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Reflections on Rain on a Rainy Day in SF

In Ireland, it rains a lot.

It’s one the things we’re known for. One of the frequent comments I get when people over here find out I’m from Ireland is:

“Oh Ireland! You guys get a lot of rain, huh?”

To which I reply, in my most hammy Irish accent:

“Ah sure, for the love of Jesus, Mary, and St Patrick himself, where would we be getting all the green from if it didn’t rain?”

It rains a lot and the Irish people have come to accept their lot in life and prepare accordingly.

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In San Francisco, it doesn’t rain a lot.

In fact, we are in the midst of a four-year drought- the worst in 500 years apparently. It’s so severe that water wastage vigilante groups have cropped up all over the city, lurking outside bathroom windows, hunting down anyone who may be reckless enough to leave the tap running as they brush their teeth.

(Not really…but I personally wouldn’t want to risk it.)

So, when it does rain (as it’s been doing this week), it’s kind of a big deal. In fact, it’s more than just a big deal – it’s ABSOLUTE and EPIC CHAOS.

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When I first arrived in the city, I played the smug and chiding Irish person, as I listened to my Americans friends bemoan and be-wail an upcoming rain storm.

I would exclaim (again in my best hammy Irish voice):

“Ah sure, for the love of Jesus, Mary and St Jude the Patron Saint of desperate causes, there’s nothing to be despairing about here. Sure, ’tis only a bit of auld rain…”

(Note, my Irish accent is actually not that Irish, nor is my lingo, thanks to a Canadian mama. Sometimes the crowds just expect it, and who am I to disappoint.)

…Cue flooded streets, car accidents, four hour commutes, leaking windows, ant invasions and general rainy misery. Misery.

And so, suitably admonished, I held my hands up and hopped on the bandwagon. Hunter rain boots were purchased and worn everywhere. Plans were canceled on rainy evenings and if I did have to go out, I’d dress in full on wet weather gear (albeit sexy wet weather gear – I’m not an animal). I participated in, and even initiated, fear-mongering conversations about the rain.

I had transformed into a fully fledged, rain-fearing Californian.

And it was only when my Irish-living-in-Ireland friends and I visited Portland, did I realise this. In Portland, it also rains. Maybe as bad as Ireland. In the lead up to the vacation, my Irish-living-in-SF friend Mags and I worked hard to plan a weekend’s worth of outdoor wandering and hiking, naively expecting the blue skies and sunshine we’re used to in Cali.

When, upon arrival, we were greeted with clouds and drizzle, we went straight into panic mode- frantically googling ‘Things to do in Portland when it rains’ and looking up the nearest Hunter rain boot stockist. We were just on the verge of pitching the benefits of a day spent visiting the Historic Belmont Firehouse, when I noticed my friends looking at us like we were mad.

“The drought’s gone to your heads girls. We’ll be grand. Sure ’tis only a bit of auld rain.”

And with a toss of their hair, clicking their umbrellas open, they stepped outside.

Suddenly the spell was broken – so stoic, so…regal was their acceptance of the rain and its consequences. It was mesmerizing. I used to be like that – what had happened to me?

Here’s the truth – SF really can’t handle the rain when it comes. The infrastructure is not set up for it. So it is kind of miserable.

But here’s another truth – the rain is also kind of beautiful. Especially when you’re on the tail-end (hopefully) of a really long drought.

Over the past week I’ve started noticing the lovely things about it – the steady patter against the skylight as I fall asleep, the rivulets of tiny drops on the window pane as I ride the bus into work, the ominous black clouds as they roll over the horizon, the sudden and striking verdant green of the city hills.

It’s melancholy, but also revitalizing.

Rain has been glorified for centuries – how many movies have played out their finales against rain-soaked backdrops, how many novels have used rain as an analogy for inner turmoil? Not to mention the millions of rain-scented bath products and stormy soundscapes on offer.

Ultimately, rain is good, and nothing to be feared. I’mma stop complaining so vociferously about it.

 

 

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The Portland mini break

One of my 2016 goals is to travel more around the US. This country is vast, varied and beautiful, with enough must-see places to fill a lifetime. That’s probably a reason why many Americans don’t leave to go on vacation (as well as the abysmally low number of personal leave days).

To that end, I’ve lined up a number of fun long-weekend destinations to hit up over the course of the year. First on the list was the artfully hip, the achingly cool and the wonderfully weird city of Portland, Oregon.

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We looked all over for this guy, he looks like fun

My travel companions were a group of my Irish besties who are over in SF for a work conference. We’ve known each other for 10 years and love nothing more than to take ourselves off for sneaky city mini breaks. And given the fact that we do eating, drinking and general aimless wandering pretty well, Portland was the perfect destination for us.
The city and the sights

Whilst there are tourist attractions in Portland, it’s not like the bigger cities, where you’re rushing around trying to check all the sights off a list, frantically trying to grab at least one good shot of the experience for Instagram. (If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen).

A weekend in Portland is more about soaking up ‘the vibe’, and trying to experience it as a local (hipster) would.

(I realise the irony of this. No self-respecting Portland hipster would ever do anything as contrived as trying to fit in with the locals. They’d rather eat their own vintage vegan clogs.)

This city is so livable – just like SF in my mind. It’s a collection of super walkable districts on either side of the Willamette river. Each district has an infinite number of kooky stores (which mostly sell perfumed products and hipster cat paraphernalia), fairy light bedecked restaurants, warehouse style breweries and funky food trucks.

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Sacred heart candles get a makeover in a Portland store. Is praying finally cool? Unclear…

There’s a fairly industrial vibe to some parts of the city, which surprised me a little. Or maybe urban hip is a better way of describing it. It kind of reminded me of the Dogpatch in SF.

There are definitely classically beautiful parts of the city – the riverfront is lovely, with a view of Mount Hood. And there is an abundance of cherry blossoms flowering at the moment, which I was thrilled about – I’m a big fan of their work. Huge.

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Ahhh, cherry blossoms with cherry blossoms

 

Fun things to do include a spin around the Portland Saturday Market (also open on Sunday, never fear) and a browse around Powell’s City of Books (an entire city block dedicated to books). We also wanted to try the aerial tram, but it was closed sadly.

All fun things, but really, Portland is all about the eating, drinking and people watching…

The eating and the drinking

When I asked around for generic Portland recommendations, I exclusively got back restaurant and bar suggestions. I thought San Francisco was a foodie city, but Portland takes the biscuit (food related pun intended).

Artisan donuts, craft beer and pinot noir seem to be the main things to try when you’re there. And we tried them all!

Donuts: The best known donut store is Voodoo donuts. The line was out of control though, so we grabbed a quick pic for posterity (ie Instagram) and then buzzed over to Blue Star donuts.

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Come for the donuts, stay for the tech lols. I especially like the last one

Craft beer: There are sooooo many breweries around, 1 brewery to every 1.5 hipster apparently. Somebody recommended Deschutes to me, and not knowing much about beer, we went with it. A bustling, wood-beamed, vaulted ceilinged warehouse, with a massive selection of beer and tasty fries.

Pinot Noir: I don’t have much to say on this matter. I’m not a fan. Napa Cabs till I die…

Other restaurants: 

  • Pok Pok is a really cute Thai place, that all the locals RAVE about. Think picnic tables and stainless steel plates. The food was out of control. We didn’t go for the chicken wings (which are famous apparently. I’ll regret that until the day I die.
  • Tasty n Alder has amazing brunch food and cocktails, including the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had made from Tequila! I’ll forgive them for the 1.5 hour wait.

Unfortunately for me I missed out on a lot of the culinary adventures. I had decided that this was the week I would give up gluten and sugar…again. If I could survive a weekend in Portland, off the hard stuff, I could survive anything. Actually, turns out it’s probably easier to do in Portland than anywhere else. Every time I inquired about gluten/sugar free options the server would present an entire allergen-free menu with a flourish – not an eye roll or judgey sigh to be seen or heard. Portland is my spirit animal.

It still wasn’t easy though. The others got a bit sick of my constant staring as they tucked into their sugary, glutenous treats and my persistent requests to have a sniff, or asking them to describe their eating experience in salacious detail. Salacious…

The people watching

The first thing that comes to mind when you think about Portland is the people. Specifically the hipsters.

