The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Feeding the Active Writer

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Today I being a bit of preparation work for the holiday cooking.

So, here's the menu:

Roast Turkey with Low-Carb Sausage Stuffing
Mashed Cauliflower and Gravy
Green Beans Sauteed with Bacon and Garlic
Port Wine Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Pudding with homemade whipped cream
No-Carb flaxmeal muffins (with butter)

And for my wife, candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

The night before, I make the stuffing and the turkey broth (using the giblets) for the gravy.

An additional bit, I cut the meat from the neck bone after making the broth and chop that, the gizzard, and the heart into fine bits which I mix into the gravy.

This has been our traditional Thanksgiving meal for years.  And while I like variety in what I eat, there's something to be said for tradition as well.

In any case, should you use any of these in your own celebrations, enjoy.


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Mills of the Gods

I keep running into people who are insist on only voting for the "perfect" candidate.  "The lesser of two evils is still evil" is a common watchcry and that doing so is simply a somewhat slower slide into tyranny.

The flip side is that voting for the "perfect" (from my perspective--I expect yours would be somewhat different) candidate when that candidate can't even get the support of 2% of the voters is a quicker slide into tyranny.

I like the metaphor that Neil Gaiman used for his career.  It's like a mountain in the distance.  And as long as I can keep moving toward that mountain I'll eventually get there.  Don't try to do it all at once.  That will fail.

By this chart (let's see if this works)--
 photo politicalpositions_zpsa955ecf4.jpg

--I'm a pretty much a Paelo-Conservative/Classical Liberal.  Some infrastructure things (roads on the chart) I think are appropriate for government, others not.  On the flip side I'm of mixed feelings about education so between them I figure it's pretty much a wash and the "Paleo-Conservative" label fits fairly well.  Add in that with "health care" and that things like with infectious diseases other folks actions, or inaction, threaten me and it gets a bit complicated.  But still, Paleo-Conservative is probably pretty close.

But look at where we are now.  We're so far from that "goal" that the Hubble couldn't see it.  If I had a true Paleo-Conservative candidate to run for office, it's extremely unlikely he could win (even in a fair election, never mind when the other side(s) cheats).  And if, by some miracle, he (or she) did win, there is simply no way I'd get a paleo-conservative Congress to go along.

But I might get somebody a little bit closer than we are now.  And if I can get that, then the next cycle, maybe I can get somebody a little bit closer than that.  And a little bit closer the next time.  And the same shifting "Overton Window" works here.  As government becomes less intrusive, less restrictive, less all-encompassing, why people can get used to that too, just as they have motion the other way.

People tell me "compromise doesn't work." Actually, the cases they site are excellent examples of how very well it does work.  It's just that it's been a weapon used against us.  Conservative/libertarian types are like folk sticking to single shot rifles to "not waste ammo" while the other side has been using repeating rifles and machine guns.  Win small concessions, then use that new position as a springboard to win more.  Repeat until you're where you want to be.  It's a tactic that works.  So far, it's worked for our enemies.  Maybe it's time for it to work for us.

So look at that mountain.  What can we get that moves us closer to the mountain, even if only a little bit?  Get it.  And then keep the pressure on.

The mills of the gods grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Feeding the Active Writer

I need to move these to the weekends.  With my daughter's swim team, doing them Monday evening just isn't working.

I have a major sweet tooth.  This is a problem when on a low carb diet so I'm always experimenting with recipes for sweets that are friendly to my diet.

I'm lucky in that I don't react poorly to sucralose (brand name Splenda, but I generally use store brands) and don't find any aftertaste objectionable.

Here's my latest:

8 oz cream cheese, softened.
1 cup coconut oil.
4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut.
2 cups sucralose artificial sweetener

Put 1-2 inches of water in a two quart saucepan.  Place a large metal mixing bowl over the top of it.  This makes a sort of double boiler but with more room than in the typical double boiler.

Put the cream cheese and coconut oil in the bowl and heat until the oil is melted and the cream cheese is very soft.

Add the coconut and sucralose and stir until combined.

While still warm, spread the coconut mixture in an 8X8 baking pan. Refrigurate until firm then cut into 64 pieces (an 8 by 8 grid). Continue to refrigerate until completely hardened they pry out of the pan.  Store refrigerated until ready to eat.  Yummy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Loss of SpaceShip Two

As many folk have heard, SpaceShipTwo was lost in an accident the other day.  One of the pilots was killed, the other severely injured.

