Saturday 27 November 2010

The Last Post

Just a short note to say this will be my final post.

There is no special reason - I just woke up one morning and decided to see what else I could do with the time. It's usually better to draw a line under something if you really want to find out what's next.

I've had a lot of pleasure from writing here, and have been very grateful to you for reading and participating. I will of course keep the blog available so people can continue to reference it. I will also continue to read and comment on blogs in the community, so I am sure I'll see you around. Over and out.... Read more

Sunday 21 November 2010

Why I won't Read Robb Wolf's or Art Devany's New Books

It suddenly struck me today. I am not going to read Robb Wolf's book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. Nor am I going to read Art Devany's book The New Evolution Diet.

It had been on my mental to-do list to order / pre-order the books. I have a blog about Paleo living - so I should read these books when they come out, right? Maybe, but I'm not going to.

This is not the reason. Not this. But... I find the inclusion of the word DIET, either in big letters on the front, or as part of the title itself, to be a bit of a sell out. Mark Sisson did not do this with the Primal Blueprint, for which kudos. I bet his publisher wanted him to.

In fact there are two reasons I won't be reading them.

One - I don't think there's anything left to learn. That's not because I know lots of stuff - it's because there ain't that much you need to know. I have no doubt the same applies to many of you. And once you know it, you're set. Anything more is just material to bore dinner guests or upstage would-be experts.

Two - life's too short. I reckon Robb's book is actually quite funny, in the same way Mark's unique style made the PB an entertaining read; but there are a lot of things I don't know anything about and many great and funny books I want to read before I die. So if I read more about the same thing just so I can remain at the leading edge of smart arsery, it feels like edging into Star Trek convention territory. No offense, Trekkies.

That's it. Just needed to get it off my chest.... Read more

Wednesday 17 November 2010

After Much Searching... the Perfect Coconut Cream

My recent exchanges with Tropical Sun ("Why is there Crap in My Coconut Milk?") threw up some interesting questions about what is important to the more discerning consumer.

Tropical Sun think it's consistency. I, and many of you who commented on those posts, think it's about purity. We just want the coconut, and don't care if it settles in the can or is not smooth like real cream.

Tropical Sun never did respond to my final question. I wanted to know how much corn starch they are adding - so I could decide for myself whether it mattered.

Since then I have been exploring different brands, many of which suggested by you in the comments. Yesterday I took delivery of a new one: Ayam Coconut Cream - thanks to Jess from Australia for recommending this.

What's the difference between coconut cream and coconut milk? People and manufacturers seem to use the terms interchangeably. In this case, Ayam make a point of saying that there is no added water - and when you open the tin, you can see the result. The contents are the consistency of a pudding. Take a spoonful and it retains its shape on the spoon.

The ingredients are 100% coconut extract. Okay, I know we've read that before and discovered it not to be true, but...

...reassuringly, there is also some liquid underneath, suggesting that the contents have - gasp! - settled in transit and, more importantly, that the manufacturers have not added homogenising agents to protect us poor consumers from the awful truth that food can separate into its component parts... or from the effort of shaking a can.

Also pleasing is the slightly off-white colour. Okay, coconut meat is normally brilliant white, but I am happy to assume that some part of the process or storage affects the colour - and that by not actively re-bleaching it they are confirming their commitment to a pure product.

Finally, because it's more concentrated than products with added water, the taste is sweeter. It's almost like a middle ground between solid creamed coconut and the more watery coconut milk/cream; and it tastes real - no hint of adulteration often detected in other brands.

This stuff could be dangerous - I ate half a tin last night in the name of 'research' and it was only Mrs M's needs that prevented me from nailing the lot.

See Also:

Dear Tropical Sun - "Why is there Crap in My Coconut Milk?"
Tropical Sun's Perplexing Reply
Tropical Sun Replies - "Our Additives are Okay"
... Read more

Friday 5 November 2010

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 5: The Collapse

Having narrowly escaped my dessert urges at Bellagio the night before (see part 4), this promised to be my greatest test: a wedding for which the reception dinner was, naturally, a buffet. This took place at the Paris Casino.

The rules of buffet mastery I had established were:

#1 eat good food, avoid the junk
#2 make your gluttony pay for itself
#3 skip dessert
#4 obtain strategic dessert substitutes
#5 don't drink too much booze
#6 don't drink fizzy drinks

Perhaps it was some innate rule-breaking instinct that led to what followed. Or perhaps I saw an interesting symmetry in spending the trip compiling a set of rules which I would then ceremoniously smash to pieces at the end.

The real reason, I think, was that I was already halfway down the vortex of greed. No amount of swimming could pull me out by this point.

At the wedding, my first mistake was making no attempt to moderate the seemingly endless flow of champagne that accompanied the wedding speeches. Toast after toast, refill after refill. Bam - #5 and #6 gone.

Nevertheless, I remained almost entirely Paleo for the initial 3-plate feast, enjoying some great duck dishes (a nice departure from the normal Vegas buffet fayre), as well as some pork, chicken and beef. I even tried some oysters. Not great.

