Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen

Here’s a life lesson: sometimes the things you’re most reluctant to try can surprise you — maybe because they’re not as painful as you thought or not as expensive or not as uncomfortable — and before you know it, that thing you never wanted to try has become something you enjoy.

Much to my own surprise that has been the case with Mini-Resolution #19: Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen.

In Week 3 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health plan, Dr. Andrew Weil begins to tout the benefits of organics. This was where my eye-rolling began.

Sure, I’m as eco-friendly as the next British Columbian. I have some tree-hugger tendencies. And I like the idea of not ingesting mass quantities of chemicals whose harms have yet to be determined. Yet, I’ve always kinda viewed those people hanging out in the supermarket’s organic section as suckers.

Not very enlightened, I know, and I apologize for that.

It’s just hard to buy into the idea of paying as much as three times more for the organic version of a product which, on the surface, looks pretty much identical to the conventional variety.

Sure, studies suggest the benefits of going organic are plentiful, including:

  • less ecological damage to the earth (less potentially harmful pesticides released into the soil and water,  the support of better natural biodiversity — that is, a range of plant, animal and insect life instead of eliminating everything but the crop being produced — and lower energy use and waste production)
  • better nutritional value (higher levels of nutritionally desirable compounds, such as vitamins and antioxidants, and lower levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds such as heavy metals and pesticide residues)

Which is all well and good, but also somewhat inconsequential if buying organic is simply out of your budget.

The selling point for me taking on this challenge was Dr. Weil’s recognition of cost as a potential barrier to buying more organic produce. With that in mind, he doesn’t ask us to go 100% organic right away. Rather, he eases us in by suggesting, at the very least, we avoid the dreaded Dirty Dozen — a list of the 12 most contaminated foods compiled by the Environmental Working Group. The list changes as the monitored levels of contamination in the produce change, but the Dirty Dozen currently includes:

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Kale
  9. Lettuce
  10. Grapes (Imported)
  11. Carrots
  12. Pears

I buy four of these on a regular basis (apples, bell peppers, celery and carrots) so while the process wasn’t completely life-altering it did require some thought at the grocery store. To shell out the extra coin to buy organic versions or avoid these types of produce altogether? That is the question.

Organic Carrots

Organic carrots. Like regular carrots but they cost more.

For apples and carrots, we simply made the switch to organic. A two-pound bag of organic carrots set me back $3.49. The same quantity of my regular old non-organic bulk carrots cost $1.98. That’s a whopping 76 per cent increase in cost to make the switch to organic.

In my mind, I justify that price by considering how long the carrots last us. We’re still working on a bag we bought 20 days ago.

For apples, a three-pound bag of organic Granny Smiths cost $4.47. Compare that to about $3.42 for three pounds of the non-organic variety and you’re looking at about a 30 per cent increase in cost to go organic.

We consume a lot of apples. If the price increase was as steep as the carrots we’d probably have to look at some kind of apple substitute. A thirty per cent increase, however, is manageable. It works out to about an extra dollar a week.

Since taking on this Mini-Resolution, we haven’t had to buy celery and opted out of buying bell peppers when we saw how much the organic varieties cost. In fact, we changed our whole plan for what we would cook for supper based on that fact.

Which is, I think, part of the point.

The key word is flexibility. If you’re going to adopt a new behaviour, you need to make sure that it fits into your life. If it doesn’t, you won’t follow through. That’s just natural.

So while we are committed to no longer buying conventional varieties of the Dirty Dozen, we aren’t necessarily committed to buying their organic counterparts. If need be, we can be flexible and change our meal ideas to fit with both our health concerns and our budget.

I’d be remiss if I closed this entry without mentioning differences in taste between organic produce and their non-organic counterparts. In some cases, there aren’t any. The carrots still tasted like any other store-bought carrot. Being organic doesn’t make them any more flavourful but they work just as well in recipes.

(If you want an awesome-tasting carrot, by the way, you’ve got to go to your local farmer’s market; the fresher they are the better they taste).

Going organic with the apples, however, seemed to make a difference. The organic varieties were smaller and seemed more flavourful. I don’t usually enjoy Granny Smith apples. I find them more tart than tasty. But the organic ones? Yum! Sweet, juicy, with just a touch of tartness.

What can I say?

Dr. Weil, you’ve made me a believer.

Days to go: 314

Mini-Resolutions to go: 239

Get Provoked by Prose: Elie Wiesel’s Night

In Week 3 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, Dr. Andrew Weil gave me one of my favourite Mini-Resolutions to date. He asked me to make a list of  inspirational books that I’d like to read. These could be books of poetry, biographies, books on self-help, spirituality or anything else that moves me. I was to select one and begin it this week.

*thumbs up*

I love to read. Unfortunately, the bulk of my reading in the past year seems to include only cookbooks, magazines (usually Men’s Health or Esquire… somehow I only end up reading what my dear fiance leaves lying about the house) and wedding planning books.

My IQ has dropped 10 points as a result.

Before that, I was in university struggling through a bunch of academic sludge. I’d tell you more but I don’t remember any of it. I can, however, tell you what the hot trending topics of the day on Twitter are.

(See, I wasn’t kidding about the IQ thing)

Suffice to say, I truly needed something like Mini-Resolution #24: Get Provoked by Prose in my life.

