Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Phase 2- Resistance is Futile

A few readers of this blog have said that I am inspiring them to get on board the P90X train. To them I say, "Why? Dear Lord, why?" You've seen no proof of actual sweat, no evidence of manly muscle, only snarky comments sprinkled hither and yon.  For all you guys know, I'm just watching the videos while updating my Facebook status and eating Umami Burgers. Remember that man from Georgia who posed as a Syrian lesbian? When will you all learn?

Seriously, though, I have noticed results. And I go into the second month/phase full of hope and determination. I've drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak. I've hauled upstairs some of the adjustable weights a friend has left in my garage so I can use them. I like the solidity of weights, their fixed poundage versus the more fluid nature of the elastic bands. And I start seriously counting my calories. Shakes! Protein bars! I'm in deep now.

It's amazing how fundamental this exercise program is; strip away the informercials, the high-pitch selling, the sexy black packaging, and what you have is basically sit ups, push-ups, pull-ups, plus some dumb bell action and cardio. Most of this you could do in your average prison ward. My friend Ace sagely noted:  "It always comes down to diet & exercise - the lack of a magic bullet is a constant disappointment." It's true!  As they say about writing fiction: there is nothing new under the sun. It's all in how you put it together.

The people at Beachbody have done a pretty remarkably job on how they've put it together. The idea of constantly shifting your workout to avoid muscle ennui seems to work both physically and mentally. And what they offer you, week to week to week, is more balanced exercise regimen than you probably would do on your own. Left to my own devices, I treat my workout like it's a buffet: "Hmmm... today I'll do some of this... maybe a sprinkle of that... (neglect the legs again)... some chest-y things would be nice..." With P90X, you don't have that kind of choice, and because of it, your whole body is getting stronger, not just the parts you happen to like doing. What it comes down to, finally, is that I just need someone to boss me around. There. I've said it. And doing this program is a helluva lot cheaper than hiring a dominatrix. 

Who knew there were so many ways to do push-ups? Because, ladies and gents, that's mostly what you're going to be doing here. Eight different ways! With paper plates. From side to side. With a hand clap. With one arm (sweet Jesus no). These alternate with your standard deltoid presses and a whole variety of tricep extension routines. You'll feel like you're in an episode of "Oz" by the time you've finished this DVD.
Participants: We've got a motley crew here, including a rarity in exercise videos: an older woman! Laura looks to be in her late-40's, early-50's, with a rock-hard body and a face that could fit right in with the extras in "Winter's Bone." At first, I think Tony's snubbing her, but then he circles around and does his mock-flirt with her, so all is good. Also on board— a slab of a lawyer named Phil whose look Tony calls "intense" but I call "blank," and—finally! a quiet Asian man with tight, rippling muscles named David. David's a substitute teacher and martial arts guy who makes you think that Peter Jackson missed a grand opportunity by not casting Asians as elves in LOTR. I heart David. 
C'mon, wouldn't he be a cute elf?

Tony Horton Words of Wisdom: "The money comes in the last three reps." 
Fist Bumps: 4 doubles. Tony attempts to do a tricky single with Phil, but is rebuffed. 
Straight Quotient: Another football-themed exercise: Throw the Bomb. Oy. That is football, right? Tony demonstrates and asks his students for an example: "Give me a receiver." I'm guessing he's not talking about Joey Stefano...
Gay Appeal: Oh, Asian Legolas... 
Shameless Shilling: Oh, they're upselling everything today. The Recovery Drink! The Protein Bars ("Oh, so delicious")! Tony even manages to fit in a shout-out for the P90X T-shirt. Man, the marketing director must have been all over the set today. 
Tony's Pot-Stirring Stretch Soup of the Day: Sweaty Sock Soup. Good one, Tony. Only slightly worse than Phil's quip, "I'm stirring up Trouble." Sure you are, Phil. 
Notable Exercises: Have I mentioned there's a shitload of push-ups? Try The Floor Fly, where you slide your arm in and out in between pushups. A little slice of hell. Thanks, Tony.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Lemon Meringue to Remember

Enough discussion of healthy exercise regimens and calorie counting— today we're talking cake! Hooray!

