Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Mummifying Christmas packages

December 23rd, 2013

Among changes and missing items now our parents are dead are:

  • The sacred cookie rites moved from my mother to my sister
  • We no longer get packages encapsulated, neigh smothered, in tape

2cookies

My mother made superb Scottish shortbread and remarkable bourbon balls. Until her end, she would send us tins of each. The cookie baton immediately passed to my sister. She’s even been tweaking the bourbon ball’s recipe (like Wild Turkey 101 this year) and seems to have improved on it.

For the other, what the devil cultural phenomenon made the WWII generation tape wacky? Many boomers say their parents did the same. Packages large or small, no matter how sturdy the box, no matter who handled the shipment were smothered in tape, sometimes several varieties of clear and opaque, formal packing tape, duct tape, Scotch tape, masking tape…

Oddly their parents did not do this. We don’t do it. Our kids don’t. This fetish is like a secret handshake of what’s let’s call in this instance the Goofiest Generation.

When parcels arrived from any of our parents, we knew to get out the knives. I tended to use my big French chef’s knife. I knew that the carbon steel blade I kept sharp could puncture and cut open the worst they had done. It was precise enough not to slice into presents captured inside.

When I would ask my mother about the tape extravaganza, she’d say she just wanted to make sure everything got there, as though the box might disintegrate in the  delivery truck.That our more relaxed packages arrived whole made no impression on this otherwise extremely rational person.

It was a small, amusing foible, made more remarkable by its widespread, generation-specific nature. I don’t miss it.

 

Drown the damned salad!

May 5th, 2013

cainssignAs a boomer, I grew up with the excesses of the amusingly epithet-ascribed greatest generation. Those carried along by the tides and storms of WWII indulged themselves from the moment they declared victory. We kiddies got to share in their leavings.

As a group, my parents’ generation rewarded themselves non-stop. Sure, that meant too much booze and a level of adultery not known since the most profligate of ancient periods. To this day, they feel and think they deserve every indulgence.

With that comes the irony of calling my generation and the next several The Me Generation, The Entitlement Generation and other denigrations. We who studied history, sociology and similar soft sciences know those slurs were first applied to the WWII and Korean “police action” sorts.

Regardless, the mythology was and remains powerful. All hail, summa cum laude, the Greatest Generation!

One small piece trace of that legacy is salads.

Yes, boomers grew up with the formerly deprived slathering dressings on. Sure, it was the Greatests’ parents and grandparents who had to make the family work and survive during the Great Depression and WWII. Sure, it was the WWII folk who walked into battle (or were the men and women behind the desks and safe in the defense plants) who risked bullets or paper cuts after their elders had shepherded them through the national economic horrors.

Having landed firmly after V-E and V-J Days, the WWII crew knew it was party time. Among the obvious delights were the self-indulgence of food.

We boomers recalled the weekly visitations of the women’s service mags — McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook and others. In most middle-class, white families that really meant one big thing. As surely as the WWI generation grabbed their Reader’s Digest monthly to find out what disease they had to fear this time, the competitive housewives made sure they were up on the latest recipes.

That was a simpler version of today’s foodie snobbery. Now it’s obscure ingredients and must-have food prep gear. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was being sure you were the first, or at least not the last, to serve the pop dishes.

Dreadful they were, but adequate in nutrition, if short on sapidity and devoid of presentation value. It meant, by God!, another tuna noodle casserole variation. It was those dreadful, salt-filled, mouth drying burgers baked in foil with cream of mushroom (always Campbell’s) and dried onion soup mix (always Lipton’s). Accompanying the leaden entrée was some cloyingly sweet mess with colors that do not naturally occur, think an orange Jell-O mold with pineapple junks and mini-marshmallows.

