July 24, 2014

80/20 Would Be An Improvement...

I have a confession to make, everyone: I have been talking the talk, but for a few months now, I have not been walking the walk.

I have always been completely forthright about the fact that I am not 100% Paleo or Primal. I don’t ascribe any particular label to the way I eat, except that, generally speaking, I’m on the lower-carb end of things. And more often than not, I buy, cook, and eat real food. I get most of my meat and eggs from local farms, although not always. During the summer, I get most of my produce from the farmers’ market, but this falls by the wayside during winter.

But I’m no saint. I have no problem going to the regular ol’ supermarket and getting regular ol’ food. Like I’ve said before, conventionally grown, pesticide-laden vegetables and grain-fed meat might not be ideal, but they’re a heckuva lot better than chocolate breakfast cereals and “organic” junk food.

I don’t stress about the details when I go to a restaurant with friends, and when life gets in the way and I don’t have a chance (or make a chance) to prepare a lunch to bring to work, I get something from the cafeteria and don’t stress too much about that, either. Is any of it organic, local, grass-fed, or pastured? No. (Not unless I choose specific restaurants, that is, but definitely not at work.) Does some of it have soybean or canola oil? Yeah, most likely. But a little bit of that here and there isn’t going to kill anybody.

I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule, although I think most people probably fare better closer to 85/15. For me, personally, I seem to do best at more like 90/10: eating spot-on most of the time, and saving that 10% for things that are truly worth it. (Like a special trip to Junior’s for what is supposedly the world’s best cheesecake, rather than a couple of cookies grabbed on auto-pilot from the bag of Oreos on the secretary’s desk at work. Aside: I have been to Junior's, and I'm not entirely convinced...)

That being said, I haven’t been anywhere close to 90/10 for a while now. And even 80/20 would be a bit of an improvement. If I had to ballpark it, I’m probably more like 70/30, which isn’t saying much. Might as well be 50/50, which really isn’t saying anything at all. It’s not like I’m snarfing down pancakes drenched with Aunt Jemima and washing them down with a glass of ultra-pasteurized orange-strawberry-banana juice every morning, or having a side of breadsticks with my pasta dinner, followed by cookies and cake for dessert. Of course not. I haven’t completely lost my mind. But I am far enough from where I know I should be (or, rather, would like to be) that I wanted to admit it publicly.

July 17, 2014

Garlic Scape Pesto

Sure, you’ve heard of garlic. You may have even come across elephant garlic at the store. (It looks just like regular garlic, except each head/bulb is about three times the size of the normal ones you’re used to. You might even say it’s baseball-sized…) But have you ever heard of garlic scapes? Probably not, if you shop exclusively at the regular supermarket. But if you frequent farmers’ markets or smaller stores that stock local produce, you might have seen these intriguing things recently. (Depending on where you live, of course. Antarctica, not so much. And if you’re in some other part of the southern hemisphere, where it’s winter now, not so much there either.) Up here, in the mid-Atlantic/Northeast, they’re usually available earlier in the season, like May-June, but I stumbled across these (at this place) last week and couldn’t help snagging a few. Why? Because they make some pretty amazing pesto. (And if you can’t track these things down where you live, no worries. Next May will be here before you know it, and you can try your hand at this then.)

July 14, 2014

Reading, Writing, and Ruhlman

I like learning and teaching about nutrition.

I love learning and teaching about cooking and good food.

And I really love writing. (Doing it as well as reading other people’s good writing.)

So when I find good writing about cooking and good food, it’s kind of a trifecta of awesomeness. A hat trick of enjoyment and enrichment, if you’ll indulge me in the hockey reference. (Let’s go Pens!)

Confession:  I’m 35 years old and am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. This nutrition gig is pretty neat, and I think it’s important work. That being said, in an alternate universe, I am a prolific and successful novelist. It’s a goal I’m still working toward, although nowhere near as diligently as I should be. Anyway, my point is, if that upper-5-figure advance from Random House or Penguin Books ever comes my way, you’re on your own with this nutrition stuff, kids.

