The weekend escape

Though summer weekends here are quiet, mostly, with fewer tourists and students, I yearn to escape from New Orleans, even if only for a day. Luckily, we’re within three hours of gorgeous white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

Over the weekend, we took a day trip to Pensacola. It was my first trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches outside of a training trip to Clearwater over Christmas break my freshman year of college.

When we’re en route to the beach, I’m at my happiest. Nothing could be better than the destination, of course, but the trip there isn’t so bad, either. The drive is meditative and familiar. I felt myself decompress as soon as we crossed the Orleans parish line. We followed I-10 across expansive Lake Pontchartrain, over flat, marshy watersheds near the Pascagoula River, and through lush corridors of green pines. Mississippi soon melted into Alabama, melted into Florida. My cares melted along the way, too.

By the time we were on the beach and adequately sunscreened up, I didn’t want to sit any longer, so I stood for a while watching the waves roll into shore, koozied blonde ale in hand, marveling at how wind shapes water and how sunlight colors sea as far as the horizon. I felt so free, I thought I might take off and fly. And I thought about how difficult it will be someday when this small paradise is more than a few hours from home.

pensacola-beach

pensacola-beach-sky

Where everybody knows your name

It’s been a good week, I thought to myself. I’ve only been called Kathy and Kathleen once, respectively.

But my brain didn’t stop there, probably thanks to the clarity brought on by my evening run. I started to feel angry about it, too.

It occurred to me that when I’m addressed not by a misspelling of my name, but by a name I don’t have/go by/happen to really dislike being called, is unacceptable without excuse. I’m sure most of you reading this have experienced the same, no matter the length or complexity of your name. People are busy, email is a minefield, et cetera. We’ve all been there, and perhaps we’ve even made this mistake ourselves.

But the real problem here isn’t the nature of email or how “busy” each and every one of us is. Millions of other blog posts have already ranted about that better than I ever could. The problem is how we rationalize others’ behavior and make excuses for them. Lawyers are so busy. Executives are so busy. Who cares about “busy”? When we let these things slide, we give people a free pass to communicate sloppily.

There’s a greater issue I see here with communication and relationships, which are paramount in the legal industry. And really, relationships are a factor in decision-making in any industry outside professional services. When I put myself in a client’s shoes, I can’t help but think how I’d feel if a service provider addressed me by the wrong name. In an email. Where my name was already clearly visible.

Sadly, I’ve actually seen lawyers make this mistake in emails to clients. What’s worse, having to correct this type of simple error is uncomfortable beyond measure for both parties.

Regardless of how inundated we might be thanks to the ferocious speed and volume of communications, we could all benefit from a double-check and a slow-down.

Pause. Get this one absolutely critical thing right. Every time.

Failing to pay attention says you don’t matter, I don’t care, and I’m not good with details. Getting this right is probably the simplest thing that someone can do to improve a business relationship, too. Think about how many glowing reviews you’ve read of local businesses where the managers or owners know and greet their customers by name. Furthermore, people who make knowing details a habit are remembered for it. Someone who knows your spouse’s name and your children’s names are bound to feel more like your friends rather than just your business partners. In the long run, friendships win.

As I’ve heard through business development consultants, clients most often let these transgressions go unmentioned, but that doesn’t mean these mistakes are unnoticed. They could even contribute to getting fired or not getting work from a client down the line, without your knowing.

If you’re not sure what name a contact prefers, check LinkedIn. Or perhaps your company has a CRM, like mine does, that usually has good information about a contact’s preferred name.

From now on, I’m going to be more vocal about this when I experience it, and I hope you’ll do the same in a similar situation. Let’s ensure that communications exemplify care.

So, in case you’re still wondering, I go by Katherine.

Things I’ve learned in New Orleans

(likely part one of many)

Your appointment is for 9:30, not at 9:30.
Your appointment will not begin at 9:30.

Humidity is no joke.
Neither is the fat rain that falls heavily on hot sidewalks on summer afternoons.
Neither is street flooding.

Bars never close.
Food does.

