Thoughts on Sustainable Eating

Sometime back, I wrote about plant-forward as an eating style and as a means for showing concern for the environment. Today I would like to share some thoughts and opinions of mine about sustainability while eating with the intent to inspire you to eat greener (pun intended).

Before we get started, there is something I have to address. As many vegetarians and vegans would know, there is certain cynicism around eating styles for sustainability or care for animals. It goes like this: “The food industry is too big and powerful; thus, no one’s eating habits will move the needle.” While this claim is valid in the short run, it fails to recognize one fundamental aspect of change. Throughout history, people have driven change by challenging the status quo and daring to be the change they want to see. This challenge has inspirational power when others who also want the change realize how to go about it. When more people join forces, markets begin to acknowledge the new trend and offer products to tackle these needs, generating a competitive edge. For example, ten years back, people made fun of vegans, and today there is an array of products that address the concerns for animal cruelty.

Now, back to the topic of today’s post, we’re ready to talk about sustainable eating. Before I begin, let me state that there is never a simple solution for social problems, and these problems typically consist of layers of depth. So then, let us talk about some of those layers. At this time, I wish I had studies of research in my possession to support my opinion, but I don’t. I will, though, in the future try to confirm or deny these hypotheses.

Some of the issues I’ll be unpacking in the following paragraphs are CO2 emissions caused by the supply chain of foods and the dairy industry, single crops that are not good for the local ecosystems, non-organic farming, and the fast-food industries, that consume these and are seen as a convenient and cheap way of feeding the masses.

Layer one, a significant chunk of the population doesn’t understand nutrition or how to eat well. In this world view, most people’s eating habits and beliefs about nutrition come from upbringing. As a result, these people eat as they have been brought up, perpetuating potentially untrue ideas, like “meat is the only good source of protein.”

Layer two, most people don’t know how to cook. If we combine this in the world laid down by layer one, we could imagine how people can turn to pre-packaged and convenient meals that are highly processed. This statement also supports how items like pizza and burgers become a staple in the daily nutrition of the masses.

Layer three, good quality food is expensive. In the greater scheme of things, only expensive restaurants offer fresh and local ingredients; it takes a significant effort to keep these ingredients fresh. By simple economic reasoning, most affordable restaurants will resort to highly processed ingredients with a long shelf-life. Moreover, even if most people knew how to cook, at least in the US, farmers sell their products at a more-than-premium price at farmer’s markets. All of this makes eating well only accessible to the privileged classes.

Layer four, the processed food industry demands large quantities of a single crop from farmers. Think about avocado toasts; this is an item that you can find nowadays all over the world. Think, then, how many avocados and wheat and eggs should be produced and shipped around the planet. This hypothesis also supports, by extension, why it’s not easy to find local ingredients that only a few farmers grow.

Layer five, people don’t eat seasonally. Globalization got us used to eating year-round ingredients like peas or tomatoes, but these grow in particular seasons. In a world where people don’t know how to cook and live a demanding work routine, weekly habits of the same staples add up to what I discussed in layer four.

Layer six, a significant amount of food ends in the trash. Again, building on the previous layers, grocery stores and restaurants are throwing away tons of food. But there is another nuance to this. Farmers and grocery stores fraction ingredients in quantities that feed a family of four, but many families don’t fit this stereotype. Thus, they build in their fridges a stock of leftover ingredients that they can’t use (because they only know how to cook enough to follow a recipe) and end up in the bin.

A farmer at the “Marche Atwater” in Montreal. Visiting farmer’s markets is one of my favorite tourist activities because it helps me understand the local culinary.

At this point, there are likely many more layers of complexity that I haven’t even imagined. But I hope that at least my view illustrates the need for a few changes:

  • First, everyone would benefit from knowing how to cook and preserve ingredients. This knowledge was common in households many decades back, but now fewer people know or want to pickle, confit, grow fresh herbs, make jam, etc.
  • Second, everyone would benefit from knowing the fundamentals of nutrition. So they know how to put together at least something nutritious.
  • Third, we should work with local farmers and partner with them to make local produce affordable to everyone.
  • Last, everyone should adapt their eating habits to consume diverse and seasonal foods. This habit would make eating more enjoyable and even more interesting for the visitors. It would also put less stress on farms and the supply chain.

With this, I conclude my post, and I hope that you got inspired. I’d be happy to know your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments section below.

