CK Friday Links--Friday February 28, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

“Career waiters or full time bussers are regarded by friends, family, customers, and the business community with pity and dishonor.” (Food Woolf)

The lawyer who wants to sue Big Food for causing obesity tries to clear up "confusion and misrepresentation about his objectives." (Eat Drink Politics)

... but can these obesity lawyers really win? Um, fat chance. (Bloomberg)

Why "portion size" is not to blame for obesity. (Jayson Lusk) Bonus: Should policy makers lie about things like the impact of climate data... if it's for our own good?

How to boil an egg: it's both simple and complicated. (Bon Appetit, via 50x25)

The difference between a pseudo-expert and a real expert. Particularly relevant for domains like investing and personal finance. (Early Retirement Extreme)

Making decisions about mundane details wastes a limited resource: your mental energy. (Harvard Business Review)

What, really, are the advantages of reading novels? (Quora)

"Americans: they're so weirdly optimistic you just can't stay irritated at them." 10 amusing Japanese travel tips for visiting the USA. (Mental Floss)

100 useful economics blogs. (Online Universities Weblog)

An easy, unusual Peanut Butter Rice recipe. (Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen)

Five out of five stars! Homemade Kimchi. (Food and Fire) Bonus: Gluten-Free Chex Mix

Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

How to Keep a Fitness Training Journal

The purpose of this post is to show how a simple fitness journal, where you track your workouts and basic metrics about your body, will help you achieve even the most ambitious health and fitness goals.

[A friendly warning: this post is longer than typical, with about 2,300 words. It should take you about 10-12 minutes to read. Feel free to come back when you have more time!]

I don’t always keep a training journal, but when I do, it’s usually when I’m shooting for a significant fitness objective. I kept a journal for each of my three marathons, for example, and I kept an extremely detailed journal when I set the most ambitious fitness goal of my life: to get “back to normal” after catching chicken pox at age 39. This was an illness that literally shattered my body and reduced my fitness conditioning to all-time lows,[1] and I credit my recovery in large part to keeping a training journal.

In other words, a fitness journal is ideal any time you subject your body to new, difficult or potentially grueling training--a major exercise and weight loss program, recovery from an injury, and so on. You’ll want to know as much objective, factual information as you possibly can about how your body responds, and this factual information will help you combat your emotions, overcome discouragement, and make it much more likely you’ll sustain your new fitness regimen. Finally, a training journal is a permanent record of your fitness activity that you can look back on--proudly.

But exactly what information should you record in your fitness journal? And how should you set up your training journal? All great questions grasshopper!

First, the “how should you set it up?” part, which is easy: Just use a spiral notebook and a pen. Or a simple text file on your computer. Or a free Google Docs document at Google Drive. I've used each method and found them equally functional. Your goal here should be to find a simple format that’s easy to use and difficult to lose.

As far as what to record in your fitness journal… well, this part’s a little more complicated. Here’s what I track on a daily or near-daily basis:

1) Resting pulse
2) Exercise actions taken
3) Emotional State/How I feel
4) Notable dietary actions taken
5) Any injuries/discomfort?
6) (optional) Blood pressure

Below, I go over each metric, how to track it, and why each is important. And below that, as an extra bonus, I’ll share two additional metrics, to be tracked monthly, to round out a perfect, information-rich training journal.

1) Resting pulse - I check my resting pulse when I wake up, but before I get out of bed. Get a watch or clock with a second hand, count your pulse over a 15 second period (use an artery in your wrist or neck), and multiply the number of beats times four.

Generally, a normal pulse rate for an active person will be somewhere in the range of 60-72 beats per minute. Check yours for a few days in a row to get a sense of your baseline pulse. Then, be happily shocked at how much lower your resting pulse goes after just a few short weeks of meaningful fitness. When began training for my first marathon, my 72bpm pulse quickly dropped into to the low 50s. It’s been there ever since.

Why tracking your resting pulse is important: Your resting pulse is a simple but extremely useful measure of your general fitness. All else equal, a lower resting pulse means a stronger and more efficient cardiovascular system.[2]

Further, your resting pulse is your body’s early warning system: if your pulse normally runs 54-60 beats per minute and one random morning it’s running 72 or higher, you’re most likely overtraining. You’ll want to increase your rest/sleeping time and dial down (or eliminate) your next few workouts.

