Here we go again…

Jean ValJean: The original Strongman?

So, I’m competing on Saturday.

Yeah, I’ve known about it for a while.

I’m going to be doing the World Wide WOD (WWW) installation of the Garage Games, the same peeps who brought us the X&Ys back in March…which was, incidentally, the last competition I have done….

After having the nice little chat about mindfulness with Dean a while back, and feeling how awesome it was to not put quite so much pressure on myself, I had sort of vowed to lay off the competitions. I’ve had a greeeeaaat time explaining to people why I was sitting out competitions one by one.

Someone had to photograph the event.

It was too expensive.

It was too time-consuming.

Historically I gain weight on competition weeks (the recommended tapering and recovering periods are not generally very kind to me).

But really…it’s putting yourself in a stressful situation.

But it’s kind of like…once you’ve felt what it’s like to compete—and now I have three under my belt, a team one, a singles one, and a partners one—it’s hard sometimes to not. I mean, yeah, you get stressed, but you also have this incredible adrenaline rush that helps you power through WODs you didn’t think you’d be able to. There’s nothing like it, and for that reason, I encourage everyone to try to compete at least once.

And you know, I can’t say that I’m once again HUNGRY to compete. I’m not really like that. But I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t getting that itch again.

Ultimately, I decided I would participate in the WWW because it’s on my home turf. Like, my real-life home turf. I have never competed in Portland before, and this one is hosted at my regular box here. And you know, my Albany family has seen me compete and heard me yammer on about it, but my Portland family…well…they’ve heard me yammer about it, and that’s about it. I thought it would be fun to give them the opportunity to see what I can do with this new body I’ve acquired. Ya know?

So how is this competition going to be different?

Well, for one, it’ll be small. And I’m fairly confident in what I can and cannot do.

Will it be stressful? Yes. But it will be a different kind of stress, and the stress won’t be coming from the uncertainty of what the day holds. Because, unlike other competitions, I already know what all the WODs will be. The crappiest thing that will happen all day? Check it:

Karena

5-minute time

60 sit-ups

AMRAP wall balls (choose your own weight)

Score is reps of wall balls x weight

Umm…. Frackin’ gross, people.

But really, I’m pretty excited. I think.

Yes, it will be a great and new experience to compete at home. Wish me luck!

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Epic meal time

Epic IRISH meal time.
Epic IRISH meal time.

No, this post is NOT about the YouTube sensation. (Although I did recently introduce my sister to the series…and she was wildly entertained.)

That being said, if I’ve learned anything about myself over the last few months, it’s that I do fairly well when left to my own devices. As in, I think I’ve mastered the art of maintaining my weight—both tracking and not (think: Ireland)—although I’m about 40 pounds too soon from needing to maintain my weight.

And if I’ve learned anything about myself over the last few weeks, it’s that diet, while I don’t want to admit it, is 80% of my success, and the exercise component is 20%. So really, my continued success is a balance of the two, but what I put in my mouth really is seriously important.

I’m good about making good choices when I go out to eat. I’m spending the next six weeks with my family in Portland, and I’m not so worried about the temptations that come with happy hour (although they do make some mean craft cocktails over here!), but I’m still worried. Mostly because I stay with my family.

My family is very, very supportive of my life transformation. Hell, my mom has been trying to get me to change my ways my entire life. This is practically her dream come true!

But this does not change the fact that the things my family considers healthy are not necessarily the things that I consider healthy.

Case in point: My family has an entire drawer in the kitchen devoted to chips. It’s the easiest go-to if you’re looking for a snack. Today, it contained black bean Tostidos, kettle chips, pretzels, roasted seaweed (which they won’t eat anyway), sesame crackers, caramels, dried mangoes, and chocolates. The kitchen pantry contains a box of Honey Smacks, granola, and an array of hot cereals. The pantry downstairs has more chips and crackers, and to my horror, HUGE boxes of both Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cereals—my two favorites, obviously. Oh, and cookies and ice cream in the freezer.

You see, my apartment is a very controlled atmosphere. I don’t keep things in there that I “can’t” eat—and by “can’t,” I mean, “foods I really like, but know are not good to me or for me.” I always have LOTS of fresh vegetables and berries, lots of lean fish and chicken, almond milk, coconut butter, gluten-free hot cereals, and popcorn. I have a drawer of high-quality chocolate, and I treat ice cream the same way.

It’s SUPER difficult to be in an environment that makes picking on foods that will just cause me to be perpetually hungry and inflamed easy.

