Thursday, July 28, 2011

Music Mondays on Thursday...oops!

So you already know that I love remixes.

I love to change things up. In sixth grade I got a perm.

What? You wanted to see pictures of that? There is a reason they don't exist.

However, that doesn't mean that I've forsaken change forever. After all, I have given up side pony tails, baggy clothing, and the Babysitter's Club books.

Sometimes, change is just what is needed. These songs might help you understand. It's my round two of remixes.

The list starts off with a punk-modern flavor and moves to a more house like vibe.

Stop Me (Kissy Sell Out remix) by Mark Ronson & Daniel Merriweather

Favorite Colour (Punches Remix) by Tokyo Police Club

Telephone (Kaskade extended remix) by Lady Gaga & Beyonce

Your visits are getting shorter (Optothetic remix) by Bloc Party

The original song literally fueled every run last year (and still gets me going to this day), and now I have a remix to love too:
Dogs Days are Over (Breakage remix) by Florence + the Machine

That's not my name (L.A. Riots Remix) by the Ting Tings

Alejandro (Kleerup remix) by Lady Gaga

Summer of Love (Ian Carey Remix) by Sunloverz

Angel on My Shoulder (EDX Radio Edit) by Kaskade

And this about sums up my favorite remixes.

I know change is hard. It is hard. Really Hard.

But I hope that these songs prove that change can sometimes be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Managing Stress

I don't think I'm alone in admitting that if my life were stress free, my unhealthy habits might possibly go extinct. Sure I'd still indulge - wine, birthday cake, Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, pizza but to indulge doesn't mean a 1000 calorie portion and a stuffed belly.

But stress doesn't make me do things, like drink half a bottle of wine and scarf down a cheeseburger, or snag an afternoon piece of chocolate from the local market.

Rather, stress is my biggest excuse, my greatest crutch, my most reliable get-out-of-jail free card.

If I'm elbow deep in a bag of chips, it's usually not because I'm so stressed out that I didn't have time to grocery shop or cook.

And it's definitely not cause I think that all that salt and grease is going to make me feel better.

Even my brain on stress knows that is not going to help me at all.

And yet, every time I feel that the weight of my responsibilities are becoming bigger than me, I immediately shut down, seek comfort in one of my vices, and ignore the stress.

But now after I've put on a good fifteen pounds this spring and summer, I can no longer continue to look in the mirror, or feel the waistband of my skirt digging in, and pretend that I'm just bloated or being particularly critical.

Just to verify things, I got on the scale too. Ugh, not pretty.

But you know what, no body's perfect? Me included.

First things first. I know all about eating healthy and about exercising. You all know that.

It's now about the how. It's about the why not? And I'm not eating healthy because I feel stressed out all the time. I know I'm not alone in this. In fact, I bet that everyone feels a little stressed out all the time.

And unless I win the lottery, move to a deserted tropical island and simply sit on the beach for the rest of my days, I am going to have to deal with stress for the rest of my life. Heck, I bet that even on my deserted island, I'd find a way to create drama with the turtles, or get stressed out about the tides.

So, first things first: learn to manage stress.

I could work out when I feel stressed. In theory, this seems like a good one because I like running, and generally look forward to many of my workouts, and I do find that regular exercise keeps me feeling more balanced. However, I do my workouts in the a.m. and am typically drained of energy in the evening. Sometimes, there is enough energy for an evening workout but I worry that behavior borders on compulsive, obsessive, or disordered habits, and so I'm afraid to rely on exercise. Still a little walk or yoga class couldn't hurt, right?

I could meditate - if I knew how to. Ok, so this option isn't immediately available to me but I could certainly learn how to meditate. My gym offers some meditation classes and I do enjoy the shavasana pose which is meditation at the end of yoga class.

I could read. I love reading. Yesterday, I almost read an entire book on my 6 hour commute to and from Pennsylvania. I have read two other books in the past week. But since I already read all the time, I'm not sure that this would help. Perhaps, splurging on a favorite magazine or going to the bookstore for a cup of tea and some light reading might work?

