The Fat Awakens – How to Render Suet

For many years we have suffered through The Fat Wars. We had a period in the mid-1900’s with unbridled fat consumption; households would use lard, beef fat (tallow & suet), bacon, eggs, and butter without a second thought.  When the evil emperor (Ancel Keys?) associated these foods of plenty with our modern diseases, he was able to corrupt the government and companies into removing the animal-based saturated fats from our diet. The rise of the manufactured clone armies polyunsaturated fats were so overwhelming that they are nearly impossible to avoid. There was one glimmer of hope, the monounsaturated fats of olives (Anakin Skywalker) bridged the gap between the evil saturated-fat heart disease hypothesis (Dark Side) and the importance of real fat in our diet (Light Side). However, its legacy – Luke butter – must now finish the prophecy to bring balance back to the force fat. Can the heroes of this new saga bring a new era of saturated fat? The story continues…

It may take a while to fully wrap your head around the idea that saturated fat isn’t the enemy. There are a number of ways to do this – you can read the book The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz which chronicles the story of how saturated fat and the cholesterol-heart disease hypothesis came to rise through bad science, biased views, stubborn government, and big food agendas. Or you can read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, which dives into and debunks the ideas that saturated fat conveniently causes heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and all of our “diseases of civilization”. They cover how the “heart healthy” polyunsaturated fats that have replaced the saturated fats in the Western diet are probably not helping our current epidemics of health. Both of these books provide compelling arguments that saturated fat is nothing to be feared.

After reviewing the literature above you might not be fully convinced that saturated fat is not culprit of all of our modern diseases. We may want to continue to hold saturated fat in jail as “guilty until proven innocent.” Especially since the real criminals of health are still out there running rampant. So then you may stumble into Grain Brain by David Perlmutter or Wheat Belly by William Davis which discuss the issues of refined carbohydrates and the damage they can wreak on our health. Or just pop in That Sugar Film and watch Damon Gameau’s health quickly deteriorate as he switches to a diet containing the average sugar intake of Australians.


Two perfect examples of products marketed as “heart healthy” (see the giant hearts on them?) when their helpfulness to the heart is still heavily debated.

We may want to place blame on the fast food companies like McDonald’s whose rise in net sales and % of household spending skyrocketed during the era of the obesity epidemic. However we have to be careful of these epidemiological associations as that is what led us to falsely blame saturated fat to begin with. McDonalds and other fast food restaurants have complied with our saturated fat witch-hunt by systematically removing and replacing it with “heart healthy” polyunsaturated fats. However, the movie Supersize Me does compel us to also see that there is a potentially deadly combination of carbohydrates and low quality fats.

To fully convince myself I started a year-long diet experiment where I targeted the majority of my calories to come from fat, particularly saturated and monounsaturated fat. The results of that experiment have been phenomenal. My diet is more satisfying as I use foods like butter, coconut oil, avocados, and olives to curb hunger cravings. I’ve turned to ghee for frying which is stable at higher temperatures and imparts a delicious flavor in my food.

But what if butter and coconut oil are the gateway fats to harder (literally) fats? Do we dare to approach the dreaded animal-based saturated fats – the lard from pigs, tallow and suet from cows? These have been the most ostracized of all the saturated fats. Most of the early adopters for the saturated fat revival seem to easily accept back the vegetarian saturated fats such as coconut oil, palm oil, butter, and ghee. We are still a little squeamish about taking the next inevitable plunge.


My current stash of saturated fats: MCT Oils, Coconut Oil, Ghee, and Tallow

Remember that not too long ago tallow was used in the fry oil of McDonalds and many restaurants. This oil is shelf stable, less prone oxidation, resistant to high temperature, and more rich and flavorful than the other fry oils available. When companies like McDonalds, Nabisco, Frito-Lay, and others had to remove the saturated fats from their products they had a difficult time finding alternatives that would impart the same taste. Having this fat is a great culinary boon to have in any well stocked pantry. The trick is finding it. It is currently a rarity in the supermarket, so the key is to obtain suet from a local butcher and render it yourself. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on this the process for rendering is very straightforward.

See the process here:

1. Obtain some nice hunks of suet. These have a waxy feeling cellophane around the outside. Trim off any excess meat or blood that may be on it.


A hunk of suet! YUM!

2. Cut it into small pieces, or toss it in the food processor and give it a few good pulses. Put it all in a crock pot and start it on low and cover it.


A pile of chopped suet in my crock pot.

3. Leave alone for a few hours, starting to stir occasionally when a good amount of liquid is formed.

4. After about 8 hours it will be fully rendered, with only some brownish floaties left in there.


Here it is a few hours in, eventually there will only be the brown floaties left.

5. Pour into a glass casserole dish through a cheesecloth and a strainer, I used a nut milk bag. I caught the extra floaties in the nut milk bag (important for wringing out all the fat in the next step).

(no picture here, my hands were covered in grease at this time so I didn’t want to get it on my camera!)

6. Squeeze the remaining floaties (wrapped up in the cheese cloth or nut milk bag) to extract the last bits of fat from the suet, I did this by hand which was quite unpleasant due to the heat. Other websites recommend using a ricer to squeeze them out.


