Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Yoga: Raw and uncooked

Flickr: Indiana Public Media
People in my yoga classes sometimes talk about 'going raw.'  I never met a person who aspired to rawdom before I did yoga, but many years before I walked into a yoga class, I remember reading this article on raw food in the New York Times and this one paragraph always stood out in my mind:

"Although he does a two-hour ashtanga yoga workout each morning, he subsists on about 800 calories a day, which most nutritionists would consider starvation level. (The recommended daily allowance for an active adult male is 2,900 calories.) Raw-foodists claim, however, that uncooked calories metabolize more efficiently -- although there is no evidence for this. When I suggest that vegans I've met often look sickly, he shrugs. ''What we perceive as healthy may to a certain extent be socially determined,'' he says. ''They may have been very healthy and just looked weird to you.''

 Now, I don't mean to go all Hungry Girl, but my immediate reaction was: 800 calories a day while working out for two hours a day?  And he's a dude maintaining his weight, even a very low weight?

Of course, when I started doing yoga, I began to meet more raw people. Well, I guess we are all raw, except for maybe people who tan an awful lot.

Now I like a good sun salutation every now and then, but I have no desire to try to get most of my nutrition from the heat of the sun through photosynthesis.

I still recall one guy who had just come back from some sort of yoga conference gushing about how he had practiced with a particular teacher and she was "73 percent raw, except for dark chocolate and the occasional glass of red wine," versus another of his friends who was about "57 percent raw."  Kind of like the crappy juice boxes I begged my mom to buy me were 70 percent fruit juice or whatever.  I never really drank those Capri Suns, though, I just liked to squirt them at things.

When the guy mentioned that several of the 'pure raw' foodists he met struggled with their weight, I grew even less enthusiastic about a way of eating that seemed designed to bring your energy levels and metabolism into a state of sluggish torpor. True, I know some raw foodies who are quite thin (and often have a pile of other self-imposed health taboos such as dairy/wheat/soy and of course meat). But whenever I eat too much raw food (living off of raw nuts and veggies, usually because of a lack of time to prepare anything elaborate), I feel draggy rather than 'glowing and full of energy' like you're supposed to feel.

Plus, being able to cook and eat meat, according to scientists, is why our brains got so big, in  evolutionary terms.  Of course, me being me, I tried to point this out in my argument with Yoga Man, when he insisted that "raw was how people ate in a state of nature" but he pooh-poohed my objections, strapped on a loincloth and bounded into his truck (which had a bumper sticker in Sanskrit on the back) before I could bring up Prometheus and stuff like that.

I love yoga, and am grateful every day for how it has transformed my life, but the extreme 'anti-consumption' side of it has always disturbed me.  There is intense hostility to, well--food--in some quarters because food is consumption and consumption is bad. Yoga people are supposed to be nonjudgmental, but if you subscribe to any yoga Facebook feed or read yoga blogs, you know that  there is plenty of judgment going on about how people eat.

The only way not to be judged it seems is to eat foodlike substances that are not like real, dirty, bloody nasty food itself: juice and raw protein bars from approved companies with little halos on the wrapper. The possible cooked exception is rice and beans from a very expensive vegan restaurant. It seems so primitive--like ancient peoples thought that eating a bull's heart would make you strong, some yogis think if you eat something raw, you are like freebasing the sun's energy or something.

The uncomfortable thing that no one wishes to acknowledge is that even if you are eating raw those organic veggie packed smoothies require quite a bit of tilling of farmland and you are causing some sort of 'destruction' of some kind. To say nothing of all the packaging. Of course, there is also a very positive element in yoga which suggests that some destruction and consumption is necessary for growth but that can be drowned out by the guilt of well, consuming when it comes to food.

So I guess for some people, the solution is to eat next to nothing and living off the heat of the sun as a source of infinitely renewable energy.

There has always been something odd about calling yourself anything, according to yogic terms.  Isn't the whole point of yoga to listen to your body and to do what seems to serve the moment?  It's hard to believe that an 800 calorie raw diet will serve a seventeen-year-old athlete any more than a fancy 2,000 calorie restaurant meal is really good for a sedentary office worker. Or even me, who feels much better eating some cooked salmon and broccoli rather than buying some dusty box of raw health food cereal with lots of health claims on the back. Who knows how you will need to eat from one day to the next if you really listen to your body?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston: A love letter

I'm not a drinker, but every Cambridge grad student hung out at Grendel's den. Photo by abbyladybug.
I lived in Boston for two years, from the ages of 21 to 23. I guess you could say I spent my Girls years in Boston, only instead of trying to sponge money from my fabulously wealthy parents and having unprotected sex with strangers, I went to graduate school and spent a lot of time in libraries and quirky bookstores, performed briefly with a bargain basement improv comedy troupe, and listened to classical music, show tunes, and Irish folk songs at Tower Records, which I passed through every day on my way home from classes. Some days I would sit in the drama library and watch BBC Shakespeare and fantasize about moving to England.  There is a reason they didn't make a television series about my life, I guess.

