Touch Portland's Water!

I was born in Portland, raised in Portland, lived my whole life in the Portland area (apart from my time at the University of Oregon), but I had never been to Mount Tabor Park until this past summer. Considering it dominates the landscape of the southeastern part of the city, that's quite an accomplishment.

Mount Tabor is not a mountain; it's a long dormant cinder cone, a relic of a volcanic eruption centuries ago, and named after a city in Israel. The park has hiking trails, tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic areas and fantastic vistas in all directions as one of Portland's highest points. When I was growing up it wasn't exactly known as very family friendly (probably why I had never been there), but these days - at least during daylight - families gather, lovers walk hand-in-hand and dogs are exercised by the dozens on the city's nicest days.

Also, the park is home to many of the reservoirs supplying drinking water to the City of Portland.

To me, it's a little odd. I mean, a person can literally walk right up to the reservoir (at the fence in the above picture), put their hand through the bars, and do whatever they want. Sure, the water is filtered and purified somewhere between these large pools and your faucet, but still.

And, as you can clearly see, they are completely open to weather and wildlife.

They do provide a nice backdrop for pictures. Even Misaki was impressed.

And yes, there are serious repercussions if anyone is caught messing with the pools. Presumably there is video surveillance as well.

Personally, I think there could be a little more prevention in place. These fences could be further back from the edge of the water, for one.

But hey, that's just me. The water at our house does not come from the City of Portland, but presumably it works out for them.

One of the reservoirs was empty because it was being cleaned and having some repairs done. These pictures do a poor job of really providing reference points for size - they are truly gigantic. Bigger in length and width than a football field, that iron fence is about eight feet high. You can also see the normal water line in this picture below, a few feet below the fence.

Here's a pic attempting to get the entire space. Doesn't that look like something you want to drink out of?

Drinking water aside, the park is a lot of fun and good exercise for people and their canines. And while the park is a fairly steep hill, the trails have been created so people can casually wind their way in circles to the top.

Or, if you are like us, you can simply take the stairs straight up.

The view from the top of the park probably isn't as good as it was 30-40 years ago because the evergreens continue to grow (not that I want to stand in their way). Still, on a nice day, a Shiba can see for miles. So can her humans.

It's a great place for a some exercise and we've been back a couple times since our initial visit.

Pro tips:

On nice days get there early. The parking lot fills up by noon.

Bring sunscreen on nice days because while there are plenty of trees all of the trails near the reservoirs are in open spaces.

Dogs on leash only. As it should be.

There are plenty of restaurants in the area to grab a bite. At the northeast corner of the park is Misaki's favorite, Steve's Cheese. At the east side is all the restaurants on Hawthorne. To the west side is The Country Cat for all meals, Bi-Partisan Cafe for coffee, pie and snacks, and Tanuki for dinner.


On the Fringe of Feast Portland

A month and a half ago Portland hosted a food and drink festival that could be described with no word other than "epic." Feast Portland, in its initial year, brought in thousands of tourists and plenty of all-star chefs from all over the world to contribute in all sorts of tasting events and special dinners.

Check out the schedule of the four-day event - simply amazing, and every single event droolworthy. Just Google Feast Portland (or better yet, Google Image Feast Portland) and you can get a sense of how truly amazing this event was.

Wifey and I, sadly, did not attend any of the events for a few reasons. The first is they were very expensive, as you can tell by the prices. Attendees got plenty of food for the price, though, but one problem is we cannot physically eat enough food to justify it simply for the sake of food. Considering we are still both trying to reach our weight loss goals (oh so close!), we decided to pass for 2012 and hope the event comes back in 2013 (good news - it will!). Next year it's on.

I should say we didn't attend any of the official events. There were plenty of events at restaurants around the city of the unofficial kind and we did manage to hit a few of those.

Boke Bowl and Aaron Franklin

No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain is one of our favorite shows on TV. We love his snark and we love seeing all the amazing places he goes, people he meets, and food he samples. Not long before Feast Bourdain visited Austin, Texas, and there he met up with Aaron Franklin. Franklin owns, fitting enough, Franklin's BBQ, which has lines for hours every day just to get some brisket. His meat is smoked for hours and hours with no sauce and even Bourdain called it some of the best he's ever had.

Boke Bowl is a small shop, newer, down on Water Avenue in the central east side industrial area, near Water Avenue Coffee, clarklewis, Bunk Bar and Hair of the Dog Brewing. They got their start in popup events around the city (one of which we attended at Yakuza, then had their food at a fundraiser last summer) and they do ramen. Not traditional ramen, but a northwest version of it, with smoked meats, good noodles, and fantastic broths.

Somehow Franklin and Boke Bowl hooked up and one lone email from Boke said they would have brisket from Franklin for just one lunch run. If you get there after noon, they said, you'll probably be out of luck.


Since there isn't much of a chance I get to Austin anytime soon, I took a coworker and headed over there for lunch. Boke Bowl used the brisket for two dishes: as an add-on to their ramen and as a filling in a steam bun. So I got some of each, and after my order the woman at the register told me my order was the last one. I felt special, even before I ate it.

First to come out was the order of steam buns, which come three to an order.

The meat was melt in your mouth good and extremely flavorful, especially when you consider there is nothing added to it other than a little salt and pepper. No special spices, no sauces, just a good crust on fantastic meat.

Next up came the ramen. I wasn't thinking and ordered the regular pork ramen, which comes with a chunk of meat already, but whatever. I added an egg, too. (I do believe, that yes, I blew past my protein goal on the day.)

Here's a closer look, the food porn shot if you will.

The verdict? Completely damn awesome brisket. I don't know if I'd be willing to stand in line two hours for it, but it was very good. A couple people who also had it noted that Portland's own Podnah's Pit is on the same level, something Franklin noted himself during his visit, so I think that just means we need to go back there.

Also, Boke Bowl is very good. The Korean pot roast and fried chicken steam buns are also very good and while it may sound odd, order Twinkie for dessert - it's tasty!

Feast Specials at The Country Cat

The Country Cat is one of our favorite places in the city despite being just about as far from home as you can get for us without hitting Gresham. We already had a dinner planned (see below) for the Sunday of Feast weekend, but when the Cat posted these Feast-inspired brunch specials we had to go.

Guess which two we ordered? Yep, not the oysters. Wifey ordered the Cowboy Breakfast and I got the Steak & Eggs, which we, of course, shared. (Also, I have no idea why this is true but I love coffee there with a passion. It's just French pressed Stumptown, but it's really good. And if you have the stomach space the basket of cinnamon rolls are amazing.)

First up the steak and eggs. The steak was good, but it wasn't amazing. I actually thought the star of the dish was the bacon-wrapped potato cake. 

The brisket was excellent. Maybe not quite Podnah's or Franklin's, but well worth the order. Plus, I don't think anyone in the city makes better cornbread than the Cat. With a light sweetness it's moist but not cakey and complements meals very well. Both veggie elements were also good, though meager. (There was a time in my life not too long ago when that's how I preferred it, but not anymore. Give me some green stuff!)

As usual a visit to the Cat was well worth it. Even though the rib eye wasn't the best, it's still one of the better steaks around, especially at practically a steal of a price.

Baohaus at Ping

Both of the previous events we went to on a whim, but this one we knew about a little in advance and made sure to get reservations: Eddie Huang presenting Baohaus at Ping. Baohaus is a steamed bun shop in NYC started by Huang after deciding the life of a lawyer wasn't what he wanted. He also can be seen on various food television shows and has written a book about his life, coming out next year. Huang has also been outspoken about chefs doing cuisines not from their native lands - notably Western chefs doing Asian food - but even he admits Ping (and PokPok - our visit thoughts here) owner Andy Ricker knows what he's doing. Since Huang likes PokPokNY in Brooklyn, I imagine that's how he ended up taking over Ricker's Ping for the evening. (For reference, here's notes on our visit to Ping earlier in the year.)

Our reservation was the first of the night, but seating was very slow. In fact, I think we were seated about 20 minutes late because the kitchen was behind and food didn't come for at least 20 minutes after that. here's the card placed on each  plate, Eddie on the front.