2) Exercise actions taken - This is more or less the most obvious piece of advice in this entire post. After all, why keep a training log unless it was to track your actual training? This is the sort simple record that I keep:

Sunday: Rest day
Monday: Ran 5 miles, easy pace
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: 3 sets pushups x 30 reps; ran 3 miles (in 24:36, 8:12 mile splits)
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: Ran 5 miles (42:56, 8:35 splits)
Saturday: Ran a slow 3 miles in AM, played 3 hours doubles tennis in PM.

And so on. Apropos of nothing, my wife and I have a running argument about whether the exercise week starts on Sunday or Monday. I say Sunday (duh), she says Monday. Readers, please tell me I’m right.

Why it’s important: If you’re having trouble grasping the importance of tracking exercise in an exercise journal, just ask the staff at your group home for help. They care about you very much.

3) Emotional state/How I feel/My mood - I consider tracking how you feel to be the single most important element of your training journal. I typically write just one or two short sentences about anything notable about my physical or emotional state. Examples might be:

“I totally didn’t want to run today, but I did anyway. Felt really proud afterwards”
“Really good energy levels today, I felt like I could’ve worked out much longer.”
“Felt like shit.”
“When I left the gym I felt defeated, like I’d never get in shape.”
Started my workout off horribly but found a good rhythm midway through, finished strong.”
“Extremely tired today, but I had a surprisingly good workout anyway.”

And so on. Note that on rare days, I wouldn’t really have any notable feelings or comment-worthy moods, so I’d simply write “normal” or “good workout” in my fitness log.

Why it's important: As I said above, this is the single most important part of your training log. But why? Two reasons. First, you’ll never feel more proud of yourself than when you flip back through your training journal and see days when you:

...didn’t really want to run,
...didn’t feel like working out,
...thought you’d never get in better shape,

...and yet you worked out anyway. That’s what it’s all about.

Second, the act of recording your feelings and moods is a critical exercise in building emotional meta-awareness. Look once again at the “thought you’d never get in better shape” line above. If you’re beginning a new workout regimen, I’ll make you a promise: you will repeatedly experience that exact feeling. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your absolute level of fitness is, you will have moments when you truly believe you won’t improve, and that this whole workout thing is pointless.

Worse, at the time you feel it, it will seem utterly true. Crushingly true.

Except that three months in the future, when you are flipping through your training journal and looking back at that day... you actually will be in better shape! That feeling you had, as true as it may have seemed then, turned out to be exactly false.

What’s my point? Just this: when it comes any kind of goal-oriented or discipline-based habits, your ego and emotions will subvert and mislead you. Sometimes they will outright lie to you. But once you see--documented repeatedly in your own writing--how many times you overcame inertia, defeatism and negative feelings and still worked out, you’ll begin to know, deeply, that your negative feelings have no power over you. They are temporary and they will pass.

4) Notable dietary actions taken - Did you eat a bag of Doritos today? Or is this the third day in a row where you’ve eaten negligible amounts of protein? If you have an unexpectedly crappy workout one day, it helps enormously to be able to look back and see the likely reason why: probably it was a heavy and unhealthy meal (or series of meals) in the days prior.

Your diet fuels your body, and as you improve your fitness, you’ll want to improve your diet too. And the two go naturally--even effortlessly--hand in hand: you’ll find that as you get fitter, you’ll find it far easier to say no to crappy junk food.

A quick word on mechanics: I usually document the prior day’s notable dietary actions on my day’s workout log (examples might be: “crap-awful run today: I blame the three beers and unknown number of chicken wings from last night” or “great run today despite that pint of Cherry Garcia I had yesterday”). See what works best for you here.

Why it’s important: Remember, what gets measured gets managed. It’s true with money, it’s true with your diet, it’s true with fitness. Your diet will improve simply because you know you’re going to document what you eat. This is pretty close to magic, and it alone makes tracking worthwhile.

Sidenote: As you scale up the intensity of your training, you’ll likely want to increase the amount of protein in your diet. During weight training, or during periods of heavy distance running, for example, I’ll often drink a whey isolate protein powder shake on a near-daily basis to help my body recover.

5) Any injuries/discomfort? - Injuries happen, and as you’ll see shortly, you must track them. I usually jot down short phrases:

“Knees ached a bit today, pain 3 on a scale of 10, much better than last week’s long run.”
“Inflammation in my patellar tendons, not painful though, iced them down after tennis.”
“My back was killing me today, but it loosened up during my run.”
“Felt great!” (sadly, this entry appears increasingly infrequently after age 40)
“Calf muscle strain. Need to rest it for a few days.”
“Sore feet: feels like mild stress reactions.”

And so on. The point is to document any physical issue you’re having, and where necessary, to quantify it so you can see whether it’s worsening or improving.

