There are few experiences that are more boring than someone yammering on about how successful their Dry January has been, so let me be the first to assure you that this column was written with a glass of my favorite Spanish white wine by my side. Txakoli is crisp, lightly effervescent, and dry. If dry wine isn’t the point of dry January, let’s at least call it thematically compliant and move along.
In the 1950s, France’s government launched a public service campaign to temper the wine-drinking habits of her citizens–albeit lightly. The recommended amount was one liter per day. And while that seems hilariously high (and hilariously French), it’s also worth noting that wine in the 1950s was weaker than it is now. For one, hotter vineyards due to global warming grow hotter grapes, yielding more sugar, which ferments into more alcohol. California’s “Blockbuster Cab” boom of the ‘70s and ‘80s had everyone chasing big, bold, boozy red wines. If wine crept up in alcohol content as much as 5% ABV in the past few decades, a 1950 liter was… never mind, that’s still a metric crapload of wine.
Any movement toward sobriety, be it for a month or a lifetime, has undeniable benefits for your mental and physical health. Your liver gets time to heal and process fats, hormones, and other toxins in your body. Your risk for certain cardiovascular diseases and cancers plummets. Your pants fit better, your sleep is deeper and more restorative, your skin improves, and you don’t drunkenly order DNA tests for your cats off Instagram, as I may have done a couple of years ago.
There’s no downside to a booze-free existence; you just have to find enough momentum, good vibes, and stress relief in your day that leave you feeling serene at 6 p.m., not lurching for the nearest rum jug. Where once you counted down the minutes to Happy Hour, you now strive to find a dozen happier hours in your day. In New Canaan, this is easy.
Here’s how it plays out.
8:00 -9:30 AM: Because you didn’t drink last night, you wake up feeling like a teenager instead of a rusty bucket filled with Soviet tractor parts. You have energy to burn. And because winter hasn’t yet gotten the memo that it’s winter, you might find the skies conducive to a long walk (or jog, if you’re extra) through our town’s green spaces. For a nice, long amble that combines track, road, and cross-country terrain, seek out the New Canaan GreenLink trail. Conserved, built, and managed by the New Canaan Land Trust, the GreenLink connects all of our town’s major parks using sidewalks, donated parcels of land, and pedestrian easements. You can make a very long, figure-eight loop if you wish to do so, choose-your-own-adventure style, between the Nature Center and Waveny. But if you’re shorter on time, the 3.8-mile northern loop, starting and ending in Irwin Park, passes through some marvelously unique
vistas in an hour and 15 minutes: charming footbridges over woodland pools, chickens, goats, and educational installations at the Nature Center, classic clapboard churches on God’s Acre, and Elm Street’s double-parked hustle and bustle.
You can pick up a pocket GreenLink trail map at Walter Stewart’s.
9:30 AM: While in town, swing by Elm Street juice scene newcomer Barvida and order a Superfood Golden Turmeric Latté. While turmeric milk has been a panacea in Indian households for centuries, turmeric lattés exploded in American wellness culture this past decade thanks, in part, to their anointment by Gwyneth Paltrow. You may remember her as an actor, but now she actually works as an alchemist who converts ancient wisdom from other cultures into zeroes for her own bank account.
All the same, I’m not mad at a turmeric latté. Barvida’s version is luscious, well-spiced, warming, and welcome. It comes with the plant-based milk of your choice (the barista recommends oat milk for its superior foam stability), and you can opt to have it lightly sweetened with maple*. The drink’s golden hue and heady spices (mostly turmeric, with notes of cayenne, cardamom, cinnamon, and Himalayan salt) pack some anti-inflammatory benefits as well as an antioxidant wallop, but any claims of curing depression I’d take with a grain of, um, Gwyneth Paltrow money. Nonetheless, the latté’s frothy warmth should be enough to propel you back up the (surprisingly punishing) Elm Street hill.
* Public Service Announcement: Stevia is objectively gross.
10:30 AM: With stable blood sugar and no pounding headache, you notice how much less responding to work emails annoys you. One way to lock in the chill vibes is to overdo it with self-care; I picked up “mood cleansing” bath salts and muscle recovery gel at Bluemercury on Main Street to add to my already ridiculous roster of lotions and potions. You have to be wary of the claims manufacturers make about a topical product’s ability to make you a better person; I don’t expect hand cream to give me a sparkling personality or a better tennis game. But if it smells good, why not try it? I love the South Salem, NY-based Indie Lee line, and this recovery gel contains arnica and capsaicin to do magic on tired muscles.
NOON: Athletic Shoe Factory on Forest Street is a gem of a resource for New Canaan’s athletes, large and small. Your mission here is to bribe yourself to exercise more (and, therefore, drink less) by buying yourself a new pair of running shoes. On a recent visit, I found their upbeat team helping two families fit multiple kids for new kicks, and I checked out the wall display of Hoka running shoes. I love that they stock Hoka; this super-popular shoe is famous for its airy, foamy footbeds, a maximalist sneaker to beat them all. You feel like you’re skiing on three feet of fresh powder in Hokas, and if anything’s going to call you out to the woods, the park, or the roads on a winter morning, it’s going to be a fresh pair of Hoka Bondi Xs. Or possibly your dog.
