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The One Where I’m a Yogi

9 May

So after my big “decision” to become more food-oriented on this blog, I have not made mention of any of my recent workout habits. Oddly enough, right around the time I decide to talk more about food, my exercise habits changed pretty dramatically. Here’s what a typical week used to look like:

Monday – Body Pump after work

Tuesday – Spin or boot camp class after work

Wednesday – See Monday

Thursday – See Tuesday

Friday – Rest

Saturday/Sunday – potential treadmill or HIIT workout at the gym in Stefano’s apartment.

When I decided to commit to Chobani’s 10 for 10 goals back in March, my first goal was to attend yoga more regularly and get on my yoga mat at least twice a week.

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Well, once I got into it I was addicted. I loved the feeling of being relaxed yet energized and even when I would go into class feeling sluggish and unmotivated I always left feeling challenged and refreshed. In short, it was everything a good workout is supposed to be. The problem? I felt guilty because I didn’t consider yoga a real “workout”. Sure it was beneficial to my body and made me feel great, but up until then it was not a workout if I didn’t get my sweat on.

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After a few weeks of grudgingly dragging myself to the treadmill or to classes I wasn’t excited about, I said “screw it”. I was getting so much more out of yoga than I was when I exercised and wasn’t looking forward to it. It was kind of like blogging: once it starts to feel like a chore, you shouldn’t do it anymore. So I ditched the spin and boot camp and now my weeks look something like this:

Monday – Evening yoga, Pilates, walk home (about 2.5 miles)

Tuesday – AM walk to gym, AM yoga, PM yoga, walk home

Wednesday – Walk to work, PM yoga, Zumba, walk home

Thursday – AM walk to gym, AM yoga, PM yoga, walk home

Friday – Rest

Saturday/Sunday – 5k on treadmill in Stefano’s gym

I started supplementing yoga with a brisk walk to and from work and home, which is about 5 miles round-trip. It adds a nice bit of cardio to my day, but it’s productive and I’d rather do an hour walk while on the phone with my mom than crank out a half hour of jogging on the treadmill. Overall, it’s many more hours of exercise, but it’s all fairly low impact and I am noticing how much better my body feels. Before, my body would feel simply exhausted by the end of the week and I felt as if I wasn’t giving it rest. Now, even though I’m moving around for about 3.5-4 hours a day, I feel rejuvenated in the mornings and there aren’t any aches and pains in my joints and muscles.

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Is it a bigger time commitment? Yes, but I am enjoying how I am passing my time and I am beyond thrilled with how my yoga practice is progressing. In the past two months I have been able to stay in poses that I struggled with for ages (parsva bakasana, eka pada galavasana) and I can tell that my practice is expanding by leaps and bounds. I look forward to getting on my mat and I always leave feeling like it was an hour well spent.

I’ve also been enjoying the various outdoor yoga events on the National Mall. Lululemon and Down Dog Yoga hosted one a couple of weeks ago for the 5th anniversary of Down Dog Yoga studio and this past weekend was a 2-hour event at the Constitution Gardens to culminate the end of DC Yoga week.

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Am I burning as many calories as I used to? No. But I am getting stronger (your own body weight is an amazing strength training mechanism) and I haven’t gained any weight, so I am going to stick with it until it no longer appeals to me.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best exercise is the one you can maintain. On days that I get a craving for a run, I get on the treadmill or run outside. Feeling some weights? I’ll head to Body Pump. I love having options and it is freeing to know that I haven’t pigeon-holed myself into a prescribed or acceptable workout routine. I encourage you all to do the same.

For now, I am embracing my inner yogi and loving every moment of it.

Namaste!

Passport DC

7 May

Hey all! Sorry for falling off the radar the past couple of days – I have been so busy living life that I haven’t had time to document it! I think that’s the best way to do it. I did get up to some pretty great things this weekend, the highlight being Passport DC’s Embassy Tours. The embassies of over 40 countries opened their doors to the general public and I spent most of Saturday going on my very own world tour without even leaving the city! It was very cultural, very informative, very D.C. 

My roommate and I started out pretty early in the morning and spent almost the full six hours (it was from 10 AM – 4 PM) touring various embassies around the city. By the end of the day we were totally wiped! We came home with quite a haul, though – a straw fan from Nicaragua, a guide book from Kazakhstan, an apron and some wooden spoons from Mexico, and Nando’s Peri Peri sauce from South Africa! Having no idea that we were going to be given free stuff, we ended up lugging a lot of stuff around from embassy to embassy which made us look pretty put together, I’m sure.