I could get a manicure or pedicure, or some other spa treatment. This one is definitely relaxing, but not very budget conscious. The occasional treat is within my means, but I can't get a massage multiple times a week or even month. However, there are some ways I could reap the benefits at home - fancy bath products and a bath, setting up relaxing candles, tea, and essential oils like the spa lounges, or doing a little manual massage with a tennis ball or foam roller.

These are just few ways that I have decided that I can manage my stress instead of chowing on chips or guzzling a glass of wine.

What other suggestions do you have for me? Some other things that came up include cooking, calling a friend or family member, or watching television, however, I didn't think these would work because they can also be a source of stress and anxiety for me. (Ok, well sometimes, I just find television boring, especially if nothing I like is on.)

I see the key to dealing with stress as a two-part problem: the first part is learning to alleviate stress and the second part is learning to deal with it.

After all, stress can be a good thing. A deadline can light a fire under my butt, an argument can bring to life some rude things I didn't realize I had said, and a bill can remind me to start saving for the future.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Central Park, naturally

Recently, I was in the other great American city.

You might have heard of it?

After a fun lunch with an old college friend, I hopped in a cab to meet up with my oldest friend.

“Which way do you want to take?” asked my cab driver.


“I don’t know. I’m not from here,” I admitted, immediately opening the door for him to ask where I am from.

Where am I from? Am I from Detroit? Where I was born?

Am I from New York, where I currently reside?

Or am I from the places – Poland, Italy, Germany - my family immigrated to the United States from several generations ago?


Well, on this day, I was from New York.

“So which city do you like better?” my cab driver asked. I could feel a fight coming on.

“Well, I live in New York,” I said, hoping the obvious was obvious.

“What do you like so much about New York?” Like a panther about to pounce on his prey, I could see the hairs on the nape of his neck stand and his muscles tense up.

“Well,” I paused. Where to begin?

“I love Central Park,” I started.

“Oh but we have parks too.”

“Not like Central Park.”

While I haven’t visited every park there is, and since Central Park is the closest that I get to nature between trips out of the city, I’m really biased here. Really, really, really biased.

And yet, I’m pretty sure that a lot of people would agree with me on this. Unlike the great national parks such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, the Park lacks majestic, jaw dropping natural wonders. In fact, the whole thing is man made.

Unlike some of the great urban parks like Park Guell or Grant Park, the Park lacks breathtaking, groundbreaking pieces of art. So there’s a cute statue of Alice in Wonderland, and Balto, and a few generals and other people, it’s certainly not as iconic as this mosaic lizard in Barcelona.

There’s no national monuments in Central Park either – nothing to commemorate a great historical moment nor to honor all the soldiers who have fought and died for our country.

Besides the rogue wolf, there’s no wildlife in the Park - unless you count squirrels and people from New Jersey.

And yet for all that Central Park lacks in natural resources and artistic showpieces, it makes up for in characters.

Where else can you see Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Florence and the Machine, the New York Philharmonic, the MET Opera, play softball, soccer, cricket, even quidditch?

It’s where we go to get our tan on, where first kisses and marriage proposals happen daily, where bottles of wine are more plentiful than barbecues, and where you can ride a ferris wheel, play hockey, practice your backstroke, and row boats.

Recently, I enjoyed one of Central Park's great events: Shakespeare in the Park. Sadly, cameras are not allowed so I cannot share any pictures. Words will have to be enough.

The play was Measure for Measure, a Shakespearean tragic comedy which I was not familiar with going into the show.

In short, the theater is a simple curtainless stage, in the back open to trees and bushes with Belvedere Castle poking out from behind. The stage has one open balcony and two sets of stairs which the players moved around to the change the scenes, along with a few sparse props such as a bed and a table.

The actors were amazing. Comedic, and though the setting of the play was decidedly of the Shakespearean era, a few cheeky gestures and innuendos acknowledged both the audience and it's 21st century world.

