Food wars (and other diet and exercise news)

On ABC’s nightly news last night, I heard that Atkins Inc., the late doctor’s company who brought us the “low carb craze,” is bankrupt. I like how these opening paragraphs from The San Francisco Chronicle characterizes the war between Atkins and the “carb industry” (actually, it’s an article that first appeared in the LA Times, but…):

In Boise, staff members of the Idaho Potato Commission gave each other gleeful high-fives when they heard the news. In Houston, the folks at the U.S. Rice Producers’ Association declared “good riddance.” And fruit farmers in the Central Valley said they were “happy to see them go.”

Across the United States, producers of carbohydrate-laden food exulted at the decision by Atkins Nutritionals Inc., the Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based designer of the once popular low-carbohydrate weight-loss program, to file for bankruptcy protection.

You can practically hear the Star Wars battle sound track behind all this, can’t you?

I don’t know personally to what extent the “low carb craze” is really over or not and I am no business expert, but I think the Atkins folks had a business problem that did not have a whole lot to do with their diet: they expanded way too quickly and into too many areas. Instead of sticking to diet books and cook books, Atkins Inc. started to make low-carb foods, particularly low-carb versions of things like pasta. And have you ever tasted that stuff? Nasty shit.

If you’re going to eat low-carb foods, eat low-carb foods. But if you’re going to eat high-carb foods, then eat the real thing. Though aim for the whole wheat.

Annette and I are currently on our own version of The South Beach Diet, which is somewhere between “phase 1” and “phase 2.” We’re avoiding carbs, not eating starches like potatoes, white bread, and white rice, eating lots of veggies, and not drinking alcohol. But we are eating some things like yogurt, fruits, and high fiber/wheat grain breands (things that are no-nos during “phase 1”), and I for one will probably have a beer after golf tomorrow (and probably a hot dog, too– what else are you going to eat on a golf course?) and some wine with dinner over the weekend.

We’ve only been doing this in earnest for a few days and I think I’ve already lost about four pounds, though I think that most of that weight is just post-travel bloat as opposed to real diet losses. I’d like to lose about another seven or ten pounds before school starts in September, but that might be a bit optimistic. We’ll see.

Incidentially, I received an email the other day from a former student of mine (and apparently a regular reader of the unofficial blog here) named David Brandt. David, who took a couple of classes from me in his last years at EMU (I think he graduated), is now studying to be a personal trainer and nutritionist, and he has the diet plan on his web site that he uses when training and body building. It’s worth checking out, and I guess I have two observations about it:

  • The diet David has here is remarkably similar to “phase 2” of the South Beach diet plan. That’s not to say that David copied it; actually, I think that the South Beach people kind of copied people like David.
  • What David is leaving out here (well, he talks about it on other parts of his site) is that he works out a lot. I mean A LOT. I am convinced that when all is said and done, that is really the only way to lose a significant amount of weight and get in shape.

Which reminds me that I need to walk the dog and get at least a little exercise this morning before I get to work on the textbook….

A few unofficial notes on our visit to Virginia (and time to start a diet again…)

I’ve posted plenty in recent days on my official blog about my trip to Richmond, Virginia where I appeared on something called “The Writing Show.” You can read all about it there, if you’d like. I thought it was a great experience, I thought the show was a great idea, and, because of bad management and squabbles, it sounds like I was on what is likely to be the last version of the show, at least in this format. But that’s a different story.

The story I was going to talk about here was the unofficial stuff of the trip. There was a lot of fun crammed into a day and a half. We got to meet the “friend John” that our friend Mary talks about once in a while on her blog, we had a chance to check out Harrisonburg, we took a sort of mini-trip down memory lane (Annette and I drove by the apartment where we used to live, we drove by Annette’s parents’ old house, which is where we got married, etc.), we went to an absolutely excellent book store in the Cary Town area called Creatures n’ Crooks, and Annette and I ended up staying in a really nice hotel for not a crazy amount of money, thanks to Priceline.com.

