When Snacks Attack….

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors! How did your mead turn out? Tasty, I hope!
I keep meaning to make this blog a bit more frequent than bi-weekly, and once my secret project finally unfolds, I think I’ll have more than enough material to do that!
Wait, what secret project?”
Oh, you’ll see… In about two weeks.
Anyway, one clever segue later…

​I don’t exactly know when or how we got our brains around it, but whoever decided that the three-meals-a-day eating schedule most folks tend to live around? They had some bad information.

When I was growing up, snacking wasn’t looked at as a bad thing so much- more like biting your nails- a silly habit that’s probably harmless but shouldn’t be encouraged. Unfortunately, with people becoming so diet and weight-conscious (often in very negative, even harmful ways,) snacking- and what we snack on- has changed in the public eye. I can really only speak to any of this as a white male American with a fraught but ultimately healthy relationship with food, but really-look at the vocabulary thrown around when describing “healthy” snacking:

“Skinny.”
“Cheats.”
“Zero (something)”
“Diet”
“Decadent”

What’s the common theme here? That you’re doing something naughty and getting away with it. That you shouldn’t be enjoying “healthy” food, and that you’re sneaking around snacking- like food is a dangerous affair and you’re afraid that other people will find out you are cuckolding your lunch.

Then there’s the one most absolutely miserable, self-damning phrase of them all- the one that I would love to have removed from the lexicon of anything to do with food, crafted into an effigy, and jammed up on a pillory as a warning to others-

“GUILT-FREE.”

     I HATE this phrase. The notion of food as being a decadence, a pleasure, leading to poor moral fiber and bad life choices has been around for ages. It’s common, classic, even cliché- but you know what? Food is FOOD. It is SUSTAINENCE. We have evolved to find the acquisition of food a pleasurable experience. If you get that thrill from eating filet mignon at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a mystery-meat patty from a greasy-spoon diner, FINE. You do you.
     Having a good relationship with your food- what it is, and how you eat it- is essential in feeling good about yourself and having the lifestyle you want to be happy and healthy in. If you feel like certain foods are “bad,” or are “cheating” when you have them, that casts a pall over the feeling that eating the food you like gives you. As long as you know what you are doing, and are smart about it, there’s no reason to feel guilty- ESPECIALLY for something like snacking.
I’ve written a lot about my weight loss, and a bit about what and how I eat. I don’t think I’ve ever written about snacking before.

I am a snacking FIEND.

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Image by Matthew Inman (a.k.a. The Oatmeal)

Okay, maybe NOT to the level of The Oatmeal there, but I snack a LOT.
I almost always have between-meal snacks, and absolutely when I’m out and about during the day- particularly if I have the opportunity to try something I never had before. New things excite and interest me.
“Skinny” doesn’t get me.
A wrapper screaming “all-natural” doesn’t get me.
“Guilt-free” DEFINITELY doesn’t get me… and has earned me a series of odd looks when I’m caught growling profanities in a supermarket aisle.

What DOES get me is stuff in its most natural form possible- minimal processing, no preservatives, full fat. Fat, protein, and carbs are all necessary for your body to function right, and it’s important to get enough of the right kind- which are most often found in real, unprocessed food.

So as a healthy-living, good-relationship-with-food-having guy on the go, what ARE my preferred snacks? Here’s a short list- all of them include healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and many other nutrients that make them a smarter choice for when you need a quick fix.

Here we go:

1. NUTS

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When I get a crunchy/salty or sweet craving, my go-to is just a handful of nuts. Almonds and cashews are my favorites, but with the climate problems in California, I’ve lately been turning to pistachios. Are nuts loaded with fat and calories? Hell yes- but they are also loaded with delicious protein- the stuff that will actually fill you AND give your body the nutrients it needs. Whether I get them in bulk and keep them in my kitchen, or I’m running into a rest stop really quick, when I need some clean protein I go with these.

These what?”


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Oh, pipe down. You knew it was going to come up soon.

2. Popcorn

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Emily and I love watching movies together, and we like having popcorn available. No, NOT the super-buttery microwave stuff, or even the fancy flavored junk. Microwave popcorn is loaded down with salt, hydrogenated oils, sugars, and whatever other stuff they use to make something taste like butter or cheese but can sit on a shelf for a year.

What I do is I get a stove-top or hot air popcorn popper, get bags/ jars of loose corn (often, it’s cheaper!) and then I do it up my way. On the stovetop, you DO need to use a little oil (I love using extra virgin olive oil) to make it work, but hot-air poppers don’t. You get tasty popcorn, and then you can add the salt, herbs, spices, REAL butter and oil if you want it- all for cheaper and with less mysterious chemicals.

That sounds like a Hollywood happy ending if there ever was one.


3. Veggies and Hummus

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Cliche? Yep- but for a reason.

