Sunday, August 30, 2009

7 Day Challenge Complete!

Before I write about how successful this 7 day challenge was, I have a confession. On the last day, I cheated. No, I didn't eat any of this glorious looking meat you see from the "Meatapalooza" event on Saturday (none of it was organic). But after a few hours watching everyone else eat ... and with just a few hours before the official end of the challenge, I ate a non-organic brownie and a piece of corn bread (fueled probably, by the organic wine I was drinking). Before passing judgment, know that I was STARVING. So ... full disclosure on that one.

Aside from the chocolate mishap, I really stuck to my rules on this one. 7 full days and everything I ate or drank was local (within the 5-state region) and, if not USDA certified organic, grown or raised with sustainable farming practices and without pesticides or chemicals. And I had more fun doing it than I would have thought! I enjoyed the conversations I had with the workers at the Birchwood Cafe or McDonald's liquor store when I asked them to point out the local, organic stuff. But I especially liked how much this challenge made me focus on what I eat and where it comes from. Never before have I read food labels so intensely (and to the chagrin of grocery store customers behind my slow-moving cart) and had so limited a choice in what I ate. Over the course of the week, I tried organic beer from Wisconsin, grass-fed pork from Minnesota, and gigantic juicy tomatoes grown right here in the metro area; all things I plan on consuming again (but the organic wine has a ways to go). So to sum up:

Eat only local and organic food for one week
Nearly 100% (who would have thought a meat-smoking party would be my undoing?)
We normally spend a little under $100 a week on groceries, plus an extra $20-40 on restaurants/lunch spots. This week, we spent a little over $100 on groceries, plus an extra $50 on restaurants/lunch spots.
Somewhat. I never felt I needed to cancel plans or restrict what I did. But planning meals ahead of time was crucial. And certain situations proved challenging, like having to say no when my husband wanted to open a bottle of non-organic wine, and avoiding all things fried at the State Fair.
The debate over the government-approved label "organic" is more intense and heated than I realized.
Eating food that you know where it came from gives a certain pleasure to a meal I've never experienced before.
I won't continue to eat only local or organic foods - it's simply too limiting at this point. But the super-processed foods that were often a staple of my lunches at work or my late-night snacks are a thing of the past. So no more Spaghetti-O's or trans-fat filled microwave dinners.
And we will definitely be cooking from scratch more with fresh produce - that was the most rewarding part of this week!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 6 - Stay Local, Go Organic

For someone watching what they eat (and like me, writing a blog about it), Friday and Saturday are the toughest. Romantic dinners, barbecues, a night at the movies …. All can be ruined by that simple phrase: “No thanks, I’m on a diet.” So I anticipated this Friday and Saturday with growing dread, as I tried desperately to cling to my challenge of eating only organic, local foods for seven days.

While I’m at it, why not make it as difficult on myself as possible? Why not enter the Lion’s Den, the mecca of all things fried, fat-filled and served on a stick? I’m talking, of course, about the Minnesota State Fair. It was not my idea to attend today – it had been a planned work outing. The additional fact that my husband was there for work as well (yes, we have great jobs) made it a no-brainer that I’d attempt to run the State Fair food gauntlet in search of local/organic.

I knew local wouldn’t be the problem, but naturally-made food is harder to find at the fair than an open bathroom stall. At least, thanks to tips from the Simple Good and Tasty website, I knew to head to the Eco Experience. But here’s the one problem. Despite how interesting and informative the Eco Experience is about the growing local food movement, sustainable farming and organic cuisine, there was virtually no actual food to munch on! I was growing desperate and panicking about my options – go hungry, go home, or go crazy on mini-donuts, cheese curds, cookies, chocolate-covered bananas, is that a deep-fried snickers bar?

Then we found it – the one booth actually selling and advertising their local, healthy food. The Countryside Market right outside the Eco Experience had farm-fresh-tasting Capresse on a stick and mouth-watering yellow watermelon. But that was about it. I’ve since heard that French Meadow has a booth at the state fair. We didn’t make it there, but wouldn’t have had enough money to try anything anyway. There’s very likely other food at the fair that would fit the definition of local and organic but if so, they weren’t promoting the fact because we didn’t see any and we walked a fair distance looking. I hope next year, the Capresse on a Stick has some competition.

So I managed to stay on track even at the State Fair. But let’s see how tomorrow goes. My husband and friends are holding a Meat-Smoking event that’s an all-day affair. Hope I don’t just have to say “No thanks, I’m on a diet……”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day Three of Eat Local, Go Organic

I am less than halfway through this Eat All Local and Organic for an entire week and I’m feeling two things I didn’t expect: I’m hungry and tired!

