The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

Farmers Market Cooking – the Right Way August 3, 2010

As you know, I’ve had several forays into farmers market cooking. It is usually sporadic, however, and often involves potatoes. They keep well and need nothing more than olive oil. But lately I’ve been seriously lagging, mostly because all the farmers markets close at five. Five! Unless I make it there on Saturday or Sunday, well, than it’s off to Whole Foods, or – even lazier – my corner grocery store for pesticide laden produce from California.

I’m a bad person. I know!

Anyway, in an attempt to redeem myself I signed up for a cooking class with the owner of Home Cooking NYC, Jennifer Clair. The menu was composed almost entirely of farmers market goodies, save the lemon, sugar, salt, and flour. Hmm, maybe the butter too. But really, it was a very small percentage wasn’t fresh from the stalls.

Jennifer is extremely knowledgeable. In contrast to my last cooking class, which was long on knife technique and short on instruction on high quality ingredients, Jennifer was all about getting the best stuff. She talked about the meaty wonderfullness of heirloom tomatoes, the robust flavor of fresh garlic, the dense nutritional value of farro (an “uber grain” she called it), the merits of salt, and the demerits of processed food, how to store various fresh herbs, and the importance of choosing sustainable fish and humanely raised meat.

In short, she imparted a gold mine of information about how to cook and eat healthfully. She agrees with Michael Pollan on many points, including the fact that Americans devote a too small percentage of their budget to food. “I spend most of my money on food,” she said. As someone who enjoys paying $4 for an heirloom tomato so she can bite into like an apple, she was definitely telling the truth.

So what goodies did she demonstrate? Check out these photos of the fresh ingredients before they were whipped into munch-worthy shape by Jennifer:

Fresh Tomato, Fennel and Corn Relish over tilapia fish. Lightly floured and tossed in a non-stick pan with olive oil, tilapia is an easy cook – it holds together well and is always a good choice for the cook who is conscientious of depleted fish stocks.

Roasted Ratatouille with eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, bell peppers, thyme, tomatoes, basil, and – a untraditional addition which really amped up the flavor – kalamata olives, all spooned over farro. A great choice for this time of year, ratatouille brings together a bounty harvest of mid-summer flavors. It may be a “peasant dish” but it tastes like royalty.

Magret duck with a summer fruit compote. Seeing that the Columbia farmers market near me has no chicken, but has duck, I was grateful for this recipe. It combines savory duck, with sweet fruit in a way I didn’t think possible. It wasn’t quite as good as the duck from Bobo in the West Village, but that is a really, really high bar. You can also try the compote over chicken or pork, or mix it up with other fruit, even apples. Tasty!

The empanada and the peach pie met, fell in love, and had a little bastard child called “hand pie.” It’s got it’s momma’s good looks and it’s daddy’s money, and it’s flaky, buttery crust encases a sweet fruit filling that will knock you out. Did I mention it was yummy?

The end result was a family-style lunch that was just the right amount of filling, and good conversation with other aware foodies from NYC and Connecticut.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t reproduce her recipes here, well, a. it doesn’t do them justice, and b. I don’t want to steal her thunder! I highly recommend Jennifer’s classes. Find more here, including private lessons in the home and lessons in her home kitchen in the Hudson Valley.

P.S. It’s National Farmers Market Week!

 

How to do The Jazz Age Picnic at Governor’s Island July 27, 2010

1.

Bring a parasol to keep the hot sun at bay.

2.

Invest in some dance classes before hand or show up before 12 to get a free one so you can take full advantage of the brass band

…Or just wing it.

3.

Don’t wander too far away from the dance floor, you don’t want to miss the beautiful singing.

4.

Red lipstick is key.

5.

Accessories make the outfit.

6.

Guys look hot in suspenders, hats, and bow ties.

7.

Don’t be afraid to show off your best assets…

8.

Bring some blankets on which to stretch out

9.

Kids are more than welcome!

10.

Peach is perfect.

11.

Bring a camera so you can capture the beauty….