Dairy-Free No-Waste Failed Bake Bread Pudding

What a long title for a post, right? Even for the experienced baker, bread baking is not always seamless. Loaves can fail at any time. However, there is always a way to minimize waste and enjoy what’s left of your bake. Today I happened to ruin a bake by setting too high an oven I didn’t know well. So, I felt inspired to share the story of one particular loaf that I ruined back in March and how I saved it.

Shortly after moving to Seattle back in December, I tried to create a brand new sourdough starter. Since I wasn’t familiar with the weather and temperature variations during the day, it took me about three to four weeks to see a vigorous fermentation and volume increase. I was feeding the starter with a blend of 25% rye, 50% organic whole wheat, and 25% organic bread flour. I decided to try its strength on a 100% organic bread flour loaf. To start, I followed my standard bread method, the one I successfully have executed for years. But this time, the starter didn’t seem to like the environment created by 100% white flour and struggled to produce enough gas to raise the dough much. Finally, however, I decided to shape it and let it be proof at room temperature. After about 6 hours it couldn’t wait any longer.

When I baked the loaf, I got a ‘beautiful’ oven spring (the loaf burst from the bottom) that made me only hope for a lovely result. But the result was far away from that. When I cut the loaf, I saw a gigantic air bubble with a very dense mass at the bottom. The dough had collapsed inside the oven because of excessive fermentation and too high hydration for the flour type. I happened to be testing a flour from Central Milling which got extremely pliable in high hydration.

This loaf burst from the bottom and collapsed inside. When I cut through it, it was clear that I couldn’t use it as bread.

I bet that anyone who tried to bake seriously had many of these incidents. I would have tossed the loaf in the compost and called it a day on a regular weeknight. However, I also had a friends’ gathering the following day, to which I promised to bring dessert. So what did I do? Dairy-free bread pudding!

While french toast, croutons, and bread pudding are the most widely known ways of using stale bread, I tried to up a notch my game by making it dairy-free. We ended up enjoying this bread pudding with vegan ice cream from my favorite shop, Frankie & Jo’s. Here is the recipe.

The resulting bread pudding right out of the oven.

Dairy-Free Bread Pudding



A fun way to reuse stale bread or failed bakes.

Ingredients

  • One loaf of stale (or too-terribly-baked-to-eat) bread, chopped into small pieces
  • Two cups of sweetened vanilla-flavored coconut beverage
  • One tablespoon of rum (optional)
  • ¼ cup of your favorite raisins
  • Four eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Three tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Zest of one Meyer lemon
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Soak the bread in the coconut beverage for about six hours or overnight.
  2. Soak the raisins in the rum for a few hours or up to overnight.
  3. Strain the bread, reserving the coconut beverage.
  4. Whisk together the eggs and the sugar, add the lemon zest.
  5. In a small saucepan, heat the reserved coconut liquid until simmering.
  6. With a ladle, transfer a ladleful of the coconut liquid to the egg and sugar mixture to temper it, mix and transfer back to the saucepan on low heat.
  7. Stir the mixture constantly until it thickens slightly, and remove the custard from the heat.
  8. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, and lightly oil it.
  9. Transfer the soaked bread and raisins to the pan and toss to mix well.
  10. Transfer the custard to the loaf pan running it through a mesh sieve to make it silky.
  11. Distribute the custard evenly, making sure all the bread pieces are submerged.
  12. Bake at 350ºF until the custard sets.
  13. Refrigerate before enjoying with some ice cream and basil.

I hope you enjoyed the post and, if you make this, I’d love to see some photos of it. Also, please leave comments or questions in the section below.

New Site Identity

I created this site as one of my 2021 new year’s initiatives. As someone curious, intense, and passionate, I use writing as a way of self-expression. This site evolved from my personal blog through my hopes of finding a personality for it and building a community. Thanks to the feedback of my readers and ten months of creating content, I decided to refine the site’s identity. I want to share with you why.

Before proceeding to the explanation, I’d love you to watch a short video about the dilemma of defining who we are.

If you enjoyed the video, you might realize how challenging is to navigate the paradox of the persistence of identity. That same paradox was central to the choice of the name.

Some core themes are:

  • We’re constantly growing. The new name delivers the idea of something that’s not complete.
  • We never stop learning. So even if we write in a confident tone about our opinions and knowledge, we also say that future growth might change things completely.
  • We focus on the present and on what we do. This ties to the words in-flight and project.

With this new refinement of the site’s identity, I hope to connect with writers who wish to express themselves and their expertise through words and images. So, if you love writing and have unique skills or knowledge related to the site’s mission, please contact me.

Thanks for your continued support, and let’s keep this site growing together.

Compassion, My Path into Buddhism – Chapter 2

Not long ago, I shared some of the most impactful things I learned from Buddhist literature and practice. However, one key thing that I failed to mention is compassion. In today’s post, I will do my best to connect my current understanding of compassion with the teachings I discussed last time and try to deliver some examples to illustrate it further. As I mentioned in my previous post, this discussion reflects my current and evolving understanding of the topic.

There are three closely related concepts I’d like to review: compassion, suffering, and attachment. These concepts belong to the Buddha’s central teaching, the four noble truths.

The word suffering has a negative connotation that brings ‘prolonged pain’ to mind. While precise, this term doesn’t resonate well when thinking of it from a shallow or simplistic perspective. The way I understand it, suffering is present discomfort from dwelling in the past or the future and stops us from being happy. So, for example, someone whose past trauma prevents them from doing things they like is suffering. But also someone infatuated and daydreaming suffers about the mismatch between their beloved in the way they imagine them and reality.

Attachment is the feeling that produces suffering. To connect this concept with my previous examples, the traumatized person might long for understanding or recovering their past self. And, the dreaming lover might risk disappointment. Thus, the Buddha taught attachment as the origin of suffering.

Compassion, which is today’s topic it’s trickier. In my simplistic mind, compassion is a by-product of practicing the noble eightfold path. On the one hand, you practice compassion toward yourself by being mindful of your suffering and taking steps to cease that suffering or release your attachments. But, on the other hand, you practice compassion toward others (and the world) by being mindful of their suffering and taking steps to help them cease their suffering.

Deep inside, humans are wired to survive and multiply. Thus, we carry in our brains multiple mechanisms that are especially good at perpetuating suffering. So, for example, someone that had a bad experience will remember it vividly and fear deeply every time a similar situation happens. Yet, this very same instinct will push us to try and secure future sex or wealth at all costs, potentially doing the wrong thing in the present, like harming our bodies and hurting our beloved ones.

I find it challenging to speak about compassion in general terms, so I will do my best to offer some examples of how I try to practice compassion both towards myself and others.

I practice compassion towards myself by identifying extreme emotions, mainly fear. Many years back, a dear friend of mine had a sudden death. This painful event made me prioritize living without regrets, and most of what I do today is about that. I try to take care of my mind and body, balance my work life, and not pursue empty future glory or focus too much on beauty. However, don’t be misled to think that I achieved it. Some days I am better at it than others, but that is my guiding principle.

I find it most challenging to practice compassion towards others. Of course, I draw pleasure and life meaning from making others happy, but sometimes I don’t know when the driver is my attachment instead of helping others stop their suffering. Let me share an example of it.

I tend to be passionate about learning new things like cooking, knitting, snowboarding, and so forth. Because of this passion, I spend a lot of time collecting in-depth knowledge about these activities. A few years back, a friend of mine decided to give bread baking a try, and I saw her making the usual beginner mistakes, so I offered my help. Unfortunately, I gave her such an overwhelming amount of information, completely neglecting her learning and cooking style, and when she rejected my advice, I felt worthless and unappreciated. My actions told a different story than what I intended to do. I allowed my attachment for feeling appreciated to cloud my view of her actual suffering, and my attempt to help her was all about me. Fortunately, she taught me a lesson about communication, and we managed to solve the issue. Even though I’ve gotten better at this, I still get into this situation from time to time.

The previous example illustrates how interacting with others can be either compassionate or transactional. Of course, none of these ways of interacting are wrong, but it takes self-reflection and knowledge to understand and clearly state the ultimate goal of the interaction. In my experience, compassionate interactions always feel good, while transactional interactions are subject to an implicit negotiation of terms. If this negotiation is not successful, there will be discomfort, anger, and other sufferings. Most of the time, interactions will have both of these components.

Though challenging, we can work on being more compassionate by following the noble eightfold path.

  • Make your best effort to get a complete understanding of a situation. (Right view)
  • Bring awareness to how you feel and think about the information you just acquired (Right thought)
  • Saying and doing the things that best reflect your thoughts and feelings (Right speech and right action)
  • Giving what you can while keeping compassion to yourself and others (Right effort)
  • Making an effort to stay present and keep reevaluating the situation as it changes (Right concentration)
  • Incorporate these behaviors into your life (Right livelihood)
  • Take feedback and process it, rinse and repeat (Right mindfulness)

I conclude this post with a closing thought. Helping others and ourselves can produce suffering if attachment drives our actions. It can go from mistreating our bodies for years just to have some money to destroying relationships with beautiful people out of the wrong expectations. I recommend practicing mindfulness to gain understanding and learn how to let go.

Please share your comments or questions in the section below.

Cooking in the Wilderness

Some time back, I discussed an introduction to hiking. Now, I intend to expand on the topic to cover an essential skill for long hikes and backpacking: cooking.

Cooking in the wilderness might sound intimidating. As a beginner, you might feel tempted to bring only items ready to eat without any sort of preparation or cooking. However, on longer trips, this can quickly turn into something dull and not appetizing. But fear not, cooking outdoors can be as easy or intricate as you would like it to be. Let’s get started.

To succeed at cooking in the wilderness, you will need a few essentials. Most major outdoor brands such as MSR, Sea to Summit, or SnowPeak sell backpacking cookware at various prices. But if you intend to spend your money wisely, you should look for the following characteristics:

  • Balance out lightweight and heat conduction; this also applies to regular cookware. If your pans don’t retain heat well, then your food might cook unevenly. However, if it’s too heavy, it could make your pack heavier than ideal.
  • Non-stick cookware is fantastic to both make the cooking more straightforward and clean up. Similarly, as with regular cookware, avoid ceramic because it loses its non-stick properties quickly.
  • Think of versatility: could your pot double down as a bowl or a container to place your ingredients? Can you use your bowl also to cut your ingredients?
  • Keep it simple. There are as many backpacking gadgets as there are for your kitchen; keeping it light and minimal will help with the weight of your pack.

With these points in mind, I present you with two setups, one minimal and my typical setup for backpacking. Of course, I have multiple configurations for different occasions, and I encourage you to explore what works for you. However, the rationale might help you think about your setup from a different perspective.

Minimalistic setup:

  • 1 Jetboil MiniMo, which works fantastic for boiling water and cooking.
  • 1 Spork to scoop meals out of your Jetboil or your “Mountain House” package.
  • 1 Knife to prep your ingredients or cut through tough packaging.
  • 1 Water filter to clear out water from ponds or rivers and make it suitable for cooking.
  • Ziplock or dry bags to carry your ingredients and trash.

My typical setup:

  • 1 Set of Snowpeak non-stick pot and fry pan. This setup allows me to prepare two different ingredients with different temperatures (boiling noodles and frying eggs) and boiling water, containing my cut ingredients and doubling down as a serving bowl.
  • 1 Snowpeak backpacking stove. This simple gadget can be screwed directly into the isobutane gas canister and takes almost no space in the backpack.
  • 1 Snowpeak single-wall titanium mug. I use this mug to warm up my hands while drinking hot coffee or tea. Snowpeak offers a double wall that doesn’t conduct the heat too much to the outside of the mug, but you can’t use it to boil water in it directly, so I chose the single wall.
  • I use one small and sharp camping knife to prep all my ingredients and open the packages.
  • 1 titanium camping spork. What is better than a spoon and a fork at the same time?
  • 1 ‘Sea to Summit’ silicone bowl. This bowl is unnecessary, but the base serves as a cutting board. I also use it to place my cut ingredients.
  • 1 MSR backpacking spice rack. This item is also unnecessary, but as a gourmet backpacker, I need some spices.
  • I bring two generic leakproof containers for olive oil and some form of vinegar.
  • One bottle of ‘Sea to Summit’ wilderness wash; this biodegradable soap works for cookware, your hair and body, your clothes, and keeps mosquitoes away.
  • Two ‘Sea to Summit’ dry bags of different sizes; It’s always a good idea to carry your ingredients and trash into bags that don’t let odors out, especially if you will camp near vicious wildlife like squirrels and raccoons.
  • Last but not least, one platypus gravity water filter. Always remember, most cooking requires clean water.
This is a Frankenstein backpacking ramen that had too many flavors but hit the spot.

This list might seem like a lot, but only a few items on this list are expensive.

Now we can turn our focus to cooking. With the simple setup, you can easily make instant ramen noodles, oatmeal, or “Mountain House” freeze-dried items, but there’s more to backcountry cooking. Preparing something delicious in the middle of nowhere demands some creativity from the chef. So here are some bullet points on how I think about my ingredients.

  • Think about shelf stability. Dried items like pasta, grains, and meat are particularly well suited for the task.
  • Many vegetables and aromatics like onions, potatoes, garlic, and tomatoes keep well at room temperature. The same is true for some hard cheeses like parmesan.
  • Preserves packed in oil can double down as cooking oil and an ingredient.
  • Condiment packages from the restaurants are excellent. These packages are generally shelf-stable and of a convenient size for backpacking. There always should be space in your bag for salt, pepper, and sugar packets.
  • Save gas by bringing quick-cook items. As an example, fonio or couscous are superior to quinoa or regular pasta in that they require less cooking and thus less gas from your canister. This consideration is vital for multi-day trips.
  • Think of individual packaging versus larger bags of ingredients; sometimes, you can re-pack separate packages of instant oatmeal to use less space in your pack and produce less trash. Avoid heavy packaging (like glass) as much as possible.
  • Buy cans with easy-open. The last thing you want is to realize you forgot your can-opener when you are miles away from civilization.
  • Pack your trash and remember to leave no trace. We don’t like people who leave waste behind in nature.

Finally, we can put everything together through one of my favorite camping recipes: Fonio with dates and pistachios.

Me preparing a lentil stew with Chorizo while backpacking in the Hoh Rainforest in Washington.

Fonio with Dates and Pistachios


A nice backpacking meal that’s both satisfying and easy to make.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water.
  • 1 tsp chicken or vegetable bouillon.
  • 1 tsp olive oil.
  • 1 Shallot, minced.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely.
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom.
  • 1/2 cup fonio.
  • 3 or 4 dates, chopped finely.
  • 1/4 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped.
  • 1 tsp dried mint.
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.
  • One tablespoon of Kaskh

Directions

  1. In a titanium mug, boil 1 cup of water, mix in and dissolve the chicken bouillon. It will add most of the saltiness to our meal.
  2. In a frying pan, heat the oil, stir in the shallots, and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cardamom and cook until fragrant.
  4. Stir in the Fonio and toast for about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the water, let everything come back to a boil, turn off the gas, cover with a lid, and let it cook for about 3 minutes.
  6. Stir in the dates, pistachios, and dried mint.
  7. Adjust the seasoning and enjoy.

I close the post with this, and I hope these tips will help you bring your outdoor cooking to the next level. If there is anything you do that I didn’t mention or have any questions, please share in the comments section below. Bon Appetit!

Cooking Method: Confit

As a single, I need to tap into every trick in the book to preserve food. One such method is confit; it’s not my intention to describe the technique as much as showing how I use its products in different ways to reduce my waste on cooking and make more flavorful dishes.

What’s confit? It’s a way to preserve food by cooking it very slowly in some kind of fat. Maybe you already heard the term “duck confit” as something you ought to try in France. However, you can confit almost anything and preserve it for a long time. Here is an example of Thomas Keller teaching how to preserve eggplants in oil.

Let’s dissect the byproducts of Thomas’s Keller recipe:

  • Preserved eggplants.
  • Preserved garlic cloves.
  • Cooking oil that will help the products keep.

You can use the preserved eggplants in the way that chef suggests in the recipe; however, there are two jewels here that ought not to be overlooked. On the one hand, we have the preserved garlic cloves that we can serve with the eggplants or other preparations; think hummus, pasta sauce, or even spread it on freshly baked bread. On the other hand, the most valuable treasure is the oil; this oil was infused with garlic, the herbs of the bouquet garni, and the eggplant, rendering a delicious finishing oil that will add a surprising touch to any dish.

Home made Focaccia with San Marzano tomato confit

Let us discuss a few items I like to confit and how to wrap up the post.

Garlic confit: I like to confit an entire head of garlic in olive oil with some salt, rosemary, and thyme. I discard the cooked herbs but use the garlic for hummus and the oil for finishing my dishes.

Tomato confit: I grew San Marzano tomatoes, and I confit them in olive oil with a pinch of salt, basil, garlic, and fresh oregano. I use the tomatoes in sauces, bruschettas, and many other ways; I use the garlic cloves the same way as garlic confit, and this oil is excellent to use as an easy sauce in pasta.

Mushroom confit: Any sort of expensive mushrooms are fantastic for confit with thyme and garlic. Confit mushrooms and oil can elevate risottos and other preparations.

My San Marzano confit, the oil was just fantastic.

There are many more ways to get creative with this cooking method. I encourage you to try it out and hopefully it will become a staple of your pantry. With this, I conclude my post. I’d like to know if you’ve used this method in the past and, if so, which are your favorite items to confit. Please can leave your comments in the section below.

How Many Donuts?

Developing a good relationship with food is fundamental to live a healthy life, both physically and mentally. In today’s post, I intend to share some basic understanding of food thermodynamics and give you some perspective about what it takes to lose or gain one pound of fat weight.

When engaging in a food conversation, people typically repeat certain narratives that seem to be of common knowledge without fact-checking them or pondering their meaning. Some of these narratives are:

  • “you should not eat carbs; it’s bad for you.”
  • “that has too much oil; it’s unhealthy.”
  • “You can’t get protein unless you eat meat.”
  • “If you have sugar, you will get fat.”
  • “You need to go to the gym to lose weight.”

And following, I see them getting sandwiches wrapped in lettuce to avoid the bread or ordering salads with the dressing on the side. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with this approach if it satisfies you; but some of these people would kill for a piece of bread. And if they have it, they would feel guilty and starve themselves some more.

Recently I read a great book called “Intuitive Eating.” In this book, the authors argue that starving yourself or denying what you crave often leads to binge eating and weight gain because of many psychological factors that people on diets experience. In the book, one of the great ideas they propose is to stop labeling food items as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” “good” or “bad.” etc. But instead, see it as food, as something that you want or not, something that satisfies you or not, something that brings you closer to your goals or not. Thus, you will remove emotions from specific food items and begin thinking more strategically about your body and mind. Unfortunately, many eating disorders come from this traditional way of thinking about food.

If you did watch the Prezi slides on food thermodynamics I linked in the first paragraph, you saw how your body transforms food into energy. This transformation is, in simple terms, calories in, calories out. So It’s just a matter of learning how much your body uses, then eat as much (within a ballpark), and listening to your satiety cues. With this basic understanding, you can eat whatever you like, and re-train yourself to enjoy food.

There is much to say about the macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, or protein, and I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian to teach the subject. However, I want to point you to some resources where you could either confirm or bust your myths:

Through these readings, I hope your takeaway is that there is more to food than binary labels, and there is no clean-cut way of “eating well.” This thought also might give you the relief that you can enjoy every once in a while some treats that you love but feel sinful or guilty to you today.

After bombarding you with information, I can answer the question of today’s post, how many donuts do you need to eat to gain one pound of body fat in weight?

By now, you probably know that one pound of fat contains approximately 3500 calories. This number comes from multiplying 454grams (1 lb) times 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) and deducting some energy your body needs to convert that stored fat into usable energy. Now, one donut weighs about 38g (according to Wikipedia), and according to the FDA, 38 grams of a donut is 172 calories. Therefore, to gain one pound of fat, you must eat a bit more than 20 standard donuts. Twenty is not a small number; this means that you would have to eat about three donuts/day in a week on top of your regular meals, and you would just become 454 grams heavier. Of course, we can apply the same logic to bacon, candy, or anything else that’s considered unhealthy.

There are many reasons why I would not choose to eat these many donuts, mainly because they contain white flour and refined sugar; none of these bring any additional micronutrients, thus not giving your body any nutrition or satisfaction. However, we must not underestimate the psychological effect that the pleasure of eating gives, plus the relief of feeling free to enjoy whatever you want without guilt.

Finally, the number talks about how weight gain is more a habit than an item that you enjoy at a point in time. So next time you feel like indulging your palate with that donut you were craving, go for it with the peace of mind that you didn’t do much damage to your weight goals.

Hard Cycling Climbs: Grizzly Peak Loop

What makes a cycling route hard in terms of climbing? This post intends to dive into one of my favorite routes, the Grizzly Peak loop. I used to ride this route about two to three times a week for its beauty and training value.

This route is maybe the most popular in Berkeley, California. In its short version, it climbs over 1500ft in about 6 miles. With only one steeper section of 10%, this climb is the perfect example of not being strenuous but slow and steady when ridden clockwise. However, many route variations offer steeper climbs, thus making it excellent to increase the difficulty training-wise gradually.

The second difficulty level comes from riding it counter-clockwise through the steep Claremont Avenue that offers gradients up to 16%. Finally, you can take it to the third level by taking Wildcat Canyon Road instead of turning on Grizzly Peak Avenue and turning right on South Park Road, where you will climb 900 ft in just 1.4 miles and a max gradient of over 22%.

The road across the ridge offers stunning views, and there are many vista points to stop and enjoy some of the best vistas the East Bay can offer.

View from one of the spectacular vistas in Grizzly Peak Boulevard

Coming back to my initial question, I’d say that in my mind, two things define the difficulty of a route, the total climb and the length of the steepest segments. If we come back to the description, you will eventually get up any hill by taking a slow and steady approach. Slow and steady means that you’re spinning at a comfortable pace where your heart rate doesn’t go close to the upper limit, and your legs deliver power somewhere below your FTP. Now, above a given steepness grade, you will have to pedal beyond your FTP, this means that you will use your energy less efficiently, and depending on how long the effort is, you might even drain your glycogen stores leading to the infamous bonk.

One common mistake is to try to attack a long and steep climb. While going beyond your FTP for short intervals will help you improve, doing so for longer ones will add excessive strain. One good strategy is to ride for intervals of 30 seconds and stop for about a minute. This way will help you get better faster and teach you how to get back on the bike while riding a steep grade.

Finally, I like to gauge the difficulty of the ride by roughly comparing the total distance and the total climb. If it’s less than one hundred feet of climbing per mile, I consider it easy the lower that number is. I would look at a route with one hundred feet for a mile or more with respect.

To close this post, If you live in the Bay Area, I recommend you trying out the route, and I hope this analysis helps you train and become a lover of climbing hills on your bike. Please share which route you use to train in the comments section below.

Resources:

My Path into Buddhism, Chapter 1

The year 2020 was not an easy one for many. Initially, 2020 was the year I had planned to execute a sort of end-to-end life improvement plan, but I wouldn’t imagine how much more challenging it was going to get. By contrast, the hardship gave me a chance to deepen into Buddhism, which I had wanted to do for some time. Therefore, this post will describe the snapshot of what today is the most impactful for me. I called this post “Chapter 1” because understanding evolves and grows; maybe in the future, I might say something more profound or even contradictory in case I got things wrong this time.

In 2020 I read a few books about Buddhism. Among them are “Buddhism For Beginners,” “The Art of Happiness,” and “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching.” Not surprisingly, the latter book was the most impactful as Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most impactful leaders in Buddhism worldwide. I was lucky enough that a beautiful person that crossed my path took me to a meditation day in a place near San Diego that followed the plum village tradition and introduced me to Thich Nhat Hanh.

One of the many Buddha Stupas that are in Kathmandu, this one is the Monkey Temple

As I understand it, Buddhism is nothing but a way of life. I don’t see it as a religion. So I will treat it as such during the description of what’s most impactful for me.

“The Buddha taught many concentration practices. To practice the Concentration on Impermanence, every time you look at your beloved, see him as impermanent, and do your best to make him happy today.”

Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

I see impermanence as something beautiful and poetic. My mind simplifies the concept to “nothing is forever” so, why not enjoy the present while it lasts? The year 2020 showed me that in one moment, everything I wanted to do but didn’t suddenly wasn’t possible anymore. It set me on the path of being present and observant of what surrounds me, as well as what happens inside me at the same time.

“The Buddha said that in the depth of our store consciousness, alayavijñana, there are all kinds of positive and negative seeds — seeds of anger, delusion, and fear, and seeds of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness.”

Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

Here is a beautiful and empowering thought. We are capable of good and evil. We need to choose what to do at a particular moment. If we combine that with impermanence, it gives the relief from “being.” I’m saying that suddenly I don’t have to feel that I’m a good or bad person, but instead, I have done good and bad things in the past, and I can choose what to do now and in the future.

“The question is whether you want to liberate yourself. If you do, practice the Noble Eightfold Path. Wherever the Noble Eightfold Path is practiced, joy, peace, and insight are there.”

Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

The final thing I wanted to discuss today is the noble eightfold path. It consists of, you guessed it, eight steps: Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. This path is, I believe, the greatest teaching of the Buddha.

Going through the description of each step made me suspect how well the Buddha understood human nature. I made an instant connection with the biases I learned throughout Daniel Kahneman’s book. Human minds have these biases and heuristics because of having incomplete information, so it’s essential to gather as much information as possible and then form the right point of view to say and do the right thing finally. Combining this with watering good seeds inside you, profoundly meditating about everything, and being present in what you do closes the circle.

The noble eightfold path is, as the name correctly states, a path. It’s something I’m trying to practice every day and get better at, but there are still ways to go both for practice and understanding. It’s a continual evolution.

With this, I conclude this post. I hope it inspired you to dive into this philosophy and maybe discover something new. Please comment your experience in the section below.

Persian Cooking: Experience and Lessons Learned

Not long ago, I borrowed from the library the book “Bottom of the Pot” authored by Naz Deravian, a book about Persian cooking. During the latest years, I had the chance to make quite a few Persian friends, and the one thing they all have in common is their praises for Persian cooking. So, since I was looking to diversify a bit my cooking skills, I decided to give this style of cooking a go.

Before I got started, I got the chance to quiz my friends and even cook side-by-side. So I carefully observed and listened in hopes to understand what they appreciated from their native meals. I learned from my friends that Persians love to offer plentiful platters with delicious food to their guests.

KooKoo Kadoo, a persian zucchini and summer squash frittata. I made a sauce out of reducing the drained liquid from the squashes.

As I got my feet wet with Persian cooking, a few elements struck me as a conductive thread. Long-grain rice, saffron, herbs, and yogurt appeared consistently throughout the recipes. But more importantly, how these meals are composed and presented – mostly shareable and family-style – spoke to me of a family and community-oriented culture.

While diving a little deeper, I started making connections and drawing parallels to three other cuisines. First, I could see the plant-centric and community orientation of Mediterranean cuisine. Second, I saw the complex and layered flavors built with spices of Indian cuisine. Finally, the soups and dumplings that resembled so much of those found in Russia and eastern Europe.

It was too tempting to resist taking a deeper look into the Persian empire’s history that would speak to me about this combination of cultures. To this end, I found a very informative Youtube documentary that you’ll appreciate if you’re into history. After watching it, the connection between these cultures was clear.

Kaskh, my new favorite ingredient,

I learned a few new ingredients and ways of using some I already knew, like saffron, from preparing these Persian recipes. One of my favorite discoveries is Kaskh. Kaskh is fermented yogurt whey that has a salty and intense flavor that resembles that of parmesan cheese. To experiment with it, I put it whenever a recipe would call for parmesan, rendering a much more interesting final product. Another discovery was rose petals and buds; the floral quality they deliver to the dishes pleasantly surprised my palate. Before trying Persian cuisine, I preferred fresh mint for my cooking; it was a total surprise the fresh dimension that dried mint adds to these dishes. Finally, many recipes call for barberries as a way to impart a tangy quality.

I also learned new things about bread. Bread seems like a significant item in Iranian eating – mostly flatbreads – and I got to taste and bake staples like Lavash, Barbari, and Sangak. All of them are great options to enjoy dips like “Kashki Bademjan” or “Borani Yeh Laboo.”

Persian beet and yogurt dip with barbari bread, and a pilaf with dates and pistachios.

One last thing I’d like to highlight is the appreciation that Persians have for seasonal fruit. Both as ingredients in their mains and as a simple but delicious dessert. This discovery inspired me to research more on the seasonality of fruits. This use of fruits is not new to me, my family in Argentina always ended their meals with fruit, but I had forgotten this habit as I moved out of my hometown.

To finish, I will leave you the recipe I created by mixing Persian with Argentinian and Italian cooking, which are part of my roots. Kashki Polenta with Persian Chimichurri.

My Persian-inspired polenta

Kashki Polenta with Persian Chimichurri

A fusion between Persian, Argentinian, and Italian cooking.



Chimichurri is a close cousin of pesto. A combination of olive oil, Italian Parsley, mint, garlic, some chilis, and maybe Oregano. In this recipe, I added rose petals for the floral quality and dried mint instead of fresh. To add brightness, I added some preserved lemon rind. Next, I prepared the polenta with saffron and soaked barberries, so its flavor would resemble tahdig. Finally, where I would season my polenta with parmesan cheese, I replaced this ingredient with kashk.

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, chopped.
  • 2 sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped.
  • 1 tsp of dried mint.
  • ½ tsp of dried rosebuds, plus extra for garnish.
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil, plus extra for garnish.
  • ½ inch square of preserved lemon rind.
  • ¼ teaspoon of Aleppo pepper.
  • Salt to taste.
  • ¼ cup of barberries, soaked in water for 15 minutes, and drained.
  • 44g of polenta
  • ¼ tsp of baking soda.
  • 5 to 10 saffron strands. (yes, very little)
  • One tablespoon of Kaskh

Directions

  1. With a mortar and pestle, crush and mix the garlic, parsley, mint, rosebuds, preserved lemon, Aleppo pepper, and olive oil. Add salt to taste.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to boil, and add a few pinches of salt to season and the barberries. Since Kashk is very salty, we want to hold back on the salt we’d typically use for polenta.
  3. Mix the dried polenta with the saffron and the baking soda. Adding baking soda will help prevent the polenta from clumping.
  4. Reduce heat to low, and add the polenta mixture into the saucepan and constantly stir until the mixture has thickened for about 5 minutes.
  5. Off the heat, add the Kashk to the polenta, taste, and season with additional salt if needed. Finally, mix and incorporate ¾ of the chimichurri into the polenta.
  6. Transfer to a small bowl, use the remaining chimichurri, rose petals, and olive oil to garnish. Let cool for a few minutes and enjoy.