Update on The Joy of Less

Monday, June 13, 2016

Centre Park Grill

To celebrate my youngest daughter's birthday, we decided to try Centre Park Grill (just off Centre Park Drive in Ellicott City) for the first time. Monday is their burger bargain night: half pound burgers with fries or slaw for $7.77. In addition, all draft beers are half price. But how do the burgers stack up? Not too shabby.

I ordered the lamb burger, just to switch things up. It came with red onion jam, baby spinach, and a half pound patty, all on a "brioche" bun. The fries were shoestring thin, but not overly crisp. (This is not a complaint as I'm one of those weirdos who prefers soggy fries!) I requested a medium temperature but the patty was slightly overcooked, barely pink at all. Still, it was very juicy. The onion jam was such a thin layer, I really couldn't taste it. And the bun was too light and fluffy to hold up to such a large, juicy burger. However, even with all these dings, I enjoyed it.

To wet my whistle, I tried a very unique beer on tap: a grapefruit shandy. I've had a shandy before--normally a blend of lager and lemon soda. Great for a hot summer day. The grapefruit shandy was a beautiful shade of coral and tasted almost exactly like fermented grapefruit juice. I'd definitely go for this one again.

 My daughter had the colossal crab cake which came with two sides. The carrots were quite spicy, heavily peppered, but nicely cooked. The crab cake was bursting with big chunks of crab meat, the serving so large she couldn't finish it.

My mom and husband also had burgers, but they selected the beef variety. For four of us, the tab came to about $77 for dinner. Not an outrageous cost, which included a glass of wine in addition to the half-priced beer.

The atmosphere in this cafe was pleasant enough. The noise level was low to moderate. The place wasn't too crowded, but this was early on a Monday evening. There is outdoor patio seating, but the entire patio had been reserved in advance for a party, so we didn't have that option.

As far as burger places in Howard County rate, I don't think I'd put Centre Park Grill in the upper echelon. I'd give my lamb burger a solid B, though, so not bad at all. I wouldn't want to pay full price ($14) but at $7.77, it's not a bad deal.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bobby's Burger Palace

For my birthday, my hubby took me out for a burger! Shocking, right? (I may have become a bit too predictable as every time we go out to eat, I am only interested in burgers and fries.)

We hit Bobby's Burger Palace for the first time, visiting the location inside the Maryland Live Casino in the Arundel Mills Mall. I have to admit, I'm a mega-fan of Bobby Flay. As far as I'm concerned, the man can do no wrong. Not that I know anything about his personal life. I just know he can cook like nobody's business. And he's a handsome devil.

This is not a sit-down restaurant. It's more like an elevated version of McDonald's. So "palace" is a bit of a misnomer, a massive exaggeration, or possibly a joke. You stand in line to order, and the choices are fairly limited. This makes things pretty easy. You can get a burger or a "griddled" cheese sandwich. There were about 8 different burgers on offer today, including the "special" Napa burger with goat cheese. The L.A. burger features avocado, cheddar, and tomato. I selected the Dallas which has cole slaw, BBQ sauce, and pickles. You can get your burger "crunchified" for free, so why wouldn't you? (This means potato chips on top.) My hubby got the Cuban, which is a burger pressed with ham, cheese, and pickles.

The sides include regular fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings. The beverages on offer were  sodas, bottled beers, shakes (with alcohol added, if you wish) and iced tea.

My burger was cooked perfectly (medium, still pink, juicy) and the bun was sturdy enough to handle the number of toppings. However, I thought the amount of each topping, and the overall size of the burger, were both on the stingy side. My husband's Cuban burger looked even smaller than mine when it arrived, and appeared lonely on its white plastic plate, although it was accompanied by a pickle slice. (He made short order of it, which is why there are no photos!!!) The side of onion rings was also small--about 5-6 rings--and the coating was crunchy but not especially flavorful. We would have preferred a beer batter. The sweet potato fries were good, not crispy but very tasty, and I liked the horseradish mustard sauce on the side.