Wanted to make a special dinner for a very special friend, so I drew upon all the wisdom gleaned from five seasons of "Top Chef" and went for it. Though some of it did not pull together the way I had planned, I rolled with the punches. Make it work! (Wait, wrong show. Sorry.)

We started out with a grilled watermelon salad drizzled with basil oil and served with arugula, tomato, quick-pickled kohlrabi (Quick pickling, my homage to Kevin from TC) and pepitas.
Doesn't the watermelon look like salmon?

Kohlrabi is my new favorite vegetable—crunchy and fresh-tasting, zesty without being overpowering. The salad was good and certainly pretty, but I don't know if grilled watermelon is really my thing. Turned out to be more savory than I thought it would be; should have salted it, I think. Didn't add the cheese (my friend is allergic to dairy) but maybe a sharp feta would have enlivened it.

Main course: Lamb shanks with lentils. 
I made the rookie (rookie!) mistake of adding too many lentils to the pot, and by the end of braising the night before ended up with a solid mass of lentils, festooned with pieces of lamb. The lentils drank up all the red wine, preserved lemon & olives. I was worried, but another friend (and fellow TV foodie watcher) suggested taking some of the lentils and puréeing them with liquid. I used demi glace, chicken stock and white wine added to sautéed shallots, and poured all that into the puréed lentils, then poured all of that over the lamb shanks and whole lentils. It worked like a charm. Though thick, the sauce was flavorful and velvety. It created more of a stew. The lamb, which I though tough the night before, had relaxed and had the succulence I wanted. I served it with a purée of parsnips and celery root, and Benjamin helped me garnish. Onion biscuits on the side.

The crowning glory, however, was the dessert. Fan favorite of the evening. It was one I had made before, but for some reason it turned out especially balanced. It was a lemon meringue cake, a lemon chiffon cake with layers of lemon curd and caramel.

From such humble beginnings...
The cake rose beautifully, domed over the top of the cake pan— and then the center promptly started to sink as soon as it was pulled from the oven. Lost maybe three inches in the middle. Very depressing (ha ha)—it has done that on all four occasions that I have made this cake. Any ideas, anyone? Is it the recipe? My mixing? I checked the oven temp so I know it wasn't that... any suggestions would be appreciated. The fallen middle meant I could only get three layers out of it instead of four, no great tragedy but a loss of some height.
The great thing about cakes—no one has to see the cracks
& the plugs in the layers—frosting to the rescue!

It takes one day to make the cake, the curd and the caramel, another day to assemble the cake and let it set, and the third day to add the meringue and torch away!
What a difference a little scorching makes...

This is about as butch as I get, folks...
It cut beautifully and was appreciated by all. Luckily, the birthday girl took away the cake so I didn't have that temptation staring at me as I resume my P90X program. See the basic dichotomy of my life? Healthy Living/Food Hedonism. It's a wonder I make any progress at all.

Yes, four and a half of us ate that much cake. Don't judge.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled pushup and abs program...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Toxic Romance... with Yoga.

After three rigorous weeks of strength training and cardio in P90X, you get one "recovery week" of  stretching and core-building routines to give your body a chance to recuperate. Go figure, this is the week where I injure myself. It wasn't the weights, it wasn't the (modified) high-impact cardio, it wasn't the sound of Tony Horton upselling Recovery Drink causing me to bleed from the ears. No, it was the yoga program. What? you say, how can that be? Isn't yoga restorative? Blissfully stretchy? A physical meditation?  No, not if you know anything of my long, long relationship with Yoga.

Yoga and I first connected in the early 90's in Chicago. A Sivananda Hatha Yoga Center in Uptown. We hit it off immediately. I liked Yoga's gentle spirit, her rigorous precision, her centered spirituality. It was something I was missing from my life. She introduced me to mysteries of life I had not even contemplated. She was spiritual, but she was also physical. Oh, so physical. She made my body feel great. I was hooked.

We saw each other once a week at first, but soon that wasn't enough. I needed more of her. We began to Flow, and that's where things started to get hotter. She was bending me, twisting me, easing me into positions I couldn't have imagined I could get into. My body was on fire. Purified. Chattaranga, baby, Chattaranga. Jump back!

