The Key to Success

Are you successful? Am I? Can success be measured or quantified? To get some clarity around the word I consulted the source I’ve been relying upon since childhood - my dictionary. Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary defines success: 1) the accomplishment of an aim; a favorable outcome. 2) the attainment of wealth, fame, or position. 3) a thing or person that turns out well.

Recently, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two American icons of success, both decided to end their lives. Despite having attained wealth, fame, position and creative fulfillment, in the final analysis, no favorable outcome worth living for remained for either of them. In a recent Time Magazine article I read that suicide rates have increased steadily across nearly every demographic over the past two decades, rising nearly 30% from 1999 to 2016. While suicide is most common among middle-aged and older adults, rates are on the rise in many age groups. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics this past May, almost twice as many children were hospitalized for thinking about or attempting suicide in 2015 as in 2008, and young women appear to be disproportionately affected by the overall increase. From 2010 to 2016 the suicide rate among girls ages 10 to 19 rose by a shocking 70%.

Suicide is the most extreme manifestation of personal hopelessness, but there are countless people not taking their own lives who muddle through their days without passion or purpose. Writer and thought leader, Hiro Boga says, “We cannot live in a fractured society without becoming fractured ourselves” and I couldn’t agree more. So here we are, many of us “successful” but feeling fractured in a world that often seems to be spinning out of control. I write this blog with the wish to put some of the pieces back into place and make stronger and more beautiful that which was once broken. If my words touch a single soul I will consider myself successful.

Though many online platforms are in place to “connect” people anywhere at any time, it seems to me that people are feeling more isolated, depressed, anxious, and disconnected than ever before. Living with constant pressure is considered perfectly normal and even desirable in our cutthroat society. On the other hand, taking time for healthy and daily pleasurable self-care is regarded as a frivolous pastime for the likes of Gwenyth Paltrow.

In our desire to be successful and productive we’ve allowed ourselves to abandon play and make so many spiritual withdrawals that our life accounts are beyond overdrawn. In this sluggish survival mode we’ve become desperate for a slice of peace - no matter how small or falsely induced, often relying on behaviors that enable us to check out temporarily. This can be dependence on or addiction to numbing substances or behaviors that ultimately create more distance between us and our bliss. Some of these dependencies are considered mainstream or even glamorous, until they extend beyond a certain point and morph directly into sloppy or tragic. Hiro Boga is spot on when she says, “Often, the price we pay for living in this fragmented way remains invisible to us, not because we’re stupid or willfully ignorant, but because we’re conditioned to believe that this is just the way things are. We don’t see the costs to ourselves and our beloveds, or the price we exact of others and of our environment, because it’s hidden under shiny skirts, or buried in the garden bed of pseudo-belonging.” No single quote could make me think more of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

While constant and chronic stress consumes our own adult lives it’s also swallowing up our kids whole. Concerned and well-meaning parents everywhere encourage their kids to strive and compete with their peers for limited resources and opportunities. They truly believe this is the key to success. No wonder so few of us are feeling whole and happy. It might be time to redefine success and the journey we take to achieve it. Maybe if we start to believe and teach our kids that the opposite of success is not failure but fracture, we can actually begin to heal ourselves and our world. In order to put ourselves back together again we need truth, kindness, acceptance, presence, connection and love.

Recently, my family and I and a couple of friends put ourselves in the competent hands of Chris Reed, founder and principal guide of Woods Walks, for a nature-immersion experience. Our combined intention was to venture into our local forest with a sense of wonder and newness and permit ourselves simply to “be.” My teenage daughter grimaced when I told her it would be a two-hour adventure. “I just want to relax!!!!” she muttered, which is code for, “I prefer to stare at my phone like an apocalyptic zombie.” I invited her to sit this one out because I intended to experience Mother Nature without unwelcome intrusions from a world-weary teenager.  A bit begrudgingly, she made the decision to join, knowing she’d have to zip her lip if she wasn’t having fun. Something deep inside her probably knew that the allure of the forest would nourish her soul in a way that social media never could.

Chris invited us to set intentions for our mindful exploration of the woods and all its creatures. We used our senses to soak up our surroundings. Rocks, trees, water, animals both living and dead, were all woven into our uniquely magical woodland tapestry on that June day. I could follow Chris’ exact set of practices another time, but my experience of the woods would be completely different because Nature, while constant in her reassuring presence, is never static.

During our forest exploration, all of us, adults and kids alike, were able to turn inward and deepen relationships with ourselves and each other. I felt sound in body, mind and spirit. Since that wandering day in the woods, I’ve realized I hunger for that same sense of peace daily and not just on special occasions or when I feel I’ve hit rock bottom. Providing ample space for tranquility, kindness and connection to myself is a deliberate ritual that nourishes and soothes me. It’s what enables me to feel whole and share myself authentically with others, so I’ve learned that it is my responsibility to nurture my soul. This is my work. No one else will do it for me. Perhaps it’s meant to be your work too.

Though I go as often as possible, I don’t make it to the woods every day. What I can do daily to nurture my soul is a simple practice that always provides a favorable outcome. It’s a loving kindness exercise known as Metta meditation. Intentionally designed to radiate good wishes, I can adapt it as I see fit and engage in it whenever and wherever I choose. It brings me a sense of calm, comfort and joy every time I practice it, and I believe its effects are not only cumulative but far-reaching as well.

Here’s what I do:

I start tuning into my breath, allowing it to become even and slow. I imagine in my mind’s eye a person for whom I’m utterly grateful...someone I can easily love with no reservations, and I offer this individual the following prayer:

May you be happy and serene.

May you be healthy and protected.

May you be surrounded by grace and sparkle with the understanding that you are deeply and unconditionally loved.

Next I call to mind an individual with whom I have a more complicated relationship -  perhaps someone I feel has hurt me or whom I find irritating. I take a deep breath and offer the very same blessing. It gets easier with practice because you realize that this difficult person is likely in desperate need of kindness.

Before the meditation is finished I give myself this same gift of words and it feels like a soft blanket over my shoulders. If you have a hard time offering yourself this prayer, envision yourself as a baby or very young child and perhaps it will be easier. Eventually, I predict that you will feel enormous comfort from this practice and that it will become easier to invest time and energy into self-care routines because you’ve learned how to become your own champion. Like a true friend, you show up for yourself and you stick up for yourself. Who couldn’t use a friend like that?

At this point, I’d like to propose a revised definition of success, a key, if you will, that doesn’t involve accomplishment or attainment of any particular thing but rather the cultivation of an ability. Maybe success is the ability and desire to befriend yourself and sustain that friendship throughout your lifespan. I suggest that the key to success is about showing every aspect of your being deep and unwavering compassion, even when you’re sad or sick or angry - in fact especially at those times. It’s the ability to prioritize your needs for connection, love, rest, peace, play and pleasure even while you’re busy accomplishing and attaining. I intend to keep this key to success in my back pocket at all times and I even made a few extra copies. Perhaps it would be wise to hold onto each other’s spare keys for safekeeping. In a world filled with distractions, you know how easy it can be to misplace your keys.



 

Chocolatent Tendencies

I love my jobs. I’m a holistic health coach, hydrocolonic therapist and a chocolate connoisseur who creates magical, mindful tastings for the choco-curious. These endeavors may seem like strange bedfellows but in fact, they are kissing cousins...logically connected healing arts that enhance, energize and harmonize humans.

Here in the United States we have a strong work ethic, and that’s a good thing, but I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that simple pleasure is essential to health, creativity and happiness. We’re all familiar with the “no pain, no gain” philosophy to which many people subscribe and proudly wear as a badge of honor, but what if it engenders more harm than good? What if, instead, we focused on slowing down, instead of speeding up? What if we focused on connecting people to a state of unbridled delight? Would they became healthier and kinder to themselves and to each other? Could the world eventually become a brighter place? I think so, and that’s why I love what I do. Through my work, people come alive and reconnect to their joy. Gradually, and over time, they become the best versions of themselves. 

Health is a journey, and so is artisan craft chocolate. The path can be expansive and change course with unexpected twists and turns. It unfolds and evolves over time. Fine health and fine chocolate are both deeply satisfying and therefore worth acquiring. The pay-off is nothing short of euphoric.