Chopped up fresh veggies and hummus is an snacking two-fer. The veggies are obviously great for you, are refreshing and crunchy, and can offer hydration as well. The hummus, being made from chickpeas, is rich in protein, and can be easily made or bought in a variety of flavors to suit your fancy. My fridge almost always has some in it… Which reminds me: I need to get more on the way home.


4. Sunflower Seeds

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My go-to road snack, and idle-snacking godsend. When I was in college, I would sometime find myself driving a 4-hour slog from South Jersey to Hartford, CT- rolling down long dull highways, and often jammed up in traffic. With an oral fixation habit that I’m not ashamed to own up to, sunflower seeds were both snack and entertainment. There was something wonderfully rewarding about jamming a small handful in one cheek, cracking them between my teeth, eating the seed, and then spitting the shells out the window, trying to hit the cars that were trying to cut me off earlier.

I’ll confess that I tend to like the flavored ones, which have more salt and preservatives than is good for me. If you can develop a taste for plain, unsalted ones, good on you. As for me, though, the added flavor just makes it even better when I’m trying to hit the hood of that jackass yellow Hummer.


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Nailed it.

5. Fresh Fruit

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Yes, it’s cliche again, but for a reason. When the warm weather hits, and I’m walking around the city looking for trouble, I love stopping into a grocery store and picking up just some simple pieces of organic fruit. I especially love plums, peaches, and apricots for when I am walking around, but if I’m camped out on a park bench? I love whipping out my Scout knife and slicing off pieces of apple or pear. Sweet, refreshing, and convenient- you can’t beat fresh fruit on a summer day.

Ok, so nuts, seeds, fruit, healthy crap.. Great- but what if you’ve got a craving for something? Not just a need for something crunchy, or something sweet- a craving for something SPECIFIC. A candy bar that you had as a kid… Delicious frosty ice cream, and the store has your favorite flavor.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE SNACKS ATTACK?!

Surrender.
Yes, you read that right. If you want a specific something THAT badly, just go ahead and have it, but BE SMART.

1. READ THE NUTRITION LABEL. Know how many servings are in the package, and what you are putting in your body.

2. GET AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Realize you are feeding a moment, not forever. Get enough to enjoy NOW, and have a good time.

3. OWN IT. Yep, you like some junk food. Big deal- I love salt water taffy, gummies, and beef jerky myself. Just be aware of what you are doing, and that you don’t want it to be a regular thing. Enjoy it, and then go on your way.

4. DON’T REGRET IT. You had a little something you wanted. The only regret you should ever have about food is if it wasn’t what you remembered, or didn’t taste as good as you hoped. Even then- you know not to do it again.

Go forth my friends, and eat well!

Stay Classy,

“L’CHAIM!”- The BHB’s Forays Into Homebrewing, Part 2

Good evening, friends and neighbors!
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on On The Bench… some dude screamed the whole time with his arms up or something.

Actually, I told you how to how to get started brewing a simple mead at home. Here’s what you do for when the 10 days- 2 week fermentation time is up!
Ok, not to curb your enthusiasm or anything, but just a quick note- this is only the PRIMARY fermentation. Today, we’ll be getting your delicious mead off the dead cells, sediments and whatnot that might mess up the flavor if you let it sit there. Your mead will KEEP fermenting until either it runs out of sugar (which can take years) or you choose to kill it by boiling and filtering it.

Mead is interesting in that, in most cases, after it is bottled it can be cellared INDEFINITELY. You can drink this stuff in 5 years and see where the reaction and aging has taken it. If you just want a sweet, quick little drink, go ahead and enjoy now. Otherwise, hold off for a while- this is only a BABY mead at this point.
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Unless you’re REALLY into drinking babies for some reason…

What To Do When Your Mead is Done

First of all, you might want to get some equipment from your local homebrew supply store:
A large tub for sanitzing everything (remember what I said about cleanliness?). This is a storage tub I got from Home Depot, filled up with about 10 gal. of water.
This is my preferred sanitizing agent, BTF Iodophor- an iodine-based cleaner. It’s food-safe, doesn’t require rinsing afterwards (even though I do anyway,) and doesn’t leave a funky flavor on the stuff it cleans. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that won’t leave weird flavors, and DEFINITELY won’t mess with your equipment.
Just dump the appropriate amount in (following the sanitizer’s instructions) and mix.

You’ll also want a couple of tools to make this process a little easier for you. None of these things will break the bank, and in fact some homebrewing stores may include them in a “starter” kit.

This is an auto-siphon, an open-ended pump that’ll make it super easy to get your mead from your big fermenting jug to smaller bottles. This one even has a special cap on the bottom to keep it from sucking up TOO much of the sediment.
You’ll also need a length of food-safe tubing. I picked up a clamp for mine just to keep things neat.
This is a bottle filler, and it will prevent a LOT of cleanup later, trust me. The valve on the bottom only opens when pressed, so with your siphon and hose connected to this bad boy, your mead will go where you want it- as opposed to the floor.
Bottles. Duh.

