Archive | May, 2013

Finding Hope in Hotel Rooms and Other Unfortunate Places

24 May

I believe in my previous post I mentioned that Whole Foods is the place where my money goes to die.  Well, in a more intangible sense, business conventions are, in my opinion, the place where hope goes to expire.  As much as conference organizers try to jazz up that fact their event will be held in a lovely place, they will always find a way to sequester you in some room where the air conditioner blows too much, the lights dim too low and your internal clock goes slightly bonkers as it loses track of time. The business conference is a place where one can only dream of finding sustenance beyond coffee and cocktails. It is the place where disorientation and dehydration prevail. It is not a runner’s paradise.

Last week, I had the privilege, or, perhaps the misfortune of driving down to the ends of earth (also known as Atlantic City) for a conference. While this may excite some, I instantly began to plot my escape in the form of a morning run. As I don’t like to run alone in new or potentially unsafe places, I began hitting up fellow convention-goers to see if anyone out there wanted to team up for a run in the morning….Alas, I found no takers.

The lecture days proved long and the breaks were short. After each session finished, I’d aimlessly find my way to the casino/conference area exit, desperately searching for indications as to the time of day. Like Robinson Crusoe heading toward the promised land, I pushed past the automatic glass doors, escaping into sunlight with dribs of cigar smoke still emanating from my suit.

Although I was unsuccessful in finding a running mate. I decided not to languish in a caffeine and cocktail induced stupor and neither should any of you when confronted with your next job-related travel venture.  If anyone out there has a busy business trip coming up, here’s a plan for working in a little extra exercise:

1.   PLANK it up…seriously, who doesn’t love dropping just for a little while. Hold it up for about a minute with your hips lifting and arms strong. For a little extra variation if you’re not feeling tired, alternate between the hands and the elbows. I have yet to develop the courage to be video-taped while doing any of these exercises but until I do, you can view a great demo of what I’m talking about here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5JUPHxHXhA

2. Hindu Squats: Yes, I said it and it sounds totally silly, but in my humble opinion these are more fun than regular squats and seem to give you a quicker burn in a shorter period of time. Once again, I am not yet prepared to be the demo queen, but I did scour youtube for a worthwhile video. Basically, there is a lot of crap out there when it comes to Hindu squats. Most people on the internet are not doing them correctly. This video is great because the guy actually knows what’s up. Please, don’t mind the dog that crosses the screen at one point : ) You can see this work of cinematographic genius here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O4MwQBZ-DY

Do several reps, or whatever your time permits.

3.  Side plank! Hang out on each side for a few. Or, if this is too easy for you and you’d like to kick it up a notch, then opt for side plank push ups. Again, here is a video with a quick demo (I love her accent and crazy scary tight abs). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa5Li3edwl4&feature=player_detailpage

4. Chair pose and/or twisted chair pose.  Ahhh, utkatasana!

5. I recommend coming through a vinyasa (dog to plank to ground to cobra then back to dog) then lunging into Warrior II and then, from there, folding into revolved triangle.

6. If this still hasn’t done it for you and you either have more time or energy, I recommend some yogi windmills and yoga jacks. Try a set of 25 then see how you feel! (p.s. if you watch this video, I am sure it will make you laugh…further, I am not sure if the user who posed it just thought it was too ridiculous to be true and posted it for a larf or shared it in the hope that others would truly like it. Either way, I am sure it will serve one of these purposes for you).

If you aren’t feeling a workout and instead just feel stressed out by all the extra socialization that goes on during large gatherings, I recommend sneaking off for a break and taking advantage of that big hotel bed (which is usually up against a nice big wall) and doing some good old feet up the wall.

Also, if you know that these trips drain you, plan to bring your own hydration and aromatherapy (I recommend pure lavender oil from aura cacia).  Although I’ll admit the carrying of all these liquids is much easier if you aren’t flying, of course. On this trip, since I drove, I came all stocked up with homemade coconut water chia drink (a great recipe recommended by the author of another great blog), some GT’s Kombucha (I am obsessed) and this f***ing awesome tumeric drink I just discovered. It’s expensive but it was spicy, delicious and I felt like it was giving my liver a bath after a night of wine.  I was so fascinated by this seasoned elixi that I am sharing the company story here: http://vimeo.com/laurabrooks/tumericalive

Above all else on a business trip, take time at the end to enjoy and explore something new and off the reservation so-to-speak. On this trip, my fiancé and I escaped the conference center for a visit to New Jersey’s tallest standing lighthouse. Complete with over 200 stairs!

