DRY JANUARY

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One of the newest health trends, Dry January, Is similar to a Whole 30 plan, but instead of cutting out carbs and sugar you commit to not drinking any alcohol for 30 days.

Even though it’s called Dry January, you can actually do it anytime during any month as long as you sustain your commitment for 30 consecutive days.

Reports from those who have taken the challenge reveal that many end up feeling so great they decide to either quit drinking permanently, or drastically reduce their alcohol intake going forward

One of the tools participants use is finding satisfying mocktails or other non-alcoholic beverage replacements. And it’s a great excuse to drink more water. Sparkling waters such as LaCroix or Perrier jazzed up with fruit slices or splashes of your favorite fruit juices can help take the edge off.

Losing a few pounds is a nice bonus of the plan, but don’t expect to see dramatic results on the scale. A loss of around four pounds over the 30 days is typical.

A HEALTHY INDULGENCE

Modern Muffin founder Claire Putterman. 

Modern Muffin founder Claire Putterman. 

Charlotte-based Modern Muffin claims to make the city's best muffins. After tasting the Orange Pineapple Poppy Seed variety, we're starting to agree. It was "bursting with real fruits," just as it claimed on the box of four we purchased at Harris Teeter. And we like that the company describes its products as "a healthful indulgence." That's truth in advertising because at around 300 calories each, they are a treat. But they're also a healthier alternative to the usual muffin (Modern Muffin claims its products have 40 percent less sugar and calories than most others on the market).

We also like that each muffin is individually wrapped to make sure it stays at its peak flavor. Because the muffins are made with fresh ingredients, be sure to heed the expiration date. We recommend freezing the ones you don't plan to eat within a few days.

The baker behind the brand is Claire Putterman, a former French teacher at Providence Day School who founded the business in 2011. She perfected her recipes after years of trying to incorporate fruits into healthy food her children would eat when they were younger. Now her children are grown and work for her company. 

There are eight Modern Muffin varieties, but some are seasonal, including Strawberry Berry, which is available now. They're sold at Whole Foods stores in North Carolina and at 34 Harris Teeter stores in Charlotte. 704-542-8369; www.modernmuffin.com

 

 

PUT SOME PEP IN YOUR STEP

Athletic-inspired shoes from Johnston & Murphy at SouthPark Mall. 

Athletic-inspired shoes from Johnston & Murphy at SouthPark Mall. 

Spring in Charlotte is a beautiful thing to behold. But some days it seems best to view the gorgeous weather while you’re inside looking out thanks to all the pollen.

Allergies are just one of the reasons people turn to exercising indoors this time of year. If you want to put some pep in your step no matter what the weather is like outside, there’s a free indoor place to exercise that’s definitely not your average gym: SouthPark Mall.

Starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, people begin showing up to walk the mall’s corridors at their own pace in the quiet time before all the stores open at 10 a.m. On Sundays, the hours switch to 8 a.m. before the stores open at 12:30 p.m.

Nicole Kennon, Director of Marketing and Business Development for SouthPark Mall, told us that usually around 30 mall walkers turn up in the mornings.  “It’s open to anyone, but what we find is that it’s mainly seniors and young mothers with strollers,” she said. “We see an influx this time of year and when it rains."

Wearing casual clothes and sneakers, the walkers arrive alone or in small groups. All of them definitely have the chance to meet their daily exercise quota since the mall is the largest in the Carolinas.

The only advice Kennon has for newbies is to remember that since all the stores are closed the only way to get in is through one of the mall’s main entrances. Security guards start opening the entrance to the front of the mall that faces Sharon Road first then work their way around to the other main entrances.

Kennon has gotten to know some of the regular walkers over the years since she sees them in the mornings on the way to her office. “It’s fun to see how much they enjoy it and how some really use it as a time to socialize” she said. “Some of them time it so after they’ve finished walking they can stay and have coffee or they’ll shop and have an early lunch."

MODERN GYM CLOTHES

Need some motivation to get to the gym before spring gets here? American designer Derek Lam's collaboration with the athleisure brand Athleta will help you feel sporty and stylish. The Derek Lam 10C + Athleta collection is fit to wear inside or outside the gym. Some pieces are great to layer over gym clothes, others you can work out in. All of them have Lam's modern approach that will make you want to run errands after class just to show off. Here are a few of our favorites:

Top row, from left: Derek Lam 717 sneaker by New Balance, $80. Sleek leather jacket (in black or dove), $498. Crosswalk sweater in dove, $158. Stripe fluid dress in black and estate blue, $148.

Bottom row, from left: Crosswalk cardigan sweater, $168. Parallel zip tight in estate blue and blazing yellow (also, gray and white, and black and white), $98.



THE BEST GREEN BEANS

If you read Consumer Reports magazine, you may go organic. At least when it comes to string beans. The magazine compared 28 fresh vegetables and found that conventionally grown string beans had the highest pesticide risk, by far. The article stated that a serving of green string beans grown in the U.S. was 200 times riskier to eat than a serving of U.S. grown broccoli. To reduce your exposure to pesticides, the magazine recommends buying only organic string beans.

THE ART OF BOOSTING YOUR BRAIN POWER

Can playing or listening to classical music make you smarter? Yes, according to a recent study from the University of Helsinki published in the journal Scientific Reports. It details experiments by researchers who used brain scans to reveal playing or listening to classical music can give the brain a boost at any age. The conclusion was that music stimulates the genes involved with learning and memory, plus it causes the body to release the happy brain chemical dopamine.

Not to burst the champagne bubbles of the scientists who surely celebrated the study’s publication, but Opera Carolina Maestro James Meena thinks they’re a little late to the party. “It’s poppycock,” he said. “Artists have known this for centuries.”

On the eve of Opera Carolina’s production of Romeo & Juliet (Jan. 24, 28 and 30 at Belk Theater; www.operacarolina.org), Meena elaborated on his thoughts with the passion, intelligence and musical knowledge he’ll bring to the podium when he conducts the performances.

His words stimulated our brains so much, we decided to divide them into two Acts, plus an Intermission. And don’t miss the finale.

ACT I
“Scientists have been attempting to quantify the effect of classical music on the brain for decades, which I find comical,” he said. “Before science became our deity, we understood the natural world through empirical evidence, essentially what worked and what did not work.  We knew empirically that learning in music was part of a complete individual. That it, like learning math and science, was part of a complete education, not separate from but an equal partner in developing well-educated people. So, science is now quantifying what human societies have known for centuries, which I find amusingly pathetic.”

INTERMISSION

ACT II
“This is to me a matter of faith, not in a religion but faith in human instinct,” Meena continued. “We now believe that if we cannot measure, compare and quantify something it has no value. Just as one can observe a sunset and be moved by its magnificence without “quantifying” the refraction of sunlight, so too we can judge that one who is trained in the discipline of music is well-equipped to use that training in other disciplines.”

FINALE
Here are Meena’s top three picks for arias everyone should know:

  1. Nessun Dorma by Puccini from Turandot. “Not sung by Michael Bolton or Andrea Bocelli but by a (trained opera) singer like Franco Corelli or Luciano Pavarotti,” he said. For video of Pavarotti performing the aria in 1994, go here.
  2. Casta Diva by Vincenzo Bellini as sung by Maria Callas. (To see a video of Callas performing the aria in Paris in 1958, go here.
  3. Wintersturme from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner as sung by Lauritz Melchior. For an audio recording of Melchior performing the aria, go here.

Bravo, Maestro!