Dining out and bad fats

A couple of weeks ago, through the agency of a friend, I ended up spending the evening in a commercial kitchen preparing food.  The restaurant was closed for business that night, but had a full kitchen going for the dozen or so people who turned out to try their hands at being chefs.  We all cooked various portions of a four or five course meal. That’s me at the left in my chef’s attire chopping scallions for garnish for one of the dishes.

Sad to say, but this wasn’t the first time I’ve ever labored in the back end of a restaurant.  Both MD and I are very familiar with those duties.  One of the truly bad moves of my financial life was investing in a franchise restaurant years ago.  I still don’t know what came over me, but whatever did, it cost me a lot of money.  I distinctly remember how it all happened.  I was sitting in the kitchen of our house in Little Rock going through the mail and came upon a magazine buried in the pile.  I don’t remember now what magazine it was, but it had an article on hot new restaurant concepts.  One of the hottest, and one that was taking Dallas by storm, was a Mexican restaurant franchise called ZuZu.  ZuZu Handmade Mexican Food, to be exact.

I read the article and inexplicably reached around behind me, picked up the phone and dialed the number to get more info.  (A phone call, I might mention, that cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars before it was all over.)  The person on the other end – a honcho from ZuZu corporate office in the Rolex Building in Dallas – painted a wonderful picture of restaurant ownership, and before I knew it, MD, our eldest son and I were headed to Dallas to see a ZuZu restaurant in the flesh and try the food.

The food was dazzlingly good – all fresh, all handmade.  We tried just about everything and didn’t find anything that we didn’t love.  And much of it was low-carb, to boot.  Our eldest was just out of college and looking for something to do and our middle son was going to graduate soon.  After discussion with them, we decided to take the plunge.  Bad, bad, bad mistake on many fronts, but we learned a lot.  And that’s about the best face I can put on it.

The kids all went to Dallas and underwent the training program.  MD and I purposely avoided learning how to operate the cash register or do anything in the front of the house.  We had a large medical practice in Little Rock (a relatively small city) and didn’t want to be doing a pelvic exam or a rectal exam on someone in the morning, and then greet them that evening wearing a ZuZu hat and a big smile with ‘For here or to go?’

Consequently, whenever things went crazy – as they always do in the restaurant business – MD and I got dragooned into working the back of the house where we could do our part yet stay out of sight. One day during the first couple of weeks of being open was particularly memorable. MD and I both had presentations to make to a large medical meeting in Seattle, but the day before those presentations, we were scheduled to be on CBS The Early Show and the day before that on the Sally Jesse Raphael show.  I was busy putting together my slides for the medical presentation while MD was working on patient charts when we got the call.  MD headed to the restaurant while I stayed at the office and finished my slides.  By the time I got to the place, it was a true hellhole. MD was surrounded by piles of dirty plates, glasses, pots and pans and was deep into catching up on the dish washing so I jumped in and started prepping by chopping tomatoes, limes, onions, cilantro, you name it.  As soon as the dish washing was caught up (which took over six hours), MD started helping me prep. I was on a roll with all the stuff I was slicing and dicing, so she grabbed the peppers that I hadn’t gotten to yet and began.

As closing time approached, we began preparing the stuff for the next day.  In doing so – and I don’t remember now how I did it – I burned the bejesus out of my hand and had an enormous half-dollar size blister pop up.  After closing, MD and I got home and got into bed to get a few short hours of sleep before our 6 AM flight the next morning.  As we lay there recounting the day and wondering about our sanity for ever embarking on such a folly, MD said that her hands were starting to burn.  In just a few minutes, her hands were on fire.  She had been chemically burned by the juices from all the peppers she had prepped, and, like a sunburn, it had taken a few hours before she started feeling the effects.  She jumped up, held her hands under the cold water for about five minutes, then slathered them with a cortisone cream we had at the house.  She came back to bed and worried all night that her hands would end up red and grotesquely swollen by the morning, and that she would have to appear on national TV with lobster hands along with her husband with his giant blister.  What a nightmare!

Her hands were okay by morning – a little red, but nothing all that noticeable.  I still had the enormous blister I was trying to keep intact so that the skin would act as a dressing, but I figured I could probably keep it out of sight of the cameras.  We caught our flight, went on with Sally Jesse that afternoon and the CBS morning show the next day without incident.  Then it was off to Seattle for that gig.

In addition to our labors on the above-mentioned disastrous day, MD and I have both washed thousands and thousands of dishes using the commercial dishwasher, which has a lot of hands-on effort that goes along with it.  It seemed that it always fell to me to do the prep work.  I’ve sliced and diced rosemary, cilantro, garlic, onions, tomatoes and peppers by the car-load lot. ( And along the way I developed pretty good knife skills without sacrificing any of my fingers in doing so.)  So the two of us have spent plenty of back-breaking time in the bowels of a commercial kitchen.

But never in an enormous kitchen designed to service a fairly high-end restaurant like the one we found ourselves in the other night.  I was eager to see how it all worked.

I learned plenty.  For one thing, it’s really easy to cook in a big commercial kitchen because you have everything at your disposal.  And you don’t have to dig all the stuff out when you need it – it’s already there.

If you need to quick chill something, the giant ice bath is right there.  If you need to throw an entire tray of stuff into a big fridge, you’ve got it available without having to rearrange everything so it will fit.  If you need to quickly blanch something, there is the giant strainer and the pots of boiling water are at the ready.  It really makes cooking much more hassle free than it is at home.  And the best part of all is that you have (or at least we did during this event) staff who clean up behind you.

In between my various tasks assigned tasks, I snooped around, and my worst fears were confirmed.  Before we get to that, though, let me tell you what I’ve learned about chefs.  What I’m about to say doesn’t apply to every chef who cooks, but I would guess it applies to most.

Chefs are not particularly health conscious. They cook for flavor, not for health.  If there is a choice between making something taste a little better or making it a little more healthful, taste will win every time.  Which is a good thing in many cases because chefs – like most other people – have been brainwashed as to what is healthful and what isn’t.  Most doubtless believe that saturated fat is unhealthful, but, fortunately, that doesn’t deter them from using butter, heavy cream, bacon, and all the other tasty high-saturated  fat foods in their cooking. If butter tastes better – that’s what they use.

But many things are deep fried and cooked using vegetable oils and shortenings because these products don’t impart much of a taste.  That was the big advantage of Crisco when it came out: it was pure and while and left no taste the way lard did.  Same with processed vegetable oils today, so chefs use the heck out of it.

Part of my job was to make some egg rolls for an appetizer.  I filled them with shredded chicken, shredded crab, a snow pea, some ginger and a little salt and pepper.  Then I deep fried them.  I asked the main chef, who was keeping a watchful eye on all of us pretend chefs, what kind of oil he used in the deep fryer. (The deep fryer, like everything else in the kitchen, is running all the time, and people pop stuff into it all night long when the restaurant is busy.)  He told me it was canola oil.  I asked him if canola was commonly used in deep fryers; he said that canola was used in every restaurant he had ever worked in.

I was surprised because I wouldn’t think canola oil would hold up to a deep fryer.  I asked how often they changed the oil – he told me they did so once a week. I made a note to research it a little when I got home.

I knew polyunsaturated fat made up somewhere around a third of the fatty acids in canola oil.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are the ones most harmed by heat and oxygen, so it really made me wonder why anyone would use an oil containing so many PUFA for deep frying.  I just imagined all the oxidized fats in the oil I was dropping my newly made egg rolls into.

(There is a misconception in the minds of most people about what happens to PUFA when they are kept hot and bubbling for a long time as they are in deep fryers.  A lot of people think the PUFA convert to trans fats.  They don’t.  It requires heat, pressure and a catalyst to transform normal PUFA to trans fats.  What does happen, however, is that the PUFA become oxidized.  Then when you eat them, you are consuming oxidized fats that your body has to deal with.)

When I got home after our dinner, I went to the USDA Nutrient Database to look up canola oil to see if I had remembered correctly about the percentage of PUFA. I found the following entry:

Oil, industrial, canola (partially hydrogenated) oil for deep fat frying

When I looked up the fatty acid breakdown, I discovered that this industrial canola oil made for commercial deep fat frying contained almost a third of its fatty acids (27 percent to be exact) as trans fats.  Which is why it worked for the deep fryer.  During the processing of this oil, most of the PUFA had been converted to trans fats.

I looked at the other canola oils listed in the USDA list and found this one:

Oil, industrial, canola with antifoaming agent, principal uses salads, woks and light frying

Sounds just like what you would want to eat on your salad, doesn’t it?

This particular canola oil had just a couple of grams of trans fats per 100 grams of oil, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as the deep fryer canola oil, but it still doesn’t sound particularly appetizing.

At most of the stations in the kitchen there were containers of a salt and pepper mix and containers of oil with ladles.  If frying (not deep frying, but regular frying) were to be done, you threw a ladle of oil on the grill or in the skillet.  If you were whipping up a salad dressing, you started with the oil and worked from there.  This oil is the industrial oil with the antifoaming agent.

So, the take-home message from my experience is that if you eat in a restaurant you are going to get a lot of oils that you would probably rather not have.  At worst, you’re going to get a load of trans fats; at best, you’re going to throw back plenty of omega-6s. Omega-6 fats are, for the most part, pro-inflammatory, and we get way, way too many of them in our diet as it is. Most of the readers of this blog know how harmful omega-6 fats are in large quantities, so I won’t go in to it here.  Suffice it to say, however, that the medical literature is full of articles pointing out the hazards of too many omega-6 fats.  Then there is the American Heart Association that has inexplicably come out in support of omega-6 fats for heart health (Harris, WS), which advice you can put up on your shelf right beside the advice to avoid saturated fats.

In the 6-Week Cure we wrote about how vegetable oils – at least in lab animals – drive the development of fatty liver.  Researchers give rodents large regular doses of alcohol to get them to develop fatty livers.  They have found that if they give the rodents vegetable oils, they can accelerate the development of liver disease.  If the rodents get saturated fats, however, they almost can’t get fatty livers no matter how much alcohol they take in.  Does this apply to humans?  Who knows?  These kinds of studies would be unethical to do in humans, so we can’t test to find out.  But, the evidence is clear enough in rodents that I’m not all that eager to go face down in the vegetable oil.

I suspect that one of the reasons non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide is the ubiquitous substitution of vegetable oils for saturated fats every where.  When we were doing research for the book, I scoured the literature to find studies in which people with fatty liver disease were treated with diet and found only two such studies.  In both of them the fatty livers of the subjects reversed quickly – in just a matter of a few days – when the subjects went on low-carb diets.  I suspect that the increase in saturated fat helped things along markedly.  And, I suspect the unwarranted avoidance of saturated fats by our bamboozled fellow citizens is one of the reasons there is so much fatty liver disease.

If you prepare your food in your own kitchen, you control exactly what goes into it.  If you go out to eat, you lose that control.  I suspect most restaurants operate about like the very upscale one I just played chef in, and so if you go to even a nice restaurant, you’re going to be consuming stuff you would probably rather not consume.  In the old days (when I was a kid, for example), going out to eat was a big deal, and it almost never happened. Everything was prepared at home.  Now people eat out more than they eat at home.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more people are dining out than ever, even in tough economic times.  On a typical day, restaurant sales in the US average $1.6 billion. The average household spent $2,698 for restaurant food in 2008.  Forty percent of adults say that eating out or getting take-out food makes them more productive in their lives. The majority of adults – 78 percent – believe that dining out with family and friends is a better way to make use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up.

To the left is a graph from the USDA Economic Research Service showing the increase in the home budget dollar spent on food away from home.  It just about parallels the graph showing the development of the obesity epidemic.  I’m not necessarily making the case that eating out has caused the obesity epidemic, but I’m not sure it hasn’t played a significant role in it.  Especially now that I know what kind of oils restaurants use.

One of the statistics I read while researching for this post was that 73 percent of adults say they are trying to make more healthful choices at restaurants now than they did just two years ago.  Assuming this is true, it probably means they are ordering more salads, which seem to equate in everyone’s mind with a more healthful choice.  But if the dressings are made for the salad with the oils used in bulk in most restaurants, it’s probably not the best thing you can eat where your health is concerned.  But I always ask for my dressing on the side so that I can control how much I put on, you say?  That’s the big joke among chefs.  It’s been shown that when salads are tossed by the chef, much less dressing is used as compared to when people ask for it on the side and add it themselves.

The point of all this is that when you go out to eat, no matter how upscale the restaurant, you lose control over what goes in your mouth.  Short of bulling your way into the kitchen, you are clueless as to what oils are going into and onto your food.  If you eat out a lot, you are doubtless taking in a fair quantity of trans fats and oxidized fats and plain old omega-6 fats – all fats you can stand to do without.  The only way you maintain control is if you do the cooking yourself.  Plus, you’ll save a lot of money because it’s almost always less expensive to prepare it yourself.

One of the best things you can do for your health (and your pocketbook) is to spend more time in your own kitchen.

ADDENDUM:  Geez, one post later and I’ve already forgotten about the book list.

Since the last post, I’ve polished off Predictably Irrational, the Kate Atkinson novel and the Shenk book on genius.  I’m still working on the others.

I’ve added the following to my list:

I See Rude People by Amy Alkon.  The subtitle says it all: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society.  Amy is a friend of mine who writes an advice column, and I can tell you after spending a lot of time with her, that she is unfailingly polite and gracious herself to everyone she meets…except for boors.  I’ve dipped into her excellent book numerous times, but now I’m reading it from front to back.  I wish I had the gumption she does to confront the rude people I’m (we all are) confronted with daily.  With this book, I can do it vicariously.  An excellent read.

Naked by the Window by Robert Katz.  A book about the death (was is murder, suicide or accident?) of the diminutive Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, who plunged 34 stories to her death in 1985.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson.  I hope I love this book as much as I loved his The Ghost Map.

An evening with Sir George Martin

I’m taking a short break from the great Anthony Colpo smackdown to report on all the goings on with the ‘wretched’ choral society and the Beatles concert.  As I’ve mentioned before, MD has been pushing for a Beatles concert since she’s been the president (her three-year term will be mercifully over on June 30, and I’ll have my wife back).  It’s all come to pass with a whole lot of help from a whole bunch of people. And, thanks to all this effort by all these people – especially Brooks Firestone – it has turned into a much, much huger event than she had ever imagined.

The event kicked off last night with a small reception with Sir George Martin.  About 50 people came to a wine and hors d’oeuvres at the Founders Room of the Granada theater.  Sir George gave a wonderful talk about his early career and his first meeting with the Beatles.  At that time non-Sir George was heading EMI records and his specialty was comedy records.  Brian Epstein had arranged an appointment (Martin said he still has his diary, which lists Epstein as Bernard Epstein) and when Martin told him that he wasn’t interested, Epstein looked so dejected, that Martin relented and said, “Okay, I’ll give them one hour next week.”

The Beatles came in at the appointed time, were terrible as musicians, but were absolutely charming.  Martin took them into the control room to listen to their audition recording and told them to tell him if there was anything they didn’t like.  George Harrison promptly said,”For starters, I’m not crazy about your tie.”  The other Beatles were mortified because they thought George may have blown the deal for them.  George Martin, on the other hand, thought it was hilarious.  At the end of the day, he agreed to give them a recording contract.  Then, as he said in his talk, “As we all know, the rest is history.”

He also said that after he had given the Beatles their first contract, he discovered that they had been turned down by every other record producer in England.  He had been their last resort.  Funny how things work out.

When MD and I woke up this morning, the article below was in the Santa Barbara paper. I shamelessly ripped the photo of MD and me with Sir George and put it at the top of this post.

The Dallas branch of the Eades fam flew in from Dallas for the big event, but the eldest grandchild got sick on the plane.  The two others were in fine shape, though, and ended up having their own audience with Sir George in his dressing room.  The eldest woke up in great shape this morning, so he’ll be at the big premier performance tonight.

Photo at top and in article by Matt Weir

Photo at bottom by MD Eades and her iPhone

Merry Christmas from Dallas

A quick post just to let everyone know that I’m still among the living and that I haven’t given up posting for good.

MD and I have taken off a few days and are in Dallas with kids and grandkids celebrating Christmas.  It snowed like crazy all yesterday afternoon, and, according to the newspapers, Dallas has had its first white Christmas since 1926.  And we were here to witness it.  At left is a photo looking out the back door.  Granted, it’s not a New England eight inch snow or a Colorado two foot snow, but it’s a pretty substantial snow for Dallas.  Maybe it’s a harbinger of good things to come, although the last white Christmas preceded the year in which the Great Depression started.

I’ve been absent from posting because MD and I have been incredibly busy with Sous Vide Supreme stuff.  I just thought we were busy during the developmental stage.  The post-developmental era has consumed enormous amounts of our time.  Especially since our invention had such a nice write up in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.  We’ve been inundated with requests for interviews from multiple media sources and for write ups for this and that.  And all that is not to mention a week’s worth of filming in Seattle.  We’re making a true infomercial on the Sous Vide Supreme with emphasis on the ‘info’ part.  So many people are unaware of what the sous vide process is, so we’re going to tell them.

We’ve teamed up with chef Richard Blais, whom many of you may know from Top Chef, Iron Chef America and other TV cooking shows.  He couldn’t be any nicer nor any easier to work with – a really great guy who can cook like you wouldn’t believe.  He will appear with MD on the infomercial that will start running early next year.  Below is a photo of the two of them camping it up on the set.

The infomercial filming went without a hitch, and the food that Richard Blais prepared in the SVS was incomparable.  On the eve of the filming my brother sent me a YouTube of an infomercial that had a few problems.  I forwarded it on to the rest of the team, and fortunately the Sous Vide Supreme functioned a little better than the popcorn popper in the video below.

We’ve also teamed up with the retailer Sur La Table.  They will be carrying the Sous Vide Supreme in their stores and in their catalog right after the start of the year.  MD and Richard will be doing demos in several of the stores, so if you want to see the SVS in the flesh, so to speak, head on over to a Sur La Table near you and take a look.

This entire sous vide experience has been different than anything we’ve ever done.  It’s really nice to see articles and reviews that are all positive instead of the hatchet jobs we’re used to getting while promoting low-carb.  No one accuses us of being purveyors of dangerous fad diets, of encouraging people to eat more artery-clogging saturated fat, of being doctors of death (which we’ve been called on live radio) or of simply trying to make a quick buck at the expense of the health of those gullible enough to follow our recommendations.  The new experience has been rewarding and a lot of fun but incredibly time consuming.  Thus my absence from my blogging duties.

But I’ve been absent in electrons only.  I’ve been flying all over the place carrying a satchel of scientific papers that I’ve been reviewing and preparing to blog about.  So I’m fully loaded with ammo and ready to write after I’ve taken a fews days of a breather.

I haven’t been totally offline, however.  I’ve been keeping up with the blogs I  read regularly and haven’t been able to resist commenting when something gets under my skin.

Food writer Michael Ruhlman did a great review of the Sous Vide Supreme, and in the comments section someone took me (and the SVS team) to task for profiteering.   As you might imagine, this kind of thing really gets my hackles up, especially since we are still way, way in the red on this project.  I kept myself in check (the good Mike won out as MD would say) and wrote a couple of mild  but informative comments.  You can read them here.

My friend Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, whose blog I read religiously, wrote a funny post on bacon featuring the kind of ill-disciplined child who gives the South a bad name.  Amy, who is an inveterate low-carber, wrote the post from the perspective of how much she likes bacon.  Of course some commenter couldn’t resist slamming low-carb diets in general and Gary Taubes in particular, so I couldn’t resist resorting to form (the bad Mike sort of won out on this one).  If you’re interested, you can read that exchange here (two comments). The guy turned out to be pretty nice and even sent me a friendly email via Amy.

Speaking of Gary Taubes… he tipped me off on an interesting paper on HDL that I’ll post on soon and I’ve uncovered a few others on the fallacy of the lipid hypothesis.  It looks like the mainstream is ratcheting up its jihad against low-carb again with a few spurious papers badly in need of a public dismantling.  I’ll soon be tanned, rested and ready to shred.  And to go after the statinators, the great medical menaces of our time.  Plus I’ll throw in a nice post on how long it might take the low-carb diet to become the diet recognized by all as the correct diet for most everyone.

Until then, I’m going to lay low and try to catch up on my non-scientific reading.  Speaking of which, I got a great book as a Christmas present from my grandkids today.  It is Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson and is about US Air Flight 5149 that went into the Hudson River last January.  Although the book extols the skill and courage of Capt Sullenberger and crew, its main emphasis is on the aircraft they flew: the Airbus 320.

Twenty five years before Flight 1549 took its plunge, a highly intelligent, charismatic French fighter pilot and test pilot named Bernard Ziegler talked the management at Airbus to let him design a plane that almost flew itself.  Ziegler recognized that pilots exhibited a bell-shaped curve in their level of skill and expertise and that some of the less skilled had ended up killing themselves along with all their passengers after getting into situations that more skilled pilots may have gotten out of safely.  He wanted to design a plane with layers of built-in redundancies that would allow all pilots, but especially those less skilled, to worry about the major goal of any pilot who is in trouble – getting safely on the ground – without  being distracted by all the little details of flying.  In other words – and in very simplistic words – if pilots could simply make the decision to land, the plane could almost fly itself.  When pilots get in tricky situations it is sometimes difficult to get out of them without stressing the plane to the point of structural damage.  As the pilots are trying to avoid disaster they have to worry not only about their main problem – a loss of power, say – but have to baby the plane to keep it from breaking up.  Ziegler fixed all that with the Airbus by designing it to perform maximally under control of multiple computers while the pilots tend to the main problem at hand.  Since the computers control these functions of the plane by electricity it’s called flying by the wire.

When Sully and crew brought the plane down safely in the Hudson, they were flying by wire.  And as the author William Langewiesche puts it

They had no choice.  Like it or not, Ziegler reached out across the years and cradled them all the way to the water. His assistance may have been unnecessary, given the special qualities of these particular two [the pilots of Flight 1549], but there is no question the practical effects were profound.  At the moment of the bird strike, when the engines lost thrust, a conventional airplane would have tried immediately to nose down.  It would have wanted to go into a sharp descent, and would have required whoever was flying to haul back on the controls with some strength and to retrim the airplane for a slower, more moderate glide, while disciplining the wings to stay level until the decision could be made to turn around.  None of this is inherently difficult, but it imposes insidious demands on the crew in an emergency, when they are already busy with more important concerns.  It is an accepted reality that the repetitive and menial jobs, associated with baseline control subtly impinge on a pilot’s capacities, and that during periods of truly high workloads, even simple thoughts are difficult to have.

Imagine trying to disarm a bomb while also having to deal with menial chores and talk on the phone at the same time.

This fascinating book doesn’t detract from the skill and heroism of the crew of Flight 1549, but explains in detail why they were able to make it look so easy.

I loved this book.  I opened it in the morning and had it finished before lunch (lunch was sous vide turkey, if you must know).  If you have any interest in aviation, Fly by Wire is a must read.  Despite the fact that the author dissects in detail a number of commercial aviation disasters in the recent past, the book actually makes one feel safer flying, especially in an Airbus 320.

This post is already longer than I had intended it to be, so I wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I’ll be back soon.

Merry Christmas from Dallas

I’ll leave you with a couple more photos.  Below on the left is my Southern grandson testing the snow barefooted.  On the right is MD slicing the sous vide turkey we had for lunch.

Sous Vide Supreme

The long-awaited announcement of what MD and I have been working on for the past couple of years is at hand.  We have developed (along with a team of engineers, designers, manufacturers, business people and a host of others) the first stand-alone sous vide unit made specifically for the home kitchen.  It’s called the Sous Vide Supreme and is pictured at left, getting ready to ship.  The Sous Vide Supreme is the first new category of kitchen appliance since the microwave, so we’re incredibly excited about our role in what we think is a world-changing event.  At least world changing in the same way the microwave was world changing.

For those of you unfamiliar with sous vide, it is a French term meaning ‘under vacuum’ and refers to a method of cooking in which vacuum-packed foods are cooked in a water bath creating a taste and flavor that can’t be replicated any other way.  Though many of you may never have heard of the term ‘sous vide,’ it’s a good bet that you have tasted food prepared using the ‘sous vide’ method, especially if you have eaten at a fine restaurant.

Why on earth would two physicians who made their reputations caring for overweight patients and writing books about diet and nutrition veer off in the direction of manufacturing a kitchen appliance?  As is always said in situations such as this one, it’s a long story.  But not really that long, so I’ll tell it.

A couple of years ago I was trolling through the internet looking for something – I don’t remember what – and I came upon an article about the sous vide method of cooking.  I read about it and did a little more research.  Once I understood the concept, it all made perfect sense to me, so I did what I always do in cooking situations: I dragooned MD into doing all the work.  I did help a little, but she was the real technician in putting our first sous vide contraption together.

So you’ll understand how sous vide works, I’ll digress a little from the story of our development of the Sous Vide Supreme to explain.

Say, for instance, you want to cook a perfect medium rare steak.  You throw it on a very hot grill (or skillet) and try to guess the amount of time it will take for the extreme heat to penetrate the steak until it raises the temperature in middle of the steak to 134 degrees F.  Often you miss and either under cook or (more commonly) overcook the steak.  You can be more precise if you use a meat thermometer and pull the steak off the grill when the temperature reaches 134 degrees.  This meat-thermometer technique is obviously a more accurate way to ensure the perfect medium rare steak, but it has its drawbacks.  If you pull the steak off the grill when the center is at 134 F, the steak continues to cook and will end up more well done than medium rare.  If you pull it off at, say, 128 F, you are playing the guessing game again, hoping that it will cook to the 134 F on its own.

And we’re not even talking here about the problems you run into if you are cooking several steaks of differing thicknesses, a situation that multiplies the probability of having a not-quite-right outcome – at least with some of the steaks.

If you use either of the above methods precisely, you end up with a perfect medium rare steak…right in the middle.  The center of the steak is medium rare, but it gets more and more well done as it gets closer to the surface.  You have what looks kind of like a target with the perfect medium rare center being the bulls eye with the rest of the target being progressively more well done as it gets nearer the edges.

Sous vide solves this problem.  You season your steaks however you like them seasoned, then you put them in vacuum bags and seal them.  (You don’t have to have an expensive machine for this.  You can find vacuum bags and pumps for just a few dollars at most grocery stores.)  You then put the seasoned, sealed steaks into a sous vide water bath set for 134 F and walk away.  You can leave them in for an hour or eight hours – the time doesn’t really matter that much because as soon as the steaks reach 134 degrees throughout, they are perfectly medium rare and they don’t get any more well done beyond that point.  So if you’re having a dinner party and your steaks are in a sous vide cooker awaiting the meal and the pre-dinner chit chat runs a half hour (or an hour or two hours) over, it doesn’t matter.  You take the steaks out, remove them from the bag, finish them off for about 30 seconds, and you’re finished and have perfect medium rare steaks.  And it doesn’t matter if some of your guests want thick fillets while others want thinner sirloins and yet others want rib eyes – they all come out perfect at the same time.

Sous vide is the perfect method for cooking tougher cuts of meat.  Grass fed beef, though tasty, isn’t always the most tender of selections.  If, however, you put a couple of grass-fed beef steaks in a sous vide bath before you go to work, by the time you get home, they are as tender as a mother’s heart while still retaining all their taste.  MD blogged about flank steak cooked sous vide a while back.  You can cook flank steak, which is really tasty but tough, using the sous vide method and have a meat that is as tender as filet but with all the taste of the flank steak and best of all, not overcooked.

Here is a link to a full-page Wall Street Journal article from about a year and a half ago that describes the sous vide process and has a pretty good video showing how it works to cook a steak.

But it’s not just for steak. You can use the Sous Vide Supreme to cook any kind of meat and vegetables.  And can even use it to make ice cream base, béarnaise sauce, creme anglaise and anything that requires a precise temperature to cook properly.  Vegetables cooked sous vide are out of this world.  For instance, if you cook beets the traditional way by boiling them, you’re left with a lot of beet-colored water in the pan after you’ve removed the beets.  This beet-colored fluid contains flavonoids, carotenoids and other beneficial nutrients that you would prefer not to lose. If you vacuum seal the beets and cook them sous vide at 185 F, you end up with beets that are unlike any beets you’ve tasted before.  They look the same, but taste much more beet-y, because they have retained all the nutritious fluid that you previously threw down the drain after boiling.  The beets are tastier, have a better consistency and are more nutritious than beets cooked any other way.  It works the same with all veggies.

When MD built our first home-made sous vide contraption on our stove, she used a stock pot that she had to put up on a scaffold she built out of odds and ends she rounded up from the kitchen.  She had to get the pot above the flame because even at its lowest setting, the fire was hot enough to simmer water, which meant that the temperature was 212 F, way, way too hot for sous vide.  She had to get the bottom of the pot high enough, so that the temperature in the water in the pot was around 140 F (at that point, we thought 140 was the temperature required for a perfect medium rare steak).  It was no mean feat to do so.  She had to keep a candy thermometer in the pot and keep adding little bits of cold water and even ice to keep the water at 140 F. (I now wish that I had photographed this early contraption, but, alas, I didn’t, so you’ll just have to imagine it.) After keeping a couple of vacuum-sealed steaks submerged at roughly 140 F for a couple of hours (which required her constant attention), MD pulled them out, finished them off on the grill for a few seconds, and we cut into them.  We learned a couple of things.  First, 140 F is too hot for medium rare, and, second, finishing is an important part of the process.

MD with my invaluable technical advice fiddled with our device for another few runs of steaks before she hit on the way to cook them perfectly.  Once she did, and once we tasted them perfectly done, I was sold.  I decided that we needed to purchase a sous vide unit for our house.

I got online and searched.  What I discovered to my absolute amazement is that there was not a sous vide unit made for the home kitchen.  There were several companies making sous vide units for restaurant use, but the price of them would knock your socks off.  The least expensive one – and it was tiny – ran to over a thousand dollars.  Most costs many thousands of dollars.  I kept thinking that there had to be a home sous vide unit somewhere, but search though I did, I couldn’t find one.

The light bulb went on.

I reasoned that I couldn’t be the only one who wanted a home sous vide unit.  And of such thoughts are opportunities made.  I figured it couldn’t be that tough to make a unit, since, after all, they were nothing but sophisticated Crock Pots.  So I thought.  As it ends up, nothing is further from the truth, but I didn’t know that at the time.

During my online searches for some kind of home sous vide machine, I came across countless articles on sous vide cooking.  One of these articles contained a quote by Nathan Myhrvold – the retired Chief Technical Officer of Microsoft who has devoted his post retirement to cooking, photography* and various other endeavors – a sous vide expert who figured prominently in the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above, and who is the go-to guy whenever a writer needs a comment about sous vide.  When I read these words, I knew  there was a real opportunity.

Most dedicated home cooks purchase laboratory water baths, which are available on eBay, says Myhrvold.

“I believe someone will produce a home sous vide machine in the not-to-distant future,” says Myhrvold.  Basically, “a Crock-Pot with [a] very accurate thermostat.”

Knowing as I did Nathan Myhrvold’s status in the food world, I reckoned he would know if someone was already working on one, and since he didn’t mention it (and since I’m an eternal optimist), I figured there wasn’t anyone working on one.  So, it was full speed ahead.

What I didn’t realize was that Nathan Myhrvold was wrong.  Not about the no-one working on one, but about the technology required.  He made it sound easy.  But, as it turns out, a sous vide cooker is much, much more than a Crock-Pot with a very accurate thermometer.  To be able to cook sous vide, the temperature can’t fluctuate more than a half a degree in either direction.  For example, eggs cooked at 63 degrees C (you can set the Sous Vide Supreme for either C or F) are totally different from eggs cooked at 62 or 64 degrees.  Try to cook perfect eggs by setting a Crock-Pot at low, medium or hot, the temperature selections available for most.  You can’t do it.  The maintenance of a specific temperature for hours (and even days) is an absolute necessity in cooking sous vide, and that was what we set out to do in developing our machine.  This kind of temperature control can’t be maintained with a simple thermostat mechanism.

Once we decided to make the leap and try to develop a home sous vide unit, it dawned on us that neither of us knew anything about the appliance business.  So we hadn’t a clue as to how to launch such a venture.  But we allowed as how there were bound to be people who did.  So I set about finding them.

Through a business acquaintance, I got introduced to an entrepreneur and businessman who had some experience in the small appliance development business. (A pedigree in small appliance development would be more correct.  He took The Juiceman and The Breadman from concept to success and was also an executive VP at Salton with the George Foreman Grill.)

Bob Lamson, who is now a partner in the business and a great friend, is just the kind of guy I enjoy being around.  I, of course, don’t think he is nearly as smart as I am, but he may disagree.  He is trained in philosophy, has a undergraduate degree from Yale, has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington, ran for US Congress as a Democrat (and almost won), is the author of a book on the economics of the defense industry, and was in a small high school philosophy study group with Barrack Obama’s mother.  As you might imagine, Bob and I have many spirited conversations about many, many topics, which keep all our get togethers stimulating. He is a Seattle resident of long standing, thus our many trips to Seattle where a branch of the Sous Vide Supreme offices are located.

MD and I (MD mainly) came up with the specs for a home sous vide unit, and Bob, who knows everyone involved in the appliance business the world over, after gathering bids, recommended an engineering and design firm in London that got started on the design work.  After much back and forth, and many prototypes, we finally got the design we wanted and a prototype that worked like a charm.

After a lot of consultation, we concluded that if we had any hope of bringing our product to market at a reasonable price for the home consumer, we were going to have to have it made in China, a situation about which I had considerable angst.  We were confronted with the reality that if we made it somewhere else, our appliance would be too costly, and if we made it in China, it would, well, be made in China.  Bob assured us that many Chinese factories were state of the art, and that it was just a matter of selecting the right one.  Bob had had many products made in China (just about everything, I discovered, including the Macbook Pro I’m typing these words on is made in China) and had had no problems.  He told us he would go to China himself and check out any factory we might end up using.  MD and I decided to go as well.

I was in for a huge surprise.  During my years as an engineer I visited many factories, so I have a pretty good feel for what US factories look like.  The factory we decided to work with in China was a marvel of high technology.  In their showroom were many of the products we’re all familiar with here in the US, and as we were shown through the huge work spaces, there were all these same familiar products rolling off the assembly lines.  The testing facilities were beyond compare, and the engineers were terrific.  In fact, the engineers there solved many of the temperature-control and cooling problems that had been plaguing us.  Whenever we found anything problematic, the folks at this factory were immediately responsive in getting it fixed.  After spending a couple of days at the facility, meeting the engineers, and watching the testing processes, we felt more than comfortable using this factory for our product.

What we didn’t realize when we started this venture was that the difficulty in achieving the precise temperature control necessary to sous vide cooking meant that each and every machine had to be calibrated by hand after it came off the line.  The engineers at the factory developed a system to do this that required filling each machine with water and testing multiple temp settings without the process adding huge amounts to the cost of the system.  I found the Chinese engineers easy to work with and incredibly understanding of all the hassle required to bring a product to market in the US.

After designing, building and working all the kinks out of our Sous Vide Supreme, one hurdle remained for us.  We had to get it approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  No UL approval, no US sales.  It was as simple as that.  No retail stores will touch an appliance that isn’t UL approved, and let me tell you, UL approval isn’t easy to come by.  The UL people visited the factory in China, worked with the engineers, made suggestions as to how we could improve our machine, and finally granted us the coveted UL Approved moniker just a couple of weeks ago.  It was this approval I was waiting for before I wrote this post.  I didn’t want to alert the world as to what we were doing until we had this final and most important process firmly in hand.

I can’t begin to tell you what an enormous project this has been.  You don’t really know (I certainly didn’t) what’s involved when you go down to buy a small appliance at your local department store.  We’ve had to hire designers to create logos, do artwork for the box; we’ve had to come up with how-to-use manuals (which are a part of getting a product through UL) and cooking instructions. We’ve had to test multiple iterations of the machine and tweak each one until we got it right.  We’ve had our units tested in major test kitchens here and in Europe, and worked with famous chefs to get it right.  We’ve had to deal with trans-oceanic freight companies and packing and shipping facilities in the US and China.  We ourselves have cooked a zillion different foods in our own test kitchen. It’s been a seemingly never-ending process as you can tell by how long I’ve been putting off the great revelation.  But now it’s done and ready to go.

Our PR firm, Duo PR, is sending us out on a cooking/demo tour that should start on October 18 if all goes well.  Most of the gigs we’ll be going on will be private affairs for potential retailers, but if any are public, I’ll post them so that any of you who have the opportunity and so desire may come to one of the events.

If you want more information about the Sous Vide Supreme, here is the website of our company, Eades Appliance Technology, aka EAT.  Sign up where indicated and we’ll email you information as it becomes available.  And, BTW, the ‘Eades’ in Eades Appliance Technology means a bunch of Eadeses, not just MD and me.  We’ve tapped our family for legal advice, financing, food tasting and creative assistance.  So it is truly a family enterprise plus Bob, Mo and the rest of the staff at the Sous Vide Supreme office in Seattle.

Since this blog isn’t really a blog to sell stuff – other than an occasional recommendation here and there – I’m not going to be writing much on the Sous Vide Supreme.  I’ll have links to the website on the links, and I’ve started a Twitter account so I can put up links on sous vide cooking.  But other than those, this is pretty much it. (I may have one other major announcement, if we can get the legal-contractual issues worked out, but that should be it.) Many people have wanted to know what we’ve been working on so mysteriously, so this is it.  In fact, this is the very first piece to go out into the world about the Sous Vide Supreme. Other than the team working on it, you are the first in the world to be learning about this product.

Next post I’ll be back to the nutritional stuff.

Here are a few photos of MD cooking steaks in one of the sous vide machines in our kitchen.

Here you see a couple of units on our counter so you can get the feel for the size. To the right are cooked, vacuum-sealed steaks pulled from the water bath ready to be finished. The steaks are lying in the inverted top of the Sous Vide Supreme. This top as tray was one of MD’s innovative brainstorms.

SVS steaks up close1

In this close up of the perfectly medium rare steaks, you can see that they have been seasoned before being put in the vacuum bags. They are now ready for the skillet. But first, you’ve got to put some butter in the skillet and heat it until the butter is foaming. Then you put the steak in and leave it for just about 20-30 seconds on one side, then flip and sear on the other side for only a few seconds.

SVS steak being cooked1

One steak in the pan searing on one side and about ready to be flipped.

SVS steaks being cooked1

Two steaks cooked perfectly. I wish the photo were as perfect as the steaks. I intended to take a picture of the steak after it was cut, but my hunger got the best of me and I forgot.

* Nathan Myhrvold took the photos I displayed in a previous blog post.

Hard at work on Orcas Island

Deer Harbor, Orcas Island blog

After meetings all day long Monday and Tuesday, we left with our partner to head for his place on Orcas Island.  We drove for an hour and a half then took a ferry for an hour to get there where his wife, who had gone up the day before, was patiently waiting.  We went to dinner and headed to the house.  We got there long after dark and crashed.  I always love to wake up in the morning in a place that I haven’t yet really seen because I arrived under the cover of darkness the night before.

Our partner’s house has a phenomenal view overlooking the sound and is nestled in among the Douglas firs, many of which are at least four feet in diameter.  It is really a forest primeval and a great place to vacation. Unfortunately, we had come to work.

After a breakfast of eggs and bacon, we set to.  MD was working inside on our traveling laptop while I sat outside on the deck and made calls.  In the photo below, our partner is on the phone to London and I’m on the phone to God only knows, since I had about a dozen calls I made while he made only the one.

Hard at work blog

As you can see, it’s not too shabby a place to work.  And work we did.  We got a lot accomplished before we took a break to set out the crab traps to get our dinner for that night.

We rowed out to the boat, unhooked from the mooring ball and headed out to our partner’s secret crabbing spot a couple of miles away.  It was so secret that we could locate it only by the dozens of other crab traps there.

MD tethers boat blogBaiting trap blog

After setting out the trap, we came back, worked a little more, then broke for lunch.  We went into the tiny town of Eastsound and ate at Roses, a lovely little restaurant, serving all natural or organic food.  Our friends needed to run by the hardware store, where I found the item pictured below.  It is a testament to America today (and the whole world, I fear,) when manufacturers can make money producing products like this one.  Thirty years ago there would not have been enough demand to justify mass producing these chairs.  But today I wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t one of their biggest sellers (no pun intended).  As you can see from the photo, it is named The Big Boy, which implies a large, football-lineman-like physique, but which is really a euphemism for The Obese Boy (or girl).  As I’ve written before, these things make my blood boil, because so many people have been victimized by doing what the ‘authorities’ recommended they do.

We went back to the house, worked for the rest of the afternoon until it was Jameson time.  We walked to the beach (about 50 yards from the house) and sat in the sun waiting for the tide to get right so we could head for our crab trap. In due course, we rowed back to the boat, MD unhooked us again, and we were off to the traps.  On the way there we saw a commotion ahead in the water.  At first I thought it was dolphins, but as we got closer we realized it was two seals (not sea lions) fighting.  They were going at it hammer and tongs.  They would surface with one latched on to the other’s neck with its teeth, then both would submerge.  I thought they might just be playing until I noticed the blood everywhere.  The fight continued as we circled around watching.  I had my camera, but couldn’t get a decent photo because every time I clicked the shutter, the seals went back under during the lag between clicking and the shutter opening.  At last one seal gave up and swam away.  So we went on our way to the crabbing spot.

Once there I got the joy of pulling up the trap from about 80 feet of depth.  As it neared the surface, we could see a few Dungeness crabs within, so we knew we had dinner.

The catch blog

When we got back to shore, we set about cleaning the crabs, an activity fraught with a little peril.  The crabs are not particularly happy about being dragged from their briny lairs and are especially not happy to be handled.  They are extremely quick and have large, strong pincer claws in the front; they should be dealt with with care if you value your fingers.  I’ve never been pinched, but others who have say it hurts like the devil, and that they’re hard to dislodge once they’ve got a grip.

The cleaning is a grisly process.  You grab the crabs with both hands with one had holding all the claws on one side and the other hand holding all the claws on the other.  Grabbing them thusly is the difficult part, because they are strong and quick.  Once you’ve got them, you bang them down on their middles on some kind of an edge.  In this case, the edge of the aluminum row boat worked fine.  As the shells break, you pull hard on the handfuls of legs on both sides, which separate, and you end up with all the edible crab in either hand.

After you’ve got the legs apart, you then have to pick the gills out of the meat, which doesn’t take long, and then you’re ready to cook.

To cook, you simply put the legs into boiling salt water (water that we took from the ocean) for 8 to 10 minutes.  When you’re finished and plate them up, here’s what you have.  And they are delicious…if you like fresh Dungeness crab dipped in butter.

Cooked crabs blog

After dinner and cleaning up, we watched the gorgeous sunset over the sound.  We stayed up talking until about midnight, then hit the sack, got up and started a new day that was a repeat of the first.  Same people, same work, different clothes and different crabs, but basically the same day.  We repeated it a couple of times, then reversed our trek via the ferry and the drive to Seattle where we caught our plane home.

Suset on Orcas blog

Good news!  Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I received an email from our publisher informing me that they had actual printed books in hand and would be sending a couple our way.  This really does mean that they will be available before the publication date of September 8.  They will probably be in stores within a couple of weeks and, I would imagine, be available on Amazon and other online retailers soon.

If you plan to purchase the book it would really help if you pre-ordered it from Amazon.  The name of the game in book writing is to get on the NY Times list, and that involves selling a lot of books within a given week.  So, if we have a ton of pre-orders, they will all go out at once, and be recorded by those who set up the Times list.  Thanks in advance.

I will speak to the publisher tomorrow to see if I can post a lengthy excerpt soon.

Disney Small World ride a casualty of the obesity epidemic

Small World small

MD and I just spent a couple of days with the grandkids at Disneyland.  They’re here visiting for a couple of weeks, so we decided to bite the bullet and take them on the front end and get it over with instead of waiting until the end, as we usually do, and dreading it the entire time.  It was brutal but it is now over.

I loathe Disneyland and refer to it as the biggest people trap ever built by a mouse.  Which isn’t an original, but I’ve been saying it for so long that I’ve forgotten where I heard it years ago.

This year I at least was able to avoid the Small World ride.  Our 7-year-old grandson informed us that it was ‘lame.’  I couldn’t have agreed more.  I wasn’t so lucky a couple of years ago, however.  We took the kids then and did end up going on the Small World ride, which experience the grandkid remembered when he referred to the ride as being lame.

For those of you lucky enough to have escaped the Disneyland experience, the Small World ride is easily the most inane amusement park ride ever conceived by the mind of man.  You get in these little fiberglass flat-bottomed boats and cruise through this serpentine canal that wends its way around  tableaus of little dolls of various nationalities (as in photo above) doing their mechanical dances to what is easily the most nauseating piece of music ever written. Unlike most Disneyland rides that you wait an hour to get on and are then over in about 45 seconds, the Small World ride is interminable.  It goes on and on and on.  Which is, I suppose, its only virtue because at least it is dark and air conditioned, a welcome change from the heat radiating up from the vast concrete underpinnings of the park. (The downside is that you’ve been exposed to the nauseating song for so long that it has wedged itself into your brain and you can’t get it out for the rest of the day.)

When I last rode the ride,  it had just reopened after having been closed for almost a year for renovations.  I asked one of the attendants what had changed, hoping for an de-inane-ation of the ride.  The guy told me it hadn’t changed at all; they had just made the boats a little bigger and deepened the channel.  Then he told me it was because the guests of the park had become so much larger than when the ride went in in the 60s and were causing the boats to bottom out.

The park was so crowded and hot when we went two years ago that I kind of went brain dead.  All I wanted to do was slog through and get it behind me.  This time the weather was better and, thanks to the recession, the park wasn’t as crowded.  And I wasn’t so miserable, so I had a chance to look around a little more.

If Disneyland is any indication, there is no question we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic.  I tried to make some kind of semi-accurate estimate by doing little statistical analyses when  was waiting around for rides.  It looked to me that about 40 percent of adults were out and out obese, some morbidly so.  And I would estimate that of the folks who weren’t actually obese, at least 85 percent of them were overweight. A normal weight adult at Disneyland was a rarity.

What really surprised me was the state of obesity of the Disneyland staff.  When I was in college I got a job at Disneyland (which in part accounts for my loathing of the place).  I was a conductor on the train that circumnavigates the park.  It was one of the worst jobs I ever had.  But it did have its perks.  At that time, all the employees were college students or college dropouts who were the full time workers.  In keeping with the Disney image at the time, just about all the young employees selected were clean cut and nice looking.  As a consequence, the place was kind of a meat market.  Employee parties were legendary.  That part I enjoyed, but my enjoyment was somewhat tempered by the fact that I had a steady girlfriend at the time who also worked at Disneyland.

Now, the young employees are a reflection of the population in general.  At least half of them are obese, some almost morbidly so.  I don’t know if this represents the student body of the local college or what, but it certainly has changed over the past few decades.

Despite my kind of flippant tone in this post, I don’t find the large numbers of obese guests (as the Disneyland staff refers to the people paying to go there) and staff amusing in the slightest.  I think it is tragic.  As I’ve said many times before, we have all been the unwitting subjects of a long experiment, the hypothesis of which is that since fat is bad and carbs are good, we should all eat low-fat, high-carb diets.  If so, says this hypothesis, obesity will go away.  Well, it hasn’t.  It has gotten much, much worse.  And the sad, sad thing is that this hypothesis was never validated scientifically before we were all enrolled in the experiment.  When I see dozens and dozens of young people looking like the one pictured above, it makes my blood boil.  Most of the people who inflicted this nonsense on us are still around and still pushing the carbs and still blaming the fat in the diet. Tar and feathers spring to mind.

When I thought I was going to have to subject myself to the Small World again before my grandson got me out of it by not wanting to go himself, I remembered what the attendant had told me previously about the ride being renovated because of the increase in obesity.  I wondered if it were an urban legend or if it were really true.  When I got back to a computer, I checked it out.

There are a number of investigative reports on the idea, and the consensus seems to be that the renovation was due to the boats bottoming out due to the increased weight of the passengers.  Based on what I saw, I suspect that’s the case because just taking the average weight gain over the last 40 years means the boats are carrying 200 extra pounds more than they were designed for..  Disney officials are staying mum, however.

During my own investigation on the issue, I ran across an interesting article on Snopes.com.  A new twist has been added to many of the rides at Disneyland, especially the ones that hurtle you along in the dark.  Cameras are placed in strategic locations and take photos as the ride comes through.  After you get off, you can go see a photo of yourself and your entire boat or log or train car or whatever conveyance dropping over a precipice projected on a screen near the exit.  Most people are pictured screaming and holding on for dear life.

One of the rides – Splash Mountain – has achieved some notoriety because it has become common for female riders to pull up (or down) their tops as they approach the cameras.  This flashing has become so common that the ride has become known as Flash Mountain.  All of the photos are looked at by park officials before being put up on the screens for all to see.  Here is the Snopes link to the article – a little (very little, actually) navigating will get those with a prurient bent to a page of these photos.  I, of course, had to look as part of my investigation for this blog post.

The Disney officials are good at weeding out these bawdy photos and they are very good at feeding the hordes of overweight people exactly what they want.  Disneyland is carb heaven.  That’s just about all you can find.  There are sweetened cold drinks, a variety of ice cream products, cotton candy, gummy sweets, funnel cakes and other high-carb junk of every stripe.  It is almost impossible to avoid carbs there.  It can be done, but it is difficult and requires a lot of effort.  The vast majority of the people I saw weren’t making the effort.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to avoid the Magic Kingdom for at least another couple of years. When I do get dragged there again, I’ll stumble along as I normally do, putting one tired foot in front of the other counting the hours until it’s over. But, admittedly, I will approach Splash Mountain with a little more exuberance than I have in the past.

Odds and ends May 21, 2009

verdi-after-party-small

I figure it’s about time for another grab bag of a post updating everyone on what’s going on at Casa Eades and throwing up a few interesting articles and websites.

The Verdi Requiem

The Santa Barbara Choral Society’s Verdi Requiem was a triumph last weekend.  As you can see from the photo above, MD was pretty whipped when it was over.  Apparently, it’s pretty demanding on soloists, orchestra and chorus.  And, as you can see from the photo above, the listeners don’t have the same burden.  Other photos here.  A recent review of the concert here.

The concert was pretty well attended, although not as well attended as it would have been had the entire city not been consumed with worry about the fire from the week before.  Santa Barbara is just now returning to normalcy.  The receipts from the door covered a little over 40 percent of what it cost to put on the production.  When I heard that figure, I thought the whole thing was a financial disaster, but I learned that that figure is typical for non-profit arts productions.  Around 40 percent of the cost comes from the people who buy tickets – the other 60 percent comes from patrons who sponsor the event.  In other words, the ticket prices are subsidized by the nobless oblige of the wealthy, a large number of whom consider it their obligation to support the arts.  So, next time you go to a great performance that costs you $25 to see, thank a rich person that you didn’t have to pay $60.

Twitter adventures

As anyone who has followed me on Twitter knows, I spend a lot of time reading and posting to Twitter since I first posted about it.  It’s a great way to do mini posts because users of Twitter are limited to 140 characters, so it’s tough to get too verbose.

I was pretty clueless about Twitter until I started using it, so I assume others are clueless as well.  If you are not in the know about this social networking tool and would like to keep up with these mini posts, there are a couple of ways you can do it.  You can sign up for Twitter and follow me (and anyone else you would like to follow).  It takes maybe one minute to sign up for Twitter.  All you need is a working email address and a username and you’re in.  Once you are a Twitteree (or whatever they’re called), and sign up to follow me, you can read these mini posts as I put them up.  If you want to sign up, click here and get started.  If you do start, you will probably find that a bunch of your own friends are using Twitter, so you can keep up with them as well.

The other way you can access these mini posts is by clicking on the little blue bird logo that says FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER.  If you click there, you will go to a page that gives you all the latest mini posts, but you’ll have to keep going back to get the updates as they come in.  Here is a link to the page you will find.

I occasionally Tweet (a Twitter mini post is called a Tweet, a loathsome word if there ever was one, at least when applied to activities of grown humans) on personal stuff, but mainly the Tweets are mini posts on medical articles or other news articles that I think are of interest along with anything else I find that strikes my fancy.

For those of you who do follow me on Twitter, I apologize for any Twitter faux paux I may have committed.  One of the things that most appealed to me about Twitter was the notion that I could put up these mini posts without anyone responding.  But, alas, I was wrong.  I discovered a few days ago that people can respond and several hundred have.  I was taking time from feverishly mini posting by looking around my Twitter home page when I found a highlighted link that said: @DrEades.  When I clicked there, I was appalled to find several hundred responses to Tweets I had made.  I learned that when people respond to Tweets, it ends up in that section.  So, I wasn’t off the hook.  But I couldn’t possibly respond to several hundred people – even at 140 characters a response.  So, if you replied to something I wrote and I didn’t respond, you now know what happened.

I did have a couple of interesting experiences in responding however.  When I discovered the @DrEades section and found the zillion responses to my Tweets waiting there, the most recent one was from a lady who took me to task for one (or several) of my political Tweets.  She wrote that she had always liked my nutritional writing but that my political postings had alienated her.  I decided to reply to her just to see how the whole reply thing worked.  I sent her one of my favorite Thomas Jefferson quotes:

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.

Then I watched her site and found that she had deleted the Tweet to me, which is how I learned that one could delete these things once they are up.  They can’t be changed, so if you make a grammatical error (which, sadly, I have done a few times) it can’t be fixed, only deleted.  Then she deleted me from her list of people she follows.  I guess the Thomas Jefferson quote alienated her even more.

People are really strange.  I posted a Tweet about an email that I had received a dozen times about how George Bush has a state of the art, energy-efficient ranch house in Crawford, TX while Al Gore has a giant, energy-gobbling house in Nashville.  I always ignored the email because I thought it probably was an urban legend kind of thing.  Then someone sent me a link to the Snopes report on it, which said that the email was true.  I posted the Snopes report on Twitter.  Then I started to wonder what makes Snopes the last word authority on everything, so I started looking into that.  I discovered that Snopes is a husband – wife team, who live in a double-wide house trailer on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  They do all the checking themselves.  I was stunned.  I always figured that Snopes was some kind of outfit with a staff of hundreds that checked out all these things.  The notion that the ultimate authority on everything was just a mom and pop operation who make their living by ads on their snopes.com website.  Now that I know the situation, I’ll be more careful when I accept snopes as the last word on everything.

I put up a Tweet that said basically Who would’ve thought Snopes was a mom and pop operation?  Some guy signed up to follow me on Twitter, and immediately sent a nastygram to @DrEades that said If Snopes is a mom and pop outfit, what does that make the Protein Power blog? A ‘Pop’ outfit?  I replied that the Protein Power blog is a ‘Pop’ operation, but isn’t considered by anyone to be the last word on everything.  He then deleted me from his list of people he followed. As I say, a lot of bizarre people in the weeds out there.

The whole experience has been very strange indeed.  But I’m still working my way through it, probably alienating people right and left.  So join up, follow me, and watch the fun.

Upcoming travel plans

MD and I are leaving late Sunday night for Hong Kong, then to Guangzhou, back to Hong Kong, then to London.  Sadly, the entire trip will be a working trip.  We’re hard at it in our efforts to change the world, and this trip is all about that.  By the time we get back, I should be able to write about what we’ve been working on.

I will take a lot of photos and continue to blog during the trip.  And Tweet.

Comments on the blog

I continue to be mired in comment woes.  I just checked, and I have 78 comments in moderation, some of which have been there for weeks.  It has kind of become a comments graveyard.

I’ve whined about the comment situation for that last two years. I’ve said that I wasn’t going to continue to answer questions and was just going to post the comments as they came in.  My resolve would last for about two days, then I was right back answering all the questions.  Now, I’ve gone into a funk over the whole thing, and have devolved into just ignoring the comments that require answering and letting them stack up, which I hate doing.  But, I’ve been so busy lately that there isn’t much else I can do.

I was reading a book titled Economic Sophisms by one of my heroes, Frederic Bastiat, when I came across the following paragraph that, in a way, applies to the comment situation.

We must admit that our opponents in this argument have a marked advantage over us.  They need only a few words to set forth a half-truth; whereas, in order to show that it is a half-truth, we have to resort to long and arid dissertations.

It’s easy to pen a comment that says, Hi Doc, what are your thoughts on this article? and attach a link.  I have to read the article, pull the actual study, read it, think about it, then write an answer that is considerably longer than the original comment.  What takes a commenter 20 seconds to write ends up costing me an hour or two to come up with an intelligent answer or even an ‘arid dissertation.’

I’m also getting a lot of comments asking for my ideas and recommendations on personal health issues.  People send me lab results and want to know what I think.  Without treating a given individual as a patient, medico-legal restrictions prevent me from answering these kinds of questions.

I never read the comments on blogs that I read, so I must assume that many people don’t read the comments on this blog.  But I end up spending way more time dealing with the comments than I do writing posts.  If I didn’t have to deal with the comments, I would write more posts.

I noticed that Mark Sisson, whom MD and I had lunch with yesterday, has started making posts out of some of his comments in a Dear Readers section of his blog.  He takes several comments that he thinks may be of interest to all his readers, posts them, and throws them out for the combined wisdom of all his readers to deal with. I may start doing this myself and weighing in along with the readers.  If anyone out there has any advice for me on this issue, I’m all ears.

Soda tax in New York

I just read this article this morning.  Was going to make a mini post out of it, but thought it would be better here.

A New York state senator (I’ll leave it to you guess from which party) says that by adding a measly one cent tax to each can of non-diet soda sold, the state of New York can add $100 million per year to its coffers.  If this is true, it means that citizens of and visitors to the state consume 10 billion cans of non-diet soda annually!  The population of New York state is a little over 19 million.  Dividing 10 billion by 19 million calculates out to about 525 cans of non-diet soda per man, woman and child in the state.  That’s almost 90 six-packs per person per year.  Wow!  There have got to be some low-carbers who live there who drink zero six-packs per year, which means that some other poor slob is drinking 180 six-packs per year.  That’s a lot of high-fructose corn syrup.

To my way of thinking, this is an onerous tax.  It moves $100 million from the pockets of the citizenry and puts it in the coffers of the bureaucrats to spend.  And, despite the fact that it sucks off 100 million bucks, the tax isn’t high enough to discourage consumption, so it really has no societal advantage except for transferring funds from the citizens to the government.

Where does your beef come from?

I don’t mean what part of the country.  I mean what part of the cow.  Here is a great site created by the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida showing way more than I (and probably you) need or want to know about beef anatomy.  But if you really do wonder where a flank steak or some other piece of beef comes from on the cow, click here to find out.  A lot of work went into this site.

Gradient gel electrophoresis

For those who hate to pay big bucks to have a lab tell you how much small, dense LDL you have, here’s how you can do it yourself.  That’s right.  With a drinking straw and a few other simple ingredients, you can make your own electrophoresis equipment and test your blood anytime you want for minimal expense.  Warning.  This is a real geek site.  I doubt that many will want to put together their own equipment, but at least it shows what’s involved in making a primitive version and how complex the testing process is.  May make you not feel so bad dropping the money to get the test done professionally.

Feel better immediately

And, finally, here is your feel-good YouTube of the day.  Watch this huge prank (if that’s what you would call it) played on the people in the train station at Antwerp one morning.  Really delightful.  Watch the faces of those watching.

Remember, don’t forget to help me out on this comment issue.  All suggestions will be appreciated.

Jesusita fire update

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It looks as though the fire has pretty much been contained.  After several days of high winds, low humidity and brutal temperatures (up to 100° F), Santa Barbara late spring weather has reasserted itself.  We woke up yesterday (after a fairly sleepless night, what with a big red glow looming over the horizon) to cool, foggy weather.  The flames we could see leaping up the night before from the canyon above us, were completely obscured by the fog.

As one of the fire officials said in a welcome respite from ‘incidentese’, “Now we can chase the fire instead of having the fire chase us.”  Which looks like what has happened.  They have chased it and beaten it down. Most people are back into their homes, including those evacuees who were bunking in with us and got the word they could go back home at 10 AM today. We and our house escaped unscathed.  Not even a cinder or ash so far.

As I was transferring my fire photos from my camera to iPhoto, I realized I hadn’t transferred the photos I took a couple of weeks ago when we were in Tahoe.  It was nice to see some peaceful pictures without fire and smoke in them.  The one above is the view from my office window looking across the lake toward Squaw Valley just a little after daybreak.  That’s the time I love to get up, grab a hot cup of Americano, and start into my reading before the phone starts ringing.  If MD didn’t have a big concert coming up in a couple of weeks, that’s where we would be now.  And would stay at least until all this fire cleanup is finished.  It would be nice to be able to sleep without one eye on the skyline and an ear open listening for the wind.

MD and I thank you all for your good thoughts, prayers and well wishes during these frightening times.  I hope we don’t have to go through anything like this for a good long time – if ever.  Twice in six months is a little much.

A Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!  MD was treated to brunch today by a couple of our kids and our granddaughter.  I went along to provide the color commentary.

Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara

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Since a bunch of readers have asked, I’ll give a quick update about the fire in Santa Barbara.  I took the photo above when MD and I went out to dinner last night in downtown Santa Barbara.  The top of our car, which is parked next to the restaurant, is in the foreground, providing some perspective.

As it stands now, MD and I are a little ways from the evacuation area, but the margin is getting closer and closer.  Fires move pretty fast when they are driven by winds gusting from 60-70 mph.  I’ve driven around and looked at the fire and placed it on a map and compared it to where we are.  When I do this and think about it, the reasoning, cognitive part of my brain tells me that we are in no danger at this point, but the primitive, reptilian part of my brain screams a different message.

If you click this link you can see a Google map of Santa Barbara that will update every 15 minutes.  You can see the areas that are under voluntary and mandatory evacuations.  And you can see how far this fire has spread in just four days, which is what the primitive part of my brain is focusing on. You’ll have to scroll to the right to see the part of the fire that affects us.  Our house is north of E. Valley Rd and above the Birnam Wood Golf Course.  If you see the edge of this evacuation hit Birnam Wood, you’ll know we’re out of here.

The most annoying thing about this fire – aside, of course, from the potential of being burned to death and/or having your house burn to the ground – is the lack of information available from the press and the authorities.  I watched a press conference this morning and almost ran screaming from the room.  Instead of one person who knew what was going on transmitting information, the press conference was a parade of ‘authorities’ and politicians jockeying for TV time and thanking one another for all the support.  The politicians thanked the fire fighters, the fire fighters thanked the politicians, and both thanked those involved in law enforcement.  Absolutely no information of value was transmitted.

Which brings me to another almost unbearably annoying part of these press conferences.  Along with profusely thanking one another for all the help, everyone defaults to what I call ‘authority’ talk.  There are no policemen or sheriffs, only ‘law enforcement personnel.’ No firefighters, but ‘fire control personnel.’ There is no wind, but ‘wind events’ instead.  We have fixed-wing aircraft and rotary wing aircraft circling overhead instead of airplanes and helicopters.  A DC-10 tanker is on the scene dropping tons of fire retardant.  It’s called the ‘largest dropping resource’ we have.  The fire itself is referred to as the ‘fire incident.’ ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

I’ll keep everyone posted on what goes on via Twitter.  If you don’t want to sign up, you can simply go to the Follow Me On Twitter button (with the little blue bird) in the upper right of this blog and find all the updates.

Keep your fingers crossed for us.

What follows is a series of photos showing the fire in different stages.

Below is a photo I took from the tee box on the 17th hole two days ago.

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Here is the view from the same spot about 18 hours later.  I was playing with our son, and hit our drives off the tee.

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By the time we got to our balls, a hot spot had erupted.  You can see how much change can take place in less than five minutes.

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Here is the view taken about an hour ago from behind an info kiosk located about a half mile from our house.

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A view of the fire at dusk last night.

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