Inside the lighthouse, preparing for the ascent.

Inside the lighthouse, preparing for the ascent.

Even if you can’t break away for an excursion or even a workout, certainly there may be at least one morning sunrise or one evening sunset worth your time. Regardless of how much of a spirit sapping vacuum conferences can be, stick it to ’em and prove that you’ve got to play a little even if you’re supposed to be doing work.

Sunrise over the strip (the Atlantic City Strip, that is). Time: about 5:15AM.

Sunrise over the strip (the Atlantic City Strip, that is). Time: about 5:15AM.

Until next time, namaste.

Tacochiladas, pasta potluck and, of course, I do something else with beets

15 May
Whole foods...also known as the money hole.

Whole foods…also known as the money hole.

Ahhh, Whole Foods. The place where I go when I need to feel, in a very Holly Golightly sort of way, that I am in a sanctuary where nothing awful could ever happen. In reality, Whole Foods is just the place where my betrothed shakes his head in agony as I inspect organic avocados and ponder the differences between the various environmental ratings ascribed to items ranging from pecans to pecorino romano. It is the place that supplies the kombucha to which I am addicted and the almond cheese that no one else on earth sells. It is the embodiment of my first world problems (what! the cherry lime chia is out of stock!?!). Most critically, it is the place where my money goes to die.

Fortunately, the last few days have led me to believe that all the money I’ve recently spent at this fine foods emporium may not have been for naught.  I can’t keep up with some of these other chicas in their twenties and thirties who all seem to be killing their own livestock in the backyard, growing their own kale, making their own yogurt from home-harvested bacteria and spinning their own yarn all over the internet. Not to worry, there is none of that here. Unless of course, you want it. In which case there are many amazing bloggers with more time, talent and patience on their hands than I. And I suggest you stop reading this and go elsewhere stat. If you still feel you’re in the right place, here’s the lowdown.

Part I. Taco/Enchilada (does that make it a tacochilada?)

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I have been told by runners and by yogis alike that mantras are helpful in physically difficult situations. At the twelve mile mark on my run last weekend, I thought briefly of some inspirational stuff as the pain in my feet grew worse but the only thing that stuck in my mind with every step was: enchilada, (insert expletive here),  enchilada, expletive, enchilada, expletive. You get the idea.

Seeing as last weekend was Cinco de Mayo, I quickly darted from the finish line to Whole Foods to get some supplies. Much to my dismay upon arrival, I was literally inches away from snatching the last package of soft tortillas when the woman in front of me made a b-line and nabbed it. Now, I know it’s not a true enchilada unless you go to Mexico but it’s even more of a s****** American taco if you don’t have the right materials. At any rate, I had to settle for some hardshell blue corn tacos.

Sensing where this endeavor was going, I ad-libbed quite a bit.

Here is my recipe for tacochiladas (you can substitute chicken for black beans or a tofu based substitute, as I was tempted to do, but whenever I cook for the fiance, I end up relaxing my somewhat elastic vegetarianism…):

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (I prefer the reduced cruelty chicken sold at Whole Foods :))
  • 1 box of 12 blue corn taco shells
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 large bag of RBST free cheddar jack cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon (or more if you’re like me) of chipotle or chili powder
  • 1 15 oz can of salsa de tomate (aka Goya or similar tomato sauce)
  • 1 12 oz can of green enchilada sauce

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees farenheit or 175 degrees celsius. Wash and clean your chicken breasts trimming extra fat. Get a medium skillet and coat it with omega 3 DHA canola oil. In addition to adding the seasonings in the amounts listed above, I like to coat the oil in the skillet with extra pepper and chili powder and a slight pinch of salt. Place the chicken in the skillet. Over medium heat, cook chicken breasts until liquid runs clear (or, if you’re me, cook the chicken a little too long).

It will take awhile for the skillet to heat up. So I used this time to clean my hands and break out the red onion, bell pepper and garlic and chop them up nicely. After slicing those veggies up, I put them aside for safe-keeping in a clean bowl and returned to monitor the chicken, flipping from side to side and adding seasonings as I saw fit.