And the menu on the back (click the pic to enlarge). Each person received one each of the baos, a choice from two entrees, and the dessert. Three courses, $35. Since it was Wifey and I we naturally each ordered a different entree, so we could try everything.

Lest you believe Huang is too big to work his own line, here is a pic of him trying to get everything going. This came after we were seated but before food started to come out. Needless to say, he didn't seem all that pleased at the delay, but then again it's hard to put blame on anyone when it's his food and his quality control being applied to a kitchen space that is not his and a staff working on dishes they don't usually make.

Here are the two baos, the Chairman with pork belly on the right and Uncle Jesse with fried tofu on the left. Both were very, very good. I really liked the crushed peanut aspect added to each of them. With the sauce and sugar I thought the Uncle Jesse even had a peanut butter and jelly kind of flavor, which will win me over every time.

Here's my entree, the beef noodle soup. Loved the broth and the meat was almost melt in your mouth. It also had some nice heat to it.

After mixing it up a bit you see the noodles. Again, very nice.

The Hainan lobster rice. I'm not normally someone who gets super excited about lobsters, but this was so well done I could have eaten two bowls of it. Really enjoyed it.

And the dessert, a fried bao with red bean, shiso (a minty leaf) and vanilla ice cream. It was...fine. A nice palate cleanser I suppose, but the shiso seemed out of place in the dish. I wouldn't order it.

All in all, this was a fantastic meal despite the bumpy start to the service. Then again it was our only our second pop-up experience and the first where we got the first reservation of the night - maybe that's normal in these kinds of things?

I will admit, $35 for the meal was a little steep, but at the same time we got to eat food from an acclaimed NYC chef without having to buy a plane ticket. And we enjoyed it. If we ever make it to NYC to eat - someday we hope to - Baohaus will definitely be on the list, so in that respect the meal was a success for us and for Huang.

We didn't get to attend any of the Feast events directly, but these three made us feel like we were involved. That, to me, is a key point. While the Feast events were ridiculously expensive and ridiculously gluttonous - which may not stop us from attending one next year - these were much more moderately priced and gave us a chance to experience food we otherwise wouldn't get.

Looking forward to Feast Portland 2013.


Before and After: Results in Pictures

I feel obligated to do this, since I've yammered on the past few posts about doing what it takes to lose weight. People want to see that these things I've talked about actually do work and that I'm not just making it up.

So, to that end, I went back into our picture archives (of which they are vast, what with having such a cute dog and all) to find a picture of me from near my high weight of 207 pounds. That proved difficult, since I don't usually go out of my way to be memorialized. The best I could do was this one, which is from last fall.  I was still north of 200, so it's good enough.

Ugh. That's a bit embarrassing. Misaki doesn't even want anything to do with being pictured next to her huge papa, turning her butt to the camera. Can't blame her, really.

So then I did all the things I've talked about in the past few blog posts. Worked out more. Tracked calories. Ate more balanced. Watched sodium intake. Tried to reduce stress and get more sleep. Changed my goal weight many times along the way, from an initial 185 down and down, 5-10 pounds at a time, until eventually, just a few weeks ago, I posted my daily weigh-in to my MyFitnessPal account and got this fancy schmancy little picture:

So yeah, it works. And now here's the big reveal:

I look different, yes? I sure feel different. Better. Happier. (Though Misaki still doesn't want to be in a pic with me, apparently.) This pic was taken about a month and a half ago on a hike up on Mt. Hood, so it was technically before the 50-pound goal was reached, but it's good enough for illustrative purposes. As I write this now I'm down 53 pounds to 154, something I honestly never thought was possible.

I would have loved to have a picture of me in the same clothes, but they are long gone. That's one of the things I never fathomed to think about: buying new clothes. I think only 3-4 things in my closet are the same as they were six months ago, and it's been expensive. I can't complain, really, because it's a good thing I need smaller clothes, but that doesn't make swallowing the credit card charges any easier.

All of my success has come because of the full support of my wife; I couldn't have done this without her help, her encouragement, and her love. Thank you, sweetheart! Also, Misaki helped too, with her six-mile-an-hour walking speed and her indignation to any stops not on her schedule. Thanks pups!

I should take this opportunity to apologize to someone, too. A few years back Wifey and I went and saw a nutritionist at a local clinic, hoping for some tips on eating better. We didn't really get any we hadn't already read, which was disappointing for the cost, but I think I probably put her off when I scoffed at the thought of my getting down to 165 (the medically approved weight for my five feet and eight inches). She was right, it was possible. So I'm sorry, wherever this woman is now.

Speaking of numbers, there are a few others to share. Yes, the big -53 is a huge one, but there are others as well:

30.7 --> 23.4

I may have mentioned this before, but I am not a fan of the Body Mass Index. While for most people it's a decent guideline, it's not a number that should be treated as any kind of holy grail; any health measurement that calls a professional athlete like Dwight Howard (have you seen this guy?!) obese is plain full of it. All that said, according to BMI I used to be obese for my height and now I'm smack in the middle of normal.

Metabolic Age
50 --> 20

I have a scale made by Tanita I use to weigh in every morning. It is somewhat fancy and allows you to store multiple profiles as well as gives you some other numbers, including metabolic age, bone density, muscle mass, fat percentage, and a couple others. Apparently it measures these things based on some kind of electric impulse sent through the body via the feet (you can't feel it). I have no idea how it works, really, or if it's super accurate, but according to my scale I've cut 30 years off my metabolic age. And really, I was at 50 before I reached 207 pounds, so I think perhaps it just tops out there. Is it true? Do I have the body of a 20-year-old? I don't know, but the number went down each week as I lost weight and clearly I'm healthier now, so presumably I will live longer maintaining this lifestyle.

Waist Measurement
36 --> 28

This number isn't from an explicit measurement; it came from the size of my jeans. When I began this process I had a pair of 34-waist jeans that were pretty tight and a pair of 36s that were a tiny bit loose. By the beginning of May I had lost enough weight my jeans were practically falling down and the belt I had was too big to do anything about it even on the tightest setting, so out of necessity I went shopping. To my utter disbelief I came home with two pairs of 31s. Seriously? I wore a 32 when I graduated from high school! As it turns out, buying jeans in May is a silly plan because I wear shorts - work doesn't care - almost all summer long. By the middle of August both pairs of jeans were falling off me - again - so it was time to go shopping again (and I'll just forget about the money I wasted on those jeans I really didn't get to enjoy). This time? I came home with two different brands, one a 28 and the other a 29. And you know what? These aren't tight either; in fact, they may be a tad loose. It's a shitty thing to bitch about, but the reality is when a guy has to find jeans smaller than a 28 it's kind of impossible. Great. It's not bad enough so few companies make jeans short enough for someone who is 5-8, but they also rarely make jeans smaller than a 28 waist. Again, a crappy thing to bitch about, I get that. But still.

Fat Percentage
26.0 --> 14.7

This is a pretty telling stat, too. At 207 pounds my scale told me my body fat percentage was 26.0. Math tells me that's 53.8 pounds of my body was fat. Yeah, that's a bit nauseating. At 154 pounds that total has dropped to 22.6 pounds. Here's what I don't get and why I don't put a ton of stock in that scale: I've lost 53 pounds, but only 60% of that has been fat. What was the rest of it?!

I am very close to being satisfied, close enough no newer picture will show the difference. It's been quite the journey, a long one, and now the real test begins: can I keep it off?

I believe I can and will. I've learned enough along the way that I know how to properly balance my food, exercise and lifestyle decisions to stay at a healthy weight. It's been a hell of a journey to this point and I hope it's one that never truly ends.

This is Kind of Weird...

When you see yourself in the mirror every day, even with seeing the numbers drop on the scale and the fit of your clothes changing, it's harder to see the scope of the change. And coworkers, who see me every day, don't see the scope. However, when you don't see someone for awhile and they appear 50 pounds lighter, sometimes you wonder, right?

