if you're consuming a lot of nuts, it's a good idea to soak them first.

Mix 'em up! After soaking, drain the water, rinse the nuts and place them in a high-speed blender with three or four cups of water. (The 21DSD recipe calls for three cups, but my mixture was really thick, so I added a little more.)

Blend until smooth. I recently bought a Vitamix, and it worked great for this! I'm not sure how this would fly in a regular blender, so... blend at your own risk.

Next, you strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag. If you think you'll do this a lot, I'd highly recommend a nut milk bag. I bought this one. It's makes the whole thing much easier. And, as you'll see, it has other uses, too.

Squeezing out the nut milk is probably the hardest part of the whole process, and it's really not that hard. It's also great for developing grip strength. Silver lining!

You're left with the pulp in the bag, which you can dry out in an oven or dehydrator. Pulse it a few times in a food processor to break up any lumps, and you can use it as almond meal in a host of grain-free baking recipes.
I found texture to be a bit different from store-bought meal, but I'm still working on it. I think I dried the living daylights out of it. Oops.

Well, I had so much fun making my almond milk, that I wondered...

How it would be as yogurt??

I've been making my own yogurt for years, but I'd never tried it with anything other than cow's milk. I found these directions online and gave it a whirl. The only thing I'd add is to strain the finished yogurt through cheesecloth or nut milk bag for up to 24 hours, depending on how thick you like your yogurt.
I tried using a fine-mesh strainer (which is what I use to make a Greek-yogurt consistency with cow's milk yogurt) and it did not work. You need something even finer than fine-mesh.

Of course, I can't add my beloved maple syrup to my almond milk yogurt right now. So I'm using it in my 21 DSD smoothies. It makes them almost like ice-cream!

'Almost' being the key word.


If you're an almond milk drinker, I highly recommend trying the DIY route. It's way creamier than store-bought, and cheaper, too.

Before I go, I do want to mention an everything-in-moderation caveat to nut consumption. Properly prepared, nuts can be a great addition to a healthy diet, but be forewarned--if you're using lots of nut flours and milk, you could be consuming kind of a ridiculous amount. Almonds contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and most of us get plenty of PUFAs already. Not that PUFAs are bad, you just don't wan to consume too much... like so many other things in life.

So, there you go. Enjoy, but don't go... well, nuts. (sorry... couldn't resist...)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

100 Classes in 100 Days?

Most people aren't workout badasses. This is true. Most people struggle to get in some exercise. Most people seem to need more motivation to workout... not less. Modern life lends itself to sedentariness. Is that a word? Well. It is now.

However, there is this trend in the workout world--push yourself. Hard. Daily.

Much of it comes from nauseating 'fitspo.' If you don't know what that is, don't look it up. I'll tell you--it's almost always an image of a muscular, lean and scantily-clad woman with some ridiculous caption like 'pain is weakness leaving your body' or some other such nonsense.

If you read my blog, you know I'm a fan of that burning, shaking feeling you get in a good barre class. It's true that strength building requires at least some degree of discomfort.

But you know what? Strength building also requires something else: REST.

That's when your muscles repair. It's when you rest. You need rest. I'm writing this from my couch. I'm wearing my warm, fuzzy blue robe. I didn't go to the barre today. Or yesterday. I have a head cold and a wonky shoulder.

I was tempted to hit the barre this morning. I'm doing a monthly unlimited at a local studio. It's tempting to go as often as possible to get my money's worth! And I love the barre! But not today. I 'late canceled'. That means I didn't cancel early enough so I lose the class. And I'm ok with that, because today, rest is more important. But that can be a hard call for some people to make, including me.


A few months ago, I saw a shout-out on Facebook from one of the barre brands I follow. Someone at a distant studio had completed 100 classes in 100 days.


On one hand, wow! That takes a lot of diligence. And time.

But on the other hand, wow... that's over three months without a single rest day.