Some highlights from the embassy tours:

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The beautiful Embassy of Mexico – each state was represented in tile mosaic along the ceiling.

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A carnival costume from Trinidad & Tobago – this thing was MASSIVE!

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The most charismatic woman I’ve ever met! Her name is Tebelelo Seretse and she is the ambassador to the US from Botswana. After a wonderful speech about what makes her country a great place to live (and visit), I went to thank her and shake her hand. In reply she said, “I do huggies” and gave me a massive hug. She just exuded joy and listening to her talk put the biggest smile on my face.

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Traditional Botswanan food – I tried a mopane worm (top right)! Apparently it’s hugely nutritious (full of protein) and a delicious among African bushmen. It was sort of chewy and crunchy, but I’ve tried worse 😉

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I was reunited with my beloved guava juice when we reached the Embassy of South Africa. If there is anywhere to buy fresh guavas in the United States, please let me know! I always eat a kilo of them as soon as I go back to Egypt.

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Stopped by the Embassy of Ghana to say hi – Stefano spent a summer there and really enjoyed the people and culture.

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Taking a much needed trip to visit my people. I’m a dual-citizen, but this was my first time in the Egyptian embassy!

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One of my food purchases was roz bil laban, Egyptian rice pudding. It tasted almost exactly like what my grandma makes. I will have to find a way to replicate it and post the recipe on the blog! This milk-based, creamy dessert is best when topped with cinnamon, raisins, and a healthy sprinkle of shredded coconut.

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Egypt being very stereotypically Egyptian. One of the activities was teaching kids how to write their names in hieroglyphics.

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An absolutely MONSTROUS woven rug that was hanging on the wall in the embassy – it must have been at least 25 feet tall! It shows all of the major cities in Egypt – I’m from Alexandria, the city at the very tippy top that’s right along the Mediterranean Sea.

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This was a painted rickshaw on display at the Embassy of Pakistan. I know the history between Pakistan and India, but it’s amazing how much of an Indian feel goes along with Pakistani music and food. I loved all the bright colors and the message on this display 🙂

There were several other embassies, but we only made it to about half before we ran out of time! Next May, I want to make sure and visit all the countries we missed this time around. I’m really looking forward to next weekend when the EU Open House occurs and all the European embassies are open to visit. I’ve been to the French embassy before, but I’d love to visit Italy’s!

The Passport DC event was really one of those times where I gave thanks for the city I live in. Free cultural events happen all the time and for a jet-setter like me who is not doing any traveling anytime soon (this will be my first summer since high school that I won’t be traveling abroad), it is nice to ease my wanderlust a bit by having these activities available. Thank you, DC!

Food For Thought: Have you ever been to any of these countries? What’s the strangest food you’ve ever tried?

Maximizing My Life with Jillian Michaels

25 Apr

If you follow any other DC-area bloggers, I apologize ahead of time because I’m betting you’re going to be overloaded with posts about Jillian Michaels’ ‘Maximize Your Life’ show from last night. I have only seen a couple of episodes of the Biggest Loser and I don’t own any of Jillian’s DVDs, so basically I’m the worst possible person to have gone to this show. Howwwwwever, my awesome friend Allison had an extra ticket and I had nothing else to do last night so we decided to go together.

No day is complete in Sara’s world without a ‘facepalm’ moment and mine yesterday was managing to lose the key to my lock at the gym. Guess who had to have her lock clipped and was subsequently late to her rooftop yoga session at the gym? Yup, I make myself proud. Luckily the people at my gym are rad and it was no biggie. After an awesome, arm balanced-filled yoga session on the rooftop (the weather was perfect and I started to get flying crow for the first time!), Allison and I walked over to Warner Theatre to maximize our lives.

IMG_2459[1]There were lots of different backgrounds of people there: thin people, overweight people, old people, kids – she really drew a wide audience. We got to see Melissa and Laney before the show started, too!

IMG_2463[1]Side note: the Warner Theatre has a grilled cheese bar. You choose between different kinds of cheeses and they grill the sandwiches for you. It was not lost on me that people were eating grilled cheese and drinking alcoholic beverages while seeing a show that was focused on losing weight.

