Sunday, December 30, 2012

Spare-A-Goose

My hubs had a Mexican trainer a few years back who wrote out a diet plan for him - including a helping of 'sparagus' every day. Asparagus. But since he pronounced it 'sparagoos' in the first place, he was also a creative speller.

Anyway, the yummy-as-long-as-it's-not-overcooked sprigs your mother always tried to get you to finish might also be a secret weapon when it comes to hangover prevention. And with New Year's Eve celebrations tomorrow night, maybe it's time to consider stocking up on the champers ... and the sparagoos.

Asparagus contains certain minerals and amino acids which apparently help with the metabolization of alcohol. At least these are the results found by a team of researchers at Korea's Institute of Medical Science. Asparagus shoots and leaves might also help protect the liver from damage due to toxins - like excessive alcohol consumption. For more info, you can read the full Medical News Today  article.

I was looking for asparagus martini recipes on the web - just to make things easy. Not surprisingly ... haven't found any! So maybe we should just steam these funny veggies up while we're getting ready for New Year's Eve. You know ... do the hair. Trim the veggies. Shave the face. Place in steamer basket. Put on tie/jewlelry. Steam for a maximum of three minutes - less if the stalks are skinny. Otherwise sparagoos gets soggy and inedible!

Then remove from steamer, add a bit of butter and/or olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, plus a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Then gently tumble to coat each sprig. It's super fast, very yummy and SO good for you, whether you're preparing to party or not.

Because asparagus is also rich in folate, it's particularly good for the brain, helping older adults perform better on cognitive tests. Sparagoos also contains glutathione which breaks down carcinogens and other free radicals, helping to fight a significant number of cancers. In fact - other than helping with the hangover - there are five hidden health benefits to asparagus, reported by EatingWell.com. Plus an explanation as to why this veggie can make your pee-pee smell, well ... a bit funky.

One way or another, I'm off to Whole Foods to fetch ... among other things ... some sparagoos.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hot Buttered Fun

Like a lot of people right now, we're digging out from under that massive winter storm. It's a great day to stay put if you can.

But what of wine and spirits? What if your cupboard is getting bare and/or company's coming over and/or you're just getting tired of your favorite tipple? If you've got some yummy rum tucked away somewhere, it's the perfect time for a Hot Buttered Rum drink. I always thought making something like this required the culinary expertise of at least a grandmother. But it's actually quite simple and fast.

Here's Hilah Johnson - actress, writer and lovable YouTube cook. Dressed up as a pirate wench, she's got a recipe for Hot Buttered Rum that calls for only a handful of ingredients. Rum. Check. Butter. Probably check. Sugar. Check. Cinnamon stick. 2 whole cloves. And water. That's it.

With a double-shot of rum it'll melt the icicles off anything. And if you've got house guests who are overstaying their welcome, fix them one of these after dinner. They'll be snoring like babies in no time and you can roll them down the hall to the extra room and be done with them for the night.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Carol

One of my favorite parts about Christmas are the carols. I don't even put up a tree - but the carols start three weeks early and don't stop until my husband attacks all the radios at midnight on the 26th. (Not everyone digs carols as much as I do!)

I often think I like holiday music so much because it's the one thing my mother couldn't ruin with her drinking at Christmas.  Bing Crosby is always Bing Crosby, right? Doesn't matter who's yelling, fighting or sleeping off a bender.

Speaking of my mom, I haven't told her about this blog yet. I may have mentioned my cleanses in passing, but I'm reluctant to bring the plan up because I'm sure she'll see the ghosts of her own Christmases past in my words.

Not that she drinks a lot anymore. Still, it's been years since I've been home for Christmas. (Wahhh!) Maybe because the last time I went, we both got very drunk and said some things that shouldn't have been said and did some things that shouldn't have been done and I ended up projectile vomiting in the downstairs bathroom half the night. Then in the morning, as usual, she seemed to have no memory of anything. Sigh. It wasn't the first time Christmas turned into a drunk nightmare ... but it was the last.

