Monday, May 31, 2010

Immersion Blenders

Some kitchen tools seem more like a solution chasing a problem. An immersion blender, for example. We got a really nice one as a gift a few months ago but I haven't used it all that much. Ours is a Bamix. Turns out that not only did the Swiss invent such world-shattering things like the cuckoo clock and multi-functional knives, they also invented the immersion blender.

Mostly it gets used to purée soups for wee picky children.

(that yellowish thing in the background is Wall-E's house, a work in progress)

Little kids are more interested in their food when they get to contribute, especially when it involves things that make lots of noise.

Gordon Ramsay, whom I love to despise, shows how to make a nice broccoli soup using a Bamix. Thanks Gordy, but if you ever run across me in Prague and pull an attitude I'm gonna punch you. Just sayin'.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Capt. Beef Heart Stew

At first glance, perhaps not the most appetizing cut of meat ever. This is a beef heart, or part of one, I'm not really sure to be honest. I'm gonna use it to make me some beef heart stew. Beef heart is one of the best sources of coQ10. My preferred method of eating heart is, of course, raw and still beating, torn from the chest of an animal I've hunted with my obsidian dagger on foot, but my family prefers a more palatable form. So I give them (and you, dear reader) Capt. Beef Heart Stew.

Stew, in my opinion is just root vegetables and meat with some odds and ends thrown in to enhance flavor. Soup can have just about anything in it but a stew must have some meat. Here are my veggies (wine is a veg, right?):

I chopped up the heart into rather small cubes and cooked it low and slow in lots of Italian buffalo butter.

I've no idea if this stuff is grassfed or not but how can one pass up Italian buffalo butter?

I cooked the beef heart chunks for almost two hours on the smallest burner at the lowest setting. Plenty of time to sort out the the veggies.

I know, I know, a REAL cook dices onions by hand. I may not be a real cook, but I do have an engineering degree and a V-Slicer (thanks Alton Brown). This makes short work of any petulant veggies that cross my path. Now check out this lovely garlic from a local garden. Between it and the wine, the stew ought to have plenty of character.

After around 2 hours of slow cooking the beef heart, I add the veggies and wine, along with some bullion (I didn't have any homemade stock around). Et voilà (this actually looks, but doesn't taste, better than the finished version):

Ok, here we go, Capt. Beef Heart Stew, ready to be devoured:

(I added some cooked potatoes I made yesterday for my son, not strictly paleo but I'm not going to sweat it)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Olive Oil Revisited

My expensive olive oil (around 20 bucks a liter) is getting really slushy, which I take as a good sign. In fact, if it gets any thicker I'm going to have to stop storing it in the fridge. After realizing that most of the stuff is probably crap, I think this is worth the extra price, especially if one doesn't use it for cooking (which one probably shouldn't, SFAs like coconut oil or lard are much more heat stable). As I mentioned, it was already obvious from the smell and taste that this was a different beast altogether than the cheap mainstream brands I was buying. Now I'm just left wondering how I went so long blissfully unaware of what potentially unhealthy crap I was eating for so many years.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Muscle Fiber Composition, Exercise and Learning

I hate push-ups but I like the bench press - essentially the same exercise. Now that I only do bodyweight exercises I've come to re-examine the push-up but I doubt it will ever be something I look forward to. I attribute this to learning, since I did a lot of benching in high school and college - starting in the early eighties when the bench seemed to replace the overhead press as the macho gym benchmark.

My wife's family are endurance ninjas, I'm convinced they are all 98 percent slow twitch fiber. When I go hiking with them it just sucks, I'm always the straggler, and I grew up at 6000 feet damnit! I think Slavs in general have a high composition of slow twitch fiber. There are lots of different types of muscle fiber, and the categories still seem to be in flux. My composition seems to be biased towards speed and certainly not strength or endurance. I ran 200 and 400 meters in high school and seem to have inherited much of this from my Father who was a world class quarter-miler in his day although he can put on muscle much easier than I.

So where is this all going? Well, I'm wondering what natural inclination, i.e. fiber composition has to do with preferred exercise. I like to bench press because I spent (i.e. wasted) plenty of hours of my youth laying on a sweaty, red plastic bench (usually with sparkles - yeah the 80s). But I also like sprinting a lot more than jogging. I did a lot of interval training in high school so that could be a big factor. Or it could just be that I prefer exercises that match my fiber composition, certainly it is some combination of the two. But what is the proportional contribution of learning and inclination?