7. Allow it to cool on the counter, I do it overnight and loosely cover with aluminum foil.


8. Put in the fridge for a few hours to make it easy to chunk apart with a knife. They can be easily bagged or re-melted into jars.


So there you go! A new saturated fat ready for use. Tallow is perfectly stable to stay on the shelf for months. If you don’t have access to suet then just make a batch of bacon and save the grease for later. Enjoy!



Bulletproof Conference Bullet-Points

Hi Everyone!

It has been a few crazy weeks! I’ve fallen behind a bit on blogging for a variety of reasons, one of which getting somewhat addicted to the videogame Destiny for PS3. But more on that later…

The 3rd Annual Bulletproof Biohacking Conference was October 23rd through the 25th in Pasadena California. This 3 day conference was jam-packed with biohacking vendors, top-notch speakers, and wonderful people. It was kicked off with an extraordinary performance by Charlie Faraday, and the energy level was high throughout the entire conference.


Charlie Faraday in a spectacular opening performance!

I’m going to summarize the main points of the conference in a few categories, but be warned the experience was far greater than any sum of these items.

  1. Diet
  2. Nutrition/Supplements
  3. Brain Hacks
  4. Body Hacks

1. Diet:

The entire conference structure felt like an analogy to The Bulletproof Diet. There was unlimited Bulletproof Coffee and FATwater provided throughout the day. There was no on-site lunch although many local restaurants made special “Bulletproof” dining options available for the weekend. So for the majority of the conference most people were likely in a fat-fasting state (AKA Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting). This is where you have only ingested butter, medium chain triglycerides (as found in the Brain Octane oil supplement), or other fats for a long duration of time. As Dave Asprey argued in his lecture that fat-fasting has benefits over intermittent fasting including reset hunger hormones, reduced stress hormones, and greater brain performance. The other argument to using Brain Octane oil is that it is converted to ketones (energy molecules derived from fat) in the presence of higher blood-glucose levels. The advantage here is a person can still eat carbs and have the benefits from ketones. So, carbs are used strategically in the diet without the typical brain fog and cravings that come after ingestion. I loved this lecture from Dave and it felt like an awesome explanation of his diet methods.

Dave Asprey

Dave Asprey of Bulletproof going over his slides on Hacking our Willpower with diet and lifestyle.

Also note; this is a super-high level summary of the diet and ketones, I’ll likely do an expanded post on ketosis in a future post.

2. Nutrition/Supplements:

After we have sorted out our energy sources the next logical step is to make sure we are well covered with nutrition intake. Of course there are the Bulletproof line of supplements for energy and detox, as well as representation from Surthrival, Ola Loa, Sun Horse Energy, Jing Herbs, and Natural Stacks. If you are craving some healthy protein you can ask the coffee counter to spike your coffee with Upgraded Collagen, stop by Arizona Grass Fed Beef for some bone broth, pick up some awesome jerky from Epic, or grab a can of salmon from Vital Choice.

One immediate draw for me was the injectable nutrient clinic! I knew from the start that I had to try it, having never done it before and my inner biohacker was screaming at me to do it! However, it didn’t go as smoothly as I imagined so here is the story: My wife and I show up for our time slot and I was buzzing on coffee. They told me to eat something so I open up my backpack and start eating a whole cucumber, homemade kale chips, and nuts. I settle into my chair and they start looking for veins on my arm to stick. They do one stick with the needle, I told them it was kind of uncomfortable, so they pull it out and said they’d stick me again in a slightly different location. This was not a pleasant idea to me, but we got the right spot on the 2nd try and they started the nutrient drip. Then they moved on to get my wife started by looking at her veins. It was taking a while to find a vein on my wife, which is a common issue for her. Meanwhile I am sitting next to them with my drip and I start feeling a slight upset stomach. I figured it was because of the caffeine and the food I just scarfed down. As the stomach upset slowly subsided, I started feeling lightheaded with my peripherals getting dark. I decided to finally say something before they get too involved with my wife, “Hey, I’m not feeling so good.” My wife and the doctor look at me and apparently I was ghostly pale, so they immediately stop my drip, put a cold pack on my neck, and gave me some water. I recovered fully after about 5 minutes and they started my drip again but much slower. They got my wife started and we are sitting pretty good with our drips. A little later I started feeling a slight burn in my upper arm, so I told the doctor and they set me up with a heat pad to keep the blood flowing, and they added some buffer solution to my drip. This is likely because the vitamin C is acidic, and I am probably sensitive to the acidity. We finally finish our drips and are sent on our way!


Finishing up my nutrient drip!

But don’t be afraid of the nutrient injections based on my experience! As a biohacker I’ve learned some things from my personal experience for the future, such as advising the doctor that I need a slower than normal drip and likely need a less acidic solution than other people. Keep in mind there were a dozen people who were in-and-out of the clinic in the time that I was getting mine done, so it appears the majority of people have no issue with this process.

3. Brain Hacks

Once your brain is well fueled with ketones and well nourished with supplements, you are in prime state to train it. We had the Bulletproof staple Heart Math, which clips to your ear and measures your heart rate variability. By simply measuring your heart rate the device can tell you if you are in a stressed mode or meditative mode, and this can be controlled with breathing exercises and focusing on a positive thought or emotion.

