Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Blog

I've started a new blog on something completely different.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wow, Chinese Medicine Actually Works!

M and I discussed our mutual body aches and pains. A friend of hers referred her to an acupuncture specialist in SF J-Town. Given our mutual conditions, it seemed like a good time to go check it out.

Despite being of Chinese ethnicity, I had never gone to a Chinese medicine specialist, even when I was in Taiwan. In fact, I don't think any of my relatives have. Chinese medicine was one of those things that (even for Chinese people) seemed mystical -- great potential to help you, but also a great potential to hurt you. The emphasis was always on two things;

- Only use it for stuff that is just hanging on you, problems that linger for months if not years, that Western medicine can't handle.

- Only use a practitioner whom a good number of your friends and associates can vouch for.

Technically, the J-town practitioner fit the bill. I also added a sprained wrist the day before to my list of ailments, so I was more than ready to have someone provide some help for my aching joints.

It was, to say the least, very interesting. The Chinese Medicine Doctor had almost as many forms as a doctor at my HMO -- including all of the usual CYA forms.

After a general check of my pulse and my tongue, the practitioner asked the following;

- Your pulse shows stress & pain, is that the case? (I'm always stressed, and my joints are in much pain).
- Do you have chest congestion. (No.) OK, don't worry about.
- Your pulse shows that the stress is attacking your stomach & spleen, do you have problems there? (No.) Don't worry about it, then.

The Chinese Medicine Doctor then had me lie down on the bed, and inserted needles in my shoulder, elbows, wrist, and knees. I could feel the needles just break my skin, but they didn't hurt at all. The needles were connected to electrodes that sent a low voltage electric pulse into my muscles. Some areas (my chest and shoulders) got a bigger pulse of electricity. Others (my wrist) the electric pulse was barely noticeable.

On one level, it seems a little wacky, needles and electricity. Then I remembered what a colleague of mine told me about how professional athletes get low level electrical surges as part of their physical therapy from injuries and general muscle strain. The only difference was that my Chinese Medicine Doctor was using needles instead of whatever overprice electrode that an NFL doctor uses.

The Doctor also used an odd suction device on my back. I couldn't see it, but I could definitely feel it. I think it was the moxubustion thing I had read about, how you drop a match into a glass cup, it sucks air, creating a vacuum that is ideal for sucking large chunks of skin into the glass cup. She ran the suction glass cup up and down my back. It hurt a bit. I could feel a good hunk of my skin going into the cup, and the cup running up, down, left, and right, across my back.

The result.

It wasn't 100% recovery, but it was a definite improvement. In detail;

My Wrist;

It still hurts, but the the range of motion is much improved. Moving it up and down and left and right doesn't hurt as much as it did this morning. I'm thinking maybe the electrical therapy brought down some of the swelling on the inside of my wrist that was making it hard to move it around.

My Shoulder;

In the back of the shoulder, a lot of the fatigue had gone. Also, related to the shoulder injury, it didn't hurt nearly as much to move my head left and right. The muscle pain along my neck and spine was gone. The muscles that connect my shoulder to the center of my chest still feel a little painful and stiff. But about half of the stiffness and discomfort that I had on my left shoulder has (for now at least) gone.

Maybe the ultimate validation, the Doctor left a few bandages with short needles embedded in them planted against a few pressure points around my shoulder, and a thick gauze bandage around my wrist. She told me to keep them on for the next few days, try not to let them get loosened up by showers and bathing.

She did not recommend a follow up visit. She didn't see the need.

Overconfidence in her abilities, maybe.

Or maybe she was honest, and not out to squeeze a buck out of me.

Maybe there are a few honest quacks out there.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bike & Body Update


One week has passed, got my bike back and did a follow up with the orthopedist.

First, my body.

According to my orthopedist my shoulder isn't that badly damaged, just soft tissue. No broken bones or anything torn. According to her, shoulder injuries tend to hurt a great deal even when there is only minor damage. She recommended some stretching exercises, avoid any kind of power workouts on the upper body (lifting, calisthenics, even swimming) for 2-3 weeks, then ease back into them slowly (do girl push ups first, then man push-ups if my shoulder doesn't hurt too much).

As for the road rash -- it heals slowly. Learning to love the Tegaderm clear bandages. Kind of cool being able to look down into my road rash and see how it changes every hour and every day.

Was warned by several people to avoid the swimming pools or open water. Horrible risk of infections due to open wounds -- and vice versa.

