Tag Archives: Coffee

Surly Destination Brewery

Well, lucky me, I had the chance to take part in Surly’s soft opening today for lunch. So, my two little munchkins and I braved the 50° weather and journeyed all the way over the river.

I should say right off the bat that I am fully aware that this was a soft opening, and that problems are to be expected. In fact, one of the main purposes of a soft opening is to help unearth these problems before opening to the public.

The building and location definitely fit the Surly image and style. It’s tucked back into a small industrial area, just like the original brewery. Although it’s a brand-new multi-jillion dollar facility, it’s not flashy, and it sits well with the surrounding warehouses and loading docks.

The parking lot was pretty decent, but I think it will be full most of the time. There is a HUGE line of bike racks out front, and it’s just a block or two from the light rail, so hopefully that’ll cut down on car traffic. The parking lot is not yet painted, so cars were a little jumbled. I’m guessing that may not change until spring.

There’s a nice, big patio out front with a huge fire pit. I don’t know if they’ll be able to serve beer out there, but it will be great if they can. (I could totally see a small cigar bar out there, too.)

Inside, the space is nice and understated. Everything is black, grey, and metal with wooden tables. Lighting levels are nice; not too bright, not too dim. One wall is all glass and faces the brewery.

The hostesses were very friendly. Clearly, they were still working out a system for seating and tracking open seats, but they made it their problem, not ours. Each kid got a nice lunch box full of games and crayons to take to the table.

The main dining room is set up beer hall style: lots of long tables and benches. There were a couple of round tables for larger groups, and plenty of spots to split (or join) the long tables as needed. Squeezing a high chair in was tricky, as the benches prevented putting one on the side of the table, and it was really tight to put it in between tables.

OK, the important part: beer. Surly is promising more than a dozen beers for the official opening on Friday, but today there were only 8 (if I recall correctly: Furious, Bender, Coffee Bender, Cacao Bender, Hell, Cynic, Overrated, and Doomtree.) Glassware was nice and clean, and the beer was good. I would hope they get a little more experimental with the offerings, and have at least one beer engine going most of the time. Again, this was a soft opening, so I wasn’t expecting them to pull out the big guns or anything.

The menu is ambitious. Charcuterie, apps, a couple salads, a few meals, a few sandwiches, some sausages, and some sides. Pretty much everything was rich and heavy. If you like your food smoked, stuffed with fat, and swimming in a sauce or three, you’ll probably dig the menu. If you are vegetarian or have any dietary restrictions, your options will be limited. If you are vegan, you can probably stay home. The menus were disposable, so I assume they will change periodically.

The kids menu was less than ideal. The basic concept was great: pick one drink, one main course, one side, and one dessert. The main courses were good: cheeseburger, pizza, mac & cheese, and I forget what else. Since my kids are vegetarians, it came down to cheese pizza or mac & cheese. The sides were not so great: roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and a few others. Fries, applesauce, fruit cup, carrot sticks, something like that would be a welcome addition. [Side note, fries came with a couple of the sandwiches, but weren’t available on their own on the regular menu or the kids’ menu.]

So, I got the Surly burger and a side of Brussels sprouts, my daughter got mac & cheese with roasted potatoes, and my son got a cheese pizza with cauliflower. (Surly is apparently another word for cheese, because a Surly burger is a burger with cheese on it.)

While we waited for food, we checked out the restroom facilities. In addition to a men’s and women’s room, there were two family/wheelchair rooms, which is awesome. The one we went in was spacious with a changing table, which is awesome. I assume the other was the same. The sink was a little high for children, but not bad. I didn’t get the chance to check out the men’s room.

Our food was being delivered right as we left for the restroom, so we had our food waiting when we returned.

Our table filled up fast. We had two lunch boxes full of toys, three waters, a beer, two juices, and our sippy cups from home before the food came. The pizza came on a large tray with a basket for cauliflower. The mac & cheese was in a small casserole served on a big plate to hold the potatoes.  My burger and fries also came on a tray, and the Brussels sprouts were in a mini cast-iron skillet on a hot pad. And a big wheel o’ condiments. Even with the toys packed up for eating, there was NO extra space on the table. A few adults ordering a decent variety of foods would have trouble getting everything on the table.

Oh, here’s something awesome: cloth napkins. I know, there are plenty of restaurants that use cloth napkins; it’s not like Surly invented them. I’m just saying I REALLY like that at a restaurant.

The food was pretty good. My kids both ate more than they have in a long time. My daughter wasn’t thrilled with the roasted potatoes, so I traded her for my fries. (I pretty much knew that was coming.) The potatoes were way underdone; hard and starchy. The cauliflower was good, but not terribly kid-friendly, being topped, sauced, and drizzled, but they each ate a little. The mac & cheese was gone, and a good chunk of the pizza went, too. My burger was fairly basic, but good, with a nice meat-to-bun ratio. The Brussels sprouts were really good: sweet, salty, and nicely browned.

The condiment wheel was nothing to get excited about: ketchup, mustard, two BBQ sauces (one sugary midwestern, one sugary midwestern with smoke), and a hot sauce. I would have expected something a little more special: house-made relish, brown mustard, some super-flaming-death Surly hot sauce, etc.

Then dessert. The kids each got a little ice cream sundae with their meals: Izzy’s vanilla ice cream with some fruity sauce and a dollop of whipped cream on top. I got an 8-layer cake that was pretty amazing.