Boston was very good for me and it was exactly what I needed at the time.  I was unhappy, of course, because all graduate students are unhappy and all young twentysomethings are ungrateful about their opportunities. I missed out on a lot of things during those years, feeling sorry for myself, but Boston took care of me.  Whenever I felt blue, I could wander around the quaint brick buildings of Harvard or meander up to Kendall Square to gawk at the pristine, space station-like beauty of MIT.  I loved the student-friendly prices at many of the cafes. I loved going shopping at Filene's Basement. I loved the user-friendly T (underground/subway system).  I loved the fact that I could wear crappy boots and jeans and no one looked at me funny, like they did in Manhattan.  I looked like a morose graduate student, and for all of my angst, I did feel like I belonged somewhere.  I didn't like Good Will Hunting that much but I loved that line in the film, something to the effect: "Let's go to Harvard Yaad and beat up on some smaat kids."  Even though I wasn't so dumb that I thought my Harvard Divinity School degree made me smart.

There is something about being in Boston--I don't know if it is the cobblestone streets that are all one-way and are designed to confuse drivers rather than lead them to their destination or the many pristine, austere white churches--that makes me feel as if I am connected to history, in a way that I've never felt in another American city.

I know that people who live in New Jersey or New York are supposed to hate Boston: its stubborn lack of fashion (I admit I rather like the fact that I don't see women in flip-flops in the winter, trying to air their freshly manicured toenails on the streets, carrying bags that cost as much as I make in a year like I do in New York); its stubborn Irishness (I'm part Irish, so what do you want); and the Red Sox (I came late to baseball fandom, and without great sports rivalries, what's the point).  It doesn't have Broadway, but it does have lots of nice little theaters and the American Repertory Theater and I'm more of a classic drama kind of girl.

I am certainly not a New Englander, but like the many students at the nine bazillion schools in the area, it was my home.  It is, at least in part, a student's city, which made it feel welcoming to me, and why the recent attacks feel so bruising to read about.  Another great Boston joke:

Student comes to the 'Seven items or less' aisle of the grocery store with fifteen items.  Clerk says: "What?  Do you come from MIT and can't read, or Harvard and can't add?"

Let me tell you--if you haven't lived there, you have no idea how true this is...

I think the comparisons of the Boston Marathon bombings to 9/11 are rather pointless--if you're the person maimed, or your loved one is dead, than it doesn't really matter what the eventual death total was.  Unlike 9/11, instead of the cinematic glory of a plane, it seems like the humble instrument of a pressure cooker was used to construct the crude devices.  There is a ghoul in me that wonders: will this help or hurt sales of pressure cookers and what does Google say about people searching for pressure cooker recipes?

Instead of ordinary people going to work on an ordinary day, people were coming back on the very special Boston holiday of Patriot's Day, either flushed with a recent Red Sox win, or running in an elite marathon that requires all runners to have completed a marathon below a specific time.  There is a big difference between being a runner, even a marathoner, and being a Boston Qualifying (BQ) marathon runner. This should have been a glorious day for so many people.

I didn't eat particularly well in Boston. I reveled in the greasy pizza at Pinocchio's and although the bagels were kinda crappy, I mainly used the bread as a cream cheese delivery vehicle to eat Brugger's awesome spreads.  I lived on carbohydrates and coffee while studying.  I did run around the Charles back then, but my current body could easily 'lap' my older, out-of-shape self. I think I maybe ate one or two nectarines as fruit and veggies go, unless you could the strawberry jelly in doughnuts.

I'm glad I'm no longer a graduate student, living that life, but sometimes I miss Boston, and I miss it particularly, acutely now, all the more so because I know that something has likely changed irrevocably, and I am no longer there even to mourn it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Macadamia nut cookies with chopped white chocolate

Every now and then, I'll have 'that conversation.'  This weekend, when I went to yoga, one of the women came in with a rock on her finger--literally a rock (well, okay, not literally, since  a diamond is a mineral)--and announced that at age twenty-six she was engaged to be married to a man with his own jewelery business.  Of course, as everyone oh-ed and ah-ed the question came up: "why aren't you married, Mary?  Don't you want kids?"

I tried to explain that by nature I am a loner, and don't like any activity that requires me to talk to people the first two hours of the morning, which are part of the job requirements of being a wife and mother.  You can imagine the reaction--now, the funny thing is, if I was gay/ a fifty-year-old woman having a child on her own through artificial insemination/ had survived a horrific abusive relationship with a guy that I was now 'healing' from--then they would totally understand the fact I was not married.  I've found that just not finding marriage appealing is a transgressive opinion for a straight woman of a certain age.