You can also find the world’s best recovery shoes at Athletic Shoe Factory. General manager Alanna Fleisch showed me an entire wall of Oofos sandals, known for their unbelievable impact absorption and for helping people with conditions like plantar fasciitis feel better. Sweeten the pot by buying yourself a pair of Oofos and making them your daily reward for going the (actual) extra mile. I also spotted super-comfy Vuori loungewear and a quilted fleece Patagonia number that would be a great post-yoga jacket, and swore to never buy these brands online again.
1:00 PM: You’re probably starving at this point, and while a nice bath and new shoes provide a certain glow, neither one will technically keep you alive. Hit up Greens on the Go at Pine Street Concessions for a winter special: The Stew, their tasty take on the Alison Roman internet-breaker of yore, whereby “yore,” I mean 2019. It’s brilliant on a cold day: chickpeas, ginger, onion, coconut milk, and kale, served over seared broccoli and topped with chopped mint, cilantro, and red pepper flakes. Oh, and TURMERIC. That golden, ground rhizome is just everywhere nowadays, isn’t it? Here, it melts into a creamy, fragrant broth that keeps you warm and obliterates your hanger. A word to the wise: a large container easily feeds two for lunch in my house.
3:00 PM: Tucked away on Morse Court between J. Crew and a wine shop is New Canaan Healthfare, a beloved community resource for all the brains and bodies of New Canaan. In a town where highly personal, friendly retail experiences are the norm, Healthfare remains the gold standard for all things corporeal. I’ve gone in terrified about some symptom that I’ve over-Googled and come home, deeply appeased, with the right products to address it and a better understanding of my own body.
Margaret Wenzel, who owns Healthfare with her husband, Jim, gives well-researched, detailed answers to your concerns and provides the fundamental biological basis for the products she recommends. She’s recently received her Ph.D. in Health Science, with a special focus on tick-borne diseases, so please visit her if you or a loved one needs support after a Lyme diagnosis. Although a non-drinker, Margaret still seeks the ritual of having something beautiful and tasty with which to welcome the evening. In a wine glass, she makes a “cocktail” with a splash of prebiotic soda, adds kombucha to fill the glass to ⅓, and tops it off with fizzy water.
“Listening to our bodies is the number one way to find what’s best for us and what’s not good for us, but we haven’t yet been supported in trusting our bodies,” she says. If I listen to my body the morning after a wine-soaked dinner party, it tells me very clearly that I’m not 22 anymore. It’s like an intuition we were all born with and then socialized to ignore. Will we keep making the same mistakes? Or at least find a kind of livable balance that lets us have a little caffeine when we want it, a little wine when we want that, and a lot of rest and GreenLink walks to stay ahead of them?
6:00 PM: Weed is legal in Connecticut for people over the age of 21 now, so before we clutch our pearls into dust, just skip ahead if understanding the merits of cannabis isn’t your, drumroll, bag.
Marijuana, be it in flower, edible, tincture, or topical form, can help with sleep, chronic pain management, anxiety, and nausea from cancer treatment. It can also help you feel more fluid and relaxed. And I’m not going to be the person who recommends replacing one mind-altering substance with another, but I will gladly posit that I’ve had nothing but good experiences with legal cannabis in both California and Massachusetts because I make it about my goals. You can talk with your dispensary person (they sometimes call them “budtenders,” although, ugh, must they?) and say, “I want to sleep better,” “I want to feel more creative,” or “I want to watch Teletubbies and eat Cheerios directly out of the box for an unknowable amount of time”. There’s a strain, or a product, for all of these aims. I do edibles only; smoking makes it too hard to control how stoned I get. A friend swears by topical THC for her tennis-wonky shoulder. My husband, who does not drink, will have an edible on certain nights for TV time. Everyone has their go-to, and who “everyone” is will surprise you. We’ve come a long way since the days of Jeff Spicoli.
So nip over to the hybrid medical and adult use dispensaries (Google ‘em) in Stamford, talk with someone, and see if they can help you. Maybe weed is not for you. But I believe we can all stand a bit of fine-tuning when it comes to wellbeing, and cannabis could be an important part of that.
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While I was at New Canaan Healthfare, I asked Margaret about her recommendations for the sober-curious, and I walked away with some advice I’ll keep for the rest of my life about what she calls “the art of creative substitution”. It’s an attitudinal shift to focus on adding things to your life rather than subtracting them. I loved that tweak; rather than concern ourselves with the woe of deprivation, let’s instead focus on experiences we get to add, the new paths we get to walk, the new flavors we get to try (turmeric, obviously) and the new heights to which we can take ourselves.
I’ll drink a kombucha cocktail to that.
A quick note: I look at it somewhat lightly in this column, but addiction is serious stuff. Booze, drugs, gambling, and behavioral addictions can mess up nearly every aspect of our lives if not addressed appropriately. If you feel yourself under addiction’s sway, or know someone who might be, I hope you can take steps towards finding the right medical intervention. Silver Hill is a pretty wonderful resource to have in our own backyard.