Then both at home and particularly in restaurants, the iceberg lettuce salads were totally dominated by four or five times too much sugary, fatty dressing. A typical dinner table at home or out included two, three or more bottles of gum-thickened, sugar filled mayonnaise disguised as condiment. The very antithesis of light, savory vinaigrette, those clots of extremism marked the WWII generation as surely as did the second and third pre-dinner cocktail.

I thought of those days a decade or more later when working one of my summer college jobs at Cain’s Foods (now Cains and in Ayer not Cambridge). We made and packaged salad dressings, mayo, pickles and horseradish. The famous chips magically happened elsewhere.

Among our short runs on the assembly line were gallons of salad dressings, ketchup and mayonnaise for restaurants. Sure, they carried the Cain’s label like the grocery quarts, but they were different. The old hands (all deaf from the clinking of bottles on the line) said the stuff the chefs got was simply better. The production shifted to condiments that used better materials, richer oils and more fully flavored ingredients. Your perception that the tabletop stuff when you ate out was better was accurate.

One effect of the women’s service mag tyranny was that most of us boomers had little idea what vegetables on their own tasted like. To this day, many of us suffocate salads.If a teaspoon of dressing is good, a quarter cup must be much better. You know…getting your money’s worth…

To no effort of my own, I had the benefit of summering with my maternal grandfather, who grew phenomenal amounts and varieties of vegetables. He  neither accepted nor permitted overpowering his veggies with fats and sugars. If we had asparagus, he’d go down his 150-foot rows with his stainless-steel knife and cut just enough for dinner. We’d eat them minutes later, maybe with a bit of lemon, a dusting of butter and a little salt.

Yet, at friends’ and relatives’, we’d be in the over-consumption mode.  The four bottles of clot-thick bottled dressings fairly screamed to swamp the salad makings. Kids as well as adults lathered it over and on.

In contrast, tossing a salad with say a little white-wine vinegar and a small squeeze of Dijon mustard or perhaps a splash of balsamic with a small portion of olive oil or maybe a scant teaspoon of mayo with some black pepper is all you need…and much, much better tasting. In fact, lightly dressed salads actually let you taste the ingredients, including remarkably enough the veggies.

We don’t have to praise the WWII generation. Lord knows, they’ve done plenty of self-mythology themselves. What the boomers and their kids are learning though is that we don’t have to replicate their food silliness. Too much is not better. It’s just too much.

 

Yes to a Winter Haymarket

February 2nd, 2013

Always a good time for the Haymarket, the winter can be special in small ways. When it’s 17F as it was before 7 AM today, YOU are the crowd. Sure, you need to peek to make sure the greens had frozen, but there is the ease of few customers offset by lifting the tarps to enter the stalls. There’s no quick walk through before returning to your day’s favorites.

The vendors are hardy sorts, who show and set up between 4:30 and 7, even in snow, ice, and whoa-cold! air.

haymarketcamp With the external look of an antarctic encampment, stalls get drapes of tarps to protect vendors and customers as well as produce.
At dawn, front and back sides of Blackstone street are bustling. blackstonedawn
blackstonebrr Restaurants also can’t get too hobbled by bad weather. They send folk to buy the cases of veggies and fruits regardless.
Many vendors create large room with hot-air heaters inside the tarps. It’s easier on customers too to lift one tarp and shop two, three or four stalls at once. antarctichavover
blackstonecavern A downside to the super cold is not being able to scan stalls quickly. An upside is knowing the fish vendors have well-chilled product.
“A balmy 36 degrees,” is the report here. Coming from the 17-degree street, it felt like spring inside. balmy

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

Boys, Girls, Cook, Chef…What’s In a Word?

December 3rd, 2012

An elegant microcosm of our fustiness appears in a Think Progress piece on a 13-year-old big sister. She’s riled because her little brother wants to use Habro’s EASY-BAKE oven, which the company markets as a girl thing. It is on the company site and catalog in “gifts for girls”, and this girl asks them to get their act together and start including boys in their ads and promotion.

