Saturday, March 29, 2014

"The plural of anecdote is not data"

Tonight's dinner: lamb tandoori meatballs, brown rice, brussel sprouts with lemon & garlic and a dollop of tomato sauce a la Marcella Hazan

Hey, I'm still here! Things might be perking up here again, now that my MOOC is finally ending (provided I don't tank the final test). It was an EdX course from McGill University on Food Chemistry, as done by their Office of Science and Society.

I took this course for a few reasons. First and foremost, I'm a firm believer in continuing education. It's important to be a lifelong learner, be it a new language or creative technique, or taking on an entirely new topic. Not surprising coming from a librarian, I suppose. After all, it was one of Mevil Dewey's big passions, as well.

And, seeing as I have been so immersed with food and health and weight, I thought this course would be interesting. I also thought it would be a little less daunting and time consuming than the MIT Solid State Chemistry course I MOOC'd last year. (Averaging 3 hours a night on differential equations and molecular modeling was invigorating, but a little too much of a time suck).

So, this course seemed like a just right slice of healthy dessert. I think it also helped that the professors giving the course were of the same mind set and belief as mine in regards to food and weight maintenance: you should look to the research, but it's not that all the answers have yet been found.

I really enjoyed how they would delve into results of various intervention studies, case control groups and meta-analyses to show how results can be skewed or varied depending on who is marketing the results.

And they had a healthy skepticism for most of the media-based nutrition gurus out there. The title of this blog post is a quote from one of the professors in regards to some of the "natural miracle weight loss miracles" we see.

And it was nice to see that studies they referenced were the sorts of things that I was uncovering in my own searches.

That's not to say that I didn't learn a lot. I actually learned quite a few things about epidemiology, agriculture and fertilizer, molecular reactions and the like. Learning about things you already know is sort of like re-reading a good book. Adding new things into the mix is like finding out there's more volumes in to the series.

What do I have to show for this course, aside from a nice certificate if I don't tank next week's final? 

A renewed respect for my own journey and my continued search for research. I admit that it wasn't just the stress, weather and workload that was affecting my maintenance. It's the amount of crap you have to mine though when you connect into the health movement. But this MOOC helped me see that you CAN find the actual facts and data underneath the anecdotes. 

The Streamlined part of my persona has always been one of constant work. The Libarian part doesn't really get to rest on this topic either. 

The Ska part never worries.


Dewey, Melvil. "Adult Education" from Journal of Social Science: Containing the Transactions of the American Association, 266-268: 42, American Social Science Association, Leypoldt & Holt, 1904, pp. 152-156.

Johansson, Kari, Martin Neovius, and Erik Hemmingsson. “Effects of Anti-Obesity Drugs, Diet, and Exercise on Weight-Loss Maintenance after a Very-Low-Calorie Diet or Low-Calorie Diet: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99, no. 1 (January 1, 2014): 14–23. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.070052.

Pittler, Max H., and Edzard Ernst. “Dietary Supplements for Body-Weight Reduction: A Systematic Review.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79, no. 4 (April 1, 2004): 529–36.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When bad nuts happen to good people

Time is passing by and I refuse to be another blog death statistic. But other obligations happen. It's one thing to miss most of Purim, but I also missed National Registered Dietitian Day! Apologies to my "grass is greener" fellow service profession! Happy Day to you all, you men and women who make a difference in our health and wellness.

The Dietitian (center) with fellow staff members from the Utah State Insane Asylum, 1914 from the Utah Valley University Archives via the Digital Public Library of America.

Hey look, separated at birth!

"Jacob Edwards Librarian with cat in Southbridge Massachusetts" from the Jacob Edwards Library via DPLA
Maybe during the upcoming National Library Week, we'll invite some RDs over for petticoat bleaching and cat tricks.

I have still been reading and saving research for suitable blog topics, even when more "light" news makes its way into my feeds. Hey, look, my home borough is now considered the most obese in NYC! (At least according to it's borough president). I will say that Staten Island is probably the least walkable part of NYC, in relations to commuting and day-to-day errands. That's the sacrifice you make for having trees and wetlands (and the former city landfill).

But let's look at the diet again. I was always a big nut fan, so incorporating more of those into my healthier food intake was not so big of a stretch. However, I did try to make an effort to stick to the plainest nut selections I could find. Unsalted or lightly salted and no added spicy-sweet-coated-extra stuff. Part of this was to acclimate my taste to more "natural" flavors. And sure enough, it sort of worked. I only buy peanut butter that has one ingredient: peanuts. And all other "normal" peanut butter now tastes like frosting to me. (Which can be dangerous, because we all know about my strange frosting binge addiction).

