Whole30 So Far (or, “Eight Days Away From a Chocolate Chip Cookie”)

Eight nights from now, I’ll be getting ready for bed and letting it sink in that what I’ve dreamed of for a month can become reality once I wake up in the morning.

That dream? Eating one of these.

I’ve been denying myself of Levain Bakery’s deliciousness for the past three weeks while doing Whole30, and now only a week + day stand between me and that cookie.

Truth be told, I don’t even crave Levain on a regular basis. They’re the best cookies in the city, but they’re definitely an indulgence, mostly purchased for special occasions. But if making it through 30 days without grains, dairy, added sugar, alcohol, and legumes isn’t a special occasion, I don’t know what is.

I really wanted to blog extensively as I went through Whole30, but I think I’m only now in a spot healthy enough to process it: Far enough away from the painful first week that I can assess with some perspective, and close enough to the end that I’m not discouraged about how far there is to go. Plus, at least in the first couple weeks, all the time I thought would go to blogging went to meal prep – and that’s only a slight exaggeration.

For some reason, tonight, I really felt like I could sense the light at the end of the tunnel. So while I’m riding that wave of inspiration, I wanted to share a few thoughts on my Whole30 so far (today, officially, was Day 22). It’s organized in the same way I find myself talking about the program – all the negative stuff at the top, and then the positives (“All I do is prep meals now and I really want a cookie but I haven’t had a stomachache since I started and I can really tell that eliminating dairy is helping my digestion.”).

The Whole30 creators are famous for saying the program “isn’t hard,” but I’d also say it isn’t for the faint of heart. Aside from the obvious dietary changes it requires you to make, it forces you to plan meals, shop for groceries, and cook to a degree you might not be used to. I certainly wasn’t used to it, and I even pride myself on not eating out too much in New York City. I love dining out with friends, but I’m good about not just picking up dinner on any random weeknight, and I bring my lunch to work every day. But coming home and whipping up cost-effective orange chicken from Trader Joe’s (hey, only eight days until I can have that, too!) is not the same as making a recipe from scratch. And shopping and prepping to make all your meals from scratch is not the same as zipping through the store, picking up a lot of pre-prepared foods that require minimal effort to assemble into a meal, and maybe grabbing an ingredient or two that’s needed for the one real recipe you might attempt that week.

The prepping-shopping-cooking is just the tactical element. There’s also the emotional strain, and if that sounds silly, I promise you, it’s not. I don’t want to speak for anyone reading this, but my emotional attachment to food is real. Deep down, I think I recognized that and made it the driving force for starting Whole30. I don’t come home and devour a box of donuts on a bad day, but I often have a hard time saying “no,” especially to sweets, and especially when I’m stressed or upset or nervous.

I’ve found myself describing certain foods as a “crutch.” I’ve realized how much I leaned on an afternoon snack, or chocolate after dinner – how much I looked forward to those foods, and how much I thought I needed them to help me deal with external frustrations. So far, the results of Whole30 for me have been less about not craving that stuff at all (I led this post by admitting I dreamed of a chocolate chip cookie, after all) and more about realizing the place “crutch” foods had in my life. Even after a month of no added sugars of any kind, I’m still going to want that cookie. But I think I’ll emerge from Whole30 with a much healthier sense of why I run to certain foods. I have confidence that I’ll be eating the Levain cookie because I find it delicious and totally worth every calorie and ounce of sugar – and not because I need a bite of the cookie just to cope with a certain feeling or get me through the afternoon.

I’d say that sense of clarity about the place I let food have in my life has been the biggest positive of my Whole30. That realization didn’t come easy, though. The program preaches “food freedom,” which I suppose I have found to some degree, but while you’re actually in it, you’re totally enslaved to food – always checking ingredient lists, becoming “that guy” who asks a million questions about how food is prepared at restaurants, unable to have even a sip of wine when out with friends. And that sucks. But I’m far enough along now that I can appreciate needing to follow the rules to a T for awhile, so that once you give yourself leeway again, you know which rules are worth breaking.

I could go on and on about everything this process has taught me from an emotional standpoint, but there’s also the physical element to consider. Without going into too much detail about my digestive tract, I’ve felt amazing the last couple weeks. I usually don’t make it through the week without getting backed up or experiencing some sort of stomach discomfort, and it’s been very smooth sailing during Whole30. And while I don’t think I’ll ever go completely coffee-free in my life, I’ve found it much easier to get up and moving with a smaller cup of joe. I still get tired and cranky if I don’t eat enough (or enough of the right stuff) during the day, but I’ve been waking up much less groggy.

