Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Cult of Nespresso

I know America has the whole Keurig thing going on with coffee these days--at least that is what the internet has led me to believe. We've never truly bought into the whole single serving machine (too wasteful, mediocre coffee) in this house, even though George Clooney doesn't travel without one.

Once grad school finally broke me down and made me realize how wonderful a cup of coffee could be, I became a coffee shop kind of person. I like the ritual of going to a place, preferably with someone else, and having a barista make me a drink while I talk/read/study/work. Now that there is a toddler in the house, I don't always have time or the desire to go out for a cup of coffee. It really is not relaxing to chase after a toddler who thinks power outlets are toys. Besides, I feel like Christina Applegate's character in the opening scene of this episode of Up All Night when I place my order. Unlike her character, I have never pretended to know anything about music, and as yet (knock on wood) I have not done a face plant and gotten called ma'am afterwards. Side note: I have fallen during a run on an icy day and been stepped over by housewives doing their grocery shopping. Is that better or worse?

This past summer during our vacation in Switzerland we had a Nespresso machine in our rental house. This was a blessing for a house full of coffee drinkers. We were in the middle of the Alps at the end of a valley. It's not like there was a Starbucks around the corner. My mother-in-law enjoyed the Nespresso so much that she bought one as soon as she returned. I fail to see the logic behind her choice, because they own a very nice espresso machine. I think she had such a fun time on vacation and wanted to hold onto that. Plus, she likes having decaffeinated coffee at night and can't easily switch out the beans in their other machine. She must have asked me twenty times if I wanted a Nespresso for my birthday this year, to which I said no every time. A few weeks ago when my in-laws started babysitting for us one morning a week, they showed up with a Nespresso. They drink about ten cups of coffee a day and couldn't bear to spend so many hours in our house without their caffeine infusion. Looks like we are the owners of a Nespresso, despite my protests. This one:

I resisted at first and tried to dislike it, mostly because it's another appliance taking up space in our crowded kitchen. I think it's just in my nature to be a bit contrary--not one of my better characteristics, I'll admit. I have the demeanor of a grumpy old man on certain days. I still don't love it, but I have started to enjoy its convenience factor when people come over for a visit. Niek even used it this morning, because he knew he wouldn't have a chance for a good cup of coffee today. The coffee, while not spectacular, isn't bad.

Hats off to the Nespresso marketing team. Once you buy one of these machines and start investing in the coffee pods that go in it, you get to belong to a club. The Nespresso stores are sleek and modern, and you can try all the varieties in the store. If you are a club member you can stop in anytime just for a cup of coffee, which gets served to you at a coffee bar in the special Nespresso cups you can also buy for your home. It's as if you get celebrated for buying your machine every time you go in. Seriously, nicely done NestlĂ©. With that kind of customer service it's no wonder the place is packed whenever I walk past. I'm not the believer Nespresso wants me to be, but I suppose I can't be the loud-mouthed naysayer that I was. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Diet Cleanse (or not)

The Whole Living Challenge should be entering into week 3 in our house right about now, but instead I just finished a latte and a muffin. To be perfectly honest, the cleanse lasted all of four days before I looked at Niek and told him we were going out for coffee and a croissant. Go ahead, tell me that I was wrong and it was a stupid idea.  I won't disagree with the assessment.

The first day was horrible, and I was hungry all day long. The next few days were okay, but I still couldn't ever reach a point of feeling full. I wasn't missing the dairy or caffeine, and while the carbohydrate cravings were present, they weren't overwhelming. It was the protein I felt was lacking. I just wanted to tear into a steak or a piece of chicken or a can of chickpeas. Overall, I was just hungry and felt that I wasn't consuming enough calories. I almost fainted a few times during the last two days. When it got to that point, I admitted that it was stupid and that I wanted to stop.

These foods never tasted so good.
I had my doubts about the efficacy of a cleanse before we even started, so I am not surprised that I ended up disliking the experience so much. Some people swear by them, but I am not a believer. Niek and I discussed it and came to the conclusion that our diet is already a well balanced one, and there wasn't much need to cut out the "bad." The experience wasn't for naught, even though it sounds that way. Without my normal breakfast (two pieces of bread, one with jam and the other with cheese) I felt less bloated in the mornings. I've stuck with smoothies most mornings since then and am enjoying it for now. Niek, realizing that he didn't miss coffee as much as he was expecting, has cut back to about one espresso a day. I'm now more likely to reach for dried fruit and nuts for a snack than a piece of bread and cheese or a cookie. That's something, I suppose. However, I didn't need to attempt a "cleanse" to come to this conclusion. A small adjustment in my routine would have been enough.

