Becoming Caveman

I have never been a dieter. Up until about 3 years ago, I was an athlete who worked out about 40 hours a week. I certainly had to make sure that I was eating the correct proteins and carbs to gain muscle and preform at my peak, but I never had to worry too much about gaining weight from what I ate. If I binged on cookies or french fries I had a 5am work out to burn it off. Nice life huh?!

Well those days are over. Not only have I exchanged my workouts for a 45/55 hour work week, but I am getting older. Those calories just stick to your sides better when you’re older I think. Not to mention that finding time to work out is difficult during the work week. But as I mentioned, I have never been a dieter. I enjoy the freedom of eating what I want, and I guess there is a possibility that it has something to do with being impatient to wait for the results of a diet and having no will power to say no to a juicy hamburger. But hey..that’s why Im writing this, because I have actually found a “diet” where I can eat most of the things I love and notice slimming and toning results.

Last month I turned Caveman (cavewoman maybe?) and I loved it. I ate all the meat I wanted along with fruit, veggies and nuts. I even made delicious coconut brownies from dates, eggs, and a bunch of coconut products. I think I semi became a coconut addict during my month on Paleo. I ate seafood, and trail mix and meat and eggs and veggies…so the day to day was not that bad. There are also a plethora of blogs, books and recipes available for this diet.  I found it was easy to make the change in lifestyle and felt pretty good during the process with only a day about three weeks into it when I had strong cramps relating to the strict change in the food I was eating.

As someone who wasn’t looking for a diet, this whole experiment began when my roommate jumped on the bandwagon to support her mom who was prescribed the Paleo diet for medical reasons. She tends to fill our fridge with awesome food (she loves to cook( so I figured it would be easy to emulate her shopping and cooking habits while trying out a healthier eating style. I have heard people describe the Paleo diet as a glorified Atkins, but I really believe that the benefits are a lot more. The food you cut out decreases a lot of inflammation in the body and a simple elimination of bread really does feel good.

I have since taken a break from the regimen because of recent travel that made it difficult to be a picky eater, but I find that I still choose certain meals based on the Paleo thinking. As for my roommate: she is going strong and has even begun intense workout trainings (a reason that many people become cavemen).

Have you tried this diet?

vegan eats

Living in France my diet was very meat heavy.  I went to the butcher about once or twice a week and picked up fresh-cut veal, lamb, steaks and many times things that I did not recognize (just translate tête de veau and get back to me).  My diet was heavy in cheese, wine and red meats but I felt healthier in France than I ever did in America (my theories behind this for a future post).  So when I got back to The States where chicken is the staple on my table, I missed the charcuterie and unprocessed meats I ate overseas.  A bigger shock, however, was getting used to the large vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan culture that has developed in America. 

One of my dearest friends is vegan; Another one vegetarian.  My friends and I often get together over meals so I had to get used to making sure that the places where we meet are sensitive to my friends’ needs.  Whole Foods is an easy choice but a girl can only eat so much quinoa and sprouts in a box.  So we have made sure to do some investigating and take trips to unknown destinations to spice it up a bit.  Major metropolitan areas seem to have an abundance of options available for the food sensitive and since we live just outside of Philadelphia, taking advantage of them is not a problem. 

Since my homecoming, I have experienced some really great restaurants and foods during these girls-night-outs.  Many of them are places I would never have found without my ladies because the cuisine is specifically catered to the vegan culture.  And don’t just think of salads or veggie burgers.  One of my favorite vegan plates was the smoked coconut club at Memphis Taproom.  My favorite part was that the smoked coconut tasted like bacon!  Maybe that grosses some vegans out but for a non-vegan, eating vegan, it was a nice surprise. 

Last weekend the destination was Hip City Veg.  This new hot spot is not only vegan safe but it strives to provide a completely plant-based experience.  From the delivery of food (on a bike) to the packaging of the gigantic burgers (compostable paper), this Rittenhouse Square eatery impressed me by putting its “hippest” foot forward 🙂

And what is dinner without dessert?  My friends and I crave ending a meal on a sweet note.  I am baking challenged, but I know that eggs and milk are important in creating that moist, well-balanced baked good.  If you know anything about the vegan diet, you realize that these ingredients are on the Do Not Consume list.  So when vegan desserts first came to my mind I was nervous that things would crumble apart.  (Remember my experience doing some vegan baking?)  Well this is just not the case.  There are so many alternative ingredients and ways to make finger-lickable treats.  My friend always finds delicious recipes: she is a great baker!  This weekend, after our feast at Hip City, we decided to buy our goodies at a bakery on South Street.  The bakery we chose, which was featured on Cupcake Wars, is worth putting on your list.   

