I am fresh out of the shower, standing on the scales and staring at the digital readout: 210.6 pounds. These machines are notoriously inaccurate, I mutter to myself, stepping off and waiting for the scale to return to zero. I step back on. Still 210.6. I half-kick the scale across the closet floor.
It’s Monday morning, July 14, and in one hour I have an appointment with Noah Melngailis, the owner of One Lucky Duck at the Pearl (pictured above). He wants to help me change my life.
I’ll take all the help I can get fighting my way back to the weight, conditioning, and general life balance I enjoyed throughout my 50s. I’m 61 years old now, and since starting up the Rivard Report nearly two and a half years ago and adopting a 24/7 work style, the success I’ve enjoyed creating something out of nothing comes in direct proportion to weight gain, exercise decline, and the growing stress I carry in body, mind and soul.
Noah is waiting for me at his walk-in, takeout store at the Pearl with a five-day juice, shake, and meal plan. I’m not supposed to eat or drink anything else, but I had come to life that morning with a cup of black coffee. Change is hard, even harder on a Monday morning. I am not exactly excited about getting started.
The weekend featured a rare double outing for Monika, my wife, and me. A typical night out for us is a walk with the dog to a Southtown eatery or the food trucks. This past weekend we went to dinner parties Friday and Saturday night, where both hosts outdid themselves in the kitchen, cooking great meals from scratch. If anyone’s wine glass was left empty for more than a minute, I don’t remember seeing it (unless you count our pregnant friend in the group on the second night). Not wanting to offend, I broke my rule about only looking at desserts.
There’s more. We are soccer fans, and Sunday was the World Cup Final. I married into a family of Germans. We hosted a family get-together, three generations, with a menu that featured German food (bratwurst, sauerkraut, Opa’s German potato salad, Oma’s homemade pretzels) with a side dish of homemade chimichurri in deference to the Argentine side, whipped up by our son, Alex, a chef instructor at Central Market’s cooking school. He also made the potato salad, and a debate ensues over three generations of the recipe and whose version is or was the best. Everyone agrees the German beer is superior to the Argentine beer. Germany beats Argentina, 1-0. It’s a great game, but all day, in the back of mind, I’m thinking: Monday, Bob. Monday, the party is over.
I had been inside One Lucky Duck before, but left without ordering, unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the world of raw and vegan food. I was unfamiliar with juicing, too, and when I asked a Millennial friend at a going away party a few days earlier what “cleansing” was, she gave me the look: “Are you kidding me?”
I walk in to the shop, expecting Noah to look like everyone else: lean, tattooed, pierced, alternative. Instead I’m shaking hands with a guy who stands 6’2?, built like an athlete, and has the confident demeanor of a good teacher. He quickly senses that I know nothing about what I’m doing.
I want to shock myself back into a life of moderate eating, drinking and vigorous daily exercise five days a week. I want to lose weight as fast as it can be lost in a healthy, lasting manner. But there’s this Rivard Report thing that has me running like a pet gerbil on a wheel, so while I’m at it, Noah, I want to get a good story or two out of the experience to share with the rest of this overweight city.
Noah hands me a shake, which I mistakenly call a smoothie. It’s my Day One breakfast, which I consume while we sit down at a table to talk. Just so you know, Noah, I’ve already cheated and had a cup of coffee. No problem, you set the boundaries of your cleanse, he replies.
I try the shake. Then I try it again. It’s amazing. I’m the big smoothie maker in the family, but this is rich and delicious and different. I thought I was going to eat raw and vegan, Noah. Isn’t there milk and yogurt in my, um, shake? No milk, no yogurt, Noah says. It’s raw and vegan. Ripe avocado, pineapple, coconut water, lime juice and vanilla. Really?
I can drink coffee, get my caffeine fix, and drink a delicious shake for breakfast? Maybe this isn’t going to be so bad.
“We don’t want to be a lifestyle,” Noah tells me. “We want to be part of your lifestyle. We want to be inclusive, not exclusive.” In other words, Noah doesn’t want to scare away people like me who don’t eat raw, don’t eat vegan, but do care about eating healthy and tasty food.
