This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
While it seems like every other blogger was at the Ancestral Health Symposium, I was moving boxes and crappy furniture to my new apartment. That wasn't much fun, but I try to think of moving as an opportunity to reevaluate what you own. One of the things I owned was a pair of nice velvet ballet flats. I'd had them since high school, but since my feet seem to have shrunk I haven't worn them very much because they only fit with thick socks and if it's thick sock season I probably need to be wearing boots. Unfortunately I recently was invited to attend an event where my regular warmer weather shoes, which are sandals or my badly worn out wonder gloves (next time I'll get black or hope they make some darker colors), are just not appropriate.
Why the hell do I care so much about shoes anyway? Well, when you have a standing desk and walk 1-3 miles every single day, shoes really make a difference. Unfortunately, in the past, it was thought that people who were active needed a lot of "support" from tank-like padded shoes. So many shoe options for active women (and men) are frankly ugly and not very healthy for building strong feet.
So when I saw a sale on these foldable Yosi Samra flats on Myhabit, which is one of those deal sites, I took a chance and bought them. I sized up after reading reviews on Amazon and they fit really quite well. They look nice and are comfortable, but I suspect they aren't very durable at all. Lately it's been raining a lot and when I wear them I wear my Shuellas, which are a lightweight rainboot cover, over them. Unfortunately, I don't find the Shuellas that comfortable and they sort of start to fall off sometimes because they seem to be made for pointy high heels.
I also think the non-sale price is a little expensive for something like this, but even if you don't chose this brand, I notice that a lot of sites are now selling "foldable flats" or "commuter flats" that are similar. They tend to be zero drop, have flexible soles, non-stiff toe boxes, and they fold which is cool for packing!
I really wanted the reptile and dinosaur print ones. It's cool those prints are fashionable now, because I really like them. But I also thought they would be also really not very versatile. I mean, I get away with wearing a lot of crazy things because I'm a techie, but now that I'm doing more business stuff, I have to look a little bit more "normal", which is sad.
Either way, I took the old non-fitting flats to the local thrift store, where they gave me $10 for them. I then looked at the shoe rack there and found some great totally-flat flexible non-toe-oppressive boots for $15. They are made by Blowfish and unfortunately they are discontinued, but it seems this brand has a bunch of great options. I always overlooked it because it seemed like they were made for people who live in places with nicer weather than Chicago or NYC, but since I have my excellent water-resistant breathable Vivo Barefoot and flexible water-resistant Cushe heavy winter boots that have held up well from previous years, I figure I could add a medium-weight boot to my closet, especially since I really like the style of these and they will go well with my steampunky/Victorian-ish closet.
Sadly there were some shoes that didn't make it through the move. I couldn't really take my Footskins that I reviewed here before to the thrift store even because they were so beat up. They took a beating because I frequently wore them running and at Crossfit. I wonder if they would have lasted longer with some better moccasin oiling, but in the end they had holes on them and I had repaired them so many times that they didn't stitch together very well. Oh well, they lasted around two years, which isn't too bad for a shoe that is worn so much and for heavy activity.
Well, my new apartment is pretty great. It's really the first non-significantly flawed dwelling I've lived in many years. It has more than one room. It has windows that get some sunlight in. No roaches. A kitchen that fits more than one person in it! Nothing is falling apart! These are luxuries to me. The main flaw this time is me- I am too short to reach probably about 50% of the cabinets here. Maybe I'll get a roommate...a tall roommate. But in the meantime, I look forward to cooking a lot more and having people over to eat, which was impossible in my last apartment since it only had one room and no table. Also I am developing better sleep habits, but more on that later.
An old lady about half my size almost pushed me into a bucket of fish today. I had just wanted in to Isaacson and Stein and I was kind of disoriented. I felt like I hadn't walked into a fish shop, but a school of fish already organized in a way I could hardly comprehend. Immigrants from around the world, Chicago old-timers with heavy accents, cooks from restaurants, and a few random confused white people circling bins of every possible fish I could imagine. Mainly whole fish, of course. I didn't ask questions, I just tried to figure out what to do and how I could obtain some fish without getting fish goo all over my clothes and shoes. One thing I've learned from traveling is just try your best to do what everyone else is doing. I saw a woman reach for a bin labeled "gloves" and grabbing plastic bags. I did the same.