The next biofeedback device we tried was Neuromore, which utilized the Occulus Rift virtual reality setup with a biofeedback headband. Once set up, it runs you through a virtual reality tunnel with a spoken guided meditation. Apparently the speed and the colors of the tunnel respond to your mental feedback, giving you a more intense output as your brain gets more engaged. This was a lot of fun, and I loved the synergy between the videogame setup and biofeedback meditation. I believe that eventually videogames will be designed to give these kinds of positive feedback loops (many of which already are) and that self-help tools are becoming more like games.


The virtual reality tunnel we explored in the Neuromore demo.

There were also great presenters and workshops on hacking your performance, meditation, and gratitude. Among them were Alison Cebulla, a certified health coach and founder of the Kindness Challenge, who taught a great interactive workshop on meeting new people and conversation starters. We had a powerful presentation Brendan Burchard on traits of high performance people, such as having Clarity, Energy, Productivity, Influence, and Courage! And simple ways we can improve those traits such as not checking your email for the first hour of your day to improve Productivity.

4. Body Hacks

Finally lets get into hacking our body! I love the Bulletproof methodology that working your body smarter and not necessarily harder is key. The epitome of body hacks was the ARX machine. This is a beast of a machine which is designed for you to put your entire force against the machine, and do this for only 3-4 repetitions. After those four repetitions, you are completely spent. I set up the 1st day to do my chest press and pull-downs. I was actually buckled-in so the machine doesn’t take me with it! As I pull down with all my force, the trainer was lowering the straps with with me with a remote control. Then when he reversed it had to resist the straps from coming up like my life depended on it. We do this 3 times for pull-downs and chest presses, and afterwards my arms felt like jelly. I could barely hold my camera stable to take pictures the rest of the conference!


Look at my face! That is me pushing at full force in this Leg Press (see the Heart Math station in the background)… The only other time I make that face is when I try opening stuck jars…

Like a good videogame, the ARX had real-time visual feedback of the force I was exerting on a time dependent graph. On my second rep the trainer was telling me to beat my last peak, but I was clearly not even close to getting there. The trainer later explained that I was supposed to fail as my muscles are fatigued, but that is the motivation to give it my all… sounds a lot like a videogame to me. The amazing thing I learned about my strength curves is that I am able to output much more force while resisting the upward motion as opposed to doing the standard pull down motion. This means the machine is effectively working the maximum number of muscles, if i was using a typical pull-down machine I am limited to only working at my pull-down strength, which is about 40% of my total muscle capability.

ARX graph

The final graph from my chest press. You can see the 3 large peaks in the green that are my 3 repetitions.

After I finished my workout on the ARX I told the trainer, “Well, that was my workout for the year, see you next year!” That statement sums up how I feel about the entire conference. It was one massive burst of awesomeness, which will last me until I go again next year!

Again, this only brushes the surface of the amazing experience at the Bulletproof Biohacking Conference! Leave me any questions you may have about the conference below or send me a message!


My Health Transformation – AKA How to Look Good in your Cleanroom Suit

Greetings Everyone! I’d love to share with you some details about my recent health transformation! The other day I met with my new physician and gave him the abbreviated story of my recent diet changes and weight loss. So I figured while it is on my mind I can give you all the high level overview as well. I plan that this will be a multi-part story since it is not only a long story, but a story I plan on continuing to make changes and improvements on.

So here are the numbers. By December 2014 I was pushing over 250 lbs! This was a new high even for me, but I knew things were bad when I got fitted for a tux for my brother’s wedding in August 2014 and my waist size was 44 inches! That’s 6 inches larger than the pants size I typically wear of size 38, and I finally realized why I was in pain wearing my pants every day. In January 2015 my wife and I attended the Raw Food Institute where I lost 8 lbs during the week-long retreat, and much more by sustaining what I had learned from the program. When I got fitted for my tuxedo on February 1st, 2015 for a friend’s wedding I was size 40! Not bad for only 1 month of work. I returned again to volunteer at the Raw Food Institute in April, which further kickstarted my metabolism and weight loss. I realized that I had dropped so much weight I needed to get re-fitted for my friend’s wedding again, so on May 15th, 2015 I got re-measured for a size 37 waist! Not bad! Now (October 2015) I am maintaining my weight around 196 lbs and comfortably wear size 36 pants. Pretty good story overall.

Me in my tuxedos! On the Left taken August 2014, and on the right taken June 2015.

Me in my tuxedos! On the Left taken August 2014, and on the right taken June 2015.

One revelation that I want to share before I get started is this concept of having “good genes.” Until this year, I figured that genes are locked-in and completely dictate your body’s health and functions. If your genes make you disposed to obesity, asthma, allergies, diabetes, cancer, etc, then I figured it would be futile to try to avoid this by “living healthier”. However, I’ve proven to myself that I have a lot of control over my health, and that recent research in Epigenetics and the Gut Microbiome are reinforcing what I have been learning with my own body. This is very liberating knowledge, that I understand the effects of a slice of pizza vs a slice of quiche on my body!