I’m there with her. I’ve been a or the family cook since I was six or seven. My father was a deadbeat Army office who disappeared to Germany with his second family, ignoring all this responsibilities to his first. However, my role model and mentor was my maternal grandfather, Bill Michael, who among many talents and duties cooked and was a tailor.

Oh, he had a stereotypical “man’s” job on the B&O Railroad, but he was like a t’ai chi master, hard and soft at the same time. He saw no shame in honest labor or in food prep or in sewing. He did it all.

His wife, my grandmother Mable, was queen of her kitchen though. She did not allow her two daughters to do more than act as scullery maids. She was the cook and never let anyone forget it. My mother had to learn to cook in Japan from a book for similarly ignorant American Occupation Army wives.

On those rare occasions when Mable was visiting relatives or in the hospital with an asthma attack, Granddad cooked. He had the touch.

First of all, he grew the family veggies, in what he called “patches.” These were one or sometimes two one-acre gardens of remarkable diversity. You don’t know asparagus until you eat it five minutes after being cut, and only those with home gardens know a real tomato plucked as the ripest and most fragrant on the vine.

We loved it when Granddad cooked. We also were savvy enough never to say to her that we preferred his hand in the kitchen.

Yes, let the little boy cook.

Hands-on Loaves

August 24th, 2012

As a counterpoint to my accepting an automated ice-cream maker, I can’t or rather won’t stop kneading bread.

I’m in the middle of the several day process of making salt-rising bread per my maternal grandmother’s recipe. It’s a pain au levain and kind of kitchen magic. While it uses a pinch of baking soda, it has no yeast and the leavening is partly of what bacteria in the air do interacting with the starch of the potato sliced into a quart jar at noon, per Mable’s index card.

The mix sits in a loosely covered jar for half a day to two days and generally, but not always, produces a froth that will rise the bread when added to flour. As Mable’s card says, it has to have a peculiar odor along with the froth. Otherwise don’t use it.

Then you let the dough rise until double, which can take an indeterminate number of hours the next day. Next comes kneading until smooth, from 20 minutes to 35, depending on how much dough you made.

Now there’s the likely spot for automation. I won’t have it.

I own a heavy-duty KitchenAid® stand mixer, replete with dough hook. I’ve tried kneading with the hook, but find no pleasure in that.

Cook folklore has it that the heat from your hands aids in transforming the gluten and the dough into the ideal substance for rising and baking. I’m not sure that’s true, but I do enjoy kneading.

Pressing down with the whole upper body, mushing the dough between my fingers and under my knuckles gives a sense of ownership and oneness with the food. It’s a physical and emotional investment, albeit time and energy inefficient.

I have no doubt using the mixer with its hook would produce smooth dough in much less time. I generally am very efficient, but this is one area where I’d rather not be.

OK Dessert Automation

August 16th, 2012

Many years ago…back in the one-child days…we received a Cuisinart food processor as a gift. Julia Child loved hers and used it regularly; she was a real pulse kind of prep cook.

It didn’t last long in my kitchen and I gave it away. I did and still do like chopping vegetables and kneading bread. I grok the ingredients and feel better about handing out and eating the results. Plus, with your hands and knives, you have a lot more control over the appearance of the veggies. I’m big on presentation.

However, I must admit my current backslide into automation. I recently bought an ice-cream maker. After decades of making my own ice cream, I won’t be giving this one to anyone. For a few years, we would use the old-style, messy, loud wooden bucket with rock salt and ice. That was awful. Then I took to making a quart at a time by hand. I’d get all the ingredients working and return to the freezer every hour or so to hand beat and thus aerate the confection.

That latter operation turned out superb ice cream (not hard to predict from great ingredients). Yet I didn’t have the emotional attachment to the result. A frozen mass looks pretty much the same whether beaten by machine or hand with a spatula or spurtle.

