Category Archives: Food and Drink

The hungry hummingbird

What would happen if we scaled up a hummingbird to human size? This is one thought, “A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast.”

The rise of cold drip coffee

A recent NYT article proclaimed that the United States is becoming a cold brew nation. I’m from New Orleans where it’s long been popular and I probably make a batch about every week and a half. So of course I’ve talked about cold drip coffee before.

The article provides a little history about cold drip coffee and its recent rise in popularity across the US. the focus of the article is about the retail business but If you like cold drip coffee and are curious, the device I use is a Toddy home brew model. Below, I’ve edited the article for length and clarity. (Cold drip is just another name for cold brew coffee.)

What’s cold brew? Essentially, it’s the method of preparation. You steep coffee grounds in room-temperature water (which isn’t “cold,” strictly speaking) for six to 20 hours (depending on the recipe) to make a concentrate that can be diluted with water and served over ice. By giving up heat, you have to add time.

What was once a regional curiosity largely limited to New Orleans and the South is now found throughout the country. The shift started about 10 years ago, when cold brew was adopted by innovative coffee shops like Blue Bottle.

Cold brew was a niche market until 2015, when Starbucks introduced the drink in a number of stores; it is now available at all of their shops. It’s a coffee with both mass-market appeal and indie credibility. Today, you can find cold brew at a coffee shop where everything is meticulously crafted by hand, and at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The drink’s range is expanding even more rapidly when you count “ready-to-drink” canned, bottled and packaged coffees. You can get that New Orleans-style iced coffee in a school-lunch-size milk carton, or that nitro cold brew in what looks like a beer can. Ready-to-drink is now appearing everywhere. As of last month, you could find bottles of Slingshot Coffee, a small-batch company in Raleigh, N.C., at nearly 250 Target stores in the South.

Cold brew is more than a slowed-down version of hot coffee; it’s a noticeably different product. Hot water will bring out the acids in coffee, a characteristic that professional tasters call “brightness.” Cold water doesn’t but still gets the full range of mouthfeel and sweetness.

And it can be served more quickly. As one shop owner said, ” From a logistical standpoint, we can get cold brew out the door in 10 seconds,If you want a coffee and you want it quick, cold brew is the answer.” Provided she made enough the night before.

Meat at a wedding

Developing stone tools along with  controlling fire initiated a nutritional revolution for our ancestors. Until blades chipped from stone were employed in East Africa some 3.4 million years ago,  our hominid forebears couldn’t slash through an animal’s hide to access nutrient dense meat and organs.

Partly due to the fat and protein rich food available after stone tools came along, our ancestors’ brain and body size increased rapidly, culminating in the emergence of anatomically modern humans about 200,000 years ago.

More recently… About a week ago, I went to a family wedding. This meant I knew many of the people there. It was great catching up with folks I hadn’t seen in many years and meeting their kids for the first time.

Out of all the people there, my vegetarian and vegan relatives seemed to be the least hardy. I wasn’t quizzing people about their diets, I found out they didn’t eat meat because of the special considerations the party givers made.

To go back in time again, the Americas were likely populated during an ice age when sea levels were much lower resulting a pretty big stretch of land between Siberia and Alaska allowing humans and animals to simply walk from Asia to North America.

We forget that 95% of human history happened before the rise of agriculture when we spent most of our history wandering over both land and water.

Why did our ancestors wander so far and wide? Hard to know really, but part of my guess is that they were following and looking for animals to eat.

Our culture and concepts have outpaced our biology, meaning  just believing that you shouldn’t eat meat (no matter the reason) is probably sub optimal for your health. I appreciate not eating meat, but I don’t think it’s ideal for health.

The bronut

donutBear with me for a minute before I get to the bronut.

Consider the human gastrointestinal tract. Technically it’s not part of our “insides” even though it passes through us.

It’s more like the hole in a donut that passes through the donut.

Looking at a donut, think of the top of the donut hole as your lips and the bottom of the lipsdonut hole as the hole in your bottom. Stretch that donut vertically until it’s about six feet tall. Along the way, feel free to extrude pairs of arms, legs , and ears, and whatever else you’d like,  from the glazed outside of the donut. What should this thing be called?

A few years ago, a French pastry chef in NYC started making donuts out of croissant dough and called them “cronuts.”  I’m calling my human inspired donut a “bronut.” It’s catchier than saying “sapiennut” or something like that. Mathematicians call the donut shape a “torus” but that’s not evocative enough.

Anyway a bronut is just a way to envision something that’s in us but at the same time also not part of us .

Self-care

pressureYou’re not slacking off if you put your well being first.

During preflight safety demonstrations, flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else. You’re not much use to someone else if you’re compromised too.

Most of do it or have done it, skipping meals until a project is done, staying up late then getting up early, saying you’ll do some exercise later.

