Archive for September, 2013

It’s raining today (Sunday), so my destruction of the wood pile is on an “operational pause” for now.  My buddy Jim from work will be here Saturday morning with the splitter.  I don’t know how much wood we can split in a day, but if we split everything I’ve cut so far, I’ll be happy.  I’ll get to the rest of wood pile later in the year.  Considering how overwhelming the pile was when I started, I’m satisfied with my progress.  Take a look at the before and after.

Meanwhile, Chareva is wrapping up the work on her first portable chicken house.  She did all this based on photos and drawings she found on the internet, with no help from me.  I’m impressed.

The gaps in the wire frame are big enough that a raccoon could squeeze through, and we already found out the hard way that raccoons like to eat chickens, so she put chicken wire over the frame.

She attached wheels to the house yesterday.  She tells me there’s a lever that raises the wheels up and down.  Nice.

The dogs could watch her construction project from one of the patios.  As you can see, they were suitably impressed.

The next step will be to transfer the chicks to the portable coop and let them start pecking away at the ground.  We’ll see how that works out.

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Before getting into the subject of Burger King’s new “healthier” fries, I’m going to anticipate a common (and incorrect) objection about using the words healthy and healthier to describe foods.  The objection, which I’ve seen in comments on a few blogs, goes something like this:

Foods aren’t alive and therefore can’t be healthy!  Foods that are good for you are healthful, not healthy!

As Johnny Carson used to say:  Wrong, buffalo-breath.  If foods aren’t alive and therefore can’t be healthy, how the heck can they be full of health?  And how can a person be said to have a healthy attitude?  Attitudes aren’t living organisms either … but a positive attitude can be conducive to good health.  Foods can also be conducive to good health, which is a definition of healthful.  But guess what?  That’s also one of the definitions of healthy.  Here’s a quote from the TheFreeDictionary.com:

The distinction in meaning between healthy (“possessing good health”) and healthful (“conducive to good health”) was ascribed to the two terms only as late as the 1880s. This distinction, though tenaciously supported by some critics, is belied by citational evidence — healthy has been used to mean “healthful” since the 16th century. Use of healthy in this sense is to be found in the works of many distinguished writers, with this example from John Locke being typical: “Gardening . . . and working in wood, are fit and healthy recreations for a man of study or business.” Therefore, both healthy and healthful are correct in these contexts:  a healthy climate, a healthful climate; a healthful diet, a healthy diet.

Okay, just felt the need to get that out of the way so I don’t have to keep using clunky terms like more healthful and less healthful. Now let’s take a peek at an article by a journalist who was invited to try Burger King’s new healthier french fries:

We tasted them, and you may not miss the 40% fat and 30% calories stripped from the spuds.

So the next time you’re at a Burger King and asked ‘Do you want fries with that?’ you might feel a little less guilty about saying yes.

I’d say that depends on what’s in those fries.

Just over half of the the fast food chain’s 100 million monthly customers orders fries. And while most of them aren’t expecting to get a health boost from their meal, heightened awareness about diets and nutrition, and the role that fried foods play in obesity, are starting to weigh on customers’ choices. It’s not entirely realistic to expect a healthy, nutritious meal delivered at a fast food counter, but it does makes sense that their menu developers start listening to what people want.

Have you discussed this with The Guy From CSPI?  He thinks McDonald’s should be serving tofu and salads.  That’s because he thinks people are mindless idiots who just eat whatever you offer them.

That’s why quick service restaurants are all offering healthier fare. There is a grilled chicken option for nearly every fried item, and salads freshen up the menu boards of all fast food chains now. But it turns out visitors to these restaurants want only one thing — the food that made these chains so popular in the first place — burgers, fries and shakes.

Bingo.  This is the basic-economics stuff activists like The Guy From CSPI can’t grasp:  people don’t buy burgers and fries because fast-food chains sell them; fast-food chains sell them because that’s what people buy.  One of my favorite on-the-street interviews in Fat Head was when I asked a young lady, “If McDonald’s sold broccoli in a nice red container like this, would you order the McBroccoli?”  She replied, “Maybe if they fried it or put cheese on it.”