The total came to $30 for our two burgers, two sides, and two drinks (iced tea and a diet coke) which I found quite expensive for something as casual as this place. The quality of the food is good, but the servings are small and the atmosphere is definitely lacking--loud music, plastic seats, large tables designed for sharing. I doubt I'd go out of my way to revisit this burger place.


Monday, June 6, 2016

Give It Up

If you're concerned about your health, you probably have numerous daily rituals that pertain to your desire to live a long, vibrant life. I know I do. Mine include: a bowl full of supplements which I swallow throughout the day; home-cooked meals that balance protein, fats, and carbs; aerobic exercise and strength training; foam rolling and stretching; yoga classes. But what would happen if I gave all of this up?

This summer, I'm going to vacation in Europe for 3 weeks. During this time, I will neglect to take my vitamins and other supplements. I will forego fit jam and yoga classes. I will eat anything and everything, including scones, croissants, cakes and pastries. I'm sure I'll do some walking, but my traveling companions are mostly over 80, so I doubt my daily exercise will be too vigorous.

How much weight will I gain? Will I return home flabby and unfit? How will my perimenopause be affected by the change in diet? And the lack of supplements? Will my mood be better or worse than usual? These are some of the questions I will only be able to answer after my vacation experiment ends.

Here are some reasons to do your own vacation (or staycation!) experiment:

1) Changing up your diet could give your metabolism a kick in the pants. If you normally eat a calorie-restricted diet, boosting your calories (on a TEMPORARY basis!) could up your metabolism and might eventually lead to increased weight loss. You might try it for just one single meal once per week to see if this works for you.

2) Switching up your exercise routine is highly recommended. Your body is very good at saving energy. We were built for this. So any activity that you do in the same exact way, day after day, is going to quickly become too easy. Throw your body for a loop by doing something complete different!

3) Repeating the same set of movements over and over (like swinging a tennis racket or a golf club) often leads to overuse injuries. The same can happen in ballet class, yoga class, or when running. Taking a break from your normal exercise regime can give your body a chance to heal. All those little aches and pains might evaporate on your vacation.

4) We all need rest! And relaxation! And there is nothing wrong with honoring your body's need to rest. In fact, it is very likely you will return to your job, your spouse, your family, your commitments, your life, with a renewed sense of purpose and passion.

I forgot to mention that I will also be taking a break from blogging while I'm on vacation! So you won't hear from me for a while. I hope you will enjoy the warm weather and spend some time relaxing while we're apart!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Be Brave

The world can be a very scary place. I don't watch the news, but if I did, on a daily or even hourly basis, I'd witness a bunch of murders, robberies, assaults, plane crashes, fires, and worse. I can relate to the agoraphobes who confine themselves to their own homes, never daring to take a step outside.

We attempt to protect ourselves in all different ways. Some of us learn martial arts. Others purchase guns and other weapons. Some people gain weight as a shield to ward off unwanted attention. And some escape from reality with the help of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and other addictions.

I believe fear is at the root of our most destructive behaviors. Fear of change. Fear of pain. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown.

How do we banish fear? Great question. I wish I had a magic formula. (Yes, I have a bottle of wine. That will only mask my fear temporarily.) I think the only choice is to walk through the fear. And this means we must be brave. 

This is my latest mantra. I am brave. I do not let fear stop me.

In the past, fear has put an end to many of my plans. For about a decade following 9/11, our family only vacationed within driving distance of our home in Maryland as I couldn't stomach the idea of flying. (We thoroughly combed the state of Pennsylvania; Clyde Peeling's Reptileland is every bit as awesome as it sounds.) But I'm putting all that behind me.

In a few short weeks, I'll be flying over the ocean in a giant metal bird. I don't know how these massive things stay airborne. This defies every law of the universe. And yet, people do it all the time. So I can, too.

Let's be brave together. Share your feats of courage in the comments below and inspire others to take that next, scary step.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Estrogen Dominance

You might think Estrogen Dominance sounds cool, like the name of an all-girls rock band. Or maybe the latest form of S and M performed by women with PMS. But that's where you'd be mistaken. Estrogen dominance is distinctly uncool. It's an unfortunate situation that women can face at various ages and for various reasons. It can cause a whole host of symptoms and none of them are pretty.