In the spirit of practicing some Lean Techniques, I’ll be writing the rest of my story in the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle. I want to emphasize this mindset because as I explained in my last post on Setting Life to Hard Mode we need to create optional challenges for ourselves, and then keep iterating different solutions until we find one(s) that works. PDCA is a simplified way of taking action against a problem in a cyclical way.

Plan: Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

I have never worried about my weight. I was taught that a higher than normal mass was acceptable, as long as you are feeling good. In December 2014 I was not feeling good. I would wake up not feeling refreshed, I was dependent on coffee to keep me awake even though the coffee itself was giving me headaches and jitters, and my concentration and productivity were at a low. So really the plan was to improve my energy and overall wellbeing. The original plan was to attend the Raw Food Institute to try how a diet and lifestyle intervention would do.

Do: Complete the PDCA cycle on several different alternative solutions.

The Raw Food Institute not only gave us great results and knowledge about food and lifestyle, but it also sparked my interest to keep trying more improvements and see how they work. Here is a short list of the improvements that worked.
1. Raw Vegan Foods! Filled my diet with green veggies, sprouts, green juices, avocados, nuts, and fermented foods!
2. Bulletproof coffee: using the Bulletproof coffee beans with butter and coconut oil gives great quality coffee with no jitters or crash! Also keeps you full for a long time and kickstarts fat metabolism.
4. Meat from healthy & happy animals: preferably grass fed, local, pasture raised.
3. Yoga: great functional movement to build strength and reduce stress.
4. More high quality sleep! Key for stress reduction and repair.

Check: Review and analyze the changes and see what you have learned.

As I mentioned above I was looking to improve energy levels, make my pants fit better, and lose some weight. While energy is difficult to track, it was key to be mindful of the changes I was making and think about my mood, happiness, concentration, etc. I did take some Before and After photos to help keep me motivated and have a good benchmark to reference.


Act: Take action based on what you learned in the do step: If the change did not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If the change did work, update your standard procedures to reflect the new improved state.

The key to all of these changes is to make it sustainable. In many ways it was a long transition to get rid of old foods or a high cost to stock up on new foods. The secret for me has been to crowd out with good foods and make it as convenient as possible to make the right choices. After a while it becomes a habit. If I fall off the wagon for too long then I start to feel declines in energy and increases in weight that further incentivizes me to get back on track.

While change isn’t always the easiest thing to do, I like to think the long term benefits of these changes will save me a lot of trouble. And the incentive is the immediate results that I have seen and more importantly been sustaining. Even better is when you go to work and people compliment on how you look in your clean room suit! Let me tell you that you cannot hide your gut under one of those!

Now I am ever-vigilant to think about small ways to improve my health, evaluate them, learn from them, then modify or sustain my daily practice. In that spirit I am super excited for when I attend the Bulletproof Biohacking Conference next week as a culmination of what I have learned! Stay tuned for posts about my journey there!

Setting Life to Hard-Mode

Holding a brand new video game in your hands is very exciting. In it you are holding massive anticipation for the experience that it will bring to you and many times you have expectations of what it will bring. Sometimes you are looking for a familiar experience, like the time I was shopping for Playstation 1 games and asked for a game that was similar to Zelda and the store recommended that I buy Alundra. Many times you want something different to give yourself a change from your normal routine, like the occasional shooter game I like to play to get my blood pumping. Or maybe you want to play a simulator game so you can feel like an expert car driver, city builder, civilization leader, guitar player, or even dancer. No matter what type of experience you are going for I think there are some basic tenants of gaming that can be applied to all videogames.

Always ready to start a New Game!

Always ready to start a New Game!

  1. The game provides immersion in an experience outside the real world.
    1. Games draw you in with a goal that must be achieved within the rules that are defined. Sometimes you have to save a princess by passing through 8 game-worlds and jumping on your enemies heads.
    2. The game provides auditory and visual feedback on the changing conditions in the game environment. Breaking focus from the screen typically pulls you out of the game.
    3. You can only input your moves through the provided mechanisms. Today there are new clever ways to interact with video game devices, but if you try tilting your controller on a PS1 racing game it won’t help you steer your virtual car – you have to use the direction pad. Conforming to these inputs is a part of the immersion.
  2. The game provides entertainment value.
    1. Since all players of games are playing voluntarily they must be enticed to play of their own free will. If there is no draw of entertainment then either the player will be disengaged or unwilling to play. Both problems essentially stops the play.
    2. Depending on the person’s tastes, entertainment can come in many forms such as story, gameplay, artwork, music, social interaction, or novelty.
    3. Perhaps the game goes so far as to provide a functional benefit to you such as Wii Fit or certain educational focused games. This is a clever way to integrate the entertainment value with physical or mental benefits (that may also be a driving factor to wanting to play).
  3. The game provides a challenge. 
    1. Games are typically finite events that may bestow some sort of title of achievement. Sometimes you are trying to save a princess, reach a high score, or be the last man standing.
    2. Games must present a struggle to the player that they must overcome to reach the goal or win. Whether that is competing with other players to win a match or defeating the boss to progress to the next level. It is typically a test of your mastery of the game mechanics and rules.
    3. The challenge of a game can typically be adjusted in modes of Easy, Normal, or Hard. In multiplayer games you are matched against lower-tier players if you are also a lower-tier player. If games don’t provide an initial option for difficulty they may provide optional challenges within the game such as finding all the hidden letters to spell “KONG” or finishing within a certain amount of time.
Screenshot from Donkey Kong Country. Not only are the Mine Cart levels the most difficult, timing this particular jump to get that