I feel like the happiest and healthiest version of myself when I’m fully engaged in the present moment - neither dwelling on the past nor worrying about the future. Celebrating life with a daily mindful chocolate experience is one of my deliberate pleasure rituals that keeps me grounded in the here and now. 

What’s especially fun and humbling about my work with chocolate is that my fellow tasters often tell me that they didn’t even realize they liked dark chocolate until they experienced it with me. They have a deeply buried love of dark (and dark milk) chocolate that they finally access with my guidance, and it visibly lights all of us up.

It’s February and therefore the perfect time to savor some beautiful chocolate, so  here is my step-by-step guide for a mindful eating practice to elevate your next tasting experience. All you need is an environment that’s free from distractions for at least a few minutes, a willing spirit, a bar of fine chocolate and a lovely plate.

Step 1: Eye Candy

Choosing a bar of chocolate is the perfect time to judge a book by its cover. I won’t call you shallow if you develop a crush on a wrapper. If the bar beckons, don’t be shy. Go right ahead and claim it! Think of a particularly inviting bar of chocolate as a flawlessly wrapped present, selected just for you and intended to be opened slowly. Notice the sounds you hear as you release your precious bar from its paper and foil.

Study your bar. Pay attention to the color, the imprint on the bar, the quality of the finish and how heavy or light it feels in your hand. Look at it from all angles. The color may range in hue from almost-black to a crimson-infused mahogany, to a shade of lightly browned toast. The color is determined by the type of cacao beans that comprise the bar as well as the length and heat of the roast. If it’s a milk chocolate bar, the amount of milk powder added will also have an affect on the bar’s color. The finish should be even and bright. If you see dull gray or white spots on the surface of the chocolate it means that the fat and/or sugar has bloomed due to improper storage conditions and it will not be as pleasing. If you are lucky enough to be holding a bar of craft chocolate in your hand, it may have an exquisite imprint on its surface. You might even feel a bit regretful to bite into a work of art. Get over it.

Step 2: Give Me A Break

The snap is one of my favorite aspects of chocolate appreciation and makes for a gorgeous sonic experience, providing clues about how the chocolate will perform for you when you put it in your mouth. Don’t miss it! According to experts at the fabulous retail shop The Meadow, “the snap of good chocolate is a lovely sound, oscillating between the reassuring solid thump of a Mercedes Benz door and the tinny crackling of a sheet of ice on a frozen pond.” The snappy sound you hear is the result of your mind guiding your fingers to alter the homogenously entwined cocoa butter crystals and delicately ground cocoa solid particles through a simple break. Put the snapped bar on your plate and admire it for a moment. 

Step 3: Stop and Smell the Chocolate

Some bars of chocolate have a truly magnificent aroma and you will be missing out on a vital aspect of the tasting if you don’t acknowledge its fragrance, just as you would with a fine wine. What words come to mind just from the chocolate’s smell? You may detect notes of fruit, smoke, spice, earth, fudge, flowers or vanilla. As you breathe deeply, keep in mind that about 80% of what we taste actually comes from our sense of smell, and while external fragrances create intense flavor expectations, it is the act of swallowing that causes a vibration of volatile aromatic odor molecules from inside your mouth to hit the back of your nose and create your unique tasting experience. What we often think of as our sense of taste is actually our sense of smell asserting itself within the mouth. This is known as “oral referral.”

Step 4: Eat Me

Chocolate lends itself to mindful eating because it is the only edible substance that melts at around 93 degrees, just below body temperature. So, open wide and place a piece of chocolate in your mouth. Take a bite or two or three and then allow the chocolate simply to melt on your tongue. An artisan chocolate (ideally one whose only two ingredients are cacao and sugar) will not give you a linear tasting experience. It takes a full 7-10 seconds for the chocolate to blossom, deepen and reveal its true nature to you. Don’t rush magic. The chocolate will have top notes, middle notes and finishing notes. Enjoy all the notes in the symphony! Ideally, you will find harmony in the composition and you’ll be ready for your second taste. Be playful and see if you can hang on to that first-bite delight as your journey with the chocolate continues. Different people may detect different notes in the chocolate. We all have a unique set of senses and way of perceiving external stimuli. That’s part of the fun. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to your chocolate impressions.

So, map in hand, your course is now laid out before you, Darling Explorer. Give yourself permission to engage in this simple pleasure. Experiment and play with the above steps to reveal your inherent but unrealized love for craft chocolate. And please note that if you require any chocolate counsel along your journey, this pioneer is always here to help you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

I'll Have What They're Having

Please meet two of my favorite friends: Margery and Joel.

Margery is one of the smartest, loveliest and most vibrant women I’ve ever met. She is a great lunch date, has a heart of gold and tons of stamina.

Well-loved for his generosity, sweet nature and sense of humor, Joel also happens to be a man of excellent taste and intellect. He’s an enthusiastic foodie who cooks for himself when he’s not dining out with friends or family.

Though these two fine folks barely know each other, they have one very important thing in common - ME! Margery is my next door neighbor and Joel is not just my friend - he’s my dad. I have proximity to some serious greatness here! Hello Margery! Hello Joel! How do you both do? I can tell you that at ages 85 and 82 respectively, they’re both doing quite magnificently, thank you very much.

Recently, Margery joined my teenage daughter, Lexy, and me for a ladies’ day of lunch and fun in New York City. Up and down multiple sets of subway steps she went, with a smile on her face and unbridled enthusiasm for whatever the day had to offer. Joel, who lives in Brooklyn, drives into Manhattan’s Upper East Side several times each week for meetings, lunch dates, lectures and worship at his beloved synagogue. Both are also avid patrons of the arts and have full social calendars.

Speaking of patrons of the arts with full social calendars, celebrities are also pretty busy people, just like Margery and Joel. And these days they seem even busier than usual because besides looking good on the red carpet, bunches of them write books or have blogs about their health and wellness. How ever do Gwyneth, Cameron, Jessica and all the others find the time? Well, truth be told, they have a whole lot of professional help. Also, they’re nowhere near 80.

My friends Margery and Joel are not movie stars. Neither one of them has authored a cookbook or employed a personal chef or trainer. They’ve never appeared on the red carpet, though Margery has addressed large crowds at the United Nations and published works of literary fiction (way to go, Margery!) These two super cool people have crafted beautifully rich lives. They fascinate me because long after many people have slowed down, Margery and Joel just keep on keeping on in the most elegant way imaginable. I don't know about you, but I’m waaaaaay more fascinated by regular octogenarians like Margery and Joel than I am by pampered middle-aged celebs who think they’ve got it all figured out. Margery and Joel are the people that I follow - not on Instagram or Facebook (they are not on social media), but through daily interactions that mean so much more to me.

Have you heard of the Blue Zones? This is the term for the five distinct regions of the world (the highlands of Sardinia, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Icaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California) that have been identified as having the greatest number of centenarians and long-lived populations. In fact, studies show that for every single 100 year-old American, there are at least ten active and engaged centenarians in the Blue Zone regions.

Researchers decided to study the common characteristics that mark these peoples’ lifestyles to see if they could zero in on a formula for longevity. All of them are productive members of society with a strong sense of purpose. They lead active lives but they do not run marathons or have gym memberships. They do not adhere to restrictive eating regimens nor could they be categorized as vegan, paleo, raw foodists or anything else.  Rather, their collection of food is very plant forward and locally sourced. Perhaps most importantly, eating is a communal pleasure, not a soul-crushing process by which to fuel the body. Centenarians in the Blue Zones are not stressed-out zombies who rely on caffeine, sugar and alcohol to cope and get the job done. Though the Blue Zoners work hard, they also rest and relax. They even consume wheat, cheese and wine (prepared according to artisanal and traditional methods). The common thread they share is that there is a natural, easy and joyful rhythm that pulses through the days of their lives and connects them to one another.

So let’s get back to Margery and Joel, shall we? I am turning to them as my own little very unscientific octogenarian focus group. Since I know them both well, I can examine their optimal lifestyles under my microscope to learn and share what it really means to live beautifully and meaningfully at any age.