I think I had already become unhinged from my resolve way before Mrs M slammed down her plate of custard-topped apple crumble, but this was the catalyst that sent we weaving back through the tables to the dessert section, fixed determinedly my destination.

Top row good, bottom row bad

On plate 1 of the desserts, a pretty big bowl of apple crumble with some kind of synthetic cream. Nailed in short order. Plate 2, a selection of cheesecakes and cupcakes. Midway through that I started to get the sugar shivers - but manfully pressed on. Plate 3 I loaded with toffee bananas, another cupcake and some chocolate sauce that was so sweet it literally altered my DNA as it went down my throat. At some point during that plate I hit my limit.

#1 and #3, shattered.

Epilogue - Picking up the Pieces

It's hard getting out of the greed vortex. It's possible to spend weeks in there if you're not careful. Three nights of our holiday remained, but, mercifully, we were leaving Vegas after one.

On our final night in Vegas, we agreed to dodge the buffets.

At the steakhouse I did some damage to the bread basket, and later found myself queuing at the cake stall in Bally's - but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Just a couple of slices of cheesecake and then a chocolate bar from the shop at Mandalay Bay. A mere flesh wound.

Then, on our final night in New York, I was gripped by last-night fever. Two white Russians and some kind of orange marguerita before the meal pretty much wiped out my senses, so I pounced on the bread basket the minute we arrived at The Bridge Street Cafe.

When an an ill-advised and sizable portion of calamari arrived as a starter, I ate that with more bread. I was actually starting to feel full. Not a good time, then, to be presented with easily the largest steak I've had in a restaurant.

It was a also a very tasty steak, so there was no way I was leaving any of that baby; I made it a mission of the utmost priority to consume it along with most of the spinach and sweet potato side dishes.

Full as I was, there is no such thing as being too full for dessert, so I bullied Mrs M into sharing three. One was light (her choice), one was quite dense (mine) and the third was like a neutron star (again, mine.) Predictably, Mrs M ate only half of her light one.

Bravely I did battle, and bravely I did vanquish all three with specially-requested pouring cream.


The following morning, I was glad to be going home. I felt like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, being saved at last from the misery of my own excess. I may have used that analogy before, but it always feels so apt.

I have since escaped the vortex, the power of its gravity diminished by the regularity and normality of routine. As ever, the transition was made easier by healthy Paleo feasts and one or two fasts per week.

See Also:

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 1
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 2: Boston and LA
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 3: Vegas Begins
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 4: The Weakening
... Read more

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 4: The Weakening

Planet Hollywood

When Mrs M arrived at the Spice Market buffet at Planet Hollywood, we were a little disappointed. Adding Mexican and Middle Eastern stations to the standard format did not, we felt, justify the name.

Nevertheless, the food was good and there was lots of it.

Determined to do justice to the international feel, I had a plate from each themed station except Chinese. Too much sugar in all those sauces. My five plates were: Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, American and Seafood.

The Spice Market at Planet Hollywood - Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, American, seafood

Putting Mrs M in charge of drinks was good, because she formed an excellent relationship with the waitress, who was therefore very attentive; but it was bad, because wine seemed to appear every time I left the table, stealthily ordered and introduced while I avariciously stalked the stations.

I escaped from the Spice Market with my buffet mastery rules unbroken, but only just. I could feel my resolve drowning in the warmth of the last glass of wine as we shuffled fatly out of the restaurant. In retrospect, I believe it was fortunate the dessert section was not located near the exit.

Buffet mastery rule #5: don't drink too much booze


It was ironic, therefore, that the following night, at the Wynn buffet, I let Mrs M talk me into the unlimited champagne option; and it was unfortunate that the waiters appeared to be under threat of death if anyone's glass was discovered empty.

As you would expect, the food was excellent - but the station selection conformed to what we were coming to recognise as the standard Vegas format. I guess it makes commercial sense to operate a kind of menu cartel. Do doubt a 747 filled entirely with crabs legs lands at Las Vegas each morning, ready to supply The Strip with its daily need.

Salad, seafood, venison, lamb, chicken, chicken, prime rib, more chicken and some curry

At Wynn, the meat sweats hit me after only 3 plates: the fizz of the champagne had made me feel fuller.

Buffet mastery rule #6: don't drink fizzy drinks

When Mrs M began bringing desserts back to the table. I could feel my strength ebbing. The champagne was making it hard to keep a grip. Damn those waiters.

In a desperate attempt to avert disaster, I compiled a 4th plate of questionable foods, such as chicken with sweet sauce. This I ate quickly, in the hope I would lose my urge for cake. It worked.

The Bellagio

The next day, the sumptuous Bellagio buffet, #1 on the top 10 Vegas buffets web site, was suitably impressive. Nice touches like seaweed salad made the difference and in fact all the seafood was of a high quality.

I kept the wine consumption low this time, but in spite of that, my willpower continued to ebb. Notice the addition of red sauce on plate 2, sweet potato mash on plate 2 and soft cheese on plates 3 and 4.

When Mrs M began taunting me with divinely sculpted portions of tiramisu and cheesecake I was forced once again to take a culinary cold shower with a swiftly built 4th plate which included soft cheese, salads with sweet dressings and other foods at the margins of my normal Paleo menu.

