What a Performance

I haven’t posted in a long time, and for that, I apologize. Many people ask me when I’m going to write again and have even made topic requests. One question that is asked of me time and again is, what is/are my favorite active wear line(s)?

As a lot of you might know, I’m an avid gym rat and fitness enthusiast. Also, I sweat. A lot. So it’s very important to me that my sportswear’s performance is top notch. There are myriad brands to choose from, and the prices range from super affordable to do-I-need-to-sell-an-organ expensive. Other fitness/gym enthusiasts can identify with me when I say that buying gym wear is a sickness–you can never have enough!  That being said, I’ve spent a not-so-small fortune on my gym wardrobe and can now discuss the performance of a couple of lines for you today.

(If, after reading this post, you are interested in knowing about more high end, boutique lines as well, please let me know and I’ll be more than happy to oblige.)

Forever 21

On the more affordable end of the spectrum, Forever 21 has a stylish, colorful and well-planned line. They have bottoms ranging from sensible yoga pants to bright and somewhat sexy tights, to skimpy and cute shorts for the more daring (hi!); they have tops that go from crop to tank to short sleeved mesh tees and long-sleeved message tees.  All pieces are made in a variety of materials from basic cotton to dri-fit fabrics. They even carry sports bras that vary from low to high support. I always get compliments when I wear their items to the gym, and women are always shocked when I tell them that my outfits are from Forever 21; it never fails.

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Unfortunately, the clothing line’s lack of performance in the dri-fit area only allows me to wear its items when I’m not doing intense or long-term cardio; I only wear them during my weight training days or light cardio days because their materials can’t withstand the amount of sweat my body produces. For the price point however, I’m not too upset–like I said, they still serve a purpose in my wardrobe and so they stay in the rotation. At least they don’t have me slipping in my own sweat…another brand is responsible for my bruised knees…stay tuned.

Rating: 3.5 sweat drops out of 5

Calvin Klein Performance Wear

The next line under scrutiny is from Calvin Klein. Their active wear is medium-high in pricing and is a bit more modest in style than Forever 21, most likely due to their target demographic, and that suits me just fine. (I’m no spring chicken and sometimes I have to remind myself of that.) They have tops and tights of all lengths, colors and patterns, yet they have a wider and more forgiving size range (much more forgiving than teeny bopper Forever 21). Whenever I wear this line, I receive compliments on the colors and fit–before my workouts. Post-workout, I look like a walking puddle. Every. Single. Time. The tops and bottoms (more so the tops) completely lose their shape and make me feel disgusting. The material Calvin Klein uses doesn’t have any moisture-wicking capability whatsoever and they totally missed the definition of “dri-fit.” Oh the embarrassment of walking around, looking like you had a bladder malfunction!

Once my workout is complete, whether it’s cardio or weight training, I’m always standing in a pool of my own sweat; my treadmill has sweat splashed all over it; my weights are slipping in my hands–and this is with sleeved shirts;  the gym machines are soaking wet and I have to wipe everything down with multiple towels. When I walk through the gym to get to the locker room, freezing cold from the air conditioned atmosphere (due to my soaking wet clothes), while creating a trail of sweat  behind me, I literally have to peel my clothes off and wring them out like wet rags before packing them in plastic bags.

I’m highly disappointed in this active wear line. Calvin Klein needs to take “Performance ” out of its name. It doesn’t perform in any way except aesthetics–and again, that’s only pre-workout. For the price range, the reputation and the claims the line makes regarding its performance, it should far exceed the quality of Forever 21, Champion (which I like very much), and a slew of other brands, yet it misses the mark completely. The makers of Calvin Klein need to reconsider their presence in this category altogether if they don’t get the right consultants and testers on their team. I honestly can’t recommend this line to anyone in good conscience. The only high note for this brand is the sports bras–good compression and support.

