31 March 2008

think less, do more: the 10k

This year I have made a vow with myself to 'think less, do more.' Because like so many of us, I have an ever-growing list of things I say I want to do, try out, or finally get to, and yet, somehow, those things never seem to get crossed off. I'm tired of it, so instead of contemplating how to figure these activities into my life, I'm just going to make it happen.

So that's how I wound up running this 10K last Sunday. I ran high school track and have enjoyed running off and on since then, and over the past few months I've re-emerged myself. Last year, I had good intentions to train and run in the Brooklyn Half Marathon, but my motivation waned before I got there and then I planned to run a 10K with a friend, but it never quite came together. And while it's no good to depend on someone else's interest to motivate you, at least with someone else you can motivate, encourage, and support each other, and I'm lucky to have found someone who's also fond of running and while we don't do all of our training together, we check in with each other regularly, and he was the one who, a couple of weeks ago, suggested we run the Scotland Run 10K in Central Park.

A 10K, or 6.2 miles, was within a reasonable distance for me, as I'd been running 4-5 miles at the gym a couple of times a week, and it's a pretty good race. I was really excited about it but as it got closer, all of these flashbacks of the rush and anxiety of competition from track flooded back and I started to get nervous. Participating in a 'fun run' has been on my to-do list for years, literally, so it was pretty exciting just signing up and making the commitment to do it. I just had to keep reminding myself that I was doing this for fun and not to put too much pressure on myself.

Race day came and it was a brisk 37 degrees, which wasn't ideal, but otherwise the weather was nice and sunny, there was a fun bagpipe band playing (The Red Hot Chili Pipers), and I was pretty jazzed up. I had my new iPod shuffle full of peppy tunes, and I stood towards the front of the line up of 6,900 runners (the front of the pack is meant for those running 5-6 minute miles...that's a couple of minutes faster than me, but it makes for a quicker start), and got off to a strong start and was enjoying the scenery of Central Park in the earliness of spring. The course had a few small, gradual hills, but was not too challenging, and I only felt tired a couple of times, and there even came a few moments when I thought to myself 'Hey! I'm having fun!' I wound up going about 20-25 seconds faster per minute than I anticipated I would, and finished in 1,435th place (what? no ribbon?) at a time of 48 minutes 54 seconds, which I have to say I am damn proud of, seeing as I just wanted to beat 52 minutes. High five!
If you are that interested, here are my full results.

So, keeping with the think less, do more spirit, I'm looking into a couple of upcoming half-marathons, and am applying for the Nike NYC Half which is in July, and participants are selected by lottery. My friend is now trying to get me to also sign up for the NYC Marathon. I never thought about running a marathon-- never particularly appealed to me. But I'm entertaining the idea, especially because the marathon is so hard to get into that you apply and participants are selected at lottery...which means I may get out of having to run it at all, ha!

So, stop thinking and start doing. That's my new motto. Try it out.

Enjoy some entertainment from the Red Hot Chili Pipers!

25 March 2008

i love the library

I did something fun this morning. I rediscovered the library! (And got a library card!)
I've walked by them in Brooklyn and in the city, and even seen people reading library books on the subway, but until today, I hadn't actually set foot one on in New York (with the exception of taking a touristy pleasure visit to the main New York Public Library). I mean, sure, I've thought about going into the library dozens of times. And today, I didn't have anything better to do, so I just strolled into the Leonard Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system in Williamsburg.

"But Aja, what does the library have to do with healthy lifestyles, being green, or eating well?"
Ah, yes, I initially asked myself that same question, but then I thought a bit further, and came up with a few responses and reasons why supporting our public libraries are great...