I moved to Los Angeles, and things got even more intense. Sweatier. Deeper. Power Yoga. Bryan Kest. YogaWorks. Muscled bodies moving in tandem. Crescent Pose. Scorpion. Twisting Half-Moon. The mirrors of the room fogged up with our humid breaths. Somewhere in the back in my head, I heard echoes of teachers: "Yoga is a state of mind. The pose is unimportant. The equanimity is all."Yes, yes, I knew that, but still, it was the challenge of the physical that drew me on. "Let's go further, baby," I whispered, and she smiled and bent me over, one leg at a time.

Then, I found an Ashatanga Center above a liquor store in Silverlake. Hardcore. Mysore. Endless salutations, an infinite variety of twistings. I wasn't young anymore, but I thought I could still do it. Could get that arm under the leg and back, contort my spine, jump back, and back, and back. Yoga had become sterner, more demanding, less... flexible. Was I feeling sick? It was the toxins, a few Wheels would do the trick. Muscles injured? It's how we rebuild you. Then came the day when realized I was spending more time injured than practicing. I had to stop.

Still, I couldn't completely stop seeing her. I went back, periodically, to the Larchmont Center. To the Y. But it wasn't the same. I was broken. Then came the injuries: Knee tear. Knee tear. Bulging lumbar disc. And I found that every time I tried to get back into Yoga, I would end up injuring myself again. I had to admit it: it just wasn't working.

And now, the P90X yoga series. It was all poses I had done before (albeit, not for a while) and the teaching was sound. I modified it severely: no jump-backs, no twists. And it worked, for the first three weekly routines. I could do it! I was feeling strong! Then, in the recovery week, Yoga X came up twice. That's what did me in. I got that old feeling— "I can do this. I'm strong enough."— and BOOM my back went out. Hubris! Hubris!

There is some merit in age and adversity. In the past, if I got injured I would either try to "work through it" and make things worse, or I would drop everything and lay in sloth. Now, having gone through this injury and its rehabilitation, I knew what exercises to do and how to mitigate its severity. I didn't have to stop the P90X program, just modify. After a week with many icing sessions and one massage with miracle masseur/angel Maurizio (really, he's that good) I got back on track. It's all good now.

And Yoga?  I'll do laps instead. And get my meditation on at the Zen Center. Yoga and I, we had a lovely time together, but I have to admit, we're just not good together anymore. Shavasana, baby. Shavasana.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

P90X Phase 1 Over

For the loyal subscribers: Blogger has updated its site, and because of this I think you've been getting some errant notifications. People have reported being notified of old posts and posts which are still in draft mode. Sorry! I hope the kinks have been worked out, but I'll keep an eye on it. 

I have survived Phase 1, month 1 of P90X, and lived to tell the tale. There is definitely a change a'brewin'. I haven't lost THAT much weight—maybe five pounds (isn't that what I was wanting to do in the first place?) but it seems to be going to different places. My pants have gotten baggier around the waist, and I fit into my black jeans of yesteryear! This is good news. I'm glad to be moving on to the next set of DVD's...
As Tony says, take photos of yourself! So, here is the first one—
Now, let's see how I look after a month (after the jump):

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Sounds of Silence

The one thing that can really drive you crazy about the P90X workouts is the music. It's that synth-y, thump-a thump-a music so popular with porn videos throughout our fair nation (or, ahem, so I hearhave heard, someone told me about that). But that's not the bad part. What is truly irritating, especially for those with any kind of dance/aerobic exercise background, is that the music doesn't sync with the workout routine. So if you're doing a sequence and moving to the beat of the music, you'll invariably be off from the pace set by our rhythmically-challenged trainer Tony Horton. I know, I know, the music is layered in later, but couldn't they have spent a little more time in the studio rejiggering speeds, or given the sometimes erratically-timed Tony a click track?