It’s too bad that lots of people treat their well being as a sort of reward for something else they’re working on. People often don’t realize they’re short changing themselves, taking care of yourself shouldn’t be seen as a reward. It’s part of the process of being well which might help you better do those other things.

 

The eating window

t-boneIt’s possible to measure fasting in hours rather than days. Maybe we should start calling it time spent without eating. Or even turn it around by just focusing on the time when you’re eating, instead of the time you’re not eating.

I’m not sure what’s the best way to reframe fasting. But the way we frame something is important. Most people think of fasting as not eating anything for a long time, probably imagining Jesus in the desert for 40 days, or protesting prisoners not eating until their demands are met.

Who cares? Right now not too many people care. But there’s growing evidence that we should care. Eating less frequently during the day (or possibly fasting every now and then during the month) could have real health benefits. If it turns out that a little  fasting is good for you, but calling it fasting will make it a harder sell.

Think about this, Mark Mattson who’s a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging eats during a six hour window in the evening (not eating for 16 to 18 hours a day is called intermittent fasting). He’s considered a leader in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms, one of the most highly cited neuroscientist in the world.

“His Laboratory showed that intermittent fasting has profound beneficial effects on the body and brain including: 1) Improved glucose regulation; 2) Loss of abdominal fat with maintenance of muscle mass; 3) Reduced blood pressure and heart rate, and increased heart rate variability (similar to what occurs in trained endurance athletes; 4) Improved learning and memory and motor function; 5) Protection of neurons in the brain against dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and Huntington’s disease. He further discovered that intermittent fasting is beneficial for health because it imposes a challenge to cells, and those cells respond adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and resist disease.” according to the NYT.

Intermittent fasting isn’t mainstream (yet). But as the evidence that it’s good for us accumulates and is reframed, it might get some traction.

Everyday system for eating less

foodThis is the fourth of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

We all can see there’s a big problem these days of being overweight. The solution, the everyday system that solves this problem, is called the “No S Diet” (you can pronounce it the no-es-diet).

The No S Diet is: No snacks, NO sweets, no seconds – except (sometimes) on days that start with S. That’s actually the whole system right there. 14 words. The worlds shortest effective diet plan.

“Don’t eat too much” is shorter, just 4 words, but it isn’t effective. But the No S is effective.  I lost over 40 pounds on No-s and kept it off for almost 5 years now. No yoyoing. Other people on the no s diet bulletin board have lost even more weight than this. If you’re antsy to learn more now, go to nosdiet.com. Or everydaysystems.com.

Everyday system for moderate drinking

NYEBoweryThis is the second of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

This might be a good one for the New Year. Just say’n.

“The glass ceiling system” for healthy and pleasurable moderate drinking.

This isn’t intended for people who suspect they may be alcoholics. Please keep looking, but don’t look here.

Ok, so what’s the problem “the glass ceiling is trying to solve? Occasional excessive drinking.

Most of the time you’re fine, drinking like a normal person, but every once in a while you get  smashed, and could find yourself in trouble.

The obvious solution is to just stop drinking. But there’re two problems with the cold turkey strategy. One is that research shows that moderate drinking is ridiculously good for you. Moderate drinking defined as a drink or two a day, depending on how big you are. The other is that moderate drinking is a great pleasure. For moderate alcohol consumption, with its clean bill of health, the claim of pleasure is real and legitimate.

So how do you balance this if you’re given to occasional over drinking, and still want to get the health and pleasure benefits of moderate drinking? A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That’s your glass ceiling. Yes, there’s fudge room. But not so much fudge room that you’re going to wind up with problems.

Two glasses are clearly different from three. On the other hand, there is wiggle room. You could get an enormous Bavarian beer stein and fill it up with Everclear, but you can’t do it without seeming like an astonishing drunkard. You can’t hide your excess in lots of dainty little increments, and excess, when it’s out in the open like that, is shameful.

Shame has a bad rap these days, but shame can be good. Shame has been around for all of recorded history. It isn’t going anywhere. You might as well use it instead of fighting it or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s powerful. Make shame your ally and shame will keep you reasonably moderate.

OK, other ambiguities and potential loopholes…

No refills. This should go without saying, but common sense sometimes has trouble with the obvious after a couple drinks.

And no saving up. Use it or lose it. If you don’t drink for ten days that doesn’t mean you can drink 20 drinks on day 11.

Allow for the occasional 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it’s as small as they get. If you’re the kind of person that needs a system like this, you probably would have had much more otherwise. But if you find yourself doing this a lot, alarms should go off.

A word of advice to those with unsympathetic drinking buddies: don’t tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won’t notice, especially if you alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A tonic and tonic looks amazingly like a gin and tonic.