On top of all that, I’ve become much more confident in the kitchen. I’ve followed more unique recipes from start to finish in the last three weeks than I had in, honestly, maybe the previous year. Definitely the previous six months. I have a long ways to go, but I feel less daunted by recipes, am more excited about trying new ingredients, have developed more of a well-stocked pantry that allows me to whip up things without making a trip to the store for a single item, and have more of a knack for understanding how I can utilize leftovers. All of this may sound pretty basic for the average home cook, but for a city dweller who’s used to preparing easy food for one person, it’s something I’m proud of.

At this point, I’m not such a Whole30 convert that I’ll tell any of my friends or acquaintances that they just need to do it because it’ll make them feel so amazing. But if anyone I knew was considering it, I’d encourage them to try – but not before doing extensive research into the program rules and reading up on how much prep goes in to each week.

There are still eight days to go, and I’m sure at many times in that span, it’ll feel like an eternity. But right now, I feel good, have my lunch prepped for tomorrow, and am ready to be one night closer to a warm chocolate chip cookie.

In The Presence of an Icon (Or, “That Night I Waited Five Hours for Tickets to See Bette Midler on Broadway”)

At 4am Saturday, my alarm rang. By 4:45, I (along with my boyfriend, a saint) was sitting in Shubert Alley with the seven others already in line. Our mission? Secure standing room tickets to see Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! that night.

At 10am, the box office opened. We each walked away with two SRO tickets.

At 8pm, the overture began. At 8:10 or so, Bette Midler appeared onstage, and one of the greatest nights of theater I’ve ever experienced took off.

Some background on why this was such an early wakeup call:

Months ago, I came to terms with the fact that I was only going to see Hello, Dolly! by a great stroke of luck or by suddenly coming into wealth. Once the Tony nominations were announced Tuesday and the show racked up ten nods, my determination to see the show was renewed and I took luck into my own hands. I researched the cheap ticket situation (no rush or lottery, but $47 for SRO). Going off the advice of a kind stranger on Twitter (whose tweets appeared when I searched “hello dolly standing room”), I decided to wake up (very) early Saturday, head down to the box office, and see what I could do.

A brief aside to sing the praises of my boyfriend: Not only did he wake up at 4am and sit with me for every minute of our 5-hour wait for the box office to open – he also brought camping chairs so we each had a real seat. But that’s not all. Since each person can purchase up to two SRO tickets, he snagged a pair, but instead of going to the show himself, he bequeathed them to my theater-obsessed coworkers (my roommate took the fourth ticket). Yes, I know, he’s the best person ever.

Seven people were already in line when we arrived, but given what my Twitter friend had told me (he assumed 15-18 SRO per show), and knowing they would be selling for both matinee and evening, I felt good about our chances. Five hours later, we emerged victorious.

Ok, now for Bette.

I honestly had no idea what I was in for. I mean, I kind of did, because it’s an icon in an iconic musical role. But what I didn’t understand until reading the Playbill is that she really hasn’t been on Broadway much (before 2013, it had been 40 years), and that this is her first huge, headlining musical on Broadway ever.

The first time she appears onstage, she’s disguised; she and two other actresses ride out on a carriage, their faces buried in newspapers. One by one, they drop the papers into their laps, and when you see that third face is Bette Midler’s, some crazy musical theater reflex is activated and you start clapping without even realizing it.

The clapping never really stops. Actually, it even goes beyond clapping; in some cases, it was full-on arm-waving, as if the person expected her to notice, stop and point, and proclaim, “Yes, I love you, too.” She may as well have done just that; the electricity in that audience never waned. David Rooney’s review in The Hollywood Reporter puts it perfectly: “Midler soaks [the enthusiasm] up like a heat-seeking beacon and then beams it right back out into the house.”

If simply being in Bette Midler’s presence was the best part, I still would have walked away happy. But more than that, she was also fantastic in the role. I loved hearing her sing, watching her dance and ham it up for the audience.

Every other element of the production was fantastic, too. It reminded me why I love classic musicals. As I’ve become a more knowledgeable theatergoer, I’ve discovered the joy of those that are more outside the box, too – Dear Evan Hansen, or, yes, even Hamilton – but seeing Hello, Dolly!, with its stage awash in colorful costumes, its songs catchy and classic, the whole thing borderline cheesy, I was reminded why I love standard musicals. I didn’t grow up with much attachment to Hello, Dolly! in particular, but it reminded me of the shows that first drew me to a love of musical theater.

I will admit to being bummed when we learned David Hyde Pierce’s understudy would be on that night as Horace Vandergelder. Next to Bette, he was a big reason I wanted to see the show (because, Niles Crane, hello). But Michael McCormick, who performed that night, didn’t seem to miss a beat, and played Vandergelder as the character I knew him to be; he had a gruffness that I almost couldn’t imagine in David Hyde Pierce.