Wired Magazine put out an article decrying the loss, condemning Virgin Galactic for risking, and in this case losing, lives in pursuit of a "boondoggle"--providing tourist trips into space for rich people.

How could they miss the point so thoroughly?


A lot of the development in early aviation centered around barnstorming and air races.  The barnstormers were mainly entertainers.  But they got people interested in flight and flying.  How many of those who would go on to become aviators and aviation engineers got bitten by that bug watching somebody in a surplus Jenny doing loops over Old McDonald's cornfield?  How many got infected by "airplane rides, $5 for five minutes"?

And air races?  Entertainment again.  And it certainly wasn't bloodless.  Some of those planes (most of them?) were deathtraps.  Yet a lot of the technology that made its way into the fighters of world war ii came right out of those air racers.

In some ways I think it's a shame that post-war air racing, at least in the so-called "unlimited" class (well, unlimited so long as you're limited to propellers and piston engines) settled on souped up surplus WWII fighters and not new original designs.  And according to an illustrated history of air racing I read many years ago there was at least one post-war race that featured surplus F-86's.  Would have been nice if they had continued that but I suspect the problem was money, oh, and the government not letting later airframes loose into civilian hands in numbers enough to make racing them viable. (There  was, before it was lost in an accident, one F-104 in flyable condition in civilian hands.  Who could he race?)

You know, for all Jim Bede's flaws as an aircraft designer, somebody should have been designing aircraft like the BD-5J and BD-10 (just doing a better job at it).  Now if somebody like the Rutan's had turned their hand to high performance jet aircraft for the civilian, hobbyist, market....

In any case, pioneering is dangerous, whatever the field.  Those who lose sight of that, and lose the willingness to accept the danger, are doomed to stagnation and ennui.

So keep the dream alive.



Monday, October 27, 2014

Feeding the Active Writer

Another holiday treat.

One of my favorite memories of the holidays was the smell of fresh-baked pumpkin pie.  Nowadays, with this whole low carb thing, pie is usually a no-no.

But I realized something.  If I skip the crust and use a low-carb sugar substitute I can still have all that pumkiny goodness.  So here it is, my recipe for Pumpkin Pudding.

Ingredients:
1 cup sugar equivalent sweetener (sucralose handles baking well, and it's my sweetener of choice).
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin, mashed or pureed
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs slightly beaten.

Preheat the oven to300
Combine the ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Pour into a 2 quart casserole dish
Bake for for 50 min to an hour or until the pudding is firm.

Serve warm with homemade whipped cream.

Homemade whipped cream:
1 cup (8 oz) heavy whipping cream, cold.
1/2 cup sugar equivalent sweetener.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chill  a medium mixing bowl in the freezer.
Combine the ingredients in the bowl.  Bowl should not be more than about 1/3 full. (If it is, you need a bigger bowl).
Beat with an electric mixer--use a whisk attachment if you have one--until the cream is stiff and holds its shape (the volume will increase as air gets incorporated into the cream, thus the need for the size bowl).

Enjoy.

Oh, if you have leftover (if you do, what's wrong with you?) you can freeze it and it makes a not bad ice cream.  A little stiff, but tasty.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Keeping the Active Writer Healthy

Not exactly one of the "Feeding the Active Writer" posts, but related.

I try not to go on and on about my diet, my exercise program, and my health issues.  But the issue does come up from time to time in online conversations here and there.  So, to save some time in the future, I decided to put it all here.

When I grew up, I walked everywhere.  Hated school buses so if I was within two miles of school, I walked.  Had a girlfriend in a neighboring town six or seven miles away.  I walked.

Oh, occasionally I had a bike and rode that instead, but I was into my twenties before it was "walk or don't go."  So I walked a lot.

Between the walking and bike riding I burned a lot of calories.  I ate pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down and if I could pry it up it didn't count as "nailed down."

