The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

You Can’t Be Sustainable without da Cookin’ Skillz May 4, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Food,Lifestyle,New York,Places to go — Alden @ 9:41 pm

Cooking is an essential piece of being eco-friendly. If you can’t cook, what do you eat? Well, you buy processed microwave meals that come in ridiculous packaging, processed cereal, processed snack foods, processed, processed, processed. Even if a packaged meal or snack is organic, under USDA regulations, they can still contain preservatives and tons of salt.

And you know how I have this love affair with the Farmers Market? Well, it’s kind of a useless venue unless you know how to cook. Or else you are stuck eating apple pies and spelt bread for every meal.

So I decided I needed to take my cooking to the next level. I wanted a cooking class that didn’t just show you how to make one meal. I wanted something comprehensive, so that when I go to the Greenmarket I can look at what is offered and think, “I can blanche and sautee that with some butter,” or “That would go well with some rosemary.”

I found my perfect course at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), located at 23rd St and 5th Ave. It’s an intensive five week course, with five hours each Sunday. It’s a bit pricey, at $550, but if you do the math, that’s $20 per hour of instruction with a chef that teaches professional classes as well. And it’s also an investment. You can save so much money by not eating out in New York. Just ask Cathy Erway. I had to sign up a couple months in advance for the Fine Cooking I course, so I almost forgot that the first day was Sunday. Where’s my reminder email, ICE?

Anyway, at 10 AM when the class started, 10 out of the 12 people were there. One girl left a few minutes in, saying she felt sick. More like hungover, as her greasy breakfast sandwich and hangdog look would suggest. I, for one, felt great! I had started my drinking at 7 the night before, and was in bed by 11. Lame? Maybe. But at least I didn’t have to bail on the first class.

Chef Dan started the class with a lecture, giving us some basic information while we nibbled on bread and butter. Then we moved over to to the demonstration table. He passed around herbs for us to smell and taste, then showed us how to properly care for a knife (hone, don’t sharpen it, every day), and then showed us the finer points of chopping.

Wow, I had no idea how bad I was at chopping vegetables. You have to get them all the same size, or else they will cook unevenly and burn. There are special techniques for doing so, and it’s different for potatoes, broccoli and onions. All I usually do is hack at a pile of veggies until they looked edible and then pile them in a pan.

Also, there’s a difference between dry and wet measuring cups. I always use what I have around, but now I know the little cups are for dry stuff, and the big one is for wet stuff. Ok, was that obvious? Not to me. I also found out that you must slice garlic, not crush it, if you don’t want it to burn. Crushed garlic is only good for infusing dressings or the like.

So much to learn! My notebook was already brimming with notes when we split up into three groups for knife work. We practiced chopping carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and onion. Some of this would be used in the gazpacho, and some was just for practice. Chopping is harder than it looks, that’s all I’ll say.

At the end of our workstation, John, a handsome 30-something, concentrated hard on his food. He was hungover, he admitted. But his julienned carrots were precise. Probably because he wasn’t gossiping and chatting like the girls.

“What school did you go to?” One of the women at my table asked me. “Washington and Lee,” I told her. We chatted for a bit longer. I said bland things about the school, yes I liked it, good program, whatever. Finally John said, “You know, I went to Washington and Lee.”

“No way!” I said. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I wanted to see how it played out,” he said. Hmmm. A man of mystery over here….

The whole time, Chef Dan walked around, joking with us or berating us. “Oh whatever, it’s fine,” he would say when someone produced a bad vinaigrette. “Just fix it!” But if you chopped your potato unevenly…oh, you were in for it.

Sonia, who is a graduate of the pastry school, hustled about, replacing our bad strawberries, and making pound cake and whipped cream to go with the fresh fruit.

Heather who stood next to me at my station cringed with me as we saw food waste and plastic containers get shoved in the trash. “Do they not recycle?” she said, aghast. “Oh, there must be some gardens that would love to get their hands on all this for compost,” I replied.

We made a vinagraite and a delicious herb butter while the huge pots heated on the stoves. Next came the fresh fruit, which we macerated by soaking in brandy or orange juice. The broccoli we blanched to preserve the green color. Finally we were ready to sautee the broccoli, potato cubes, and lamb chops. On top of the lamb chops we placed coins of the herb butter to melt.

