Sunday, January 31, 2010

Best pizza in town

There's nothing quite like homemade pizza cooked in a woodburning oven. I had some for dinner tonight at Pizzology, a sort-of new restaurant in Carmel. But first, we started with the amazing grilled romaine salad - one of the best salads I've had recently. Everything about it was exquisite, from the smoky flavor of the lettuce to the pleasant sweetness of the tomatoes.

I was with four other people and we ordered three pizzas to share: 1) the Margherita, made from San Marzano tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella cheese, and basil; 2) the Four Cheese, which included at least two cheeses I'd never heard of (Taleggio and Caciocavallo); and 3) the Mortadella, a "pizza blanca" piled high with spicy capicola ham. They were all divine, but my favorite was the simple Margherita. You just can't beat San Marzanos. I'm totally not exaggerating when I say this was probably the best pizza I've ever eaten.

Pizzology makes their own cheeses and sausages from local ingredients, which gives them extra points in my book. I highly, highly recommend it. If you live in the Indianapolis area, run, don't walk to Pizzology! And take my advice - get one to take home for later. I so wish I had done that! :-)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Junk food junkie

One of my Facebook friends recently wrote something in her status update about having some Andy Capp's Hot Fries. I have a confession to make: "I love me some Andy Capp's Hot Fries." I cannot tell you why. But periodically, they call to me like sirens, and I must submit. I have no choice in the matter.

Last February, I spent three weeks in Belgium, and everyday I had to buy my food from a grocery store. I tried eating healthy. Honestly, I did. But most days, my options were limited to the small neighborhood market. After three days of slimy pre-made iceberg lettuce salads and sad sliced tomatoes, I gave up, and slid into a pattern of eating like an unsupervised eleven-year-old. Belgium has some amazing junk food, most notably of the sweet variety, e.g., Belgian waffles, pain au chocolat and other pastries, syrup waffles, pralines and other chocolates, and the amazing Speculoos spread. But I think that country also wins the award for the most creative savory snack flavors. (See example here.) They've got paprika, hot chili, tomato ketchup, dill pickle, salt-and-pepper, and . . .  perhaps the winner for most original flavor . . .  "chicken and goat cheese" potato chips.

I didn't try all the available flavors because once I got a taste of the paprika and the hot chili, those were the only two I wanted. Oh, how I wish we had those same exact flavors here in the USA. I promise you I have looked, without success. But my mouth is watering now. The Crave has officially begun. I need to find some Andy Capp's. Soon. (Thank you, Simone, for the "subliminal" suggestion!)

What can I say? "Hello. My name is Mariandy and I'm an occasional junk food junkie." Have pity on me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy country

Last October, there was an episode on the Oprah show about the lives of women around the world, featuring Copenhagen, Istanbul, Dubai, Toyko, and SaƵ Paulo. I happened to record the show that day, but unfortunately, the first few minutes got cut off, so I only saw the last part of the piece on Denmark. But I was very impressed with what I saw. Denmark has gained notoriety over the past few years as the happiest country in the world, based on the results of a sociological data mining study released back in 2006. OK, so it's true that they pay significantly more taxes than we do, but they don't have to worry about losing their homes if they become unemployed, and they don't have to worry about health care. I wouldn't mind paying higher taxes if I could have that peace of mind!

Two other things about the Danes that I really admire: 1) Since they have such an excellent social system, they can be whatever they wanna be when they grow up. If you want to be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, that's great! But if you want to be an artist or a firefighter or a fisherman or work in a restaurant, that's great, too! You don't have to sell your soul or work your a$$ off to have something. You can follow your bliss in Denmark. See this video clip for an explanation.

And: 2) The Danes ride their bicycles. They ride them in all kinds of weather, too, apparently. I accidentally found this blog called Cycle Chic from Copenhagen tonight and I'm loving it! Seeing these photos of people riding their bicycles - even in the cold winter - makes me want to get out my bike! Hey, they even cycle in mini-skirts and heels! You gotta love it.

I've never been to Denmark - not yet, anyway. Maybe I should check it out. I like the lifestyle, I like the benefits. I like the cookies, the ham, and the cheese. The herring might be a little problematic for me, though. But then again . . . I might just get used to it.

*****

Special shout-out to my friend Tracy for giving me the idea to write about this topic when she mentioned she'd recently seen a re-run of the Oprah episode mentioned at the top of this article! :-)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Love thy neighbor

When I heard about the earthquake in Haiti last week, one of the first things I thought was: of all the places this could happen, why Haiti? Haiti has enough problems already. It's known as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Unemployment is high, about half the population lives in poverty conditions, and there are even reports of people living in slavery there. The literacy rate is only about 50%, and fewer than that have access to basic healthcare. Rates for diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria are way higher than average. And I haven't even mentioned the lack of infrastructure or environmental problems. In short, the people of Haiti were suffering already, long before the earthquake.

Seeing these images of broken people and buildings just tears me up inside. I'm grateful for the news updates, but I can't help but wonder . . . how is it possible that we can get journalists and photographers and camera crew down there so quickly, but not water and food and medicine, or medical and rescue workers. Why does it always take so long to respond to a natural disaster? Didn't we learn anything from Katrina?

