Post #636 Who’s the Ferrous of Them All?

April 18, 2019 at 2:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Okay, stupid title.  But it’s a play on the magic mirror, and the holy grail of a mirror finish on cast iron cookware.  Add the fact that iron is called ferrous, meaning a metal made of iron, and the title starts to make sense.  And, after all that, a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it; any comedian will tell you that.

So, cast iron cookware.  You can find it in Walmart, or Bass Pro shops, or REI, or ACE Hardware, or Target, and in any number of antique stores.  We used to live next to a crazy back yard neighbor with no sense of boundaries who collected old cast iron skillets and re-seasoned them as a way to pass time.  Cast iron lasts so long it can be handed down from one generation to the next.  I once kept a cast iron skillet and lid my mom gave me that she got from my dad’s mom.

The benefits of cast iron cooking is that food doesn’t stick; the cookware is “easy” to clean; even heat distribution makes cooking simpler; iron hold heat longer which is a benefit when holding food till ready.

The downside, while few, are significant.  If you’re not used to using cast iron, scorching food is a real probability.  Cleaning can be tricky if you don’t know how.  And that’s the thrust of this post, because I lucked onto the best trick to clean cast iron recently.  It came from Alton Brown of the Food Network.  It works, and it’s easy.  And it gives that super shiny mirror finish that is the holy grail of cast iron cookery.

Every time I see that pan after cleaning, I just grin.

But let’s talk about cleaning cast iron first.  Water is the enemy of all metals.  It causes them to oxidize, or rust.  In iron, since it’s a very porous metal, it rusts very quickly and very deeply.  It’s best to find a way to clean it without water.  So what you want to do is “season” the metal.  That means to apply a very light coating of oil and cook it into the porous part of the metal to keep water out.  Luckily this is easy.

First, make sure that the pan is spotlessly clean and dry.  If you look at the picture, in the middle right third, you can see a sort of fingerprint like spot.  That is from some burned sugar.  Never put anything with sugar in a blazing hot iron pan.  It will never ever come off.  Actually, it will if you work hard enough and destroy the seasoning on the pan.  But that’s a different story.  Avoid sugar.

Once the pan is clean and dry, use a paper towel to apply a very thin coating of oil over all surfaces of the pan.  Be certain to do the bottom and the handle as well.  Spread aluminum foil over the racks of your oven and place the pan face down on the foil.  Set the oven to 450 and bake the pan.  Let the oven stay at that temp for ten minutes, then turn it off and allow the pan to cool.  Once the pan is cool, wipe off any excess oil.  Repeat two more times, then use the pan normally.

Now, there are several schools of thought about cleaning a cast iron pan.  Some people say a simple wipe with a dry cloth or paper towel to remove any leftover oils and bits is enough.  I agree to a point.  It will leave a light coating of oil behind to protect the pan and build up the seasoning to help create and maintain the stick free surface.  Eventually, you will have a non-stick pan to rival any of the new technology.  But, if there are any stuck-on or burned-on food particles, this method will be ineffective.

So then, there’s the steel wool group.  I hate steel wool.  It rusts quickly and completely.  Some people like the chain mail method.  It’s basically metal rings hooked together to form a small pad that you can run over the iron pan to dislodge any bits and stuck-ons.  But for any burned on or stuck on bits, I prefer this:

It’s a bristle scrubber on a short handle.  The angle of the handle allows you give a ton of power to the scrubbing action.  This is best for griddle pans with raised ridges.

Whatever you do, never ever use soap and water on a seasoned pan.  The soap will take the seasoning off in a heartbeat.  Then you have to go through the seasoning process again.  My mom used to get her pans seasoned to perfection, then I’d wash them and take the seasoning right off.  I’d scrub those things like a champion.  I overheard her complaining to dad about it once.  Never did it again.  Had a long talk with her about how to care for the pans.  Another thing never ever to do is dry the pan over heat.  That will remove the seasoning and also open the pores of the metal and start the rust process faster.