Luckily, there are some DVD options that can take care of that. During the second week I avail myself of them. I select "No music," which gives you Tony talking but no music. Unfortunately, this puts into sharp relief the babbling of Tony Horton. It makes you realize how utterly inane most of his comments are, unmitigated by background sound. His "He's a wild man!" banter and "I recommend a recovery drink" shilling seems a little... bald, in the quiet room. So I select another option: "Silence and Cues." This only gives you Tony talking when he's giving instruction on what exercise he's about to do, when he starts and when he stops. All the rest is sucked away into silence. Perfection! What could be better!

The only thing is, extraordinarily, unexpectedly... I begin to miss Tony talking. All that silence make me acutely aware of... me, by myself in my little room, my sweaty body jumping on a sweaty mat, watching TV. Is this my life? And from time to time Tony's voice would jump in to give instruction, and you could tell from his tone that he had just cracked wise to one of his compatriots, those people gathered together in the other room, there on the screen, suddenly far away, while you toiled all alone, and then his voice would click off again and he'd be gone with the favored ones. It was like there was a party in the next room and you were working in the kitchen and the host would pop in from time to time to give you orders...

I think I've invested a bit too much in these videos. Perhaps I should spend time with, I don't know, humans.

Squats, squats and more squats, interspersed with pull ups. Sound fun? It is!
Participants: Ah, our Teutonic goddess Dreya is back, sporting a short kicky denim sweat jacket which she takes off to reveal her titanium abs. Eric from Belgium, who is, apparently, a wild man, joins her, and sweet Sophia. Poor, poor Sophia. How can she hope to compete with the Golden-haired Shield Maiden? When Tony introduces his "gals," he waxes on about Dreya and her many superhuman accomplishments; the only thing he can muster to say about meek Sophia is that she's got nice teeth. "Like Chiclets." Ouch! Damning with faint praise, Tony! I suspect some kind of past relationship between Tony and Sophia, some brief fling, because he drips this tone of faux kindness and condescension upon her that men do so well with past girlfriends.
Classic Tony Horton quote: "I gotta go check on the kids." Unfortunately, this brings to mind a less savory euphemism, and I keep thinking he's about to run to the bathroom.
Fist Bumps: 4 fist bumps, plus 3 doubles.  
Shameless mentions of the P90X Recovery Drink: Four! He even gets Dreya to shill.
Tony's Stretch Soup of the Day: Tomato Basil. Dreya the Virtuous offers up Lentil, but when Sophia suggests Lobster Bisque, Tony shuts her down with a "That doesn't sound too healthy." Dude! You chose lobster bisque in the last video! Cut Soph some slack!
Tony's Weak Spot: He calls his calves "dinky." 
Gay Appeal: Eric the Belgium looks mighty fine doing Speed Skater Lunges. 
Geographical Trivia: Tony informs us that in Belgium "It's cold all the time!" Really?
"Eat your heart out,
Tony Horton!" 
Notable Exercises: Who knew that sitting against a wall could be so excruciating? We do both Wall Squats and One-Leg Wall Squats, pressing our back to the wall and keeping our legs at 90 degrees for a minute. A long minute. Later we crouch down and do Groucho Walks back and forth. I'd bet that over half the people doing the video has no idea who Groucho is. Equally challenging are the Debbie Sieber Speed Squats, which I prefer to call a Modified Dinklage
Yes, Peter, I'm squatting here, waiting for you...

I do very minimal leg exercises at the gym, so this work is helpful and isn't even hurting my knees! It is actually probably helping my knees by strengthening the muscles around them. So far, so good. 

Update: The next morning, you can feel every muscle fiber in your ass, like you're a walking anatomy chart. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy Doug Day!

I met him almost immediately after
this photo was taken. I fell. Wouldn't you
I'd like to pause in my endless recitation of exercises and poundage, and wish everyone a Happy Doug Day. My husband was born on this day many many many years ago. It was and is a joyous event.

I can think of no better way to celebrate Doug Day than to visit his spanking new website—www.douglaswood.net. It is a great site (I am insanely jealous of it) and you can see what projects he is currently obsessing over. There are many. You can also find out about the true meaning of Doug Day in his journal pages. It's worth reading.

Now, to wrap the Doug Day presents, decorate the Douglas fir tree, and prepare the feast of Who-beast. There's a lot to do.
"The children were sleeping all snug in their Douglas Wood beds.."

Hooray for Doug Day!