Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Long ago, meat lost its starring role in my diet. Like many aspects of my life, my diet was profoundly influenced by the year I spent teaching English in South Korea.
There, meat could be found in almost every dish, but it wasn't a dominating ingredient. A sprinkling of pork flavored the spicy kimchi stew, some dried fish added depth to broths, and a lone clam sank to the bottom of the tofu soup I ate almost every day for lunch.
Koreans love meat (just not American meat, if you've been following the news this week!). DIY BBQ places line the streets, and a favorite Friday night activity was eating pork BBQ at a streetside restaurant with my fellow teachers. We sat on small plastic stools, coughed from the smoke rolling off our combination table/grill, and drank pungent Korean soju to wash it all down. Even there, we rarely ate meat by itself. Though the samgyeopsal (pork belly) or moksal (pork chops) were the star ingredients, we carefully wrapped each bite in an entire Romaine lettuce leaf, along with roasted garlic and onion, grilled kimchi, ssamjang (a combo miso-pepper paste) and a bit of pickled radish.
In today's NYT Dining section, Mark Bittmann writes about "Putting Meat Back in its Place." www.nytimes.com/2008/06/11/dining/11
mini.html?_r=1&oref=slogin (Warning: You might need to sign up for a free log-in to read the full story. Please do. It's definitely worth it!)
Bittman, a self-proclaimed meat lover, is, like many of us, cutting back on the amount of meat he eats. He's not giving it up cold turkey, but he's trying to make less of the focus of the meal.
In most foreign cuisines, "meat is seen as a treasure, not as something to be gobbled up as if it were air," he writes.
Like any gastronomical "vice," be it chocolate, red wine, or ice cream, there is room for meat in a healthy lifestyle. It's all a question of moderation. Bittman offers great pointers for people who are trying to wean themselves off the 16-ounce ribeyes found on most restaurant menus.
I've already cut meat from my diet, but my boyfriend found the tips quite helpful and informative. He's a flexitarian, meaning he eats vegetarian meals several times a week (any time he eats at home).
Are you eating less meat these days? What are some ways that you make a little meat go a long way?
Friday, May 30, 2008
Riding a bike is a rite of passage. When you're still a little tyke, Mom and Dad surprise you with a shiny new two-wheeler for your birthday, plus a helmet (and maybe knee/elbow pads if you're as clumsy as I am).
You're so excited! It's just what you wanted! Now you can ride with all the other kids in your neighborhood instead of watching them longingly from your tricycle.
With training wheels, biking is easy. You're not afraid to fall, so you ride faster and faster. You take pride in your accomplishment, but you know that some day those training wheels will come off and it'll be just you and your balance versus gravity.
Riding on two wheels is scary and exciting at first. You're afraid you'll fall--and sometimes you do. But you get up, brush the gravel from your knees and the tears from your eyes and you persevere until you get it.
That's how the story usually goes. However, my bike-riding story lasted almost 22 years, with two decades of defeat and denial.
For my fifth birthday, I got a shiny new bike, with purple palm trees adorned the padding on the bars. "Miami Miss" was her name, and my dad immediately set out to teach me. A cautious bookworm of a child who was never into sports, I didn't mind riding with training wheels. Up and down my grandparents quarter-mile rural driveway, I rode, my confidence growing each time. Faster and faster, I pedaled. The training wheels were there. I was safe.
Then my dad took off the training wheels, and I froze. Despite three years of ballet lessons, my balance on a bike was awful, and I fell over and over. I was fine until he let go of the bike. As soon as I realized my safety net was gone, I'd fall.
We soon moved, to a town where kids didn't really ride bikes. For the next 20 years, there was little need to ride a bike. Miami Miss languished in our garage, her shiny body rusted and her purple trimmings faded. Sadly, some time ago, she was put out on garbage day.
I was able to hide my secret. No one asked, and I never told.
I decided in my early 20s that I never needed to learn how to ride a bike. My younger sister also can't ride a bike, and her father-in-law (a very successful real-estate investor and former Naval officer) can't either. My friend Cynthia, a PhD candidate at Harvard, can't ride a bike. Plenty of successful people can't ride bikes, I thought.
In recent years, not riding a bike has become a bigger deal. My boyfriend and most of my friends bike, I live in a city where biking is common, and gas prices are rising, making biking all that much more appealing.
Also, I've "gone green." I recycle, buy organic, and try to limit what I buy. I use only natural cleaning products, reuse glass jars, and combine trips to save gas. I lower the thermostat, use newspaper as gift wrap, and shop at thrift stores when possible. Biking is a logical hobby/mode of transport for the eco-minded person.
More often, people asked me why I didn't ride a bike. Finally, I had to start admitting: I can't ride a bike. Their reactions were mixed, but many offered to teach me.
Last winter, I decided I was going to learn, and on a rainy and cold Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, my two best friends and my boyfriend took me to a city park for lesson. The first 30 minutes were rough. I kept dragging my feet to stop, couldn't catch my balance, and was afraid of falling.