So what’s my go to method now?  Kosher salt.  That’s it.  I was watching Alton Brown several weeks ago and it was a throwback episode where he was reviewing old shows and either updating them or reiterating what was said in them.  One of those things was care of cast iron pans.  He was saying that the oil needed to season a pan was simple canola oil, but another oil, flaxseed oil, was rising in popularity and should be tried.  He also said that while he had tried several methods of cleaning cast iron, the tried and true method was still the one he used during the first episode on cast iron – kosher salt.  Do not use regular table salt.

When the cooking is done and while the pan is still warm spread enough kosher salt in the pan to cover the bottom to a quarter inch.  Then fold a paper towel several times and using tongs to hold the paper towel, rub the salt into the pan until it’s clean.  The salt is coarse enough to scrub away the stuck on bits, and will absorb any oils and fluids left in the pan.  Let the salt cool while eating dinner.  When you’re ready, toss the salt in the trash, rinse the pan, dry it with paper towels, and spread a very thin layer of oil in the pan.

That’s what it looks like.  This is the first time I’ve ever had that finish on my cast iron.  If you forget to put the salt in while the pan is warm, just heat it for a few minutes and put the salt in.

So, that’s today’s tip.  What do you think?  Holler if you have any questions or suggestions, and feel free to share the post if you want to.

As always,

 

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Post #635 Brekkie on the Go

April 15, 2019 at 12:51 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

About 800 years ago, during my first trip to Australia, I ran into a situation where my team were all going on a weekend diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  Since I was only days away from my head injury and still needed recuperation time, I decided not to go and planned out what I was going to do with a whole Friday evening, a whole Saturday, and a whole Sunday to myself.  I wasn’t worried about being bored; I was worried about having too much to do.  But before the guys left, one of the hotel staff they we had all become friendly with asked me if I’d like to take a drive around the area on Sunday morning.  She wanted to show me some of her favorite areas and catch a late “brekkie”.

I was already familiar with the Aussie habit of shortening words, but this one was new to me.

“Brekkie?” I asked.

She nodded.  “Breakfast.  I know a great place, and we can get Sticky Toffee Pudding later on.”

I grinned and told her I’d be happy to go with her.  We had a wonderful time, even though I razzed her a bit about “shortening” a two syllable word -breakfast- to a two syllable word -brekkie- noting that they hadn’t really saved any time.  And Sticky Toffee Pudding was a revelation, but not what this post is about.

Breakfast is really the most important meal of the day since your body has just spent approximately 8 hours in calorie deficit.  It’s particularly important for diabetics to have brekkie, and to have the right foods for brekkie.  Okay, enough of that.  It’s breakfast.

When you need your sleep and wake with only minutes before you have to get out the door and there are a ton of morning chores to get done before you go out that door, breakfast can suffer.  So we try to make sure we get something in our stomachs, or, if you’re like me, you tend to put nothing in your stomach until you reach a point of near collapse.

So what’s a person supposed to do?  Get up earlier to make time for the meal?  Eat in the car?  Eat at work?  Wait until your first break and eat then?  And then, what do you eat?  Something fast?  Something cold?  Something hot?  Something carb laden to get your blood sugar up?  Something fat driven to satisfy the hunger pains?  Something protein powered because that’s what your diet calls for?  Lots of questions and a wearying plethora of answers.  Sounds like I swallowed a thesaurus.

I’ve never like the standard breakfast foods.  I don’t like milk, so the last bowl of cereal I ate was in the sixth grade.  I don’t like waffles or pancakes.  Eggs are okay, but if I eat too many I tend to get a little nauseated.  I like the breakfast proteins, so bacon, ham, sausage are all great things.  I’m Homer Simpson when it comes to donuts, so that’s always a good bet for me.  I love toast, nuff said.  And a plain bagel or a blueberry bagel with cream cheese is almost perfection.

But I’m diabetic, type II, and I have to control my sugar levels.  So the carbs should not be on my menu, or only sparingly and in the right formats/amounts.  So, no donuts.  Or, donuts only once in a while, and only when in conjunction with the total diet for that day.  Hardly worth the trouble.  And, I want breakfast to be the right thing to set me up for the day, not just something to fill my stomach.

