Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tragedy Has Struck

I've had my Vitamix for about 20 years. It was used when I got it. I was a struggling college student, but somehow I managed to scrape together $150 to buy one used from the Recycler.

At the time, I was vegetarian, but not raw. I'd make fruit smoothies in the Vitamix, pouring them into thick, recycled glass tumblers we got on a trip to Mexico, and drink them while I stood on the second floor balcony of our apartment in Long Beach, looking out at the palm trees that dotted the cold, morning skyline.

I have fond memories of grinding wheat berries into flour using the Vitamix, kneading it right in the canister, then baking a thick, brown bread that I spread with real butter.

I thought that Vitamix, with its gorgeous stainless steel construction, would live forever.

Two days ago, the agitator assembly broke in two. My husband took a photo of the part and sent it to his machinist brother in Alabama. This was his response:

Hey y'all,
I could make a new shaft but the internal splines require a special cutter that would cost thousands. No joke. You make the investment to make 10,000 parts for the production line. I would be glad to try and weld back together and rebalance it. Nothing to lose, all that will happen is it will vibrate too much to use if I don't get it just right. The vibration could be useful at other times away from food prep.

I doubt my Vitamix could take more vibration than it already has. We could buy a replacement part from the manufacturer, but with tax and shipping it would come to $101.55. We've haunted ebay but used replacement parts are going for at least $50 with shipping -- if you're lucky.

So I've been left with the painful decision: do I pay $50-$100 to fix it and stay with my first love? Or do I sell my first love for parts and fork out $449 for a more powerful but not as pretty Vitamix 5200?

Beauty or Brains? Age or Youthful Spunk? (Until the cost of replacing or fixing my Vitamix entered my financial horizon, the Spirooli was next on my list of raw accessories to acquire. Now that's been pushed down the list -- unless I'm lucky enough to win Gena's contest at

Part of me wonders if I didn't break the 3600's heart. A few months ago, despite her faithful service for 20 years, when Yardsnacker and Hihorosie had a contest for a new 5200, I entered this video:

So wooed was I by the promise of the 5200's reputed 2hp motor, I found myself disparaging the 3600's ability to make nut milk on camera. Maybe that agitator assembly coming apart was really just the Vitamix's heart breaking in two.

Like any break-up, there are two sides to the story and maybe no one is completely blameless. Maybe we will work it out or maybe it is just time for us to go our separate ways. Either way, you will always be my first appliance love.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review: 12 Steps to Raw Foods by Victoria Boutenko

book coverWhile an entirely raw foods diet may not be for everyone, there is little disagreement even amongst omnivores that increasing the proportion of fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet is something that can benefit any of us (for example, see Michael Pollan's Ominvore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food).  But is cooked food an addiction?  This is author Victoria Boutenko's contention, and while you may or may not agree with this premise, her use of a "12 Step" inspired model does provide a some useful approaches for those who are trying to eliminate or decrease their consumption of cooked foods and increase their consumption of whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Pair this with the some basic, approachable raw foods recipes and it is a book that could benefit everyone, even those who would not remotely consider themselves "raw fooders."  

Some of the steps that will benefit even those who hope to just eat healthier without necessarily giving up all cooked food include:

  • Nourishing Your Body to Eliminate Cravings
  • Acquiring Skills and Equipment
  • Avoiding Temptation
  • Gratitude and Forgiveness
  • Embracing Other Healthy Habits
  • Searching for One's Spiritual Mission
  • Giving Support to Others

 12 Steps to Raw Foods: How to End Your Dependency on Cooked Foods (North Atlantic Books)  is a significant revision and expansion of the earlier edition.  So much so, that even if you already have the first edition (from Raw Family Publishing), you will still want to purchase a copy of the new edition.  For those familiar with Boutenko's works, this book contains material that will be familiar -- Part 1 contains some of the same information found in Raw Family and Green for Life in condensed form -- but there is also new information such as chapter four's review of scientific studies that support Boutenko's contention that cooked food is damaging to the human body.   For those new to Boutenko, this is a great introduction to her ideas, methods and life experiences, the latter of which includes the inspiring account of how she healed her families illnesses through healthful eating and exercise.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to Stay on the Wagon When You're Under the Weather. Or Not.

