Monthly Archives: December 2012

Food brat.

Being a foodie is like being a Supreme Court justice: The precise credentials are ambiguous, but you should have some decent life experience to assume the title. Love of the edible notwithstanding, I would never appoint myself a “foodie.” Oh, you like food? Groundbreaking. Insert Miranda Priestly GIF and/or Condescending Wonka meme here.

Instead, I call myself a “food brat,” the foodie’s finicky younger sister. Every morsel that passes my lips must taste fantastic. Healthy food is not exempt from these standards; it’s the crux of the whole operation. Living well means seeking pleasure within the health food realm, not gazing longingly outside of it.

There are plenty of nutritious foods that, when thoughtfully prepared, don’t evoke feelings of death and sadness. Can’t get on board with raw kale? Roast veggies to coax out their caramelized depth of flavor. Grossed out by the texture of oatmeal? Bake it into bars, and smother them in almond butter and maple syrup. I love a warm chocolate-chip cookie, but I would happily choose a peak season apple over stale Chips Ahoy. Learn to separate what society fetishizes from what is objectively delicious. Not all junk food is.

In the same vein, don’t be afraid to rough up your food in the name of taste. Your waistline could care less about the yolks in your eggs or the sprinkle of full-fat cheese on your salad; not so for the late-night pizza that follows a sad pile of iceberg lettuce for dinner. Balanced meals are the key to satiety, and flavor is the key to satisfaction. Between the two, what more could anyone want? (For the love of God, please eat the yolk. It’s got half of the protein and all of the nutrients. If you want to cut calories, cut empty ones.)

So. Quinoa.

As a student and fledgling cook, I leaned heavily on what would most accurately be described as “bowls of healthful slop.” Not all of my creations were winners, but in time, I hit on a nearly foolproof template: a fruit, a veggie, a handful of nuts or seeds, a blanket of cheese and a dash of seasoning, all backed by grains and served over greens. If I was feeling frisky, I’d top the whole thing off with a runny egg. Whoa. Whoa. Calm down, everyone, calm down.

Now that I live in the ultimate foodie town, my tastes and options have broadened considerably, and making smart choices is harder than ever. When all I want is crusty bread spread thick with bone marrow and oxtail marmalade (hi, my dinner last night), I have to remind myself that there is so much healthy food that tastes good. Cumin-spiced sweet potato enchiladas brimming with slow-simmered black beans and garlicky chard. Roasted beets perched on a peppery fan of arugula, kissed by goat cheese for brightness and hazelnuts for crunch. Dijon-glazed brussels sprouts studded with tart cranberries and sharp gorgonzola. These are the things that make my taste buds swoon.

Because that’s what being a food brat is all about: Finding the foods that make you swoon. Not all will be healthy, but many probably are. So choose those. Not forever, but today. Choose them more often than not. Start with this salad. You may love the way a cookie melts in your mouth, but how can you hate on the way a pomegranate aril bursts on your tongue?

Red and Green-oa


Sweet and salty, fresh and flavorful—this festive salad has got it going on. Add it to your holiday table, or leave a bowl by the fireside for Santa. It can’t be easy flying all night on just cookies. I’d list a source, but this one’s all me.

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
4 Persian cucumbers, diced (or one large seedless cucumber)
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 lemon
4 oz. feta cheese (if you use the fat-free kind, don’t tell me about it. You might as well use packing peanuts)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Bring quinoa and about 1 1/2 cups of water to boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until no liquid remains. Fluff with a fork and let cool.

2. Meanwhile, do your mincing and dicing. Efficiency: We’re all about it. Wrap some presents. Eat some cookies. Time is of the essence.

3. Once quinoa is cool, toss with salt and pepper (start with 1/2 teaspoon of each) and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add herbs. Toss. Add cucumber and pomegranate seeds. Toss. Crumble cheese over top. Toss. Taste. Tweak. Tuck in, y’all. Serves 4.