The service was awful. I’m chalking this up to it being a soft opening, but they’re going to need to do a lot better with the volume I’m assuming they’ll have to handle. If there hadn’t been a platoon of bussers on hand to help our server, I don’t know that we would have even gotten our food. We were there for two hours, and I barely saw him. I would have liked a Coffee Bender with my cake, but I didn’t get the chance to order one. I don’t think he was even aware they had a kids’ menu before we ordered.

About halfway through our lunch, the background music came on. Of the $30 million spent on the brewery, I don’t think much was put into the acoustics. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it seems especially bad in all the taprooms and breweries going for an industrial look. A big open room with lots of hard surfaces is going to be noisy. Add a bunch of people drinking, and it’s going to get loud. Background music just makes everything louder. No one can hear the music, no one is enjoying the music, all it does is make everyone talk louder. There are professionals who can help you treat your space for acoustics. Anyone opening a new restaurant or bar should include that in their budget. Fortunately, these professionals can still help after the fact.

Prices were OK, but it can add up on you. A burger, a side, a dessert, two kids’ meals, and 1 1/2 beers came to $60. Dinner and drinks for adults could easily top $50/head, which is outside my comfort zone for casual dining. The kids’ meals were definitely the best deal on the menu. I would totally order one for myself next time if they let me.

So, overall, it was about what I expected. Personally, I’d like to see a couple of lighter options on the menu. I’m not talking Weight Watchers, but maybe a little less duck fat and pork. I had assumed the menu would be meat-heavy and painfully hip, and it was. (It’s not sauce, it’s jus. Or coulis. Or emulsion. Never sauce.) Prices were a touch higher than I’d hoped  for food, but not bad for beer ($5 pints/ $3 half-pints). The service was disappointing, considering  they probably had no shortage of applicants to choose from, but that’s fixable. Also, I’ll be curious to see how they’re staffed under normal circumstances. (They were staffed out the wazoo today, and I assume they will be for the first couple of weeks while they figure out how to handle volume.) This whole write-up may sound pretty critical, but none of the problems I saw today were outside the realm of “normal” for a soft opening, and all are fixable.

I’m glad we went today, because quite frankly, the place will probably be way too busy for me to bother with for a while.

Gilded Lilies, Volume II

A couple years ago, I posted my pumpkin pie recipes. Every year I tweak them ever so slightly in the quest for the perfect recipe. Plus, I like to play around with variations. Unlike George Lucas, my revisions tend to involve removing or reducing ingredients.

I’m now prepared to declare my “standard” pumpkin pie recipe finished. I’ll always continue to fine-tune it depending on the pumpkin itself, but that’s half the fun of using fresh pumpkin. Anyway, here’s my finished recipe:

Pumpkin Pie

800 grams fresh roasted pumpkin
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
20 grams peeled fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients except ginger in a large bowl and mix well. Run the ginger through a garlic press, into the pie batter. (Whatever makes it through the press goes in, but the stringy bits left inside the press should be discarded. Squeeze hard, you want all that juice.) Stir a little more to distribute the ginger. Pour into uncooked pie crust and bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325° and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 1 10″ pie (or a fairly deep 9″).

Here’s one of my favorite variations:

Espresso Pumpkin Pie

800 grams fresh roasted pumpkin
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp finely ground espresso beans
1/2 tsp black pepper (freshly ground if possible)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Pour into uncooked pie crust and bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325° and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup (the darker, the better). Makes 1 10″ pie (or a fairly deep 9″).

Here’s my latest variation. It definitely needs some work, but it’s very promising. Part of the problem is that most chocolate chips are too sweet for this flavor. The other part is that the gritty, raw mouth feel of Mexican chocolate is sadly absent. I’m also thinking that a Kahlua whipped cream would be a nice addition.

Mexican Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Pie

800 grams fresh roasted pumpkin
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp cayenne
100 grams chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl except chocolate chips and mix well. Fold chocolate chips into the batter. Pour into uncooked pie crust and bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325° and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 1 10″ pie (or a fairly deep 9″).

General Pumpkin pie tips:

  • The easiest way to make the pie batter is in a blender. It’s easy to mix and easy to pour. It’s also easy to overdo it, and make a really light, fluffy pie batter, which tends to crack more while baking. One way to avoid this is to add the eggs last and blend it just enough to combine them with the batter.
  • Slide the oven rack out and place the empty pie crust on the rack before you fill it. That way, you can avoid trying to lower a really full pie into the oven.
  • A vegetable peeler works great on fresh ginger.
  • It’s really hard to overbake a pumpkin pie, so if you’re not sure, go a few minutes longer. Or, when you’re pretty sure the pie is done, just turn the oven off but leave the pie inside. It’ll continue to bake a little, and it will cool more slowly, which will help minimize cracking.
  • If you want to make multiple pies at the same time, I’d suggest making the ginger first, then the espresso, then the Mexican chocolate. You can skip washing the bowl in between.

Minimum Wage

OK, this whole minimum wage thing has been bugging me for a while. Then I saw the news about Blue Plate restaurant company essentially making their employees pay for part of the wage increase, and then I got mad. (Also included in that article is the tidbit about some dump in Stillwater adding a “minimum wage fee” to every check. Classy.)

I support the idea of an increased minimum wage in theory, but it only works if everything else stays the same. If you give your lowest-paid employees a raise, but then restructure the system to make sure your highest-paid employees don’t take on any of that burden, NO ONE BENEFITS.

Think about it. You pay them more, but then everything else starts to cost more. They’re no better off than they were. There’s a word for that, it’s called inflation.

(Actually, there is one group who would benefit: politicians. Those in favor of the increased wages can claim they’re trying to help the little guy, those who opposed it can claim they were right all along.)

