Friday, July 3, 2015

Opening the mailbag, for yet another fat-loss question

I get this one fairly often, always from a woman -- not because guys don't have the same issue, just because... oh hell, I don't know. Guys just generally don't ask each other these things.

I'll paraphrase:

"Hi Steve, so I'm eating (mostly) paleo, pretty low-carb. I'm doing CrossFit metcons three or four times a week and lifting heavy those same days. My sleep's pretty good, at least seven hours a night, often more. I'll cut to the chase: WHY CAN'T I LOSE BODY FAT?!?!? I'm stronger than I have ever been. I'm also leaner than I was when I started to change my food and exercise habits, but I'm nowhere near where I want to be in terms of body comp. What the hell? Suggestions?"

Just about a year ago, I did a blog post called "How can I lose body fat?"

The answer is definitely in there, but I'm going to give a hint at an even simpler solution. Because here's the thing.... our protagonist isn't starting from Step One. She's been at this thing for a while. She's not eating food from packages. She's all about prepping her meals and eating real food. She's picking up heavy shit and putting it down on a regular basis. And still she has hit a plateau. Her body fat isn't budging.

For the next month, my friend, don't change anything except for two things:
(1) stop drinking alcohol and (2) take a walk for at least an hour every day at the fastest pace you can walk.

At the end of that month, you'll know whether you are making progress. And you will be, because you are already eating pretty well, sleeping well and lifting heavy. Then, once progress is made, you can decide how, or if, you need to modify this, or any other, aspect of your routine.

I've said it a bunch before, and I will say it a lot more in the future: alcohol -- I love it. But it screeches fat loss to an awful, untimely halt. If you are fatter than you want to be and you are still drinking alcohol, stop. Just stop. Like a wise man once sang, "Not forever. Just for now." But, really.... STOP until you get to where you want to be body-comp-wise. Then play around with it. But, until then, you are, metaphorically speaking, trying to sprint with your shoelaces tied together. Fat loss in any significant amount is unlikely to happen while you keep drinking. It's fine to drink a little if mere maintenance is your goal, but fat loss? Nope.

And daily walking? It's the missing low-stress/low-cortisol component in almost everyone's fat-loss protocol. Let me guess.... you think walking is boring. I have no answer for that, except this: if you walk at a brisk pace for at least an hour a day, it works wonders for fat loss. It's also -- perhaps because it is so free of thrill-a-minute excitement -- a pretty decent sub for daily meditation. You know... it focuses you on the here and now. (And if I had to add one additional cortisol/stress-lowering activity to your fat-loss protocol, it would be meditation). So think of walking as the way to kill two birds with one stone. If you leave the headphones at home and just walk for walking's sake, you'll simultaneously be stoking your body's engine and metabolism for fat loss and you'll be clearing your head of the unwanted muck of the modern world.

And seriously, if , like most of us, you are a resident of the northern hemisphere of our big blue orb, when is there a better time to start a walking routine than summer? That'd be right now. Hell, there's daylight out the wazoo. Take advantage of it. 

Then you'll even sleep better than you are now, which, un-coincidentally, helps fat loss too.

Everything affects everything, folks. And if you are stuck in the fat-loss department despite eating only real food and having a solid heavy-lifting routine, put the drink(s) down and take a walk. Every day. For a month. You'll like the results. Then, like the grown-ass woman (or man) that you are, you can decide where to take things from there.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges, a huge step for more than just marriage equality?

Today’s marriage-equality decision from the U.S. Supreme Court is a truly watershed moment for what regular folks would call “liberty.” You know, freedom -- the right to do what you want as long as it’s not hurting someone else.

In fact, it is frankly so “duh” obvious to most folks that I know that an adult ought to be allowed to marry the consenting adult of his or her choice that a non-lawyer could wonder, as I saw some of my friends doing today on Facebook: “Why the hell was this decision so close? It was 5-4!”

Here’s why: this opinion is, from the perspective of this lawyer, actually a big deal – a very big deal – for reasons that go way past the right to marry. And those who don't want it to be a big deal were fighting hard against it.

See, what the average, non-lawyer folks call “liberty” is not what the U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally viewed as the definition. In fact, Justice Thomas wrote in his dissent today:

“The majority claims these state laws deprive petitioners of ‘liberty,’ but the concept of ‘liberty’ it conjures up bears no resemblance to any plausible meaning of that word as it is used in the Due Process Clause.”

He then goes on to treat the majority opinion as if it is from Mars, ultimately concluding that, as far as he can tell, “liberty” in the constitutional sense doesn’t refer to much more than “freedom from physical restraint.”