That's not to say my relationship with my mom isn't better. It's great! I had a lovely chat with her and my brother yesterday and got all my prezzies shipped off in time to get under the tree. It's a sort of compromised Christmas but it works for us right now. And I am so grateful - so unbelievably grateful - that my mother senses something about the situation and never guilts me out about not making the trip. Never. She's unbelievably forgiving. She has to be, I guess ... We've both learned a lot about forgiveness over the years.

Saving Christmas is actually one of the reasons I started blogging publicly about my plan. Because I often wondered how many parents out there - especially single ones, like my mom - were out of control of their drinking and couldn't help but let the extra pressures (and pleasures!) of Christmas turn into a drunken ordeal for their kids. I thought if I could help just one person understand what was happening to them and how to turn it around ... well, that would be a Christmas miracle for me ... ;)

Incidentally, between all the shopping and the schlepping and the socializing, the hubs and I had a chance to watch Jimmy Carrey in "A Christmas Carol" last night. Or at least the ghosts of Christmas past and present. We'll save the future for another night. But wow, what a flick. It is a trippy, ecstatic, truly spectacular Christmas experience - all in animation that will blow your mind. And if you have to be sober this Christmas ... that might just be what you need.

I personally think the trailer doesn't do it justice - it comes off as so dark and narrow. The actual movie is much bigger and brighter. And what's Scrooge without the happy ending? But here it is anyway!

Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good (insert Christmas wish here)!






Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Virgini-Tea

So it's my last cleanse day before the holidays. After today, I'll be looking at about two weeks of non-stop drinking.

Good God, I don't literally mean non-stop drinking. I just mean I won't be taking 'off-days' until after New Year's.

So ... um ... yay!!

It was the English poet, William Cowper, who said "Variety is the (very) spice of life - giving it all its flavor" over two hundred years ago. But the words still ring true for me. Because variety is at the very heart of this plan. I find it helps make it easier to stick to than most moderation programs which have less freedom and variety.

Speaking of the spice of life ... I'm having some spicy homemade chai tea this morning. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is - and it's incredibly good for you. An excellent substitute for double-caramel-mocha-lattes with whipped cream ... on occasion anyway.

Spices have been used for thousands of years to flavor and preserve food. But the upside to all of that is  that spices contain natural phytochemicals which help boost our immune system, fight inflammation and even help prevent some cancers.

Spice-rich diets in countries like India have long been purported to help keep incidents of cancer and heart disease low among that population. Not surprisingly, when Indians begin eating a western diet, these diseases tend to increase to levels more in keeping with westerners. So it makes sense to try to include more spices in our diets - even in the morning.

The spices I use to jazz up my tea are pretty simple. I start with a base of herbal teas available at most health food stores. Since I could never decide if I wanted Organic Ginger Tea for its anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits or Milk Thistle Tea for its benefits to the liver (the silymarin in milk thistle can actually reverse liver damage from heavy metals, radiation - even alcoholism), I decided to mix them together - and the flavors really complement each other. I drink this tea every morning.

I don't add spices every day, but when I do this is how I jazz it up. While the tea bags are steeping in a cup of hot water, I fill a stainless steel tea strainer with:

1 cinnamon stick
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 black peppercorns
4 cracked cardamom pods

I toss all the spices into the strainer and let them sit in the hot water along with the tea bags for several minutes. After that, I sometimes add a squeeze of lemon juice - which also has great anti-inflammatory and potentially anti-cancer properties. You can sweeten the tea with agave or honey, but I usually have mine straight up.

I adapted this recipe from the Dancer's Guide To Healthy Eating available from The Shoe Room at Canada's National Ballet School where I have my classes every week. The authors recommended a boiled-tea recipe using the above spices to help treat the inflamed muscles of professional dancers. I simplified the recipe by simply steeping the spices and adding the other tisanes (herbal teas). This is also a caffeine-free tea which makes it great at night, as well. So experiment with different spices and proportions and see what works for you.

It might be an acquired taste for some, but when it comes to your health, it's worth it. By the way, wasn't your first double-double an acquired taste?