I have been eating some fantastic food and testing out great recipes. Sunday night we tried out a Lemongrass Pork Tenderloin that I found on the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market website courtesy of chef Tammy Wong. It was succulent (Justin’s word, after some serious thought). Here’s a link to the recipe (scroll down about halfway).

Monday night we ate Rosemary potatoes that were fine, but nothing special so no recipe sharing for that one. Three nights of cooking in a row? No thanks, so tonight was a frozen organic veggie pizza from the Seward Coop (not cheap, but we both thought well worth the $9 price). I’ve been having the leftovers for lunch at work but I am so starving by 2:00 every day. And I’ve been hungry when I go to bed every night. I think I made one terrible misstep in my shopping; I bought virtually no local, organic snack food. So I’ve been eating great meals but nothing in between. My former diet was one of 5-6 small meals throughout the day, so maybe this has been a tough shift for my hunger gene.

The tired thing is harder to figure out. As my last entry explains, I’ve been filling my coffee mug each morning with locally roasted, yummy Peace Coffee, but I still feel exhausted. Perhaps it’s because the food this week has had very few carbohydrates. It’s easier to find local, organic meat, veggies and seasonal fruit rather than breads and cereals. So my carb count is down. I don’t know how people on the Atkins diet can stick to it!

Four more days to go...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Keep it Local, Go Organic - 7 Day Challenge

The smells of a Farmer’s Market are invigorating. The whiff of basil, pungent peppers, or the steamed warmth of the kettle korn. These are the smells microwave dinners often try to imitate but never fully realize. This is where my next 7-day Challenge began for me.

But let me back up. This challenge was inspired by the book I was (and still am) reading for my book club: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I’ll spare you the details (and I’ve heard In Defense of Food is better), but the gist of the book is informing us where our food comes from. How food gets from the ground or animal to our dinner table. And as you might guess, Pollan is pretty critical of the way Americans grow, process, sell and eat food. The author favors organic growers and I agree. Essentially, the best food for you, for the land and for our economy is the least processed, most natural and grown closest to you (with of course, some exceptions).

So my challenge to myself is to try and eat completely local and organic foods for Seven Days. These terms mean different things to different people so my first step was to define what they meant for me.

Take “organic”. Basically, organic means growing without the use of pesticides, herbicides or insecticides and giving animals no growth hormones or synthetic food products and allowing them access to pasture (they’re preferably entirely grass-fed). The term, as the U.S. government defines it, has been criticized of late for allowing large, corporate processing companies to get the organic label with some questionable production methods, but that’s an argument for a different day. I decided if it was labeled USDA organic, I could eat it.

Then there’s “local”. Before I realized how limiting it would be, I decided “local” was anything within 200 miles of me (in South Minneapolis). But when I looked on the Seward Co-op’s website, and they defined local as anything grown or raised in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa or the Dakotas, I figured I should re-evaluate. So I took their definition. And their second rule of “local” really got my attention: “Some level of production (beyond repackaging) must take place locally. For example, a local coffee roaster is considered local.” I was resigned to no coffee for the week, but just for the java, I’ll enact this rule. All food products though, for this week, must be grown or raised in the 5-state region.

I decided there were three places I needed to shop for my food this week: The local Farmer’s Market, the Seward Co-op, and my regular grocery store (a SuperTarget). I was prepared to spend copious amounts of money and walk frustrated and angst-filled through the aisles, but it was actually easier than I thought to shop. At the Farmer’s Market, I asked a couple local growers if they grew organic. After one man gave me a stare (it’s a touchy subject for many), he said, “No pesticides, no chemicals, just picked this morning from a farm 50 miles away. Good enough?” Indeed it was! The Seward Co-op was also great but harder than I thought to find the combination of local/organic (at least under a price tag of $9, which is what a bag of oatmeal was – ouch!) But surprisingly, since I limited myself to recipes I plan on making this week, I didn’t spend much more than I would have on more processed food at SuperTarget (in fact, I was virtually done with my list by the time I got to Target).

So now the challenge begins (Sunday, August 23rd to Saturday, August 29th), and I can’t wait to eat the Pork Tenderloin from Kerkhoven, Minnesota or the peppers from the fairly angry but “good-enough” guy’s booth at the Farmer’s Market. Check back all this week for great recipes I discover!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Make 'em Laugh

So I did it! I completed my first 7-day challenge by performing a stand-up comedy routine I’d written in one week Monday night at the Acme Comedy Club.
And it was a rousing success! Not because I was so funny (though I did get some laughs and I’m choosing to believe they weren’t courtesy laughs) or because I’ve discovered a new career path (though my favorite comedian of the night, Peter Greyy, told me later that he thought I had potential and I’m choosing to believe he didn’t say that because I had just told him he was my favorite).