Screenshot from Donkey Kong Country. Not only are the Mine Cart levels the most difficult – timing this particular jump to get that “N” without failing is exceptionally difficult! Here I am clearly overshooting the jump, but at least I’m not dying like my 5 other attempts to make this screenshot! 🙂

Obviously I’ve loaded these criteria so I can focus on this last point made here, that difficulty is many times an optional path. Why do some people choose the higher difficulty path, and why are we presented with these options in the first place? What choice are you actually making when you choose the easy option? Sometimes you are recognizing your own weaknesses, that you aren’t very capable in certain types of games or maybe it is your first time playing this kind of game. I know I am lacking in skill when it comes to Guitar Hero and other precise timing-based games. However in many cases I think when a person chooses the “easy” path they are consciously removing some of the challenge (#3) for a greater perceived benefit from the immersion (#1) and entertainment (#2). I think we can all agree when you fail at performing “Walk This Way” for the 7th time in a row you naturally are losing entertainment value and start to pull yourself away from the immersion in the experience.

It is counter-intuitive to think that failure is a part of every game, since it seems so detrimental to the overall experience. However, one researcher states that gamers spend approximately 80% of their game-time failing! Whether you are losing against other players, fallen down an endless pit, or let your blocks stack up over the allowed height; nearly every game has moments that tell you that you have failed. I’ve realized that failure is an integral part to games, and further that good games turn failure into a constructive part of the game.

When you fail in a videogame you typically need to experience two emotions (or else you will probably rage-quit):

  1. Spectacular Failure. The failure itself should be awe inspiring, almost a reward in it of itself. My favorite failure memories come from the Crash Bandicoot series, where the fragile creature can die a multitude of ways during the game, and has a spectacular and often hilarious animation for death in every instance. And while I am an expert at avoiding death in these games, I always liked to spend my “lives” to experience every different type of death the poor creature can encounter.
Getting your butt burnt by lava while being chased by a dinosaur is a pretty epic way to die! Screenshot from Crash Bandicoot 3

Getting your butt burnt by lava while being chased by a dinosaur is a pretty epic way to die! Screenshot from Crash Bandicoot 3

  1. Hope of Success. After you have experienced the spectacular failure you should be still left with a hope of success to overcome the particular obstacle. If you have ever played Guitar Hero and failed during the solo, then you are probably going to try again thinking “I know where I failed, and I can do better next time.” Its that hope of success that keeps you driving forward. If you have encountered painfully hard games like Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy the suffering of failure is small compared to sudden surge of enthusiasm to say “I’m gonna get back in there and succeed where last I failed!”

Ultimately we find that success can result in being more of an endpoint than failure. Failure means you get another chance to do it right. Success means you have already mastered it, and afterwards it can leave you lost without a new objective or new game to play.

So if failure is such an integral part of a “fun” pass-time, how can we apply this counter-intuitive logic to our everyday life? Here are a few ideas:

  • Increase the difficulty level of your daily life! Watching TV and doing other passive “entertainment” activities are shown to INCREASE stress. Engaging in competitive activities, learning something new, or taking circuitous routes to complete simple tasks has been shown to unlock more satisfying pathways in your brain.
  • Make your failures spectacular! When you are trying to cook new recipes, posting content on your social media, tackle assignments at work make sure if they fail; they fail hardcore! If I fail at a simple task at work then I feel pretty crappy, but if I fail at a difficult task then that is something I can share with co-workers on something that I’ve learned.
  • Take an iterative approach! Good engineers and video game players share this trait; we aren’t shooting for 100% success out of nowhere. We want to get as close as we can to the target, but always leave room for improvements when we see failures and deficiencies in our original plan.

If you want to learn more about how games can have an impact on real life, you can look up the books by Jane McGonigal or the philosophy book Finite and Infinite Games. I may be making a few more video-game related posts based on what I extract from this literature.

If you are interested in experiencing the resilience building effect of difficult videogames, you can start with some suggestions here. Amazingly, I have found some of the most difficult games I have ever played are on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. Games like Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, Tetris, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, and Battletoads are all incredibly challenging and complex. You can access all of those games here. Some more modern challenging games include Doom, Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, and the New Donkey Kong series. I’ll add that most games have good challenges (as they are designed that way) so feel free to explore to find a game that interests you.

So, do you choose Hard mode or Easy mode? Why?

Hold The MSG, Please!

Greetings Everyone! I apologize for the spontaneous summer hiatus from blogging, but I suppose that is natural in life. I wanted to kick off a renewed effort to make consistent posts, especially after being encouraged by my blogging pal over at Sweet On Greens!