Not to mention your first drink. Though that one didn't take all that long to acquire - not for me, anyway. That's the problem.

Or the opportunity, as the case may be. ;)

Here's EatingWell.com's guide to 8 of the healthiest spices. And more about the health benefits of spices from The Huffington Post.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In The Family

I was lucky enough to inherit a big, crazy clan on the hubby's side. Getting together with them doesn't happen nearly as often as we'd like but hopefully we can raise some cheer over the holidays. God knows there's usually quite a bit of 'cheer' when we get together.

Though I will vouch for the fact these people are just as much fun (and just as accepting) when I'm not drinking, because I've also been thrown at them several times when I've been cleansing. Though I gotta say group dancing at weddings makes a lot more sense when you're drunk than when you're sober. Just FYI.

To mark the holidays, my aunt has emailed everyone her famous Vodka Christmas Cake recipe. I thought I'd share cuz I'm sure I'll be trying this one.  The vodka part anyway.

Subject: Christmas recipe exchange

Hello all,   This is such a busy time of year and I thought I would share with you one of my favorite recipes.   I've had requests for my Vodka Christmas Cake recipe so here goes.  Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every year.   Love to all and enjoy the cake.

1 cup sugar
half pound butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 ... bottle of Vodka
2 cups dried fruit
4 cups self rising flour

Sample a cup of Vodka to check for quality.  Take a large bowl, check the Vodka again to be sure it is of the highest quality, then repeat again.   Turn on the electric mixer.  Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and beat again.  At this point it is best to make sure the Vodka is still O.K.   Try another cup just in case.   Turn  off the mixerer thingy.  Break 3 eegs and add to the bowl and chuck in a cup of dried fruit.  Pick the fruit up off the floor, wash it and put it in the bowl a piece at a time trying to keep count.   Mix on the turner.  If the fried druit getas stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a drewsscriver.  Sample the Vodka to test for tonsisticity .  Next sift 2 cups of salt or something.  Check the Vodka again.  Now shit or shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table.  Add a spoon of sugar or somefink.   What every you can find.  Greash the oven,  turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.  Don't forget to beat off the turner and finally throw the  bowl through the frekin window.   Finish the Vodka and wipe the counter with the freaking cat. 

Have a Jolly Christmas!!!!   

Friday, December 14, 2012

Antici-pation ...

One of the great parts of the plan is that there are always times during the year where you can be 'normal.' Where you don't have to worry about cleanse days or work your schedule - or your fun - around them.

The Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa season is probably the longest party streak, stretching to New Year's (Though try not to take advantage. This really shouldn't be more than two weeks without cleanse days. So for me, party time doesn't begin until at least next week.)

But the great thing about the plan is that there's always something to look forward to at other times of the year, too. And the anticipation is really almost as fun as the actual celebrations. Because even though I've tried as hard as I can to knock the boredom out of the plan in the first place, when it comes to comfort and joy, there's always room for improvement.

Birthdays, Valentine's, holiday weekends, vacations. You're rarely staring at the same monotonous schedule all the time. And I would find that boring - which is something to beware of when it comes to drinking. According to Drinkaware, boredom is one of the reasons even young people start drinking alcohol.

But that's why "Independence Days" are such an important part of the plan. They give my life the right combination of freedom and structure. And I've found that to be vital when it comes to staying in control. It keeps me feeling balanced - physically and emotionally. (My heart truly goes out to people trying to be sober this time of year. Gaaad.)

Of course, if you're not into carols, malls and fancy clothes and if your barista telling you "Happy Holidays" every morning makes you cringe, remember ... there's always Festivus. And I think that includes a little drink now and again, too.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Death of a Cowboy

Saturday night was a tragic one for the Dallas Cowboys.

College friends and Cowboys teammates Josh Brent and Jerry Brown were out for a night of drinking when Brent made the decision to get behind the wheel of his Mercedes. Shortly after that, they were in a single-vehicle accident and the car flipped over. Brent was able to escape without injury, but Brown remained trapped inside the burning vehicle.