We talk awhile. Noah comes from a “food obsessed family.” His older sister, Sarma Melngailis, was trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York and is now a celebrity chef and cookbook author in New York, the owner of Pure Food and Wine, the city’s number one raw food restaurant, and the original One Lucky Duck. When Noah bailed out of a tech startup in Austin and his wife landed a job here, they moved to San Antonio and fell in love with the city. One Lucky Duck at the Pearl is the first attempt to export the concept from the Big Apple.
“We’re a family business,” Noah said. “We’re not franchising.”
He hands me a shopping bag with five meals that will last me the rest of the day and Tuesday. I’ll come back in Wednesday morning for the next two days, and continue our interview. I head home to refrigerate the meals, and decide to work from home until lunchtime. Lunch is a zucchini lasagna and a juice drink called Beet the Rabbit. I love beets and there is no mistaking the taste. Alex drops by and sniffs it before I take my first sip. “Celery, and ginger and lemon juice,” he says. He’s right, plus cucumber. It’s what I’d call a vegetarian smoothie. It’s heavy and filling and tart, and it takes me quite awhile to drink. I feel myself slowing down.
The first bite of lasagna startles me, it’s that good. Taste this cheese, Alex. It’s not cheese, Dad, it’s vegan. Later, Noah tells me the “elements” of the dish are macadamia and pumpkin seed ricotta (the cheesy taste coming from nutritional yeast), pistachio and basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and marinated zucchini. I finish lunch feeling good, and feeling sated. I was expecting hunger pangs.
I work at home awhile longer and then get ready to return to the office. I’m halfway out the door when, wait! I suddenly need to run upstairs to the bathroom. This stuff is working fast, I tell myself, as I take the stairs two at a time. It’s my first cleansing moment, and I realize I’m about to lose a little weight.
Alex and I meet at the Tripoint YMCA after work. He’s thinking about running his first half marathon. I’m thinking about running, slowly, for awhile. Treadmills are not my thing, but I need to alternate workouts with Tuesday and Thursday cycling outings with the Third Street Grackles, assuming I actually make the workouts and don’t stay at the office on my gerbil wheel. I’ve been missing a lot of team rides.
My earbuds don’t work any more, I discover, which reminds how long it’s been since I’ve tried them. I settle for baseball on ESPN and manage three miles in 30 minutes. I look over at Alex and he’s on mile five and chugging along pretty hard. It’s not polite to snoop at other people’s treadmill numbers, I remind myself.
Dinner that night is the SM Salad, SM being Sarma Melngailis, Noah’s rock star sister in New York. Her cookbooks feature photos of her on the front. She looks like a movie star. I’ll write more about her later. I’m still on Day One, reminding myself to enjoy the salad without a beer or glass of wine. I check Noah’s menu for my evening drink. It says water with lemon. Okay, I like water. I find the remnants of a cut-up lemon in the bottom of the produce drawer.
The salad is packaged in a standard plastic container, but it comes with these little covered plastic cups, each one holding an unrecognizable ingredient or dressing. The salad itself is fresh mixed greens, and opening the cups I add in what I later learn are hemp hearts, rosemary quackers (vegan One Lucky Duck crackers), and dulse, a new word for me, which is Atlantic seaweed to add a bit of salt. Fresh avocado slices and a lemon vinaigrette complete the picture.
Monika is enjoying World Cup leftovers: bratwurst, sauerkraut, and potato salad. She’s the moderate one in the family, and hasn’t carried an extra pound since she was pregnant, which is a constant reminder that life is unfair but it is what it is. “How’s yours?” she asks, wondering how I manage to go from last week to this week without the shakes. “It’s actually amazingly good,” I tell her. “The food I’ve eaten today is amazingly good. I can’t believe it.”
I make it through Day One and wonder if I’ll weigh the same in the morning, or maybe see signs of progress when I next stand on the scales. A little instant gratification would be most welcome.
Coming next: One Lucky Duck, Day Two: A Banana nut shake, Thai lettuce wraps, a Mediterranean salad, and running out of gas on a 25-mile cycling workout.
*Featured/top image: Noah Melngailis, the owner of One Lucky Duck at the Pearl. Photo by Iris Dimmick.