1. By borrowing your books and movies instead of buying, you're not only saving green, you're being green! You can check something out purely because you're curious, without having to commit to owning it-- you're not buying something you'll only read or view once, and you won't accumulate unnecessarily.
2. Libraries are an amazing community resource, offering free classes and seminars on things like Word Processing, sponsor poetry readings and cultural events, have book circles and children's story times, have free internet access, and have an amazing resource of free books, CDs, DVDs, and more for you!
3. Your taxes pay for it. Why not take advantage?
4. There's no pressure at a library. You can sit there and read or study, use the computers, and browse to your heart's content. You aren't bombarded with the sound of the cafe, with Top 40 music blasting, or with the conversations of other people nearby.
5. The library will expose you to new things! While libraries usually stock the most recent best-sellers, they also have interesting region-specific collections, independent and foreign films and documentaries, books in foreign languages, cookbooks, magazines, and other global media. And because the neighborhood branches are often smaller than most conventional bookstores, it's easier to explore all of the sections and find something you might not have expected.
6. No worries about overdue books-- many library systems now have online renewal, so if you need a few extra days, or weeks, no problem! You can also usually search for and reserve books this way.

When I was young, I loved going to the school and public libraries. I loved to read, and spent my summers racking up points in the public library's children's fun-reading incentive program. I remember filling large canvas bags with books and dragging them home. I also discovered new music-- classical, opera, and jazz-- by borrowing CDs from the library, and in college, I liked to rent old and foreign films from the University library.

I've always been a fan of used books, and almost always buy my books used when I can, and in college, I created the 'A.T.M. Media Center' as a bit of a joke, because I always had friends borrowing books and movies and CDs from me-- or I encouraged them to at least. And even now, once I read a book, I usually try to pass it on to a friend or family member who I think will enjoy it, and encourage them to do the same.

Going to the library feels good. I enjoy supporting my community in this way as well as staying involved in reading books. I think we've gotten away from reading as much as we've used to, now that we have 1000's of cable channels at our fingertips, dozens of things to keep up with online everyday, video games to keep us perfectly occupied in our down time. But nothing competes with cozying up in bed, comfortable chair, or in a sunny patch at a park with a lovely book. Go find a library in your neighborhood and see what it has to offer! Also consider looking into the libraries at a public university near you-- they usually allow community members to check out books, or at least use the library as a resource.

I do feel a little embarrassed that it's taken me this long to get back into the library, but it's totally made my day. I love this opportunity to check out books or movies without having to commit to owning them, or I checked out two poetry books, but I saw a few things I'd like to go back and get next time around. Time to stop writing and do some reading!

Find a public library near you at www.publiclibraries.com

24 March 2008

fish: eating safe, eating good - habitat and sustainability

This guest blog is part two of a 5-part series about the benefits of dangers of eating fish, and how to consume it responsibly. Janet Watkins is a freelance writer living and blogging from the Midwest at www.insidewords.blogspot.com.
Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

Wading along the river, sand squishing between our toes my siblings and I were completely captivated by the life we found along the shoreline. Like marine biologists, we studied the activity that swam near the shoreline, following silver minnows that wiggled between the rocks and pebbles. Our parents, sat close by keeping an eye on their fishing lines and us.

“Hey, Lou looks like you got one!” my uncle shouted. Dad moved quickly lifting the rod from its rest. We chanted, “Daddy caught a fish! Daddy caught a fish,” and watched as he spun the reel and pulled on the rod until the end of the line finally emerged from the water. Hanging from the hook a beautiful silver bass wiggled wildly. Dad caught several of them that day.

Later, as we feasted on cornmeal coated fried silver bass served with home fries and coleslaw; we had little concern or knowledge about the health of the fish from the river. But, by the early 1960s the environmental quality of the Great Lakes basin had deteriorated. Today, fish consumption advisories are commonplace for nearly all of the world’s waters.


Habitat Damage
The Great Lakes is the world’s largest freshwater source containing 90% of the U.S. surface drinking water. A vibrant ecosystem, fish, migratory waterfowl, human and wildlife benefit from this vast watershed, but excessive runoff, over fishing, and toxic substances threatens its vitality. Did you know that it could take hundreds of years to recycle and restore fragile ecosystems like the Great Lakes? The ocean floor needs centuries to grow back! But, “trawl fleets,” to keep up with our hungry demand for fish, dredge the sea-floor plundering coral reef, habitats, and seaweed with unintentional side effects and severe consequences for marine life. It may be the single most damage done to the marine environment by man. Many restaurants and stores list fishing methods and, there is an increasing call to make this information more widely available. Habitat-friendly methods: hook-and-line fishing, long-lining and trap fishing. Ask the method by which the fish were caught when ordering your favorite from the menu or the market.