But as we were driving back Friday, both Annette and I remarked about the fine culinary experience we had had the previous day. It started with breakfast in Harrisonburg at The Little Grill Collective, which is a co-op/very hippie-like little place. Located off of the beaten path (this is not the kind of place a tourist could stumble across easily, I don’t think), it was pretty darn scruffy, the mismatched furniture in the dining room not a fashion statement so much as a necessity. The food was equally rustic but darn good. I had biscuits with gravy and a darn tasty potato cake (along with eggs), and Annette had that key Southern breakfast staple, grits (which I find yucky, personally). I hope Mary will send me a bumper-sticker.

We had lunch in Richmond at Joe’s Inn. Ah, Joe’s…. When I first moved to Richmond as a grad student back in 1988, the bars my friends and I hung out at were the ones closer to campus, places like Bogart’s and The Village (couldn’t find decent web sites for either one of these joints). But I went to Joe’s too, especially after I was done with VCU’s MFA program, and super-especially when I lived a block and a half away from the place and when Annette and I got together (for example, Joe’s was the first place I met her parents).

Judging from the web site I link to above, a lot has changed for Joe’s since Annette and I moved out of town 12 years ago. Instead of there being just one in The Fan (which is the very large historic neighborhood right in the city I lived in pretty much the whole time I lived in Richmond), there are Joe’s spin-offs out in the ‘burbs now. I guess that’s okay; more places to enjoy the fare.

Annette and I had the meal we had when we were dating way back when: a shared portion of the Spaghetti a la Greek with the meat sauce. It’s a huge mess of spaghetti that is baked with feta, provolone, romano cheese and garlic and then topped with either their marinara or meat sauce . It’s a great dish, nothing too complicated, but with more than enough cheesy goodness (especially with the feta) to make it interesting, and topped off with their excellent meat sauce (0ur choice), well, it brought me back a few years.

The only thing better at Joe’s, in my opinion, is just about anything they serve for breakfast, but that is both another meal and another story.

We didn’t really have a lot of time for dinner because “The Writing Show” gig was at 6:30, so we checked into our hotel and then wondered around the Schockoe Slip and Schockoe Bottom area. To be honest, I remember it being a lot nicer than it is now– or at least I remember a lot more stuff going on down there. My friend Dennis told me that there was a freak flood last year that caused a lot of damage, and I suppose that’s part of the problem. But when I lived in Richmond 15 to 12 years ago, I recall this area being a lot more vibrant than it seemed now.

We did find one great place, Café Gutenburg. They are in the same place that used to house the Main Street Grill, which was a funky/grungey/hippie sorta vegetarian restaurant that I remember going to a lot when I lived in Richmond. I was sad to hear that the Main Street Grill had closed, but I have to say that this new place is quite an improvement.

Café Gutenburg is a combination book store, coffee shop, and wine bar. Frankly, I cannot believe such a place has yet to open in Ann Arbor. As Annette put it when we sat down, “all of my favorite things– I just wish they had chocolate.” It’s a beautifully refinished space with some good used and new books (I picked up a copy of Snow Crash for fifty cents), little and large tables, very Europeanish finishes, and a nice patio area on the street. We each ordered a flight of wine, which was a sampling of three wines of your choice for the reasonable cost of the most expensive wine on their menu– I had white, Annette had red. Like most other places where I have sampled the flights, they bring you notably more than the equivalent of a single glass of wine, so it tends to be a good deal.

They also served a number of topas-styled dishes (basically, large appetizer portions based on a popular Spanish style of eating), which was perfect for us since we weren’t ready for a full meal after Joe’s but we needed to eat something before “The Writing Show.” We had a couple of filo-dough wrapped sorts of things, both of which were excellent.

And then, just to make matters better, it turns out that Café Gutenburg does have chocolate and in the form of an extremely rich flourless chocolate tort. We shared a piece and I had a cappuccino to wake up a bit (EXCELLENT coffee, by the way), and it was a perfect way to cap off eating in Virginia.

Well, not exactly. Annette and Dennis and I enjoyed some cheese dip over drinks and bitching about things after “The Writing Show,” but the food and beer at this brew pub wasn’t that notable.

I really have nothing to complain about in terms of dining options around Ann Arbor (despite what Bill says, there really are a ton of great restaurants around here), but I missed eating in Richmond, too. And really, I’ve just scraped the very tippy-top of the iceburg of the food options available in this former capitol of the South.

Anyway, we’re back home, and after all this eating and the bad eating on the road home (and all the eating in various trips before this one), we are both ready for a diet, a serious diet. We’re back on the South Beach plan as of tonight. I still think it’s a bit of a gimmick and it is a diet I for one stalled on previously, but it is the only diet I’ve been on in the past that I that was relatively easy for me to stay on and it’s the only one where I lost any significant amount of weight.

We’ll see how it turns out; ideally, I’d like to lose about 10 pounds before the start of school in a month. In the mean-time, I have my travel and eating memories….

This is SO wrong…

You Are a Soy Latte

Yeah, you’ve got a bit of that healthy hippie thing going on
But you’re more Kate Hudson urban bohemian than Phish groupie
You’re worldly and well traveled… and you know where to get the best coffee in town.
All your experience makes you a compassionate person – and a caring girlfriend.


What Kind Of Coffee Are You? Take This Quiz :-)

Find the Love of Your Life
(and More Love Quizzes) at Your New Romance.

Soy Latte?!?!

Of course, this was a quiz intended for women, so maybe that was the problem with me taking it….

The Sidetrack burger is #19!

According to this list of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” the “famous burger” at Ypsilanti’s very own Sidetrack Bar and Grill.

The Sidetrack does indeed have a very good burger; I mean, I don’t know if it’s a must eat before you die (that’s a mighty high standard), but it is what I often get when I go there.

I think such a memorable hamburger is really based on atmosphere and place and such, so for my money, the “best burger” is actually at the Hamburg Inn #2 in Iowa City. But back in those days, I didn’t think a whole lot about calories, fat levels, cholesterol, etc. Like I said, it’s a lot about time and place.

Damn you, Borders parking validation…

We went out to dinner tonight and followed it up with a stop at American Spoon for the excellent gelato. Dinner was at Palio, which was the first time we had been there, actually. Pretty good stuff.

Anyway, while the family was finishing up the gelato at American Spoon, I ran across the street to Borders to get my parking validated. I am accustomed to doing this when I am in this part of dowtown and I have to park in the deck there. If you buy something in the store, they will validate you for two hours. If you don’t buy anything, they will validate you for one.

Or, more accurately, they used to do this.

I went up to the register and the young person started into a well-rehearsed speech. “I’m sorry, but we no long validate parking without a purchase. If….” When he got to this part of his speech, I picked up a piece of chocolate at the register. “Oh, well thanks for doing that,” he said.

“When did you guys started to do this? And where is this posted?” I asked.

“Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it? It’s posted here,” he said, pointing to a completely unreadable piece of paper posted far behind the register. “They’ve posted it for us but not for anyone else.”

“So, can I still get two hours if I buy anything?”

“No, just an hour now,” the kid said. “They told us it had something to do with competition from other places giving validation.”

“No one around here validates parking.”

“Really?!” said the kid, realizing that once again the corporate line from the Borders managers lied to him. At least I think they lied to them; to the best of my knowledge, there is no other restaurant or store or anything that validates parking in town. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, please.

Anyway, this will make me think twice about the need to go into Borders the next time I have to park in the deck. What’s the point?

For your Iowa City food needs

I came across the web site for John’s Grocery in Iowa City, IA today because a friend of mine (actually, the same friend who sent me the bit about the Monty Hall puzzle) sent me a link to an article about a guy who used to be a roommate to this friend, a guy who is now the wine guy for John’s.

Funny how things change. Now, John’s Grocery describes itself as “Iowa’s Epicurean Oasis,” a claim I suspect is reasonably accurate. When I was in college, John’s was a good place to get beer and that was about it. I guess they had some gourmet items, but since my cooking skills back then were limited to tuna cassarole made with Kraft macaronni and cheese, I didn’t notice. And back then, everybody referred to it as “Dirty John’s” because it was one of the first places in Iowa to sell Playboy magazine.

Purging my Netflix que

I think Netflix is a pretty good deal/good service, even if you only watch DVDs about two or three times a month, for a couple of different reasons. First, you can get pretty much anything that’s out on DVD– well, at least as far as I can tell. Maybe we’re not requesting obscure enough movies though. Second, no worries about returns. You just keep the movies, send them to Netflix when you’re done with them, and then they send you the next movie in your “que,” which is your “wish list” of movies.

And it’s these strengths that conspire to make Netflix a potential pain in the ass.

First off, the very cool and easy to use Netflix interface allows you to put a ton of movies into your que. It’s constantly giving you recommendations and ideas about different movies, along the lines of “members who liked movie X also liked movie Y,” and so you click on movie Y and think “sure, that sounds cool,” and you add it to your que. Before I knew it, I had a que with about two dozen movies, all kinds cool and interesting and artsy things.

But here’s the problem: sometimes you’re in the mood to watch an artsy-fartsy movie, sometimes you’re in the mood to watch the latest Hollywood release. When you go to the video store and browse the shelves in person, you more or less know what mood you’re in and you pick appropriately. Netflix, on the other hand, makes you watch stuff in order on your que, and there’s quite a distance between when you’re adding movies to your que and when you actually want to watch the movies. Sure, you can update the order of things on the que, but there have been several times when I had forgotten to do that, and we end up getting something we’re not really in the right mood to watch.

The result? Annette and I have three Netflix DVDs right now, and two of them are kind of quasi-artsy-fartsy movies, and one is a foreign movie. They’re movies we haven’t really wanted to watch (they’re long and too serious or just not “right” for the time), but we also don’t want to just return them unseen. We’ve had the foreign movie since December. DECEMBER, people!

So I decided to go to my Netflix que and just purge the whole thing, just delete it all. And instead of all the artsy-fartsy stuff, I added summer movie kind of fare: Ocean’s Twelve, Ray, Collateral, The Aviator, and Kinsey. Okay, maybe Kinsey is kinda artsy, but that’s it. We’ll see how many of these things we actually watch in the next month or so.

iTunes and silent movies, all in one week

I had two multimedia “firsts� this week.

First #1: I bought a complete album online, the Dave Matthews Band new CD, Stand Up off of the iTunes store. By the way, don’t give me any shit for liking the Dave Matthews Band. I’m too old to really care what is (or isn’t) hip, and I was listening to them before they caught on with the frat boy crowd. I like ‘em, so sue me.

I’ve downloaded some music from “less than legal� sources before, but, besides not being quite legal or ethical, I find that it takes way too long and I as often as not end up with a file that isn’t worth listening to. I have bought music with iTunes before, but just a song at a time. This was my first full album, and I’m not sure I will buy a CD from a store again. It’s cheaper by a couple of bucks than buying the actual CD, and all I had to do was download it from the iTunes site to my computer and then to my iPod. Easier than going to a store by far.

Okay, not that big of a deal. But still.

First #2: We all saw the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan Thursday night at the Michigan Theater. A couple of things made this a pretty cool night. For one thing, the Michigan Theater was pretty much sold out for the show. As Russ Collins (the guy who runs the Michigan Theater) said in his introduction to the show, it was probably the biggest crowd to watch a silent film in… well, in a long time, weeks at least. For another, it featured musical accompaniment by the Ann Arbor Symphony, conducted by Gillian “not the one from X-Filesâ€? Anderson. Cool music, too.

On the down-side, the show started late and we didn’t have Will home until about 10 on a school night. Not good parenting. On the up-side, it was pretty cool to see a silent film the way that it would have been shown way back in the day. After all, the Michigan Theater opened in the late 1920’s as a silent film theater, and back then, they really would have an orchestra for most of the shows (that and/or the extremely elaborate organ they’ve got there). Anyway, good music, good show, good experience.

Incidentally, this version of Peter Pan is quite a bit different from the Disney version, which isn’t surprising. I don’t have the time to rehash it all right now, but most of the intertitles (you know, the words that pop up during a silent film) come from J.M. Barrie’s original story, and it’s pretty clear to me where the whole idea of the “Peter Pan Syndrome� comes from. Weird stuff.

“May the farm be with you”

I don’t know if this is worth the download time or not, but it’s kind of cute:

(Grocery) Store Wars

Personally, I like to buy organic whenever I can and whenver it is practical, and I’m willing to spend at least a little more money on organic foods. But sometimes, it’s just way too expensive and/or impractical. I guess we all do what we can, right?