People are fiercely proud to be from here. Above all, that may be the most important thing.
People who are not from here are welcome here, too.

Traffic laws are open to interpretation.
Cycling is probably best left to the levee.

Patience.

Open, warm kindness. Think conversations with strangers and making fast friends with other regulars at your favorite bar.

Adventures in gluten-free pizza crust

Hello, friend. Today I want to tell you a story. A story about pizza. I can tell you this story now because I told you about IIFYM and the fact that yeah, I do eat pizza sometimes, although this version is a little more friendly on my tummy.

The pizza looks like this, which is helpful for those of you who can’t read (looking at you, five-month-old niece):

The Maria

This is my version of local Neapolitan-style pizzeria Ancora’s famed Maria. It has crispy edges and melty goodness and a garlicky bite underneath it all. More details on all that will be in a forthcoming post. And to be fair, that photo was taken in Addie’s kitchen after we completed our latest kitchen collaboration of my dreams: grilled gluten-free pizza.

But of course, the story of how we got to grilled gluten-free pizza is a longer one than I might have expected, and begins not in Addie’s charming shotgun in Mid-City, but in my suburban, ’80s-built, oddly configured kitchen that is never draped in beautiful natural light but instead in the buzz of fluorescence. You could get lost in there in the daytime without a light on, but I digress.

The road to gluten-free grilled pizza, as I was saying, was more complicated than I’d envisioned. I’d made the dish in the past with regular pizza dough, which was pretty easy and fantastic because gluten is what gives dough stretch and structure.

I wondered if this might be something we could possibly try, and honestly, neither of us searched the internet to see if it was possible right up until we were ready to throw the dough on the grill. Just living dangerously over here.

The morning of our experiment, I made the pizza dough using this blend I found at Whole Foods.

photo 1

The resulting dough, as promised, was fast, easy, and delicious. I did not feel as though I’d been conned.

The issue with gluten-free pizza, then, was not in the taste, but the journey in getting various starches to bind and act like normal pizza crust. I whipped this together in my stand mixer using the dough hook, even though the instructions said to use the paddle attachment. Whatever, I thought to myself as I clicked the dough hook into place, thinking that I must know better than the instructions on a package from a company that’s actually, uh, made this dough.

The dough hook did not do anything with the olive oil, flour, water, and yeast mixture. I could’ve stood here all day looking at this.

photo 1 (2)

I didn’t have all day, though, so I set my ego aside and put the stupid paddle attachment on. I’ll give it to you, manufacturers. You were right.

Interestingly enough, the dough came together like a thick icing. This was different than the normally sticky, compact ball of dough that results when making a pizza crust from conventional ingredients. I was surprised and also terrified, because how does such a strange dough come together to make a pizza?

photo 2 (2)

Luckily, a silicone spatula and a generous portion of olive oil did the trick, and into a bowl the dough went. It rose for about 2 hours until I took it to Addie’s, where the real adventure began. Here’s a shot of the dough pre-rise, and reflecting the wonderfully harsh overhead light of my kitchen for ambiance:

photo 3 (2)

 

How issues with paleo led me to IIFYM

I guess I should start off this post with a preemptive clarification. It’s not that paleo and I don’t get along. In fact, paleo eating makes sense to me in a lot of ways. Paleo has also proven to work incredibly well with my body, especially during the Whole30 I took on around this time last year.

Here’s where paleo methodology and I aren’t compatible: portion control.

Every paleo book/website/blog/sermon I’ve ever come across talks about the importance of portion control on paleo but also preaches “eat as much [vegetable/meat/fat] as you want!”

For many, this isn’t an issue. For me, this was akin to a free pass to overeat. I get why this approach works, why it makes sense, and how a lot of people really can eat as many non-starchy vegetables as they want, because it’s actually quite difficult to eat your fill of them and make any sort of negative impact on your daily nutrition and/or goals. The problem lies mostly in the amounts of added fat consumed and how this gently winding road suddenly turned into a slippery slope of too-large portions of meat, too much fat, and overeating carbohydrates in general every day. It’s also easy to do when one non-paleo meal becomes two, then another, and of course the portions are off in those meals as well.

