In January of 2012, my husband and I embarked upon a 21-day cleanse, an experience I recounted here and one that I wasn’t sure I would ever try again. While there was no question that abstaining from all delicious things had an overall positive effect on our health, the prospect of living life without things like wine, cheese, coffee and the occasional babka, is rather bleak, and when our 21 days were up, we immediately hustled down to Chinatown for Dim Sum and planned an Austrian schnitzel dinner. You know, for balance.
After the cleanse, the one thing we did keep in our routine was the breakfast smoothie. What started out as a fairly simple routine of blending apples, blueberries, ginger, coconut milk and almond butter has evolved over the course of the year to include no fewer than 9 or 10 ingredients. There’s the flax meal to help stave off the mid-forties heart attack, the chia seeds to give you the power of telekinesis, the supergreens because they are just super and green, and the kale because why the hell not get a start on your vegetable intake first thing in the morning? The only thing I can’t get with is the whey protein, it makes the smoothie taste like bathroom caulking. But even without it, the making of our morning smoothies has become a rather complex undertaking. You could make a full breakfast of eggs benedict and home fries in the time it takes to concoct our morning elixir. And then you have to clean out the freaking blender. But it’s worth it every time.
Although we continued drinking up our healthy breakfast all year long, we fell back into gluttonous ways over the course of 2012 and – lo and behold – by the time late December rolled around, the prospect of going back on a cleanse didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. Sort of like having that second baby because you just can’t remember what labor and delivery was really like. Although cliché, January is not a bad time to cut back on everything. After a month of non-stop festivities, we were just as exhausted as you were and the idea of staying home and drinking broth seemed rather cozy. After getting through the first week of caffeine withdrawal, the experience wasn’t nearly as oppressive as it had been the year before. For one thing, we knew we could do it – I was even looking forward to some of the recipes (butternut squash soup, I’m talking to you!). This year, we also made another discovery that enhanced the experience considerably: Kombucha. That mysterious, fizzy tea made with a fermented mushroom.
According to the Clean book – our guide to this particular cleanse- kombucha was one of the few beverages we were allowed (sort of a mystery to me because it is made with tea and sugar, although fermented, but who am I to argue?). Despite my love of all things fermented, I hadn’t really gotten to know kombucha, but when I picked up a bottle of GT’s Kombucha at the grocery store, we instantly liked it. Wait, let me rephrase: we instantly couldn’t get enough of it. It was the perfect stand-in for cocktail hour: effervescent, like prosecco. Coming home after work each day we would pour ourselves a small glass of kombucha in our stemware before moving onto whatever liquid dinner we were having that night and it took the sting out of our abstinence. The kombucha helped us sit at the table with our children sipping our broth while they tucked into beautiful meals made by my husband (after all, we weren’t subjecting them to this ritual). One Friday evening, he prepared them a special dinner of filet mignon, haricot vert and roast potatoes, which they relished while we sat next to them sipping consommé like the servants in Downton Abbey. But I didn’t even care, I had my kombucha. The thing is, GT’s Kombucha, while delicious, is also expensive, especially when consumed in large quantities. Which means I have no other choice but to start making my own. In fact, I just got my SCOBY in the mail from Kombucha Brooklyn, so more on that later!
About fifteen days in, we decided that it was time for a schvitz - sweating being an integral part of the cleansing process. I fancy myself a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to spa treatments and I’ve tried a number of places in the city. My favorite, of course, is the Spa at the Four Seasons, but somehow I don’t manage to get there on the regular basis I would like. A few years ago, we went to Spa Castle in Queens, the Disneyland of Korean spas. It was a surreal experience and perhaps the most diverse and international place I’ve ever been. It was like going to a large, international airport, albeit one that required you to wear a special jumpsuit and offered communal bathing before your flight. The whole place had the feel of an airport lounge, especially the food court. I mean, who wants fries with their sauna?? The Korean food was excellent, though, and we followed up our bathing with a big bowl of bibimbap. Last year, we did most of our sweating at the Manhattan JCC , but this year we decided to change it up and pay a visit to the Russian Turkish Baths on East 10th street. While Spa Castle is like going to JFK and taking a bath, The Bathhouse is more like going to the bleakest, hardscrabble town in the steppes of Russia and finding it filled with Williamsburg hipsters visiting their elderly relatives. You walk into a lobby of sorts, where you are relieved of your valuables and enter a “locker room” which is a basically a cubicle in the back of the lobby. People mill around in black tunics, like extras on a sci-fi set, some of them enjoying the pierogis and pickled herring offered in the cafe. Once you’ve changed into your tunic, you descend into a cavernous and poorly- lit, subterranean chamber, filled with a number of various ways to sweat out your toxins. There is the Redwood Sauna, the Turkish room, and the Aromatherapy steam room, which appeared to be scented with Lemon Pledge. But the hottest (and most crowded) was the Russian Sauna. The mood inside was jovial and we sat in between a group of guys on a man-date and a woman laying face down on a bench getting a Platza, which involves being beaten with oak leaves by a burly Russian man. Some call it the Jewish acupuncture. Outside the various saunas is a vestibule of sorts with a small pool filled with ice-cold water. The decor is reminiscent of the movie Saw 3, but the mood is more festive and lacks the threat of imminent demise. We went from room to room and after about an hour and a half, we felt relieved of our toxins and decided to head off to the next stop on our cleanse-friendly date night: the kombucha bar.
Dig-Inn is a small chain of health-food restaurants that have sprouted up all over town in the past year or so. They are mostly informal lunch places where the food is served cafeteria-style. But the one in Union Square is known for its special feature: Kombucha on Tap. It wasn’t so crowded there on a Friday night, so we got our gluten-dairy-soy-sugar -caffeine-free dinner (Yum!) and sidled up to the bar. There were four different kinds of kombucha on tap that evening: Straight Up, Jasmine, Cherry and the flavor I chose, the Kevin Bacon (flavored with orange peels, not bacon, sadly). It was the most rockin’ night out we’d had in three weeks!
After our field trip, we had another 10 days to go when our blender went on the fritz. A wedding gift, our trusty Kitchen-Aid of 16 years was feeling the strain of having to prepare almost all of our meals. The lid had broken and would leak each time making for a sticky mess. We finally had to resort to covering it with saran wrap secured with a rubber band to get it to work, adding another layer to our already complicated smoothie-making ritual. Time for a Vitamix! Of course, buying a blender of that caliber feels sort of like buying a luxury car after having driven your trusty Pinto for so long. At close to $700, it’s a big purchase, and when you start to nerd out on blenders (which is easy to do if you have an internet connection, I might add), you realize how many different options there are and it’s hard to figure out which one to commit to. At the moment, I’m partial to the Vitamix 7500, but we are working up to it. With a blender like that, perhaps we would stay on the cleanse all year long! Not sure what it would do to our social life, but we would probably become regulars at the kombucha bar.