Eventually I kept my balance and actually rode! We rode along a trail for about 15 minutes. I was so proud of myself!
I did it! I fell once, but my injuries were limited to a scraped knee and a bruised shin.
I kept talking about how fun it was and that I wanted to buy a bike soon. My boyfriend was apparently listening, because for my birthday last week, he surprised me with a shiny new red mountain bike. I actually cried. (He forgot a helmet, so we're sticking to the park and empty parking lots until we buy one this weekend.)
For 20 years, I avoided bike riding and ignored my defeat. It would have been easy to go my entire life without learning how to ride a bike. I'm so proud of myself for reaching this goal--something I never thought I was capable of doing! I credit SparkPeople, in part, for the extra push. I've always been a motivated person (aside from bike riding), but since I started working here, I've become even more inspired and motivated! I've seen what some of our members have done, and I think, "Wow! If they can do that, then surely I can learn to ride a bike!"
It took a lot of strength to decide to face my fears and set aside my ego to learn to ride a bike at 26. I have had some people judge me, and I admit that I was a bit embarrassed to pedal my bike wobbly past 4-year-olds learning how to ride and be passed by 10-year-olds on the trail. But you know what? I did it, and that's all that matters!
I'll meet you on the trail!
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Imagine if you could make all the foods you dislike suddenly taste like something you actually like to eat. Or that you could get vegetables to be as appealing as chocolate cake. (Actually, depending on the vegetable, I might choose veggies over chocolate cake!)
In New York, there's a new trend that warps the tongue: Flavor-tripping parties. Not to worry -- there are no psychodelic drugs involved, just a berry called the "miracle fruit" for its ability to rewire the taste buds for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Sour and bitter flavors become sweet, thanks to the berry, which is native to West Africa. It's the strangest food discovery since Willy Wonka's lickable wallpaper (from whence my blog entry draws its title). I first read about it in this New York Times story .
The story doesn't address the effect the berry has on smell, which is perhaps a more important sense than taste when it comes to eating. If you eat an onion and it tastes like an apple, what does it smell like? I'll investigate online and report back.
What food would you want to try at a flavor-tripping party? For some party-goers, goat cheese became cheesecake, Tabasco sauce morphed into hot doughnut glaze, and vinegar changed into apple juice. (And sweet food pretty much stayed the same!)
So what do you say? Would you try a miracle berry?
I'd try bean sprouts, the one vegetable I loathe.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Did anyone else read this article ? Five restaurants in Manhattan have been cited for not posting calorie counts next to prices.
I like the idea of disclosure and awareness on behalf of the consumer.
But do you think that calorie counts mandatory help keep a society slim?
In France, the nutritional content is listed on your fast food box, cup or wrapper. (After one too many glasses of champagne the night before, my little sister was craving Coke and a burger when we were in Paris last spring.) Right away, we knew that her burger contained 445 calories and 21 grams of fat. Sorry, my camera didn't seem to want to take a clear shot of the label. It also lists carbs, fiber, sugar and couple of other nutrients. From the fries to the Coke, we knew exactly how much we were eating.
(I think what my sister ate was like the Big and Tasty, which has 510 calories and 28 grams of fat here. Like many other things in Europe, the sandwich and other serving sizes were smaller, more like a Big Kids meal here.)
Would you like to see calorie counts on your fast food and restaurant menus? Or, if you live in a place where it's already mandated, what do you think about it?
Thursday, May 01, 2008
I'm a bit of a social butterfly.
In my former job, as a newspaper reporter, it was my responsibility to know what was going on in my city. And because I covered business and restaurants, I frequently went out for dinner or happy hour, in addition to my after-work social/volunteer events. Inevitably, there were cocktails flowing and high-calorie hors d'oeuvres circulating.
Last night was my first such meeting since starting here at SparkPeople. I baked vegan carrot cake and oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies for the group, and a local restaurant donated burritos, and chips and salsa.
My young professionals diversity group held a dialogue session on the feasibility of going green across the socioeconomic spectrum. A favorite local watering hole (a place I wrote about for my former job) hosted the event. Two big glasses of pinot noir, four hours and a few nibbly bits later, I headed home and added up my calories. Wow! More than a thousand just from that "cocktail party" noshing. Yow-za! And the rest of my day had been healthy: a smoothie with blueberries for breakfast, marinated bean salad over spinach for lunch...
Overall, I'm a healthy eater, but I've got a couple of bad habits that I'm slowly conquering. This one will be easy to overcome, but people will think I'm being a bit of a "party pooper."
Stick to club soda or alternate wine with club soda or water. My usual rule is no more than two drinks a night, but when one glass of wine is more than 8 ounces, that's clearly two drinks right there! I also try to limit my wine drinking to the weekends and only drink something that's worth drinking.
I'm the social director of the group, so it's my responsibility to secure food and venues. Next time, we're getting fruit and veggie trays -- much more figure-friendly.
Do any of you face the same temptations? Which social setting is hardest for you?
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