I’d like to present my “To-Read List”. That’s like a to-do list, but better because I actually want to check things off it. I compiled it through the highly-scientific method of Googling the term “inspirational books,” culling through the results and also tacking on a few of my own:

Alison’s To-Read List

  1. Night – Elie Wiesel
  2. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose – Eckhart Tolle
  3. The Chase for Beauty – Robert Mendelson
  4. The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
  5. Fat, Broke & Lonely No More – Victoria Moran
  6. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – Michael Pollan
  7. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
  8. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
  9. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  10. No Greater Love – Mother Theresa
  11. The Power of Positive Thinking – Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
  12. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  13. Once a Runner – John L. Parker
  14. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  15. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  16. The Story of My Experiments with Truth – Gandhi
  17. The Art of Happiness – the Dalai Lama
  18. Awaken the Giant Within – Anthony Robbins
  19. Gift from the Sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  20. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – Malcolm Gladwell
  21. Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex – John Gray
  22. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert – John Gottman and Nan Silver
  23. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  24. The Purpose Of Your Life – Carol Adrienne
  25. The Seat of the Soul – Gary Zukav

Night by Elie Wiesel. The version of the book that made Oprah's Book Club list, as translated by Elie's wife Marion.

I selected Night by Elie Wiesel to begin this week. First, because Oprah said I should read it and I do everything Oprah tells me to. Second, because it was available at the library right away. Third and most importantly, because Night is one of those books that you simply must read if you intend to call yourself a human being.

Night is Elie Wiesel’s firsthand account of his 11-month struggle to keep himself and his father alive in Aushwitz. It’s a doomed struggle, the preface tell us. Elie was only half-successful in his quest.

But the book is about more than the awful facts of the concentration camps — and they are beyond awful. It’s also about faith in God, in humanity and in yourself. It’s about the heartbreaking loss and mind-boggling maintenance of that faith in a world too horrible to understand.

Now, I don’t know if this is what Dr. Weil had in mind when he assigned the task of picking up an inspirational book. Often, the word inspirational is connoted with “uplifting.” Night is not uplifting. There is no joy in this book. As one reviewer wrote, “Night is almost unbearably painful.”

This is true. But I would argue that in addition to painful, Night is also inspiring. It is inspiring simply that a man could survive this. It is inspiring that a man could lose everything — his home, his family, his faith — and still have the strength to write about it. Because to publish on an experience is a commitment to live through that experience over and over again: as you write it, as you re-read it and as you discuss it.

It’s a tough read. For me, it was also a quick one. It’s a short book to begin with but I devoured it voraciously because I was desperate to get to a happy ending, to the liberation of Elie and the other prisoners and the joy that day would bring.

There is no happy ending, however.  It’s disturbing. It’s also necessary to tell this story faithfully. For Elie Wiesel, there is no ending at all. He lives always with the memories of Auschwitz. But the key word is lives. He still gets up everyday, he’s remembered how to love, he’s become an activist speaking out against genocides in modern forms. And that is inspirational.

“Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

Night by Elie Wiesel

Days to go: 317

Mini-Resolutions to go: 241

Comeback Kid

I feel like about one-in-five of my posts is generally used for assuring you readers out there that I’m still alive. As you’ve seen, if you’ve spent any amount of time following me, I volley back and forth between being hyper-productive, writing multiple entries a day and totally disconnecting for days at a time.

That’s just how I do things. It’s how I handle my wedding planning (back and forth between micromanaging every single detail and pretending the whole thing isn’t happening so I don’t have to deal with it), my house-keeping (back and forth between scrubbing the bathroom floor crevices with a toothbrush and letting dishes pile up for days), my cooking (back and forth between trying out new recipes for healthy well-rounded meals and eating a supper of cereal straight out of the box since I don’t have any milk because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in days).

I’m not proud. I wouldn’t pretend to believe it was a healthy way of doing things. Let me just say that I’m working on it. I’m still trying to achieve that perfect balance in my life. And the fact that I keep coming back to let you know I’m still hanging in there is proof.

Anyhow, since I’ve on the upswing of my productivity cycle, let me give you a quick update on my life and my progress with my last slew of Mini-Resolutions:

I spent last weekend mostly in hibernation. Just me, my dear fiancé and a lot of rented movies.

It’s Friday night that did me in. We decided to go out to a nightclub for drinks, dancing and — mainly — helping my dear fiance’s newly-single buddy meet some lady friends.

This was a stretch for us. We don’t generally go out. Sure, we do beer at a pub, wine and appies at a restaurant, but we don’t really do the bass-booming, lights-flashing nightclub scene. On Friday night, I realized why.

Nightclubs are scary places.

I don’t know when they became that way. It wasn’t that long ago I went through my partying phase.  Indeed, I remember vividly a time when I’d spend my Friday and Saturday nights getting glammed up, dancing like a maniac until closing time, then finding an after party or after hours club where the dancing continued.

Then something changed. Part of it was me, no doubt. I’m 24 now, for crying out loud. Nearly ancient in terms of the club scene. I can’t keep up with the 19-year-olds. I’ve got a job, a car payment, a fiancé. I’m not a university student anymore but a university employee.

But I won’t take all the blame: something else has gone horribly wrong to make the club scene a damn nightmare.

Like, maybe the fact that nobody wears clothes anymore?

