Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Band camp!

I have told you before about the wonders of "band camp." To review... for the last 25 years, a group of us, mostly musicians, have headed to the woods of either Maine or New Hampshire to hang out and rock out for a long weekend. Conveniently, we have bass, guitar and drums covered, and we rotate the vocals around because none of us sing well enough to claim the role of lead singer to the exclusion of everyone else. But for our 25th year -- to a NH cabin -- a few things have changed.

Beer -- or at least the mass consumption of it -- has given way, thanks to the combined effects of paleo eating and a bit of age, to the more primal-friendly (no gluten) whisky (single malt) or whiskey (bourbon). And thanks to a new member of the tribe, the vocals have gotten better to a degree that we have mostly handed them off to the newcomer so the rest of us can hunker down and rock. And, again thanks to the paleo/primal angle, the pre-trip planning includes making sure we have enough crockpots along to keep us on a steady diet of carnivorous goodness.

This year's playlist of covers has things on it that we never would have attempted in prior years: things with "real" vocals like the Hoodoo Gurus, Big Dipper, Screaming Trees and Face to Face, along with some shouters like Fugazi and Mudhoney (although a credible case could be made that Mark Arm is "singing" a lot more than he is shouting). But, fear not... we will still get 61-year-old Willie all liquored up for at least one bluesy belter; we have our eyes on Joe Cocker's amped-up take on "The Letter" this time around for that trip into late-night good times. Last year's combo of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return" (Hendrix) and "I Am Right" (Dictators) was a Willie vocal take for the record books.

With any luck, during the day we will get in some quality hikes through the snow (if there is any), maybe even a stomp on a frozen lake (if it's really frozen), or, better yet, a game or two of frozen-pond whiffle ball. With more luck, the power will stay on the whole time, as will the hot water and the heat. Hey, we used to do this trip in November in a (fucking) cold cabin in Maine with no heat except a fireplace and not a drop of running water. We grew out of that.

Or maybe we have gotten soft. I prefer to think of it as "improved and even more awesome." Every minute we are not spending crouched behind a tree taking a dump in the woods or continually restocking the woodpile, we have to become the best cover band you never will hear. Yeah, this weekend rules. Bring on the whisky, the meat and the punk rock.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A political thought for the moment

So here we are, political junkies. It turns out that Rick Santorum won Iowa, Mitt Romney won New Hampshire and Newt Gingrich won South Carolina. And now it looks like Gingrich may either win Florida or at least keep it close enough that the race will continue for a very long time.

A few things seem really obvious:

1. Republicans don't really want Mitt Romney to be their nominee.
2. Newt Gingrich is just the non-Romney of the moment, not The Guy Republicans Really Want.
3. Neither Rick Santorum nor Ron Paul are going to win the nomination.

How about this crazy possibility, hmmm? Tonight, the GOP response to the president's State of the Union speech will be delivered by Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. You know...he who would be so effing far ahead right now if he had only decided to run that this thing wouldn't even be close? But he didn't run. Imagine if he delivers what is, from a GOP perspective, a killer response to the SOTU that makes the current crop of candidates look like morons.

Slowly but surely over the next week or so, folks at establishment GOP places like the National Review start making noise about drafting Mitch Daniels as a candidate. The groundswell is then huge, to a degree that Daniels gives in and gets on enough remaining state ballots and wins enough delegates that there is not a first-ballot nominee at the convention.

Second ballot: the GOP nominee is Mitch Daniels.

If this happens, I want some sort of award for political acuity. And, of course, if it doesn't, I still want credit for calling the Santorum Iowa win.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Never stop learning

So far -- and I have a feeling this will continue for a while -- paleo/primal eating has been a never-ending series of dietary tweaks. Just when I think I have things totally dialed-in, I read some (or often many) smart things written by smart people that make me consider a change, sometimes a big one, sometimes just a small adjustment.

Lately, overall, thanks to a new membership in the Weston A. Price Foundation, I have things tightened up to a degree that, at home, grassfed ghee or butter is in most of our meals, *all* the beef and lamb are grassfed, seed/vegetable oils (except coconut and non-heated olive oil) are avoided and fish-oil capsules and Vitamin D have given way to those Green Pasture fermented-cod-liver-oil/butter-oil blend capsules that I previously raved about. In fact, despite a profound and longstanding habit of using the stuff pre-workout, I have even resolved to make this my last container of Muscle Milk 100% whey protein because it has soy lecithin in it. A further resolution is to go to a local farm to buy raw-milk cheese. We are really good about eating grassfed cheese, like Kerrygold Dubliner, but the non-pasteurized/raw-milk grassfed stuff is a great source of K2, so we are going to try that out. Oh, and last post I told you about the homemade liver pate. So what else is there?

Well, most recently, there's the kombucha. I had never even heard of the stuff as of just a few weeks ago, but then my wife read up on it, and then I did the same and learned that, a lot like raw fermented sauerkraut, kombucha -- a fermented tea beverage that is a bit of an acquired taste -- is great for maintaining a crazy healthy digestive tract because it is full of live (good for you) bacteria. You may recall that many of the inflammation issues associated with the standard American diet begin with poor/diminished gut flora. Kombucha fights all that and reestablishes a healthy gut. I am happily drinking a pint of it (commercially available at our local Whole Foods) every day for the month of January, and already, eight days in, a bit of GERD brought on by the festive holidays has completely subsided. I am pretty well hooked. I feel effing great.

