Cooking Class Cop-out

The last item on my action plan was to attend 2 cooking classes that would help get more vegetables in our diet. All the classes I could find this time of year centered around holiday feasts so I decided to find some vegetarian YouTube chefs that could help me accomplish the same goal. A happy coincidence is that my favorite chefs have smoothie videos for me to feature!

FullyRawKristina

Kristina is funny, engaging, and I like her style. She has a full backlog of videos for me to peruse that cover diet, exercise, and other interesting topics. The videos have great production value and they are very well organized. She has 26 videos just on juice/smoothies!

Vegan Black Metal Chef

If you get nothing else from my blog I hope you love discovering Vegan Black Metal Chef along with me. I have no words…

Sometimes alternate solutions turn out better than the original might have. I am excited to have new YouTube channels to follow that will provide a lot of great meal ideas as I maintain this habit in the future.

What is your favorite way to work more vegetables into your diet? Please share your ideas in the comments!

Restaurant Reviews

Part of my action plan in building this smoothie habit was to try vegetarian meals at 3 new restaurants. It was a happy coincidence that two of them had smoothie options!

Ecopolitan1.  Ecopolitan

This restaurant is located in a converted home and now houses the restaurant and other wellness shops. We were the only patrons in the restaurant for a while, so I had plenty of time to take in the surroundings. The mosaics and artwork all over the walls provide a lovely atmosphere.

They only serve organic, vegan, raw food which is a big departure from our normal diet. I ordered the Sunrise Smoothie, rawnola, and a banana EcopolitanFoodcrepe for breakfast. The smoothie was top notch and made with banana, pineapple, dates, and orange juice. The rawnola was odd… I got used to the taste after a few bites, but I would not recommend it. The banana crepe was not at all what I was expecting, and I didn’t eat much of it. The crepe itself was made with bananas and was filled with avocado, carrots, and onions. I didn’t love the food, but if this location was closer I would be at their smoothie bar all the time!

Birchwood 2. Birchwood Cafe

Clayton selected this restaurant, and it was my least favorite of the three we visited. It is located in a quaint neighborhood, but there is only street parking. My favorite part about the location is that it is across the street from the Dead Media Record StoreBirchwoodFood

I ordered the Green Curry Rice (a staff favorite) and Clayton had their chicken noodle soup. The curry was spicy, and different than what I was expecting. I really enjoyed the citrus they added, but once that was gone I lost interest in the rest of the dish. Clayton’s soup was okay, but didn’t seem to have much chicken or noodles. The bread was fantastic!

Seward3. Seward Cafe

The outside of the cafe is uninspiring, but inside is vibrant. There are murals, plants, and chalkboards covering almost every wall and window. It’s a great atmosphere.

SewardFoodWe arrived at an odd time and the kitchen was closed to switch from the breakfast/ lunch to dinner fare. We were still able to order a smoothie, cookie, and cherry scone. The smoothie had mixed berries, bananas, and grape juice and was delicious. The cookie was average, but the scone was exceptional. I am excited to visit again and try the vegan mac and cheese, after 5 pm.

Setting out to visit 3 new restaurants that specialized in vegetarian food certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. While none of them have become a new favorite, I am glad we made the effort to try something new.

What is your favorite vegetarian restaurant? Please share your favorite menu item in the comments!

Book Breakdown: Green Smoothie Revolution

Green Smoothie Revolution: The Radical Leap Towards Natural Health is a 2 part book. Part 1: “Unleashing the Healing Power of Greens” is composed of 10 short chapters explaining the benefits of adding green smoothies to your diet. My key takeaways:

  1. Rotate your greens
  2. Only add greens to your smoothies (kale, spinach, etc.), not other vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.)
  3. Simple recipe: greens, fruit, water
  4. Drink your smoothie by itself, not as a part of a meal

Part 2 offers a tremendous amount of recipes, some more appetizing than others. After reading through the recipes I’m excited to try new ingredients like bok choy, celery, and tomatoes.

This book is a quick and enjoyable read, but there were too many dubious claims for me to give it a higher grade. In appendix 2 Clent Manich lists out 18 benefits he has experienced from drinking green smoothies including whiter teeth and sweeter breath. There is also an “Anticancer Smoothie” recipe. Despite the widely quoted material there still seemed a lack of credible evidence.

I read this book hoping to get some new ideas for smoothies recipes and pick up some helpful tips on smoothie prep. In that respect this book was spot on, but could have been 50 pages shorter.

Did you notice any significant changes once you started drinking green smoothies? Please share your experience in the comments.

Book Breakdown: Food Rules

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual is a short book that expands on the manifesto Pollan presented in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual is a list of 64 easy to understand rules about the practical application of this manifesto.

I read this book in one sitting. The rules are grouped under each section of the manifesto and Pollan recommends adopting one from each section. These are the three rules that resonated with me:

Eat Food: “Avoid food products that make health claims.”

Mostly Plants: “Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.”

Not Too Much: “The banquet is in the first bite.”

