Tight Spaces

March 30, 2012

I went to an incredible show last night called “For the Record: Baz Luhrmann,” a concert featuring tons of music from Baz Luhrmann’s films. Luhrmann is probably best known for Moulin Rouge, and he also directed the version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and a fun dance movie called Strictly Ballroom. Music is an integral part of all three films, and this show features tons of songs from those three films, with snippets of dialogue and scenes in between. Check out some clips:

My friend Natalie and I went because one of our friends from college, Darryl Semira, was in the cast. The concert tells the basic story of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and Darryl played Romeo in the first half, and the smarmy Duke in the second. It’s a small cast – 4 men and 4 women – and most of them (Darryl included) have been on Broadway and done TV and film. Everyone was amazing. Unbelievable sets of pipes on all of them.

What’s really fun about the show is that’s it’s rather immersive. The venue, Barre Vermont, is a restaurant and bar, and while there’s a tiny stage at one end of the room where the band plays, the singers are all over the place. They’re on that stage, a second stage in the middle of the audience, the aisle running down the length of the room, and on top of the bar. There were plenty of moments when I could have reached out and touched Darryl or his castmates. It’s very intimate.

Intimate is the polite way of saying it. It’s not a lie to say that we were packed in there like sardines. The audience sat around tables, and they were very close together. The aisle that the cast sang in can’t be more than two feet wide, and the singers took advantage of the proximity: they flirted and played with audience members, and one guy even took a sip of an audience member’s champagne. In addition to the performers, the restaurant staff was navigating the room, delivering food and drinks. On one point during the show, our waiter was leaning in from the aisle, over my lap, passing four cups of coffee to the table behind me. I didn’t mind the close quarters – it’s kinda fun, to be honest – and it was the second time I’ve been there, so I was familiar with the space. Here’s a picture of the venue from Yelp – imagine this room with 100 people in it:

I got up to use the restroom during intermission, and there were a couple times, getting to and from my seat, when I had to turn sideways in the narrow aisle to let other people pass. After the show, I told Natalie that I would have hated this venue a few years ago, and it’s true. When I was 400 pounds I would’ve been miserable. Turning sideways in the aisle wouldn’t have done a lick of good – others would’ve had to do that to let me pass. Last night I was able to fit between seat backs to get to my seat, but back then, everyone between me and my seat would’ve had to scooch their chairs or get up altogether. I would’ve felt terribly self-conscious, to the point where it would hinder my enjoyment of the show.

What an awesome feeling it was to be in an environment that, just a few short years ago, would’ve been dreadful and sweat-inducing! I’ll never get tired of the unexpected moments when I realize my weight loss has positively changed the way I experience seemingly random events, like concerts. It’s the little things, like last night’s concert, that remind me of the gravity of my accomplishments, and encourage me to stay on track.

KEEP IT UP, DAVID!

PS – “For the Record: Baz Luhrmann” is closing this weekend, but its sister show, “For the Record: The Coen Brothers,” is opening next week. Click here for show/ticket info.

PPS – My charity stair climb is tomorrow! Wish me luck!


I’m Feeling Ready.

March 29, 2012

Yesterday was wonderfully productive in a lot of ways. In regards to my health, I checked two big things off my to-do list: 1) a fantastic workout, and 2) a much-needed visit to the supermarket. Which do you wanna hear about first? I hope you said supermarket!

Check out all this produce that’s now in my refrigerator!

From left-to-right, top-to-bottom: One head of radicchio, 4 red bartlett pears, strawberries, 1 bag pre-washed and cubed butternut squash, 1 head garlic, 1 pineapple, radishes, mango, 3 red bell peppers, 1 container pre-washed broccoli florets, bananas, escarole, rainier apples, mushrooms, baby carrots, tomatoes, and 2 bags pre-trimmed green beans.

I could say that I don’t know what I’ll eat first, but that’d be a lie because all the broccoli is already gone, as is a banana.

There were no new-to-me produce items, like sumo tangerines, mini kiwis, or cara cara oranges that caught my eye this time around, but I did find a healthy, pre-made squid salad (!) in the seafood section that I’m excited to try. Something tells me that the idea of squid salad either excites you or grosses you out – there doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground when it comes to eating squid! I’m firmly on the “yes, please!” side of that fence.

