Exploring a New You in the New Year

2 Jan

newyearsI have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, I am obviously all about challenge and change and the practice of self-improvement. On the other hand, I feel like a lot of the way we treat New Year’s resolutions in our culture sets us up to fail. Once the ball drops, we are suddenly “resolved” to do or be something completely different. I will go to the gym everyday, I will lose X amount of weight, I will quit smoking, I will be a nicer person to strangers. Human willpower is a very strong force, but it does have its limits (and also needs to be recharged periodically), so sooner or later we will slip up in our resolutions to ourselves. As I have discussed before, much of our culture doesn’t encourage us to practice self-forgiveness. When we make mistakes we often view them as major failures and an indication that the quest is doomed to failure anyway, so we give it up.

I much prefer the idea of New Year’s paths. Things that are not as much goals but a new area to explore and learn in. Rather than a resolution saying, “I will go to the gym X number of times per week,” a path might be, “I will work on incorporating gym time into my routine, maybe try out a couple classes, see what motivates me, etc.” Now, I’m not saying that structure is necessarily bad–sometimes it is very necessary to advance within a discipline–but when you’re just starting out in something new, it can sometimes be overwhelming and hard to integrate hard-limit structure into our lives organically.

Another way to look at it is like this: we learn best through play, so shouldn’t it be better to approach new areas of learning with a playful, flexible mentality, rather than a rigid one?

I have a personal story that I think illustrates this well. Continue reading

Eat Like a Hobbit

17 Dec

dragoniconFor my entire life, I have been a voracious consumer of the smorgasbord of stories inherent in the worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy (sometimes collectively lumped together as “speculative fiction”). My early years were filled with activities like watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my family, re-enacting scenes from Star Wars and Jurassic Park with the neighbor boys, and burning through every book in my local library that had a dragon on the cover. Hell, I even taught myself to play Magic: The Gathering simply because it gave me an excuse to talk to the boys at camp.

My love for such stories has not abated in the least, but my appreciation of them has changed over the years. One noticeable shift is that as I have become a better scientist, I have become better able to see science-related holes in these stories. Many of these holes I’ve noticed are within the realm of biology. I mean, nerd-core fanboys will sit around for days debating reasoning to explain the physics of warp drive and lightsabers, but did no one else notice the fact that in Star Wars Episode III, that lizard-thing that Obi Wan rides at high speed through the canyon was moving in an undulating side-to-side motion, a movement pattern which–in Earth reptiles–actually blocks the lungs from inflating, which prevents the animal from breathing, and thus prevents prolonged aerobic activity except in short bursts? Also the dragons in Anne McCaffery’s classic Dragonriders of Pern series are supposedly boron-silicon based, rather than carbon-based, but boron and silicon are elements that are both heavier than carbon, a subtle difference which adds up when you multiply the number of atoms exponentially to make a full organism, but Pern supposedly is equivalent to Earth in terms of gravity so how the hell do those things fly??

Anyway. What I’m getting at is that as I have learned more about human nutrition and how it relates to health, I have also started to become gratingly skeptical of how food and health are portrayed in such stories. Continue reading

I For One Welcome Our New Overlords

5 Dec

If evolution is the name of the game, then the winning strategy for the game is variation. In this case, genetic variation. A genetically-variable population is well-insured for survival. Specifically, if something changes in an environment, introducing a new variable that affects a population’s survival, maybe there is a genetic variation somewhere in the population’s gene pool that just happens to allow them to adapt to this change and survive.

Although we sometimes like to think of modern humans as representing a pinnacle of evolution, the truth is we are still part of the game. Whether we realize it or not, new genetic combinations and variations are showing up in our vast gene pool all the time, through sexual reproduction and even random mutations. Most of these variations are benign. Some accidentally lead to bizarre genetic-based diseases and conditions that might end up negatively-affecting an organism’s survival. But some genetic variations, against all odds, create some genuinely spectacular effects.

One example of this is so-called “human magnetism.” People with this trait are able to stick metal objects to their skin, sometimes with an amazing amount of strength:

Imagine, never losing your keys again….

The effect is well-documented but until recently the cause was a mystery. Researchers knew it wasn’t “true” magnetism since the effect also works with other smooth objects like glass and plastic. The answer finally came when studies found a mutation in these people that gives them unusually smooth, elastic skin. When this skin comes in contact with another hyper-smooth surface (like metal, plastic, and glass), the high-degree of surface-area contact creates a very strong degree of friction, preventing the objects from falling (at least immediately). It may not be magical, but it’s still a wondrous example of the possibilities inherent in a genetically-variable population.

