April 28, 2012

Doing Your Personal Best with a Little R&R

The truth of the matter is that it’s that time of the month, which means four things: all I want to do is eat, I'm extra tired, I have cramps, and I just want to be alone.  Women, you know what I'm talking about, and men, you probably do too. 

I have personally never minded the arrival of Aunt Flow and all her crazy quirks. Usually, I embrace them, try to find the time to get enough sleep (even if that means skipping a workout or two), and pull on the sweats as soon as I get the chance. Not typically a complainer, I’m grateful that I do get a period – a signal that my body is functioning properly – but this month I’m feeling particularly tired, edgy, and like I just want to swaddle myself in a big blanket, pop some M+Ms, and watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians all day long. Does that make you hate me? (Because it kind of makes me hate myself.)  Basically, this period thing is kind of an extra pain in the A this month.

Because what I want to want to be doing is curl up with a book on Buddhist philosophy that my friend recommended to me, wash my windows and floors, make a rhubarb crumble, and take a hike in the woods. I want to have the energy to do all of these things, but I have a feeling that none of them are likely to happen between now and Monday, and you know what? I’m telling myself that’s okay, and I'm surprisingly not even feeling guilty about it.

I remember reading last year in The Four Agreements that you should “Always do your best.” In the book, Don Miguel Ruiz explained that doing your personal best is different at different times – sometimes you’ll have greater capacity, sometimes you’ll have less, but always do your personal best at that given moment.

I’m not sure if popping candy and watching the Kardashians is anyone’s personal best at any given time, but perhaps not feeling guilty about getting some extra R&R this weekend is practicing my personal best at the present time. That’s what I’m going to tell myself anyway.

April 15, 2012

Cooking Healthy without Sacrificing Taste.

Though I love cooking, I regret that I don't have or make the time to do it as often as I'd like.  Most of the time the meals I make are rather utilitarian - quick, healthy, light, and most of the time pretty boring.  (Read: egg whites and steamed broccoli; poached chicken breast and sweet potato; or steamed fish and salad.)  Most of my meals serve the purpose of being filling and providing fuel, without being too deliciously tempting. 

While this kind of cooking is not necessarily fun, it gets the job done and it keeps me healthy.  When I do cook for fun I like making indulgent meals: cheesy lasagna, meat pies, sole menieure, chicken and dumplings -- you know, comfort food with a gourmet flair.  After all, who doesn't love comfort food?  But the problem with cooking comfort food, even if I'm a big proponent in "everything in moderation" it's much harder for the cook to practice that, especially since she's the one who has to taste-test and serve and then eat the food she makes. 

Lately when I have been making non-utilitarian meals I've been experimenting making fun meals that are also healthy and lean.  Who knew that the two could be combined?  While having friends over for dinner on Saturday night, one of whom is a vegetarian, I faced the challenge by making a dish I've never made before (always a risk when company's coming over), but it turned out to be a hit.  For dinner I made shrimp and tomatoes over soft polenta and steamed green beans (a recipe from Martha Stewart).

And for dessert I made a rendition of a warm mocha pudding (I substituted extra chocolate for the espresso) I found in this month's issue of Cooking Light.  Also a hit.  Only problem was that I should've doubled the batch.

The meal was vegetarian, nutritious and protein-packed, and tasty, and with the exception of a little stress associated with the potential of it not having turned out the way that I had hoped, not too complicated.

So, while it's always fun to cook for friends especially on the weekend, trying out new recipes that have the side benefit of being nutritious and lean are a good reminder that healthy does not always have to be trite and routine, which is something I need to remind myself during the week.

April 8, 2012

The Beauty of a Bath

Doing nothing has always felt like sheer laziness to me.  And though I definitely enjoy doing nothing on occasion, I usually feel a little guilty about it.  Even if I have no plans, a scant to-do list, nothing to clean or cook, I usually try to find something to do.  But lately, I've had an ephipany -- that sometimes "doing nothing" allows you to replenish dwindling energy stores so that you can do the things you need to do, with care, focus, and enjoyment, even. 

Enter The Bath.  For as long as I don't know when -- months at least, I did not have a single planned nighttime commitment this week.  During one of the nights I ran a couple errands (for the record, they were legitimate ones) but during the other nights I just came home after work, made myself a light dinner, and relaxed by either doing yoga, toning, reading, or TAKING A BATH.
The Bath happened on Wednesday night.  I had it on my list; I declared it to my husband.  In other words, it was written in stone.  There was no escaping it, no last-minute excuses.  I came home from work, sifted through the mail, made myself a simple dinner of steamed vegetables and eggwhites (yes, I enjoy boring dinners like this most nights of the week), and prepared my bath. 

