February Braise-of-the-Month

Coq au Vin

“Cock with Wine” or perhaps the less literal “Rooster with Wine” is a French dish typically made with bacon lardons, mushroom, pearl onions and Burgundy (pinot noir) for the braise. I wanted something a little lighter, so I went with an Italian white wine. Call it Coq au Blanc if you like.


Sticking with the Italian theme, I started off with some of my guanciale along with some bacon I saved from breakfast.



Once the fat rendered, I pulled the guanciale and bacon out and added a bit of olive oil and seared the chicken pieces.


When the legs, wings and breasts were browned, I moved them to a platter and worked on the veggies. I found a nice maitake at Costco the day before and used that instead of button mushrooms. I also used shallots and onions in place of the sautéed pearl onions.


Celery, carrots, onions and shallots went in first. The garlic went in after a few minutes as well.


The maitake mushroom pieces went in next. The guanciale and bacon went in after the mushrooms cooked for a few minutes.


I used 2 cups of wine and 2 cups of chicken broth for the braising liquid and seasoned with pepper and thyme.


I put the legs and wings on the bottom and laid the breasts over the top, skin up to keep them from drying out.


I used parchment paper to get a better seal with the lid of my dutch oven. The braise went for 90 minutes at 325°F. While that was cooking, I cleaned up my scraps… which all went into a pot for some stock… Chicken carcass, neck, gizzard, heart, veggie trimmings plus some extra veggies, and pepper and thyme.


The stock simmered during the braise, during dinner, during clean up, and then a little longer for good measure. But back to dinner…

I pull the braise out after 90 minutes, put the chicken on a platter, strained the veggies, and reduced the au jus for dipping. I also found some buffalo mozzarella, a variety pack of tomatoes, and a package of “living lettuce” at Costo the day before which made for a delightful caprese salad with some pesto, olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.



The au jus was spectacular and the meal was an unqualified success. I am getting comfortable with the technique and am enjoying braising without needing a recipe to pull off a delicious meal. Now, what to braise next month?

Health, Part II

So, if you read my earlier post, “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” ~ Count Rugen, then you may be wondering if my decadent cooking and food pics are foreshadowing of ill health or the fountain of youth.

My lipid panel and C-Reactive Protein Test results are below.

Total Cholesterol: 146  …  <200 for low risk
Triglycerides: 119  …  <150 for low risk
HDL: 43  … >40 for optimal for men
LDL: 79 … <100 for low risk
Total/HDL Ratio: 3.40  …  <3.5 for low risk
C-Reactive Protein: <0.3 …  <1 for low risk

Clean bill of health! So is it from a low fat diet? Certainly not! Is it from a gluten free diet? No, not that either. Exercise? I’d like to think that helps. Genetics? Mom thinks high cholesterol and blood pressure runs in the family, but my grandfathers lived to be 84 and 93. I’ll say genetics are helping more than hurting. Or is it something else?

That Brain Maker book I just read has me thinking that it is something else. Your liver makes the majority of the cholesterol in blood with your dietary intake being a lesser contributor. My theory is a healthy gut manages your food intake for you and protects your system from the good, the bad, the ugly and the variation.

So I shall give credit for my health to not poisoning my gut bacteria with processed food chemical additives, to feeding my gut bacteria with lots of prebiotic (aka fiber) rich whole vegetables and fruits, and to reinforcing my gut bacteria with all things fermented (sourdough, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, kombucha, and whatever is next!).

If you are well and want to be more intentional about eating, give this a read:

Or this, for a shorter “eating” book without all the science behind it:

If you are not well and are looking for a healing process (as opposed to a permanent, life changing, restrictive diet), give this a read:

Swim, Swam, Swum

MiamiPoolI did it. I swam in the Mardi Gras Masters Meet at Miami University. It was my first swim meet in 23 years. That means my last swim meet was on the other side of my half way point in years. I overheard recent college graduates lamenting about how long it had been since they’d been in the pool competitively swimming. And then I heard them exchange ages to determine if they competed at the same time. And then I figured out they weren’t even born yet when I swam in my last meet. It was a like a Doctor Suess book… Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones, young ones, old ones, male ones and female ones… Sam, I am. The victory is very much in the showing up to begin with. Some talked of making the national cut time and others talked about their first swim meet since their knee replacement. I got to know some fellow swimmers from Richmond that are 2 or 3 decades older and much faster than I am. And they were so very friendly and encouraging. The one thing that stood out was the absence of a thing… negativity. I didn’t hear anyone say a single negative word about anyone else. The oldest and/or slowest people got the loudest applause. It was quite the encouraging scene.

So how did I do? After about 7 weeks of training and month or so before that of swimming once or twice a week for exercise, I had 3 successes and 1 failure. I signed up for 4 events: 50 Breast, 50 Free, 50 Fly and 100 Free. In high school and college I swam the 50 Free and 100 Free. Breast and Fly events started at 100 so this 50 distance is a new perk of Masters swimming. I’ve never competed in breast stroke and only swam fly once or twice in college. So this meet was about trying new strokes. Maybe the next meet will be about trying to get off of my “I’m a sprinter” crutch and trying a longer distance.

Anyway, back to how I did at this meet. Wait, one more caveat. I went to a YMCA youth practice mid-January so I could practice a few starts and swim a 50 for time in each stroke to turn in for seed times. I did 4 starts that night off of regular blocks with my old school both feet on the edge start.  During the meet warm up, I did 3 practice starts off the new fangled blocks with the raised back with a split stance like a track start. That’s the caveat to my one failure. My last race of the day was the 100 Free and my start was not a good one and my goggles filled with water. In the high school and college days, a swimmer was honor bound to man up and finish the race regardless. I’m old and was paying for the privilege to swim and climbed out of the pool after the first length. My pride isn’t so strong as to push me to swim half blind with chlorine in my eyes. Such was my failure on my 11th start in 23 years. I can live with that and survive to swim another day.

Now for the successes. The practice swims mid-January that I used for seed times were :29.9 50 Free, :36 50 Fly, and :45 50 Breast, in that order on that day. My times from the meet were :40.74 50 Breast, :28.65 50 Free, and 33.14 50 Fly, in that order. The 100 Free was very soon after the 50 Fly and I was still huffing and puffing which probably contributed to my lousy start. So I dropped over 4 seconds in the Breast my first ever competitive swim in that stroke. And I dropped almost 3 seconds in the Fly which I’ve only ever swam a few times. And even in my natural stroke, Freestyle, I dropped over a second. And above all, I showed up and I did it. Thanks to mom and dad for coming to enjoy and cheer. They said they came to make up for not watching any college swim meets, but I think they really wanted to see if I would actually make it from one end to the other without drowning. Special thanks to Jamie for pushing me to compete and special thoughts and prayers to her as she was unable to make it to the meet. Love you, Jamie.

My take aways from the experience:
-training for a competition is more fun than exercising
-competing against yourself (or the clock or weight lifted or distance, etc) reinforces progress much better than logging another hour of exercise
-fellow competitors are very encouraging, more so than fellow exercisers

Sign up for a competition. Train for it. Do it. Enjoy. Repeat.

“If you haven’t got your health, then haven’t got anything.” ~Count Rugen

Who remembers that quote from the pit of despair? Extra points if the memory flashed through your mind just from reading the quote.

WARNING: philosophical post with no gratuitous food photos

TIP: skip to the end for book links if you don’t want to read my blathering

A good friend from work has guilted me into getting a physical now that I’m in the 5th decade of my life. I rarely go to the doctor because I am rarely sick. This point was made clear when the office staff didn’t even have me in their system even though I have considered this doctor my primary care physician for over 15 years. I agreed to the physical per the logic that a good early baseline will aid in monitoring and early detection later in life. I didn’t get admitted to the hospital on site, so that was good. Next week will be the labs for all the blood tests: CBC/Diff to check red and white blood cells, metabolic panel for liver and kidney function, lipid panel for cholesterol, and urinalysis to check the other end of the kidney function. I also asked to add the C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test out of curiosity (more on that in a moment). So, we shall see…

In the mean time, I shall reflect on my food projects, exercise and reading over the last few years.

“Food for thought” statements for your consideration:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ~Hippocrates

“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” ~Hippocrates

Living food is good & dead food is bad. Do you know what living food is? Do you eat any? some? lots?

Fiber is good for you…unless it is bad for you. Who are you feeding with it?  Healthy gut bacteria or unhealthy gut bacteria? It all starts here. If you don’t ask and answer and understand this, then all of your health, diet and exercise efforts are akin to shooting in the dark. You might or might not hit the mark, but you certainly won’t be aiming. Read up and ferment something while you are at it.

Meat and fat are good for you. If you think they are bad for your heart, consider this… your heart doesn’t pump blood into your tissue so much as your movement pulls blood out of the main pipes and into your tissue. Which is better for you: movement or exercise? What’s the difference? or better yet, how long is the difference?

Dairy is bad for you. Or so they say. What if living (aka raw milk) has all the enzymes and healthy bacteria to be a balanced food? What if it is naturally fermented without chemicals and sweeteners (homemade cheese & yogurt)?

Gluten is evil. Yes, for an unhealthy gut, it very much is. Go back to the “healthy gut bacteria” paragraph and fix that first. And then ferment your grains and make homemade sourdough bread. And dip it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar which help the body regulate carbohydrate digestion. I like these examples of traditional food culture habits that are supportive of our health and are older than our scientific understanding of the why. I enjoy pasta. It goes well with fat and protein in a healthy portion. And a glass of wine. My healthy gut likes it and so do I.

Eat salad. Eat vegetables. Be a vegetarian. Be a vegan. Hug a tree. All that plant matter is good for you… after you get your gut ready for it. In the mean time ferment some of it, cook some of it, and eat some of it raw – with oil and vinegar.

Exercise. Movement. What is the difference? My simple answer… exercise is short duration, high intensity, specific (repetitive) activity. Movement is long duration, low intensity, varied activity. A two mile run on the beach in 20 minutes in exercise. Shell collecting on the beach for 4 hours is movement full of barefoot walking and squatting. A 30 minute trail ride on a bike is exercise. A 2 hour walk through the woods picking and eating wild black raspberries and taking pictures is movement. Movement is good for you. Exercise can be good for you. Variability drives overall health and specificity (repetitive exercise) drives specific adaptations for that activity leaving relative weakness in unused areas. Know anybody that can run an 18-minute 5K that threw out their back moving furniture? How could that happen?

Are you still here? Are you still reading this long blog post? I’m impressed.

My paradoxical questions… Why am I still overweight? My BMI the past few years has hovered around 29-31 straddling the line between overweight and obese. Really?! I’m obese? Yikes. Well, I can take my pulse by leaning over to tie my shoes and compress my guts with my belly and feeling my pulse pound in my head. Yep, I’m obese. Why do I have old man aches and pains (neck and shoulders… back and hips…)? My body has adapted to it’s overwhelming majority of time wearing heeled shoes, sitting at a desk on a computer or in a car driving. Ankles that don’t flex, hips that don’t extend, shoulders that don’t hold the rib cage up.

My plan… get a physical and benchmark my health per the doctor. Move more while still exercising because I enjoy it. I’ll swim in a masters swim meet or two. I’ll run in a 5K or two. I’ll walk and jog the trails in Winona (especially during raspberry season). I’ll stretch and do yoga – especially at work (I’m lucky to have an office with a door so I won’t get made fun of for stretching). I’ll ferment lots of food. I’ll turn the food pyramid upside down and eat more meat and fat than carbs. I’ll eat lots of veggies and fresh fruit. And I’ll pour my heart and soul into my cooking and eating as I always have.

It will be a journey, not a 2016 1-year dash. I hope to straddle the line between healthy and overweight (around the 200-pound mark for me) instead of the line between overweight and obese. I hope to be able to move any way I like without aches and pains (breaking the adaptation to sitting with my arms out in front and resetting to “normal”). One grandfather lived to 84 and the other to 93. I like the sound of that.