Initial fruit & veg plate, then starting to slip with sweet sauces, sweet potato and soft cheese

Only the avoidance of wine saved the day - but I knew what was coming. I just needed to hold out long enough so that the damage was limited. Once I started, I would not be able to stop. I did not want to get pulled into the cake binge vortex with several days left in Vegas. It was not safe.

See Also:

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 1
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 2: Boston and LA
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 3: Vegas Begins
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 5: The Collapse
... Read more

Sunday 31 October 2010

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 3: Vegas Begins

The first time I visited Las Vegas nearly 10 years ago, I hit the buffets without any rules. I just hurled myself into it headlong, attacking every section with as much gusto as the previous one, until the tightening grip of intestinal overload started to bite.

I recall valiantly battling with the Chinese station, knowing it was the only thing left between me and dessert. I felt like Rocky in the final rounds of an epic fight, my speech slurred, my chewing increasingly laboured as, across the table, 'Adrian' (my buffet wing man), developed a light sweat on his brow.

Then, the schoolboy error, as I launched into the dessert section with scarcely a rest and went straight for the money shot, a huge bowl of apple crumble with custard. Only grim determination got me through the rest of the bowl. But then it was all over - the towel was in the ring and the belly factory had already blown the whistle. A difficult night ensued.

But that was then. On this trip, now a seasoned pro, I hit the Luxor buffet with confidence, with no intention of going anywhere near the desserts.

Buffet master rule #3: skip dessert

I'd done a gym session that morning and was hankering for a big protein hit, so my opening gambit was a trio of pork, chicken and prime rib. The Luxor buffet was light on seafood, but after the LA Hilton I was ready for a break from that. Next, some cod with an unnamed meat. Finally, muscles and shredded pork.

On the way out, I breezed nonchalantly past the substantial cake section.

Luxor - not the best quality, but as with any half-decent buffet, plenty of big meat

The next morning, I decide to be more targeted about buffet selection. Mrs M was flying in to meet me that day, and I wanted to make sure we picked a good buffet that night. I found a list of the top 10 Vegas buffets.

I know what you're thinking, and you're right - she's a very lucky lady. While other men would be hunting round for some dimly lit, small-portion-serving Italian restaurant where the waiter presents a rose to women diners... I was instead doing the decent thing and finding somewhere serving plenty of food with efficient, business-like staff and lighting good enough to do justice to the 3D glory of a plate loaded with food.

While I waited for Mrs M, I busied myself with a trip to Wholefoods. Say what you like about their vegetarian agenda and curious belief that using raw organic cane sugar somehow makes any product healthy, they do stock an impressive array of nuts.

Another weapon of the master buffet tactician is the dessert substitute. I often use unsweetened cocoa powder at home to quench chocolate cravings, but it's not always that easy to consume as a powder. At Wholefoods I founds bars of solid cocoa. Perfect. These, and a wide selection of raw, unsalted nuts formed the basis of my dessert shield.

Buffet mastery rule #4: obtain strategic dessert substitutes

Wholefoods: strange ideas, but a great nut selection...

When Mrs M arrived, she opted for the Planet Hollywood spice market buffet, where a new challenge emerged. In part 3 - alcohol control, a crucial component of buffet mastery.

See Also:
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 1
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 2: Boston and LA
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 4: The Weakening
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 5: The Collapse
... Read more

Friday 29 October 2010

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 2: Boston and LA

The trip started in Boston, where, at the hotel breakfast buffet, I made my first play.

I was having a late breakfast instead of lunch because jet lag had driven me to eat early the previous night. Having paid for the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast, a closer inspection revealed that smoked salmon, eggs and fruit were the only things I could eat.

So I ate salmon and eggs until no more remained, methodically working through the neatly rolled salmon rolls, one plate at a time, while the manager eyed me with a mixture of suspicion and concern from behind the bar. He could see I was a pro.

Smoked salmon, eggs and fruit - again, again and again

Next stop, LA, where I hit the jackpot.

Whilst my own hotel did not have a buffet (I was outraged), the nearby Universal City Hilton had an impressive seafood buffet, I was told.

This turned out to be no exaggeration. There was top quality sushi and sashimi, lobster thermidor, perfectly grilled salmon in several different sauces, crab claws, oysters and of course the obligatory prime rib. There were also many other stations: when you get lost during your first visit, you know it's a serious buffet.

I hit the Hilton twice in two days. Unfortunately, on day two, I was in such a hurry to launch an attack on the stations I'd not done justice to the night before, that I forgot my camera. So I had to use my inadequate Blackberry to capture the meals.

Day 1 at the Universal City Hilton - not taking full advantage of the seafood options

Day 2 - crab claws, sashimi, lobster thermidor and various other meats

In part 3, Vegas - the buffet mecca. Buffets so large, they provide motorised vehicles for diners. Vast, underground facilities into which, over the years, people have disappeared never to return...

See Also:

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 1

The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 3: Vegas Begins
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 4: The Weakening
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour - Part 5: The Collapse
... Read more