It was a success because it was nerve-wracking and terrifying and I went ahead with it anyway and felt exhilarated afterwards. Truly, the reason I chose this for my first challenge is because I think there’s nothing harder or scarier than standing in front of a large group of people (200!) and trying to make them laugh. That, to me, is the ultimate challenge and I wanted to tackle it first.

I also learned a lot about stand-up comedy:
1)Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it’s open mic night, it will be a bunch of people just doing this on a dare or goofing off to try and impress a girl. Except for me, these were all people attempting to make this their career and many were succeeding. I knew I was out of my league when I pulled out my three index cards and the comedian one table over had a full NOTEBOOK of jokes. It was only later that I discovered what kind of a stellar reputation the Minneapolis Acme Comedy Club has. When I told Peter Greyy it was my first time, he laughed and said “That’s like deciding to sing opera for the first time, and doing it at the Met.” Thank god they put me first before I had time to chicken out.

2)The stand-up comedy world is a club and I don’t know the secret handshake. From the moment I walked in to sign up for a slot, it was clear that everyone else in the room knew each other. I’ve heard that the comedy business is all about relationships and who you know – it was evident last night. But the good news was as soon as I performed, it was like I was part of the crew. More than one of my fellow performers complimented me or called me by name and asked if I’d be back. I got the feeling they did this with all first-timers regardless of how they really felt about the routine, but it still felt good.

3)There is no better feeling than making someone laugh. We should all try to do it more often. Not just on stage, but at work, in our homes, standing in line at the grocery store. Humor can go a long way towards making the world a better place.

One final thanks to my husband, Justin. He was incredibly supportive when I thought I was going to puke before I went on and risked getting in trouble by videotaping my three minutes of infamy. When possible, I’ll post the results of my challenges – this one I’m posting purely for my parents who weren’t able to see it in person, but figured into my routine.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day Three

So it’s day three of my 7-Day challenge. For this first one, I’m trying to write a stand-up comedy routine in one week and perform it at the end of the 7 days. And I actually thought it was going pretty well. The past few nights I’ve been writing down things I think are funny, even giggling to myself a few times. And then I came to a horrible realization. Upon re-read the next day …. lots of it isn’t that funny. What the heck was I thinking?

So I’ve decided to once again consult Google for tips from the comedy experts about how to write a stand-up routine. Here’s what I found (courtesy the Suite101 website):

1. “Develop the right attitude.” Well … what is the right attitude? Despair? Embarrassment? If so, then check and check.

2. “Read funny books and articles.” Seriously? If that were all it took to be a stand-up comedienne, my grandmother Else
would have been the next Joan Rivers. Or the first Joan Rivers? How old is she again?

3. “Narrow your humor.” What does that mean? Can I only talk about one subject? If I begin with bathroom humor, does that mean I’m doomed to only talk about toilets for the rest of the time?

4. “Respond to your audience.” Not so sure this one’s a good idea. I have visions of me yelling, “Yeah, well my act may be awful, but so is your face” or some other equally immature and not altogether intelligible retort and the whole thing ending in a melee.

So I guess I’m on my own. Here’s hoping I grow a funny bone in the next few days (or at least develop short-term memory loss after the event).


Sunday, July 12, 2009

7 Day Challenge

Almost daily, I read about a hobby or hear about a way of life that I think is something I’d like to do. But the amount of time you can spend trying new things is staggering, and somewhat intimidating. Sure, I want to be the best rock-climber, environmentalist, cross-stitcher that anyone’s ever met – but I also have a full-time job, family, friends and a new dog that keep me pretty busy. Reading the mail without getting distracted is tough; sticking to a good habit? Forget about it. So I thought of an idea.

People (including me) are obsessed with deadlines. “I’ll lose 15 pounds in 3 weeks.” “The house will be organized by November 1st.” “I promise I’ll start caring about my job tomorrow.” They usually serve only to stress you out and make you feel like a failure when the deadline has come and gone and you’re still an overweight, messy person who sucks at their job. But I’m going to use a deadline to my advantage. I am going to try all sorts of things that seemed too hard or time-consuming before …. For just one week.