So, a year or so ago, when I first started dealing with this diabetic issue, Partner/Spouse picked up a general cookbook from Diabetic Living magazine.  One of the sections is make and take breakfasts.  What it is is guidance on what to take with you for a breakfast on the go.  But it also works for breakfasts at home.

You start with a whole grain for fiber, add dairy and protein for nutrients and long lasting “full feeling”, and finally add some fruit for nutrition and fiber and healthy carbs.  The following two pictures are their basic recommendations.  I, of course, have other ideas.

Instead of breakfast foods for breakfast, what’s to stop me from eating the foods I like for breakfast?  How about a taco?  I love tacos.  A corn tortilla heated in a dry pan so it’s pliable, and filled with tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, low fat cheese, and whatever protein I might have on hand?  Could be chicken, or pork roast, or lean steak cooked rare.  All are healthy choices and the total of the calories and carbs and protein are great.  Or what about a whole wheat and honey bagel with blueberries and low fat cream cheese, but not more than a tablespoon of the cream cheese?  I’m drooling while thinking about it.

One of my favorite breakfasts to take care of my sweet tooth and still provide me with the protein, carbs, and fiber I need is the plain or PBJ on whatever bread I have handy.  As long as the bread is healthy, the rest takes care of itself as long as I use jam in moderation.  Why jam instead of jelly?  Overall, jam has more fruit and less sugar in comparison to jelly, but I think it tastes better.  One of those with a glass of water is terrific, and when I’m hiking I toss in a banana too and can go for hours.

Another one that’s not usually on the radar is pizza.  Why wait?  Thin crust cuts down on the carbs.  The tomato sauce is as healthy as they come.  The cheese can be cut in half or omitted completely (but why bother?) and some places will even use reduced fat if asked for.  And if you use only veggie toppings, it gets even healthier.  Or go crazy and make one at home so you can control the variables.  Cold pizza for breakfast has long been on my list of things to eat.  A few people have understood it, but most look at me like I’m crazy.  Not for the pizza part, but for the cold part.

Salad.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love salad?  Probably a couple of times.  We almost always have salad left over when we make one for dinner.  Typically, one of us will take it for lunch the next day.  But if it’s there and ready, why not have it for breakfast?  Not a thing wrong with that.  Add some bacon crumbles for protein, or some other meat if you like, and have a whole wheat tortilla and turn it into a wrap.

One thing I have noticed is if I eat an egg for breakfast, and I do like eggs, I don’t get hungry for a long time.  Doesn’t mean I don’t eat.  Gotta fuel the machine.  I usually will fry the egg in a skillet with a light spray of vegetable oil and cook it until the whites are set but the yolk isn’t.  Then I’ll lie it on top of a slice of dry toast, and chow down.  Good stuff.

Well, those are my thoughts on “brekkie.”  What’s yours?  Share with us, tell us all about your favorite go to breakfasts.

As always, please feel free to share the post, and

Post #634 A Smorgasbord Of a Cuisine

April 11, 2019 at 3:20 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To anyone who’s read the blog for a while, it will come as no surprise that Partner/Spouse and I typically watch about 65% cooking shows during our weekly quota of television watching.  Most of the shows that fill our DVR are cooking shows.  Most of those shows are ones we’ve seen before, usually multiple times.  We like to watch British cooking shows, imagine that, but we also watch a lot of international cuisine, too.  We watch Italian and Mexican style cooking, a bunch.  There’s one show we record and watch regularly about Scandinavian cooking.  As far as we can tell, it’s the only one of its kind on American television

It’s called (appropriately enough) New Scandinavian Cooking.  It has multiple hosts, but primarily it’s a young man named Andreas Viestad.  The show gives a thorough background of the area, its history and attractions, festivals, etc. while discussing the recipes.

It’s predominantly fish, given the area and what they have, but they also do quite a bit of pork, lamb, and beef.  Not very much fowl, but I would guess that’s due to the need for eggs.  So, we bought one of their cookbooks.