When the chicken was cooked, I broke the breasts up into smaller pieces and cracked open the salsa de tomate, and stirred that in along with the green enchilada sauce. I mixed a little cheese and stirred in my veggies slowly. I then added each of the above-listed doses of oregano, parsley, pepper and chili powder. After letting all these ingredients cook for about 4 or 5 minutes (and you’ll have to use your discretion with regard to heating as everyone’s stove is different, the idea is to slow cook these ingredients over a period of a few minutes rather than tossing them in a very hot pan that is spewing volcanic sauce fragments everywhere).

Once the onions are cooked, empty the contents of the skillet into a deep baking dish. Cover with cheese to taste and place in the oven for about 10-12 minutes longer.  After that, take it out and stuff taco shells with enchilada mix.

Seems sort of sloppy but it is yummy.

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Part II. Pasta Potluck

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Yes, friends, this really is as easy as it sounds. And it gets even easier.  I don’t know if you can read the bottom of the packaging on this Bona Chia bag, but this pasta cooks up in about 3 minutes and 30 seconds or less. In previous postings I’ve extolled the value of slicing up veggies commonly found in fridges and turning them into quick lunches or dinners. The same is true here. After a very busy day at work followed by what turned into a late night run, I barely had time for dinner last week.

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Bona Chia is a great product because it’s healthy and easy to make. For this recipe, I simply turned on the oven to 450, wiped some clean asparagus with canola oil and sprinkled them with lemon juice and pepper. I threw the asparagus in the oven, read the news for about 15 minutes, took the asparagus out and left them to cool. I sliced up some tomatoes and separated some broccoli florets.

I cooked the pasta with the broccoli for about 3 mins, then mixed in tomato slices at the finish. Broccoli turned up perfectly cooked, and the heat wilted the tomatoes nicely. I sprinkled a tad of parmesan cheese thus spoiling what was otherwise almost a delightfully animal free dinner.

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This recipe would make my Italian relatives wince, but I still call this a pasta dinner.

Part III. Pickled Rose Wine Soaked Beets (or something like that)

These are my beet porn pictures, I present them to you up front. I don’t know why they fascinate me so. Maybe it’s something to do with the color, but beets are my new thing. Incidentally, beets, along with chia and a zillion other things are credited with (maybe) having endurance boosting powers, so runners take note.

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I got the recipe for rose and raspberry pickled beets from Cooking Light Magazine and instantly felt compelled to make it after dinner on Sunday evening. For this recipe you will need the following:

  • 1 pound red beets (about 2)
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1 1/2 cups dry rosé wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

    A little fruit porn. Another tip is if you haven't had dessert prior to making this, I recommend conserving the raspberry refuse after straining and dumping immediately into a small cup of vanilla frozen yogurt. It's delicious in that fancy restaurant sort of way.

    A little fruit porn. Another tip is if you haven’t had dessert prior to making this, I recommend conserving the raspberry refuse after straining and dumping immediately into a small cup of vanilla frozen yogurt. It’s delicious in that fancy restaurant sort of way.

Note: For some reason, I couldn’t find dry rosé wine, so I ended up using pink moscato instead. I reduced the sugar in this recipe by a lot. I wanted a less sweet beet so I only used about 1/4 cup of sugar rather than the full 3/4. Just seems like loads to me. Further, I thought the beets would taste better with rosemary sprigs, so I substituted those for thyme.

Here are the instructions as indicated on the magazine page (or you can access the steps on their page directly):

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  1. 2. Leave root and 1 inch stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place beets in an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish; add water to a depth of 2 inches. Cover with foil; bake at 425° for 50 minutes or until just tender. Drain and cool. Peel beets; cut into 1-inch wedges. Place beets in a large heatproof glass jar or bowl with peppercorns and thyme.
  1. 3. Combine raspberries and remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and raspberries begin to break down. Strain raspberry mixture through a fine sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Pour hot raspberry liquid over beet mixture; cover and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.
The finished product before being drowned in the raspberry wine sauce.

The finished product before being drowned in the raspberry wine sauce.

The results were satisfactory. This was super simple but left me feeling like I’d actually made something wholesome yet different. I don’t say that about my cooking often. My one tip is to drain the mixture after about 15 hours. Don’t let the beets soak forever as they will get tart. Drain almost all liquid out after that time, conserving only a little mixture and leaving the beets to sit on top of the rosemary and peppercorns.

