Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recipes! Yummy Summer Popstickles

Summer is in full-swing here in God's Country. We love making freezer 'popstickles,' as Darling Son #2 likes to call them. I suppose I can call them 'popstickles' without violating 'popsicles' trademark. I'm sure Popsiclestm is actually trademarked... right? I mean really trademarked... not like I trademark things.

Anyway, I've tried many, many, many healthy popstickle recipes, but these two are our faves. I've adapted them from an old Clean Eating magazine issue. (And by 'adapted' I mean I made them with more fat and less sugar.) I'd tell you which issue, but I think I recycled it... so here it is from memory.

Cherry Cheescake Popstickles

1 1/2 cups frozen pitted cherries
4 oz. (half a brick) full-fat cream cheese, softened
splash or so of milk (sorry, I'm not really much of a measurer... which is why I'm a better cook than a baker... but basically you can play around with the milk to get a smooth, pourable, but not too runny consistency. I think I use 1/4 cup? Why couldn't I have said that in the first place? I don't know...)
1 tbsp. raw honey, warmed a little (Raw honey is fairly solid. You could use regular honey, too, but raw contains goodies.)
1 tsp. vanilla extract... or more... because it's yummy and smells good. Really, I *never* measure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, simmer the cherries with a splash of water (here I go again with the splashes) for about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a pourable container.

Next blend the cooled cherries until reasonably smooth. Unless you have a Vitamix, which sadly, I do not, it will still have some chunks of cherries.

Pour about an inch or so of cherry puree into your popstickle molds. Then pour about an inch of the cream cheese mixture and alternate cherry and cream cheese until you reach the top of the mold. This part is a pain and results in some spillage, so be forewarned. Leave a little space for expansion, and insert the sticks.

Freeze until set, which in our freezer is at least 3 hours. I've learned this the hard way.

Next up! Lime Avocado Popstickles

1 lime, zested and juiced
1 ripe avocado, mashed
1 egg white (you could use the pasturized kind, but I usually can't be bothered and like to live dangerously)
A big scoop (maybe 1/4 c.?) plain yogurt, Greek or regular, whatever I have on hand
1 tbsp. raw honey
Almond milk as needed, because the mixture is usually very thick. So really just a... wait for it... splash! Too much and it's crystally.

Blend everything up in the blender. Pour or spoon into molds. *Make sure to tap the molds on the counter to settle the mixture. Otherwise, you'll have air pockets in your popstickles. Freeze until set.

The small people aren't as jazzed about this recipe as they are the cherry cheesecake ones, which means all the more for Mommy!

Lord, all the extraneous commentary... And now you know why I'm not a recipe developer, but I hope you enjoy them anyway!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reform School: My First Workout with a Pilates Megaformer

I like Groupon. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I've found some sweet deals on Groupon, and we all know how much I love a deal. Recently I scored one on a series of classes at a local pilates megaformer studio.

I know, that totally sounds like a superhero, doesn't it?! Megaformer! The badass cousin of Optimus Prime. But no, a megaformer is just the most recent model of the pilates reformer--a machine on which you do various exercises. It's quite a behemoth... not something I could ever (or would ever want to) have in my house, but you can buy fold-up varieties for use at home.

A Little Schooling on the Reformer

The machine was invented by founder Joseph Pilates himself. A reformer is a bed-like contraption with a center portion that moves back and forth on wheels. There are handles and pulleys on either end, and resistance is provided by a set of springs underneath. You can adjust the resistance on the carriage by tinkering with the different knobs attached to the springs.
The photo... look Ma, no people!

I've always been a little intrigued/intimidated by reformers. The look like something you might have found in the bowels of the Tower of London... kind of like the infamous rack. But I've read they're very effective and even a little bit fun? So when the Groupon deal was posted and the pot was sweetened by an additional 15% off, I took the plunge.

