Monday, December 05, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide Edition

Full disclosure: Each of the items I'm mentioning today I purchased myself, use regularly, and love. I was not asked or paid by anyone to provide these reviews. You should know too, that if you use the links to purchase them on Amazon, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
The Cookbook: Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi

This past summer I had the incredible fortune to spend two weeks travelling through Israel in celebration of my oldest daughter's bat-mitzvah. If you've never been to Israel, then you probably don't realize that the food there is incredible. Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi's tribute to Israeli cooking, is both beautiful to read and to explore. While we've cooked a good percentage of its meals, with all being incredible, it was only after I returned from Israel that I found what for me is its truest gem. It's Ottolenghi's take on shakshuka.

For those who don't know, shakshuka is an Israeli comfort food. Often consumed for brunch, it's equally adept at serving as a dinner time meal and at its simplest is peppers and tomatoes stewed with a hot middle eastern spice paste, finished by poaching eggs directly in the mixture, and then eaten with crusty white bread.

When we were in Israel, one of the restaurants I needed to eat at was called, "Shakshukia" and the only thing they serve there is shakshuka. It was incredible. And when we got home, and I cooked Ottolenghi's version, it was almost a dead ringer (when made with Ottolenghi's pilpelchuma (which I'd recommend making with Ancho rather than Pasilla peppers and also doing a quadruple batch and then freezing, in 1/8 of a cup measures, the extra which will allow you to make shakshuka with at most 10 minutes of prep time)).

If you do make it, know that you can keep it vegetarian by cooking it as is, or you can, like I learned to do at Shakshukia, add some grilled merguez sausage to it.

Click here to buy for US readers, or click here to buy for Canadian readers.

The Surprisingly Awesome Kitchen Gadget: A Vacuum Sealer
Though it might not seem exciting, I can't tell you how much I love our vacuum sealer. We bought it this year to use in conjunction with the sous-vide setup I received for my birthday, and honestly, I think I've used it every single day since.

Of course its primary function for us is to freshly seal cooked meals (we batch cook so we always have lunch options and quick dinner options at the ready), and because it does so with a vacuum, the foods stay fresh for far longer than if you were to use (like we used to) Ziplock freezer bags. I have read in some places that you can save a great deal of money using a food saver, both in terms of the ability to buy meats on sale and freeze them without worrying about freezer burn, and also in terms of the heat-sealed bags being cheaper than Ziplocks - but I haven't done the math. What I do know though is that a vacuum sealer is more than that, and for chip-aholics like me, it's a great way to reduce my temptation to eat more. What I mean is that heat based vacuum sealers will also re-seal bags of chips (and rice, and spices, etc.). Doing so not only stops me from going back for seconds, it also keeps the chips as fresh as they day they were opened.

If you do buy one, or even if you use Ziplocks, another tip I've got is once sealed, smooth out the contents of the bags so that they're as thin and as flat as you can make them. That way they'll take up far less room in your freezer, and they'll thaw that much more quickly. The link below is to a Foodsaver version, I bought the one from the US link because it's cheaper and I didn't want fancy bells and whistles (and it's been great), but I couldn't find the same one for sale on Amazon Canada.

Because the prices vary regularly, and because there are many makes and models, make sure you hunt around on Amazon before choosing one, and you might also consider buying some discount bulk no-name vacuum sealing bags - so far they've worked well for us.

Click here to buy for US readers, or here to buy for Canadian readers.

The Incredibly Useful Kitchen Gadget: The Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

We bought ours a few years ago and we're using it more and more often and not just for speedier rice, beans, and quinoa. Don't worry about the space it takes up as the Instant Pot actually replaces a whole pile of devices in your kitchen as it is at once a pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, slow cooker, and even can be used as a saute pan. The online Instant Pot communities on both Facebook and Reddit are incredibly helpful, and recipe wise, Serious Eats has a pile as well.

Lately we've been using our Instant Pot to take a shortcut with Ottolenghi's shakshuka (using a can of San Marzano tomatoes and then a 45 minute high pressure run through the Instant Pot as opposed to the long simmer recommended by Shakshukia's chef and owner) - a shortcut inspired by this recipe for an almost as good all-day red sauce for pasta. The one thing we have yet to try is the yogurt making feature which I hear is easy and great.

These Instant Pots go on sale regularly, and there are many models, so once again, have a hunt around on Amazon before buying.