“If it doesn’t physically shackle you, quit your whining.” OK, he didn’t actually say that, but he came close.

Likewise, when Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion said what might appear to you and me as a reasonable line: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” Justice Scalia came out with this doozy: “Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

(I'll pause for a moment here to say, actually I did! I've always thought intimacy and spirituality are "freedoms." But, then again, even I make hippie jokes, so there's that).

So is this decision somewhat revolutionary? Does it depart, in any degree, from the “usual” constitutional analysis? Does it threaten the very notions of freedom and liberty that make this republic great? Are hippies taking over?

We’ll cut to the chase: yes, yes, no and no. But for that last one… maybe things got a little more libertarian than usual?

Justices Thomas and Scalia have one thing in their corner for this analysis: if you subscribe to their crabbed “originalist” notion of what constitutes legitimate considerations in defining the parameters of constitutional rights, then yeah, this decision is, I suppose, straight-up wackadoodle. The “founders” were not pro-gay-rights in any sense at all, and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection were not intended, at the time of its drafting, to extend to gay Americans.

So that’s where they are coming from.

Is that what you think our most constitutional rights are defined by: only what the drafters of the constitution thought?

Yeah, me either.

But the U.S. Supreme Court, while not usually adhering to strict “originalist’ thinking, has hardly been a bastion of rights-expansion. Remember, less than thirty years ago, a majority of the justices thought it was just peachy for states to criminalize a blow job depending on the genders of the participants. It took them 17 more years to fix that monstrosity of a ruling. (Guess the identity of at least two of the justices that didn’t like the fix?)

Keeping all that troglodyte thinking in mind, a lot of us lawyer types, steeped in the ways of “substantive due process” and the extreme limits placed thereon by the Court in the past, thought today’s decision was going to come down to a not-so-simple simple question. Although you and your non-lawyer friends might sensibly see the propriety of banning gay couples from marrying to be pretty damn indistinguishable from the same issue as applied to racially-based marriage bars in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, those of us a little more jaded on the “progress” of actual liberty – not Justice Thomas-style “liberty” – knew that sexual preference had never been deemed by the Court to warrant the so-called “strict scrutiny” analysis that racial classifications have. So we thought that so-called “rational basis” scrutiny – a much looser standard than “strict scrutiny” -- would be the test.

And even though there are precious few cases on the books where the non-sinewy methodology of rational-basis analysis has actually invalidated a law, I think many of us lawyer types truly believed that it would be employed by a five (or even six) justice majority to say, in the most basic terms: “Sorry bigoted states. Your marriage laws that exclude gay couples simply have no rational basis.”

And that would have been, well, fine. You and I would have gotten the result from the ruling that we justifiably wanted, and everything would have been as expected. “Yay marriage equality,” we would all have chanted – you know, except for a few originalist thinkers on the Court.

It’s a lot better than that.

Check out a few of these lines from the majority opinion. There’s the opener:

“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach,
a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

My head exploded with joy. They’ve never said that “define and express identity” stuff before.  Try this too:

“A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that
the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent
in the concept of individual autonomy.”

You the non-lawyer may have just read that and thought, “Yeah. Cool. Individual autonomy, man, just like the constitution says.”

Let me tell you that “the concept of individual autonomy” is not a phrase oft-found in Supreme Court jurisprudence. It's not in the constitution. In fact, I checked on my Lexismachine. It’s NEVER been used before in a U.S. Supreme Court decision. That’s never, like in ever.

And then there is this monumental boo-yah to the originalists:

“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history
and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone.
They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.”

Did you get all that? “Liberty” isn’t that constipated hunk of 200+-year-old goo rotting in the colons of the originalists. Rather “rights” come from somewhere else, a place that includes history, but does not exclude considerations of expanding notions of freedom From. Our. Own. Era.

That’s now, not 1789, or even the post-Civil War days of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. Now.

This decision isn’t by any means the first time the Court has looked beyond “originalist” intent. But it truly is the first time that I can recall that they got themselves out of the standard trap that comes from originalist-style thinking. Yes, as I said, the majority could have done a simple, dyed-in-the-wool exegesis on “rational basis” scrutiny, found these laws did not survive that scrutiny and shot them down. Instead, they did a little thesis on liberty.

Liberty, like freedom.

I fancy my political leanings as libertarian-ish, but the catch to the “ish” is that I’ve always cared more about personal individual autonomy (Hey! There’s that phrase again!) than economic freedoms. When the chips are down, I vote for whoever is going to stay the hell out of my bedroom. If they will also stay out of my wallet, that’s a plus, but it’s not the very first consideration for me.

So my take on individual rights has never been that they come solely from the government by way of the constitution. Rather, sure, the constitution enumerates certain rights, and then there are others, just as fundamental, that we are endowed with as a free people, for which the government had best have a mighty good reason before infringing upon. They were there before you ever got here, government, and they will be here in spite of your efforts to trample upon them.

This decision today is the first time I ever heard a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court speak in terms that sound more like my view and less like the no-fun/get-off-my-lawn/you-damn-hippies crew.

Instead of the rack and ruin predicted by Justices Scalia and the assault upon the strange and cramped definition of “liberty” used by Justice Thomas, this ruling could be the starting point for actually expanding real freedom, for recognizing a few other rights in the future -- ones that the founding fathers never heard of, but ones that are as fundamental to being a decent caring people in the modern age as the right to marry the consenting adult of one’s choice.

I’ll get pretty far off-point if I start listing ideas, but you can guess some of the main candidates for that status. Start with the right to end one’s life when terminally ill. What's more basic, decent and civilized than that, and more intertwined with the deepest considerations of individual autonomy?

We just became a potentially vastly more caring people today with a well-reasoned ruling that doesn’t fit the usual SCOTUS mold. It addresses real liberty, not “liberty” in the eyes of those who want to restrict it. We’re all a little more free.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: The Courtney Barnett Three Live at Union Transfer, Philadelphia, June 15, 2015

I like bands.

Maybe it's because I've spent most of my adult life in them, but there's an organic thing -- a chemistry thing -- that happens in a real honest-to-bejeezus band that's way different than just some guy (or woman) fronting a bunch of hired guns who don't particularly have anything invested in the whole operation. In its ideal form, a band is a living and breathing entity that stumbles and falls and soars and swoops and dives with a beautiful, freakin' noisy, but coordinated, purpose. To employ an entirely different metaphor, it's also a beautiful machine, and every member is an essential cog.

When I bought tickets a few months ago to see Aussie singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett, I remember thinking, "I dig the first couple EPs. I really dig the new album. But I'm curious to see how riveting this whole 'singer/songwriter' thing really is going to be live."

                                          Pic from

Yeah, I'd heard a few live clips, and I knew that Barnett and her bandmates -- drummer Dave Mudie and bass player Bones Sloane -- definitely turned up live and that it'd be.... well, good, but great? I was a little skeptical. Seriously, it's that "singer/songwriter" tag, I tell ya. I didn't really go into this with hopes super high for a mindblow.

So much for pre-show prejudices. Really, I had no idea what I was in for.

This band has been on the road a lot lately. Bands -- real bands -- get road-tested and road-worn and road-awesome. The CB3, like it says on the drum kit, is definitely road-awesome at this point.

At Union Transfer in Philly last night, the set went like this. And I'm not going to drag you through every moment. But let's just say that if you showed up hoping to hear clever Courtney play whimsical folk songs, you'd have been sadly disappointed. From the opening, "Hey!" this was a band -- a fucking band -- on a mission. What they did, for instance, to "Canned Tomatoes (Whole)" was nothing short of captivating. You could see that they were still perfecting all the twists and turns of an amped-up arrangement. Courtney bounced all over, working sheets of distortion and volume swells out of her guitar (no need for a second guitarist in this band). Bones leaped and locked in tight with Dave, who controlled all that dynamic tension with power and skill. They killed. I was sold.

I'm an asshole for ever having doubted them in advance.
(In retrospect, I should have known when they were playing "I-94" by Radio Birdman through the PA beforehand that this wasn't going to be an ordinary show).

Almost everything was a highlight, but if you want the cream of the crop, it was the aforementioned "CT(Whole)," the big build in "Kim's Caravan," the opening "Elevator Operator,"the predictably grunge-o-licious "Pedestrian at Best," the always manic/sloppy/wonderful "History Eraser" and an unexpectedly more-gorgeous-than-the-original solo take on You Am I's "Heavy Heart."(There's your clever "singer/songwriter" vibe, I suppose, on that last one). To give you an idea of how much Courtney and the boys revved up the originals, frankly their cover of "Cannonball" by the Breeders seemed unnecessary; they rocked harder than the Breeders anyway....

I went into this show thinking that, yeah, it'll be good. I left committed to catching this band every fucking time they come through my fair city. Hells yeah, CB3. I raise my glass to you, and apologize for my pre-show doubt. I'll be there next time, and you'll be even better, I bet.