IMG_2460[1]The Warner Theatre is a beautiful venue and I would definitely like to go there for a show soon – they had a good lineup of acts in the next couple of months so hopefully I’ll make it out there again soon!

IMG_2467[1]And then it was time for the show! Guys. Jillian Michaels is hilarious. Honestly, the best part about the show for me were all the entertaining, off the cuff comments she would make about the information she was presenting. She swears at the drop of the hat and gave the FDA “the finger” when she was describing the 56 different names that they came up with for sugar. I like her.

IMG_2468[1]Yes, I took notes at a Jillian Michaels show – I am a nerd. These were some of the key points I took away from her show.

  • Eat less, move more (can you believe that shit?): What was so great about this is that she prefaced this statement by saying, “I’m about to give you the Holy Grail of losing weight” and then followed it up by saying, “Can you believe that shit? It’s so simple, but I have made so much godda** money off of these two sentences.” And she’s right. The basic principle is SO simple. But she then went on to say that it was a challenge for myriad reasons and the second half of her show was about getting the motivation and support to make a big change in your life.
  • Turn on your bullshit meter: She used the example of ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ spray, which says that each serving has 0 calories. Yet, when she called the company up after looking at the ingredients (which includes sweet cream buttermilk), they told her that each container contained 1,200 calories. The reason they were able to get away with calling it zero calorie was because each serving (1.25 “sprays” – WTF?) was .9 calories. Since it’s technically under 1 calorie, they can legally get away with calling it ‘zero calorie’. As Jillian would say, “bastards” (I told you she swears a lot).
  • When the better choice is there for you, take it: This is where she gets realistic. She knows that you can’t eat organic and clean all the time, but make the healthiest choices possible in your situation. If there’s a salad and fruit available at the roadside restaurant where you stopped on your road trip, choose those instead of fries or onion rings. You don’t have to act like it’s the end of the world if you can’t get your 100% clean food, but make better choices when they’re available to you.
  • If you want to be a vegan, go with God – but this bi*** wants a hamburger: She has a much more entertaining way of explaining all these things that most people already know. She doesn’t condone eliminating entire food groups or macronnutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) and believes in moderation. However, she also acknowledges that each person is different and what works for some people may not work for others. This is my home run motto because in all aspects of life, I believe that one thing may not work for everyone but everyone can find something that works for them. Be it your eating habits or exercise choices, it’s all just a matter of getting out there and finding what works for you.

The majority of the “information” section of the show were things Allison and I know like the backs of our hands (Basal Metabolic Rate, looking at nutrition labels, the Dirty Dozen, etc.), but Jillian presents it in a way that’s relatable and entertaining (I guess that’s why they pay her the big bucks).

I am interested in reading about other attendees’ experiences, especially if they are more familiar with Jillian Michaels and her workout DVDs. If you have written about your experience, let me know so I can add your link to this post!

Allison and I ended up leaving at intermission because it was almost 9:30 and we both had early wake-up calls and we’re grandmas.

IMG_2465[1]Since we could walk part of the way together before splitting off to go our own separate ways, we had a good half hour or so to chitchat about the show and life in general on our way home. I told her about blackberry bushes and how shocked I was that people pay money for blackberries in the grocery store (they grow like weeds, literally, in Seattle) and she told me about cranberry bogs, which are all over the place in Massachusetts. I honestly had never heard of them before and I always wondered why Ocean Spray commercials showed people standing thigh deep in a pond full of cranberries. You learn something new every day!

It was great to see her before she leaves on her big vacation to Miami, especially since our weekly lunch date didn’t happen this week. That girl is seriously wonderful. One of my very favorite things about blogging are the connections I have made with people online that have turned into friendships – the HLB community is the best.

Food for Thought: Do you watch the Biggest Loser or own any of Jillian Michaels’ DVDs? Are you Team Jillian or Team Bob?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burrata Caprese and Why Spooning is Better

22 Apr

Long-time readers of my blog will be very aware of my publicly declared love for burrata. So you can imagine my excitement when Stefano and I found a big ol’ tub of it at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market the other weekend.

IMG_2425[1]$13 later (worth it!) and I couldn’t wait to get home to eat it all up. Also in my possession was an $11.50 wedge of cheese and a salmon empanada. My eyes are a little bigger than my stomach.