Instead, what we really need is to structure the system to start closing the wealth gap. I’m not talking about redistribution of wealth, I’m talking about basic, common sense limitations placed upon the selfish rich.

What I would like to see is a percentage-based system: the highest-paid employee of a company can’t make more then ten times what the lowest-paid employee makes. If the CEO wants to make $100 million a year, then the mail clerk needs to make $10 million. More realistically, if you only want to pay the mail clerk $10k/year, then the top CEO only gets $100k. In essence, instead of a minimum wage, we’d establish a maximum wage. We’d probably need a couple of lawyers to word it to close loopholes for bonuses, stock options, part-time employees, etc.

“But that’s not fair! The CEO deserves to make eighty bajillion dollars for doing a crappy job before accepting a golden parachute! The janitor doesn’t deserve to make a living wage!”

Yes it is, no they don’t, and yes they do.

A solid company needs solid leadership. A good CEO needs more education and more experience than the janitor, so sure, they deserve to make more money. But the janitor is important, too. So is the mail clerk and the receptionist. Trust me, no one wants to work for a company (or do business with a company) that doesn’t have a cleaning crew. And, I guarantee that most companies would last a lot longer without their top people than their bottom people.

“But wouldn’t that mean that price of everything would go up?”

No. Somehow, these companies have managed to absorb the cost of ever-increasing executive salaries. They can make it work. Imagine a company at which the top exec makes $250k/year. (No, shut up, that’s SPECTACULAR money; that’s live-like-royalty money for most of the world.) That means the entry-level folks would make at least $25k. That’s not great money, but it’s not bad.

Suddenly, the wealth gap begins to close. Not just the numbers, but the mentality and the lifestyle. People can start to recognize each other as fellow human beings. They can start to find common ground. People can support their families on one or two salaries again. They can spend more time with their kids, volunteering at their church, or just weeding their gardens.

Contrary to what the “job creators” would have you believe, I think this would be incredibly motivational. I could get a lot more excited about washing dishes for a living if it paid $50k/year. I also believe it would be a lot easier to motivate someone to move away from an assistance program (or a life of crime).

Sure, some prices might go up, others might come down. Employers would redistribute their workforces. Real estate would likely fluctuate. It would take a while for the economy to settle down. But, I firmly believe that the vast majority of Americans would benefit, not just with more money, but better health and greater happiness. And I expect that all those poor, starving millionaires would find a way to scrape buy on their new salaries.

Yes, I’m probably over-simplifying this. Yes, I’m probably being optimistic about it. But, in a very real, practical, mathematical way, lowering the maximum wage would be much more beneficial than raising the minimum.

Oh, and don’t worry, these limits would apply to federal employees, too. A senator couldn’t make more than ten times what the guy who gets his coffee earns. If you can’t see the value in THAT, then I can’t help you.

Day Fourteen

An internal monologue that will never happen in my world:

“I’m hungry. I think I’ll have a cup of soup, and maybe a slice of bread.” [Eat soup and bread.] “Wow, that was so fulfilling. I doubt I’ll have any desire to eat again for 4–6 hours.”

I guess that’s how some people function most of the time, and how they maintain a healthy weight. That’s probably how I should function, but I cannot envision an existence in which that is true.

I’m starting to rethink my entire attitude toward weight loss. It’s not easy. I’ve always thought of weight loss as a destination, and upon arrival, I’d just have to be cautious not to gain back too much weight. As long as I remained vigilant, I could catch the weight gain early, when I had five extra pounds instead of 80.

Then I read this article, and it tied in perfectly with what I’ve been contemplating the last few days: What No One Tells You.

As I made my way through this two-week experiment with ABC, I kept bumping the calories down a little further and a little further. I became more aware of the ‘extra’ calories I was getting from a cup of coffee here and a cracker there. I kept an eye on the scale, assuming that my weight must be dropping, because I was eating next to nothing. Gradually, I started to realize that this isn’t about making healthier food choices or cutting a few calories, this is about a complete lifestyle change.

There is no diet plan that will allow me to feel full while achieving a healthy weight. It will never happen. I will either be hungry or overweight pretty much the rest of my life. Sure, there will be brief moments in which I eat something and feel completely fulfilled afterwards, but they will be few and far between.

Maybe this is short-sighted of me. How can I predict the rest of my life with such certainty? Well, I can’t. But I can tell you that after 25 years of chronic pain, I feel pretty confident that I will continue to be in pain for the rest of my life. If, by some chance, that pain were to stop, I honestly don’t know that I’d even recognize the sensation. After fighting a never-ending battle with my weight, I feel pretty confident that will continue, too.

Maybe I’m being shallow. How can I complain about my weight when others are starving? Well, I can. I can complain, because my weight has been literally crushing me for years. I can complain, because every time I try to talk to a doctor about it, I’m branded fat, lazy, and too stupid to even be believed. I can complain, because I’ve spent countless hours and dollars on this problem, and I have yet to find a solution.

Maybe I am being lazy. Why don’t I just get off my ass and get some exercise once in a while? Well, I’ve tried. I joined a gym and went swimming every day. I went running, I went biking, I went walking. I’ve done yoga, I’ve done sit-ups, I’ve done aerobics. Now, I chase two small kids around the house all day. In my spare time, I’ve ripped out pavement and built retaining walls and installed windows. I’ve done these things on three hours of sleep; I’ve done these things when it’s below freezing outside. Oh, and not to toot my own horn too much, but I’ve done all of these things while in pain. Some days it’s mild pain, some days I want to cry just from getting out of bed, but it’s all day, every day. I’m not lazy, but I am still fat.

