Sunday, December 8, 2013

Creating Kombucha, or My Mother the SCOBY

I have your mother in the car.

This is a pretty ominous text message, and it took me a minute to register the threat.  Luckily I had no bandits to battle or ransoms to pay.  My friend Emily was driving home from her parents’ house in New Hampshire, where her dad brews kombucha tea.  She was bringing me a mother kombucha, so that I could try brewing my own.

Pictured here: all the ingredients you need.

Kombucha is a special type of fermented tea that’s grown from a “mother” culture called a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (yummy!), or SCOBY.  I hate acronyms (they always look like yelling) so I’m going to just keep calling it the mother.  When the mother is allowed to feed on tea and sugar for an extended period of time, it evolves into kombucha, a special type of tea that does something. 

But what does it do?  That question has no easy answer.  You can search and search the Internet, but information about kombucha is conflicting, and there is very little in the way of citations.  Kristen at Food Renegade is a staunch promoter of kombucha, but right off the bat she refers to its “rich anecdotal history” (emphasis mine).  Kristen also claims that the reason kombucha isn't being held up for scientific scrutiny is because it’s too easy to brew at home, and therefore not profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.

That’s certainly a compelling argument, and I do love to side with renegades, but Kristen’s listed sources are somewhat less than reputable. One of them is a weird, rambling essay written in 1993, and another is a website written entirely in Comic Sans.  A third appears to have been run one too many times through Google Translator.  Its comprehensive, but a little bit goofy.

The opposing side is no more scientific in its arguments.  The Mayo Clinic seems content to rest on its laurels for this debate, issuing a terse warning to avoid the brew altogether.  For its part, the American Cancer Society appears equally unconvinced, albeit with a bit more of an explanation.  

Meanwhile, Synergy, one of the most recognizable names in kombucha commerce, makes no claims whatsoever on its website, scientific or otherwise, choosing instead to let the product speak for itself.

Although this photo of the CEO suggests benefits include white teeth and perpetual radiance.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Atlantic Interviews Dr. Robynne Chutkan

The wise people at The Atlantic have interviewed Dr. Robynne Chutkan about her new book with the (somewhat awkward) title Gutbliss: A 10-Day Plan to Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage. [Note to Dr. Chutkan: my own book title has the even awkwarder title of "   " so no hard feelings.  Also, bold choice with the Oxford comma; I like.]

As you might guess from the title, Dr. Chutkan's concern lies with the gut, and the way that what we put into it (and what comes out of it) affects our health and appearance on many levels.  Chutkan invokes the words of Hippocrates ("All disease begins in the gut") and outlines the way that applies to overall wellness.  The entire interview is worth reading, and it's certainly piqued my interest in the book as well.  Link is below.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Passport to Paris

I got a free passport, and I can’t remember how.  It seems like a strange thing to forget, but to be honest I have over 15,000 unread emails in my inbox, and it isn’t because I’m popular.  I click the “subscribe” button on every website, and I’m hooked up with daily content from everywhere.  I get breaking news, job postings, shoe sales, vodka launches.  I forget what I’ve signed up for and who’s sold my address, so I don’t know how I got a Classtivity passport.

This is Classtivity, as I understand it: you pay $49 and you get to take ten different fitness classes at various locations.  SICK DEAL.  This is Classtivity, as I lived it: I paid nothing and got to take one class, for no reason.  EVEN SICKER.  (Also I was supposed to get a free T-shirt that never materialized, but I can only take so much umbrage at the lack of free T-shirts in my life, seriously.  I’m going to go ahead and come down on the side of Classtivity, T-shirt or no.)

So I signed up for an Advanced Bodyweight Workout class with Melissa Paris Fitness.  I’ll be honest; this choice had much more to do with my schedule and the proximity to my office than my personal fitness goals.  While “advanced” bodyweight seemed like perhaps a bit of a stretch for me (my body weight is more like “a little too moderate”) I liked the idea of trying something new.  So I booked it and I stamped my passport (virtually) and I didn’t get a T-shirt, which I am totally cool with, and then I headed off to class.

I entered the class with one major misconception: I believed that I was in decent shape.  This notion was challenged immediately upon meeting Melissa Paris herself, a diminutive blonde with a rock-solid physique, wide-eyed and earnestly friendly but so fit that she was actually intimidating.  Melissa was clearly in charge.  Of the class, of the room, of the world.  I understood right away that I would do whatever she told me to do, be it squats or lunges or leaping from the sixteenth-story window.  Even smiling, she had that kind of command.