Which is why we see behavior like this:

Getting people to eat healthier food at fast food joints is a major challenge for the industry. Burger King’s market research, for example, showed that people who walk into a restaurant intending to order grilled chicken change their minds at the register and consistently order fried.

People want their fried food.  Got it.  So what is it exactly that makes Burger King’s new version of fried potatoes healthier?

Satisfries are made with the same oil and equipment as the traditional french fries, and, not surprisingly, Burger King won’t reveal the oil-repelling agent responsible. But we consulted some food science experts who say that lowering fat content in fried food is more an engineering trick than a nutritional one.

That’s what I want when I order food:  an engineering trick.

“There are several patents out there now. It’s actually kind of an old technology,” says Mary Ellen Camire, the president-elect of the Institute of Food Technologists of the fat-fighting batter technique.

Adding modified starches to the surface of foods like potato chips, or adding ingredients to wet batters like proteins, gellan gum, methylcellulose and hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and soy and pea flours, are well known ways to make fried foods less absorbent.

Sounds yummy!  And healthier, of course.

Camire says many fast food industry efforts to lower fat content costs them customers because the loss of fat leads to loss of taste or texture or both.

Or it could be that people’s taste buds are warning them they’re about to eat a frankenfood.

I don’t think I’ll be trying the gellan gum, methylcellulose and hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and soy and pea flours fried in canola oil anytime soon.  I suspect readers of this blog won’t either.  But if you miss fries and want to indulge in a healthier version now and then, try Chareva’s sweet-potato fries.  Here’s the recipe:

  • Heat bacon grease in a frying pan
  • Toss in some thinly-sliced, peeled sweet potatoes
  • Fry the sweet potatoes until they’re crispy
  • Dump them on some paper towels and let them cool a bit
  • Add salt to taste

No hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose or soy flour required.

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Our seven hens are only producing about three eggs per day now, so I guess they’re getting long in the tooth … er, beak.  At some point it will be time to start converting them into chicken dinners.  That means we’ll have to learn how to de-feather and process chickens.  Too bad my great-grandparents are all gone.  That’s what they did in those days; go out back and choose a chicken for dinner.

Our 18 chicks are growing rapidly, but aren’t yet ready for prime time.  The picture below is of them all huddling together as far away from the camera as they could get.  Apparently they believe a camera is some kind of chicken-killing contraption.

Once we sacrifice our current egg-layers, some of these chicks will probably live in the barn.  But the plan is to raise most of them in portable chicken houses and move them around the land.  Chareva has made quite a bit of progress on her first chicken house.  Man, there’s something about a good-looking woman using a power drill …

While she’s been constructing, I’ve been destructing.  The once-frightening pile of logs is considerably less intimidating now that I’ve had a couple of weekends to perform in my own version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Okay, to be honest, I don’t remember the bad guy in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre driving to a Stihl dealer to find out how he managed to mess up his chainsaw.  I’ve done that twice over the course of this project.

The first time, the chain locked up on me and wouldn’t turn even when the engine was running.  Turns out I was using the wrong oil to lubricate the bar.  I saw these nice little bottles of oil that were (I swear) labeled as chainsaw lubricant, so that’s what I poured into the oil tank.  Heh-heh-heh.  That’s what happens when longtime city-dwellers move to the sticks and starting playing with power tools.  I managed to miss the big orange container of chainsaw bar oil sitting right there next to the chainsaw in our garage.  So I was using the oil that’s supposed to be mixed with the gas.  Fortunately, I didn’t cause any actual damage.

I saved the actual damage for the screw that tightens the chain.  I didn’t realize that before turning that screw, I’m supposed to loosen the nuts on either side of it.  I thought those nuts were there just to attach the faceplate.  So while trying to tighten a loose chain that wasn’t ready to be tightened, I snapped the screw.  Oops.

Both repairs prompted a lesson in the proper care and feeding of chainsaws by a nice older gentlemen at the Ace Hardware/Stihl dealer.  After the second repair job I asked him, “So when people like me leave the shop, do you just shake your head and wonder why there are so many idiots in the world?”