Stef, for all my rants and raves, has yet to experience real burrata. Most of the stuff we have encountered thus far has been fresh mozzarella stuffed with ricotta cheese. While delicious, this is not the stuff of legends. The truly mind-blowing burrata experience is when the mozzarella has been made within the past couple of days and is stuffed with the leftover shreds of mozzarella and fresh cream. You can die happy now.

When he asked me how we should eat it, I had fully intended on just digging in with a spoon until I had reached dairy Shangri La. The skeptical look on his face told me that there was no way in cream-filled hell that  I was going to get away with that. So I did the next best thing and made a caprese salad with it.

IMG_2435[1]I knew as soon as I cut into the cheese that it was going to be a rather messy affair, but we managed quite nicely. On a bed of sliced tomatoes and topped with fresh basil, a drizzle of EVOO, and salt and pepper, this was the least adulterated burrata that Stef would allow.

IMG_2436[1]Hello, creamy delicousness. This is the best burrata that I’ve been able to find in the DMV area – it comes from the Blue Ridge Dairy Co. in Leesburg, Virginia and I knew it was going to be good when they had fresh buffalo mozzarella and smoked mozzarella, too. While buffalo mozz is still number one in Stefano’s heart, I am so happy that I have a chance to indulge in the buttery creaminess that is fresh burrata without having to fly back to Rome – even if I have to spend nearly $15 to get it!

The verdict on the caprese? Still delicious (and the EVOO and S + P are a must), but I maintain that the best and only way to eat burrata is with a spoon and a smile. Because spooning is always better.

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Around the World in an Evening

25 Mar

Wow, thank you all for leaving such kind and insightful comments on my last post. Feeling frustrated or lost seems to be pretty common among bloggers at one point or another. At the end of the day, nobody is making us post each day and if it starts to feel like a chore, then that really defeats the purpose of blogging. I really appreciate all the wonderful feedback from people – much love to all of you!

As you may well remember from that post, I revealed that my true passion lies in food, especially through the context of travel and education. I was bit by the travel bug at a very young age (my first international trip was before I was a year old!) and the sickness has continued, virtually unabated, for the past 23 years.

Well, less than two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel around the world without even leaving my own city! Thanks to DC Cultural Tourism, Stefano and I were invited to the Embassy Chef Challenge and the International Trade Center, where we ate, drank, and were merry for the whole evening (aside from when my heels were killing me – I am a flats girl, though and through).

When we first arrived, we were seriously impressed with the simple elegance of the building.

IMG_2194[1]The space was large and open, with the different countries and their cooking areas along the side, a bar on the middle of the room, and plenty of space to walk around.

So excited to get our food on!

So excited to get our food on!

Because there clearly wasn’t enough food, they had tons of servers walking around with passed hors d’oeuvres and cruditees.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200I have to say, every single time they were offered to me, I took one. When in Rome, no?

We finally decided to make the rounds and visited each of the participating countries:

• China
• El Salvador
• Jamaica
• Korea
• New Zealand
• Norway
• Russia
• South Africa
• Trinidad & Tobago

We started with Russia, which turned out to have my favorite dish of the night.

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VLUU L200  / Samsung L200I love, love, love duck, so this was right up my alley. It was a creamy stew in a light pastry tartlet and had plenty of fresh duck pieces in each bite. Stick to your ribs and hearty – just my style.

Next up was New Zealand, which was my runner-up and Stef’s favorite: lamb.

IMG_2196[1]Lamb all the way from New Zealand? Sign me up.

IMG_2197[1]The powdery white stuff you see in the spoon is not cheese (like I first thought), but is actually dehydrated olive oil. When you placed it into your mouth, it re-constituted itself and became oily again – crazy!!! This Modernist Cuisine-esque food just blows my mind. The lamb was tender and I loved the relish made from fresh kiwi.

IMG_2195[1]There was quite a line and I ate mine too fast to snag a close-up picture, but the potato and leek soup from Norway was so scrumptious! I loved the pieces of Norwegian cod that added some bulk to the soup without making it heavy. Chef Simon was the youngest of the competitors – only 19 years old!

norwayBy the time we arrived that the Chinese representation, we were beginning to feel the effects of the hors d’oeuvres and first few appetizers. But anyone who knows us is aware that we are capable of putting away an impressive amount of food, so we dug in (in all senses of the word!).

IMG_2198[1]The Chinese plate was a combination of several smaller bites which included barbecue chicken and sauteed prawns.