When I was still caring for my mother, one of my aunts would come over quite often, and while she was very nice and well-meaning, she DID have the tendency to constantly, gently give her opinion on the things in my life that were wrong.  Like the fact that I bought the wrong kind of yogurt and I didn't I know that a Pillsbury pie crust stuffed with Kraft cheese and frozen vegetables makes a nice, cheap meal? After my mother passed away, my aunt called me to suggest renting out the house, and I knew that one of the reasons for her 'suggestions' was that she regarded it as inconceivable that a single woman could live alone--perhaps even, at the bottom of her heart, didn't think that a single woman deserved to live alone, that it was somehow wrong.

I know she was worried about me, which was very sweet, but anyone who really knows me would be far more worried for my sanity if I was living in an apartment, like I did in the UK, where EVERY NIGHT the guy in the flat beneath me would set off the smoke alarm for the ENTIRE BUILDING frying bangers and mash.  My aunt would also call me before 8am 'just to talk' (i.e., check up on me to make sure I am still alive) saying "I know you get up early," which I do, but to do things, not chat.  Fortunately, my cousin now has two small children so my aunt has other things to occupy her attention and doesn't do that anymore and I can stop feeling guilty.

I guess I still feel guilty, because I feel I am being judgmental about my aunt.  How could she think differently, given her generation, and the fact that her entire existence has been defined by her family?
I guess there are some things around the house that are hard for me to do, and would be easier if I had someone else around (preferably a small toddler who enjoys pulling weeds for hours, which I hate) but I rationalize that if worse comes to worse, I can always hire someone to do what I can't do myself, and however expensive that may be, it is probably cheaper than getting married. I throw down some weed killer and look the other way, most days.

I often think of the women of indeterminate age in 19th century novels who called themselves 'Mrs.' but who had likely never married and used the screen of being a 'Missus' as a kind of protective explanation for the lack of a man in their lives.  There is an assumption that if you're not married and you're a woman that you're 'on the hunt' always searching, forever incomplete...I guess the negative male stereotype is that of the confirmed bachelor, eating take-out on the sofa with beer in the refrigerator.

The fact is, I like living alone and I am set in my ways.  I like people but I like them in their place, which is not in my house on a permanent basis, as far as I'm concerned.  And I'm okay with that.  I guess I am missing out on some things, not being married and having kids.  But then again, I've always felt that people who are married with children are missing out on some things that I can experience.

Just as I go my own way with so many things, I decided to 'go my own way' with these macadamia nut cookies. Now salted macadamia nuts is something that I can never get enough of (unlike prolonged social contact before 7am in the morning). Macadamia nut cookies are usually very buttery, but  I got the idea to try a version with dark brown sugar and cinnamon, for a more 'homey' flavor profile. I love cinnamon and white chocolate together (even though I wouldn't eat a bar of white chocolate by itself, I love it with salty nuts and savory flavors) but if you're really opposed to white chocolate, you could use chopped up Heath Bars or toffee bits.

Macadamia nut cookies with chopped white chocolate


--yields 30-26 cookies--

adapted freely from Kitchen Treaty

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large, beaten eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces coarsely-chopped 'good' white chocolate
6 ounces coarsely-chopped dry roasted, salted macadamia nuts


1. Cream butter and both sugars, add eggs
2. Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, spices)
3. Incorporate dry and wet, add nuts and chocolate
4. Refrigerate batter overnight
5. Bake in a preheated 350F oven on two parchment-lined baking sheets for approximately 10 minutes, until the cookies begin to brown slightly at the edges
6.  Cool for 5-10 minutes on the baking sheets, remove to fully cool

Note: You can also use white chocolate chips, of course, but I like the appearance and texture of the chunks with the nuts and think the Ghirardelli 'bar' white chocolate tends to taste better than the chips, no matter what Cook's Illustrated says.

Friday, April 5, 2013

I'm still here!

Sorry for my lack of posting recently.  I am cooking (and eating) but mostly pretty basic chicken, salmon, Greek yogurt, nuts, and various assorted veggies I can prepare quickly. Things I have already posted on this blog.  I've taken a few new additional work projects on (to pay for said food) plus I've been trying to fit in my mid-life crisis hobbies.  Oh yeah, and I should clean up the house and my yard at some point.

I mention this, not because I want to do the obligatory "oooh, I am soo busy, can't post entry," but because this is a tiny milestone for me.  Five years ago--ten years ago for certain--having a busy, compressed schedule left me living on frozen TV dinners, frozen yogurt, and fat-free prepackaged chocolate muffins.  Heck, even when I wasn't busy I often I ate like that.

One of the nice things about learning how to cook is that when you are busy, making food isn't an *event.*   There is always a debate as to whether cooking is a craft or an art, but for the average person like myself I would say it is a 'habit'--a healthy habit. Like exercising every day and flossing.  I love flossing!

Flickr: Brent

I've had many unhealthy habits in my life, including morose brooding, self-pity, and wasting time feeling sorry for myself, as well as eating store-bought cake for dinner.  I guess I shouldn't give myself 'grown-up' points for roasting chicken thighs and broccoli when I'm busy.  But I do, anyway.   I now go shopping at a grocery store, rather than at Store 24, like I did in graduate school.

But not my shopping list, than heavens.  Original source here.