I can tell you firsthand that estrogen dominance is disturbing and painful. I've been suffering with ridiculously swollen and tender breasts (you'd think I just gave birth!) but there are many other effects of excess estrogen. These include: moodiness and irritability, headaches, depression, fatigue, bloating, heart palpitations, weight gain, joint pain, insomnia, fuzzy thinking and memory loss, even gall bladder disease. To name just a smattering.

The good news is: there are natural and safe remedies to combat the annoying and even debilitating symptoms of estrogen dominance. I've already written about some of these remedies. Today I will take you on a tour of all the supplements you can try in order to tame your hormonal fluctuations. Of course, see your doctor if you have any cause for concern about perimenopause. All my recommendations have been taken from Before the Change; Taking Charge of your Perimenopause by Ann Louise Gittleman.

Clicking on any of the links below with take you straight to Amazon.com where you can make these purchases. I will receive a small percentage for providing this link. Thanks for your support!

1) Flax seed oil. Helps to balance excess estrogen, enhances immune system, fights cancer (especially breast cancer), lowers cholesterol levels, reduces risk of osteoporosis, and makes insulin more effective. Do not heat! You can take the oil by the spoonful (1 TB per day) or by the capsule, or grind fresh flax seeds into a powder and sprinkle on a salad or in a smoothie. Store oil in fridge.

2) Black Currant Seed Oil. A potent source of GLA- helps cramping, breast tenderness, anxiety, irritability, headaches and bloating. Also boosts immune system, fights cancer, relieves arthritis, and stops the progression of nerve damage due to diabetes. Not to mention: enhances beauty by producing a dewy complexion, reversing collagen loss, soothing dry skin, combating wrinkles, while preventing dandruff! Take 1000 mg. twice daily.

3) Magnesium citrate. Some symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: nervousness, anxiety, irritability, muscle cramps, depression, insomnia, constipation. Check your supplements before purchasing--magnesium oxide is not easily absorbed. (I've written an entire blog about magnesium if you want more info.)

4) Evening primrose oil. Can help with headaches, irritability, joint pain, mood changes and water retention.

5) Vitex also known as chasteberry. Can help with breast tenderness, cramps, hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and water retention.

Besides taking these supplements, a low-sugar diet and daily exercise can help with most perimenopause symptoms. Be sure to drink plenty of water, decrease alcohol and caffeine consumption, and develop a practice for relieving stress, like yoga or meditation. Take good care of your self!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trick Yourself into Losing Weight

Why is losing weight so hard? In a word: habit.

We all have deeply ingrained habits. These habits are hard to change. Not impossible, but difficult. We all know people who have lost weight, maybe even a hundred pounds, and gained it all back. Why would this happen? These people slipped back into old habits, habits they never really let go of.  
The only way to lose weight permanently is to make permanent changes.

Here's another word: discipline. Discipline is the opposite of habit. What you do habitually takes absolutely no discipline. It just happens. Do you have to force yourself to brush your teeth before bed? No, it's a habit. You just do it without thinking about it.

Most people think weight loss is a matter of discipline. But discipline is very difficult to sustain. Discipline takes a lot of effort. It makes us tired. And the second we relax, habit takes over.

So what is the answer? We must make weight loss a habit.

In order to reverse the tendency to GAIN weight, we need to substitute better habits for the ones we already have in place.

For example:

Current scenario: You roll out of bed at the last possible second. On the drive to work, you stop at Sugarbucks and purchase a mega-grande caramel frothy coffee drink containing over 1000 calories and 6 billion grams of sugar. This is your breakfast.

SUBSTITUTION #1: You drive a different route to work and choose to stop at a different coffee shop where you purchase a small black coffee and a delicious yet nutritious breakfast sandwich. This new combo is low in sugar, high in protein and fiber, gives you plenty of energy to fuel your morning, and keeps your blood sugar steady.

SUBSTITUTION #2: You set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier, make yourself a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich at home, save at least $5 per day, and use some of that money to pay for a mani/pedi at the end of the month.