In the meantime, I’m a sucker for good food writing. And since my more science-oriented blog posts are a little limited until I finish the project I’m working on, I thought I’d point you toward one of my favorites, in case you need to kill time at work are interested in the same.

July 7, 2014

Label Madness Monday: Why 100-Calorie Packs Piss Me Off

All right, dear readers, be honest with me: am I the only person who thinks these things are totally, completely, and utterly ridiculous?

They’re convenient. I get that. And as long as you have access to just one 100-calorie pack, they take willpower out of the equation. I get that, too.

I’m not saying the concept is ridiculous, just the way it’s executed.

My infuriation over these things is fourfold:
  1. They’re wasteful.
  2. They’re expen$ive. (No, really, like crazy expensive.)
  3. They assume we consumers are too lazy or too stupid to divvy out reasonable portions on our own. (Unfortunately, I think they may be on to something here, but in my heart of hearts, I’d like to give the American public more credit than that, and I’m not the only one.)
  4. They’re just plain ridiculous.

June 27, 2014

Restaurant Flavor, Home Kitchen: Coconut Curry Tomato Sauce

As much as I enjoy cooking—and I enjoy it a lot—I also enjoy the simple pleasure of dining out. After a long day at work, or, heck, even a Saturday spent lounging on the couch, it’s nice to go somewhere with a pleasant atmosphere and have someone else cook dinner for me (not to mention bring it right to my table). Personally, I think breakfast out is even more fun, but it does lose some of its charm when you steer clear of biscuits, raspberry danishes, and pancakes and waffles dripping with syrup. The thing is, when we eat in restaurants, sometimes it can be hard to know what we’re getting. What’s really going on back there in the kitchen? Are they using wacky ingredients with lots of additives and preservatives? What kind of oil are they frying in? Do they make their sauces and dressings in-house, or do they come out of a 5-gallon bucket they get shipped in from some factory every few weeks? I don’t let these issues stop me from enjoying a meal out with friends, but if you’re concerned about your health, they’re worth thinking about. One of the best things we can do for our bodies, our waistlines, and our wallets, is cook more of our food at home.

June 23, 2014

Label Madness Monday: Cereal Cups to Go

It’s been a while since I posted a dig at food labels. And like I mentioned recently, I’m working on a project these days that is eating a lot of my writing time, so it might be a little bit before I get another fuel metabolism post up. In the meantime, I’m trying to prevent total blog silence, so I’m posting things I can put together relatively quickly. So here goes.

I’ve posted a lot about cereal before, and that’s because it’s a perennial favorite of mine when it comes to food label bashing. I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll say it again: overt junkfood doesn’t bother me. Twinkies, cupcakes, brownies, cookies—everyone knows these things are junk, and no one’s trying to market them as anything but junk. But cereal and granola…whoo-whee, now there is some major marketing wizardry at work, my friends. Blood sugar napalm masquerading as healthy breakfast options. Whole grain health hellholes.

At the risk of beating this over people’s heads, let’s have a look at a few of these items that are supposed to be soooo good for us—not just because they’re made from whole grains, but because they’re low in fat, too. (Blood sugar napalm and an atom bomb, just in case the napalm didn’t wipe out enough life down there on the ground. Gotta cover all the bases, right? Wouldn’t want to leave a single soul with any semblance of pancreatic function when were done with ’em!)

The reason I wanted to take another look at these kinds of products (yes, that’s “products”—I refuse to call these “foods”) is that now, we have some context by which to evaluate these things. Now that we’ve learned a little something about fuel partitioning and how our hormonal state influences whether we primarily run on carbohydrates or fats, and how reaching an appropriate body weight and attaining good health is about far more than calories in and calories out, we can see these kinds of products for what they really are: absolute dietary disasters.

Okay, on with the show.