When the food was ready, it was beautiful. We arranged everything on a platter, took it in, and then served ourselves buffet style. Everyone came together at the long dining table, pouring red and white wine, admiring the variations on the vinaigrette recipes and herb butter recipes. We ate quickly – those 4 hours of cooking had whet our appetite. When we were done, we found a table full of little pound cakes laid out for us, with a wealth of fruit: strawberries, raspberries, orange pieces, and blueberries with fluffy whipped cream.

After dessert was done, everyone cleared out pretty quickly. I stuck around for a bit to finish my glass of wine and talk with Chef Dan and two girls from my group, Angela and Moira. Chef Dan revealed that he would love to recycle, but since they don’t own the building, they have no place to keep all of the recyclables. It’s a real pity.

Finally I had to go. I knocked back the rest of the wine and grabbed my purse and recipe book to meet my friend down town. Well, actually it was a date. We met at the High Line, which is a park built on the remnants of a raised train bed. It was sweltering outside, so once we walked to the end we retreated into the shade for drinks….

To be continued?


Clean Program Recap…. April 17, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Food,Products — Alden @ 8:11 pm
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So I promised I would keep you filled in on how The Clean Program went. You know, that very expensive cleanse for which I shelled out $350? I’ve been procrastinating on posting this, because I’m a little embarrassed on how it turned out.

I wanted to try the cleanse not really for weight loss, though that would be awesome. It was just to rid my system of toxins that I have built up. That anyone, really, has built up. I wanted to flush out the preservatives and smog and sugar, the nasty stuff they put in hamburgers and  the pesticides left fruit. My aunt had told me about her liver cleanse, and how she felt so much better after, especially since she lost five pounds during and ten pounds after. Nice, right?

Well I wish I could tell you that my cleanse was super effective. In fact, I bet it is super effective. I just wouldn’t know from personal experience. When I followed requirements – a shake in the morning, a meal free from sugar, soy, bread, beef, milk, and any processed foods for lunch, and a shake for dinner, plus supplements), my weight would drop precipitously. I dropped two pounds just on the first day. But I hardly ever did follow the instructions. I drank beer. I ate sugary stuff. I ate out instead of having the shakes.

After the three weeks, I was no lighter. In fact, weighing myself four weeks after I started, after three weeks of half heartedly following the cleanse and a week of eating Easter Chocolate, I was up one pound, net. Yikes!

My face is much clearer these days, though I can’t say for sure it’s correlated to the Clean Program. I also can’t claim that I dropped real weight while I was following the restrictions. At one point I was down 4.5 pounds. But the speed at which it came back leads me to believe it might have been water weight. Who knows?

Now I have a weeks worth of pills and powder left, if I could just bring myself to to go gung ho for one week, just to see what would happen….

Here’s the moral of the story: It’s great if you have admirable will power, don’t mind turning down invitations for dinner and drinks for three weeks, are very organized and prepared, and enjoy cooking. Otherwise, don’t bother.


Ahhh temptation everywhere! March 24, 2010

So how about that Clean Program I’m on? Well…you know me. My will power is more like will do-whatever-I-feel-like.

I actually was very good about it this weekend. And I saw the results in 3 1/2 pounds gone in a week when I weighed myself Monday morning. But last night when I got home I discovered Reese’s ice cream in the freezer. Done. Over.

Ok, start over the next day!

So as I sat today in an interminable noon meeting, I was trying to figure out to keep myself awake without the aid of the forbidden caffeine. First I just tried the subtle head-shake technique. I figured out that wasn’t working when I started dreaming about skiing down an ice cream slope. Ok, not really, but my eyes were sagging and I was sure my superiors were getting a kick out of the new girl whose head kept pitching forward.

I was pinching my arm when  I perked up at the not-so-subtle scent of pizza. A delivery man with five fresh pizzas from a local pizza place and a bag full of diet cokes entered, spreading his tasty wares out on the table and setting the sodas down. Mmmmm, diet Coke. It was frosty and delicious looking, and just the perk I needed to make it through another hour of that meeting.

When they signaled a break from the meeting, everyone moved to get a piece of pizza. I watched them go. I stayed stubbornly in my seat and swigged from my Sigg. I fidgeted. I eyed my neighbor’s white cheese and tomato pizza. I sighed. I listened to Coke cans crack open up and down the table. But I persevered through another hour until 1:00 and went straight down to the cafeteria for something from the salad bar.

So when I got home tonight, I rewarded myself of course, for my wonderful willpower. I made myself a healthy shake from the Clean Program, some almond butter, some dried cranberries, and snuck one of Scott’s chicken wings. (He took them away. Because he loves me that much.)

