Monday, February 25, 2013

new forms of exercise

10 years ago (this summer), I took up running. At first, it was a few laps, then it was a mile. Then a few miles. Then I ran 5ks, then a 10k, then a half-marathon. Then I was a running crazy person.  Finally, I ran a marathon (a year ago today), and sealed my identity as a runner.  I am a runner.

10 years is a long time, and it wasn't until like, last week that it struck me that I've been running for 10 years. Wow.

In all that time, though, I haven't ever stuck with any other exercise consistently. I dabbled in yoga (still try to), I took swim lessons (have been trying to swim a bit more lately). I ride my bike, but usually just to get me from A to B. Running is the only thing that really stuck, though, and it's what helped me maintain an over-50 lb weight loss for the past 10 years (yep!)  I know that I need to cross-train, to strength-train, to really be at peak fitness, but I've never found anything else like running. Something that really clicked.

Today, I have begun to take up a new form of exercise, and it's one I hope will stick.  I started my Foundations class for CrossFit. When LS took up CrossFit a year ago, I listened with awe, skepticism, and a smidgen of envy.  She was very fit and strong, and I...well, I could barely do push ups.  But listening to how much she loved it stuck with me.

At the beginning of January, I decided to do Jillian Michael's Ripped in 30 DVD.  At first it was hard.  I called her an evil bitch.  Then I started noticing definition not only on my arms, but on my abs, butt, and all other places. What? Better yet, I was stronger and felt stronger.  I was hooked.

Last week, then, I sent an email to LS asking if she'd take me with her to do CrossFit. Yes!!! she said, enthusiastically.  She was excited to share something she loved so much with someone new.

I went to gym, expecting to be surrounded by burly dudes flexing their beefy arms, but that wasn't the case. There were lots of women, all shapes and sizes (some super fit and muscular, some who looked more like me!). The atmosphere was relaxed. It was so much better than the school gym I had just been at earlier that day, where tons of coltish, waifish girls with long pony tails and baggy shirts bounced by, sweat-free after their turn on the elliptical, while I stank and sweated and dripped after my 4 miles on the treadmill. I slunk out, avoiding eye contact, feeling a little out of place.

This gym, it was a different place. No one was made up; everyone was there to work, and work hard. I felt bad because I was doing a baby workout, so I was barely sweating as the others collapsed to the floor, drenched.  Not only that, the workouts were lively and fun. No time to get bored when you're counting and trying to get as many reps out as possible in 8 minutes!

LS and her boyfriend came over for dinner afterwards, and I gushed. I really liked it, and I wanted to keep doing it.

That brings me to today: my first Foundations class. Before they turn you loose to do the regular workouts, because there's lots of complicated moves and form is so key to not getting hurt, they ask everyone to do a 2 week class. Since I'm risk-adverse by nature, this was right up my alley.  I gathered with other new CrossFitters and learned that today, we would be learning one of the most complicated moves in CrossFit: the power clean.  (Not my first day!) It's a move with a bar, where you pop the bar up and snap your wrists underneath...well, just check out the link (not as much squatting in CF).

We did them over and over again, and at first it was weird and awkward and I was too tentative and kept overthinking it all.  When we did our mini-workout at the end (power clean practice and jumping lunges or "nasties"), I started to get the feel for how to use the motion from popping my hips and kind of coming up on my toes to get the bar up, and then to snap my wrists into the final position.  I think I'll let it sink in a bit, and see what happens--it's probably something that takes a while to really fully get, but I think I'm starting to.

I hope it's not a crazy thing to get into. But after the class, I got to talking to one of my fellow newbies, and she was super cool. Everyone I've met seems really nice and encouraging. And I think that I'm going to really enjoy adding it to my running.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

snow crazy

Snow means lots of things in my book.

Today, it meant that I got to watch as the powdery stuff fell from the sky and covered the ground while I met with 12 11 students in a row without a break.  It meant that as I finished meeting with those students (happily and filled with coffee! Bottomless cups at Arsaga's are awesome!!), I got to hear others tell me that the university closed at 2, which meant that I didn't have to work my tutoring shift.

