STL Adventure 1 – Near County

boogalooAs defined by the locally produced Guidebook to St. Louis, Near County refers to the metropolitan pocket of about a dozen urban areas including Brentwood, Clayton, Glendale, Kirkwood, Ladue, Maplewood, Oakland, Olivette, Richmond Heights, Rock Hill, University City, Warson Woods and Webster Groves. Whew! Quite a collection of cities that already play a role in my life on a daily basis. For example, Brentwood is home to my Whole Foods Market; the StL_Chuck_Berry_starClub Fitness I work out at almost every day is in Rock Hill; and, oh yeah, I live in Webster Groves! Despite my perceived familiarity with this part of St. Louis, there is plenty of stuff to discover. Below is a quick snapshot of new adventures experienced in my own back yard.

Delmar-LoopFood and Drink: For someone who loves to eat and enjoy a few adult beverages, there are many Near County establishments I have already patronized and it only seems fair to mention some of my favorites first before a share a new experience. Taking into consideration the food/drink offerings and the overall ambiance of the place, here are some of my favorites:

Happy Hour Favorites: Blackfinn American Grille (Brentwood); Robust (Small Plates; Webster Groves) $$$; The Post Sports Bar & Grill (Maplewood)

Casual Outing: Mai Lee (Chinese/Vietnamese; Brentwood); Momos (Authentic Greek; University City); One 19 North (Tapas/Wine Bar; Kirkwood); Pi (Pizza; University City location preferred over Kirkwood)

Casual to More Special Occasion Outing: Oceano Bistro (Seafood; Clayton); The Block (Butcher shop/American Fare; Webster Groves)

homewinekitchen1-2There are plenty of other good eats in this urban pocket but the one that I have been really wanting to try is St. Louis Magazine’s 2012 Restaurant of the Year Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood. So, I made reservations on-line via CityEats through the restaurant’s website for me and my Sri Lanka Adventure pal Julie. At that time, I was able to make special dietary requests given that I am still trying to follow the Whole30 program.  Since their menu changes on a daily basis, I went ahead and signed up for their e-mail list to receive weekly menu updates. Suffice it to say, I am glad I subscribed as I will certainly be planting my ass in a chair at that establishment again. homedoorIf you like American cuisine but want it served in a re-imagined fashion without all the hype about what the specials are for the evening, make your reservations. What really piqued my curiosity is the restaurant’s No Menu Monday.  Every Monday, instead of a menu, a three course dinner ($35) will be specially prepared for you based on your answers to five questions you provide to the chef for inspiration. How unique and cool is that? For an additional $12, wine pairings accompany each course or get a bottle of the featured wine for an additional $25. By the way, look for their new restaurant in the Benton Park area called The Table in June.

12artousideposter-300Recreation: I love art and Near County offers a handful of fairs that I simply cannot pass up.  While most are familiar with the St. Louis Art Fair that takes place in the heart of downtown Clayton every September, Maplewood stages Art Outside, a three-day, juried art fair in the Schlafly’s Bottleworks parking lot with very affordable buys the very same weekend. In addition, Art & Air features more than 100 artists displaying their craft on the grounds of Eden Seminary in Webster Groves the first full weekend in June.

youcando-1Rather than looking at and/or buying art, I became acquainted with Yucandu, a very unique retail store and interactive art studio to make my own art.  Located in Webster Groves, the vibe of this studio is that of an old-fashion candy store, whereby a ton of beads, buttons, ribbon, tiles, and other vintage items for youcando-twosale are displayed in glass jars and bowls. Art projects created by the store’s staff are also available for sale. You can also drop by without an appointment to paint, collage, or do mosaics. Beyond craft materials and supplies, Yucandu offers several workshops for kids as well as adults.  Recently, four girlfriends and I registered for an adult only workshop and spent the evening creating our own necklaces and door-hanger decorations with the guidance of the Yucandu staff.  We brought in our own beverages (red wine) and snacks which made the evening just that much more enjoyable.  Yeah, this is mainly a chick place but a great way to catch up with your BFFs while tapping into your creative side.

giseles-twoShopportunities:  Prior to going to The Post Sports Bar & Grill to watch nine straight hours of the NCAA March Madness on Thursday, I strolled along the main drag of Maplewood and came across Gisele’s, a shop that I actually never noticed before. A French-inspired boutique, initially I wasn’t going to step foot in the place since Fleur de lis and berets “ain’t my thang”; I did, however, remind myself of the goal of A.U.’s Adventures and went inside. The boutique has unique jewelry, blouses, dresses, scarves, and hats, all of which are made in Paris.  A very small section of baby apparel has some cute, one-of-a-kind girly clothes.  You can find all sorts of other things like gisele blousehair accessories, candles, signs, purses, dolls, stuffed animals, etc. I came across a very tucked away “final sale” section easy to miss; for less than $25, I walked out with a very pretty summer blouse in the perfect shade of pale blue/gray for my skin tone.  Brenda, the owner, is really nice and I enjoyed chatting it up with her.  If you are in the area, stop by and give this boutique a peek.