Routines need a little shaking up every now and then. I gave the issue of our eating/cooking routines a lot of thought these past few weeks. Before embarking on the cleanse, my habits had felt so deeply ingrained, and I was having trouble figuring out what I needed to change--if anything. Did you miss the NY Times article about shopping habits from last year? Since reading that article and becoming fascinated by the research behind habit formation, I've spent too many hours examining my own habits, especially those surrounding the food in my life. By shaking up my routine (ever so briefly) I feel like I've been pushed out of a rut I felt stuck in. Although I'm not happy that I attempted doing a cleanse that left me cranky, tired and hungry, I am glad that I now feel better. I hated banishing foods and all are now welcome at our table again. Life is back to normal.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


It snows here so little that I actually enjoy seeing white on the ground in January.  Mid-winter snow in the Midwest always felt annoying to me, unless it caused a snow day, which it almost never did.  As expected, here in the Netherlands the trains aren't running on schedule, and the traffic jams this morning snaked their way from one corner of the country to the next.

I, however, am enjoying our short foray into a winter wonderland.  We finally had a use for the snowsuit I bought Johanna way back in October (just in case) when we decided to test out the running stroller's handling in the snow this morning.  Amsterdam was gorgeous in the pre-dawn quiet, and it reminded me why I don't mind getting dry hands and chapped lips during winter runs.

Just a quick Instagram photo from my phone today.  My computer would probably die if I tried to do something as taxing as uploading an image.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Steve Jobs Diet

Last year for Christmas Niek got a copy of the Steve Jobs biography. It took him all of a few days to read, and I think he came away with some more insight into what has made Apple so successful.  I have never read it, but the only fact Niek chose to share with me was this: Steve Jobs was a fruitarian. Just fruit, all the time. Apparently, he also believed that his diet prevented him from having body odor, so he didn't wear deodorant.  He was wrong about that, by the way, but I guess the people he worked with didn't really want to tell him about it.  Maybe they needed one of those deodorgram services.

For the last few months I've been kicking around the idea of doing a--I still can't believe I'm doing this, because it sounds like something I would never do--diet cleanse once January rolled around. I actually wanted to do it last January, but Johanna was just so young, and I didn't want to do anything too drastic while she was fully dependent on me for her nutritional intake. Multiple injuries in the past year have also made it difficult to get back into a running routine, leaving me feeling pretty disgusted with myself at times. In the past year I've tried a few times just not to eat refined sugars for a given amount of time (a few days at the most), and I never successfully made it more than a day and a half. I wanted to see if I could live without sugar, but it turns out I couldn't. One part of me has absolutely no problem indulging in a treat once a day (or even multiple times a day), but there's another part of me that thinks I should be able to live without processed sugars without feeling like I'm going to go crazy.  I like balance in my life, especially when it comes to food. There should be room for all types of food in a balanced diet, and food should bring joy as well as nourishment to our lives.  Something, however, has just felt off lately, and I don't feel balanced.  Who knows what it is. If I actually knew why my diet felt off-kilter I would just go ahead and change it, but at this juncture I feel the need to take a step back.  Here we are, then, willingly choosing to eat a fairly restrictive diet for the next three weeks.

We're following the suggestions set out in the 2012 Action Plan from Whole Living. [As an aside, Whole Living has just been dumped by Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and it doesn't look like there's going to be a 2013 Action Plan.] As far as fluffy, wellness-type magazines go, I liked Whole Living pretty well. The Plan is 21 days with a bonus week at the end, although the recipes for week 4 look a lot like what we would eat on any given week, anyway. We started this morning, and while not awful, I am hungry. This week we are eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and nut oils. Meat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, and processed foods are not allowed. During the first week even legumes aren't allowed. I think the lack of protein is what is leaving me feeling hungry; there are only so many nuts I can eat in a day.

Our friends and family think we are crazy.  My mother-in-law almost lost it when I told her coffee was off the table.  She offered to bring us a caffeine-free variety. One of Niek's friends, who came over for our Second Christmas pork belly, said that nothing on earth could move him to give up meat and bread for three weeks. My dad made a face every time I brought it up during their stay, and my best friend thinks it sounds unhealthy. I'll keep you posted about how I feel about dabbling in "cleansing" diets as this thing progresses.  I'm still not totally sold on the idea, but I'm willing to try it out.

Ever since Niek agreed to do this with me, he's been making jokes about our "Steve Jobs Diet." While not as restrictive as what a fruitarian eats, it does take some of Niek's favorite food staples (re: bread, bread, cheese and more bread) off the table, so to speak. He jokingly threatened to do it only if he also gave up deodorant for the duration.  Dutch people are much more forward than Americans, and Niek isn't the head of a ridiculously successful technology company, so I don't think his colleagues would hesitate to tell him that his diet doesn't prevent odor. Yeah, the rest of our life is staying the same while we consume unnatural levels of squash and sunflower seeds.