The most magical part of the play for me was outdoor theater setting. As the sun set, the sky changed colors and lightning bugs appeared. The occasional bird swooped low through the crowd, and you could hear a smattering of children yelling or a siren here or there. I enjoyed the sensation of watching a play with the semi-awareness of the going arounds outside of the theater.

There was something very romantic about this place.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Dirty Dozen

So you've heard about eating organic foods right?

All those pesticides and other stuff are seriously cancelling out all the benefits of eating fresh produce.

But who has the money to eat an all organic diet, and let's be serious, what grocery store stocks everything you could ever want in organic form? And even if that grocery store did exist, what average person's budget can afford that anyway?

Unless you live on a farm or are a millionaire, an all organic diet is just not practical. However, there are still some ways that you can minimize the impact of conventional produce.

1. Peel it. If the fruit or vegetable has an edible skin, such as an apple or cucumber, peel off the skin!

2. Wash it. Though washing will not remove pesticides that are deep inside the fruit and vegetables, most of the pesticides are sitting on the outside anyway. Rinsing them in water doesn't count (I am sooo guilty of this).

Use your normal dish detergent. Soak 'em in a tub of soap and cool water for about 30 minutes, give them a little scrub and rub, and then rinse. It's easiest to give everything a bath after grocery shopping.

Spray your produce with vinegar. Spray white or cider vinegar, then wipe off. Some sources say to spray 3% hydrogen peroxide after the vinegar. Vinegar can also be used to clean kitchen counters, sinks and cutting boards.

Salt + Lemon. In a cool tub of water, add 4tbs salt and the juice of half a lemon and soak five to ten minutes (leafy greens two to three minutes and berries one to two minutes).


3. Buy the dirty dozen, only, organic. The dirty dozen are the fruits and vegetables found to be most contaminated. They are:

Nectarines - imported
Grapes - imported
Sweet bell peppers
Blueberries - domestic
Kale/collard greens

The bottom line is that there is a lot of compelling reasons to eat organic food, and yet despite this, it is neither readily accessible nor reasonably priced. I try to buy organic as much as my budget allows, and for all food with edible skins, but if I can't find what I need in organic, I still buy it. I'm not going to deny myself strawberry shortcake just because I can't find organic strawberries (or because the organic ones cost $3 more!).

I do believe it's important to buy the organic foods though, because the more that people purchase organic foods, the more farmers will start running organic farms and consequently, the less expensive it will become. The environmental and health impacts of conventional farming techniques are too bad to ignore. Even if you don't want to go protest these methods on capital hill, spending your dollars wisely does make a difference.

How to Eat More Home Cooked Meals

You'd be hard pressed to find a person who doesn't love a home cooked meal. Even the most seasoned diner loves to crowd around the dining room table. So what if if the dishes don't match the cup? Who cares if the wine glasses aren't all the same size, and if you have to sit on a barstool instead of a real chair? Even the taint of doing dishes afterwards can't spoil a real homecooked meal.

But those homecooked meals are not simple feasts for most of us. Grandma's and Mother's make these meals look simple and effortless, but as any budding chef will tell you: these meals often result in a full days effort, plus time to prepare, shop, and clean house.

While I won't discourage anyone from trying their hand at a homespun feast, unless you have hours upon hours of free time every day, such an effort is not only impracticle but almost impossible.

Still, the homecooked meal is not to be forsaken. You can make meals from scratch without spending a boat load of time. Here's how:

(1) Stock up on spices, oils, and keep a few basic ingredients in the house at all times. This way, you will only need to stock up on produce, meat and dairy at the grocery store. I always have:

olive oil
vegetable oil
balsamic vinegar
apple cider vinegar
soy sauce
hot sauce (multiple kinds actually, I'm a sucker for spice)

garlic powder
sea salt
pepper in a grinder
chili powder
red pepper flakes (mmm, love me some spice)
taco seasoning

Produce/Refridgerated foods:
garlic cloves
limes and lemons

If you eat dairy:
parmesan cheese

Dry goods:
rice - usually a wild rice and a brown/basmati rice
canned garbanzo beans and black beans
stewed tomatoes
tomato sauce
tomato paste
sesame seeds

(2) Prepare a big batch of grains on the weekend. Pick a grain or two and prepare a huge container to store in your fridge for the week. Try to pick a few recipes which will center around these items.

