April 22, 2014

Move it or lose it: Exercise for life!

I mentioned that sickness descended on my house last week. Since both Jeff and I rarely get sick, we tend to be big whiny babies when our normal life is curtailed by a cold. Jeff was the whinier baby, but he had cause: His cold started with a sore throat the night we got back from Paris, and within a few days it had devolved into a wicked sinus infection (Jeff: "It feels like someone stabbed me in the eye and left the knife there.")

My cold waited three days to announce itself, and wasn't nearly as bad, but being around someone who can't sleep at night and wants to nap all day is draining, and not only because it interfered with my own sleep.

Anyway, all is nearly back to normal (Jeff had to go on antibiotics...he was even feeling sinus pain in his lower jaw!), and on Sunday we did some gardening and rooted around the house for unwanted items to purge for a garage sale. I was squatting down so I could peer into a low kitchen cabinet, when I suddenly realized how uncomfortable I was. I felt like I had aged 20 years in a week!

"Well, duh," I said to myself. "You've hardly had any exercise."

Indeed, since returning from Paris on April 10, I had managed one yoga session (Downward Dog doesn't feel good when you're congested), three mid-length walks and three very short walks (just to get out of the house and partially appease our golden retriever). That left four days with no walking, at all. Yikes! (I should mention that our house has stairs, so in doing things around the house I do get an extra activity boost.)

Yesterday, I gently hopped back on the exercise wagon. I did a short, not too strenuous yoga session of standing poses that left me with a light film of sweat glowing, which is not my body's usual reaction, unless it's summer and our house is hot. Maybe I was getting lymph flowing again (our hearts pump blood through our veins, but our lymphatic system doesn't have a similar type pump)? Both Dug and I enjoyed a mid-length afternoon walk in the partial sunshine, and when I did yoga this morning I felt right as rain.

Since it's questionable how much of a role exercise plays in losing and maintaining weight (likely a stronger role in maintaining), I stay active in part so I can continue staying active. My natural flexibility is so-so, but I like that I can touch my toes, and I don't ever want that to change. I like that I can hold Warrior and Chair poses and lift fairly heavy weights...and I don't ever want that to change. I like that I can walk briskly for miles and miles, at home or sightseeing in Paris...and I don't ever want that to change

Strength, balance, flexibility and endurance are all skills/traits worth maintaining and improving each day. Having them simply makes life nicer. Hey, the sun's out...I think it's time for a walk!

April 21, 2014

Postcards from Paris: Part 3

Sorry it took me so long to post this final Paris Postcard. In my defense, I was busy rewatching Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" so I could repeatedly exclaim, "Hey, we were there!" And I was sick. And Jeff was sicker. Our house was a little depressing last week. 

Anyway, this post is all about our final day in Paris, when we took our sole out-of-the-city day trip, to the Palace of Versailles. I was prepared for opulence and grandeur (and the palace and gardens did not disappoint), but what I was not prepared for was to come face to face with my fantasy farm!

While I try hard not to romanticize the idea of the small farm, because I know logically that farming is hard, often dirty, work, I fess up that several years ago I fell in love with the idea of small-scale farming, growing produce for farmers markets, etc. We even started looking for acreage...and then we decided to move back to Seattle proper, instead. 

You may be familiar with the part of Marie Antoinette's tragically short history in which she played at being a milkmaid in a far-off corner of the Versailles palace gardens. Well, this wee little hamlet that she commissioned is alive and well (although a few buildings didn't survive the centuries).

It is also a veritable utopia of farm animals living in free range harmony! Bunnies:

Bunnies and chickens:

The most porcine of pigs:


Sheep and goats:

Ummm...and some fancy sculpted busts, like you would find on any farm:

I think this was my favorite part of Versailles. I could have camped out here all day. It was peaceful, because it was a looong walk out her from the palace, and the little shuttle trolleys that ferried people to the nearby Petit and Grand Trianons didn't go to the farm. If you aren't familiar with the Trianons, they're where the royals went to get away from court life in the palace, but they were still pretty opulent.

The Petit Trianon was built for Louis XV's primary mistresses, and Louis XVI gave it to his bride, Marie Antoinette. Only her inner circle was invited:

They probably hung out a lot in the salon:

Poor Marie was really misunderstood:

The view from inside the Temple of Love:

The Grand Trianon, aka the King's escape, was a bit more opulent:

And then there was this old shack that they call a palace:

I thought the Louvre had a lot of statuary, but the Versailles palace and gardens may win that little competition: 

It was so exciting to finally be in the Hall of Mirrors. Just look at the ceiling:

And the chapel:

Versailles was fantastic, I highly recommend it! Get there when they open if you want to avoid the worst crowds in the palace...and make sure you see the farm!