Fast forward another couple of months, and I'm attending a class at a studio affiliated with this brand, and I meet a sweet 25-year-old who saw the same Facebook shout-out. She has decided to try to do the same--100 classes in 100 days.

I'm trying really hard not to be her mother. She has one, and it isn't me. So I ask questions... why do you want to do this? Do you have any injuries? Are you sure this is a good idea? She tells me she just wants to see if she can do it. She says she's young. She 'should' be able to do it.

I try so hard not to give her advice. I try to be cool. But I can't help myself. "Don't get too hung up on the goal," I say. "Listen to your body," I say. "Don't push yourself everyday. Some days, just focus on the stretching," I say. I can't help myself.

I see her a few weeks later. I ask how it's going. She says she's so sore, but she's on track to complete 100 in 100. She says she lives in a state of soreness. But it's 'a good sore', she says.

And a few weeks after that, I see a post on Facebook. She's done it--100 classes in 100 days.

I'm noticing it's becoming a thing. 100 classes in 100 days. Posts are popping up from time to time. And the comments are all 'WOW!' 'You're amazing!!' 'Way to go!!!'

I don't know these women. They're all really proud of themselves, and the brand is over the moon! 100 classes in 100 days!

I struggled with writing this. Exercise can be so empowering, and I don't want to take anything away from these women who set a goal and reached it. But it makes me uncomfortable. Not so much that these women killed it. Like I said, I don't know them. This may have been a fine goal for them, safely accomplished, but I'm uneasy that it's institutionally celebrated. Is 100 classes in 100 days really better than 100 classes in, say, 114 days?

I don't think so.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Sugar Detoxes

As some of you may recall, earlier this year I did a sugar detox. (It was the best of times. It was the worst of times, etc.) I followed Australian journalist Sarah Wilson's book I Quit Sugar. I don't think I adequately recapped my experience here on the blog, but over on Facebook I've discussed it with several people.

I found the experience to be very positive. I really felt like I had come to a good place with sweets--and this was a beautiful thing. I felt like an addict who had finally reached a sobriety goal. Like I should have gotten a medal. Yay!

But like any addict will tell you, there can be relapses. I found, little by little, that I was dipping back into the chocolate chip bag. I hit rock bottom yesterday when we finally got around to celebrating Darling Son #2's third birthday. Despite having already resolved to detox, I had cake. And not just one civilized piece sitting around convivially at the table. There was a rather unsavory amount of clandestine schnarfing (yes, this is a word) in the kitchen as I was 'cleaning up.'

So I'm declaring to the world that I'm off sugar. This time, I'll try Diane Sanfilippo's 21 Day Sugar Detox instead of going through I Quit Sugar again.

To explain, I'm going to pretend I'm being interviewed by some hard-hitting journalist (HHJ.) Here we go!

HHJ: So, Stephanie, tell us about your sugar addiction.

Me: Oh, HHJ, I'm so glad you asked. I really do struggle with a sugar addiction. It's terrible. It's like sugar is a bad boyfriend--all sweet and lovely in the beginning, but in the end leaves you sobbing on the floor after cleaning out your bank account. Sugar is bad news, but I've always loved it. I do tend to be pretty picky about my sugar. I've never been one for hard candy or gummy worms, but give me the right mix of creamy, sweet yumminess and I'm hopeless. Cake, brownies, ice cream... I just can't have it in the house.

HHJ: How is The 21 Day Sugar Detox different from I Quit Sugar?

Me: I Quit Sugar (henceforth IQS) deals pretty much exclusively with fructose, which I've discussed in an earlier post (see here.) Fructose is the sugar found in fruit, which gives it a healthy-sounding glow to many, but when isolated from it's fruity packaging, is anything but good for you. It's also a component of other types of sugars, like sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, honey, maple syrup and, well, most other sweeteners. IQS completely prohibits fructose or anything containing it, including fruit, for a couple of weeks. You can eat pretty much anything else, like bread, pasta, etc. on IQS, but you will find eliminating fructose will naturally limit your options.