With friends coming up to marry at our home, I figured the reception would have to include one of my favorites, saffron ice cream. So there, I can say it. I made my ice cream by machine last week. I’m surprised at my development, but I’m not ashamed and I’ll do it again.

For detail, I chose the Cuisinart (that name again) ICE-21 machine. It’s widely available around $60, discounted from its suggested $110. Mine came from Amazon, which gave the full color choices. I went with purple (a.k.a. Plum in Cuisinart speak). Honestly white, black and red get old.

It’s almost too simple. There’s an on/off switch on front. Make ice cream by freezing the mystery-liquid filled tub overnight, mix your ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, flavorings), put the tub on the machine and place the plastic paddle inside, turn it on and pour in the ingredient mixture. In 15 to 20 minutes, you have soft serve. I like it firmer and froze it for a few hours. I don’t miss the repeated hand beating.

As a cook, I use my 30-some-year-old traditional steel French chef’s knife and similar tools. I like sturdy in the kitchen. So when I first touched the paddle that goes in the drum, I projected trouble. It felt like Cracker Jack-prize quality. The machine and drum are heavy. The paddle is well deigned for the machine though. It locks into place inside as the drum turns, moving the potential ice cream over its blades. It’s like your fingers dipped in the lake over the side of a moving canoe.

The other eyebrow raiser is the lidless outer case. The clear shell that fits over the drum has no top, just the circle where you pour your goodies. We regular blender and mixer users could see messy trouble. Nah. Just follow the proportions to make a quart and a half or less of ice cream and the mixture stays put. The drum is not sudden or fast enough to spit anything toward you or the ceiling. Over filling the drum would be the only dumb move.

I confessed my automation to the wedding guests. No one minded. In fact, I don’t think they listened. Saffron ice cream is saffron ice cream, not matter how it gets mixed.

The Power of an Earring

June 10th, 2012

I put a post earring in my left lobe this morning. It’s a silver, smiling sun, symbolic of our youngest graduating high school today.

Big, fat, hairy detail as Garfield thinks. Well, to the incapacitated, it’s noteworthy.

Healing from broken ribs and clavicle, these small and normal tasks are remarkable. Moving the left hand to the lobe and manipulating the earring back onto the post was moderately painful. Of course, in context, completing the wee task was still a minor accomplishment.

And there it is…for those inconvenienced or worse by accident or disease, the wee range from impossible to requiring effort to delighting with the relative ease of completion.

I recall nearly 30 years ago, I broke my right wrist in a fall on roller skates. I like to think of that as a noble sacrifice instead of clumsiness. Our young firstborn had fallen right in front of me. Having no out, I could have plowed into him or taken a tumble. An amusing aspect is that two resident docs from Mass General were running along the Esplanade beside us and heard the crack. They said they were so happy after treating so many broken bones to see and hear it actually happen. Whee.

The doc who set the cast on the wrist asked the obvious question — are you right handed? Well, I was, or so I thought.

As it turns out, I apparently had been ambidextrous all along. I just had accepted the training I’d had at school and home. I’ve heard from other boomers that they too were told righthandedness is the norm, ergo you are righthanded. Yet, with a bad wrist break and a hand immobilized for a month or so, I had a single choice, be helpless or see what I could do.

My writing with the left hand was not quite as good, but plenty legible. After never having had the muscle memory, I found it refined quickly. I learned that I had no problem with other tasks — shaving, cooking, dressing myself and on and on. I found as the cast came off too, that I could use both hands as needed separately, such as stirring a pot and a frying pan with different motions simultaneously. I just had never tried.

It makes me wonder how many of us are really ambi unaware.

The harder part was doing two-handed tasked with just one. The extreme example was tying shoelaces. The docs told me it was impossible ad that I had to go with slip-on or Velcro closure shoes. That was a direct challenge, which I accepted. It is tough, but not at all undoable. It too falls in that class of the normal made impossible then mastered.

