Trying too Hard

I was doing a seated twist in yoga the other night.  I’m really not good at these.  I like the laying down twists so much better – and not just because I’m laying down (although that’s a bonus) but because gravity does so much of the work for you.  This is helpful when you have not only a terribly inflexible spine, but also boobs that have a tendency to get in the way.  Anyway, I was pushing myself into the twist, trying to keep my left hip on the ground (really, this pose is so much harder than it looks) when I heard a little voice say:

“Stop. Trying. So. Hard.”

No, it wasn’t God.  And I don’t think it was my right kidney, although it was probably screaming something similar at this point.  It was that little part of me (ok BIG part of me) that is just tired.  Tired of me pushing so hard for everything ALL THE TIME.

I read all kinds of yoga blogs where the people writing them say how they learn all kinds things about themselves during yoga or because of yoga or whatever.  I never thought I’d be one of those people.  I love yoga, I love what it does for all of me, but I’m not one of those people who has revelations during yoga either.

I wouldn’t really call this a revelation.  My body was just tired.  I’m not one of those who goes crazy pushing myself in fitness, but I had been hitting the power yoga pretty hard lately.  And I was trying really hard to keep up with the people next to me who did inversions in between vinyasas.  (Nope, I didn’t get that far.)  I had to pull back, to let my body do the work.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since.  Stop trying so hard.  Where else do I push to hard in my life?  Right.  Everywhere.  I pretty much go all or nothing on most things I do.  Sometimes this makes me really good at things – like my diet right now.  It also makes me a hard worker, a dedicated student, and a good friend.  It also means that I burn out.  Fast.

I’ve dealt with a lot of burn out in my life.  When I was in my early twenties, after working one too many 60 hour work weeks, I quit my job and moved back to Sacramento.  I was burnt out.  I was so burnt out that before I quit, I got strep throat so badly that I was out for nearly 2 weeks.  Back then I didn’t believe that my health was a reflection of what was going on in inside.

Now I know that it’s true, and as I deal with a different layer of burn out – not necessarily job related (although that’s part of it) – but health and life related I think about this a lot.  Stop trying so hard, Carmen.  Your body knows what’s best.

Try this – it’s really good with pork chops.  And while you peel the layers of artichoke you can take your mind off trying so hard.  These are pretty hard to screw up.

Sauteed Baby Artichokes with Garlic

1 lb. of baby artichokes (the fresh kind from the farmer’s market)

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 swig of olive oil

1 swig of chicken stock

Lemon (optional)


Have you ever prepared baby artichokes?  They’re really easy.  Peel off the bottom couple of layers of leaves until you get to a light green color.  Trip the bottom a bit, and chop off the top 1/2 inch or so with a sharp knife.  Cut in half.  Put cut artichoke halves in a bowl with water and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar.  This sounds labor intensive but really goes pretty fast.

Heat up a heavy bottom frying pan and add a swig of olive oil.  When the oil heats up add the garlic and pepper flake, and fry until it starts to smell good.  Add the artichoke halves and try to get them all cut side down.  Let them hang out for about 5 minutes or so, stirring a few times.  Add a swig of chicken stock (or white wine), stir a few times, and put on a lid.  Let them steam for a few minutes.  They’re ready when you can poke the bottom easily with a knife.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if you want, or a really big glass of white wine.  Or both.



Русский: Картина Николая Рериха "Агни Йог...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m having a hard time writing.

That’s part of the reason why I haven’t been here.  But it’s really not writer’s block.  I have LOTS to write about.  It’s just a matter of wanting to say it, to admit it out loud.

That’s the problem with blogs, especially personal ones.  You have to open up, to admit things, to put things down on paper (or computer) that you would otherwise not want to share.  Sure, you could avoid it, but then who would read?  Why would they read?

I just couldn’t do it.  Didn’t want to do it.

But when you’re a writer, even if pen to paper or fingers to keys never actually happens is that you always think like a writer.   Your thoughts run through your brain like words on a page.

I haven’t been writing.  I’ve been resisting.  I’m frustrated and a little angry and upset and I didn’t want to talk about it.  I’m still not sure I want to talk about it.

But, the other things about a blog is that it keeps you accountable.  For some masochistic reason I want people to know what I’m thinking.  Why?  Good question.  I’m going to tell myself that it’s because someone out there might be thinking the same thing.  But really, it’s to quell this feeling inside myself.