I don’t need to give you more background on my background, since by now you know I spent years training as a competitive swimmer, which translated to upwards of 20 hours per week in the pool at my peak. Since those days ended, I’ve always struggled to figure out how a normal person works out, how much a normal person works out, and especially how much a normal person eats. The formative years of my life were spent eating 3,500+ calories a day to maintain my energy levels, and I think my body and mind must view this as canon. I’ll probably always be someone with a large appetite and an immense capacity for food.

I know this because I’ve been battling it for 7 years.

Contrary to nearly all advice in the paleo community, I began to track my intake earlier this year, just as I was ramping up the squats, deadlifts, and bench in the gym. I realized how much I’d been eating slash overeating, and at my boyfriend’s suggestion, looked into If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) as a new approach to help me figure out nutrition in terms of numbers.

IIFYM

IIIFYM is simply this: eat the proper amounts of fat, carbs, and protein each day, based on your body weight/height/age/activity level, to help you meet your goals. For someone like me who’s lifting heavy things with occasional running and focusing on fat loss, this means a set of numeric goals that help me figure out exactly what I need to eat every day to reach my physical and training goals.

Initially, the most striking thing I realized was that I wasn’t eating enough protein, even at 0.8g/lb bodyweight (generally a good goal for women). In fact, my daily intake was probably around one third of recommended intake for someone my age, height, weight, and activity level, with the same goals I have. Wow. So what I was really eating, then, was too much fat and carbs to meet my body composition goals. Since then, I’ve tracked everything I’ve eaten for nearly every single day for a few months, and at long last I am seeing results. It feels good to know that my work in the gym isn’t going to waste. It feels good to learn what it feels like to eat proper amounts of food for fueling my body and reaching my goals.

It also feels great to know that I can eat a sandwich for lunch and not worry too much about bread—come get me, paleo police—because I can have a reasonable lunch that fits my macros instead of something that’s paleo yet blows fat and carb macros out of proportion for the day.

Here are some points I want to clarify about IIFYM and why I feel it’s a sensible approach.

What IIFYM IS

  • Eating more than 1,200 calories/day
  • Preventing me from getting skinny-fat
  • Fueling my workouts and rest days with the same amount of energy
  • Eating something I want or crave as long as it brings me toward reaching a macronutrient (protein, fat, carb) goal for the day without going over it—this normally means about one small thing per day, like a small scoop of ice cream
  • Basically a framework for defining what most people think of as “moderation”

What IIFYM is NOT

  • Restrictive in terms of what I eat, like dairy or grains, although I still eat mostly paleo because it helps me reach high protein macro goals
  • Guilt about food
  • Eating Pop Tarts, ice cream, and protein powder all day—it actually only works for my goals if I pretty much do the opposite and allow something like ice cream occasionally
  • Counting calories and obsessing over them; while calorie (energy) intake is important, it’s almost like a game to make my intake fit the macro intake goals every day
  • Exercising to compensate for additional food I’ve eaten*
  • Justifying food with exercise*

*These last two, in my opinion, reflect both a dangerous mindset toward exercise and food and are mistakes that many athletes and casual exercisers alike make every single day.

In conclusion, tracking what I eat is the one thing that’s started to make a real difference in my routine and body. It took calculation and some trial and error to lose these first 15 lbs. I’m a more firm believer in the idea that you can’t improve if you’re not measuring what you’re doing and have no idea where you are.

I’m curious to hear from any of you who have played around with IIFYM or who have also experienced some pitfalls of paleo. I’m also happy to talk about this stuff via email if you prefer to keep it private.

Kitchen inspiration: summer standouts

Moving to New Orleans in 2003 to attend college was easily the most life-changing experience I’ve had. The exposure to art, architecture, people, cultures, beliefs, and value systems different from what I’d known was probably the best thing that could’ve happened in my life at the time. Since then, New Orleans has instilled in me a deep appreciation for all these things.

Oh, and then there’s the food.