I escaped with a bad of whole head-on smelt for less than $2.00. The French Market nearby had smelt too, in a less chaotic environment, but missing the heads and for twice the price. Sorry, but as I've written before, I think the head is an essential part of the experience. You should look your tiny tiny fish in the eye before devouring it.
But it's a typical case of culinary creep for me. Because you can't have smelt without homemade aioli. And I can't seem to make that without destroying my tiny kitchen with some mixture of oil and duck fat. I'm almost tempted to go to DMK burger bar and try to buy their aioli because the chef says it's made with only olive oil, a rarity in the world of Hellman's.
I'll definitely be back at Issacson and Stein because I just got a new cookbook I'm kind of excited about. I've already written about Ferran Adria's influence on fine dining, but The Family Meal focuses on the kind of relatively-simple meals shared by the staff "family" at elBulli. Not "fancy" like the food served to the restauarant's visitors, but still elegant and tasty.
Being Spanish, there are lots of great fish recipes here that I'm looking forward to try. Most of them feature the whole fish, though he also has a good recipe for fish stocks and several recipes that feature it. Interestingly enough, a lot of the recipes are already gluten-free, even the baked goods. Spain already had a history of using ground almonds in cakes. But a lot of the desserts of just simple fruits and custards.
The only depressing thing about buying fish in Chicago is that so few options are local. Which is stupid since Chicago happens to be right on Lake Michigan. My father gets some amazing fish from the lake, including salmon, but I'm more concerned about the pollution than I am from ocean fish. The last advisory I read said to remove as much fat and organs as possible, AKA all the good stuff, from fish caught from the lake. Mercury and PCB pollution sucks. Imagine- I would be able to walk just a few blocks and get fish for almost nothing if we hadn't messed the ecosystem up so much.
I think The Family Meal is exactly what American fine-dining chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home should have been. Family Meal has better pictures, showing each recipe step-by-step, which is important for those of us who don't have much experience with things like cooking with whole fish (though this is quite funny since so many of my family is fisherman, but I was too picky when I lived around them). Also, Keller's cookbook contained lots of canola oil, which I'm not a fan of and is also somewhat mystifying considering that olive oil is now produced in Keller's home state of California. In Spain, almost everything is cooked with olive oil (and I was surprised to see that studies there show you can fry in it without damaging it, which is probably a testament to the protective effect of antioxidants) as a "neutral" oil, but in the United States, the flavor of olive oil is not considered neutral.
Anyway, after I bought the smelts, I headed to Publican Quality Meats, where the owner, Paul Kahan, was holding court. He looked the part of a butcher, because he is one, but he's also a chef and owner of several of Chicago's best restaurants. It's awesome to walk into a shop where everyone who works there seems to like the same things you do. Like offal. And authentic fish sauce. It's worth the price. After chatting with one of the butchers about blood, I walked out with my Red Boat fish sauce, heart, blood sausage, and Pok Pok drinking vinegar.
I've also been shopping at The Butcher and The Larder. Their liver pate is truly excellent and they will cut some great marrow bones for you to go. So far there isn't much in NYC that I miss, except the Asian food in Queens and the raw offal/meat at Takashi.
And my meatshare buying club. I've not started it up because I haven't had the time, my own family's farm isn't producing that much, and I was super lucky to have Spring Lake Farm to work with there. Seems like the market for lamb and goat, my typical starting point for shares, is much tighter here. So far all the farm's I've contacted have been sold out, but I guess I need to be more systematic and do a day of calling.
I will say that if you are in Chicago and you want to try lamb, it's easy enough to find Mint Creek Farm's stuff at farmer's markets and specialty shops. A lot of people tell me that they don't like lamb. And I understand, because a lot of it does have that acquired "gamey" taste going on that Americans don't really like. The New Zealand lamb at Whole Foods is a perfect example of that gamieness. But Mint Creek farm doesn't have any gamey taste and it's delicious, if a bit expensive. I recommend the Italian Sausages.
I hate to admit it, but I am not impressed by most farmer's markets. Particularly in NYC where an overwhelming number of them seem to have poor oversight of their vendors. Local is nice and all that, but it's certainly not by first priority and living near a major agricultural state (New Jersey), some of the local produce is pretty much what you can get at the grocery store. If you quiz most "farmers" are the farmer's market you will find most are paid vendors, not farmers, and most don't know jack about their production processes.
So honestly, I don't bother going to the market much. Not to mention how is someone who works a normal job supposed to shop on a weekday morning and carry their eggs on the subway to work and then back home at the end of the day?
An exception I'll go out of my way for is the New Amsterdam Market, a market curated for quality rather than location. I certainly don't buy staples here, but for treats and condiments it's fantastic.
One of the newest vendors is King's County Jerky. I hosted a meetup at their kitchen in Brooklyn recently and it was super cool. They are completely transparent about their sources of meat too, which is completely local and grassfed. I can definitely endorse their tasty product.
My other favorite is Nuts + Nuts, a fair trade cashew company. Their nuts are sourced by small quality farmers and roasted with coconut oil and other traditional ingredients. I wasn't a big fan of cashews until I had these. They are definitely richer. I wonder if it's because they are more fresh?
I won't be posting much in the next week or replying to email because I am working on some important projects :(
Maybe this doesn't work for everyone's vices, but if you are like me and your vices are $5 chocolate bars, then it works great. Every month I've been looking at my budget on mint.com. I used to just have a lump sum for "Groceries" but I've found it's better for my budget and my health to break that down. My categories are
- Other good things like condiments, vegetables, and fruits
Once you start doing that, you realize that every time you buy a chocolate bar it takes away from better things you could be buying and eating. It's also been helpful to microbudget for Meatshare because while the sum for purchase often is huge, if I use Mint to spread it out it doesn't look so bad. I guess this is less applicable if you actually make a decent amount of money, but just seeing how much money goes to junk can be enlightening. For example, in October I spent $60 on chocolate! That was the first month I tracked it and since then I have curbed my spending on that. Of course this also doesn't account for chocolate received as gifts :)
Overall, my food expenses are quite high as percentage of spending. But since the rest of my health budget is so low, I don't mind. I also had cut other budgets like for clothing because food is so much more important.
How do you budget for food? Do you find it a useful tool for eating healthy?
Frugal it's not, but for busy New York City professionals time is money and Freshdirect does save time. Luckily, their product line has also improved recently and there are several wild local seafood options and even a limited selection of grass-fed local meat. I usually only use Freshdirect if I'm working on an important project with a tight deadline. Despite being kind of expensive, it's a lot cheaper and healthier than the alternative when I'm busy...which is eating takeout.
So what's good at Freshdirect?
100% grassfed local ground beef is an obvious choice. It can be quickly made into patties and seared. If you eat dairy there are several good grassfed cheeses available, as well as grassfed milk and cream. Unfortunately, the local chicken and eggs are fed a "vegetarian diet" which is a euphemism for grains.
But the seafood options are great. My favorite is the local sea bass, flounder, and cod filets. You can also order wild salmon and crabs. I hate to say it, but when you are busy and don't have access to real cooking equipment, a fish cooked in a microwave can be a good option. When a microwave was my only option, I would put the seasoned fish in a microwave-safe glass dish with some chopped vegetable and microwave until cooked.
The Thai coconuts I've ordered from there have been the best quality that I've found in the city. I often get purple spoiled ones at the coop, but the Fresh Direct coconuts are well...fresh. They also sell coconut oil now.
They have local vegetables and fruits too, which are usually pretty good. If you are truly pressed for time, they also sell vegetables that are pre-prepped.
Overall the OMGIDONTHAVETIMEFORANYTHING Fresh Direct diet is: grassfed beef patties and local fish cooked in coconut oil with some easy-cook vegetables like asparagus. Now if they only sold lard...