Ok, that’s probably not quite fair. Clothing is worn. Pants just seem to have become passé.

The standard club attire has become skin-tight, spandex dresses cut just below the underwear line. Sometimes they’re not even that modest. Basically, underwear has become outerwear (That’s for girls, by the way. The guy’s uniform of a dress shirt and jeans still stands). I’m not sure when this happened exactly. It seems I didn’t get the memo.

But the horror starts way before that. First there’s the cattle corral you have to wait in outside. Which I’m pretty sure is there for no other reason than to give the bouncers some sense of importance and superiority.

That’s probably also why it takes three of them to check your ID. Literally. Three guys. I’m standing at the front of the cattle corral, 50 drunk people trying to push past me. Bouncer #1 looks at ID. Says it’s ok. Still doesn’t open gate. Drunk girl falls to the ground behind me, bangs head against the back of my knee and nearly takes me out. Bouncer #2 checks ID. Asks for a second piece. Finally lets me through.

Money grabber girl charges me $4 for the privilege of getting this far.

Dear fiancé and his newly-single friend get to Bouncer #3 first. This is where things get seriously twisted.

Our city has implemented a program called Bar Watch. Bar Watch is designed to:

“help identify problem patrons for night clubs and bars. The program includes swiping patrons’ IDs, taking pictures and placing an alert on the file of anyone who shows themselves to be a problematic patron. The alert will show when they attempt to enter other bars also participating in the program, and their entrance is barred.”

I suppose this sounds like a good idea, in theory. If you can get past the whole freaky Big Brother, 1984 aspect of having your whereabouts on a given Friday night recorded, stored and this personal information used for who-knows-what.

Which I can’t. It bothered me, right off the bat. And with good reason: BC’s Privacy Commissioner has recently ruled that swiping patrons’ ID and storing their personal information is a violation of BC’s privacy laws. Nonetheless, Victoria has decided to continue with the program.

Sound ridiculous to anyone else?

What really bothered me, however, is that when I stepped up to Bouncer #3 to hand him my ID and have my photo taken, he said “No that’s ok, sweetie. You’re fine.”

Say what?

When I told my Dad this story, he laughed and said “They have no idea what kind of trouble you could cause.”

And he’s right. I could. I’m not saying that I am a troublemaker. I’m not. But I could be. And it’s not fair to assume that because I’m a little woman I’ll be well-behaved.

Shame, shame, Bouncer #3.

The night out at the club kind of shell-shocked me. Dear fiancé and I spent the rest of the weekend hiding from civilization.

Which was good. Because I definitely needed that period of recuperation to get ready for the week that followed. Super-busy week at work. Events to plan. A conference to attend. The tentative acceptance of a new part-time job that’s only go to up the insanity. And in my personal life, the realization the wedding is now just six months away and all the terror that strikes within me when I realize how many tasks are still on the to-do list.

So, I didn’t get much done. I’m still working on the last slew of Mini-Resolutions I posted eons ago. You remember those ones, don’t you? Way back on Jan. 30.

(Yikes! I didn’t even realize it had been that long!)

I have a few more that I have completed and just haven’t written about. Those will be coming soon. Promise! I’m on the upswing of productivity now, remember?

I’ve also decided to hold off on officially beginning Week #4 of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health.

Why? Well, first because I make the rules and I can.

Secondly, this will give me some time to make and complete some new non-Dr. Weil-related Mini-Resolutions. This was never supposed to be the “Dr. Weil Show” and I think it’s worth giving some face time to some other healthy ventures I could try out.

As for now, however, my dear, wonderful fiancé is cooking up a breakfast of Valentine’s Day pancakes for me. And right at this moment, that’s the biggest priority for me!

I’ll be back soon.


Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

Don’t Stock Believing

I think I’m probably the only person in the world that will be excited about this, but that’s okay. I’m excited enough for all of us.

Last night, I completed Mini-Resolution #21: Don’t Stock Believing. That’s a joke, by the way. A reference to Journey’s hitto-end-all-hits “Don’t Stop Believing.” Yeah… I’m also probably the only person in the world that finds that funny.

Anyhow, this mini-resolution was about my commitment to make my own vegetable stock from scratch. Like everything else I’ve been doing with my spare time lately, it came straight from Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health plan.

Veggie stock

The finished product. The floaty bits are spices. Maybe my sieve wasn't fine enough. Oh well.

In Week 3, Dr. Weil suggests we try making our own veggie stock because, apparently, veggie stock is a great thing to have on hand for cooking veggies.

This is news to me. I roast a lot of veggies. I stir-fry them. Boil them occasionally. But I don’t think I’ve ever cooked veggies with veggie stock.

And having never needed veggie stock for cooking, I’ve never found myself with the desire to throw together a big ol’ pot of veggie stock in my spare time.

Well, welcome to my brave new world where I not only make veggie stock from scratch, I beam with pride at my ability to do so.

I used (surprise, surprise) Dr. Weil’s recipe which you can check out here. Like most of his other recipes I’ve tried so far, it was simple. Foolproof even. Although I did have to Google how to cut up a leek since I’ve never cooked with those before either.

(The directions are here, by the way, if you’re in the same boat as me. I can’t be the only leek virgin out there.)

Veggie Stock in the Making

Homemade veggie stock in my too-tiny pot.

The only real stumbling block turned out to be the size of my pot. As it turns out one-and-a-half gallons of water is a lot when you’re adding it to a pot that already contains four onions, six carrots, three stalks of celery and two leeks. I ended up throwing in only about one gallon of water. Which I figure is okay. I mean hell, I haven’t made veggie stock before. How am I going to know the difference?

The finished product smelled and looked amazing. I directed my dear fiancé to the kitchen the moment he got home so he could see the fruits of my labour. He wasn’t that jazzed up about it. I guess I can’t blame him. I mean it is just stock after all.

Still, there’s something really fulfilling about making from scratch that which you usually buy prepackaged. Plus, I felt like a total kitchen pro having to whip out the fine-mesh strainer. Yes, I realize it doesn’t take much.

It went a little against my instincts to follow Dr. Weil’s direction to just “discard” all those veggies after pressing the liquid from them. Obviously, they would have lost most of their nutrients, a lot of their flavour and definitely their texture — but still, isn’t there some way to save these veggies? Thoughts? Anyone?

Tomorrow, I will attempt to put the stock to use in my first ever veggie stock-based cooking attempt. The plan is braised red cabbage. Excitement abounds!

And now… tally time:

Days to go: 329

Mini-Resolutions to go: 242

Miso and Me

If I take away only one lesson from my quest to complete Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health program, it would probably be the importance of keeping an open mind.

If I didn’t keep an open mind, I would have never known that greasy, canned fish chunks (read: sardines) make a wicked pita pocket filling. Or that pressed tofu, despite its striking resemblance to mold-encrusted regular tofu, makes a kickass fajita. Or that buckwheat groats — well, I’m still working on the buckwheat groats.

The point is it pays to have an open mind — an idea that was reinforced as I embarked on Mini-Resolution #20: Me and Miso.


Mmmm....fermented soybean paste.

When I committed to trying out a miso recipe as part of Dr. Weil’s plan to get us ingesting more vegetable-based proteins, I had no idea what it was. That’s probably a good thing because, as it turns out, miso is a soybean paste.

Now if I were a closed-minded person, the word ‘paste’ would have immediately ended any further miso exploration. I’ve never been enthusiastic about the idea of eating paste of any kind. Paste is not an appetite-inducing word. In terms of food appeal, it’s ranked down there with — oh, I don’t know — fermented, maybe?

Which just so happens to be how miso paste is made.

From the World’s Healthiest Foods:

“Miso is a soy paste that is created by inoculating trays of rice with the vitamin B12 synthesizing fungus, Aspergillus oryzae, then mixing in a ground preparation of cooked soybeans and salt, and letting the mixture ferment for several days before grinding it into a paste with a nut butter consistency.”

Yum, right?

Actually, it is.

I picked up my tub o’ soybean paste at Fujiya, the friendly neighbourhood sushi joint/Asian grocery store. They have an amazing array of miso in a variety of colors. I had no idea what it all meant so I picked the cheapest.

I used said miso in another recipe from Dr. Weil’s healthy kitchen, this one for Miso Soup. You can check it out (and I recommend you do) here.

Miso Soup

My miso masterpiece. And some sushi. You can't live on soup alone, right?

When I told dear fiancé I was making miso soup for dinner, he groaned. Actually groaned out loud. He said he’d had some bad miso soup in his day, but assured me that mine would be fine.

My confidence a little bit shaken, I got to work chopping up carrots, celery and cabbage while eyeing that tub of orange goo somewhat suspiciously.

And much to my surprise, it turned out amazing. I mean who knew fungus and rotten soybeans would taste so delicious?

The verdict was unanimous. The soup was great. A little bland after following Dr. Weil’s directions exactly, but that was quickly remedied with a dash of salt which brought out the flavours perfectly.

It was even better the next day.

I’m not a big soup maker. I’ve always though that if you’re going to go through all the effort of preparing a meal, shouldn’t the final product be something a little more substantial than soup?

Well, I’m a convert. This soup is so easy to make it’s frightening. There’s nothing fancy. No pureeing or straining. Just easy chop and simmer. Plus, pair it with a tray of spicy tuna rolls and you’ve got yourself a quick, well-rounded and sophisticated meal.

Nutritionwise? Well, it’s pretty much just water and vegetables so it’s no surprise that the calorie count is low: about 100 calories a bowl. It’s got 3.2 g of protein, 5.4 g of fat and 3.3 g of fiber. With the exception of the fat content (which seems kinda high, doesn’t it?) that’s comparable on all accounts to a serving of canned garden vegetable soup. Except it’s way more interesting than your regular old Campbell’s.

Unfortunately, the recipe only uses 4 tablespoons of miso, which means I have pretty much a whole tub left over.

Any miso recipe suggestions out there? Please fire away. I’m sure there’s life beyond soup for miso, isn’t there?

And now….tally time!

Days to go: 330

Mini-Resolutions to go: 243

Snuggie to the rescue

Thank God for the Snuggie.

That’s my final thought on Mini-Resolution #18: Retire Old Red.

Old Red

My electric blanket, hog-tied and ready for banishment.

My electric blanket, hog-tied and ready for banishment.

That’s Old Red on the left. It’s an electric throw blanket my parents gave me as a Christmas gift several years ago.