Why it’s important: Our perceptions of our injuries are heavily colored by context, misrememberings and faulty perspectives--just like our moods and emotions. So, just as part 3 of your training journal is an exercise in emotional meta-awareness, this part of your training journal is an exercise in physical meta-awareness. It gives you a reliable and objective record of information about any physical problems you might be experiencing.

Face it, as we get older, “minor pains” and “minor injuries” become more and more a normal part of daily workout life.[3] Yet you still have to do your best to stay in shape! This part of your journal will help you make sure minor problems don’t morph into serious ones. Better still, you’ll start to see important patterns in how your body responds to training. Certain combinations of activities might lead to, say, knee pain, for example. Or, you might learn that your body starts to “act up” if you exercise too many days in a row. Thanks to my training journal, I learned that my knees behave much, much better over time if I generally run every other day rather than on consecutive days.

One last example: Last year during a random run, I hurt something badly in my left calf--I think it was an achilles tendon strain or perhaps even a small partial tear. Keeping track of the injury and noting gradual improvements helped me put the injury in proper context: I could clearly see, by what I wrote in my training log, that my injury was improving (albeit slowly) and that I wouldn't need to have it checked out by a doctor.

6) (Optional) Blood Pressure - I consider this datapoint optional, in part because a blood pressure cuff is a somewhat a pricey piece of equipment for a frugal household. Sure, you can often find free blood pressure machines in many chain pharmacies, but finding one (not to mention returning to it to get regular readings) simply may be too much of a bother logistically.

That said, it’s instructive see a historical series of blood pressure readings in the context of an exercise program. You may very well see your borderline high blood pressure drop right back into normal range. Not only is this highly encouraging and motivating, it can save you from blood pressure meds! Note that your blood pressure fluctuates--sometimes a lot--from day to day and hour to hour, which is why a series of datapoints over days and weeks is more useful than any single datapoint in a vacuum.[4]

Why it’s important: Honestly, your blood pressure isn't that important to track on a daily or near-daily basis in a fitness log. However, it's yet another excellent measure of your general cardiovascular health, and as I mentioned above, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the favorable impact exercise has on your numbers.

One more thought: We have a blood pressure cuff here at home from way back in Laura’s optometry school days, and it’s come in handy lately as Laura’s borderline high blood pressure got to a point where she decided to start treating it with meds. Having a cuff at home--and having a longitudinal sample of blood pressure readings--helped her enormously in selecting (in consultation with her doctor of course) the proper med and dosage.

Finally, here are two additional datapoints that I recommend tracking monthly--not daily!--in your fitness and exercise journal:

1) Timed mile - Run a mile as fast as you can, time it, and write it down. Simple. Next month, do it again and watch how much faster you are. Rinse and repeat once a month. Note: don’t get discouraged by your first datapoint here. You’ll quickly discover that you have a lot more fitness in you than you thought, and as you get fitter, your mile time will drop substantially.

Why it’s important: A timed mile is possibly the best single measure of a person’s overall athletic fitness. If you can get your mile time (remember it’s just one mile!) below 8 minutes, you’re in pretty darn good shape. Remember, a vast number of Americans cannot run a mile at all.

2) Weight/BMI - Remember, your weight and your BMI are just numbers. However, these two numbers together make for an informative measure of your health and fitness. To figure out your BMI, you can go to any of several websites (I use this one at the NIH’s website). Enter your height and weight and it will give you the number.

Why it’s important: Because it just is. If your BMI numbers are in the “overweight” or “obese” range (high 20s to above 30), you’ll face significant health problems. But if you engage in a suitable exercise program and carefully watch and document the metrics above, you’ll see your BMI and body weight numbers improve rapidly.

Final thought: You see that I quite prominently excluded tracking weight and BMI from my list above of daily metrics. If you want to track your weight/BMI each day, feel free, but I recommend tracking your weight and BMI just once a month. Why? Two reasons: To filter out the noise of normal day-to-day weight fluctuations, and to prevent you from overfixating on your weight.

Trust the process of maintaining a regular exercise and fitness regime, track your data objectively and unemotionally, and weight loss and BMI improvement will be a guaranteed result.

Readers, what’s your take?

[1] An example of how sickly I was: Two to three weeks after the chicken pox had fully run its course, I tried to run one mile. One mile. I had to stop and walk twice, and when I got back home I felt so ill I spent the rest of the day in bed. It was one of the most discouraging days of my life, because it seemed utterly obvious to me (at the time) that I would never get my health and fitness back.