SUBSTITUTION #3: You set the alarm for 30 minutes earlier, leave your sneakers by the side of your bed, lace them up before you're even out of bed, head outside for a 20 minute run, grab a quick shower and a coffee smoothie containing all the protein, fiber, healthy fats, and supplements you need to start your day.

These are just 3 possible scenarios that would all be a significant improvement. Each one of these new habits would result in weight loss. In fact, you might want to take baby steps toward your weight loss goal by instituting each of the above scenarios, one at a time, for a week or even a month, before moving on to the next.

In order for a habit to work, it's important to make it as easy as possible to perform. If you have to remove all your dry cleaning from your treadmill before turning it on, the chances are good you will never use that piece of equipment. Remove all the impediments to taking the action that you desire. This is the reason I suggest leaving your running shoes by the side of your bed: so you can put them on without thinking. Trick yourself into becoming more active. Keep your I-pod next to your bed, all charged up and full of your favorite songs. Grab it as you head out for your run.

Keep in mind that habits take time to form. You may need to repeat the same action, on a daily basis, for about a month before you've developed the new habit.

Try not to change too many things at once. Substituting a new morning routine, for example, is a major step toward losing weight and creating a healthy lifestyle. So don't try to fix every bad habit at once. Give yourself at least a month to institute a change before adding another new habit.

Frustrated? Need a helping hand? I'm available for weight loss coaching. We can work together through email, telephone, or face to face support. Leave me a message if you need a coach.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Are your Affirmations Working?

Affirmations. Mantras. Those words we say to ourselves, over and over, to bring about a desired outcome. I've been repeating 3 affirmations daily for about 3 months now. Are they working?

I'd like to lie to you and tell you that all my hopes and dreams have come true as a result of simply writing down my three daily affirmations. But I can't. When I agreed to take on my position as Head Blogger (okay, only blogger) here at Balance Salad, I swore an oath of honesty. And TMI. Let's not forget about all the over-sharing I promised to my readers.

The truth is: my affirmations are a load of crap.

My Number One affirmation is 1) I am filled with energy and enthusiasm.

This is a freaking joke. I am a total sloth. I'd like to blame this unbelievably wet, cold, and gray weather we've been having now for almost a full month, but I doubt the sunshine would perk me up much. I tried to cut out my second cup of coffee, but that caffeine is the only thing keeping me vertical for the second half of my day. Every time I write this affirmation, I just want to laugh. Not a sweet little giggle, but a maniacal cackle like the Wicked Witch of the West.

My second affirmation is 2) My body is strong and resilient.

This is another bald-faced lie. My body is a train wreck, falling apart, piece by piece. I have a burning sensation that is probably tennis elbow, a torn calf muscle, a wonky knee, chronic tendonitis in my Achilles, excessively tender and enormous breasts, and a recurring headache with stuffy nose and sinus pressure. Enough said.

My third affirmation is 3) I have so much left to learn.

Okay, this one is true. But the whole point of writing this affirmation is to dredge up some excitement about all the stuff out there I can learn. How to paint pet portraits. How to make cheese. How to kayak. Yet, I'm having trouble feeling even the slightest inclination toward taking any of this on. Sure, it would be awesome if I could paint my dog's portrait. But that would involve purchasing paint and brushes, probably an easel and a smock, taking a bunch of classes, making a ton of terrible paintings before seeing any progress, finding the time for all of the above. Just thinking about it makes me so tired, I need to go take a nap.

Yesterday on Facebook a friend posted something that amounted to a list of affirmations. It went something like this:

"My butt looks perfect. My smile lights up a room. I'm doing awesome at life."

I might have forgotten something, but this was the gist of it. And I thought: this is more like it.

My body may be falling apart, but my butt still looks good. I can't really see it, but my husband says it does and I choose to believe him. My smile might not be an orthodontist's dream, but it's contagious and that's what really matters. I choose to share it, even if I'm feeling like doggie do-do. I'm not sure if "awesome" really describes how I'm doing at life, but I'm putting myself out there and I'm making an effort. I choose to consider that awesome enough.

Maybe I've found my new mantras.