This one doesn’t even need the runny egg. And that’s some high praise from this food brat.

What are your favorite healthy foods? Are you cooking anything special for the holidays?


Born-again runner.

There are born runners – those of long stride and low bone density, gliding easily along for miles like smug hovercrafts – and there are born-again runners. Those who, against all biological odds, have convinced themselves that ritualistically hauling their body weight over unnatural distances at elevated speeds is a desirable way of keeping fit. Crazy people.

In my defense, this was more of a frolic than a run.

Growing up, I hated physical fitness testing like…a fat kid hates physical fitness testing. No event was more ominous than the dreaded One Mile Run. I think I clocked in at 13:41 one year, which can’t have demanded more than a brisk walk of even of my stubby little legs. The promised return of my Baby-Sitters Club book was the only thing that got me to the finish.

Even when exercise became less of an affront, running remained a last-ditch option. Since I’d never made it a cardio mainstay, I lacked the endurance to get what I deemed a sufficient workout, and my disordered mind balked at the idea of sacrificing temporary calorie burn to train for longer distances. Why suffer the indignity of a 15-minute run when I could pedal away at an elliptical machine for 45? Surely the latter was the better option.

Then I got caught the bug.

If running is not and will never be your thing, by all means, opt out. There are a million ways to be active, many of which don’t also carry risks of charley horse and perpetual starvation. Save yourself! But if you want to be one of those crazy people who loves running, maybe you’ve just been doing it wrong. A change in approach helped me put a lifelong aversion – and about 15 miles a week – behind me. No Baby-Sitters Club book necessary.

The Born-Again Runner’s Gospel
Or, how to work out without hating your life.

Enlist technology. Traditionalists love to talk shit about the “dreadmill.” I find indoor runs to be far more enjoyable than their open-air counterparts, mainly because they incite me to push myself. From a mental perspective, it’s easier to do a challenging workout than a lame one.

You can find any number of treadmill workouts online, but here’s my basic formula: Set an easy warm-up pace (I like 6mph), and run at that speed for the duration of one song. At each subsequent verse/chorus transition, increase your speed by .5mph until you feel like you might die (for me, this kicks in around 9.5mph). Revert to half-speed (in this case, 7.5mph, which is now going to feel so easy) and “reset” for the length of one song. Repeat until desired mileage is reached. If you get bored, mess with the incline.

Running this way keeps my mind and muscles engaged in a way that bopping along down a riverside trail does not. I find that the miles fly by, and I enjoy feeling like a beastly sprinting badass at the end of every cycle. I’m also a huge baby who hates being at the mercy of the elements. Raw lungs? Stinging eyes? The unpleasant, paradoxical sensation of sweating under four layers of fleece? Why? Eliminate unnecessary discomforts, and you’ll find that you relish unavoidable aches and pains as a sign that you’re working hard.

Curate your plate. When it comes to food, many people use running as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Unless you’re clocking crazy mileage that requires you to gorge like an Olympic athlete, this usually doesn’t work out. Even if you manage to outrun your appetite, the pattern can breed an unhealthy “crime and punishment” mentality in which food must be justified by exercise (actually, food is necessary for human life, which is why people in comas require feeding tubes. But you knew that, right?).

I love jambalaya fritters and lamb burgers with duck bacon and toasted marshmallow milkshakes (sorry, it’s been great food week), and it’s true that running keeps my metabolism going at a rate that allows me to indulge and still put on my pants. But you know what I don’t love? Running with heartburn. Or, more abstractly, feeling like I must run to atone for the fact that I am a human being who sometimes wants things that aren’t salads. Running provides a concrete demonstration of how healthy food works as an energy source rather than a weight control method. Eat well, move easier. It makes me want to take care of myself, not get away with as much as I can.

You’re gonna get really hungry, though. Which is why you need to…

Fuel yo’self. I talk about my “move more, eat more” philosophy in my exercise history. Running is one of the most demanding forms of physical activity, so you can totally add an extra snack or be more lax about your portions. Just add good stuff that will help you rather than hold you back.