This is the story of a girl

14 May
Me at the Finish Line in Long Branch. An amazing day filled with great Jersey pride and some very supportive spectators.

Me at the Finish Line in Long Branch. An amazing day filled with great Jersey pride and some very supportive spectators.

Friends, I have a confession. I have not always been a yogi. Nor have I always been a runner. I offer you these olive branches in the case you come upon this blog, see that it’s about running and fitness and think: I. will. never. run. anywhere.  In writing this, I hope to convince you that you can, in fact, become more athletic, no matter who you are, what your background is or how much (or how little) time you have. So…without further ado, here is my story.

Although I’ve always been physically inclined, albeit on my own terms, I have certainly never been an all star. I developed a natural talent as a gymnast early on. I was limber, lithe and fearless; qualities that served me well for the rare, bi-weekly occasions on which I dared to exert myself in any form of physical activity. Not even when a fellow team member from the gym where I trained (who differed from me dramatically not in terms of physical capacity, but in terms of grit, dedication and vigor) made it to the qualifying rounds for the 2000 Sydney Olympics was I at all motivated to step up my game.

After becoming too cool for gymnastics altogether and dropping out of the sport so as to free up time for more important endeavors such as loitering in shopping malls and chasing after boys, I retreated into a quasi anorexic realm of what Jessica Clark in this month’s edition of Runner’s World aptly calls ‘skinny fat’. The only selling point for me when it came to sports was, perhaps, the chance to wear slightly scandalous under clothing (e.g. the donning of brightly colored bras under the see through mesh of my soccer jersey).

Apart from the aforementioned opportunities, I developed a disdain for the athletic. I viewed friends who electively participated in such insanity as cross country as sufferers of a rare form of mental illness. And, above all, I DESPISED gym class.  Primarily, I regarded it as a medieval torture camp conjured up by sadistic adults and designed to make young people suffer unspeakable fates. Perhaps the worst of all afflictions was the mile run, a fate I could barely accomplish in 12 minutes flat. I distinctly remember being taken to the high school track as an early teen and being made to run around it on a crisp autumn day. It was beautiful, enjoyable, relaxing…it was…it was…horrid! I felt I was part of a chain gain (okay, I know chain gains are usually made to do labor…but dude, that was my reality).

For fitness purposes, and in futile attempts to stave off the effects of too much tofutti chocolate supreme ice cream (Mmmmm sooo good), I took up running during my freshman year of college. This was a pitiful attempt to stay, or maybe just to get, in some sort of shape. I plodded on day after day on a treadmill in our university’s basement gym. Feeling glad to be moving, but not really going anywhere.

This was my routine for…the next three years. I don’t really want to chalk my ultimate breakthrough up to a guy, but I guess I kind of should. After I broke up with the only serious boyfriend I’d ever had at the start of my senior year, I distinctly remember rolling out of bed one morning, feeling desperate (and probably somewhat hungover) and thinking: I should go for a run. And, so, I did. I remember running out of the campus gates and just going.  I can’t really say why I started running. I guess it was just something my body wanted me to do. And so, I listened.

I think I ran for an hour, maybe more. I didn’t have any concept of time or how far I’d gone but I just kept repeating it, like clockwork every morning.

Wake up and smell the roses...spring foliage as seen on a recent run.

Wake up and smell the roses…spring foliage as seen on a recent run.

Strangely, I began to notice things, like the shape of dew drops on green leaves on small patches in front of the stately homes near campus. I enjoyed the smells, the lights and the quiet of early mornings. I felt alone. I felt free. And, for some bizarre reason, I no longer felt as though I was on the chain gang of yore.

Later that year, I signed up for a 5k because someone told me I should try it. I figured why not? It certainly could not be worse than the inaptly named fun runs of my youth where I scraped along just to get…to…the…end…of…a…one…mile…course. Not expecting much from myself at all, I did this 5k.  And, I came in third place. It was a really small race and I think I ran the course at about 9:00 mins per mile. I know for some people it’s not much to celebrate, but I remember feeling really floored. I remember thinking: this is totally, totally amazing!