If you read the last post, you'll know I caught a nasty cold last week. I've never had the strongest immune system and there was a period a year or so ago (before I went raw) where it seemed like I was catching a cold every month or so. I'm still waiting for my body to fully detox and rejuvenate from all this healthy living, bolstering up my immune system, but then I've only been at the raw thing since January 1st.

Having a cold, with its attendant sniffles, sneezing and seething nasal passages, has brought with it its own raw challenges and temptations. I craved comfort food, which meant that when I went out to eat after my daughter's egg hunt (I just couldn't stay inside and miss her egg hunt -- after all, how many will she have in her life?), I wanted hot food so I ordered corn tortillas, beans and rice along with a cup of hot herbal tea. The next day, I really wanted salted, roasted peanuts, so I indulged. Neither instance is a horrible digression: I didn't eat fried food or processed sugar or dairy products, but cooked food makes you crave cooked food so I've had to be extra diligent since then not to give in.

Harsher on my system perhaps was my indulgence in Nyquil two nights in a row. It got me through the worst of the cold symptoms, but the following night my body was thrown off and I couldn't sleep at all.

If anyone has any suggestions for what you do when you're sick and want old comforts like hot food and over-the-counter medicine, do let me know. I'd like to be armed and ready next time. Heck, I'm still not feeling great, so I may just implement them now!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tending Mind, Body and Spirit in the City of Sin

Awash in neon lights, topless reviews and casinos, you might think Las Vegas an odd destination for someone in search of rejuvenation, but you’d be wrong.  Its decadence extends not just to more prurient pursuits but to its lavish spas.  

Midweek hotel rates are remarkably inexpensive, and we landed a nearly 800 square foot suite at the Luxor for only $125 a night (regular rooms are only $60 a night). The Luxor, mind you, is old by strip standards, having been open since 1993, so you’ll find nicks in your coffee table and hallway carpets that have seen better days.  But what our suite lacked for in pristine newness it more than made up for with its spaciousness and the Jacuzzi tub positioned right next to the angled window of our pyramid room.  The Luxor also benefits from being a walkway away from the lower end Excalibur hotel and the higher end Mandalay Bay/THEhotel complex, providing dining and entertainment options at all ends of the spectrum.  Our deal also included a $25 spa credit and a $20 meal credit.   


Luxor Hotel Pyramid Spa Suite

If you’re looking for something less spacious but more ritzy at around the same price, you can get a smaller 500 square foot room at the Four Seasons hotel (located on the top floor of Mandalay Bay).   While your room will be smaller, you’ll be treated to poolside service that includes hovering “attendants nearby with an Evian spritz, fresh fruit, and chilled water.”  As a gaming-free hotel, it’s ideal for families and those of us who don’t like to gamble.  Plus, by staying at the Four Seasons, you’ll also have access to Mandalay Bay’s pool complex which includes wave pools and lazy rivers.

On previous trips I’d experienced the spas at Mandalay Bay, THEhotel, Luxor, and Red Rock, so this time I wanted to try something different.  On our first day, my husband dropped me off at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian/Palazzo hotel (he took my daughter for a visit to Circus Circus while I luxuriated).  I was lured by online descriptions of Canyon Ranch, which listed the following features:


  • Conservatory - Intimate seating, music, fresh fruit and hot and cold beverages. A gracious gathering space for relaxation
  • Salt Grotto - Bracing sea air washes over heated benches and intimate seating niches surrounding a fountain bubbling over natural salt rocks
  • Wave Room - A multi-sensory experience simulating the look, smell and feel of breaking waves under a domed canopy
  • Crystal Steam Room - Cleansing aromatic steam environment with a large central crystal to inspire and focus meditation
  • Experiential Rains - Invigorating, multi-sensory cooling showers. Select Polar Mist, Atlantic Storm or Caribbean Monsoon (with thunder and lightning effects.)
  • Finnish Sauna - A classic Finnish dry-heat sauna environment lit by colored light refracted by crystals
  • Herbal Laconium - A beautiful environment provides gentle warming of the body through warm, herbal infused steam
  • HydroSpa - A variety of massage fountains provide gentle massage. Radiant lounge chairs designed for relaxation surround the fountains
  • Igloo - Cool air and three Arctic mist experiences enhanced by twinkling fiber optics
A spa day pass, without any services, cost me $40.   There was plenty to keep me occupied and soothed for my five hour visit, but I must admit that several of the features didn’t live up to what I’d imagined them to be based on their descriptions.  The HydroSpa was nothing more than an average Jacuzzi,  I didn’t feel any “bracing sea breezes” in the Salt Grotto, and I certainly didn’t smell any herbal infusions in the steam of the Herbal Laconium.  One feature was, at first, the most disappointing, but then oddly won me over.  I’d imagined the Wave Room to have an actual wave pool, but in actuality it was a dark indoor room with waves projected onto the ceiling while (mostly) soothing music played.   I sat in comfy reclining chairs while looking upward and soon found myself fully immersed in the experience.  In all, I went back to the Wave Room three times that day.  I only left when the musical tracks cycled around each time to a song that sounded like a symphony of lawnmowers conducted by a barking Chihuahua.  Not soothing.  In all, the gimmicky Canyon Ranch SpaClub felt a bit like an amusement park for stressed out adults – definitely worth experiencing once, but next time I’ll return to my favorite, the Mandalay Bay Spa where I feel like a noble luxuriating in an ancient Roman bathhouse (or at least what I imagine that might have been like).  


Spa Mandalay


On my second day in Vegas, I’d scheduled an appointment for a Coconut Sugar Scrub at the Luxor’s Nurture Spa (formerly the Oasis Spa – it’s the same in every way except the name).   We had that $25 spa credit after all, and that would be applied to their already discounted price for the 50 minute service, $80.00.  Even without the credit, it was much less than what it would cost for a similar service at Canyon Ranch or Mandalay Bay.   I arrived a bit early to enjoy Nurture’s Jacuzzi and steam room (which unlike the Herbal Laconium, did have a strong eucalyptus scent), but without a cold plunge or “Polar Mist” to cool me down, there wasn’t a great likelihood I’d be able to kill 5 hours there.   At my appointed time, I was escorted to a separate waiting area where my therapist would retrieve me.  Fifteen minutes passed, then 30 before I ventured out to inquire.  Another ten minutes passed before I was informed by the spa manager that my therapist had disappeared without telling anyone.  Eager to make amends, she offered me the same service the next morning for 50% off – with my $25 credit, that would bring my service down to $15 plus tip.   I thanked the manager, silently adding thanks to my therapist for being a flake, and returned the next morning for more soaking, steaming and the long awaited coconut scrub before our drive home.  

On the way into and out of town, we stopped by the vegan and mostly raw Go Raw CafĂ©, located in a strip mall a few miles from the strip.   Each time, I ate a meal there and took one with me to eat later, sampling their Enchilada plate, Mediterranean Pizza, Vegi-cotti, and Kookies and Kream smoothie (which featured raw cacao nibs in a banana/coconut blend).   Of these meals, the Mediterranean Pizza was the only one I wasn’t thrilled with – it was good, but would more accurately be described as salad on a cracker.  The Enchilada plate, which I ordered twice, was by far my favorite, consisting of "soft tortilla enchiladas topped with salsa, sour dream, guacamole, & spicy red sauce.  Served with yam rice, ‘beans,’ guacamole, & flax crackers." If I had a restaurant like this one near me, I’d be in heaven.  This place would draw me back to Vegas even without the spas.

Upon returning to Pomona, I found that somewhere amidst all that public soaking, steaming and healthy living, I had picked up a rather nasty cold.   Turns out what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas after all, so spa with caution.