Monthly Archives: November 2007

Featured Blogger: Sally Parrott Ashbrook

In light of this very merry season, I’ll be featuring members of the blogosphere who are embracing the No Year’s Resolution philosophy (whether they call it that or not). These are people who are taking daily, consistent action to improve their life and be happy. Hopefully they’ll provide you with some inspiration, or if nothing else, an interesting point of view.

Aprovechar — Taking the full measure of life.jpg

Sally Parrott Ashbrook may be one of the few people out there who lived up to her 2007 New Year’s Resolution: last January she decided to focus on “taking good care of her body through food choices and exercise”. Since then, she went from 203 pounds to 175, and she’s still going.

During this time she also found out she’s crazy-allergic to a whole bunch of food, including dairy, eggs, gluten and casein. She’s been writing about the journey on her blog, Approvchar (her made-up word which means “getting all the pleasure we can out of something, without being greedy or miserly and without going over the edge into excess”). The result is a blog that’s full of wisdom, not only about diet and exercise, but mental health as well.

These days she’s been writing about the holidays. While most articles on baking and celebration would make me cringe with cynicism, Sally manages to write about the “warm fuzzies” without losing her sense of realism:

…there is no sense imbuing [the holidays] with an enormous sense of importance when they are, in fact, just a few days out of my life each year. They don’t have to be the best days, and they don’t have to be the worst days of the year. I have tons of great days when I get to do exactly what I want when I want with the people I want while experiencing only happy emotions. I want the holidays to be my ideal, but without hurting other people (family, primarily), that may not be possible. Part of being an adult is finding healthy boundaries, and that’s not always easy. Do I do what I want, which can make me happy but be selfish? Or do I do what my husband/mother/friend/siblings wants, even if it’s not necessarily easy for me? It’s a balancing act.

What I like best about her blog is her overarching view that we can get pleasure out of life in the face of any obstacle by being fulfilled with what we have. In that way, life’s limitations don’t have to be limiting.

Sally describes this better than I can in her first post. I encourage you to check it out, and the rest of blog. She also takes wonderful photographs of food!

I can reach and maintain a healthy weight by eating foods that taste great and make me feel good. I can reach and maintain a healthy weight not by punishing myself, but by taking joy in taking care of myself.


Novel Uses of the Seinfeldian Chain

Take a Picture of Dinner |

Speaking of spreading myself too thin, I’ve been trying and failing to take a daily photo of my dinner in an effort to become a better food photographer, and a better cook. I had a good run in Paris, but since we got back I simply keep forgetting to take the photo until after the food is all in my stomach. It’s such a pity; we’ve had some delicious meals this week.

This is a job for the Seinfeldian Chain. We’ll see how I go…

Since we’re on the subject, here are some of of the tasty creations I enjoyed in Paris, proof that being a vegetarian in Paris doesn’t mean you have to starve:

Chez Paul entree: Assiettes de Crudites

Vegan Cassoulet

Tofu Blinis

Salad with french beans and goat's cheese parcels


Take Consistent Action – Be the Tortoise!


Right after I wrote the last post on No Year’s Resolutions, I read this timely article in which Brad Isaac compares goal seeking to the tortoise and the hare.

You know the story: there’s a race between a tortoise and a hare. The hare runs like a bat outta hell but tuckers out before the finish line. The slow but steady tortoise shows the hare who’s boss. The end.

When it comes to goals like losing weight, learning to play guitar, or reading Ulysses, there’s a major cost to being a hare:

You never get into a groove. You make more mistakes. Since hares constantly put down and pick up projects, they have to relearn what they are doing each time. It’s also easier to quit.

I know I spread myself to thin – I want to be a master vegan chef, pro-blogger, food photographer, mac guru. So I do a little bit of everything, all the time. But if I’m cooking, I’m thinking about writing, and if I’m writing, I’m thinking about taking pictures. In effect, I feel somewhat mediocre at all of the above. The hare might be sexy, but it’s not getting me closer to actually mastering any of those projects.