American consumers boycott of tuna had a tremendous impact on the fishing industry, in an effort to protest and protect the toll on dolphins and other by-catch – animals caught unintentionally by fishing gear. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization one in four animals caught as by-catch dies. Tons of dead fish are thrown out. Dolphins, sea turtles, seals, whales and seabirds are regularly caught, and accidentally killed.

Over fishing happens when the rate of catching fish exceeds the rate at which they can reproduce. Simple and to the point, fish that were once plentiful become depleted, fishing fleets move on to new species, and over fish them to extinction. Slow-growing types like orange roughy and Chilean sea bass are particularly at risk. Check out Hooked – Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht for a dramatic global fish true whodunit story about the pursuit of Chilean Sea Bass in the icy waters of the Antarctica. It will cause you to think twice about what you order your next meal out.

Controlled cultivation of fish or “fish farms” has given rise to what is known as aquaculture. Not a panacea, but an effort to change current problematic fishing methods, the aquaculture industry now produces one-third of the seafood we eat. But, even this approach has side effects. Fish farms can pose a threat to the environment, too.

Farm shellfish
Oysters and most clams and mollusks are farm raised. And, these farms are kind to the environment – yippee! – indeed, they improve water quality (mollusks work as filters). Shellfish require non-polluted water to grow in; therefore these farms are often diligently involved in clean water initiative.

Farm salmon
Eating farm raised salmon – not a good choice. Over crowded net pens become polluted and fish become diseased. Pollution and disease spread to wild fish, antibiotics used leak into the water. Salmon escaping the pens can overtake wild habitats, and the fishmeal used as feed is often made with fish that contain toxins. Bummer! If you must buy farm raised salmon, look for markets that sell organic salmon sourced from the North Atlantic, off the coasts of Ireland, Nova Scotia and Scotland with European organic certification such as the Soil Association a British based agency.

Coming up: Mercury, Pollutants, Contaminants - Oh my!

18 March 2008

Chef Aja T. Marsh News - March Newsletter

Happy (Nearly) Spring Greetings!
As someone who only wants people to be healthy and eat nourishing and delicious food, I think one of my biggest frustrations at the moment is the general public's state of confusion over what is good or bad to eat. It is certain that it is more important now than ever before that we pay attention to our health, lifestyle habits, our environment, our food, and how each of those affect each of the others. But it is also, unfortunately, the greatest irony that in our society today we have the greatest opportunity to be healthy, yet are at our utmost unhealthiest. Blame it on mass confusion-- I understand, it is a contradictory buzz word world out there, filled with new fad diets, supplements, pills, and essential nutrients and going into the store with good intentions can cause you to walk out frustrated and overwhelmed. I am not a nutritionist or dietitian, and do not claim to have ‘the answers’, but I’ll tell you what I know to be the most basic truths of good health.

It's either food. Or it's not.
First off, I think we should stop thinking in terms of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food. Really, we should think in terms of ‘food’ and ‘not food’. What’s ‘not food’? Well aside from the things we generally regard as inedible, ‘not food’ refers to synthetically created products masquerading as food. Sure, it tastes good-- science made it tasty. In theory, that’s pretty incredible, but in the reality of our everyday, it just makes what should be simple, instinctual decisions even harder. Real food doesn’t have long ingredient lists-- ideally, it only has one-- and those ingredients should be ones you recognize and can pronounce. Real food isn’t confusing-- it’s not trying to be something that it isn’t. A tomato is a tomato*.
*Although, that being said, sometimes a tomato isn’t just a tomato. Thanks again to the progress of science and technology, some produce is now more than meets the eye. In the U.S. products with genetically modified ingredients do not have to be labeled as such. Yet, 60-70% of processed food on the shelves contains some. Most likely contenders? Soy, corn, canola. Produce that has been genetically modified does not have to be labeled either, but you’ll know it if it’s SKU number begins with an “8”.

