The Price of Spontaneity

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Banh mi: The Vietnamese po' boy

Spontaneity is the quality of being able to do something just because you feel like it at the moment, of trusting your instincts, of taking yourself by surprise and snatching from the clutches of your well-organized routine a bit of unscheduled pleasure.

— Richard Iannelli  (Don’t ask me who he is; I have no idea, but I like the quote.)

 Enjoy every sandwich.

— Warren Zevon

The other day my brother Jeff came over to my apartment to help me out with some fix-it type chores.  Wait, no, he didn’t help — he did the chores while I watched (until I got bored).

Before launching in, we wanted a quick lunch, but I had nothing in the refrigerator, so I suggested nipping down the block to Henry’s for a couple of banh mi sandwiches.  Banh mi is like a Vietnamese po’ boy: a fresh demi-baguette filled with julienned pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro, sliced jalapeño pepper, paté, mayonnaise, siracha sauce and various meat-like options, such as pork, grilled chicken, Vietnamese salami, sardines, tofu, etc.  It ranges in spiciness from not to very, depending on your personal preference (of course, I like it hot!).

IMHO, it is absolutely delicious.  I got hooked on banh mi last fall while doing a culinary walking tour of Chinatown, where there is good banh mi to be found.

So nip down the block we did, where we picked up a couple of banh mi sandwiches with grilled chicken.  Back at my place, we devoured them with a lovely Grüner Veltliner.

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Week Whatever: Progress Is Slow!

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This is me not obsessing about my weight.

It’s been a while since I posted, due to a combination of frustration, embarrassment and, oddly enough, hope — hope that, if I wait one more day or one more week, I’ll have lost a couple more pounds that I can report.  And I have lost a little bit since my last post about two weeks ago (that was Week 9, making this Week 11).  I weighed in at 179.5 this morning, down 2 pounds, but still above my low, 177.5, about six weeks ago, before my whirlwind wining-and-dining tour of such exotic locales as San Juan and Cleveland.

Honestly, I thought I would be further along on the weight loss journey by now.  I thought I would have lost much more.  Five-and-a-half pounds isn’t much to show for 11 weeks of effort.

Deep down, though, I know I haven’t been trying hard enough.  The ugly truth is that I hate dieting, although Weight Watchers very deliberately bills itself as a plan, not a diet.  Still, it comes down to eating less overall and especially less of certain things that I enjoy very much, like wine, cheese, anything salty and crunchy … I could go on, but you get the picture.

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Week 9: Getting My Mojo Back!

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Where have I been the last six weeks?  Seems like  here, there and everywhere.  Not that it’s been terrible, mind you.  You can’t really complain when you’re flitting about to places like San Francisco, LA, San Juan and DC.  (You could grouse a bit about Cleveland, Ohio,  but it was my own idea to go there for work, so I can’t.)

The point is that I haven’t had much of a routine lately.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I have strayed from my mission.  You know, the whole losing 30 by 50 thing?

Which is why I am where I am today: 181.5 pounds.  That’s a full 4 pounds over what I weighed three weeks ago, when I was 177.5.  So my net loss after nine weeks is only 3.5 pounds.  Not very impressive. 

Not that I am surprised, given what I’ve been doing — and not doing — lately.

And yet, I have to tell you that I am not discouraged either.  Now that I am back home, with no looming travel obligations, I am psyched to be in my routine again. 

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The Best Laid Plans … Aft Gang Kaput

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How is that life always gets in the way of our plans? 

My plan, for example, is simple enough:  Lose 30 pounds by careful, more conscious eating (some might call that “dieting” but I’m looking for a longer-term, more satisfying approach here) and being more physically active, mainly at the gym.

Yet, how easily that plan is scrapped!

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What’s With The New Weight Watchers Plan?

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Stephanie Rost, RD, WW's director of corporate program development

Once upon a time, an overweight Brooklyn housewife named Jean Nidetch went on a diet prescribed by a local clinic and dropped 20 pounds.  She felt pretty good, until she found herself slipping back into bad habits.  Determined to keep the extra LBs at bay, she got together several of her weight-challenged friends and started a support group.

And so was born the forerunner to Weight Watchers, officially incorporated two years later  in 1963.

Today, millions of people in 30 countries around the world attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings or participate in the program online.  I wonder how many LBs that translates to?

I’ve tried Weight Watchers a few times over the years and have always been impressed by its sensible, lifestyle-oriented approach to weight loss and management.  It’s what I’m doing right now, as a matter of fact, although it is a little different this time.

Last fall, WW announced its new PointsPlus program.  Although the philophy is basically the same — change the way you eat for life, instead of crash-dieting for the short term — “PointsPlus is a completely new system, ” according to Stephanie Rost, RD, WW’s director of corporate program development.

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Week 6: Back on Track

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Strolling the canals of Venice, CA -- not the same as hitting the gym, but it's still exercise.

I didn’t plan on taking a 3-week hiatus.  But, with two mini-vacations — one in California and another in Puerto Rico — followed by a brief period of just plain laziness, that’s exactly what happened.

I was not terribly virtuous during this period, despite my exemplary intentions.  For example, I brought gym clothes with me to both California and Puerto Rico.  But I forgot to pack sports bras for my trip to LA, and in San Juan, I slept in too late most days to hit the gym before hitting the beach.  When we weren’t eating out in LA, I cooked — vegetarian, healthy, low-cal and low-fat.  I even made a vegetarian black bean chili for Super Bowl Sunday, but fell prey to the chips and salsa (a particular weakness of mine) that had been arrayed for other, non-dieting people. 

By the time I flew to San Juan, only a few days after returning from the West Coast, my resolve had seriously deteriorated.  My first lunch there at a company picnic, I ate both a hamburger and a hot dog!  (The hamburger definitely wasn’t worth it, but I’ll never forget that hot dog.)  On the buffet line that night, I exercised an unseemly lack of discipline.  And I don’t even like buffet food.

So it was with a heavy sigh that I stepped on to the scale this morning, expecting the worst.

I couldn’t believe what I saw:  177.5.  Down a pound from my last weigh-in three weeks ago!  Just in case, I stepped off the scale.  Stepped on again.  It still said 177.5.

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Contemplate This: Eating Just One Potato Chip

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You really can eat just one.

My friend Nancy just gave me The Complete Tassajara Cookbook a lovely book of “recipes, techniques and reflections” from the kitchen of Tassajara, a Zen monastery in the Santa Lucia mountains of California, which I visited some years ago for a yoga and meditation retreat.  A beautiful, serene and remote place, Tassarjara serves up absolutely delicious vegetarian fare in a huge family-style dining room for guests who come for retreats and classes — or just to get away from the world for a while. 

The author of The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, Edward Espe Brown, is an American Zen priest and teacher, and a founder of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.  I’m looking forward to immersing myself in this delightful and wise book — and not just for the recipes.  In fact, one of Brown’s essays so enchanted me that I felt I had to share it right away.

It’s called “Eating Just One Potato Chip,” and it’s about, well, eating just one potato chip.  But with complete mindfulness — that is, with complete attention to the experience of eating  a single potato chip, like it’s “the only chip in the universe.”

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