Sweet Freedom Bakery in Philadelphia is gluten-free, vegan and allergy friendly. I suggest getting the huge cookie sandwiches with icing in the middle.

But I am who I am and even if I love eating these new foods and hanging out with my friends while doing it, a slice (or 5) of pizza at the beach is something I just wont be giving up 🙂

Stop and smell the flowers

Life can really knock you down sometimes.  For me I am most likely going to be swimming up a stream backwards with my head under water (yeah, that’s my version of being knocked down!) when I don’t balance things.  Too much focus on one thing and not enough on another=eventual break down.  Due to my love of doing new things, being social and acting on a whim, I can often forget one (or several) compartment(s) of my life.  I tend to overload on one thing (“go hard or go home” was always my motto in college) meaning some little boxes in my soul don’t get attention.  And then they get mad.  And we have a problem.  I can usually function for a while in this way but there will always be a moment when I snap out of it.  The resulting action can be positive (I realize what is happening and adjust accordingly) or negative (I have a panic attack)…its a toss-up.

I have found that exercise is my cure-all!  I spent the better part of my life working out at an intense level.  As a swimmer early in the morning and after school in the afternoon I would jump into a cold pool.  I spent hours staring at a black line on the bottom of the lane, repetitively doing laps.   This seems boring as I write it but it was therapeutic for me.  It was what I looked forward to when I had a bad day because I literally was able to shut off the world (easy when your head is submerged under water) and turn off the turbine speed wheels in my head.  The best was after these long workouts, when I would feel those endorphins kicking in.  I was calmer about whatever was bothering me, or I would feel able to tackle whatever it was I was wrestling with.

Although I am no longer on a swim team, and I am not waking up in the mornings to work out (thank god!), I still find that I NEED to get my heart rate up during the week to keep myself balanced.  I will automatically know when I havent been on a run in a while because my mood reflects it.  My thoughts piling up on my mental to do lists will begin to get the best of me.

Even with being aware of my need for exercise, it’s hard to make the time when there are millions of other things to do and not enough time to do even the most important tasks.

Lately, with my move to NYC, my job search, my financial situation, my friend search, my nomad lifestyle (is that enough yet…), I have not had time to even think of putting sneakers on my feet.  I got into a pattern of sleep, work, food, bed.  When I had an extra minute I tried to be social with friends and events, which I feel are important for the balance as well.  But they also exhaust me and when I had no “me time” (exercise time) I was loosing myself.  PS-when you’re job searching/selling your skills, losing yourself is the last thing you want to do.

(spoiler: a “snap-out-of-it” moment is about to happen)

I broke (snapped if you will) the other night.  I had enough of my mind’s noise and enough of putting others first.  I got home from work and although the sun was setting and my stomach wanted dinner, I laced up and went on a run.  A real run ladies and gentlemen. Not a jog. A run.  Full-out!  It was exhilarating and when I got home again I had put the puzzle pieces together in my head, sorted out some issues I had pent-up, and was ready to get the rest of the week back to my terms!  Please note that my problems were not SOLVED by a run, however, it did take my head out of the dark hole it was in.

Research shows that what I’m describing is nothing grandiose (here and here are articles on the subject).  I realize I am not breaking any boundaries with this connection of exercise and stress.   I, however, think that it is important to find our own balance and when we are over loading one part or another, we must get home and go for a run (so to speak)!

Exercising body and mind

I went for my first run through Brooklyn this afternoon.  It was interesting to say the least.  First of all I have never really run through a city.  I am more a suburbanite who enjoys running through a nice park or through the winding roads of a friendly neighborhood.  So having to “look both ways” at each intersection, pass by millions of people (mind you all with their heads down at their phone making my run turn into a little martial arts as I leapt over trash bags and veered sharply from fire hydrants) was different.  Luckily no casualties occurred 🙂

I did get to see a wide variety of people, places and things.