Now, my workout! I had a great day at the gym. I started with the StairMaster, for the last time before my big 63-story charity stair climb on Saturday morning. I went for consistency – I set the machine at a good pace that would challenge but not kill me (70 steps per minute) and saw how long I could last. I lasted a pretty long time! All told, I spent 24 minutes on the StairMaster, burning 370 calories and climbing 100 stories – what a nice, round number!

Which means, of course, that I get to add another building to my Skyscraper Collection! There’s a 100-story building that I’ve had my eye on for a few months now, and I’m glad I can finally add it to my list, because it’s the tallest building in the world that I’ve been to the top of (in an elevator, not the stairs). It’s also a major landmark that you’ll probably recognize…

The John Hancock Center in Chicago! (It’s the tallest building in the photo.)

Of all the buildings in my Skyscraper Collection, this is the one I’m probably most familiar with. I already mentioned that I’ve been to the observation deck at the top (about 5 or 6 years ago – amazing views!), and I’ve also admired it from the street more times than I can count, because my brother, sister-in-law, and nephews used to live two blocks away. Quite literally in John Hancock’s shadow. It’s quite an impressive building – as it should be, given that the roof is over 1,100 feet off the ground – but the giant X-braces that criss-cross up the exterior, spanning dozens of floors, really add heft and make the building that much more imposing and dramatic.

There’s always something to learn, though – and here’s some John Hancock trivia that I just learned while researching this post:

  • Jerry Springer owns a condo on the 91st floor, and his neighbor used to be Chris Farley.
  • It was built on land that, prior to the 1870s, was part of Lake Michigan. After Chicago’s Great Fire in 1871, cleaning crews and builders began using Lake Michigan as a dump for all the rubble and debris the disaster created, eventually extending the edge of the city hundreds of feet into the lake.
  • John Hancock hosts an annual charity stair climb event, much like the one I’m doing in two days, at the end of every February, called “Hustle Up The Hancock.” This year’s fastest climber, a 24-year-old named Justin Stewart, made it to the top in 9 minutes, 44 seconds. HOLY CRAP, that’s fast!
  • The elevators that take people to the observation deck are the fastest in North America, making the 1,000 foot ascent in 40 seconds.

With this final preparatory StairMaster workout under my belt, I feel ready for Saturday’s stair climb up the 63-story Aon Center in downtown Los Angeles. And I won’t be resting before then – I may be done with my prep work on the StairMaster, but doesn’t mean that I’ll be sitting around twiddling my thumbs: I’ll have a full workout today, and a lighter workout on Friday that’s upper-body focused (I don’t want to wake up Saturday morning with sore, heavy legs).

I’m ecstatic about the fundraising I’ve done for the event’s organizer, the American Lung Association. After upping it numerous times based on the incredible response I received, I settled on a final goal of $630 – that’s $10 for every floor in the Aon Center. So far, you guys have driven me way past my goal - my current fundraising total is at $697.38. That’s so freakin’ awesome!

OH – I NEARLY FORGOT! You guys helped me win a prize! There was a fundraising contest – whoever raised the most money during the week of March 12-16 won a free $100 pair of shoes from a local running store. I heard about the contest but didn’t really do anything above and beyond what I was already doing. But you guys stepped up, and now I’m getting a free pair of shoes! I’ll be sure to share which pair I pick out – and thanks so much!

You still have until Saturday to donate – and please don’t let the fact that I’ve already reached my goal deter you! Click here to make a donation on my personal fundraising page. Or, if you’d prefer, I have a second stair climb event coming up in a few weeks, and I’m still a couple hundred dollars shy of that goal (which benefits the awesome Whaley Children’s Center in Flint, Michigan) – Click here and donate to help me reach that goal.

Between the two events (read about both of them here), I’ve already raised over $1,350 for charity. Wow! You guys are the best. Keep it up, readers! And…

Keep it up, David!