A quick "Nice work!" goes out to the two openers. Aussie Darren Hanlon walked up onstage with an acoustic guitar, sang a bunch of songs that would make Billy Bragg a little misty, and left everyone in the place thinking, "Yes, I would totally hang out with/shoot the shit with/get drunk with that guy." Chastity Belt, from Walla Walla, WA, pretended to be from Melbourne, played a Liz Phair/Scrawl hybrid that left me wanting to hear more and generally looked like they were having the time of their lives on this tour. Yeah, I would dig it even more if the drummer rocked out a little heavier and left the low-fi Maureen Tuckerisms behind, but they were cool and full of dynamic tension and I would see them again. What is more fun than seeing a band -- there's that word again -- enjoying the ride? Nothing. That's what. It was a Monday night. And it fucking ruled.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Some people suck, so I took this photo.

My dogs seriously hate her.

She's a 60s-ish/maybe-older woman who walks around our rural "neighborhood" -- if you can call it that; it's just occasionally intersecting roads connecting old farm fields -- and she is always (always!) on the phone, talking REALLY LOUDLY.

In a nasally Long Island accent.

Yes, really.

It's like Fran Drescher's rude cousin is loose in Mayberry.

"AND THEN I SAYS TO HIIIIIM: "NO! YOU GO FUCK YOURSELF," and similar of her shouted telephonic niceties are what generally set the dogs off.

So when I happen to be out for a walk and I occasionally run into her, I sort of begrudgingly wave hi. The little that I know about her makes me not like her, but I try just the wave. There's no use actually talking to her. She's on the phone. Always. She never returns the greeting, by the way.

But there was a change in the routine just yesterday.  It was going to be brutally hot and humid, so I went out for a really early a.m. walk. For the first time ever, I saw her before I heard her. She actually wasn't talking on the phone.

We were walking toward each other on a quiet empty road. As we got within 25 feet or so, I looked right at her and said, "Good morning," and she said nothing. There was no acknowledgment from her that I'd spoken. "Whatever," I thought and kept moving. Within seconds, she then popped headphones out of her ears. She still said nothing. Then, just after we passed each other, she laughed self-consciously and loudly exclaimed, "HA! THAT'S FUNNY. USUALLY WHEN PEOPLE PASS EACH OTHER WALKING THEY SAY HELLO. I.... GUESS.... NOT!"

Ten years ago, maybe even five, I would have read her the fucking Riot Act. I would have let loose with a verbal barrage that would have told her: (1) I said hi and she ignored me, like she always does, (2) she would know that if she weren't so self-absorbed, and (3) by the way, could you possibly shut the fuck up on your daily walks because we can all hear you inside our houses, and even my dogs hate you."

Instead, I didn't say a word. I ignored her, kept walking and stopped at the next bridge and took a photo of a bucolic stream.

Life is short. It's probably not worth bothering. Move on.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Losing that hangry feeling....

Recently, my paleo doc asked me if I would contribute a post to his blog during his office's "Spring Challenge." When I asked what topic he wanted me to focus on, he said, "Anything you think my patients would be interested in regarding your experiences with cleaning up your diet."

So I took my best shot, focusing on the number one benefit that I get from paleo/primal eating: better insulin management, which leads to properly managing my hunger, which means I am "hangry" -- so hungry that I am a miserable bastard to be around -- no mo'.

Read the full post here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Choices, a.k.a. when everything else looks great but paleo made my LDL "too high"

There's never a bigger difference between a paleo doc and a regular doc than when bloodwork is at issue. If you were to ask my regular doc about my bloodwork, he'd tell you that I am mostly in good health, but that I need to go on a statin to lower my LDL. If you were to ask my paleo doc, the answer would be significantly more involved. It'd go something like this:

"OK, so yeah, your LDL, whether we are talking LDL-c, which is what most doctors measure -- and that is a pretty worthless number, by the way -- or whether we are talking LDL-particle number, is definitely higher than 'normal.' But I'm not concerned. Your fasting insulin, fasting glucose and HbA1C are all normal. You have no inflammation via any of the many markers that we use. Your HDL is enviably high and your triglycerides are so low that your triglyceride-to-HDL ratio isn't just less than one. It's almost 1:2. And your Omega6-to-Omega3 ratio is 2:1. That's fantastic. It's thanks, in part, to all the sardines that you tell me you eat. Most people are running an O6-to-O3 ratio somewhere between 10:1 and 30:1, from all the processed carbs that they eat, and you are at 2:1. No. I'm not worried. Quit exercising? Start eating a lot of grains? Start drinking beer? I'll start worrying. But keep doing what you're doing and you'll be great."

I won't lie to you: going paleo is exactly what made my LDL go up. It used to be lower. When I was a whole-grain-pasta-devouring near-vegetarian, my LDL-C was, according to my regular doc, "great(!!!!!)." (I swear you could hear every one of those exclamation points in his voice). But my HDL back then was crap (somewhere in the low 40s or even 30s). My triglycerides were well over 100. I had Raynaud's syndrome in my fingers, and even toes, whenever it got cold, signifying, I learned later -- but no one (no one!!) told me this back then -- terrible insulin management. And I would get crazy hungry between meals. The regular doc told me back then that I was "the picture of health." He said he wished he "could sell [my] bloodwork numbers to some other patients." In retrospect, that seems insane. But it's sort-of not his fault. It's the "regular" version of what poses as modern fat-phobic/lipid-phobic medicine.

I also won't lie to you about this: I wish I could get my LDL, particularly the particle number, down to a "normal" range just by eating some other combination of real food. If I did, I really would be an across-the-board picture of health, bloodwork-wise. But, despite learning a few things about it -- like that alcohol abstinence makes it go up (!) and that alcohol consumption lowers it -- I have tried a variety of tricks and strategies and my LDL won't budge lower past a certain, still-high, point.

But let's not put too fine of a point on this: I feel freaking fantastic. I love the way I have my insulin management -- and, hence, my hunger -- under control for the first time in my adult life, thanks to five years of low-carb/relatively-high-fat primal/paleo living. I routinely go 6-8 hours between meals while awake without an issue. I don't walk around any longer with a stash of snacks to defeat "hangry" bad moods.

But yeah, my LDL is high.

So what should I do? Well, Door #1 says, "Statin." That would mess me up really nicely. Statins are linked with type-2 diabetes. Precisely what I don't want right now is the internal metabolic firestorm of diabetes. And diabetes runs in my family to some degree. So no. No statins for me. The second choice would be to go back to my old near-vegetarian way of eating. My LDL would likely plunge. Sadly, so would my HDL. My triglycerides would go up and my insulin management would get wrecked again. Or, I could listen to my paleo doc, and, for that matter, to my trainer, and to guys like The Fat Emperor -- all of whom swear that high LDL is simply no big deal in people who: (1) are not inflamed, and (2) have great fasting insulin numbers -- and just keep on keeping on with a low-inflammatory, clean, real-food diet that is free of processed foods, full of pastured animal protein, good fats and fresh vegetables, and also full of regular exercise and good stress management/mindfulness practice. As my trainer said, "Maybe it's possible that you have totally hit the sweet spot of paleo living and don't need to change a thing?"

I'm thinking yeah. Door #3, please. Barbells and sardines for the win.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Real food, or why I'm not buying potato starch anytime soon

You might have heard some buzz in the paleosphere recently about consuming "resistant starch" in order to help promote proper gut health. Richard Nikoley's been going on about it on his Free the Animal** blog for a while now, and Mark Sisson recently caught my attention with his Definitive Guide to Resistant Starch and then a followup Q + A that tried to address questions people might still have on the subject.

The basics are this: certain starches (notably white potatoes, green bananas, plantains and rice) when cooked, and then cooled, contain indigestible ("resistant") starches that feed your gut biome in undoubtedly positive ways. But then, as Mark Sisson's article tells you, some folks have taken to supercharging the whole process by eating straight potato starch instead of the whole-food sources. Potato-starch sales are up -- a lot.

And that, my friends, is when it gets Too Weird For Me. (This article would agree for more science-based reasons that include an explanation of why I get what the guys on Car Talk would've called "Bronko Nagurski farts" when I eat too many plantains).

Yesterday, a reader of my blog and Facebook page asked me what I thought of the whole resistant-starch issue. My answer was more longwinded, but it amounted to this: I love the idea of eating real foods that help out the gut biome (raw sauerkraut!!), but if someone is recommending taking a supplement in not-really-exactly-food-anymore form (potato starch by itself? Blech), I start to wonder why we are being so damn gimmicky. 

You can find just about anything in the paleosphere. There are folks like me who are just doing the basics. We go off-road occasionally, but generally we just eat lots of animal protein and lots of vegetables plus amounts of clean paleo/primal carbs that are appropriate to our levels of physical activity. And then, way over on the other side, there are people jamming obscene levels of ____ into their gaping maws in pursuit of health through "hacking."

As you might know already, you can generally put me in the No Hacking camp. I'm all about simplicity these days. On the other hand, if it seems to good to be true (whole sticks of butter for everyone!), it probably is.

So.... eating green bananas? Or cooked and then cooled plantains, rice or white potatoes? Sure. That is still a whole-food solution to a very real issue of optimizing your gut biome. But gulping straight potato starch? I'm going to opt out of that one.