Click here to buy for US readers, or here to buy for Canadian readers

The Home Barista: The Breville BES870XL Barista Espresso

I bought this for my wife for her birthday 3 years ago and we've both used it virtually every single day since. Though it's definitely not describable as inexpensive (generally it runs around $500-$600), if over time it precludes your need to buy espressos, cappuccinos, americanos, or lattes at an expensive coffee shop, you may make some of your money back. For us, because we buy green coffee beans in bulk and roast them ourselves, I'm guessing a fancy coffee costs us somewhere on the order of $0.40 each. Multiply their savings over the at least 730 cups we pull a year and that argument about paying for itself probably holds water.

That aside, this thing is an absolute workhorse and it allows for tremendous customization of grind (the built in grinder works great), tamp, and temperature which in turn yields coffee shop worthy cuppas. It's also incredibly speedy. From turning it on, to a double espresso in my hand in just over a minute (and this includes the time it takes for the machine to heat, the beans to grind, me to tamp, and the pour).

Click here to buy for US readers, or here to buy for Canadian readers.

For other ideas, feel free to have a peek at my last year's gift guide which also includes the simple, relatively inexpensive coffee roaster we've been using for the past 4 years now.

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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Stories: Post-Truthism, Anti-Semitism, And At Least 2 More Hate Filled Isms.

Photo Source: Nick Solari, Michael Vadon CC BY-SA 2.0 / Mario Santor, Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0
The inimitable Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post on the post-truth world of the Trump presidency.

Alana Newhouse in Tablet with an incredible piece on anti-Semitism in America.

Tiffany Martínez, in her online journal, covers how the word "Hence" highlighted at least 2 more hateful biases currently in America.

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Are There People More Dysfunctional Than Infomercial Befores?

It's hard to pick a favourite moron in today's Funny Friday, but if I had to vote, it'd be the guy cracking eggs.

Have a great weekend!

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Guest Post: Skim Milk Makes Kids Fat. Or Does It?

Today's guest post comes from my friend and colleague Dr. Dan Flanders and it's about a topic that has in fact received a fair bit of attention over the past few years - full fat vs. skimmed fat milk and the proposed impact which you choose might have on your child's weight. If you're looking for Dan, you can usually find him on Twitter.
Last week, Target Kids!, a distinguished group of Toronto pediatric researchers, published a study on the relationship between the types of milk that young children drink and their weights. They demonstrated, quite convincingl,y that young children who routinely drink fattier milk (e.g. 3.25% whole milk) tended to be leaner than those who drank lower fat milk (e.g. skim or 1%). Likewise, children with overweight and obesity, were found by them tend towards drinking lower-fat milk than children who were leaner.

The authors suggested, as a possible explanation for these findings, that low fat milk doesn't satiate children very well and therefore probably leads to the eating of excess calories and consequently, the additional weight. Higher-fat milk drinkers, they proposed, feel fuller, and for longer, and are therefore less likely to overeat.

One can imagine how compelling this explanation might seem in light of our current international childhood obesity concerns. So is this the simple intervention we need to cure childhood obesity!? Probably not.

Consider, for example, what a sensible and caring parent of an underweight young child might do to help them to gain. As both a pediatrician and as a father of an underweight child, my first instincts and steps were to increase the fat content of my son’s milk. In fact it is common practice in the medical community for doctors and other allied health professionals to recommend switching to fattier milk as a means to encourage weight gain for young, slow-to-gain children.

Likewise, it is extremely common for parents of children who have excess weight to attempt reducing their children’s caloric intake by serving them lower-fat milk. And again, this is a practice that health professionals regularly recommend to help to “prevent childhood obesity”.

Coming back to this new study, in my opinion, the directionality is wrong, I think it highly unlikely that drinking fattier milk is causing leanness in children and that drinking low or no-fat milk is causing obesity. Rather, I would bet that the milk type that young children are drinking is probably being chosen by their parents as a consequence of their kids’ weight status’: fattier milk for the children who are lean and lower-fat milk for the ones who are heavy.

Effectively, this study shows a correlation, not a causal relationship, and its findings are just as (or perhaps more) likely to reflect sensible parenting decisions than the discovery of a new intervention to reduce childhood obesity.

So why write about this study? Well, in a word … The Media.