Do bathe as Jo Ann Kemmerling does, but lose the book.

There are a few steps that I've found to be most important when taking a grown-up bath by yourself:
  1. Use epsom salts (at least a cupful, but ideally two).  They are the dream product for easing tension and loosening tight muscles.  If you're any kind of normal person with a job and life stressors, you're going to need this.  It's one of those things that makes taking a bath feel a little bit like a necessity, a trick that works for people who need to do something that has a benefit.
  2. Do not allow yourself to listen to music.  This surprised me for I usually have music playing all the time -- when I workout, in my office, in the car, when I'm cooking or doing chores, etc.  Taking a bath forces your world to slow down and come to a hault, which is an incredibly beautiful experience; listening to your mind come to a hault is important, and music might dampen that from happening.
  3. Do not exfoliate, shave, or wash during your bath. That's what showers are for, child!  Plus, who wants to be soaking around in your filth anyhow.  If you're dirty and need to get clean, shower first and bathe second. 
  4. Do not read, write, or do anything other than float around and just be.  I don't know why, but every single time I take a bath (which is literally three times in the last six months -- that's a lot considering prior to that I had taken maybe 2 baths in a decade), with all good intentions I bring a book in with me.  I NEVER READ IT.  Beside the point that it's completely impractical with your hands drenched and pruny, all I wind up wanting to do is nothing, floating around, giddy to be in the moment, enjoying my body being completely submerged in 87+-degree water. 
A bath need not take hours or even an hour.  To get maximum relaxation benefit, I say you only need a half hour.  That's all it takes.  And if you're a non-bather, I will say -- THERE IS NOTHING MORE RELAXING THAN TAKING A BATH.  It is one of, if not, the most, underrated rituals in my world, and I assume yours as well.  Another bonus?  The benefits do not end when you step outside the bath, dripping wet and steaming hot.  You'll feel warm and languid, relaxed like you've had a couple drinks, and happy-happy.  Anything annoying that happened during the day will no longer matter and will not be a consideration in your current state.  You'll be in the present -- aware, but at complete ease with yourself and your world. 

Trust me -- I was a skeptic too, but now I'm a convert.  It might save your sanity, if your sanity needs to be saved.  And even if it doesn't, it will still work wonders.  Do yourself a favor, and add a bath to your weekly to-do list.

April 4, 2012

For the Introverts.

Someone posted this charming little graphic on 10 Steps to Care for Introverts on Facebook today, and I couldn't help but share it here.  While I can only speak for myself, I daresay that each one of these little steps is pretty much how most introverts want and need to be treated.  (Friends and family, take note.) 

Credit: Hamncheezer, Tumbler

April 1, 2012

The most filling breakfast ever.

I recently stumbled upon a recipe for a breakfast that turned out to be the most filling meal I've ever had.  I'm serious!  As someone who's pretty much always hungry, this breakfast kept me full for a solid four hours, which is saying a lot considering I could eat every hour if I could.  I didn't even think about food during that time.  Full of fiber, healthy fats, and B vitamins, this has become my new favorite breakfast.  It beats the chemical-laden Balance bar I usually eat during the weekdays, that's for sure.

Adapted from a recipe I found on this great blog I follow regularly, the recipe can be made the night before, which makes eating a healthy, nutrient-full breakfast even more convenient. 

Notice how the chia seeds and oats puff up? 

Here's the recipe:

  • 1/4 C. Oat Bran
  • 1/4 C. Old-Fashioned Oats
  • 1 T. Chia Seeds
  • 1/2 t. Cinnamon
  • 1 t. Salt
  • 1 packet Truvia (plant-based sweetener, Stevia)
  • 1 C. Unsweetened Almond Milk (The original recipe says you can use replace part or all of the milk with water, but I like the creamy texture the milk emparts on the recipe.  Plus, at 40 calories per cup, you can't go wrong with almond milk.)
  1. Combine dry ingredients. 
  2. Add milk to mixture and blend well.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight.
  4. Mix again before eating.
You can also add nuts or fruit to this recipe, which I haven't tried yet, but I'm sure it'd be delicious with either, particularly shredded almonds or fresh strawberries.