What and when you eat before a run is especially crucial. The only thing worse than running while bloated is running while starving. I cannot get a good run on an empty stomach, and honestly, a piece of fruit is usually not enough.

I like to think in terms of pre-run fuel and post-run repair. Since I don’t run long distances, I don’t need to be taking in tons of extra food, but I do compose my meals around my workouts—carbs before and protein after, with a bit of healthy fat on both sides. I currently have the luxury of exercising between breakfast and lunch, but when I was working standard hours, I was a big fan of the double breakfast (peanut butter toast or two of my favorite anytime cookies before; fruit with Greek yogurt or hard-boiled eggs after) or, if I was gym-bound after work, a hefty snack at my desk around 4pm.

This may seem excessive, but remember, it’s not entirely literal. You mind needs to believe that you have the energy to complete your workout just as much as your body needs those calories to function. Once you get used to eating around your activity, you won’t have to think so much. You’ll realize that you’re creating an ongoing flow of energy intake and expenditure, and that no one meal or workout can make or break you. Rather than crime and punishment, the result is a zenlike give and take (a “lifestyle,” I believe they call it).

Run with a purpose. This one comes from my lil’ sis, a varsity athlete and prospective Ivy League lacrosse recruit (NBD). She’s exactly like me except cooler, faster and funnier. Thank goodness I was born first, because I’d never have developed a healthy self-esteem with her around.

For those seeking a reason to get off the couch, Maddie suggests lacing up with a destination in mind. “Run to drop something at the post office. Run to grab something at CVS. Meet a friend for coffee. It’s a workout, but it’s also a way to get from place to place. Later, when you’re not feeling motivated, you’ve already developed the habit, and your body is used to doing the work.”

Isn’t she wise? She is so wise. Sister, you are so wise. Now get out of here so I can get back to being the smart one. Anyway, this isn’t entirely compatible with my sick treadmill fetish, but I think it’s a solid way to build up endurance and get your body used to high-impact movement. A+.

Eschew popular wisdom. Switch up your music! Invest in nice workout clothes! Get it over with first thing in the morning! I’ll admit that I cringe at the thought of running without a freshly loaded iPod – okay, and Lululemon Wunder Unders – but WTF to that morning crap. I’m a morning person, and I still prefer to get my sweat on after I’ve had a few hours to eat and caffeinate. Maddie’s with me on this one: “Don’t be confined to stereotypes. If you typically have more energy in the afternoon, do it then. Night owl, work out late. Watch the sunrise when you can sit and enjoy the freaking sunrise.” Sing it, girl. Run when you have the most to put into your workout, and you’ll get the most out of it.

As for the other stuff, it’s helpful, but it’s not enough. You can listen to music at home and wear yoga pants to the grocery store, so your motivation has to come from somewhere else. Same goes for the buddy system. Personally, I abhor group fitness – I like to get in the zone and pretend no one else exists – but I think even more social gym-goers can benefit from doing solo runs. It goes back to the challenge aspect of my first point—you’re more likely to crave a run when you can see the gains you’re making, and you’re more likely to make gains when you can focus on working hard. If you choose to be an active participant instead of running out the clock, your workout will become more interesting.

Take all of this with a bead of sweat. I’m no fitness expert – just your average active Jane – but I’m also not a born runner or even a lifelong exerciser, so I feel confident that just about anyone can get to where I am. In the three years since my 75-pound shed, I’ve found no better way of maintaining my size while keeping my mind calm and my belly fed. These days, I crave a hard run more than any other workout. Just don’t ask me to climb that stupid rope.

Do you like to run? Any tips to make it more enjoyable?

Sofa king cool.