I had a few people I know somewhat well but don't see all the time in the past couple months cautiously approach me and ask if I was okay. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing while I assured them that, yes, I am fine. Better than fine, actually.

And unexpectedly I've had a couple people tell me I am inspiring. What? Really? Me? I'm floored. I had one coworker - who I don't know very well at all and see only occasionally - be really interested in how I did it and said I was an inspiration to him. I shrugged it off with a smile like it was no big deal, but really? Well, thank you. And you're welcome?

I Used to Think...

Story time.

I'm a huge sports fan. I've watched professional and college baseball, basketball and football since I was in fourth grade, collected trading cards for years, and spent almost 9 years as a sportswriter covering the NBA as a second job. Part of that time included actually spending time in NBA locker rooms.

That's all to say I've spent a lot of time analyzing professional athletes.

As I crept past 190 I routinely became surprised whenever I would see a pro athlete weigh in at less than me, but be eight inches (or more) taller. That probably should have been a bigger warning sign than it was in retrospect. Now where I am there are very few pro athletes smaller than I am - and that's a good thing.

About 10 years ago, not long after Wifey and I started dating, I signed up for a boxing training class with her. She'd been doing it for awhile and I wanted to get in shape and it sounded interesting. That was a tough class, but it was fun. We stopped going after a while because...well, I'm not sure why. Anyway, it was mostly just technique and training - I never stepped in a ring - but part of that was teaming up in pairs with someone your size. One person would hold a punch pad while the other would practice throwing hooks and jabs with the proper footwork.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, this was also my intimate introduction into the differences between your average person (me) and someone who had trained seriously as an athlete.

Most of the class was women, with only a few men. Of those men, most were either older or still teens and there were only two of us in our early 20s, so by default we were matched up. I outweighed Thomas (I think it was Thomas) by about 10-15 pounds so you would think I'd be able to handle his punches.

Of course, he was 3-4 inches taller than me and had recently graduated from Portland State, where he played football (wide receiver, I think). Now, while sports fans may snicker at the small school football player, I have to say it doesn't matter where you went to school to play football because no doubt you spent a crapload of time in the gym and on the field, staying in shape.

There was not an ounce of fat on this guy's body. And to top it off, our boxing coach called him T-Bone. Why? I found out. You don't usually want to find out why the guy punching your gut is named T-Bone, because there is probably a good reason.

Dude could punch. Holy shit could T-Bone throw a hook.

You don't truly understand what it means to box until you have a guy taller than you, lighter than you, and in better shape than you throwing punches at you. Want some appreciation for what it takes to do that sport? Go try that out for a bit. I had a punch pad and he was wearing training gloves, but I was still so sore the next day I could barely move. I can't imagine what it would be like to actually be in the ring with the man and have him connect with my rib cage.

Again, that probably should have been a red flag to me, too, but it took me a while to really figure it out. It's funny how you can look back after (nearly) reaching a goal and, even over the course of 10 years, point to specific moments where you think you should have figured something out much earlier. This was one, but there were many others.

Maybe I should think about a boxing class again. That might be fun, now. Hmm...


The Secret to Success

You know how sometimes you make a change in one part of your life and it unexpectedly bleeds over into another part of your life when you are least expecting it? I'm there, right now.

For me the biggest key to finally getting into shape was the lesson of moderation. I (or anyone else) really can eat anything, as long as it's in moderation. Ice cream? Sure, but just have an ounce and a half. Biscuits and gravy at a restaurant? Sure - eat half and take the rest to go.

Apparently it's taken me almost 35 years to realize this was possible.

And it's funny, because I can look back over my life and see in many places where, perhaps, a little bit more moderation may have been helpful. From when I was little I've always been a tad obsessive about collecting things. I think it all started in 1987 with baseball cards. This was back before the internet, back when putting together a set of 792 Topps cards was a serious challenge, because eBay wasn't there to satisfy all your needs instantly. I spent quite a hours/days/weeks pouring over that first set and wondering how I was going to find that one missing piece (which just happened to be a Mark McGwire rookie card, the most expensive in the set to buy individually, of course).

That set - that card, actually - started me down a rabbit hole. A friend worshipped Eric Davis at the time, so turned me on to this idea of amassing a giant collection of cards of a single player. I decided Rickey Henderson was my favorite player and became focused on collecting all of his cards. Again, this was pre-internet days, so that mostly involved acquiring all Henderson cards my friends had.

This went on for a few years, and then as high school happened collecting cards fell by the way side (though I still have them all), in favor of hanging out with friends and music. Yep, I started collecting CDs. By the time I graduated from college I had a collection of about 350 CDs and counting (which, yes, are now in boxes taking up space and collecting dust in my attic). Don't ask me where I got the money to get all those, some of them used but most of them $14-$18 at places like Sam Goody and Camelot Music and Music Wherehouse (all of which I'm sure don't exist anymore).

Then I went through a phase of collecting books, which for me is pretty silly because I so very rarely go back and read a book a second time. Yep, most of those are in boxes in the attic, too.

After I moved on from the subsistence-living job to one where I actually had some spending money, and with the full power of the internet (and eBay) unleashed, I got back into card collecting for a few years. At the time the industry was hitting a peak of releases and as the bubble burst, eBay was heaven for a casual collector like me, who really just wanted all of the Chad Johnson cards in existence.

Now I still have all of these collections, and even more.

I want to read all of the books. My Kindle is filling up with these free downloads that look good I may never get to because I have an ongoing list from the library of newer, better stuff (maybe, maybe not) and I don't have enough time to read them all. That's in addition to all the physical books I have and the many that come out every week I keep adding to an ever-growing To Be Read pile.

I want to try all of the beers. That's not meant to sound alcoholic, there are just so many different flavors our there. I find one I like and buy a couple extra. Being in Portland, every time I go to the grocery store there is something new and different from one of the local breweries. Then there are the special releases aficionados look forward to every year, like Deschutes' Abyss or Pelican's Mother of All Storms - you have to pick up a few of those. And if I happen to go to a bottle shop, like Belmont Station or John's Marketplace, it's almost impossible to leave without 3-4 bottles of stuff from all over the country. I usually only drink one a week...so, um, yes, there is quite a collection growing.

I want to eat at all of the restaurants. I want to sample all of the ice creams. And all of the bakeries. If you have followed this blog or me on Twitter or on tumblr for any length of time you know how I feel about the local food. Portland is so full of great options, with more opening all the time, that not only can we not keep up but we almost never get back to places we loved. Just about the only place we get back to with any kind of regularity is The Sugar Cube, which only shows you how freakin' awesome it is and how you must go there all the time.

It's kind of funny - before the decision to change our diet we'd spend our weekends hitting up various spots for meals, desserts, tidbits, drinks...and then we'd bring everything home and eat it over the next couple days. We still do this, but the problem now is we don't eat it nearly as quickly. The freezer is full. The cupboards are full. The fridge is full. We still haven't reconciled our shopping habits with our new eating habits; that's something we still need to work on.

It's a long-term process, that's for sure.

Pulling this all round full circle, at one point there was a certain stress associated with this obsessiveness that, while not clinically debilitating, was a bit of a drain on focus and brain power. I truly believe the secret - if there really is one, which there must be because I keep getting asked about one - to my personal success with weight loss has been coming to terms with moderation, and then embracing it. I'm okay with having just a little bit of something.

The result is I'm pickier about what I do eat, which is worth my time. I'd rather wait than eat something I won't truly enjoy. I'll go without beer if I don't like my options somewhere, even if I want one. I used to never quit on a book, ever, but in the past year I've decided at least three weren't worth the fifth or sixth chance to improve. I have a finite amount of time and plenty of options, so why force myself to read a crappy book?

I apologize if that simple word - moderation - isn't the secret many want to hear. When I tell people in person they say, "Oh." And change the subject, like they are disappointed. It's not magic, unfortunately; it's just a mind set and it takes work, it takes focus. And really, for me, it almost feels like I had to give myself permission to be moderate in my choices. For a culture that values so highly the drive for perfection, accepting less can sometimes make one feel like their are a failure, or that they are accepting a life of mediocrity. That's not what's happening at all. At the risk of sounding like a motivational speaker, it's about striking a balance point.