Pass the real food.

**Nikoley's an abrasive character to say the least. I have been reading his stuff for years and he alternately coaxes me into his blog with totaly legit knowledge bombs and then repels me with dick-ish behavior that I just don't get at all. Rather than link to his blog, I'll let you find it via your Googlemachine. You'll learn something, undoubtedly. You may also hate him within five seconds of getting there. It's all part of the experience. Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lamb tagine, in a crockpot. A stolen/modified recipe. Plus broth!

In recent years, I've tried to expand my spice repertoire in the kitchen to include a lot more Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean flavors. Thanks to Melissa Joulwan, and her Well Fed series of cookbooks, I've found myself using things like cinnamon, allspice, turmeric and cumin to flavor roasts and pans full of ground beef or lamb (both always from grassfed animals.... always!). It's crazy delicious and it deceptively makes the kitchen smell exotic, and like I know what I'm doing in there.

I also love crockpots. They help me get shit done. And I am all about getting shit done. Spend hours in the kitchen cooking, stirring, etc. or... throw a bunch of ingredients into the slow cooker, go do all the other things I have to do for ten hours and then enjoy? That seems like an easy choice. But there are definitely texture issues with crockpot cooking that make it more appropriate if you are looking for something more on the sloppy/stew/pulled-pork end of things than something drier and more well-defined. There are some (OK, many) recipes that just don't convert well to a crockpot, unless you are willing to deal with a major texture change in the result.

But then there's this one. Russ Crandall has a great blog called The Domestic Man, and I recently ran across his recipe for a stovetop lamb tagine. Lamb tagine is a Moroccan lamb stew. It's flavored with a lot of the spices that I have already been experimenting with in the kitchen. It is stupidly delicious, at least in the versions that I have had in restaurants.

But Russ's recipe frankly involves more time than I want to spend in the kitchen. There's a marinade in his. That would require me to remember to marinate the lamb in advance. You may recall that I have shit to do. That advance-marinating stuff? It's not going to happen. I know me. Quite well, actually.

Then his recipe involves "browning" the lamb in "batches." I don't brown in batches. I have shit to do.

So.... I thought to myself, "Self, if his recipe ends up with a pot of stewy deliciousness, and that's what my crockpot always provides me, why oh why, self, are you contemplating driving yourself batshit crazy with marinades and browning and other chef-y hoohah when you likely will be immensely satisfied if you just turn this thing into a slow-cooker tagine?"

I find it counterproductive to argue with myself when I'm making this much sense. So I decided to crockpot-i-fy this recipe.

(And let me digress for a moment and say that if I were Russ Crandall and someone took my beautifully constructed stovetop lamb-tagine recipe -- which, seriously, just has to taste seventy-five times better than what some drummer in New Jersey threw into a crockpot -- and turned it into a 15-minute exercise in "get me out of the kitchen as fast as possible" meal prep, I'd likely regard it as savagery that has no actual relation to "cooking" at all. And I'd be right. Or he'd be right. Or something. But my recipes, or, in this case, my conversion of his recipe into something much easier, is not for frou-frou occasions, or attempts to impress someone that you really want to dazzle with your inner Anthony Bourdain. My recipes are all about easy. Just so we're clear.... New hot person you are just getting to know and are trying to impress with kitchen skills so you can move onward to deploying another skill set in the less-clothed department? Use Russ's recipe. Feeding your family on a Tuesday when you have other shit to get done? You might want to try this.)

This is really easy.

 I went to Whole Foods, because they have grassfed lamb, to the portion of the counter labeled "Viking cuts of meat" and pointed to a five-pound-ish slab of bone-in lamb leg that would have made Thor tremble in anticipation of deliciousness. I asked Meat Dude if he would cut it in half so it would actually fit in my crockpot. He did. (Thank you, Meat Dude. It was kind-of crowded, and I appreciate it). I put the lamb into the crockpot. I assembled all the spices from Russ's recipe, except no paprika because my wife still mostly follows the autoimmune protocol. I doubled most of them because I find that crockpot recipes just need more spice. Because science (or something).

I added extra apricots and dates because that sounded delicious. I added extra carrots for the same reason. I used his amount of broth because I didn't want it to get too soupy. I skipped raisins. Because raisins are stupid. Or maybe because I forgot to buy them.

So my ingredient list looked like this:

Giant hunk o'grassfed lamb leg.
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp turmeric
1 medium onion, diced
6 medium/large carrots, diced
6 ounces dried apricots, diced
3 ounces pitted dates
2 tsp raw honey
1.5 cups chicken broth (I think beef would be fine too)

Next, if you're like me, say, "Shit, I forgot to buy lemon." Really, I forgot to buy lemon. I didn't miss it.