The question remains, what am I to do about it? Well, keep trying, I guess. The alternative is to learn to be happy with things the way they are, and I’m not. My clothes don’t fit, I’m tired all the time, and I generally feel lousy. I’m also not thrilled about the way I look. Maybe that’s vanity, but there it is.

I also don’t feel safe. I’m not getting any younger, and it’s not unreasonable to think I could have some health problems. In my experience, no doctor will even consider the possibility of any illness, condition, or injury in an obese patient. Everything that could ever go wrong is linked solely to my weight. If I ever want to be taken seriously by a medical professional, I have to be thin.

So, I guess I need to be hungry. I need to keep scaling back the calories until my weight starts to drop, and stay there. I need to wrap my head around the idea that if I ever reach a healthy weight, I will still have to battle every day to stay there. I will never be done.

On the positive side, I do think that ABC can help. It’s relatively easily to monitor my exact caloric intake on ABC, so hopefully I can find a number that works for me. I’m still optimistic that ABC can help me learn what an appropriate portion size is, even if it leaves me hungry. It can also help me get balanced nutrition, which was often lacking on other diet plans.

I don’t think I’ll be on ABC all day every day, but I can see me continuing this a few days a week to help maintain balance. I guess I didn’t get the answers I expected from this experiment, but maybe I got one or two that I needed.

Days Eleven and Twelve

Well, we’re nearing the end of week two. Yesterday was the first day I really felt hungry while on the ABC. I had nothing yesterday but ABC and coffee, so that may be a part of it. I’m still not feeling enthusiastic about the weight loss (or lack thereof) I’m experiencing. I bumped the recipe down again, this time to 1700 calories, and I’d like to add a piece of fruit or something for ‘dessert’ at the end of the day. Even with a piece of fruit and a couple cups of coffee, I should be solidly under 2000 calories a day at this point.

I’m planning to keep nudging the calories down until I see a pretty consistent loss of two pounds a week. If things go really well, I could be under 220 by New Year’s, which would be a new low for me. That would be a nice way to start 2014.

I still feel pretty good about the nutrition levels. The only thing I really feel that I’m missing at this point is roughage. I think lettuce provides something to the body that no powder can. I would definitely suggest swapping a glass of ABC for a salad a couple times a week.

I’m also having a hard time separating the effects of ABC from the effects of extreme sleep deprivation and the effects of stress. I haven’t slept more than a few hours a night in a while. I’m still trying to keep pressure on the contractors to finish repairs, I’m still living in a slowly shrinking house, I have a three-year-old who refuses to sleep, and a one-year-old who is still recovering from a couple of brutal months of teething. The only exercise I’m getting is trips up and down the stairs with a laundry basket.

Still, I’m trying desperately to remain positive. We have a new roof, and it looks fantastic. The new roof looks so much more natural and appropriate, I can hardly remember what the old roof looked like. The front steps are all that is left of the old color scheme, and they look extra terrible now. That project will definitely be higher on the list come Spring. (There’s also one section of fence and the garage to deal with, but those are at least separate from the house.)

I’m also cashing in on the free dumpster that’s still outside to get a head start on ripping out some of the pavement. I’ve stalled on that project for a while, as the cost of hauling off the debris was prohibitive, but with that eliminated, I’m hoping to get as much done as possible before snow flies again. With a little luck, that’ll be done tomorrow. (Actually, I’d love to rip out the whole driveway and start over, but there’s no way I’ll get a new one poured this Autumn. I’ll have to settle for just removing the excess at this point.)

The concrete I poured last weekend looks OK. I poured two new squares, and those turned out pretty well. One got stepped on while wet, so there’s a goofy patch that may or may not set correctly, but I think they’ll both be structurally pretty solid. I also did some repair and resurface work on the apron into the garage, and that didn’t turn out so well. Sadly, it’s a repair of a repair of a repair of a piece that wasn’t done very well the first time. At this point, I’m hoping to buy about 18 more months, at which point I’ll see about ripping out the apron along with the rest of the driveway and doing it right.

So, I’m getting a surprising amount of work done on the house considering it’s already November and we’ve had one small snowfall. I had resigned myself to small indoor projects at this point, but I keep getting a little more done outside.

All I really need right now is a few more hours of sleep each night and a chance to socialize once in a while. Sure, a sack of money and a housekeeper would be great, but I’m trying to stay within the realm of the possible.

What I’m getting at here is that life could be better, but it’s going OK. The ABC is taking care of my physical need for fuel, and it’s really highlighting how much I eat out of stress, exhaustion, and loneliness, and how little I eat out of need. I am a long way from getting that under control, but this experiment seems to be helping.

Days Nine and Ten

So, I’ve definitely had to get a little more flexible with this whole thing. Yesterday was not a good day at our house, and as such, I was not able to stick to close to my plan. I whipped up a batch of ABC, took a sip, then my son flung it across the room. I spent the next hour cleaning ABC off the table, floor, Legos, stuffed monkey, crib, my pants, shoes, socks, and of course, my son. By the time that was done, it was time to leave for school with a quick stop to vote on the way. From school, I went directly to a neighboring polling place to work as an election judge for the rest of the day. By the time I was done with that, it was almost 10:00 and I’d had exactly one sip of ABC to sustain me throughout the day. Call me weak, but after a visit to the grocery store for child-feeding supplies, I stopped for some mu shu pork on the way home.

Today, I still have about 2/3 of a batch waiting for me in the fridge. Rather than try to figure out what to add to make it a full batch, I just tossed in a banana and called it good. Yes, I’ll probably be a little low today, but that’s alright. I’ll probably drink a little more coffee anyway.

