Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gemstones and carpools--in the "studio" with jewelry designer Valerie Nahmani

With her jewelry featured in national fashion magazine, Marie Claire, and regular weekend stints in Bloomingdale's Chevy Chase last winter, one would think that Bethesda jewelry designer Valerie Nahmani, the force behind jewelry company VND, would be ensconced in some high-tech studio, with a team of people helping to get the product out. Not so. I recently had the good fortune to get a behind-the-scenes look at a successful jewelry designer, who has fashioned a career much like the rest of us--around her children, carpools and naps--and doing it all from her dining room.

When I visited her "studio," it was during working hours, so she worked straight through our entire chat. "Working hours" are a precious commodity. She squeezes in designing and creating her beautiful jewelry while her kids are at school. Her studio is open and accessible to the rest of her house and filled with all tools and materials necessary for her creations. During my visit, she was getting pieces ready to sell at a festival taking place the very next day. 

I admire her multi-tasking abilities almost as much as her creativity.

She has found her niche with druzy stones, unpolished natural stones that sparkle and glint like crystals. Her eclectic mix of materials--beads, natural stones, leather and gold--and creative, eye-catching designs have been a recipe for success. All from a former marketing executive with no formal art training. Eventually, Valerie made the decision to stay home with her children fulltime. Needing something to do, she started making bracelets for her friends, which caught on. Now her designs span the gamut to pendant necklaces, chokers, bracelets and rings.  Peruse the collection at

While I need an office sequestered from any living creatures except my cat, Valerie can stay focused in the midst of family life and chatty bloggers. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Whole30 Part 1 done

Hard to think about the Whole30
when you get to see this. 
I finished the Whole30 on a Saturday. I had declared that even though the Whole30 ended at midnight that day, I was going to end it at sundown. I was at Rehoboth Beach on a beautiful day with a friend, and I didn't want to spend the whole time trapped in the dwindling hours of the Whole30. As it turned out, I didn't need to make that declaration.

The magic hour came and went and I still had no urge to "cheat." We went into a really nice little bistro, which as luck would have it, was offering half-price drinks and appetizers. We'd had a big lunch earlier (one of my first restaurant meals--a ginormous salad with shrimp), and were still full from the oversized portions. We didn't even sit at the bar for happy hour (what?!); we chose a table in the restaurant area and ordered a compliant salad "sampler" and club soda.The thing was that I really wanted the salads--egg salad with smoked salmon, beets and  quinoa (which I did not eat). I didn't really want a drink, partly because I had no idea how I'd react to the sudden influx of sugar. Even though I'd given myself the green light to go for it, I was still in food apathy mode and didn't care enough to give up on how great I felt.

That's how it's been, mostly.  I ended up going to New Mexico immediately after that trip to the beach and I "reintroduced" cheese, wheat, corn and alcohol.  Reintroduction is a key part of the Whole30. You're not meant to give up certain food groups forever, but see which ones make you feel bad, if any. One way to do this is just to keep going on the plan until you come across something you really like. That's the option I chose. While I love chips and salsa, the chips ended up sitting like a rock in my stomach. The combo of bread, cheese and meat together (as in a burger) is just too much to easily digest. While I love bread, it's mostly just a no.  I'd rather stick to the plan except for special occasions. I just feel 100 percent better, lighter and energized. I actually feel more "deprived" when I go rogue, than when I'm sticking to the basics--plants (i.e., fruit and veg) and clean proteins.

I also became leaner. I noticed my clothes fit looser and my cheekbones made a reappearance. I worked out harder and better, and had more stamina. Though it is a slow process and a cumulative effect achieved through consistency,  I did it. And it only took 30 days. The farther I got on the Whole30, the more energetic I became and I slept better than I had in years.

What they say is true, It can change your life, and took me to a place regarding food and my body I'd never been before. There are no fads, no real taboos (you can reintroduce every single thing you give up), and no weighing and measuring either your body or your portions. Would I recommend it to everyone I know? I don't know. Some people have an instinct as to what suits them and are healthy. But would I recommend it to MOST people I know? Absolutely. If you're looking to drop a giant amount on the scale with no regard nutritionally for what you're eating to do so, you may be disappointed. If you're looking to reset your system, change the way you think about fueling your body, abate inflammation, and lose some bloat, then yes, do it.

That's saying a lot coming from me. I've done them all, Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, semi-vegetarian, low carb, even a crazy egg diet when I was much younger. Why, I'm not really sure. I think I was just looking for the next best thing. Ultimately, what I ended up sticking with was a non-diet, a plan where I could eat as much normal, healthy food as I wanted without thinking about fat grams, calories or portions. It makes me feel really good And it's so simple. To me, the Whole30 was like a vacation from cravings, restaurants, alcohol and processed food. I learned to appreciate the value and nutrition found in the simplest vegetable and pastured, not factory farmed, meat.  It will be the foundation of my eating plan for life. Thanks for coming on this Whole30 journey with me. Your support and encouragement meant everything. Cheers!

The beautiful scenery, not the bars and restaurants, made my last day of the Whole30 memorable. Food (for once) was an afterthought.

Monday, April 27, 2015

25 down, 5 to go… the final week of my Whole30

So, last week I wrote about how my cravings were diminishing and I compared it to falling out of love. Sometimes, it's only after we move on, do we realize all the pesty things we had learned to live with in a relationship. And we always had a reason to keep doing it, either because it's all we knew or because we could always rationalize the unpleasant feelings away.

I got used to (subconsciously?) bracing myself for a night out at a "good" restaurant when you want to make the most of it. On some level, I knew the alcohol would slow me down (how do you turn down artisanal handcrafted cocktails? Anybody? ), the dairy would make me feel bloated (nothing better than a cheese plate in my book), the amount of salt would make me dehydrated and thirsty, and the aftermath would be me recovering from all I'd consumed, and trying to exercise it away.

Now I realize I probably had some issues with those foods that I love the most and actually needed the foods that never appealed to me before. Vegetables, and especially fruit, were always the stand-ins, never the stars.

A big positive for me of the Whole30 was having somebody say "NO YOU CAN"T HAVE THAT FOR 30 DAYS," which took the decision out of my hands so I could no longer rationalize why it didn't really bother me that much, and why I could have it JUST THIS ONE TIME. I had no idea that these foods were making me feel bad--again, it's like a bad relationship. You don't realize how bad you had it till it's gone.

So, here's what I learned the past 25 days (and I am aware, I've still got to make through next Friday).

1. I found I love vegetables, all kinds, and that potatoes are NOT fattening. Yes, I'd eat a hunk of brie, but God forbid I'd ever eat a potato. That food myth is done. Potatoes, whether sweet or white give me energy. Cooked vegetables and salads are full of water and vitamins and make my skin clear. And, as it turns out, they only take minutes to prepare.

2. Yes, I CAN go 30 days without having a glass of red wine. Yes, I wanted it. Yes, I didn't want to watch other people drink it. Yes, I'll probably have one as soon as this ends. But I don't feel I have to have one every day to "wind down." I'll have a glass of good quality wine, and I'll savor it.

3. No, fat is not a dangerous enemy. I consume a lot of fat. I eat avocados, olive oil, homemade mayonnaise and fatty salmon. I eat eggs, steak and chicken with skin. My HDL (good cholesterol)  levels have never been better and my nails have never been stronger.

4.  Yes, I felt like I was eating more actual food than ever and I didn't explode. In fact, I got leaner, stronger in the gym and lost all the bloat in my stomach. Even with the fat, and without oats, sushi or "low fat" foods.

5. A sweet potato now tastes almost too sweet to me. I've never been much for sweets and I'm wondering if I'll ever really want them much again. Except for dark chocolate with toffee. That may work itself back in on occasion.

6. No, I'm not weak and famished because my diet is "restricted." My brain is more grounded and clear for my work, and I have so much energy I've started going on long walks and taking spin classes in addition to my workouts at 202strong. When I fall asleep at night, I REALLY sleep and don't wake up until the morning. And then I can get up and start my day without having to roll over to try to get another hour in.

7. I've discovered how to make really great dinners and found some wonderful sources for meat and chicken that is not factory farmed. THAT I never want to eat again. Plus grass-fed beef has CLA in it, which is a natural fat burner. No wonder my grandparents, who wouldn't consider processed food an actual "foodstuff" and hand picked their meat from the local butcher, ate whatever they wanted and were blessed with good health till the day they died, which, for my grandmother, was age 97 and with a clear mind.

So one more week. I'm really curious to see if I'm going to cave immediately on Saturday, or if I'll be able to live this way a little longer. Five more days to find out. If any of you have done this and have advice for transitioning out, please chime in!

I found I love garlic spinach now more than creamed. I sauté it in olive oil with lots of garlic and have it with my eggs in the morning and with several meals at night.