Rating: 2 out of 5 sweat drops (because I like the sports bras, and I like the pre-workout compliments)

Nike (Pro)

If you follow my Instagram and/or Snapchat accounts (both TheVickylicious), you’ll see that I mostly wear Nike, specifically the Nike Pro line. Moisture-wicking technology is on point, their tops and bottoms fit like a second skin, allowing for full range of motion with no constraints. They’re always on trend and coming out with new and exciting colors and patterns; they continue to create new performance technology for weather conditions, compression, fluidity and support. Nike has gotten sportswear down to a science: aesthetics, fit, price range (from medium to high, but you can always find items on sale, and Nike outlets have great selections), need requirements for each activity, durability and performance technology–you name it, Nike has it figured out for us all.This is one brand that knows what it’s doing, proving why they have achieved world domination. There really isn’t much I can say about them, unless you’d like me to attempt a love poem…

Rating: 4 out of 5 sweat drops (shave a point for margin of error and some of the items that are insanely priced, just because Nike can get away with it)

There are a few brands I patronize more than others, and I’m always on the hunt for what’s different and new. If you’d like me to review more, just say so and I will document all my findings for you. This is an ongoing hunt for me because, as much as I continue to exercise, the need for gym wear will continue as well.

That’s the sweat life for ya!

 

***This post is not sponsored by any of the brands listed above. This post is not to offend any readers’ beliefs in business practices or politics.

I See the Light

Forgive the corny titles I subject you to on a regular basis; I can’t help myself.

I spent a late night/early morning finishing Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and upon reading the last page, I felt like this author’s words made a light within me burn brighter. I didn’t sleep a wink as my mind wouldn’t let go of the characters, the imagery, the intricacies of the story that made this book so precious. I found myself highlighting so many passages that I wanted to commit to memory, so thought-provoking and emotive they were as to leave me referring back to them even before I finished reading this book in its entirety. All the Light We Cannot See is a work of art.

“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.
It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”

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Chosen as an Amazon.com book of the month for May 2014, the site’s review is:

Does the world need yet another novel about WWII? It does when the novel is as inventive and beautiful as this one by Anthony Doerr. In fact, All the Light We Cannot See–while set mostly in Germany and France before and during the war–is not really a “war novel.” Yes, there is fear and fighting and disappearance and death, but the author’s focus is on the interior lives of his two characters. Marie Laure is a blind 14-year-old French girl who flees to the countryside when her father disappears from Nazi-occupied Paris. Werner is a gadget-obsessed German orphan whose skills admit him to a brutal branch of Hitler Youth. Never mind that their paths don’t cross until very late in the novel, this is not a book you read for plot (although there is a wonderful, mysterious subplot about a stolen gem). This is a book you read for the beauty of Doerr’s writing– “Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food…”–and for the way he understands and cherishes the magical obsessions of childhood. Marie Laure and Werner are never quaint or twee. Instead they are powerful examples of the way average people in trying times must decide daily between morality and survival. –Sara Nelson

The same thought crossed my mind before I made the purchase: do I really want to read another WWII story? However the synopsis and reviews convinced me to go through with it. Thank the literary gods that I did! This has easily become one of my best reads of the year for the way Anthony Doerr’s vision has burned these words, characters and feelings into my brain and heart.

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

Spoken in French over a transistor radio with Claire de Lune playing in the background? Magical.

Hard of Hearing

I’ve been on a reading binge a of late, sacrificing hours of YouTube watching and my DVR’d shows are collecting dust in my queue. However I’ve been rewarded with some really good literary escapes, another of which I will briefly share with you, as I have another book on deck of which I’m itching to delve.

Not even five minutes ago, I finished reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by German author Jan-Phillipp Sendker.

AHH Cover

A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

Once again, the synopsis made me cringe, due to how sticky-sweet and corny it sounded. I decided to give it a try anyway because I enjoy writers from other countries, I like reading of tales set in lands other than my own from time to time, and I also feel that non-native English speakers use the English language quite differently and are able to express themselves in unexpected, yet greatly welcomed, ways–their perspectives on universal experiences, truths, emotions come to life differently on the page and on the screen, and I love it (usually, but definitely not always).

Beautifully worded, this book attempted to tackle the subjects of familial and romantic loves in a somewhat fantastical way. Unfortunately my heart was slightly more detached than I would have liked and thus caused my enthusiasm to wane over the past few days. The story was good, the characters were even better, however I just feel (even now as I write this) that something just didn’t quite hit the high note–especially for the fact that the author never addressed his love, or possible lack thereof, for his children, namely his daughter Julia who made the physical and emotional journey to uncover her father’s mysteries. Disappointing. The bones of all the characters were strong, as was the premise of the story; however, for all the talk of hearing heartbeats, mine was just a murmur.

On to the next tome.

Me After This Book

I literally just finished reading a book and felt compelled to share something brief about it. Brief because 1) I’m not feeling well and just want to imbibe some major cold/sleep aids and then cuddle in my bed and 2) my eyes are still welling with emotional tears, the result of a damn good read.