Fortunately, this should be the end of my five crazy days. My wife will be home a little later than usual, but otherwise, this is looking to be a ‘normal’ day. Plus, my son got another new tooth (his third in six days) which SHOULD signal the end of teething until the two-year molars come around.

I also revised the recipe again. I know, I know, I keep saying I’m not going to do that, but I actually bumped it down to 1800 calories. I’m still not losing weight, and may have actually gained a little, which is not very inspiring. I still need to do more research into how many calories I should be getting each day. So far, I’m getting estimates from 1,500 to 3,300. Hurray for an overabundance of questionable information on the internets!

I’ll probably change the recipe again here in a couple days, as I’m almost out of whey protein and am going to try soy instead. The protein is the most expensive ingredient, soy is about half the price of whey, and the subtle differences in nutritional quality seem to be applicable only for aggressive bodybuilding. I’d also like to switch to a more natural sweetener, probably honey.

So, I’m not even going to pretend that I’m done fine-tuning the recipe. All these tweaks are pretty subtle, so it’s not like I’m completely changing things daily. I’m just trying to find what works for me.

Day Two

After three ‘meals’ of ABC yesterday, I decided I really needed to change the recipe. The taste started to get to me, but not as much as the texture did.

So, I revised the recipe. I cut back on the masa and oats so I could add a little sugar and some cocoa powder. I also added a heaping scoop of cinnamon. This is less than ideal, and I’m hoping to continue tweaking to come up with something palatable with little or no sugar added. I think sweetening with milk, fruit, or juice might be the best approach. Maybe a banana.

This morning’s meal was definitely better. I’d still like to switch to a finer oat flour and eliminate the grittiness. Also, I think I’ll try blending in some ice cubes next time for a colder, more shake-like meal.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to put some more effort into this recipe. The online tool was a great way to start, and there’s a lot of information on the Soylent website, but there are still unanswered questions. For example, why do so many recipes favor soybean oil? I would think coconut or olive oil would be much better, for both nutrition and taste. I suppose that’s all part of the experiment.

It’s hard to say how I feel at this point. I think I’m fighting a little bit of a cold, which has my neck all stiff and sore, and my throat is a little swollen. That said, yesterday went OK. I wasn’t really hungry, although I did find myself wanting to eat. That’s pretty much my whole problem in a nutshell: I want to eat, regardless of my hunger. I had a bit of coffee with cream and sugar, which added about 75 calories to the day. I’ll probably do the same today, or even a little more.

I keep checking different resources online, and I get wildly varying results for how many calories I actually need in a day. Right now, I’m looking at a range of 1800 to 2700. That’s a difference of one pretty substantial meal. So, I’ll stick with my 1900 plus a few extra in coffee form. I am feeling a little hungry this morning after my first ‘meal’, but I still have some willpower left. I’m guessing I’ll end up somewhere around 2100–2200 calories, but I’d rather start low.

I stepped on the scale this morning, too. 243 pounds. I’m not happy about that; it means I put on about 20 pounds this summer. I’m optimistic that I can drop at least the first ten pretty quickly. Long-term, I’d like to hit an even 200, then fine-tune my weight/waistline goals from there. I’d really like to buy a pair of jeans with the waist smaller than the inseam.

IMAG1191

Version 1, ‘Vanilla’ flavored.

Day One

I have a love/hate relationship with food. Basically, I love food so I eat until I hate myself. As a result, I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. I also have plenty of other health issues: back injuries, foot injuries, insomnia, depression, allergies, headaches, hernias, etc. Many of these are likely related to my weight, and together, they’ve provided me with chronic pain for decades. I honestly have no idea what it feels like to not be in pain.

Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with different approaches to weight loss. Most recently, I spent 18 months on Weight Watchers. WW was pretty effective, and I lost quite a bit of weight. It was very expensive and time-consuming, but it was working. After about a year, though, things started to plateau. Instead of losing weight, I was just getting more and more lethargic. I couldn’t maintain my energy levels anymore, which made exercise nearly impossible. For the last six months I was on WW, I gained about ten pounds and felt terrible, so I quit.

Now with two small children in the house, I’m finding it harder and harder to incorporate exercise into my daily life. I take a yoga class once a week, most weeks. I was walking pretty regularly, taking the kids out to the park, that sort of thing, but rarely did I get my heart rate up for any extended period. At best, I was getting just enough exercise to maintain.

I got myself a Nordic Track with the absolute best intentions of getting up early in the mornings and putting in some time on it. Seriously. Then, the day after I got it set up in the basement, we had to empty the attic for roof repairs following the big storm in June. Now, my Nordic Track is completely surrounded by boxes of crap that haven’t been opened since we moved into this house.

All of this is a long-winded way to say I’m at my wits’ end. To date, I have not found a combination of diet and exercise that works for me. I’m still gaining weight, and I still feel terrible all the time. It’s time to try something totally new.

I had an idea many years ago for People Food. Basically, something like pet food with complete nutrition for humans, and one could simply adjust the quantity for their own personal caloric needs. I wasn’t the first to come up with the idea, but now food science is getting pretty good at it. Enter Soylent.

See, a whole bunch of people had the same idea, and started discussing it on the internet. They started their own recipes, sharing tips, and comparing notes. Some started calling it soylent, after Soylent Green. Others went with Bachelor Chow after Futurama. Whatever you call it, it comes down to the same thing: all your basic nutritional needs with as little extra as possible.