The 21 Day Sugar Detox (21DSD), on the other hand, allows for limited consumption of not-very-sweet fruits like green-tipped bananas, green apples and grapefruit, but restricts overall carbohydrates, which your body basically reads just like sugar.

I think both give pretty similar nutrition advice, but they differ on ideal sweeteners. IQS recommends fructose-free brown rice syrup to sweeten your occasional treats, while Diane's sweetener of choice is raw honey. (I should mention, neither recommend sweets very often, but when you do enjoy a treat, they'll use different sweeteners. And while there are sweet recipes in IQS, there are only non-sweet treats in 21DSD.)

In short, I'd say Diane is generally less hung-up on fructose, and looks more at the overall sugar/carb consumption.

HHJ: Why are you doing 21DSD this time around?

Me: I found I was relying too much on carbs for my fix when I did IQS. I recall sort of transferring my sweet addiction to Ezekiel bread and noodles.

HHJ: So would you not recommend IQS?

Me: Well, HHJ, I'm so glad you asked. Really. You're a great interviewer. You're asking all the questions I had hoped to answer. It's like we're of one mind.

Anyway, I wouldn't not recommend it. In fact, I'd say it depends on the individual. If someone is presently sucking down Cokes and hoovering Krispy Kremes on a daily basis, I'd say start with IQS. The program is a little simpler.

The 21DSD is a little more involved. There are three levels you can do. Level 1 allows for limited grains and dairy, level 2 is no grains but allows for dairy, and level 3 is full throttle squeaky paleo. She also makes recommendations for various health conditions, pregnancy, fitness badasses, etc.

But there is also more hand-holding--Diane provides full menu plans and recipes, or you can just follow a yes/no foods list. IQS gives you some recipes, but no menu. You have to pay for the full online 8-week Program for that.

HHJ: So let's talk about the cash. I know you're painfully cheap. How do these program stack-up, value-wise?

Me: Both come in two formats: online or hard-copy books, which I love since I'm old enough to remember life before the internet. I prefer a real book that I can hold in my hands.

As for the online options, IQS is an 8-week program. I believe the online plan costs $150AUD, which is about $130USD, though I'm not exactly sure since they're not very forthcoming about the cost, which annoys me to no end. Why is it so difficult to find out the price? Seriously? I'm sure they'd tell me if I were willing to provide my name, rank and serial number, but I'm not interested in getting scads of emails, so I found the $150AUD on Sarah Wilson's site. But really--what's with the secrecy? That annoyed me.

I do have a reader in Australia who is doing the IQS 8-Week online program. Hopefully she'll chime in with her thoughts.

The 21DSD online program can be accessed at various subscription levels, the priciest being $97, which also includes copies of the 21DSD books. There is the print program book and also another cookbook. And props to the 21DSD for making it's pricing far easier to find.

So from what I can tell, 21DSD seems to be a better value. It's also a shorter program, though, so I suppose IQS fans might take umbrage with my assessment. In fairness, I've never done either of the online programs.

HHJ: So you're doing the 21DSD book?

Me: Yes, and I just have the program book, not the cookbook. I'd say the program book is very complete. And that's one of the things I really like about it. There are a number of free companion resources available on the website, too. Printable PDFs and other links to support you as you navigate your break-up with Bad Boyfriend Sugar.

HHJ: Well, I really should be going as I have to prepare for interviewing Edward Snowden or some other Very Newsworthy Person. But I will be following your sugar detox with great interest!

Me: Why, thank you, HHJ! So wonderful to have met such a fabulous interviewer. I'll be sure to keep you posted with my progress.

Well, that was thrill. Can you imagine such a hard-hitting journalist would want to interview little me? Wow!

