The 2018 Yelp Top 100 List Just Released

This morning Yelp released their annual top 100 lists of the US and Canada. I’ve been excited for this list since December. It helps me choose where to eat when I travel inside the US. I’ve put the picks on a map to help visualize the nearest to readers of this blog. I’ve been to 11/200 on this list, and all but Europea in Montréal have been outstanding meals. Please, let me know your thoughts if you’ve been to any of these.

 

 

Although they are a tad pricey, the folks at Los Tacos #1 (#76) in Chelsea Market NYC always load up the tacos.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat Book: What I Learned

I recently finished an excellent booking on the principles of good cooking called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. The book tries to summarize what she looks for in composing meals that are well-balanced and flavorful.

Rather than attempt to capture a summary of the entire book, I will remark on what I learned from the book much like the way I did in the post on Ideas in Food.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: What I Learned

Salt
  • “Diamond” brand kosher salt is the best to use because it has a less intense flavor and is easier to distribute.
  • Salt is better to reduce bitterness than sugar. This is not intuitive.
  • Salt is the most common missing element in a dish. It’s super important to play with it in recipes and see how it affects food.
This is large-flake sea salt. Use as a finishing crunchy mouthfeel. Don’t use in recipes.
Fat
  • Score duck so it’s subcutaneous fat can render and cook out it’s flavor into the dish you’re cooking.
  • To make mayo put one egg yolk into a mixing jar, whisk in oil drop by drop up until it starts to thicken up, then whisk in the rest of the oil faster. Use 3/4 cup oil/yolk.
  • In pastries and bread, warm fat makes tender/chewy texture and cold fat makes it flaky.
  • The most tender cakes are made with oil.
  • Recipes call for dough to be folded so air is added to the dough.
Use an immersion blender like this to make mayo.
Acid
  • While salt brings out flavors in a dish, acid balances them.
  • Acids slow down veggies from cooking, but denatures meats.
  • Acid balances earthy flavors (Mushrooms, lentils, bay leaves, etc)
  • Macerate onions or shallots in vinegar for 15+ mins to soften and cut the bitterness.
  • Vinaigrette is 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil
Dice the onions like this, then soak them in vinegar for 15 minutes. That will soften them up and cut the bitterness.
Heat
  • Use the proper cooking implement: sear in pans, steam in pots.
  • Don’t serve foods super hot. All food starts to be harder to taste above 95F. (Remember not to keep foods between 40-140 for more than 30 mins).
  • Cook meats below 375F. Any will cook unevenly.
  • Blanch veggies in salty water
  • Stock can be made with 1lb of bones to 1qt water. Always a part of the stock bones should be uncooked.
  • Cook salmon at 225F for super tender and moist salmon.
  • Freeze your baking tools if you want flaky crust.
The Cast Iron Skillet is still the best way to sear flat-sided meats.
Menu-writing
  • Anchor your menu around a food item or cooking method or theme.
  • Balance clean flavors and complex/deep flavors
  • Have elements of soft and crunchy throughout the menu.
  • Soups come in 3 basic kinds: brothy, chunky, smooth.
Stocking the Kitchen
  • The following items are worth making and/or keeping in your kitchen: fresh herbs, limes/lemons, garlic, spices (grind.)
  • Build ideas for salad from the classics: Wedge, Caesar, Cobb.
  • A salad should have: Salt, Fat, Acid, Crunch, and Savoury flavors.

My Weirdly High Bad Cholesterol and Why I’m Not Concerned

High Cholesterol

This past week I ran a few blood tests to follow up on the high cholesterol reading my physician identified during a routine annual checkup. This obviously was initially concerning and would have an impact on my diet and health. I wanted to quickly recount my conclusions on this finding based on subsequent personal blood testing.

To clarify, I have high “total cholesterol” (LDL+HDL) and high LDL.

Let me begin by saying I am not a doctor, I’m not even a health expert. Heck, I’m not really even a health blogger. The discussion here is purely speculative in nature. 

My Cholesterol Problem

I have a high total cholesterol count, 204. I have a high LDL (bad) cholesterol count, 136.

The way I understand it, cholesterol is a substance that moves between the liver and the rest of the body. It becomes the biggest issue when it starts building up as hard plaque in the arteries of the heart.

Traditional medical practices had established a standard that total cholesterol and total LDL numbers were the highest indications of cardiac “events” (think heart attacks/angina/acute coronary syndrome.)

High Cholesterol is not dangerous by itself

The goal for a healthy heart is to reduce the amount of plaque being deposited on the arterial walls of the heart. It turns out that a classic cholesterol “count” is not the best way to determine your risk for cardiac events.

Fortunately , there are more detailed and illuminating tests for cholesterol than the simple lipid profile generally ordered as an initial test by physicians (It makes sense the simpler one was initially used for me, especially on a young and relatively healthy 29 year old like myself.)