Some of the rules have a paragraph or two explaining them, but for the most part they are pretty self explanatory. This book does not go into the extensive research that Pollan presented in his previous book, and I was more receptive to the message in Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual because I had read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto first. I would these books together for anyone looking to reevaluate their eating habits.

Have you read these or any of Michael Pollan’s other books on nutrition? What are your thoughts on his manifesto and rules?

Blenders, Blenders Everywhere

When we decided to add smoothie making to our regular routine, Clayton insisted that we needed a new blender first. We have been limping along with our $30 Hamilton Beach Blender for years, but it took about 20 minutes to get anything smooth enough to drink.

Our selection criteria was based on blending power, a container larger enough for 2 smoothies, and personal recommendations.

Vitamix

  • 7 amp motor
  • Various container sizes
  • 3 recommendations
  • S30 – $399

BlendTech

  • 3.0 peak horsepower motor
  • Various container sizes
  • 1 recommendation
  • Classic 560 – $319

Nutribullet

  • 2.3 peak horsepower motor
  • Various container sizes
  • 1 recommendation
  • $89.97
Kale, pineapple, and raspberry pre-smoothie in our Vitamix S30 blender.
Kale, pineapple, and raspberry pre-smoothie in our Vitamix S30 blender.

After looking into these blenders specifically, I also read through this consumer report. Vitamix blenders popped up on the list multiple times. I also saw that some of the Nutribullet blenders were on their “Do Not Buy” list for some safety concerns with the blades.

We ultimately decided on the Vitamix S30 Blender. It was the cheaper of the Vitamix options and the container was just large enough for our purposes. It also fits neatly under our cabinets. We have been using it for over a week and I have been very pleased with the performance. It also came with a fun cook book, so I am excited to try some of the recipes. The best part is that it is dishwasher safe!

Are there any other tools that are imperative for smoothie making? Please share your tips in the comments.

Book Breakdown: Wherever You Go There You Are

This book has been on my to-read shelf for 2 years and I am glad that taking on this habit has finally motivated me to read it.

Kabat-Zinn’s best selling book is broken down into 3 parts focused on defining meditation, practical applications, and the spirit of the practice. The chapters are short and often accompanied by quotes and passages from other works on meditation.

It seemed like every time I picked up this book, I was able to apply the teachings immediately. I read the chapter Patience when I was experiencing a lot of anger and it helped me to detach from the storm of emotions.

This is also the third source that has touted the benefits of early morning meditation. I have been trying to sit first thing in the morning, but it has not been happening with any consistency. The chapter Early Morning has reaffirmed my intent and I will be waking up 15 minutes earlier everyday to listen to a Headspace guided meditation.

Not every idea or anecdote resonated with me. I am not a big fan of chapters ending with the phrase “Get the idea?” especially when my answer is no. But the topics are so varied and brief that the goal must be to get a better sense of meditation rather than to present a step by step guide.

Wherever You Go, There You Are does an excellent job of making the abstract concept of mindfulness accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the basic principles of meditation.

Would you like your own copy of Wherever You Go, There You Are? Simply leave a comment to be entered into a drawing to win a copy of the book.

Fancy Floating

A few weeks ago a friend told me about the Fadeaway Floatation Center in Des Moines, IA.  I was excited to learn about an alternative meditation technique and after reading through their website I had to find a place to float! The Wellness Center in Minneapolis offered a 90 minute float session for $70 plus tax and fees, and they had excellent online reviews.

FloatTankThe staff at The Wellness Center was very friendly and accommodating. I showed up 10 minutes early for my appointment to fill out the required paper work. There is a special release for the float tank and a lot of dos and don’ts. They walked me through the facility and float process.

I started by inserting the wax earplugs. They stick better if you put them in before you shower, and will keep the water out of your ears once you are submerged in the tank. Then I showered with fragrance free shampoo and body wash (no conditioner) before entering the tank. I entered facing out, and closed the door behind me.

I was very nervous at first. It’s an eerie feeling to not be able to see, hear, and slosh about in an enclosed space. When I felt some air bubbles by my leg I thought, “what if it’s an alligator?!” That made me laugh and relax. I experimented with different positions and felt most comfortable with my arms above my head.

Eventually, my shoulders started to feel itchy. When meditating it is normal for me to feel areas of discomfort, but once I focus on it the feeling fades. This sensation was not going away. A combination of the water temperature and salt caused a heat rash. It got to be so uncomfortable that I ended my session 30 minutes early. The staff said they could lower the temperature of the water, but only by .1 degree, which probably wouldn’t help me.

Even though I will not be floating again, I thought it was a great experience. If you don’t have any skin sensitivity issues, I would recommend giving it a try. There was a guest book outside the room, and all the messages I read were very positive. My favorite comment stated it like astral projection!

Have you ever floated? Please share your experience in the comments!

Crash Course on Journalism

Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens is a University of Melbourne course taught by Dr. Denis Muller and Dr. Margaret Simons offered through Coursera. The 8 week course is geared toward the new media publishers and teaches the basics of journalism, interviewing, gathering information, and the ethical and legal implications of practicing journalism.