Do you want to eat local grassfed pastured meat, but you have trouble finding it? Grassfed meat is much healthier than the average meat at your grocery store, but it can be hard to track down at your local farmer's market. A CSA, community-supported agriculture program, is a great way to get great meat consistently. It's also very convenient for busy people- instead of getting up early and going to the farmer's market, you can pick up your meat once a week.
I'm already a member of The Piggery, which is sold out, but there is a new meat CSA in NYC you should check out. High Point Farms does beef, dairy, pork, and eggs. They drop off at an excellent local bar, Jimmy's No. 43.
While I think it's too bad that John Mackey is rather foolish about food, I think the Weston A. Price foundation is overreacting a little bit here. I got an email from them, in all caps, that said WHOLE FOOD PROMOTES MILITANT VEGETARIAN AGENDA. I think it's a shame, but the diet he is promoting is almost certainly better than the diet our own government is promoting. And as an aggie, I appreciate how Whole Foods has invested in improving slaughter infrastructure, which the US is really lacking.
Overall, the diet Whole Foods is promoting doesn't make people completely obese like the USDA recommended diet. Some people are quite happy on this diet. Adult humans are robust enough that they can survive, like this guy who eats only candy or several long-term fruitarians I know. I don't think John Mackey looks so great, but there are plenty of people on vegan/low-fat/otherwise evolutionary inappropriate who are good looking. This vegan body builder is a good example, though I would note that like many vital looking vegans he is a high-fat gluten-free vegan. And while a diet can change how fat or thin you are, you are still stuck with your basic facial and bone structure.
Paleo is about more that just being not obese and feeling OK though....it's a whole other level of nutrition and many people like me who try vegan often move towards paleo once they notice they aren't at the level of vitality they want to be. The real danger is when people continue to adhere to a diet that causes problems because the community says they are "detox symptoms" or they are rigid because the reason they are vegan is ethical.
I'd also worry about the Whole Foods diet for children, childbearing, or elderly stages of life when fat-soluble vitamins are critical. The real test of a diet is probably how adherents age and how healthy their children are.
But I digress. It's too bad Whole Foods has staked their flag in the low-fat vegan camp, but hopefully it will get people thinking about why they shop there. Whole Foods is convenient for many living in NYC, but the price of their meat is a little frightening. I personally shop at the Park Slope Co-op and I'm a member of a CSA. I'm also in the process of organizing a meat share for the Eating Paleo in NYC meetup. This one is sold out, but hopefully there will be more in the future. It's a great way to both save money and put your dollars directly in the pockets of farmers rather than stores promoting veganism.
I packed the foods that would make up my lunch carefully: bright green arugula, crispy kale, a few clementines. I knew I had bacon from The Piggery in the fridge at the office and I envisioned a delicious stir fry. But somehow I managed to leave the entire bag on the table as I rushed to work.
I work in Midtown and while some street vendors make delicious and cheap food, it usually makes me feel kind of sick later. There are a smattering of healthy eateries, such as The Pump and Free Foods, but they require you exchange your entire paycheck for a measly salad. For the price of their food I could buy a bag of groceries....and I would, but unfortunately Midtown Manhattan does not have any real grocery stores.
Fortunately they do have some smaller stores, like Yamagura on 41st. While I'm not crazy about their greasy cafe, they have a wide selection of fresh vegetables. For under $10 I bought organic beech mushrooms, wakame seaweed, pretty tiny Japanese yams, black sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, and some flavorful greens. They might not have locally grown food, but everything is nutritious.
The bacon from The Piggery is perfect: not too salty, so it can actually be paired with nearly anything. I sauteed the mushrooms with bacon and made a delicious side salad of seaweed and greens sprinkled withsome sesame and red pepper. Today I roasted the yams in a toaster oven and topped them with bacon and ate that alongside the same tasty salad. I'm glad it's possible for me to back these kind of meals even if I am absent minded. I think more people would eat like this if offices encouraged cooking. All you really need is small plug in range and a toaster oven to make tasty meals.It might take time off of work, but healthy employees do better work and it might even save some money on health insurance.