When I switched from jogging to sprints, mostly thanks to Mark Sisson, running seemed like less of a chore, was reduced in frequency, and I tended to feel better afterwords (which I mostly attribute to the fact that sprints are more difficult to overdo, at least at my age, so intensity tends to fluctuate according to what the bod is ready for). 

I've been subtly trying to get my wife to add sprints to her jogging routine ("Cardio sucks, it is making you less healthy"). She's been fiercely resisting my sage advice ("Could you change the cat box while I am gone?"). So I've begun wondering whether she likes endurance exercise more than me because that's what she's designed for (and the opposite for me), and how much early experience of specific types of exercise influence one's exercise decisions later in life.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Birthday Meat Cake

This isn't strictly paleo, but it sure beats a giant glob of refined wheat and sugar smeared with trans fats. This is Liam's birthday cake, essentially a meatloaf with mashed potatoes and ketchup as 'icing', and mashed black beans for the tires. It is supposed to be Lightning McQueen, one of his favorite characters (yeah I need a bit more practice). Liam's favorite thing was blowing out the candles, which he did about a zillion times. 


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Box Jumps and Balance

Supposedly, just standing on one foot whilst brushing one's teeth is a great way to increase proprioception. I haven't tried this but I do think exercises that challenge our ability to balance and be aware of our surroundings (especially the ground) can really increase agility and reaction, not to mention our ability to balance and be aware of our surroundings.

I typically do one or two crossfit-ish workouts a week and I usually start out with box jumps. Check out this video of people making them look ridiculously easy - turns out they aren't, at least not for me. I started doing box jumps as a sort of 'explosive' exercise, but I think they are even better at honing balance and proprioception. I do a slight variation: jump onto an exercise trampoline/kid's favorite toy and back, trying for continuous smooth movement, landing on my toes and bouncing right back (I'm also trying to acclimate myself to higher box jumps - onto a chair against the wall - but I'm fighting this nagging vision that starts with the chair collapsing and ends with me losing all my teeth). It takes a lot of coordination, especially when one is tired (so pretty much all of them), but I think it has really helped my overall balance and body awareness.

Unlike most Central Europeans, I usually have bare feet around the house. This has typically led to a lot of lego-foot and other assorted toy-foot mishaps. I'm a total wimp about getting even a stubbed toe, which is why this video sends shivers up my spine, but I seem to be more agile recently. I haven't had a toy-foot mishap for a while, and I think it might be attributable in large part to the box jumps.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Me and my Fleischwolf

This is my Fleischwolf, there are many like it, but this one ist mein. Fleischwolf, is that like the coolest word ever or what? I say we wimpy English speakers ditch 'meat grinder' and replace it with Fleischwolf ASAP. Especially those of us who say 'meat mincer'. Hugh Grant is a meat mincer, but this is a Fleischwolf!

There are some obvious disadvantages to making your own hamburger, notably time and effort. But there are distinct advantages. Hamburger goes bad very quickly. Most of the bacteria lie on the surface of the meat, and when it is ground, all that bacteria gets mixed up with the meat, turning it into a bacterial cornucopia. Good for them, bad for us. This was told to my by a guy with a medical degree, so it should be taken with a grain of salt but it does make sense. That reminds me, I need to write a post about doctors, and their orthogonal relation to science, (with notable exceptions of course). I buy my meat at the local butcher so I can always ask them to grind it for me, but if it is too crowded or I'm not sure I'll use it right away, I'll save it for my Fleischwolf. Obviously, if you grind your own meat, then you know exactly what went into it, and this is always a good thing. I picked up the trick from Alton Brown of storing all the small pieces in a ziploc of dried rice which is a great natural desiccant. One final advantage of grinding one's own meat with a hand operated Fleischwolf is that it is a decent workout, especially if it's got a lot of gristle. What could be more paleo than getting a workout preparing your own food?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Food Porn and why I need to buy a Tripod

