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Archive for the ‘back to basics’ Category

Blog note: I’ve decided to change the focus of this blog. You’ll notice I’m writing more about positive living and maybe a bit less about restaurants, foodie stuff, etc). I’m trying something out. Bear with me, let me know if you like it, as I try to focus the content and try something new!

I wonder how many athletes out there practice visualization? It’s been a while since I raced competitively  (in a boat or on land in a road race or triathlon) but I can recall a few instances where I visualized with intent before a big race. A coach helped us to visualize rowing well during my first year rowing in college. We listened to a mix tape (for those too young to remember, oh, well forget it – try wikipedia) with various Enya songs and envisioned different stages of the race and our race strategy being dictated as we visualized how it would culminate. That was a pretty cool experience, and we continued to practice our winning the race right up until before we jumped into the boat for the event. As I recall, we did pretty well.

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, mainly because I’m interested to see how much it really works. I think there’s certainly something to it, and I’m trying to incorporate it more into my own life. It’s an easy thing that doesn’t take a lot of time, hardly any resources except a quiet place and quiet mind, and is something that is worth trying before not just a big race, but also before a test, big work presentation, a sales pitch, or even something to try before you get yourself out of bed in the morning. How do you want your day to unfold today, and how will imagine taking on the new day? It’s worth a shot – give it a try.

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© Universal Press Syndicate

They say that cancer patients do so much better with it and I have a friend who is living proof. Kids need it the first 18 years of life, and then as we grown into adults we rely on it to get by, too. I’m talking about Support – support from friends, family, mentors, and those who have walked in your shoes before. I believe it’s imperative to success, and necessary to get through new territory.

I recently had a chance to reflect on my college days. Going away to college is a major rite of passage. It can be a great time, with opportunities to create new friendships, explore new subjects in classes and experiences around campus, and  for most of us it was a time when we got our first true sense of the independence that is associated with living away from the folks that raised us the first 18 years of our lives.

When I think back about what I learned in college, one of the most meaningful lessons was the importance of building a support network. I recently told this story to a group of young collegiate athletes. I went to college a mere month after losing my father to a two-year battle with cancer. My mom, brother and I were all devistated, as you would expect. There are no words to explain the pain of losing someone close to you (my dad and I had a very good father-daughter relationship to boot). Although you eventually reach a ‘new normal’, it takes lots of time to heal. I went away and started a new life in a sense. My mom tells me she and my brother didn’t have the same luxury to get away and start over like I did. Maybe that’s partially true. But a luxury it was not. Newness abounded. I made friends, I went to classes, socialized, and joined the rowing team.  Still there was deep pain and a loneliness that, although I tried to hide, persisted.

An avid athlete in high school, I knew I wanted to join the competitive club rowing team in college. So I did, and I liked it ok. A slew of us ‘novice’ rowers (and yes, you’re actually called novices, for the entire first year in fact) would run 2 miles to and from the ‘boathouse’ which was really an out of use hockey rink, to learn to row on an erg, and eventually in a boat and we learned to row on the water.  I wouldn’t exactly say I was instantly hooked. But, soon I got to know some of my teammates, and as the numbers of girls on the team dwindled (after we learned practice would be switching to 5:30 am) I got closer to my teammates. At the same time, about 2-3 weeks into the semester, I went down the hall and talked to my RA, and told her what was going on. Lucky for me, I got a great one. She listened empathetically and supportively encouraged me to tell my coach too. I should say, I was resistant to tell anyone what I was going through because I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me or giving me special attention. I can laugh at that now, but that attitude could have closed me off if I didn’t eventually tell someone. Because I did reach out, I garnered support I needed to get through this difficult time. My coach was also incredibly supportive and took the time to tell me his personal story about losing his dad. And, I knew he’d probably understand when I wasn’t 100% there mentally, or got teary in between intervals (which I did).  It was like there were a few mentors or adults looking out for me when I really needed it. Sure, a lot of people say when you’re 18 you are an adult, but really, so much of my wisdom came from the years 18-25, a time when you’re on your own but inexperienced in many aspects of life. Unless you have very involved parents or older siblings, there’s a lot of learning by trial that goes on during that time.