Tomorrow...back to our regularly scheduled nutrition-related programming!

April 15, 2014

Postcards from Paris: Part 2

When some people think of Paris, they think of gourmet restaurant meals. We, however, did not. The biggest reason is that we don't eat a lot of restaurant meals here at home in Seattle, gourmet or otherwise. When I'm not busy, I enjoy cooking (and am good at it). When we are busy, it honestly takes less time to prepare a simple meal than it is to go out to eat.

We had a bit of a snafu with getting into our rental apartment on time (we were able to leave our luggage but had to go kill a few hours while it was being cleaned), so we shoved aside our irritation and jetlag (after all, we were in Paris!) and wandered the streets of our Marais neighborhood. It was fate that we stumbled upon the very brasserie (La Chaise au Plafond on Rue du Tresor) that I had intended for our first evening, but had lost the pin on my map app. I chose it for it's location, primarily, on a quiet dead-end street but with adequate people watching possibilities. We ordered a carafe of red wine and two plat du jours: a chicken fricassee with curry sauce and vegetables. It of course came with bread on the side.

We had an amazing boulangerie/patisserie, Chez Manon, right downstairs from us. We can personally vouch for the excellence of those tarts, particularly the rhubarb.

With baguettes at 1 euro each, we ate breakfasts most mornings in our apartment, toasting the bread for tartines with amazing French butter and jam. The little grocery store downstairs provided eggs and yogurt for a little protein, the produce stand a few doors down offered the most gorgeous strawberries ever! 

I confess that we brought coffee with us (Starbucks Gold Coast) to use in the small drip coffeemaker, and bought a supply of pods for the Nespresso machine. We would never do this on a trip to Italy, but according to David Lebovitz, France is not known for its coffee. When we were out and about, we generally had a cafe noisette (espresso with a little steamed milk) standing at a cafe bar. Cheaper than sitting at a table, and fun!

Our lunches often came from a boulangerie, as well, whether we brought a delicious baguette sandwich with us from Chez Manon or picked one up on our foot travels. One of my favorite lunches was our first full day in Paris, sitting on a park bench in Square Suzanne-Buisson, sharing a Chez Manon sandwich while we watched a Parisian dad and his adorable Parisian twin toddlers (one boy, one girl) enjoy the little playground, all under the watchful eye of the statue of Saint Denis, holding his decapitated head.

We did enjoy a few dinners at one of our corner cafes, once a delicious cheese and charcuterie platter (with red wine)...

...the other a so-so croque monsieur and a big salad with some local beer that was nothing to write home about. Generally, with all the walking we did during the day, we just wanted to chill in the evening, picking up wine and the makings for a quick dinner (chicken breasts and haricorts verts) from the grocer, a roasted chicken from the meat market down the block...

...or amazing tagine and couscous dishes from Le Marche des Enfants Rouges, Paris's oldest covered market, also just down the block. We also hit L'As du Fallafel, possibly the best falafel place in Paris, although many people debate that. We opted to purchase from the window and eat standing in the street, rather than pay more to eat our meal at an inside table.

When we went to the Sunday market near the Bastille, I dearly wished that we, A) had a bigger kitchen in our apartment, B) were staying in Paris longer, C) didn't have other plans that day. The sheer gorgeousness of the vegetables, cheeses, meats, fish, breads, desserts and other foodstuffs was a feast for the eyes (and a feast for a lot of bellies, if not ours).

The flowers and the dogs were gorgeous, too!

One thing I loved about Paris was the dearth of big supermarkets. You would be hard pressed to go more than a few blocks without passing, separately, a small grocer, a luscious produce stand, a boulangerie (bakery), a charcuterie (meat and deli items), a fromagerie (cheese shop), a patisserie (pastry shop), a chocolatier and a wine shop.

We had planed to eat a few lunches in proper restaurants (when prices are less), but we generally found that, even with all of our walking, we just weren't hungry enough to eat two courses. We ate more bread in Paris than we usually do, but we ate smaller portions overall and snacked less. Interesting.

We really didn't shop a lot in Paris, and what we did buy was mostly edible! I'm embarrassed about how much Edmond Fallot mustard we brought home, and we found that good French butter, tucked in Ziploc bags with an ice pack and nestled in our checked luggage, travels nicely. We also came home with a few jars of jam, a big bag of grey salt, herbes de Provence and some bouquet garni bundles, Fauchon chocolates and macarons, and Mariage Freres tea. (I'm so glad we splurged on the macarons...I had only had them once at a local foodie event, and didn't think they were anything special. It turns out they are quite special when you get good quality specimens!)