Which meant that I worked my tutoring shift remotely (online appointments) on my new sofa with the cat in my lap instead.

 This is an ideal arrangement, really. The new sofa is soft and comfortable, and both the cat and I are a little obsessed with sitting in it, even if it doesn't quite fit the best in our living room.

Snow also means doing fun things. Like cooking dinner and drinking wine/cocktails and having friends over.  Unfortunately, I no longer live within walking distance (as in, all my friends live in the same apartment complex--Duckpond FOREVER), so we all had to pretend like we were hanging out together, which meant making cocktails and texting each other about what we were eating and drinking.

 I don't know that we'll have school tomorrow, though it doesn't really matter to me--I plan to still go up to campus to meet a few students and do some school work.

All I know is that this Lillet cocktail is delicious, and I am sad that I could not share them with other people (besides L, who was happy to drink it).  But I can share them with you, here. And if you came over, I would mix you a Snow Cocktail and try to convince you to walk with us as snow swirls around our slightly inebriated selves.

Snow Cocktail

  • 4 oz. Lillet (Rose)
  • 4 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 2 oz. gin
Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Pour into two glasses and sip while waiting for the snow to fall so that you can go on a snow walk, as is tradition when it snows at night.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

the allure, the possibilities, and the failure of gluten-free beers

Before I discovered that wheat/gluten made me ill, I drank beer often. It's just the right thing to have when you come home from working and want something refreshing. Or after a long hard run, to have a beer with dinner.

One of the signs that led to my figuring out that wheat/gluten were making me sick is that I would feel terrible if I had beer the night before, so clearly something was in it that was irritating my stomach.  So beer went out with the wheat, and I have been sad ever since.  Cider just isn't the same (although, there are some tasty ones).

So when our friend D (who also has discovered that gluten is a problem) let us know that he had purchased a plethora of gluten-free beers, I was excited, almost giddy. I had recently read this article discussing gluten-free beer possibilities, and I wanted to try them for myself.  We gathered together to try them.  What we discovered, however, is that most beers brewed without barley are not good, at least not in the way that we're used to thinking about good beer. Sad.

1.) Omission Lager
While we didn't get to try the Omission Pale Ale, D assured us it was as good as the lager.  As the first beer we tried, it ended up setting the bar high for the others, and they never attained the same level.  Upon the first sip, my brain said, "!" It was beer, crisp with a nice bite.  D pointed out that it tasted like a good homebrew lager, a decent middle-of-the-road brew.  It was thoroughly inoffensive, nothing remarkable--unless you haven't had a beer in a while. Then it tastes incredible.

As the NPR article I linked above points out, Omission is not 100% gluten-free because they brew with barley, then remove much of the gluten using an enzyme.  For folks like me who aren't super-sensitive, you won't notice the effects of the bit of gluten that remains.  However, if you're very sensitive, I would avoid this one.  It will be one that I would happily purchase and drink.

2.) New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale
Pale ales are good (to me) because they have a nice bitterness to them.  From aroma to finish, however, this beer failed to be a pale ale.  We all took a whiff before sipping and were a little put off by the aroma, which was not beery at all and actually a little unpleasant.  The first sip hit my tongue with the bitter I wanted, but then the sweet flavor of sorghum overwhelmed and lingered in my mouth.  I kept sipping, hoping it would be okay, but especially after drinking the Omission, I didn't want to finish the small portion in my glass.  The comments: "Not right," "not worth it," and my favorite from L: "Its a beer you try to convince yourself is okay and keep drinking because you ordered it." Definitely not a beer I would willing purchase or drink.