But I also try to shy away from the other flavored nut mixes, because, be they salty or sweet, they tend to make me crave more. And more. And even more. But plain nuts, while tasty, don't send me into a binge tailspin. Sometimes there might be bored mindless eating, but that's easier to control.

So I was interested in this recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on the effects on flavorings in regards to peanut consumption. The results showed that there wasn't much health difference between plain unsalted peanut ingestion compared to salted, spicy or honey-roasted flavors. In fact, the showed what one might imagine when you eat some peanuts on a daily basis: increase of "good cholesterol", decent maintenance of weight and not even a marked increase in glucose levels with the honey-roasted. The conclusion? Hey, peanuts aren't so bad no matter what. 

Of course the big difference here between the casual peanut muncher and the control groups is that the latter were given a pre-packaged 42g serving of nuts which came to about 240-255 calories, depending on type of peanut. So they are eating what most peanut companies show as the recommended serving size of peanuts (which is about 1 oz.). However, if we look at the Planters website, their dry roasted nuts come in 6 oz. bags, 12 oz. cans and 16 oz. jars.

That bag is almost 1,000 calories. The jar is over 2,500 calories. I know if a bag of salted or honey roasted peanuts comes my way, I'm going to eat that entire "wee" 6 oz. bag. And if there's a jar in the house, well... there's a lot of trips back to it. 

Because even their regularly salted peanuts have extra sugar and spices on them. And that's what I start craving.The tailspin begins!

So, this study, while possibly helping the peanut industry show that it doesn't hurt to add on the stuff to the nuts, doesn't hold water in real life situations. 

Yes, nuts are healthy and a better daily snack than say, cupcakes or deep fried mac 'n' cheese balls. But too much of anything is too much. And most of us don't control our snacking urges so well. So, if there's a jar of peanuts, I'd rather it was unsalted and easier to leave behind. 

So in belated honor of that Dietitian in the Insane Asylum (which sounds like a great name for band), I raise my proportionally correct portion of completely additive-free nuts to you. Hold the honey.


Jones, J. B., Provost, M., Keaver, L., Breen, C., Ludy, M.-J., & Mattes, R. D. (2014). A randomized trial on the effects of flavorings on the health benefits of daily peanut consumption. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(3), 490–496. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.069401
The Unhealthiest Borough: 75% of Staten Islanders Overweight, BP Says - St. George - New York. (n.d.). DNAinfo New York. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Foodie Pen Pals Update and where is the Librarian stuff?

It's been a bit of a busy time. Work obligations, Rangers games, doing a Food Chemistry MOOC via McGill University, (not as time consuming as the Solid State Chemistry MOOC from MIT I did last year, but still a commitment) and some presentation prep, so I've been a bit lax on the blog front. I have been active on Twitter regarding librarianship, and I'm sure a lot of recent visitors might be a little confused.

The blog is about me, my body, food and research about those topics. And more posts are coming.

But first, more Foodie Pen Pal package finally arrived! Three weeks in the limbo of the US Postal Service, then sitting in my local PO Station while the notice card once again "accidentally" didn't get left.

But it arrived at last! And it was AWESOME!

And that's just the outside!
Natalia put a lot of work into the outside and the inside of the package:

And we haven't even got to the good stuff!

So what was in these hand crafted label packs?

Natalia sent me local (from California) items but also treated me to some of her favorite Puerto Rican favorites, including a package of coffee from her own private stash! Thanks, Natalia's mom!

There was also garlic salsa and hot sauce from Hot Licks, a few Rise Bars, a Chuao Maple Bacon Bar, and....a salted dulce de leche white chocolate bar from Eclipse Chocolates. All delicious. The hot sauce made it into dinner. The dulce de leche didn't stay closed much longer. And that coffee will be downed first thing at sunrise!

So, Thank you, Natalia for sending stuff that lasted all this time, but also answered my many desires.

A happy end to a busy time.

Next research-laden weight post soon...

Friday, February 28, 2014

February Foodie Pen Pals Reveal (sort of)

Welp, we have an almost winner....

The Lean Green Bean

This week, I was matched up with Natalia, a nanny in Southern California. She said she liked popcorn, NY Pretzels and sour candy from Dylan's Candy Bar. We exchanged addresses and then...