Over time, I made great lifelong friends in college, and they supported me too. But having those more experienced adult figures in my life made so much difference. My varsity college coach (the next 3 years of my rowing career) was also a huge support. As were the leaders of a service trip I took my junior year.  Ted, Monet, Dave, Kevin and Trina – thank you all for being there for me, and for being a big part of my support system when I needed you most. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. In my case these individuals will be remembered for making me feel supported.

The need for a support network never goes away. Often times family can be the basis of support, but sometimes that’s not the case, because we need support in an area where they may not be well versed (ie such as in business or athletics). It’s so important to seek out not just friends, but also mentors and those who are willing and able to support us because they care and/or they’ve walked in our shoes before. I believe it’s human nature to help each other – we just don’t always know when others need us most, so speak up. Ask for help, confide in those you trust, and know that by doing so you’ll be in a better position to be your best self. And, if you can be of support to someone less experienced than you, take the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on that person’s life.

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I’m back. This time, with a recipe for my favorite homemade pizza. It is so easy. So easy, that we’ve incorporated it into our weekly dinner menus here at homepizza-dough. This is a great way to satisfy your and yours’ stomachs sans meat (a la Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman whose views I subscribe to). And that’s better for the environment of course. 

Here’s what you need: 

1/2 c warm water

1 envelope (2 1/4 t) active dry yeast

1 1/4 c water – room temperature

2 T EVOO

4 c bread flour (up to 2c whole wheat recommended. If no bread flour, don’t sweat it – regular unbleached is ok too)

1 t sugar

1 1/2 t salt

1) Fill 2-cup measuring cup with warm water and add yeast.  Let sit for 5 min. Add room temp water and EVOO. 

2) Mix flour, salt, and sugar loosely with wooden spoon in the bowl of your stand-up mixer. 

3) Add liquid ingredients and mix with paddle attachment until a cohesive ball of dough forms, then replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic ~5 min. Form dough into ball and place in a deep oiled bowl. Cover with clean dish towel. 

4) Let it rise. Should take at least an hour, but if you leave it for longer (I’ve gone up to 3-4 hours) it should be fine. 

Now you’re ready to make your ‘za!  Heat the oven to 450F. I like to divide the dough into 3 equal balls. Each will make a good sized pizza for 2-3. Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, spread it out, nice and thin. Place the rolled dough over the bottom side of a professional baking cookie sheet. Bake the dough for 4-5 minutes. 

Now for the SAUCE. This is SO easy:

 

1 28-oz can of ORGANIC crushed tomatoes (organic really makes a difference here)

2 T EVOO

3 cloves garlic

salt and pepper

 

Simply mix these together, and you’ve got your sauce. Don’t pre-cook it – the oven will do it justice.  Mmmm. Bostonians – this sauce is reminiscent of Upper Crust’s…

Assembly:

Spread the sauce liberally over the dough which you’ve removed from the oven (it will have just started to cook). You should have just enough sauce for all three pizzas (you can save the sauce and dough separately in the fridge for a day or two if you don’t want to make all 3 pizzas at once). Next, top with fresh mozzarella cheese slices, and your choice of any other toppings. My personal favorite – caramelized onions. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the pizzas in the oven for about 8-12 minutes (you have to watch – it really depends on your oven). Remove when the cheese has spread but before it browns. Wha-lah. That, my friends, is the ultimate home-made pizza.

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pollan-cover2This is overdue but none the less I wanted to share a few thoughts from the lecture I attended with a good friend, (and graduate of the Tufts Nutrition Masters program) last Tuesday. I finished Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilema several months ago now, but many of the stories and messages from within the book have stayed with me, making a notable impact on the way my family and I eat and the way I think about food. The book’s a non-fiction page-turner, reminicent in some ways of Fast Food Nation, yet more eloquently written, more fascinating and uplifting as it focused more on positive aspects of eating. 

Michael was invited by Tufts to speak on his latest book, In Defense of Food. I can’t say I’ve read it yet, but I can’t wait to. It’s next in the queue of nutrition and foodie books, right after Bitman’s new one which I’m just about finished with (by the way, Bitman’s latest is quite reminicent of Pollan’s Omnivore’s). 
Pollan spoke clearly and easily, focusing on content from his latest book, leaning more towards following what we know to be true than on recent scientific knowledge about nutrients and food of which there is little of (this seemed to perturb some of the Nutrition school’s heavyweights who were sitting beside him on stage). He acknowleged that there is so much we don’t know about food today, but we can and should abide by what we know to be true. We know plants are good for us, and that today’s mainstream western diet is not; and he implied to rely less on meats and processed foods and more on natural plant based substances. He actually focused much of the talk on processed-non-food items, which to most of the audience was probably a no-brainer, however he hit it home by talking about how the food industry is incented to continually innovate (i.e. ‘process’) new substances, and how this has been to our demise. How bizarre it is that a 3 year old Twinkee never decays, and thinking about bringing our grandmothers or great grandmothers to the grocery store and how little of the food they’d actually recognize. He touched on some other topics which I really appreciated, such as considering the 7-year rotation farming style practiced by the Argentinians, finding foods with less than 5 ingredients, and looking in stores for foods that don’t promote themselves (ie produce isn’t packaged labeled with ‘low fat’ or ‘loaded with Omega 3!). He emphasized the importance of cooking and how lately it’s become a lost art. Given my passion for this, it really resonated. I couldn’t help but think about what ways we can try to bring cooking back into our family kitchens despite being busier than ever…
In the end he came over to the overflow room where we were seated and answered questions for our smaller audience which I really appreciated. I wasn’t called on, but what I really wanted to know, was where does locavore Michael Pollan, with just one night in Boston, choose to have dinner? I guess I’ll have to try to find out another time, maybe next month when he comes to West Roxbury for a book signing.

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I can’t help but smile knowingly when in this day in age where we find ourselves in not only economic but also environmental dismay that we are reverting to the ways of old. We’ve progressed so rapidly over the past several decades, and yet now in a time economic and environmental crisis’s, we must stop to reflect and wonder how all that progress affected some of today’s troubles. Even as I listen to our new president discuss the multitude of economic challenges and all that needs to be done to reverse trends, I find myself relishing the fact that the American people are seemingly starting to act more cautiously, by starting to save once again, instead of spending on everything and anything that looks desirable in the instant. It’s unfathomable to me that for many years leading up to the current crisis, we were either close to or actually had a negative savings rate as a nation.  Maybe that’s because from an early age, the notion of saving was instilled in me. It was on my young 11th birthday that I started my first job, delivering the daily morning paper. Every Saturday dad would drive me to pick up my paycheck and then we’d head straight to the bank to deposit most or all of it – I remember the thrill of watching as the numbers increased in my little blue passport savings book. I can only conclude that we do not value saving in this American culture. That is, maybe not until now. The way we treat our environment is not all that different. Only recently has the environmental movement taken firmer hold and gone mainstream. In such, I have to wonder how can anyone with any knowledge of the waste we produce throw away another plastic bottle in their trash, when there is an opportunity to recycle it almost as easily. One small example: the average school child produces 67 pounds of waste from school lunches alone. A number of thoughtful steps can be taken to cut this waste down to at least half. Beyond this, there are a number of measures to be taken to promote environmental health which also promote individual health, such as choosing ‘clean’ non-chemical cleaning products for the home, eating less meat, and being more cognizant of our everyday household choices about using water, consolidating errand running, and using reusable canvas bags when we shop. 

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Michael Pollan speak at Tufts. One theme that emerged was how by eating real whole foods, the way nature intended, we can emerge healthier human beings. That equates to less processed food-like substances like those Go-Gurt squeezable yogurts, and more things grown in the ground and on trees. It parallels my message about the environment and our economy. It’s quite simple, actually. Let’s go back to basics. Back to learning to save for when more challenging economic times emerge. Let’s go easier on our environment, so our earth is here for us for generations to come. Instead of relying so much on plastics and gas guzzlers, how about more goods made from natural organic materials such as wood and taking out our bicycles when we’re just running out to the corner for a gallon of milk.  Let’s learn to live simply and conserve as many of our ancestors did, and appreciate that which we have instead of longing for that which has yet to be realized. Progress has brought us so far, so fast, but not without consequence. Perhaps in this time of despair we can take some time to reflect on how we got here and all make small changes, either because we are forced or are just more thoughtful, and make this a better world to live in.

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