The Casual Blog

Tag: Fiction Kitchen

Some yoga, being more present, nature photographers, Fiction Kitchen, the dances of Shen Yun

Sunrise in Raleigh this morning looking southeast

I was congested and sniffly for the first week of 2019, but still managed to get up early for some exercise every morning.  On Friday, I went to Flywheel for a spinning (stationary bike) class, and had a pretty good result: 317 points, and second place in the class.  After that I went down to O2 fitness and did some upper body resistance and core work, plus stretching.

I also made it to my first yoga class of the year.  I like the Early Bird classes at Blue Lotus, just across the street from us, which are on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  Each class is different, but the system always combines flexibility, strength, and balance. I like moving as part of a group, and I like the teachers, Andrea and Glenda.  I don’t have much interest in New Age ideas, which fortunately they do not emphasize.   

Last Thursday Glenda was an excellent form, and gave a lot more than an ordinary exercise class.  She always has a great mixture of cheerfulness, supportiveness, and demandingness. But this time she helped me tune into to tiny details of sensation and investigate connections of distant parts of the body.  She encouraged us to move into the present moment in a way that made it seem both easy and marvelous.

This is my prime New Year’s resolution:  to be more present. I’m hoping to spend less energy in unproductive worrying and the like and more in the present moment.  On the Waking Up podcast last week, Sam Harris spoke about meditation and its benefits. Harris pointed up that most of us could improve the overall quality of our lives enormously just by cutting out useless mental loops of fear, anger, or craving.  Just dropping the pointless emotional junk would allow a lot more room for fulfillment.

I also resolved to get to some of the Carolina Nature Photographers meetings.  I joined the group a couple of years back, and have gone to some of their outings, but until this week I hadn’t been to  single one of their monthly meetings. Part of me always thought it would be great to talk shop with other nature photographers, and I decided to start this week.   

But part of me was resistant.  I generally dread meeting people I don’t know.  Based on my reading in evolutionary biology, I’d guess this dread  has ancient roots: our ancestors of hundreds of thousands of years ago living in small bands seldom encountered others of their species, and when they did it usually meant trouble, and possibly a violent death.  So they too probably avoided it when possible, and passed this strategy along to their successors. Anyhow, for whatever reason, I’ve got a mild phobia of strangers.

But I recognize it’s important to connect with others and so I usually manage to buck up and just do it.  Much more often than not, I enjoy a social chat once it gets started. At the meeting, not surprisingly, I found several nice people to chat with companionably about photography subjects, and enjoyed the presentation.  I thought some of the photography shown was really good, but not at all out of my league. I’d already resolved to take better pictures, and resolved this week to enter some of the contests.

I took the wildlife pictures here this weekend at Yates Mill Pond, Lake Lynn, and Shelley Lake.  I liked the reflections.  I was experimenting with some new settings in preparation for a trip with the Carolina Nature Photographers to Lake Mattamuskeet in a couple of weeks, where I expect to encounter thousands of water birds — snow geese, tundra swans, various ducks, and others.  

On Friday night we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Fiction Kitchen.  We were happy to get a seat at the bar.  They’re popular and don’t take reservations, and we’ve been turned away more often than we’ve gotten in.  Fiction Kitchen is about delicious vegetarian and vegan food and a friendly artsy atmosphere. The core social vibe is distinctly lesbian, but all are welcome.  Sally had the veggie mock pork barbecue, and I had the mock sushi. Both were very tasty, and we had no room left for dessert.

Then we walked over to Memorial Auditorium to see Shen Yun, the Chinese dance troop.  They bill their art as part of an ancient Chinese tradition going back thousands of years, and contend that it is the root source of elements of western ballet and gymnastics.  Perhaps. What is certainly true is that they are very graceful and super athletic. The colorful flowing costumes are lovely, and the use of technology in the sets is creative.  There’s a degree of formality in the way the dancers present themselves, but that also is attractive.