I've discovered multicolored baby yams by the bag. I grated these in the food processor with an apple and an onion and will sauté them till they're soft and delicious.

This will be garlic shrimp and chorizo. The sausage is cooked, so it will heat through while the shrimp sautés in olive oil and garlic. I added cilantro, too.

While nothing I make is complicated in the least, I love my food processor for chopping and making mayo. I'm not the most orderly cook, but the outcome is usually worth the mess. No meal takes more than a few minutes to prep.

This is a luxury, but I use what I save on restaurants to have grassfed protein delivered to my door from a farm, US Wellness Meats

Friday, April 17, 2015

Halfway through the Whole30 and the novelty is starting to wear off

So, it's the end of Week 2, the weather is warming up and it's prime happy hour/sit-outside-and-have-a-drink weather. And I'm stuck doing the Whole30.

Granted it's just another two weeks.  If you need a recap, I started a food plan for 30 days that eliminates foods that are irritants for many people--dairy, legumes, sugar, grains and just to make it that much worse, alcohol. I wanted to reset my system for spring and see if this would have any impact at all on anything. But, caffeine is allowed on the plan. I only do half-caf anyway, but that would have been the deal breaker for me.

At the halfway mark, my food cravings are mostly gone and so are those highs that come with anticipating a dinner out, cocktails with friends (ok, that one still kind of makes my jaws tingle), a big bowl of chips accompanied by salsa, and cheese. And chocolate. The lows that accompany those highs are also gone--feeling "sickish" after I eat popcorn, chips or peanuts; headaches after too much red wine, etc., etc. But I'm getting kind of bored.

In the beginning I experienced real hunger and headaches and in panic mode, stocked up on everything I liked that was Whole30 compliant. Now I'm kind of over it. The website says that you do reach a point where you're just bored by it because you kind of know what you're going to eat: salad, veggies, a protein and maybe some fruit. Yay!

The good thing is that I like to cook and experiment so I am trying to mix it up. My new favorite thing is a grassfed burger (I buy them frozen in a bag), wrapped in lettuce with grilled red onion and shiitake mushrooms, a glob of avocado and my compliant mix of ketchup and mayo. Today I added baked sweet potato "fries" with cajun spice. This is my Whole30 version of my favorite Five Guys Little Cheeseburger "all the way". At this point I know it's useless to want the cheese, so I don't even think about it. But usually I would have skipped the sweet potato as "too fattening." I'm learning that it's not.

This already presents big changes. Social events based around food don't seem as exciting as they once did. I'd rather do other things, like "normal" people who aren't obsessed foodies. Yesterday I went out to lunch and ordered a cobb salad, no cheese, no dressing, with added tenderloin and a bottle of oil and vinegar on the side. The outing gave me an excuse to catch up with an old friend, but I could have just as easily made the salad at home. He had even less interest in food than I did (is this how thin people act naturally?) and half-heartedly picked at some calamari. Usually I'd want to dive into that, but I just didn't care.

This apathy is all new to me and it's kind of liberating. It's like finally quitting smoking and suddenly feeling free. I used to love outings because of the food. Now I just love the outings. But losing that familiar food rush is a little like falling out of love.

But, I am discovering recipes to make at home that sound amazing: a compliant pad thai with a mock peanut sauce using sunflower seed butter as the base.  It appeals to me much more than Five Guys, my longstanding guilty pleasure. And who'd have thought I'd ever want to make pad thai rather than just order takeout?

Maybe this will all wear off after another two weeks and I'll be eating out again all the time, and not making "healthy choices." But I really don't think so. It's just calmer and easier this way. I'm in control and that may spread to other areas of my life (they do say the Whole30 can be life-changing). And when you do something as important as fueling your body based on what you crave, it's bound to catch up with you one day. It did with me when my fiery metabolism finally started running out of gas. Plus, a friend told me my face looks "different" and I noticed it too, like I've had "something done"--much clearer and more vibrant. I don't need any help falling asleep and wake up energetic, not like a vampire who can't take the light of day. And I'm much more focused at the gym.

So far, food-wise, and with my family and friends supporting me, I have to say it's pretty much been a breeze. But that support is crucial. I am the cook in my household; my family eats what I make with no additions or substitutions. And, so far, nobody has dared to drink in front of me….

Right now I am thinking I may make this the foundation of how I eat, even after the next two weeks are over. Yes, I'll consume "noncompliant" foods and introduce them all back in, but I'd like to make them the exception rather than the rule. But let's see if I can hold on. Day 15 down, 15 to go!