 

UGH I’m never taking a Taxi Again. EVER. May 28, 2010

Last weekend I booked a bus down to Baltimore to visit the fam. It was scheduled to leave at 7:15 from Penn Station, so I left work at 6:15, went up to my apartment, and got my stuff together to go.

Usually I’m a pretty on-the-ball sort of gal, but for some reason I found myself being pretty spacey. I poured myself some juice and thoughtfully drank it while looking at the skyline out of my apartment window. I gazed about my room, checking for anything I forgot. I took some time to pet Matteo. I mean, how could I not? He’s so adorable when he dumps himself on the floor and looks at me for a belly rub. By the time I got out the door, it was 6:50. Ack!

The definition of insanity is trying something over and over and expecting to get a different result. Well, obviously I’m insane. I’ve had this idea in my head that taxis are faster. That if I’m late, I should just wave my hand at a cab and go. Why do I think this? Taxis always end up getting snarled in traffic, and because they are snarled in traffic, they end up costing you at least six times as much as taking the subway.

Anyway, taking a taxi seems like it’s so much easier, especially when you have a suitcase, a garment bag, and a big tote to contend with. So I waved my arm at a taxi, dumped my stuff in the back, and climbed in. “33rd and 7th Avenue, please.” I pulled my new sunglasses (post about those coming!) down over my eyes and opened up my kindle on my iPhone to read.

The traffic started almost immediately. Fifteen minutes later and we were still in the 70’s. I tried to be zen and just read, but it was getting close. At the 60’s, it was past 7:00. At Columbus circle, the young Indian driver said, “Can I drop you off at Times Square?”

“Times Square? Uh, that’s nine blocks from my destination. No. You can’t.”

“Well, it’s just that Time’s Square is now closed to traffic, so I will have to go around.”

I looked at him for a moment, supremely annoyed at him and New York City. I was mad at what in the moment I perceived at his idiocy – hello, why not tell me this earlier? I was mad at New York traffic (caused by all the people who were in all the other taxis). And I was mad at NYC for putting in the pedestrian area at Times Square.  And then it clicked. If I had been looking in at my predicament from the outside, I would have clucked and said, “You stupid fossil-fuel burning, environment trasher. You wouldn’t have this problem if you had taken the subway. Serves you right that you have to go around one of the best initiatives New York City has done in a while. Maybe next time you’ll avoid a cab.” In short, I was being a total hypocrite.

I was still annoyed though.

“Let me off here,” I ordered. “No, here. I mean pull over. Like, now.”

The taxi cab driver seemed confused, but managed to make it to the curb. I jumped out to grab my stuff and leaned in to hand him some money.

“Excuse me,” he started.

I looked at him. “Yeah?”

“You, uh, you look,” he gestured at his face, “very pretty with your, uh,”

“I’M LATE.”

“Sorry,” he said, withdrawing. I slammed the door and marched away to the subway. I immediately felt bad. That poor guy was just trying to give me a compliment, and here I was, being a typical New York biotch. That is not me.

So I am not going to take a taxi again. I know it’s going to be hard. At three in the morning, after I’ve been drinking and my eyelids are closing, there is nothing I want more than someone to drop  me off at my front door. But taxis not only spew carbon, they honk all the time, they play a game of chicken with pedestrians and cyclists and other taxis, and they make the air in New York taste like grit. Not to mention the unnecessary expense of paying $20 to go fifty blocks when you could pay $2.50.

After I got on the subway and took it three stops to Penn Station, I just barely made my bus, thank goodness. No more taxis for Alden!

 

Sometimes Things Get Crazy…But in a Good Way May 21, 2010

I woke up Monday morning, sweaty, tangled in my sheets, the sun pounding my face. I rolled over, cracked my eyes open, and tried to reach my curtains without actually leaving my bed, in the process knocking a silver tray of pens and a stack of unread books (I’ll get to them, I swear) all over the floor and almost ripping down the curtain. I finally succeeded in blocking the sun and I rolled back over to sleep.