T-Shirt Windfall

March 28, 2012

Last month, I visited Zara, a clothing store I had never been to before. I had heard good things from a couple friends, and I was curious what the store had to offer and how I looked in their clothes. I wrote a post about how the outing was a complete bust: I’m too broad and big (even with my 163-pound weight loss) for their silhouettes. I was far from distraught about the experience – at the end of the day, knowing where not to shop is just as helpful as knowing where to shop. But I did have a moment of disappointment (just a moment, nothing lingering), because it was another bust in my ongoing quest to find a good, well-fitting, basic t-shirt.

For the past year or so, I’ve been on the lookout for a retailer that sells good quality, basic tees in a variety of colors. My search has always been a back-burner one – I haven’t gone out just to shop for t-shirts, but when I’m in a store for another reason, I’ll check out their offerings and try them on. The perfect t-shirt for me is flattering (duh), made of a heavier fabric, long enough to cover my belly with my arms raised above my head, and priced reasonably. Turns out that’s a tall order to fill! And it turns out the best t-shirt for me was right under my nose the whole time.

One of my favorite t-shirts right now is simple, black, and made by Champion. I wear it about once a week (provided I’m keeping up with my laundry). It is an all-occasion t-shirt: I work out in it, wear it casually with jeans, and wear it under fancier clothes sometimes, too. I’ll even wear it horseback riding, like I did in the Caribbean a few months ago:

That t-shirt came at a sporting goods store (I forget which one) about a year ago, and even though I recognize it as a favorite item in my wardrobe, for some reason, it never occurred to me that I should go and buy more somewhere. Perhaps that’s because I was stuck on the idea that my perfect t-shirt would be a store brand (like Old Navy or American Eagle) or a in-house brand at a bigger store (like Sonoma at Kohl’s or one of Macy’s in-house lines) – and Champion is neither of those. It’s an established brand that’s found at a number of retailers, certainly, but there aren’t Champion stores (except maybe at outlet malls?).

I was driving around recently when I heard a radio commercial for Sports Authority, promoting a sale on Champion basic jersey t-shirts. I had a flurry of epiphanic thoughts:

  • “Hey, I have one of those!”
  • “That’s a really good deal!”
  • “I should go and buy some, since I love the one I already own!”
  • “Ohmigod, Champion makes my perfect t-shirt! Why haven’t I ever realized this? David, go and stock up NOW!”

I made it to Sports Authority the very next day, and walked out of the store with six brand-new t-shirts:

Right now, I have t-shirts in my drawer that are size L, size XL, and one or two XXL – since sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, I fit in all three (these are ridiculously smaller than the t-shirts I was wearing at my heaviest, which you can see here). The Champion t-shirts are size XL, but I know from experience that they’ll shrink a little bit.

Wanna know the best part (excluding, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that I now have a go-to brand for t-shirts that look great on me)? They cost me $6 apiece! The Sports Authority sale price (which is unfortunately over) was 3 for $18. Score!

Keep it up, David!


Thirty-Six Hours in Illinois

March 27, 2012

This past weekend was a whirlwind. On Friday night, I took a red-eye flight to Chicago, met up with my sister Laura, and we drove down to Springfield, Illinois. We were on a top secret mission: to surprise our cousin Camille by showing up at a performance of her high school’s production of “Grease” – she was starring as Marty. (See pictures of Camille, along with the rest of her family, in my cruise posts from January.) The surprise went off without a hitch – she didn’t know we were coming until she saw us in the fourth row during the opening number, and I had a great time.

It was a quick trip – I left on Friday night, and got home Sunday night – 14 hours of travel for 36 hours in Illinois, 7 of which were driving from Chicago to Springfield and back. I decided before leaving that I would take photos of everything I ate the entire weekend. The photos would keep me accountable – I had no idea where I would be eating, and there would be potentially tricky situations, like airports and restaurants, to navigate. And since I have a blog, guess what? You get to see all the photos! Shall we begin?