Now, if I could just apply this idea of moderation to my writing: I don't have to write all of the words now, just an hour's worth of them. Or a half hour. Or ten minutes. If I could be okay with that, I might have had another book done now, rather than not started with just words and ideas bouncing around in my head.

It's a process!


Hiking Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is one of those places we've driven by many, many times but never stopped at, usually for good reason because we are on our way to somewhere else.

We were missing out.

The access to the trail is just after civilization ends on Highway 26 east of Portland. The highway says goodbye to Welches, narrows to two lanes, and heads through some forest before widening to four lanes again and starting towards Government Camp. Off to the right the land drops steeply into a valley for awhile, but then you go around a curve and suddenly that same side of the street has a steep hill. Usually here you will see a mess of cars parked with no real signs - this is where you park to head to Mirror Lake.

This hike is a little over three miles round trip and is generally referred to as "easy." To be honest, calling this easy is a bunch of crap. Easy is walking on flat sidewalks. This hike involves steep hills and uneven surfaces, so to call it anything less than moderate is plain wrong.

Most of the hike is uphill over a myriad of switchbacks, crossing a creek or two on narrow bridges, over ground riddled with stumps and rocks. Going up the terrain isn't a big deal, but going down following a crazy little Shiba named Misaki who apparently would rather run it's kind of dangerous. Be careful! (As always, click the pictures to see larger versions.)

One example of a switchback.

I wanted to get a picture down the hill, but the trees were too dense and they didn't really turn out.

There is a rock slide that the trail switches back and forth across about three or four times on the way; Misaki was quite pleased with herself for conquering the boulders.

Misaki is quite proud of herself.

Here's a pic of one of the bridges, this one just before the trail splits to go around the lake. Misaki continues to amaze me at how fearless she is. The creek rushed underneath, but she took a measure of what it would take to hop onto the narrow bridge and just did it. Most dogs, especially smaller ones, would hesitate, but not her.

Fearless pup.

Guess who was the first one to see the lake?


And what did she see, a little over a mile and a half into our hike? It's breathtaking, really. They don't call it Mirror Lake for nothin'.

No words.

Wifey and I had packed a lunch, so we sat on the rocks at the water's edge. We tried to enjoy the quiet, but it was shattered by a bunch of out of control kids with no sense of personal space.

One interesting note: You can make this a longer hike. Turning away from Mt. Hood, if you look up to the right there is a ridge - Tom Dick and Harry Mountain (really) - far into the distance (another four miles each way, I think). Someday, when I'm better prepared, that would be a fun (you know, if by fun I mean exhausting, mentally draining, and likely to induce massive hamstring cramps) hike to do. I can just imagine the amazing pictures one could take.

We had some chipmunks hang out with us for lunch, as well as this little guy and some birds we'd never seen before.

Our dining companion.

Misaki generally leaves the wildlife alone, but I was wondering if maybe she was going to go after some of the fish darting around in the shallows.

Looking for noms.

We had a great time. It's a great workout (moderate, not easy - I want to see their definition of easy) and not too far away. However, get their early, especially on a nice day on the weekend because that parking area can fill up and you don't want to be forced to park on the very edge of Highway 26 as cars fly by at 60+ miles an hour.

It's worth the effort, especially when you see something like this.


What I Want to Write

It's been quite a while since I posted an update on the book, so now it's time.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: I'm not writing nearly as much as I'd like, partly because my main focus over the past four months has been getting the weight off. That's necessitated more time spent on what I'm eating and naturally more time spent on working out. (I haven't been blogging nearly as much as I'd like, but I do have a backlog of topics - and one of them is about distractions of my own making.) The plan is to get back into it here very soon. Like, now.

The good news is I finished the fourth draft of a 275-page novel. I am now letting someone read it, which  is at the same time freakishly scary but also comforting. It's comforting because Wifey is my first beta reader of this revised version, and it's scary because I'm a little worried she may think I'm a deranged lunatic.

Maybe she already thinks that. Yeah. Probably.

See - no worries! If she's still here now, I'm probably okay.

This past round of editing really hammered home to me the slow part of the process. There were many days where I really didn't want to do any editing, but I almost always found that once I actually sat down, opened up my Word file, and started working I would get engrossed in my story.

I see the latter point as a good thing, because I figure if my own story couldn't hold my attention I would be screwed.

I follow a lot of writers on Twitter and had seen the general sentiment that the writing of the story is the easy part. Now, 18 months after I started this process, I can say that yes, absolutely, it's pure truth.

It's funny because when I wrote my first draft I was pretty proud of it. Not just because I'd never done it before, but because I thought it was pretty good. Then I started editing and there were parts where I was like, "What the hell were you thinking?" It's even funnier because those usually came out in scenes I thought were good, and in the scenes I didn't remember as being good I ended up pretty happy with. I have no idea if that means anything or not - just an observation.

I surprised myself with how many major changes the story underwent between drafts one and four. Some characters I planned disappeared. Some new ones came in. The roles and prominence of almost all of them changed. Their relationships changed dramatically. In the end the two versions follow similar arcs , but the details, the meat of a good novel, are very different. It's grittier, edgier than I expected to be, and while it wasn't what I intended that's okay. It's good. It's not perfect, but it's good.

This may be me telling myself what I want to hear, but I think my story stands up to many I read that have been professionally edited and published. Why not me too?

I try to read a decent amount, to get through at least a book a week. I read all sorts of stories, books that are like mine and books that are not. I read a surprising amount of YA fiction (surprising to me anyway), I read thrillers, spy novels, mysteries, dramas, even the occasional romance. They help me develop well-rounded characters and offer possible different spins on what one of my characters my do in a given situation.

It also gives me direction on what I think I want to write.

The world is full of writers who claim to be out to write the Great American Novel, something that will be regarded as a literary work of art. I am not one of those. For me, it's enough if someone picks up my book and is entertained, if it helps them step out of their daily life and makes them feel something, whether that something is fear, excitement, loss, or any other real emotion.

People who set out to write a literary masterpiece, in my opinion, will be disappointed. Why? Because you don't get to decide that. Readers do. Other writers do. The media. Any number of factors are involved, but almost none of them are in my control. All I can do is to the best of my abilities write a story that you can't put down and write characters for which you will feel empathy. But a masterpiece? That's for someone else (or many someones) to decide.

Frankly, those who decide that aren't my target audience.

I get asked every so often what kind of stories I write and I struggle with an answer. It's fiction, yes. But what kind? Thriller? Mystery? I think the best way to describe is action-packed with good character development, sort of like a good action movie. There should be an element of fear, though, times where you genuinely feel for the life of the characters. It's not horror, per se, because for me that implies the supernatural on some level, but I do want to freak the hell out of you. I want to make you uncomfortable (though not like Chuck Palahniuk - not out to make people throw up).

Horror novels rarely scare me. I don't believe in ghosts or vampires or those kinds of supernatural beings, so how can I be scared of them? That doesn't mean I don't enjoy those stories - they just aren't scary.

You know what's scary? The shit you can't make up. Serial killers are scary. The idea of getting wrongly arrested, framed for something you didn't do, and tossed in prison is scary. Buying a lottery ticket and getting stuck in the middle of a robbery with a drug-crazy thug - that's scary. Having a child dart out in front of your car is scary. The general fragility of the human body combined with any number of loose wires in the heads of the general population is scary. Losing the person you love in a freak accident is scary. Losing the person you love because they want to leave? Scarier.

How easy it is to sneak inside someone's house? Super effing scary.

This is my pledge to my readers. You won't get the supernatural in my stories, but I will make you stop and think about how fragile your perception of the world is, and about how life can change in an instant. One moment you could be putting dinner together. The next you could be having to save your life from a junkie with only the paring knife you were using to cut an apple.

Or maybe it's not just a junkie. What then?

My stories resolve around the idea of "What if?" That's my inspiration.

I want my readers, when they finish a story, to ask themselves this: "What would I have done?"

To me, if I can do that, I've accomplished my goals.