[2] If you have heart issues, or if you’re showing an abnormally low resting pulse, get checked out by your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.

[3] You can take it from me that fitness is a wholly different challenge in your 40s compared to your 30s and 20s. You can take it from my older sisters that fitness is a wholly different challenge in your 50s compared to your 40s. And you can take it from my father that fitness in your 80s is yet another thing entirely.

[4] It’s vaguely disturbing to see how your blood pressure data jumps around over time, both over the course of days and even from moment to moment. It helps you realize that when you’re in the doctor’s office you’re probably more likely to get an outlier reading than a typical reading (I get nervous in doctor’s offices, so both my systolic and diastolic numbers are sometimes as much as 20 points higher than when we take them at home). Thus any single bp reading is far more meaningful if you can judge it against the context of a series of readings.

Related Posts:
Ask CK: The Two-A-Day Workout
Eat Less, Exercise More Doesn't Work. Wait, What?
When Martina Navratilova Makes You Mad
Ask CK: Butter Or Margarine? What's a Girl To Do?

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Friday Links--Friday February 21, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

A beginner’s guide to French wine. (Serious Eats)

The "full fat" paradox. (NPR)

One of the few arguments against GMOs that resonates with me. (Farnam Street)

Why Chipotle says no to GMOs. (Huffington Post)

The "food desert" phenomenon doesn't actually exist. (Slate)

What papers to shred and how to shred them. (Unclutterer)

ADHD meds don't make a difference. (Nature)

"Look at one of your goals and ask yourself, 'How could I achieve this goal 2x, 5x, or even 10x faster?'" (Steve Pavlina)

Overcoming "morning peevishness." (The Art of Manliness)

What NOT to post on Facebook. (People I Want To Punch In the Throat)

Ten worthwhile independently-published books for your reading list. (EcoSalon)

Dear America: I saw you naked. Signed, TSA agents. (Politico) Bonus: The surprisingly tender love letters of one of America’s most hated presidents.

Why I tried to kill myself at UPenn. (Pennsive)

Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Yoga Mats, Subway, and the Azodicarbonamide Controversy: Chemical Phobia In the Media Age

Readers, an intriguing event happened in the world of fear-based media over the past two weeks. Subway, the sandwich chain, caved to a food blogger, Food Babe, who demanded that the chain eliminate azodicarbonamide from its bread products. How did she manage to do it? In part by pointing out that azodicarbonamide, which Subway uses as a dough oxidizer, is also an ingredient used in making plastic yoga mats.

You read that right: yoga mats.

This isn't the first time Food Babe criticized Subway, but it's the first time she got serious traction doing so. Back in 2012, she wrote Is Subway Real Food?, a discouragingly unscientific critique of the preservatives and food additives Subway uses to prevent food spoilage. Then, in late 2013, she wrote her first post about azodicarbonamide where she appears to confuse industrial-scale use of the compound with food-grade uses. However, it wasn't until she created her Subway petition two weeks ago, with the exquisite slogan we want to really eat fresh, not yoga mat--that this issue caught fire.

Let's set aside for the moment the phobia that drives otherwise reasonably intelligent people to fear any chemical with more than four syllables. Instead, let's ask: is this controversy on azodicarbonamide a real controversy?

Unfortunately, this is the wrong question. If enough people think a controversy is real, it becomes real.

Subway must protect its brand, so it will replace the ingredient to avoid losing business. Simple. Management just had to decide at what point the issue became serious enough to justify the change. Whether azodicarbonamide is safe or not is irrelevant.

Of course there's another issue here: why would a food blogger who would fit right in with early 1900's muckrakers, who fancies herself the leader of an army, and who even implausibly takes credit for Chik-fil-A's decision to go antibiotic-free engage in a passive-aggressive attempt to tell a company how to bake bread?

Don't get me wrong: Vani The Food Babe seems like a lovely person. She may use hyperbole and a lot of exclamation points, but she clearly cares deeply about what's in our food. And admittedly, the yoga mat idea is utter genius. That said, however, if you carefully analyze the rhetoric she uses--and the logic she doesn't--it is impossible to distinguish her fear-mongering posts from my parody post on the dangers of coffee. Try it. Read her articles on azodicarbonamide and then read A Cup of Morning Death? and see if you can identify any difference in the caliber of argument.