“Naaaah,” he answered in his New England accent.  “I wasn’t born knowing everything, and I don’t expect you were either.”

In my defense, what I mostly wanted to know when we bought the chainsaw was how to use it without cutting off my own foot.  I got that part down right away and forgot the other bothersome details, such as which oil goes in which tank.

Now I at least know enough to get through a weekend of cutting without having to go visit my buddy from New England and ask what I did wrong this time.  I’ve also gotten pretty good at recognizing when the chain needs sharpening.  (Hint: if there’s no sawdust coming from the log and little puffs of smoke are rising from the cut, the chain isn’t really sawing anymore.)

It was a gorgeous weekend, around 70 degrees and sunny, perfect for outdoor labors.  I wasn’t the only one with that opinion.  As I was working on Sunday, our nearest neighbor came over, chainsaw in hand.  He explained that on days like this, he feels an urge to work outdoors.  He heard me sawing away and thought maybe I could use some help.  Would I mind?

Mind?  Are you kidding me?

I was delighted to have an extra pair of hands and extra saw working on the pile, since I’m feeling a bit of deadline pressure.  Two weekends from now, my work buddy Jim Taylor and I are sharing the cost of renting a log-splitter.  We’ll split his wood on Saturday and mine on Sunday.  I don’t know how quickly those things work, and for all I know, I’ve already cut more logs than we can split in a day.  But if it turns out to be quick work, I’d like to have as many of the logs cut up and ready to go as I can.

As I called it a day on Sunday, I thought about the Health.com advice featured in last week’s post … you know, eat your waffles or cereal in the morning and then have a high-carb snack every two hours or so to keep your energy up.  Processing that log pile is hard physical work.  The chainsaw is heavy, and it takes some pushing and pulling and rocking up and down at my end to get through the thick trunks.  After cutting chunks of logs, I have to pick them up and toss them aside to avoid stepping on them while working my way through the pile.  Both days qualified as long workouts.

On Saturday, I had ham and eggs for breakfast around 10:00 AM.  My next meal was at around 7:00 PM — after I played 18 holes of disc golf to unwind from the day’s chainsaw labors.  On Sunday, I had coffee with cream to wake up, then started on the logs.  It never occurred to me to stop for lunch.  I wasn’t consciously fasting all day; I was just busy and determined to get a lot done and didn’t think about food.  So my first meal of the day was dinner (Chareva’s chili).  That was around 6:00 PM.

According to the carb-pushers at Health.com, I should have run out of gas by noon.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t run out of gas until I literally ran out of gas – for the chainsaw, that is.  That’s when I called it a day.  So I’m pretty sure we ignore the advice from Health.com.

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Thank goodness for Health.com.  According to an article I read online today, some of my dietary habits are draining me of energy.  Let’s take a look:

Who doesn’t wish for more energy at least a few dozen times a day?

I don’t.  (I hope I’m not alone in that regard. If most people are wishing they had more energy two to three times every hour they’re awake, those zombie movies aren’t as far-fetched as I thought.)

Of course, you know that a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, and effective stress management can give you a much-needed boost. But to further figure out why you’re slumping, you need to pinpoint the energy-sucks in your diet. (Hint: Those low-carb meals aren’t doing you any favors.)

Dangit!  And here I thought my energy level was pretty high for a guy coming up on his 55th birthday.  During the daylight hours last weekend, I spent my time sawing logs, tossing the sawed logs aside to saw more logs, and weed-whacking my way through some briar.  After the sun went down, I programmed some updates to a software package I sell to law firms.  Oh, and I also played 72 holes of disc golf while taking work breaks from the logs.  Now that I know I did all that in an energy-depleted state, I feel kind of foolish.

Anyway, here are the energy-draining mistakes Health.com says I may be making:

You go long stretches without eating

Guilty as charged.

Food Fix: Snack early, snack often

Every time you go more than two hours or so without eating, your blood sugar drops — and that’s bad news for your energy.