Hey, actually, that’s not that bad. I had this idea in my head that I totally binged, but I guess I did ok.

What I’ve discovered so far about the Clean Program, is that my body is very sensitive to whether I follow it or not. When I follow it, I drop 1 to 2 pounds in a day. When I don’t, I gain back 1 to 2 pounds. The point, though, is to shed toxins, not necessarily fat. My skin was gorgeous last week, but it’s back up to its old tricks.

I paid a lot of money for this program, so I better make sure to do this, and do it right.

Will power, Alden! Will power!


Day 5 of the Clean Program: Am I clean yet? March 19, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Food — Alden @ 10:39 pm
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Ok, I’m not an all or nothing type of girl. Some people are. Take Scott, my boyfriend. When he says, “I’m not going to drink,” he means he’s not going to drink. Ever, anytime, no matter what the occasion. Me, when I say “I’m not going to drink,” it means, “If the opportunity for drinking doesn’t present itself, and I can easily find an excuse for not drinking, then, I won’t drink.

So you can see where this is going. The Clean Program is very stringent. One shake in the morning, a “regular lunch” (which isn’t actually regular, it consists of quinoa and vegetables usually) and a shake for dinner. With pills and powder.

I’ve been pretty good about it this week. I haven’t eaten anything against the rules. (Ok, I filched two quaker rice cake bites from my roommate.) But obviously I’m worried about this weekend. It’s easy to plan your eating schedule when you work every day. I make a shake for breakfast, pack a lunch, and wait until I get home to have a shake for dinner. And then I eat 5 tablespoons of almond butter and feel guilty. I did that three nights in a row, no joke.

Well, the tub of almond butter is gone, but I have the prospect of a weekend of parties looming ahead of me. I know myself, and I know that after 30 seconds of someone saying, “Hey! Why aren’t you drinking?” I’ll go grab a beer. In fact, I’ve already had three and it’s 6:30 on Friday. Yup, there was a work party on the roof and I had three beers. Not in the cleanse program. Maybe if I take some of those supplements it will negate it? Not likely.

Scott will disapprove.

Anyway, knowing that we have dinner plans, I had a shake for lunch instead. It was so beautiful out! Most of my work stuff was on hold, waiting for someone else to address it, so I snuck out of the building and walked a couple blocks to the Energy Kitchen to grab a smoothie.

When I walk to and leave work, the neighborhood is almost deserted. But today, there were plently of people out in the sunshine. I walked past a young guy lounging in his open window drinking a beer while his friend chatted idly behind him. A gay man with gauges in his ears, leaning against a wall, complimented me on my necklace. Joggers passed me, cyclists whizzed by.

Long story short: I got the shake. I’m ruining my cleanse already, and whatever, life is good.

Happy weekend!


Day 2 of the Clean Program: getting better, but still hungry! March 17, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Food — Alden @ 2:13 am
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This morning I hit upon a delicious smoothie in which I can put my supplements that doesn’t break any of the many rules. I can’t put in dairy or soy, sugar, honey, orange juice, apple juice, or bananas. But I can put in frozen berries, pure pomegranate juice, raw agave nectar, and almond milk. The result was fantastic, and almost completely masked the gritty powder taste. So no gagging, thankfully.

I also didn’t feel so poorly today. Though that may be because I missed my lunch supplements, which I’ll talk about later.

But I’m not doing the program perfectly. Sure, I haven’t eaten anything that is off my list, though it is tempting. Yesterday I got an email saying some girls on the 9th floor were having a bake sale fundraiser. I would have loved to support them! But alas, that is SO off the list.

Where I am not doing so well is:

1. Exercise. Like usual, crazy work is giving me hardly enough time to sleep, much less get a good workout in, so I haven’t been able to sweat out the toxins. My workout is my 15 minute brisk walk to work every morning. Pathetic.

2. My nightly almond butter binges. Ha, I know right? You’re like, “Wtf, Alden. Almond butter binges?” Yeah, well, if all you had to eat was two fruit shakes and a lunch of chicken and quinoa, you would be hungry too! Tonight and last night I had my shakes, and then pulled out the almond butter, just for a taste, and ended up spooning it into my mouth like a fat kid with a forbidden tub of chocolate icing. I bought that $14 jar on Sunday, and it’s almost half gone! I mean, almond butter is technically ok, but I think eating a fifth of the jar in one sitting might be frowned upon.