But what this brings us back to is how it is all too easy to worry about all the wrong things. Penn State food science professor John Coupland framed the issue quite well on his blog:

"[F]ood companies are desperate to appeal to consumer demand and as this case shows they can and will change fast. Campaign smartly though. This campaign was successful not because of a serious consideration of risk but because of the jarring incongruity of a compound being in bread and in plastic. Lots of compounds crop up in lots of places and this is a weak argument for deciding which uses are appropriate. It is I suppose possible that there will be a public health benefit from eliminating this ingredient but not much actual evidence."

As with all "chemicals" it's the dose that makes the toxin. Hey, even dihydrogen monoxide* is fatal if inhaled or consumed to excess.

Look, I can't quantify the potential hazards of Subway's 9-Grain Wheat. Nor can people with far more expertise. But I'd guess with a great degree of confidence that I expose myself to much more risk by driving to my local Subway than by eating their bread.

Bottom line: life has never been safer, yet inexplicably, we're more fearful than ever.

Readers, what do you think?

* Otherwise known as water.

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Friday Links--Friday February 14, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

Does giving my son organic food really matter, considering that he's been known to lick the bottom of his shoes? (Slate, via Addicted to Canning)

Forget GMOs. Monsanto is going organic to find the perfect veggie. (Wired)

Marion Nestle gives her preliminary take on the just-passed Farm Bill. (Food Politics)

A side of feminism with your food? (Foodie Underground)

Why it's important to forget goals and focus on systems. (Inc)

On personal finance and class warfare. (The Simple Dollar)

Interesting thoughts on "lifestyle inflation." (Consumerism Commentary)

What's the most BS-sounding-but-true fact you know? (Reddit)

Why Malcolm Gladwell matters... and why that's really unfortunate. (Chris Chabris)

Love muesli? Here's a big batch, low-budget Muesli recipe. (The Family Food Project)

Make your own homemade Energy Bars. (Foodie Underground)

Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

The Top 20 Worst Self-Indulgent Quotes From Michael Pollan's "Cooked"

If you're familiar with my writing blog Quick Writing Tips, you know I have zero tolerance for masturbatory, self-indulgent writing. Zero.

Sadly, Cooked, Michael Pollan's latest book, contains some of the most nauseatingly self-indulgent quotes I've read, ever. It isn't a bad book, exactly, but it holds so many groan-inducing sentences that I started keeping track of them on a sheet of paper I titled "Pollan Jerk-Off Quotes." I couldn't help myself.

And because misery hates being alone, I subjected Laura to these awful quotes too, along with many, many merely bad ones that were below the threshold of inclusion in today's list.

And so today, dear readers, you're in for a real treat: I'm going to subject you to the top twenty most awful quotes from Cooked. You don't even have to read the book.

Enjoy! ...I guess.

The Top Twenty Worst, Most Self-Indulgent Quotes From "Cooked"

20) "One Sunday, Isaac answered the phone while I stirred a sugo; we were planning to make some fresh pasta together later in the day. It was my parents on the line." (Page 194)

19) "In our modern, all-electric 1960s kitchen, that pot with its centripetal energies was the closest thing we had to a hearth, a warm and fragrant synecdoche for domestic well-being." (Page 157)

18) "The man who mediates between the fire and the beast, and the beast and the beast eaters, has projected onto him a certain primal power: This is basic stuff, Anthro 101, but now I could actually feel it, and it felt pretty good." (Page 94)

17) "The pot dish, lidded and turbid, has none of the Apollonian clarity of a recognizable animal on a spit; it trades that brightly lit, hard-edged object and its legible world for something darker, more fluid and inchoate." (Page 159)

16) "Elation, effervescence, elevation, levity, inspiration: air words all, alveolated with vowels, leavening the dough of everyday life." (Page 252)

15) "I ordered a whole pork shoulder from an Iowa hog farmer I knew named Jude Becker. Jude raises traditional breeds outdoors and finishes them on acorns in the fall." (Page 108)

14) "Each weightless bite amounted to a little poem of synesthesia--a confusion of the senses that delighted. It made for a fitting end to an effervescent evening." (Page 252)

13) "But could it be that, for us, the taste of foods rich in umami also sounds deep Proustian echoes, bearing us back to memories, however faint, of our very first food? Is it merely a coincidence that so many of the things we think of as "comfort foods"--everything from ice cream to chicken soup--traffic in tastes of either sweetness or umami, the two big tastes first encountered on the breast?" (Page 174)

12) "The symbolic power of the pot--to gather together, to harmonize--might begin in the home, but it reaches well beyond it, all the way into the political realm. The ancient Chinese conceived of the well-governed state as a cauldron, specifically a three-legged one called a ding." (Page 158)

