The Wolf of St. Vincent Street

I don’t normally take pictures of my food, let alone post them on the internets. But when I was in Glasgow last Wednesday, our team went out for lunch at Bread Meats Bread on St. Vincent Street. (Apparently this part of St. Vincent Street now gets called “Meat Street” by the locals, because of the number of gourmet burger and steak joints.) The burger pictured below (with actual humans for scale) was called “The Wolf of St. Vincent St.”, and consists of a burger patty, bacon, a veritable coal bing of pulled pork in barbecue sauce, cheese, and ‘Nduja mayonnaise. I had the gluten-free bun (very dry, meh, as these things usually are), but if I had chosen the standard burger it would have included crispy (battered) onions as well. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a burger quite like it. I still felt full the next morning.

The Wolf of St. Vincent St at Bread Meats Bread

(Hat tip to Eric Molinsky’s Imaginary Worlds episode “Time Travelers of Renwick St.” for introducing the term “scalies” into my vocabulary, and to Teodor Javanaud Emdén for his site Skalgubbar.)

Soda Protocols

“Daddy’s magic thinking juice.” This is how I often describe the bottles and cans in my fridge, much to the confusion of friends and family.

“I didn’t know you even had kids,” they say, cautiously. “Nor that your shame over your escalating drinking problem is such that you feel a need to use an elaborate euphemism to conceal the scale of the problem from your loved ones.”

Well, neither thing is true. Often, alcohol consumption is linked to parenthood often in one’s frolicky teen years but I only have a nodding relationship to both concepts. No, I describe my onhand inventory of soda that way because over the course of a long writing day, a glass of something fizzy and tasty helps to grease the gears of productivity. When I’m in my last 20 days before a book deadline, my blood is about 20% phosphoric acid.

The Soda Protocols by Andy Ihnatko.

We went down the route of the diet soda long time ago, too. Full-sugar beverages taste excessively cloying to me most of the time. A couple of years ago I started to worry about the amount of artificial sweeteners I was drinking, and cut out carbonated sweetened beverages completely for a while, but the habit didn’t stick. Last summer I rediscovered Spezi, and went wild with fruit flavourings: slicing up half an orange or lemon (or both!), crushing them into the bottom of a cup, and filling it up with diet cola. This has the side benefit of making cheap off-brand diet cola taste wildly excellent.

My current preferred carbonated beverage is diet cola with a splash of orange juice, ideally the kind with lots of pulp. The pulp floats to the surface, and forms an orange-brown felted mat on the surface of the drink. To the uninitiated it looks like swamp water, but it’s fruity and refreshing with all same caffeinated goodness. In terms of protocols, I have two that I’m trying to stick to for my standard daily at-home routine:

  1. No caffeinated beverages after about 18:00 (ish). I find I get to sleep more easily without caffeine in the evening.
  2. Stick to 300ml mugs and cups. If I put the drink in a larger cup or mug, I drink it just as fast, and return to the kitchen just as often. That leads to increased bladder pressure and more bouncing around in my chair.

(Exceptions apply.)

When I’m in the office in Edinburgh, I drink my cola from cans or bottles. I drink more slowly from cans and bottles, because I tend to take a single sip and then put the container aside for a while. With a cup or a mug, I’m much more inclined to take several gulps at once, or drain it from half-way full. I don’t understand the psychology here. I suspect it’s because of the social pressure – when I’m surrounded by co-workers, I’m more inclined to show moderation.

Now with 10% less fat!

We haven’t been making a big thing of it, but since we got back from holiday in July, Abi and I have been on the “Flickr Diet”. (That’s where you look at all the pictures you’ve just uploaded and think, “Urgh, I really don’t like the way I look.”) And by amusing coincidence, today Abi and I both hit the point where we have lost 10% of our original body mass. I started at 80.1kg and am now down to 71.7kg; Abi started at 77.0kg, and is down to 69.3kg. Wow.

Our strategy has been two-pronged:

  1. Eat less
  2. Stay honest

The “eat less” bit has come from counting calories. No fancy points or diet meals; just getting into the habit of paying attention to the nutritional information for everything that we would be eating normally, and rigorous portion control. No snacks. No seconds. This was really difficult for the first week or so, but since then it has been easy.

We’ve been enforcing the honesty part by weighing ourselves daily, and keeping a chart on the fridge, where we can both keep an eye on how we’re doing. Daily weigh-ins are tough, because natural daily variations can easily kick you up 500g or so. But just like eating less, it’s all about the habits. The general trend is always downwards, and you have to trust that.

With this regime in place, I’ve even found that the occasional pizza emergency isn’t a disaster. Provided I don’t eat a massive dinner as well, a nice lunch every now and then doesn’t have a significant impact on my weekly progress. (They key is in the “every now and then”. I don’t think that “every other day” would cut it.)