Rabbit food for thought:

You’ll have to do some soul searching to find out which is more important. But to me, finishing one important goal completely and on time is better than 10 large goals finished “whenever” and in a haphazard, frantic pace.

Becoming a tortoise in this day is a difficult maneuver. Companies want speed – no matter what the cost. So to be as steady and as wise as a tortoise takes guts. You have to stand by your principals. You have to take your time and do things right. That’s where real value comes from.


No Year’s Resolutions

Google Calendar.jpg

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.”

The above passage by Mark Twain sums up what most of already know about New Year’s Resolutions: they basically blow.

Looking back at my blog circa January 2004, I found this somewhat depressing excerpt:

this year is going to be all about making productive choices in my life. i’m going to SERIOUSLY look for a job. i’m not going to smoke no matter how stressed out or drunk or lonely i am. i’m not going to binge drink. i’m going to excercise and eat good food and master thin crust pizza. and i’m also going to continue to try not to talk shit about (or tease or belittle) other people.

What’s wrong with this picture? The paragraph is essentially a laundry list of all the things I procrastinated doing the year before. Furthermore, most of those resolutions are in response to something negative: smoking too much, drinking too much, loneliness?! The only item with an ounce of merit is the thing about thin crust pizza, which I still haven’t mastered, almost 4 years later.

Here’s what history has taught me about resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise:

  • They enable procrastination
  • They set me up for failure
  • They make me feel worse, which is stupid, because I set them to feel better
  • Resolutions in response to something negative – be it smoking, drinking, eating or working – never work
  • Resolutions are always challenging, no matter what day of the year they start

Here is the last negative resolution I’m ever going to make: to abandon New Year’s Resolutions forever.

Instead, I will only engage in what I affectionately term the No Year’s Resolution:

Here’s the idea: Make positive changes now instead of putting them off for some arbitrary date in the future. A couple rules:

  • The moment I “set” a resolution, that resolution starts that very instant
  • Set only positive goals
  • Deprive myself of nothing

Here’s the goal: to radically enjoy The Holiday Season rather than simply survive it. Then step into the completely arbitrary “new year” having done something I feel good about.

Who’s with me?

The above is the last of my negative commentary on resolutions (you already know why they suck). Instead, stay tuned for some hopefully useful tips on taking action and setting positive goals for a season that has a lot to offer, like friends and pie. I also want to feature people who are taking a similar approach to the season, so if you know of anyone, please let me know!

Tim has already blogged about resolving to go for a walk today. Here are some resolutions I’ve made

  • Enjoy sparkling water with Ginger cordial at work – and accept that this small amount of unprocessed sugar is tastier and far better for my health than diet pop
  • Prioritize my morning swim – Aim to go 3 times a week before work, planning my schedule every Sunday to accomodate evenings out (especially ones that tend to be rather late and merry)
  • Be 100% vegan at home – this just feels good, dammit
  • Be booze-free at home – and enjoy a drink or two when I go out with my friends (ok, maybe 3 drinks)

HOWTO: Make Your Own Protein Bars

Vegan Oat Bar

Have you ever read the ingredients on the back of a Power Bar? In between the whey protein isolate, brown rice syrup, and oat fiber, you’ll find fractionated palm kernal oil, high fructose corn syrup, and glycerin, just to name a few.

It sure doesn’t make Power Bars sound very healthy… So how about making your own?

TryingFitness lists a few good reasons why homemade protein bars rule, and links the following video recipe:

Make Your Own Protein Bar. – video powered by Metacafe

Got a protein bar recipe that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments or on the forums!


Brain food

Original image by Kanko

Original image by Kanko. Licensed as Creative Commons: Attribution 2.0 license.

Grant over at 43Folders posts about how eating real food helps him concentrate and get things done.

One of the secrets to Napoleon’s amazing success (and he was a guy who definitely got things done) was embracing the high-tech innovation of canned food. He’s the one who coined the phrase “an army marches on its stomach,” after all. After observing my own habits, I know what he means.