For a while, in my mid twenties or so, I was actually training for bicycle racing.  An hour on the bike, covering 20 miles, was a short workout.  My long days were two to three hours averaging eighteen to nineteen miles per hour over rolling terrain (southeastern Ohio).  I actually dieted here, trying to cut fat back to boost my effective aerobic capacity to the maximum.  During this period I had the "best" weight I would ever have, about 170 lbs (at 5' 10").  And at that I was lean enough that my sister, visiting from college, asked my mother "what is he doing to himself?"

Well, time passed, knees went bad, and I got busy so that exercise fell by the wayside.  Also, metabolism changes as I got older caught up with me and I started gaining weight.

About fifteen years ago I had the first actual "physical", with bloodwork, I'd had in years.  Cholesterol was up.  So, lecture from doctor on diet and get the "low fat, high complex carb (what used to be called starches) advice that was coming down from the USDA.

And I was a good boy.  I followed it.  I started to exercise again.  I took the prescribed medicine for the cholesterol.

Cholesterol stayed high.

Well, over time I had to change to another doctor. (Insurance plans changed, different networks.  You know how it goes.)  Cholesterol still high and, in particular, HDL ("good") cholesterol low.  So we shift to a different medicine.  I continue to follow the diet recommendations.  Still no effect.  They add another cholesterol medicine.  Still nothing.

In the meantime I discover that I have some real issues with nasal allergies.  I develop chronic plantar faciitis.  And I develop periodic heart palpitations to the point that I would "grey out" on rare occasions (this latter scared me because I could imagine it happening while tooling down the highway).  And declining testosterone levels, another hallmark of age.  A variety of issues, mostly unrelated except through the fact of my getting older.  And all requiring different medications to treat (as well as things like prescription orthotics for my shoes and what have you).  At the same time cholesterol remained an issue and my doctor added yet another medication to try to bring it under control.

At least my blood pressure and EKG's remained good and I nailed the stress test.

Then, a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

That caused me to sit back and reevaluate.  I had friends who swore by a "low carb" diet but I had been skeptical.  And, frankly, I had also known people who had thrived on the low-fat, high carb diet.  Well, people are different and one size does not fit all.

In any case, I changed my diet.  Went "low carb".  Stopped worrying about fat content entirely.  Took the medicine my doctor prescribed for the diabetes (first Metformin, then Glumetza when we found that Metformin made me gassy).

Next exam, cholesterol was better, a lot better.  Blood sugar back under control.  And my weight was dropping.

I dropped thirty pounds in six months and there I've stayed.  Higher than I might like but using a home body fat test (one which uses a lot of measurements and, therefore, I believe is more accurate than the usual ones with just a couple of measurement) I get a body fat of about 21-22%.  That's right on the cusp of "healthy weight" and "overweight" (never you mind what BMI claims me to be).  It seems that I am less "fat" and more "big"--long, rather squarish trunk and short arms and legs.

So, while maybe not where I'd like it to be, I can't say I'm unhappy with my overall condition.

Here's where I am now.

Diet
 I follow a low-carb diet.  Atkins low.  Some people have long lists of specific foods, how much of this, how much of that.  That sort of thing.  I don't.  Instead, I am strictly by the numbers.  I read labels.  In the cases of fresh foods, I look up values.  The rule I follow is:  no more than 6 grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) per serving and no more than three grams of sugars per serving.  "Sugar alcohols" (although I generally try to avoid them since except in very small amounts they give me stomach cramps and make me gassy) count 1/2 toward net carbs and other artificial sweeteners count zero.

A note about servings.  I consider a "serving" of most things to be about 1/2 cup.  1/2 cup makes a serving.  4-6 servings make a meal (depending on how hungry I am).  Or 1 serving might make a snack.

So "non-starchy vegetables", various meats, some nuts, and cheeses feature heavily in my diet.  Fruits, juices, and grains are right out.  There are some "low carb" tortillas that meet my guidelines and I use those.  I've also got a recipe for Flax Meal muffins that are a pretty good bread substitute.

It's on this diet that I dropped thirty pounds and kept it off.  Kept it off because this isn't a case of "going in a diet" and then resuming "normal" eating after achieving some goal.  This is a forever thing.

Exercise
Exercise has been a bit of a challenge.  For one thing, who's got time?  Between work, home, and family--plus trying to find/make time to write--there just aren't enough hours in the day.