From that point I’ve pushed on, and I think you’ll find you can too. After 5ks, the miles just started melting away. I moved up to 10ks and from 10ks, I’ve moved on to half marathons. Including the New Jersey Half Marathon, which took place May 5, 2013 in Long Branch which I completed in about 1 hour and 55 mins. Not the best, but under an hour and with 8:44 min miles the whole way through.  I’ve yet to take on a full marathon, but it’s on my list next.

Throughout all of this, non-runner friends always ask me: how?

How do you do anything?

By wanting to do it. During the course of my professional life this passed week, I was asked to speak on a panel to a bunch of high school students about career paths. I probably babbled at them a whole bunch but the one thing I told them was this:

Ground yourself in your passion

because what you plant there will ultimately be stronger and grow more roots.

The same is true with physical endeavors. Find something you love and do it often. Life is short but it’s long enough to enjoy and to build things that have the ability to sustain you. As Buddha once said “to keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

For those of you who hope to run your first 5k. Like everything, it’s always…uh-hem…tough-going the first time. Once you break on through, it’ll all be good. So good, you’ll want to do it again, and again, and again.  AND this month’s edition of Runner’s World features some great tips for beginners (wow, I am really plugging RW in this posting)!

Also, the Mayo Clinic has a great 5k training plan which I think is an awesome place to start.

Or, if you’re like me, just lace up, hit the road and see where it will take you.

Happy trails, my friends!

Tuesday Tip: Love and Lettuce

1 May

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Apart from somehow being a word I still have to spellcheck even at this stage in my life, I love lettuce. In another lifetime or perhaps when my life slows down a bit, I’d really love to homestead an apartment garden featuring hanging baskets full of luscious, yummy leaves. While I have had to postpone that dream for the moment, it doesn’t mean I still can’t try to get as much lettuce in my life as possible. And maybe you should, too.

This brings me to today’s tip. If you are like me then you have certainly engaged in what I like to call robotic eating at the workplace. This usually arises when one brings a ostensibly healthy snack (e.g. pop chips) back to one’s desk. Instead of consuming one serving, one eats the entire bag. What better way to get through the monotony of your afternoon assignment than to coat it with a little salty crunch, right? Wrong.

To avoid the sudden pang of “ewww” that usually strikes in the minutes after your mind catches up with your stomach in realizing it’s full, I suggest keeping a tub of undressed lettuce leaves near your desk. If mindless eating is on your horizon, I totally recommend this tip.

Baby lettuce is super sweet and if it’s fresh, it will not be sticky and can easily be grabbed up en masse and shoveled down the hatch. I know, I know, I probably sound super strange, but I actually love the taste. Eating undressed greens has also caused me to have a greater appreciation for what Wikipedia informs me is the “annual plant of the aster or sunflower family.” I mean, when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing to eat raw leaves rather than processed goop made into cracker or chip form for a change. If you’re on the east coast, I definitely recommend Olivia’s Organics for great lettuce selections (pictured above). Not only do their leaves taste terrific, but they also support a local communities.

Here’s another Tuesday Tip for chilling out on the job. If you’re feeling stressed, unable to focus or just suffering an off day, take a moment for yourself to chill. In yoga, we often talk about mudras and the power that flows through the body when we connect with ourselves. The word “mudra” essentially means to close. The most commonly seen mudras in yoga are those where the fingertips touch (usually pointer to thumb) or the soles of your feet in a butterfly type stretch. Making these connections with oneself are powerful and calming.

Frequently, my teachers often talk about the power of combining mudra and mantra. This is usually done by touching each of your fingers to your thumb, and, while so doing, thinking of a four word mantra (please! I already see where your mind is going, but notice I said four word and not four letter mantra) to repeat either internally or aloud. For example, one that I like to use in moments of extreme stress is:  I-am-peace-ful. Each word represents a connection I make with each of my fingers to my thumbs.

I’ve often grappled with the extolling the general utility of the mudra/mantra as some people to whom I have tried to teach it have just found this routine funny. But, before you laugh, I think the key is to visualize the words you are speaking to yourself, whatever they may be. If you try this activity, really try to focus. I think the act of forcing yourself to be creative and to find your own voice is a grounding function in itself. Just try it, you may even thank me later.

If you’re still interested, you can check out this article on mudras, although the beginning of the article rambles, the latter part does a great job of explaining their purpose and function.

Until then, I wish you nothing but love, and lettuce.

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