Thinking about it -- if any of the lifeguards at the YMCA or the city pools saw the road rash on my elbow, they'd probably freak out and tell me to get out of the pool.

Started running again as a substitute. The shoulder didn't like it at first, but I got used to the discomfort. Ran for an hour last night, shoulder didn't bother me. Other parts of my legs did, unfortunately.

Now for the bike.

To my pleasant surprise there is no frame damage. Two different bike shops did a visual inspection of the bike. They couldn't find any cracks on the exterior of the frame. The mechanics at the first shop also told me, based on the damage to the right brake hood, saddle, and right pedals, that those parts plus the handlebar seemed to have taken the brunt of the damage (as well as my front wheel of course). I was also told by the guys at the second shop that the kind of stone age carbon fiber bike I use (a 1st generation Specialized Allez Epic with aluminum lugs) fails at the lugs, not in the main body. There were no signs of lug failure or damage -- at least for now. I was told to be on the lookout for odd squeaks and cracking sounds. If I start hearing that -- then I got issues.

The wheels, however, do have issues. They did what they could with the front wheel. It has a permanent hop in it, which probably reflects the fact that the wheel is both old and damaged -- no amount of truing will help a rim that's been banged up. The rear wheel is getting old and needs to be trued up for safety reasons.

So for now at least the worst case scenarios have been avoided.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spaghetti Bolognese is very flexible...

M and I had an itch for pasta yesterday. So we decided to make some homemade pasta and a Spaghetti Bolognese -- or in simple plain English spaghetti and meat sauce.

After reading about a Medici-era Bolognese recipe in Bill Buford's Heat, and eating the pasta ragu at Antica Trattoria at Union & Polk Street, I wanted to make a meat sauce that was different from what I ate back NJ growing up. The meat sauces I'd eaten as a kid was very meaty, but very sweet from added sugar, and very tangy from the tomatoes they used. It was also heavier than a brick. All those very strong ingredients (fatty meat, white sugar, big tangy tomatoes), created a sauce that was at times overwhelming.

The sauce at Antica Trattoria was a little more like a brown meat gravy with lots of herbs -- which made it much lighter tasting and flavorful than you would expect. The Medici-era Bolognese cited in Heat had cardammon and cinnamon in it.

Doing some research in my Saveur Cooks Italian cookbook, I noticed two different sets of meat sauce recipes. One was very simple, used with a pumpkin gnocci. The other more complex, used in a spinach lasagna. The following is a hybrid of the two.

One onion
Three stalks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 lb of ground chuck
1/4 lb of ground pork
1 can of tomato paste
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 cup of red wine
bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Fundamental to all Bolognese recipes is meat, tomatoes, and onions. From there, there is plenty of room for experimentation. In my case, the glass of red wine imparted a sweetness and richness to the sauce that took away much of the tartness of the tomatoes. It was very different from the meat sauces I grew up with back in NJ. It paired well with M's homemade pasta -- which had a kind of chewiness that mated well with the texture of the sauce.

Using this as a base recipe, I can make future versions of it with cardamon/cinammon to give it a slight sweetness (a la the Medici recipe), but also add either bacon or pancetta in the beginning (to give saltiness & smokiness).


Had a nasty fall this weekend on my bike. Went on a training ride on saturday with J. Wasn't paying attention, bike went out from under me, tumbled, next thing I knew, I was sitting up, scraped up, and bleeding. I checked myself, no broken bones, and I couldn't detect any sign of head injury. My bike though, was a bit beaten up. Two spokes pulled out the front rim, handlebar knocked off center.

To be on the safe side, I drove myself to the hospital, and subjected myself to almost six hours of waiting at ER. Even though I didn't break any bones, my left shoulder was killing me. I didn't have the usual signs of head trauma (dizziness, nausea, fainting, vomiting) but the left side of my head did hurt a bit. I also had road rash all over me.

After all the waiting, a CAT scan to verify that my head was OK, and a shoulder x-ray, I was let go. I came out of the crash with a sprained left shoulder, a bruise covering over half the surface of my scalp, road rash stretching from the back of my left shoulder down to my elbow, patches of road rash on my left butt cheek, both knees, and the insides of both my arms.

The last time I fell this hard, when I was 19, I ended up breaking my collarbone, destroying my front wheel, and twisting up my metal frame. This time I'm much more scratched up in terms of road rash, but have come out of it without any broken bones, and (thus far) my bike looks repairable.