vomfass-3After leaving Gisele’s, I noticed Vom Fass, a store whose name sounded familiar although I had no idea what the store really sold. As I learned, “vom Fass” is German for “from the barrel” and this store specialized in artisan produced oils, vinegars, liqueurs, spirits, and wines. I was immediately interested in exploring the vinegar section to see if there was anything interesting that could add a little pizzaz to my recipes at home. After tasting a few, I was sold on the Star Blueberry vinegar which is vomfass-2perfect for creating dressings for salads incorporating some fruit and/or nuts. The Calamansi was quite tart with a citrus-grapefruit flavors and it wasn’t something I thought I would buy.  Certainly, it can be used in place of lime and/or lemon juice (i.e. to bake fish). Interestingly, the suggestion was made to mix a few drops of Calamansi in a favorite vodka drink which was the immediate moment I decided I just had to buy it.

carlsSo many more things I need to explore in Near County; seeing Chuck Berry perform live at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill is a total must. One of these days soon, as I leave the gym, I will go to Carl’s Drive In, sit down at the counter, and order a burger (or two…I like to eat).  I definitely will make plans to go have lunch or dinner at Piccadilly at Manhattan. No question I will stop by Switzer Candy Company as well as organize a group of friends to go bowling at Saratoga Lanes.

Guidebook to ST. Louis Adventure!

guidebook-auAs I was wrapping up my Whole30 adventure, I was starting to wonder about my next challenge or experience. Nothing was resonating with me and I decided to refrain from over-thinking the process and to just enjoy my birthday week. Two days after completing my Whole30 adventure, I was having dinner with my great friend Dana who gave me a very thoughtful book (signed by one of the authors!) called Guidebook to St. Louis (by and for St. Louisans). I immediately said to her, “This is going to be my next adventure!”

Seriously, I have lived in St. Louis a total of almost 12 years; the first time I lived here for three years (1997-2000) and then quit my job and moved to Boulder, CO without a job. After three years in Boulder, I moved back to St. Louis in 2004 because I wanted to come back. Despite living here a significant amount of time, I have often told myself that I really have not fully experienced a lot of cool things that this city has to offer.  My assumption has always been that I will eventually get to it.  Well, what better time than the present, right? Time to get on and go experience St. Louis!

funThe authors of the Guidebook to St. Louis have identified 14 distinct neighborhoods, dedicating a chapter to each neighborhood. Following a brief history, the chapter is divided into three sections: 1) Food and Drink, 2) Recreation, and 3) Shopportunities. My plan is to venture out to all 14 neighborhoods over the course of the next two months, making sure I eat and/or grab a drink at a place I have never been to, partake in a recreational activity, and check out at least one shopportunity unique to each of the neighborhoods. Can’t wait to start the fun and tell you all about it!

Whole30 Adventure: Mission Accomplished (and then some!)

successAs of this morning (March 12, 2013), I have officially and successfully completed my very first Whole30 program! The fun began on Sunday, February 10 and extended through Monday, March 11. My motivation for doing this was to get healthier. I feel great which is truly enough to recognize that this journey was worth the effort. Having said that, below is a quick summary of objective data showing the gains achieved in improving my health over the last 30 days.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABlood Pressure: For the past three years, I have been taking blood pressure medication. Despite losing weight and following a low sodium diet, even when I was at my fittest about 1.5 years ago, it was still necessary to control my blood pressure with medication. Whether measured at the doctor’s office or at home with my own blood pressure monitor, on average, my readings always hovered around 130/85 (with medication).

About a week prior to starting my Whole30 program, despite the 130/85 reading, I made the personal decision to stop taking my blood pressure medication. Naive? Perhaps. Nevertheless, during my doctor’s appointment on Thursday, March 7 (Day 26 of my Whole30 program), I told my doctor about not taking my meds for the past month. She measured my blood pressure and it clocked in at 122/70 without medication. I have been medically cleared and no longer have to take blood pressure medication!!!!!!

cholesterolCholesterol: Cholesterol is a fat your body needs to work properly although too much can increase chances of heart disease, stroke, and other problems. Types of cholesterols include: 1) HDL or “good” cholesterol (standard range = 40-60 mg/dL with higher numbers better), 2) LDL or “bad” cholesterol (70 – 130 mg/dL with lower numbers better), 3) VLDL or very low density lipoprotein (5-40 mg/dL), and 4) Total Cholesterol which is the value of all the cholesterols mentioned above combined (less than 200 mg/dL).

Prior to the Whole30 program, my Total Cholesterol was consistently above 200 and technically considered high (219-230), however, since my HDL levels have traditionally measured above average (74), my physician wasn’t too concerned (yet). Wish I had more impressive news but my cholesterol results from last Thursday haven’t changed from my baseline. As I continue with the paleo-life as much as possible, I will be very curious to see my results six months from now.

lab report for cholesterol with pencilTriglycerides: Triglyceride is another type of fat that your body makes although it also comes from the food your eat. Leftover calories are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells for later use; eating more calories that your body needs may result in high triglyceride levels. Normal levels are less than 150 mg/dL. Prior to Whole30, my levels have been over 100, averaging around 125 mg/dL. Results from last Thursday show levels of 70 mg/dL which is great news since optimal levels for cardiovascular health are 70-100 mg/dL.

meas tape and forkMeasurements: My trainer records measurements at six specific levels of the body: 1) shoulders, 2) bust, 3) waist, 4) hips, 5) upper arm, and 6) upper thigh. My measurements were recorded first thing in the morning the day before starting my Whole30 adventure; these same measurments were taken first thing in the morning the day after completing my Whole30 program.