The Class

I made a concerted effort to get there 15 minutes early so I could get a tutorial and practice on the machine a little. But when I got to the studio... no one was there. So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, five minutes before class time, the instructor arrives and lets me in. So no practice time. She was nice, but didn't introduce herself or ask my name, whether or not I had any injuries, etc. She knew I was a first-timer, though, because she gave me a new client form to fill out.

Then she offered to show me how the machine worked. I said I wanted to take a picture for Darling Son #1. Little engineer-in-training was fascinated when I said I was going to workout on a machine! If he had been there, he'd have been under the machine figuring out how it all worked. Instructor says, 'I don't want to be in the picture.' Ok, that's fine. I didn't intend to take a picture of you, but whatever. I tell her I can take it after she shows me the machine.

I'm holding my phone at my side, and mid-machine-presentation, she says, 'You aren't recording this, are you?' Um, NO! She didn't say it in a bitchy way, but it was..weird. So I assured her I wasn't, and she said, 'ok, I'm just really sensitive about that kind of thing.'

Obviously! Made me wonder... is she in the Federal Witness Protection Program?! Did she testify against Whitey Bulger or something?! So then I start spinning quite a yarn in my head about what she might have seen... was she involved with the mob?! Wow! What a story I'm making up out of nowhere!

I struggle to refocus, figure I can handle all the levers and pulleys. I think I'm OK. She tells me class is very intense, but to do my best. 

So we get underway and, quite frankly, class wasn't that intense. I would say it was actually pretty easy. I found the megaformer kind of awkward on some exercises--not because it was unstable, which is the point, I suppose--but the pulley cord got in the way at times and by the time I figured out how to do some exercises, the set was almost over.

And this brings me to my biggest beef: I struggled with set up because while she cued well, she didn't use a mic so it was hard to hear her at times. She was nice and had a good class rapport, but for some reason, she didn't have us do the normal reps. A couple of times she mentioned exercises would normally be done for two minutes, but she only had us do them for one minute. Again, Why?? Was she dumbing down the class for me because it was my first time? I don't know... there were only two other women in the class and I was the only novice. Still, I was doing fine, definitely holding my own.

Anyway, at the end, I told her I didn't find it that intense and was I doing something wrong? She said, 'maybe you need to push yourself more.' That's possible. I was a little tentative on the machine at first, which is why I wish I had been given the opportunity to practice on it beforehand.

She told me to expect to 'feel it' tomorrow. Somehow, I doubt it... especially after what Megan did to me at Pure Barre two days ago, but we'll see. I have two more classes left on my Groupon, so I'll try again with a different instructor and we'll see how it goes.

The Verdict

It was definitely different, which can be fun. I certainly don't feel like I got a better workout than I do just using bodyweight in barre or pilates mat classes. If I didn't have a Groupon, I would likely not go back. But I do suspect there's something of a learning curve on the megaformer. I'm going back next week with a different instructor, and I might try another local studio that's gotten rave reviews. 

The downside of reformer classes is cost--they're pricey. They make barre classes look cheap, and most in my area have very strict cancellation policies. I'm sympatheic--I'm sure megaformers don't come cheap, require maintenance, and your class number is obviously limited by the number of machines available. 

I'm certainly willing to admit my awkward moments with my Johnny-come-lately instructor might have colored my viewpoint, but I'll try it again. Anyone out there have thoughts on the subject? I'm willing to be reformed...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The World Through Orange-tinted Glasses, and Other Sleep Hacks

I recently read this article on how eating sugar messes up your sleep. That was my hope, anyway. Maybe it was the sugar I was consuming in mass quantities? Maybe if I just lay off the (mass quantities) of sugar, I'd sleep like a baby? (Why do we say that, by the way? Who wants to sleep like a baby? They get up in the night. Then again, so do I, so maybe I already sleep like a baby?)

Could it be the sweet stuff?

Anyway, I gave up sugar, and for a few weeks, wow... I slept great. I was actually looking forward to going to bed because really, I enjoyed great sleep for maybe three weeks? It was wonderful. I was all excited to get back to the blog to tell you all about it, but then....