Google Calendar.jpg

With Thanksgiving over and Christmas less than a month away, there will be an inclination to start looking forward to the new year and the new opportunities it will afford.

Inevitably the Big Giant New Year’s Resolution Narrative will be dragged out from the back of the closet by mainstream media and given its annual airing. I reckon this old carpet is threadbare.

New year resolutions set you up for failure by requesting that you start A Grand New Plan sometime on Jan 1 when you’re slightly hung over and just want to eat something greasy to mop up the hangover.

How about this: resolve to go for a walk right now, today. Make that resolution each morning when you get up and before the New Year you will have walked every day for over a month and done yourself some real good prior to the new year. Small changes right now are so much better than grand schemes you can procrastinate on until January 1st.

Three Days in Paris: Embracing the French Paradox

The closest we got to the Eiffel Tower

We’re back from three glorious days and nights in Paris, France. Paris is great for many reasons:

  • The city is extremely photogenic, especially at night
  • Paris is a great place to explore on foot
  • The Centre Pompidou is both a superb modern art venue and a chilled out spot for relaxing over a coffee and postcards
  • Perhaps most of all, Paris is great for it’s food and wine.

Ah, the food. Even a vegetarian can eat well in Paris (if you do a little research): bread, cheese, fresh salads, more cheese, more bread, and lots of wine to wash it down. Since we’re feeling a little French today, let’s talk about that “French Paradox”: the baffling contradiction that the French suffer relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats. What gives?

The Guardian explains one of their secrets: eat less of everything.

Scientists compared serving sizes in Paris versus Philadelphia. The mean portion size was about 25% more in Philly compared to Paris. Furthermore, a supermarket soft drink was 52% larger, a hotdog 63% larger, and a carton of yoghurt 82% larger.

The bottom line: the French might eat lots of fat, but overall they eat fewer calories.

“If food is moderately palatable, people tend to consume what is put in front of them, and generally consume more when offered more food,” said Paul Rozin, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Much discussion of the obesity epidemic in the US has focused on personal willpower, but our study shows that the environment also plays an important role, and that people may be satisfied even if served less than they would normally eat.”

Wikipedia cites a few more statistics that help explain the French paradox:

  • Good fats versus bad fats — French people get up to 80% of their fat intake from dairy and vegetable sources, including whole milk, cheeses, and whole milk yogurt. Conversely, they consume very little animal fat. Dairy fats have been shown to be healthier than other forms of fats, and they make a person feel full earlier thus encouraging smaller portion sizes.
  • Higher quantities of fish (three times a week).
  • Smaller portions, eaten more slowly and divided among courses that let the body digest food already consumed before more food is added.
  • Lower sugar intake — American low-fat and no-fat foods often contain high sugar. French diets avoid these products preferring full-fat versions without added sugar.
  • Low incidence of snacks between meals.
  • Avoidance of common American food items, such as soda, deep-fried foods, snack foods, and especially pre-prepared foods which can typically make for a large percentage of the foods in American grocery stores.

Is there any truth to all of this? I only know what my experience tells me.

Despite the (welcomed) fat/carb/booze bomb, I woke up this morning having not gained any weight. This is a mere bonus; the food was so good in Paris that I wouldn’t have minded a few extra pounds of cheese and baguettes just to have the experience.

The lesson: it’s possible to enjoy a holiday to it’s fullest without suffering any major regret afterwards.

I think there’s a lot to learn from this timely lesson as we dive into the merry winter. More to come on this topic soon. For now, enjoy some links:

Link to our Paris photos
Link to Guardian article
Link to Wikipedia entry on the French paradox

Thanksgiving in Paris


It’s not exactly a traditional Thanksgiving, but I certainly am very thanksful for having the Eurostar move to King’s Cross – 2 hour trains to Paris, baby! That’s where we’ll be until Sunday morning, so things will be pretty quiet around here until then. In the meantime, have a fabulous Thanksgiving and eat extra whipped cream in our absence.

Au revoir!