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2021: We thought we’d never get here. It’s hardly an ordinary January; in spite of the promise of brighter days ahead, we’re constantly reminded that things are still a long way from OK. I’ve decided to enter this new year without too many resolutions. Last year’s early quarantine gave me a lot of self-improvement gumption, but I didn’t realize the toll all my general worrying about the pandemic would take on my ability to follow through. Did I use the worldwide pause during lockdown to read all of James Baldwin? Finally dig into Iranian cinema? Bake all the bread for our house? Give up eating bread entirely? Of course not. Still, there is something steadying in committing to a few better habits. So as we embark on this new year, my resolutions are a little more prosaic—classic health goals that, frankly, I think I can achieve, especially with a few little tools to keep me on target.
Eat My Vegetables
In a funny way, pandemic life has helped my family eat more vegetables, largely because I started cooking a lot of dals and vegetable curries, often with the help of British writer Meera Sodha’s first cookbook, Made in India. Her book East, published in the U.S. this year, is so pretty, and explores vegetarian dishes from all over Asia. Her South Indian–style beets in coconut milk and Sichuan-inspired mapo tofu with shiitakes have become staples in my house. Bryant Terry brings music (like, literally, suggested soundtracks), history, and fantastic texture to his vegan recipes. His 2020 book Vegetable Kingdom is going to help my family continue to expand our vegetable palate at our not-yet-vegetarian-but-getting-more-so table.
By Meera Sodha. Flatiron Books.
By Bryant Terry. Ten Speed Press.
To up my vegetable consumption, I also like to try to switch from sandwiches to salads for lunch. The absolute key to more salad-eating is having washed greens readily available. If I wash my greens as soon as they come home from the store, I’m in good shape. To do so, I fill a huge bowl with cold water and swish my lettuce/escarole/arugula/spinach around in it. Then I let it sit for a few minutes while the dirt falls down to the bottom, and lift the greens up out of the water with a spider, a small basket on a handle. (It’s also great for frying, but that’s another story.) To avoid wasting plastic bags to store those clean (and dried) greens, this kind of flat, ventilated storage container is really handy. Line the container with a layer of paper towels to help absorb extra moisture.
Drink Less Booze and More Tea
The world is still a mess, but after the election I finally feel like I don’t need a drink or several at the end of the day, and I’d like to stop altogether this January. Whenever I cut back on drinking, I miss the ritual of an end-of-day cocktail, which is where my friend Julia Bainbridge’s book Good Drinks comes in: She’s assembled recipes from top bartenders around the country for their best boozeless cocktails, each prettier than the next. My favorite is her minimalist spritz made with verjus, the tangy juice of underripe grapes.
By Julia Bainbridge. Ten Speed Press.
When I try to cut back on drinking, I hover over many cups of tea (largely from Portland, Oregon’s T Project, whose Golden Years blend is my all-time favorite). If you get nice tea, don’t try to cram it in a tea ball; either make it in a teapot and strain with a pretty little tea strainer, or use a tea basket like this for a single cup. If you are stepping up your tea drinking, it’s a good idea to have an adjustable teakettle so you can steep your fancy tea at the right temperature—green tea needs a much cooler bath than black teas or herbal tisanes.
Snack More Thoughtfully
My approach to more healthful eating includes replacing mindless afternoon grazing with a premeditated and satisfying snack to tide me over until dinner. A medium-hard cooked egg is often just the right thing. You don’t need a gadget to make them, but a favorite tool of mine—thanks to recommendations from the food stylist on my last book—is a little electric egg cooker that evenly cooks hard, soft, or in-between eggs and looks adorable trying.