Inspired by Margery, Joel and the centenarians of the Blue Zones, I’ve come up with 12 questions that can be used to help gauge health in a way that feels both relevant and significant. So sit in stillness with these questions and listen deeply to the honest answers that emerge from within. The answers you receive may provide a clue about what you want to work on as 2017 comes to a close and a new year of new possibilities is on the horizon.

 

  1. Do you sleep well and wake feeling refreshed?

  2. Does your food and drink give you pleasure and a feeling of sustained well-being?

  3. Do you have normal bowel function? (This is hugely important and believe it or not, you may not fully understand what “normal” bowel function really is. Don’t be shy! Ask me!)

  4. Do you genuinely like and respect yourself and make lifestyle choices which reflect that?

  5. Are you content?

  6. Do you have a spiritual practice or a ritual that grounds you?

  7. Do you spend time each week enjoying and/or moving in nature?

  8. Are you susceptible to colds, flu and/or chronic or frequent infections?

  9. Are your teeth and gums healthy? Do you have a history of root canal(s)?

  10. When it comes to change and trying new things are you: Resistant? Resigned? Receptive? Exhilarated?

  11. Do you feel supported and loved by the people ( and/or animals!) with whom you spend most of your time?

  12. Are you guided by a purpose or intention that inspires you?

 

As I write this blog, Margery is looking ahead to the fall of 2018 when she and her husband will celebrate their granddaughter’s wedding on Long Beach Island, and around that same time, Joel will be packing his bags for his first trip to Rome. As I write this blog, centenarians in Sardinia are herding sheep and making cheese by hand. Okinawan centenarians are fishing and being revered for their experience and wisdom. Elderly Costa Ricans and inhabitants of Icaria are not doing crossfit as I write this blog. They are enjoying all the small moments of their long lives as they unfold, moment by moment. 

Now, what about you? As 2018 draws near, what can you resolve to do that will increase joy, relieve stress and re-frame the definition of good health in a way that’s attainable and also feels really good? Margery and Joel figured this out a long time ago and they’re just regular people like you and me. Now it’s your turn. Now is the time to make yourself a priority and by so doing, create a life that’s truly a pleasure to live. You can start immediately or in twenty minutes or tomorrow, or on January 1.  Just start in a way that feels free - not restrictive, delightful - not tortuous, sustainable - not severe. If you’re currently suffering through life, you might want to start with a few small improvements to your body which is your most important home. Or, you may want to dive right in and consider a major gut renovation (no pun intended!) I can help for sure, but perhaps it would be wise to go straight to the experts. Margery? Joel? Do you guys have any interest in coaching the rest of us because we all want to be just like you when we grow up.

Cheers!

When I was in high school, if you liked dance, gymnastics, boys and football, you might have tried out to be a cheerleader or booster to support our team, the Midwood Hornets. OK, let’s travel back in time to observe the predilections of 15 year-old Nadine. Dance? Check! Gymnastics? Check!! Boys? Checkity-check!!! Football??? Ummm...not so much. In approximately 30 years of Nadine, not a lot has changed, but what has changed is that almost three years ago I decided to become a cheerleader and booster anyway, despite my disinterest in football. As a health coach (and a newly minted hydrocolonic therapist), I cheer my clients on at the sidelines as they glow with greater health and happiness. I help them boost their nutrition to new heights. Pom poms and wearing short skirts in cold weather are optional, but not required.

So, speaking of my days in high school as a non-cheerleader, it is, in fact, the hectic back-to-school season. In case you haven't noticed, the PTA wants your cash. Halloween candy is lining the store shelves. The days are gradually getting shorter and chillier. Soon cold and flu season will be upon us. Can we keep our bodies healthy through the fall and winter even when those around us are sick? Yes!!!!

People often ask me how they can heal from or prevent specific diseases. Sure, they’d like to avoid colds and flu, but concerns about excess weight, autoimmunity, diabetes type 2, heart health and cancer are what’s front and center in their minds. The truth of the matter is there’s really only one underlying disease - one root cause of all of the above conditions - and that’s inflammation toxicity. Every single chronic disease that you can name arises from it.

Now, the other crucial point to understand when it comes to human health is that most of us are harboring stealth viruses in our bodies. It’s unavoidable. However, you won’t necessarily find them in the bloodstream if you test for them. At first, when you’re newly infected they’re in the bloodstream, but eventually they multiply and lodge in the organs, or in many cases, in the central nervous system where they are safe from detection and attack by the body’s immune system. The viruses create inflammation toxicity because, like all living things, they eat, they produce gas and wastes, they reproduce and then they die which leaves behind viral casings (sometimes mistaken by hematologists for parasites when observed under a microscope). During the viral life cycle, viral byproducts and neurotoxins are released which create inflammation. It’s important to note that viruses also feed and get stronger from the toxins they produce, so it’s a vicious, ongoing cycle. Bacteria and parasites are alive too, and much like viruses, they produce their own toxins that can create inflammation. If our bodies provide the ideal terrain for these pathogens to flourish (often in the gut and the colon’s stored waste), we are susceptible to illness.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves? We can boost the immune system and make our bodies inhospitable terrain for disease-causing pathogens! It’s the single most important thing we can do for our precious human bodies. A healthy body can keep viruses in check. Get your body into finer shape from the inside out so that stealth viruses do not get a strong foothold and overtake the immune system. Do not strive for perfection in your efforts to improve your health. Simply strive for progress, and embrace the occasional backslide.

Some of the viruses our immune systems are up against are various forms of herpes including Epstein Barr, shingles (with non-rashing varieties being the worst in terms of inflammation to the central nervous system), cytomegalovirus, and non-herpes viruses such as bovine leukemia virus (which is a cancer-causing virus found in dairy and undercooked - even medium-rare- meat. Incidentally, 80% of small dairy farms and 100% of large dairy farms were found to be infected by this virus when tested in 2007). Not all of these viruses will present in your body with noticeable symptoms at the time of infection. A recent statistic suggested that 98% of cancers are caused by a virus that gets activated or reawakened by a trigger - usually exposure to toxins, radiation, heavy metals, DDT passed on to us through our genes, and believe it or not, even root canal can be a trigger for cancer and other chronic conditions.

Some simple advice to boost the immune system: eat the right foods, re-balance the adrenals, SLEEP, consider biological dentistry, live in harmony with your body by inviting pleasure and stress reduction into your life, and detox from heavy metals, radiation, DDT and toxins with safe and effective protocols. Particularly if you are detoxing, you might want to get a colonic to remove the pathogenic load that is awakened in your cells as a result of cleansing diets. Otherwise your body will simply re-absorb most of the awakened toxins. Keep in mind that viruses love to hang out and feed on your waste. You have approximately 10 lbs of it in your colon at any given moment, including this moment, and more of it in your cells, even if you have regular bowel movements. Don’t feed those nasty pathogens. That’s what ages you and can eventually create the perfect conditions for disease down the road. Take out the trash instead!

I’m going to let you in on a little life-preserving secret: unprocessed, whole and wild/perennial foods from the earth are nature’s perfect medicine. There are a wide variety of immune-enhancing, superhero foods out there that you’ve likely not heard of, let alone tasted, as well as a few key supplements that will boost immunity beyond belief. Ideally, though, you should be able to rely mostly on food to keep your body humming along vibrantly. (For those readers who have been my clients in the past, please know that I am constantly and passionately researching all things health and wellness and continue to learn even more effective ways to boost immunity and cultivate a balanced gut microbiome).

If your body has hosted a disease, it can also heal from it. Be gentle and patient, but steadily persevere with small but incremental steps toward improved health. It has taken me ten years to really clean up my diet and it will never be perfect. Perfect is a myth. The efforts I make on behalf of my body feel good right now. However, my process is not static. It will continue to change and evolve as I do. (Though allow me to reassure you that some of my favorites, including fresh green juice, whole fruits and vegetables and gorgeous craft chocolate, are here to stay)

Lifestyle is every bit as important as nutrition when it comes to protecting your health. Lowering stress levels is a TOP priority. This is hard, I know, but self-care has to be of paramount importance. Here's why: the cortisol slope is the biggest predictor of death. Enough said. (The cortisol slope leads to compromised immune function because guess what a favored food of viruses is? Yup, you guessed it: adrenaline and cortisol).

