Keepin’ it keto: Coconut almond chocolate

IMG_1486The latest iteration in my ongoing journey with ketogenic, sugar-free chocolate. Really just as simple as melting a bar of baker’s chocolate with coconut oil, adding some stevia, and pouring it over sliced almonds and shredded coconut, sprinkling with salt, then parking in the freezer before un-molding.

Cupcake paper gives it that cool peanut butter cup-esque appearance, but ice cube trays are a great alternative for when you run out of these because they’re so delectable.*

Your tastebuds will be sure to thank you while you enjoy this guilt-free indulgence with a cup of coffee, and your friends will surely thank you if you happen to be feeling generous.**  IMG_1487

*Also, you’re a fat-ass lacking any semblance of self-restraint. Why bother exerting the effort making this shit when you’re just going to eat the whole batch, then smash a king-sized Kit-Kat? Just keepin’ it real…

**Ya’ know what? Fuck your friends. There–I said it. Fuck ’em. They don’t know how to appreciate shit. You know they’re just going to mindlessly scarf this dark gold down, then hold out their pudgy, ungrateful mitts for more. At least when you mindlessly wolf it down, you’ll do so knowing it’s up-regulating your fat-burning potential. Now put down the Snickers, and back away slowly…

 

Salmon Tartare w/ Avocado Salad

IMG_1414While combing through my archives on an arctic April 10th (I hate you so damn hard, Ohio…) I came across a few gems I never got around to publishing (read: I’m an indolent ass), such as this beauty here! “Say hello to my little friend!”, quoth Tony Montana. Incidentally, I’m writing this at 12:45 AM on a Saturday night because I’m single and this is the kind of freedom and luxury my life affords, and Scarface running on Netflix in the background is an astoundingly shitty, non-compelling, overrated film that is leaving me… whatever the opposite of “enthralled” is… Really. Just the worst. I mean, how in the name of all sacred deities I don’t believe in is this movie so famous? Moreover, why am I subjecting myself to it again after watching it once over a decade ago and not enjoying it then? Who do I have to blame for this self-inflicted torture but myself, right? Anyway, for more on how much I hate this cinematic abortion, check out http://www.whyscarfacesucks.com (no, this is not a real site… that I know of… I should definitely purchase the domain before someone else does, though…)  Anyway, at least I’m feeling relaxed, tranquil and fully satisfied after eating more today than should be allowed by law, or at the very least common decency and self-respect.

Here is an early director’s cut that never saw the light of day. If the theatrical version of the film were more like this, I probably wouldn’t be bitching quite as much:

(cough) …where were we… Ah, yes! This… thing I just happened to dig out of my phone… Ok, but forrealzies, it has a certain sexiness and polychromatic charm about it, right? The salmon was tossed with a bit of lime juice, zest, soy sauce, and served along that heaping pile of tomato, red pepper, avocado, onion and lime. Probably some cilantro in there as well, if I know myself like I think I do. The salad was honestly the best part, but put avocado on a plate of spaghetti and I’d probably eat it. The avocado, that is–not the spaghetti. Spaghetti is nothing but refined, glutenous carbs. Gross. Pass. 

Ok, so maybe the climax where Tony snorts that pile of blow the size of the mule that smuggled it into the country, then gets blasted down in a hail of gunfire is kinda cool… probably because he finally dies, then the credits roll… perhaps this calls for a third viewing another decade or so from now…

Oh, and listen to this! Netflix also suckered me into watching that truly abysmal Pee-Wee’s Big Vacation a few days ago! There’s 90 minutes I’ll never get back… I should sue those assholes for defamation of character at the mere suggestion that I would “really like it”… I only went against my best instincts because Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was a hysterical, classic work of cinematic genius. So, I thought mayyyyyybe this won’t totally suck… God, was I wrong… Now, you want to see a great movie about coke that also has Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee? Blow. But, I fear I’ve already said to much, as I must save something for my grilled tuna post… IMG_1417

So what have we learned? Let’s review:

Scarface and new Pee-Wee movie- shit.

Avocado and Blow– the shit.

Pasta- feel like shit.

THE END

EPILOGUE

As the credits mercifully rolled on what was easily one of the most overrated snooze-fests of the 80s, Netflix suggested he now watch Training Day, predicting he would “love it” with a 5-star rating. As it turns out, he had already seen this title. Several times, in fact, but Netflix had no way of knowing this, of course. Netflix was only doing what it was programmed to do–keep the hits coming, and keep him from thinking too hard. 

Angling his eyes ever-so-slightly northeast to the clock on his laptop (he always told himself he opted for the “pro” model over the regular macbook because of the sleek, silver exterior and more robust interior, but the truth is, it was the simple word “pro” emblazoned across the stark white box that sold had sold him hook, line, and sinker, whether he knew it, or not), he instinctually told himself to quit pecking away at his deranged, nonsensical blog that only he could ever fully appreciate, and go to bed, seeing as how it was fast approaching 2:00 AM. Any logical being, therefore would have naturally retired. But, then… he was no “logical being”, and as that recalcitrant, reprobate region of his brain that always seemed to laugh hysterically and maniacally at the absurd, the random, and the inappropriate; the selfsame sector that ever bellowed “ENTERTAIN ME!!!” overrode the balanced, logic-seeking center, or what best passed for one in a brain addled and hobbled by years of reprehensible choices, both on a “real-life” scale and a lesser level of questionable movie choices, he looked at his calendar for the next day. Seeing nothing of greater consequence than a grocery list and an affirmation reiterating how strong and stalwart he was (as though he could ever forget), his body, seemingly of its own accord, sunk back into the couch amid his slumbering canids and gave Scarface 1-star rating because ‘0’ was not an option.