When witnesses came upon the scene, Brent seemed confused, wandering aimlessly. One witness, Stacee McWilliams, claims that when she heard Brown calling for help from inside the car, she had to "coerce" Brent into trying to free him.  McWilliams says she's come forward with the story because she wants the world to know "Josh Brent is not a hero."

Well ... Ms. McWilliams's statement is being challenged, too. Another witness claims she didn't hear McWilliams say anything to Brent about rescuing his friend. It turns out McWilliams had been drinking, too, celebrating her birthday. So both of them weren't thinking straight that night ...

Josh Brent is free on $500,000 bail but intoxication manslaughter have been laid. Manslaughter is always considered a less culpable crime than murder, but Brent is still facing up to twenty years in jail.

If there's anything even remotely positive about this story, it's that Jerry Brown's family are saints. His mother insisted Brent sit with them at her son's memorial. She says Josh and Jerry were like brothers and that we all do "stupid" things when we're young. Of course ... there's stupid and then there's, well, intoxication manslaughter.

But she's right. It was stupid to get into that car drunk. It's way too easy for one Saturday night of fun to turn into a living hell. So with the holiday season upon us and partying par for the course, remember that between 30-40% of all traffic fatalities still involve a drunk driver.  So leave the keys at home. Call a cab. Or bring some great walking shoes.

(More on the story here.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Not Working Girl

Honestly, sometimes the best thing for a cleanse day or night is to just pop in a favorite movie you haven't seen in years.

I watched "Working Girl" last week and I thought I was tuning into a humdrum-but-I-love-it-anyway embarrassing old flick. But I forgot how much fun it was (84% on Rotten Tomatoes - and that's from the stingy critics!).

Before you gag yourself with a spoon, this '88 milli-classic was directed by Mike "The Graduate" Nichols and was nominated for nine Oscars - everything from Best Actress to Best Director. Carly Simon won for Best Original Song with Let The River Run (The New Jerusalem). Hearing it again after all these years brought tears to my eyes. Especially with the beautiful, sweeping shots of Manhattan before 9/11 changed the skyline (and the world) forever. (Watch the music video below.)

Yes, there's plenty of drinking. But more on that later because it also boasts one of the most incredible comedy casts ever.

If you've already seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, imagine Melanie Griffith (before the collagen) as Tess, our struggling working class heroine. Sigourney Weaver as Katharine, the uptight yuppy boss. A young Alec Baldwin as the sleazoid boyfriend, sporting a mullet no less. And Harrison Ford as the note-perfect investor falling for Tess while actually nearly-engaged to Katharine.

Add to this not-too-shabby cast, an award-winning performance by Joan Cusack (worth it just to see her tri-colored eye shadow and 80s hair!) and early bit parts by Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Nora Dunn, Olympia Dukakis and even a blink-or-you'll-miss-her turn by was-that-really Ricki Lake?

For macho rom-com haters and various low-brows, you can always tune in for the many lengthy scenes Melanie does in garter belts and demi bras. There's even a nude vacuuming scene. She's in the background, but they're there ... I mean, she's there, traipsing around in stockings, stilettos and nothing else but a Hoover and somehow making it if not downright sexy, then freaking memorable at least.  Even Sigourney strips down to lacy lingerie a couple of times, not having been so exposed since that skimpy, sweaty tank in Alien (speaking of great movies). For fashionistas, holeee, the shoulder pads are absolute mayhem.

As for the alcohol content, lots of champagne abounds. But the "oops-I-drank-too-much-last-night" award goes to the scene where Tess is so nervous about a schmancy cocktail party she's attending that her BFF pops her a couple valium to "ya know, take the edge off." Freshly relaxed and looking fine in a designer dress she "borrowed" from Katharine, she meets Jack Traynor (Harrison) hoping to pitch him a great investment idea she has.

But Jack doesn't want to talk business. Instead, he plies her not with Chardonnay - none of that "frog water" he calls it (gasp!! Harrison, you blaspheme!), but with good old tequila. Tess is flying high in minutes and naturally passes out. Jack ends up having to carry her potato-sack-style up the stairs to his apartment, where he undresses her and puts her to bed. She wakes up the next morning without any memory of what happened the night before.

