Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For OM the Bell Tolls

For years, yoga simply wasn’t for me. Slow movements, holding poses, just breathing….for a girl who grew up playing softball and running, a class where you stretched slowly while inhaling and exhaling seemed weird to me. And boring.

However, as an undergrad at OSU, I found I needed another couple credits to fulfill my Tuesday/Thursday class schedule. And yoga was the only thing offered that fit the bill. Half of the class was made up of women looking to get fit, or, like me, realize their two-day-a-week course load dream. The other half was made up of football players. For anyone not familiar with Big Ten football, they grow those guys pretty big out in Ohio.

Thus the scene played out: For an hour, a bunch of petite women and an equal number of muscle-bound men would stretch and OM and eventually fall asleep next to each other for the final savasana. It must have been a thing to see, so many giants snoring away surrounded by a field of lithe ladies. By the middle of the quarter, yoga class had become nothing more than glorified naptime. I stopped going shortly thereafter, figuring I could sleep in and have my own savasana in my bed.

After I moved to New York for graduate school and somehow, some way, managed to scrape together a couple nickels to join a gym, my friend and I went to a yoga class. I hadn’t been since college when I slept beside giants, but it was a new gym membership and I was game to try anything.

Fifteen minutes into my first class, I attempted to contort my legs and arms—as malleable as tent poles—into what my body, given the unidentifiable cracks and shooting pains, deemed impossible positions. Then there was the shoulder stand, which everyone did by effortlessly elevating their legs above their heads and lifting their light-as-air torsos to stand on their shoulders.

After several attempts to heave the lower half of my body up, up good god go UP, after I’d painstakingly propped my butt and torso higher than I ever thought possible, after I’d exhaled a Christ-on-a-crutch-why-in-the-world-would-anyone-do-this? breath, my shirt slid down, exposing my stomach...My floppy-skinned, toneless, pasty stomach—a stomach that bore an eerie resemblance to my cat’s after she’d been neutered. Horrified, my entire body flopped unceremoniously to the mat as the instructor, a leotarded woman with a taut face and a long, tightly braided rope of dark hair running down the middle of her back like some serene kumbaya anchor said (most pointedly in the direction of my yoga mat), “If this position is not available to anyone, please feel free to enjoy child’s pose.”

Suffice it to say, I spent the rest of the class in child’s pose, as the remainder of the positions were unavailable to me. That was my last class for years. I didn’t care. I was a runner, after all. I’d been a runner since the sixth grade. I’ve completed two New York marathons, run I don’t know how many half marathons and gone on countless long runs that make a half marathon feel like a warm up. What the hell did I need yoga for? Answer: I didn’t.

That is, until I got older and my hamstrings staged a revolt on my body. Those grumpy, muscled generals enlisted my knees in the fight along with my beleaguered IT bands. Right around the time when I was seriously outnumbered in the fight, I went to a Bikram yoga class. It was insanely difficult—on par with a long run. It was an ugly, brutal, break-you-down-to-your-core kind of class, not like those pristine yoga classes where hair is rarely mussed and sweat never breaks out. A Bikram yoga class is akin to war, at least that’s how I looked at it at first. I kept going back—for the sweat and the stretch, but mostly for the muscular challenge of it all.

Then I broke through and found the serene, mind-calming rationale for going. The cobweb-clearing, spirit-affirming underpinning of the whole practice. The emotional and spiritual aspects, combined with the physical difficulty, was the exact balance that I needed in my yoga. That’s right my yoga. I no longer sleep through or give up on or outright mock yoga, because I’ve found a technique that works for me. And anything that makes me feel like I’ve run 15 or 16 miles without the pain and injury associated with actually logging those miles, well, it’s worth sticking with.

Turns out, not only is yoga for me, I actually need it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cook to Heal What Ails Ya

Once upon a time I worked at Saveur, a glossy food magazine. This was, ahem, many years ago. I was still at New York University, getting my master’s in journalism and Saveur was my first internship. I loved food, cooking and magazines, so it felt like I’d found the perfect place to begin my journalism career.

’s offices were located downtown in SoHo, far from the maddening, midtown crunch where most every other magazine was located. The offices were airy and filled with sunlight—not to mention much prettier than the ones at The Daily News and The New York Post where my friends had secured internships. I was in heaven, but also, I was lost. And young.

This was my first taste of a real job in the big city. The office might have been perched on the edge of SoHo, but things were still very much corporate. First, there was work attire: For anyone else in the publishing world, Saveur’s dress code was pretty laid back, but it was still more put together than I’d been in any of my years during college and graduate school. So, every morning I struggled with what to wear. Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less what I looked like. All I cared about was words and writing. My only goal was to get clips.

That internship turned into a full-time job and my thrill at being staffed at Saveur lasted for only a short time. My insatiable thirst to write was driving me forward, but instead of watching the clips pile higher, I was thrown into the mundane office tasks that accompanied the mechanics of magazine production. My stay there wasn’t long. The panic I felt at having my budding journalism career die on the publishing vine propelled me out of that airy magazine office and down to South Jersey, of all places, where I worked at a teeny tiny community newspaper. There, in an ugly office (but, it should be noted, not the ugliest—for that was my next newspaper job back in New York), I reported and wrote my fingers off every week, covering every aspect of small-town life: education, politics, government and even the goings-on at the local water authority. It was the perfect boot camp for me, and, just as I’d hoped, the clips piled up.

No one I worked with at Saveur would ever remember the young woman who filed slides and answered phones for a handful of months. And it’s not just because I was Monica Rivituso back then; it was that I gave them little reason to remember me. I was too rarin’ to go and felt my current circumstances were doing nothing but holding me back. Like I said, I was young.

It’s a shame, because what I didn’t realize then was that I was surrounded by foodie luminaries, including Christopher Hirsheimer, who went on to Canal House fame, or Colman Andrews, a veritable food world giant in every regard. The presence of the people I was with was completely lost on the quiet mouse who dutifully answered reader mail, organized back issues, then abruptly, and, let’s face it, unprofessionally quit. My embarrassment at how I left Saveur has always stuck with me, so much so that when I went to a Canal House dinner at Williams-Sonoma with a friend, I couldn’t introduce myself to Ms. Hirsheimer or congratulate her on her books. Utterly pathetic.

Happily, I’ve since matured. And in retrospect, while I didn’t handle my stint or departure from Saveur as well as I’d have liked, I am glad I worked at a tiny newspaper in South Jersey, at a scrappy community newspaper in New York, and at, back when it was a new website and staffed with talent from top to bottom (that’s no slam on its current iteration—although, come to think of it, they just wiped out the entire archive, erasing the site’s golden era, so, forget it: The slam remains).

Today I’m doing an entirely different kind of writing—not journalism and not editing Wall Street folks, as I did for several years after I left journalism. Also, I cook. A lot. More than I ever have. Last Friday was a banner day: I made chocolate bark with sea salt...

pizza dough...


a ginger/red pepper simple syrup...

and, finally, spicy pickles.

The pickle recipe, which yielded some of the most scrumptious little Kirby gems you’ve ever tasted, was from Canal House’s cookbook series (Volume No. 1). Not only am I going to make them again for a family gathering this weekend, I’m considering it a karmic way of making amends with Saveur.