A couple other guys had the same idea, but they went to college, got fancy degrees, and started making it for real. They had an insanely successful crowd-sourcing campaign, and are about to start manufacturing this product. They’ve also teamed up with the homebrewers to share refined recipes to make at home. Now there’s a website to help you create your own recipe. So I did.

ABC (Andy’s Bachelor Chow)

My target is 1900 calories a day. My recipe is tweaked to be slightly higher in protein and slightly lower in fat than the US Government recommendations. 1900 calories is probably a little light for a guy my size, and I may need to bump that up as I go. Or, I may just decide to eat a banana every morning or something.

Now, I’m committing to this for two weeks. I’m separating my biological need for fuel from the pleasure I get from eating. Essentially, I’m giving up food.

I don’t expect to never eat again; this isn’t like quitting smoking. But, I’m hoping to get a grip on my body’s needs and get portion sizes under control. Instead of asking myself how much of something is OK to eat, I can now simply have none. If I do this for a couple weeks, I hope to have a better idea of how much is enough. If it works well, I can continue it several days a week.

I have some concerns with this approach, and I’m hoping to remain flexible enough to adjust as needed while staying firm enough to stick to it. For one thing, I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately, and I anticipate some serious caffeine withdrawal over the first few days. I may add a few calories the first few days for a cup of coffee to help ease that transition.

Anyway, today is day one. I just finished a big glass of ABC for breakfast. It was… different.

The flavor wasn’t too bad. Mostly, I could taste the corn. It was saltier than I expected. The texture was a bit rough, but I think a finer oat flour (or more blending) would help that. I think I’ll add cinnamon to the next batch, and a bit more water to make it a little thinner. I’d also considering changing the recipe a little to add some milk, which might improve the taste and texture quite a bit. I’ll probably wait on that, though.

If I end up doing this longer term, I think I should seek out some organic, non-GMO masa, since that’s a major ingredient and corn is such a bastardized crop.

Overall, it was bearable. The goal isn’t flavor anyway, but it does need to be something I can handle three times a day.

We’ll see.

[EDIT] Here’s a screen shot of the recipe. Apparently, there’s an issue with Internet Explorer not displaying the grid on the web page. So, here you go:Screenshot from 2013-10-28 15:14:13

 

A Year of Hell, Part I

[Editor’s note: Please forgive the confusing verb tenses in this blog post, as it was written over the course of almost two months. What was the future is now the past, except for what is yet to come.]

The years of our lives don’t always follow the calendar. The crap pile of a year I’m calling 2013 actually began for me in September of 2012. That’s when I left a job that I loved and held loads of promise to get even better. It was an incredibly difficult process for me, trying to balance my dreams and desires against my ethics and standards, but in the end, I had to let it go. In hindsight, it was the right choice, but that hasn’t prevented it from haunting me.

This was also about the time we became a one-car family. The beater we bought to get us through became too expensive to maintain, so we had to let it go. I discovered later as I was going through the paperwork that it had actually been rolled and totalled before we got it.

I had big ambitions as 2012 drew to a close. There were a number of large projects around the house that I was finishing: new windows throughout, painting the exterior, lots of wiring, and I had even hoped to start on the plumbing. As winter settled on Minnesota, I had to concede that not all of it was getting done, but I still felt OK about what I had accomplished. I started to get a little more comfortable as a stay-at-home father of two, even if it was exhausting. My daughter started using the potty pretty regularly, and it seemed like maybe we’d be down to one kid in diapers soon.

Somewhere shortly after the new year, things began to fall apart. Even as my son started to sleep through the night a little better, my daughter stopped. I think it was a delayed reaction to bringing home a new baby, but she started to get very needy, demanding more and more attention. She stopped using the potty, almost with a vengeance. She took hours, literally, to go to bed each night. My wife and I would spend every night from around 6:00 until 11:00 or so trying to calm her enough for sleep.

She and I were getting a little stressed at this point. Our free time was from about 11:00 PM until 5:00 AM each day. That’s when we would eat dinner, wash the dishes, and try to get some sleep. She was still getting up with the little guy once or twice at night.

Fortunately, I was keeping reasonably busy with my DJ work through the winter. It’s usually pretty slow during the colder months, but I managed to do alright. It also gave me time to get the groceries each week, since Cub is open 24 hours.

I had gotten really aggressive with my diet, giving up caffeine, most dairy, most animal products in general. After two years of serious dieting and exercise, I was down to the last 15 pounds I needed to lose to hit my target. Then the lack of sleep started to take its toll.

First, I stopped getting much exercise. Colder weather and icy sidewalks made it hard to get out, two kids not sleeping made it hard to do anything inside. Plus, let’s face it: it’s hard to get motivated when one can barely stand.

Then I started having a little more caffeine. And a little more. And a little more. Then it was time to admit that I was drinking coffee daily. Then I’d have a little more when I was working late.

Then my diet started to fall apart. Healthy, natural food fell to the side in favor of food that was ready now.

Then the pounds started to come back. I fought and fought, but I just couldn’t keep the weight off anymore. My doctors kept telling me to get more exercise, and somehow they couldn’t understand that I didn’t have it in me to work out when I was sleeping three to five hours a night.

My wife was in the same boat. She had the added bonus of having given birth six months earlier, which as you may know, can cause a woman to gain a pound or two. She actually enjoys exercise, and had been itching to get out and run, but she was sleeping even less than I.

We were both getting cranky. We barely spoke, not out of anger, but as a practical matter. When two people are only awake in the same room for an hour a day, there’s only so much conversation to be had. We both felt bloated and sluggish, but couldn’t find any way out of the cycle. Every day was the same: crawl out of bed, feed the kids, wash the dishes, do the laundry, repeat, collapse. My meals generally consisted of whatever my daughter left on her plate and whatever I could microwave at 2:00 AM.