The other problem is, I’m at that place where I feel hungry often. I feel like this happens more at home, too. Yesterday, no matter what I did, I could not feel sated.

This has happened when I’m in Albany, but that generally occurs when (a) I’m exercising a lot, and (b) not eating the way I should.

Wednesday, it certainly was not from (a).

Here’s what happened:

I woke up EARLY (around 5:15 a.m.) and took our dog for a four-mile walk around the neighborhood.

When I got home, I was STARVING, and made a breakfast of seven egg whites (count ’em) and a bunch of cantaloupe. I polished off the cantaloupe and learned that I had also polished off all the fruit we had in the house.

About two hours later, I’m not just munchy, but I’m once again STARVING.

Unable to find any more fruit to snack on, I make some brown-rice farina hot cereal with frozen blueberries.

About 45 minutes later, I’m STARVING again. I make and eat some popcorn.

Then, I essentially try to bide my time until dinner.

At dinner, I use all the vegetables I can find in the house to fill myself up. I barbecued homemade turkey burgers stuffed with zucchini for volume. Guacamole, bacon, grilled onions, and lots of spinach.

A half hour later? I’m g-d STARVING. AGAIN!

I end my night with a latte and some freaking Honey Smacks, and I’m STILL hungry.

Epic meal time? You betcha!

I do NOT like days like this. I usually try to be a good judge of deciding when I’m hungry and when I’m bored. Today, I was both, but I was definitely hungry for much of it—which is very important to figure out.

In the days to come, it’s going to be important for me to not lose sight of my ultimate goals. Starving myself will also not be a solution. It’s going to be important for me to try to keep fresh fruit and vegetables in the house, and for me to fill up on those—not chips and cereals.

When do I feel best? When I’m eating healthy and have cut out most grains.

It’s not going to be impossible for me to stick to my eating plan while I’m in an uncomfortable food-vironment, but it will certainly pose a challenge. I hope that this will be just another peak that I can victoriously conquer….

Healthy revolution

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver, British chef, takes on America's schools.

If you couldn’t tell from some of the stuff I write about, I’ll say it now: I like food. I like cooking it, eating it, buying it (local and organic), and watching shows about it. At home, my family always made fun of me, because I made it a point to watch No Reservations, Top Chef, Man vs. Food, and Kitchen Nightmares.

So I was going through my Hulu queue the other day, and I came across Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. At first I resisted, and then I became curious. Was this another Kitchen Nightmares-esque show where some British chef goes around to try to reform restaurants?

Well, yes and no.

Jamie, who happens to be a helluva lot nicer than Gordon Ramsay and touts a nice cockney accent, is on a mission to change America, starting with our schools. We’re immediately dropped into Huntington, West Virginia, a city that was recently deemed “most unhealthy” by the federal government. His first mission: to completely reform school lunches, beginning with one elementary school.

Unfortunately, Jamie is met with a surprising amount of opposition from just about everyone—from a family he’s exclusively working with (they continued to eat fatty foods until he took their obese kids to the doctor, scaring them with the very real future of diabetes) to the lunch ladies and higher-ups to the actual kids. You can’t help but root for the guy.

The school-meal program is absolutely, downright despicable, and in obvious need of major reform. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, we see kids eating pizza and strawberry milk, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch saturated in chocolate milk for breakfast. And then chicken nuggets for lunch. Everything highly processed and full of sugar and sodium. The most disturbing scene, in my opinion, is when Jamie shows a group of kids how chicken nuggets are made. He cleanly divides the chicken into breasts, legs, wings, explaining to them that this is the good, edible, expensive part of the chicken. He then shows them the stinking carcass (to which everyone says EWW), throws it in a blender—bones and all—with some chicken skin and purees and then sivvs. The kids are still squeamish. Then he adds some flour and flavoring, rolls it out, cuts it out, then fries it. And to our shock and horror…after all that…the kids want to eat it. Le sigh! This is how brainwashed our kids are! Then when it comes to school-lunch reform, he is able to come up with his own menu, but the kitchen workers are uncooperative. On the one hand, we’re supposed to probably look at these people as just being stubborn, but there’s a whole other side to the story that I can pretty much guarantee won’t be explored.

People working in our nation’s school kitchens are some of the lowest-paid and most undervalued employees, period. They work long hours, and put up with a lot from parents, school officials, and their own political stratification. They’re bogged down in technicalities, paperwork, and schedules, and I can see with 100 percent clarity how these ladies would have been frustrated with the changes Jamie was trying to make. These people are powerless to make such huge changes by themselves, and the added work of cooking from raw is surely not welcome, considering their current working environment.