Put all the ingredients in the crockpot on top of/around the lamb. It looks like this:

Turn the crockpot on low for 10-12 hours. It'll look like this when it's done:

Make appropriate noises of joy when eating it. It is that crazy delicious. Oh, and eat some vegetables with it too. Six carrots is not enough.

Thank you, Russ.

Now, the next thing I did was bold. After we ate some lamb, and put the rest in the fridge, I made broth out of the bones and the remaining crockpot effluvium.

That means I filled up the crockpot, that already had the bones and slop in there, with water. I cooked it on low for another 24 hours. The resulting broth, after appropriate straining of bones and goop, looks like very black coffee. It is strong-tasting enough that if it were listed on a menu, you would find it somewhere on the pages labeled either "badass" or "foolish." If you are one of those people that gets his or her babypants all in a knot over how "strong" beef broth is and you can only handle chicken broth, do not even bother with this lamb broth. It is some serious Viking shit. It will scare you and your children. It's also a bit on the sweet side, so I might not want it first thing in the morning. It seems more like an evening sort of sipping substance.

I firmly believe, with no scientific evidence to prove it, that this broth cures many illnesses and prevents even more from ever starting. Germs run from this broth with fear in their little germ eyes.

Sadly, you may too. It's that strong. Caveat emptor (eator?) and all that. Enjoy. Or don't. Your call.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: Sleater-Kinney live in Philadelphia, Union Transfer, 2/28/15

I'm not one for regret. I don't spend a lot of time thinking, "If only I had...." It's counterproductive. But let's indulge in one tiny detour of regret for a brief moment:

I am a complete fucking idiot for never having seen Sleater-Kinney prior to last night.

In 1996, I bought Call the Doctor. I loved it. It was post-riot-grrrl angular feminist punk that reminded me of the Gang of Four mixed with the Runaways. I loved it so damn much that when Option magazine (R.I.P.) asked readers to submit their Top Five lists for the year, CTD was on mine and my list got published in the January 1997 issue (which, if you happen to have that lying around, I'd love to get a photo of that readers'-review page, but I digress. Hit me up).

And the next year, Dig Me Out floated my boat pretty damn well too.

But I didn't go to see Sleater-Kinney back then. And I mostly have no idea why. I was distracted? I have no clue.

Worse, I didn't really pay attention when The Hot Rock, All Hands on the Bad One, and One Beat were released to critical raves. "I'll get back to them," I must have thought.

Which brings us to The Woods. Holy balls, Batman. The Woods. By the time a simple thought crossed my mind to maybe check in on the women of SK to see what they'd been up to, they had released The Woods in '05, announced their impending split, done a final tour, engaged in said breakup and, oh, quite a few more years had passed. It was 2010 (maybe even 2011) when I finally bought my copy of The Woods. Let's go back to that moment and tap into Steve's brain on The Woods:

[Song 1 ("The Fox") plays]. Brain says: "I like it. Sounds like what I remember SK can do. Corin is really wailing. Nice"

[The rest of record plays. Steve's brain nearly explodes with that joy you get when an album just means the whole freaking world to you]. "Ohhhhhhhhhh wow. Somewhere along the line, they became a proto-feminist punk version of the Who live at Leeds, and.... I'm an idiot for missing all of this."

The whole damn album just slayed me. While I was doing something else, Sleater-Kinney had become a force of nature, a thundering beast of a cross between their old punk days and a Big Rock Band that had it all.... urgency, tension, guitar tones that tore my head off, and a drummer -- Janet Weiss -- who somehow perfectly balanced her attack right in the middle of an axis that invoked both the precision of George Hurley and the "I'm driving this boat right off the cliff in a glorious thundering cascade of awesome" approach of Keith Moon. She played with a strength and aggression on The Woods that blew me away. And the band broke up before I had noticed what they had become.

Regret. It was present in droves. I could have opened a store called Regrets 'R' Us.

So yup, timing is everything in life. Post-breakup.... that's when I, in the role of Genius Boy, got mightily obsessed with this band. I checked out live videos of what I had missed. I bought those three albums between Dig Me Out and The Woods that I had skipped. I was a major fanboy.

My highest priority as a music fan became, and remained, swearing to see Sleater-Kinney if they ever got back together.

In the meantime, when Carrie and Janet played Philly with Wild Flag, I saw them. They were great (twice!). I loved Wild Flag, but, as I said to a friend last night as the final chords of "Dig Me Out" rang out and Sleater-Kinney said goodbye to Philadelphia after their first show here in nine years, "Wild Flag were amazing, but that was something way past amazing."