I started dragging myself to a yoga class each Saturday morning, and that helped a lot. The exercise was great, but it was also the one hour a week I had of serenity and adult interaction.

When spring came to Minnesota, it brought its usual renewed sense of hope. This time was going to be different. I was going to start making decent money as work got busier. We had a number of major projects lined up for the house, but they were solidly planned and prioritized. It would be a busy summer, but it was achievable.

Every Saturday I was either working a wedding, working on the house, or both. I was still exhausted, but I was DOING SOMETHING, and that felt good. I got most of the trim done on the windows. I built six new garden beds (plus a little one just for my daughter!) I hadn’t started on the plumbing yet, as we were still running the boiler almost every night, but that could wait. We had the whole summer ahead of us.

We had two big events planned, too. In July, there would be a family reunion in Wisconsin. In September, we were throwing a big party in South Carolina for my parents’ 50th anniversary. Over the last couple years, I’ve been gathering some information on the family to try to get a decent family tree together, and the reunion would be a great opportunity for that. The party in South Carolina would just be fun. Both would give me chance to meet some new people and get reacquainted with others.

Work was pretty solid. In fact, August was lined up to be very busy, and I was likely to make more money that month than I had since my daughter was born.

Yes, this summer was looking good. Until it wasn’t.

In April, my brother-in-law suffered a terrible accident while on vacation. The first report we got was three broken vertebrae in his neck and he’d likely need surgery. As the weeks went past and he saw more and more doctors, the news did get better, but it was still going to be months of treatment and therapy.

In June, there was a big storm and a tree fell on our house. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the roof didn’t fare so well. The contractor (who was selected by State Farm because they were more or less preapproved for whatever repairs they felt were necessary) told us we’d be getting a whole new roof, no problem. The insurance adjuster, however, thought it would make more sense to try to get a variance from code to do a crappy little patch job. In the mean time, the roof continued to sag, causing more damage to ceilings and walls.

In July, I started to get a little sore. I still wasn’t sleeping or exercising, and I had put on some weight, so I wasn’t too surprised. It got worse. There was some swelling. Eventually, it dawned on me that I had been through this before: it was another hernia!

I ended up in urgent care to get a diagnosis. I had to cancel on a wedding that night; I ended up in the emergency room instead. The hernia was definitely expanding and getting more painful. The ER doc didn’t believe me or the UC doc. He found an infection, and decided that was impossible for me to have more than one medical problem at a time. So, after blood tests, urine tests, an extremely uncomfortable ultrasound, and a CT scan over the course of eight hours, he gave me a pill and sent me home.

So, I had to schedule another appointment to get the hernia rediagnosed. Much like the UC doc, this doctor found the hernia in seconds. We scheduled the surgery and discussed recovery times, follow-up procedures, etc.

All this was just in time for me to clear my schedule for August. Remember August? My busiest month, in which I would make really good money again for once? Yeah, cleared it.

Still, we had the family reunion in between the diagnosis and the surgery, so that would be fun. Sure, I’d rather be feeling 100% for that, but it was Wisconsin, so I knew there’d be beer.

Well, the kids were still having a pretty rough time. There hadn’t been a lot of sleeping, and now my son had stopped eating. Instead, he chose to subsist entirely on milk again, which led to some pretty serious constipation. Yeah, all day away from home with a plugged-up one-year-old. That’ll be relaxing.

My wife and I ended up spending most of the reunion taking one of the kids for a diaper change or outside so their crying wouldn’t disturb anyone. I hardly managed to speak to anyone there. Still, there were some good times mixed in there, and I was glad we went. We visited the old family farm, which my daughter loved. I got to meet a few new family members and learn a little about my ancestors.

By the time we got home, we were wiped out. I was actually looking forward to surgery, when I’d be forced to relax for a couple days.

Yeah, no luck. Within 24 hours of getting sliced, things were going badly enough with the kids that I had to get back to laundry and dishes.

A couple days later was National Night Out, and I was heading up our block party. I couldn’t really lift anything yet, but it still went well. We had a pretty good turnout, lots of food, and more folks were just starting to drift in when the rain started. So, we quickly tore everything down and scampered back home.

The next couple of weeks were a bit of a blur, as I tried to do as little as possible while still caring for the kids and maintaining a household. The anniversary party was looming, but we had a pretty solid plan for that. I was on the phone almost every day arguing with someone at State Farm about code violations and roofing repairs.

Then the party plans started to fall apart. In some ways, it was a good thing: we had gotten so many “yes” responses, that we had to change venues. No big deal, there was another room in the same building we could use. We were going from 65 people in a room that holds 75 to 120 in a room that holds 350, which would involve some creative space-filling. Our main contact at the venue was kind of a dingbat, and in the end, we just decided we’d have to show up and make the best of it.

Finally, the time came to load up the car and head to South Carolina. Right before we left, we got a phone call from State Farm that they would rewrite the estimate to cover ALL of the damage to the house: new roof, structural repairs up to code, ceilings, walls… everything. The party plans were as solid as they were going to get. We had ECFE class in the morning with the kids, so hopefully they would be tired when we started driving. My daughter hadn’t slept at all the night before, so she was due for some serious sleeping. I thought this was my turning point. After almost exactly one year of lousy timing and bad circumstances, things were looking good.

Nope. My wife didn’t get to start her packing until after midnight the night before we left. Instead of having everything ready to go and getting some sleep, we ran and ran and ran all night. And the next morning. Then that afternoon after class. Finally, two hours late and soaked in sweat, with everything but the kitchen sink crammed into the car, we left.