At the same time, it’s obvious that the schools in Huntington need a major overhaul.

Where I’m from—Portland, Oregon—Nutrition Services (which works in tandem with Portland Public Schools) is light years ahead of the atrocities we see in Food Revolution (although I think Portland as a whole is light years ahead of most of the rest of the country). I don’t say that lightly, either. Not only are their nutritional requirements completely different, but they have made a conscious and concerted effort to incorporate fresh, local, and healthy fare. Last year, they had Harvest of the Month, which was one meal that was completely locally produced.

This year, they upped the ante and have nixed Harvest of the Month in exchange for a constant emphasis on the local and fresh. The salad bar is always unlimited, and kids learn at a very young age how to make good, wholesome, balanced meal choices. Nutrition Services does not serve flavored milks at breakfast, and when they serve it at lunch, it’s of the nonfat variety that is not in a huge bottle. And I’m pretty sure that they don’t count French fries as a vegetable. They do, however, consider freshly roasted squash as veg. See where I’m going with this?

I’m not telling Oliver to stay away from my hometown, but I am saying that perhaps schools across the nation could take a cue from Portland and start treating kids like the future of our world that they are.

Go, go, gogol!

Wow, sorry to leave you guys hanging! It’s been an absolutely CRAZY couple of months, and there are a lot of super-duper exciting things going on, that I’m sure I will try to elaborate upon in the near future.

I’ll try to recap some of the awesomeness to try to catch everyone up.

So, while I may still be getting used to life on the East Coast, I realized the other day how much traveling I’ve done (that somehow I’ve found time for, amid work and school).

December

Liberty Bell
Moi in front of the Liberty Bell!

I went to Philadelphia for the first time ever! It was pretty cool being in such an historical city for the 108th Annual American Anthropological Association’s Meetings. I got to work for Anthropology News, and see rad things like the Liberty Bell!

Toby
Tobias had clearly missed me. Good thing the Christmas Puppy got a haircut!

I also got to go back to Portland for a bit for the holidays, to see my friends and fam.

February

The White House
My first time at La Casa Blanca!

Maryland and Washington, DC, during their Snowpocalypse! I’d never been to either, and it was a pretty rad visit. We did all the touristy things, like the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Smithsonian, in addition to other fun things, like being VIPs at a swanktastic night club!

March

Yale Library
Just another day, reading a South African newspaper in the Yale library.

Well, I headed out to New Haven. Main reason? IKEA! I mean, we also hit up Yale, so it wasn’t ONLY about the retail therapy!

Tomorrow, I’m headed out to NYC, for the first trip into the city since 2007’s student media conference! I’m psyched!

More photos to come!

Coffee: The river of life

Um, I love coffee.

I’m not joking. I LOVE COFFEE. Too much. Also, I am a really, really, really, really bad coffee snob, which makes the East Coast difficult for that one reason only: I’m not into Dunkin Donuts (sorry guys!), Starbucks is always mediocre and overpriced, and the independent chains don’t focus on the great flavors that can come out of a decently roasted brew. (Can you tell I’ve done my fair share of cupping? Yeah.)

Call me a spoiled brat, I don’t really care. Between growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where everything is artisan and has been obsessed over, I ended up know what good coffee was early on. Then I went to Arizona in January, and learned even more about the roasting process. And lots of cupping sessions at Stumptown.

By the way, Stumptown is pretty much unbeatable.

Anyway, if you suffer from bad/careless coffee syndrome (BCCS), here’s what you can do to stop that:

  1. Get some high-quality, whole beans. I HIGHLY recommend patronizing Stumptown. Most or all of their beans are organic or fair-trade. I smuggled a few pounds of the stuff (starting around $12 per pound) in my bags before I made my move).
  2. Don’t be afraid of the coffee grinder. Especially if you’re living by yourself, grinding your own coffee is a breeze. And it’s the best way to get the most out of your fresh beans. Coarsely grind 2 tablespoons for every 8 ounces of water you plan to use, approximately 30 seconds in a small grinder.
  3. Use a French press. Really. It’s easy and you get some amazing flavor. To use your French press, simply bring filtered water to a near-boil. You get the best flavor if you use hot water that hasn’t quite boiled. Pour the hot water into your press along with the ground coffee, and let sit for about 2.5 minutes. After 2.5 minutes, give it a stir with a wooden spoon, and let it sit another 1.5 minutes, for a total of 4 minutes. Then, put the top on the press, and press down, filtering the coffee. You now have amazing coffee!
  4. Pour and enjoy!