Hmmmm ... sound familiar? Half familiar, anyway?

And of course there's the corny but really well-done concept of downtrodden secretary impersonating a sleek 80s career woman after her mean-girl boss has to be out of the office for a few weeks.

I was trying to think why romantic comedies have such enduring appeal - at least with most women (even though this is a much finer comedy than usual chick-flick fare).  And I think I figured it out: We love romantic comedies because the girl (it's usually a girl) always manages to get the guy/job no matter how silly, stupid, helpless, lost, confused, marginalized, broke, ill-educated or abused she is. Even if that means walking out on the guy/job, the girl always wins in the end. No matter how slim the odds. I think essentially that's what we love about rom-coms. They make us believe ...

Sigh ... believing ... now that's a healthy addiction.

Here's the heartbreaking and hilarious video for Let The River Run. Prepare for a grin ... and maybe even a couple goosebumps.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Brain Pickings

Am battling a bit of a cold right now. Thought I kicked it but they're not making bugs like they used to. (It might take that old home remedy of a few drinks and a long sleep to finish this one off. Haven't tried it yet and it always seems to work. Plus it makes things more pleasant. ;)

In the meantime, if you haven't already discovered it, head on over to Brain Pickings. Maria Popova is the curator of this cache of 'interestineness'  about art, life, books, science, creativity and everything in between. It's not about drinking, per se. But there's more to life than booze, right?

Riiiiiiight.

Ms. Popova grew up behind the Iron Curtain and it seems to give her a unique perspective on disposable consumerism, even when it comes to information. Instead of using ultra-contemporary sources, she's just as likely to cull her curiosities from old library books in the public domain.

She now lives in NYC writing two blog posts and about 50 tweets a day so if you're not into children's books (her most current post), something new will be along any moment. She exists on donations and subscriptions so the giving spirit is welcome. Then cancel everything you have for the day - cuz you're not going anywhere for a while.

By the way, Ms. Popova is also an MIT fellow at only twenty-eight and if I had the brain capacity, that's all I'd do today. Instead I'm going to watch crappy movies and O.D. on O.J. And possibly pickle myself.

(If you want to learn more, she was in the Sunday Times last weekend.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Binge Jeans

Whether it was Gloria Vanderbilts back at Studio 54 in the 70s or a spankin' new pair of Sevens at Avenue (where Lindsay Lohan punched a fortune teller last weekend) don't we all have a favorite pair of party jeans? Turns out, the party gene goes way beyond our behinds ... right into our brains.

I suspected I had a party gene years ago. Though I had no idea modern science would prove me right by polling teenage boys.

As reported in the Ups and Downs post a few days ago, there's a real difference between the way certain people handle alcohol compared with others. And now the brainiacs at Kings College London have found the 'culprit gene' that's probably responsible for why some of us party our heads off when we start drinking and others just sip Kahlua with our grandmothers on Christmas Eve.

It's called the RASGRF-2 (couldn't scientists use a catchy-name department?) and was isolated after scanning the brains of 663 teenage boys. Subjects who had the R2D2 (sic) showed a heightened dopamine response in their noggins. Remember, if neurotransmitters had faces, dopamine would be a big smiley one :) because it's responsible for feelings of reward and well-being.

The boys were fourteen when the study was conducted and two years later - when the rascals had a chance to pilfer mom & dad's liquor cabinet - the ones who showed evidence of this gene were far more likely to be drinking alcohol and even binging.

For better or worse, it makes a lot of sense. As humans we tend to seek things out that make us happy (notwithstanding stupid relationships, crummy jobs and $1.99 all-you-can-eat E. coli buffets). If we've got the R2D2 gene, chances are we're going to have an increased positive response to alcohol ... which will cause us to drink more than sober sods with boring, I mean, normal brains. ;) Don't mind me. Just jealous.