Shen Yun’s beautiful dancers and lively stories emphasize the richness of Chinese culture, and at first I wondered if it was sponsored by the Chinese government.  But midway through the program, there were a couple of highly political segments that dramatize the brutality of Communist authoritarianism. The roots of Shen Yun seem to be in Falan Dafa, a/k/a Falan Gong, a movement involving meditation and qiqong exercises which continues to be persecuted by the CP.

Anyhow, we found the show stimulating and fun, and would go back again.  As I mentioned to Sally, the idea of China that was I got from American schooling turns out to have been a wild oversimplification.  The inhumanity of Chinese Communism is only one part of the picture. The China of real people turns out to be incredibly varied and interesting.  Without too much preaching, Shen Yun showed this.

Vegetarian delights, and trying intermittent fasting

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Downtown Raleigh is getting downright vegetarian friendly! I had my first lunch this week at the latest new place catering to those who prefer plant food, Living Kitchen. It’s an entirely organic, entirely plant-based restaurant, and I liked everything about it. It’s airy and lively, with smart, friendly servers, and quite a fine veggie burger. There were many things on the menu I wanted to try, and I’ll definitely going back.

Within just a three or so blocks of my office, along with Living Kitchen, there is interesting and tasty plant-based food at Happy and Hale, B-Good, Buku, Shish Kabob, and Capital Club 16, and excellent juices at Cold Off the Press. A little further is Fiction Kitchen, with a highly creative all veggie menu. I could easily eat too much!
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Indeed, I have. I weigh in every morning on a digital scale, and in recent months have been about five pounds heavier than what I really wanted to be. Maybe my metabolism slowed down a bit.

Anyway, for the usual reasons (health, vanity), I’ve been trying to get rid of the excess, and it hasn’t been easy. I tried upping my daily aerobic activity from 40 to 45 hard minutes, and that didn’t make much of a dent. I looked for potential food intake problems that could be improved, and found few. I’d already cut way down on junk food, sweets, fat, and carbs. I’m used to eating smaller-than-typical portions. It wasn’t obvious what more could be done without leaving civilization and becoming a desert ascetic.

I finally decided to try intermittent fasting. I did some research on various systems for skipping certain meals. The version I settled on was no eating between lunch and breakfast two times a week. It made me a bit grouchy at first, but it got easier. The other significant shift was to cut out alcohol during the work week. Here again, it was a little grim at first, since I very much enjoy some wine with dinner, but the first week was the hardest. This week I finally made it to my weight target.
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A few chimney swifts, fine Fiction Kitchen, finishing physical therapy, the fossil fuel endgame, and a fishing blue heron

A spicebush swallowtail at Ralston Arboretum on September 11, 2015

A spicebush swallowtail at Ralston Arboretum on September 11, 2015

According to Sally’s calendar, this week should have been a good one to see the chimney swifts in downtown Raleigh. Last year at this time there were thousands, swarming and swirling, and eventually shooting down a large chimney to roost for the night. So we went downtown with our binoculars on Wednesday night and waited at sunset. There were some mini-flocks flying, and we kept hoping for the grand congregation, but it didn’t happen. We saw dozens of swifts, rather than thousands.

Afterwards we went a few blocks south to Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh’s best vegetarian restaurant. The last few times we’d tried to get in, the place had been full with many people waiting. This time it was full, but the wait was only a few minutes. The waiters we liked were still there. There were some new menu items, along with familiar favorites. We started with squash and zucchini cakes appetizer, which was delicious. For entrees, Sally had the succatash farro risotto. I had the mock pork BBQ, a tempeh-based dish that was so outrageously good that, as a vegetarian, I felt a bit guilty.
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The next day I had my graduation session from physical therapy. For the last few weeks, I’ve been trekking out to Cary to see Geert Audiens a couple of times a week to get treatment for my torn rotator cuff. As ordered, I’ve been doing my shoulder exercises twice a day (most days). The exercises were not too interesting at the start, and have gradually become a huge bore.