I recently learned of another, lesser-known example of “magical” abilities that is probably due to an unusual quirk of genetics and is tangentially related to the greater paleo community, which is why I share it with you today. Continue reading

Smoky Chipotle Chili

25 Nov

chiliiconI love chili, but for my whole life I’d only ever been exposed to chili that’s packed full of beans. When I went paleo, I thought that good chili would have to be relegated to a sometimes food. But then, on a whim, I did a search for recipes for bean-less chili….

…And I discovered that I’ve been doing it wrong my whole damn life.

According to the prestigious historical source of Wikipedia, chili’s ancient origins in the American Southwest began as just spicy meat in a thick sauce. No beans in sight. Beans were probably added later as a cheap way to make the stew stretch further. Somehow, that method became the norm, and chili without beans became reclassified as “Texas-style Chili,” an obscure suborder to the family tree. Once I knew what to look for, recipes started flooding in from across the interwebs. The ones that jumped out at me were the ones that used real stew meat as well as ground meat. I felt like some sort of culinary archaeologist, reverse-engineering the glorious past this food had strayed too far away from.

Anyway, starting with those Texas-style recipes, I soon started fiddling around putting my own spin on things. This recipe uses one of my favorite “secret ingredients:” chipotle chilis in adobo sauce. For those whose experience with chipotles starts and ends with the fast-food logo, basically chipotle chilis are smoked red jalapeno chilis and adobo sauce is a richly flavored sauce that they are often packed with in cans. I’ve been playing around with tossing these things into burgers and other things for a while now, but I really made an evolutionary leap ahead when I came up with the idea of tossing the whole shebang into a food processor and using that as a spicy base for things.

This recipe takes all the wonders of an all-meat, paleo friendly chili, and elevates it with some extra smokiness for a unique kick.

Continue reading

Entertaining: The Gateway Drug

11 Nov

game_dinner_iconAs I’ve mentioned before, one of the best excuses I have for trying out new paleo recipes is the dinner I serve for my weekly RPG game-group. Not everyone in the group is paleo, but no one complains when I hand them plates loaded with beef stew, chili, bacon-wrapped chicken, or other hearty fare. Currently there are five of us in the group, so I also appreciate the opportunity to practice making larger meals, in preparation for the day when I might someday have a full-on family like a real adult.

But in the last month and a half, I have encountered a slippery slope. See, I am a natural born hostess. When I throw a party, I am constantly running around making sure everyone has drinks and everything they need to have a good time. Hell, when I go to other people’s parties, the first thing I usually do after walking in the door is head straight to the kitchen to see if they need any help. What I’ve realized recently, though, is that these habits are actually just the shadowy tendrils of a deeper desire that is hidden in my heart.

A dark beast that is now finding itself unleashed.

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Butternut Squash Harvest Hash

7 Nov

hashiconThis is a recipe that I’ve developed that is perfect for fall, but honestly I make it year-round. It’s super flexible and versatile. You can play around with all sorts of different ingredients, spices, or even herbs. You can even totally change it’s functionality by simply changing the size of the butternut squash chunks. Larger chunks make it more of a side dish, medium chunks make it more like a stuffing, and small chunks make it more like an actual “hash.”

It’s slightly different everytime I make it, but the recipe I share here today is the gist of the protocol I use. I don’t really give measurements because, honestly, I don’t even know them, and they will always change depending on the size of your squash or your personal taste. So please, go out and have fun with it!

WARNING: Your house WILL smell like you’re baking apple pie, which might leave some of your family disappointed (though hopefully, once they taste it, not for long).

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Bitter Harvest

4 Nov

herbIn general, it seems that the paleo-sphere has a love-hate relationship with supplementation. I mean, we know that our ancestors were able to get all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they needed from their diets and environment, so if we’re careful enough we should be able to do the same, right? Well, while it is true that nutrients found in foods seem to be better-absorbed and more functional than supplements taken in isolation, even us paleo-peeps are fighting a bit of an uphill struggle. We’re not spending as much time outside and getting all the sunlight and dirt that entails, we’re eating animals that often have a nutrient-poor diet to begin with, and even the high-quality, heirloom, organic vegetables we eat are, at the end of the day, products of human invention, artificially selected for decades—if not longer—for things like taste and shelf-life rather than diversity of nutrients.

So in some cases, it seems, some supplementation is merited, but an issue that often gets overlooked in the endless debate of to-supplement-or-not-to-supplement is that the quality of supplements is going to have a major impact on its overall effects and benefits. We know that a calorie is not a calorie, so it stands to reason that one type/brand of supplement might be very different from another.

Continue reading