This earthquake should be a wake-up call for all of us. We need to be more prepared for disasters no matter where they occur. But we also need to be helping our neighbors more on a regular basis. We're supposed to love our neighbors. Port-au-Prince is 1,680 miles from Indianapolis - that makes it closer to us than Los Angeles or Seattle, and only about twenty miles further than Las Vegas. Haiti is our neighbor and they need our help. How can we continue to look the other way?

Call me Pollyanna, but I think it's time to take a closer look at how we might be able to help Haiti. Everyone has something they can do, whether it's sending donations to a reputable organization, sponsoring a child or organization there who needs assistance, or working with a group that's doing something. Let's put those things that separate us aside for a while, roll up our sleeves, and come together to get this done. If ex-Presidents Clinton and Bush can step up and work together on this effort, then we can, too.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ch-ch-changes

My company announced last September that they're going to eliminate some 5,000 positions. So for a few months now, I've known that things were about to get weird. As a learning and development consultant, I have a target on my back. After all, I work for a scientific kind of company, but I'm not a scientist.

This week I learned that my job (and that of nine of my colleagues) officially "goes away" as of the end of February. There will be new jobs we can post for, but we don't yet know what those jobs are or if we'll be qualified. If we don't get one of the new jobs, maybe there will be some other options, but we don't know anything more at this point. The future is . . . uncertain.

Since hearing the news, I've been up and I've been down. I'm up because I strongly believe that when God closes a door, He opens a window. There are so many other possibilities out there. Take writing, for example. Last year, I did something I've wanted to do for years. I wrote a book! I loved the entire process, from start to finish . . . and I have so many more ideas. I'd really like to write more! And farming . . . well, I've been thinking for several years now that I'd like to get back to the land. I love the idea of local food, and growing things organically and sustainably. IMHO, we all need to get a little closer to our food. So maybe I'll become a writer, or gentlewoman farmer, or both? Maybe I could become . . . the female Wendell Berry?!!

But I'm down because I've spent ten years here in this city and with this company. Over the years, I've worked with some great people and developed some really good relationships with people all around the world. I consider many of my co-workers to be friends. I've "traveled" along with many of them through several of life's major milestones: marriages, births, illnesses, divorces, deaths. They've taught me not just about the business, but the business of living. 

For me, this job has always been more about the people than anything else. It's because of the people that I've enjoyed it so much, and that I've kept going, even when the non-people aspects of the job were not so fun. And if it ends, it will be the people I will miss the most.

To be continued . . . I'm sure this will be a major blog theme over the next few weeks and months!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yoga for the traditionally built

I really, really want to take a yoga class. But I cannot seem to find one that I fit into. It's not like I haven't tried or anything. It's just that . . . there doesn't seem to be anything out there just for me.

The first time I ever took a yoga class was in 1997, when I was in graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington. A friend talked me into getting up before the crack of dawn and going with her to a 6AM "Basic" Hatha Yoga class at the Student Recreational Center. The yoga instructor was a graduate student in health and recreation, and totally knew his stuff. He explained everything he was doing, and stressed that we should not push ourselves beyond our limits. Which was good, because at the time I had the flexibility of a pencil. For at least an hour after the class was over, I felt calm and alert and blissed out. Almost like I'd taken a Ritalin or something. It was wonderful.

I should have kept going to those 6AM classes. But I didn't.

The next time I attempted yoga was in 2002. A new yoga studio opened on the opposite side of town from where I live. They offered a free Sunday afternoon class for first-timers, so I drove up one Sunday to check things out. The instructor was awesome and very knowledgable. She studied with some of the big names in yoga (whose names I recognized because at the time, I was subscribing to Yoga Journal). She even went to Kripalu a couple of times a year. I was impressed, and I signed up for ten sessions. I went two more times, but got tired of the long drive.

I realize now how stupid that was.

Still, I was optimistic. I went out and bought a yoga mat, a purple "brick", and a strap. I even bought a unique, handmade yoga mat carrier from someone on eBay. I bought some Rodney Yee videos. On VHS.

I realize now how stupid that was. (The VHS, I mean.)

A few more years ago by, and it's 2005. The yoga studio I once went to is now a mega-powerhouse, and one day I decide to actually open up one of their emails. After all, I've been on their mailing list for four years now. To my delight, I see they're about to start a new class called "Yoga and Weight Loss." It will be led by a holistic nutritionist and each session will include a minimum of 15 minutes of beginner yoga. Four Sunday afternoon sessions for $100. I signed up and went to the first two classes, but got discouraged. You see, it wasn't really a beginner class. The other people in the class already knew the poses AND the instructor AND each other. I was the only person in the class who was new, and the only one who really needed to lose weight. I felt lonely and frustrated. So I quit.

Fast-forward to 2009. I learned about a Beginner Yoga class to be held just two miles from my house. I signed up, paid the fee, and enthusiastically showed up for . . . two nights. On the first night, it became clear that - once again - despite the title of the class, I was the only beginner. On the second night, the instructor ruthlessly criticized everything I did: I didn't get my butt off the floor enough. I didn't bend my knees correctly. I didn't hold my pose for long enough.