Plated right before us

Plated right before us

A little bit of everything

A little bit of everything

Note the fork. I am an amateur and cannot eat with chopsticks to save my life – especially not while standing and walking around!

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One of my favorite dishes was that of El Salvador, which consisted of a bright, fresh ceviche of sea bass with mango and coconut.

IMG_2204[1]After lots of heavy, creamy foods, it was refreshing to get a light, citrus-y appetizer. The mango paired so well with the sea bass and a nice dose of citrus really brightened up the dish. I could have eaten the whole bowl with a spoon!

IMG_2205[1]As we walked on, the flavors were getting progressively more tropical. Next up: Jamaican jerk chicken. Sign. Me. Up. I declared my love for Jamaican food on this blog way back in July and I was excited for another chance to try these delicious island flavors.

IMG_2206[1]The chicken kabob was flavorful, with a nice kick of spice to it. I could have done without the accompanying salad which was plain and did nothing to enhance the plate. IMG_2213[1]More chicken!

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While the Korean plate wasn’t my very favorite, the chef’s assistant was my favorite person.

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She was so bright and bubbly, answering all the questions that came at her and telling us about how the Dangun legend roll got its name.

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The roll was very complex – it included kimchi and was pan seared for a nice crisp.

IMG_2212[1]It was back to tropical with Trinidad and Tobago serving corvine (a type of fish) in coconut curry nage with congo pepper.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200South Africa threw us off because they began with a starter dish when we first arrived and when we looked again, they were plating something entirely different! We had our hands full with the second round, but here’s a peek at the appetizer.

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Their main dish was a traditional South African favorite called chakalaka, which can be made mild or spicy. The one we tried definitely had a kick to it! It has lots of peppers, onions, beans, spices, and chilis and can be used as a side dish or a sauce.

As the judges were deliberating and the guests were digesting, Top Chef Carla Hall entertained us all by turning into an auctioneer and putting some great auction items up for grabs. Among them were a beautiful Persian carpet and a first-class trip to Abu Dhabi. Stefano and I made sure to keep our hands well below eye level, lest they mistake our gestures as an okay to take our money.

IMG_2220[1]Mayor Vincent Gray also popped down to talk about Washington and how fabulous it is. Stef and I joked, saying that you know you’re at the event of the evening when the mayor stops by to work the crowd.

IMG_2215[1]In the midst of all these shenanigans, desserts were being passed around – lest any of the guests starve after three hours of straight noshing. You know I ate every single one I could get my hands on. Among the selection were red velvet mini cupcakes, peanut butter brownies, and a divine chocolate cupcake with walnuts and lots of buttercream frosting. My favorite, however, was this adorable grasshopper cake-pop.

IMG_2224[1]Remember the frozen push-pops you ate as a kid? This worked the same way: push up from the bottom and nosh on delicious layers of mint and chocolate mousse. So decadent, yet light at the same time. This is why people pay the big bucks to go to events like these.

In the end, the votes were tallied and the judges had made their decision. The winner was…

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200New Zealand! Clearly Stefano has winning taste and voted for the eventual champion (my pick was Russia). We did agree that New Zealand gave itself a bit of an unfair advantage – who can say no to a succulent lamb chop?

The chef collected his award and invited us all to continue to eat. At that point, I wish I could have, but my stomach was physically in pain from the amount of food I had crammed into it. We said ‘uncle’ and decided to call it a night, but not before I said hi to this splendid lady!

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200Major fan-girl moment. It actually took a lot of effort for me to go up and talk to her – I was so nervous to approach her! I don’t know that I have ever actually met anyone from TV before, so I had to say that I was a bit star-struck. Stefano convinced me to go say hi so he could take a picture of me for the blog (he’s learning!). She was very friendly and just seemed genuinely nice and laid back. Carla Hall totally has a new fan in this girl.

Despite the pain in my stomach and my aching feet (stilettos are NOT the way to go on a cement floor), we left incredibly satiated and so happy to have experienced such a wonderful event. It was one of those nights that reminded me how lucky I am to live in a city that has all these international cultural events and that I can tame my travel bug (a little!) by doing a happy hour at the French embassy or taking tango lessons at the Argentinian embassy. I promised myself that I would get out there and explore all that the international community in DC has to offer.

Thanks again to DC Cultural Tourism for the wonderful opportunity – promise me you’ll let me come next year!

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