Not a major revelation, since it was exactly like the show, but fun nonetheless.  But this post isn’t about that book.  It’s about this one:

You recall a couple of weeks ago, we were wandering around and found a used bookstore that was phenomenal?  We found this one there.   It’s called The Best of Swedish Cooking and Baking and was written in the early 60s.  You can tell from the picture, that’s the original dust jacket, and it was only $4.  I’ve already browsed through it from cover to cover twice.

I love these unexpected treasures.  Over the years, we’ve picked up so many of them.  The history they contain is amazing.  This one relies heavily on the smorgasbord, a buffet style of eating using farm to table ingredients.  And to assist the cook, the recipes are simplicity itself.

For instance, take the Anchovy Eye.  Four ingredients, including the crackers used to eat it.

  • 1 egg yolk, intact
  • 1 small onion minced finely
  • 8 anchovy filets, chopped finely
  • crackers, or toast points

Place the yolk in the center of a small saucer being careful not to break it.  Arrange the onion in a circle around the yolk.  Arrange the anchovy around the onion.  Arrange the crackers or toast points around the edge of the saucer and serve at room temperature.  If you don’t like the idea of raw ingredients, you can cook the whole thing (not the crackers) quickly in a tablespoon of butter.  Don’t overcook it.

But that’s how many of the recipes are.  Very few ingredients and next to no cooking or prep time.

In the TV show, some of the recipes are more detailed.  He made a breakfast dish with a bunch of kids consisting of fresh made muesli.  He had the kids put their favorite seeds and grains into a dry pan and toast them lightly over an open fire.  They put some thick yogurt in a bowl and topped with the toasted muesli and some grilled fresh fruit and a drizzle of local honey.  The kids ate it like ice cream.  One time, he put a heated pot in some insulated towels, placed a roast on veggies in it, took it on a long train ride, and had dinner at the end of the ride.  Basically, a slo-lo with a train ride.

The book has a recipe for hard cooked eggs.  Think of deviled eggs, but for the filling mix the yolks with two tablespoons of softened butter, and two anchovies finely diced.  Mix until well blended, then fill the eggs.  Line a small serving tray with lettuce leaves and a line or two of sliced tomatoes down the center.  Lightly salt the tomatoes, and arrange the eggs in lines on either side of the tomatoes.  It looks attractive and I’m told it tastes great.

One of the things I like best about the older cookbook is it has recipes that are part of the American lexicon of cooking.  There’s a recipe for Great Luncheon Salad.  Basically, it’s a green salad with the addition of cold cooked potato slices and some kind of meat.  The dressing is the standard vinaigrette.  But it’s a good salad.

The place where this book shines is the chapter on Canapes.  Call ’em appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, or starters, they’re all the same thing.  Small bites of savory food to whet the appetite for the main meal, or to enhance a cocktail/drinks party.  There’s a recipe for a Sandwich Torte.  A torte is a rectangular cake, but a sandwich torte is a rectangular sandwich with bread instead of cake, and the filling is various things like salmon cream, boiled egg cream, etc.  Then chilled till firm, and sliced to eat.

Home made pate on crackers is popular.  Home made cheeses are popular.  Soft cheese, hard cheese, home made crackers, home made dried and/or smoked sausage, all in various combinations with a small dollop of some complementary condiment will make a party.

Large platters of sliced sausage of various type, sliced cheeses, sliced pickled vegetables, bite sized chunks of various raw vegetables and fruit make a great smorgasbord.

Meatballs made from everything and in every size are everywhere in a smorgasbord.  I was surprised and amused to find one of my favorite dips in the book – barbecue sauce mixed with grape jelly!  Sweet and savory, heated through, meatballs dipped in this stuff are pretty tasty.

The book also goes into soups, main courses, and desserts, but I won’t go there just now.

Hope this was fun.  Holler with any questions or comments you may have!