Even my cat can't bear to hear the words "compliant" or "Whole30" ever again.

It takes a village to make a burger.
Grassfed patties from Mom's Organic Market, sugar-free ketchup and homemade mayo

This meal is a go-to, Whole30 or not. Garlic shrimp, broccoli and guacamole.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What do I have to do to get an olive around here?? One week down on the Whole30 and I'm craving salt.

Today marks the one-week anniversary of my Whole30 spring-cleaning plan and I'm still going strong. I started the program last Friday and never dreamed I'd have kicked my wine habit in a week. (This coming from someone whose Wodify profile picture is a margarita.) The raging headache over my left eye is gone, the sugar cravings are done and my sinuses are clearer than they've been in ages. But on Tuesday, I needed salt.

I've never been much of a sugar junkie; I specialize in fat and salt--gooey, ripe brie and cheesy nachos. So I think because I wasn't overloading on cereal, pasta or cookies before the plan, my sugar withdrawal (er, wine withdrawal) lasted only about 5 or 6 days. But then I woke up craving salt. I looked to my stash of jalapeño- and anchovy-stuffed olives and gherkins I keep for such emergencies. Foiled again.

Every single olive  in my fridge had something in it I couldn't have on the Whole30, namely some sort of sulfite or glutamate. At least the Maille company had the cojones to announce it. Their label reads in all caps "WARNING: ALLERGEN IN PRODUCT." Maybe the French are more picky about these details.

So, then, of course, because I had to have them, I drove to the grocery store and started reading every label in the olive section. I wasn't sure any were compliant, so in desperation, I ended up with a can of green beans. Eureka. Canned green beans never tasted so delicious.

Meanwhile, I sent my husband out to continue the search and he scored. Big time. Jalapeño olives with  just salt. More subtle tasting than my old brand, and every bit as good.

This was also like the week before Christmas. Packages were delivered almost daily, treasure troves of foods that I no longer had the energy to scour the aisles for--pastured sugar-free bacon and grass-fed compliant teriyaki steak. A box from Tessamae's came from the same day with that wonder product, sugar-free ketchup.

This may sound like a lot of trouble to stay "compliant." And it is. But I'm fueled by dreams, nightmares actually, in which I've consumed something non-compliant and was faced with starting over. I actually dreamed I mindlessly picked up a glass of red wine and gulped big sips. I woke up horrified that it really happened. In another one, I took a big bite of store-bought chicken salad without paying attention. Those dreams are warnings, I'm sure of it...

So now everyone in my house is reading labels out loud and reacting in wonderment to what they find. "Did you know the second ingredient in sriracha sauce is sugar?" "There is corn starch and sulfite in our green chile!! " and the clincher, "The horseradish has soybean oil, sodium metabisulfite, and high fructose corn syrup!!" It's become like "It's Academic" at mealtime.

But so far I'm feeling good. I actually had so much energy this morning that I thought maybe my thyroid prescription was too much. My daughter is following it with me (during the week) and we are getting creative with our meals. A friend commented that I sounded so much better and less congested. And I sleep like the dead. One week down, three more to go. I've heard this can really get boring and bad around the 12-day mark. If you've tried this and have any suggestions, please pass them on!

While this company makes my favorite cornichons, I have to pass during the Whole30. At least they let me know.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Whole30 Day 4--post holiday weekend

When you find yourself eating leftover "compliant" guacamole out of the container with a fork (and using words like "compliant") you know it is another day of survival on the Whole30 program, which I started last Friday (right at the start of a big holiday weekend. Let's just make it as hard as we can).  I'd waited too long to make lunch today, and at 2 pm, I grabbed the nearest, ready-made and edible thing to have as an "appetizer," while my grass-fed burgers cooked.

It's not like there isn't plenty to eat on the plan. There's more than enough food, quantity-wise. It's that the food I'm eating is all "real,"which can be a little trying at times, like the constant dull headache, a kind of dizzy, foggy feeling and a hunt for ready-made "compliant" foods. A couple of crackers and a low-fat string cheese aren't making the "real" cut on this 30-day regime, which is geared to thwart systemic inflammation and reveal any food sensitivities and provide a "reset" for your body.

I've been warned about all of these symptoms and I didn't expect that a lifetime of eating a certain way would change overnight without consequences. But I did change what I eat overnight, and it is mostly a very positive experience. Just one that I'm hyper aware of.