The Earth provides you with everything you need.
Break it down to the most basic level. Sun shines and rain falls, plants grow, and we and other animals can eat those plants, and some of those animals, we in turn consume. That’s all we need. So, sure, Oreos taste amazing, but what the heck are they? There’s hardly anything remotely recognizable in their ingredients. Your body is made to digest real food, not the ‘not food’ that many of us eat on a regular basis. ‘Not food’ makes us sick because our body doesn’t understand it very well. It handles it the best it can, but not always very well or completely.

Your body know what’s good for it. And what isn’t.
Learning to listen to your body is perhaps one of the more challenging things to do, if you are not already tuned in, but it is one of the single most important things you can do for your physical and emotional self. Your body is constantly telling you how it feels about what it’s put through on a daily basis. The extremes of those bodily emotions are migraines and other physical illnesses. But if you learn to pay attention, you’ll notice other clues-- breakouts after eating certain foods, subtle stomachaches, inability to sleep, etc. You’ll also be able to tell when you’re truly hungry, when what you’re doing is right. So before blindly eating just anything, ask your body what it needs. If you quiet down your brain, your body will respond.

And perhaps you think you are genetically predisposed for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity? That might be part of the story, but if you do right by your body, it will do right by you. Most major illnesses and disease are entirely preventable through diet and lifestyle. Listen to your body. It knows what’s up.

A‘diet’ will not save you.
The fad diets we see come in and out of fashion all have positive elements to them, and many of them have foundations in healthy ideas, but the idea that what works for your sister or friend or neighbor is also going to work for you is a bit silly. Everyone and every body is different. Not to mention that regimented diets are generally not the answer. You need a variety of real, natural food. But beyond that, you especially need to move. It’s easy to wake up, get in the car, sit at a desk, drive home, go to bed, and find that you’ve probably not broken a sweat once. It is essential to move, really move, every single day. It’s what our bodies were constructed to do.

Want to learn more? Please contact me if you are interested in personalized, individual Healthy Lifestyle Coaching.
(We don't have to be in the same town or even the same state! My program is conducted primarily via telephone and email)

Working the movie shoot in New Hampshire was delightful, full of really nice and warm people, and I received the nicest compliments on the food I prepared for the cast and crew. Ranging from "that veggie chili is one of the top ten best foods I've ever had in my life" to "best food I've had on a movie set ever." Read some of my accounts from my time there.

I'm also working to post more frequently on Stem+Leaf and would love to hear more from you! Leave comments, let me know if you tried any of the recipes, etc.! I want to provide content that you will enjoy.

If you know of anyone who would benefit from this newsletter, please feel free to pass it far and wide. Friends and family can also sign up here to be on this monthly mailing list.

Read my article in E-Print!: I was recently published in the March Wellness Issues of the Ladies Who Launch Online Magazine. My article, entitled 'Staying Healthy While Launching' focuses on keeping on track health-wise while starting a business. It also touches on some of the 'food' and 'not food' issues discussed above and features two recipes!
*If this link doesn't take you directly to the article, click on 'Hot Topics' under in the Magazine box and it should be the first article to open up.

Recycle Your Plastic Caps: Aveda stores are encouraging you to bring in hard plastic caps from water, detergent, hair product bottles, etc. (which are not generally recyclable curbside) to their stores for recycling. Bring in 25 or more, get a free sample. I will gladly take in your caps if you cannot. Read more about it here.

Current Guest Blog: Janet Watkins is presenting a 5-part guest blog series on how to purchase and consume fish sustainably and healthily. Read the first part here, with the second part up later this week!

Guest Blogger Opportunities: I am always on the lookout for interested individuals to write guest blogs for Stem+Leaf about green and healthy-lifestyle related subjects, from your own perspective. No need to be an experienced writer-- just enthusiastic with something to say! Please contact me for more information.