Hmmm … as I write, it’s been six hours since my last meal.  So out of curiosity, I pulled the glucose meter out of my desk drawer and checked my blood sugar.  It’s 90 mg/dl.  I’m pretty sure that’s not considered low.  Once or twice per week, I do a 24-hour intermittent fast – dinner one day to dinner the next.  I’ve checked my glucose at the 23-hour mark.  It’s always in the 80-90 mg/dl range.  So I’m thinking if your blood sugar drops to the point where you feel drained just two hours after a meal, it may have something to do with what you eat.

Food supplies the body with glucose, a type of sugar carried in the bloodstream. Our cells use glucose to make the body’s prime energy transporter, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your brain needs it. Your muscles need it. Every cell in your body needs it.

Time to dig out the books on metabolism again.  I was under the impression most of the cells in our bodies can also burn fatty acids or ketones for fuel.

But when blood sugar drops, your cells don’t have the raw materials to make ATP. And then? Everything starts to slow down. You get tired, hungry, irritable and unfocused.

Tired, hungry, irritable, unfocused … yes, I remember that feeling.  I experienced it rather often when I was on a low-fat diet and depended on regular infusions of carbohydrates to keep my blood sugar up.  Back in those days, I would have been a sucker for advice such as:

Grab a bite every two to four hours to keep blood sugar steady.

I had to take a couple of business calls and answer some emails while writing, so now it’s going on seven hours since my last meal.  According to Health.com, that means I’m at least three hours overdue for a snack .  I’d better check my blood sugar again.  Hang on a second …

… Uh-oh.  My glucose has plummeted to 89.  Anyway, on to the next mistake and fix.

Your breakfast is too “white bread”

Energy, thine enemy is a sugary breakfast: pancakes, white toast, muffins and the like. Instead, start your day with soluble fiber (found in oatmeal, barley and nuts).

“It dissolves in the intestinal tract and creates a filter that slows the absorption of sugars and fats,” explains Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center and author of “Disease Proof.”

In fact, research shows that choosing a breakfast with either soluble fiber or insoluble fiber — the kind in whole-grain breads and waffles — actually protects against blood sugar spikes and crashes later in the day.

Well, there’s my problem.  I don’t eat whole-grain breads or waffles for breakfast.  If I eat breakfast at all, it’s eggs and some kind of meat.  But I often skip breakfast because I’m just not hungry.  Part of the reason I’m not hungry is that my glucose is always in the 80-90 range when I wake up.  Since Health.com has informed me that going without eating for more than four hours will cause low glucose, I’m considering setting up the video camera in our kitchen so I can catch myself raiding the refrigerator while sleep-walking.

A smart start: cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber a serving and whole-grain breads with 2g per slice.

Yeah, start your day with cereal or bread.  Then grab a snack within the next two to four hours, because your blood sugar will be dropping.  I wonder if there’s a connection?

The next two mistakes the article lists are eating the wrong kinds of vegetables and avoiding red meat entirely.  No complaints there.  But here’s the final mistake and suggested fix:

You’ve cut one too many carbs

Food Fix: Hello, whole-wheat pasta and potatoes!

Carbs help your body burn fat without depleting muscle stores for energy.

So if you keep raising your glucose every two to four hours so every cell in your body can burn glucose for energy without even tapping your glycogen stores, your body ends up burning fat.  Makes sense.

The ideal diet is 50 to 55% complex carbohydrates, 20 to 25% protein and 25% fat.

In a Tufts University study, women on a carbs-restricted diet did worse on memory-based tasks compared with women who cut calories but not carbs. And when the low-carb group introduced them back into their diet, their cognitive skills leveled out.

I see.  So here’s the advice in a nutshell:

  1. Start your day with cereal, bread or waffles.
  2. When your blood sugar plummets two hours or so after eating the cereal, bread or waffles, have a snack to raise your blood sugar.
  3. When your blood sugar drops two hours or so after eating the snack that raised your blood sugar, have another snack to raise your blood sugar.  By constantly raising your blood sugar to make sure you burn glucose for fuel, you end up burning fat.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your next meal — which should be 50-55% carbohydrates to make sure your body produces enough blood sugar.
  5. When your blood sugar drops two hours or so after eating a meal that’s 50-55% carbohydrate (to make sure you produce enough blood sugar), have a snack to raise your blood sugar.
  6. Research at Tufts University shows that after conditioning yourself to require a carbohydrate snack every two hours or so to keep your blood sugar from plummeting, cutting back on carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar to plummet — which means you’ll do worse on memory-based tasks.  So don’t cut back on the carbohydrates.
  7. If you  accidentally forget to eat carbohydrates every two hours or so and your blood sugar plummets and causes you to do worse on memory-based tasks, eat more carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar and level out your cognitive abilities.  But don’t forget to have a snack two hours later to raise your blood sugar after it starts dropping, or you’ll become stupid again.

That advice makes no sense to me.  But that’s probably because it’s now been seven hours since my last meal, and my glucose has plummeted to 89 mg/dl.

p.s. – After I wrote this post, we had dinner:  a chef salad with lettuce, onions, eggs, cauliflower, bacon, bits of cheddar cheese, tomatoes from the garden, Italian sausage chunks and a bacon grease/white wine vinegar dressing.  My glucose an hour later is 105 mg/dl.  I don’t expect to need a snack two hours from now.

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It’s not exactly diet-related, but how’s this for a classic case of confusing correlation with causation?  An article on the NBC News site reported on a study of what people were drinking before ending up in an emergency room:

Many people who end their Friday or Saturday nights in a hospital emergency room have been drinking alcohol. In fact, public health experts estimate that about one-third of all injury-related ER visits involved alcohol consumption.

I consider that good news.  It means if you avoid getting @#$%-faced, you’re less likely to end up in an emergency room.  Better choices, better results.

But what, exactly, are people drinking? What types of alcohol and even what brands? Is there a direct link between advertising and marketing and later injury?

I’m already convinced there’s a direct link between advertising and marketing and later injury.  I can’t tell you how many drunk people I’ve seen collide with billboards.  Good thing most of them were walking.

Until now, those questions have been unanswerable, frustrating alcohol epidemiology researchers.

Sounds to me as if those alcohol epidemiology researchers are easily frustrated.

“Honey, what’s wrong?  Why are you slamming the drawers in your file cabinet so hard?”

“Because, dangit, I can’t determine if there’s a direct link between alcohol advertising and later injury!  It’s driving me nuts!  Make me a martini, will you?”

But if results of a pilot study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hold up, there may soon be a way to connect the dots.

Whenever media health reporters write about connecting the dots, I brace myself for a head-bang-on-desk moment.  You may want to get out the desk pad before we continue.

When the Hopkins researchers surveyed ER patients who’d been drinking, they found that Budweiser was the number one brand consumed, followed Steel Reserve Malt Liquor, Colt 45 malt liquor, Bud Ice (another malt liquor), Bud Light, and a discount-priced vodka called Barton’s.

Wait a minute … they went to an emergency room and surveyed drunk people who had injured themselves?  I’m surprised they didn’t report the number one brand of alcohol consumed by injured drunks is called @#$% Off!

Anyway …

Though Budweiser has 9.1 percent of the national beer market, it represented 15 percent of the of the E.R. “market.” The disparity was even more pronounced for Steel Reserve. It has only .8 percent of the market nationally, but accounted for 14.7 percent of the E.R. market. In all, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice, and another malt liquor, King Cobra, account for only 2.4 percent of the U.S. beer market, but accounted for 46 percent of the beer consumed by E.R. patients.

Before we continue, I feel obligated to remind you I suggested getting out the desk pad.  This is your last warning.

“Some products are marketed to certain groups of people in our society,” explained Traci Toomey, the director of the University of Minnesota’s alcohol epidemiology program, who was not involved in the study. Higher-alcohol malt liquor, for example, is heavily advertised in African-American neighborhoods. “So we might want to put some controls on certain products if we find they are tied to greater risk.”

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

We might want to put controls on certain products if they’re tied to higher risk? As if that will mean fewer drunk-person injuries?  Genius.  Pure genius.