I ordered this additional test, through directlabs.com, called the “CardioIQ Advanced Lipid Profile”. That gave me something that looked like this:

 

Yes, it did confirm I do have high cholesterol. However, this test showed a deeper, more promising story.

The test counts the number of the actual LDL particles. The number of particles turns out to be a much better indicator of heart risk than the LDL-count (traditional test.)

When a person, like me, has a “discordance” (different healthy/unhealthy clinical result) in their LDL-Total Count (the kind that I have a problem with) and LDL-Particle number (the kind I’m testing on my own here) it has been found that the particle number is far more indicative of a problem. Thus, LDL-P is a better number to focus on (Otvos et. al.)

This test ran me $109 (it’s on sale this month, no I don’t make any money from this reference.) As with all my self-registered tests, I order them from Direct Labs, go into a Quest Diagnostics lab (the exact same lab I use for my physician) and get a blood draw. Less than a week later I got the results online at the Direct Labs website.

There’s no reason your physician can’t run a test like this for you. It’s not pseudoscience or anything like that. The primary study cited above by Dr. Otvos is widely accepted in the medical community. I just choose to do some of this blood testing on my own because I don’t want to pressure my physician into ordering tests that may not be traditionally insurance agency friendly.

Rioting after the Eagles’ Victory last weekend

My doctor is actually very supportive of this testing and we’ve had chats about it. She loves that I’m taking my preventative health seriously and seeking to understand my body in ways she obviously doesn’t have the time to focus on with hundreds of patients. I want to maintain a friendly relationship as I know ordering the copious tests I want to run on a healthy individual like me is a good way to get flagged by the insurance industry.

If you do have a history of cardiac disease or high cholesterol, I suggest you somehow get this test done. Look specifically at your LDL-particle count. This is the strongest indicator of heart disease prevention. I won’t go into the details of the mechanisms because I am a complete amateur on this topic.

Fortunately, I’ve found here that I don’t have much cause for concern. My LDL-Particle number is healthy and I’ve seen multiple places online that the healthy particle number is associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

Piano we recently had to give away on Craigslist

For a clarification of the concept I recommend this post by Dr. Peter Attia. Dr. Attia was a leading cancer research at Johns Hopkins and now focuses on quality of life extension.  Much of what I said here is articulated by him on that series he wrote.

Also, eating cholesterol doesn’t affect your actual blood levels. Just had to get that out there. (Source)

 

How to Actually Enjoy a Party (tips from Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate)

He’s a young guy, 23 or 24. His name is Michael. He just graduated college and he’s starting to go to real parties. Like, no Natty Ice. No. Like the parties where there are cute little cupcakes and napkins.

This party is overwhelming for him. He’s stepped into the home of his boss. He wearing an ill-fitting sport coat and khakis. It’s much bigger than the place he lives and, it’s honestly a bit intimidating to him.

But, he came because he knows it’s probably a good opportunity to get to know his coworkers better and maybe gain some better understanding of what makes them tick.

He’s a pretty friendly guy. And in the right setting, he gets along well.

Michael came alone, and the moment he walks in he feels isolated. Everyone is paired off in couples. There are lots of people already talking. Michael thinks, “maybe it’s already too late and the good conversations are halfway over.”

Whether you relate to Michael or not, would you like some tips about how to work a room that aren’t ambiguous or inauthentic?

I recently wrapped up Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate. The book is an excellent quick read on how to engage people. And there’s a nice section on working rooms. I’m going to run through her advice here.

It’s quite a good read and does a nice job of packing a ton of practical tips into a very readable book that’s still fun.  Vanessa is a fun personality and is super relatable as an author.

Rules for working a party

Pick your battles

Know in what types of situations you thrive and what types of events don’t interest you. What events do you enjoy? Try focusing on these. You’ll always be a more effective communicator when you’re having a good time.

Along with this comes the fact that you’ll need to be able to say no to things. If you don’t want to do something, let your invitee know that you’re flattered, but that this type event is not a priority at this time for you. There’s no need to single out their event. Just let them know you’ve made a blanket decision not to make this type of thing a priority at this time.

The party “map”

Vanessa is the first I’ve ever seen to practically identify the best places in a room to meet people.

Avoid the food table. You’ll just get in the way of people who want to eat, not talk.

Avoid the bathroom area. It’s creepy to hang out there.

Avoid the entry area. People there are still getting accustomed to being at the party. They are also often still making their obligatory hello’s to the hosts and guests of honor.

The golden zone? Right near the drinks and the eating area. This is where people have settled in and are now ready to mingle. This is a crucial space to wait and allow people to come to you. I’ve personally tried this method at a few events and was really surprised at how well it works. Most people at parties are there to meet people to, you just have to be in the right place to make it easy for them.

Whether it’s alcoholic or not, people are more comfortable with a drink. (from Wikipedia)

First Impression Body Language

Vanessa found in her social science research lab that people are much friendlier and interested when you make hand gestures as you meet someone. This is probably due to the fact that it’s disarming and friendly. It signals that you’re willing to lead the interaction and that you’re socially confident enough to feel comfortable expressing yourself.