Well, unlike my previous non-packages during FPP exchange, this time the package WAS sent. Natalia gave me the tracking number. But it turns out the US Postal Service seems to have kept it in limbo once it left the West Coast:

Natalia will be sending something as a replacement, so an update will happen.

In the meantime, here's what I sent Natalia:

Soy wrappers, mango salsa, Matcha flavored Pocky, tamarind candy and a bag bag of sour candy. But instead of Dylan's, I went to my one of my favorite neighborhood places, Sockerbit, the store for all your Swedish Candy needs. (It was a great excuse to stock up on my own go-to bitter, minty, salty licorice). And their sour candy is SOW-uh!

I'm glad you liked it, Natalia, and I look forward to receiving my package soon! *Shakes fist at USPO*

UPDATE:  The package arrived all these weeks later. Read about it here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Once a fat kid....

You try. You try so hard. You watch what you eat. You exercise. You say you can break through all the crap in your head to make the crap in your body get better....

...and then this study shows up. Turns out we're doomed from the start. DOOOOMED!! If we were fat in kindergarten, well, let's just give up trying.

Enjoy that crown, baby, because that's the only reward you'll be getting!

From the Sally L. Steinberg Collection of Doughnut Ephemera, Archives Center, National Museum of American History,  Smithsonian Institution via the Digital Public Library of America

Oh, come on, I'm kidding. First off, how can I possibly call myself a librarian and not be incredibly happy that someone actually put together a collection of doughnut ephemera

Next, this study doesn't mean that exercise and diet aren't important, but that it might be a tougher battle than we know. It does show:

"Overweight kindergartners had four times the risk of becoming obese by the age of 14 years as normal-weight kindergartners. The relative risks of obesity among overweight kindergartners, as compared with normal-weight kindergartners, were highest among children from the two highest socioeconomic groups. Thus, overweight children from the two highest socioeconomic groups had five times the risk of becoming obese as normal-weight children of similar socioeconomic status, whereas an overweight child from the lowest socioeconomic group had only 3.4 times the risk of obesity as a normal-weight child of similar socioeconomic status"

And this means that these kids were already overweight or obese by the time they began kindergarten, meaning they actually were overweight before 5 years of age. And more of them came from backgrounds where access to better food choices and amenities were available!

The discussion of the study takes additional factors into the equation beyond demographics and socioeconomic factors, such as birth weight and genetics. And yes, these definitions of obesity are based on BMI, never a perfect measure. But here's the rub and it comes from one sentence near the end of the results:

"By the time they enter kindergarten, 12.4% of American children are already obese, and 14.9% are overweight."

Yow. That's going to be one long road for these kids. I've been there. A lot of us have. I just don't remember there being so many of us around as a child. I imagined there would have been a lot of less fat bullying if more of us were supposedly obese.

But what are we doing about it? How are we making this easier for kids to be healthier? What if healthy food isn't around them? What if they can't or won't play sports? What if they're just feeding their feelings? What if it really is genetic?

Whatever it is, I don't think we can blame pre-K kids for their choices and actions that way. But it is important to make this better soon. 

Losing all this weight, even in the right mindset, was hard. Maintaining it is harder. And for all the good and healthy ways I feel now, I would have much rather not have had this extra issue hanging around my younger head.

But I also refuse to let this be an excuse to not make the effort. If this study means that my lifetime of weight issues is not over, well, I just got to keep at it. 

We can't let "fate" determine how we live, but we also need to understand that whatever we're doing now is not exactly helping our future generations.  I want kids to enjoy their doughnut royalty. I just don't want them to have to work that much harder to burn it off. 

I think I finally found my resolution for this year!


Cunningham, S. A., Kramer, M. R., & Narayan, K. M. V. (2014). Incidence of Childhood Obesity in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(5), 403–411. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1309753

Friday, January 31, 2014

January Foodie Pen Pals Reveal

And it's that time again! Time for ...

The Lean Green Bean

It's been a few months' hiatus, but thankfully, the return engagement of free food in the mail went yummily well.

This month, I was paired up with Andrea, a fellow academic administrator who lives in Pennsylvania. She knows the joys of endless committee meetings AND she like ska music! It's like looking in the mirror!

I sent her some sumac rub, local NYC chocolate bars (one with quinoa and the other with chardonnay), Polish candies (chocolate prunes!) and some other local treats.(And once again, I forgot to take a photo before it was boxed. Mea culpa!)