But most of the discomfort in my shoulder is gone, and the strength is improved. To complete the program, Geert directed me to continue doing the exercises for 25 minutes a day every day for the next three months. Then I should call him and give a report. This is a big assignment, but I’m going to try, since I am still motivated to get better. I expect to be using that shoulder for quite a few years yet.

Driving back to Raleigh, I saw a bald eagle fly across the beltline into the trees. There are some that live a bit west of here at Jordan Lake, but this was the first one I’d seen in Raleigh.
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On Saturday morning, I read a piece in the NY Times ran a piece on a new climate study that projected a more-than-200-foot rise in sea levels if we continue to use fossil fuels until they are used up in the 22nd century. That would mean no more New York, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Beijing, Sydney, and Tokyo, among other nice places. All the ice on earth would melt, with half of that occurring in the next thousand years, and seas rising at 10 times the current rate. The study out of the Potsdarm Institute for Climate Impact Research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Curiously, the Times put this horrifying news on the bottom of page A10 of the print edition, rather than the top of page 1. It was similarly buried in the online edition. Did the editors think it wasn’t important? That’s doubtful. Did they think their readers are tired of bad climate news and would prefer not to hear more? Perhaps, but in whatever case, we’ve got to get our minds around this, and get to work, or things are going to get grimmer. We’ve had a good run with fossil fuels, but that’s over. It’s time to get serious about the alternatives.
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After reading of this and other unsettling things and finishing my coffee, I drove up to Falls Lake to look for birds and insects. I hadn’t been there in a while. My plan was to explore several spots, but I discovered they now charge $6 for the main areas. I found my way to a non-charging spot in the Beaverdam reservoir area, where the road was almost too rough and rutted for low-slung Clara. I spent twenty minutes or so watching this blue heron move very very slowly. I kept hoping she’d catch a fish, but she didn’t.
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More eye surgery, healthy habits, a gay marriage revelation, a new veggie restaurant, and the shame of the processed food industry

This week I had eye surgery to repair the effects of scar tissue from my previous eye surgery, with the understanding that there would probably be more surgery needed in future. And so in the space of a few weeks I’ve gone from an adult in remarkably good health with no history of hospitalization to a fairly experienced consumer of modern American medicine. There are, of course, some negatives, such as worry, fear, and pain, but I’m trying to stay positive. It’s a learning experience.

Most of my healthcare team at the Duke Eye Center, including nurses, orderlies, anesthesiologists, and doctors were surprisingly cheerful and supportive. The anesthesia was designed to keep me partially conscious, which it did, and so I was able to listen to the conversations of the team and the music they listened to (vintage rock, unfortunately). I was instructed to let them know if things hurt, and I did speak up a couple of times when it got fairly intense.

The operation involved removing scar tissue from my left retina and eye wall and reattaching the retina to the wall. It was an extremely delicate procedure and took about three hours. When Dr. Mruthyunjaya checked me the next day, he was pleased with the initial results, but noted that it would be some months before we’ll know how much vision I’ll have with that eye. At some point I’ll need cataract surgery as well. But that day I was able to see the top couple of lines of the eye chart, which was an enormous improvement from last check, when I couldn’t make out any letters at all.

Healthy Habits

I was banned from all strenuous exercise for at least a couple of weeks and possibly more. I’m not sure Dr. Mruthyunjaya appreciated that this was a fairly harsh sentence for a person like me, with a big exercise habit. Getting to the gym or other physical activity most every morning is something I just do. It makes me feel better for the rest of the day and is part of the long-term plan of staying healthy and happy. But I don’t think about the pluses and minuses at 5:15 a.m., which would be way too much work. It’s taken a long time to get to the point where exercise is almost automatic, and does not feel like dreary work. I don’t want to lose the habit.