I don’t doubt that Budweiser, Colt 45 and Steel Reserve are tied to greater risk of ending up in the emergency room in poor communities.  But it’s not because of the marketing or the higher alcohol content.  The reporter (and perhaps the researchers) apparently thinks it works like this:

1.  Evil distributors of high-alcohol malt liquors decide to target poor communities with irresistible advertising and marketing campaigns.

2.  Swayed by the irresistible marketing, poor people buy malt liquor.

3.  Because the malt liquor has a higher alcohol content, poor people accidentally get @#$%-faced.

4.  After accidentally getting @#$%-faced, the poor injure themselves because they’re @#$%-faced.

Boy, if only we had some controls on those products.  Take away the cheap malt liquor, those people would stay home and play pinochle … perhaps while sipping a fine white wine with a subtle hint of citrus and a color reminiscent of an Autumn sunrise.

Now here’s how it actually works:

1.  Poor people decide to get @#$%-faced.

2.  Wanting to spend as little of their limited funds as possible to get @#$%-faced, poor people choose cheap beer, cheap malt liquor and cheap vodka, thus getting more bang for their buck.

3.  Recognizing that the biggest market for cheap alcohol is in poor neighborhoods, distributors advertise in those neighborhoods, hoping to sway people who have already decided to get @#$%-faced to drink their particular brand when getting @#$%-faced.

Now here’s how it will work if we put some controls on those products:

1.  Poor people decide to get @#$%-faced.

2. Thanks to controls instituted by do-gooders, the cheaper alcohols are no longer available.

3.  Poor people buy just as much alcohol and get just as @#$%-faced as before, but have less money to spend on things like food, clothes, shoes, gas, entertainment, etc.

I don’t drink beer very often, but when I do, it’s usually Guinness Extra Stout.  (Did I sound like the guy in those Dos Equis commercials just now?)  The alcohol content (7.5%) is higher than the alcohol content in Colt 45 malt liquor (6%).  So why isn’t Guinness Extra Stout tied to more emergency-room visits in urban hospitals?  I’m sure you can guess:  The stuff isn’t cheap, so it’s not a big seller in poor communities.  If Guinness were as cheap as Colt 45, we’d see more poor people getting @#$%-faced on Guinness.

According to the article, the study was conducted at a hospital in Baltimore in a poor, mostly-black neighborhood. The results were predictable and ultimately meaningless.  It would have been more interesting if the researchers had gone to an emergency room in Beverly Hills or Martha’s Vineyard and asked injured people what they were drinking.  Then the headline would have been something like Martinis, Single-Malt Scotch and White Wine With a Subtle Hint of Citrus Most Popular Among E.R. Injured.

Then we’d need some controls on those products.

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I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.

In addition to taking a few supplements I believe are useful (a multivitamin, CoQ10, vitamin D3) I try to remember to take fish oil for the omega-3 fats.  The other supplements sit above my bathroom sink, so unless I forget to shave or brush my teeth in the morning, I pretty much can’t miss them.  The fish oil, however, stays in the fridge, and as often as not I don’t notice it and forget.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with different oils in my ongoing quest to produce the perfect homemade mayonnaise.  Olive oil is okay, the bacon-grease version is pretty tasty, and the macadamia-oil version was so-so.

So I was spooning out the fish oil a few days ago, mentally complimenting the Carlson people for producing a lemon-flavored version that has zero fishy taste, and it suddenly occurred to me:  Would this stuff whip into mayo?

Yup.

Since I’ve found that some oils don’t work for mayo (MTC oil, for example), I only made a small batch.  If you want to try this and make a bigger batch, just double the recipe:

One egg yolk
1/2 cup Carlson’s lemon-flavored fish oil
A squirt of brown mustard
A pinch of salt

Whip the egg yolk, mustard and salt together with a hand mixer.  Then continue to mix while slowly pouring in the oil.  Mix another minute or two until the mayo is thick.  There’s no need to add lemon because the oil is already lemon-flavored.

That’s all there is to it.  It’s not cheap mayo — the Carlson’s fish oil is on the pricey side — but since I’m already buying the stuff, I figured may as well whip it into something I can put on my sliced turkey and ham.

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