“Mew.” A paw sank into my side. I shifted, trying to dislodge it. I heard a pile of clothes go sliding off the end of the bed and onto the floor.

“Mrow.” Now I had two paws in my side, bearing the weight of a chubby tabby. I groaned. “Matteo, you fat slut, get off of me,” I said, swatting at him ineffectually. Cat hair flew into my nostrils. I snorted and then started swatting at my own face.

“MROOOOOWWWW.” Now it was Luca, scooting under the bed and complaining about something. “MEOWWWWWW.”

“What do you want?” I growled. “I don’t feed you. Go bother Vicki.”

“MEOOOWWW.”

I sighed. “Alright you two.” I rolled out of bed and looked at my cell phone. Only 10 more minutes until my alarm for work would go off anyway. I took a fast minute to make the bed and then picked my way around my personal detritus to the corner to step on the scale. First I had to shove the clothing vomit from my hamper out of the way. Oh, and accidentally step on the pointy ends of some heels. THEN, after I cussed up a storm, I stepped on the scale. The two cats watched me from their perch on the bed, with bored, judgmental eyes.

“Sh**…..” I said to them, looking from the number on the scale to the cats. “Well, it’s no wonder after this weekend.”

It was a weekend full of wine, sushi, big breakfasts, cuban food, beer, ice cream sandwiches, lamb, chocolate mousse and chocolate truffles, more wine, cocktails, more sushi, more chocolate and not a lick of exercise. Unless you count walking.

After spending only one hour in my apartment all weekend, my life would seem to be in shambles. I knew there was a pile of week-old dishes waiting for me in the sink, and the floor was unvacuumed. I hate that. You know, when you are walking around barefoot and you pick stuff up on the bottom of your feet? Ew. Gives me the willies.

Oh, but the weekend was worth this huge mess! Not every single thing I did is worthy of a detailed description,  so I’ll just give you the highlights.

Meet Mike. He’s the hot new guy I’ve been seeing for the past new weeks, and I’m just a little bit smitten. He lives in Brooklyn, which is both awesome and annoying. Awesome, because you might have noticed I LOVE Brooklyn. Annoying, because he lives a full hour away from me on the train. I couldn’t live any farther away unless I moved to the Bronx. That’s OK though. Mike is a great tour guide, especially of Prospect Park and the up-and-coming Ditmas park. What it means, though, is that when I go to see him, it’s a commitment. So what did I do? I basically just spent the whole weekend, save Sunday, in Brooklyn. Natch.

Saturday, after a homemade breakfast of turkey bacon, eggs, and a fruit salad macerated in orange juice and vodka (My idea. He didn’t even notice me casually filch the vodka from the top of the fridge and pour it into the bowl.) Mike and I emerged into a perfect day. I mean, it was gorgeous. High of 74, sunny, with a slight breeze.

We decided to go to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. But let me cut in here and talk a little about what a great thing it is to have so many green spaces in New York. Friday, as I left work, I was looking at my cellphone, not really paying attention, when I was stopped dead in my tracks. I smelled a garden. Not only the smell of flowers, but the smell of loamy earth and grass and that clean-air smell you just can’t get by spraying Febreeze around the apartment. I looked up from my iPhone and found myself next to a community garden. I must have looked like Ralphie in front of the Red Rider BB Gun Christmas display, with my face pressed against the fence bars, looking at a bench surrounded by flowering plants. I wanted to plunk my butt right down on that bench and just hang out. But I had to tear myself away. I was supposed to meet Mike and I was late. Such is the curse of the New Yorker.

As I told Mike on our amble through the Garden, that you don’t realize how foul NYC air is until you walk past a garden, step into a flower shop, or get deep inside Central park. I used to take the smell of a garden for granted. Not anymore. Nature has proven therapeutic properties, so I’m grateful that NYC takes the cultivation of flowers and public spaces so seriously. Without Riverside, and Central, and Prospect, and all the other parks around the five boroughs, I might just go insane.