FRIDAY NIGHT: My flights (yep – plural, I had a layover in San Francisco) to Chicago were fantastic – I had an open seat next to me on each leg. My last few hours before leaving were spent running errands and packing, and I didn’t eat dinner. So meal #1 was purchased at the San Francisco airport on my layover. A grilled chicken salad with orange segments, a vinaigrette that I tried a little of, and a couple tablespoons of crushed cashews. Also, a fruit cup:

On one of the planes I got a glass of tomato juice (I slept through the drink service on the other plane – woohoo for plane sleeping, a rare occurrence for me):

SATURDAY: I landed in Chicago, and took the train to Laura’s house, arriving around 8am. We took a tough 10am spin class at her gym (thanks to the spin teacher, James, for giving me a guest pass!), then ate a quick lunch before hitting the road to Springfield. We went to my favorite Chicago mini-chain restaurant, Pockets, which has amazing salads served inside fresh-baked bread. I got their Greek salad, dressing on the side:

We arrived in Springfield around 3:30pm. Laura and I were greeted by these two:

That’s Javier in my lap and Lucy on the left. Plus, Laura brought her doggie, Conrad, so there were three four-legged friends running around.

Arrival snack: 1/4 of a soft pretzel from Gus’, a famous St. Louis bakery:

My aunt and uncle had hosted a cast party for all the “Grease” kids the night before, so dinner on Saturday was leftovers. They had served a ton of lasagna – so I had a small piece of that, and a big pile of salad:

I got seconds of salad, and added to it a bunch of strawberries:

The strawberries were also from the party – they were part of a giant chocolate fountain spread. There were tons of chocolate fountain leftovers: cookies, marshmallows, squares of different types of cakes, pretzels, and I stayed away from all of it, except those strawberries and 1 rice krispy ball, that I enjoyed later in the evening (which I did not dip in leftover chocolate):

We went to the evening performance of “Grease,” and it was fantastic – a very talented group of kids. It brought back lots of fond memories of doing my high school plays and musicals.

SUNDAY: I woke up and ate a banana:

My aunt and uncle have a machine called a TreadClimber. It’s a cardio machine that’s a cross between inclined walking and stairs. I had never used one before (hell, I hadn’t even heard of it), so I gave it a whirl for 35 minutes. I liked but didn’t love it, and had a good workout. I supplemented that with 10 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups.

Breakfast was more fruit (blueberries and kiwi), two small pieces of toast, and some scrambled eggs that came from very local hens. I ended up using 5 eggs (1 full egg, and 4 egg whites):

Laura and I hit the road at 11:30 to get me back to O’Hare. We had plenty of time to stop for lunch in Burr Ridge, a Chicago suburb. We ended up at Wok’n Fire, where I ordered wasabi grilled salmon, which came with grilled mushrooms, spinach, brown rice (I only ate half), and a sauce on the side:

We split the spring rolls appetizer – the fresh kind, not the deep-fried kind – these are basically salads rolled up in rice paper:

Laura got me to O’Hare with plenty of time to spare, and I bought an apple to bring on my 5pm flight with me:

I got more tomato juice on the plane, and this time, I got the whole can.Score!

In San Francisco, I rustled up some dinner: a grilled chicken salad with a few cherry tomatoes, a little goat cheese, and a garlic dressing I didn’t even open:

There were some travel snafus on the way home. The Chicago to San Francisco leg was supposed to be on a wide-body jet, but United had to switch it to a smaller, narrow-body jet. A bunch of people didn’t make it on the plane at all, but luckily, I did. Upside: I got switched to a seat in Economy Plus, so I got 5 extra inches of much-needed leg room. Downside: I was one of the last people to get on the plane, and since the overhead bins were full, they gate-checked my carry-on bag. That bag didn’t make it onto my San Francisco to Burbank plane, so I arrived home at 11pm on Sunday night without my luggage. My laptop was in that bag, which is why there was no blog post yesterday morning. When I got home I was hungry, so I finished off the last bowl of leftover gazpacho and ate a kiwi. I got my luggage on Monday, and I thought United handled everything well, from the plane switch to my missing luggage.

There you have it – a weekend on the go, and I had a great time, while managing to make smart choices and working out both days! 

Keep it up, David!


TWO THOUSAND STORIES!

March 24, 2012

The title of this post sounds like it might be a slogan for a kid’s bookstore or reading program, but actually, it represents a major milestone in my Skyscraper Collection.