So I'm on day 1...ish of 21DSD. I actually started Sunday but then there was the whole cake debacle yesterday. But I'm not going down the path of self-loathing... I'm going to pick myself up, dust myself off and move on. No self-loathing! That's on the 'no' list.

Follow me on Instagram (@momsatthebarre) or Twitter (@stephaniehsiang) for more tweets and non-sweet treats on the 21DSD! Yay!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why 'All About the Bass' is 'Rude'

Recently a CD got stuck in the player in our car. On a longish trip. Oh dear. Music is very important on road trips with small children. You can have only so much meaningful conversation with a 6 and 3 year old before someone starts melting down. You need music.

So we were left with the radio. News is out. It's not long before there is a story on Jerry Sandusky or some other horrible thing that we don't want to discuss with small people. You need music. And so, our children were exposed to Meghan Trainor.

If you're not familiar with Meghan, she is the artist behind the hit song All About the Bass. From the moment the small people heard it, they loved it. *LOVED IT.* And I can dig it, it's a fun song with a good beat. If you don't have small people around, have a listen--with lyrics:

At first, I kind of liked it, too. I listened to some of the words and I was heartened. Trainor speaks of appreciating your body: 'every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.' She also slams the all-too-common practice of photo-shopping images, which we've talked about before. Well, that's just great. I love that.

Then it goes downhill. She sings:  "My Momma said don't worry about your size/boys they like a little more booty to hold at night."

What?! Since when is 'what boys like' the goal of any teachable moment? I'm tempted to shout to the backseat--"you boys better not be holding onto anyone's booty!" But I think better of it. The last thing they need is another word for 'bottom.'

There is further talk of 'skinny bitches' and I'm ready to change the station, but there is mutiny in the backseat. The only reason I consent to letting the song play out is that the small people never get the lyrics right. "I'm bringing booty back" comes out as "I'm eating fruity crack."

We dodged a bullet on that one.

Next on the list is Rude, a story of a man going to ask for the hand of his beloved. The father totally shuts him down and he defiantly claims he's going to 'marry her anyway.'

I tell Darling Son #1, "I don't like this song."

"Why not, Mommy?"

I begin ranting thus:

"Well, it's about a man going to ask the woman's daddy if he can have his blessing to marry her. And that's a very nice way to honor the daddy. But the daddy says, 'no,' and I don't think it's very wise to say he's going to marry her anyway. I mean, she's a grown woman and can make her own decision, but let me tell you, son, that's not a good way to start off on the right foot with your in-laws."

Did I mention he's six? Well, you can never start too young.

"You know, Daddy went to talk to Nana and Grandpa before he asked me to marry him and if Grandpa had said, 'no way,' Daddy would have rationally ascertained Grandpa's objections and addressed them until Nana and Grandpa were on board with the whole thing. That's because Daddy is respectful and isn't just going to railroad Grandpa. That's why they get along to this day and we can all eat Thanksgiving dinner together in peace and harmony."

I look back in the rear view mirror and DS1 is giving me a blank stare. "Umm. Mommy? Can I just listen to the song."

Oh. Ok. I'll comfort myself with some fruity crack.

A few days later, the Darling Husband comes home from work and says, "I heard that song the boys like on the radio. The All About the Bass song. It's horrible." I KNOW! And so after dinner, the DH fixed the CD player and we're back to listening to Thomas the Tank Engine songs in the car.

Pass the fruity crack.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Life as a Vegetarian

I used to be a vegetarian. I started dabbling in it when I was in high school, and then got really into in college. I even lived in a vegetarian cooperative house my senior year. That was actually a very funny experience. I was a semi-practicing Christian. I wore leather shoes and I only dated men. Let's just say I wasn't exactly in the majority. I loved what one of my housemates said to me--'It's great that you're here, Stephanie. You make us diverse!'

I still laugh out loud when I think of that.

The terms of the co-op were pretty simple. We didn't eat meat. The year I lived there, however, there was a omnivore among us.


