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Archive for the ‘Food and drink’ Category

You know how you’re supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day, but almost nobody does it?

Well, I do it, and have been for the past several weeks.

Why, you ask?

I was at my massage therapist, getting a massage. I have a lot of crunchiness in my back and shoulder muscles, every time I get a massage the therapist comments on it. And after every massage, they tell me to drink plenty of water. Of course, everybody says that.

But this time, the therapist told me something that made me change my behavior – drinking plenty of water helps with the “crunch, crunch, crunch” of my muscles. Or rather, it helps to make the fascia (the layer of tissue surrounding the muscles) more malleable and less crunchy.

That made me think.

I have back issues, like everybody else in America (okay, only 80%). If drinking more water was going to help fix things, then I would give it a try.

I started by actually measuring how much water I drink per day, and it turns out that on average I was already drinking 7 cups. If I have a cup of water at work at lunch, the paper cups are actually two regular size cups of water (that is, 8 oz + 8 oz = 16 oz). I have a glass of water at dinner, which is another 16 oz (two cups). For breakfast, I was having a cup of coffee (which counts towards your water content) and a smaller glass of water, and that added up to three cups (24 oz). But often that would be all the liquid I would consume during the day.

I decided to bump up my morning glass of water to two cups (16 oz) and a cup of coffee which is 12 oz; so, altogether, on an average day I would be at 7.5 cups of water and would only need to have an additional 1/2 cup (6 oz) to fill up my quota. That’s manageable, so usually at work I’ll have a cup of green tea or in rare cases, another cup of water. That puts me at my daily minimum.

I haven’t noticed any health changes yet, but I haven’t been back to the massage therapist either. I’m curious to see if it helped.

I better not have drank all this water for nothing.

2017-12-26-EightGlassesOfWater

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As I’ve posted before, this past September the wife and I went to New York City where I was invited to participate in a customer panel (that is, the company I work for is a customer of another company, so they flew a bunch of representatives down to NYC for a couple of days). This was right before we went to Toronto for another conference I attended for work.

For many years, I had heard about New York pizza. I was never sure why it was such a big deal. What differentiated it from normal pizza? Sure, I could have Google/Binged it, but I never did. I don’t eat that much pizza anyhow, so it never was a burning issue for me.

But while I was in New York, I had my first New-York-pizza experience (I had pizza in New York in 2007, but I don’t think it was what’s normally thought-of as New York pizza). What makes it so special? Well, assuming what I ate for lunch was representative of New York pizza and not just some particular restaurant’s style:

  • First, the crust is much thicker. Like, a half-inch thick. Most pizza you get from the store or order from a pizza place (Domino’s, Pizza Hut) is thinner that New York pizza. I had a piece of it that was a regular size, and I was basically full (I ate a 1/2 piece more). It was an ordeal eating the slice of pizza, it was so thick.
    .
  • Second, it was way saucier than a normal pizza. I had to eat it with a fork and knife, it was so saucy and rich.

It’s really not similar to any pizza I normally eat. I’ve had Domino’s or Pizza Hut that people have ordered in; I’ve cooked frozen pizza I’ve gotten from Trader Joe’s; I’ve had cook-at-home pizza that people gotten from Papa John’s; I’ve gone to restaurants after hiking with the wife and ordered pizza. Not a single one of them was similar to New York pizza.

I don’t know that I would want all pizza I ordered to be like New York pizza, it’s just too rich for me.

But I sure am glad I tried it.

2017-12-26-NewYorkPizza

The picture above I got from Google, and would be an example of a thin-crust version of what I had.

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A liquid paleo-diet

One of the books I read this year is Antifragile, Nassim Taleb. It’s kind of a hard book to describe, if you haven’t heard of it I suggest you read the reviews on Amazon or do your own Internet search to find out what it’s about (I may write about it later).

2017-12-25-Antifragile

But one of the things that stuck with me is how Taleb has a rule for the things he consumers as food and beverage – I don’t remember the food part, but he says he never drinks anything that hasn’t been around for at least 1000 years. He does this because the human body probably hasn’t had time to adjust to the new-fangled sugary-inventions that have appeared on the consumer market, and are therefore to be treated with suspicion. Our bodies just can’t process the influx of sugar or chemicals that is a regular part of the western diet.

I decided to copy this rule. This means I can drink water, wine, tea, coffee, and beer. I also drink milk but only a couple of tablespoons in my coffee. But if I did drink more than that, it would also be acceptable.

This also means that beverages like Coke, Pepsi (any sugary drink), Red Bull, Iced Tea, milkshakes, iced lattes, anything other than drip coffee from Starbucks, hot chocolate, and even orange juice is out. They are all fairly recent inventions. Orange juice is pretty sugary, so that’s not acceptable despite people saying they need the nutrients (you can get all the vitamins and nutrients you need just by eating fruit). Even Vitamin Water is not acceptable.

I had already been doing this for a couple of years now, but now I am more rigidly enforcing it. It greatly simplifies my dietary choices, and I really like that. Each of the things I can choose from – wine, beer, tea, coffee, and water – I like. I have no problem drinking any of them. And three of them – water, tea, coffee – are either no calories or almost no calories. And over the past year, I’ve gradually swapped out beer for wine, which processes in your body differently.

I took many things away from Antifragile, but this one has stuck with me the most.

 

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In a switch to something I never thought I’d do, I recently added something to my diet: oatmeal.

Growing up, on weekends my family would occasionally have oatmeal for breakfast, although we called it porridge. And I never liked it. In fact, it was my least favorite breakfast food.

In my view, it tasted like goopy glop. It would be spooned into my bowl where it was kind of runny, and then I added milk (the way I would for all cereal – why would porridge be any different?). That made it even more unpalatable (why didn’t I learn?). In order for me to be able to eat it, I’d add several heaping teaspoons of brown sugar.

It kind of looked like this, only much runnier:

2017-12-25-GoopeyOatmeal

I would regularly be asked if I wanted more. There was not a single time I said yes. Not even once, in 20 years. My brother and sister didn’t seem to mind it, and I ate it only because I had to. But I did not like it (a sentiment I share with my aunt). After I moved out, I cut back on it. In fact, the number of times I’ve voluntarily eaten oatmeal in the past ten years is… zero.

However, it turns out that it may not be true that I dislike oatmeal, but perhaps only disliked the texture and mouth feel of the way we used to make it. What if it were made more solid?

I don’t like the feel of goop and glop in my mouth, and that was always my association with oatmeal. But one time in an airport, in the lounge, there was free food for breakfast. I saw that it was oatmeal. Normally I wouldn’t bother eating it, but I peeked in and saw that the oatmeal was semi-solid. That intrigued me.

I took a bowl and put a couple of tablespoons in it, then sat down and ate it. To my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. It was a little chewy, but not at all goopy or gloppy. It kind of resembled this:

2017-12-25-Oatmeal

A few weeks later, I was browsing through Fred Meyer where I got the bright idea of buying some breakfast oatmeal. I know that the wife would buy it sometimes, but I had no idea what version. I just wanted something not too sugary because that would defeat its purpose. I wanted to try oatmeal to switch up from eating toast in the morning, I wanted to diversify some of my grains from wheat to oats.

I read through a few packages and just ended up getting rolled oats. The next morning, I came down for breakfast and heated up a 1/2 cup of water, put in the packet of oatmeal, and let it cook for one minute. I removed from heat and put it into a bowl.

I took it to the kitchen table, ate it, and the verdict was… not bad. I could eat this without sugar. And I also ate it without milk. It was mostly chewy, but not really goopey or gloppy. I considered it an acceptable substitute for a slice of toast, and probably healthier as I usually put butter or honey on my toast whereas I can eat oatmeal plain.

I don’t necessarily eat it every day (sometimes I substitute eggs, or a second slice of toast) so I don’t get tired of eating it.

But it turns out that all this time, I was eating oatmeal the wrong way. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

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One the changes that we’ve made this past year is in how we purchase meat. We used to get it from the grocery store, that is, Trader Joe’s or Fred Meyer or the Asian grocery store.

However, for the past few weeks we’ve also started getting it from an actual butcher shop which is close to the Trader Joe’s from where we live.

I’m keenly aware of this quaint practice. Back in the olden days, people would have used to do this all the time. It was normal, you get your meat from the butcher shop. But as America transformed into big box retail, the supermarket became the selection-of-choice for everything you want to buy.

Why go to the butcher shop?

We did it on a whim one day, and were impressed with the selection. Stuff does cost more from there, yes. But it also tastes better, and it might even have a better fresh meat selection than a number of larger stores. And I also feel good about supporting local business.

So that’s one of the changes we’ve made this year.

ButcherShop

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For the first 30-some-odd years of my life, I never drank alcohol. I didn’t care for the taste, and found it repulsive. I sympathize with those who don’t drink.

That started to change in 2012 when the wife and I went to Argentina. We started to have a little bit of red wine when we went out to eat, but for the most part I stuck to water. I never really found myself enjoying wine that much.

My aversion to alcohol went away after we went to the Czech Republic in 2013 and I started drinking beer. It was there that I realized that I liked beer. I figured out that there are only certain types of beer styles that I like. I’ve kept a list of all the different types I like, and over the next four years I figured I was primarily a liker of beer, and not wine. If I was going to drink wine, I didn’t want to sacrifice a beer for it (my body has a limited budget for alcohol consumption, so I have to be selective).

But last year, we went to France and that started to change. I found some wine that I liked. And then this past year we went to Sonoma in California, which is wine country. I learned that I liked some wines from that region, too.

Since going to Sonoma, I have increased my consumption of wine while decreasing my consumption of beer. I haven’t been keeping track, but I estimate that since June of this past year, I’ve probably had more wine than beer. I’m still a noob when it comes to different styles of wine and estimating what they will taste like, but I think part of the reason that I never liked wine in the past was that I wasn’t drinking good wine. It has to cost at least $10/bottle otherwise it leaves a sticky, cotton-mouth feeling in my mouth.

I’ve told people that one of the best things about wine is that it isn’t mass-produced. It’s made by small-to-medium size wineries by families or small businesses that care about their product.

Big business that mass produces things are in it for the money. And when you scale up, the quality of your product goes down. That’s just the way it is. But when you do things on a small scale, of course you are in it for the money (you have to be, otherwise you’ll go bankrupt) but you’re absolutely in it because you love the product and want to make something people will enjoy. You take pride in your work.

Wineries are like that. If you get too big and the wine gets too corporate, the product quality suffers. I don’t think you can make a quality bottle of wine for less than $3/bottle, because the bottle itself costs $2.

So yes – wine has not yet suffered the same fate as beer where a few large corporations dominate the beer market with an inferior product. When I was younger, I didn’t care as much about supporting small business because I was a strong believer in capitalism, and the market would sort out the winners and losers according to whoever had the best product.

But now, I’ve gained some skepticism about the market. Big business can sort out winners and losers not because they necessarily have a better product, but because they have a better business and distribution channel. They can scale up and get their product out to more people. Quality is a concern, but it’s not the concern.

That’s something that is not the case in wine.

Not yet, anyhow. And hopefully never.

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I’ve been fortunate this year to have traveled for work to a number of different cities – Cologne, Germany; Toronto, Canada; New York City, New York; Sonoma, California; and San Francisco, California.

Because I’m reasonably well-known in the antispam filtering space, and because I work for a big company, I’m often taken out for lunch or dinner (along with many other people). This past week, I was in San Francisco and got to go dinner to Gary Danko, one of San Fran’s premier restaurants.

I had never heard of the place before. Of course, why would I? I don’t know that many restaurants in any city other than Seattle (and maybe Winnipeg). But Gary Danko is close to the waterfront, just across the street from the Ghiradelli chocolate factory.

I’m not a food connoisseur, but I do enjoy fine dining. The portion sizes are smaller but they are cooked with more spices and less salt/sugar/fat meaning that it’s not as bad for you as, say, McDonald’s. McDonald’s makes food you like only because it has so much salt and fat. Without it, it simply doesn’t compete with fine dining.

My meal was three courses. It started with appetizers and while there were several things on the menu I could have selected, I went with the bisque.

GaryDanko-Bisque

I don’t often get soup with my dinner. I will eat it if it comes with it, but I usually don’t select it over other things. I decided that since I had a salad for lunch, and I was getting meat for my main course, I would go with the bisque. I was glad I did, because it was really good.

For my main course, there were many different selections. Duck, lamb, steak, quail (I think… I can’t actually remember now) but I decided to go with bison. Why? Well, I never have bison in real life so I figured I would give it a shot now.

GaryDanko-Bison

I didn’t have the option of picking how I would like it. If I did, I would have picked medium-rare. But the way they cooked it was between rare and medium-rare, so it was rarer than what I would have selected.

That’s a good thing, because it turns out that bison is a tougher meat than regular steak.

On my plate, the thing on the right is a portobello mushroom, while the green things underneath the bison are not vegetables but instead a type of soft egg noodle called spätzle. I had never had it before, it was kind of chewy.

For dessert, there were a lot of different sweet things on the menu, and from what I know about fancy restaurants and dessert, they can go all-out. I opted instead to go with the cheese-tasting menu. I like cheese, and I knew it wouldn’t be too sugary.

My plate came with some grapes, four different types of cheeses, and then some raisin bread (yuck!). I strongly dislike raisins, but I finished most of the cheese and the grapes.

GaryDanko-Cheese

There was an extra bonus dessert plate afterwards, so I snagged myself a chocolate treat.

GaryDanko-BonusDessert

My group was pressed for time so we were in-and-out in 1 hour and 45 minutes. But I enjoyed my time there. If I had to do it again, I’d probably get the lamb instead of the bison. But nevertheless, no regrets. Any time I can go for fine dining, I jump at the chance.

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