Remember, you are a healthy, happy and strong human being already. This is your true nature. In this beautiful new fall season that’s upon us, connect to the harmony and health that is your birthright. You can do it through proper nutrition, through mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation, and through a patient commitment and love for your awesome body! Slow and steady wins the race. And guess what? You can be your own immune system’s tireless champion and cheerleader. All you have to do is to show up to practice every single day. Let's raise our shot glasses of liquid chlorophyll in a toast to your health! Then, pom poms in hand, we can channel our inner cheerleaders and give this a whirl:

Go collards!

Go berries!

Go parsley!

Go cherries!

Buy dulse!

Drink aloe!

Eat kale!

You’re lit, bro!

Somehow, I’m not sure the Midwood Hornets would have appreciated such support, but if it speaks to you, dear reader, rest assured that this cheerleader has at least a hundred more chants up her sleeve! Finally...an anthem that can unite us all!

Notes From One of The Flock

I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of junk mail clogging up my inbox, and because I’m a holistic health coach, much of it revolves around wellness and weight loss. Here are just a few titles of ridiculous articles I’ve received over the past week: “The Number 1 Way To Lose Weight According To Experts,” “Three Essential Weight Loss Tips From Kim Kardashian,” and “Can Pokemon Go Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals?”

Really??? Yes, really.

Wellness and weight loss are profit-driven industries, and much of the “expert” advice contradicts itself. The result is that many people are feeling confused, off their game or downright sick. We are grasping for health information from external sources in the hope of discovering the next life-saving superfood or the ultimate list of rules to follow that promise to banish belly fat. Oftentimes, the health recommendations we receive are put forth by entrepreneurs who are motivated by financial gain.

The honest-to-goodness truth is that there is no superfoods secret or single life-transforming tip or herb that will magically turn back the hands of time or flush fat from our human bodies. The only thing this constant flow of conflicting information is doing is making our heads spin out of control. Modern living is not helping us feel whole, balanced and happy. What we need, more than anything else, is to put our fragmented, frazzled and distracted, selves back together again. We need to augment our reality not through gaming and zoning out, but rather through mindfully plugging in. We need to radically simplify and purify. We need to take a step back from the incessant swarming chatter, tune into our bodies - their natural rhythms and messages - and just breathe deeply. And then we need to exhale slowly and generously. In short, we need yoga.

Christina, my favorite friend and yoga teacher, finds it funny when people tell her, “I’m not good at yoga.” She tries to analyze what they mean by that. Do they mean they’re not flexible? That they lack balance? Or that they fidget? What does being “good at yoga” really mean? Is it something one is naturally graced with at birth? Is it a skill that can be acquired through diligent practice? I have a hunch that it’s something else entirely.

Perhaps the people who claim to be lacking the yoga skill are under the impression that there’s a particular goal to achieve or set of movements that must be mastered in order to define themselves as “good”.  When we concentrate on the concrete form of things (skills, goals, measures and metrics), it becomes that much harder to focus our awareness on subtle essence, which I believe is the artful elegance of yoga - and of life. Subtle essence is that minute, barely perceptible space between our thoughts, the tiny pause between an exhalation and the next inhalation, or that brief instant as our dream state quietly transitions into wakefulness and suddenly it’s the dawning of a new day; it’s the span of time when we’re steadily balancing in crow pose and for that fleeting moment, the world seems like it’s in order. I think of yoga as a willingness (which is the opposite of willpower). It’s a gracious, open invitation to be curious about ourselves and the world - an opportunity to be authentic, gentle, compassionate, introspective, spiritual, wobbly and imperfect. The practice has the power to inspire thoughts and emotions that result in beneficial actions toward ourselves and others. I think acclaimed author and yoga instructor Rolf Gates sums it up nicely when he says, “Yoga is not a work-out, it’s a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” The more comfortable and practiced we get at seeking information from deep within ourselves, the more wisdom we uncover, and the less we need to rely on Kim Kardashian for weight loss tips.

You might surmise from all this philosophizing on yoga that I’ve been practicing all my life. Actually, it’s been about five really beautiful, introspective months. My earnest practice began on February 12, 2016 - the first night Three Birds Yoga Studio opened. I had previously tried numerous yoga classes at the gym, and while they seemed like a worthwhile workout, they didn't resonate with me, seep into my soul or become a true ritual that I craved or desired. Three Birds changed my relationship with yoga and quite frankly, with my Self. The studio is my sanctuary, and the sound instruction, attention toward alignment, gentle assistance, sense of community, and kindness I receive there brings harmony and peace into my life as my body is thriving and becoming stronger. I no longer feel like I need to spend time pounding on machines at the gym. I’ve evolved beyond that. I feel extremely calm, centered and happy.

My yoga practice has become an inseparable part of me because it aligns exquisitely with my philosophy on health and nutrition. Both yoga and mindful eating practices tap into the fundamental, primal human desire for pleasure, joy and balance. I find that there are moments in my life, both on and off the mat, when it’s pleasurable to be intensely focused and test my limits, and there are an equal number of moments when I prefer to explore the playful, relaxed and indulgent side of myself. Sometimes challenging myself with a particular pose or a food detox feels just right and other times all I want is some deeply restorative yoga and a square or two of lusciously decadent chocolate. There’s plenty of room in my spacious life to mix and match all of these equally valid choices and the practice of yoga crystallizes that concept in my body, mind and spirit.

After a challenging hour of yoga when I am resting in savasana, an equanimity and sense of bliss wash over me that undoubtedly proffer health benefits as powerful as my morning green juice. I can actually detect an energy shift throughout my body. It’s one of those subtle essence moments that I’ve come to celebrate. This state of being is indescribable to someone who is not familiar with it. All I can say is that no treadmill or elliptical machine workout has ever offered me the same sensory experience.

I am a health coach, not an expert. I am a human being, a lover of fine food and chocolate, and a yogi who has found a bit of balance on the mat, at the table and in my life, through trial, error, a fair amount of wobbling, and plenty of thoughtful research. It is in this spirit that I would like to offer you a few simple practices that have powerfully impacted my health and my life:

 

  • Notice and just be.  Grant yourself the time to enjoy a meditative moment before you put anything in your mouth, before you begin your yoga practice, or before you act on a thought. Don’t try to change anything. Simply close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and be at peace with what is. If you can locate a silver lining in the moment, even better, and if not, so be it. We spend so much precious energy struggling. Sometimes, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to gracefully accept our current circumstances, whatever they may be. Meditation and spiritual awakening expert Tara Brach is very much a proponent of this philosophy and in her discussion of the importance of acceptance, she offers a clean, modest phrase that I love: “And this too."

 

  • Set an intention.  One great way to enhance your experience of life is to be more mindful. Transitioning into a more mindful place can be incredibly challenging, though. Try setting a simple intention for yourself before engaging in any endeavor. When your monkey mind starts to wander, as it inevitably will, allow your simple intention to gently but firmly root you and re-establish your connection to the magnificence of this unique point in time.

 

  • Choose to remain open - no matter what.  Open your heart, your mind and all your senses. This is the best way I can think of to attract favorable circumstances and magic into your life. If you’re always open, you’re a vessel through which energy, opportunities and inspiration may freely flow, and the potential for happiness is great. A closed system just recirculates the same old stagnant air.   

 

This is my yoga. Here in these little kernels of wisdom lies the subtle essence that informs my daily rituals and creates a sense of wonder in my life. When I take that moment to pause between breaths, I know in my heart that I’m rich beyond measure.

You won’t find Pikachu at Three Birds Yoga Studio. Don’t even bother looking. And Kim Kardashian isn’t lucky enough to practice here. What you will find, though, is beautiful, generous and abundant teachers like Christina and Sarah who connect you to your truth, your strength, your joy, your edge and your compassion. And you’ll find me, wobbling imperfectly in the studio with a happy smile on my face. What do you say...shall I roll out a mat for you next to mine so we can practice finding balance together?

 

Playing Hooky (at Del Posto)

Would it surprise you to hear about a woman with a high regard for academics and achievement who encouraged her child to play hooky? What kind of irresponsible mother tells her child to ditch school when there are vocabulary words to memorize, word problems to solve and hordes of rambunctious third graders in dire need of safety patrolling? Um…me? Yes, it’s true. Guilty as charged. But in my defense I will say that it was the last full day of fifth grade, elementary school about to become a distant but cherished memory. In all honesty, there really wasn’t a heck of a lot of learning left to be done, and besides, some of our favorite characters from American fiction and cinema are hooky players. Tom Sawyer and Ferris Bueller are famous for taking mental health days and we love them for it.

