31 March 2012

Jen's (Healthy-ish) Restaurant Recommendations

Recently I seem to have developed a reputation for knowing about a lot of good restaurants. I blame OpenTable. But, since I do try to follow a healthy lifestyle and do enjoy trying new places (i.e. eating out a lot), I thought I would share some of my favorites with you all. Plus, it's restaurant week(s) so many of these places may have good deals. Please let me know if you try any of my recommendations, and what you thought about them!

"Crunchy Granola" Places
  1. Life Alive - Original location in Lowell and another in Cambridge. All fresh ingredients in filling bowls, salads, or wraps. They also have smoothies and juices. It can be difficult to get a table, but both places are funky and interesting.
  2. Nourish Restaurant - A gem of an OpenTable find in Lexington, they have food my husband and I both like, including awesome sweet potato fries and carrot cake, plus tempeh for me and juicy burgers for him. Super nice folks, a great bar, and live music some nights.
  3. Red Lentil - A tried and true vegetarian with great pizzas and chili for even the most meat-loving folk. Just don't mention having tried rabbit while you're there.
  4. Melt - OK, so not really crunchy granola and they are in the Natick mall, but their lunch crepes don't need meat to be fabulous. Oh yeah, and then you can step to the other side of the counter and get really amazing gelato! Let me know if you want to go (I have a frequent eaters card there, LOL)!
  5. Tossed - I love the ability to design my own salad here. Their online menu will even calculate the nutritional information for what you decide to put into it!

Gotta Love Thai
  1. Spice & Pepper - My boss turned me onto this very obscurely-placed place in Wayland. I hate to say it, but they may just top Lanna.
  2. Lanna Thai Diner - A former BEA colleague turned me onto this place in Woburn, back when I worked in Burlington. Max (the owner) is the friendliest guy in the world, the food is great, and you're having Thai in a little diner streetcar! What could be better?
  3. Tree Top - Another Waltham gem, a former colleague at StreamBase Systems showed me this place, based on his days at Brandeis. Excellent dishes you want to get again and again!

"Date Night Out"
  1. West Side Lounge - I learned about this great place while stocking Joey's Facebook check-ins. Fabulously kind waitress let me change my order twice! Great drinks and scrumptious tiramisu dessert. Definitely a "return to". I'm starting to really love me some Cambridge!
  2. 29 Newbury - We ended up here for lunch one day, so I can't consider it date "night", but it was fabulous. I had a rice bowl with tofu and grilled romaine lettuce (think it was in olive oil). Originally I wasn't going to eat the latter, and now I'm looking forward to trying it on our grill this summer!
  3. Stephi's on Tremont or Stephanie's on Newbury -  The former was introduced to me by a friend; the latter we decided couldn't be bad and went to post a company meeting in the city. Stephi's has great big and interesting salads and very different, seasonal martinis (I once had a cherry bomb thing with a large, red pepper skewered by a toothpick across the top!) Stephanie's was more sophisticated and had the most amazing scallops and ahi tuna tartare I think I've ever had.
  4. Giacomos - My favorite North End restaurant from the time I moved to Boston. There's no reservations and the line is always out the door, but it moves fast and is worth it! Cash only.
  5. Top of the Hub - While we didn't get a seat with the best view, this place was still amazing for a special occasion.
  6. Tantric Indian Bistro - Nearby on Stuart Street in Boston, this place has an awesome atmosphere, great service, and really nice Indian fare (including lots of vegetarian options).

One-of-a-kind Sushi "Experiences"
  1. Oishii - We went here for our anniversary because we couldn't get into O ya. And, every dish brought out melted in your mouth. That is, if you could get over the beautifully intricate presentations! We had two waitresses and the chef personally came out to greet us.
  2. O ya - We couldn't let this one go and tried it for New Year's. A different experience given we sat at the sushi bar. We didn't like everything (as we did at Oishii) but it was awesome to watch them making each course -- and we got to try all different types of sake pairings.
  3. Wanokura - Here's the best of the not-super-special-occasion-clean-out-your-wallet sushi places, which my husband introduced me to years ago. Not in Boston like the others (and maybe far out for some), but hamachi that's to DIE FOR! :-)

When You Need Coffee, Dessert (and Maybe Some Wi-fi)
  1. Cafe on the Common -  I spent a lot of time here on weekends when we were showing my condo to prospective buyers, and it's still a local Waltham favorite for me. It's in the dessert category because I love their tiny cupcakes, which are always homemade and give you just the right little taste of what you're craving. My favorites are the chocolate ganache and boston creme. Yeah, they have coffees, teas, salads, wraps, and wi-fi too.
  2. 1369 Coffee House -  Literally next door to Life Alive's Cambridge location, you need to make room for their lattes and cake / cookie counter. Chocolate cakes of all kinds keep preventing me from trying their carrot cake, which also looks amazing. Given how long people stay with laptops, I assume they have wi-fi.
  3. Cafe Vittoria - Following dinner at Giacomos, skip the lines at Mike's Pastry and go for a more authentic Italian experience. The decor in this place is fantastic, as is the gelato and tiramisu.
  4. Thinking CupAlthough I'm off caffeine, there are still a few places where I'll indulge in a latte or cappuccino. This place in downtown Boston is one of them. Homemade hazelnut latte had me happy for days! Their breakfast egg muffin sandwich was amazing too.

When You're Traveling
  1. Makeda (NJ) - One of the benefits of traveling for dance weekends was trying all the local restaurants. This is still one of the best places for Ethiopian I've ever found. And, their butterscotch martini isn't bad either!
  2. Crepevine (CA) - I can't speak highly enough of this place for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dessert. Portion warning though: I think my tofu scramble plate had enough for about 4 servings!
  3. Johnny's Pizzeria (NY) - Hey, if you are going to have pizza, make it a good one! If you grew up on the East coast and love a perfect, thin-crust cheese and sauce, definitely try this hole in the wall. Parking is limited.
  4. Natori Sushi (CT) - I discovered this place on the recommendation of my GPS one day while driving with a friend down to NY. Amazing sushi from a little strip mall place, and cheap. And, in my old stopping grounds near the Buckland Hills Mall.

27 March 2012

Health & Wellness Show 2012

Just wanted to let everyone know I'm registered to attend the Health and Wellness Show 2012, which will be taking place on Sunday, April 1 at the Sheraton Needham hotel from 10am - 3 pm. Registration is free at their web site.

Looks like they'll have "free screenings, and over 45 local health and wellness professionals to help [us] learn about the latest health and wellness products and service."

Hope to see you there!

24 March 2012

My Experience with the Short Home Cleanse (SHC)

As some of you know, I completed my first real detox last fall. It was very powerful, and so as part of my follow up from attending Dr. Douillard's Ayurveda and Weight Loss program at Kripalu last month, I decided to try his 4-day, short home cleanse to prepare for spring. Here are some highlights from my experience. 

Prep Day: Sunday
  • I keep thinking of my last detox and anticipating what this one might be like. I realize I need to let go of any expectations. 
  • I make a different version of kitchari--this time based on Dr. Douillard's recipe, and am interested in seeing which one I like better. This kitchari seems easier to make for some reason; I decide to make it each night rather than quadrupling the batch and having it taste stale. 
  • I decide to do the non-capsule form of all the herbs, and I can't find red root tincture after running to three different stores. I binge on a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin from Whole Foods because I'm frustrated. But I call Cambridge Naturals and they finally save me. 
  • I say something to my husband about it being nice to have permission to take a bath each night, to which he responds, "why do you need permission any night?" Hmmm.... 

Day 1: Monday
  • I can't believe I drank two teaspoons of ghee, although I didn't bother trying without mixing it with nonfat soy milk. I also added cardamom since I figured it would remind me of my warm spiced cardamom milk, but without the cashews. It actually isn't bad, but I can't imagine day four when I have to consume eight teaspoons first thing in the morning!
  • It's nice to get back to alternate nostril breathing, but my mind is a ping pong ball during morning meditation. 
  • I think I overdosed on the red root tincture! The instructions in Dr. Douillard's pamphlet say "one dropper-full" but I have a big bottle, and the bottle says 20-30 drops (which is nowhere near a dropper-full). I dump out some and dilute it with more water. It smells OK in the bottle but is gross in the water, maybe because I did WAY too much to start. I get a little paranoid about potential side effects, but after getting to work, I seem to still be alive. The red root tincture is gross, even with just 20 drops.
  • I'm very hungry by 11am but I'd done a pretty brisk walk on the treadmill at the gym this morning--why is it so hard for me to back off!? I convince myself that warm water will hold me until 12:15pm, which it does. I'm hungry again between 3-4pm and slightly dizzy. Hopefully it's just a "first day" thing.