3. I forgot my lunch/supplements today. Vicki and I left the apartment the same time, and in all the chatter I forgot my lunch! Luckily the cafeteria at work had quinoa and chicken. I had to walk past the stir fry station, pizza station, burger station, pasta station, and St. Patrick’s Day themed cupcakes, but I did it! I still missed my lunch supplements though. Poopy.

I will say this – in between yesterday morning and this morning my weight dropped by two pounds. Woah!


Day 1 of The Clean Program March 16, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Food — Alden @ 12:34 am
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I got up early this morning to make sure I had everything set and organized. Four bottles of pills, two jugs of powder. First I made my smoothie. Even though I used the “Flavor-packed” recipe, it still tasted pretty bad, but drinkable. I gulped it down as quickly as I could, swallowed four pills, then cooked some chicken to use in my lunch.

In my lunch bag went:

  • My lunch meal of polenta and chicken. (Polenta isn’t allowed but I’m not wasting it! At least it’s organic.)
  • 8 pills: 4 for lunch and 4 for dinner
  • A travel coffee mug with the powder, in case I got held up late at work and need to make my “dinner” there.
  • A water bottle with lemon squeezed in it.
  • Extra lemon to add to my water throughout the day.

At around 1 I had my lunch and took my second set of pills. A half hour later a headache crept in, and low-lying nausea took up residency in my stomach. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough water? I had finished one bottle’s worth of water, but filled it again.

In between trips to the bathroom to deal with all that water I was drinking, I marveled at how I felt almost high. Were toxins being released into my body? Or was I just hungry with a hyperactive imagination? Either way, I don’t think I ate a big enough lunch, something I hope to fix tomorrow.

Seven rolled around, and finding myself still at work and the cafeteria closed, (Damnit, need to bring coconut water or juice with me tomorrow!) I filled my coffee mug with water and shook it to mix in the powders.

I took a gulp. I made a face. I took a gulp. I gagged. I set the water bottle down and decided to pick up some organic pomegranate juice on my way home so I could try this powder thing again. It was at this moment I thought to myself, “Am I really doing this for 20 more days?”

I’m not going to tell you my actual weight, but starting tomorrow I’ll tell you + or – how many pounds from my set point this morning. Stay tuned…


How my “no sugar” month is going so far. March 12, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Food,green angst — Alden @ 4:02 am
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Not very well.

What I’m trying to convey with the quotation marks in the title is that there actually has been sugar. In fact, there has been an embarrassingly large amount.

At the beginning of the month I went about 5 days without sugar, except for a little corn syrup in some pretzels. (Sneaky bastards.)

Then the St. Patrick’s Day fiasco happened.

Ok, sugar happens. But then I got right back on track, right?

Wrong. On Sunday Vicki offered me some sugary candy, and I accepted. In fact, I did her the favor of finishing the bag. Then yesterday Vicki offered me a cookie, and not only did I eat it, I got off my butt and poured myself some milk to go along with it. Oh the shame!

You know, I say those words a lot.  “The Shame!” I know all this stuff is bad for me. Fast food, sugar, processed food, crappy hamburgers…it all sucks. So does not recycling, taking a cab, buying new clothing when I have a closet-full, and accepting plastic bags at the grocery store. Yet, I threw my food container in the trash today, took a cab home, and bought a t-shirt and skirt at H&M a couple weeks ago.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, being eco-friendly is like going on a diet that impacts every part of your life. It takes practice to change your lifestyle. It also takes courage to say to your roommate, colleagues and friends “No thanks, I’ll walk to the subway.” or “I would rather not have pizza, I’ll order something else for myself.” or “Could you hold on a minute? I need to go find a recycling bin for this.”

But I’m going to keep trying! I want to be that “green girl” in the office. I want to be the one who elicits comments like “Oh, Alden won’t go for the pizza. She doesn’t eat processed food.” I will embrace freaking out when I see my boss dump a perfectly good gift basket in the trash, and I will yank it out of the trash and say “I’m sure someone would love this.” (I did that, and he looked at me like I had two heads. Oh, well. I’m embracing it.)

So in that spirit, “No Sugar Month” is still on!

It takes three weeks to break out of a food addiction. I only have two weeks left in the month, so I’m going to start over. My new goal? Make it to Easter without any sugar. I’ll have a whole bag of Reese’s eggs on Easter, but until then, consider it a late-comer’s Lent against sugar.