So I quit.

Despite all this, I really want to do yoga. But here's the deal. I'm a beginner. A real beginner. I mean, sure, I've been to a few classes, and I know some of the basic poses - um, asanas - like Mountain, Tree, and Downward Facing Dog. I know what a Sun Salutation is. I get the theory, people. I'm just tired of being pushed beyond my limits, and I'm tired of being the slowest/fattest/weakest/most pathetic student in the class.

Maybe the perfect class is out there and I just need to keep looking. Maybe I need private lessons. Or maybe I should just give it up, and accept the fact that yoga is not my thing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Life is too short for bad coffee

Living in Vienna, Austria in 2008 ruined me for life when it comes to coffee (and chocolate, too, but I'll save that for another blog entry.) There is something about the coffee in Vienna. I used to ask my Viennese friends and co-workers: What makes the coffee here so special? Some said it was the coffee itself, or the roasting of it. Others said that it's actually good water that makes good coffee, and they pointed to the fact that Vienna's tap water comes not from "ordinary city water" but directly from mountain springs in the Vienna Woods. (I can attest to the excellent taste of the tap water!) Still others would say that coffee's history in Vienna is what makes it so special. Vienna was, after all, "the place" where Europeans were introduced to coffee (brought by the invading Ottoman army.)

All I know is, I can no longer drink ordinary run-of-the-mill coffee. I have to have the good stuff. For at least six months after I returned, I had to order my coffee online from Austrian Grocery. It cost something like $25 per 500g package, but I didn't care. I would order 4 packs at a time, usually in 7 days or less, a cute little yellow Austria Post box would arrive at my doorstep. Oh, happy day!

When my Viennese co-workers come to Indy for business, some of them bring me a pack or two of my favorites (Meinl President, Meinl Jubilee, and Eduscho Wiener Melange) Oh, happier day when that happens, because the beans in those packs are always fresher than the ones I ordered online.

Alas, I have found a place to get great beans here locally, from my friend Bj's coffee shop on the west side - Bjava Coffee and Tea. Bj has always been able to make my absolute favorite espresso drink anywhere on Earth (the honey bee latte, with soy milk), but she also gets premium beans from the world's finest coffee-growing areas, and roasts them right there in her own shop! And Bj always has something good cooking, whether it's her famous Friday morning cinnamon rolls and other baked goods, or her amazing breakfast and lunch sandwiches. The tea's great too - in fact, the Gunpowder Green is my tea-drinking nephew's favorite. Those of you in the Indianapolis area, please check out Bjava at 5510 Lafayette Road, just off I-65 (Lafayette Road exit).

But I digress.

I just spent a week on the family farm in North Carolina, where I was forced to drink "ordinary" coffee (that's right! A gun was held to my head to make me drink it! OK, not really.) I know, I know. I should have taken some of my stash with me. But I forgot. Anyway, no offense to Mom and Dad (I love you!) but what I learned is - I'm still very spoiled when it comes to coffee.

As I move toward a more simple life per my very vague New Year's Resolution, I realize I'll be giving up many luxuries. The one thing I don't think I'll be able to give up, though, is good coffee. Quite honestly, I think I'd rather give it up altogether, than drink the bad stuff.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A more simple life

I've been thinking for quite some time now about an appropriate resolution for the New Year, and I keep coming back to the same thing: I need to strive for a more simple life. Not just literally, but figuratively. I'm going to spend less money, I'm going to learn to live on less, and most importantly, I'm going to learn to be happy with less "stuff." Not that "stuff" has ever made me happy, but let's face it. It's time to get real.

The first thing I need to do is define simple. Does "simple living" mean bad coffee, rancid olive oil, and terrible food? No! There are some things one should never compromise. 

Does it mean 900 channels on the TV? The newest, fastest computer? The latest tech gadgets? Cross-country or international trips on my own dime? Um, no.

I'm going to do more to reduce my carbon footprint on the earth. I'm going to turn off the lights and turn down the heat. I'm going to cook healthy meals more often, from local ingredients as much as possible. I'm going to do less shopping, but when I do shop, I'm going to look for things made locally. I'm going to reacquaint myself with the local farmers' markets, city and state parks, and my own backyard. I'm going to plan (not plant) my garden now, even if I don't yet know where I'll be living this summer. 

I'm going to read more - and the books will be from my existing library, used, or from the public library. I'm going to get outside more, get more sunlight, and fresh air. I'm going to spend more quality time with friends and whenever possible, family (they live four states away). I'm going to learn to make good iced tea. I might re-learn to knit, or get my friends Nicole and Mary to help me improve my skills. 

I'm going to relax more, and worry less. I'm going to accept things as "God's will" more (but I won't use that as excuse not to act when I need to act!) I'm going to talk less and listen more. I'm going to just be, instead of trying to be something I'm not.

And I'm going to blog more about these things. After all, that's the true spirit of Gypsy Roots. 

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2010 will be a year of good health, happiness, and prosperity for everyone who reads this.