I thought this class would help me develop my blogging and writing skills because blogs are a part of this new media landscape and some of the highlighted topics were on my action plan.

Each week they posted video lectures, quizzes, and follow ups on the assignments.  I really enjoyed the video lectures and found the lessons on the principles of good writing, attribution, and finding things out particularly helpful. The quizzes helped to reinforce the material in the videos, and you could take them as many times as you wanted to ensure understanding.

The assignments were related to a mock investigation into the local government of a fake town. At first I tried to keep up with the assignments, but it seemed like wasted effort. While I love getting grades, I took this course to help improve the quality of this blog. I chose to focus my efforts here rather than spend hours writing fake reports that were only going to get more involved.

Overall I found Muller and Simons engaging and knowledgeable. I have already incorporated some of the things I learned from them into my blog, like writing in a clear and simple manner and focusing on word choice. They also covered topics that aren’t useful for the blog like managing confidential sources and the ethics of interviewing traumatized people, but it was intriguing material nonetheless.

This is a well structured course lead by excellent professors. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to improve their writing skills or dabble in journalism. This course also offers a Course Certificate – Statement of Accomplishment, if you’re into that sort of thing. There are no future sessions currently listed, but based on the feedback I have seen in forums I am sure they will be back.

Do you think bloggers and journalists have overlapping skill sets? Let’s discuss further in the comments.

Book Breakdown: The Art of Living

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time inspired me to start this blog. In it Ferrazzi discusses how a 10-day Vipassana course changed his life. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation is a synopsis of that course and I thought it would help me cultivate my meditation habit.

William Hart is an assistant teacher to Goenka and he set out to provide an outline of Vipassana as taught in Goenka’s 10-day course. Each chapter is a lesson followed by actual questions and answers from course participants and Goenka and is followed by a parable. The book/course is a progression through the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Each lesson builds on the last to show you that gaining wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration will provide enlightenment.

There are some assertions in the book that seem fanciful to me. I don’t buy into the idea that the Buddha understood particle physics from meditation, but I won’t invest the time to research further since their scientific credibility isn’t a huge concern for me. I also found it took me longer than normal to absorb the meaning of certain passages. I am a quick reader, but I kept having to reread sentences and paragraphs before I understood the meaning. That might have to do with the number of Pali terms in the book that were totally foreign to me.

I did get some great insights into suffering, intention, awareness, equanimity, and compassion. Chapter 3: The Immediate Cause included my favorite story, “Seed and Fruit.” The following quote provided a flash of insight about karma and how we are make our own future.

“Our difficulty, our ignorance is that we remain unheedful while planting seeds. We keep planting seeds of neem, but when the time comes for fruit we are suddenly alert, we want sweet mangoes. And we keep crying and praying and hoping for mangoes. This doesn’t work.”

I will also give this book high marks for prompting me to entertain the idea of becoming a vegetarian. I’m not there yet, but I have never really entertained the idea until now.

I would recommend The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation to anyone interested in learning more about Vipassana, the teaching of the Buddha, or looking for some insights into the loftier goals associated with meditation.

Do you want to win a free copy of The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by William Hart? Follow me on Instagram @ppreoccupation to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced on Monday.

Book Breakdown: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

 

When browsing Goodreads shortly after I decided to start this blog I noticed this book on a friend’s to-read shelf. The title alone sparked my interest because it seemed like exactly what I needed to help improve my writing skills.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between is presented in 2 parts. Part 1 defines creative non-fiction and is full of general tips for improving your writing. Part 2 focuses on how to successfully write creative non-fiction by analyzing some well known works in depth.

Creative non-fiction is “true stories, well told.” By focusing on the story and characters you can frame your work by building scenes that embed the non-fiction elements you want your readers to learn about. Storytelling will allow you to engage your audience and help them push through the dry, informational bits. Gutkind calls it the “creative non-fiction dance,” and teaches the reader the basic steps.

There are 18 exercises peppered throughout the book. I am particularly excited to try immersion (exercise #6). “Just watch, listen, take notes… and see what happens.” I am going to a family reunion this weekend and it is the side of my family that I am not very close with. Approaching the event with a writer’s eye has made me less nervous about meeting 28 new family members for the first time.

I don’t know that I will adopt a creative non-fiction style for all of my blog posts, but some might benefit from a more stylized approach, especially the ones that deal with my interactions with other people.

Overall, this book is well structured and insightful. I recommend it to anyone with a great idea for a non-fiction piece who wants to reach a wide audience. I would also suggest it to any fan of Malcolm Gladwell, Rebecca Skloot, Janenette Walls, etc. looking for insight into why their pieces work so well. It’s an entertaining book with excellent tips on becoming a better storyteller.

Want to win your very own copy of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between? Just follow this blog to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced Wednesday.

If you already follow my blog (THANKS!) and want a chance to win, just leave a comment.