 

Twelve years hence, looking back to this fateful day after watching Scarface for the third, but not the final time, and ruing this decision more than ever as he reflected on similarly poor choices such as Pee-Wee’s Big Sex Offense, and the subsequent Pee-Wee’s Big Parole Hearing , hitting “PLAY” on Training Day was the one decision he would never regret. 

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Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…

IMG_1506.JPGA dilettante disciple once asked a Zen master, “if I meditate five hours every day, how long until I achieve enlightenment?”

The master replied, “if you meditate for five hours every day, you may achieve enlightenment in… five years.”

“Ah!” said the disciple, “so if I meditate for ten hours a day, how long until I reach enlightenment?”

The master, without second thought reflexively responded to the dismay of his disciple. “If you meditate for ten hours each day, you may reach enlightenment in twenty years.”

 

Another short parable:

A Buddhist disciple was bidden by his master with holding a river with his hands. Eager to prove his worth, he quickly ran in, splashing about, and began clumsily pawing and swiping at the water’s surface as a bear cub might try to catch a fish. The master, patiently waiting from the bank, calmly and confidently eased himself into the water, gently bent over, placed his fists in the water, and opened them, the river flowing freely in his hands. He closed them, and his hands were once again empty. Then, to drive the point home for his disciple, he again relaxed his hands, allowing the water to be as it was, holding the river in his open hands. 

The point I’m attempting to make, if there is any point to be made, is that I, like most people, have a tendency to want to push push push! instead of be be be…

We get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of our grossly overcomplicated, materialistic, vain, angst-ridden lives. We take on so much undue pressure and responsibility. We push. We pound. We define. We confine. We live in states of perpetual preoccupation, anesthetizing  ourselves with gadgetry, media, accomplishments, the latest and greatest… shit, upon shit, upon shit…

This past Sunday I received a pointed, incisive reminder of something I’ve known for quite some time. Please note that I am not expressing any thought or emotion here that has not been pondered ad infinitum by countless people for millennia. I’m simply recounting some of my recent experiences and what has been rolling around in my headspace lately. As douchy and pretentious as much of this may sound, it all comes from a very earnest place.

So it was the closest thing to a perfect day we’ve had all year here in Ohio, and after thinking and planning different ways to lift different things for a more effective workout, I finally reached a temporary point of resolution, stopped procrastinating, hoisted my 60 lb. weight vest onto my shoulders, and plodded off to a nearby forrest. Now, this particular weight vest did not include any precautions or warnings for the mildly moronic, but even if it did, I would likely still have attempted to balance on a fallen tree, operating under the delusion, if only for that ephemeral moment, that this was a simpler world, or I had a simpler life. Perhaps I was an Apache swinging through the forrest going to check his traps…

Anyway, you don’t have to be Isaac Newton to deduce what happened; because of the increased weight and decreased mobility incurred by this weight, I fell off the log as I attempted to navigate a transverse tree that had fallen on top of it. I was fortunate that I was only a few feet off the ground, and ever more fortunate that my ass narrowly missed a jagged, broken bottle, and I managed to pull myself up and walk away with nothing more severe than a few scrapes on my arm and back. After trudging through these shallow woods for a few more minutes (albeit a bit more cautiously now), I arrived at my destination–the playground. The place was deserted when I showed up (score!) meaning if I took another tumble wearing this damned vest, no one would be there to laugh at me. But, as I approached the ladder to the slide, ready to get in a fun, vigorous workout… exercise was the very last thing in the world I wanted to do… As the warm, brilliant sun shone on my pale face (speaking of which, even though I’m 1/8 Cherokee, I promise you’d never know it if you saw me after a long winter…), it felt as though I hadn’t seen the sun in years. So, instead of intentionally beating my ass on the jungle gym, I sat on a nearby bench. After a few minutes of shifting around, I decided I couldn’t really get comfortable with this damn weight on my shoulders… so I undid the velcro straps, threw off the weight, laid my body down in the grass, and basked in the light of our gorgeous, life-giving star. Sitting in the sun, sometimes with a book, sometimes not, is one of my favorite pastimes, and this is the first time I was able to practice it this year. As I lay there relaxed and unburdened, I couldn’t recall a time when I felt more content, happy, and at-peace…