Those are the basics. I also have a hydrometer, testing flask, capper and caps.

These are for if you are a super-nerd like me and really want to figure out the proof (alcohol content) of your mead. The capper and caps are only a must if you want to store it in bottles that don’t have a swing or screw top, and it’s cheaper than a corking machine.

At this point, you will want to chill your mead down as best you can. This will slow down the fermentation and it will gather most of your sediments to the bottom in a process called “clarifying.”

This whole process is called “racking.” In winemaking, this would be when the wine is pumped from steel fermentation containers to barrels so that it can sit and age. In my case, my big 3 gal. fermenter can’t fit in my fridge, so I split it up between several smaller containers so I can clarify it more quickly and fully rack it later.

​CLEAN EVERYTHING!!!

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FIll all your bottles with sanitizing solution, let sit about 4 minutes, then dump them out…

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…drain them well, and let them air/sun dry.

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Everything else goes in the tub for about 5 minutes, immersed COMPLETELY, inside and out.

EVERYTHING that interacts with your mead must be cleaned, sanitized, drained, and air-dried. EVERYTHING.

Once you have your cleaning out of the way, it’s time to set up your siphon and get things going!

Simply take your hose and connect your auto-siphon to one end, and your bottle filler to the other. Drop the business end of your siphon slowly into your mead so that it sits JUST ABOVE the sediment on the bottom. Yes, you will lose some mead to that. Sorry. :C
If you’ve ever filled up a fuel can or cleaned a pool, you know how a siphon works. Put simply, it’s when water goes down a tube in such a way that it pulls more water with it. The pump on your auto-siphon will get your mead “up the hill” enough that it can fall and create the siphoning action. Since the end of your hose has your bottle filler on it, you might need someone to press that down into your first bottle while you pump. That’ll get everything going.

From there… just fill up your bottles!

Cap them in whatever way pleases you. I love swing-top bottles just for this purpose.  

Voila! You have bottled your first mead! Now label it, date it, and either drink it or store it!

​Just remember, before you put all your equipment away…

Yeah, you weren’t getting away from that one. Brewing is mostly cleaning.

At least you get booze out of it!

​Stay Classy,

“L’CHAIM!”-The BHB’s Forays into Homebrewing, Part 1

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

Like many good, honest souls across this great land of ours, indeed this whole wonderful world… I like my booze.

Wide and varied is the world of fermented portables, and I am very keen to try as many as I can from as far abroad as I can. Call it my humble task in bringing understanding and goodwill the world over… or I just want to get pickled in the tastiest ways possible. Whichever way is tax-deductible
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Obviously, company is welcome in my quest… provided you cover your own tab time to time.

That said, sometimes my financial situation is not exactly conductive to my altruistic bringing-peace-through-boozing desires. Being a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, though, makes that MUCH less of an obstacle.

With the recent rush toward everything being local, seasonal, homemade, small-batch, etcetera, the long-loved tradition of homebrewing in America has emboldened the “microbrewing” surge, and let humble beer and wine-lovers like myself not only embrace a new set of skills, but make the jump into entrepreneurship- bringing the taste of home and local flavor to the masses.

While most of these ambitious drinkers embrace the complexities of beer or austerity and mystery of wine, I have chosen a more simple, ancient, and no less wonderful beverage to bend my thirsty energies against.

MEAD.

The legendary drink of Vikings, and potentially the oldest fermented drink in history. Thick and sweet or light and refreshing, easy to make, and usually gluten-free.

Mead is little more than a fermentation of honey and water, sometimes with the addition of fruit, juices, spices, herbs, or any other conceivable flavoring. While beer and wine aficionados will argue to the end of time, throwing archaeological proof at each other over whether man fermented grain or grapes first, I make the humble assertion that only honey NATURALLY occurs in a fermentable state. Grapes must be crushed, and grain must be milled and steeped to make mash for beer or whiskey- raw honey only needs water and time. With Paleolithic evidence available for the gathering of honey from wild hives, I maintain that mead has a VERY strong case.

I started brewing my own mead about a year or so ago, after Emily’s family gave me a copy of “The Art of Fermentation” for Chanukah. The book is a veritable encyclopedia for anyone who wishes to understand and control the forces of fermentation, pickling, canning, and pleasurable decomposition. Since then, I have made several brews ranging from the acrid to the pleasurable to the competition-worthy (one of which I have just recently entered into the Oregon Homebrewing Festival.)
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“Scarlet O’Hara”- a mead I made with raw meadowfoam honey, dried hibiscus, and vanilla bean. Tasting is on the 7th- wish me luck!