Conversely, when you’re starting out at least, I’d avoid mixed drinks that you mix yourself. The mix is camouflage. With a dash of cranberry juice you can bypass the shame of drinking a big glass of vodka. Shame is your friend.

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on  week days, 2 on weekend days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one.

You’ll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don’t view it as drunk-juice. You’ll be drinking less, so spend a little more and get the good stuff. Moderation is an opportunity for greater pleasure.

And as an additional benefit is that your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz from two drinks.

I haven’t been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my youth. Frankly, I’m amazed. 

That’s it for glass ceiling. It’s probably the simplest system I’ve discussed yet, but it changed my life.

Everyday systems

Saying - alwaysThis is the first of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

Moderation. Everybody from Aristotle to your Grandmother agrees that moderation is a good idea. It’s the wisdom of the philosophers and the virtue of the common folk. At least, it used to be. Of course, they had little choice but to be moderate.

Sheer scarcity kept them in line. Powerful traditions formed an additional line of defense. We, on the other hand, live in an age of material superabundance and declining traditions. So how, in the absence of the external pressures of scarcity and tradition, can we give moderation the teeth it needs to be effective? Think in terms of habit, semi-automatic behaviors requiring little willpower to maintain once they’ve been established.

It’s about establishing a consistent, almost automatic pattern of behavior over time. Much of the challenge of successful self-discipline is throttling your enthusiasm so you don’t burn out. Keep the focus on meeting some clearly defined, rigorously un-ambitious daily “good enough.”

Sustainability has to be the first thing you consider when evaluating a habit you want to acquire.

Maintenance is more important than progress. Progress is intrinsically temporary; maintenance is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.

Habit Branding. A good system should be “branded” with a striking image, pun, or metaphor. That way you’ll be much less likely to forget or ignore it, even when things get stressful. Some Everyday Systems are little more than a striking brand. Others have significantly more rules or back-story, but even these systems are well served by a brand: the brand gives you a handle, all you have to do is have the brand flash into your mind and you can easily retrieve all the rest.

No keeping track of things. The system shouldn’t require you to keep track of anything beyond the day of the week. You have too many things to keep track of already. Sometimes it’s interesting, but it gets unbearably boring and onerous fast.

Small time footprint. Ideally, the system should free up time, not take more of it. If your exercise routine, for example, competes in any significant way with your social life or even with your favorite television show, sooner or later your exercise routine is going to lose.

Socially Unobtrusive. Consider whether your habits are going to be unbearably irritating to the people around you. It’s not simply a matter of common courtesy: the consciousness of others’ disapproval will quickly wear you down.

Free or cheap. If you need anything at all, it should be nothing you can’t pick up at your local hardware store. 

Simple but specific. Common sense is great, but too vague to be a practical guide. Behaviors  involving complex decisions, might be precise, but can’t be automated into unconscious habit. A good system finds the happy medium: unforgettably simple but unambiguously precise.

Comic pragmatism. Self-help tends to take itself dreadfully seriously. But crazy is a great mnemonic device. If something is a little nuts, you’ll remember it. It’s a joke, but it’s also serious. It’s effective because it’s a joke.

Enjoyable. Successful self-discipline requires plenty of carrot as well as stick. Everyday systems make pleasure integral.

Wine whine

grapesI’ve been exposed to the wine mystique quite a bit because I worked in fine dining. I never thought high- priced wines tasted better than moderately priced ones, and often no better than cheaper wines either. But you’re encouraged to praise the pricey stuff, like the king with no clothes kids’ story.

I felt vindicated when I read this about wine in “Gulp” by Mary Roach.

Because it’s hard for people to gauge quality by flavor, they tend to gauge by price. That’s a mistake. Langstaff (a taste expert) has evaluated wine professionally for twenty years. In her opinion, the difference between a $300 bottle of wine and one that costs $30 is largely hype. ‘Wineries selling their wines for $500 a bottle have the same problems as wineries selling their wine for $10 a bottle. You can’t make the statement that if it’s low-cost it’s not well made.’

Most of the time, people don’t even prefer the expensive wine – provided they can’t see the label. (There’s) a top wine judge who plays a game with his wine-marketing classes at Napa Valley College. The students. most of whom have several years of experience in the industry, are asked to rank six wines, their labels hidden by brown paper bags. All are wines that the expert enjoys himself. At least one is under $10 and two are over $40. ‘ Over the past 18 years, every time, the least expensive wine averages the highest ranking, and the most expensive two finish the bottom.’

It’s safe to say that wine is mainly sold on Christian countries. Isn’t this Christianity’s biggest idea: treating others in the same way that you’d want them to treat you? Combine that with New Testament stories in which mention wine a lot and it seems ironic that the wine industry uses marketing hype and mysterious jargon to sell wine. This trickery creates an environment that’s more “buyer beware” than the “golden rule.” I know he can make his own, but what sort of wine would Jesus drink?