How I’m meal prepping this time around…

Meal prepping – if I want to manage my weight, it’s what I need to do. My struggle is finding a sustainable way to prep, and I’ve found a few new things to try to see how well they help.

I love food, perhaps too much. I love all the ways you can combine and put it together to make symphonies – or bring comfort. Too often mean prep gets too “clean” and loses fun, flavor, and interest for me. And it can be a big time and effort investment, when I don’t necessarily have the time to do so. Every time I’ve used meal prepping I’ve achieved fair results, because it makes me monitor and constrain my intake. But it winds up being too much trouble or not enough enjoyment, and eventually it wanes and I fall back into old habits.

What’s different this time is trying to not sweat everything as much. I found this article from Joel McCain of Blacksmith Fitness called “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Fat Loss“. It strips things down even more than I’ve done before, and it may be what helps me.

Basically I figure out my target caloric intake per day. Determine protein at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, then the remainder of calories is fat and carbs in whatever ratio – that is it, and that is key.

When I would do other plans such as from Renaissance Periodization, while I would have good success, the hard control and reduction in carbs and fats would not only be a struggle, but let’s be real – very soon I’d wind up rather constipated, having to take a supplement like psyllium husk, just to keep things going. That added a layer of irritation (so to speak) to the mix.

But if I can have more flexibility in my carb and fat intake – especially fat intake – I believe that should help me here. Plus if I can enjoy what I’m doing, that can only help me stick with it. More on this below.

In the end, the single biggest factor that affects your bodyweight is calorie balance. If I can keep my protein where it needs to be and my caloric intake lower than my expenditure, I will lose weight. Every other aspect of food, diet, weight management, macros, blah blah blah is secondary minutia (yes it CAN matter, but if you can’t control caloric intake, all that other stuff doesn’t matter so much – cart before the horse).

What I am doing

I determined my caloric take: presently 2300/day. I determined this through some simple formulas, plus leveraging some apps I have to see where they would put me. Again, I didn’t care what plan they were recommending, just calories. 2300 is a good place for me to start (when I plateau, I’ll drop it 10%, recalculate, and continue).

From there, I figure out protein, and the caloric remainder is fat and carbs.

I then use MyFitnessPal – not as a tracker, but as a calculator. I plug the 2300 calorie goal into it. I adjust the percentage dials for the three macronutrients to get protein right, then fat and carbs just to get the percentage to total 100%. I then enter one diary day of meals based on whatever foods I want to eat, focusing on the big things like meats, carbs, and fat sources (I don’t bother entering veggies). Note that I’m choosing the foods I want – the things I want to eat. For example, on my first week I simply made 1/2 lb hamburger patties from 95/5 ground beef and smoked them on my Traeger smoker/grill. I like beef, I love the flavors that result from the smoking on the Traeger. Pasta is a good carb, some fiber too, so I just got a couple boxes of ziti. Simple and things I like to eat. So I enter all the foods into 1 day on MyFitnessPal and adjust the amounts of the foods until it hits my target protein and total calories for the day. I’m not looking at specific carbs or fat numbers (other than to ensure I’m at least getting some of each), I’m not looking at details like saturated fats or sugars or even if I’m hitting the “ratio” of fats to carbs. It’s simply: am I getting the protein I need, then am I totally up everything else to hit my calorie need. I don’t care if MyFitnessPal complains about my choices – I’m not using the app as it wants to be used, it’s just a database and calculator.

That single thing took a big load off my mind because now I’m not struggling to add or remove or find ways to wedge things in just to hit the right ratios. “Oh, I gotta eat 2 spoons of peanut butter to try to get in enough fat” or “No, must eat that toast dry because this meal said only 10g fat and that’s being incidentally brought in by the fact I’m eating meat; in fact, despite being lean meat I max out my fat allowance before I hit my protein requirement so now I have to find some other protein source like 15g of whey simply to get enough protein, but wait that affects carbs slightly so now I have to readjust THAT…”. And that shit just got really old really fast having to try to cram and finagle ways to hit the macros.

This approach is so much simpler.

Plus I don’t have to actually track my meals because everything’s already determined and portioned out. Just eat what I made – no more, no less – and I’ll hit things.

Variations and simplifications

I’m trying to keep this simple, but interesting. I think those are key towards long-term success.

I have basically 1 meal, which I vary into 2 meals, tho in a way it’s 4.

The meals are all simple. For example this week it’s all: 1/2 lb lean beef patty, pasta, steamed veggie. That’s the base meal.

The first variation is sauce. Half of the meals get a Prego no-added-sugar sauce. The other half get some beef gravy with mushrooms (salisbury steak!). So now the beef and pasta have some variety in the flavors and mouthfeels, without adding much to the calories.

The second variation is veggies. Half of the meals get green beans, the other half are getting broccolini.

And I can mix and match a little more too: Prego and green beans, Prego and broccolini, gravy and green beans, gravy and broccolini. So now one base meal turns into four different meals. It’s not huge variation, but it’s enough to keep things from being completely repetitive.

