Finding exercise that fits

Woman exercising with ballMy partner is a massage therapist; he often hears clients lament about how they need to exercise but encounter so many barriers (internal and external). Tom likes to ask them if they know what the best kind of exercise is. This usually puzzles them — until Tom suggests that “the best kind of exercise is the kind you enjoy doing.”

I’m always appalled when someone mentions that they’ve finally started doing some sort of exercise and are really enjoying it and the immediate reaction they get from a friend is how some other exercise (usually the friend’s favorite exercise) would really be much better for them.

No, actually, it probably wouldn’t.

Even if that “other” exercise is easier on the knees, or better for flexibility, or a more efficient aerobic workout, or less expensive in terms of club or class fees. Because if the person doesn’t enjoy that class, or that club, or that video, doesn’t like it, and stops — then they aren’t exercising at all.

Exercise, when done in a class setting, is as much about relating to the teacher and the people around you as it is to the exercise you’re doing. In a room where you trust the teacher and enjoy your classmates, you’re going to use common sense and modify to prevent injury or re-injury. You’re going to be willing to try new challenges. You’ll have time to listen to your body because you aren’t wasting energy wondering if someone thinks you’re too fat, too old, too clumsy or — you get the idea.

The two fitness instructors I most enjoy working with are in Naples, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Since I’m in Seattle, Washington, this presents a challenge. At the moment, I’m addressing it using Skype for two classes a week.

Inspiration from yoga students

Meanwhile, I’m inspired by the stories of a number of people who have found, or created, yoga experiences that work for them. It takes persistence.

Note: While researching this post I came across several online articles and blog posts about why older and non-skinny women can and should do yoga but even the one that purported to be written by a 51-year-old yoga instructor was illustrated by a stock photo of size 2, heavily made-up, professional model. Really!

Notes on Zumba

I’m spoiled. When I’m in Florida, I do Zumba with Casta Melendez at the East Naples Community Center.

Casta turned me on to the music of Latin pop star Romeo Santos for Zumba. This week I tried out a Zumba class in Seattle (CompFit studio in Wallingford) with Eliana Coyle. After the class, I asked Eliana if she did any choreography to Santos’ music. She plugged my iPhone into the sound system and we danced to “La Diabla.”

Here’s a Zumba class (no idea where) doing a fairly low-key version of “La Diabla.”

Here’s Casta leading a Zumba dance to music called bachata. You can see her ballroom dance background.

Here’s a great video by a Seattle podiatrist on shoes for Zumba. I’ve been using flexible swing dance shoes and having all the foot problems he describes. As he recommends, I’m going to get some stable cross training shoes with a suede half-sole added by the shoemaker on the front part of the shoe.


Summer food ideas with a bit of a twist

A quick list of summer food ideas with a bit of a twist:

1. Grilled pita breads stuffed with spiced ground lamb

The idea is that the lamb fat soaks through the pita bread, which then crisps on the grill I’ve seen references to this dish twice in as many days, but in print (Bon Appetit, and the Wall Street Journal’s restaurant section), not online. It inspired me — but first I’m making the lamb shish kebab in Rachel Hogrogian’s Armenian cookbook.

2. Gazpacho in aspic

gazpachoMy foodie friend Diana Herbst told me she’d been at a party where someone brought a gelled, molded gazpacho. I use the Elena’s Mexican cookbook recipe, so I’d adapt that recipe to a gelatin recipe from

3. Natural ambrosia

I know someone who calls her ambrosia (made with strawberry Jello powder, cottage cheese, canned fruit cocktail, mini-marshmallows, and Cool-Whip) “pink shit.” And with good reason, when you look at all the sugar and corn syrup involved.

I decided to see if I could do a more natural version. It starts with lots of fresh strawberries (raspberries, blueberries, pears, peaches, and grapes would also be good). Whip 1 cup of cream with 1 small package of plain gelatin (softened) then add 16 ounces of small-curd cottage cheese and two tablespoons of sugar. Add the fruit and two cups of mini-marshmallows (which DO have corn syrup). I put in a few drops of a natural red food coloring that I use to make frosting. It was pretty wonderful — though probably not as much of a rush as the genuine stuff.

Another natural approach, complete with homemade marshmallows, comes from Alton Brown.

The four warning signs of faux-fancy cuisine

Traveled to a big tourist city last week. After three days of ghastly airline, airport, and convention center food, I splurged on a fancy hotel restaurant that billed its cuisine as “local” (or at least, “regional”).

What a hideous and expensive mistake.