And what did Andrea send me? A localized extravaganza:

There's a nice blend from Nicholas Coffee, Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels from Valos Chocolates, tapenade and hot pepper tomato paste from Delallo and Ciciarelli Bros. Italian dressing.

Andrea said she uses the dressing as a marinade. I'm not usually a big dressing guy, but this one was very simple with no sugars or odd gum extracts. It made a great topping for arugula and mandarin segments. With enough left for future marinades.

The coffee made it to my office coffee maker and it was quite lovely. The tapenade makes for a nice toast topping at breakfast (yeah, I'm a savory morning guy) and the spicy paste is earmarked for an upcoming sauce.

And the caramels?

So thank you, Andrea for the great package! It's what Foodie Pen Pals should be all about!

If you're interested in joining the great food exchange, check out the site.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Catalog of Cooking, or Streamlined eating in the Library

A page from Teen Cuisine, illustrated by Peter Max.

Yes, that's a page from one of the hundreds of cookbooks in my personal collection (although I did not take this photo). I can't say I find a late 60's teen party cookbook too Streamlined inspiring but man, the overall design makes it a great addition to any dinner party, room or rap session.

Yes, I've mentioned before about collecting cookbooks, some for their historic entertainment and others for actual cooking. And I do scour the web for inspiration. But I would be remiss in both my Retro and Streamlined Ska Librarian physiques to not talk about some great resources for recipes and menu planning available from libraries. 

Some resources are a little more esoteric, such as New York Public Library's great menu collection, for which you can help add metadata. (Crowdsource Delmonicos!)

But there's also a new beta site that I'd like to share: The OCLC Worldcat Cookbook Finder

Worldcat is a website that links up to thousands of library catalogs all over the world. It's a nice way to find out if a book is available in your area or if you can get it through inter-library loan.

The Cookbook Finder can be  searched by the usual terms, but also by ingredient, method and (be still my heart) Dewey Decimal Number. 

[I find those librarians that poo-poo DDC in favor of some more "popular" classification systems to be just missing out.But that another post for another time.]

And let's be honest; much as I love owning cookbooks, price and space does not always allow that personal library to grow. Thankfully, cookbooks are a big part of library collections. What if I really wanted to try some new eating plan and perusing the web just wasn't doing it, as it was too disparate and not easily self-contained? This, my friends, is the way to go.

So, I'm going to recommend a few items that have inspired me in my Streamlined Ska Librarian lifestyle. And by "inspired" I mean I enjoyed these ideas for recipes and promptly saw how I could fit them to my own style, technique and need. These are all from my own collection, but are also available in libraries. The following links are to the Worldcat pages.

The Gefilte Variations by Jayne Cohen.

This has some really nice variations of traditional Jewish foods (and the author's a librarian!) but oy gevalt! These recipes take time and equipment! Certainly not something always easy in a small NYC kitchen. The ingredients are simple (for example, the amazing potato-onion kugel is just potatoes, onions, oil, eggs, rosemary and salt) but they often require several pots, multiple preps stages and a LOT of space! Still, these are easily tweakable to inspire your own variations, with or without gefilte. 

Het grote kookboek : een culinaire ontdekkingsreis door meer dan 800 recepten

I know we often make fun of British food, but having worked with the Dutch for so long, those Brits ain't got nothing on bad food reps! Still, in order to better appreciate "echte Nederlandse keuken" (and help me get a better grip on the Dutch language), this book has come in handy. And while not all the ingredients are the same across the pond, it's nice to know it's not all bitterballen and stoempf. In fact, some of it is downright healthy! (gestoomde zalm met asperges, anyone?)

Crumbles & Tatins by Aude de Galard and Leslie Gogois.

I picked this book up in a Paris bookshop some years back. This is a perfect example of French food that is not overly fancy or very difficult to make. In fact, the recipes are remarkably simple. And they run the gamut of taste from those of us who like boudin noir to the more healthy variations of vegetables. However, it does use butter because, well, it is France. But you can still tweak it to make it to your liking and needs. 

Floyd on Britain & Ireland by Keith Floyd. 

What was I saying about the Brits? Well, there's also Keith Floyd. Before all the new, hip cuisine of Great Britain, there was this fabulous rather inebriated fellow who would appear on television and who knew how to cook. Again, the ingredients may not always match up to US products, but you can easily Americanize your groats and potted shrimp. What I do like about it is that these are recipes to really "get your hands dirty" using all partsof plants and animals. 

So, go browse, borrow and cook!