I’m calling it the 7-day challenge. You can do anything for just 7 days, right? You can eat healthy or stop drinking alcohol. You can endure a visit from your in-laws. You can go without food, even water I think (might have to fact-check that one ….. Google just told me I’d be dead after 3 days-so we won’t try that one). These challenges will vary in their difficulty and type. I might try living a fairly extreme lifestyle for 7 days. I might try going without something that’s considered pretty necessary in our modern culture. I might try learning a new skill and see how good I get at it after 7 days. Or I might try doing something that I’ve always wanted to do, but been scared s***less to try. I have no set goal and no idea what will be considered success with some of these challenges. I’m just looking to learn a lot, have some personal growth, and feel like I’m accomplishing something that wasn’t easy to do.

Along those lines, I’ve decided what my first 7-day challenge will be and it’s the one thing I’ve ALWAYS wanted to try. I will start working on a stand-up comedy routine today (trust me – I don’t have anything written down yet) and perform it one week from tonight at the Minneapolis Acme Comedy Club Open Mic Night. This won’t be easy. Because everyone thinks they’re funny in that I-can-make-my-friends-and-coworkers-laugh sort of way. But it took me a long time to discover that what I think is funny, witty sarcasm sometimes gets misconstrued as plain old bitchy. So I may very well suck at this. But it’s one of those things on my bucket list and that’s part of what this project is about for me.

So here I go! I will update during the week about my progress .. here’s hoping I follow in the mighty footsteps of Carrot Top, Pauly Shore, and the guy that smashes the fruit.

-Paige (the CEO of the Warehouse:-)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Candy Man can ...

I realized it was time for me (Paige) to post a blog, lest people think our lives revolve around stadiums and sports (they do, but I don't want everyone THINKING that).
My last two days at work have been a blast. Each year, Project SUCCESS puts on a big musical at Anwatin Middle School. This year, it's Willy Wonka. For the last two days, I've been helping to coordinate the behemoth that is auditions (thank you, Candy Man song. You are officially in my head for the next two months). Since there's no new Office or 30 Rock this week, 100 middle school kids preparing to sing for their lives is the next best thing to laugh-out-loud comedy. My favorite moments include:
- The two boys who came with electric guitars for their audition. Did they actually think they'd get to play them in the show? I don't remember the part in Willy Wonka where Charlie rocks out.
-The part on the audition form where it asks the kids if they have any special talents. "Talking non-stop" and "Being Awesome" are two of the most popular responses.
-The kid who, when asked on the audition form if he had any conflicts that would prevent him from coming to rehearsal said, "I can't think of any right now. And I won't remember any soon. But I'm sure something will come up in my life and I just won't show up."

Seriously, I love these kids .... and Veruca Salt (the Willy Wonka character, not the early-90's grunge band).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Minneapolis' New Town Center

Thousands of fans pouring off of trains from Big Lake and Bloomington, families riding bikes in from Southwest Minneapolis, pedestrians making their way from bars and restaurants in the Warehouse district ...that will be the scene (at least) 81 times a year at Target Field starting in April, 2010.

Click here for an update on the exterior of Target Field

It's becoming more apparent that there actually was quite a bit of thought that went into building this ballpark on the north side of downtown Minneapolis. Yes, the small lot makes for a tight fit and yes, there is a garbage incinerator right next door, but when it's complete, Target Field will be the meeting place for tens of thousands of Minnesotans. A hub of activity that will be especially easy to get to, with or without a car.

In a recent Star Tribune article (see above link) the writer describes "the escalators and elevators used to connect commuters to the two levels of trains at the ballpark's transit station." Imagine if every major gathering point in the Twin Cities was designed with this transit strategy in mind. Imagine how much less congestion we'd have at the Xcel if (or when) rail lines brought in 1/3 of the spectators. Or how much easier the commute from the southwest suburbs would (will) be when the southwest light rail line pulls thousands of vehicles off the roads every day.

The multiple means of getting to Target Field will make the game-day experience more enjoyable and less congested for everyone involved. And that ease of use will help draw people to the stadium long after, God forbid, the Twins current string of success runs out. Which means the new Target Field will continue to be a center of economic activity for decades to come.

Monday, March 16, 2009

We can't wait for TCF Bank Stadium!

If you've driven buy the U of M campus recently, you've probably seen it ...and if you're a football fan, you're probably as excited as we are about next fall and outdoor football. Just in case you missed it, here's a video tour of TCF Bank Stadium from the Strib...

Click here to watch the tour

So who else has tickets? ...any special plans for the first game on September 12th?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Wares enter the blogosphere!

Testing, testing, 1-2-3...

Yep, Paige and Justin have started a blog. We don't have any kids to talk about, no pets to show off, we're not traveling the world or anything cool like that why have we started a blog? Good question ...I guess because we can.

So please, follow along! We promise we'll make it worth your while at least occasionally!!