So back to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It’s famous for its cherry trees with their gorgeous blossoms, which had just fell out of season when we went, unfortunately, and its rose garden. I restrained myself, fearing looking like an idiot and boring Mike, but I still regret not putting my nose in every single rose I saw. They smelled delicious, with names like Queen Mary 2, Alberic Barbier, and Abbaye de Cluny.  Anyway, I can’t really adequately describe what a wonderful place the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is, so I’ve not only thrown in some pictures, I’ve quickly cut together a video for you. I hope you it makes you happy while you are stuck inside a cubicle on a rainy day.

After the gardens, Mike and I walked past the huge fountain at Grand Army Plaza fountain, where an Asian bride posed for pictures in her sparkly pink wedding dress, holding bedazzled pink flowers that I’m pretty sure were all fake. To each her own, I guess….

We had lunch at the Cubana Cafe, then a glass of wine at Total Wine Bar, then walked to a barbecue at a Mike’s friend, Rob’s, apartment.

When I think of barbecues, I think of big, shiny metal grills hung with fancy grilling tools, hamburgers and hot dogs, a backyard, kids running between all the grownups, plastic red cups, and then fireflies as the afternoon fades slowly into night. But instead I got a New York barbecue: a little grill with smoking chicken breasts sitting on the back patio overlooking a laundry mat, Shameless Ice Cream Sandwiches from Bierkraft and a small group of close friends. It’s all about the company, and Mike’s friends didn’t disappoint.

Forgive me if I don’t put in many pictures here of Mike’s friends. I’m wary to whip out my camera at every opportunity, because it can get a bit awkward you know?

So one of the things we talked about was bike culture in Brooklyn. Brooklyn, which likes to take every trend to its extreme, and then parody the extreme, naturally has some interesting bicycles running around. There’s the guy with the stilt bike – he attached an whole extra frame to his bike so he’s five feet above the ground. When he wants to stop, he has to find a fence on which to dismount. There’s the unicycle guy – one of Mike’s friends said that when a couple of kids started to make fun of him, he desperately yelled “But it’s good for your core!” Oh, and there’s the intrepid guy that walks his dog on a unicycle. Brave? Or Crazy?

What else can I say about our lovely, lazy Saturday? There wasn’t any crazy bars or parties, or shenanigans. It was just nice and relaxing, and just what I needed.

Sunday I got up early to go to the third installment of my cooking class. We basted lamb with vegetables, steamed mussels (so delicious, and not as scary/hard as you would think) and finished up with a light fluffy mousse augmented with amaretto. Oops, can’t forget the truffles. Man, they were rich. And good!

I met up with my friend Parks, who was in town for a few days for a wedding. Parks is a great guy – he went to Washington and Lee as well, though he graduated much earlier than I. We walked the Highline, drank some beers, and then took a nice afternoon nap in his cousin’s apartment. I never take daytime naps, but this one was lovely. The late afternoon sun was streaming through the windows, and though I’m not usually one for jazz, Parks’ iPod of jazz seemed to be the perfect compliment to my mood. Finally we roused ourselves back up to go to PDT for cocktails.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is the worst kept “secret” in New York. I’ve heard of bars that change their number every week, but PDT doesn’t go that far. They take reservations starting at 3, so just make sure to call right away. I mean, they are even on Google Maps, sooo….

Still, it’s an impressive place to take an out-of-towner. Parks and I walked into Crif’s on St. Mark’s, which is a hot dog stand. I told him to wait while I entered a phone booth on the left, picked up the phone and pressed the button. A voice answered, and after telling them my reservation, the door opened and a petite hostess waved us in. She seated us at a little table y the door, the same table I sat with my sister a few months back.

It’s a tiny bar, with taxidermy animals in bow ties perched on the wall. If you go to the bathroom, you can read all their rules, like “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” or “If you came here to hit on strangers, you’re in the wrong place.”

What I go for, though, is the cocktails. The cocktail menus are housed in fine leather folders, and each recipe goes on for several lines. Expect to find absinthe, exotic fruits and syrups, sherry, and essence of flowers. The drinks really are works of art.