Me Before You

(No, you can’t look inside–it’s just a screen grab of the book cover.)

Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You: A Novel, is one of the better love stories I’ve read in a long while. Unique story, emotionally flawed and downright raw characters, unapologetic and unpretentious (I’m having a lot of issues with pretentiousness these days) writing, this book is high on my list for 2014.

Here’s a synopsis [that I didn’t write] that sounds cornier than it should and might lead you away from the book, but trust me, it’s fantastic:

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

With this book, Jojo Moyes has made an icicle melt from my heart…albeit slightly. (I mean, seriously.I can’t lose my insouciant edge–I wouldn’t be me without it!)

Ok, later people. Back to cuddling up with my pillows and Netflix…and maybe another good book.

Saturday Brunch at The Cecil

After a long, rough week, mom and I ventured to northern Manhattan today on a whim. It was an absolutely beautiful day that we knew couldn’t be wasted, so we walked all the way up north along Central Park to hang out in Harlem and ended up hungry enough to wander into The Cecil for brunch.

The Cecil, created by New York businessman Richard Parsons and noted restaurateur and chef Alexander Smalls, is New York City’s first Afro-Asian-American brasserie.

Inspired by the travels, exploration and study of the African Diaspora of Chef Smalls, The Cecil will offer a global adventure in tastes and flavors as diverse and dynamic as the community in which the restaurant resides.  Its goal is to connect communities through food, comfort and hospitality.

The Mavericks had a delicious meal there a couple of months ago during NYC Restaurant week and we were blown away by the experience. I’d been trying to figure out a way to get back there to show someone else to their eclectic menu, and I knew my mom would be game. (I will add here that she’s a tougher critic than I am.) Their brunch menu seemed just as exciting as their dinner fare, so my mouth was already watering as the hostess guided us to our seats.

The Cecil

First up was to try their brunch cocktail, the Kimchi Bloody Mary. Instead of the usual tomato juice, they used pureed Korean kimchi and its juice to mix with vodka–it was kind of like drinking a Korean gazpacho on ice. Although it took some getting used to, I quite enjoyed it; even though my mom said it was too different for her and that she wasn’t crazy about it, I noticed that she kept reaching for my glass, so her review on this item is neither here nor there…

Next came our Mac n Cheese appetizer; we were curious to try their version, as it had aged white cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, caramelized shallots and rosemary. It was perfectly gooey and just rich enough. The rosemary made it feel a bit lighter and the sweetness of the shallots complimented the sharpness of the cheeses. Well played! Even though we were getting full already, we dug into our entrees, splitting them amongst each other. We ordered Duck Confit & Yam Waffles with Papaya Sauce and Roti Pizza (oxtail, aged cheddar cheese and 2 fried eggs over top). The duck was basic, but good; the yam in their batter made the waffles super moist and lent them a delicate sweetness that balanced the savory duck quarter. However, the dish could have used more papaya sauce because there simply wasn’t enough to accompany each bite. No one enjoys dry waffles–YES, they were moist, but what’s a waffle without syrup (in this case, papaya sauce)?! I rest my case. The Roti Pizza was good, but aged cheddar didn’t seem the right choice of cheese in this instance. The oxtail was delicious–a thick black bean oxtail stew spread across the roti in place of a tomato base. The sunny side up eggs were like smiley faces on the roti, adding the right amount of moisture to the dish, and giving me a smiley face in return. We finished every bite, leaving our plates completely empty and our bellies filled to capacity. We had to walk back home to make room for coffee and dessert!

Although The Cecil’s menu isn’t for everyone–I believe one must have a somewhat adventurous palette to appreciate some of their concoctions– I believe there is something on both of their menus for all to try. I love a good burger as much as the next guy, but I do need a culinary pick-me-up once in a while and The Cecil provides exactly that. Even though we enjoyed their brunch, I think dinner is their stronger suit and will travel back uptown with her on any given evening to repeat my previous nighttime excursion. She needs to understand why they won awards and why they’ve received so much well-deserved laud, not from me but real critics and reviewers.

Besides, how can I not revisit a place that basically describes my genetic makeup?! I’m just saying. That can’t be a coincidence… I might just have to tell them to rename the restaurant “The Vickylicious.” After they make their brunch as noteworthy as their dinner, that is.

