Monday, June 6, 2011

Appropriate extravagance

Today was my friend Aneika's birthday, and she had the most wonderfully indulgent ideas! Both of them were significant firsts for me:

1) My first real massage (outside of friendly shoulder-rubs).

2) My first deliberately extravagant French meal. I've been to France twice before, but was a student both times and stuck to the budget-safe tourist menus. It... makes a difference.

I always had the idea that spa treatments and expensive foods were pointless indulgences-- something rich people did to show off their excess money. I was kind of proud to be a non-participant. But this evening, combined with my first-ever pedicure a few weeks ago, is starting to change my mind. I'm realizing that treating oneself well is not a pointless waste of money. It has a real impact on quality of life.

I typically spend a lot of money on food. I love to eat. The things I buy, though, are not big-ticket items. I've tended instead to get a lot of cheap stuff-- little pastries, convenience-store sandwiches, candy bars (definitely a sweet snacker, here)-- and just graze on them throughout the day. Though the food is not the best, it provides a lot of cheap thrills, so to speak-- it's fast and easy and tastes good going down.

This evening's dinner was different. The portions were small-- my entree would have fit on a bread plate with room to spare-- but the food was so rich and the flavors so intense that all of us were stuffed before we finished. Every bite of it was perfect, and I felt no need for more.

One of the girls at the table had taken a cooking class on a trip to France, and was talking about how strict the French food regulations are. Even vegetables, she said, are classed differently depending on quality. Our (French) waiter, who looked about 25, seemed as knowledgeable and passionate about wine and food as anyone I've ever met. I felt really out of my depth listening to him talk about cheeses with the girl who'd taken the cooking class.

It made me sad, because that kind of knowledge and passion is something most Americans really don't have. We feed ourselves on what is cheap and easy, focusing on bulk instead of quality. I would guess that most of us are only familiar with a handful of ingredients, and can only prepare a handful of dishes using a handful of cooking techniques. (I'm going by my own experience, here: my non-dessert modes are limited to "steam," "boil," "fry" and "eat raw.") Junk-food companies are allowed to advertise more or less anything as "food." Beyond cookout fare and soul food, we don't really have a proper food culture at all, and I think that's horribly sad.

I know that this post is not covering any new ground. All these points have been made a million times (notably in French Women Don't Get Fat, which I think I put down because its suggestions seemed far too hard to follow). I was just struck by how dramatic the difference can be between top-quality ingredients well prepared and the processed stuff most restaurants will sell you.

I decided that this week, at least, I would try to move back towards high-quality ingredients and cooking at home. (I love eating out, and generally prefer it, but health food is not what you get at most restaurants around here.) Top-quality stuff seems really expensive, at first-- I just bought a carton of organic eggs for double what the regular ones cost. But when you think about what's necessary for survival, food is at the top of the list. I am hoping that eating more high-quality food is going to do me some good.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Who needs sleep?

A while ago, my aunt Emily posted a link to an article entitled "Sleep is More Important Than Food." (And may I say how much I love being able to type a few keywords and come up with an article I read weeks ago.) It's something everyone says, but I guess it had never been pointed out to me this starkly before. Since reading that article I've been trying, and mostly succeeding, to get at least something like a full night's sleep every day. I've pretty much been sleep-deprived since high school (late nights reading + early-morning church "seminary" classes = no good for a developing adolescent brain), so this has taken some adjustment. I'm still not 100%-- I have a particularly hard time when I've been at work late and haven't had much time to myself-- but I've improved my sleeping patterns enough to notice a significant difference.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an evil dinosaur first thing in the morning. Multiple cups of stimulant are required to get me functional (though at least I've switched to tea lately), and I'm prone to snap at anyone who approaches me with a question before I've had them. This remains the case, of course-- I love my caffeine much too dearly to give it up without a fight-- but I think the species of dinosaur is much less dire when I've had at least seven hours of sleep. Maybe down to a stegosaurus instead of an ankylosaurus. (Loads of F-bombs in that video; beware.)

I also have a much easier time getting up-- I still pull the covers over my head at least five times before getting up, but at least I feel like I'm capable of getting up before that. In the past I've slept through multiple alarms, and even been late for work, because I went to bed too late. (My brain has developed a nifty self-defense mechanism wherein it says "FU" and ignores alarm clocks if I haven't been getting enough sleep. For several years I went to bed paranoid every night that I might be about to oversleep again.)

Someone on Twitter linked in passing to this article-- Arianna Huffington's "Sleep Challenge 2010." I read it and thought it had a good point. It prevents sleep-deprivation as a feminist issue-- citing stats on how women in the US tend to get less sleep than men do. I'm sure that's true, but I'm also sure that this is an important issue for everyone.

 The other big thing-- and something I've only concretely noticed this week-- is that when I'm really tired I eat way more junk food. Like, follow a full meal with a muffin and a cream bun, or down a whole bag of cookies or four donuts or three slices of pizza in a sitting when I'm not even hungry. This is something that goes way back with me, too. As it happens, the HuffPost article links to this one from Glamour. While I would ordinarily roll my eyes-- "pfft, Glamour"-- I think I'm starting to have anecdotal evidence that you can "Lose Weight While You Sleep": I'm starting to lose weight.

Not a lot, so far, and certainly not enough to write home about (though apparently I'm doing that), but... it's encouraging. I shall follow this trend and see how it goes.

And, as it is a Saturday night, I happily resolve to sleep as long as I can tomorrow morning, with all the alarms turned off. (This is something I fantasize sometimes during the workweek.) I hope that all of you can, and will, do the same. Sweet dreams!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's been a while. Again.

I keep starting drafts here and leaving them to languish. I feel like sometimes my thoughts go stale-- I feel less passionate about what I was writing about, or find something new to focus on-- and then it seems dishonest to post about them as if I still believed what I was saying. I'm going to try keeping things short, simple and regular-- if I visit both blogs every day, I can try to keep things moving off the cutting board fast enough to still be relevant when I post them.

As proof that I mean it, I'm going to post this right now. Here's hoping the next one will be longer and more scintillating.