As I lay there for hours, meditating and reflecting on everything from the quotidian and mundane, “what am I going to eat tomorrow? How am I going to combine these ingredients? What are my workouts for this week going to be?” to the more existential, consequential, weighty, Zen-like shit such as, “why does it matter what I eat or how I cook it? It’s just energy; sustenance. YOU’RE just energy. Why burden yourself with thoughts and actions that are of no consequence? What does it matter if you are in ‘peak physical condition’? Who do you need to impress or please? Is it not enough to achieve good health, balance, and strength relative to your environment? You’re not as fit as a spear-hurling warrior because you’re NOT a spear-hurling warrior. You’re healthy, and you don’t have to put yourself in harm’s way in order to feed yourself. Be grateful. Anything more is simply a pursuit of vanity and pride which will only serve to further bind and imprison you in the material world. You will NEVER be free as long as there is an arbitrary goal to reach or a person to please. You have permission to be happy and content in this very moment, for no reason whatsoever. You have no one to please, including yourself. Let go. Let be…” and so forth. As I worked through my mental clutter over the course of the next few hours, I was able to rouse myself out of this acute and much-needed state of mental paralysis, and reminded myself that this is what I deeply need and desire on a much greater scale–to throw this weight off my shoulders; purge and detach from everything that is superfluous, superficial, shallow, stress-inducing, ego-driven, and vain, both material and mental. I’ve had these thoughts plenty in the past, they’ve just never been quite as cogent or concise even in my deepest states of reverie.

So why do we allow society to make us feel like if we’re not being “productive”, we should feel guilty for some reason? If I am at my most tranquil when laying in the sun, fretting over absolutely nothing, I’ll do it as much as I feel compelled to. Not “if I have time”, or “if I get this done”. It will simply be a pleasure, not a “guilty pleasure”. As long as what makes you happy does not involve harming others, do more of it. You need no permission or approval from anyone. 

These are the shallow waters of some of the stuff I’ve been mentally sorting lately. I could go on ad nauseam, but I think you get the point of the rant. The most important thing is that I’ve resolved to not allow this to remain idealistic hippie stoner rhetoric; I’m achieving resolution, and you can quote me here and now when I say that I’m not going to remain asleep within “the matrix” like a good drone, blindly seeking to possess greater, shinier objects, when we really can’t possess a gold watch any more than we can own a ray of light… Incidentally, I stopped wearing my watch entirely and scrambled the clock on my phone and in my car, by the way; why do we measure our finite existence using an illusion of corporeal consciousness? Tick-tick, tick-tock… what did you get done in the last hour, day, week, year…? It’s enough to drive the best of us to madness…

To be continued…

Flourless banana cake

IMG_1409.JPGHere’s a super simple, delicious recipe I stole from a friend last summer (she wasn’t using it). Gluten-free, no added sugar (nothing I make has any added sugar), and very versatile. The basic template is just 2 eggs to 1 banana and a pinch of salt. Blend it, then customize to your tastes. My favorite add-ins are vanilla extract, nuts, chocolate chunks or cocoa powder, and cinnamon.

Once the batter has been crafted to my liking, it makes delicious pancakes, or the mini cakes pictured above. I served the most recent batch with pecans, blueberries, and coconut milk. Underdone in the center to give it that warm, moist, gooeyness… Guaranteed not to miss gluten or carbs with this one.

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When All Else Fails: Beef Heart Tartare

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Where your lame flowers and trite cards produce desultory results, a raw, bloody bovine heart sends the message loud and clear. That, of course, is assuming the message is, “I love you up to and including $3.60 per lb.”(approximate rate of heart from my purveyor… come to think of it, you may want to tack on the cost of additional ingredients…)  If, on the other hand, you’re actually trying to win some affection or make her feel loved, you should probably go with diamonds, or really anything that costs more than $4. A Big Mac with fries, for instance.

Hmmm… On further reflection, serving your lady the heart of a large farm beast may in fact make her feel cheap and squeamish, so you may want to avoid it altogether  unless you really know what you’re doing, or you in fact don’t love her, and are perhaps a tad curious to observe her reaction after she learns what she just ate. Anyway… getting back on point…

If this looks or sounds less than romantic, I’m pretty confident it would seem much more… amorous if served in a heart-shpaed mold, which I don’t have, so you’re going to have to use your imagination because I’m not here to freaking impress you. Alternatively, a mold in the shape of a star, clover, etc. would theoretically make the dish more enticing as well. Hell, any of the Lucky Charms shapes should get the job done.

The preparation for this one, while quite simple, was made unnecessarily tedious due to the fact that I don’t currently have a meat grinder (one of these days, Elysia…), meaning I had to manually fine-chop the dense, tough heart employing the old-fashioned, or “stupid” method, being a mild pain in my ass, and a massive pain in my wrist.

After getting my arm workout in, I mixed the finely-chopped heart with a few egg yolks and some unorthodox (as is so often the case with what I make) Asian-inspired flavors: gluten-free soy sauce, chili paste, garlic, lemon zest/juice. Had it not been an extemporaneous application made with what I had on hand, I would have added ginger and sesame oil, but there’s always next time. A bed of fresh mixed greens tossed with some olive oil and a splash of apple cider vinegar served as a perfect companion.

While it’s certainly not a dish for the faint of heart (groaaaaaaan…), it serves as a fresh, tasty, nutritious twist for the adventurous offal eater… or, the unadventurous eater who simply doesn’t know what they’re eating (just tell them it’s steak, and I swear they’ll never know the difference). Happy Valentine’s Day!

How Much Protein Do I Really Need?