A Broken Ankle, Writer’s Block, Beauty and Ice Cream

Exactly two weeks ago I broke my ankle while leaving for my long-anticipated vacation in London. Instead of going to the UK, I ended up at an urgent care facility for x-rays, a cast and crutches. My long weekend was spent in my mother’s apartment watching endless hours of House Hunters International, Property Brothers, BBC America for our anglophile fix since we didn’t get to set foot on British soil, and PBS for the overdose. Thinking my immobility would be a great opportunity to write for the blog, study, and catch up on magazine and book reading,  the only things I’ve accomplished are the book reading, more TV-watching, and discovering Turkey Hill’s Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream (the bits of pie crust totally do it for me and take away some of the cloying sweetness)—I’ve been totally at a loss for words to type that would serve any purpose whatsoever! So here I sit during my lunch break, leg propped up on a cushion, mulling over the last two weeks, hoping they haven’t been completely wasted…blog-wise, that is.

Ahhhh! Sifting through my mental files (read: playing with my curls and touching my chin to check for makeup transfer), I am reminded of two, yes two, new beauty finds that are currently changing my life. The first discovery is the Living Proof line of haircare products. I put a sample of their Perfect Hair Day™ 5-in-1 Styling Treatment in my travel bag so I could try it out in London, but I ended up using it at my mom’s place instead.  According to the Sephora website, “Living Proof was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts by world-class biomedical scientists and leading hair stylists, with the purpose of applying advanced technology to solve beauty’s toughest challenges.” Perfect Hair Day™ 5-in-1 Styling Treatment is “an oil- and silicone-free styling treatment that provides volume, smoothness, conditioning, strength, and polish in one easy step.” Living Proof’s claim to fame is how it eliminates frizz and flyaways without weighing hair down, while nourishing and improving your hair’s condition and texture. So many companies make these claims, however I have yet to find one that lives up to all of them. Thus far, my curls have refused to bow down to any label, so my skepticism was at an all-time high before trying it, especially with Jennifer Anniston as their spokesperson (saying I’m not a fan of hers would be a gross understatement). I was surprised with the results: my hair was completely frizz-free until I washed my hair two days later. My only issue was that my curls weren’t as shiny as I’d hoped they would be; however, the lack of poof in my hair trumped the shine. So impressed with Living Proof was I that I immediately went online (since it’s quite difficult to shop around on crutches) to buy the No Frizz Nourishing Styling Cream because it got an even higher rating the 5-in-1. It “…derives performance from Living Proof’s ‘miracle molecule,’ PolyfluoroEster, to create a weightless shield on hair that blocks humidity absorption, smooths the cuticle, and repels dirt. The PolyfluoroEster shield is established over the first five uses of the No Frizz regimen, so it becomes stronger, the longer you use it—and can be maintained with consistent use of No Frizz products.” On top of that, I also bought Satin Hair Serum to assure the victory of manageability and shine. “Satin Hair Serum is powered by a Sera-Smooth Complex, which offers superior smoothness, eliminates frizz, provides natural movement, leaves hair manageable, and is faster and easier to achieve a desired smooth style. It smooths without the tradeoffs of silicones and oils, doesn’t weigh hair down, and doesn’t create product build-up. Easy to use, lightweight, and long-lasting, it leaves hair grease-free and produces a beautiful, sleek look.” Even though I didn’t buy the entire line of No Frizz products as suggested, I figured the two I purchased should work well enough since the 5-in-1 had already made me a believer.

It’s been quite humid in New York City as of late, and I am shocked at how well my hair has been holding up to the heat and moisture after only a couple of uses of these two wonders. I washed my hair last night and applied the styling cream, my usual coconut oil because my hair is very dry, and lastly the serum. My curls have been staying poof-free and have less shrinkage (my curly girls will know what I’m talking about, so get your mind out of the gutter!). After sleeping on my hair last night (I don’t wrap my hair before I go to sleep, I leave it completely free), walking around on crutches in the humidity this morning, and sweating profusely as a result, here’s a real time pic of me/my hair (please forgive the bad office lighting):

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My hair usually only looks like this after I have just washed it and then fluffs up a couple of hours afterward. It never stays like this overnight and after sweating in humid weather. Almost one whole day later, my hair is still shiny, frizz free, and the curls are keeping their shape. This has never happened to me, and I am not exaggerating. I will take another picture when the day is over to see if the results last after another bout in this heat with my crutches.