Losing inches and/or losing weight is a relative progression as everyone’s body does it at its own pace. Based on my past progress, on average, I would lose about 3 total inches (sum of all six measurements mentioned above) about every six weeks. For example, my pre-Whole30 red-down-arrow-himeasurements taken 30 days ago (February 9, 2013) reflected a loss of 3.75 total inches compared to previous measurements (December 21, 2012); note, the time between these two measurements was longer than usual (eight weeks). Today was a little different in a good way! Comparing my pre-Whole30 measurements (February 9, 2013) to my post-Whole30 measurements (March 12, 2013), in the past 30 days, I have lost an additional 5.75 total inches [shoulders (-1.5″), chest (-0.75″), waist (-1.5″), hips (-1″), thigh (-0.75″), and arms (-0.25″)].

12lbWeight Loss: As mentioned throughout my various posts, the purpose of doing this wasn’t to lose weight; rather, it was to get healthy. Nonetheless, I look at any weight loss as the icing-on-the-cake. For the record, based on my past progress when in the same weight range, on average, I would lose about 3-5 lbs every 6 weeks (yes, even when on Weight Watchers). During my Whole30 program, I never once counted a calorie, approximated a Weight Watcher’s point, measured out a portion, or even worried how often I ate. When I was hungry, I ate and simply stuck to the plan in terms of what foods and ingredients to avoid. Over the course of this 30-day program, I lost 12 pounds.

namasteNext Steps: Moving forward, I am going to continue to integrate many of the principles of the Whole30 program into my life. I have lots to reflect on but the one thing that I know for sure is that I will NEVER cook my food with chicken broth to save calories from fat. Instead, I will use ghee (clarified butter which is delicious), olive and coconut oil. It makes everything taste so good. Beyond that, I am just going to quietly enjoy my little accomplishment and look forward to tonight when I reintroduce myself to a glass of well-deserved delicious red wine. Thank you to everyone for your support. You made the journey much easier to achieve!

Whole30 Home Stretch

Today is day 23 of the Whole30 Program and I am in the home stretch of this adventure with just one more full week to go before I am officially done!  Many of you following my Whole30 adventure have asked some great questions and I figured I would quickly share with you my answers.

Why did you decide to do the Whole30 Program?

pillsAbout two years ago, I was temporarily put on a  medication that really screwed up my metabolism; despite eating relatively healthy and working out diligently, I gained 35 lbs.  Once I got off the meds in June 2012, I assumed the weight would “fall off”.  Despite busting my ass in the gym, eating healthy, and doing many things to get in shape, nothing was happening.

Whole30_NOToward the end of October 2012, after many bonked work- outs and several episodes of tears at the gym, my trainer revamp my eating regimen to include necessary amounts of protein in my diet. Finally, my body  started to respond and I was able to see a light at the end of a very long tunnel. In an effort to rid my body of any residual meds and toxins, I committed to the Whole30 Program as a much-needed “body vacation”, whereby the focus was eating nutrient-dense, non-processed foods full of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.  The purpose was to establish a healthier metabolism while maintaining a balanced immune system. I really wanted to re-boot my entire system and to focus on my health (rather than a number on a scale).

Is there anything specific that you miss?

red-wineThe only thing that I have occasionally been mourning is that glass (or two) of good, red wine, particularly when I am out to dinner.  Surprisingly, I don’t miss the cream and sugar in my coffee anymore.  I don’t really crave sweets but that doesn’t mean I am no longer haunted by the “sugar dragon”.  Just this past week while on business in Minneapolis, although I had no problem giving my fries away, when my salad came with an Olive Garden-esque warm, garlic breadstick with a side of butter, it took monumental strength not to cram the breadstick, the butter, and the accompanying plate, for that matter, in my mouth.

How much weight have you lost or do you hope to lose?

get-off-the-scaleI don’t know and I don’t care.  I did not elect to do this program to lose weight.  The Whole30 program is designed to provide the opportunity for the body to heal by eliminating gut-disrupting, inflammatory ingredients.  The Whole30 program actually discourages getting on the scale so that the focus remains on how you feel without any prejudice offered by a number on a scale.

What are you going to do once your 30-days are over? 

conscious-mindI will continue to consciously eat healthier and focus my food intake toward real, pronounceable ingredients but make no mistake: the very first evening after the Whole30 adventure will include a Whole30 friendly dinner with a glass (or two) of good, red wine. Having said that, is an order of beef nachos from The Post going to happen in the unforeseeable future? Yes, although not every single Friday Happy Hour. Will I eat bread? Probably but certainly not as much as in the past. Will I drink beer during NCAA March Madness? Absolutely. Some things will never change.