The first group I came to were kids getting off the bus from school.  Some had the iPhone glued to their hand or iPod plugged into their ears (like my familiar suburbanites).  Other groups of boys were pushing each other and a group of girls were talking so loudly at one another I could make out every word with my ear buds in.  The most surprising thing in this group was the language coming out of most everyone’s mouths.  I was shocked to hear elementary school kids dropping the f-bomb in front of the crossing guard!

Finally I got to Grand Street and turned the corner away from the schools.  It was funny because this street is home to about a million 99¢ stores.  There were even a few bars that I wouldn’t mind checking out sometime.  Little hole in the wall places–you never know.

Then I came to the river and along with it a fellow runner (the only other one I saw today).  It was quiet down by the Williamsburg Bridge and a lot of old factories lined the street.

I made my way down the road until I got to the heart of Williamsburg: Bedford Avenue.  I turned the street and there were a very large number of people dressed in black.  It was as if I entered a party without the dress code memo.  I almost felt wrong jogging along in my spandex pants and Nike zip-up.

If you know anything about this area of Brooklyn you know that the people I had just bumped into were the Hasidic Jewish community.  Due to their distinct style of dress and hair cut (for the men), they are an easily recognizable sector of the Jewish faith and a lot of them live in Brooklyn.

The first time I noticed a family dressed this was actually at Elis Island the weekend I visited with the French boys.  I saw a woman and her many children visiting the museum and the boy with them had long curly sideburns.  I figured they were foreign, but not that they most likely lived in Brooklyn.  Then as I was moving in last weekend I drove by a large group of black clad men with huge furry hats.  My dad mentioned that they were Hasidic Jews and this spiked my interest.  So when I stumbled upon the neighborhood today, where a large number of this group resides, I knew I had to do some more research about what they stood for and the reason behind their distinct look.

What I found out was complex to me; one who does not study religions.  In basic terms this sector of the Jewish faith began as a reaction against the over legalistic Judaism during the 18th century in Eastern Europe.  The most prominent thing I noticed was the dress and hair.  To me it seemed they all dressed the same but in fact there are many different groups of Hasidic Jews and each has a slight variation.  It was also interesting to read that their style was a non theological practice.  It is mostly based on historical and sociological reasons.

The hair however, that idea comes from a biblical commandment to not shave one’s face.  They first shave a boy at age 3 and usually all the hair except for the sideburns is shaven off.

It all interests me so much and I would love to learn more about my new neighbors.

This move is already more eye-opening than I had imagined.

I might just stick to eating the cookies

I have my first cookie exchange party tomorrow night and I am so excited.  Mostly because I cannot wait to see all of the yummy cookies and EAT THEM!  When I RSVPd that is about all I could think of: eating the cookies.  Now here I am, the eve of, and I am realizing that I must also bake some cookies myself.  Might not seem like a big deal to some but for me it’s a bit daunting for two reasons.

1) Baking and I don’t always get along.  The whole exact measurements and step-by-step instructions which include waiting for things to cool completely…  I’m much better at throwing this or that in a pan, taste testing it, adding some more or something else and eating it for dinner; winging it is the term I use, others call it cooking.  This method doesn’t work so much for baking.

2) My friend is vegan and I have agreed to make my cookies vegan so that she has someone to trade with at the event.  Now I’m realizing that vegan means no butter or egg, two very important ingredients for a quality cookie that doesn’t fall apart on the baking sheet.  (I already have this issue when I do use butter and egg…) So the ante has been upped.

No problem finding the recipes or the special substitute ingredients like flax-seed, non-dairy butter and cashews.  Off to a great start.  After a quick search on the internet for what makes a good flax-seed egg, I survived that challenge too 🙂 Go me!

I mix the dough, pre heat the ovens; things are going smoothly.  Then it arrives: the first mishap.  My cookies are most definitely not cooked after 20 minutes.  Maybe I made them too big?  Measurements of 2 inches are like a golf ball right? (I know I’m wrong)  I guess I didn’t flatten them?  So I leave them in a while longer.

Bigger cookie=more time needed.  Right?  Notice how I assume so much while baking. This is what gets me into trouble.

Pre-oven phase

I wait a bit longer.  The problem becomes that they are not holding together very well.  I do a test run of picking one up and it begins to break.  I quickly smush it back together and close the oven door.  Another 25 minutes later (double the original time) I pull the suckers out and call it a valiant effort.  They aren’t pretty and I am not even sure they will come up in full cookie form after the cooling process–which I am determined to wait out in the full–but they are done.