As always,

Post #633 Brownies and Mexican, What a Combo

April 8, 2019 at 10:40 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, Saturday was a fun day for us.  We went to an expo of local vendors.  According to the hype, there were over a hundred vendors there, but to me it seemed more like about three dozen.  But I could be wrong.

We showed up about fifteen minutes after opening and were greeted enthusiastically by about six different people.  The expo is held several times during the year, and in different places each time.  This is only the sixth year they’ve held it.  It’s the brain child of the state’s business league.  They’re all about promoting local businesses, and bringing in new business to the state.  And we’re completely supportive of buying local whenever possible.

We wandered through the pavilion to see what was there and then look to see what we wanted to try or buy.  One lady was extra friendly and selling popcorn so I stopped to try.  It had maple sugar on it so it was a kettle corn style.  I don’t usually like sweet popcorn.  It harkens back to the days of Cracker Jacks and eating way too much of it.  Mostly for the prizes.  Once, I was in Naples, Italy for the first time and wandering around on a Sunday and bumped into a street fair.  I smelled popcorn and bought a bag.  Jammed a big handful into my face and nearly gagged.  Even though it was a light colored popcorn, it was sickeningly sweet, and unexpected.  I gave the bag to some random small child wandering by.  But the stuff at the expo was amazing.  I don’t like maple, but it was so light it was more of an suggestion.  I even told the lady that one of the things I appreciated most about it was the popcorn itself was so good.  She gave me a sample of maple and cayenne which was terrific!  The cayenne was not overpowering at all.  You definitely knew it was there, but it wasn’t killer.  I was happily surprised and let her know.  After talking for several minutes, we left and Partner/Spouse was laughing at me.  “You can talk to anyone about anything.”

We stopped at the Cabot Cheese stand, too.  It’s the same Cabot Cheese you see in the markets and if you ever have a chance, buy it.  Here, it’s a local cheese, and the samples were straight off the farm.  It was creamy, sharp, and delicious.  I sampled the sharp cheddar, and the pepper jack.  The pepper jack wasn’t spicy at all, or it might have been the hangover from the cayenne popcorn.

Next, we stopped at a place the sells salsa and tried their salsa verde.  They had three gradients of heat, so we ended up buying the two hottest.  (Just an aside, I used the lower heat gradient for dinner on Sunday which I’ll describe soon.  We haven’t yet been able to open the jar with the hottest yet.)  The salsa was so fresh and so tasty, we’ll be buying a lot of that stuff.

There were tons of wooden products on display, cutting boards, cribbage boards, porch spinners, etc.  They were all beautiful and all expensive.  Two places had hand turned wooden bowls I’d have given my eye teeth for.  They were amazing.  I refused to hold one because I didn’t figure I’d let go.

One place had hand made ceramics, bowls, mugs, etc.  We picked up a small saucer with raised points.  It’s a garlic infuser.   You rub a clove of garlic across the points, then add olive oil and leave for a few minutes.  Dip bread or whatever else for appetizers.  So of course we had to have it.

They set aside the center of the pavilion for the wine and spirits section.  No kids allowed.  There were approximately two dozen vendors in there, but only three wineries.  There was one meadery; all the rest were distilleries.  Yup, the hard stuff.  There seems to be a big presence for those kinds of things here.  We got only two bottles of wine, a dry white and a dry red.  One white that I sampled was really good.  It tasted like green apples and was so crisp and so refreshing, but just a tad too sweet for my taste.

So we spent about an hour there, and headed out.  We wanted to stop at a new age store we’d seen, but when we got there, we noted that it didn’t open for another two hours.  We weren’t going to wait, but we turned around and went to an antique store we saw.  It was small, crowded, and looked more like a junk yard than an antique store.  But the second one we went to was great!  I got six original Peanuts books for ten bucks!  We picked up a few other things we were needing, and kept our eyes peeled for a couple of other things we need for the house.

But during the journeys, someone told us about a brownie recipe.  I was hoping the chocolate factory was going to be at the expo, but they weren’t.  Maybe next time.  But his lady mentioned that she takes a boxed brownie mix and add orange olive oil to make a gooey, tasty, brownie that all the neighbors love.  She uses the Ghirardelli mix.  But that set me thinking, so yesterday I took my standard brownie recipe and added a tsp of orange extract.