A few days ago this recipe caught my eye, so I decided to try it and even take some photos. This reminded me how much I suck at taking photos. I really need to get a tripod and perhaps a camera that is at least as smart as Deep Blue. This photo is a great example of how much I suck at capturing extremely inactive ingredients in their natural state:
I'm not a huge salad person. But I do like tangy. This salad had tangy to spare, especially after I made a few modifications. Romain lettuce, didn't have any fresh cabbage, but did have red and white sauerkraut, yum, fresh chives and basil and cilantro. And the key substitution:
Pickled ginger from the nearby Japanese grocer, my wife is crazy about this stuff, and I like the fact that it doesn't have to be peeled and cut. Prague isn't exactly inundated with ethnic grocery stores but it is slowly getting better and this place has certainly improved my shopping happiness.
Here's the result, mango salad with pickled ginger, garlic, pickled red and white cabbage, cilantro, romaine lettuce, chives, basil and plenty of blur. But it tasted great, bursting with colors and flavors. I made the crispy fish also (except I used salmon and marinated in full fat yogurt) and my 3 1/2 year old loved it, the bread crumbs were the clincher. Marinating fish in buttermilk/yogurt + spices can really add flavor.

Moving on,

Tradiční máslo (traditional butter), this is another recent neighborhood discovery and it rocks. The difference between this stuff and normal butter is several orders of magnitude on the yum scale (and health scale I imagine). I used some of it to cook this:
White asparagus. This stuff is rather expensive and I'd prefer the normal green variety but for some reason it isn't available. Apparently, the Germans are crazy about the white variety and I guess it sort of spills over here.

Hey, this pic almost looks respectable. Oyster stew, more or less, with fresh basil and chives and plenty of bad-ass butter. The wine was also respectable, Chateau Le Bouscat Bordeaux 2008 for around five US bucks, very light and medium dry, just how I like my white wine.

Trouble in Virgin Paradise

Great, just great, as if I didn't have enough trouble already trying to eat real food, I recently discovered that most olive oil is adulterated, fake or contains baby seal tears. I think I knew in my heart of hearts that it was just too good to be true. Olive oil is pretty cheap nowadays, maybe a bit too cheap, now I know why. Digging a little deeper, I discovered one can try the refrigerator test, fill a shot glass, stick it in the fridge, and it should harden or at least get cloudy. My Basso did neither.
Hmm, ok so I bought some Spanish olive oil, Ballester, which is ominously '100 percent natural', hmm but not 100 percent olive oil? Same damn thing, three days in the fridge and nothing. Crap. Then I bought some pretty expensive stuff, Il Chiecino (Italian for The Chatroom), at the newly opened high-end deli down the street. Since I no longer cook with EVOO I figured what the hell. This also failed the fridge test. Damnit! But this Il Chiecino was a different breed altogether from these so-called olive oils we've been consuming. First of all, it was already cloudy (that's why I bought it). It has some nice sediment on the bottom, and it has a rich new olivy smell, very green and somewhat tart. I don't know how accurate the fridge test is, and I will keep on searching for the perfect virgin, but I'm pretty happy with the Il Chiecino for now. The whole thing helped remind me to be ever-vigilant about real foods and appreciate olive oil for what it ought to be, a high end condiment for salads and such, not a cheap all purpose oil one fools oneself into thinking is healthy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Atkins Rehabilitated

I was reading this Q&A with Gary Taubes and was struck by this response to a question about what got Taubes onto the SFAs are bad myth:
. . . couple of years later, I was reporting the New York Times Magazine story that would become “What If It’s All A Big Fat Lie?”, when I heard about these five clinical trials comparing low-fat, calorie-restricted diets to Atkins diets. Since the Atkins diet is a high-fat, high saturated fat diet and it improved cholesterol profiles in all these trials, that pretty much clinched it. I’ve been arguing since that these diet trials have to be perceived as tests of the hypothesis that saturated fat is a “bad” fat, although the medical establishment still prefers to ignore that fact.

In the paleosphere these days, Taubes is something of a legend whilst Atkins seems to have been swept under the rug. And while Atkins made a lot of mistakes (eat three meals a day plus snacks?!?), the guy was a pioneer and really ought to get more credit. Without Atkins first pushing the envelope how far would the fight against SFA demonization be today? Would Taubes have even written GCBC without these Atkins trials (not to mention the general interest in re-examining the role of fat created by his diet)?

I'm old enough to remember a lot of conventional scientific wisdom being turned on its head. I can still recall the dinosaurs killed by asteroids hypothesis being universally panned by the paleontologist community. Who was this upstart physicist? And what the hell is iridium anyway? I went on to take a decent amount of physics classes, enough to know that PHYSICISTS ARE FUCKING NINJAS!   