11) "Is there any more futile, soul-irradiating experience than standing before the little window on a microwave oven watching the carousel slowly revolve your frozen block of dinner? Time spent this way might be easier than cooking, but it is not enjoyable and surely not ennobling. It is to feel spiritually unemployed, useless to self and humanity." (Page 199)

10) "I really love good bread. In fact, even bad bread is pretty good. I'd much prefer to eat a slice of fresh bread than a piece of cake. I especially love the contrast between a rugged crust and a moist, tender, alveolate interior--the "crumb," as I've learned to call it, now that I've been hanging around bakers." (Page 208)

9) "I don't own a cauldron, unfortunately, but we do own a couple of heavy-duty casseroles made from cast iron (and coated in a blue enamel) and a red porcelain tagine, one of those Moroccan pots with stovepipe lids that look like festive hats. Recently I bought two clay casseroles: a La Chamba handmade in Colombia from unglazed black clay, and a wide terra-cotta casserole from Tuscany glazed the color of winter wheat." (Page 160)

8) "The underlying idea here is that freshly baked bread is the ultimate olfactory synecdoche for hominess." (Page 209)

7) "For, if the final fermentation that awaits us all is too horrible to contemplate, perhaps a little preview of putrefaction on a cheese plate can, like a gothic tale or horror movie, give us the little frisson of pleasure that comes from rehearsing precisely what we most fear." (Page 368)

6) "True, my crumb was somewhat tighter than Tartine's, the alveolation not nearly so shiny or wild, but this looked like a fine loaf of bread, and I felt an upwelling of pride the force of which took me by surprise." (Page 247)

5) "To the poet endeavoring to trope the prose of everyday life, a molecule like ethyl alcohol offers a powerful tool." (Page 401)

4) "The taste of fermented foods is the taste of us, and them." (Page 370)

3) "Somehow the taste of smoke didn't merge with the oyster but coexisted alongside it, held in a perfect balance, so that it underscored the oyster's meaty brine, in the way that a frame or window can deepen our appreciation of a view we might otherwise overlook." (Page 118)

2) "I got to witness, and to taste, the apotheosis of the control of fire." (Page 120)

1) "The impulse to cup the soft globes in my hands was irresistible. I have to say, not one of the bakers I had read or talked to had adequately prepared me for the erotics of leavened, shaped dough." (Page 232)

Wait... haven't you had enough? No? Want still more?

p 45: "Though I think I enjoyed the seasoned barbecue in the sandwich even more. The sharpness of apple cider vinegar provides the perfect counterweight to the sweet unctuousness of the fat, of which there was plenty melted right into the meat, and also balances out the heaviness of the wood smoke."

p 55: " But I suspect that, as much as anything else, grilling meat over a fire today commemorates the transformative power of cooking itself, which never appears so bright or explicit as when wood and fire and flesh are brought together under that aromatic empire of smoke."

p 72: "His complexion was dark as coal, and his full-moon face was fringed in a nimbus of snow-white beard."

p 90: So it is no wonder that those types of cooking (such as meat over fire) that happen to generate scents and flavors borrowed from the plant world's extensive chemical vocabulary (and perhaps especially from the rich dialect of ripe fruit) would stimulate us as much as they do.

p 91: It may also be that, quite apart from any specific references one food makes to another, it is the very allusiveness of cooked food that appeals to us, as indeed that same quality does in poetry or music or art.

p 107: Compared with the contemporary chef, the pit masters present themselves less as artists than as priests, each with his own congregation and distinctive liturgy, working, scrupulously, in forms passed down rather than invented.

p 109: My fire pit is an old, shallow hammered-iron bowl about four feet in diameter; the guy who sold it to me said he found it in India, where it was used to cook street food.

p 111: The microwave oven, which stands at the precise opposite end of the culinary (and imaginative) spectrum from the cook fire, exerts a kind of antigravity, its flameless, smokeless, antisensory cold heat giving us a mild case of the willies.

p 115: He [Bittor Arguinzoniz, a famed Basque chef] is a modest, ascetic man, tall, slender except for a compact paunch, and gray as smoke.

p 121: But isn't it always precisely when we are most at risk of floating away on the sea of our own inventions and conceits that we seem to row our way back to the firm shore that is nature?

p 133: Like the column of smoke that rises from the pit, it's a story that unfolds on a vertical axis, with all sorts of heroic (or at least mock heroic) flourishes.

p 133: Paring away the dense undergrowth of culinary detail from a whole genre of recipes has the added virtue of helping to expose what a particular mode of cooking--of transforming the stuff of nature into the occasion of a meal--might have to say about us and our world.