I recall too many years before that in my volunteer work at VA hospitals, being with vets who relearned basic tasks. They tended to have a sly, infectious joy at re-adding each task to their repertoire.

I relate.

 

Phat and Fat: Watching the Struggle

May 1st, 2012

My maternal grandmother, Mable, was handsome, strong and big boned. We got our huge honking feet from her among other attributes. I’m sure she did not accept that she was good looking and she worried over her weight.

She was the eldest of a large family. The youngest was a sister, from their father’s remarriage after he became a widower. Mable’s angst was the worse for sister Anna’s slender build from a different mother.

Meanwhile, let it be known that I watched her in her 50s and 60s battle vigorously and without real success with body image and what books, doctors, family and women’s magazines told her she should weigh, as well as how much of what she should eat to get there. That had the extra nasty wrinkle of the insistence on height/weight charts, already disproved by insurance stats on longevity and health measures, but beloved by physicians.

I heard the scale whirr every morning. She had maybe two feet of diet and nutrition books on one shelf. Many were by the naturopath and chiropractor Gayelord Hauser. He straddled wise and foolish. He advocated natural foods, eschewing white sugar and white flour. Good enough, but he pitched his brand of blackstrap molasses as a kind of panacea, preached absurdly low caloric intake, and in effect expected everyone to thrive on what he did. In fact, he was a high-metabolic-rate ectomorph who wowed his celebrity friends like Greta Garbo with his wit as well as trim physique.

For Mable, the ideals were unworkable. 900 calories a day left her constantly hungry and often weak. She went for Hollywood Bread and another brand I recall as Lite Diet; both had small, very thin slices with few calories, maybe 45? The unamusing joke here is that she was the best baker I’ve ever known. Her pies, cobblers and cakes were superb and treasured by all who knew her. She baked great whole wheat and rye breads in which we delighted. There she was, starving with napkin-thing slices of tasteless junk in her effort to slim.

Sometimes she obviously failed. She was never a porker and her diet breaks did not mean she needed bigger dresses.

Instead, she simply had to eat more to be healthy. Rather than accept that and realize Hauser and the others she trusted were wrong, she snuck. She was not a pantry stuffer, scoffing out of sight. Rather, when she just couldn’t stand her hunger, she’d join us all at the dinner table, as we did each evening. Of course, as family, we had the serving dishes in the middle of the table. Mable would bring a plate with a napkin covering it.

It was sad and fooled no one. She’d tucked more protein under there. She’d stick a fork under the napkin and eat the few extra bites that let her go onto breakfast and another day of food struggles.

We were then as I remain, a straight-ahead, candid family. We would rather she had felt comfortable eating what she needed in plain sight. Yet, our candor did not include calling her on this emotional issue.

It was years later as I trimmed down successfully with Stillman that I reconsidered her struggles and body-image issues. She was large and muscular. She needed more to survive than scrawny folk. She’d never have the body type or metabolism of Hauser or starlets he accompanied. She couldn’t even become like her sister-by-the-second-mother Anna.

Yeah, it’s bad that most medical types are pretty ignorant about nutrition. It’s worse that so many rely on the easy, lazy formulae that fail most of us.

For me, I’m working on my own nutrition plan, regardless of the bad advice from doctors, nurses and a nutritionist. It’s a fair amount of work and requires iterative testing of calories/carbs/protein/fat with my scale and body-fat measurements. That’s still a lot easier intellectually, emotionally and physically than what my grandmother did for those many years. And as a big bonus, I’m not starving myself.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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Phat and Fat: Hungry?

April 27th, 2012

Several times in my adult life, I’ve trimmed down. The old way followed the platitudinous calories-in/calories-out advice that most medical and nutrition sorts still flog. I have come to disdain that after much reading and experimenting.

Those seeming death marches featured deprivation. Feeling hungry to ravenous seemed like an affirmation of will, of virtue. Pounds disappeared, at the cost of feeling self-punished. I could hardly wait to reach a target weight and stop that silliness.

In contrast, nearly all the low-carb versions I’ve seen and one I’ve adapted for myself go for sustainable eating patterns. Unlike just-eat-fewer-calories-than-your-body-needs, eat-right-foods-until-you’re-comfortable is, as the newer cliché goes, a plan. There’s no rush to escape.

A fundamental principle in Atkins or Duke or so many other low-carb regimens is worrying far less about calories, and instead counting carbs. Have four, six, even eight ounces of fish or meat for lunch or dinner. That of course depends on your size and activity level of the day. Do without the bread, potatoes, rice and other starches. Have a cup or two of greens and other low-carb veggies.

I confess that the veggie part is easier for me than some who grew up food picky. I worked with my grandfather in his gigantic gardens for 11 summers. Asparagus, lettuce, squash, kale, string beans, cabbage, peppers and on and on were in my hands and on the table shortly after picking. We ate what we got to the table and it was all damned good.

Those who didn’t grow up with an abundance of fresh vegetables or got mushy ones from cans might have a problem. For us, my grandmother froze and jarred many hundreds of pounds of them for winter and spring.

If you’re considering low-carb, keep the key concept in mind that you won’t go hungry. If you’re masochist, you can always stick with the modified starvation plan so popular in medical circles.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie
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Phat and Fat: Low-Carb Eats

April 25th, 2012

Like New Yorkers about rent-stabilized apartments, we just have to know what a dieter eats. It’s the treasure map on the shared quest.

After typical and near total lameness from doctors and a nutritionist, I applied my fastidious nature and research experience to the task for me. For the impatient who need to gather essential information, I’d advise Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories or even his somewhat simplified version Why We Get Fat. After hitting libraries and online sources, mostly medical and scientific, I found that Good Calories included the punchlines of nearly every solid work I found on my own, plus much more. I could have started there, but likely would not have felt comfortable until I confirmed things.

On the no-no side, I can’t stress enough that for me, the diet clichés simply don’t work:

  • WRONG. Everything in moderation is ideal.
  • WRONG. Low fat and high complex carbohydrates are the key.
  • WRONG. Consumer fewer calories than your estimated expenditures and all will be well.

Despite my assiduous devotion to those medical platitudes, my fat and weight crept up. The simpleminded docs, nurses and nutritionist could only conclude that I and my two nutrition/exercise programs were lying and given bad data. Their assertions just had to be accurate!

Yet, truth be told, I am like many adults who do not fit those silly saws. In my particular case, I share much physical history with others I know and read about. For example, several times, I have lost more than 10% of my body weight and fat. That turns down your metabolism substantially, making losing and maintaining weight/fat harder…likely forever. Also, aging does much the same. Moreover, I am an almost pure mesomorph, tending to broad shoulders and large muscle mass top and bottom. I have an efficient metabolism, which means exercise burns up less than the gym machines measure and software estimate. I see from various research that many of us end up switching to slow-twitch muscles after such body changes, which also means greater efficiency in exercise. Drat.

A non-scientist, the late Robert Atkins has a keen chapter in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution that covers other reasons for metabolic resistance, as it’s known. Even staid old calories-in/calories-out folk like the Mayo Clinic report that some drugs, like beta blockers, can decrease metabolic rate by up to 13% (huge when you want to lose or control). Likewise, hormones, anti-depressants, anti-arthritis, steroids and on and on can hose metabolism. In the tablet and pill-happy medical environment we inhabit, that’s a big deal.

Marketing Opportunity: In a little side rant, I would pay for a smart, learning diet program. My mother and niece also recorded their nutrition and exercise for years. We’re all honest and thorough; it would have done us no good to cheat. We found the calories-in/calories out to be near worthless for us. There’s likely a huge market for a piece of software that follows your intake and expenditure, and correlates them with your ongoing weight and body-fat measurements. Then it would tweak what is actually happening in your unique system. It would rationalize the basal metabolism rate and provide meaningful measures of exercise expenditures for you.