It was an awesome present.

I’m one of those people who’s pretty much constantly cold. If I’m sitting still, it’s 99% guaranteed I’ll be under a blanket. Indeed, I’m under one now.

As such, I got a great deal of use out of Old Red. It’s lived in five different apartments with me. It travelled over 5,700 km with me when I made the move from the east coast to the west one. Hell, it’s been with me longer than my fiancé.

It was equally useful as a place for cuddling with loved ones as it was a place to snuggle up alone with a book. It soaked up my tears during sad movies and shook with my laughter during more Friends episodes than I can count.

It’s hard to believe something that feels so right could be so wrong.

But Dr. Weil says it is so. And (for now) what Dr. Weil says goes.

In Week 3 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health Plan, Dr. Weil tells us to ditch the electric blanket. The issue is electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which are emitted by household appliances like electric blankets, plug-in clock radios, blow dryers and electric shavers. While there is no conclusive evidence of their harm, some studies have linked EMFs to incidence of childhood leukemia while others have suggested a link between EMFs and damaged DNA in brain cells.

Ongoing research is examining these links. Until they’ve been ruled out, however, Dr. Weil is essentially proposing we’re better off safe than sorry. Particularly with electric blankets since any possible detrimental effects could be exacerbated by the fact that electric blankets are used in very close proximity to our bodies over extended periods of time.

Which I can get on board with.

You know why? Because this Christmas, my parents bought me a Snuggie. And that’s a damn good substitute.

Tally time!

Days to go: 333

Mini-resolutions to go: 243

Week 3 (a.k.a. the week I lost my mind)

Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know. My weeks are longer than yours.

That’s why my Week 3 of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health starts today despite the fact that I embarked on Week 1 on Jan. 9. That’s 21 days ago — officially making my weeks about 10 days long.

It’s called the Ali-Cat Calendar. I expect it will replace the Gregorian calendar any day now. Just wait.

In the mean time, let me entertain you with a new array of Mini-Resolutions as I embark on Week 3. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get them all done in a regular-person week.

Probably not . There’s a lot of them.

Mini-Resolution #18: Retire Old Red

With the possible exception of trading my second cup of morning coffee for green tea, this is the biggest sacrifice Dr. Weil has asked me to make.

In Week 3, he talks about electromagnetic toxicity. Household appliances like electric blankets, heating pads, plug-in clock radios and blow dryers generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and some research suggests these can negatively impact our body’s internal systems, increasing incidence of cancer and decreasing immune system functioning.


..a study in rats at the University of Washington… found DNA damage in animals exposed to a 60 hertz field for 24 hours; more damage was found after 48 hours. … the study leader said that data from this and a previous study suggest that the effects of exposure are cumulative and may build up in humans over time as a result of repeated brief use of common plug-in appliances. He suggests limiting exposure to as little time as possible, particularly with devices used close to the body.

A quick look around the Internet shows that most people think this is load of crap.

But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? I said I’d do this eight-week program to best of my ability and I intend to follow through.

This week, I will banish my electric throw blanket — a long-time staple in my lounging activities. Luckily, I got a Snuggie for Christmas. I will survive.

Mini-Resolution #19: Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen


Dr. Weil and I may be on the rocks. First he took away my second cup of coffee, then my electric blanket. Now he’s taking away some of my favourite fruits and vegetables.

Well ok, not really taking away but giving me the ultimatum to buy organic or say goodbye.

I’ll give him credit for one thing: he doesn’t ask for a full switch to organic produce. Rather, he suggests we  avoid or eat only organic versions of a few particularly dangerous products. Specifically, the Dirty Dozen.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization which aims to disseminate knowledge to protect public health and the environment, compiles the Dirty Dozen — a list of the 12 most contaminated foods. They also list the 15 cleanest (the Clean 15) and claim that people who eat only from the latter ingest just two types of pesticides daily versus 10 daily for those who eat the Dirty Dozen.

This is important, Dr. Weil says, because regulations on acceptable levels of pesticide contamination only consider short-term exposure (i.e. if it has an immediate toxic effect) and not the accumulation of long-term exposure. They also consider each pesticide in isolation and not the possible interactions between them.

So this week, I am going to try to either avoid the Dirty Dozen or — in the unlikely event that prices aren’t too exorbitant — buy them organic. Which is going to be a challenge because I regularly consume a lot of the Dirty Dozen including apples, bell peppers, celery and carrots.

This will require some creativity in order to not break the bank.

Mini-Resolution #20: Me and Miso

Once again, Dr. Weil suggests we substitute one serving of meat for a soy product this week and, because I’m up for a challenge, I’m going to opt for one I’ve never tried before: miso.

I have absolutely no idea what this is. I’ve heard murmurings about miso soup in my day, but have never tried it. And I certainly didn’t know it was soy-based. Not until Dr. Weil mentioned something to that effect. I can’t quite recall the exact details as I was still reeling from his brutal electric blanket embargo.

Anyway, I will find out what it is, I will cook it (you have to cook miso, right?) eat it and report back.

Mini-Resolution #21: Don’t Stock Believing

Groan. That’s supposed to be a pun. A little Journey reference? No? Anyone?

Anyway, in Week 3 Dr. Weil again recommends that we up our veggie intake. To facilitate this, he provides some recipes for vegetable stock which is, apparently, incredibly handy for cooking vegetables with. Who knew?