I won’t go into the recipe since it’s been posted more than once before this.  If you need it, let me know and I’ll send it along.  But all you do is follow the recipe as written, and add the extra orange extract.  Once it’s cooled, the orange flavor is prevalent but not overpowering.  It tastes just like that crazy chocolate orange candy you find at Christmas.  So good.  I put pecans in it too, so it’s nutty and chocolatey and orangey.

But the big thing is a chicken enchilada I tried with one of the salsas!

Chicken Enchilada Verde (makes four to six)

  • One pound cooked chicken, shredded
  • One large onion roughly chopped
  • Three to four garlic cloves chopped
  • One pound Tomatillos cleaned and cut into quarters
  • Three large Anaheim peppers
  • Two medium jalapeño peppers
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 4-6 large flour tortillas, room temperature, do not heat
  • 1 cup shredded white cheddar
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350.  Set the shredded chicken in a medium bowl and set aside.  Remove stems from peppers and cut in halves.  Remove seeds if you want a less spicy salsa.  Place peppers and tomatillos in a pan of water and add a tsp salt.  Boil until tomatillos are tender, about 10-15 minutes.  While peppers and tomatillos are boiling, heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add onions and garlic.  Cook until garlic is golden and onion show some browning.  Set aside to cool.  When peppers and tomatillos are done, drain and set aside to cool.

Place onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatillos in a blender or food processor.  Add one cup of chicken stock, paprika, and cumin.  Pulse 5-7 times until well chopped.  Add cilantro and rest of chicken stock.  Puree until smooth and well blended, 2-3 minutes.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.

**NOTE: At this point, taste the salsa verde to adjust flavors.  I added the entire jar of salsa verde we got at the expo to kick up the heat.  I used a medium salsa, but you can use whatever you like.

Now set up the production line.  Spray a casserole dish, either 9×13 or 8×8, depending on how many you’re making, with vegetable spray.  Put half a cup of salsa on a large plate, at least large enough to hold a tortilla.  Place another plate next to it.  Place the bowl of chicken above the plate and add a half cup of salsa and mix well.  Place the casserole dish at the end of the line.  You can work left to right or right to left, whatever you like.

Take a tortilla and dip both sides in the salsa plate to lightly coat.  Place on clean plate and add a generous amount of chicken to the center.  Spread the chicken in a line across the tortilla from one end to the other.  Roll the tortilla and place in casserole seam side down.  You can roll like a burrito, or just a simple roll up.  Once all the tortillas are filled, rolled, and in the casserole, spread the remaining salsa even over the top.  Sprinkle the cheeses evenly over the salsa.  Place in the oven until completely heated through and the salsa is bubbling and the cheese is golden.  Let cool for ten minutes, then serve and eat.  You can garnish with extra salsa, extra cheese, extra cilantro, or sour cream.

This is the enchiladas before going into the oven.

This is the enchiladas after cooking.

So, what do you think?  The prep is easy and can be done ahead of time.  Assembly is quick, and the flavor is authentic.  Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

As always,

Post #632 What Are The “Rules” for Eating?

April 4, 2019 at 8:52 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Before you get confused by the title of the post, this is about losing weight.  Or gaining weight.  Or finding your optimal weight.  It’s basically about living with food, and my personal journey that got me to where I am now.  Along the way, I’ve figured out a few things about how my body works where food is concerned.

I was the stereotypical 98 pound weakling.  When I was a kid, I was the smallest in any class I was in.  My arms were so thin they actually looked like pipe cleaners.  I wasn’t starving or anything, beyond the normal “I’m a kid so I’m always hungry” kind of thing.  I was hyperactive; I never sat still.  I burned energy in my sleep.  Looking back, I wasn’t a weakling, but I wasn’t the strongest kid around, either.  I could play ball with the rest of the kids.  I could climb any tree I set my mind to, much to the frustration of my mother who had to wash the sap out of my clothes.  I could walk the railroad tracks for hours.  And, man, could I run.  Once I started, no one could keep up with me.  But my thinness was such a bother to me, that once, in the second grade, I asked my mom if I had a tapeworm.  She was surprised.