There are more and more of these tourist-targetting restaurants that serve faux-fancy cuisine. Some executive chef comes in and designs a menu, then leaves. A team of low-end cooks slavishly follow the assembly directions, with no modifications based on the quality of the actual ingredients.

I don’t know what was worse that night — the horribly, flabby, thawed shrimp passed off as local or the beautiful fresh scallops tainted with painted-on high-sodium artificial smoke before being seared in a pan of questionable grease.

Avoid these places like the plague.

The watermelon dish

The watermelon dish

Your first clue is the menu: Each dish has three ingredients that, in juxtaposition, raise the eyebrows rather than whet the palate. Watermelon chunks topped with large balls of goat cheese with a side of onions and orchids, anyone?

The second clue is the dinnerware: Gigantic white plates in weird shapes — rectangular, triangular, trapezoidal. Give me a break.

Sauce overkill

Sauce overkill

The third clue is the sauces: Salty, fatty and so highly flavored with hot pepper, mustard, or spices that they obliterate any flavor that the main dish might ever have had.

Finally, the damning fourth clue: A gluey version of balsamic vinegar zig-zagged artistically over your food and the trapezoidal plate. For dessert, it’s raspberry-balsamic glue for the zig-zag.

The scallop travesty (note balsamic zigzag)

The scallop travesty (note balsamic zigzag)

I wanted to cry — particularly for what must have been delightful scallops before they were poisoned with artificial smoke flavoring.

The next day I set out on the road and found myself in a small rural community. At 12:30 p.m. the downtown burger pub was filled with people drinking like fish (cocktails AND mugs of beer?). I got the basic lunch — a hamburger that could have fed three people, a mountain of fries, and a 24-oz. plastic glass of ice-cold Coca-Cola.

I ate the beef patty (quite good) and the tomato slice (fresh, and local) and had a few sips of Coke. You know what? It was about 10 times better than the previous night’s dinner. And so was the service.

Yoga, flexibility, strength, and endurance

yoga matsLast August my Skype yoga classes went on hiatus for six months while our teacher, Susan Powter, embarked on a traveling and cooking project.

I’ve spent the past half year doing various Vinyasa routines on my own. For whatever reason, I simply could not do 1-hour sessions, and ended up doing 45-minute workouts. I’ve been sick for the past two months with things including a fairly severe sinus infection, followed by a painful bladder infection. So things just haven’t been good.

Susan’s back to teaching (yay!) and today I got to take a 75-minute class and assess what I maintained and what I lost doing a self-directed practice.

Flexibility — To my surprise, I can do most of my poses just as well as I could when doing three 1-hour classes a week last summer.

Strength — To the degree that strength supports balance, I’m still doing fairly well.

Endurance — Here’s where I completely lost it. Moving rapidly from pose to pose is a key element in Vinyasa yoga, and as soon as I had to spend a lot of time in plank, down dog, and other inverted poses in which arms provide support, I was in huge trouble.

Lest anyone think my workout today was torture, I want to assure you that Susan, who works with many students who haven’t exercised in years, urges you to modify whenever a pose is overwhelming. I was able to move at a quick pace through the sequences — it was holding difficult poses for any length of time that got me.

Susan has asked me to keep notes to see how long it will take me to regain my strength.

Meanwhile: Hot bath, then dinner. I will certainly sleep tonight.

When it comes to Naot, think Vinyard

Naot sandal

Naot Reserve

Naot shoes are unique in their ability to combine comfort and European-style fashion. This year their Vinyard collection sandals, with a mid-to-low heel, are hot. The Cabernet has the gladiator look; the Chianti a very classic style that would work beautifully for dressy  occasions. The Muscat has a rather aggressive fashion look, and the Reserve is perfect for an office sandal. I just got the Reserve from Online Shoes, and am wild over it — the front band (as well as the strap) adjusts (via hidden velcro) making it perfect for my wide-in-front feet.

Look to Naot’s Impulse collection for dressier black wedge sandals. The Deluxe,  with lacy cut-out leather, comes in metallic black (as well as in some astonishing colors). It has a deluxe price of $190. The less-expensive Gallus is sturdier and has a tiny elastic inset in the back strap.

Be aware that to get traditional Naot support and comfort, you need to stick with collections that have sturdy soles. I tried the Cheer from the Avante-Garde collection (with a thin footbed) and it was just as painful and miserable to wear as most high-heel sandals from other brands.

Dyed-to-match cashmere sweaters…get ready for Advanced Style

The blog has always cheered me up and inspired me. Now these women come alive in a new documentary: