Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 34

Private Benjamin was one of my favorite movies; I love Goldie Hawn, her name was Judy, and she was whipped into shape at boot camp.

You can live out your Marine Corps fantasies in midtown Manhattan and get into amazing shape at Warrior Fitness Boot Camp.

A loft has been converted into an adult playground, or torture chamber, depending on your point of view. An obstacle course has progressively higher walls to scramble over, a rope to climb and a short tunnel that you crawl through on your belly.

Surrounding this is a track where you run, lunge or side shuffle, sometimes carrying weights. An actual Marine, in camo, exhorts you to run faster, hold your arms higher.

But all in the name of fun. These are nice guy Marines (we are, of course, paying for the privilege to be motivated by them).

And there is great camaraderie in the group. I am introduced to the 'squad' and every grunts their name.

The hour-long workout kicks my butt.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 33

The shiny, new Chintatown YMCA shares a building with a Whole Foods. This is a serious upgrade from how the Bowery used to look.

The fitness floor overlooks the pool, so parents whose children are taking swim lessons can spy on their kids while they exercise.

I face a serious but funny challenge - forgot my shorts, so I have to exercise in skinny jeans. Running on the treadmill if fine, if warm, but lunges and squats are out of the question.

There is a subset of NYC fitness buff that exercises in short shorts and construction boots. I think I might look like I share the obsession with how I look when I work out; my concern is how I look the rest of the time.

OK, the skinny jeans look good. But I feel weird. And sweaty.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Veggie Dogs: Asia Dog

If you are searching for a quick meal, hot dogs are not the vegetarian go to choice. But Asia Dogs, one of New York’s artisanal hot dog purveyors, has a veggie dog to go along with its organic beef or chicken dogs.

The veggie dog itself is rather flavorless, but the toppings more than make up for it.
In a nice touch, you can get a whole wheat bun (and no extra charge). You can keep it simple with the Mel & Steve, (named for the owners) an Asian sesame slaw flecked with sesame seeds.

Even better is the Thai style Sidney, with mango, cucumber, peanuts and fish sauce. The counter person warned me about the fish sauce, in case I was vegan.
I also love the saltiness of the Ginny, which has kimchi and seaweed flakes.
If you take kids, they might like the kimchi corndog, which can be made with a veggie dog.

The small shop, in NoLiTa, has a handful of tables. Look for the Asia Dog truck weekends at Brooklyn Flea.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get your Veggies on National Margarita Day

Today is National Margarita Day, and while I am not usually the biggest margarita fan, the cucumber margarita offers a way to get some veggies in AND celebrate.

The people at Sauza say this recipe serves 4. Maybe. I think 2 thirsty veggie lovers could polish this off at cocktail hour.

Just don't drive after.

3/4 cup Sauza Blue 100% Agave Tequila

1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced

6 ounces fresh lime juice

2 ounces DeKuyper Triple Sec

2 ounces simple syrup

In a pint glass, muddle together sliced cucumber (reserve 8 slices) and tequila. Let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Strain the cucumber tequila and combine with all ingredients in a pitcher. Stir and serve over ice. Garnish with reserved cucumber slices.

Fitness Challenge: Day 32

Gold's Gym has a very user-friendly website, where you can see at a glance the day's classes for a particular gym. The midtown Manhattan gym has a bare-bones locker room, more like a Y, with several floors of weight, machines, cardio equipment and exercise studios.

They have a trademarked Bodypump class, using barbells and a set playlist. Two instructors run the class, one demonstrating moves and the other controlling the playlist. But neither seems all that concerned with form. Maybe the class works better for those who already know what's going on; I seem to be the only newbie.

That being said, we go for the full, intense hour, with no pause to get a sip of water.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 31

Manhattan Plaza Health Club has it all: a huge pool, a climbing gym, several studios for classes, and separate floors for weight training and cardio.

What it doesn't have is towels.

That is, free towels. You have to rent one. This ordinarily wouldn't be a problem, but my daughter lost her lock and took mine, so I ran to the gym with a credit card, a Metrocard, and a change of clothes, which I left unlocked. No towel.

And the amazing class I took, where we used gliders to increase the intensity of the core work, left me dripping with sweat.

No one in the class had a towel to mop up his sweat, so the floor was a puddle and pretty gross.

I had to shower, so I shivered while I air dried and used my credit card to buy a new lock on the way home.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 30

I have been to the 92nd St Y countless times, for lectures, concerts and to pick up my niece from afterschool.

I had never seen the gym until I had a fitness pass and now I know what I was missing. The May Center for Health, Fitness and Sport is a gorgeous facility, with a huge, clean locker room, inviting pool and several floors of classes, weight areas and cardio.

The one thing you might need here is a road map.

There is a huge variety of classes, at all times of the day. I took a body conditioning class that may not have been the most innovative, but it did the trick.

You can take swim lessons, from beginning to lifeguard training, Scuba instruction, swim dance or aqua body conditioning.

As a vegetarian, I appreciated the Kosher dairy cafe.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 29

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa is a sprawling complex with several pool, a golf course and a huge gym. You can run on the paths through the property, or even use an outdoor treadmill, but in the Phoenix heat, you might want to use the bright, air-conditioned gym.

Since the weather is good, and this is a novelty, I use the outdoor elliptical. You can't watch TV while you exercise, but I read a book and admire the setting.

The gym, with an adjacent studio, offers an array of yoga and aerobics classes, as well as elliptical trainers and treadmills with their own television sets. There are also weight machines and free weights, stability balls and room to maneuver. If you exercise at a time when there is no class, you can use the studio and stretch at the ballet barre.

You can also create your own mini-retreat, using the spa locker room, comfy robe, Jacuzzi and sauna.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 28

A hike in the desert combines exercise and sightseeing and allows vacationers to keep to a fitness regimen. The Boulders Resort offers a variety of outdoor adventures, including rock climbing, horseback riding and a desert hike.

We are outfitted with fanny packs, water bottles and healthy snacks (apples and granola bars) before our trek, and our guide carries extra water, reminding us every few minutes to take a sip.

It isn't brutally hot, but it is extremely dry. Lip balm is required, along with sunscreen and a hat. Our three hour hike is more endurance than cardio, but it is an excellent way to explore our surroundings and exercise.

Note to family travelers: although fit kids could handle this hike, it is limited to those ages 16 and up. Of course, you can just drive yourself to the national park and go on a family hike, but you don't get the fanny pack.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 27

Keeping it fresh with fitness is easy when you travel. And if you travel to a place with a destination spa, all the better.
The Boulders Resort, in Carefree, Arizona, has a Golden Door spa, with a fabulous fitness center adjacent. You can keep to your exercise routine, or kick it up a notch, with classes from water fitness to Zumba.

If you prefer to do it alone, there are new cardio machines, lots of free weights and space to use them, and weight machines.

I took a relaxing Sonoran Stretch class; this was vacation, after all, followed by an intense core class where we used an exercise ball and glides to increase stability and balance.

After, I tried out the sauna and steam room, open to all hotel guests. Definitely a well-deserved reward for working out, and one that could inspire more exercise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 26

At a small gym like Clay, there is no dedicated spin studio, but one of the studio rooms converts for a spin class. Someone lugs out the bikes and sets them up; when I came in, he offered to adjust the bike for me. Nice service!

The bikes here are magnetic, so you can change resistance with a flick of your finger. The bikes offer a smooth ride and it's easy to challenge yourself with the most difficult resistance - you don't have to struggle turns a knob.

The pedals also easily switch out depending on whether you wear cycling shoes or use the toe clips.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Family Travel: Philadelphia Vegetarian

Mi Lah Vegetarian in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia is actually a vegan restaurant with some Chinese food but a mix of other cuisines.
A weekend brunch has breakfast quesadillas, an Indonesian dish with seitan and potatoes, and blueberry pancakes for kids.

And since you are in Philly, you can get a vegetarian version of the city’s classic cheese steak at lunch, with mushrooms, peppers and vegan cheese.

Lunch also offers a great way to sample a few things from the menu. The lunch special includes soup, an appetizer and a choice of some of the entrees.

I tried both the butternut squash/coconut soup and the cauliflower soup laced with truffle oil. The truffle gave the cauliflower richness without cream, and a haunting depth of flavor.

For appetizers, we tried the edamame dumplings, which were nothing special, but the Indonesian rolls, with seitan, were delicious. They came with an unusual basil avocado sauce, giving the dish a Mexican spin.

Our entrees were excellent. The ma-po tofu was spicy and savory and the See-U noodles had lots of vegetables.

Mi Lah is also Kosher and can make many dishes gluten free. Next time in Philly I have to try the smoked Portobello with beets and the curried cauliflower steak. Or the African nut stew…

Fitness Challenge: Day 25

The Zen you feel at Clay, in Union Square, belies the intense workouts you can experience here.

Clay is more than a gym. It has a luxury spa, and members can use the robes that spa guests use, or hang out in the lounge, equipped with a couple of computers. The locker room has thick, soft towels and extras like Q-tips, razors and shaving cream.
There is a nutritionist on site, a café stocked with healthy treats (and the current New York Times) and both a rooftop lounge and an indoor fire pit surrounded by comfy couches.

The sunny, bright gym has huge windows overlooking 14th Street, but you are one floor up, so you don’t feel like you are on display. Membership is capped so they gym never feels crowded.

Clay has a tread class where you can run with a group on adjacent treadmills, then do stretches and lunges on the gym floor. It’s an interesting way to get a cardio workout when it’s too hot or cold to run outside and watching TV while running on the treadmill is too boring.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 24

The Fitness Collective in Cobble Hill is a tiny gym with one studio and space for personal training. The Zumba class here is packed with women from their 20s to 60s, all moving to salsa, tango and club music.

A couple of friends from my walking group accompany me to the class, where we spin and step and carefully avoid our fellow Zumba enthusiasts. One woman consistently spins in the opposite direction and knocks into others.

But the class is a full cardio workout, with no stops for a sip of water or towel wipe. The energetic instructor has several pounds of jewelry on, on his wrists, in his ears, around his neck, but he never seems to break a sweat.

We power walk over from Park Slope; in Brooklyn, a lot of people never think to walk from neighborhood to neighborhood, as you do in Manhattan, but it is only a 15 minute walk.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 23

Reebok Sports Club/NY is an indoor playground for New Yorkers of all ages. Nannies are taking little kids to classes, adult fitness buffs are playing basketball in the full court, running on endless treadmills or lifting weights, and older adults are taking gentle stretch classes.

I take a spin class, an hour-long cardio endurance fest that is 15 minutes longer than the spin classes I'm accustomed to.

Turns out, that quarter of an hour makes all the difference in the world. I am on the verge of collapse at 40 minutes and no one around me seems winded. I feel old.

But I remember seeing a 15 minute abs express class starting at the same time, so I slip out of the toe clips and run - crawl - across the floor to that class. I catch my breath and crunch.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 22

To experience the antithesis of the West Side Y, I decided my next stop had to be the Reebok Sports Club/NY on the Upper West Side. This was a country club smack dab in NYC, with a huge climbing wall, an outdoor running track and roof terrace, a gorgeous pool and impressive locker rooms. The pristine hot tub screamed resort, not gym, though no one was drinking a margarita.

Of course, it was 11am.

I took Zumba, which was more fun than a fitness class ought to be. The instructor had us moving for a solid hour, with no stopping for a sip of water or a towel to wipe up sweat.

But it was a blast. We were dancing. It was a sober club, on a weekday morning, everyone in workout clothes.

And the lockers rooms are fantastic. Huge, well-stocked with amenities, enough showers, with great water pressure and new tile.

But this gym feels a bit overwhelming. You have to take an elevator to check-in, then another elevator to the 6th floor (or walk) to the fitness studios. The bi-level locker rooms mean you have to walk down for a shower, then back up to change. There is no way to get in and out quickly here.

On the other hand, I may want to stay for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 21

As Gertrude Stein might say, a spin class is a spin class is a spin class.

At the West Side Y, the spin class is held in a room so cramped that we can’t stretch our arms to either side, or we will hit the person next to us. But save the danger of flying sweat, the class is basically the same as almost any other spin class, an intense cardio workout with thumping music, dim lights and loud panting.

This class also has a few participants who ignore the instructor, sitting when everyone is standing, sprinting when we are slowing down, and pedaling when we end the class. The instructor seems miffed, but the iconoclasts pay her no heed – one, in fact, is wearing headphones and riding to her own beat.

Not really sure why anyone would subject themselves to the claustrophobic, hot room when there are spin bikes in a large, much cooler cardio room, but then, this is an upper west side gym.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 20

Another day at David Barton gym, another intense Melt workout.

The David Barton members don't seem any more fit or gorgeous than members of other New York City gyms, though the mood lighting makes everyone look good.

I run into a little snafu after the class. When I go to shower, there is a woman in the locker room who says that men are working on one of the showers, and it will be an hour till I can shower.

Hmm. Can't wait around, and getting on the subway in this sweaty condition is disgusting. Then someone says she will shower anyway, since the guys are just in one shower. So I do the same. I can hear a couple of men working while I shower but I'm behind a curtain. It reminds me of the co-ed showers at my daughter's college dorm.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 19

You have to remember a lot of stuff when you go to the gym, but most important are your clothes and work out sneakers. I often forget one or other and trudge back home.

If you are traveling and forget fitness clothes, you might be out of luck, but if you are at an Omni Hotel, you can have a Get Fit Kit sent to your room.