I have to make simple convenience foods from scratch. I couldn't find a store-bought mayonnaise that I could have on the plan--they all  have soybean or canola oil, and/or sugar. So I had to make one. I followed the recipe provided on the Whole30 site and had to get lemon juice. I wanted to buy a big bottle so I wouldn't have to slice and squeeze lemons every time. But no I couldn't, because they had sulfites (bad). So I bought fresh lemons and ended up with the best mayonnaise I've ever eaten. Who knew? The same with hot sauce I needed for a recipe (jazzed-up hard-boiled eggs). It took a scavenger hunt through hot sauce labels in my fridge until we finally went out and bought one without any offending sugar or oils.

Almost the whole Tessamae salad dressing line is "compliant" as are 11 types of Larabars.  I never cared about Larabars at all until I discovered that some are COMPLIANT. Now they are amazing.

You're not supposed to snack, so I have a half-inch bite of one with a meal just so I don't cave and buy a box of chocolate chip cookies. I'm slowly learning how to eat mindfully.

Today, while out buying spinach and lettuce, I discovered that I can breathe deeply through my nose. It was a revelation, almost shocking. Some people on the plan have found that it helped their asthma, because those "trigger" foods were eliminated.  I also find that I go to bed earlier and sleep more soundly, which is a real positive for someone who regularly gets a second wind at let's say, 11:30 pm. I've had adrenal issues, and getting enough sleep is a game-changer. So something is working here.

So, while it's not easy, so far, so good. I've been able to eat at home, but that's not going to last forever. As for Easter and Passover (yes! of course we do both), I skipped the matzoh, ate the boiled eggs and took a pass on the charoset. Our Easter dinner was barramundi fish with a lemon sauce made from, yep, my homemade mayo. But restaurants and events are full of temptations and hidden non-compliant ingredients just calling my name.  If any of you have done this and have any comments, support or ideas to offer, please feel free to chime in. Four down, 26 more days to go!

My homemade mayonnaise is the best I've ever had. Ever. It's also a good base for sauces and salad dressings.

Fresh lemons are key and add amazing flavor. I use them in everything from the mayo, to fish, to sauces and to liven up fresh veggies. They also go sliced into my sparkling water.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Whole30 Starts Now

Whole30? Whaaaa?? I wanted some sort of clean eating plan. The kind where you eat actual, real unprocessed living or once-living things that you cook yourself. As a Crossfitter at DC's 202strong, I've heard all about the now-famous paleo diet and have followed it off and on for a couple of years. But let's face it. As with all good eating plans, and the best-laid intentions, life has an insidious way of sneaking in and sabotaging the whole unprocessed, no sugar, no carbs, happy, healthy lifestyle. It did for me, big time. First off, wine. Red wine. And lots of it. Of course I blame the holidays, and stress and, dangit! Why does that red wine always find itself in a glass in my hand!? Oh, and the warm, soft, delicious bread at Le Diplomate, Lebanese Taverna, or  [put anything here]. How can I give that up? You only live once. Right. And that's exactly why I'm stopping the madness.

After realizing I'd eaten an entire box of Trader Joe's deliciously crispy pita crackers followed up by their equally tantalizing Pane Guttiau (like matzoh on crack), countless "little tastes" of cheese, chocolate, margaritas, chips, breakfast burritos, and ginormous burgers with breaded onion rings, I thought it might be time to take a good, hard look at what I'm cramming into my body and why the heck my knees started aching, my hip hurt so badly it affected my walking, and my once-flat stomach looked like I'd swallowed a pony keg. I could blame the aches on working out, but I'd been traveling when they became acute. I needed a plan.

Now I love plans: the reading material, the mental prep, the buying of good healthy food, the whole "this is going to change my life" mentality. LOVE THEM. Only thing is the novelty usually wears off by day three and I'm back at happy hour having a "cheat meal" of two margaritas, a couple of baskets of chips, guacamole (healthy choice) and salsa. The brightly colored fresh veggies turn to a soggy green mess in my fridge and the plan ends.

But now I'm ready to get serious. Today is Day One of the 30. The Whole30 is a plan to help "reset" your body by knocking out foods that can be irritants leading to food allergies and inflammation. (And yes, vegetarians can do it, too. For the complete plan, click here.) So one down, 29 to go. I will check each day off. The people at Whole30 provide endless information, printable lists and support--all free. For a small fee, they will send you an email every day to keep you on track. This seems like the real deal. I'm all in. Let's see how I do. Help keep me accountable so by the end of 30 days, I can tell you all about how it went and what I accomplished. And, we're off!