Usually I sit at a table, but the first time I went I sat at the bar and I got to watch the bartender craft my White Birch Fizz. I was astounded at the level of care and the variety of tools used to make the delicious fizzy drink. Egg whites, an atomizer, and fine gin came together to make happiness in my mouth.

As Parks and I sat and talked, I had a good view of people coming and going out of the small room, like the leggy girls at the next table, and the investment banker-types in the back corner. It’s a good people-watching place.

Parks and I left, wandered down the street to get more sushi, and then dove into the leftover truffles back at his cousin’s place. Finally, at midnight, I decided it was time to go home. I was just barely tipsy when I threw all my clothes on the floor and fell into bed, and the next thing I knew, I woke up with the sun in my face….

 

Wardrobe Revamp!! April 25, 2010

This is a nice follow-up to my last post about only buying what you love and need. I’m pretty good about culling my closet, but last weekend when I pulled my big suitcase out of the closet and another plastic bin out from under my bed, and began taking out summer clothes, I was a little overwhelmed.

I pulled out skirt after skirt, and dress after dress. There were summer shorts and a capris as well. But mostly just skirts and dresses. I started to count the number hanging in my closet, and stopped at 23. That doesn’t even include the cotton dresses waiting to be ironed that I had thrown in the corner.

It’s an interesting but true fact that the more choices you have, the less happy you are. [TED Video] Well, I certainly wasn’t happy. Even with all that wealth, I was completely demoralized. Do brightly-colored cotton dresses even work in New York City? The huge collection I had amassed at my four years at Washington and Lee suddenly seemed awkward and useless. I wore a pink, plaid, silk dupione skirt to work one day, and felt so conspicuous and dumb, that I vowed not to wear it again. In short, I was completely lost within my own wardrobe.

On top of that, I met up with a friend for a night out on the town with her friend who does PR for Pucci. She told me to dress “fierce.” “Ok, I can do that,” I thought. I pulled on what I thought was a hot outfit, but when I got to her downtown apartment, she gently asked me if maybe I should ditch the skirt and just go with leggings. I was sufficiently chastened to realize that I needed help. Maybe even professional help.

So I decided to get a wardrobe consultant. That’s right, I hired someone to come in and help me weed out the duds from the divine. “Why pay someone to do that?” You might ask. Well, I had run out of ideas, and I needed an objective, New York eye to look through my things and do what I wasn’t brave enough to do: declare some stuff ugly.

I found my girl on Craigslist, believe it or not. Her name is Stella Lee, and she has an impressive resume – Vogue and InStyle are both magazines for which she has styled shoots. After exchanging some emails, I decided that she sounded like she knew what she was doing, so we settled on Saturday morning at 11.

By 10:15 on Saturday I was in a panic. The idea of someone so fashionable and discerning walking into my apartment was frightening. I took a fresh look at the apartment and didn’t like what I saw. The doorknob is broken, the linoleum kitchen floor is in dire need of replacement, and there is cat hair everywhere. And even after I took out the recycling and trash, I was convinced there was a funk when you first walked in the door.

Vicki emerged from her room where she had been hiding from the frenzy of cleaning and laundry activity all morning. “Are you ok?” she asked. “No!” I wailed. “I didn’t have time to mop or vacuum. She’s totally going to judge me! I bet her other clients have so much nicer apartments.”

“That is not your fault,” Vicki chided. “And there is NO smell.”

“There is, I have to find the reason why!” Vicki shook her head and went back to her room while I folded t-shirts. Luckily for me, Stella was late, so I had an extra 20 minutes to get myself ready. Which wasn’t enough, but whatever.

When Stella walked in, I knew I had chosen a winner. She looked like she was straight out of a Refinery 29 post. I would have taken a picture, but I was way to intimidated, so you’ll just have to trust me. She had on a loose black top, a grey wool capelet, cut off boyfriend shorts, black tights, and nice black boots. This is a look I had been trying to emulate for some months, with varying success. Of course, it helped that she’s a good five inches taller than me, with that slim build that Asians seem to always have.