The scientists are quick to point out this was a small study with only a certain control group and the theory needs more research. Totally agree! If you need middle-aged women with the party gene, I'm happy to help out in any way I can.

oh, btw ... drinks are free right?

Read the whole article here, compliments BBC News.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Off Switch

So I'm sitting there in a chain-type restaurant waiting for the hubs to show up after work so we can do some Christmas shopping.

I have several minutes to wait so I order a 9 oz glass of pinot grigio. I put my glasses on and, feeling very studious and celebratory at the same time, I start reading the book Drinking Diaries based on the popular women-and-drinking blog.

I read about one young girl's plight trying to get drunk on a "dry" university campus (they actually have those? Not where I grew up!). And I read about one woman who seemed to remember every glamourous drink she'd ever had and how much her life changed after her husband quit. How their friends abandoned them. How people seemed uncomfortable around him. Nobody likes to talk about drinking problems except people in A.A. ... and me, I guess.

Anyway, I sat there, sipping my vino, feeling as if I was half accomplishing something because I was reading blog-related material ... instead of say, news about Kate Middleton's pregnancy. (btw here's a cool look at the many UK newspapers that trumpeted the royal news on their front pages. It's like Kate wallpaper!)

The hubs showed up a few minutes later. Neither of us were hungry. Besides, the fishy scent in this unnamed restaurant didn't exactly whet the appetite. So I finished my big glass of wine in a relative hurry and off we went to do some shopping.

Did not score.

So we were home earlier than expected and still weren't hungry. I poured another generous glass of wine. Without any food in my tummy and on two big glasses of wine, I started getting a little tipsy. The hubs commented on it at one point, calling me "all muddled because I was drunk."

There's nothing a drunk hates more than someone who calls them on their drunkenness. This is just the sort of thing that would send me into a drunken rage ten or fifteen years ago. It wouldn't end until all the wine was gone and the plaster around the bedroom door needed filling for all the angry slamming. Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I was flattered by the comment ... but I wasn't enraged either.

Instead, I kind of shrugged to myself. Yeah, he was right. I was kind of drunk. So, after dinner, instead of having another glass, I poured myself some water with a big wedge of lemon. But the hubs was surprised, looking at my glass."Aren't you going to have another drink?"

"I've had enough," I told him, feeling quite sure of that. Sweet of you to ask, though. That's another big change from the old days. 

So I sipped my water and was totally fine. Not angry, not bitter, not feeling ripped off. In fact, more wine would've probably put me over the edge and I wouldn't have been able to enjoy myself at all. We settled in for some chatting and TV and then afterwards, the hubs actually poured me a glass of red wine and set it in the living room for me. But you know what? I barely touched a drop of that, either. I had a relaxing night and woke up feeling clear-headed and healthy this morning.

I actually do have an 'off-switch' now. I don't have to drink and drink and drink until I drop. And if I'm in the mood to listen, I can just reach out and click ... switch that switch right off. Caroline Knapp talked about that "internal alarm" in her groundbreaking memoir Drinking: A Love Story.

I remember ten years ago, when I read the book for the first time, knowing exactly what she was talking about. How she was envious of people who could just 'stop' before they went too far. I was in Knapp's position before I started cleansing, too. I couldn't really stop ... But now, I'm grateful to know I  finally have an 'off-switch.' Something that was sorely missing from the walls of my psyche most of my life.

I don't always use the off-switch of course ... :) But the point is, I can. And on a Monday night, that's usually a good idea.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hangovers 101

Found a great YouTube channel called asapSCIENCE with quirky, cool animations for everything from the power of naps to why sea levels are rising. The ones that were most interesting to Ms. Functional on a Monday morning were What Causes A Hangover? and A Scientific Hangover Cure which has almost 700,000 hits. Meaning ... there should be 3/4 of a million fewer hangovers in the world.

No hangover this morning, btw! It's been a while since I've wanted to torture my brain that badly. But just in case you had a little too much fun on the weekend, the folks at asapSCIENCE might be able to help out. Besides, it's just the sort of thing we need as the party season begins ...

Happy December!

(And yes, aspirin is part of the plan ...)