The Omni Berkshire Place, in NYC, sends a bag with a kettle bell, a couple of resistance bands and a Pilates ring, along with a mat.

If you know how to use the equipment, you can have a decent in-room workout, though the light kettle bell won't build any muscle.

The kit is also great if you are traveling with a young child who can't be left while you go to the fitness center. You can let her watch TV, read books or even nap while you work out. Squeeze the Pilates rings between your knees while you do crunches and intensify your abdominal work.

Those resistance bands are great while doing lunges; step on the band, hold an end in each hand and do a bicep curl while you lunge.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 18

One of the perks of travel is staying in a hotel with a fitness center. Some hotels have tiny dark gyms but the Omni Berkshire Place in midtown Manhattan has a bright sunny gym with a couple of cool touches.

The gym is on the 17th floor, accessible by only some elevators (I thought there was a cruel joke when I got into an elevator that stopped before floor 17). But once I got there, I was taken with the bright, sunny space and my favorite elliptical machine, ready to go with a towel and its own TV.

If you forgot your headphones, you can use one of the pairs there. And for a post-workout snack, there was a bowl of fruit, with bananas, apples and oranges.

Best of all, there is a balcony across the hall with lounge chairs. On summer days, it is a huge draw. But even in a NYC winter, hit by global warming, the balcony was ideal for a cool-down.

The gym also has weights, stability balls, treadmills and mats.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 17

The David Barton gym is the very antithesis of the Y. This gym, which generously offers a full week of access with the pass, has thick, warm towels, free-form wooden benches in the locker room and amenities like razors and mouthwash. Of course, because this is Chelsea, where the beautiful NYC people are.

This is also where one of the most intense classes, is, Melt, run by a former marine. We start with a full 5 minutes of jumping jacks, speeding up at the end, and move right into strength training and more cardio.

As happens at every other boot camp I've been to, everyone talks to each other - between gasps and pants - which is nice, since as a gym gypsy, I know no one.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Eco-friendly Brooklyn Chinese Food

No MSG used to be the rallying cry for ‘better’ Chinese restaurants. Now Chinese restaurants in NYC often have creative cocktails and organic ingredients.

Michael & Ping’s, in the burgeoning Gowanus sectin of Brooklyn, touts its eco-friendly aspect, serving take-out in recycled cardboard boxes and not throwing in all the unnecessary trash you often get; no useless wooden chopsticks or packets of cloying duck sauce.

And while the liquor license is just beer & wine, the beautiful wood floors and exposed brick walls offer a sense of style not often seen at this price point.

Michael & Ping’s, certified green, also composts its waste, and uses fresh, local produce. The chicken, for those not vegetarian, is hormone-free.
And the food tastes fresh. Everything is made to order, and the food seems lighter than traditional takeout.

Steamed dumplings, with tofu and vegetables, could have used a more flavorful sauce, but the cold ‘main mein noodles, loaded with baby bok choy and broccoli, was spicy and succulent.

Although the regular menu does not have a long list of vegetarian options, they are happy to swap out the meat for tofu. If you eat seafood, the shrimp with broccoli featured perfectly stir-fried shrimp in a delicate brown sauce. And the brown rice with it is organic.

Fitness Challenge: Day 16

The West Side Y, just off Central Park West, is in a gorgeous historic building. I have a pass for 2 visits here.

The locker rooms are basic, but clean. You have to go to a desk outside to get a towel, and get buzzed into the locker room. A bit creepy. but I like the idea of asking for a towel - cuts down on rampant towel abuse. I used to see a woman at NY Sports Club who would take a stack of 10 or 12 towels every time, tossing them on the ground like tissues.

Working out here is a bit strange - there are rooms for different exercises, on different floors and I can't even find the cardio room. But I find all the free weights I need. The concrete floor isn't the most forgiving, but unlike my local gym, it doesn't have huge dust bunnies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 15

For years, I took my kids to gymnastics classes and camps at Chelsea Piers. When your kids take a class, you get a pass to use the Sports Center, but since I had my own gym, I never did.

I did once get a facial at the spa, and apparently you also get a free day pass if you spend enough.

But one of my kids had a pass and since I was going to a cocktail party at Pier 60, I decided to finally try the gym.

It is truly massive, and one of the best perks is the sun deck off the pool, where you can catch some rays on a nice day.

I love the elliptical machines here; instead of individual televisions, there are 8 overhead screens and you can plug into any channel. Seems more environmentally conscious.

The showers are gorgeous here, with individual changing areas, thick, soft towels, and good products.