The treatment of Atkins in the press has mostly been an atrocity. Is it just me or is this article just dripping with condescension? Whilst making a pretense of being fair-minded, it is pretty clear where the author's sympathies lie. But the widespread avoidance of Atkins by the paleosphere is also shameful. Sure Dr Atkins was something of a publicity-whore, and his science could be shaky at times, but the guy was excoriated and vilified by the mainstream press because he dared to challenge an accepted dogma. Atkins took the big hit for all of us in helping to reverse 50 years of homicidal fraud started by Keys and his disciples. 

I never took any journalism classes, but I knew plenty of people who majored in journalism. They were almost the polar opposite of physicists as far as logic and reasoning went (the absolute polar opposites were theater majors). Science journalism really is an oxymoron. Compare a current issue of Scientific American, now written by staff journalists, to one twenty years ago when the articles were actually written by scientists. Pretty damn scary. Fortunately, we have blogs, books, films and websites available to anyone who cares to examine the data firsthand. But all of these sources of information owe Atkins a huge - and understated - debt.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Land that Vegetables Forgot

That's what Anthony Bourdain called Prague. I think it's fair to say he exaggerated a bit. But the vegan extremists still have a long way to go here. Check out the menu at any local pub:  fried cheese, viener schnitzel, and the ever ubiquitous goulash.

Yet dark clouds loom on the horizon.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) seems to be slowly worming its way into Central Europe. Lard, for instance, is definitely getting more difficult to buy. It used to be available everywhere, but now is often replaced at stores with - you guessed it - 'heart healthy' margarine. Blech.

My hypothesis is that by the time the Paleo grassroots movement manages to hit the mainstream and overturn the current homicidal diet-heart dogma, Central Europe will be something like North America is now as far as conventional wisdom goes.

It is in no way a problem to stock up on organs at the local butcher: brains, heart, kidneys, etc. They like me there, as it is mostly old people buying these cuts, tradition and price being the driving factors, probably nice to see a 'younger' person carrying on the tradition of real food. But I have a confession. While I buy these cuts with the best of intentions, I haven't managed to eat them all. Brains in particular. There's the whole, prion/mad cow thing, but mostly it is the fact that they look like, well, brains!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Muscle Fiber Recruitment and Religious Wars.

Anyone who has ever perused the many exercise blogs and websites we have on the wonderful Interwebs nowadays knows how quickly seemingly small differences in principles (SuperSlow vs Slow Burn vs Body by Science vs No-Work Workout™) can lead to extreme religious clashes that usually end up with millions of dead and maimed workout fanatics, or even more tragic, a generation of gym rats who bench press 10 kg less than their genetic potential. 

I’ve decided to gift the world with my own exercise philosophy, culled from many, many minutes of heavy immersion in the exersphere™ and the ability to run about our flat at least four times with my 3 ½ year old son on my shoulders playing horsey. I may not have abs like Mark Sisson, but I have something even more powerful: the ability to use the smudge tool in Photoshop.

I really, really like the ideas presented in Body by Science (BBS). Specifically, the recruitment of ‘emergency’ fibers like FFG, etc, and the long rest periods (typically 7 days) needed to regenerate those fibers. This has been working wonders for me, but…

It seems to me this approach sidelines other muscle fibers.

We have lots of different types of muscle fibers, in different proportions (depending on our genetics), with different recovery rates. Surely the best approach would be to stimulate them all and allow them all to recover at their appropriate rates? Ideally, this might mean a daily slow-twitch workout, a twice-weekly intermediate workout, and a weekly or less, ‘to failure and beyond’ workout. These ratios being adjusted based on body feedback probably related to individual fiber ratios.

Paleo reenactment is fine, ‘real’ exercises like throwing around a bag of sand (or in my case, kitty litter, or a young child). Doing isolation exercise is fine also, although more time consuming and linked with the tendency to concentrate on mirror muscles. Everything in between is also fine. My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter as long as we stimulate our various muscle fibers in an optimal way.

The No-Work Workout.

I'm going to make a fortune off of this.

In physics work is defined as force times distance. If you carry a heavy piece of luggage through an airport you aren't performing any work on it (this is more clear now that most luggage comes with wheels these days). In fact, if you lift a 1000 kg barbell up in the air then set it back down, you haven't performed any work. See where I'm going with this?

Pretty much any workout doesn't perform actual work from a physics standpoint. I will use this fact to cash in on the world's insatiable lust for magical workout solutions by publishing the No Work Workout (tm).

I've already pre-ordered a 600 foot yacht.