Seriously, if this doesn’t make you a coffee snob, then you definitely suffer from BCCS. For serious.

If you can’t find it, make it

So yay! I’ve resolved to go back in time by about 10 years and start using Photobucket again. I cry. Basically, I can’t figure out if it’s WordPress or my browser that’s having issues. No more captions! Yikes!

Photobucket

Well, since moving to Albany, I’ve been, well, disillusioned when it comes to the array of food these people eat. Allow me to illustrate: One of my friends is trying to start up a bakery here, and she’s really into being healthy and fit, and eating things that are light and delicious. However, to make her food marketable, she’s said that she needs to make heavier, not-healthier, super-sized goodies like brownies, heavy cakes and breads, and biscotti. So much for lowcal!

I’m not so concerned with that (although I AM concerned about the lack of good coffee around here), as much as I’m concerned about the serious…SERIOUS lack of Mexican food.

Not that Portland is the epicenter of Mexican food, but there are at least carts and options and stuff! So far, I’ve been to two Mexican restaurants, one was pretty good, and the other was DREADFUL…I should have listened to my friends when they said that the further you go from the border, the worse the Mexican food gets. I’ve even been to several grocery stores looking simply for CORN TORTILLAS. Seriously! What gives!

In any case, I’ve sort of realized that if I want good Mexican, I’m just going to have to make it myself. Including some delicious salsa.

A few weeks ago, I went to a friend’s house for a movie night, and I brought some. It was definitely a hit. I made two kinds: mango salsa and salsa de nopal. They both went FAST.

Anyway, here’s how to make YOUR own, if you want something delicious to go with your chips. This is what I call the “base” recipe, which is great on its own, and if you want, you can add other things like the mango or fresh nopal cactus (despining is a pain, but it tastes so much better than the jarred stuff). Also, this will make a big, party-sized batch.

Elle’s Pico de Gallo (base/party-sized)

Ingredients:
6-7 Tomatoes (if they’re out of season, buy small, cherry or grape tomatoes for better flavor concentration)
1 White onion
1 Bunch of cilantro
4 Fresh serrano chilies
1 Fresh lime
4 Cloves of fresh garlic
Chili powder to flavor
Salt, onion powder, garlic salt to flavor

Directions:
This couldn’t get easier. Really! Dice the tomatoes and onion, and place in large mixing bowl. Coarsely chop cilantro, add to bowl. Chop the serrano chilies (avoid putting seeds in the mix, unless you like it extra spicy), and mix in bowl. Squeeze lime juice in mixture, and press garlic cloves in, too. You might notice that the mixture is a bit bland. Not to worry! Add a good amount of chili powder (depending on how much heat you like–I like lots!) and salt, and then add onion powder and garlic salt until your perfect flavor is acheived. Now that you have the base, you can divide it in bowls and add things like cubed mango or de-spined nopal for a real treat!

My next cuilinary adventure? Making guacamole for one, without sour cream and without using salsa (and this was probably the best guac I’ve made in a while).

Elle’s Guacamole por Uno

Ingredients:
1 Ripe avocado
1/3 Fresh lime
1/8 White onion
1 Clove of garlic
Chili powder to flavor
Salt

Directions:
Mash avocado meat and a dash of salt in bowl with a fork until it’s coarse. Squeeze lime juice over mash (adds flavor, and prevents oxidation). Coarsly chop onion, and mix in with avocado. Press in garlic. Mix in chili powder until it acheives the heat you’d like.

Sorry I don’t have guacamole photos…I devoured it before I could take out the camera.

Bon appetit!!

Dag nabbit!

Last night was the Neko Case show (finally!!), but I am having a terribly hard time finding either photos or videos from the performance!

The Crystal Ballroom was actually raping people’s bags with flashlights and hands, not letting any cameras through (thank God I didn’t actually bring one this time), and everyone with large messenger bags (it’s Portland = everyone has them) had to either bring them to their car or take the bus home to leave them there because the CB so lovingly does not have a bag check. It was uberously lame.

And you know, I seriously don’t get it. Just about everyone’s phone has some sort of camera on it. I don’t, but my parents’ phones both have 5 megapixel cameras, which is the same amount, I think, as my REGULAR camera. So why not just let people use them as long as they don’t flash??

In any case, the show was one of those near-religious-experience things. Neko has one AMAZING voice. Seriously, she sounds the same in concert as she does on her records. I am so glad I could have gone.