This is pretty much the same technique that Abi and I used to lose a good deal of weight back in 1997 or so. It worked then, and it worked now. I tried the low-carb Atkins thing back in 2003, and although it was successful in the short term, the weight came back on again pretty quickly. Habits, habits, habits: a low-carb diet is not a sustainable habit for me, and so it fell by the wayside very quickly. Other people may be different, but I can’t live without my preciousss bread. Smaller portions are much more realistic.

So anyway, yay us. We’re not stopping here, though. I’m aiming to get below 70kg, and Abi wants to be under 67. The downside of all this slimming behaviour is that last weekend I ran out of trousers that fit me, and had to go shopping for new clothes. Not my favourite activity, but that’s a rant for another time.

Related links:

HOWTO: Keep the mould from your marmalade

(I owe Kenny Harris big for this one.)

I love marmalade, but I love it in phases: I’ll go for months without being the right mood for it, and then BAM I’ll have a late-evening craving for a slice of toast, dripping in butter and smothered in Chivers Olde English. Until last year, I’d go to the cupboard, grab the aged jar from behind the little-used condiments, only to have my desires thwarted by layers of semi-sentient fungus.

Fortunately, there is a very simple way of making your marmalade last longer: don’t let it come into contact with any oily substance, i.e. butter (or margarine). I have no idea why this works; I’m just delighted it does. Use a separate knife or spoon to extract your marmalade instead of the one you buttered your toast with, and your marmalade will stay mould-free for months.

I don’t know if this works the same for jam. Jam doesn’t last long enough in our household to provide an adequate experimental baseline.

26 Malts

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is currently running a very special series of 26 single-cask malt whiskies, each with a unique and creative label. The results are gorgeous, and very tempting…

Cheap Industrial Cooking Whisky
Whit Yoos Want?
Mouthful of midges

“Earlier this year, the Society’s Tasting Panel selected 26 malts for a groundbreaking project. Inspired by the malts, a tasting and an open design brief, 26 teams (each with a designer and writer) worked together to create 26 unique labels.

“The result? 26 different Society bottlings each with its own label design, presented in an elegantly slender 50cl bottle.

“An explosion of colour, wit and passion, each label is as diverse and evocative as the single cask malt inside the bottle. The 26 Malts project has inspired an extraodinary vibrant and varied range of poems, fibs, teasers, salutations, invitations, trompe-l’oeils, talking whiskies, responses inspired by tarot and alchemy, bananas and liquorice, rubber tyres and the sweetest of golden honeys.”

You can see the whole range at the 26 Malts web site.

Falling off the Atkins wagon

I weighed in at 74.5kg this morning, 2.5kg (about 5lb) down from my starting point last Monday. Instead of feeling delighted at losing so much weight in such a short time, I felt miserable. The last couple of days have been awful.

I have had no energy, no appetite, no joy. My concentration is shot to hell. Food that I would normally savour, like mature cheese, bacon, or roast beef, has tasted dry and dead in my mouth. The very thought of having to eat something has made me nauseous. Despite drinking litres of water, my mouth and tongue have felt dry and thick, to the point where I have been having trouble speaking.

On the positive side, I tried on my kilt again after weighing myself, and found that it fit comfortably again, albeit with the buckles at their loosest notches.

So today I was struggling with the question: what was really my goal with this quick diet? To fit into my kilt in time for the wedding on Saturday, or to lose as much weight as possible in time for the wedding? That is to say, should I carry on with the low-carb torture for another three or four days, or should I consider my mission accomplished?

The course of the day decided it for me. I couldn’t face having any breakfast at all, and at lunch all I managed to eat was a small packet of pecan nuts. By late afternoon I knew I couldn’t face another three days of this. It’s over.

Earlier today, Abi and I did a bit of calculating to see how much the various bits and pieces of my soul weigh:

Order of departure Item Mass
1st Joie de vivre 200 g
2nd Good humour 1,800 g
3rd Appetite 500 g

Dinner this evening was chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, and baked beans, my favourite food. My mood picked up even as I was cooking it, and actually sitting down and shoveling mashed potato into my mouth was…glorious. By the end of the meal I felt giddy from the carb rush.

If I ever talk about doing a low carb diet again, will someone please stop me? Yes, it’s effective, but it’s not worth it. Having been through Atkins once before, I knew it was going to sap my will to live. I had thought that foreknowledge and a fixed end date would make the diet easier to bear, but they didn’t.

Curiously, this time round I didn’t have the same monster bread cravings I had last year. I didn’t even mind the absence of chocolate. Instead, I found myself lusting after bananas, marmalade, muesli, and the simple pleasure of a glass of cold milk. Not that I wouldn’t have killed for a slice of toast…but I might have been gentle about it.