Not me, but I’m about to get educated when I make my first-ever homemade veggie stock this week.

Mini-Resolution #22: Stretch it Out

Stretching: my nemesis.

Well, not so much. Mostly, it’s just like a really boring acquaintance who if you saw at the mall, you would duck into the nearest store just to avoid contact. And you’d stay in that store as long as you needed to, even if it too was something really boring like that wicker store (you know the one), because it’s undoubtedly the less painful choice. But then your boring acquaintance comes into the boring wicker store (you should have known that would be her taste!) and starts talking to you about all the boring wicker baskets and it’s like boredom overload and your brain explodes.

Yeah. Stretching. It’s like that.

Nonetheless, I will be doing it five minutes a day because Dr. Weil says it’s good for me. It increases flexibility, reducing chance of injury and brings about a “welcome alteration of consciousness.”

Or perhaps it, like the breathing exercises, is just another way to lull me to sleep. Like I needed the help.

Mini-Resolution #23: Let Myself Be Breathed

No, that’s not a typo. That’s an actual Dr. Weil-ism.

Letting Yourself Be Breathed is a new breathing exercise that consists of the following:

  • Lie on your back, with arms relaxed at your sides
  • Focus attention on your breath without trying to influence it
  • Imagine that with each inhalation the universe is blowing breath into you and with each exhalation drawing it from you. Let yourself feel the breath penetrating every part of your body, to your fingers and toes.
  • Repeat for 10 cycles of inhalation and exhalation.

Dr. Weil doesn’t go into much detail about why this particular exercise is so important. He just says that, if done properly, we should find it “unusually refreshing.”

My issue is that it requires imagination. I’m not so good with that. If I told you to close your eyes and picture a purple lamp, I bet you could do it, right? I can’t. I just don’t seem to have those  neurons.

I’ll work on it.

Mini-Resolution #24: Get Provoked by Prose

This is my favourite this week. Dr. Weil would like us to make a list of  inspirational books that we’d like to read. These could be books of poetry, biographies, books on self-help, spirituality or anything else that moves us. We are to select one and begin it this week.

To which I say “Yay!” I’ll be heading to the library this afternoon, no doubt.

Mini-Resolution #25: Become an Amateur Agriculturalist

This is optional but I’m taking it on because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Dr. Weil would like us to look into growing some of our own food.

That is, of course, easy for him to say. He lives in Arizona. Assumedly in a big house with a giant backyard. I live in Victoria, BC. In a third-floor apartment with a balcony.

Nonetheless, I know it’s possible to grow stuff here. The previous tenant, my best friend, succeeded in growing tomatoes, basil and a bunch of other herbs. It can be done.

Maybe not by me, but I plan to enlist the help of my dear fiance — whose green thumb can hopefully mitigate my thumb of death — and see if we can get ourselves a little garden started.

And that is all. Thank God because that’s a lot.

On top of that, however, are a few other activities from previous week t0 round out Week 3:

  • Another one-day news/Twitter/Facebook fast
  • 20 minute walks five days a week
  • Continue the supplement plan
  • Continue the old breathing exercises in addition to the new one
  • Continue swapping that coffee for green tea
  • Eat two servings of fish
  • Eat broccoli twice
  • Make some more time to just hang out in nature

Wait… do you hear that?

I think it’s the sound of my week growing even longer.

The Spiritual Stuff

One of my favourite things about Dr. Andrew Weil is that in his philosophy how we feed our minds and souls is as important as how we feed our bodies. Far too often, every aspect of our health is siloed and handled independently from the others, ignoring the wide array of evidence (not to mention common sense) that suggests they are all interrelated.

In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, Dr. Weil assigned three tasks related to mental/emotional/spiritual well-being.

The Tree Bowl

The "Tree Bowl" in Finnerty Gardens, one of many weird and wonderful things to check out there.

First, Mini-Resolution #15: Be one with Nature. This one required — well, not much really. Simply to go to a favourite place in nature, hang out there and feel the “energy of the place.”

I opted for Finnerty Gardens on the University of Victoria campus. This was, in part. out of convenience (the building I work in is a quick five-minute jaunt from the gardens so I went on my lunch break) but also because I can’t think of any other places in the city that have the same wow factor with so few people enjoying it.

Finnerty Gardens is UVic’s best-kept secret. It boasts more than 4,000 different trees and shrubs  on 2.6 hectares of land. Plentiful trails run through the gardens, bordered with dozens of benches on which to sit, relax and take in the splendour. And it’s easy to enjoy because there’s hardly ever anyone there.

It’s the kind of place you just can’t be pissed off in. The moment you step inside the gates you’re in a place that seems totally removed from the stampeding students and speeding cyclists that make up the university campus.

I spent a half-hour there, just wandering around, touching and smelling the greenery, listening to birds and being slightly annoyed that as idyllic as the gardens are they still can’t shield you from the traffic noises beyond their gates.

It’s so rare that I spend time outside doing nothing in particular. I’m usually walking to get somewhere, walking for exercise or running. This was a nice, new relaxed pace and I definitely returned to work with a much brighter attitude than I had left with.

I also took a few minutes of my time in the gardens to work on Mini-Resolution #17: Breath Observation V.2.0.