There can be an interesting and sometimes dangerous intersection between science and the media. As consumers and parents, we are eager to make good, health-promoting decisions for our children and families. When it comes to health and nutrition, these decisions ought to be properly informed by the process and outcomes of scientific inquiry, and be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. But most of us are not scientifically minded enough to read, digest, and critically appraise peer-reviewed publications directly from the source, and so we turn to the media for help.

The media - broadcasters, journalists, health bloggers - play the important role of consuming, interpreting, and packaging science discoveries in a way that is digestible to mainstream consumers. Unfortunately, the media too often botch their coverage of important science discoveries by spinning stories to feed flashy and controversial narratives thereby, they hope, driving higher consumer subscriptions and ad revenues. Left in the dust is their mandate to responsibly inform consumers.

Using this milk study as an example: a fair and responsible way to cover this story might be to write some version of the following:
A correlation has been found between the type of milk that young children drink and their weight status. The study was unable to determine whether the type of milk consumed caused changes in body size or whether existing body size influenced the type of milk consumed. Future studies are needed to establish any causal connection.
Instead, here’s but a sampling of irresponsible headlines cranked out by some well-respected news publishers in response to this study:I am concerned that parents, wanting to do what's best for their children, have been misled by these headlines. Not only does this type of reporting send a statistically inaccurate message, but there is a real chance that these headlines will change (or have changed) parents’ family nutrition decisions with the risk of actually making things worse for their children.

I am even more concerned that this sampling of misleading health journalism is but a spit in the ocean; reckless health reporting is routine and commonplace. As a global community we must demand better from our journalism communities.

Dr. Daniel Flanders is a Toronto pediatrician and founder/owner of Kindercare Pediatrics. He has a special interest in pediatric nutrition and childhood obesity. Dr. Flanders completed his medical education at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. He is on staff at the North York General Hospital and is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Can School Based Rummage Sales Put The Boot To Junk Food Fundraising

Right now our garage is literally filled with boxes of outgrown toys and kid related paraphernalia. Our plan had been to donate it all to one charity or another, but what if it could be put to use to help fund our kids' schools?

Thanks to the forward thinking of 13 year old Belle Pan, that might be possible one day soon.

The daughter of an entrepreneur, Pan developed iRummage - an online and app based infrastructure to allow schools to host year long rummage sales where the items for sale, and their listings, come from the schools' families. What else will this app do? According to Pan,
"We're going to train 100,000 ten year old CEOs. Raise money for schools? Check. Provide business education for kids? Check. All I'm asking of you is your old couch".

Here's hoping iRummage finds the funding it needs to launch, and that we continue to see innovations and ideas like Pan's push school junk food, bake sales, and fast food fundraising to the curb.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Stories: Cancer, Locked Wards, and 1984

Hugely powerful piece by an oncology nurse who herself gets diagnosed with cancer and her apology to her patients for not understanding them before.

Haunting story from Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge in The New Yorker on her 17 days spent on a locked psychiatric ward.

And Andrew Simmons in The Atlantic on teaching kids about George Orwell's 1984 in 2016

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Even Bears Are Better Dancers Than I Am

Sadly I was not blessed with any dancing genes.

Today's Funny Friday bears were.

Have a great weekend!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why Are Dairy Farmers' "Dairy Educators" Invited To Teach Our Kids?

"What the hell is a Dairy Farmers of Ontario 'Dairy Educator' and why are they allowed to speak to my kids?"
That was the question posed to me by the reader who sent in this video.

Apparently it was shown to his Grade 4 student in school by a 'Dairy Educator' who clearly was invited by that kid's school to teach kids about "The Miracle of Milk" (that's literally the title of the video).

The claims in the video?

Milk contributes to (all direct quotes):
  • Strong bones and teeth
  • Strong muscles
  • Energy
  • Healthy blood and a healthy nervous system
  • Help prevent diseases like cancer
  • Healthy brain development
The video goes on to talk about how many servings kids should have, with the majority of kids in the video drinking from almost comically large glasses, and of course it features both chocolate milk and ice cream.

The video and the 'education' are part of a larger 'curriculum' offered to Ontario's schools.

The claims made by the video, and presumably amplified by the 'educator', certainly aren't those approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, nor is milk miraculous.