(3) Cut out cooking. Get creative with your salads and cold recipes. Make salads a bigger part of the meal by adding substantial ingredients such as nuts, avocado, and seeds. This will cut down the need to cook two or three things.

(4) Get a crock-pot and learn to use to it. So many excellent soups, stews, and other recipes can be made on a crock-pot. All you do is dump everything in it, turn it on and go.

(5) Roast vegetables. Cut up vegetables, put them on a pan in the oven along side your meat or protien of choice, pour a sauce on top (or use plain sea salt and pepper), then stick in the over until good smells waft out of the kitchen. (Make vegetables the same thickness as the protein to ensure even cooking times).

(6) Learn the art of stir-fries. Cook your protein, dump a bag of frozen veggies when almost cooked, and then add a sauce at the end. You can buy stir-fry sauces at the store or make one with: 1 cup broth, 3 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp of garlic powder. Add a little water mixed with flour to thicken up the sauce at the end.

(7) Make more casseroles. Dump everything in a pan (or sometimes artfully arrange it), then bake.

Cooking your own meals certainly sounds scary, but that's because we tend to hold ourselves up to our Mother's standards. Give yourself a break! Make your kitchen, YOUR kitchen.

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Fruit

I love summer, most of all because every piece of fruit and every bite of vegetable is sweet, juicy, tart, crisp, and fresh, fresh, fresh.

You can literally smell the sun and dirt emanating from these fresh tomatoes.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the quissential summer fruit is really the tomato. Oh yeah, you thought that was a vegetable? It's ok, I used to think that too.

Sandwiched in a juicy, fresh off the grill hamburger, chopped up with onions, garlic, lime, a jalepeno and served with crunchy tortilla chips, or glistening on a plate with a dollop of fresh mozzerella and basil leaves, the tomato is the perfect center piece to any recipe.

Sure tomatoes get their fair share of air time all year round - ketchup (barely tomato), marinaras, sundried tomatoes, and those pale pink, mushy, measly tasteless things that insist on calling themselves tomatos in the winter.

But nothing compares to the fresh taste of tomatoes in the summer. At first bite, you notice how they are firm, yet utterly tender and juicy. None of the that fuzzy, stuff from the winter that dissolves in your mouth. The summer tomato begs to be chewed slowly, with eyes closed and a blissful smile.

There are so many ways to enjoy tomatoes, and I'm sure you already have a few tricks up your sleeves. If you are one of those people who can't stand tomatoes, I beg you to give the freshest, ripest, redest ones from your farmer's market or gourmet grocery store a try again. You might be surprised by what a *real* tomato tastes like.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy tomatoes is in a salad. Here's an untraditional take on a summer salad.

The Red Salad

2 large fresh red tomatoes, I used Roma tomatoes in this recipe
2 cups watermelon, chopped in bite size cubes
1 cup strawberries, halved)
1/4 cup feta (I used a feta made from sheep's cheese
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Sea salt to taste
1/4 cup mint, chopped

Mix all ingredients, except vinegar and salt together. When ready to eat, add the balsamic vinegar, salt if necessary (the feta will add salt, so add to your taste. I like my food salty to usually add more even with feta). This salad is best made 1-2 hours before eating.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Music Mondays

Lots of songs are great. Really great. Some are so great that countless versions are made from the original - acapella, string quartets renditions, and several genres, some which almost exist in opposition to the original style, recreate the song, creating something new and nothing all at once.

And some songs are not that great. Until someone else comes along and makes them great.

