Later On

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Lesson learned: Use parchment paper when roasting pork belly

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We had a very nice little piece of pork belly last night, roasted for two hours at 300ºF in my carbon-steel skillet. However, I wish I had used parchment paper which not only would have made cleanup easier but also would have provided a little insulation so that the bottom was not cooked so much.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2018 at 8:39 am

The Useless Concept of ‘Calories’

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A kind commenter on Quora pointed out this useful article by Dr. Jason Fung in Medium:

Currency (money) is useful because it represents a mutually agreed-upon means of measurement and exchange. That is, if we all accept American dollars as our currency of exchange, then items as disparate as a bus or an onion can be all measured in the same units. The bus is expensive and costs more dollars. The onion is cheaper and costs fewer dollars. But everything is measured in dollars and both parties accept dollars as the currency of exchange.

If one party decides to deal in dollars and the other accepts sea shells (used historically in some primitive cultures) or salt, then it is impossible to deal. There is no common currency. The buyer wants to use dollars and the seller wants sea shells. No deal. That is the value of a common currency, whether it is dollars, sea shells, Bitcoins or gold. There is only power as long as the two parties agree.

It is just like a common language. English is particularly useful because many people speak it. Therefore, in the United States, it is very likely that you can speak English and somebody understands you. In China, Mandarin is more useful than English, again because both people are able to speak it.

Microsoft dominated the software wars because it was the most popular, which automatically made it the most useful. It sure wasn’t the blue screen of death, or Microsoft Bob that made it useful. Man, I hated that stupid paperclip. Made me want to poke my own eyes out. But Microsoft was the common standard, which made it useful.

So, what is the common currency of weight gain? Many ‘experts’ claim that ‘calories’ fulfills this role of common currency. Sugar contains a certain number of calories and lettuce has less calories. We imagine, therefore that these calorically ‘expensive’ and ‘cheap’ foods can be measured on the same currency of calories, and the more calories you eat, the more fat you will gain. Often the ‘First Law of Thermodynamics’ is cited which states that energy is neither created or destroyed. This is completely fallacious because if we eat an extra 500 calories, our body may either burn it for body heat or store it as fat. Both situations follow the First Law of Thermodynamics but have drastically different effects on body fatness.

There are other ways, of course to measure different foods. You could simply weigh them. So 1/2 a pound of sugar is the same as 1/2 a pound of lettuce. This is simply a different currency. You could make the same “First Law of Thermodynamics argument” for weight as for calories. If you eat 1/2 pound of food, whether sugar or lettuce, you must gain 1/2 pound of weight. After all, how can your body gain more weight? Does weight come from thin air? How can it gain less weight? The weight of food simply disappears? Thermodynamics is a law, not a general suggestion. In both cases (weight and calories), the confusion arises because of an assumption that basal metabolic rate stays stable under all conditions, which is known to be false for the last, oh, hundred years. Metabolic rate may increase or decrease by up to 40%.

What’s crucially important, though, is to see if the body ‘cares’ about calories. Is it calories, or weight of food that serves as the common currency, or common language of weight gain? Does the body have some mechanism to count calories? Does the body have sensors to detect calories? Do we have an internal bomb calorimeter to measure calories and change behavior/ metabolism based on calories? No, no and no.

Your body doesn’t give a hoot about calories. Calories are not an accepted currency in our body. It does not count calories so why should you? A calorie is a calorie. So what? Who cares? Certainly not your body. Consider two foods of equal caloric value. On the one hand, you have a bit of sugary soda, and on the other is a plate of lettuce. Calories are identical. OK. So what? When you eat those two foods, does your body somehow measure these calories? No.

The metabolic effect of those two foods is completely and utterly different. Sugar will stimulate insulin. It will not activate any of the other satiety hormone. It does not activate stretch receptors in the stomach (satiety signal). It does not activate peptide YY, cholecystokinin (satiety hormones). A piece of steak, on the other hand, will do all those things. Therefore, you feel full after eating the steak, but not sated at all with the soda. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

We’ve spent the last hundred years detailing the intricacies of human metabolism. And nowhere in all of this work do you see the word “Calories”. Your body just doesn’t give two flying f***s about calories. It’s not the common currency. Here’s the bottom line truth. ‘Calories’ is NOT a physiologic concept, just as ‘weight of food’ is not a physiologic concept. Both are unit borrowed from physics. Longing for mathematical precision, obesity experts have severe ‘physics envy’, and try to shoehorn the useless physiologic concept of calories into a human biology that does not accept it.

The same applies to the weight of food, or the volume of food. Your body doesn’t weigh the food coming in, and doesn’t care. Eating a pound of lettuce and a pound of sugar produce completely different metabolic responses. In one case, the body may burn off that energy, and the other case, it may decide to store that fat. Weight is not the common currency.

Remember that a common currency only has power if both parties agree to its use. To understand weight loss, we need to understand what our body ‘cares’ about. The answer is clearly not ‘calories as seen clearly on the detailed charts above. The answer is ‘hormones’, predominantly, but not only insulin. Hormones run everything in our bodies.

Our body gains or loses fat according to detailed hormonal instructions from our brain. The rise and fall of insulin is the main stimulus to weight gain. So, food that stimulate insulin are typically more fattening (cookies). Those that do not (kale) are typically not fattening at all. If the body cares about insulin (and other hormones too, but mostly insulin), then we need to use the common currency, speak the common language of the body. Insulin.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2018 at 9:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Natural trans fats

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I didn’t realize this:

Natural trans fats are formed by bacteria in the stomach of cattle, sheep and goats. These trans fats make up 3–7% of the total fat in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, 3–10% in beef and lamb and just 0–2% in chicken and pork (12).

I wonder whether these trans fats are responsible for some of the adverse health effects of consuming cheese, beef, and lamb. I’m surprised at how much in the way of trans fats beef and lamb can contain.

The whole article is interesting, but its main focus (and list) is of foods that contain artificial trans fats.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2018 at 11:18 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

Tiger nuts are pretty tasty

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I like them because they’re quite high in fiber. More info here. I ordered a bag from Amazon to try. I’ll repeat.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2018 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb

A Vintner’s Quest to Create a Truly American Wine

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Adam Gopnik’s fascinating article (at least fascinating to me, who lived in the area discussed) was published last May in the New Yorker:

Many students have been driven to drink by the effort of understanding Martin Heidegger’s “Being and Time.” Only one, perhaps, has been driven to wine, exclusively and for life, and that is the inimitable California vintner, punster, screw-top evangelist, and all-around Don Quixote of the vineyards, Randall Grahm. In the nineteen-seventies, when he was a philosophy major at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and struggling with a senior thesis on the concept of Dasein, the most obscure idea in Heidegger’s obscure classic, he happened to wander into a wine store in Beverly Hills called the Wine Merchant. It was a time when the great crus of France were relatively cheap, and the owner, Dennis Overstreet, soon to be his employer, was generous. “There was a kind of Bordeaux scandal at the time, and he had taken some really crappy stuff off the exporters’ hands in exchange for several cases of Musigny,” Grahm explains. As he and Overstreet shared a bottle of the 1971 Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny, Vieilles Vignes, the mystery of Dasein was replaced by the mystery of Musigny: how, Grahm wondered, had something so haunting and complicated been produced by growing grapes, juicing them, and then letting them grow old in bottles?

Within a short time, Grahm had enrolled at the University of California at Davis, the M.I.T. of American fermentation, where winemaking had become an object of academic research. There, he began an obsession with creating an American wine that has some of the qualities of great red Burgundy—or even those of the great wines of France’s Rhône Valley. As he points out, several figures in the making of California wine culture were also renegade philosophy students, including Paul Draper, the recently retired head winemaker of Ridge Vineyards and one of the few whom Grahm unstintingly admires. He offers a simple reason for the connection between philosophers and wine: “Wine is a mystery that holds the promise of an explanation.”

His improbable quest has led him to become a pioneer of Rhône Valley varietals in Northern California; an apostle of the screw cap as the one right “closer” for good wine; and, for a while, a very successful beverage businessman (at one point, largely on the strength of his popular wine Big House, he was selling four hundred and fifty thousand cases a year). Next came a semi-orderly downsizing of his wine label, Bonny Doon, prompted by fears of its being corrupted by too much commercialism. Most recently, he has decided to take possession of four hundred acres of land near the little mission town of San Juan Bautista—it’s the place where Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” reaches its climax, though the tower from which Kim Novak falls was added to the mission by the film’s art-department team. Thirty or so miles from Santa Cruz, on a hillside where nothing but grass and weeds has ever grown, Grahm is going to try to make an American wine that is an entirely original expression of its terroir, of the land on which it’s raised and the place from which it came.

The effort at the new vineyard, called Popelouchum, involves a three-pronged assault. First, Grahm intends to plant and test a series of uncelebrated grapes that have languished in the shadows of European viticulture. Next, he will “auto-tune” some familiar European grapes by breeding them incestuously and then testing for slight improvements in each successive generation. Finally, he hopes to produce an entirely new American varietal by growing and crossing unlikely pairs of grapes from seed—which is a bit like an ambitious Yankees general manager trying to raise starting shortstops from embryos. “There may not be one great American grape,” Grahm says, philosophically. “It may be the intermingling of a thousand grapes that becomes the great grape.”

The Don Quixote comparison is self-imposed—Grahm once wrote a ten-thousand-word poem with himself in the role of a character called Don Quijones—and so, given the scale of this year’s windmills, any small sign of reassurance raises his spirits. “I had a geomancer out to Popelouchum,” he recalled not long ago, from the driver’s seat of his 1972 Citroën, “and he said that we must orient the entrance of the site in only one direction.” Geomancy is an ancient means of divination involving throwing soil and rocks and interpreting their omens; Grahm, in the Northern California way, is an agreeable mixture of tough-minded agricultural science and what he calls “Santa Cruz woo-woo.” He went on, “So, the geomancer goes like this, definitively: ‘Northwest! That’s the way in which prosperity lies!’ I’m sure that he had no idea that he was pointing directly at Cupertino!” Cupertino is the site of Apple’s headquarters, just around the bend.

“And then we had the Bourguignons out to the vineyard!” Claude and Lydia Bourguignon are a legendary and aptly named French surveying couple who evaluate sites for wine growing. “They identified five distinct terroirs within the property,” Grahm said. “And the really exciting thing is the extravagance of limestone—there’s limestone everywhere.” Limestone, he explained, is typical of the greatest vineyards, which tend to be stony rather than loamy, stress making finer grapes. “Rocks are always good, but I think it’s the porousness of limestone that explains its power,” he added. “It breathes. Of course, on the other side, there are so many forbidding negatives! There’s the fault line—we’re right on the San Andreas fault line. No one knows just how that will change things. And there’s the rats! We have these giant mutant vineyard rats that basically ate the entire first crop. We can’t poison them, of course.” The new vineyard is meant to be not only organic, without pesticides of any sort, but also “dry farmed,” without irrigation. “So I’m renting some Jack Russell terriers who are demonratters.”

Grahm was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, with his fourteen-year-old daughter in the back seat. He has the long face, ponytail, and ironic, shrugging manner of a surviving comedian of the nineteen-seventies, a sort of George Carlin fed on red wine rather than on coke and whiskey. He has many manners of melancholy. He can look distressed even when he is drinking wine—especiallywhen he is drinking wine, including his own. There is an ever-hopeful first swirl and sniff, and a half glimpse of pleasure as he begins to drink; then he becomes pained, and eventually his expression conveys something close to the resigned despair of a Shakespeare hero in the fifth act of his tragedy. As he once explained to someone puzzled by his seeming distress at drinking a perfectly nice wine, “I don’t want another nice wine. I want a wine that’s like the old Saint-Émilion Cheval Blanc, a wine that when you drink it you just want to inject it directly into your veins!”

He is a passionate Francophile—his daughter is named Amelie—and the ’72 Citroën, perhaps the most curvaceously beautiful family car ever made, needed an undue amount of fidgeting and tending. “The car is part of my shtick,” Grahm said with a laugh. He is one of those people—more often found in the upper reaches of show business—who are sincerely shrewd, or, better, shrewdly sincere. His passion and erudition are real, but he is aware that being passionate and erudite is, in the wine world, a good look, a useful kind of product differentiation.

“I’m Santa Cruz crazy,” he explained. “The thing is, I’m normative here. It’s been a retreat for crazy winemakers as long as there’s been wine. It’s our tradition. It’s a less stressful place than most of the rest of the winemaking areas. It’s not Napa.” He began to enumerate Santa Cruz eccentrics: “There was Martin Ray, the first California winemaker to catch the Burgundian bug to the point of obsession. He made very expensive wines that alternated between profoundly great and undrinkable. He was sort of the Hunter S. Thompson of the Santa Cruz Mountains. And then Dan Wheeler. I got the idea from him to age wine en bonbonne”—in big glass flasks instead of oak barrels. “Angry, irascible individuals. Not company men.”

It is Randall Grahm’s view, and not his alone, that California winemaking has become altogether too corporate. “We’re sort of at the last-of-the-gunslingers stage,” he said, referring to the recent sale of Josh Jensen’s Calera Vineyard to a conglomerate. The revolution begun by the winemakers and the vineyard scientists of Davis back in the nineteen-sixties and seventies has in some ways paid off beyond anyone’s ambitions. More than a billion and a half dollars’ worth of American wine, almost all of it Californian, is now exported, most of it to the European Union, which had once seemed to have plenty of wine of its own. But the dream of making a great wine culture, as opposed to a thriving beverage industry, seems to recede more with each year. Most of the wine that’s sold is monotone, and the wine that claims not to be monotone is, Grahm believes, pretty monotone, too, made in the style of the one-dimensional “fruit bomb” wines that he associates with the reign of the wine critic Robert Parker.

Driving through the mountains, he occasionally jerked his head toward a vineyard, or referred to one elsewhere, and said, “They grow chocolate and vanilla there.” By “chocolate” he means Cabernet Sauvignon, and by “vanilla” he means Chardonnay. These are by far the most common varietals in California viticulture; the words suggest his opinion of the flavor of most of the wines.

According to the archeological evidence—flasks and stoppers and sealants—the earliest wine production occurred in what is now Armenia, with the first vintage sometime around 4000 B.C. One of the few things that can be said with any confidence about it is that some ancient Armenian pronounced, shortly after the second vintage was produced, that the previous vintage was better. Arguments about vintages and varietals are as old as wine.

“Wine has always been a ritual as much as a recreational object,” Paul Draper, the Nestor of California wine, said recently. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2018 at 10:19 am

The simple pleasures of life

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I’m pretty happy here with some simple pleasures. First, I cooked up a big tub of mussels from Costco (well, PEI) in olive oil, chopped onion, minced garlic, butter—well, basically this recipe, except no cream and no parsley and certainly no crusty bread.

They were just delicious. There was a little of the Pinot Gris left after cooking the mussels, so I had a glass. It is a BC wine, and it’s really very nice.

I did notice that, when you eat a whole lot of mussels in a row, you realize that you are eating a kind of worm that evolved to grow a shell. Certainly they are worms in gross morphology. And the shells are oddly beautiful and delicate and nicely colored. But—they’re still worms. It’s just that it’s okay to eat worms that grow shells.

I admit I tried a spoonful of the broth: exquisite—and, however, very rich. I get the point of the crusty bread now, the crust just slightly softened by being dipped int he broth: it moderates the richness of the broth…  yeah, I can see that. But no, I don’t want the bread.

Then I cleaned up the kitchen—I have a new regimen: I always leave it exactly the way I found it, including having one of my chef’s knives on the prep station at a precise angle. I vary the knife, rotating among my favorites (the Bob Kramer knife is next up), but if you took photos of the kitchen from the same vantage point, then—except when I’m cooking or cleaning—it’s always the same …. except the chef knife changes….

With the kitchen photo-identical to the way I found it, I made myself a local Martini:

Imperative Dry Vermouth (from a little ways up-island)
Oaken Gin by Victoria Distillers right here in town
Dash of Twisted & Bitter Orange Bitters, also made by Victoria Distillers

I made it on the rocks, and for my olives (I use 4 (four)), I tried out something we got at Costco: double-stuffed Queen size olives, with jalapeño and garlic.  Interesting. I got to thinking I would prefer Spanish dried chorizo and, say, blue cheese. (I know they can do blue cheese: I have blue-cheese-stuffed Queen-size olives.) Or better yet, a sliver of Parmigiano Reggiano. But then I thought of duck breast and crystallized ginger and realized that you can go too far. But I did have an interesting tofu idea shaping up…

But there it is: the simple pleasures. A tasty dinner of… well, worms. A glass of wine. And a local Martini that is actually excellent. And I easily got my 5000 steps in, and at a pace of 108.3 steps/minute, which is not bad at all—certainly well over the minimum requirement, as was the walk duration (33.5 minutes > 30 minutes). And not even a twinge from the knee. Still: 5000 steps goal the rest of the week, then 6000 for two weeks, 7000 for two weeks, 8000 flat for two weeks, and then 8000 old (hilly) route, and all of those done 6 days a week.

I like the idea of measuring out the rate of increase of steps/day: creates a sense of progress.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2018 at 7:57 pm

Impromptu cod stew

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I used my 11″ 4-qt sauté pan.

1.5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches thick scallions, chopped (including the leaves)
good pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper

Sauté onions until they wilt. Add:

2 Serrano peppers, chopped small
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped small
10-12 San Marzano cherry tomatoes, sliced
8-10 cloves garlic, chopped small
1-1.5″ piece of ginger root, grated
about 1.5-2 Tbsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp smoked (Spanish) paprika

Sauté for a few minutes. Add:

1-1.5 lbs Icelandic cod, cut into chunks
1/4 cup white wine (Gerwurtztraminer, as it happens)
2 teaspoons tamari

Cover, reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes.

Add to stew:

1/2 can black-eyed peas

Stir to mix and heat. Then serve.

I just had the peas on hand but they really make a difference.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2018 at 1:30 pm

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