Before I moved to New Orleans, I didn’t even realize you could eat crawfish (or crayfish, as I knew them then), which seems absurd and naive now. I’d also never eaten goat cheese, sushi, or even a pork chop. In the 11 years that have passed, I’ve become a much bolder eater. Plus I’ve grown to love creating and sharing great food with people I love, not to mention all types of adventures in dining.

I think it was during my senior year in college (2006–2007) that I began reading food blogs and became more interested in cooking. My mom taught me basic kitchen skills, something I believe to be absolutely critical for everyone. Kitchen know-how elevates a basic survival skill to full enjoyment and appreciation of life. I read, read, and read, and experimented in the kitchen to build my knowledge and skill set. I loved trying new recipes and replicating restaurant dishes at home. It all came naturally to me, as I’m strongly driven by creativity and learning.

At some point, however, I stopped reading food blogs and being so creative in the kitchen. It’s difficult to pinpoint why.

Since I’ve recently had a little more time to cook and have been newly inspired by the variety of summer produce, I’ve been going back to some old favorite blogs to catch up and read about what’s now cooking in kitchens worldwide. As an aside, if you follow any great food blogs that you’d like to recommend, I welcome your notes in the comments.

Here are some recipes I’ve found that are serving as major inspiration for me in the kitchen this week.

Potato, Squash, & Goat Cheese Gratin: The absence of cream makes this gratin (say it with me, grah-TAN) seem especially light while letting the fresh flavors of summer squash and goat cheese shine through. I’m tempted to try this without potatoes, too, for a dish significantly lower in carbs.

Zucchini Tagliatelle with Mint, Cucumber, and Lemon: This looks like a fun take on thinly sliced zucchini as pasta, a dish I’ve had at Maurepas Foods, among other places around town. I like the inclusion of mint and cucumber here. The flavor profile of this dish couldn’t seem any lighter or more summery.

Gyoza Meatballs: Since this is my space to be honest with the world, I’m going to say it. My favorite part of a sushi dinner is gyoza, the steamed and sometimes pan-fried dumplings filled with a richly flavorful combination of meat and spices, served with a tangy-sweet-salty sauce. It’d never occurred to me to make these dumplings sans wrapper—that makes dumplings about a thousand times easier, no?—and this paleo recipe seems to fit the bill.

3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Ice Cream: Since my recent experiment using coconut milk to make ice cream, I’ve been intrigued by other recipes that use a dairy-free base. This one seems pretty good, and I think the fat in the peanut butter makes up for the lack of egg yolks in this recipe. I mean, I could make several batches and taste-test them to figure it out.

The view from halfway

Doesn’t life just seem to coast by on fast-forward when we’re really enjoying it? It’s hard for me to believe July is already here, especially when it seems as though it was yesterday I wrote down a list of ideas to maximize my exposure to the things I love about June.

Well, when time flies and all is well, there’s inevitably a lot going on. My past few weeks were marked by a brief TXcation, a renewed focus on continuing to make my new apartment feel like home, continuing to beast through my training at the gym, and my brother Pat being called up to the big leagues to make his MLB debut pitching for the Detroit Tigers. We traveled to Houston and met my brother Matt there to watch him pitch against the Astros last week. I’m the proudest big sister (of both those dudes). Then we went to Ikea, so I guess you could say the weekend was pretty magical.

Lately I find myself having trouble sleeping, feeling like there’s so much I want to accomplish before the day draws to an end. Books on my Kindle and home décor projects on Pinterest beckon to me, while Pearl sighs heavily, begging for the lights to dim so she can sleep in peace. There’s no time to sleep, though, because I need to pick up some gold leaf and storage bins and what do you mean all the places that sell those things are closed? Though my to-do list is long, I have a great deal of energy and excitement about it all. I want to do everything and I want to do it all now.

It’s strange to think that we’re also halfway through the year, too. I’ve been reflecting on my goals for this year and where I stand. You can’t get better if you have no idea where you are.

July will likely be when I accomplish most of the things on that June list, and perhaps I’ll share some of the projects I’ve been working on. There hasn’t been nearly enough creative cooking or writing in my world lately, so there’s probably a way all the creative pursuits in my life will come together here. For now, I’m basking in the goodness of the now and really just enjoying where I am.

Lemon coconut ice cream

After a string of posts about life, goals, struggles, and progress, I wanted to share something a little different with you.

These days, you won’t catch me on Facebook very often. I prefer the mindlessness and creative inspiration of Pinterest, a digital world of ideas and possibilities, though unfortunately it’s home to some dangerous and dumb advice.

I could go on, but I’ll leave you with this: don’t put lemon juice on your face (dangerous), lay off the chevron (this trend is tired), and a 30-day ab challenge won’t give anyone a six pack unless their body fat percentage is already quite low (dumb).

Anyhow, I maintain a few boards on Pinterest with recipe ideas that are visually stunning and help me shake things up in the kitchen when I’m in a food or cooking rut. There’s a board for ketogenic/low-carb, high-fat recipes; one for paleo and primal goods; and one that I titled Dreamboat Recipes. That last one is for the culinary extravagances so tantalizing and dreamy that you wish you could meet them at the end of the aisle.

What I created in the kitchen several days ago was part paleo fun, part dreamboat.

With berries nearly overflowing from my fridge and a craving for some sort of summery fruit dessert, I got to work in the kitchen. Only a few minutes were required to throw together the blueberry crumble from Practical Paleo, one of my go-to cookbooks, even when I’m not particularly focused on paleo eats. I’d also wanted to give lemon ice cream a shot; the creamy lemon mascarpone ice cream at Creole Creamery is one of my favorites, and I thought it would pair wonderfully with the blueberry dessert.

I mean, I don’t want to say I was right about the combination, but I was right about the combination.

An ice cream made from a coconut milk-based custard was simple and could be made paleo if you wish to use a sweetener other than granulated sugar. I almost used maple syrup in this, but decided I wanted the lemon flavor to shine through, rather than to introduce caramel notes from maple syrup or another sweetener.

That being said:

Blueberry crumble and lemon coconut milk ice cream

Lemon Coconut Ice Cream

Adapted from Fast Paleo and Epicurious

Approximately six servings

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar or other sweetener; could be reduced to as little as 1/4 cup
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 can (~ 14 fl oz) reduced-fat coconut milk (or use full-fat, whatever; I used reduced-fat to help this fit my macros)
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon, approximately 1/2 cup
  1. Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and/or reaches around 180 degrees Farenheit. My custard didn’t thicken wonderfully but reached the required temperature.
  2. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
  3. Cool until the mixture is around 40–45 degrees Farenheit.
  4. Add cooled mixture to an ice cream maker and churn until mixture thickens into a frozen custard. Then you have the choice to eat the entire thing as-is, or freeze in a container for future splurges or to impress all your friends at some point in the future.

Underneath the surface

When you sink down under the water and push off the wall on your back, face toward the sky, arms locked in a streamline above your head, there’s a moment just before you break the surface when you can see your reflection.

It’s a quiet moment with a strange tension between your body and the surface of the pool, a few seconds where you’re simultaneously floating and being pushed down. And in that moment, the outline of your body, the pattern of your suit, and eventually your face are visible as a semi-transparent layer of color against the blue sky above you, water against your arms rippling with increasing intensity until you take that first stroke and it breaks.

Any swimmer who’s spent time in an outdoor pool knows this sensation. There’s nothing like being enveloped by water and feeling your entire self glide across a pool with ease. Even better, there’s the plunge into a sort of nirvana, where the swim transports your mind somewhere else and you’re moving without consciously trying. You lose count of your laps in the set and even find yourself on the other side of the pool about to flip turn, unaware of how you got there from where you started.

If you aren’t careful, it feels like you might fall asleep.

Saturday morning, I woke earlier than usual for a weekend and slipped into a brand-new racerback, one with a pattern much trendier and much cuter than those of the Speedos of my youth. I quickly painted my bare toenails a minty shade of aqua, both perfect for summertime and reminiscent of shallow water.