“No!  Where would you get that idea?”

“My teacher asked me if I did cuz I’m so skinny.”

In those days, parents didn’t just walk up to the school, or call, or anything, but I could tell mom was pissed off.  My teacher never asked me about it again, but that wasn’t the only time I heard that.

Mom usually gave us well-balanced nutritious meals, without an overabundance of sugar, so we grew up eating well.  There were the occasional hamburger suppers, and pizza parties, etc.  But those were out of the norm.

I was also a late bloomer and I didn’t have any real growth spurts till my late teens, which really just made the thinness worse.  But, I could eat anything I wanted and never gain an ounce.  My self-perception was terrible.  I saw myself as the pipe cleaner kid (great title for a story!) despite my best efforts to gain weight.  When I was 20, I still had a 29 inch waist even though I was very nearly six feet tall.

After I turned 18 or 19, I just made up my mind that I wasn’t going to worry about it any more and do the things I liked to do.  I started riding my bicycle everywhere.  I played competitive tennis as often as I could, and practiced in the meantime.  I hiked, climbed mountains, swam, took long walks along the canal banks.  If someone suggested an activity I hadn’t tried before, I just grinned and said, “Sure!” trusting to my never-ending luck that I wasn’t going to kill myself.

I noticed that my muscles which had been very small, started growing a little bit.  I’ve never had huge muscles, but I’ve always had toned muscles, and hidden strength that surprises people.  One time, about a year after graduating college, a friend came to visit and called me fat because I’d put on some weight.  My metabolism was so fast, I put out body heat like a wood-fired stove.  People used to sit next to me to get warm.  Not always great in the desert, but what are you gonna do?

I still ate well-balanced meals, but I also ate a lot of junk food because I could.  Since I was so active, everything I ate just got burned off.  Anytime I felt “overweight” which was seldom, I modified my diet for a few days and everything was fine.

Let me tell you something.  When someone is severely underweight, it’s as bad as if they were severely overweight.  They have the same self worth issues; the same body distress; the same feelings of failure.  People are constantly giving advice.  You are constantly reading the few books and articles about gaining weight only to find nothing works for you.  By the time I left Arizona for Washington D.C., I was approaching my thirties, stood at a shade over five foot eleven inches, and weighed in at about 136 pounds.  There’s a term for those type of people – Ectomorph.

However, I felt worthless because all the other men my age had muscles and confidence.  I looked in the mirror and still saw the kid whose teacher thought he had a tapeworm.  It didn’t matter that slowly things were changing.

When I started my computer career in DC, I spent long hours in the office usually in front of a terminal.  I was still active on the weekends, and a couple of times a week I took very long walks, but it wasn’t the same as when I was younger.  And the metabolism started to slow down a bit.  And the weight started going up.

My muscle tone was still there, but now was overlaid by a layer of something that took me a long time to admit was fat.  By my mid-30s, I was sporting a 32 inch waist.  Finally.  I felt successful and didn’t pay too much attention to the other warning signals.  Like the loss of distinct abs, the bouncing of pectorals, and the slight breathlessness when hiking up a mountain.

I was still reading about nutrition and healthy lifestyle.  I was doing all the right things, but I didn’t stop all the bad things.  And let’s not forget that during all this, I was teaching myself how to cook and bake.

Then, I started my world traveling.  Nothing is worse for a healthy lifestyle than the vagaries of traveling 80% of the time.  Particularly to the places I went to.  Just not good.  My weight ballooned.  I tried to be as active as possible, but that didn’t work out well.

Cue major accident involving head injury and the next three years of recuperation.  Enforced inactivity.  Diagnosis of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, possible blood sugar problem.  And then a heart murmur shows up that had never existed before.  It wasn’t a happy time, and eating made me happy.