Then the screaming started. First one kid, then the other. Then both. Then they’d get quiet just long enough to make us think it was over. It wasn’t over. It wasn’t ever over. We stopped for diapers, we stopped for snacks. We stopped to try to soothe them. For every two hours on the road, we spent an hour stopped.

We had planned to do the 1300-mile journey in two and a half days. Things were going badly enough that I decided to just keep moving. Like tearing off a Band-Aid, it seemed best to do this quickly and be done with it. We made it 12 hours the first day, and it took 18 the next day to finish the trip. I’m pretty sure those were two of the worst days of my life; I could probably write a book about them, but I won’t. In short: our first stop was for coffee and sandwiches, our second stop was cleaning three gallons of vomit off the car seat, our third stop was for Febreze. The first 100 miles took over three hours. I drank some coffee, I fantasized about starting a new life as a troll under that next overpass, I drank some coffee, we listened to “Family Time” by Ziggy Marley 736 times (the song, not the whole album), I drank some coffee, we were chased by a psychotic truck driver, and I didn’t need any coffee to stay awake for a while after that. We missed getting creamed by a drunk driver by a matter of inches, we had a few not-so-proud parenting moments, and by the time we arrived, my daughter had slept maybe four or five hours over the course of three days. On the plus side, we now had a whole extra day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Quacking Toilet, Hidden Moose II

OK, picking up where I left off… or actually overlapping with the end of the first installment. Whatever, this is a blog, not the great American novel.

I noticed something during the night: the toilet quacked. Anytime the toilet got flushed (which was often with 3 drunks and a pregnant woman) it would quack like a duck for a while. I think it had something to do with the extra-low water pressure coming in from the well. Or maybe our cabin was haunted by the ghost of an angry duck. Although it didn’t sound angry.

I really wanted to sleep in that morning. It had been a heck of a week, and I was way behind on sleep. After a good 7 hours in the truck and a 3-hour show, I was wiped out. Unfortunately, I woke up really early. I can’t say how early, ’cause there wasn’t a single thing in the room that told time, which actually made it much nicer.

Dinner the night before was pretty small, so I woke up HUNGRY. That was probably what woke me up in the first place. I lay in bed hoping everyone else could sleep in, but secretly wanting them to wake up so we could go eat. No one else slept in very late, either, which was just fine by me.

A fully-equipped guitarist and his better half.
A fully-equipped guitarist and his better half.

So, breakfast I already discussed, back to the lodge, warm clothes, out for a walk. Still no moose, although the locals seemed to think AVOIDING the moose would be more challenging than spotting one, so I remained hopeful. We learned that the best time to spot moose is with fresh snow on the roads. They’ve learned that the snow plows will leave them a salty treat on the curves, so you have to slow down every time you drive around a curve lest you hit one.

Making a snow angel on the lake.
Making a snow angel on the lake.

Walking around the frozen lake was absolutely beautiful. We didn’t make it too far, though, as the weather was steadily going downhill. The sky got darker, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and a few flurries started blowing around. We headed back to the cabin for an afternoon of shooting the breeze and sipping the Castle Danger.

The wife and me out on the lake.
The wife and me out on the lake.

Breakfast was so tasty, we opted to head back to the Trail Center lodge for dinner. A light snow was falling just as the sun was setting: perfect moosing conditions. I talked the gang into taking a drive up and down a few miles in hopes of spotting a moose before dinner.

Five is a nice, round number, so we headed five miles past the restaurant before turning around. No moose. However, when I hit the brakes to slow down and turn around, we slid. A lot. Fortunately, it was in a straight line on a straight road. That was all the wake up call we needed to turn around, eat dinner, and get our butts back to the lodge before the weather got any worse.

This is about the time the real world started nosing into our weekend of isolation. As the weather got worse and worse, all we could think of was the long drive home the next morning. The forecast still claimed it wasn’t going to be that bad, but none of us liked the look of the skies.

We played our second night at the lodge to another great crowd. The crowd was a little smaller, as more people stayed home or left early to dodge the snow, now turning to sleet.

We all opted to load up the gear right away, because we had every indication the morning would be worse. It was still warm, which was nice, but the snow/ice/sleet/slush was coming down thick. Ready to head out first thing in the morning, we crawled back into bed, keenly aware that our weekend of luxury was all but over.

Early the next morning, Jimmy and Chrissy were packed up and on the road. My wife and I were not far behind. We had just finished loading the truck when Jimmy came back. His car couldn’t make it up the hill on the fresh ice, and he was hoping to make it out driving in our tracks. My “truck” is really just a bloated car, but it’s heavy, so I was cautiously optimistic. We drove to the far end of the complex to get a running start at the one big hill, and both cars made it.

It’s about 2 miles from the main lodge to the Gunflint Trail. Upon reaching the Trail, we were happy to see that it had been plowed. Unfortunately, that left a 2-foot wall of ice between us and the Trail. With a couple spotters watching for traffic, I got a running start and broke a hole through for both cars.

From there, it was an hour back to Highway 61 and another 30 minutes to a gas station and coffee shop. A couple more hours of beautiful-to-look-at but white-knuckle-to-drive-in roads got us to Duluth, where we stopped (back at Fitger’s) for lunch with a friend.

At this point, I had to admit that I wasn’t going to see a moose. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it was pretty unlikely on the Interstate.

The only moose I saw. He's had better days.
The only moose I saw. He's had better days.

As we made our way south, the ice turned to snow, the snow turned to rain, the rain dried up and we arrived home without incident.