Unlike Ferris and Tom, my eleven year old daughter, Lexy, had applied herself diligently to her schoolwork and extracurricular activities throughout the year and I thought we both deserved a reward. I am convinced that our alternative to elementary school that day was an educational enterprise of sorts…one which elevated her food connoisseurship to a higher plane. We ventured into New York City’s meatpacking district where we met another family foodie, my father, with the intention of immersing ourselves in an afternoon of indulgence at Del Posto.

The refined brainchild of Mario Batali, Joe and Lidia Bastianich and executive chef Mark Ladner, Del Posto is well suited to the discerning palate of the epicure or the somewhat modest palate of a soon-to-be middle schooler. That’s one of the things I love about this place…every guest is lavished with exquisite food, drink and service, but without any hint of pretention or disdain for one who still navigates the world of fine food with training wheels.

The royal treatment is not reserved for patrons only, mind you. Even your purse is a V.I.P. at Del Posto. Yes, you read that correctly. Your purse is too good to get slung over the back of your chair, or horrors, to get relegated to the floor at this elegant establishment. Shortly after you are warmly greeted, a luxurious little ottoman automagically appears tableside if you happen to be carrying a purse. That’s right; your lucky carryall companion can get comfy and settle in for a snooze while you politely stuff your face.

I’ll have you know, my purse is now spoiled for all other restaurants (thank you, Del Posto), and unabashedly gives me the stink eye if I take it to a restaurant and neglect to request a soft surface on which it can enjoy a siesta. Now, I care for my purse as much as the next gal, but one thing I cannot abide is offering it Del Posto table scraps. Don’t think it lacked the audacity to sit up and beg for a tasty tidbit from its tufted perch, but I stayed strong. I recognize that once you start a habit of feeding your purse top-of-the-line scraps, it will likely turn its nose up at every single run-of-the-mill morsel you try to slip it in the future.

So what were we savoring at the table that day that turned my ordinarily black purse green with envy? An assemblage of “assagi” or little tastes to whet the appetite ushered in the food parade. Arranged on a cake stand were chick pea fritters that were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and scrumptious on the inside, dainty cups of hearty but delicate lentil soup and mouthfuls of daikon radish that cleansed the palate. Next up was a small plate of bauletti, a broad, flat egg pasta bathed in rich black truffle butter, followed by a rare Atlantic salmon so succulent and tender, each bite fell apart as I speared it with my fork.

There are three desserts that I’m torn between when forced to make a choice at Del Posto, and it’s a pretty delicious dilemma to have. There’s the outrageous butterscotch semifreddo, the coffee gelato with apricot and candied croissant and the four-piece chocolate tasting ranging from a deeply bitter variety at 99% to the most divinely luscious milk at 32%. Fortunately there were three of us so we each chose one and shared. That would have been enough to satisfy all of our sweet teeth combined and then some, but next, mouthwatering, complimentary apple doughnuts with a dollop of cream arrived at the table along with well wishes for our young scholar. I knew that there was yet one more collection of treats on the way, and fortunately I reserved a single, itty bitty compartment in my stomach for the treasure trove of sinful surprises assembled on a fancy cheese grater. Included among these goodies were miniature olive oil ice cream lollipops enrobed in chocolate, and the best chocolate truffles I’ve ever tasted (and believe me when I tell you that I’ve sampled more than my fair share of outstanding ones).

Lunch was an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping event that spanned the better part of three hours. Everything you eat at Del Posto is so mind-blowingly good that the sheer and intense pleasure of chewing and tasting forces your eyes shut so that you can commune with the food on a spiritual level. The fact that this hooky was an extravagance made it all the more hedonistic; I cannot tell a lie.  It’s not something I recommend doing terribly often, though, unless you take pleasure in aggravating your lipid profile and your wallet. Once or twice a year is the kind of splurge the billfold and the total cholesterol count can manage. Exactly how do I rationalize it to my sensible wallet? I explain that I prioritize food above other material objects and am willing to sacrifice elsewhere so long as I can support my artisanal food habit. I’ll wash my own floors and polish my own nails so that I can increase the amount of money I spend on food.

Now what about my friend, Cholesterol Level? How do I explain away the rich decadence of refined dining to that concerned guy? I tell it that chronically rigid eating patterns raise your cortisol levels and that kind of stress can trigger adrenal fatigue, setting the stage for all manner of illness. Consciously scheduling occasions to spoil oneself and give in to temptation is extraordinarily healthy, I’ll argue. And if that sound argument doesn’t fly, I’ll just blame bad boys Ferris and Tom for glamorizing hooky and peer pressuring me into adopting their evil ways.

 

Had these two free spirits never chosen hooky, but rather, complied with all the rules, there would be no story to entertain and inspire us. Our personal accounts and experiences, along with the risks we choose to accept, are what make us unique and authentic individuals who look life squarely and unapologetically in the face. Who wants to be the guy who always chooses the safe route in an attempt to avoid the slings and arrows of misfortune? Not me. No Siree. That’s deadly. I want to be ALIVE.

I admit that I aided and abetted the truancy of a fifth grader in June of 2015. I cannot deny that of my own free will, I ate and spent more than was prudent. And you know what? After all is said and done, I can’t wait to grab my kid, my dad and my overly pampered purse and sneak off to Del Posto again. Join us next time you feel like trading in your responsibilities for a slice of pleasure, won’t you? We can always accommodate an extra hooky player.

 

 

French Lessons

Food is at the very heart of French culture. I have always been enamored of the French because they are artisans in the market, in the kitchen and at the table. Elevating even the simplest meal to a special occasion surrounded by friends or loved ones and finding satisfaction in the same shared food is de rigueur.

For the French, food must entice the palate and captivate the imagination. Eating is a passionate interlude, not a fueling session. While North Americans are obsessively counting calories, scrutinizing their protein, fat and carb intake and feeling anxious around food in general, the French are finding hearty and sensual pleasure by embracing all the tasty food at the table. They dine leisurely, enjoying lively conversation as much as the delicacies laid before them. When it comes to mealtime, there is little, if any, thought about weight loss, nutrition or health, and this is the crux of the “French paradox.” How is it that the French eat cheese, chocolate, butter and pork with gusto and are less overweight and suffer from less coronary heart disease than Americans?

I’d like to approach this conundrum by taking a journey back through time. In April 2014 my family and I traveled to Paris with an itinerary deeply enmeshed in the pursuit of fine food. Oh, there were many museums and gardens packed into each day but I made sure they were within close proximity to the most tempting chocolat chaud the city had to offer. I met with a Parisian friend prior to our trip who was delighted to tell me that the apartment we had chosen for our stay in Paris was one block from a dazzling marketplace…a gastronomic masterpiece known as Le Grande Epicerie…located on the ground floor of the famed Le Bon Marché. Immediately this foodie playground occupied center stage on my itinerary.

Our plane landed in Paris on a Sunday, the one day of the week when the market is closed, but we passed by anyway, just to peer longingly through the window. The French way of saying what we Americans mundanely refer to as “window shopping” is a whole lot sexier. Their expression, “faire du lèche vitrines” literally translates to “licking the windows.” Never once in my life had I felt the urge to lick a window, but that day I wanted to lick all the windows and maybe even the door. Come to think of it, the sidewalk out front looked pretty tantalizing to me as well. There was no getting around the fact that I had been seduced by a supermarket. Realizing that it would be hours before my shopping spree could begin only intensified my exquisite longing.

So what happened the moment I entered the store the next day? My husband literally had to hold me back from skipping through the aisles like a giddy schoolgirl. To call Le Grande Epicerie a supermarket is like calling the Statue of Liberty a sculpture. It’s a bit of an understatement. Rather it is a sensual feast…a point in space and time where food and art converge in perfect harmony. This establishment has an allure all its own and reserves no spot for the restrictive or hesitant eater. It is not an accident that this food paradise is located in Paris, where people approach food with unbridled enthusiasm. The French are in no way gluttonous, though. A rendezvous at the table is an exercise in regulation and restraint. Routines around food are taught to French children starting in infancy when very young (and very content) babies are fed at scheduled mealtimes rather than on demand.