At my worst, I got up to 230 pounds.  But this is where my body style came in handy.  It didn’t look like it.  I even mentioned the weight gain to my doctor and he was surprised.  He even weighed my again himself and couldn’t believe the result and tested the scale by weighing himself.  It was funny, but it did show that I carry weight well, when I have it.

So I decided I needed to do something serious and commit to a healthy eating routine as well as a much better exercise schedule.

Except I don’t like “working out” or scheduled activities.  Even when I was biking or playing tennis, two things I love to do, when I forced to practice it wasn’t fun.  It was just something that had to be done to be good at it.

Then I found one system that sort of resonated for me.  It’s called Body for Life by Bill Phillips.  It’s actually designed for people who want to gain bodybuilder physiques, but can be used for anyone who wants to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

I started on the plan (more on that in a minute) with a friend from work.  In seven weeks, I lost seventeen pounds.  My friend lost twenty-three in the same amount of time.  I had to stop because my headaches from the injury increased at that time, and there complications from the meds I was taking, so I had to take a step back from the intensity.  Since then, though, I’ve basically followed the plan and now I’m down to 180 and have maintained that for months.

Basically, it follows the idea that to lose weight is not the goal.  To be healthy is what everyone should be focusing on.  If you exercise properly and eat right, the body will find it’s own correct weight.  So, in a nutshell:

  • You should stop eating highly fatty foods.  Also, stop eating sugars.
  • You should eat foods high in protein.  Carbs are good, in moderation.
  • You should eat six small meals a day, but the term “meal” is flexible.
  • A portion is about the size of your tightly closed fist.
  • You should aim to exercise every single day.
  • You should be drinking water more often than you are because many times you feel hungry you are really dehydrated.
  • Picture a dinner plate.  Cut it in half horizontally.  Then cut the top piece in half vertically.  The bottom half should be the portion of veggies and fruit you’re eating, while the top two portions are carbs and protein.
  • Your carbs should come from as unprocessed foods as possible.  Whole wheat bread rather than white bread.
  • Protein should be lean, like chicken breast, salmon, sirloin, etc.
  • Veggies should be raw if possible, and if cooked, they should be steamed or roasted to keep as many vitamins in them as possible.
  • If oil is being used, use scant amounts and use olive oil, or canola oil.
  • Pick one day a week as your rest day, and eat whatever the heck you want.  But only on that day.

When I followed this strictly, I lost weight, but gained muscle tone.  Muscles weighs more than fat, so in gaining muscle my weight went up, but in losing fat, it went down.  Net result was less of a weight loss, but a healthier distribution of the weight.  Hence, a healthier me.

The book(s) and testimonials go further in explaining what can be done with the plan.  For instance, a healthy meal bar and a glass of water or unsweetened tea can be a meal.  A smoothie made correctly can be a meal.  A sub sandwich with the correct bread, meats, veggies, and dressing can be a meal.  A meal replacement shake (not from McDonalds, guys) can be a meal.

The book is still in print, and there are a couple of cookbooks to help with meal planning and prep.  There are charts you can use to plan your week for meals and exercise.  The website has a ton of good stuff to help with planning and execution.  I’ve made a ton of the recipes and one of my favorites was the pancake sandwich.  I also enjoyed the meal replacement shakes made from the powder, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen them in stores.

People who’ve been successful in the plan are showcased on the website and in the books.  They look like they’ve been hefting weights for their whole lives.  I was after weight loss and a healthy lifestyle.  I think I’m there.  It worked for me.

It’s because of this plan, and the early training I got that I have a better outlook for myself, and enjoy my life more.  I don’t look at eating as something I have to do.  It can be difficult trying to squeeze in six meals a day, particularly at the beginning.  You feel full all the time.  But after a while, since you’re eating smaller portions, you do feel hungry again.  And as your activity levels get higher, you get to needing the fuel.

So, there it is.  Not a big secret, but it’s something to consider.  If you have any questions, throw them at me.  I’ll be happy to share my specific experiences on this plan.

And drink plenty of water.

As always,

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