Shaking hands is almost always appropriate. This sort of goes without saying I think. But, it’s a tried and true way of offering a gesture of peace, comfort, and friendliness to a new person.

The best level of eye contact is 60-70%. More is creepy, less is weak. People who use 60-70% eye contact in their interactions come off as more attentive, friendlier, and less dangerous.

Pro Baseball Hero Ted Williams and astronaut John Glenn using friendly hand posturing (from Wikipedia)

Conversation Starters

A few conversation starters can help you be interesting and also make others’ feel like they have permission to share something about themselves.

  • What was the highlight of your day?  (I like it because it’s specific, concrete, and shows concern/interest beyond the ornery.)
  • What personal passion project are you working on? (give someone a lot of leeway to discuss something they are passionate about.)
  • Have anything exciting coming up? (Probably the same as above but might work better for folks you think may not have “projects.”)

It’s always good to focus on asking specific and unique questions that show you really want a personal answer beyond the generic “oh, pretty good.” In our age, you have to create a conversation starter that really creates a space for this to happen.

These are some quick tips that can make parties or “networking” events a bit more enjoyable. I find that having trusty rules of engagement for these types of things makes them much more inviting and even a bit of a game.

This book I got these from, Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate, was good. If you want the deep dive into this stuff, its worth a read.

Do you have any tips like this?

 

How to Memorize Every World Capital in 2 months

Memorizing World Capitals

I’ve always been a fan of geography. It seemed like a good idea recently to memorize the capital of all ~232 countries/territories for fun. Over the past 3 months I’ve gained very strong proficiency of almost every world capital. It was super easy and could be done by anyone.

I did this for a few reasons.

  1. Develop stronger geographic sense of place.
  2. Develop a more cohesive understanding of the geopolitical environment.
  3. Have an automatic conversation starter with anyone who is not from the US (I am constantly amazed at how happy someone is to hear that you know the capital of their country, especially for smaller countries.)
  4. Gain a better understanding of how to memorize lists.

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate the power and simplicity of computer flashcards.

 

Parliament gardens, Windhoek (Capital of Namibia), By Foundert – Hochgeladen am 17. Juli 2006 von coda, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The best program for memorization

The absolute best program for memorization, one that is used in medical schools, is called ANKI. It’s a totally free and simple desktop and mobile application.

ANKI is based on the theory of spaced repetition. The theory is that we learn best when we space out the things we’re learning. ANKI uses really simple flashcards that are presented on a daily basis according to each card’s difficulty for you.

 

Sample ANKI Card

How it works

As card’s become easier for you, the program increases the delay for which they are shown to you again. This allows you to focus primarily on the hardest cards each day, with some reviews of easier cards.

Results

Here is the commitment it took to memorize 232 world capitals, 83% of which I have a full memory and 13% I’m still iffy on. Keep in mind, some of these capitals have very tough non-English names.

  • 5 minutes of study per day for 68/104 calendar days.
  • A total of 5 hours of studying.

I think ANKI is a very good system for memorizing things you understand, but need to have in your head. You would never be able to learn a language with it alone. But, it could be a great help for memorizing words.

I am very impressed by how simple and quick it was to memorize such a long and (seemingly) difficult list. I studied 5 hours in college for tests that contained much less than 200 points of memorization. ANKI seems to be an efficient and scientific memorization tool.

 

Cliff in Saipan (Capital Island of the Northern Mariana Islands)

How ANKI Decks work

ANKI has a flashcard database and a method to create your own deck. Because I was not satisfied with any of the options on their database, I made my own deck. There are several advanced options for setting the card repetition rate, deck appearance, and review style, but I stuck to the simple reverse card deck for mine. This creates two cards for every country so you can memorize the capitals forward and backward from country->capital and capital->country.

Setting up a deck

Chances are that you’ll need to create your own deck for this to be of value to you. It’s actually pretty simple but needs to be done in a specific way.

  1. Download ANKI. It’s a free , small, safe file.
  2.  Go to Google Sheets or Excel and put your cards into two columns, front and back. No need for column headers. This video might be helpful. https://youtu.be/LnnwdsGZZZw
  3. Save the spreadsheet as a CSV file (note where you save it to)
  4. Open ANKI
  5. Click “Import File”
  6. Import the CSV you saved in #3.
  7. Choose either Basic or Basic (Reverse) deck style depending on whether or not you want to study your cards in the reverse or not.
  8. Check to see your columns from your file line up with the mapping that ANKI reads.
  9. Save the deck. It will now appear on your main ANKI home screen and you can now review it as you see fit.
  10. Settings allow you to set how many cards you want to review per day.

I wish I had this tool when I was in school. It makes memorization super structured and simple. It also kind of makes it fun. This is not a tool for understanding concepts, but it is very valuable for memorization. ANKI could be used for most types of studying.

Storm clouds over N’Djamena (Capital of Chad)

 

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