For someone who appreciates fashion, I sure do hate wearing clothes. When I get home, it’s all I can do to let my front door slam before it’s pants off, tea on and time to party like it’s 1773. My college roommate and I were the ultimate naked pair, with momentary odds of pantslessness hovering well above 50 percent. Luckily, our friends were great at knocking.

I’ve since amassed a collection of “non-clothes” (pajamas, leggings, oversized knits) that, while less affronting to surprise guests, probably shouldn’t see the light of day. I’m not one of those leggings-are-not-pants zealots, but I do observe a distinction between loungewear and streetwear, if only to maintain some semblance of dignity. As such, the prospect of a Saturday errand can seem unduly exhausting. You mean I have to put on jeans? Shall I don my false lashes and elbow-length opera gloves as well?

While Juicy sweats may have marked a dark era for fashion, they were blessedly kind to the style-conscious couch potatoes of society. For those of us who observe no greater luxury than a mid-afternoon catnap, the mere act of shimmying into denim can sap the freedom from a free day. We often hear of looks that can go from day to night, but what about from day to socially acceptable day? What elevates “sloppy” to “effortlessly cool”?

Enter the lazy weekender’s saving grace: trendy outerwear. While insufficiently civilized for dinner or drinks, artful layering can take couch attire to the drugstore, the dog park or even out to lunch.

Sofa king cool.

Street-smart accents – a slouchy beanie, high-top wedges – add zip without the hassle of a zipper. Fuzzy socks are re-imagined as punchy cashmere gloves. Swap the military peacoat for a faux fur vest – a literal translation of the sumptuous throw featured here – and you’re fully furnished, more showroom piece than Ikea model dorm room. Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster optional.

Wear your couch—don’t let your couch wear you. And if all else fails, go naked.

How do you merge comfort with style?

Wait a minute.

There is a time for incremental improvement, and there is a time for drastic and possibly ruinous change.

I tend to embrace the latter.

So when a recent opportunity led me to forfeit the security of my (now former) position, I was all in. My first job had revealed itself to be a questionable fit, and I don’t abide by uncomfortable circumstances any more than I do ill-fitting trousers. A broken spirit is every bit as unflattering as camel toe, and far more compromising in the long run.

I gave notice and interviewed. Successfully, in fact. I had a potential start date, a potential salary and a slew of encouraging emails from HR. You cocky bastard, I chided myself, I can’t believe you pulled that off.

And then the job disappeared. Budgetary hiring freeze.

And then my old boss found a new editor.

And then I was funemployed!

And then I was just unemployed, because one can really only handle so many Netflix marathons and peppermint brownie test batches. You know how I feel about ill-fitting trousers.

So I dusted off my Winning Smile™ and found a job serving upscale comfort food to celebrities. (I see you, Beyoncé.) And while my grand plan failed, I can’t say I regret making the change. Honestly, I like waiting tables. I like chatting up strangers. I like having flexible hours and a job that requires me to move. I’m even brazen enough to believe that this could be a positive step for my writing career. While there’s something to be said for the security of a nine-to-five, there’s also something to be said for intellectual freedom, and voyeurism can provide more useful creative fodder than even the most well-intentioned navel-gazing. (Translation: Crazy bitches make good stories.) (Not you, B.)

We’re veering into manifesto territory, so let me reign in the sensationalism to clarify that I have not been manifesting a damn thing lately. I have been coddling myself with good times to avoid a total meltdown. NBD. Sometimes we all need to choose drinking over thinking. I’m not an especially complacent person, so I can’t see the trend continuing indefinitely.

Instead, I hope this layover will give me a chance to indulge my creativity on my own terms. To redouble my commitment to health and happiness. To write for pleasure (and hopefully for more). There’s no use feeling bad about the circumstances. I won’t be a waitress forever, but I can be happy doing it for now.

So fine, call it a manifesto. One step back and three steps toward a life of my own design. Or something. Now let’s get back to talking about pretty stuff and yummy stuff. Peppermint brownie, anyone?

Have you made any major changes in your life lately?