She placed her leather purse on my vanity, threw her capelet over my chair, and went to work. She pulled each item out of my closet with a deliberate air, contemplating it. If an item was deemed acceptable, she would take it off the hanger and rehang it, so that everything was facing the same way. “Anna had a thing about that,” she said. “So I always do it.” Anna meaning Anna Wintour at Vogue.

If she didn’t like something, she would say “Is there a story behind this?” She seemed to understand how you can get attached to a piece of clothing even if it is ugly. Sometimes there was. Often I would say, “I got that in Paris,” or “It was a gift from a friend,” or even more often, “It’s a vintage piece.”

She wasn’t a huge fan of vintage pieces, that’s for sure. Stella is no hipster. She frowned at my mom’s sparkly 80’s dress, and cringed when I told her I wore it to a Christmas cocktail party. She gently encouraged me to store the colorful silk scarves, purses, and dresses from Annie Creamcheese’s in Georgetown that I was so in love with. “They are too old for you,” she said.

Mostly, my clothing was just too Southern. Soon I had a huge pile on my bed of j-crew skirts, linen Sperry flats, and Susan Monaco dresses. (The Lilly Pulitzer stuff is long gone, at least.) “You can store it, or take it down to Maryland,” she said. “Just get it out of your closet here, it’s not doing you any good.”

Sometimes she would ask to see stuff on me. She shook her head at the voluminous skirts and pleated pants – they weren’t right for my curvy figure. And she made a pile of clothing that needed to be tailored – long pants, skirts that fall below the knee, and a sequined top whose lining is falling out.

She went through my shoes, grimacing at the worn out heels and cutesy flats. “I knew I would find a pair of these,” she said when she pulled out my Tory Burch flats. “Non-negotiable,” I spat. I actually said those words several times. “Non-negotiable” to the white Susan Monaco dress. “Non-negotiable” to the demure vintage navy blue dress straight that looks like something Jackie Kennedy would have worn. “Non-negotiable” to the rainbow scarf I bought in Chile, my only purchase while I was there. She would only nod at these points, hang the offending item up neatly, and place it back in the closet. She knew to choose her battles.

It took three hours to go through both closets, the shoes, scarfs, t-shirts, jeans, and tanks. The whole affair ended with seven bags of reject clothing, a nice neat closet of good stuff, and a rather bruised ego. Yup, the whole process was exhausting. Think about it: I basically just invited someone in to judge my taste in clothing, and the results weren’t always pretty. Some stuff which I absolutely adored was unceremoniously tossed into the get-rid-of pile. There were points, where I could tell she was struggling not to say, “For heaven sakes, I don’t care if you got it at a vintage shop in Paris for a steal! It’s hideous!” as I clung to some item with the ferocity of a mother protecting her child from a pedophile.  By the time she left, I felt both cleansed and battered. I needed time to assimilate what had just happened to my closet, to ruminate on my style and wonder about all the times when I thought I looked adorable or funky, and just looked stupid. I felt grateful I had decided to to this, but also listless.

The price for all of this? $450.

Woah! You might say. Why the hell would you pay $450 to someone so they could tell you what stuff to get rid of? Actually, I think it was money well-spent, despite the pain of letting go.

Most women wear only 20% of their closet. That’s thousands of dollars in clothing that never gets worn and languishes. In my case, I’ve been determined to wear everything, so I carefully cycled through each piece. Everytime I wore something, I hung it in the back of my closet. So all the stuff I don’t wear floated to the front, staring me in the face, challenging me. “Make it work,” the salmon, Forever 21 top with a low back whispered. And what I ended up doing was wearing some questionable things to work and out on the weekends. I probably looked like a schizophrenic to my coworkers, wearing a different, probably inappropriate, piece every day. I needed someone to finally tell me that the artsy yellow dress was a bad buy, like I suspected. I needed someone to inform me that I am no longer in Virginia and it’s time to move on from flowers and madras. I needed someone to tell me that my vintage pieces were making me look older, instead of the fresh twenty-something I am.