8 hours and a switch from a side part to a middle part later:

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Lo and behold, still frizz-free! I am living proof that Living Proof’s No Frizz line works. Corny, I know.

Stay tuned for my next post when I will talk about my second life-changing product!

Until then,
The Vickylicious

MM Goes to CO-OP Food & Drink: Can I Be on This Board?

After the major letdown of Hotel Chantelle the previous week, Marissa and I were hoping upon hope that CO-OP Food & Drink (located in the Hotel on Rivington on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) wouldn’t be another Maverick Monday disappointment. The menu, once again, seemed very promising; we’d wanted to go for a very long time because of their unique offerings and restaurant.com provided us with the opportunity. For US$4.00, I bought a gift card worth US$25.00 to put toward our meal—what a steal! Here’s what the website has to say about the dining experience they try to provide:

Located on the ground floor of Hotel on Rivington in NYC’s Lower East Side, CO-OP Food & Drink is based on the co-operative principle of bringing together different services and products under one space for everyone’s benefit. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Victor Startek, they bring… together different ingredients, flavors and cultures that reflect the diversity that is the Lower East Side.

This philosophy allows guests to enjoy a variety of plates such as the Tuna Tuna Yuzu Sushi Roll (w/ spicy tuna, tuna, avocado & yuzu dynamite sauce), Shredded Pork Belly Tacos (w/ Ancho BBQ, Smoked Creama, Beets), Fried Chicken Biscuits (w/ ranch & pickled jalapeno aioli) and Miso Cured Salmon (w/ peanut sauce, watermelon radish & pickled celery root). In the spirit of a co-operative, most of the dishes are designed to be shared family-style through multiple courses.

Even so, we didn’t get our expectations up too high…until we entered the dining room, that is. (The bar is nice too, by the way.)

The artwork! The wooden table running the length of the dining room! The plush black leather booths and black chandeliers! Everything in the room was noteworthy—decadent and rustic at the same time. What a great juxtaposition and balance the designer created with the ambience and décor—Marissa was so impressed that after our meal, she booked the long table for her annual holiday dinner. While simultaneously perusing the faces in the portraits covering the wall and picking the dishes we wanted to try, our excitement quickly grew. Here’s what we ordered from their eclectic menu:

To Share
Co-Op Roll – spicy tuna, rock shrimp tempura, serrano peppers
Taco Flight – spicy shrimp (with bacon and blue cheese cole slaw), market fish tacos (grilled fish with avocado and red cabbage)

Marissa
Fish Curry – tile fish, red curry, brown rice, tofu
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

Me
Miso Cured Salmon – peanuts, celery root, watermelon radish
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

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To start, the drinks (Kiwi Caipirinhas) were lovely—just sweet, tart, and strong enough to whet our palettes for the sushi roll, which was good, but not good enough for me to be effusive. The fish tacos on the other hand, were phenomenal, and I’ve had my fair share of fish tacos. Light and refreshing, they were simply cooked and seasoned; each ingredient stood out yet didn’t compete with their counterparts. We loved these and gobbled them up seemingly without breathing! Too bad the spicy shrimp taco gave us the opposite effect. The blue cheese was so pungent that it overpowered the bacon, which in turn, overpowered the spicy shrimp; there was just too much going on at the same time that it completely missed the mark. We wished we had ordered more fish tacos to erase the memory and taste of this misfortune.

We needn’t have worried though, because our main courses were divine! Marissa’s fish curry was neither too rich in consistency nor was it too heavy in coconut flavor or spiciness. Although served steaming hot, the fish wasn’t overcooked sitting in the curry sauce and the curry itself was silky. My miso-cured salmon—which I was afraid would be too salty—was amazing as well. The salmon skin was wonderfully crispy and not chewy in the slightest. The meat was perfectly marbled and cooked just right; moist, fork tender and flaky, the salmon melted in my mouth like a savory candy. The Mavericks were in fish heaven and the accompaniments were like harp strings playing celestial music. I could wax poetic about my salmon alone, however I think I’d be banned from the blogosphere so I’ll spare you all the adjectives.

The only thing missing to round out our experience and meal at CO-OP was dessert, but alas, the pastry chef had embarked on another career path and was no longer making her unique concoctions that I was so dying to try. That’s ok though; because we were so happy with the meal overall, I believe we will return for more, and by then dessert will be back on the menu.

Cheers, CO-OP! You have restored my faith in trendy food.