I recently read an interesting book entitled French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. This Canadian author married a Frenchman from Brittany and together, with their two young girls, they left Canada to live in the husband’s hometown for a year. The author’s fascination with the differences between North American and French eating styles inspired her to write her memoir. She focuses on the beauty, care, reverence and restraint that is characteristic of the French approach to food and dining. Take the outdoor markets, where the French mingle while they purchase much of what they consume. According to Ms. Le Billon, fruit and vegetable vendors hand pick all the produce for their customers themselves, inquiring when they plan to eat it before a selection is made. The customers wouldn’t dream of taking undue liberties with the prized produce by handling, squeezing, and sniffing it, as is customary in markets across the U.S.  In fact, it would be a faux pas of epic proportions for a customer to lay a single finger on the produce at an outdoor market.

This self-control and respect for food and fellow dining companions is obvious when three-year-old French children at maternelle (preschool) are expected to wait patiently at the table, hands on their knees, while dessert is served to all who are partaking in the meal. Only when a dessert is set before each child and the maitresse gives permission is it appropriate to eat. Of course the children know better than to touch their dessert too soon, but if a child were to indulge prematurely, the dessert would promptly be removed, never to be returned.  

Karen Le Billon includes information about the preeminent food sociologist, Claude Fischler, who conducted a study intended to identify the contrast in food attitudes between Americans and the French. He divided the study participants into two groups based on nationality and introduced a word association game. Fischler showed each participant a picture of a chocolate cake and asked for the first word that came to mind. For Americans, the most common word was “guilt” but for the French, “celebration” was the word most frequently associated with the cake.

There it is, folks. Right there, in that one little experiment lies the key that unlocks the secret of the French paradox. Guilt has no place at the French table, though it looms large in the North American mindset. Guilt cannot breed positive eating habits, and conversely, a celebratory frame of mind likely enhances the body’s ability to nourish and repair itself. Imagine how digestion is impacted when two people eat the same exact food and one person feels great pleasure before, during and after the meal, while the other experiences unremitting angst. Stress hormones impede the digestive process and create systemic inflammation, so forget the impulsive, compulsive gobbling. Grant yourself permission to slow down, take a break, and enjoy fresh, exceptional food.

The French outlook on food can be a source of enlightenment and healing for those of us who could benefit from a gentle reminder to savor what’s good. With the luminous magic of Le Grande Epicerie as my muse and the epicurean mentality that is typical of the French as additional inspiration, I’d like to suggest four practical tips to enhance and rekindle your relationship with food:

1)       Plan For Gratification

Schedule an indulgence involving food on your calendar. Anticipate it with zeal and when the moment arrives, be present, linger and delight in every mouthful. When it’s over, schedule the next indulgence right away. Delay the gratification, but don’t deny yourself.

 

2)       Sit Down and Eat Food That You Enjoy With People You Enjoy

If you hate kale, don’t eat it. If your co-worker, Nancy, stresses you out, don’t eat with her. Find a great variety of healthful, delicious food that you appreciate and share it at a table or on a picnic blanket with friends or family you also appreciate. Rejoice in the experience. Avoid eating while walking, driving, watching TV, sitting in your stroller or standing in front of your fridge.

 

3)       Become a Connoisseur

Find a food you are passionate about and learn everything you can about it. Share your knowledge with your tablemates.

 

4)       Dress The Table And Eat By Candlelight

At least once a week, make your table resplendent with lovely linens, beautiful dishes, cutlery and stemware. Dim the lights and use candles to set the mood. It’s hard to gobble your meal when you’ve invested time and energy into creating a special table-scape.

Warning: when you dine with grace and civility your brilliant aura may attract the attention of curious, envious neighbors who find themselves peering through your windows, overcome by the strange desire to give them a lick. Simply draw the curtains, or better yet, invite them in to share your feast. Bon Appetit!

 

 

Please Enjoy Responsibly

I don’t know about you, but I’m an inquisitive person. I wonder about all kinds of things. Why do orange slices float but cherries sink to the bottom of my water pitcher? Where do socks with wanderlust go when they mysteriously vanish into the Bermuda Triangle known as my dryer? If the moon is made of cheese, is it raw or pasteurized? Did the Oompa Loompas take ESL classes at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or did they learn English in Loompaland? These are just a few examples of the many questions that gently hover over my mind, lingering there for a moment like butterflies stopping to visit a flower before they drift away. For me, the pleasure of being curious is generally in the pondering itself. Most of the time I don’t really care to find the answers to the questions. Rather, I delight in being a tiny, wondering speck on the face of this awesome universe with its countless, unknowable secrets.

Every so often, though, some burning question takes up residence in my mind and won’t be carried away by the breeze. These are the questions for which my brain demands answers and I must seek them! Here are two such questions: why are so many people addicted to chocolate? Why has chocolate had such a strong hold over me for most of my life? These are toughies and getting to the bottom of the chocolate conundrum will require substantial effort and energy, so hold on a minute while I go snap off a small square of refined, complex dark chocolate from the bar I’ve been nursing. However, considering the breadth and scope of this task, perhaps two squares of luscious milk chocolate would serve me even better. Come to think of it, just reading this blog post will demand that you exert a fair amount of brain power. You’d better take a little nibble yourself before we go any further. I’ll meet you back here in five minutes. I don’t care that you can inhale it in less than 15 seconds. If you’re going to indulge in the chocolate, stop what you’re doing, sit down and savor it fully, granting yourself the permission to be swept away by its magic. Believe me, I understand the magnetic pull of my fascinating questions. You can barely tear yourself away from my musings, but I implore you, fellow chocolate lover, escape into your happy place without any distractions and we’ll reconvene in five minutes, moods boosted and energy stores replenished. Here’s something for you to daydream about while you’re licking your lips…the Latin name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao which translates to “food of the gods.” That indicates that we’re about to enter a heavenly realm by partaking of our respective treats. See you in five!

**Intermission**

Well, did you enjoy your little chocolate rendezvous? Mine was divine. I decided to have one square of a 74% dark and one square of a 33% milk to cover most of my bases. There’s always the extremely pleasant 60-65% range but I only indulge. I don’t overindulge, so I’ll work on that category next time.

During our brief intermission, I had a bit of an epiphany. It occurred to me that part of chocolate’s seductive appeal could very well be the fact that it is the only edible substance that starts to melt at around 93 degrees, just below body temperature. Try tearing of a small piece of kale and allow it to sit on the tip of your tongue for a few moments. Now, be patient. In fact, while you’re waiting to see if any alterations to its physical structure occur, why not grab your copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and read through one of the Oompa Loompas’ English songs. It will pass the time and besides, they’re really quite clever! OK, time’s up. Any meltage? Nothing? Oh, how disappointing! A small piece of chocolate on your tongue starts to dissolve into a delectable puddle within seconds. That’s a pleasant sensation, is it not? So, besides its gorgeous taste, chocolate has a texture that transforms in a delightful way. Chewing it thoroughly into bits is completely optional, and in fact, not the preferred method for preparing chocolate to be swallowed, in my humble opinion. I like to chew it just the slightest bit and then allow the smaller pieces to simply melt away ever so slowly for maximum enjoyment. Did you know that it takes about six seconds to properly experience the many layers of intricate flavor when tasting chocolate? That’s a long time! Furthermore, as those six seconds of chocolate nirvana unfold, various, distinct notes take center stage in your mouth, exquisitely blossoming before leaving their final impression.

So, what’s happening in your brain while your taste buds are having their rocking party? Your brain is enjoying a similarly fabulous party as a direct result of the 380 some odd compounds that comprise chocolate and trigger the release of neurotransmitters. What are neurotransmitters, you may ask? Normally this would be one of my wondering questions that I’d happily allow to flutter away, but because I feel a responsibility to play Virgil to your Dante in this Divine Chocolate Comedy, I will provide an accurate and simple explanation. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that transmit information within the brain and beyond, to the entire rest of the body. They pass signals between nerve cells called neurons and those signals shape and regulate all of our basic life functions. They also have a major impact on mood and pleasures related to emotional arousal.