I’m getting over a really gnarly cold.  I’ve been down since Monday.  Had to take several days off work because I just couldn’t move.  I’m still coughing and stuffy which is just lovely (even more so when I’m off to San Francisco for a concert this evening) but feel a lot better.  I feel alive again.  What’s frustrating about this is that I was feeling pretty good.  I felt like my life was coming back.  I was going to yoga again – and power yoga at that – and it felt good.  I felt good.  This happens rarely.  And then – BAM!  I’m sick.  I still can’t go to yoga.  Hanging your head upside down in down dog is no fun when you’re stuffy.  Nor is coughing.

So I’m frustrated.  I’m pissed that even though I’ve been really good on this crazy diet I’m still not losing any weight.  I’m annoyed that the crazy skin issue that I have on my hand is back.  I’m irritated that I can’t really breathe through my nose.  And I’m really ticked off at this cold because that’s what I’m going to blame this all on.

Is it the cold’s fault?  Maybe, maybe not.  Who knows when your immune system is totally screwed up.  I am happy that it’s the first cold I’ve had all year.  This is AMAZING when you work with germy teenagers.  But really, down for a week?  A cough for going on 10 days?  Enough already.

I’m trying to think about yoga, and what it teaches us about resistance.  You can’t push too hard, you can’t force yourself into perfection.  That pose may injure you if you force yourself into, say, camel.  You have to learn to ease back, to find the spot where you’re just pushing enough to grow, but not so much to injure.

It’s hard.  Especially for a impatient perfectionist like myself.  I want it now and I want it right.

I’m trying to see the good in this journey.  As I work myself back to health I’m discovering what is good for me and what is bad.  What makes me feel healthy and alive, and what makes me feel gross and sad.  This means that I have to find resistance, I have to find that spot where I just push myself enough to grow, but not so much that I scare myself off and want to retreat to my living room and hang out with my cat and eat Paleo cookies.

It’s not easy.  But I really believe that I can do this, that I am worth it.

In the meantime, you should make these cookies.  I swear they will make you feel better:

A few recommended readings on struggle and resistance for the week:

“Why being broken on your bathroom floor is a good idea” – from elephant journal

“The Value of Struggle” – I love Rumi, it’s a flashback to grad school and this quote is why – “You must set fire to have light”  – from Michelle Marlahan’s blog “Love Wasting Time”


Eggs I

Eggs I (Photo credit: Keith Marshall)

I had no idea that when I started this process that the 30 day dietary clean up would be the easy part.  In so many ways it is easier to be more restrictive than less.  For whatever reason if you give me a relatively short period of time and tell me this is what I have to do and then it’s over, I’m fine.  I did well with that challenge.

What doesn’t work for me is the adding back in part.  I just started with eggs. I love eggs.  I’ve really missed them and they’re so easy.  Here’s how the process works — you eat the one food for three days and judge how your body is feeling.  If you feel good, the food is in.  If you feel bad, the food is out.

And then it gets confusing.  What is feeling good?  What is feeling bad?  And there are so many variables that have nothing to do with what you are eating.  So, so many.  Too many to list.  And I’m either over sensitive or under sensitive to the way my body is feeling all the time.

Yesterday I did great after my breakfast of eggs.  Today, I’m not feeling so hot.  I’m tired.  I got super sleepy around 10am today.  But was it the eggs?  I was working on a rather boring spreadsheet all morning.  It was way too warm in my office.  It’s overcast, which gives me a bit of a headache.  It’s Friday and I’m tired from the week.

My immediate response was to freak out – EGGS ARE BAD! But I think it’s worth more exploring.  Was it really the eggs?

I’m feeling a little lost right now, and luckily other bloggers are out there coping with similar feelings.  Here are two great pieces about playing the waiting game while you heal and figuring out what is truly wrong (or right!) with you.  Both include excellent recipes that I can’t wait to try once more foods are back.

From the Living Kitchen Wellness Group: What to do in the waiting?  How to relax instead of judging why aren’t getting what you want right now.

From Gluten Free Girl and the Chef:  The Light, How it Dances “The celiac had so sensitized me to food issues that it never occurred to me it could be something else.”

I judge you by what you eat

English: Paul Draper thieving wine from a barr...

In my quest to use the most random pictures ever, here is another. I just like it because this dude is so excited to drink wine. I understand, man! Image via Wikipedia

You’re probably all wondering where I’ve been.  I mean, here I was, counting down to this momentous event, and now it’s come and gone and you haven’t heard a word.  Blame it on the trials of modern technology — i.e. my slow computer and using an internet connection that is not my own and therefore I have no control over it.

I survived.  I had a few glasses of wine (Friday AND Saturday), had a rather wicked headache over the weekend (which could be from the alcohol or from me throwing my neck out, probably a bit of both) and am back at work.  I still feel pretty good (well, to be honest, I’m a little sleepy today, but that’s from not sleeping well due to screwy neck.)  Life is good.  I’ve had a few things that I couldn’t eat before (yes, I know, that isn’t how I’m supposed to be proceeding) and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.

I’ve also learned a few things and have a few pieces of advice to pass on to you if you should ever decide to embark on a similar experiment:

(1) Be very clear when you are eating somewhere else about what your limitations are.  People don’t judge you by your food choices as much as you think.  I had a lunch meeting yesterday and ordered a salad and the catering company decided that I could eat dairy and I ended up with a lot of cheese and blue cheese dressing.  I ate around it very carefully and would normally feel weird about it, but since they knew about my allergies it wasn’t an issue.  If you can’t eat gluten, say so.  If you can’t have dairy, tell them.  But keep in mind…

(2) Don’t make a big deal out of your food.  Seriously, this will be the only subject you will talk about, so try to minimize the annoyance factor and don’t FREAK OUT if something has a little dairy on it.  Remove it as best you can and don’t comment too much.  It’s very annoying to those around you, and potentially yourself.

But also…

(3) Everyone and their mother (especially their mother) is going to comment on your food.  Seriously.  Everyone wants to know what you’re eating and then when you tell them they’ll say “Oh!  That looks good!” in that tone that implies that they are shocked that something can be delicious and good for you at the same time.  This will happen all the time.  You will be very grateful for your quiet meals at home without commentary.

My favorite story about this was the other day at work.  I eat some weird stuff for breakfast (as you know) and was enjoying my meat and squash when one of my students came into my office.  She says whatever she’s thinking and it usually isn’t socially acceptable.  “What’s that SMELL?” is what she said, and when I replied that it was my breakfast she said, “That sure doesn’t smell like breakfast!”  Yes, you are right.  But I swear it’s just food.  (My boss thought this was hilarious.  It was probably what he’d been thinking for weeks.)

I’m usually rather food judgey – but that’s mostly because I love food porn.  Yes, I judge you a little by what you eat (sorry) but that’s only if you’re eating all fast food or something.  Mostly I’m jealous.  But it’s amazing to me how many people feel it’s appropriate to comment on what I’m eating.  And actually, I think it’s a little sad.  Does that mean that we’re so used to “convenience” food for lunch that a real meal is that surprising to us?

So I guess the moral of this story is that you need to expect others to judge you by what you eat but no more than what you usually judge them.  Or, you can just stay at home all the time and not eat anywhere in public and then you’ll not only avoid accidental gluten/dairy/soy/high fructose corn syrup poisoning but also other people all together.

Clearly I’m still working a few things out.

The 15 Grossest Things You’re Eating | Rodale News

The 15 Grossest Things You’re Eating | Rodale News.

One of the best things I’ve done on this diet is give up processed food.  Even if you can’t do it all the way, please eat organically and pay attention to what you’re eating.  There are lots of reasons to give it up, and if you don’t believe me, please read this article from Rodale News.  Beaver anal gland juice, anyone?

Pork Chops with Apples and Brussels Sprouts

Finally – I am going to write about FOOD!  Yes, very exciting stuff!  I’m sorry I don’t have a picture.  Believe me, it looked and tasted delicious.

A few months ago I won a contest through Zester Daily (a great website for foodies – I highly recommend it!) and received a signed copy of Joe Yonan’s Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One.  I love this cookbook.  There are so many creative recipes for cooking for one (or two) without creating a lot of waste.  In the days when I shunned leftovers, this was great!  Now, I need to learn how to stretch them into two or three servings so I can eat them for lunches or breakfast.  But on weekends, these recipes are PERFECT, especially some of the more decadent ones!

I was feeling a little sorry for myself last night and needed a delicious dinner to lift my spirits.  (Yes, my spirits are lifted with food sometimes.)  I had all the makings for a great dinner in my fridge, and with a few minor tweaks, made this recipe work for my diet.  Yonan used a shallot, I didn’t have one so used a half of a yellow onion, I upped the brussels sprouts, used pre-grated ginger (so sue me, it’s the only thing I really get lazy about though), and replaced the mirin and rice vinegar with apple cider vinegar.