Finished product

So now the second batch is in the oven.  Different cookie.  Looking better already.  Problem with this group is that I am using the “broken” oven.  So far it preheated with only one mishap so as long as I keep an eye on it maybe it won’t turn off mid-bake…

And it was a success.  Even the first batch that I was scared about are good (yes I taste tested…how could I not).  Now I think I’ll squeeze in a run so I am not tempted to disturb the cooling process. 

Are you a good baker? Any good recipes?  Have you ever tried vegan recipes?

I’ll let you all know how the exchange goes tomorrow night. 

Hair care

Hairdressers are abundant in France.  I’m not sure the reason but its reality.  Driving through even a small village you might pass nine coiffeurs in a few blocks.  In my French family’s family alone there were two coiffeurs and one coiffeur to be.

You might think that with the many choices (two being somewhat relatives) I would have gotten my hair cut a lot during the past year…  I must admit this is so untrue.

The first time I cut my hair after moving in September was in December–not too bad. But after that the only other time I stepped in the salons was with the kids or to say hi to Véronique (one of the Aunt hairdressers).  So that is why the first thing people noticed on my return was “how long your hair is!”  Yes, it is long, and I like it long for the time being.  That being said I finally went to the hairdresser this afternoon to trim and treat the beast my hair has become.   Although I didn’t go back to short, I cleaned it up and am happy to see how it looks once this treatment is all washed out 🙂

I did have short hair a few years back

This was during my first weeks back home!

just waiting. hair all slicked back.

 

I feel like Megan Fox with my slick-back...

While getting my hair washed (love that part) and snipped (less love), I made sure to ask all my hair questions: 1. Is it really bad to wash your hair every single day? 2. Dry shampoo? Whats the deal? 3. Is conditioner really necessary? In France I hardly ever used it.

First thing she told me–I should have been using conditioner! My hair needs conditioner to make it manageable and healthy.  It doesn’t hurt to wash hair every day but what does hurt is all the heating tools we tend to use on the “naked” hair.  She highly recommended using more products before heat application to protect those follicles.

I actually didn’t ask her about dry shampoo because after those answers I assumed she might tell me to just wash my hair.  But I like to wait a few days in between washes.  I feel it does something to my hair even if maybe I’m crazy.  I did buy a treatment to use once a week (which will actually do something) and am currently sitting here with it soaking in my very dry, unmanageable, thin hair–not for long 😉

What are your thoughts on different hair theories, products, dry shampoo (I’m on a kick) and washing techniques?

le rhume

Last year as an au pair I had to get a flu shot.  I understood that since I would be around the newborn babies this was a necessary precaution but at the time I was a bit against getting it.  I have never really been into taking a lot of medicine and never got a flu shot in my life.  When I left for France I had sort of decided to go “natural” meaning seeing a holistic doctor and stopping with medicine all in all.  So when I was asked to get this shot I was feeling a little upset that I couldn’t follow through with my idea. As I said before though, I understood the precaution wanting to be taken by the family and therefore went along with the flu shot–I’d do a natural lifestyle later on.

Well now here I am, back in the states and I am laying on the couch with my first cold of the season.  I am exhausted and my nose hurts from blowing it constantly.  As I sit here feeling like crapola, watching every show on Bravo and E!, I am seriously thinking of getting a flu shot this year.  I never felt like this at all last year…and I am not enjoying myself.

To flu shot or not to flu shot–that is the question.

Dreams of Superbowl food stifled by stomach virus

This weekend I was blessed with my second case of the stomach virus! WAHOOOO! La gastro is well-known in France and so not fun.  So today I was able to just sit in bed and recover from my night next to the toilet (sorry but its true).  While in bed with computer on lap, I caught up on my favorite blogs and wrote a few e-mails.  Randomly during this web-search-filled afternoon I stumbled across this video.  After watching it I could only wish I was in America watching the Super Bowl with a large sloppy joe and about a dozen different dips.  Unfortunately my stomach cannot handle that at the moment, but I do think I have just come up with a great meal idea for the week!!!

I have an announcement to make

So I dont really know how to begin this post other than to say; I have come out of retirement people!  That’s right, I have come all the way to Dijon, France to get back into swimming shape.  For all my fellow retired swimmers, you won’t think I am crazy when you see the picture of this 50 meter, olympic-sized pool.  It makes the list of top nicest pools I have swam in believe it or not!