Be well and Enjoy the day!

17 March 2008

pickle pops!

Being from Texas, I couldn't not have just read this in the New York Times and not shared it.

Apparently a man in Seguin, Texas has recently introduced Pickle Sickles-- a popsicle that's made from a nice juicy pickle and it's brine. It's everything a good Texan could ever want.

I've never been much of a 'drink the pickle juice' kind of girl, but I'm still very curious to try these. There's also a lot on the website about these being perfect healthy alternative to sugary things in school lunches and for diabetics as well. Definitely worth checking out.

12 March 2008

recycle plastic caps at aveda - get free samples

You know the hard plastic caps that top your water bottles, detergent bottles, hair product bottles? Well, you may know to recycle the bottle, but you may not know this: the lids are not widely recyclable -- please don't include them in your curbside recycling bins! Recycling plants generally cut them off or, I've heard, thrown whole bottles away. These lopped off lids have been finding their way into rivers and oceans and into the mouths and bellies of sea animals.

But, from now through May 10th, Aveda is collecting these caps to be re-purposed in the release of their limited edition Clove Shampoo bottles this fall. Bring in 25 caps, get a free hair or body product sample. (Even if you don't scrounge up that many caps, they will take however few or many you have). Sounds good to me.

If you don't have an Aveda store near you, you can also mail them in here (though I don't know if you'll still get a free sample): Aveda Re-Cap Program, ACA Waste Services, 40 EADS Street in Babylon, NY 11704

I'm also happy to take the lids in for you, if you don't have the time! Let me know.

See the article in Shape Magazine, here.

11 March 2008

published in the ladies who launch magazine!

An article I wrote called 'Staying Healthy While Launching' has just been published in the Ladies Who Launch online magazine as the featured article of their March Wellness Issue. It features two recipes and loads of tips for staying on track while running a business, or just a busy life. Check it out!

06 March 2008

guest blog: fish: eating safe, eating good

This guest blog is one of a 5-part series about the benefits of dangers of eating fish, and how to consume it responsibly. Janet Watkins is a freelance writer living and blogging from the Midwest at www.insidewords.blogspot.com.
Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

I love eating fish. It is on my menu at least twice a week. Salmon and tilapia are particular favorites. I enjoy catfish, too, even though I should avoid eating it according to the Eat Right For Your Type diet (which I follow, generally). But the mercury warnings and concerns about sustainability are enough to make a person holler and forego marine edibles altogether.

As a child, I spent many weekends with my family along the banks of the Detroit River or at some other nearby lake where we would drop lines baited with hopes of snagging the fresh catch of the day. Fish was a mainstay. Mercury and PCB levels were not the concern it is today. Greenpeace red lists did not exist. The destructive practices of fisheries that have put many species at high risk were not widely acknowledged nor publicly known back in the day. And, while intuitively my mother knew eating fish was good food for us, there was no research hailing its health benefits like the Harvard Public Health study, which states eating modest amounts of fish each week reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 36% and overall mortality by 17%.

Doctors and health experts all agree that the benefits that come from eating fish outweigh the risks. But given the ongoing health warnings and environmental concerns, what’s a fish lover to do?

Remember the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland? His madness was likely due to the mercury leeching from that top hat he wore. Before its use was banned in the 1940s, mercury was used in the curing of some felt hats. Scientific evidence shows that many of the hat makers suffered severe neurological effects from inhaling the fumes during the hat making process. Psychotic symptoms and hallucinations were experienced by many of the workers as mercury poisoning progressed. So what does this have to do with eating fish? You don’t have to be in the hat making business to be worried about mercury – it has invaded our waters. And, therefore also shows up in the fish we eat.

Understanding the threats to the marine environment can help us make informed decisions about eating fish. Learning about the pollution issues of our water can help us steer clear of contaminated fish.

Coming up: Habitat and Sustainability

05 March 2008

what to do with leftover fresh herbs

My friend Sabrina recently posted this question: "What do you do with the fresh herbs when you can't use them all. Is there some sort of drying technique to use? Ideally I would have an herb garden. But since I have been lazy and not gotten around to that, I get handful of herbs at the store. What do I do when I can't use them in time?"