Day 2: Tuesday
  • I continue to have a hard time slowing down my exercise. I do a little yoga and limit myself to Tracy Anderson arms and abs. It's not easy especially given how much ghee (i.e. fat) I know I'm ingesting each morning. I hope to get a walk in today though--the weather is so gorgeous! 
  • My husband had me awake a lot last night with the various noises he makes in his sleep. I decide not to mention it today, in contrast to what I usually do. It seems like telling him after the fact, when he can do nothing to change things, isn't "non-harming". 
  • I feel slower and more relaxed somehow (or it it weak?). I'm more easily aware of my belly breathing, and when I tighten my facial muscles (which I do a lot).
  • My hair is not right, even though I used limited massage oil on my head last night. 
  • I'm not hungry for breakfast, and I'm wondering whether I should eat kitchari until I'm full or the full serving, given its a long way to lunch. I need to follow the two-palm rule more often (mine are small)! I end up eating 3/4, but once at work I panic slightly as I'm hungry again. I drink more warm water and it helps. (I'm getting better at the warm water!) By 11am I'm only slightly hungry. 
  • I eat my lunch too fast, and my stomach doesn't feel well before even drinking the red root tincture water. I decide to save my whey protein shake for later, and wonder if that counts as a (forbidden) snack? Probably. In general the red root stuff is less offensive. I accidentally refrigerate it in my lunch sack, and hope that isn't a problem.
  • After work I again eat 3/4 of my kitchari out on the deck, and call my mom and some old friends I've lost touch with. I decide that although my husband is fantastic, I still need a wider support system. Relationships have been difficult to maintain, especially with everyone not dancing as much and going their separate ways. I double the spices in my next batch of kitchari.
  • During my evening bath I decide to face some difficult emotions I've been avoiding, which were stirred up by two different situations today. For the 20 minutes I don't read, but try to get in touch with my feelings. I manage to cry just a little. Not a total release or anything, but it's something, since I'm not a crier. I theorize this as a root cause of an issue I've been struggling with for a little while now (which is a possible topic for a future blog post). I feel amazed that I'm alive, given what my mother and grandmother went through in their lives. I consider that I'm out of balance again: I used to dance too much, but maybe now I'm too far into the yoga, meditation, and nutrition and not having enough dancing fun. Though I'd been wondering why the heck I signed up for Boston Tea Party, part of me starts to look forward to it. 
  • I love that I happened to do this cleanse so that it fell on the vernal equinox / first day of spring! I think I should do this yearly.

Day 3: Wednesday
  • I meditate outside on the front porch this morning. It's lovely. The gym is also good, but I am running late and feeling a bit of the fear I always associate with that. I hope my morning kitchari holds me until lunch, given the good walk I had. 
  • I end up having a walking one-on-one this morning right before lunch, and am surprisingly, minimally hungry! I eat my kitchari mindfully and then have my shake. 
  • Two colleagues give me unexpected gifts, which makes me smile! Also, during a meeting I end up being funny with my notes and people notice (in a positive way). 
  • Work gets a little crazy in the afternoon but I somehow multitask without the stress I normally feel. Even driving home, stuck in traffic, hungry and knowing I should have eaten by 6pm, it isn't at the same level at all. Listening to Wayne Dyer's Making the Shift doesn't hurt either! 
  • I wonder how I'm going to do eight teaspoons of ghee tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is already day four--making my kitchari for the last time I feel sad; I was just getting into the routine. It has been so easy to do each night -- I have it down to a science and had to plan so much less. And it does taste much better fresh each day!