p 133: To turn from the bright sunlight of this Homeric world and come into the kitchen of covered pots and simmering liquids feels like stepping out of an epic and into a novel.

p 139: Even browning meat, an operation that to me seemed fairly self-evident if not banal, deserved to be done with the utmost care and attention, and so with passion. At stake was the eater's experience.

p 157: There's not a lot I can recall of my mother's kitchen when I was growing up, but one image I can easily summon is of the turquoise casserole from which she ladled out beef stews and chicken soups. Made by Dansk, it was Scandinavian in design, sleek and thinly walled, though its unexpected heft suggested steel beneath the aquamarine enamel.

p 159: What emerges from this or any other pot is not food for the eye so much as for the nose, a primordial Dionysian soup, but evolving in reverse, decomposing from rather than creating them. To eat from the pot always involves at least a little leap into unknown waters.

p 234: ...the fresh-baked loaf still feels like a creation ex nihilo, its from-mud-wrested form a refutation of cosmic entropy, its sheer plusness a tasty proof of the non-zero sum or, to put it in more homely terms, the free lunch.

p 247: I have spent some time trying to parse the almost absurd pride I felt about this loaf and various others I've baked since.

p 248: But a loaf of bread is something new added to the world, an edged object wrested from the flux of nature--and specifically from the living, shifting, Dionysian swamp that is dough. Bread is the Apollonian food.

p 278: To bake the bread I wanted, I didn't just need a better recipe. I needed a whole different civilization.

p 284: Consider, just for a moment, the everyday proximity of death. No, not the swerve of the oncoming car or the bomb in the baby carriage. I'm thinking more of the bloom of yeast on the ripe fruit, patiently waiting for a breach in its skin so that it might invade and decompose its sweet flesh, or the lactobacillus loitering on the cabbage leaf for the same purpose.

p 287: Behind a great loaf of bread is a deft orchestration, not only of time and temperature, but also of a great many diverse species and interests, our own--for something nourishing and delicious to eat--included. I am no maestro, no white thumb yet, but my bread is getting tastier, and airier, all the time.

p 361: In its very suggestiveness, cheese is both like and unlike many of the other foods humans cook or ferment. Whether by fire or water or the action of microbes, one of the ways humans transform the edible stuff of nature is in the direction of greater allusiveness--in taste or smell or appearance. Just as we take pleasure in enriching our language with layers of metaphor and allusion, we apparently like to trope what we eat and drink, too, extracting from it not only more nourishment but more meaning as well--more psychic nourishment, if you will. It just so happens that the more vivid, odiferous tropes that cheesemakers have teased out of milk can verge on the indecent, taking us places polite society doesn't like to go.

p 372: Yet to figure spiritual faith as a kind of fermentation--a transformation of the substrate of nature or everyday life into something infinitely more powerful, meaningful, and symbolic--well, that seemed to me exactly right.

p 376: But my principal motivation was the alchemist's: I was from an early age obsessed with metamorphosis, and this was not the first time I had tried to turn some common form of dross into something that might in some way glow.

p 399: [The Greeks] had crushed grapes and watched great urns of blackish must begin to seethe and breathe and come to life, under the influence of a transformational power they ascribed to Dionysus. And they had felt what that same force did to their minds and bodies when they drank its creation, the way the liquid seemed to ferment them: shifting the mind's attention from the physical to the spiritual, italicizing everyday experience, proposing fresh ways of seeing the most familiar things--new metaphors. The Dionysian magic of fermentation was at once a property of nature and of the human soul, and one could unlock the other.

p 403: By the time I got down to the bottom of the glass, where a pale powdery remnant of champagne yeast had collected, I could feel the warm, suffusing glow of alcohol wash over me. There's really nothing quite like that first soft spring breeze of intoxication. Keep drinking all you want, but you will never get it back.
Nothing has really changed, you're the same guy sitting at the same kitchen table, and yet everything feels just a little different: Several degrees less literal. Leavened.

p 404: Yet even now, in a more sober hour, I wonder if there might not be something here, a metaphor worth stretching and bending to see what it can do for us. Try this: In the same way that yeasts break down a substrate of simple plant sugars to create something infinitely more powerful--more complex and richly allusive--so Coleridge's secondary imagination breaks down the substrate of ordinary experience or consciousness in order to create something that is likewise less literal and more metaphorical: the strong wine of poetry where before there was only the ordinary juice of prose.