Woodier, hardier herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano can easily be dried by grouping the stems with a rubber band, and hanging upside down from a low-humidity area, such as from a window or cabinet. They leaves will be dry within a couple of days, and you can either strip the stems and save the leaves, to use as you would any dried herb, or you can leave them as decoration, using only what you need, as necessary.

Wet, leafier herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley are a bit more difficult to salvage in the same way. However, you can freeze them chopped or whole in a baggie (squeeze all the air out first), though the consistency may change once you defrost them, so it'll be best to use these frozen herbs in a cooked dish, as opposed to fresh.You can also freeze the woody herbs in the same way.

To extend the life of your leafy herbs in the refrigerator, place them in a cup with water (like you would with flowers), or wrap them in a slightly damp paper towel and and baggie and place in the drawer. Woodier herbs can just be wrapped in a plain paper towel.

Many herbs taste lovely when made into a hot tea, or added to a tea you already have-- sage goes very well with peppermint tea, thyme plus a lemon slice and honey make for a throat soothing beverage, and cilantro and cucumber make a very refreshing cold essence water (put cilantro and cucumber into a pitcher and pour cool filtered water over it, allow the flavors to merge for at least an hour in the refrigerator). You can also scent your bath water by steeping some herbs in while you run the tap. If you want to avoid bits of herb in your tub, tie the sprigs into some cheese cloth, to make a sort of tea bag.

But if you're looking to use up your fresh herbs, just start adding them to everything-- salads, grains, beans, meats, soups, stocks, etc.-- they can really do wonders to perk up so many foods. If you have a lot leftover, you can make pestos, salad dressings, and marinades pretty easily. Check out some of these recipes.

Recipe: Garlic and Fresh-Herb Grilled Chicken
Serves 6-7
This recipe calls for an array of fresh herbs, but you can really use whatever herbs you have on hand. Even just one of these herbs would result in a tasty dish. Dried herbs work well too, though I like the more subtle and bright flavor of fresh herbs. If using dried herbs, you'll want to use less, so divide the amount by 1/2-3/4.

2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 tablespoons chopped rosemary
1 tablespoons chopped thyme
1 tablespoons chopped oregano
1 tablespoons chopped tarragon
2 teaspoons salt
2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to brush on the grill

1. Mix all of the ingredients, except for the chicken, garlic, and lemon juice, in a small bowl.

2. In a large bowl or ziptop bag, toss the chicken with the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs, until each breast is covered. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat the grill or stovetop grill pan on high heat. Brush the grill with olive oil and place the chicken breasts on the grill. Grill about 5-7 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of the meat. If you don’t have time to fire up the grill, you can cook these underneath the broiler for the same amount of time.

4. Cook until just done and no longer pink in the middle, and remove immediately to sit for 5-10 minutes on a plate. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe: Herbed Red Wine Vinaigrette
Makes about 2 1/4 cups

3/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablesppons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano (1 tablespoon fresh)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (1/2 tablespoons fresh)
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients, except for the oil, in a food processor or blender, drizzling in the oil while the machine is running, until emulsified. Alternatively, whisk the ingredients in a bowl, drizzling in the oil after the other ingredients are well incorporated.

This will keep well for 7-10 days in the refrigerator.

Recipe: Cucumber-Mint Water
I love essence waters. They’re becoming more popular in bottled form, but you can make your own for the same price, but yielding dozens more servings! If you have time to let this hang out in the fridge for 30 or more minutes, it will be even more flavorful.

Small handful fresh mint, basil, or cilantro, torn from bunch
1/2 cucumber (peel first if waxed), sliced into rounds

1. Put the herbs and cucumber into a large pitcher (preferably glass), and top off with cool filtered water. Serve with ice.

2. You may continue to refill the pitcher with water for 2-3 days, or until the cucumbers no longer look crisp.

Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market

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