Obviously, if homebrewing is something you wind up REALLY getting into, there are WAY more sources for you than my little blog, and a lot more details you can play around with. Online, you can get a lot of leads from the American Homebrewers Association. The books on homebrewing are numberless, but recently my go-to guide for how-tos and ideas is Ken Schramm’s “The Compleat Meadmaker.” If you have a homebrew supply store nearby, you can absolutely ask there or even see if they offer classes.

For the purposes of this blog, though, I’m just going to give you a quick how-to on an absolutely basic level spiced mead.

How to Get Hopped Up On Honey

YOU WILL NEED:

  • ​1 lbs. raw honey (available at most health food stores and crunchy supermarkets. If they have a bunch of varietals, pick the one that most appeals!)
  • 4 lbs. water (about 2 quarts. This 4:1 ratio will give you a “standard” strength mead. For a thicker, sweeter, “sack” strength mead, go for a 2:1 ratio.)
  • A combination of your favorite herbs and spices (don’t go overboard here- you want the BEST tasting spices, but not so many that your mead becomes undrinkable. This ESPECIALLY goes for strong ones like whole cloves.)

Equipment:
(All of this should be SANITIZED- you can use whatever means you like- steam, chemical, whatever. Just make sure they are really REALLY clean.)

  • 2 strong glass containers, about 1 gallon each. Fermentation creates carbon dioxide (CO2), and a LOT of it. Exploding containers are no fun, so make sure they are up to the task.
  • Measuring cup
  • Funnel
  • Strainer/sieve
  • Strong-fitting caps for the containers. If you are using an airlock (a device that lets CO2 escape without letting in outside air), you might use a cork with a bored center. Otherwise, a screw-top for your jug will work best. 

At homebrew stores, there’s a lot of other equipment you can get that can give you metrics on your mead- hydrometers, acid testers, flasks, and such. That stuff you might want to forego until you decide that homebrewing is something you are really into. Other stuff will make these steps a little easier, but aren’t strictly necessary for what we are doing here- siphons, filters, and such. 

    Here’s my set up for my next mead that I’m calling “Besamim,” after the aromatic spices used to end the Jewish observance of Shabbat.
    In case you’re wondering, that thing down at the lower left corner is my preferred airlock, with a cork for the container. My container is a 3 gallon PET carboy, since I’m making a larger batch here.

    Now, how do you get everything started?

    1. Pour the honey into your container.
    2. Pour the water in. You want to use cool to room temperature water here.
    3. Use a bit of hot water to swirl in the honey jar to make sure you get everything in there.
    4. Add your spices, cap the container, and shake vigourously to make sure the honey is dissolved.
    5. Wait.

    ​Yup. That’s really it.

    “What happens now?”
    Well, now your job is over for the time being. Inside that container, you’ve just diluted the honey enough that the live cultures trapped inside can get busy fermenting! Fermenting is when microorganisms (usually yeast) eating sugar, and excreting alcohol and CO2- and you just threw them into a Scrooge McDuck-style vault of their favorite food.
    All you have to do, for at least the next 10 days or so, is put your mead (well, technically, “must” at this point. It’s not mead yet) in a cool spot in your house, give it a little shake about twice a day, and let those little guys have fun. If you decided not to use a cork and airlock like I have here, you’ll need to vent it about twice a day to let the CO2 out but just SLIGHTLY untwisting or opening the top and resealing it quickly- remember, you REALLY don’t want outside air in there, with all the nasty stuff it carries.
    That’s all for the time being- stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days, for what to do when your mead is ready!

    Stay Classy,

    Who Needs A Hero?

         Hello, friends and neighbors!
         Sorry that this blog has lately become biweekly- I’ve lately been planning to pull off a big redesign. I’m not quite ready to unveil it just yet, but when I do… oh it’s going to be worth it. Trust me.
         That said, everyone needs heroes.

         When I started trying to get fit, I had a notion of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to look- but I had never been an athlete before. I didn’t have any sports posters, or athletes I idealized. Sports were never a big part of my life, let alone bodybuilding or fitness.

         What I did have, however, was literature, movies, and comic books.

    The hell with Michael Jordan- I wanted to be unstoppable like Juggernaut. I wanted to run like the Flash. I wanted to throw a punch like Bruce Lee, lift like Superman, and be as precise and flawlessly skilled as Batman. When I exercised, I wanted Rocky Balboa beside me, and when I ran a race, it was against Umslopogaas the Zulu warrior.

    We all need heroes- people and characters to inspire and enable us.

    Here’s some of mine.

    The BHB’s A-Team

    1. Sun Wukong (a.k.a. Son Goku, The Monkey King)
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    “Hero is he alone who vies with powers supreme!”