I want to talk about something that has really concerned me this summer, MSG! During one week this summer I was getting terrible headaches during the day, which I normally never get. I stopped to think about what could be the cause of the problem. In engineering we call that a root cause investigation. One of the first things we ask when we encounter a new issue is “when did the issue first occur, and what might have changed in the system around that time?”

So I started to look at potential changes in my life that happened that week. Maybe it was a new stress from work, or perhaps the stress of taking care of 2 exchange students, or a sudden lack of sleep. Those can certainly play a part, but I didn’t think they completely explained my issue. Then I realized that I had started eating eggs for breakfast those weeks, and I also realized I started using a new seasoned salt spice to flavor them. And you already know from the title that the culprit was sitting on the label of my spice, Monosodium Glutamate or MSG!

Here is the spice I was using to flavor my eggs, prominently featuring the dreaded chemical as the 3rd ingredient!

Here is the spice I was using to flavor my eggs, prominently featuring the dreaded chemical as the 3rd ingredient!

So what is MSG? Monosodium Glutamate is a flavor enhancer that will give whatever food you are eating a much improved taste. MSG is a man-made synthetic chemical and is a concentrated form of the 5th taste called Umami which is a savory flavor (the other four being Sweetness, Sourness, Saltiness, Bitterness, and a possible newly discovered 6th being Fat) This seasoning finds its way into many spices, salad dressings, and processed foods. Even my favorite salad dressing, Ranch, commonly has this substance!

Why should you be concerned with MSG? As I mentioned I received chronic headaches for a week while eating higher amounts of it. MSG acts as an excitotoxin which excites your cells to death, and you can imagine can have catastrophic effects on your brain! Prolonged use is linked with many cognitive decline disorders – not a good thing!

If all of this isn’t bad enough, avoiding this chemical completely is proving very challenging as Monosodium Glutamate isn’t the only name that the dreaded chemical goes by. I commonly see Yeast Extract and Autolyzed Yeast as two variations as I read labels. These claim to be formed from natural sources, and potentially do not have as harmful of an effect, but knowing myself and my reaction to the real stuff – I think I am better off avoiding it completely.

Another one of my favorite spices, with the Yeast Extract. Not super happy about the Cane Syrup there either.

Another one of my former favorite spices, with the Yeast Extract. Not super happy about the Cane Syrup there either.

Well, what can we do? We must be mindful and ever vigilant in reading labels and knowing the red-flag ingredients. I’ve switched to a few spices below that have no red-flag ingredients. When I am craving a flavor enhancer, I turn to good-old sea salt or Himalayan salt!

A few of my go-to mixed spices now. They avoid many of the red flag chemicals and have great taste!

A few of my go-to mixed spices now. They avoid many of the red flag chemicals and have great taste!

And now when I need a Ranch Dressing, I prefer to make my own Cashew Ranch Dressing. The recipe is embedded in the link. I think this is a great alternative to real ranch, not only does it avoid the MSG, but it also brings in a lot of good health benefits with the cashew and fresh garlic. I love how easy it is to make, literally just throw all the ingredients in a blender and let it run until smooth! I can make a big batch and have it ready for 1 or 2 weeks at a time. If I am really feeling lazy I can add some olive oil and shake it in to extend the batch further!

Has anyone else experienced issues with MSG? Are you surprised that this chemical is still so pervasive in our everyday foods?


How to make your First Batch of Kale Chips!

Hi Everyone! I apologize for the recent hiatus! A lot has been going on lately. This includes:  hosting two exchange students from Hong Kong and being the Dungeon Master for a good ‘ole fashion game of Pathfinder (D&D)!

Today I want to share my famous Kale chips recipe! I have been getting a lot of demand for the recipe so I thought I’d try to write it out as I have been making it. Of course this isn’t completely original to me, it is a variation of what I learned at The Raw Food Institute and online recipes. I do things a little different based on my own tastes and availability of ingredients. To be honest every batch I make is a little different since I rarely measure ingredients and am always experimenting. Try throwing some fresh garlic in for some extra kick, or add some turmeric and curry for a different kind of spice!

A yummy batch of kale chips fresh out of the dehydrator!

A yummy batch of kale chips fresh out of the dehydrator!

Recently I have been bringing these chips to family parties and getting rave reviews! Somehow when kale is dehydrated it becomes the perfect chip consistency without the chip carbs or the oxidized low quality oils. Not only is kale a nutritional powerhouse but preparing them with this recipe also increases the good fats and spices in your system leading to an extremely satisfying snack! And while there are some great options for kale chips at the grocery stores, they are pretty expensive for a very small bag! And if anyone has tried these chips before: a small bag from the store won’t be enough!

Small bags of Kale Chips might be good for you to get a taste, but the real satisfaction comes from making your own big batch!

Small bags of Kale Chips might be good for you to get a taste, but the real satisfaction comes from making your own big batch!

For basic equipment you will need a reliable blender such as a Blendtec, Vitamix, or fill-in-your-favorite brand. I use a Blendtec that I bought used on eBay. The other key piece is a food dehydrator or low temperature oven. The instructions for cooking in the oven is in the recipe linked above. I prefer my dehydrator, which is a 9-tray Excalibur brand purchased through an online retailer on eBay. I love the dehydrator because I can set it and forget it without worrying about running back and preventing the batch from burning. I’ve left batches in the dehydrator for 3 days without any issue. The other benefit is that cooking below 110F keeps the leaf in its “raw” state preserving it’s enzymes and nutrients. However, there is a school of thought that kale should be steamed to reduce some of the natural toxins that protect it in the wild. No matter which way you do it, finding appropriate ways to get more kale into your system seems like a good thing!