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It’s a question as old as time, and one I’ve been obsessing over during the past few days as I’ve been mentally tweaking and refining my diet and fitness regime to FINALLY burn off this last little bit of body fat (hell, I’d be happy with losing half of it…), and ensure muscle maintenance. To put things into perspective, I’ve never been overweight, and I’m far from fat today. In fact, as of this morning (2-6-16), I weigh 156 lbs… and I’m over 6’2″… That’s down approximately 10 lbs. from the last time I weighed myself several months ago, which was the lowest ever, hovering in the low 170s. My weight means nothing to me, and I look at it as nothing but another number. However, this recent number would have frankly scared the piss out of me (which may have in turn brought me down under 155! Eeek!) if not for the fact that I know I’ve put on muscle over the past few months, and my energy levels and physical stamina have never been better than as of late. So while my eyes tell me that I haven’t lost any more fat, the scale says otherwise.

However, I also must take into account other factors for the weight reduction, such as my greatly reduced fiber intake. Yes, I said reduced fiber intake. Contrary to what nearly every doctor, expert, and layman alike may tell you, there is compelling evidence that high-fiber diets are culpable in everything from constipation, IBS, Crohn’s disease, and yes–colon cancer. Before I ramble off too far here, check out the book Fiber Menace if you don’t believe me (and, frankly, why should you at his point? Check my facts.) The point being, fiber-rich diets like the one I was on until I learned the error of my ways tend to form very large- well… loads… that can back up in your colon and add several pounds to the scale day-to-day. Sorry to be crass, but if you really enjoy reading about stools (and I mean really enjoy the discussion of human crap, you need to read this book! You can thank me later…) Also, I’ve been drinking less water. Again, I said less water. I used to drink tons of water, sometimes over a gallon/day, but I am now of the opinion based on several books I’ve read in quick succession recently that I was over-hydrating, which can be just as pernicious as under-hydrating. You can essentially slowly drown from within. This is another topic for another day, but I now drink based on thirst, which is much less than I used to drink.

Wait… Aren’t we supposed to be talking about protein intake, not water and shit… literally? Right! Protein… So why my obsession with optimizing my protein intake? Well, the straight answer to the question “how much protein can my body assimilate” is, in my best Yoda voice, there is no straight answer. Every book or blog on health and nutrition you read will give you a different response regarding how much protein a person can effectively assimilate. So why not just gorge on protein when trying to put on muscle? Because when you give your body more protein than it can handle, the excess can be converted to glucose, and what happens to glucose that isn’t immediately burned? That’s right! It’s stored in the liver and muscle as glycogen for future use. And any unused glucose in your blood after your liver and muscles are full of glycogen? Bingo! Stored as body fat. Now, I’m not going to detail all the iterations my diet and lifestyle has undergone over the past year at this point, because I would like to sleep at some point, so for brevity’s sake (you’re welcome!) let’s say for now that I have practiced different forms of intermittent fasting or feast/famine eating patterns for the past… 6-7 months or so? Yeah, something like that… Currently, my regime has entailed eating nothing during the day except small amounts of fat, which has been proven to burn more body fat than water fasting, then eating whatever I want of the right foods. I do a short, high intensity strength-training/cardio routine on alternate days. This protocol has worked reasonably well for me in terms of at least maintaining my level of body fat, while gaining some muscle. The science behind working out in a fasted state for increased muscle gain is pretty simple; when your muscles are fasted, the body’s mechanism for recycling amino acids is increased, and your body is at its peak insulin sensitivity, meaning your muscles are as receptive as they will ever be for protein assimilation.

The above mentioned protocol is the only method I have ever used that has proven any results for me, so I’ve stuck with it for quite a while. However, I’ve been feeling like my results both in muscle gain and fat loss have been plateauing lately, which is, needless to say, a bit exasperating. And so, I resolved to once again refine my regimen in a manner that has me more confident than ever in my ability to shed the obstinate fat, yet not exactly thrilled with the methodology of… eating less :.(

See, the thing I love most about my eating pattern is that I can eat whatever the hell I want, so long as I fast during the day and workout a few days a week. By the way, I love eating! I love it a lot, in fact. It’s one of life’s great sensuous pleasures, and one I refuse to deny myself. However, the fact remains that as long as my abs are obscured by fat, my body is receiving more fuel than it needs. Now, losing weight is easy. Anyone, regardless of current weight, age, shape, etc. can do it–it’s a simple matter of creating a caloric deficit. This is one method, anyway, and one I have a lot of confidence in as an acute method of fat loss. The challenge with this method however, is losing the fat without losing any muscle. Now, I’ve lost muscle before, and it took a lot of work, research, and experimentation to earn it back, and I’m not letting any of it go. So the question is… how does one force the body to burn fat without wasting muscle using the caloric deficit method? And the answer (the short version, anyway) is relatively simple:

A) sharply reduce caloric intake

B) keep muscles in use through strength/cardio training, which in turn keeps the body in an anabolic state through the production of fat-burning, muscle-building hormones HGH and testosterone