    Fictional character from the Chinese epic “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en

    Sun Wukong is my favorite example of having everything, and losing it through foolishness. A divinely-born stone ape, Monkey attained immortality and superhuman powers through nurturing himself physically and spiritually. He then let his power go to his head, made war against heaven, and wound up trapped beneath a mountain for 500 years. Eventually, he was freed and found redemption through humility and helping others. For his good works, he even attained Buddhahood, earning the name “Buddha Victorious in Strife.”
    Every time I read Journey to the West, besides laughing at Monkeys antics and adventures, I learn again that strength only matters for what you do with it, that nothing worthwhile comes without effort, but that “Nothing on Earth is difficult- it is only our minds that make it so!

    2. Umslopogaas
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    “I die, I die- but ah! ‘Twas a kingly fray!”

    Fictional character from H. Rider Haggards “Allan Quatermain” novels.

    Steeped as they are in imperialism, colonialism, and all the exploitative racial thinking of the Victorian Era, the Allan Quatermain novels still introduced us to the “lost world” adventure narrative. They also offered us a character possessing absolute nobility and quiet strength. No, not Quatermain- rather his sometime companion, the Zulu chief Umslopogaas.
    An old warrior, wielding his beloved axe, Umslopogaas saw himself as inferior to no one, and superior only to those he deemed dishonorable. Any man who underestimated him based on his race would be met with dispassionate regard, and often a sort of dry humor.

    My favorite moment for him comes at the end of the book “Allan Quatermain.” After having fought in a massive battle the day before, running through the night (keeping pace with a galloping horse the entire way,) and only sleeping for a few hours, Umslopogaas awakes and knows he must fight again against incredible odds:

    “… The hour has come for us, old hunter. So be it: we have had our time, but I would that in it I had seen some more such fights as yesterday’s. ‘Let them bury me after the fashion of my people, Macumazahn, and set my eyes towards Zululand.”

    – “Allan Quatermain”, H. Rider Haggard

         Besides physical prowess and phenomenal endurance, to me Umslopogaas embodies absolute nobility and dignity. He represents the confidence of quiet strength- a person that lets his actions speak for his character and ability, rather than bragging about them.
    3 + 4. Teddy Roosevelt and T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a “Lawrence of Arabia”)
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    “In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

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    “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

    How you start in life does not dictate how you live it. Here are two men, born sickly or disadvantaged, who proved to be more than their worlds predicted.
         Teddy Roosevelt was born to a wealthy and well-connected family, but with debilitating asthma. Against expectations, he took to the outdoor life and exercised vigorously. A rancher, a hunter, a policeman, and a naturalist, Teddy resigned from a comfortable desk job under the secretary of the Navy to form the Rough Riders and fight in the Spanish-American War. While campaigning for his “Bull Moose” progressive party, Roosevelt was shot in the chest just before he was to give a speech. The bullet went through his steel eyeglass case and the 50-page speech in his pocket before lodging itself in his chest muscle. Roosevelt declined to be taken to the hospital, and proceeded to give a 90-minute speech before allowing himself to be treated.

         Lawrence was born with a sort of megacephaly (a larger head and scrawny body) and also took to strenuous exercise and rigorous- often dangerous- self-imposed endurance trials. He would test himself against sleeplessness by staying up for days at a time. He would fast to test himself against hunger, and would regularly challenge himself against extreme heat and cold. Supposedly, in his youth, Lawrence could run a 7-minute mile barefoot.

         In the lives of both men, I learn that the circumstan
    ces of your birth need not define you, and that you certainly do not have to live the life that others expect of you.

    5. Bruce Lee
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    “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

         C’mon, he’s f***ing BRUCE LEE. Through intense training, studying disciplines of both East and West, and single-minded dedication, Bruce Lee became a martial arts legend, developing his own style, Jeet Kune Do.
         While anyone could stand to learn from Lee’s physical training, dedication, perseverance, I personally learn most from his adaptability. Unwilling to be constrained by concepts of “discipline,” “school,” or nationality,  he studied widely and voraciously- borrowing what he liked, putting aside what he didn’t, and combining it all into a form all his own.

    These were some of my heroes- who are yours? Who do you see coaching you when you work out, or standing at your shoulder when you struggle?

    Stay Classy,

    To Build A Better Baker: Reps, Rolling Pins, and Finding A Reason

    Good evening, friends and neighbors!
        Ostensibly, this is a baking and food blog. I am, after all, a baker and culinary professional. I am used to, and in fact EXPECT to, get a lot of questions.
        Most of them, however, are about fitness and weight loss- particularly mine.
        “How do you keep so slim while working in a bakery? I’d be as big as a house!”                “How can you stand to be around all that butter and sugar?”

    Or, worst of all,

        “What diet are you on/pill are you taking to keep so trim?!”

         First of all, “diet” in this context may as well be a slur. It will not be used on this blog again. Second, no. There are no magic pills or miracle supplements that will make it so you can scarf down 50 hamburgers in a sitting and wake up tomorrow with six-pack abs.      I have sold quite a few things in my life- one thing I will NEVER attempt to sell is bullshit. That is a promise.

        Well, since I am here to answer questions, and I love to stomp out misinformation wherever I find it, let’s discuss weight loss and fitness.

         By the by, another person who asked me about weight loss was my friend Stu Segal. He interviewed me and bunch of other great folks with stories WAY more fascinating than mine for his latest book, “Get In Shape Before It’s Too Late (P.S. It’s Never Too Late,)” available on Amazon.

    1. MOTIVATION
        When I first decided to start losing weight, I was an absolute MESS. I was working as a nurse’s aide. I was going to culinary school at night. I had back, knee, and shoulder pain that would regularly render me immobile as soon as I laid down. On top of all of it, I had just been dumped by a longtime girlfriend.

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    This guy…

        Why would I lose weight at THAT point in my life, and not another? Well, I had nothing LEFT to lose. I was in pain- physical, mental and emotional. I was unhealthy. My father was terrified I’d develop diabetes, which tends to run in my family along with obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and lung disease.
        After a timely family vacation, involving a revelatory talk with my older sister, I had reasons to get fit:
        1. Get healthy- I don’t want to die young.
        2. Get fit- I’m tired of living in pain.
        3. Vengeance- show the girl that dumped me that I can get on and do great without her. (Full disclosure: this motivation vanished when I started working out for MY reasons rather than someone else’s- an altogether more healthy way to go about it.)

        Today, 100+ lbs later, my motivations are VERY different, but no less potent.
        1. Stay fit so I can live my life the way I want.
        2. Stay strong so I can do the job I love for as long as possible.
        3. Workout because it burns stress and I always feel better after.

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    Without exercise, I figure I’d be here in about a month…


    2. THE BIG SECRET

    ​    You have the Internet. Look it up. Google “how to lose weight.” Seriously, you will DROWN in the number of sites and blogs of people that are more than happy to sell you every kind of method, food, snack, lifestyle, pill, or black magic hocus-pocus whatever that they say will make you shed weight.

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    No shortage of opinions out there…

         You can eat whatever “miracles” Dr. Oz is chatting about on TV (is that snake-oil salesman even still around?), or pick up products from one of those nightmare-factory reality shows, but ANY weight loss routine will be based around one simple, golden truth. It can even be broken down to a simple logic statement:
         IF CALORIES BURNED > CALORIES CONSUMED, THEN WEIGHT LOSS.

        That’s it. The golden rule. The only magic ANYTHING you will ever need for weight loss, and it’s not even magic- it’s science.
        Calories are just energy. When you eat, you bring energy into your body. When you workout, or move, or just go about LIVING, you burn energy. Any energy your body gets but DOESN’T burn is stored, as – you guessed it- fat.
        From there, it’s simple mechanics. If your body doesn’t get enough fresh calories to feed its activity, it’ll go into the reserves and start burning the fat.
         Bam. Simple. No confusing jargon, no fancy graphs, no easy-installment payment plans.

    Picture

    No, Sheldon…. Put it away.

         So this is all great, but maybe you’re a bit more like me. You need to SEE it happen. You need a metric. And maybe you need a sweet little phone app because you’re addicted to logging stuff. Well, got you covered there too.
    MyFitnessPal is a handy little food and exercise journal that does the nutritional math for you. Fitocracy is an exercise app and community that makes fitness fun by likening it to an RPG. Both are free at the basic level, with a paid subscription unlocking more features.

        There’s the big secret, and a couple little apps to help you watch it work. No one asks about that stuff though. They ask about the exercise sometimes, but mostly, they want to know…

    3. WHAT I EAT
        Here we go- you’re probably waiting for me to slip and use the “D-word.” Well, you’ll be surprised and thrilled to know that- no. I don’t. I eat precisely what I want, and usually when I want it.
        One caveat, though- what I want has been subject to change since I began.

        When it comes down to food, two things I have learned to keep my eye on are nutritional density and portion size. As I started paying attention to what I ate, I realized that the foods I used to really like- chips, fries, caramels, and so on- were super-calorie dense but didn’t pack much else, and definitely didn’t fill me up.  I started to realize that I COULD have that delicious Tastykake pie that I loved so much… But then I’d be relegating myself to some miserable, weakling salad for dinner, and I was really looking forward to the warm hearty beef stew I had made.
        No food plan or weight-loss scheme told me to leave the pie alone- it was the realization that I could get much more pleasure out of some foods than others. My tastes started to change. Tastykake pies weren’t worth the calories, but celery and carrots could be delicious, and I could eat a TON of them.

        That’s how I eat- a simple value judgement of what’ll give me the most enjoyable bang for my caloric buck. Economics made tasty!

    Picture

    Remember- portion control…


    That’s only half the equation though. That’s my method for bringing calories in. Burning them, however, is a more interesting tale.

    4. WHAT I DO

        My exercise regimen has three parts to it.
    1. Running (cardio exercise, trying to run 5 kilometers as fast as I can.)
    2. Gotch’s Bible (bodyweight strength training, completed as fast and neatly as possible.)
    3. Sandbag training (using a 50lbs sack of sand as a stand-in for a flour bag, recreating the motions I do with it in a bakery.)

        I didn’t start out quite this way. In the beginning, I had gotten a membership at a gym and was visiting it three days a week, mostly doing cardio on the treadmill or elliptical, and weights on whatever machines I could figure out.
        Then, I got to meet my future brother-in-law, Kevin.

    Kevin is a martial artist, bassist, and generally a kick-ass-take-names kind of guy. While crashing at his place one evening, we got to talking about fitness. I told him about my gym membership and what I was trying to accomplish. Kevin smirked and pointed at a deck of cards on his TV.
        The deck of cards was the only equipment needed for Gotch’s Bible– a calisthenics regimen created by a German wrestler named Karl Gotch. Kevin also showed me a book called “Dinosaur Training” by Brooks Kubik, describing how to exercise using whatever was around you.

        Both Gotch and Kubik had a simple philosophy- fitness was every man’s right, and no man should have to pay for the pleasure of enjoying it. Kevin’s entire fitness regimen happened at home.

        Hell, I didn’t mind having an extra $50 in my pocket each month. I was sold. Kevin gave me one last bit of advice- I should “train for what I want to do.” What did I want to do with my fit, healthy body once I got it? Bake for as long as possible without my knees and back going to crap.

        These days, I tend to work out early in the morning (when I have the most energy,) and a minimum of 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week.

         So there you have it. That’s how I do it. No pills, no fads, no wraps- no bullshit. Just smart eating and good honest sweat.

    So, can we all please kick the “Never trust a skinny cook” crap to the curb already?

    Stay Classy,

    Because It Isn’t All Sunshine and Rainbows

    Good evening, friends and neighbors.You know it’s really easy to get lost?
    At the moment, I’m staring out the window of (surprise surprise) a bar, looking out into the drizzling night of Portland. I just watched my waiter take- and I’m not kidding- a full 45 seconds to pour my beer into a glass.

    The week was a trying one, and I do love my Thursday nights. I found a spiritual successor, if not psuedo-doppelgänger, to one of my favorite sit-down-and-blog pubs, but was politely hurried out as the dinner crowd came in. I completely get it- they couldn’t really hold a two-top for some writer shmuck that wasn’t expecting to drink anymore. I don’t bear them any grudge and will likely be back soon.
    Anyway, I’m sitting here- nursing my carefully poured beer- and staring out the window, my back to the hub-bub of the crowded bar enjoying their Thursday night. I am struck momentarily about how this is a strange allegory for the life I live: Thursday’s are Saturdays. 3 am is wake-up call. 2pm is quitting time. Almost all of my work is for a time at least 1 day in the future- for most things, baking them the same day is ludicrous.
    Picture

    Bakers obviously exist outside of time.

    Why this weltschmerz? I chose this life. I chose this day, and it was a good one- I donated money to a good cause. I got some tasty snacks from local businesses, and was even offered a part-time job at a haberdasher solely because of my dapperness and hat-based knowledge (hey, if baking doesn’t shake out in the long run?)
    I visited my tattoo artist and caught up briefly, enjoyed fine food and drink at home and out, and spent some quality time with the girl I’m going to marry.

    All told, any bitching right now would rightly be immature and wasteful- but this week was an extremely annoying week.

    Yes, it does have something to do with my work. No, I am NOT going to rant about that crap on here

    Instead, I’m going back to the beginning of this post- it’s really easy to get lost.

    Obviously in a new PHYSICAL place- for a traveler, that’s sometimes one of the best things you can do.
    Along your career, however, it’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s really easy to get so frustrated and exhausted that you forget what started you down this road. As much as I write about passion, discipline, the hunger for learning, and all the other things that will turn a student into a pro and keep them in the game, these things sometimes fail. Sometimes you get so pissed and aggravated and tired that you worry whether or not this was a good idea. Whether the service industry was a good choice, and whether any other doors are still open. You wonder whether or not you should just quit.

    Sometimes, you have a really bad week.

    Picture

    Maybe not THAT far gone, but close….

    If you ever figure out how to NOT have this happen, please tell me how. All I can say is how to hang on when it happens. I try to veer away from greeting-card wisdom and memetic quotes, but hey- the guys who write those things make money for a reason.

    So Your Day Sucked, Your Life Sucks, And You Want Out

    1. Don’t.
    That’s all. Don’t do anything rash or stupid. Don’t do ANYTHING. Stop for a moment, breathe, and think.

    2. Chill.
    Find whatever it is that relaxes you and do it. Read a book. Play a video game. Go for a run. Put some time in with a punching bag. Go out to your local and don’t talk to anyone, just be by yourself awhile. Or grab a group of friends and bullshit the night away. Whatever relaxes you, do it.

    3. Talk.
    NOW talk to someone. Anyone. Someone in the industry is great, but anyone who you know will listen without judgement. Problems have a way of shrinking and straightening when you need to explain them to someone that wasn’t there. Don’t lie, don’t bullshit, don’t play victim. Tell it like it is.

    4. Think.
    After your talk, things should be a little clearer- are you burned out? Are you sleep-deprived? Will things probably be much better after you get some grub in you? Or maybe it’s long-standing, or a more serious problem- harassment at work, stress, or workplace drama. Now that things are straight, think about what you can do.

    5. Wait, or Act.
    If it’s something serious, do something about it. Report it, handle it, or find another job- unemployment is NOT worse than living in constant fear.
    If it’s not serious, wait, and put your plan into motion. Get more sleep. Change your lifestyle. Discuss the problem with your boss. Look at #1 again- don’t do anything rash or stupid.

    And always remember: a bad day doesn’t mean a bad week, and a bad week isn’t a bad life. It may have taken just one thing to send you into this slump- waiting can show you the one good thing it’ll take to pull you out.

    Just a little dime-store advice from someone that’s been there now and again, and knows that as bad as things can feel, they aren’t so bad after a meal, a drink and an honest chat.

    Stay classy,

    -BHB

    Wherever You Go…

         Good evening, friends and neighbors!

         On my current schedule, Thursdays are my first day off of the week. While there is plenty to be done around the house- cleaning, planning, organizing, errands, and so on- Thursdays are MY day. While wandering the city, I learned of the existence of the Oregon Jewish Museum and decided to mosey down and check it out- get a little bit of my family’s history and culture in this strange new land.

         Which is why I am currently sitting in Lan Su- Portland’s Chinese Garden in the heart of its Chinatown.

        Looking at the outside, the walls are sparse. They seem out of place in the thoroughly modern Portland, but not very noticeable otherwise. Once you enter, however….
         More than once since traveling and living in this city, I have been struck dumb by my surroundings- and as a poet and blogger, it completely frustrates me. Driving over valleys and canyons, watching the sunset as you are caught between the ageless Pacific and only slightly younger mountains, you invariably run out of vocabulary and start repeating yourself- and that’s when words and pictures seem in any way adequate.

        I have always felt that while food and writing are both about communication, poetry is unique in that it communicates the same WAY as food- that is, it is a person, be it poet or chef, telling you a story about themselves and their experiences, but using the reader/diner’s emotions and voice. As Roger Verge once said, “A cook is creative, marrying ingredients in the way a poet marries words.”

         In some places, however, the emotion is complex and dodgy. You really can’t break it down to a word count, or dig it out of a thesaurus (Stephen King said, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word” anyway.

         The best I can do is try to draw a picture, and then describe the picture. I remember the “5 W’s and H” of Journalism (that I learned in 5th grade for some reason) and try to put it all together.

         I’m sitting in the corner of the upstairs room of a Teahouse in the Chinese garden. It’s my Saturday, and I am losing my thoughts of the last week and coming week in the momentary atmosphere of hot tea on an unseasonably warm day. I am enjoying a marbled tea egg, and am struggling for words while scanning the room. An elderly pair discuss their work, and the women occasionally smiles in my direction. To the side, an older man sits getting ready to demonstrate Chinese calligraphy. I am eager to hear about it, and shy to get up and ask. The chair is slightly uncomfortable as I have long legs, but I am careful about shifting and squirming for fear of disturbing the tranquility of the room. I am by an open window, and I can see the tops of trees starting to bloom and heralding the arrival of spring.
         I know I will eventually leave the teahouse, explore the remainder of the garden, and then continue on into the city I call home. I feel slightly guilty I found this place while making a wrong turn trying to find the Oregon Jewish Museum, and chose to stay here instead.
         I am quietly hoping that, this being the Year of the Monkey and having seen exhibits and decor for it around, I might find a likeness of one of my literary heroes- Sun Wukong, the Monkey King– in the gift shop. I look about at the Chinese calligraphy everywhere and think about the short poems and couplets I have already seen engraved in small spaces, doorways and arches.

         Maybe I’ll come up with a poem about it all later.

         But my tea is getting cold.​

         Part of me wanted to dress up dapper and find another one of my favorite spots in the city- a whiskey library that recalls old wood, soft lounge chairs, scotch and cigars. All told, I think I made a better choice.

    EDIT- 8:30 that evening
    ​The calligrapher had started when he was a small boy, and had been doing calligraphy for over 50 years. I asked if he could do something special for me- it reads “The Art of Cooking.” I’m hanging it in my kitchen.

    Stay Classy,
    P.S.- The gift shop had some children’s books based on Journey to the West, but no statuettes or anything Sun Wukong. Ah well.