From her Facebook.  Admit it. She's the boss of you.

She turned on the music, a cacophonic mix of pop and hip hop tracks that overlapped each other like waves at high tide.  The resulting sound was chaotic and frenetic, with energy levels so high that they banged on the ceiling.  After some perfunctory warm-up exercises, Melissa sent us off in a circle of intense repetitions, cycling through leg lifts and pushups and jumping jacks.  We’d burn through sixty seconds of one movement before rotating to the next, and it was during this rotation that my overestimation of my own fitness level was made clear.  I’ve taken boot camp classes before, at times in my life when my own gym attendance was significantly lower than it is today.  Always these classes have been a challenge, and always I’ve been joined in my struggle by other attendees, who’ve groaned and grunted alongside me in a kind of twisted camaraderie.

Not so with Advanced Bodyweight.  There were only about eight of us, and two were rather chiseled men.  The other women were thin and strong and swanlike, gorgeous and poised as they rotated through the series.  I felt like a blobfish in a sea of starfish, watching my reflection in the mirrored wall as I bumbled through each new trick.   I leapt and lunged and squatted, looking for all the world like Hannah Horvath trying to convince her boyfriend she’s immune to endorphins.

 Me doing lunges.

You never want to be Hannah Horvath in an exercise class.  The person you want to be is Melissa Paris, whose eye makeup doesn’t run and whose sneakers don’t scuff, who remembers your name as she hands you a jump rope and does not mock you when she sees you try, and fail, to use it.  I struggled through each cycle, sweating fervently in my place in the rotation between two beautiful girls.  The class was an hour long, and at the 54:59 mark Melissa brought us in and led us through our cool down, spreading our towels out across our backs one by one, pressing our muscles to deepen each person’s stretch.  Just to solidify my position as the class dingus, I had taken the instruction to “bring a towel” extremely literally—instead of carrying with me a small white exercise towel, like the rest of the class/universe, I’d hauled in a giant purple bath towel.  Melissa was cool about this and did not point and laugh at me at all.  And just to clear up any sort of confusion about this, she had absolutely nothing to do with the presence or absence of free T-shirts.

My intention, after class, was to go home and write about the experience while it was still fresh in my mind.  But this plan was thwarted by the sense of flat-out exhaustion that hung across my shoulders and weighted my every move.  I went to bed early and slept the sleep of the dead, and in the morning when I woke I had a personal email from Melissa Paris, asking me how I liked the class and encouraging me to give her feedback.  It was like getting a text from Madonna asking if I had enjoyed the show.

The show was a banger, the workout was a killer, and the blobfish, though sore, rolled through an unexpectedly stressful workday with a clear head and quite a bit of energy.  My muscles eased back into place over the course of the day, so what had begun as a limp evolved into an outright hobble as they tightened and ached.  It felt fantastic, and ultimately, when I got home and collapsed onto my sofa, it was with a giant grin and a sense of satisfaction.  My halflistic journey had kicked off.

Important Edit 11/29/13:

Friends, I’ve been remiss in not reporting about a wild, left-field plot twist that dropped into my mailbox over a week ago.  I received a package at work, and I was delighted to open it and find that at long last, my free T-shirt had finally arrived in the mail!  Electric blue and artfully branded, this T-shirt simply screamed success.  I knew immediately that going forward, I would wear it every single day.

In this picture I am naked from the waist up.

So there it is, my contract with Classtivity completed by all parties (though may I remind everyone that I did literally nothing to earn any of this), the muscles firmed, the T-shirt received, the universe in balance once again.  This blogging stuff is some kinda gig.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Kickoff

This is not a manifesto.  It's a redirection.  I've been blogging for ten years now, but lately my output has begun to lag.  Months go by between new posts, and I find it harder and harder to infuse meaning into recounting my daily interactions.  By now I'm bored of writing about myself, and I'm anxious to take on something new.

So this is something new.  It's an exploration into the world of wellness, from every angle that I can access it.  I want to be well (most people do) but there are limits to my abilities and my willpower.  I used to smoke and eat cheese; now I run and eat salads.  I've made changes and I hope to make more, but I don't think I can give up gluten or red meat or gourmet cupcakes.  I want to be well but I'm not ready to be perfect.

Mine is not a holistic approach to wellness.  It's halflistic.  It's a yoga class class and a chocolate brownie; it's a concerted effort with a margin for error.  This blog is a public exploration of where I'm going and how I'm getting there.  I'll be taking the long way and documenting my progress, and I'll record it all right here.