The other shoe dropped.

I started sleeping horribly. I went through an absolutely terrible season of miserable, wretched, pitiful sleep (or lack thereof.) Despite all the wonderful benefits of giving up sugar, the effects on my sleep were short-lived. So it was back to the drawing board.

While browsing through the library stacks, I came upon this book:

Who can resist a title like that? I can make you sleep. I hope so, Paul. Truly... I do. This is what's so great about the library: you can try every random English hypnotist, free of charge.

The book... it's totally unhelpful. He tells you to watch a movie of yourself... sleeping. Who would want to watch that? I'm thinking about my movie. How incredibly boring it would be, then I start thinking of ways I could make it more exciting! So people would want to go see it! Then they'd love my movie! And by then, I'm wide awake.

So no, I didn't like the book, but it comes with this marvelous CD. It's all woo-woo music and this Paul person talking at you. It's not new-agey commentary at all. He's not telling me to salute my inner goddess or anything like that, but he's just reminding me that I actually can sleep... and honestly, for an insomniac, that's half the battle.

So I tried it out one day. One very bad day when I had been up since 3am. I dropped the small people off at school and came home, put the CD into the player and drew the shades.... and...

I didn't sleep. But, I should mention, I can never nap in the morning. Really. Never. Something about my biorhythms prevents me from napping in the morning, but the CD was still quite nice, despite Whatshisname. He was actually a little creepy. He was trying to be all chill and relaxing, but ended up sounding like some smarmy guy you'd meet at a tourist bar in the Piazza Navona... like he was going to put something in my drink and try to have his way with me.

The thing about chronic insomnia is that it begets insomnia. As any parent knows, the less your children sleep, the less they sleep. They get wired and hyper. And the same is true with adults. Except we're just crabby and not quite so annoying.

I didn't sleep that morning, but I did feel significantly feel more relaxed. I just didn't like Paul. He freaked me out. If only I could get Anthony Howell to record a sleep hypnosis CD... I would love to fall asleep to his sonorous voice.... wouldn't you?

I wouldn't say the creepy hypnosis CD was the magic bullet, but it chilled me out a little. At least I wasn't bouncing off the walls and obsessively reorganizing the spice cupboard. It was a start.

Then... I discovered the magic orange glasses.
Three-year-old in Darth Vader pajamas optional

It's the BLUE LIGHT! In the library, with the candlestick. 

Yes, people, They're orange. #howcoolami?

Actually, there is research behind the orange glasses.

As it turns out, blue light is BAD for sleep. It's the stuff emitted from your computer, fluorescent light bulbs and... oh yeah... the SUN. Blue light suppresses the pineal gland from producing the hormone melatonin. You want blue light during the day. It gives you vim and vigor! But at night? No. Not so much.

Melatonin makes you sleepy. Yes, you can take melatonin supplements, but I wouldn't recommend it. They're fine to take temporarily (like when you're jet-lagged,) but if you take them every night, it will cue your body to actually produce less melatonin, so it really doesn't help you in the end.

But the magic orange glasses block the blue light. You can enjoy delightful light bulbs AND your electronic devices without the sleep-sapping effects of blue light. Yay!

For the past few nights, I've been putting the small people to bed and popping in a Foyle's War and my #howcoolami? orange glasses.
And I've slept quite remarkably well. Could this be the solution? I don't know. But at least if I can't have Anthony telling me, 'I can make you sleep!,' I can hear him say, 'Sihr, there's beeeeen a muhrdur.'

It's the next best thing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sustainablility--It's Hot

We just got back from vaca and I'm jet-lagged. Can't you tell? It's... wait for it... 9.23pm! Wow! And I'm still awake. I should really get to bed, but it's been a while and I've missed you all and missed sharing my unsolicited opinions, so here I am, blogging away...