So I'm sidelined for now. I'm committed to the MS Ride, so I'll have to get back on the bike again after it gets repaired. But I think I will probably slow it down a bit in terms of intensity & speed, the exception being going up hills. I essentially crashed because I wasn't paying enough attention at a moment when due to speed & road conditions I should have had both hands on the handlebar.

So for at least a few weeks after I get back on the bike, I think I'm going to take it a bit slow.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I am not worthy....


Read on and drool....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Oyster Liquor Is Like Bacon

Continuing with the Mark Kurlansky inspired fetish...

The cold & the fog, as well as the discussions of turn of the century New York oyster culture, gave me a craving for oyster stew. The experience of making oyster stew this evening became a lesson in how even if you screw up a recipe, oyster liquor (the flavorful juices that surround oysters in their shell and in packaging) will still make it really tasty.

I followed a recipe that broke down like this.

1/2 cup of butter
1 cup of celery
3 tablespoons of shallots
1 quart of half & half
2 12 oz jars of oysters
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper to taste

To avoid excessive calories I replaced the half & half with whole milk.

Big mistake. The milk curdled. The stew ended up looking kind of nasty, as you can see below;

From Storehouse

Even though it looked nasty, the taste was spot on. The oysters and oyster liquor gave the stew a wonderful salty briny flavor. Combined with the butter, shallots, and celery, it all came together into a rich and satisfying broth.

If I do this recipe again I might not bother with any of the dairy products, just use a clear broth and good quality root vegetables and herbs.

This gets back to the point of the post, oyster liquor is like bacon. Whatever you mix it with, it comes out great.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

OK, now I have a goal

Signed up a few weeks back for Ms Waves to Wine.

The past two weekends I've finally begun to start training seriously for this.

Today while riding with my buddy J on the East Bay waterfront trail I rediscovered what I loved most about cycling -- speed and rhythm.

I also rediscovered what its like to have every muscle from my ass to my heels either stiff or aching.

The price tag of having a goal to work for.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mark Kurlansky -- YOU ROCK!

As I mentioned in my last post, I broke, I gave into my oyster cravings this evening.

After my Krav workout, I decided to head to the local seafood joint, Hyde Street Seafood.

I was alone this evening. M was out for the evening. Its my birthday tommorow -- after a rough year, I think I deserve to splurge a little on some gluttony.

I initially just ordered an Anchor Steam and a half dozen of the Chef Creek (British Columbia), Steamboat (Washington State), and another breed of oyster that began with Q and U (QuXXXXXXXX). The Chef Creek and and Steamboat were wonderful, briny, but also creamy and rich. The third one that I can't name was briny, but not creamy.

I chatted briefly with one of the waitstaff. He described his own personal bias towards the smaller oysters, briny being preferable to creamy. Unfortunately he added the same twist that many wine snobs like to use -- "people who really know oysters...."

To each their own.

I ordered another Anchor Steam [Anchor goes great with seafood]. Then ordered a dozen of the Chef's Creek and Steamboat. I was in creamy oyster heaven.

I chatted some more with the barmaid/waitress and another waiter there. Had a wonderful discussion about the word of oyster eating, cited the Kurlansky book. We discussed the odd thing of Kumamoto oysters becoming an Oregon & Washington State product, and how the temperature of the water affects the flavor of the oyster. I also mentioned Kurlansky's shtick about how NY City used to be the center of the universe for oysters. The waiter I talked to wasn't surprised -- he had many wonderful East Coast oysters.

Discussion drifted onto the crab world -- the East Coast blue crab versus the West Coast dungeness. Definitely strong preferences for either crab. The waiter, reflecting terroir cited his love of the dungeness. The barmaid/waitress cited the sweet and tender delicacy of the East Coast blue. I love them both.

I had the best of both worlds that night. Great oysters, and great conversation with people who are passionate about their food.

Mark Kurlansky, Thank you!

I HATE YOU Mark Kurlansky!

Recently I started reading Mark Kurlansky's "Big Oyster: History on a Half Shell."

I had read Kurlansky's first world history via food book "Cod" many years back. The Goddamn "Cod" book gave me ferocious cravings for canned and preserved fish. All the recipes involving salt cod and various cod organs were downright destructive.

That being said, it was a wonderful book.

"Big Oyster" had the same effect as "Cod." Midway through the book, Kurlansky starts putting in oyster recipes and anecdotes about oyster eating in 17th and 18th century New York. Over the past two days I tried to suppress my oyster eating urges. I tried to visualize the most excessive of the ancient oyster recipes -- such as stuffing a whole chicken with 100+ raw oysters then baking the monster.

No use. I broke this evening. Read the next post.....