For sources of kale this time of year is prime time to pick it up at a local farmers market. If not there then check for sales at grocery stores or Whole Foods. It’s great to buy the kale and nuts while they are on sale then make big batches of chips! If done correctly you will be saving a lot of money versus buying your kale chips at the store.

Most recipes for ‘cheesy’ kale chips call for a whole fresh sweet red pepper. I definitely suggest making the recipe at least once this way because it makes it taste impossibly like real cheese! I personally am not a fan of sweet red peppers, so through my experiments have come up with the substitution with paprika powder and cayenne or chili powder. It also makes it simpler to not have to worry about having fresh red peppers on hand.

The only other odd ingredient to mention is Nutritional Yeast. This item is what gives the recipe its profoundly cheesy flavor. It is not an active yeast and is technically raw vegan. You can usually find the Red Star brand or Bragg’s brand on some odd bottom shelf in most grocery stores near the baking supplies or dry cooking supplies.

Now onto the recipe! Be sure to read the recipe through once before beginning as some of the prep work should be done ahead of time. I wrote a lot of extra hints that I thought would be helpful if you are doing it your 1st time.

“Cheesy” Vegan Kale Chips – Home Style


1 bunch kale – Any variety
1 cup raw (unsalted) cashews
1/2 cup raw (unsalted) sunflower seeds (try a batch without sunflower seeds for a more creamy outcome)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (juice from half of a lemon)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chili powder (add more for more kick!)
2 teaspoon paprika
salt – to taste (doesn’t need much, if any. Start with 1 teaspoon)
optional: garlic powder (or fresh garlic), tumeric powder, curry powder, or any flavor to fit your fancy!
1/3 cup water (may vary, see instructions below)

Recipe Instructions

1. Soak the cashews and sunflower seeds for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. Drain and rinse when you are done soaking them.
1st time tip: They can soak out on the countertop in a jar of water and just make sure there is enough water to keep them submerged and account for some expansion. If you don’t have raw cashews or raw sunflower seeds, that’s ok too! You can use whatever you have. Just note if they are salted you probably don’t want to add salt later.

2. Rinse off your kale and dry it out.
1st time tip: If you don’t have any fancy drying methods then toss it in the dehydrator (or oven very low) for a few minutes to dry it off. Having dry kale is key to getting a good coating later on.

3. De-stem the leaves from the kale. Rip into chip-size pieces.
1st time tip: Hold one hand on the end of the stalk, and use your other hand to pinch down on the start of the leaves closest to the stalk. Pull through towards the tip while keeping your fingers pinched and you should be able to remove all the leaves from the stalk in one swift motion. Then just rip those leaves a few times and you are golden!

4. Toss the nuts, oil, lemon, nutritional yeast, water, and spices in the blender! Its that simple! Start blending on high until smooth.
1st time tip: If the blender is having a tough time blending or the consistency looks chunky, then add in a little water, punch it down with a spatula, and try again. I do this iteration a few times to get it just right. You want to get it as smooth as possible but also as thick as possible. That is probably why I always underestimate the initial water amount.

5. Place your kale into a large bowl. Pour or scoop your mixture over the kale. Then toss it all together and get a good coating over all the kale.
1st time tip: Use your hands! Its extremely gratifying.

6. Place the goopy kale on your dehydrator trays or cooking trays in a single layer. Spacing between the pieces is good for efficient drying, but not really required.

7. Run the dehydrator or oven! Refer back to this recipe for oven guidance. I set my dehydrator for 105F (the lowest setting) and let it run for about 18 hours. My dehydrator has no timer so it keeps running until I pull it out.

8. Bag or package it up! Enjoy at home, served with meals, or as a snack on-the-go!

Snacking on my kale chips  at the start of a long hike!

Snacking on my kale chips at the start of a long hike!

Thanks everyone! Let me know how you like your chips!


Where is the Fat?

This past weekend I had the joy and pleasure to spend an evening at a marriage of two of my good friends, Doug and Katie. Through the course of the meal one of my friends asked me if I was going to blog about the food there. Going into the wedding I didn’t have any intent to blog about it, but since he asked I figured it would be a good segway to talk about a point that I’ve wanted to blog about anyways. He also reminded me of my famous instruction on how to properly butter your bread.

Whenever I am around a catered meal such as a work-luncheon, parties, or weddings I’ve started to really focus on where the fat in the meal is coming from. Lets take for example a lunch that was catered by a local restaurant at my work. They provided salad, steamed vegetables, chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, and bread rolls. So it starts out seemingly well rounded, we have some greens and veggies, a meat based protein, but then there are 3 types of carbohydrates! And there is seemingly no fats other than some maybe used in the cooking process, butter condiments for rice and rolls, and gravy. So this is basically the ratio of food you expect to see in the Standard American Diet. It has been concerning to me that fat has been reduced to a mere condiment – some butter for your bread, olive oil on a salad, cream cheese on a bagel, or mayo on a sandwich. And even more concerning is that these are often replaced with “low fat”, vegetable fat, or other fake fat alternative.

The Chicken dinner was fantastic!

The Chicken dinner was fantastic!

“So what, Andrew? Fat IS at the top of the Food Pyramid for a reason and should only be a small condiment! Have you finally lost your mind?” Maybe, but given that I have been eating about 1 tablespoon of butter nearly every day, copious amounts of olives and avocados, and even bacon while losing 50 lbs would raise the question as to why this is possible. There is in fact quite a bit of research showing both the physical and the lifestyle benefits of eating more healthy fats. I am not claiming to be an expert, but if you are interested in learning more, here are a short list of the benefits of a higher fat diet and references:

1. Fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar does.

2. Fat helps maintain the good microbes in your body. – David Perlmutter of the books Grain Brain and Brain Maker

3. Fat keeps you satiated longer to reduce hunger cravings.

4. Fat is essential for healthy brain function.

My second point I feel I need to make is that we need to redefine our definition of healthy fats to transition away from Polyunsaturated Fats (canola, soybean, vegetable oils) back to the Saturated (animal, butter, cheese, and coconut) and Monounstaturated fats (nuts, avocados, olives). If you watch the short video in #4 you will see David’s recommendation for more saturated fats. In general saturated fats are more stable, less prone to oxidation especially when heated, which will lead to less free radicals in your body. But if you keep digging on the websites I have linked above you will certainly find more evidence for saturated fats in your diet. Or look here.

Eat your animal fats! And don't throw away the Yolks, that's the best part!

Eat your animal fats! And don’t throw away the Yolks, that’s the best part!

It wasn’t a hard transition for me to start putting butter in my coffee in the morning or eat whole avocados for lunch. I know my mother fed me delicious full-fat food for my whole life. We would cook our eggs in bacon grease, and all of our starches we used as a vessel to carry extra butter or cheese down our gullet. We never settled for any low fat or vegetable alternatives to butter or milk products. My mother even uses the age-old method of leaving a stick of butter out on a covered dish on the counter to keep it soft and spreadable, rather than purchase “spreadable” alternatives with additives. And you may think that it may go bad on the counter, but due to its fat density and lack of water content it is relatively inhospitable to microorganisms growing in it, so keeping it covered is all it needs. In fact, if you look at its clarified relative called Ghee, it is quite solid and stable at room temperature. You can even pack it for a hike and not worry about it melting on you. Recently I did get stopped at TSA with a jar of coconut oil. The guy took it out of my bag and said it was over the limit for a liquid. I said no its a solid at room temperature, and he argued it was a gel.

I’ll always remember getting ready to go to high school one morning when my brother Brenton told my mom “Mom can I have an egg for breakfast every day? Whenever I have cereal I get hungry again before lunch” I thought that was super cool, first of all, that Brenton was so aware of his body that he noticed the connection between what he ate in the morning and how he is feeling through the day. I’m usually too dull to think about what I ate for breakfast when I am searching for a mid-morning snack. The second connection is what I am talking about here, that the egg was keeping him satiated and focused through the morning. So not only do the fats have the health benefits I have mentioned above, they give you more freedom to move through your day without constantly looking for that next blood sugar spike for energy. You may even find your mood is more stable without the hunger pains always knocking.

Ghee and MCT Oil. These are the most concentrated

Ghee and MCT Oil. These are the most concentrated “clean” saturated fats you can find. This can definitely help keep you energized, focused, and satisfied throughout the day. Ghee is a clarified butter with virtually all of the protein removed, so it is possible that people with a dairy allergy can tolerate it.

Literally in-between writing this post I visited my tailor to get alterations done to my suits to make them fit me again now that I have lost all this weight. She is a pleasant Italian woman and she asked me if I did anything special to lose the weight.

I said  “Yeah, a lot of stuff including eating more raw vegetables and cutting out most carbs.”

She asked “You mean carbs like pasta?”

I said “Yeah I still eat some carbs like white rice, sweet potatoes, and very little bread or pasta.”

She goes “Well its not the pasta that is bad, its the stuff you put on it.”

I ask “What do you mean?”

She says “You know… like Alfredo sauce.”

And there it connected with me the perception and the paradigm that has really taken a hold of most people in America. Now I know this woman makes her own homemade Alfredo sauce which is rich with butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese. That is an amazing food! If I could somehow convince her to substitute out the pasta and drizzle that amazing Alfredo over some steamed broccoli it would be the best improvement she could ever make to her diet. But, me not being clever enough to come up with all that at the time, I simply said:

“Yeah but Alfredo sauce is so good!”

So while I may have failed that opportunity to convert her over to being a fat eater, I am hopeful that small nudges will keep people moving in the right direction. I would never want to condemn a food from a person, but my strategy is to clutter up my fridge with so much good food there isn’t any room left for other indulgences. When it is time for a celebration is the time I like to loosen up on my diet.

Thanks for reading! What butter-based food are you excited to start eating again?