C) optimize protein consumption

And, so… in a very roundabout, discursive method (Hi! I’m Adam! Nice to meet you!), we arrive back at our original question–how much protein do I really need? Specifically for muscle gain and fat loss? Again, the answer, if you have ever pondered this or struggled with gaining muscle, is simply not straightforward. As far as I have been able to deduce, there is simply no definitive scientific evidence supporting any one answer. Just studies, anecdotes, and claims. Like a surfeit of information on any subject, it can be quite maddening. One of the unfortunate cons of living in the Information Age is that we can sometimes drown in an abyss of information… the cruel irony…

However, the solution I have settled upon, at least for now, has much less to do with clinical trials, and much more to do with listening to your body and intuiting its needs. The human organism, or any organism, for that matter, is not a machine; it is an extremely complex collection of energy whose needs constantly ebb and flow. We have all experienced this with appetites and cravings that can vary greatly, so when we consider nutrient intake, it is sheer folly to assume that your body needs 20-30 g of protein every 3 hours in order to build muscle. This may be a figure that has been very kind to the protein powder industry, but not one I’m inclined to endorse. The bottom line is, there are far too many variables at play to definitively state that every human being can utilize x amount of protein per meal. The more you consider these black-and-white recommendations, the more they start to sound just like what they are–hogwash.

Although I can’t quantify how much protein to give myself on any given day to maximize muscle gain and eliminate any chance of fat deposition, I’m at least content and confident in my ability to intuit my body’s needs while reducing my overall caloric intake (for a time), and continuing to slowly gain strength and muscle mass. This wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but it’s the answer I needed.

I won’t go into much greater detail as to my refined protocol, at least until I have results to report, but it involves eating more frequently on recovery days (eating breakfast AND dinner, moderate portions, not stuffing myself once a day), continuing to fast throughout the day on workout days following up with a single, moderate post-workout meal, and doing a modified fast 1-2 days a week eating nothing but approximately 500 calories worth of ketogenic fuel (my favored form of fasting fuel is coconut butter fudge). Also, I’m logging my daily intake, workouts, energy levels, weight, etc. so that I can more effectively course correct if things don’t go according to plan.

A special thanks to my good friend Mark Sisson for providing sage insight on this matter for me. Ok, so he’s not a really a “good” friend… Fine, we’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we’d hit it off if we ever hung out… Anyway, for more info on protein intake (and just about everything else relating to natural diet and fitness) check out http://www.marksdailyapple.com, and this post in particular:

How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?

Better Health? Love Thyself

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Over the past 2 weeks or so, I’ve been assisting my cousin Tommy with his weight loss and health goals. By following my basic regimen of a very low-carb, ketogenic diet in conjunction with intermittent fasting (sans the organ meat… for now…) he has lost 10 lbs. in as many days! 1/4 of his goal! Now, I know you may be thinking those first 10 lbs. are the easiest to lose, and your weight can vary by several lbs. day-to-day, blah-blah-blah… And, you’d be right. However, the most impressive thing he’s done in my view has nothing to do with the scale (which I also think is awesome), and everything to do with breaking the iron grip of sugar and processed foods, and replacing them with natural, healthy alternatives (quite easily as far as I can tell). No whining, no complaining, and apparently no symptoms of glucose withdrawal from cutting out nearly all carbs.

So Tommy has been asking me a ton of questions as far as what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, etc., and, like the true southern gentleman that he is (born and raised in Georgia) he usually includes an apology in the text or email for being a “bother” or “a pain”. Apparently, I’ve done a decent job of helping him with his goals, and a poor job of articulating that it really is my pleasure to offer him any help I can, not only as a cousin and friend, but because I LOVE THIS SHIT, and I can and do talk about it constantly! Discussing health and diet is like a selfish indulgence for me. It helps keep me sharp and makes me think. In other words, it’s a win-win scenario!

Anyway, he’s asked me a lot of excellent, relevant questions, and I’m always glad to share my opinions and experience, so I thought I’d post a few excerpts from our texts and email exchanges in no particular order:

(by the way, I totally didn’t change his name or ask his permission before posting this… the cost of getting free advice from family…)IMG_1381

 

TOMMY: Hey, sorry to bother-
Is it bad to fast two days in a row?
Yesterday: 2 cups of coffee with oil, two bottles of water, and small piece of cheese and walked 40 minutes
Today: 2 cups of coffee with oil, walked 40 minutes, had 2 pieces of cheese, and bottle water

I am not hungry. Should I make myself eat this evening? And yes, the cheese was raw organic.

Thanks as always for the help.

ME: Totally fine to fast a few days in a row right now. Always remember to listen to your body’s cues and signals, and follow your instincts. If you’re not feeling hungry, and feel like going another day without eating, go for it! No need to force yourself to eat if you don’t feel like it. Just realize you’re going to burn more fat while fasting by spreading out your fat intake throughout the day, which it sounds like you’re doing.

TOMMY: BTW, You’re a great coach and encourager!

ME: I’m going to save this email for negotiation purposes when I start charging you for my services. Haha.

TOMMY: Pizza for dinner here. Can I have pepporoni, mushrooms, peppers, sauce?