And I guess that's the *real* point of this little ramble -- that we keep making changes and I keep feeling better. Yeah, our food bills are up, but the fact that we feel so damn good is the payoff. I will do a full-blown homage to the Weston A. Price Foundation in another post, but let's just say that I am amazed at how much I have learned about paleo/primal eating just since I joined WAP last month. This paleo/primal journey really is a never-ending lesson about the value of great food.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Paleo beef-liver pate (now with bacon!)-- the way to get yer liver on

Liver is one of those "super foods" that you really ought to be eating. Its nutrient-dense quality delivers a punch that few other foods can match.

But it tastes like liver. Yeah, I know.

But just how grossed out are you? I know a lot of people, myself included, who like liverwurst just fine, but actual liver is still a bit, er, livery. If you are one of those folks, the solution may be to make some beef-liver pate. It's like liverwurst without the casing. So, maybe you want to give this a whirl... and, by the way, this recipe is not a burst of originality from me. It is an amalgam of a few that I found in my Google travels. And now, as of 1/16/12, it is modified a bit at the very bottom of this post to incorporate bacon, if you like (and you do).

Paleo beef-liver pate

--1 lb. grassfed beef liver. No, not just "organic." Grassfed. This is the effing liver we are talking about here. It processes all the nastiness of the world. You want your liver-donating cow to have dined solely on grass, not grain-based feed that cows are not supposed to eat. You wouldn't want to eat your alcoholic friend Bob's liver, so why would you eat the liver of a cow that has been poisoning itself on grain? Get grassfed.
--some rosemary
--some thyme
--a shot or two of some bodacious Scotch whisky. And for the love of all that is good and right, please tell me you are using a single-malt. Bonus paleo-drummer points for using one from Islay or Skye.
--at least a 1/2 cup of grassfed butter (Kerrygold is great).
-- some garlic
--a small/medium onion

Fry up the liver and onions in a pan in a little bit of the butter. Make sure the onions are caramelized and the liver fully cooked. Then add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and whisky to the pan. No, I don't know how much garlic, rosemary or thyme to use. Just use some until it feels right. (Hint: everything will feel much closer to right if you pour a little of the whisky for yourself, or, for that matter, for me).

Keep on frying/cooking with the lid off the pan to get rid of a little of the liquid. Maybe 5 minutes or so after you added the garlic, etc. I don't know. I am not a cook.

Put contents of pan (that's everything you've cooked so far) plus the rest of the butter (softened in microwave if you like... it's easier that way) into a food processor and process that baby until it is creamy beautiful. Add more butter to the processing if it seems too dry.

You can store it in the fridge for a week or the freezer for a month. If you drizzle a little melted butter on it before refrigerating or freezing, it comes out extra-awesome. My liver was a hair less than a pound, so I split it into three containers. Most recommendations that I read say that 1/4 pound of liver a week is a good level of intake, so three or four little containers will get you through about a month. Put one in the fridge and freeze the rest.

Here's a pic of the finished product because Kate (vs. Food) tells me I need more pics on here. Note Philly Cowshare package to prove authenticity of grassfed liver. Yes, it looks like little containers of mushy poop. No, it does not taste that way. Enjoy.

The vaunted "bacon modification":

Instead of cooking everything in a bit of the butter, fry up two slices of bacon for every 1/4 pound of liver. Put them aside and then cook the whole shebang in (some of? all of? your call) the bacon fat instead of butter. Do everything else as in the main recipe. Then crumble the cooked bacon and mix it in with the finished product once you have made the pate. Ooh la la. I suppose you could add the actual bacon *before* the food processor, but then you would not have crunchy bits in the pate, and that would be wrong.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"The Fat Trap," the New York Times and the cheap copout that it invites

I wonder if you've seen it yet. It's called "The Fat Trap," and it ran in the New York Times on December 28, 2011.

And it has made me very angry.

I first learned about it from a (non-paleo/primal) friend who asked me, "Did you see that New York Times article? Basically it says that because of changes in hormonal signaling, and other chemical reactions, fat people who lose weight are almost predestined to put it back on. You'd have to live a life of misery to keep it off. I think what it really means is that we should all just quit trying."

My mind exploded. First, I was heartened by the fact that a dietary-focused article was, apparently, discussing the role of hormones, like cortisol, insulin and leptin, in weight and body-composition management. So, a small part of the mental explosion was fueled by a positive thought of: "Hey, did the mainstream media just finally get off the epic failure of calories-in/calories-out, and start focusing on cortisol, insulin and leptin regulation as a big key to health? That has amazing possibilities."

But, obviously, based on my friend's ultimate takeaway from the article -- that it's all futile anyway unless you want to be over-exercised, miserable and hungry forever -- somewhere the wheels came off the cart. Could it just be that my friend reached the wrong conclusion?