While your mouth is registering the sensation of the chocolate, your digestive system begins to metabolize its nearly 380 compounds whose charms are potent and undeniable. Chocolate contains the amino acid tryptophan which helps to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is considered a powerful contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. Chocolate also causes the release of a neurotransmitter called phenylethylamine which is sometimes referred to as “chocolate amphetamine.” It creates changes in blood pressure and blood sugar levels that evoke feelings of heightened excitement and alertness. Phenylethylamine elevates mood, lessens depression, and is responsible for a delicious quickening of the pulse similar to what a person might experience when in the throes of a love affair. And what’s more, Italian researchers claim that women who eat chocolate regularly have a better sex life than those who do not. My guess is that this provides an indirect benefit to their lovers whether they’re eating the chocolate themselves or not.

Thinking about breaking off another square or two, are you? Well, there’s more. Eating chocolate increases endorphins released into the brain which induces a sense of comfort and elation, while reducing the stress response. Anandamide is yet another compound found in chocolate.  It causes the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine which is largely responsible for behaviors around motivation and reward. Dopamine, scientists believe, teaches us to engage in feel-good behaviors (whether they’re actually good for us or not), because they result in a happy, albeit, temporary, reward. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the neurotransmitters targeted for treatment of addictions since satisfying shots of it are released to the brain every time we engage in a behavior such as eating chocolate that the body perceives as fulfilling.

It is interesting to note that Anandamide resembles THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical found in marijuana. That explains a lot. Now I’m starting to understand why, immediately after I’ve luxuriated in my version of Parisian hot chocolate, I literally feel like I am not safe to get behind the wheel of a car or operate heavy machinery. That means when I know I’m scheduled to ride my backhoe loader or trencher, I make sure to split my fabulous chocolat chaud with my two kids. Safety first, I always say. But all joking aside, I have felt downright intoxicated on high quality, dense hot chocolate…something about the velvety texture, beautiful flavor and voluptuous warmth traveling down my esophagus alters my state of consciousness and I feel positively giddy, alive and like all is right with the world.

I think I might be sensitive to chocolate don’t you? While I can’t deny that the sensation is highly enjoyable, it’s a little scary too. If I have just a little too much, its effects are noticeable and what goes up must come down, the laws of physics tell us. Though I haven’t specifically noticed an accompanying crash, there probably is one. I do notice that eating just a bit too much chocolate can give me a mild burning sensation in my esophagus. And because I’m very cognizant of my sugar intake these days when sugar rightfully gets so much bad press, I’ve learned to enjoy chocolate with wild abandon but in small quantities. You should too, Dante, so we can remain together in Paradiso.

While you might find me sampling a square or two of an exceptional chocolate on an occasional weekday, I have chosen to reserve the weekends for a hot date with my indulgence of choice. It seems to me that chocolate tastes even more delicious when I get to look forward to it and plan for it throughout the week. It’s not that I forbid myself from having chocolate Monday through Friday. It’s there if I desire a splurge, but generally I don’t choose it.  I’ll take a bite out of a sweet, juicy apple instead, knowing that some treats are perfect for now while others are best to anticipate for later.

But when I do choose the chocolate, aren’t you just dying to know what I reach for? Here, in no particular order are a few of my favorites:

Amedei Toscano Brown Cioccolato Al Latte, 32% $9

Parliament Chocolate Bolivia Alto Beni 70% or Dominican Oko Caribe 70%, $7

Francois Pralus bars in any single origin variety. Most are 75%. All are delicious. $10

Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate 74% cacao, Dominican Republic Finca Elvesia, $9.50

Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company Love Bar Venezuela Patanemo 75% cacao, $16

Xocolatl De David Brown Butter 72% cacao Ecuador, $10

 Maranon Fruition 76% cacao, Peru, $12

All of the above varieties, excluding Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company’s Love Bar can be purchased in person or online at The Meadow: 523 Hudson St. NYC or www.themeadow.com

Love Bars are available online www.cacaoatlanta.com or in person if you happen to be visiting Atlanta.

What’s your favorite bar? Please contact me to let me know and I’ll add it to my ever-growing list of chocolate worth sampling.

French writer Jeanne Bourin wrote the preface to a book I love called The Book of Chocolate and in it she talks about being an active member of the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat, a chocolate lovers’ club that meets every two months to share their beautiful chocolate as well as their passion for it. I am drawn to this idea like a moth to a flame and I’m currently hatching a plan so stay tuned. I’m all about delighting in the joys of the table with fine fare and fine company so a Chocolate Lovers’ Club is right up my alley, and perhaps it’s an alley you’d care to wander down as well. I’m also hosting a fine chocolate and tea pairing at my home on February 26 at 12:30 pm. Reserve your spot through the Contact Me page on my website. I can tell you that the combinations I’ve selected will BLOW YOUR MIND.

In the United States, 12 pounds of chocolate are eaten per person per year. I believe a true chocolate connoisseur might be satisfied with a mere 5 pounds if it’s the best of the best, paired with laughter, camaraderie and a sense of playful indulgence. So be a connoisseur with me at my upcoming chocolate event, and in the meantime, grab your choicest bar of chocolate, come on over, and help me find those darned missing socks!

 

 

 

Imperfect, Lovable Me

Have you ever wondered exactly what it is that your friends see in you? Let’s find out for sure, shall we? Hand your favorite friend a pen and a piece of paper and ask this person to paint your honest portrait using only descriptive words. But first, let me issue this disclaimer: neither Nadine Kerstan nor Artisan Nutrition may be held responsible for any hurt feelings, misunderstandings or fist fights that ensue between the parties should this exercise go terribly, terribly wrong.

My best friend, Christina, recently painted me in these eight words: thoughtful, kind, compassionate, intelligent, passionate, precise, perfectionist, foodie. This is the essence of who I am according to Christina. I admire her portrait of me because it is both loving and realistic. I particularly appreciate that she included the words compassionate and perfectionist because these personal qualities do live side by side within my psyche, yet they are not always at peace. In fact, if I am to be completely truthful, I’d have to admit that they are oftentimes at war. Sure, I have vast stores of compassion for my family, friends, neighbors, strangers and animals, but being a lifelong perfectionist means that sometimes I have a harder time extending that same tenderness toward myself.

It was almost one year ago at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s annual live conference that Geneen Roth, an inspirational speaker and gem of an author who tackles the subjects of eating and living well, gave a lecture that touched me very deeply. During her lecture she wondered how many people within earshot of her voice were really and truly lavishing themselves with exquisite kindness. Something about her choice of words resonated with me and set my brain wheels into motion. Am I lavishing exquisite kindness upon myself, I wondered? Is that even allowed, let alone recommended? Here was a head scratcher that would require some serious soul searching.

My dedicated and well-intended parents raised me to work hard (mostly in the academic arena) for the sole sake of hard work, and the holiness that resided in the exertion and suffering was itself the reward. The hard work was not attached to any specific, desired outcome that my parents had for me. It simply was a way of life for my family and it set me up for a tendency toward perfectionism that ate away, little by little, at my joie de vivre. Playing hard, nurturing comfort, or luxuriating in the simple good fortune that was ours was somehow out of the reach of my family. That type of ease and contentment was reserved for other people who had more money, fewer responsibilities and weren’t perpetually standing under a rain cloud. But still, I longed for the unattainable. I desperately craved sunshine, softness, air uncluttered and unsaturated with fear and worry. I would have benefitted deeply from being lavished with exquisite kindness but it hadn’t yet occurred to me to seek it within myself, and my Self had no idea at that point how to provide its own comfort.