ME: In terms of your weight-loss goals, that’s all fine assuming the sauce has no added sugar (it probably does). In terms of overall health, the pepperoni and any cured/processed meats are always something to be wary of (carcinogenic due to additives and preservatives). I’m assuming you’re referring to eating the acceptable stuff sans crust or bread, yes?

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TOMMY: Can you tell me the probiotic and other supplements I should get? I want to buy them tonight. Again, hope it’s not too much trouble.

ME: The probiotics I would recommend are Prescript Assist or Pro-15. I also mentioned the Green Pasture Blue Ice cod liver/butter oil blend. If you’re looking for a high quality whole food-based multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, I suggest MegaFood or The Synergy Co. All should be cheapest through amazon.

TOMMY: So, my question is, what is the advantage of taking a whole food-based multi vitamin?

ME: Simply put, your body is designed to assimilate and utilize nutrients in their natural form. Synthetic isolates and concentrates can actually do more harm than good due to excess and the fact that the nutrients can be refined and stripped of their cofactors, which can render them either useless or harmful to the body. Also, remember that more in not necessarily better, and increasing nutrient A increases the need for nutrient B, C, etc. because nutrients work synergistically, not individually, which is one of the reasons I favor nutrient-dense FOOD over food extracts and supplements. Finally, intermittent fasting not only forces your body to recycle cellular and genetic material (which is GOOD material assuming you’re eating good food), but also boosts production of your mitochondria, which in turn produce your ultimate antioxidant, glutathione, which is much more powerful than any dietary antioxidant. It also helps preserve telomere length, which are substances that keep your DNA properly intact through the process of cellular division. Telomere preservation is widely regarded as one of the keys to anti-aging. Bit of a tangent, but there ya go. Sorry if any of this is confusing, but if you feel like taking some supplements, those are the ones I would personally endorse. Keep that synthetic shit out of your body because your body doesn’t recognize it as food.

TOMMY: Should I just stay with fish oil? Or, should I take fish oil and the other two you mentioned? I don’t care about taking supplements but you mentioned some and I thought I should be taking them. If not, I’ll just stay on track with the diet. Thanks again. 

ME: Go with your gut. I don’t want to say definitely do or don’t take supplements (with the exception of probiotics and possibly fish oil, but fermented foods and wild fish/grass-fed dairy, etc. are even better options here). They won’t do any harm as long as they are a quality whole food-based supplement, but they won’t necessarily put you in a better state of health than a sound diet. I would recommend starting with those few we mentioned, then maybe read some of the books I mentioned to see if there are any others you think you might need. I’m just a big advocate of a high-quality diet over high-quality supplements.

 

ME: Relax. Breath. Be human. You’ve only been at this for a week, but you’re doing a kickass job adapting.

 

He’s been extremely coachable and motivated to reach his goals, which makes giving him advice all the more enjoyable for me. A lot of his questions have reminded me where I have been in the past, and make me more grateful for the drastic changes I’ve committed to.

“…relax… breath… be human…”  With the addition of the phrase “…love yourself…” I think that’s some of the most sage advice I can give my cousin, or anyone else undertaking any endeavor for that matter, and something which may be in my best interest to remember more often. Like many health-conscious individuals, I’m quite driven and set very high standards for myself. But, no matter the impetus or level of commitment, I am human, and I will falter. I will stumble. I will scrape my knees. Achieving my goals comes not from avoiding displeasure and pain, but by facing them head-on, locking horns with Adversity, and giving that cruel bitch hell. By simply recognizing my human faults, accepting and loving myself, and deciding to arise before she inevitably knocks me on my ass, I have won before the battle ever takes place.

No matter how bad you think you have it, someone is always getting beaten down by life worse than you, yet they somehow dust themselves off and ask for more. What’s your excuse?

Flaws, flab, and all, I love myself (which took me a long time to figure out how to do)… and that’s enough… with or without a 6-pack (currently without, but stay tuned…)

Embracing Your Primal Cravings

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This is a thought that has been rolling around in my head over the past few days: Are occasional indulgences better for your longterm health (both mental and physical) than complete abstention? Conversely, are these intermittent indulgences simply a form of cognitive dissonance that enable us to cheat on our diets and lifestyles by eating things we know we shouldn’t without the burden of that pesky guilt?

Example: Over two months ago I cut out all forms of fruit, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This was part of my effort to eliminate foods that can be unhealthy when consumed in excess or prepared improperly. Theoretically, if I never ate any of these foods for the rest of my life, I would be better off for it, all else being equal. The one potential caveat to this plan? I love fruit, nuts, seeds, and legumes… a lot. I used to demolish bags of peanuts and mixed nuts as though they were being outlawed the next day. A simple banana with peanut butter after a meal was like a junky’s fix for me (albeit slightly less pernicious…) Even though my lifestyle revolves around a form of intermittent fasting in which I eat nothing during the day, then literally eat as much as I want in the evening (as much of the right foods, of course)… even though my ketogenic, low-carb diet leaves me feeling fully satiated with no sugar crashes… even though I look and feel better than ever before… these delectable foods were literally the only forms of snacks or sweets that were permissible after I completely eradicated all fast food, processed food, refined carbs, gluten, etc., nearly a year ago, so the allure of a fresh apple or humble bag of nuts should really come as no surprise.