She also told me what to look for next time I go shopping: simple jeans with large back pockets sans embellishments, and some more knitwear. “Other than that,” she said, “you’re pretty much set. You have all the shoes you need for a really long time,” she added. That much is true, and it was good to hear that I didn’t need to go out and spend a bunch more money.

In fact, I discovered things I didn’t realize I had. She gave me the courage to finally use the beautiful Dolce and Gabanna purse I bought in the South of France and have always been to scared to use. She paired an old vest with a white blouse, giving them both new life. Less is more, right? Well, even with less stuff, I have so much more.

Every time I go shopping from now on, I will think back to those three hours and say, “Will this end up on the chopping block in a year, six months? Is this a classic? Does it look good on me?” She gave me some valuable tools. And it was really nice getting dressed today and knowing that whatever I choose, it will be a good choice for me and for my life in New York.

 

The Gio Salon February 5, 2010

Filed under: Beauty,Places to go,Tips — Alden @ 7:13 pm
Tags: , , ,

As I wandered the Union Square farmers market, looking for food and then Christmas presents oh so long ago, a girl in her twenties approached me. “Excuse me,” she said. “Who does your hair?”

I raised my hand self-consciously to my not-so-great bob. She actually liked my hair?

“Well, this salon in SoHo, but I don’t really like how they did it.”

“Oh that’s perfect,” she said. “Because I have this special offer…”

I considered running away, but I’m too nice to do that. (I guess I’m not a “real” New Yorker yet) I ended up buying a $60 offer from Gio Salon that gave me rights to a haircut, highlights, conditioning treatment, blow dry and finish, and neck and shoulder massage. (That last “service” is BS, but whatever.) That’s $20 less than what I was paying for just a haircut at my salon.

I was pretty skeptical. After all, if the salon felt the need to practically give away their product, it couldn’t be that good, right??

Well, I was pleasantly surprised.

Gio Salon is in a tiny little hole-in-the-wall at 21st and 8th Avenue. It couldn’t be much bigger than my bedroom. When I walked in it was abuzz with several hairdressers fluttering around their clients, and more girls sitting on a couch and reading with foils in their hair.

They quickly set me up with a shampoo and rinse, and gave me to a hairdresser that looked like he spends more time in the gym pumping iron that snipping women’s hair. But he was a sweetheart, and listened carefully to what I wanted, and soon I was flipping through a magazine while he snipped away.

Two seats down I watched a stylist do some final primping on a dark-haired girl with dark, silky, long hair and straight bangs. Love! And then another gorgeous girl walked past, her rich brown hair done in those perfect it-almost-could-be-natural curls of a lingerie model.

The end result of my haircut? Adorable! I’ve been through two haircuts in pursuit of the perfect bob, but here — this was it. I thanked him warmly, tipped him accordingly, and decided that I would refer anyone there who needs a haircut.

AND I still have this coupon that I can give to anyone who wants free highlights! None of my friends or coworkers highlight their hair… so who wants it?

 

I think – gasp – I’m going – gasp – to pass out! Bikram yoga February 2, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Moments of hilarity,Places to go — Alden @ 4:39 am
Tags: , ,

Bikram yoga is supposed to have all sorts of benefits. According to BikramYoga.com (maintained by the practice’s namesake who pioneered the movement) it just about solves every problem. Do you have kidney disease? Bulging disk? Sinus infection? Dengue fever? Well, then pull on your Lululemon hot pants and get down to your local Bikram studio, because your problems will be solved!

Ok, maybe not. I’m not sure I believe in the magical healing powers of contorting your body while you drip sweat, even if the website does give long, heart-warming testimonials for each of their hundred listed ailments from a client whose life has been changed. I mean, hardly scientific. But it really can’t hurt. You know how you work out in the gym and then get in the sauna? Well, just think of Bikram yoga as saving you some time by combining the two.