When I started on this program I was really excited about the idea of incorporating breathing exercises into my life. Dr. Weil touted them as the simplest form of meditation and I eagerly hopped on board since learning how to meditate has long been one of my desires.

Not long into Week 1, I realized that if this was the simplest form of meditation, I was in trouble. I struggled to do just five minutes of breath observation a day. It was boring, so I generally put it off until I went to sleep and then — more often than not — just fell asleep doing it.

In Week 2, Dr. Weil tacked on another breathing exercise: following the five minutes of breath observation, we were to spend one minute focusing on the breath cycle itself, beginning with exhalation as Phase 1.

I wish I could say this week of breath observation went better. I can’t, really.

I did make an effort to do my breathing exercises during the day instead of at the end of it, but I’m still having issues with just quieting my mind. It doesn’t want to focus on breathing. It would rather remind me of what I need for groceries, what wedding stuff I should have done by now, what emails I need to send when I get into the office and how I’m wasting time sitting around doing nothing.

When I can quiet my mind enough , there’s usually a pay-off in the form of slower, deeper breathing, a lowered heart rate and a general sense of lowered tension at the end of my six minutes.

On one particularly awful day in the office, I actually stopped everything, pushed my desk chair away from the computer and did my breathing exercises right there in the hopes of calming me down. It actually worked. A little.

Maybe this is just one of those things where practice makes perfect?

The last spiritual/emotional/mental task Dr. Weil set out was a one-day newsfast. Recognizing that what we see and hear in the news can solicit emotions of rage, anxiety and sadness, Dr. Weil proposed the fast as a reminder that we must be mindful not only of what we put into our bodies but also what we put into our minds.

In my own twist on this, I made Mini-Resolution #16: The Twitter/Facebook Fast. On Sunday, I did not tweet or Facebook creep. I didn’t post pictures or comment on other people’s statuses. I spent the day in the world of the three-dimensional people, mostly lounging around with my fiancé watching movies and being lazy.

And it was fine. I didn’t miss it. It was nothing extraordinary. I guess it’s fortunate that I’m not a chronic social media user. I can do without. For one day at least.

I didn’t notice an impact on my mood, but then I think perhaps I’ve spent so much time tweeting and Facebooking (and MySpacing and MSN Messengering and ICQing, etc.)  in my life that very little I see there has much of an impact on me anymore.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a week without Facebook or Twitter would make a brand new person.

Doubtful. Probably a slightly more productive person, at best.

Nonetheless, I think it’s probably a good thing to spend at least a day a week detached from social media. If for no other reason than to fully enjoy the company of those real-life, touchable, tangible loved ones.

And with that, it’s tally time:

Days to go: 337

Mini-resolutions to go: 244

The Green Tea Swap: What doesn’t kill you only makes you sleepier…

Forgive me if I don’t finish this post. It’s quite possible I’ll drift into sleep at any moment.


Green Tea

My Japanese green tea with toasted rice; contrary to what the cup would have you believe it is not from Tim Hortons.

Well, because of Mini-Resolution #14: Do the green tea swap. In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health Plan, Dr. Andrew Weil asks us to start taking in some green tea; for coffee chuggers like myself, he recommends trading at least one cup of coffee a day for the green stuff.

I (like a fool) took this challenge, lugging a travel mug full of green tea to work in lieu of my freshly ground and brewed Salt Spring coffee (<—- that’s twice now I’ve mentioned you, guys. Free coffee, maybe?) every day this past week.

This has been something of an unpleasant experience. It’s not that I don’t like green tea. It’s just that it’s not coffee. My brain is hardwired to associate coffee with waking up and getting productive. Not so much with green tea.

Beyond the psychological block, there’s the very real issue of caffeine content. One cup of green tea contains a measly 15-20 mg of caffeine. That’s in comparison to a cup of coffee’s mighty 125 to 185 mg.

(Ugh, green tea. It’s like coffee’s evil step-sister.)

But there is more to green tea than its pathetic caffeine content. For instance, its many health benefits

  • Green tea consumption is associated with reduced heart disease.
  • Other studies suggest short-term consumption of commercial green tea reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure, fasting total cholesterol, body fat and body weight.
  • A recent study of the eating habits of over 2,000 women, linked consumption of mushrooms and green tea to a 90% lower occurrence of breast cancer

That’s all very well and good; however, if I’m not alert enough to enjoy my healthy heart and low cholesterol does it even matter? And let’s not forget all the evidence floating around about coffee’s health benefits:

“…researchers involved in an ongoing 22-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health state that ‘the overall balance of risks and benefits [of coffee consumption] are on the side of benefits.’ Other studies suggest coffee consumption reduces the risk of being affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. A longitudinal study in 2009 showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee or tea (3-5 cups per day) at midlife were less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in late-life compared with those who drank little coffee or avoided it altogether.”

So there.

Am I sounding a bit defensive of coffee? Probably. That’s just my addiction talking, and I gotta tell you this is one addiction I’m pretty content to live with.

I sense, however, Dr. Weil may have other plans for me. I suspect consuming green tea will not be a one-off in his eight-week plan. I think I’ll be dunking green tea bags for many weeks to come. At least six.

And I (somewhat reluctantly) accept this.