As much as I love these foods, once I made the decision to eliminate them (at least temporarily), I honestly wasn’t even tempted to cheat for several months due to the otherwise very satisfying nature of my diet and my high degree of self-discipline. Of all the changes and improvements I’ve made in my life, I can honestly say that simply making the decision to change is invariably the hardest part; adhering to the new resolution tends to be a by-product.

Then again, we all have a primal brain… And, with a primal brain comes primal cravings…

Flashback two weeks ago. I’m at my cousin’s Going Away party two states east in Virginia (I live in Ohio). Lots of friendly people having a good time. Plenty of decent wine… and, this food doesn’t look half bad… should I try some? I wonder what’s in this ‘stuffed ham’… that looks good… MEATBALLS! I can’t remember the last time I had one of those! 

You get the idea. Now, bear in mind, I could have just as easily sipped a bit of pinot noir politely without eating a thing, but I honestly felt that even though having a human indulgence might be opening a messy can of worms on a precipitous, slippery slope, I also thought it would be a great test of my will power (can I occasionally eat a few “grey area” foods with my fellow man without going off the deep end? How will this affect me, if at all? How will I feel? Can I justify this, or will I feel like a failure?) 

After establishing that the ham and meatballs were both gluten-free, I decided to have a taste. No, the animals these dishes were produced from were not naturally-raised on local farms (at least I don’t think they were), and the meatballs were prepared in a cranberry sauce glaze (call it “strike two”), but I was like 8 hours from home! Nothing we do out of state counts… right?

Three servings of this foreign dish known as “stuffed ham”. The stuffing was a blend of kale, spices, and some other form of vegetable I don’t recall at this point. Delicious. And, after allowing myself to “taste” one… two… three of those meatballs… I slowly and methodically destroyed them. If I had allowed myself to feel any guilt over this carnal indulgence, it would have been disgraceful. But, hey! Everyone was basically done eating by the time I got there, so they would have gone to waste if I hadn’t eaten all of them! Now, THAT would have been guilt-worthy, right?!

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And… I didn’t die. And, I didn’t get sick. Nor did I feel ashamed. On the contrary, I actually felt proud of myself for allowing a bit of flexibility in my diet, which up to that point had been mostly theoretical. The next day I had a full-day fast, and I returned to my regularly-scheduled programming happy and content without skipping a beat.

Now, backtrack a few days ago. I have one of my short, high-intensity evening workouts following by a big meal. Then, as I prepare a kefir coconut cream cheese vanilla shake (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), I get this maniacal, pregnant lady-craving for peanut butter and bananas. It was the most compulsive craving I’ve had in recent memory. Peanut butter and bananas… my kryptonite… the bane of my existence… so innocuous, yet so devious… This was a craving so compelling I knew that it must be addressed and not ignored. I had been so proud of my abstinence of fruit and nuts over the past few months that I didn’t want to sabotage my efforts for a few minutes of bliss… BUT, I also didn’t want to further sublimate this craving and wake up in a Kroger produce department surrounded by banana peels and apple cores a few months from now. Besides, I had just proven to myself that I could have these little indulgences without being swayed back to the Dark Side. I deserved to treat myself, right? And, I did… with not one, not two, but THREE bananas, and what top scientists can only describe as “a shitload” of peanut butter, with a few mixed nuts for good measure. And, it was… awesome. One of the most memorable meals I’ve had in months. I don’t recall what I had for dinner that night, but I’ll remember those fresh bananas and mashed legumes for some time… and… isn’t that appealing? Can’t that heightened appreciation of a food you love be reason enough to abstain from it temporarily or moderate your intake of that food? That’s one of the things I love most about fasting; its tendency to increase your appreciation of food, and it makes you more mindful of your choices and needs. And, let us not forget that when we get that primal, overwhelming craving for a certain food, it is often (though certainly not always) our brain’s way of telling us to eat that food because our body is deficient in something that food contains. So perhaps I was low on potassium a few days ago… perhaps not. What I do know is that life is too short to chronically deprive one’s self of things they love, so long as those things do not inflict irreparable damage on the body. Food is one of life’s great sensuous pleasures, and one we may all indulge in sans guilt when we eat mindfully of whole, real foods.

I feel grateful for having had these recent experiences in “healthy hedonism”, as they have solidified the belief that I really can have my cake and eat it, too (so long as the cake is made with coconut flour and sweetened with stevia or xylitol). I’ve resolved to have more of these intermittent indulgent days for now, but in a healthy, mindful way, i.e. I’m still not going to consume anything patently damaging like gluten or trans fat, and the odds of me lighting up a crack pipe are still much greater than those of catching me at McDonald’s, but if my body is screaming for some fruit, I will happily and dutifully answer the call… occasionally.

What do you crave?  

 

Melt-in-your-mouth, non-traditional lamb liver pâté

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This one has become a staple of my diet over the past few weeks. I essentially took a basic pâté and tweaked it to my preference, adding a tomato paste and red wine reduction and sautéed red pepper and carrot in addition to the onion.

The lamb liver (you can use the liver of any creature) is seasoned with salt, pepper, dry rosemary and thyme, then cooked to medium-well. After caramelizing the onion with red pepper and carrot, the pan is deglazed with a generous helping of dry red wine, then I add a few spoonfuls of tomato paste.