My Skyscraper Collection began as a tool to motivate me to use the StairMaster, which I dreaded. The idea was simple – I’m an architecture lover, so I decided to find a skyscraper somewhere on the planet equivalent to the number of stories I climbed during a StairMaster workout. The idea has worked like a charm – today I’m adding my 29th skyscraper to my collection (see the entire collection here), and this whole idea has led to two major StairMaster-related fundraising events – the first of which is happening a week from today – YIKES! Click here to read about the challenges and learn how to donate.

Today I hopped on the StairMaster without any big goals. My last StairMaster workout, at the beginning of the week, was a major triumph – I shattered all my previous personal bests – and I’ve had great non-StairMaster workouts all week, so this time, I took it easier than normal.

“Easier than normal” still equaled some impressive stats. I climbed for 18 minutes, burned 290 calories, and reached 76 stories. As I drove home, I realized how my training for the aforementioned fundraisers has really amped up my StairMaster standards. Three months ago, climbing 76 stories would have been a major accomplishment – a 76-story building would be the third-highest skyscraper in my collection. But, in the past 3 months, I’ve climbednine towers with more than 76 stories. In fact, 76 stories is just a few stories above myaverage number of stories per workout, which currently stands at 71 stories.

If you had told me a year ago that an “easier than normal” StairMaster workout would result in 76 stories climbed, I would’ve laughed. That’s the difference that three months makes. And that’s something to be proud of.

Anyhoo, time t0 add another skyscraper to the collection! Today’s skyscraper is a record-holder. It’s the tallest building in Russia and the tallest building in all of Europe – although it will lose that title in a few months, when The Shard at London Bridge opens – it’s 9 meters taller, but has 4 fewer floors. The Shard, in turn, will only hold the title until the end of the year, when the Mercury City Tower in Moscow opens – it’s 22 meters taller than The Shard, but has 2 fewer floors. The lesson is that the buildings are getting taller in Europe, but the floor count isn’t!

Say hello to the 76-story Moscow Tower!

Moscow Tower is on the right – it’s part of a huge complex called Capital City, which includes the St. Petersburg tower to the left, as well as a number of shorter buildings. I love that both the Moscow and St. Petersburg towers have a precarious design – they look like blocks that could topple at any moment!

What’s MOST EXCITING about the addition of the Moscow Tower to my Skyscraper Collection is that those 76 stories, when added to the stories of the other 28 buildings in my collection, push my CUMULATIVE FLOOR COUNT TO OVER 2,000! The total count is now 2,058 – and that’s a helluva lot of stories! (I list other fun cumulative stats at the bottom of my Skyscraper Collection page.)

KEEP IT UP, DAVID!


Roasted Vegetable Bonanza

March 23, 2012

When I looked in the fridge this morning, I noticed a ton of veggies that I needed to eat. They hadn’t gone bad quite yet, but the time was approaching quickly. I decided to turn on the oven and roast as many of them as I could!

First up, I still had some of the kale that I had purchased at the farmers market nearly two weeks ago. I had made kale chips with half of the kale last week (although I never blogged about it), and I thought it’d be easy and delicious to turn the rest of the kale into chips as well. Click here for my kale chips recipe. So, I piled the kale onto a baking sheet. You’re supposed to make sure they’re in a single layer, but I really wanted to keep the kale all on one pan.

Next up, two other veggies purchased at that same farmer’s market: asparagus and brussel sprouts. I halved the sprouts, so they were bite-sized.

Finally, some odds and ends: three zucchini, one red pepper, and one watermelon radish. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a radish of any kind cooked. My friend Debbie once sent me a cooked radish recipe, but I never made it, and I think I lost the recipe. Anyway – I had no idea if a watermelon radish would taste any good after a stint in the oven, but I was willing to give it try.

All three trays went into the oven, preheated to 425 degrees, at the same time. I lined all the trays with foil, for easy clean-up, and sprayed the foil with a little nonstick spray. I didn’t add any other ingredients or oil, except for a little Spike (salt-free seasoning).

After 25 minutes, the kale chips were crispy and done, and the rest of the veggies had great color and were cooked through. I took a little bit of everything and made up a plate as part of my lunch:

The kale chips were light as air – and I mean that literally, because I took the plate to my balcony for the photo shoot, and the wind carried a bunch of them off. Oh well – I hope the neighborhood birds and squirrels and feral cats like kale!