Then I spent the better part of my day in pools, teaching lessons, then swimming laps outdoors, and finally passing the afternoon with a styrofoam cup of rosé vinho verde with a little ice to keep it cold as the sun beat down on my shoulders. It was one of the happiest days I’ve experienced in a long time, thanks to a homecoming of sorts to teaching kids how to swim and then busting out a few sets of 100s to truly feel in my element.

Years of training and races are still part of my DNA, and I do not ever forget how to swim. It’s the feel for the water and the effortlessness that are elusive as I age. My body is curvier and softer than before. My arms tire after the first 100 yards, which is equal parts laughable and sad.

It doesn’t matter if I’m slower now, I thought to myself as I took a water break and adjusted my goggles, which had become foreign to my face after such a long break from the pool. I noticed then how my freshly-coated toes matched the pale blue of the plaster along the bottom of the pool. The water will always feel like home.

Rethinking running

Recently, it dawned on me that my most recent half marathon was two years ago. It happened to be a local race I’ve run twice and have generally enjoyed, the Jazz Half Marathon. Running it always feels good, since it’s a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital, a place that’s been live-saving and life-changing for a few families I know in the city.

That most recent half marathon, however, wasn’t particularly enjoyable. My training was never quite on point. Motivation to run for longer than about an hour was in short supply. The race itself ended up being a fairly painful and miserable experience, if I’m being honest. After that 13.1-mile slog, I vowed to wait a good bit until my next half.

Fast-forward to January 2014 and the Louisiana Marathon. I’d registered last summer, thinking the time was right for another running challenge and a goal to keep myself on track. I envisioned myself completing long runs with ease, all of them well below a 10-minute mile pace and closer to my ultimate half marathon goal pace of around 8:55. The latter pace is pretty unrealistic for me, unless I train like a maniac and somehow figure out the biomechanical issues that keep me from running faster and pain-free. Life also decidedly proclaimed, “Lol, free time?” Training to be minimally prepared, even, was out of the question. After some thought, I decided to defer my registration to 2015.

Over time I’ve also found that I simply can’t train for and race half marathons without pain. From stress fractures to stomach upset to migraines, distance running seems to disagree with me. So why’d I put so much heart and sweat into the quest in the past? There’s nothing like distance running (or swimming, really) to distract the mind from tough situations, unhappiness, or disappointment.

In 2011, when I began running longer distances, I’d experienced all three in a major way. Running was my coping mechanism, and an excellent one at that. But now, in a much better place in life and finding myself enjoying reduced mileage and more time developing strength in the gym, distance running has naturally taken a back seat. I find it super-tough to push myself through miles when my footsteps aren’t masking an internal struggle or pain.

I’ve wanted, however, to keep running consistently, since it’s something I enjoy. And when running isn’t at chronic cardio levels, my body handles it pretty well. A friend recently shared this article by elite runner Lauren Fleshman, “10 Reasons the 5K is Freaking Awesome,” and it was so on-point I thought I might explode. Fleshman writes:

The 5K is freaking awesome. It encourages you to develop a combination of endurance, speed, and strength. You can train for it and still have a life. You can race one every weekend and still be able to walk normally. If people ran more 5Ks, I’m positive the average life satisfaction of humans would increase dramatically.

I found myself nodding in agreement as I read Fleshman’s post, and by the end, I wanted to scream its contents at the entire running world, especially the one on the Internet.

Frankly, I’m tired of bloggers feeling like they have to push themselves to run increasingly longer distances because that’s what people do. Really, there’s no rule on that; run the distance you love. I’m weary of runners who complain about training; again, do what you love. I’m saddened by reports from friends who are almost constantly injured, and for what? A goal they don’t even seem to be totally jazzed about?

For now, I’m going to keep my mileage low and I’m going to unapologetically enjoy it. Maybe this fall I’ll even see if I can break my 5K PR of 27:40, nearly seven years old this winter and a lifetime ago for me as a runner and athlete. It’s highly likely that I’ll also skip the Louisiana Marathon half and perhaps even forfeit the registration I deferred six months ago.

These days, it’s all about happiness, and in all facets of life I’m putting the pieces together, like this one, to figure out what that means for me.