Everything is then added to my Vitamix (I’ve also used an immersion blender, but the Vitamix naturally produces a smoother final product) and blended smooth with butter (the butter ends up being about 1/3+ of the total volume). After final seasoning adjustments, the blender contents go into silicon molds or small tupperware cups. Wrapped, the individual portions keep very well in the freezer for weeks. After chilling, the final product goes perfectly with dijon and soft cheeses such as the brie pictured, or even eggs (bearing in mind I’ll eat eggs with just about anything…)

So this has become my favorite liver preparation. It’s ketogenic, buttery, silken, and most importantly, nutritious.

How do you take your liver?

From My (beef) Heart to Yours: Hearty Stew

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To know the heart of a bovine is to know a love that keeps on giving. Whether slowly cooked in its own fat, or rubbed with herbs and gently braised in red wine and vegetables, it has a deep, intense beefy flavor that is sure to satiate your inner beast, while providing unconditional love, asking nothing of you in return (…because cows can’t talk, especially after you kill them and remove their vital organs… moving on…)

In addition to the aforementioned culinary commendations, heart– whether from a cow, pig, goat, etc.– receives plenty of nutritional bonus points for being the richest natural source of coenzyme-Q10, the ultra-potent antioxidant critical to heart health, as well as being high in protein, zinc, phosphorus, various B vitamins, etc. In other words, you’d be quite “heart-pressed” (groan…) to find a denser source of nutrition.

While the “ick factor” may invariably scare the majority of the population off of offal (my 14-year-old nephew enjoyed my pâté until I informed him the primary ingredient was liver… You should have seen the look on his face as he spat it out! Priceless!), don’t cheat yourself out of these extremely nutritious and economical cuts that are quite pleasing to the palate when properly prepared (yeesh… try that one 5 times fast…)

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Since heart is very dense with plenty of connective tissue and no marbling, it lends itself to low, slow methods like braising or confit (in fat). However, I’ve recently been making a lot of this beef heart stew with the aid of my new favorite method–the pressure cooker, which produces a tender, supremely flavorful product in a fraction of the time, so you can focus on important things like exercising, work, and posting stupid cat memes on facebook (yes, I saw it and, no, it wasn’t funny…)

This “hearty” stew can be broken down into 8 simple steps:

  1. Cut it and cook it. Cut the heart into large chunks (don’t worry about trimming the fat at this point), season liberally with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme (I usually use these herbs dry for convenience’ sake, but fresh works great as well). Add heart to pressure cooker pot along with chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic, carrots, celery, fresh parsley, a few spoonfuls of tomato paste, and a few cups of dry red wine. In my particular pressure cooker, it takes about 30-35 minutes to bring to fork-tenderness.
  2. Cool it. Strain contents of the cooker using a colander. Park the drippings in the fridge for a few hours until a disk of solidified fat forms on top. Pry this off with a spoon and set aside.
  3. Trim it. Here’s the pain-in-the-ass bit… Take the cooled heart chunks, remove the cooked vegetables, and trim away the rubbery valve/arterial stuff and most of the remaining solid fat. Makes great dog treats. You can do this while working on the next step…
  4. Sautée vegetables. Remember that disk of red-gold, delicious fat we pulled off the drippings? Now it’s time to put it to use by adding some of it to a pan over medium heat and cooking the vegetables (I use red/yellow/orange bell peppers, onion, celery, carrot, tomato, and more fresh parsley and garlic).
  5. Deglaze. After the vegetables are cooked al dente, deglaze the pan with more red wine, and add a few more spoonfuls of tomato paste. For me, it’s hard to use too much of these two ingredients, as they provide such rich, intense flavor. Cook the wine down a bit over high heat for a few minutes, then…
  6. Add drippings and heart. Just throw everything else in, and cook down over medium-high heat until you’re left with a thick, rich sauce. Be sure to taste along the way, and adjust flavors to your preference. There are no rules here–just follow your heart (I swear that’s the last one!)
  7. Don’t forget the fat! Take about half (or more) of the remaining flavorful fat disk, and drop it right in the pot. Anything you reserve can be used to crank up the flavor of sautéed vegetables, eggs, liver, what-have-you to 11! This also makes the stew, which is actually quite lean at this point, ketogenic, which is something I always remain conscious of.
  8. Eat it! Here is where the work finally pays off! You really can’t go wrong here. Goes great with eggs, whether scrambled or sunny-side-up, or simply unadorned in a bowl. If you’re not anti-carb like myself, I reckon it would go great with potatoes or steamed rice as well… just know that I’ll be silently judging you. Adding a liberal shaving of cheddar and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche (preferably grass-fed, not just because you’re a food snob, but for your health! [proper ratio of omega 3:6]) provides a high that should be illegal. Incidentally, if you’re still of the misinformed opinion that offal is awful, this same protocol may of course be used for more conventional cuts of meat (fatty spare ribs make an even more melt-in-your-mouth product, for what it’s worth…) Just use your imagination, and let your gut be your guide!

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Bon appétit et bonne santé (good appetite, and good health)!