I’m not a convert. I can’t sincerely extol the virtues of green tea. When I think of green tea, my brain goes “Meh, it’s not coffee.”  Or at least that’s what my brain would say if it was alert enough to formulate thoughts, which it’s not after its caffeine  intake was brutally and unexpectedly halved.

And technically — because it’s my blog and I make the rules — I have successfully completed the Mini-Resolution so I could just say “To hell with you, green tea! I gave you a week and it’s over!”

But I’m not going to. Because this all boils down to (get it? Tea? Boils? hehehehe … ok, so that’s obviously proof of exhaustion-induced delirium) one thing: I’ve committed to trying new ways of living, to find inner energy I didn’t know I had, to achieve new realms of good health and well-being.

*Cue Chariots of Fire*

And if that means drinking green tea for the next six weeks, then by the power instilled in me by Dr. Weil himself, I’m going to do it.

Which brings me to tally time:

Days to go: 337

Mini-resolutions to go: 247

Tofu and a vegetarianism-related rant

So I just chowed down on the results of Mini-Resolution #13: Get Acquainted with Soy and I’m pleased to report it was deemed a success by both myself and the carnivore I live with.

In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health program, Dr. Weil asks that we familiarize ourselves with some of the soy products out there. He thinks the world would be a much better place if we all cut way down on the amount of animal protein we consume — he eats no meat, only fish — and I think he may be right.

It’s something I’ve been mulling over for more than a year now. I think PETA started it. I watched a video on their website called Meet Your Meat. I should have looked away and continued my life in happy oblivion. I didn’t. This was a mistake. Alec Baldwin narrates it. That should have been my first clue.

I’m embedding the video in this post with a word of caution: it’s extremely graphic and difficult to watch.

The video explores factory farming, going through the whole slaughter process for poultry, cattle and pigs in these confinement facilities which, above all else, aim to produce the most meat, milk or eggs at the lowest possible cost.

It’s disturbing and shocking which is — I think we can all agree on this — what PETA does best. But the thing that struck me most was that I could barely stand to watch these animals be killed. It took all my will not to look away from the screen. Then I started to think what it must be like to work in one of these places and how I wouldn’t last five minutes.

Which led me to the following: if I can’t even bear to watch how this meat is produced, if I can’t even stomach the thought of seeing this process, let alone being a part of it, do I really have a right to eat the products of it?

That’s an ethical dilemma I haven’t yet reconciled.

Now I certainly acknowledge that this isn’t representative of all meat production. Both my parents grew up on farms and I know for a fact the cruelty that’s shown in this video wouldn’t have been tolerated on their family farms or likely on any small-scale farms today.

Of course that’s not the only issues with being a meat-eater, though. There’s also the environmental issue:

According to a 2006 United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a “massive scale” to deforestation[2], air and water pollution, land degradation, loss of topsoil, climate change[3], the overuse of resources including oil and water, and loss of biodiversity.

And, of course, our primary concern in this forum, there’s also the health benefits of forgoing meat to consider. Vegetarians tend to have:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease and Alzheimer’s
  • Lower body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and blood pressure than non-vegetarians

Which, I believe, is the kinda thing Dr. Weil digs. This brings me back to the original point of my post: becoming better acquainted with soy. I originally wanted to try something really out of the ordinary for me: something like tempeh or TVP.

Alas, I couldn’t find either at my local grocery store.

(This may or may not be related to the fact that I was looking for these soy products on the same shopping trip I spent 20-ish minutes foraging for Quinoa and Kasha. You can only circle the store so many times before you start to look suspicious.)

I did, however, find pressed tofu which Dr. Weil also mentioned in his Week 2 tirade about the world of soy.

Pressed tofu is the meat-lover’s tofu as it has a more sturdy texture than the regular variety. It’s essentially just regular tofu that has been pressed to get rid of excess liquid and firm it up.

It’s also sold in flavoured varieties. I bought the “savoury” kind. This didn’t seem to amount to much, other than it was brown on the outside. It still tasted like tofu. Which is to say it tasted like whatever it was cooked with.

And on this happy occasion, it was cooked with red and green peppers and onion for a very healthy and delicious Tofu Fajita. The recipe is (again) courtesy of Dr. Weil. Check it out here.

We omitted the hot pepper because we’re spice-intolerant; some day I hope to live dangerously and incorporate a Serrano pepper. For now, I’m content with the kick of a medium salsa tossed in as a topping.

The recipe was super easy and quick. It definitely trumps chicken fajitas in that it doesn’t require the foresight to take some chicken out of the freezer a day before you want to eat them.

Nutrition-wise, you’re looking at about 30o calories per fajita with 10.5 g of fat, a whopping 23 g of protein and 8 g of fibre. In summary: pretty awesome.

Overall verdict: friggin’ delicious. I’d make these over chicken fajitas any day and — more importantly — my carnivore fiancé would be happy to eat them.

Now that’s a win-win.

And that means it’s tally time!

Days to go: 338

Mini-resolutions to go: 248

Also, I know I’m supposed to start Week 3 of Dr. Weil’s program tomorrow. That won’t be happening. For the record I have completed all the mini-resolutions related to Week 2 (can I get a “Hell, yeah!”) but want to get them in writing before I embark on some new ones. And that’s not going to happen tonight. Because it’s 10:30. And that’s past my bedtime, children.

Until tomorrow.