Sadly, no.

I went and read the article. And while my pal's doom-and-gloom/eff-it-all conclusion is a bit, shall we say, dramatic, I see how she reached it.

The article begins with a statement from an Aussie weight-loss doctor who claims to find it "very strange" that overweight people whom he put on a 550-calorie-a-day diet of "two special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables" first lost "an average of 30 pounds" in eight weeks, and then, within a year, almost always gained much of it back. The patients feel hungry much of the time, and are "more ... preoccupied with food than before they lost the weight."

550 calories a day? To steal a (paraphrased) line from strength coach Greg Everett, "I just wiped more than 550 calories off my chin after breakfast. You can't live on that."

I am not a doctor. I have a B.S. in Biology that I never use because I am a lawyer (and, just to review, we don't talk about that here, ever). Everything I know about nutrition I have learned from reading smart things written by smart people like Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Richard Nikoley and Liz Wolfe, to name but a very very smart few. But even I know that if the way you lose weight is to starve yourself -- and let's be clear: 550 calories per day is starving yourself -- when you stop starving yourself your body is going to react like, duh, you've been starving yourself. It is going to freak out.

The amazing, and frustrating, thing about this article is that it briefly seems to express an understanding that weight loss and gain is related to leptin and insulin regulation -- rather impressively noting that some people, the metabolically deranged (my term, not the writer's), seem to turn everything they eat into more body fat -- and then all that progress gets trashed in a nearly instantaneous reversion into calories-in/calories-out thinking, with a nod to "low-fat is good/high-fat is bad" nonsense as well.

Yes, insulin resistance and leptin resistance -- brought on, most often, by years of eating processed foods, particularly grains -- is bad and will absolutely trash your metabolism and your body's ability to deal with the food you consume. That much the article got right. But the "solution" -- a low-fat, drastically-low-calorie regimen, causing massive weight loss, followed by a slow return to more calories, but still with a low-fat focus -- is nonsense; it's potentially dangerous nonsense at that because it does nothing to reverse insulin/leptin-regulation issues. All that "diet" does is starve a metabolically-deranged person, and then start feeding him or her again, while the person is still metabolically deranged.

And this routine surprised someone -- a doctor, no less -- when it caused hungry, grumpy, starving patients who couldn't manage their weight?

It's madness.

So what is the solution? The simple solution is to read either or both of Gary Taubes' book "Why We Get Fat" or Robb Wolf's "The Paleo Solution." Both of those books will teach you that calories-in/calories-out is garbage. What matters is hormone regulation and there are three components to weight loss/management that targets hormone regulation: sleep, nutrition and exercise.

In. That. Order.

I repeat: sleep first, then nutrition, then exercise.

Again, that article got one thing right: it's all about hormone regulation, particularly cortisol, insulin and leptin. You cannot get those issues together if you are not getting a good night of sleep in a dark room. Once you do that, stop eating grains. Stop eating seed oils, like canola, cottonseed, etc. Stop eating soy. Stop eating things in boxes and bags. They are all processed. Eat only animal protein, good fat (avocado, coconut oil, even olive oil if you don't overheat it), vegetables and a little fruit.

The changes are amazing. Most of all, they are sustainable. You can eat to satiety (that's fullness, kids). The good fat will make, and keep, you full. You will get your metabolic derangement in order. Once your hormone regulation is in order, you will lose weight if that's what you need to do because your body is now properly regulating cortisol, insulin and leptin and so it isn't turning everything you eat into body fat. It also is avoiding the insulin spikes and crashes of the metabolically deranged. (You know, the ones that cause the "crazy hungry" feeling so common to the standard low-fat/high-carb diet? I know them well.... They ruined my life for years). And when you lose that excess weight, if you just keep eating this way, you will keep it off. Why, because you have gotten those hormones under control.

Throw some weight-training in, and maybe even a little of what you call "cardio," and you will accelerate the whole process, and feel even better. But exercise is not the grail here. Sleep and proper nutrition are far more important.

The thing that makes me angry about the NYT article isn't that it made mistakes. Hell, it seems like all the mainstream nutrition writing falls back on nonsensical calories-in/calories-out thinking, when, in fact, how your body handles those calories is all about proper insulin, leptin and cortisol management. No, my anger -- or maybe "frustration" is a better word -- stems from the fact that unlike all the completely wrongheaded nutrition info out there, this article came tantalizingly close to the answer. And then threw it all away, likely causing the casual reader to toss up his or her hands and think that it's all a lost cause, anyway, so eff this and pass the cookies.

And, really, it is so simple. Note: not "easy," but simple. It just takes time and a commitment to a lifestyle change -- a really delicious, satisfying change at that-- not a crash "diet" that never fixes the underlying metabolic derangement. Rather, how about a new way of eating that has you eating real food and feeling full and satisfied, with barely a need to snack?

This article makes weight management seem impossible and painful and, in the end, not worth the effort. Yet, when done with the correct focus, it is simple and well worth it. You *will* have to change your life and your habits. You will *not* have to go on a crash "diet."

Don't give up. Go paleo.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad