From the category archives:

Eats & Drinks

I’m getting in shape and I’d love your support, and I’d love to support you as well. If that sounds interesting, read on to find out how.

As any of you who have seen more than just my tightly-cropped avatar already know, I need to get serious about my health and fitness. I’ve been overweight more or less since leaving high school. I’ve had ups and downs and tried different ways of eating and exercising with differing levels of success. Now, at 45, with a three-year-old son, it’s never been more important for me to make some lasting changes. And I’m convinced social media can help me.

There are websites where you can track your fitness goals and interact with lots of strangers, but I don’t want to do that. I want to get support from my existing community, and I want to give my own support for those of you who are fighting the same fight. I’ve just read The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and I’m going to follow his “slow carb” program. But he lays out much more than just dietary advice. Tim has developed a series of “body hacks” that are based on science and research. His focus on managing glucose and burning fat while maintaining even blood sugar is especially good for me.

He also has a lot of smart, practical advice on how to stay with it. One suggestion, for instance, is to share a photo of every meal you eat with your networks, on the principle that you’re less likely to eat a bag of M&Ms if you have to disclose that you’re about to do it. That’s one thing I’d like to share, but I doubt my existing Facebook friends, Twitter followers or blog readers want to see that three times a day.

Here’s what I’m thinking: I’d like to start a Google+ circle called “Healthy.” I will use that circle to share my own goals and progress, post pictures of my meals, and force me into public accountability. If you’d like to participate (and you’re reading this via Google+) then let me know in the comments and I’ll add you to that circle and you can share your progress, post pictures of your meals, tell us about your walk or run, or whatever else you need to stay on track. As the circle grows, you can watch the comments and add members of my circle to your own. (Or maybe I’ll create a list of members and share it with new people who join: keep that in mind if you ask to join my circle.) If and when Google+ allows us to make circles publicly opt-in, I’ll do that.

If you came upon this post directly on my blog or via Twitter or Facebook and you’re not on Google+, I’ll be happy to send you an invitation. My email address is Dave at the domain name of this blog. (Be sure to send me a Gmail address: it only works with Gmail.) ::UPDATE:: If you’re reading this post via Networked Blogs, it’s not that URL. My domain is dbthomas.com. So put Dave in front of that.

I’m not looking for this to become huge. I’d love it if five to 20 people who I know, either from the real world or from social media, want to participate. I’ll post daily updates of my weight loss and body fat reduction, my exercise, and pictures of my meals. (I’ll try to make the pictures fun when possible.) I’ll also share my thoughts on the 4-Hour Body program and how it’s working for me, and any good, healthy recipes I come up with. If you do the same, we can build a community of people sharing valuable information and offering one another support.

If that sounds like fun to you, let me know. Now I’m off to grate some cinnamon and think of clever things to do with lentils.

image by cookbookman17

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Around our house if we say, “Shall we freeze the rest of that?” what we usually mean is, “Huh. That wasn’t very good, but there’s nothing so notably bad about it that we can just throw it away, so let’s put it in the freezer, and barring a global economic collapse or food shortage, throw it away in a few months.”

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I like Yelp, the site that crowdsources people’s opinions and gives ratings on restaurants, stores and service businesses. I also have the Yelp application on my iPhone. I don’t use either one of them much at home, because I pretty much know which restaurants I like and where they are.

But I’m in Seattle this week for SAS Global Forum, our annual user conference. Yesterday morning I decided to use Yelp to find a place for breakfast. (Eating at the hotel restaurant always feels a bit like giving up.) So I opened the Yelp app, selected Restaurants as my category (they have lots more categories too, like Banks, Gas & Service Stations, Drugstores, etc.) and filtered by price and walking distance. It also lets you filter by which places are open at the time you’re looking, which is obviously pretty useful.

I found a half dozen or so candidates, and picked a Spanish restaurant with great reviews called Andaluca, because I thought it would be fun to find out what a Spanish breakfast was like. I clicked on the Directions button, which opened Google Maps and showed me how to get there. Really cool.

Like so many of the coolest iPhone apps (TripIt, Layar and Foursquare), Yelp really shows its value when you don’t know where you are or what’s good.

The restaurant turned out to be small and elegant, with a nice wait staff. And a breakfast menu exactly like the one in my hotel. What Yelp hadn’t told me was that it actually is a hotel restaurant itself, so it’s Spanish at night and generic ‘Mercan in the morning. I had a chicken sausage hash with poached eggs. Tasty, but I doubt that’s what they were eating in Madrid that morning.

I won’t blame that on Yelp, though. But I did go in and leave a quick tip on Andaluca’s Yelp page that said, “Nothing Spanish about the breakfast menu.”

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Everything I hate in a beer. Thick, treacly. Might be good with a dry, bitter biscuit. Might not.

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A blend of Shiraz, cab, Dolcetto, Grenache and Awesome. Around ten bucks at Chapel Hill Wine Company. Really, really nice with pizza and excess. Plus, it’s called Heartland Stickleback. Can this Stickleback get more fans than the pickle that has more fans than Nickelback?

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Nice New Zealand Pinot Noir, tasted more expensive than the 12 clams it cost on sale. We drank it on a Saturday after more than a week of cheap cabs and it was well appreciated. Tasted like a big indulgence.

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The Mrs. and I went to Saint Jacques in Raleigh last night for a pre-birthday (mine) dinner with our friends Memsy and Gill. I’ve been there several times for lunch with my dad and have been trying to get there for dinner for at least a year. It’s one of the most elegant, calm and sophisticated restaurants I’ve ever visited, reminding me favorably of Pachon in Tokyo, where I celebrated my 21st birthday in what is still the benchmark meal of my life. At Pachon, the wait staff are basically ninjas. You finish your dinner roll, there is a slight shimmer in the air, and a new roll appears on your plate. Dinner for four cost about a thousand bucks, and that was in 1986.

Saint Jacques comes closer to that level of service than anywhere I’ve eaten in quite some time, certainly anywhere in North Carolina. The owner, Lil Lacassagne, is from Provence and worked for Roger Vergé at Moulin de Mougins. When I’ve described the level of service to friends, I cite one quick example: The restaurant’s napkins are white, but if you’re wearing dark clothes, they bring you a black napkin so you don’t get napkin fluff on your trousers. There’s much more, but it all flows from there.

Lil is a perfect host, friendly without being unctuous. When my dad and The Mrs and I have been there for lunch, we’ve had long conversations with him about his work in France, how he came to the US and where he gets his tomatoes. I have a very high standard of service that descends from my German restaurateur grandfather, and Lil lives up to it in a way that I very seldom find. Last night he guided wine aficionado Gill through a selection process that was a joy to behold and left them both smiling.

Here’s what I had (yoinked from the online menu):

Crusted Scallop on a Smooth Bed
Wild caught delicious scallops, pan seared in a thin crust, served atop a julienne of soft pear and fennel braised with smoked bacon. Rich and slightly sweet, a delight of the senses

Braised Veal Pied Paquets (stuffed veal) Veal hanging tenders filled with meat and vegetable stuffing, slowly braised in red wine, served on a garlic and cheese creamy polenta finished with cippolini onions and tomato veal braising juice.

The scallop was outstanding, and I’m not a huge fan of scallops. But everything that’s great about a scallop was there, without any of the stuff about a scallop that’s not great. If you know what I mean. Fresh and reminiscent of the sea, but not fishy.

The veal dish was also very good, but a bit more like meatballs than I was expecting. Really, really great meatballs, granted, but the initial impression stuck.

I had the apple tarte tatin for dessert, and it was obviously how much time and care had gone into making it.

We enjoyed the meal very much and the price was reasonable for the level of service, attention to detail and quality of ingredients. This is a restaurant to visit for the complete experience, rather than for cutting-edge gastronomy.

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mash.JPG

When I bought my house five years ago I was overcome with a wave of domesticity that manifested itself in the purchase of design magazines and painting the rooms a variety of colors with silly names (“Spring Sprout” and “Madder Carmine”), most of which I do not regret. One issue of House & Garden had a recipe for smoked salmon scrambled eggs in popovers, which sounded like just the thing for my housewarming brunch and inspired me to try my hand at the culinary arts. I soon became hooked, realizing that cooking combined two of my greatest passions: magazines and gadgets. (For instance, I own a potato ricer, which I have used exactly once.) Then Mom gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking for Christmas, which can only be described as Essential. (In the peculiar ways of our family, this book is referred to as “Mrs. Rombauer’s.”) I taught myself to cook by picking a different recipe every day, shopping for it, and cooking it. I’ve tried a lot of different things in the last five years with varying degrees of success and have attained a modest degree of proficiency which at the very least keeps me from being too nervous about cooking for guests (although I do reach a level of tension while I’m preparing a big meal which sometimes means I’m less than hospitable to people who want to hang around in the kitchen and talk to me while I’m cooking. But I’m working on it.)

My mother is an excellent cook, and my interest has given us something enjoyable to share. I often call her to ask cooking questions, usually while I’m wearing hot mitts and worrying that I’ve destroyed something or created something toxic. (At least I’m past the “is this mayonnaise too old to eat” stage.) Our mutual interest is especially fun around the holidays, when we bond furiously in the kitchen.

I pride myself on two things: green beans and mashed potatoes. I’ve perfected my green bean technique after many years of trial and error, along with a ridiculous level of persnicketiness reached after reading too many books about the Culinary Institute of America. I won’t reveal all my tricks, but just to give you an idea, a sinkful of ice water is involved.

As for the mash, I’ve learned the secret: tremendous – nay, deadly – amounts of butter and cream and salt. With this you cannot go wrong. Today, however, it all went pear-shaped. I peeled half a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes and boiled them for twenty minutes. I melted two sticks of butter with some cream and salt and pepper, ready to add to the potatoes. I remember thinking to myself, “I need to add this a little bit at a time.” Any cook will understand my mindset when everything suddenly became ready all at once: the lamb, the green beans and the potatoes. So instead of adding the butter/cream mixture a little bit at a time, I panicked and dumped it all in at once. The result was potato cream butter soup. In an effort to help me salvage this glutinous mess, Mom suggested adding some potato flakes, which seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea. I grabbed the box and dumped about a cup into the bowl. “That’s rice,” Mom calmly explained. No amount of tasting and retasting and self-denial were able to convince us that Dave’s Potato Rice Casserole was a discovery as opposed to a catastrophe. Three pounds of potatoes and half a pound of butter went down the drain, and I started over. Luckily Dad was napping and never knew what transpired.

All things considered, it could have been much worse. Like, say, for instance, my first Christmas dinner when my family each consumed roughly a half-ounce of melted plastic. But let’s not dwell on that. We all survived.

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