Day 4: Thursday
  • I've been sleeping so well, both last night and the night before. I wonder why I ever got out of the "no-technology/water after 9pm and evening meditation" routine. 
  • I am amazed that today's my last day. I take my ghee and meditation on the front porch again, since it's another beautiful day! The 8 tsp. of ghee is OK going down, but after light yoga and the Bar Method I feel slightly nauseous.
  • I got way too much oil in my hair last night, and haven't been able to get it all out.
  • I have a really great afternoon -- overall I feel very productive and at ease at work, even though I'm very busy. At 4:30pm though, I'm starving and I feel shaky. I decide to have tea. I will NOT break this cleanse in the final hours!
  • What is it about a cleanse/detox that makes everything just seem easier? Is it the food (i.e. because kitchari and ghee is grounding for my vata-pitta constitution)? Is it feeling like I have that "permission" to take time for: self care activities like baths and massages; a mental "vacation" from stress; less strenuous workouts? Is it because I'm focused on the cleansing process? Why can't every day be like this--just easy! That would be awesome! I think it can be, if I allow it.
  • I mess up the order of the day 4 final steps: I eat, then drink some red root tincture water, then prune juice, then dandelion tea while taking a bath and waiting for the "may or may not happen" laxative effect. Several hours later, there are no observable issues (or laxative effect)!

The Day and Night After: Friday / Saturday
  • I can't get over how nice my skin is. "Radiant" I think, catching myself staring at my face in the mirror while getting ready for work. :-) I'm looking forward to a breakfast that isn't kitchari, although I'm taking leftovers for lunch. I feel so grounded and balanced between both feet. I do a light jog at the gym. I am very mindful during my shower, and makeup application. I lost 2 lbs, but I don't care, given all the other benefits!
  • I have another busy yet productive day at work. A few times I feel like I've helped people, and that makes me feel good.
  • My husband and I have a nice dinner out. I immediately divide my plate into the two portions it is, take half home, and have chocolate yogurt at home for dessert (proper portions). I pack a Sensible Medley snack and get ready to head out to Boston Tea Party for some dancing.
  • I feel good listening to a friend while driving to the dance, and enjoy seeing people. I dance with a very sweet old man who tries to teach me how to Mambo on the West Coast Swing dance floor. I don't turn a single leader down, and I'm having a nice time.
  • Around midnight, my ego comes out in full force, though I only recognize it after the fact. Disappointed but comforting myself with some compassion, I decide to head out. I manage to meditate and do alternate nostril breathing before finally getting to sleep around 1am.
  • I wake up naturally at 5:20am, try to go back to sleep, and am up again at 5:45. I do my regular morning routine, but I have a headache and feel cranky, short of breath, dehydrated (even after drinking tons of water last night) and antsy. I feel like this just re-affirms the choices I've made over the last few months, and predict that my dance career may remain on hold for awhile.
Anyone else have a detox / cleanse experience you want to share? I'd love to hear about it.

    17 March 2012

    What does "being healthy" really mean?

    Lately I've encountered this question in many different places--in the blogs I subscribe to, in the articles I read, and in various talks about health and wellness topics. This question is interesting to me because the real question, "what does 'being healthy' mean to you?" assumes the answer to be a highly individual one, and I think that's very true. It's also a thought-provoking question, because how many of us really have a clear picture of what our "healthy" selves would be like? And if we don't, how can we ever set or achieve any goals related to being healthy?

    The more I considered this question, the more I found that my definition of "healthy" was a rough concept, at best, and I struggled to pin down a more specific definition--that is, until I borrowed this very simple and effective technique from my day job:

    1. Think of a person you would call "healthy". It can be someone you know, or someone you know about; someone next door or at work, or someone famous. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that when you you look at that person, you think "wow, s/he's really healthy. I wish I could be like that!"
    2. While visualizing that person clearly in your mind, write down on a Post-it note one thing that you think makes them healthy. Then take a new Post-it and write down another, repeating this process until you can't think of any more. Don't censor yourself--just brainstorm as many things as you can without judgement.
    3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with another healthy person. Do this until you run out of people you consider "healthy". Tip: Don't limit yourself by requiring that the people be perfectly, 100% healthy.
    4. Put all of your Post-its up on a wall, or lay them out in an otherwise large space like on a table or floor. It doesn't matter what order they're in at this point.
    5. Find at least two Post-its that seem like they go together. Move them to a new location and write a name for this group on a new Post-it. If you find two that are exactly the same, that's fine. Just stack them on top of each other. 
    6. Repeat step 5 until all of your original Post-its are in named groups. Aim for a minimum of two Post-its in any group; most groups will have more than that. If a group has more than ten Post-its, look for a sub-grouping and try to break them apart.
    7. Now take a step back and look at your groups. What are the largest groups? Do they contain the qualities that resonate most with you? Do the groups show you anything you didn't expect, or do they confirm what you already thought your definition of "healthy" was?
    For me, this process was enlightening. While brainstorming qualities of people I initially considered healthy based on their appearance alone, I actually discovered many non-physical characteristics that made them seem less healthy to me. For example, maybe a person was long and lean, but they weren't very positive or nice to be around. Or maybe they were skinny because they were so stressed out they never had time to eat, or had digestive issues because of all the drama going on in their life. Conversely, several people who were slightly to significantly overweight came to my mind as healthy because they had absolutely beautiful internal qualities that I was easily able to describe.

    In the end, most of the qualities I listed for healthy people had nothing to do with their physical appearance--most had to do with their mental, emotional, or spiritual qualities. Some things I wrote down were:
    • confident
    • great energy 
    • optimistic
    • muscular
    • free of disease
    • calm
    • kind
    • light-hearted ...
    This process definitely changed my perspective and helped me clarify my own definition of "healthy". It also made me realize that some of my health and wellness goals needed to be tweaked--in some places I will be putting in less effort, and in others, more.

    I hope you'll take a few minutes to try this for yourself. If you do, let me know what it reveals for you!

    10 March 2012

    Living life by staying in touch with death

    We hear it over and over: Savasana, or "corpse pose". At the end of every yoga practice, be it at home or in a studio, we lie on our backs with outstretched arms and legs, and practice letting go. Sometimes it's more difficult than others--our body might be spent, but our minds can continue to pull toward the next activity. And even when body and mind are centered from our practice, we don't often consider the real meaning behind this pose because, well, it's death.

    Over the last few months, I've been trying to explore the concept of death more--specifically, seeing it as an opportunity to help me figure out how to better my life. When I lie in Savanasa, I try to think about myself actually being dead. That might sound morbid, but it's been helpful in a few ways:
    • My body releases more, because my mind gets more behind the idea that there's nothing I have to do anymore--nothing matters.
    • My mind lets go of all the piddly little "to do's" and in the space that opens up, I can consider what's really important and ask myself what it is I want to experience before I die.
    • In this space I also ponder the impressions I leave behind. Would I be remembered as someone who ran around doing things, or as someone who cared about people and was fun to be around? 
    When I come out of corpse pose these days, I feel as though I've done a mini re-evaluation of my whole life, and it helps me make better decisions throughout the day. For example, this past Friday I was feeling overwhelmed at work--many dormant projects suddenly woke up, and I was multi-tasking all day to get things set up for a busy next week. But there was a baby shower for a colleague going on in the afternoon, and when I looked up at the clock, I had ten minutes to decide whether to make an appearance. Typically I would have worked through this "optional" event, but I decided these special moments were more important than work, and ran over to the party to congratulate the father-to-be.

    Another way that I have found to safely contemplate death is to carry out an exercise recommended in the fabulous book called Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner. In it, she learns how to write Japanese death poems--four lines based on a simple predefined structure, ideally done for the new year. Here's the one I wrote on January 1:
    I've survived, achieved, struggled, controlled, and complained
    For thirty-six years in this life
    Releasing old views and limiting beliefs; increasing compassion, love and joy
    Balanced through non-effort.
    Re-reading this poem reminds me of how I've been, and how I'd like to be when I die.