Portlandia has a lot to do with this obviously, but there’s no smoke without a hand-rolled cigarette as they say – and the people of Portland are without a doubt, off-the-charts cool.

(I wish I could think of a better word than cool – it’s so not cool).

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And it’s not just the tattoo sleeves, lumberjack beards or beany hats that make them this way. It’s a quiet, unflashy confidence that simply oozes out of their pores. Oozes in a sexy way? You know they couldn’t give a shit about what you thought of them. And equally, you get the impression they’re not thinking about or judging you at all. (For better or for worse).

One of the slogans of the city is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ and there are definitely people who embody this to the full – from the no-pants wearing shop assistant (he was just getting prepped for the naked Sunday Shopping spree at 4pm) to the girl who ran up to the restaurant window where we were sitting, blew on the glass, drew a heart and then ran off.

All of them are amazing.

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Real naked life, right here!

 

The company

All of us girls have pretty similar travel styles – we like to have a loose enough itinerary so we’re not missing anything vital, with solid dinner reservations so we’re not wandering around in a hangry panic looking for something to eat. Generally, we’re just content to take the weekends as they come, which makes for a very relaxing, no stress vacation.

Aside from marveling at the city and talking (obsessively) about the food
we spent a lot of time playing Cards Against Humanity, answering the 36 Love Questions, talking about weddings (we have two upcoming nuptials and one new engagement), singing Justin Bieber songs and complaining about Justin Bieber songs getting stuck in our heads.

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All in all Portland provided the perfect backdrop for two wonderful days of catching up and reminiscing, side clutching laughter and emotional D&Ms,  Irish craic and good, clean American hipster fun.

Announcing ‘100 DAYS in SF’

Well folks – it’s that time of year. December 31st is fast approaching and most intelligent people are stuffing their faces with as much unhealthy fun as they can cram in before they have to give it all up for a healthy new year and a healthy new life of drinking green smoothies (and moaning about drinking green smoothies).

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I, in turn (trend-bucker that I am), have decided to do EXACTLY the opposite. I have decided that 2016 will be the year that I un-healthy myself.

Well, in blog terms that is.

I am happy to announce my new blog “100 DAYS in SF.” This is of course dramatically different to my old one “100 HEALTHY DAYS in SF.”

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Just in case the caps didn’t bring the message home…

So why the change Michelle? What went wrong? Did you overdose on collard greens? Sweat the enthusiasm out of you in Bikram Yoga?

Never fear – I’m still like majorly into healthy shit and well being and all that. And I’m still prepared to blog, lecture, pontificate and full on nerd out about it in a major way.

But I’ve just come to the conclusion that one does not live in San Francisco by healthy stuff alone. (Well, in the non-literal sense of course). One lives in San Francisco by having as many FUN DAYS as possible. At least 100 of them.

While writing my blog last year (when I actually wrote regularly…) I realised that there were so many things I wanted to talk about, that did not necessarily fit in with my healthy theme. The fun nights out in the Mission, the trips to wine country, the photography, the fun dates, the awful dates, the amazingly crazy people, the beautiful souls. And yeah, the unhealthy but delicious food and cocktails.

These all form an integral part of my life in San Francisco and I CAN’T DENY IT ANY MORE.

So from now on you’re going to hear about it all- every last crazy, healthy and unhealthy (but fun) minute of my time in the city.

(Well, maybe not those minutes spent on the couch being a loner eating chocolate and watching The Office. Neither healthy nor fun…)

Stay tuned!

Love Michelle xxx

 

Day 4: Exhausted, but a healthy SF take out saves the day!

Day 4 and I’ve been slammed by a wave of exhaustion. Naively, I had convinced myself that I would be able to cheat jet lag, bounce and frolick my way back into a healthy, daily routine, go to my 8 exercise classes and cook balanced meals from scratch. Hah!

Turns out I’m not quite the super-food cooking superhero just yet.

Instead, I’m more like this.

I love this crazy looking creature.

I love this crazy looking creature.

I’ve gone through similar periods of exhaustion in the past, so I’m all too familiar with the havoc this can wreak upon a healthy living resolution. In an effort to simply keep your eyes open, all you want to do is to eat carby, sugary, starchy, fatty (DELICIOUS) food- and the last thing you want to do is to cook it. Inevitably, this leads to a stop at the local burrito place on the way home from work or a sneaky take out that usually involves pizza.

I am extraordinarily happy to report that good sense and and great health prevailed in this instance. Whilst I did order take-out it was of the very healthy variety. Actually, scratch that, it was of the very, very healthy variety. And it doesn’t get much better than very, very healthy.

Enter Thistle – the pioneers (in my mind – maybe there are others?) of genuinely healthy fast food. I’ve been using them for a while now. They have a variety of healthy, vegetarian dishes that you can order online and have delivered to your doorstep in 30 minutes (or less, more often than not). The dishes always provide a balance of veg, healthy carbs, fat and protein. Honestly speaking, I always feel 100% satisfied afterwards, and never want anything else after.

Jaysus, this sounds like it’s a commercial, but it’s not, I promise.

My dish of choice was the Power Bowl – steamed quinoa, marinated kale, mashed sweet potato, black beans, carrots, housemade kimchi, sunflower seeds, and tahini sauce. I also got the Snow drink (almond milk with peppermint) and I got the Verdance green juice for the following morning.

Thistle is great if you need a quick fix, but in the future I plan to have a freezer-load of healthy meals on hand, ready to defrost when the need hits.

But I’ll get to that when i’m less tired…

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Whilst I did a good job on the eating front, exercise failed miserably. I had signed up for two exercise classes, canceled them, asked some friends if they wanted to go for a walk, canceled that and then ended up on the couch for the night. But you know what – needs must and sometimes you just need to listen to your body.

Food and exercise:

  • Hot water with lemon
  • Breakfast: scrambled eggs (whole and whites), kale, two large coffees with milk
  • Lunch: Salad, with fresh veg, chicken and some fried plantain (healthy? Probs not…but only a small bit), sprinkle nuts and seeds, olive oil and apple cider vinegar
  • Snack: Chobani Greek yogurt and handful almonds
  • Dinner: See above
  • Exercise: channel surfing…

Day 3: Sweating the holidays out with Bikram Yoga in the Mission

During some kind of a jet-lagged fueled, manic episode I decided to sign up to no less than 8 exercise classes this week. One of these being Bikram Yoga. No better way to rid yourself of your holiday demons than sweating them out of you.

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My friend Katie, suggested we check out the Bikram Yoga class at Mission Yoga in San Francisco. We managed to get an amazing deal on Groupon – 25 classes for $108. Score! (There’s also still time remaining to get the deal FYI).

This wasn’t my first time doing Bikram, thankfully. I used to do it quite regularly while living in Dublin and I loved it. I think if it had been my first time, I would have suffered even more than I did.

For those of you who refuse to call something a workout unless it involves lifting serious lbs or sprinting 5 miles – let me enlighten you. Bikram Yoga is not for wimps. It’s badass. I find that it gets my heart racing as much as a hill run or a round of wall balls . The class consists of a continuous flow of 26 postures in 40 °C (104 °F) heat with a humidity of 40% for 90 badass minutes. That’s right…badass.

More often than not it’s the heat and humidity that’s the most difficult part of the class. It gets hot! And the postures themselves can be pretty challenging. There’s contorting, squatting and oodles of balancing postures. For those of you who know me you’ll know I don’t do balancing that well. I sometimes fall down even when standing still.

This all being said, Bikram Yog is still totally do-able and accessible to everyone, regardless of fitness level. You’re encouraged to take it at your own speed and sit down whenever you want. I spent half of my first few classes sitting on the mat.

In addition to the physicality I find that there’s something that happens to you on an emotional level when you practice Bikram. Bear with me. My friend Marie used to tell me that she found it to be amazing for unlocking pent up emotions. Sure enough, at the end of the class as we were lying in the dark in the savasana pose I could feel the tears pricking my eyes for no reason at all. It wasn’t a bad thing necessarily – I felt like something had been dislodged, emotionally speaking. Strange…

Anyway, suffice to say I thought the class was great and I’ll definitely be going back again. I really want to get better at it! I want to be the teachers pet, and be the one to hear ‘You there in the back, that’s the best tree pose I’ve seen this side of India.’