Then, all of a sudden, I was an adult and I could choose my own fortune. What a gift, and at the same time, what a confusing prospect! So, what does a girl coming out of a long period of deprivation do? First she spends almost four months in Italy studying the language, soaking up the culture, eating insanely delicious food, enjoying Italian boyfriends and buying lots and lots of shoes. I still have many of them in my closet, by the way…the shoes, that is…not the Italian boyfriends. My husband won’t let me keep them in the house. I have them outside in the garage, instead. They really come in handy on Mondays when I come home with a big Farmigo order. They aim to please and won’t let me lift a single finger! Grazie, Gianluca, Marcello, Fabrizio. Really, you guys are just troppo gentile. But I digress. Now where was I? Oh, yes. I spent some time in Italy and when I came home, much less deprived than before, I headed almost immediately for Bliss NYC, a cushy day spa where I could relax and settle in to my new adult life. At Bliss, like any good spa, it is possible to spoil and pamper oneself for a tidy sum, and spoil myself I did, Gentle Reader. I had facials, massages, spent time over the next few summers in Europe. I worked at a responsible job and led a responsible life in between, but I was having some serious fun! I was making up for lost time and bestowing upon myself the kindness I believed I deserved. It wasn’t the deeper kind of self-love I needed, but it sufficed.

 There was just one teensy weensy problem which was the several thousand dollars’ worth of credit card debt that I somehow managed to rack up and was ever so slowly starting to pay down. I was all lit up inside, though, despite my debt because I was finally living the carefree life I desired. Around this time, the Universe sent me a gift…an adorable human gift whom I loved and married. This sweet man, without complaint, paid off my credit card debt and just asked me, pretty please, not to do that again. I couldn’t! Once we got married, it was time to get serious and start saving for a house and plan for a family. You parents out there will understand that once you are blessed with a child, life changes and your needs are no longer a top priority. You walk around like a loving, devoted zombie for a couple of years trying to figure out how you can cook, eat, clean the house and spend a bit of couple time with your spouse all during the hallowed two and a half hours each day known as Nap Time since that’s the only child-free time you ever have. When do you find time to develop a practice of relaxation and lavish yourself with exquisite kindness? The answer is plain and simple. You don’t. And if you’re anything like us, you decide to become loving and devoted zombies for a second time so that you can build your family.

My body, mind and spirit noticed the imbalanced nature of this lifestyle and it started to feel depleted. I was tired and wired, eating too much sugar and the perfectionist in me wanted to be supermom and super homemaker. The house was clean. I baked cakes and made homemade play dough. I looked slim, fit and relaxed (I think), but inside I was wiped out and my battery needed serious recharging. My solution, after several years without any break or relief, was to join a gym that had recently opened and take advantage of all the amenities it had to offer. It was a resort-like facility with free onsite childcare, saunas, a eucalyptus steam room and classes galore. It became my oasis…a haven where I could start to replenish and nurture myself. Soon I realized that I wanted to start eating the most gorgeous food the planet had to offer and thus a self-care routine began.

Seven years later I continue to work on cutting myself some slack. Christina is right. I am still a perfectionist, but that’s OK. I have learned to trust myself and tune into my own opinions, intuition and desires. I have become skilled at taking “expert” advice with a grain of salt and relying on my own gut instincts. I often feel surprise and delight at how brave I really am. I finally have the time to get to know myself, and becoming a health coach has provided me with the skills and desire to do so. I am enormously proud of the woman I’ve become and that pride and confidence has enabled me to lighten up a bit, feel genuine gratitude for my beautiful life and treat myself to the love I deserve. Fortunately I get tons of love from my family, but now I can also generate and sustain my very own brand of organic, local and artisanal self-love.

I’m a masterpiece in progress. I’ll be tinkering with this ridiculous, fun, fulfilling, crazy Nadine project for the rest of my life. It’s a labor of love and I can’t think of a person more deserving of exquisite kindness and attention. Although, come to think of it, there is just one other person out there equally deserving of tender loving care, and that, my friend, is you! So, find an extra pen and paper and while you’re waiting for your pal to render your portrait, create your own loving tribute to the characteristics that set you apart from a crowd. And when you’re all finished, send it to me because honestly, I can’t wait to read it!

 

I Love My Vitamix

 

Let’s play a little game. I’ll think of a small appliance in my kitchen and you’ll guess what it is. Ready? OK! Yes, it makes as much noise as a rocket launching into outer space. Yes, I did have to take a second mortgage on my house to be able to afford it. Yes, a person without teeth would find it very useful. Yes! It is my Vitamix! Wow. You sure are good at guessing games!

Two years ago at Whole Foods Market, a magician with fast hands was mesmerizing a hungry crowd of bystanders simply by turning the dial on his Vitamix. For his first trick he turned water, a handful of spinach, a whole orange with part of the skin intact, and a wedge of lime into a refreshing and extremely delicious green smoothie. Next up was a cream-less strawberry “ice cream” followed by a flavorful tortilla soup. All of these lovely creations were prepared effortlessly in less than two minutes. Best of all, the Vitamix could clean itself. “I’ll have one!” I thought to myself, licking my lips in anticipation. All that was left was to convince my practical-minded husband that we were in dire need of a powerhouse blender that cost more than his first car. Fortunately, my practical-minded husband is also a supremely nice guy, and I can be extremely convincing when motivated. It took three months of wheedling, cajoling and eyelash batting, but I finally had my prize on the kitchen counter, ready to perform a few tricks of its own.

I have a silly habit of naming many of the inanimate objects in my life toward which I feel affection. My car is Patty. The little evergreen that sits on my terrace is Irwin, and now the blender was begging for a name. I narrowed it down to first names beginning with the letter “v” since Vitamix was to be its last name and my ear tends to favor the alliterative sounds in such names as Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan and Charlie Chaplin. Of course, when naming a blender,  knowing its gender would be helpful. I turned it upside down to see if I could locate any distinguishing body parts but found none. What I did find was a label identifying it as a “Household Food Preparing Machine.” That sounded decidedly feminine to me so I named said machine “Vicky” and have referred to her as such ever since.

Short of hooking myself up to a super-greens IV machine, Vicky was the most effective delivery system I could imagine for loading up on the nutrient-rich foods my body craved. Immunity-boosting, superhero foods like kale, spinach, bok choy, flax, chia and pomegranate seeds could easily be incorporated into my daily diet in a variety of lip-smacking formats…soups, smoothies, dips…the possibilities were endless. Warming foods in the winter and chilled creations in the summer were a major part of Vicky’s appeal.

It’s worth noting that blended raw vegetables and fruits are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream because they come to the body with their cell walls already broken down. That means the protective compounds in Mother Nature’s beautiful, edible plants are available to promote cellular repair right away. However, unlike juicing, blending maintains the full fiber content of the produce which slows down the absorption of natural sugars, preventing unhealthy spikes in blood glucose levels. Every time I crank up Vicky’s turbo engine, I know that my body (and the three lovable bodies that live with me), are getting a powerful shot of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals) that optimize our well-being.

Now, not everything I make in Vicky’s pitcher is what I would call nutritionally optimal. There’s a mind-blowing chocolate concoction I whip up that my family lovingly refers to as “doodly mousse” (see, they like naming things too), whose three main ingredients are heaps of high-quality dark chocolate, heavy cream and Tahitian vanilla. That luscious indulgence is not doing a darned thing for the health of our cells but it does amazing things for our souls as we savor it together after lunch on weekends. There simply has to be some benefit to our bodies from the serotonin release that results from a single spoonful (and trust me, one generous spoonful does the trick. This stuff is potent). Vicky gladly obliges us without judgment when we choose chocolate, but for the most part she is the steward of our good health, protecting us from harm and regarding us with pride as we drink in her magic. 

I am happy to report that I have not been sick since Vicky entered my life on August 17, 2013. These twenty-eight months have passed without a miserable cold and lingering cough. I feel full of vitality and so does my family. I celebrated Vicky’s first anniversary of coming to live with us by having her prepare something special to accompany each of our three meals. On Vicky’s second anniversary at Casa Kerstan I presented her with a stylish hat that she could wear to work and I even snapped her photo while she tried it on for size (it fit perfectly). This year’s festivities are still in the planning phase, but I’m thinking about placing Vicky on the floor in the center of the kitchen and asking my family to join me in an uplifting, ritualistic-type circle dance around her to demonstrate our devotion. I also feel compelled to cross out the lackluster descriptor “Household Food Preparing Machine” and replace it with a moniker that pays homage to her worth and loyal service. I’m thinking, “Health Safeguarding Device,” “Instrument for Personal Transformation,” or “Never-Run-Out-Of Steam Machine.” All of these labels help to paint her portrait and define her function, but which one to choose???? Perhaps it would be best if I asked Vicky to chew it over and come up with something satisfying. After all, it’s what she does best.