I had lots of interesting conversation with people while I was away, so my wheels have been turning. One was with a friend who was underemployed last year. He spent his ample free time lifting at the gym and getting buff. Really. He looked very buff. He looked good. I'm a happily married woman so I won't say anymore.

A few months ago, he got a job. Yay! So now he's busy and not going to the gym and he's not as buff. And really, he never liked going to the gym and thought lifting was boring. (I'm inclined to agree.) Anyway, the point is, now he's kind of depressed because he's lost some of his buffness.

I could relate to my friend. Rewind about twenty years and I was unemployed and living with my parents after college. I spent my days looking for a job and/or a way to live in Europe, helping with chores, eating lots of vegetables and working out.

For two hours a day.

I like working out, so two hours a day of it was actually fun for me. And let me tell you--I looked good. Really good. I kind of amazed myself by how good I looked. Why didn't I take a picture??? Argh! Didn't I know I was going to be a blogger one day? Oh yeah... blogs didn't exist yet.

Anyway, did I mention I was twenty-two? Did I mention that was a long time ago? I'm sure that helped.

After a couple of months I found a job (yay!) and moved back to New York. I couldn't workout two hours a day anymore. And I had a friend who worked at the Starbucks at 78th and 2nd and he brought me treats at the end of the day. So... um... after a few months of that, I didn't look quite so good anymore. I'm sure I looked fine (remember... twenty-two), but not as good as before.

And I was depressed about it. For a long time. I thought back wistfully to my former hotness, which was no longer attainable now that I had a life. My hotness workout and eating routine was not sustainable.

And that brings me to my point--I know, so early in the post!

Your routines need to be sustainable.

I can't tell you how many women I know get really fired up about looking good for their weddings. Of course, every bride wants to look good for her wedding and this is totally normal, but some women really make a career out of it. Places like Pure Barre even have specials for brides. 'Pure Bride' gives you unlimited classes for a couple of months at a relatively low price, which is super and kind of makes me think the Darling Husband and I should renew our vows so I could take advantage of it.

Highly recommend a-line cut--covers a multitude of pre-wedding indulgences

But a lot of women find these no-holds-barred-on-the-road-to-hotness routines--you guessed it--unsustainable. I know lots of women who look at their wedding pictures for the rest of their lives and feel wistful at how hot they were on their wedding days... and some even feel a little depressed about it. I wasn't uber hot at my wedding and so I can look at the pictures without feeling depressed and boy, am I thankful. Way to look at life as glass-half-full, no?

So I told my friend, 'you need to find something sustainable... something that works for you. Something you like, or at least, don't mind, so you'll DO IT. Regularly.' I preached a little sermon and now I'm sure he feels better. Fer shur.

But really, you can't always workout two hours a day. You can't always afford a gym or classes. Life happens. You get a job. You have a baby. You get injured or sick. You want to eat differently... or more. Or you just don't like that 'really effective workout' that makes you look hot but you dread it and never really want to do it, so eventually you give up because really? Who wants to live like that? I don't.

So here are my tips:

  • Find some movement you enjoy, or at least, don't mind. Something you can do everyday. Or at least, most days.

  • If you stop liking it, change it up. I really think exercise should be enjoyable... or at least, not dread-worthy. If you're hating your workout, do something else. There's more than one way to workout. Try something new. 

  • Follow an 80/20 eating plan. By this I mean eat healthy foods that agree with you 80% of the time. Then loosen up. I just spent some time with some old friends. The husband said, "Everything in moderation... including moderation." Sometimes you go on a bit of a bender. There are feast days. Enjoy them! Then go back to your regular healthy diet.

  • Be flexible. Develop a plan for dealing with curve balls. Because mark my words: they're coming. A life without curve balls is not a life worth living. Stuff is going to happen to derail your type-A plans. Keep plan B in your back pocket. 
So that's all I have to say about that. I kind of lost my blogging mojo while I was away, but I realized I just have to get back in the saddle. Blogging. It's like the rest of life--it needs to be sustainable.