The man standing next to me during the show had also seen the show a few nights earlier, with Pierce. He said he was also terrific, but McCormick wasn’t leaving anything to be desired. (And for the record, this man I spoke with was visiting NYC, had purchased his earlier tickets well in advance, but loved the show so much that he decided to tough it out in the standing room line for another chance.)

Gavin Creel, who played Vandergelder’s employee, Cornelius Hackl, was the great discovery for me. He’s been in tons of shows, but I’d never seen him before, and I absolutely loved him. It was when he started singing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” that I realized there was much more to this show than just Bette Midler.

And yet, there still was Bette Midler. At the risk of sounding incredibly corny, I’m kind of excited to thumb through my old Playbills someday and think about how lucky I was to collide with this show, with that star.

Then I’ll remember I only secured the tickets because I spent five hours in the middle of the night waiting in line. So I wasn’t just lucky; I had to work for I, too. I hesitate to say I’d do it again, because Saturday night was such a purely lovely theater experience (and because no one should lose that much sleep on a weekend). But I’m so glad I did it once.

It Feels Like February (And That’s a Good Thing)

One miserable February day in high school, I remember one of my teachers illustrating how we all felt. On the white board, he drew two diagonal lines that intersected toward the bottom, each one representing half the school year. He labeled the low point, where the lines met, “February.” He meant it to encourage us; yes, it’s dark outside, but it only gets better from here.

For the last few months, I’ve been living firmly on that downhill slide, heading toward the low point. I should offer a caveat: Nothing objectively traumatic has occurred. I’m in one piece and grateful for my (ultimately very stable) life. But the low point has appeared in the form of wrestling with the realization that, especially in New York City, I’ll never be able to do it all.

One of the most important realizations I’ve made since living in New York/becoming an adult (for me, those two are one in the same) is that time is your most valuable asset. In a city with infinite activity, you have to make choices, and I feel like I’ve had to make a lot of them in the first part of 2017.

These choices are all centered on time – who you hang out with, what hobbies you pursue, where you go, what relationships you prioritize. Inevitably, people, places, and pursuits come and go as the years pass. I’ve only been in New York just shy of five years, and the way I spend my time now looks dramatically different from the way it did when I first moved. And that’s a good thing. But I’m also much more aware of the ways I spend my time now, and while I think the awareness is a good thing, constantly obsessing over how to spend time – and fretting about how I might be wasting it – seems like a rather fruitless endeavor.

“Epiphany” is too strong a word, but as I was washing a few dishes this evening, after just having watched an episode of 30 Rock and an hour of Hail, Caesar!, I thought of that illustration from my high school teacher. I just watched some of my favorite show, and a good chunk of a great movie. Last night, 15 people crammed in my apartment to watch the Oscars. Yes, the process of managing time and priorities never stops. But life is still good, and it only gets better from here.

While I have you here, and since I just mentioned it, let’s briefly discuss the Oscars, shall we? I really don’t have that much to say, except the screenplay winners gave my favorite speeches, and I’m bummed the Best Picture fiasco overshadowed 1) a win by a phenomenal film and 2) a fantastic hosting job by Jimmy Kimmel.

Tonight I decided to honor Hail, Caesar!’s nomination for Production Design with a re-watch while I scrolled through slideshows of the red carpet and Vanity Fair party. It was heaven. (I still think a convincing Supporting Actor case could have been made for Ralph Fiennes, although why would you really want to compete with Mahershala Ali.)

Despite all my love of movies and award shows, this was the first year I’d seen all the Best Picture nominees before the actual Oscars ceremony. Manchester by the Sea was my favorite film this season, but I am thrilled for Moonlight and would have been thrilled for La La Land, too. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of the year, I’ve become something of a La La Land defender in the past few weeks; no, the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s got music, dance, Technicolor, and dreams. I don’t think it deserves all the backlash.

Every year during the Oscar ceremony, there’s a moment where I consciously think about how I spent four months watching these movies for, more or less, the very purpose of enjoying this one night. And every year I question why I do such a thing. And then a few months later I’m yearning for awards season again. We all have our vices.

Last thing.

One of my resolutions for 2017 was to continue, and expand upon, the work I did in 2016 to document as much as I could about what I read, watched, and listened to. From an ease-of-documentation standpoint, at least for TV and movies, I find tumblr to be a more effective medium than this blog. I will definitely still be writing here, but I’m keeping a more updated, visually focused look at my cultural intake on tumblr.

Good night.