So as far as what Dairy Farmer of Ontario Dairy Educators are - well they're marketers. But as to why they're being invited in to schools to market a product dishonestly to trusting children, I haven't a clue.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Some Reflections After 3,000 (!) Blog Posts (And A Personal Request)

After 3,000 blog posts, 43,000 tweets, apparently of late, I'm a cyberbully.

So was the conclusion of the two "Keto Dudes" who felt that me tweeting my thoughts about what I saw as Dr. Jason Fung's fat shaming was bullying behaviour. Never mind that I didn't mention him by name in my original tweets, or that I refused repeatedly to name him when asked afterwards, or that when he later outed himself and was questioned about his tweet by Julia Belluz he confirmed his intent and shamed another marginalized group by explaining to her that the opinions of experts with obesity on obesity are as worth listening to as the opinions of the homeless on finance.

The Dudes also provided some decontextualized tweets of mine as their proof of my bullying using this tweet launched at Dr. Oz in response to his continued anti-science, magic weight loss, predation promotions, this tweet sent to a local radio station whose morning show host had told listeners that he thought the government added mind control agents to vaccines and encouraged people not to get them, this tweet inspired by the Women's World cover I was standing in front of at checkout that had Dr. Oz' unflinching smile promoting "Metabolism Boosting Detox Diet Soup" with the promise of losing "30lbs in weeks", and this tweet, directed at a "functional" physician with an online store front to sell his cleanses and detoxes that among other things promise the desperate they'll be, "tonifying and rejuvenating" for their "entire adrenal systems".

I'd send each of them again.

But these tweets aside, to be sure there are definitely those I've sent, and blog posts I've written, that if given the chance, I'd do differently. Some because my opinions have changed. Some because the science has evolved. And some because, especially in the early days of my blogging and social media, I was too aggressive or arrogant. And yes, a few times over these past 11 years, 3,000 posts, 43,000 tweets, and 2,000,000 words, I've definitely gone too far. For those times, I'll point out that I'm human, fallible, and sorry.

All told, I'm proud of this blog. I started it as an outlet - both for my thoughts and for writing as a whole (I was an English major before switching into genetics), and I was writing it regularly long before anybody was reading it. And then, through a combination of the magic of the Internet and good luck, people took notice. Through it, and over 14,000,000 visits later, I've been able to affect real change - like when this blog post led Disney to, within 48 hours of its posting (and subsequent media swirl), to shutter an Epcot based ride that would have furthered fat-shaming of kids, or how being pathologically attached to Twitter, helped to expose Coca-Cola's cynical promotion of "energy balance".

My agenda is easy to describe - I enjoy writing and believe that through it, I am able to advocate for better health far beyond my office's four walls. No one pays me to write anything, and I refuse to host advertisements. In the blog, as I did in those tweets up above, I call things as I see them. I don't expect people to always agree with me, and certainly if you're hoping that I'll never write something that you find to be upsetting or wrong, eventually I'm sure I'll disappoint you. The good news of course is that you can always stop reading, or if you're so inclined, just as the Keto Dudes did, write about it - the Internet's everyone's canvas to share their opinions.

And now the ask.

While this blog will always remain free to read and free from advertising, if you've enjoyed it and found it to be valuable or entertaining, please donate to my Movember fundraising and my absolutely ridiculous lipterpillar.

Not a Snapchat filter
With this 3,000th post ask I'm hoping to raise $3,000 for men's health. Contrary to what some believe, Movember is not a prostate cancer charity, and though some of its funds do go to prostate cancer research and treatment, Movemeber funds multiple men's health initiatives including those involving mental health, suicide, body image, eating disorders, testicular cancer, and more. Regarding prostate cancer, I was pleased to see that Movember encourages patients to speak with their physicians about the value (or lack thereof) of PSA screening, rather than suggesting it's a good idea for one and all.

For me the ask is personal. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer back when I was in medical school, and soon I'll need to start wrestling with whether or not with that strong family history, I should walk the slippery slope of testing. My oldest cousin - we lost him to substance abuse.

Every dollar counts, no donation is too small, and if you want, you can make your donation anonymously.

Donating is easy. Just click here and give! And of course, Movember is a registered charity, so all donations are fully tax deductible.

So here's to another 3,000 blog posts, and thanks for reading.

(Oh, and keto folks who might be reading this, please know that there's nothing stopping you from being pro-keto/IF, anti-CICO, and at the same time, anti-fat shaming)

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