Yeah, there's a concert review in here. It starts now.

Last night, at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, from the opening notes of "Price Tag" -- the lead track of SK's brilliant reunion 2015 album No Cities to Love -- the band was on fire. The Gang of Four analogies fit. The Who? Yup. Them too. Hell, SK even worked a Stones-y swagger straight out of Sticky Fingers into "Sympathy." They are fully and completely at the top of their game -- guitars slashing and burning and running circles over, under and around each other, vocals wailing and snarling, and drums? Oh those drums. I'm a drummer. Little in my life makes me as happy as seeing a fellow drummer just owning the freaking drum kit, quarterbacking the band, steering the ship, driving the truck in complete control; pick your metaphor, kids.... I watched the whole band last night, but there were times when I was transfixed with Janet Weiss' playing to the exclusion of all else.

The set list? Here it is. It was all nearly perfect, but the trio of "Sympathy," "Entertain" and "Jumpers" to close the set was one of those jaw-droppers that you want every band to pull off, but so few do. Other highlights for me -- the highlights of the highlights, if you like, because, really, the whole damn set just flowed perfectly -- were the swagger (there's that word again) of "What's Mine Is Yours," the understated tension of "Get Up" and "Start Together," the sinewy grit of "Ironclad" and that moment in "Light Rail Coyote" when it all kicks into high gear and Carrie snarls away at her vocal part. Yessss.

But really, I repeat: it was all nearly perfect. In fact, had they completely blown my mind and done my very favorite song of theirs -- "Let's Call It Love" -- which they played the night before in New York, my head might have exploded with just too much joy.

Sleater-Kinney. They are so fucking back. And I am really happy about that. Because otherwise there'd be a lot of regret.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Summer Innanen's "Rock Your Body" program for women

I've gone on (and on and on) on this blog about how the key to happiness is, first and foremost, fixing your head. Meditation, mindfulness, etc.

Your attitude -- and corresponding mental approach to whatever the "problem" is -- is nearly everything. And that rule applies to finding the critical answer to the question, "How should I eat?"

Along comes Summer Innanen's Rock Your Body program for women who are struggling with what seems like a never-ending rollercoaster of food/body-comp/weight/etc. issues.

Every now and then I get asked by someone to promote a product. I almost always pass on the opportunity, but this one seemed a little different to me. Why?

1. I wouldn't promote something if I weren't positive that it's a good thing. I first ran into Summer via Melissa Joulwan. Like Melissa, Summer has her approach to fitness and health firmly planted in the no-dieting/healthy-attitude camp. She's one of those rare people (like Mel Joulwan) whose blog and Facebook posts almost always get a "Hell yeah!" from me as I sit at my keyboard. (And often you'll find me reposting Summer's stuff on my Facebook page). She's cool, smart and isn't going to send you into a wacky gimmick-filled freak scene of dieting nonsense.

2. This program focuses on a woman's attitude toward health and fitness, first and foremost. One of the things I learned early on in my blogging adventure is that, churning in their brains, women have food/exercise issues that most men never ever think about. Guys (in general) aren't wired that way. Add to the mix some crappy (and creepy) awful societal pressure (thigh gaps, anyone? -- the answer's "no" by the way) and tons of misinformation ("Calories in/calories out!" "Lifting heavy makes you bulky!") and it all can be a confusing cluster of contradictions, which just leads to frustration and failure.

3. This video program is free. Yeah, free. You sign up using this link and Summer sends you free videos. There is little risk involved.

And, yup, if you love her approach -- and I think you will -- there will eventually, at the end of the free program, be a chance for you to sign up for a paid program with Summer. (And, yup again, if you do that, I'll get a commission out of it, just so you know). But she's not going to give you a hard sell. Why? Because she's cool, and because, if she did, I'd be forced to go out to Vancouver and do this and no one wants that. (Seriously, if I thought this was going to devolve into a gross exercise in used-car-sales tactics, I wouldn't get involved).

So who is this program for? First and foremost: women! (Duh, you got that already, right?) But second: women who have a history of frustration when it comes to body-image/weight/fitness issues.  Maybe you've starved yourself, or "rollercoaster" dieted, or  "cardio"-ed yourself into a hormonal wreck. Or maybe you've even jumped over to a CrossFit-style fitness approach, or strict paleo, and you just feel like you've traded one form of obsession and guilt for another.

That's the end of my pitch. Summer's smart. She knows her stuff. She is downright empowering in her approach to all of this. She might be able to help you out.