Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Get help

It’s only January and I’ve already learned a big lesson in 2007: Get help.

Consider this: for nearly every issue you’ve been dragging, for every pending thing picking away at you, there is a pro who can help you just get it over with.

Don't get me wrong. This has nothing to do with figuring it out, which I'm a fan of. But, if you’ve been staring at your yard thinking you’ll landscape it and you haven’t gotten around to it in more than a year, you probably won’t. Hire an accountant if you’re struggling with your taxes. Get a once a month cleaning service and spend your Saturday mornings reading in bed instead of scrubbing the shower walls.

Let me share with you what brought on this revelation.

Once upon a time I used to like clothes. I was never a clotheshorse, but I'd have fun assembling an outfit. For the past few years, though, let’s just say that the "I don't know what to wear" dilemma brought on intense anguish and made me (almost) late for work every day. Please note my goal was not to be a fashion plate. My goal was to not be naked.

All this time, Luca never uttered the words "honey, we really need to go". He'd just look at me, calmly notice that I'd changed twelve times, and observe clothes strewn all over our room (that, being the neat freak that I am, needed to go back on the hanger and into the closet before I could walk out the door.)

This culminated in Luca giving me, for my birthday, three sessions with a "fashion consultant". One session to interview me and review my closet. Another to go shopping for what was missing. A third to work on what to wear with what.

My first reaction was paralysis. I stared at the gift certificate. Is this what this has come down to? Isn't what you wear an intimate expression of who you are? (Which must mean I've been going through an identity crisis, but, I'll leave that for another entry.) Isn't it intensely uncool to be so clueless about something everyone else seems to handle just fine? (Ugh. Yet another entry.)

My second reaction was one of pure gratitude. I mean, this husband of mine brings new meaning to the words "thoughtful" and "observant" (and "hot").

My third reaction was of categorical rejection. I didn't want to call said fashion consultant or make the appointment. Luca would have none of that.

Fast forward: thanks to my absolutely adorable, incredibly competent new friend Rachel, now - maybe for the first time in my life - my clothes fit. I get up, get dressed and get out the door, or I would if Luca didn't take so darn long. (Kidding).

Most importantly, I don't waste vast amounts of energy starting every day by feeling frustrated, harried and inadequate.

So there. My secret is out.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Changing your mind

At the risk of losing your interest, I have to ask that before you read this you go to an entry I wrote in late October titled "Easy". In it, I talk about how suddenly, without great effort, I manage to drop my (former) addiction to sugar and caffeine.

I still don't drink coffee, nor think about doing so, and my sugar intake has dropped dramatically and not returned to anywhere near its previous levels.

Meaning, whatever caused this "click" has stuck.

To my utter shock, It turns out this phenomenon – this super easy accident - is the basis for Martha Beck's new diet book, the Four Day Win.

Beck says dieting is not in the food/mouth/restaurant/willpower, but rather in our brain. And that you can "reach thinner peace" through a series of exercises (not the kind that you do in a gym) that will change the way you think, so you, once and for all, never have to worry about overeating again.

I have to pause here to say that I've been following Martha Beck for years. She's authored several fantastic books. She used to write a column for Real Simple, then for Oprah Magazine - I often clip her articles to re-read them later. Her contributions are simple, funny, and wise, and, well, she just rings true, in a life-transforming sort of way. See for yourself.

Anyhow, The Four Day Win brings together so many of the things I feel passionate about: what we eat, how we think, and how those two are interconnected.

Some of the points she makes:

- Taking in more calories than we need doesn’t feel good. There comes a point when you eat that you’re not increasing pleasure but overriding physical discomfort. (Ugh. So true!)
- You overeat because of the way you think. Going on a diet without changing your mental set causes backlash and weight gain.
- How do you think? Like the animal that you are. You’re programmed to store fat when food is not plentiful. If your brain says “I can’t eat that” the ancestral part of your brain wants it. And that part of your brain is stronger than you.

I’ve always wondered why diet books (Low fat! Low carb! No carb! No sugar!) keep making suggestions around what we can and can’t eat (addressing the symptom) without asking why we need to keep eating after we’re not hungry anymore. Hurray for Martha Beck.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Home made

What does “home made” mean?

When you bring a pie to someone’s house and say it’s “home made” should it be inferred that you made it in your kitchen?

And, does this imply that you made it from scratch? For example, if you bought the crust and just made the filling, can we still fairly say it’s “home made”?

What about when you see “home made” on a menu? In food industry language, isn’t “restaurant” the opposite of “home”? Meaning, if the pie was made “on the premises”, then that’s not home made, is it?

“….And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!”
“I don't know what you mean by ‘glory’” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant ‘there's a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
“But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’”, Alice objected.
“When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that's all.”

Look: if the pie is good I don’t care where it came from. But I do think words should mean something. If we get in the habit of using them in the wrong places, we’ll follow Humpty Dumpty’s fate. And not even all the kings horses and all the kings men will be able to put things back together again.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

A thin thread

I know we’re not even that far into January but I feel the urge to report I’m hanging on to my resolutions by a thin, thin thread.

It’s been pretty fantastic.

Looking back, I see that the seed of possible failure was planted in December.

It was when Luca and I went to Ferrari Foods looking for Panettone, a sweet, fluffy bread typical from Milan, indispensable for any self-respecting Northern Italian who intends to serve a Christmas meal. Ferrari Foods offers an imported hand made Panettone artigianale. It turned out to be one of the best Luca has ever had (his words this time, not mine.) Following Milanese tradition that dates back hundreds of years, we saved what was left over and have been eating (minuscule) slices ever since.

My father, Carmen, Luca and I had serial feasts during their holiday visit to the Coast. We went to Pasta Moon (twice), Bangkok House, Café Gibraltar, and Cetrella. Of all those beloved, well-frequented restaurants my favorite this time around was Cetrella. We started with a startling fritto misto with chanterelle mushrooms and cauliflower. Then, I had a large dish of mussels in white wine, which we followed with a cheese platter. Carmen ordered dessert and since it wasn’t yet 2007, I gave myself permission to taste it. My point being that serial feasting is not conducive to frugal January behavior.

January Third. Luca took me to a new restaurant for my birthday: Perbacco. I hereby declare it the best Italian restaurant in San Francisco and have added it to my careful selection of restaurants on the left column of this blog.

I had a pear, honey, hazelnut, and Gorgonzola salad and then a ciuppin, a brothy, tomatoey, fresh seafood stew, piled high with scallops, shrimp, oysters, clam and fish. I also ate half of Luca’s pappardelle with braised meat ragu and chantarelles.

For dessert (Luca made me!) I tasted three different flavors of gelato(pistacchio, caramel with black sea salt and chocolate) and ate one and a half of my favorite cookies ever: brutti ma buoni.

(I’ve written about brutti ma buoni before, as well as recounted my valiant quest to find the best in the world. I would not dare say that the best brutti ma buoni might not be found in Italy, but you get my drift, right?)

January 4th. Post birthday celebration. Dinner with Scott and Erin at Sushi on Main Street. I don’t go there often because I’m not sold on the décor, because it tends to be noisy and because the service is atrocious – but, wow. The hot Tuna rolls, shitake steaks and sesame spinach sure bring out the patient person in you.

Am I eating less sugar? Just barely. Thank God for the multivitamin resolution.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Letter to 2007

So, we finally meet. This is what you look like.

In the 365 days you and I will have together, I want to spend time with my friends and talk to them over dinner and laugh and get to see each member of my family more than once. I want to travel extensively, read voraciously, watch good television, watch good movies and go to bed early. I want to feel productive. I want to work hard. I want to plant flowers in my backyard and use the grill we got last year to make gorgonzola stuffed figs wrapped in prosciutto. I want to swim and ride my bike and go for hikes, eat chocolate and popcorn and be a good wife.

I don’t want you to be the bearer of answers to any of the big questions. No philosophy, please. I don’t care to know why I’m here, what my purpose is, or what happens after we die. I don’t want anything to occur that would make anyone marvel at how lucky I was.

What I want is routine. I want to get up every morning at the same time and go to work. A perfect day will be uneventful. If all days line up homogeneously, looking more or less the same to the point I can barely tell them apart, I won’t be bored. I’ll be grateful. I won’t ask myself if there is more to life than this. I don’t need anything dramatic to help me realize how fortunate I am. I already know.