Either way, whether the original sucked or was awesome, here are my favorite remixes, mixes, and covers. (Links to listen to some of the songs).

Hold Yuh (Major Lazer remix) by Gyptian

Beautiful People (Felix Cartal Club Remix)

Revolver (Madonna v. David Guetta One Love Remix feat. Lil' Wayne) by Madonna

Dancing with the DJ (Chiddy Bang Mix) by the Knocks

Rolling in the Deep (Jamie XX remix) by Adele

Open Your Eyes (Toy Armada mix) by Snow Patrol

This list could go on, and on, and this will be continued another week.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How To Begin An Exercise Plan

I know you probably used to be the most active person ever. Soccer practice, dance lessons, swim team, pick-up basketball games, alumni softball, and just general avoiding the couch, then suddenly life got in the way, and you stopped working out.

In early 2008, after working for two years post college, I was putting in roughly 60-70 hours a week, many of them while eating on an expense account for work. I was working out once a week, could barely run a mile, and wasn't able to fit into the even the largest size at some stores. A picture of me and roommates together, me looming over my tiny roommates like the Michelin man finally inspired me to get my act together.

But though I was already a fan of spinning, and a former swimmer, the prospect of running to lose weight hadn't yet entered my mind. In fact, I was almost violently against the idea with a laundry list of excuses just waiting for anyone who suggested that I 'go for a jog.'

Then in the spring, at the suggestion of my very expensive trainer, I grudgingly signed up for a half-marathon. Here's how that half turned into a habit.

1. Find a activity that you like. This is crucial. You can't just say you want to be a runner. While I didn't like running per se, I've always loved endurance training - the slow burn for an hour or so, and I rarely get bored. In fact, I enter a meditative state almost and tune out. Relaxing.
-->You get bored quickly - try a class at the gym
-->You like to be around people - try joining a boot camp class or martial arts
-->You are really out of shape and feel awkward at the gym - Try riding a bike
-->You love football/soccer/basketball - Find a race to train for
-->You are plugged into the iPod all day - Try running to a favorite playlist

2. Set aside time; sacrifice something else in your life. It's not enough that you simply dedicate an hour each day to exercise. You must look at your life, look at your daily (and it has to be something you do almost daily!) activities and figure out what you can give up. I gave up my daily morning ritual of slowing getting ready and eating breakfast, and some TV at night. Some things you can give up:
--> Television. Give up a few shows. Come don't need them!
--> Chores. I bet you love this one. Delegate tasks, do them less frequently, pay someone else to do them.
--> Streamline rituals. Buy prechopped vegetables for dinner, pick out your outfit at night, organize your sock drawer, get a key hook, basically figure out the things that you run around frantically for in the a.m scrambling to do and find a way to eliminate the problem.
--> Cooking. Cut out a few elaborate meals and substitute quick salads, and do a little prep work on the weekend. I will cook a big batch of quinoa or farro to use all week.

3. Budget some money to make this happen. You will need a new sports bra, some new sneakers, money to pay for your gym class, or even a bottle of water after a hot workout in July. Don't deny yourself these simple items, give up something to make room in your budget. Cut out:
--> Restaurants: one to two meals a week is all you need
--> Make your own lunch: This comes up to savings of around $25-$50 a week
--> Get free checking: varies, but $5-$25 a month
--> Stop using your non-bank atms, try a no fee ATM
--> Make your own coffee
--> Cut out a few drinks on your nights out.

4. Make a committment. Outloud, with your wallet, on Facebook, to your coworkers, to your worst enemy, to your boss. Basically find a way to announce your intention loud and clear. If you don't want to announce it to the world, that's okay. But tell someone outside of your immediate circle of people. Tell a few people actually. The more that you hear yourself saying to others "I'm going to run a half marathon this fall," the more it becomes real in your mind.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Upcoming Race Schedule

This summer my race schedule is going to take me from Flushing Queens to the Bronx and across the country to Detroit.

I might even ride a bicycle and try my hand at swimming too.