3.) New Planet Tread Lightly
After the first New Planet was so horrible, we were nervous to try this one, but it was actually a bit better than the Off Grid Pale Ale.  My initial reaction was that it wasn't too bad. Light and refreshing, it seemed like the kind of beer you'd want to drink after being outside on a hot day.  D was a bit frustrated, however, by the sweet finish (the result of brewing with sorghum).  I noticed that as I drank, the aftertaste/finish worsens.  None of the three of us enjoy the sorghum flavor in beer, which is the flavor that I disliked in the Bard's Foxtail, and Redbridge sorghum/GF beers I've had in the past.  Ultimately, I wouldn't purchase either of these beers, though I might drink the Tread Lightly if it were offered as the only GF option at a party.

4.) Lakefront Brewery New Grist Beer
This beer was a surprise.  Expecting the same cloying, too sweet sorghum flavor to override any of the tasty beer flavors, sipping this one was actually nice.  On the bottle, it claims that it is "a crisp and refreshing session beer made from sorghum and rice extract," but the sorghum wasn't too overwhelming and the flavor was indeed refreshing.  It actually tasted the most like beer!  While it wasn't the deep, bitter, flavorful beer I miss, it was light and had a nice fruity finish.  While a little sweet, it was tasty.  I would drink this beer happily, though as L pointed out, I probably wouldn't order another. This is a beer I could definitely drink again.

5.) Green's Endeavor Dubbel Dark Ale
We had high hopes for this beer. Just look at the color and the head on the pour.  I was excited because all of the GF beers I'd encountered so far were on the lighter end of the spectrum, but my favorite beers are the dark ones: stouts and porters. This one (and the other two Green's I'll review below) is made with millet, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, hops and Belgium yeast, attempting to bring the same Belgium standard to the world of GF beers. We eagerly took up our glasses and...encountered the familiar sweet aroma (not beer!) of sorghum.  D declared that this was not a dubbel, and he hated it. I was okay with it, but I found it too sweet. (You may notice a theme throughout these reviews).  I wouldn't buy this one or drink this again--it was a disappointment.

D is angry and disappointed.
6.) Green's Tripel Blonde Ale
We had been crushed and disappointed by all the beers, so by this point, we weren't expecting much.  When we poured this one out, we noted the nice appearance, and when we lifted the beer to drink, the aroma that greeted us was better than the Endeavor, subtle.  It was definitely sweeter than a normal beer, but it wasn't horrible.  D pointed out that it had a cider flavor, and if you think of it in terms of cider, it definitely isn't too disappointing.  As I kept drinking it, it got better.  The finish was definitely that same sorghum sweet-flavor that doesn't belong in a beer.  I might drink it again, but I'm unlikely to seek it out.

7.) Green's Amber Ale

Wearied by our tasting efforts, we poured the final beer out.  Once again, we noticed how pretty it looked.  I sipped, and was delighted by the delicious bitter.  Yes? Maybe? Then...the sorghum sweet flavor crept in and destroyed it.  As D pointed out, "it's good...if you don't stop drinking."  As we continued to sip, I noticed that it definitely improved, and seemed to be a solid and passable beer.  Out of the three Green's beers we tried, it is probably the winner.  While I might not seek it out over the other beers that I preferred (the Omission and the New Grist), I would drink it again.

Overall, the beer tasting was interesting and educational.  I figured out that part of the problem is that D and I actively drank good, quality beers, and so we have that standard in mind, which simply cannot apply to GF beers.  They are a completely different beast.  So while most of the beers were a little disappointing, perhaps they were only disappointing if you are/were a beer enthusiast.  

We found much to critique about these beers, and I can only hope that as people experiment with recipes and brewing techniques that the beers will improve.  L, D, and I all decided that we wanted to take a stab at making our own to see if we could potentially find a way to attain a drinkable beer that didn't have the overwhelming sorghum taste.  Because sorghum does have a lot of sugars to brew with, it's obvious why it's a popular choice for brewers.  For us, however, the sorghum was the ingredient that left a bad taste in our mouths and a desire for something decidedly more beer-like.  Perhaps we can find a way to make that happen.