Everything was delicious, except the watermelon radish, which was good but not my favorite. And I have two Tupperwares full of leftovers in my fridge!

Keep it up, David!

PS – Just realized that five of my last six posts were food-related – that might be a Keep It Up, David record! Did you read the other four?


Shark’s Tooth Salad AND 2-Headed Soup

March 22, 2012

The other day, I shared my recipe for watermelon gazpacho, which I renamed “chum” because I made a big vat of it for an event themed around a wonderfully terrible shark movie called “2-Headed Shark Attack.” Click here for that recipe. I made two other dishes for the same event, and I thought I’d share them in this post.

Dish #1: Shark’s Tooth Salad. I never ever thought I’d be saying this, but this recipe is actually based on a recipe by Paula Deen! And it doesn’t even start with two sticks of butter! Paula Deen doesn’t get a free pass, though – like every recipe I use, I modified it. I kept the core ingredients: spinach, sliced strawberries, a few walnuts that I toasted in a pan before adding. Instead of simply draining and chopping the hearts of palm, I sorted out the bigger pieces, and carefully cut them into triangles, creating the shark’s teeth in the recipe’s title:

One big round piece yielded two shark teeth, and the bits and pieces that were cut away I saved for another occasion – only the teeth went in the salad. Is it lame to cut hearts of palm into shapes? Probably. But I don’t care.

I also upped the tropical nature of the salad by adding a couple of mangoes that I chopped up.

Paula’s dressing was made on the stove, and I didn’t have time for such nonsense, so I used the same basic ingredients and completely made up everything else.

I started with the juice of three lemons, and added a few tablespoons of basil-infused olive oil, a few tablespoons of honey to balance out the sour, and pinches of poppy seeds, dry mustard, and paprika.

The dressing wasn’t great. Too much lemon. It wasn’t inedible, but I suggest you do what I didn’t do, and actually follow a recipe or just use dressing from a bottle. But the salad, as a whole, was fantastic. And beautiful – check this out!

Dish #2: 2-Headed Soup. I suppose the full title of this recipe would be called “2-Headed Roasted Broccoli and Orange Cauliflower Soup” but that seems a little unwieldy, so the shortened version will have to do.

My original intention was to make this recipe in the crockpot, but I didn’t get moving that day until a little later than expected, and the crockpot wouldn’t have had all the time it needed to work its magic. Plus, I thought that roasting the vegetables would create a bigger depth of flavor, and you know what? I was right.

Even though I didn’t use a crockpot, I did base my recipe off this crockpot recipe, which I liked because it was pretty healthy for a cream-based soup. I ended up doubling the recipe. The first thing I did was roast the veggies. On a big sheet pan, I laid out 2 (small) heads of broccoli and one big orange cauliflower, cut into florets:

If you haven’t put two and two together, I did 2 small heads of broccoli in honor of “2-Headed Shark Attack.” Not familiar with orange cauliflower? It’s beautiful (read more about it here):

And, since I was in a roasting mood, I also roasted two whole heads of garlic – this soup seemed like something that would taste better with garlic. I cut the tops of the garlic heads, and put them in a small dish:

After about a half hour at 425 degrees, they look like this:

Once they cool a little bit, you can just sorta squeeze the cooked cloves out of the paper skins. The broccoli and cauliflower don’t take nearly as long – only 10-12 minutes until they were tender and starting to turn brown, at the same time as the garlic. I forgot to take a picture when they came out.

While the veggies were roasting away, I diced two white onions, and started them sweating in my Dutch oven, with two tablespoons of butter (Earth Balance, actually).

After about 8 or 10 minutes, I added 10 tablespoons of flour and 1/2 a cup of half and half, and shortly thereafter, 6 cups of skim milk. I got that up to a simmer, and, once they came out of the oven, I added all the broccoli, cauliflower, and garlic. I let it sit for about 30 minutes, letting all the flavors marry, as they say, and then went to town with an immersion blender until it was all pureed and creamy. I ended up adding one more cup of skim milk to thin it out a little bit (the recipe calls for adding water, but that seems so boring).

The soup was served with garlic toasts (store-bought, not home-made), and It. Was. Delicious!

Keep it up, David!


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