Like I said – lofty goals this year.

In other yoga related news I just saw they’re running a weed-fueled yoga class in SOMA on Wednesdays. This is so San Francisco, it hurts! Something to put on the bucket list I think.

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Today was again quite a good day for healthy living. I managed to eat healthfully and do two exercise classes. I did have a brief moment though, as I was eating my raw vegetable snack, when I thought I couldn’t stomach any more veg. But I persevered! 3 good days so far – not bad!

Food and exercise

Photo Collage Maker_jkzzSt

  • Hot water with lemon
  • Snack: Small handful walnuts
  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and Kale, 2 large coffees
  • Exercise: 1 hour PT
  • Lunch: Salad with veg, chicken, roasted brussel sprouts, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, olive oil and apple cider vinegar
  • Snack: Raw veg with lemon hummus
  • Exercise: 90 (badass) mins of Bikram Yoga
  • Snack: Handful pecans
  • Dinner: White fish, green beans, half an avocado

 

Day 43: Strategies for eating out in San Francisco

As anyone living in San Francisco will tell you, this is the best city to come to if you are a foodie. Not only are there amazing restaurants and food trucks, but also talking about food (and being a ‘foodie’) is a legitimate past-time…As well as blogging about food, instagramming food, yelping about restaurants. You even start to choose a potential date based upon how much they like to eat out!

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Food plays an integral part of the socialising over here, and I love it!

(But not to the point where I instagram my food. I’m not that much of a douchey Foodie. Anyone else so bored by this?)

Obviously, however, to eat the healthiest you need to be at home cooking your own meals, so you know exactly what you’re eating.

BORING!!! How depressing would that be? Can you imagine turning down an opportunity to try out the latest hip restaurant in favour of eating a bowl of kale and broiled chicken on your tod. You’d want to kill yourself!

(Oh my God, I have the feeling that sounds like something a douchey Foodie would say).

So, really, if you want to go out and have a social life AND be healthy, you just have to get clever and have a few strategies up your sleeve. These are the ones I’m trying out for myself

1. Choose and reserve the restaurant beforehand.

Because there are so many options in San Francisco, it can get overwhelming and difficult to make a decision about where to eat – especially when you’re out and about. And when that happens you inevitably spend a good hour walking around in circles, until you get hangry, then you panic, have a fight with your dinner companions and end up storming into the nearest taqueria for a burrito, that you eat in a huff.

This is not fun for anyone and can lose you some friends.

So, instead do your research and choose the restaurant online beforehand. If you’re going with a group, offer to find and reserve for everyone. They’ll love you for it. My go-to in SF is OpenTable or Yelp (sorry Google+…).

Any other good sites out there?

2. If you can’t choose the restaurant, look at the menu before you go

Most restaurants will have their menus available online, so you can plan exactly what to order in advance. By doing that, you save yourself from getting swept up in the ordering frenzy and going for something unhealthy.

3. Load up on veg beforehand

Maybe even just before you go out. The French or Italians would freak at the thought of potentially ruining your meal by eating so close to dinner-time, but don’t mind them. It’s survival tactics here. And they’ve probably had 12 chocolate pastries already today.

4. Choose your vice

There are many fun things to indulge in at dinner – the bread, the wine, the pasta dishes the dessert. Decide which two of the four you want and don’t go near the others. Ie if you have wine and bread, avoid the tortellini and tiramisu.

5. Go for whole foods

Go for the steak, chicken or fish. They’ll be the healthiest because you know they probably won’t have added anything nasty into them.

This week is jam-packed with dinner dates, so I’ll get an opportunity to try out these tactics myself.

Tonight’s restaurant was Bistro Aix, in the Marina. This is a charming place, with great food, beautiful wine (chosen by the very dashing Johnny, who works there) and a lovely atmosphere. Complete with an indoor tree! I love indoor trees like you wouldn’t believe.

i had one slice of the bread, wine, beet and goat’s cheese salad and lamb meatballs with baby potatoes. I avoided the dessert, as per rule number 4. It looked so decadent…

Let’s see how I get on with the other dinners!