The main benefits for which people go are weight loss and detoxification. Lord knows I need some detoxifying, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to lose a couple!

I didn’t really know any of this before I showed up this evening to Bikram Yoga NYC. All I know is that I had gotten a Groupon for one month of yoga on the cheap, and I decided, “Why not?” I hoped it would motivate me to get my cubicle-bound, soft little butt into the classroom. I haven’t been to yoga in forever. Partly because of the new job, partly because of laziness, partly because of drinking on the weekends. So I packed a bag before work and put it on my priority list. With classes starting as late as 9:45 pm, I have no excuse not to go.

One of Bikram Yoga NYC’s locations is located on the second floor of a building on 72nd Street and Amsterdam. As soon as I pushed open the door to the studio, a wave of soggy, warm air hit me. I was a half hour early, but there was already a waiting list. (Once you are a member, you can reserve a spot ahead of time online.)

I fought my way through the overcrowded little locker room, trying to avoid touching the apologetically naked women who didn’t seem to realize I had a prize view of their cootchy when they bent over. Ew. As soon as I could, I stuffed my bags into a locker and went back into the lobby to discover I had gotten off the waiting list and into a class. Score!

When I got up to the classroom, I found it to be very long and thin, with two rows of twenty people each pressed together, mat to mat. It’s a good thing it’s not a flailing, power-type of yoga, or else there would be some bruises. The classroom already felt like a swamp, and everyone was wearing tiny little shorts and sports bras. I, in my misguided modesty, was wearing long pants and a tank. A decision I would later regret.

In front of me was a hairy, middle-aged guy with nothing on except short shorts. I would get disturbingly acquainted with that guy’s back and the v-neck design his back hair made during the class. Two people to my right was a beautiful girl in her twenties with ornate tattoos all over her arms. And a few over from her was a girl with an Astroturf haircut. “How do you give yourself an Astroturf haircut?” you might ask. Well, you buzz your hair into a strip from ear to ear, leaving bangs in the front and your hair long in the back, and then dye that strip neon green. Beautiful.

Not really.

Anyway, the little Asian instructor bounced in right on time. She was leanly muscled, the picture of a well-practiced yogi. She took the names of all the “new friends,” including me, and then exhorted us to move to the outside, where it wouldn’t be so hot. I stayed put. I could take it! I’m a 7-mile-jogging, regular-yoga-attending, weight-lifting, former athlete!

Oh, how wrong I was.

We started with deep breathing and stretching exercises and then moved into basic stretching poses. “Streeeeetch yor body out!” She would exhort us. “Puuuuuuuh [pull]  yor stomach uuuuuup!” Like she was on the toilet straining instead of trying to get us to stay upright. I couldn’t understand half the things she said, but at least she was enthusiastic.

The poses themselves weren’t that bad, nothing I didn’t do in all of my other yoga classes. But as the class progressed, the air became thicker and hotter, until I felt like I was drinking soup instead of breathing. At 4o minutes, I thought I would pass out, and I still had 50 more minutes to go.

I’ve only felt like this three times before. And every time it was August, during field hockey preseason, right after sprints, as the ground spun beneath me and a felt that either I would collapse or vomit. But here I was in a little box with 39 other people, voluntarily subjecting myself to what felt like water boarding. I kept going through that yoga class, occasionally dropping to the ground to suck in slightly cooler air, kind of like what you’re supposed to do if you are in a fire. Stop, drop, and breathe deep!

When the class mercifully ended, I stumbled out and down the stairs. I had to sit for a bit in the locker room and just get my energy back. I needed time to fill my lungs back up with regular air.

So will I go back?

Yes. I bought a whole month of yoga, and damn it, I’m gonna use it! Plus the athlete in side of me is telling myself to stop being such a wuss. All signs point to it getting better, including all the happy and energized women who milled around me in the locker room right after. There were some -ahem- chubby people in that yoga class, but they made it through. If they can do it, So. Can. I.

Update: This morning I weighed myself, and I’ve dropped 3 pounds since Sunday. It’s gotta be the yoga.