One of the things I do, though (part of that "family") is take my daughter to swim team practice.  It's actually pretty convenient to drop her off at practice, hop on over to the gym for a quick workout, and then be back for the latter part of her practice and to take her home.

The gym I use is Planet Fitness.  Yes, I know that a number of my friends sneer at it ("Planet Fatness"), but it's cheap, it's convenient, and it has what I need for where I am now.  I just started there recently so I haven't seen much effect yet, but I'm hoping to build a bit more muscle mass.  At least I don't think I'm yet to the point where staving off loss of muscle mass due to age is the best I can hope for.  I'm sure I'll get there if I live long enough (age sucks), but I don't think I'm there yet.  And with more muscle mass I'm hoping to make my body better at burning fat so that I can, if not lose weight overall at least change the composition for the better.

So here's what I do.

I've got a nominally four day split.  Well, nominally four day.  I haven't hit that fourth day yet because of reasons.

The target is eight to twelve repetitions of each exercise.  If I can't do eight before failure, I reduce the weight next time.  If I reach twelve, I increase the weight.

Warmups are five minutes on a treadmill at a brisk walking pace (3.5 MPH) and moderate slope (5.5 degrees currently, but I'm gradually bumping it up).  There's a three minute "cooldown" at the end of that cycle so it's a total of eight minutes.

I then do resistance training for that day's target muscle groups.  One set of an exercise then move immediately to the next, each day usually has a pair of muscle groups and I'll do one, then switch to the other for the next exercise, then back to the first group after that.  Going immediately from exercise to exercise helps keep my heart rate up through the workout.

I also include a couple of abdominal/waist exercises each workout--changing up what I do from workout to workout.

Finally a "cooldown" that's actually a more severe exercise than the warmup.  Five minutes, still at a brisk walking pace, but with a steeper angle (11.5 degrees currently but, as with warmups, I'm gradually bumping it up).  I push my heart rate hard in this workout, close to the nominal max (using the 220-age formula) for my age.  Five minutes at that pace and an additional three minutes of the treadmill's "cooldown cycle."

All told, that's about 40 minutes and a pretty good workout.

The one part that changes from day to day is the resistance training and it's as follows:
Day 1:  Chest and triceps.
Exercises like bench press, triceps press, dumbbell triceps press, fly's etc.

Day 2:  Back and Biceps
Bent rows.  Curls.  Concentration Curls.  Lat pull downs (someday I'll be able to do chinups again!) That sort of thing.

Day 3:  Legs
Leg press.  Squats (when my knees are doing well).  Leg curls.  Leg extension.  Calf press.  And so forth.

Day : 4 (although I haven't actually gotten to this one because so far something has always interrupted me for one of the available days) Shoulders and "incidentals"
Overhead press, shoulder flys, front lifts, bent flies, wrist curls (one of the "incidentals"), whatever else I can think of.

And that's my health plan, such as it is.  Diet, exercise, and taking the various medicines my doctor provides for the various issues that have arisen over the years.

With any luck, I'll still be around for when my daughter (now aged 10) decides to give me some grandkids. ;)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Feeding the Active Writer

Another holiday piece.

Cranberry sauce was one of my holiday treats growing up.  If I had an objection to it, it was that it was a bit tart for my taste or, if sweetened enough to counteract the tartness, was so cloying sweet that I could only eat small amounts.

Cranberries are great because they have a lot of fiber, very low net carbs, and little sugar.  Of course, that also means that without being sweetened, they're almost inedible.  Fortunately, I get by well with several artificial sweeteners and sucralose is my sweetener of course so I can still enjoy cranberry sauce without the sugar.

But there's that problem with the tartness.  Fortunately, there is a solution:

Port Wine Cranberry Sauce.

Ingredients
1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries. (You can use them frozen as well.  Since, depending on your locale, they can be hard to find outside the holiday season you can stock up and toss extra packs into the freezer.)
1/2 cup port wine
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar equivalent sweetener (I use sucralose that is one for one)
1 tsp xanthum gum.

Add the cranberries, port wine, water, and sucralose to a saucepan.
Heat over medium heat until boiling and the sweetener is dissolved.
While stirring, sprinkle in the xanthum gum.
Continue to boil until the cranberries pop, about 4-5 minutes usually.

Let the sauce cool, serve, and enjoy.