With this partly in view, I decided to recommence my computer programming studies during the newly freed up early morning. I signed up with Codeacademy for their free online Python course. It should keep me in the habit of getting up early. So far, it’s been interesting and mostly fun, though also frustrating at occasional junctures when I get stuck. I’m thinking of it as a lot like learning Spanish: an exercise that at a minumum serves to stimulate the brain in a healthy way, and could turn into a skill that could come in handy.

Gay Marriage Switcheroo

Speaking of brains, in the news this week was a report that Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, had decided to switch from an opponent to a backer of gay marriage. His reason? His son came out as gay. I had two reactions to this:

1. good
and
2. you’ve got to be kidding me!

As to 1, I’m happy that Senator Portman has seen the light, and come to view gay people as entitled to the same civil rights as everyone else. But as to 2, coming to this view really shouldn’t depend on having a gay child!

All of us place special weight on the welfare of our loved ones, but that isn’t a very reliable starting place for broader moral reasoning or policy making. Otherwise, those with healthy families would have no concern for the less abled, and those in a majority race would ignore the rights of minorities. This would be a morality with severe myopia. I wonder how much conservative family values blather is accounted for by such myopia.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Senator Portman, who must surely possess more-than-usual courage to take issue with the conventional and rabid views of his party. We could all benefit from exercising our empathy muscles. Here’s a suggestion: what if we all spent five minutes a day imagining that a specific human in a group we generally dislike is our dearly beloved child? Our imaginations could extend the diameter of our circle of caring and feeling. This would be a good thing. I’ll go first, and try to think loving thoughts about a rightwing fringe Republican.

Trying a New Vegetarian Restaurant

Last night Sally and I tried Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh’s new vegetarian restaurant on Dawson Street. It was full when we got there, with a wait time of 45 minutes, which would exceed our usual supply of patience, but we found a place to stand near the bar and had some Chardonnay. The vibe was hip-funky, similar to Poole’s, but with a younger, edgier crowd — think tatoos, grad students, gays and lesbians, interracial couples, and even a few babies. Oh, and one middle-aged guy with a strangely red left eye swollen half-shut. The place hummed with the sound of many conversations.

The food was creative, with an emphasis on local seasonal ingredients. For appetizers, we had the wintery spring rolls with spicy peanut sauce and seasonal fritters, which had NC apples, spices, and bourbon-agave. We split two entrees, the sweet potato sushi rolls with sashimi tofu and braised tempeh with pesto grits. Every bite was tasty.

Shameful Goings on in the Processed Food Industry

It was really cheering to see a new vegetarian business in Raleigh doing so well. As regular readers know, I’m a big proponent of healthy, ethical eating, which is another habit that’s good for humans, and also fun. But there are powerful forces promoting unhealthy food. For evidence, see an op ed piece in today’s NY Times, by Michael Mudd, a former honcho with Kraft Foods, titled How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry.

As a former insider, Mudd seems credible when he characterizes the business of large food processors as “enticing people to consume more and more high-margin, low-nutrition branded products.” He describes how “relentless efforts were made to increase the number of ‘eating occasions’ people indulged in and the amount of food they consumed at each.”

According to Mudd, “Even as awareness grew of the health consequences of obesity, the industry continued to emphasize cheap and often unhealthful ingredients that maximized taste, shelf life and profits. More egregious, it aggressively promoted larger portion sizes, one of the few ways left to increase overall consumption in an otherwise slow-growth market.”

Mudd also describes the food industry’s clever PR efforts to deflect attention and regulation, such as attributing the obesity epidemic to other factors. There are, of course, multiple factors, but none with the same despicable level of conscious intent. At the same time, they contend they are giving the victims “what they want.” These wants, of course, are the product of advertising and food engineering. (There was a very interesting piece in the Times magazine by Michael Moss a couple of weeks ago on the dark art of synthesizing junk foods that are almost irresistible.)

For solutions, Mudd proposes federal and state taxes on sugared beverages and snacks that undermine health, which would generate funds for education programs and subsidize healthy foods for low-income people. He also recommends mandatory federal guidelines for marketing foods to children and better food labeling. This makes sense.