(Lest we ignore the elephant in the blog, I won't lie and say selling stories for six figures isn't a goal too. It is. Not likely, but you have to have goals, right?)


After Three Months...

It's been a little over three months now since I began my quest to lose weight and get healthier. I'm down to 171 pounds, six away from my goal and 36 down from where I started at 207. Obviously I'm thrilled with how this has gone, even if I can get snarky on Twitter about having to buy new clothes or whatever. No one cares about that.

Apart from just feeling better, key numbers back up the fact that I am now healthier. Here's a highlight of numbers from when I initially had my blood test back in late February:

   Cholesterol - 163
   HDL (good cholesterol) - 32
   LDL (bad cholesterol) - 100
   Triglycerides - 156
   Cholesterol/HDL - 5.1
   Glucose - 91

For reference, here are the targets for me:

   Cholesterol - 125-200
   HDL (good cholesterol) - >= 40
   LDL (bad cholesterol) - <130
   Triglycerides - <150
   Cholesterol/HDL - <=4.5
   Glucose - 65-99

Most of these numbers were not that great and some were downright bad. Work needed to be done.

Two weeks ago I went in for a physical and had the same blood tests done, at that point down about 32 pounds from eating a balanced diet and getting proper exercise. Here were the results:

   Cholesterol - 123
   HDL (good cholesterol) - 34
   LDL (bad cholesterol) - 76
   Triglycerides - 64
   Cholesterol/HDL - 3.6
   Glucose - 99

The glucose level is higher than it probably should be in the second set because I didn't know I was having blood drawn that morning and no one told me I needed to skip breakfast, as they usually do. Oh well.

Across the board everything improved in three short months, all of these indicators that are generally accepted as indicators of physical health. The drop in some, especially the LDL and the triglycerides, in such a short time blew me away. I do still need to get the HDL up.

Well, Almost Everything

When I went for the first blood draw it was just with a lab and my blood was taken by a nurse - no doctor ever saw me or the results. The nurse did take my blood pressure and it was way too high, 158/89. That number, more than any of the others, is really what got me to take this weight loss thing seriously because doctors had told me before to lose some weight and get that number down.

So when I met the doctor two weeks ago, I fully expected to see that number to have dropped to normal ranges. Instead my BP was recorded at 152/84. Obviously this was a concern, since losing over 15% of my body weight had barely a negligible effect on it.

My doctor asked me about my family, asking to see if I had a history of high BP in the family. I don't, not that I'm aware of, and despite my inquiries I'm told my neither of my parents do. A couple grandparents have high BP, but they are also in their late eighties with other medical issues. I have no way of knowing if they had high BP in their 30s, like I apparently am. My doctor is convinced I must have this history, but there is no way of saying yes or no; it's definitely possible, maybe even likely, just not something I can say for sure.

Just like that I'm on BP meds. Lisinopril, the tiniest dose he can give. I now have to take one of these tiny little pills every day. And since they seem to be working I will probably be taking them for the rest of my life. I checked my BP on my home machine and recorded a 117/72. I went back to the doctor to have it checked after being on the pills for a week and they recorded a 117/64.

It's interesting to me that it seems - with multiple doctors I get this impression - that when a patient presents with high blood pressure and is overweight, they seem to discount it as long as the patient says they will lose weight, as if the assumption is the BP is high because they are fat. Probably 90% or more of the time this is true (I mean, that's what I expected was the cause, too) and they don't go to a prescription unless the patient is unwilling or unable to lose weight for whatever reason. Until I lost the weight and proved that wasn't the cause of the high BP, drugs were never mentioned.

Not good or bad, just interesting.

I didn't want to take the drugs at first. Part of it was just not wanting to have to rely on them for the rest of my life so I don't die for something completely out of my control (unlike the weight, which I can control), but there were other reasons too. I was a bit down, because it was depressing to me that the main impetus for my starting the losing weight ultimately wasn't related to the weight at all. It seems silly, but there was a moment when I thought it was a waste. Just a short one and Wifey helped set me straight, but it was there.

Another point was the discussion of side effects. The doctor told me a possible side effect of the drug was a dry cough, the kind that never goes away, and could just get worse and worse. He said if I couldn't sleep to stop taking the drug. Um, pretty sure I'd give it up well before then. Then the pharmacist didn't help either. She used words like "probably" with regards to the likelihood of the development of this cough, saying if I got one any time in the next 30 years this would be the cause, implying it could happen even if I stopped taking the drug.

Well that's fun.

In the end I have no side effects - so far - and it's working. It's annoying to have to take this pill every day at roughly the same time. I now have more sympathy for those who have to remember birth control pills.

A Little This and That

Here's another smorgasbord of learnings and observations from the past three months on the topic of health and weight loss.

  • If you are going to eat crap - i.e., empty calories like sweets or alcohol - the earlier in the day the better. Beer for breakfast may not fit the meal, but my personal experience is there is more of a negative impact if those kinds of things are consumed later. Maybe it's because they can't be worked off before sleep? Not sure.
  • Yoga is awesome. Just last week Wifey and I started doing yoga workouts from Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper with these DVDs we have. Both of us had the best weight loss week we've had in a long time, which is a rarity after three months of a program. (Note, these are workout yoga DVDs, meant for weight loss and sweating, not finding inner peace.) One theory Wifey has about this is because the workouts include stretching phases, something we didn't do before. We both found that when we were sore - muscles full of lactic acid - we didn't lose. With the yoga stretching is included so despite an intense workout the soreness is minimal.
  • Eat your last food three hours or more before bed. We are bad about this, but the results are obvious when we hit the mark.
  • It's not necessary to remove items from your diet. Well, anything processed should go as much as possible, but I still have a beer once a week, still eat cupcakes every so often, still eat pork, go out to restaurants, visit bakeries...I didn't take anything out. The key is to be aware of what the impact every item is to your daily calories and adhere to that goal. Theoretically you can lose weight on a diet of beer and chocolate chip cookies if you limit the intake to something like 1800 calories a day or less. You'll feel like crap and you may die, but you would lose weight. Hmm...maybe I can write a book extolling the virtues of that diet. It would be entertaining and just as helpful as many of the others.
  • A lot of people have asked me what I have done to lose weight. That's how it works. When someone finds success at something, others want tips. I tell them, I have no secrets. All I did was choose a calorie goal, track my food intake with MyFitnessPal on my phone, try and get a little more sleep, and work out 4-6 days a week for at least 45 minutes. It's not rocket science, but it is work. You know what? Most people don't want to hear that. They want to hear about the magic, that I eliminated a certain food or I found a magic workout. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. My way was not sexy (well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it), but it is effective. I have had more than one person just shake their head when I tell them that's all I did...and then they comment that's a lot of work. It's not work; it's a matter of priorities. Mine changed.
  • I admit, I want to help. I want to tell people what they are doing wrong and how they can be better. (Isn't that what happens when you lose weight? How many Biggest Loser contestants have we seen turn into trainers?) I won't become a trainer, but I can offer thoughts and suggestions, whether that be to family or friends (or, I suppose, here it's practically to strangers). I'm cautious though, because I don't want to be a jerk about it. I've read and been told that unless people want to make the change, to make the commitment, then it's really none of my business. That's 100% true. Ask me for suggestions or a specific question and I'll offer up some thoughts, but I'll do my damnedest not to offer it unsolicited. I don't need to be that guy.
  • In my mid-thirties I now feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. I have ribs! And veins! This is a good thing, but also mildly depressing. Maybe if I had this focus and work ethic on the subject 20 years ago I'd be a millionaire professional athlete. Nah, probably not - my depth perception sucks.
  • That saying of "Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch, and a pauper for dinner"? It's true. Follow that guideline and you'll go far. Also follow the one about everything in moderation, but disregard the addendum of "including moderation." Don't moderate that.
  • As I get closer and closer to my goal I've spent some time thinking about how the switch from weight loss to weight maintenance will look. It's daunting, because I think I need to still track my calories in the same way. My intake may go up a tiny bit, the exercise down a bit, but I don't think it's a good idea to stop tracking the food. I can't look at food and know how much it weighs and the caloric value yet, especially at a restaurant.
  • I don't believe in a "cheat day" or "cheat meal." All that does is set you up for failure. If you instead practice moderation and aren't denying your taste buds things it may really want (hey, it IS possible to eat just one Oreo...) the cheat meals are unnecessary. I truly believe this concept, combined with diets that are extremely restrictive, are the main reason people lose weight and than gain it right back. These make maintenance almost impossible.
  • Sauces and dressings will ruin you - be careful about the calories (and sodium!) in them, even in homemade ones.
  • Cooking veggies brings out a lot of flavor. We've done a ton of roasting, adding just a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper to things like zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus...really anything. Making stir fry with veggies, a protein and a little sauce over rice can be very, very low calorie and filling (think meals of 250 calories or less!).
  • You don't have to start with a badass workout. Take a walk. Walking for half an hour or something when you are sticking to a calorie goal WILL lead to weight loss. If you own a dog this should be easy - Misaki says dogs need the same walking! (On leash, please, always on leash...) Fresh air and sunshine help.
  • Buy scales. Weigh yourself daily and record it. Weigh your food as it goes on your plate. You will not lose weight every day. There will be days you gain. Overall, though, you will see the downward trend on a graph. Trust the process, even when you don't.
  • Set small goals. Five pounds, ten pounds. Set rewards for reaching those goals, but don't make them food. (Or do, but it still has to fit in your calories...)
  • Don't drink your calories - it's a waste and you'll end up hungry, so you will eat more. If you do drink calories, make sure they have some kind of value, like milk or 100% juice. Still, minimize it.
  • Alcohol doesn't have much redeeming value, research into the benefits of red wine aside, when you are losing weight. If you want a beer, fine, just remember the number of calories is directly tied to the alcohol percentage. Otherwise it's just flavored water. Most of the beer I like is 8% or greater - Mother of All Storms is 12%, I think, and Bourbon County Stout is almost 14% - but that's a crapload of calories. Try for ones in the 4-5% range if you want one. (Suggestions: Session (by Full Sail) black, Bitter American by 21st Amendment....there are tons of others but I usually make the choice to allocate calories to the higher % beers. Another option is to drink half a bottle and save the rest for the next day.)
  • Snacks are a good thing. Fourth meal, as Taco Bell calls it, is a positive - as long as it's not at Taco Bell. As with any of the other things, plan for it. Know an ounce of peanuts is 170 calories and plan the rest of the day accordingly. 
  • Change up the workout routine every so often. We started with just cardio, then we went to a circuit training routine with weights for a month, and now are in the middle of a yoga phase. Keeping it fresh not only keeps you interested and excited, but it challenges the muscles in different ways and helps work the total body.
  • Make sure you've got at least one person on your side for this journey whether it be a friend, family member, or even a stranger to help you and encourage you along the way (especially on the days you don't feel like working out or you want to give up). It seems like most people (whether it's on purpose or not) discourage your efforts. What do I mean by that? Well, when you tell them you aren't done yet, they say things like, "Oh, you don't need to lose anymore." The reality may be they are being nice or they truly believe it, but only you can decide when you are done. If you have that person right by your side each step of the way who believes in your goals as much as you do, you won't get distracted. (Love you, honey!)
Comments? I'd love to hear them!