If you often eat on your own and hate leftovers, I highly recommend you pick up this book.  I will say this though — I’m not sure what Yonan has against veggies, but I generally double (or triple) all veggies included in his recipes.

Pork Chops with Apples and Brussels Sprouts

slightly adapted from Joe Yonan


1 bone-in pork chop, about 1/2 to 1 inch thick

s& p

1/2 apple (the tarter the better – but I used a Pink Lady with great results)

1 cup or so brussels sprouts

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if you don’t cook in your olive oil I would use grapeseed)

1 shallot lobe, finely sliced (I used 1/2 of a yellow onion)

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

2-3 tbsps apple cider vinegar


Pat dry the chop and season both sides with salt and pepper.  Cut the apple in half, core, and slice as thinly as possible.  Cut off the brown bottoms of the sprouts, remove the tough outer leaves (if you want) and quarter (Yonan slices his thinly.  I’m lazy).

Pour the oil in a large, cold cast-iron skillet (or something that you use for these purposes), press the pork chop into the cold pan, and turn the heat to medium high.  When you hear it start to sizzle (a minute or two), scatter the onion around  (watch the onion – mine started to burn.  You might need a bit more oil).  Stir the onion on occasion but don’t touch the chop!  Turn over the chop after about 2-3 minutes, it should be lightly browned.  Add the apples and brussels sprouts to the pan, season with salt and pepper.  Let them hang out for a minute or two, then add the ginger and vinegar.  Stir the veggies well.  Turn the heat down to med-low, cover the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the chop is done (test with a meat thermometer – it should read 140).  My veggies needed a few more minutes, so I took the chop out to rest, cooked the veggies for a minute or two more, then topped the chop with them.

It was delicious!

Diets, rules, and other things that drive me crazy

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy.

Image via Wikipedia

In my search for new and interesting things to eat, I am looking at more and more Paleo and Primal food blogs, posts on Pinterest, etc. to find ideas.  I’ve learned about GAPS and there was another one but I don’t remember the name.

I’m having a flashback to 7 years ago or so when my mom and I went low-carb.  Yes, I’m going to say it.  This all sounds remarkably like Atkins.

Now, before you Paleo people get all primal on me, hear me out.  Your diet consists largely of non-starchy veggies, meat, and fat.  I just pinned a sandwich that was guacamole between two pieces of bacon for Pete’s sake.  (And if you’re wondering, yes, I will make it, and yes, I will report back.)

Last night I spent at least two hours reading about how to go primal and paleo and GAPS, etc.  It kind of made my head hurt.  There are just so many RULES.  For those of you who know me well you know that the thing I hate most in this world (other than pigeons) are rules.  Not laws or things like that, but someone saying “you can eat this, you can eat that” etc.  This is probably why it took me at least a year to finally come to terms with the fact that gluten makes me sick.  This is why any old diet will not work for me.  I march to the beat of my own drummer.  Or my own fork.

I decided today that I will continue to read the food blogs because they have really great ideas.  But the “how to start eating Paleo” links are going to stop.  After a week of thinking about it, I’m not convinced I need to go strictly Paleo.  I might cry if I never see sushi or pasta (even if it’s made with rice pasta) again.  I can be done with the corn, but rice?  Please, please let me keep my rice, even if its only once in awhile.  And every once in a while, I think I should be able to eat a piece of chocolate, damn it.  And you want to know why?  Because it’s really f&*%$ing good with red wine.  And a good bourbon.  (Yes, yes, I know, GLUTEN.)

Because the truth of it is that I love food.  All kinds of foods.  And I think there are ways to incorporate lots of different foods without labeling anything as “bad”.  Do I operate better on a high protein/low carb/no processed food diet?  Of course, and I will continue to eat that way 99% of the time.  But I’m not going to let someone label me based on what I eat.  And I’m sure as hell not going to be one of those people who annoy servers at restaurants.  I’m bad enough with my no gluten/dairy issues.

And you want to know what else?  I’m freaking cooking with my olive oil.  I’m Italian. My grandmother will roll over in her grave if she ever heard that I wouldn’t cook with olive oil.

I’m going to go eat a kiwi fruit now and pretend that it’s a piece of dark chocolate.  Maybe chocolate will be my second thing added back in my diet before eggs (in case you were wondering, wine is first.)