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Money Sundays: How To Get Balanced, Consistently Useful Expert Advice

There was one critical trait I always looked for in the analysts and investors I worked with during my Wall Street career: the ability to state a case for buying a stock--and then the ability to immediately state the case against buying that same stock.

The case for any investment is almost always balanced out by an equally powerful contra-case. After all, that's what makes it a market! And, beware: if you find yourself angry with or resistant to the contra-case for an investment you've made, be prepared to get separated from your money. Rudely.

More importantly: if you are using a financial expert and she resists the contra-case for an investment she's selling to you, prepare to really get separated from your money.

As I muddle my way though life, I'm finding this ability to argue the contra-case to be a useful tool far beyond just the world of stock market investing. Seek out this ability whenever you consult an expert in any domain with uncertainty or risk: investing, diet, fitness, healthcare, home ownership, auto repairs, psychology, relationships, careers, and so on.

Look, some things in life are known to the point of obviousness (e.g., you should be nice to your spouse, you should exercise regularly, you should diversify your investments). For things like these, there is no contra-case. However, most things in life are not known (will the stock market go up? Down? Will my investments meet my needs? Is this is bad time/location to buy a house? etc.). For questions like these, it's important to seek out well-argued reasons for both the pro- and contra-case in order to help your decision-making. The experts who provide this--and who won't lull you with decisive, confident-sounding, one-way answers--are the ones to seek out.

Also, keep in mind: sometimes your "expert" may have an agenda. Have you ever had an auto repair person tell you that you didn't need a repair? Have you ever heard a real estate salesperson say you shouldn't own a home? Ask for the contra-case argument and see what reaction you get. If anything, it should give you a window into their soul, and this should help you compensate for their natural bias to sell to you.

So, the next time you consult an expert, ask for her opinion. Then, immediately ask her to argue one or more contra-opinions, and ask her to make those contra-opinions as compelling as the original opinion. It will illustrate the honor, humility and intellectual honesty of your expert. If she can't--or won't--do this, watch out. You've likely got yourself an intellectually arrogant "expert" who's attached to her already-formed opinions more than she's interested in sharing genuine expertise. Run.

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Friday Links--Friday February 7, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

We need GMO wheat. (New York Times)

Chemicals in our food. (Marginal Revolution) Skim the comments for a wide spectrum of competent and incompetent scientific thought.

Before you buy that shiny new gadget, just ask this one question... (Time Management Ninja, via 50by25)

Consider keeping a “commonplace book.” (Thought Catalog) Bonus: How to read above your level.

The only two real reasons to buy life insurance. (Aleph Blog) Related: Is all that insurance really worth it to you?

15 ways to disrupt constructive debate on the internet. (The Big Picture)

What the heck is LinkedIn for, really? (The Baffler)

Book recommendation: The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager. Fascinating book about two German chemists who discovered how to extract nitrogen from the air, leading to the development of synthetic fertilizers and our ability to feed Earth’s seven billion people. It’s incredibly rare to find a history book that reads, literally, like a page-turner. This one does. Highly recommended.

Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

On Blogging and Narcissism

A reader asks:

How do you avoid being narcissistic when you blog?

Hmmm. I’m not entirely sure you can. (And--heh--why would you want to?) But in all seriousness, I try to ask myself two questions before I press the publish button on a new post:

1) Will this post help readers, or at least help them think differently?

2) Do I want this post to be a part of my overall body of work?

I still write narcissistic crap here at Casual Kitchen, but these two questions have helped me limit the damage.

Another thing I do is try to eliminate first person overkill in my writing. I try to cut out words like I/me/my/myself wherever I can, and replace them with you/we/us/ourselves. This is purely a mechanistic solution, but it helps. And then, I try to use other peoples’ examples and experiences to teach and share the ideas I want to communicate to readers. This forces me to talk about myself still less.

The problem, of course, is our worst narcissism surfaces whenever we’re not thinking about it. After all, if you knew you were coming across as narcissistic, you’d change what you were doing (or writing, or saying) so you wouldn’t come across as narcissistic. Right?

Therefore, if you are honestly concerned about sounding narcissistic, then by definition you are not. A true narcissist would never conceive of worrying about his own narcissism.

So be concerned whether or not your writing sounds narcissistic. The battle is won as soon as the idea crosses your mind.

Readers, what do you do to limit your narcissism in your writing?

Related Posts:
Best Practices to Raise the Level of Discussion on Your Blog
How to Write A Killer Links Post
Dealing with Trolls
On Writing for Casual Kitchen
On Writing for Casual Kitchen, Part 2: Keeping Track

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.