She signed on to the co-op because she wanted to save money. Indeed, the co-op was cheap and chipper. We paid $300 a semester for food, which was waaaayyy cheaper than the college food plan. We did all our own planning, shopping and cooking. We belonged to an area food share and supplemented that with weekly trips to the market. It came out in our first house meeting that Cavegirl ate meat. She said, "Wait a minute--you're vegetarians??!"

"Why yes, Cavegirl, we are. You didn't know this??"

"NO! I'm just here to save a buck! You mean I can't eat meat here?"

And so we gathered together and decided Cavegirl could eat meat if she was willing to cloister herself in her room. Occasionally she would exercise this option. The smell of burger take-out would waft it's way up the stairs and into her room. We'd all cluck with disapproval, but man... it smelled good.

Honestly, we were tempted to chuck Cavegirl out onto the street. One of my housemates said, 'there are vegans starving in the college houses and Cavegirl is taking up a coveted spot in the Veg house?!' (Side note: we don't call them 'dorms' at Smith.) We were filled with righteous indignation. But no, we didn't kick Cavegirl out. The semester was already underway. Where would she go? No. She had to stay. We were compassionate. We were vegetarians.

We had a chore wheel and worked with partners. Somehow I got stuck with Cavegirl. She was actually kind of a fun person, but a really bad work partner. Cavegirl was very flaky. Obviously. How did she not know we were a vegetarian co-op? We were hardly secretive about it. By the way, we didn't call her 'Cavegirl.' We called her by her name, but I can't remember it now.

Anyway, every week you and your partner had a job--shopping, breakfast, making dinner, doing dinner dishes, that sort of thing. Dinner dishes was generally regarded as the worst job and you were really psyched when your washing week was up. I mentioned this to one of my housemates as she was slaving over our big, industrial sink. She said, "Oh yes, but it's so much better here than my work-study job in the college house--having to wash up after those yucky meaty dinners!"

Meals could include eggs or dairy, but if you used them, you had to provide a vegan alternative. So we made tempeh and used soy cheese. You want to talk about yucky? Soy cheese. YUCK. This is where I formed my opinion that if you can't eat the real thing, don't bother trying to come up with a substitute. Just find something else to eat.

Even with the soy cheese, I am really thankful for my experience in the veg house. I learned a lot about cooking and budgeting and how bad I was at resolving conflict. Like many young people with high ideals, I was positively nauseating to be around during this season of my life. I'm kind of shocked when I think back that some of the people who knew me then have stuck with me and actually read my blog. (Hi Tracy! Hi Dad!)

After I graduated, I kept up the veg thing. I moved to New York City where I subsisted on a minuscule paycheck. The vegetarian cookbooks I collected at the veg house came in handy--I lived on the carrot soup from the Moosewood Cookbook until payday--33 cents a serving with carrots from the corner bodega!
The vestiges of my veg days... and I still use them!

But the veg thing started to fall away little by little. You see, it was like a religion. We had creeds and dogma and moral outrage... and that no longer seemed relevant as I started loving Jesus more and more. Sweet Jesus, who cuts through dogma and moral outrage with grace and mercy. Jesus, who freed us from the laws, dietary and otherwise. Jesus, who, like an animal, gave His life so we could live.

Jesus wouldn't have kicked Cavegirl out onto the street. He also wouldn't have talked smack about her behind her back. But I don't look at Jesus as a role model. I look to Him for forgiveness--Oh Sweet Jesus, forgive my hypocrisy and nastiness to Cavegirl... and he gives it. He gives it freely, from his abundant stores of mercy. And he remembers Cavegirl's name... whatever it was...

I moved on to Scotland. It's easy to be a veg in Britain. All those Hindu immigrants, and let's face it--the food's not that good anyway.

It's the French who got me to throw off vegetarianism for good. Oh the French. They seriously do not understand why someone will not eat something that is just... yummy. 'Comment? Tu ne veux pas la belle viande?! POURQUOI?!?' I no longer had a good answer for why I didn't want the beautiful meat. So I ate la belle viande....