Exercise Outdoors More
I started quarantine like a champ, running more than I had in years, hiking regularly, and filling in the gaps with online workouts. But an ill-conceived handstand this summer did a number on my hamstring, which slowed me down. Now, thanks to time (and possibly my commitment to Norwegian hamstring curls), I’m out on the road again. But I need to steel myself for exercising outdoors in the coldest months. When exerting yourself outdoors in the winter—running, walking the dog, Nordic skiing, or even dragging a sled uphill—a regular hat can make you overheat even if the weather is cold enough to freeze ears. A running headband solves the too cold/too hot conundrum. I prefer a stupidly bright color—it’s easier to find in the bottom of a hat basket. I also rely on my belt bag. For years I stuffed my phone in my bra while running, which I’m pretty sure is good for neither my phone nor my chest. A snug, elasticated, light-up belt bag has me ready for a long run or a rave, whichever comes first. Mine is neon orange. Of course, you can get it in black if you want, but good luck keeping track of it. And if your winter is seriously cold, you might want to invest in a dedicated pair of thicker leggings. For years, I’ve turned to Sugoi’s—they’re spendy but so cozy. The fleecy interior keeps muscles warm, and the nice bit of reflection helps with visibility.
Exercise Indoors, Too
Of course, this has been the year of online exercise classes, and again, a couple of little purchases have made a big difference in how motivated I am to keep up the work. I upgraded my minimalist yoga mat to a wider and thicker (10-millimeter!) exercise mat. It is awkward to carry, but I don’t have to tote it to the gym anymore, so why not? It makes a big difference in the comfort of my knees and back, thereby making me much less reluctant to do floor exercises. At the beginning of the pandemic, all the serious weights sold out right away, and all I could get my hands on were tiny 5-pound hot pink kettlebells. You know what? You can do a lot of good exercises with 5 pounds and a handle, and because each one looks like a Barbie evening clutch, they still make me laugh.
Spend More Time on Mobility
I’ve never loved warming up or stretching, but as I contend with minor tweaks and aches around my body, I have come to appreciate how that kind of work can help relieve pain and tension, beating back injuries before they become a real problem. Back pain from makeshift work-from-home desks combined with the additional sitting of this pandemic year has made preventive care even more important. In the before times, I’d use the big blue calf rocker at the gym; now I have my own to stretch my calves. In addition to a basic stretch, I like to stand on it with my heel down and gently kick the other leg at different angles. Foam rollers also do a lot to help ease aches and improve resilience. If you’re getting just one roller—heaven knows they are bulky to store—I think a smooth, long one is the best investment, because you won’t keep slipping off the ends like you do with a shorter roller. It can also stand in for a bench if you want to do flies with your funny little pink kettlebells. If you don’t have the space—or you want a little more focused self-massage, especially on your legs—this little stick can really help relieve sore spots. And because it is always a good idea to be kinder to one’s feet: Rolling them on these not too squishy, not too firm balls will wake them up and lessen tension you didn’t know you had.
Speaking of Feet: Take Mine More Seriously
In the past few years, I have become much more sensitive to strains in my feet, and I’ve also come to appreciate how issues at the ground level can quickly travel up to my hips, back, and even my shoulders. Recently, my podiatrist advised me that with my floppy arches, I should never be barefoot (you know you are getting older when you can use a phrase like “my podiatrist”). I often used to be barefoot around my house, but help has come for my feet in the form of foam “recovery” slides, which give them a snug and bouncy little hug around the arch without making them feel too shod. Plasticky shoes feel best with socks on, and I like to lean into the look with very bright ones (again I turn to the day-glo colors of my 1980s youth).
January resolutions tend to be body-focused, but I think the worst effects of this grim year were mental. Among other things, this year of constant fretting and distraction has done a number on my creativity—and I’d like to claw some back, starting with more regular drawing practice. My favorite live figure model is my greyhound Birdie, whose narrow head, voluptuous nose, and wildly muscled turkey-leg thighs are an everlasting challenge to capture. She is always good for a new pose, and I’ll never get her just right, but I’ll never tire of trying. I’ll draw with anything, from a ballpoint to pencil stubs, but I have always really loved a conté crayon, which has the softness of a pastel or charcoal but a bit less of the wild smudging. Any old paper will do, but it is fun to use some tinted paper with the contés and work with white highlights as well as a dark line.
Drawing isn’t just a way to make something; it’s a means to recalibrate my busy brain and see things with an intensity that’s often frittered away in ordinary life. When I take the time to do it, my mind feels sharpened and prepared. Maybe even sharpened enough to keep making headway in my Library of America James Baldwin, which, though still only partly read, never lets me down.