My mouth

Draw your own conclusions when you read about nutrition. I came to low-carb and started on it. I’m losing fat and weight at a decent clip and intend to keep it up and eventually move simply into maintenance. A big plus on the far end is that this appeals to my scientific bent. I can tweak my diet in ways neither my medical sorts or the software have been able to do.

The short of it is for me, I modified the Atkins. I just don’t want to consume the levels of fat he suggested. I’ve been leaning low-fat for a long time and moved up to moderate amounts. I’ve nearly eliminated fruit, have not consumed bread in six weeks, nor even allegedly healthy starches like brown rice. I eat fish, meat, eggs, cheeses, olive oil, mayonnaise, and low-carb veggies. I rarely touch a beer, instead have a bourbon or malt whiskey (carb-free) or dry wine (low-carb).

Fortunately, over the years, I have come to care less and less for sweets. I do like a piece of dark chocolate, but can ignore a full cookie jar, ice cream in the freezer, or a restaurant’s dessert menu. I’m a very good break baker and have not come to terms with what I’ll do to ease back into small amounts down the line.

There are several popular low-carb variations. I suspect any of them would be a major change for most of us, and would do what I want done. As far as my body, I’ve been sold and re-sold defective goods in health comes from high-complex carbs and low fat. It doesn’t work for Mike.

Instead, I have increased my daily calories substantially from about 1100 to about 1500. I’m trimming down. My pants are looser (remember, pants don’t lie!). I’m sleeping better. I’m flat out happier. I eat as much as I want of protein, veggies and fat, never feeling hungry or deprived.

As a serious cook, I see the challenges here. Each low-carb diet book has its recipes, but many are not sensual and amusing enough for me. I’ll work on that.

Yet a diet starting the day with a cheese omelet or scrambled eggs with sausage or no-carb ham, plus celery, salad or other low-carb green is a satisfying start. To my point of fat, most low-carb book would use all whole eggs. Instead, I use one egg and two or three whites, with a teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan. I’m getting the fat, but maybe half of what an Atkins meal calls for. Again, this is working for me in weight and body-fat drops week after week. I remain emotionally comfortable with the amount of fat I consume too, even if I might be losing faster with more fat.

That Science

To my call for a smart, heuristic diet software package, a very appealing aspect of switching to low carbs is the anticipation of finding a personal plan in the end. In Atkins for example, you start out with severe carb restrictions, under 20 grams a day. You slowly up it as you switch to on-going loss, like an average of five more grams a week.

That turned out to be not all that hard in practice. For years, I’ve used CrossTrainer to record all I eat and exercise; it can be set to low-carb so that it plainly displays running counts as well as what’s in any given food before you add it. There are many others, in fact Lockergnome god Chris Pirillo tested buckets of them and swears by CalorieKing. His point and mine, of course, is to use it and record every damned morsel, sip and step. Let’s be adult about this.

The Atkins operation also wants to own you. It will send a free get-started package for you email address as well as give you a wide variety of free online tools. It wants to sell you books and its energy bars and such. The package they mail includes a nifty pocket-sized carb counter that suits most foods…and takes the excuse out of traveling or restaurants.

So assuming I keep this up and get back to my svelte self, the scientific tweaking comes into play. While the RDA for carbs is 300 grams a day, that certainly won’t work for me. The idea is to keep counting, keep increasing, keep weighing/measuring body fat. When a specific level, say 60 a day or 110 or whatever, shows up a week or two going the wrong way, I need to go back down.

I am anal retentive enough that weighing and using the body-fat machine (takes about 30 seconds) weekly is fine, as is continuing to track carbs, and for no particular reason it seems, calories, daily is OK too. I keep a notebook for when I travel and know enough about what to eat and not that I’m close without the running totals. That’s me and others might have to use a smartphone or laptop with an online app.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie
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