And I eat it still.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shocking News about Stretching!

I like to arrive a little early to the barre. If I'm flying in at the last minute, it stresses me out and I fear stress might inhibit my lovely post-class lala feeling. I don't like to do anything that might jeopardize the lalas. But then, of course, I'm just kind of hanging out... waiting for class to start... so historically, I've stretched to pass those few minutes, thinking I was doing something oh-so-beneficial for my body.

Lots of people stretch before exercise. When I first started formal exercise back in the early 1990's, you did a little warm-up, then you stretched. It was the done thing. By 'warm-up,' I mean a little bit of movement, and by 'stretching,' I mean the static kind--you assume a position (like bending to touch your toes) and hold there for 20-30 seconds. Stretching cold muscles was always a no-no, but since I'm usually moving quite briskly so I can get to class EARLY, I consider myself 'warm.' Yes, I play the hurry-up-and-wait game.

However, I recently read a few articles casting aspersions on this sacred cow of pre-workout stretching.
Well. This rocked my world. Clearly. So I did a little exhaustive internet researchtm.

I'm a huge fan of stretching and there are some very good reasons for it--maybe the best one being the Dr. Wayne Westcott study that indicated people see 20% greater strength gains for having stretched muscles after working them.

But that's post-workout stretching, which is a different animal from the I'm-just-hanging-out-early-at-the-barre kind. A few studies (here and here) have indicated that pre-workout or -competition stretching actually resulted in reduced performance. Athletes who stretched beforehand showed a temporary decrease in strength. The whys of this aren't really known, but study authors suggest the loosening nature of stretching made the athletes wobblier. That's a totally official scientific term, by the way.

It should be noted that holding stretches for more than 45 seconds is what seemed to inhibit strength--anything less than that didn't seem to affect it significantly.

There is a fair bit of conjecture about stretching in general. It is kind of toughie to research. As noted in one article I read, you can hardly do a randomized/double-blind study on stretching. People will figure out if they're in the stretching group or not, you know? I found some articles (like this one) that seemed to suggest stretching at any point in a workout might be of little benefit, but I can't get behind that. Stretching does restore optimal length to muscle, if only temporarily. The jury seems to be out as to whether or not it reduces delayed-onset muscle soreness or helps prevent injury, but it certainly feels good and helps with lalas. I should mention that no barre class I have ever taken has employed long-duration static stretching as part of the warm-up. The stretches always follow working the muscle to shaking, burning bliss.

So should you completely avoid the pre-workout stretch? From the former study, "We conclude that the usage of SS [static stretching] as the sole activity during warm-up routine should generally be avoided."

Well, harumph. I guess this leaves me with taking selfies to fill the time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Real Food: It's What's for Lunch

One day last year I forgot to pack a lunch for Darling Son #1. Did I mention it was his birthday? Oh yes. Mother of the Year!

The really sad thing is I didn't even notice I had forgotten. It wasn't until I picked him up at the end of the day, all aflutter to hear how his birthday at school went, that he blurted out, "It was great! You didn't give me a lunch so I got pizza and chocolate milk!"

Apparently they let you buy on credit if you don't have a lunch. So I paid $3 for the pizza and chocolate milk plus a $2 service fee and had to endure pleading for several months hence for a reprisal of the pizza and chocolate milk. From then on, I redoubled my efforts to a.) pack a tasty, healthy lunch and b.) not forget to send it to school.

The Not-so-skinny on School Lunches

School lunches are notoriously lamentable. The I Quit Sugar website recently rated American school lunches as 'the worst in the world.' Apparently things like tomato paste on pizza are classified as vegetables, along with french fries. The First Lady's efforts to improve things have just resulted in smaller portions, not better food.

Now, you know I'm not totally down on french fries or chocolate milk. I've blogged about both (chocolate milk here and fries here.) But these are sometimes foods. Certainly not something I want my kids eating everyday.

Not to mention the cost--$3 is alarmingly cheap, but still, the bill for two kids to eat pizza and chocolate milk everyday would run us close to $1000 over the course of the school year. I'm certain I can beat that with better quality, homemade food.

I also pack lunch and breakfast for the Darling Husband. So we have quite a packing operation here in the mornings. Here's how it goes:

Gather the Supplies

I spent this summer researching the vessels into which I would pour out my mother/wife love in food. Wow. There are a lot of options, but I became quite specific with my requirements. I needed:

  • Insulated bags for everyone.
  • Glass dishes for the DH, so he could heat things up in the office microwave.
  • Unbreakable containers and wide-mouth thermoses for keeping hot foods warm for the small people.
  • Some sort of alternative to the hundreds of plastic baggies I contributed to landfills last year. 
I read some bad things about plastic. Apparently plastic will kill us all, but I was unsatisfied with some of the other options, so I bought a variety of BPA-free plastic containers.

These Pyrex glass containers for DH:

And these stainless-steel thermoses for the small people:

One of my favorite purchases is this fabulous ice-pack bag!
I send DH's food in this everyday. It has ice-pack stuff IN the bag! Brilliant! He brings it home every evening, folds it up...
and pops it in the freezer.
Then we just fill it up in the morning. I'm in love with this bag. Not like I love DH, but you know, the way you love a lunch bag.

Sometimes I send a salad, too. I found this container:
It has an ice pack and salad dressing holder in the lid:
ETA: The DH doesn't love the salad container. It is a little flimsy, and he says the ice pack makes the dressing so cold it becomes somewhat congealed. So, FYI.

All the above items were deals. Most I bought at TJMaxx. You can find them at places like The Container Store, but I'd encourage you to shop around.

The only somewhat pricey things I bought were DS1's lunch bag. We went to LLBean because I expect him to use it for the rest of his life.

And I found a very interesting product called Lunchskins:

These are reusable sandwich/snack bags. They function like plastic baggies, but you can wash them out and reuse them. (I also wash out plastic bags and reuse them, but Lunchskins are very durable and can be reused many more times.) You can even put them in the dishwasher. You can't do that with a plastic bag.

Everything about Lunchskins appeals to me except the price. I spent close to $30 on four bags (two large sandwich-size and two smaller snack-size.) I could buy a lot of plastic baggies for that, but I like the concept of Lunchskins. They had good reviews and so far, we're happy with them.

What do I pack in all these delightful vessels?

Leftovers. I've taken to doubling or tripling my dinner recipes and I send everyone off with the leftovers.

For DH's breakfasts, I'll send egg casseroles or quiche, or just regular food. He doesn't have any hang-ups about consecrated breakfast foods. Sometimes I'll make a batch of steel-cut oatmeal and/or a couple hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit.

The small people need both a snack and lunch, so it's leftovers for lunch and some combination of carrot sticks, cheese or fruit for snack.
Gucamole, peach cobbler, carrots, cheese and leftover-I-don't-even-remember-what

And water. Always water.

If you're looking for more ideas, check out 100 Days of Real Food. Blogger Lisa Leake specializes in school lunches.

How I Make it Easy on Myself

I pack what I can the night before. As I'm putting away food after dinner, I just put everything in the individual containers then. The kids stuff has to be reheated in the morning and put in the thermoses, but that's about as tough as it gets.

I set it all up assmebly-line style and just pop everything into the bags.

Lastly--no one gets a choice. I take preferences into consideration, but I never say, "So, little Darlings, what would you like for lunch today?" I might offer a choice between leftover option one or two, but that's about it. You get what you get and you don't get upset.

So that's it--that's what's for lunch. DS1's birthday is coming up and he's angling for pizza and chocolate milk. Should I relent? Make it a birthday treat? I'm open to suggestions...