    Of course when someone you know and love passes away, or you are close with someone who's going through a personal tragedy, it's more natural to think about mortality. Whether it's a colleague who has a sudden heart attack, a beloved pet you may need to euthanize, or close friends going through an incomprehensible loss, it is in these devastatingly sad times that we often stop to recognize just how blessed we are on a day-to-day basis. They are stark reminders that we should always appreciate each other, and all that we have.

    But we shouldn't wait for large, terrible events to wake us from our preoccupations, nor should we easily forget them and go back to living our lives blindly. Doing exercises like the ones I described above, or even drafting your own obituary (as I know a former colleague and friend of mine has done), can be really powerful. None of us really know when death will claim these bodies we're borrowing, but when the time comes, it would be comforting to know that while our spirits were alive inside them, we really experienced all this world had to offer--we explored, we learned and taught, we deeply felt both joy and pain, we savored, we loved and were loved, and we were present in each and every precious moment. By contemplating death now, we can continually adjust our life's direction, before we're out of time.

    What changes would you make to your life or how you're living it right now, if you knew you wouldn't wake up tomorrow? Start doing those things now.

    03 March 2012

    Finding peace by facing difficult feelings

    I am having what I'll call a "transformative" day, so this post will be more reflective than the one I originally planned--I hope you will still enjoy it and take something away from it.

    I was mid-nightmare when the chime of my Zen alarm clock went off this morning, dreaming I was screaming "fuck you" to some imaginary neighbors back in Pennsylvania who let my cat out of the house and were unapologetic to say the least. I kept sleeping through the second chime, until my conscious brain kicked in and asked, "do you really want to stay in this dream you're having?" So I got up and did my usual routine--which lately includes a mind-racing, snot-filled tissue festival one might call a morning meditation. Since I was going to Gail's beginning Ashtanga class at EarthSong Yoga, I started and finished what I thought was a full draft of this weekend's blog post instead of doing yoga. Feeling productive but late around seven o'clock, I went downstairs and made my hot cardamom and cashew milk and plate of cashews and mango bits for breakfast.

    I pretty mindlessly drank the milk, though on some level I still realized how wonderful it tasted and how my stomach gurgled gently in response to it. But for the most part, I was playing around with my iPhone--checking email, Facebook, and so on. Realizing this, I put down the phone and vowed to me more attentive to my cashews and mango. But the trend continued, and I noticed I was still eating too fast. Then a thought came into my mind: should I eat a Budi Bar instead of the cashews? After all, there were already cashews in the milk, and my husband could always eat extra cashews when I moved to eating off the "Spring" grocery list tomorrow. Yes, I decided.

    Once I made this decision, I found it even more difficult to sit still. I had an overwhelming urge to get up, put the cashews back, and pull out the Budi Bar. "Antsy" doesn't begin to describe it! I thought about some feedback I'd gotten at work about taking more time to consider all input before acting, and my husband's recent comments about me being somewhat impulsive. "What makes me want to do the trade right this second? Why can't I wait?" I asked myself. "Why do I have this arbitrary now in my body so strongly?"

    I breathed and tried to get in touch with my underlying feelings--meaning the ones below that blanket "anxious" label. I sat, confused. "What is it?" I asked patiently. Nothing. "Wait for it," I told myself. "The answer will come." Then the real feeling came very clearly: it was fear.

    "I'm afraid", I told myself. "If I don't act now, when I'm told what to do, dad will hurt me very badly." Ah. What was once so elusive was now so obvious. My dad is yelling at me, telling me what to do. And I'd better do it RIGHT NOW, or else suffer unimaginable consequences. Content, I felt a small smile spread across my lips. Yes, that was the right answer.

    Feeling extremely centered and balanced, I finished my breakfast and carried this feeling through Gail's yoga class. I completely lost myself in the flow, and experienced some new openings in poses like shoulderstand. After class I drove home with that same sense of peace surrounding me, carrying it through a trip to Home Depot in the rain, through some household chores, and a mindful lunch of Slow-Cooker Lamb, Apricot, and Olive Tagine (which is amazing by the way).

    When my bowl was empty, I quietly watched as the rain fell at a swift angle, in stark contrast to everything else I could see outside my window--rocks, snow, trees, and fence--all of which were perfectly still, like one who was able to get in touch with a difficult emotion and survive. In other words, like me.