For all those who are confused about why my plunge back into the pool is a big deal: I swam for over 12 years and the last 8 were highly competitive (ending at the Division 1 college level).  So after spending 20 hours a week staring at a line on the bottom of the pool and slowly deteriorating my body, retirement was a necessary and much enjoyed process.

So I had been hearing all about this brand new (opened in May) facility but had not seen it yet with my own eyes.  The kids and I planned to go swim during the school break but never made it happen and I just never thought to plan a trip (I was retired remember? As much as I wanted to see it, I was not too sure about swimming laps again).

The issue I run into here is that going for a run (the easiest way to workout alone) is a process.  First of all, everything is uphill.  Well, it all starts downhill obviously but what goes up must come down!  That was precisely my issue the first time I went for a run here–felt great, turned around, and realized I had gone straight downhill and now had a tough trip back up to the village.  The second issue is that if you dont take to the road and instead find a nice little path through the woods (after getting a little lost on a muddy trail I did find a nice loop through the woods that is better on the shins and flat instead of all downhill or all uphill), you have to worry about getting shot! Yeah I know, it’s a strange concept and I swear I am not in the ghetto, but I do live in the country where people hunt (la chase) on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  I go to school for most of the day on Tuesdays and Fridays so it doesn’t leave much flexibility.

Which brings me (finally) to the reason for pursuing the POOL!  And I am so glad I did.  It is beautiful and clean and an easy stop in between my classes in Dijon and my responsibility to pick up the kids from their activities in the afternoons.  It might even be another way to meet more people.  Just today I met a nice Italian runner who is swimming as a way to stay in shape during an injury.  We met because I ran into him–oops.  When we both hit the wall he commented on my fast swimming (HA!).  Little does he know I thought I was going to drown and I didn’t do anything too taxing–I enjoyed the compliment anyhow 🙂

Swimming has and always will be the most therapeutic thing for me–not to mention the sole way I know how to get my body back into shape.  So I am excited to be able to use this nice pool while I am here for the year!

VTT: very tough terrain!

I was invited by Juliette to go mountain biking (faire du VTT) today. I have to say that I was very excited to do a bit of physical activity–the overconsumption of baguette and cheese and wine is taking its toll on my figure ; )

We woke up early and got the bikes together. I borrowed David’s vélo (bike), casque (helmet), and des gants (gloves).  He also generously gave me padded biker shorts to wear over my own un-padded shorts.  At first I thought this wasn’t necessary.  First, I ride bikes a lot at home and never wear padded shorts–never been a problem.  Another reason for my  apprehension was the fact that this thing looked like a wrestling outfit–no joke!  Ultra-low scoop neck with shoulder straps and jammer shorts. BUT when in Rome (or France?!)…..

So I sported the oversized, VERY stylish biker onesie and packed the cars (there were about 8 of us).  We drove into Beaune (15 min south) and I’m thinking we will just park and find a route as a little group–nothing fancy.

Not the case.

There were seriously like 100 people waiting at this place where we paid 5€ to..well..I don’t really know what the money was about to be honest. They charted out a course for us and I guess some food was laid out for everyone….anyway:

Juliette, Mariné (Juliette’s friend), Oreille (cousin, not sure how to spell his name), and me chose the 35km course while the dad’s/uncles took the longer 50km trip.   Started out fine with some uphill roads past vineyards of the Côte d’Or.  The problem was that a thick fog covered the hills, so the scenery left much to be desired.  Little did I know the lack of visual appeal was the least of my worries:

I spent the next 3 1/2 hours on a bike (probably not properly set up for me due to the throbbing back I had throughout the whole ride) peddling UP hills. No, wait; up a mountain…a mountain with no downhills actually.  No downhills and very difficult, steep, many times slippery, muddy, tiny, winding (get the picture?) paths.  I fell more than 5 times, had to walk the bike 3 times, and thought I was going to fly over my handle bars the whole time!

But after finally reaching the end, and hobbling around (wrestling suit’s padding did NOT do it’s job) I was proud of my accomplishments.  Everyone who I have talked to this afternoon has told me, “c’est très dur” (that’s very hard). SO WAY TO GO ME!