(Also, this is what happens when I don't write for six weeks - 2800 words! Even the book took a back seat during this journey until just the other day when I got back into the editing. Fourth draft will be finished...soon.)


What I've Learned Losing Weight - So Far

The losing weight thing is going pretty well. So far I'm down 23 pounds and weigh less than Wifey has ever known me. Haven't been this little since my senior year in college, which was...um...crap, 13 years ago? When did THAT happen?!

I have about 20 pounds or so left to go, which if I reach that point I'll weigh what I did when I graduated from high school - 165 pounds. According to the brilliant measurement of BMI that's where I need to be to not be considered "overweight." Then again, I feel any measurement which does not take into account muscle mass is a bunch of crap, but that's a personal opinion.

Over the course of the past couple months I've learned some things about myself and my body. Some of these things are not flattering and really piss me off. You've been warned.

Losing weight is expensive. I'm not talking about spending the money for better food or anything like that; I'm talking about the results. This is a crappy thing to complain about (and really, it's not a complaint), but I have to go shopping now. My pants are falling off me and my belts are too loose to do anything about it. My button down shirts look like they belong to my big brother who plays offensive line. Even my T-shirts are baggy. I've been wearing XL tees since midway through high school, first for style and then because that felt the most comfortable, but now it's back to Ls for me. Like I said, it's been 13 years since I weighed this amount, so I don't exactly have some clothes to go back to, ones that used to fit.

Plus, right now I'm at an odd, in-between size. All of my clothes are clearly too big, but I'm not close enough to my goal to justify a new wardrobe. I have to decide how much I really should spend for clothes that, if all goes well, will become too big in a couple months.

I see a trip to the Woodburn Factory Stores in my future. Nike, Under Armour, The North Face, Calvin Klein...I need some of everything. And a belt.

And not just clothes. You know what else happens when you get skinnier? Your fingers get thinner. That wedding ring you got seven years ago when you were at 205? Well, it doesn't fit on your hand the same way at 184. I've caught myself almost losing the ring in the sink a couple of times already now, plus a few other times had it almost fall off. I guess I'll have to get it re-sized, which will probably cost me money.

Speaking of designer labels... I used to be adamant brands like Calvin Klein simply didn't make clothes that fit my body style - specifically my legs. They were, I would argue, too thick, muscular. Simply put I was fooling myself with a pile of bullshit. It's amazing how losing a few pounds suddenly gives you more clothing options.

Eat soup! Soup really is the perfect meal. It almost always has vegetables in it and if it's broth-based the calories are likely to be low. But, stay away from the crap in the cans. That's full of sodium, plus it usually tastes like, well, crap. Both of the grocery stores we frequent, New Seasons and Whole Foods, have a pretty good selection of fresh soups that don't have preservatives. Add a slice of toast or some crackers and it's a complete meal. The creamy soups, like a clam chowder, are higher in fats and calories, but still - relatively speaking - not bad for you. This has been my lunch for the past month during the week and the variety of soups keeps it from getting boring. I do wish there was a great soup restaurant in Portland where I could grab quarts to go.

I'm cold. I have no idea if this is directly related to having less padding on my body or what, but I've been freezing the past month, ever since I dropped under 200. I'm cold at work, cold in the car, and cold at home. Nothing with the temperature in those places has changed nor have I changed what I'm wearing. The only thing I can point to is there being less of me. I used to think it was odd people were cold when I thought it was still plenty warm, but now I get it. I wasn't hot - I was fat.

Use a food scale. Buy one. Use it. Measure servings. Those numbers on the side of the package? They mean something.

Keep the food journal. I can't say enough about how using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone has helped me on this journey. I resisted it for so long because of the work involved in tracking everything, but the app made it easy, especially since my phone is always on me anyway. And holy shit is it eye-opening. It becames apparent very quickly where you have been going wrong when you see exactly what you get for 400 calories. Or how much a simple cheeseburger can cost you. When you are targeting to net about 1,500 calories on the day it's simply not worth spending 800-1000 on the burger.

Sidenote: We have this Tanita scale that tells all sorts of fun little tidbits about your body that it can apparently measure simply by you standing on it (I have no idea how this voodoo works). One of the things it tells you is an estimate of how many calories you must consume on a daily basis to maintain your weight. It routinely would give me a number north of 3,500 and I would routinely think, "No way I eat that much food." Well, guess what? I kept gaining weight, so apparently I was fooling myself. Again. Maybe, just maybe, if a scale is telling you that you need to eat 3,500 calories to maintain your weight, and you know you are overweight, and then you keep gaining...maybe you're doing something wrong. Just saying.

And no, I won't lie - I still eat it. Occasionally. I still have a beer - once a week. I still eat chocolate - a couple times a week. I've eaten cheesecake and some other things that aren't "diet" food. But you know what? I planned for it and worked out the rest of my calories for the day in advance. I'm figuring out how to have treats and still stay on target. If I can't do that, then this will never work.

It's really all about the excuses. This sounds cheesy, but it's just like this year's season of the Biggest Loser: No Excuses. We've watched every season and many of the things they show or talk about on there we've learned along with the contestants plus gone and done our own research. But still, I was way too heavy. All those excuses I've had before...it's all bullshit. There is literally no excuse for not doing this. It's not rocket science, it's not difficult, it's not a quick fix - it's just get over yourself and do what you need to do.

At the same time you can't do it if you don't want to do it. You can't help someone, even yourself, that doesn't want to be helped. It has to become a priority, otherwise it won't happen. And to make it a priority, maybe you have to give up something else.

I'm rambling now, so perhaps it's time to end this...for now. I'm sure there is more learning in my future.


Country Breakfast Benefit for p:ear

This morning Wifey and I went to the World Forestry Center in southwest Portland for a benefit for p:ear, an organization focusing on mentoring transitional and homeless youth (basically they teach job skills to those who need the education and turn them into contributing members of society while helping them stand on their own two feet).

That's a great cause, but the real honest reason we bought tickets was for the food. Sponsored by Portland Monthly magazine, the Country Breakfast brought together four top chefs to produce dishes in that theme. (There were also five bartenders doing a bloody mary challenge which we did not buy tickets for because neither of us can stand them.)

There was also a country band, plenty of picnic tables and tables to stand at, sponsorship from Google Places, coffee from Three Sisters Coffee (check them out in Sisters, OR - good stuff), and yogurt from Sunshine Dairy.

For those wondering, yes, this is an odd way to spend a Sunday morning considering my previous post, but in my defense the tickets were bought before the epiphany. If I hadn't already bought them we probably wouldn't have gone, because for damn sure this was not healthy and not on my diet. I consumed way too many calories, but if we take Misaki for a long walk this afternoon maybe I will be allowed to eat dinner. Maybe.

Our first stop was to check out Chef Chris Carriker of The Gilt Club, a restaurant we haven't been to yet.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Check out the spread:

Here's the catch: you only get to choose one of those four things. Lame. I chose the cherry strudel (stuffed with cherries as well as cherry sauce on top) with a small scoop of creamy foie gras on top.

The pastry was very well done and the cherry sauce was excellent. Wifey thought it was a tad sweet because she prefers savory flavors for breakfast, but I thought it worked. But the foie? It literally tasted like nothing but butter and didn't fit the rest of the dish. It was just there to be foie, not to add anything.

Wifey chose morcilla sausage benedict.

Did you know that's a Latin American version of blood sausage? We had no idea until we Googled it later and neither of us had ever had blood sausage. Guess what? It was damn tasty (tastes nothing like blood). The egg was the consistency of jelly and unfortunately none of the rest of the dish stood up to the sausage.

Both plates were good eating, but it almost seemed like there was too much going on and perhaps too many dishes. Or maybe we watch way too much Top Chef...

Next up was Chef Jenn Louis of Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern.

Here was the biscuit and gravy.

Louis' biscuit and gravy is fantastic, but it looks a little sad on the plate, doesn't it? We loved the flavors, but there just wasn't anything special here. Perhaps we think that because we've eaten twice at Sunshine Tavern (and will recommend it to anyone who asks). Or, maybe we watch too much Top Chef.

Next up was Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana and Oven & Shaker (two of our favorites, long-time blog readers will recognize).

This dish had a ton of potential and looked very pretty.

Under the polenta is the egg and a layer of parmagiano, but surprisingly the overall dish was just a tad bland, as if the flavors fought rather than complementing each other. Neither of us would order this dish were it on the menu though. (It's worth noting neither Nostrana or O&S have a breakfast or brunch menu.)

Last up was Chef Gregory Gourdet of Departure. Gourdet was recently named Portland's hottest chef (not in a rising star kind of way, though he is, but actually hot). I think the fact that exists is kind of odd and even odder is the fact I know about it. Whatever. (By the way, the pic in that link is on the patio of Departure, which has one of the best happy hour views in the city.)

That sounds pretty tasty, doesn't it?

It was - very. The biscuit was excellent, the chicken fried up just right while not being greasy, and the kimchee mayo and slaw were excellent. Loved this. The smoothie was pretty tasty as well and matched it nicely. It is apparently time for us to go to Departure for dinner.

At the end of the meal we were both pretty full (okay, I was stuffed). And yes, my completely ballpark estimate on calories is "a shitload," but it was a good time. Our vote that is completely meaningless for the best dish goes to Gourdet.

What did we learn?

1 - We need to go to Departure.

2 - p:ear is a good program.

3 - We watch too much Top Chef. (shrug)


Time to Quit Screwing Around

There are times when you know something to be true, but heaviness of that truth doesn't really make an impact until someone points it out to you in plain language. Then you stop and think about it and wonder how the hell you've let it get to this point.

For me, I knew I was overweight, but it wasn't a priority to deal with it. Later, always later. Two jobs, working on a book, and all that goes with that, it just didn't seem like the most important thing. Just recently a few different things happened that changed my mind.

I suppose I first have to give some credit to my day job. This year as part of our health insurance we were given an incentive of $480 savings on our 2013 insurance contributions if we took a Personal Health Survey and took a biometric screening test (cholesterol, triglycerides, all that). I did the survey, which was kind of silly because you get the incentive just for taking it, regardless of the results and with no need to create some kind of plan that is tracked based on those results; basically it's free money. 

Then I went in for the blood draw for the biometric test. This just happened to be the day after I clocked 207.4 on the scale, which for someone a dash over 5-8 is, well, too much. Again, I knew this, but it didn't seem to really register (I guess). I've been higher over the past 10 years or so, but been able to get it down to the 200 or so mark (still - too high) with focus on exercise and diet for relative short periods. Of course, at the screening facility they don't weigh you naked and I was actually recorded at 212. I guess it was a good thing I was wearing just running shoes and not my hiking boots, since this is the number they used to calculate my BMI (thanks for that inaccurate number, by the way). 

Next up came checking the blood pressure. Over the past few years it's been checked at various times and it's always been a tad high. It was one of those things that wasn't quite a worrying number, just at the point where I could tell myself, "Hey, this will come down when I lose a few pounds." And then it was forgotten.

When I came home that day, my wife asked me what my numbers were. Um, 159 over 89. "Holy shit!" she said. And that's when it hit me. I knew the numbers were bad, knew I should do something about it, but until I heard the intensity of her concern at the number, it wasn't real enough. Regardless of the outcome of the biometric testing I needed to start making changes. (The biometric results came back with slightly high normal bad cholesterol, very low good cholesterol, and slightly high triglycerides. Nothing horrible, but not great either.)

The first change I made had to do with sleep. I routinely would stay up until midnight during the week, sometimes later, despite the fact the alarm goes off at 5:30 am. We pledged to each other we'd be in bed by 11. On the morning side I pushed the alarm back to 6. I was leaving the house at 7am every day, but much of the time was spent reading during my breakfast. Since that usually amounted to 30-45 minutes, I decided the sleeping time was more important and so far have managed to cut half an hour out of the morning routine with the only fallout being reduced progress reading whatever novel I'm in the middle of. Simply because of that I've noticed I am more awake in the morning, which means I need less coffee to get going. 

Next I decided to reduce my number of commitments. I have a day job that pays all the bills, but I was also the editor of a sports news website. Being a news editor, no matter the assigned hours, is an always-on type of job simply because of what it is. News does not sleep, so articles continuously have to be reviewed, edited and placed in the correct location on the site. I decided the extra check wasn't worth the stress on my day, so I gave up the title and went back to being just a writer. Giving up that responsibility went a long ways towards lessening my workload in the evenings and feeds into my ability to get to bed earlier.

The last major thing I did was start tracking my calories. At the endorsement of local chef Ken Gordon (of Kenny and Zuke's fame) I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app from iTunes to track everything I put in my mouth on my iPhone (there is a corresponding website which I have never used, but makes it available not just to iPhone owners). Every dietitian will tell you a major component of changing your eating patterns is keeping a food journal and this app, with me everywhere, makes it easy. Another byproduct? At least for me, the simple act of keeping the journal changes what I eat because I want to be eating healthier if I'm tracking it. I decided I wanted a goal of eating 1800 calories in a day, getting that down to 1400 or so after workouts, and have been tracking my food for two weeks. I'm eating healthier, feeling better, and really feel like these changes are ones I can live with. Heck, I can even have a beer if I like, as long as I work it into the day's calories. (For those of you who care, here is a nice guide to calc the number of calories in a 12 ounce beer - it's based on the alcohol percentage. Hat tip to @obeyshiba for the link.)

I only made a slight change to my exercise schedule, adding in more walks to one that included the treadmill. Since Misaki is on a restricted diet herself to cut off a couple pounds this works nicely - we both get the extra burn we need.

I'm working less eggs and more seafood into the diet to work on the cholesterol imbalances, more fruits and vegetables and less grains in general, more chicken breast and minimal pork and red meat, and trying to manage my dairy intake a little closer. The hardest part of this is the less eggs and milk. I've loved dairy my entire life, but now I have to be more careful about how I consume it to balance the fats and calories. And eggs? Well, instead of two eggs for my daily breakfast I'm now down to just one a couple times a week. We're adding new things to our diets too, like quinoa (actually pretty tasty) and, just recently, cauliflower.

Another very difficult thing for me is recognizing when to eat what. The idea of having your big meal for breakfast, average meal at lunch, and a small meal at dinner - with a couple snacks mixed in - is a total mind shift. We've taken to having soup for dinner, which we get fresh at New Seasons or Whole Foods, because it's low in calories and usually very good for you (the fresh soup don't have the sodium issues the canned ones do - and taste a ton better). I'm still trying to get my head around having what I think of traditional dinner food for breakfast, such as a rice/chicken/vegetable combination instead of eggs, toast and cereal. The concept just feels wrong, but the results are so damn right.

So far I'm down nine pounds in two weeks, which is a phenomenal (and unexpected) start. I'm not going to expect this pace to continue - that would be crazy - but I have a few things I can do when I do start to level off. Lifting weights is one, longer and more frequent walks is another. Or more time on the elliptical. And every day I see how my foods add up in the calorie counting app and I find something I could do better (holy shit peanut butter makes an impact!).

This time I believe the changes will stick. I really don't have any other choice.


Loved a Vegetarian Dinner at Natural Selection

In the past couple weeks Wifey and I have made a concerted effort to eat healthier, which, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that healthy isn't necessarily a requirement for us when we eat out. But this is Portland, a mecca for not only just about any kind of food you may want but also vegetarian and vegan options coming out of your ears.

Last year Wifey showed me the menu at Natural Selection, a small restaurant on Alberta in northeast Portland. Chef Aaron Woo (read about him on Oregonlive here and here) puts together a weekly menu focusing on ingredients currently in season and local that is 100% vegetarian and mostly vegan and gluten-free. At the time I thought it sounded good, but really? Vegetarian? As in no meat? How good could it be, right?

Then we made our decision to eat better (more on that later) and the restaurant came up again. Oh what the hell, we decided, it definitely sounded good...we'll give it a try. So we made a reservation (highly recommended if not required) and spent Leap Day stuffing ourselves with vegetables.

Natural Selection is a small place, seating around 30-40 (I'm horrible at estimating), with an open kitchen. You step inside and the atmosphere is dark but inviting, lots of warm colors and friendly people. The kitchen, manned by Chef Woo and three others plus one person working the front desk/mini bar, is on the left and the tables the right, extending all way to the back of the space. Our table was almost to the very back, facing the impressive wine rack. (It may not show up in the pic, but if you click on it and blow it up you may be able to see the 40oz of Olde English 800 in the top right - there has to be a story there because it absolutely doesn't fit anything else in the restaurant.)

The menu is comprised of eight dishes (the one we tried is below), divided into two possible four-course meals, one being completely vegan. The prices vary, but there are two starters, two salads, two entrees, and two desserts. You can mix and match or, if you want to try more things, you can order one of each for $35 (this is about a $11 savings from ordering all four a la carte, the price of the first course). Optional wine pairings/flights are available as well as several other wines and a limited amount of mixed drinks.

We were hungry and everything looked good...so screw it - we ordered two four-course meals. That means literally one of everything on the menu. Yes, each of these dishes was pretty healthy on their own, but the sheer amount of food we ate makes it not necessarily a healthy meal. Shrug. (Click on the pic below to read the menu.)

We started off with a non-alcoholic mixed drink - a cherry fizz with ginger ale, cherry juice and a dash of vanilla. Quite tasty. Then we were presented with an amuse bouche of pita topped with a chickpea and chickpea puree (or, hummus). This picture didn't turn out, but it was a tasty beginning to the evening.

The first dish was black truffle and tagliatelle pasta with brussels sprouts, baby turnips and crispy shallots.

I had never had anything with shaved truffles before - amazing. This "never had ___ before - amazing" became a theme of the evening. This was probably the least healthy dish of the night because the sauce was a little on the creamy side - nope, not vegan - but the truffles added so much depth.

The other half of the first course was a spring leek and white bean soup with parsnip, thyme, red onion and lemon. We aren't entirely sure what the item in the middle was, but it was nice and crunchy and contained whole chickpeas. Also damn good.

The second course began with this treviso and kohlrabi salad with medjool dates, pistachio, Meyer lemon and green olives. Treviso was something new to us - I know Treviso as a city in Italy - and while the greens were bitter, the lemon balanced it nicely.

The other salad was a citrus and frisee with arugula, fennel, goat cheese and radish. Again, perfect balance between the sweet of the oranges and the bitter of the greens. And that cheese? Oh my. I could eat that all night long.

Next came the entrees. This is a black trumpet (new to me) and sunchoke hash with butternut squash, rapini and roasted peppers. The squash is wrapped up inside the cabbage leaf.

The other entree featured pine nut crusted cauliflower with nettle pistou, quinoa, carrots and saffron oil. I am on record as not being a fan of cauliflower, but this was really, really good. And the quinoa? This was another new food to us we both enjoyed. Might have to pick some up. Everything in this dish just worked. I will say, though, the knives we were given with our meal did a poor job of cutting either the cabbage leaf or the cauliflower. And yes, that's my worst criticism of the night.

After the entrees we were served a light palate cleanser, a pomegranate and lime granita. Pretty, isn't it? And tart. Wow that was tart. Consider my palate cleansed.

It's worth mentioning that you will not get a fast meal, but that's by design. We were there for two hours from start to finish and while that seems like a long time, the pace of the dishes coming out seemed just about right. There was a little downtime between each dish, but we could watch everyone at work in the kitchen, something we find interesting. In other words, plan to relax and enjoy your meal, especially if go the four-course route.

Then it was time for dessert. At this point were both pretty full, but the desserts are on the small side, though that doesn't mean they are simple by any means. This orange and rhubarb cake with white chocolate mousse and vanilla sauce? Amazing. It also came with a slice of blood orange, some toasted walnuts, and a hollow chocolate stick. So good.

The other dessert was cinnamon and fennel beignets with Meyer lemon curd, creme fraiche and marmalade (tart, not sure what the fruit was). This dish wasn't marked on the menu as vegetarian. The beignets were so light and fluffy and everything together was simply amazing. Have I said that enough yet?

We're converts. Well, not to being vegetarians - no chance of that - but to the fact vegetarian food can not only be tasty but also every bit as intricate and flavorful as any other kind of meal. Heck, maybe even more so. Wifey and I agreed we'd go back to Natural Selection in an instant, though four courses probably isn't necessary - that was a lot of food. The service was friendly and good, we never felt forgotten (this happens to us a ridiculous amount of times, as if we are ninjas and they can't see us or something), and the food was just plain excellent.

So go visit Chef Woo's restaurant of awesomeness and see what we mean. Us? We'll probably go back later in the spring when berries start to come into season to see what he'll do with those.