A few other things in there to help with prep itself:

  1. I’m not preparing sauce. I’m using Prego jarred sauce, tho I did pick the no-added-sugar version just to keep the added calories down. The gravy is simply a prepared gravy from the store, and the mushrooms are canned and drained. I know it’s not the most gourmet way of things, but it drastically cuts down on the time and hassle of prep so I’m not spending all day in the kitchen – this is important to me.
  2. The veggies are steamed in the bag. I used to try to buy fresh and prepare them in some way, like sauté or something more fancy in the prep. Well, sometimes the only way I can find the fresh veggies I want to eat are in those steam-in-bags at the store – I used to just consider that a container, but I opted this go-round to just throw ’em into the microwave and steam-prep them that way. That has turned into a HUGE time-saver and an unexpected win.
  3. The hard part about working with pasta is there’s the dry weight then the cooked weight: all the nutrition info is by dry, but I need to portion by cooked. I used to weigh all the cooked and portion from there doing all the before vs. after math I could. Ugh. This time I knew how much nutrition I needed from the pasta thus how much I would need. I did the math to portion out how much dry that would require over 14 meals, and cooked that much. Then when it was cooked, I simply eyeballed even distribution into 14 meal containers. I didn’t sweat if today I got exactly 189g of carbs from pasta in this meal: if I consumed all my meals over the week, I’d be getting what I needed over the course of the week. It all works out just fine in the end. Much simpler execution here.
  4. Breakfast is simple. I like cereal. I picked a cereal I like and eat that using plain whey isolate as “milk”. Simple and works nicely for me.
  5. I have an afternoon snack, which is some protein powder (trying a combo of whey isolate and egg right now), some fresh fruit (I’m using fresh pineapple, which I love), and then some nuts (cashews are a favorite; but this week I’m going to try these seasoned shelled pistachios I found at the store) because honestly I wanted to up my fat intake in hitting my calorie goals. This sort of snack makes me happy.
  6. I undercook everything just slightly. It’s all going to get microwave reheated, which will break it down more too… so a slight undercooking now helps it hold up in storage and not become unappetizing upon reheating.

Yes, it’s a little more expensive to buy prepared. For example, when I’ve made the gravy in the past I bought 1 box of stock then added corn starch to thicken. This time I bought the gravy ready to go. The ingredients check wound up resulting in exactly the same gravy but cost twice as much. The couple bucks spent was more than made up for in the time saved. One money-saving trick I like doing is going to the grocery store first thing in the morning. Often you’ll find meat that is good but needs to be sold NOW marked down. That 93/7 or 95/5 beef that people tend to not buy because it’s more expensive? Well now they marked it down 25% to clear it out, so I’m getting extra lean beef at 80/20 chuck prices. You find your ways to trade off.

TBD

I’ve only just started on this particular run. It’s been 2 preps and 1 week of eating (just finished prep #2 a few hours before writing this). I don’t know how this will go, but the fact my prep this morning took me 3 hours including hitting the grocery store, the kitchen wasn’t totally wrecked, I don’t have to track every meal and day (since it’s all precalculated by the act of how I assembled each meal), and I am liking what I’m making and eating and actually looking forward to my meals… well, it’s all a good sign.

More than two

When asked if my cup is half-full or half-empty my only response is that I am thankful I have a cup.

Sam Lefkowitz

It seems everything is framed dualistically:

“If you’re not for me, you’re against me.”

“You don’t support Biden/Trump, therefore you must support Trump/Biden.”

“Vax. Anti-vax.”

“Left. Right.”

“Black. White.”

“Good. Evil.”

The perspective is understandable. As humans, our monkey brains do tend to group things rather simplistically into “us vs them”, “like vs. dislike”, “friend vs. foe”. If it’s not palatable to me, it must taste bad.

Perhaps.

What Sam Lefkowitz’s statement reveals is there exists another perspective, one that doesn’t fit neatly into a dualistic container. Yes technically if you’re a “cup half full”, then the perspective of “just have a cup” does fit into the “other viewpoint” container along with “cup half empty”. But despite being crammed into the same cup, it’s not the same viewpoint.

With nearly 8 billion people on this Earth, I’m certain there are those diametrically opposed to me, my thoughts, my beliefs, my existence. But statistics being what they are, most of those 8 billion are going to lie somewhere in between – somewhere in the gray.

If someone holds a belief different from mine, we are better served taking a nondualistic approach seeking to understand their perspective.

Smoked Pork Ribs – trial 1

For Thanksgiving 2021 we opted for pork ribs. Wife likes to shop early, and at the time there were no turkeys in stock. I looked around at what was available and pork ribs were plentiful so I picked up 4 racks. Plus, I hadn’t yet smoked ribs on my Traeger (Ironwood 650), so might as well give it a shot.

I’m actually not a big rib fan/cooker. They’re fine and all, but for whatever reason I’ve just not smoked ribs all that much. So this would be an adventure.

I started with Traeger’s “Smoked Pork Ribs by Timothy Hollingsworth“. In case that recipe goes away, here’s the gist of it:

Ingredients

  • 1 Rack pork spare ribs
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1.25 cup molasses
  • 0.33 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 3 clove garlic, chopped
  • small yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco pepper sauce
  • 1 tbsp crushed chile flakes
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp mustard powder

Now, that’s a LOT of sauce. I had 6 racks of ribs. Mrs. Hsoi prepared a double of that sauce, and I still had a little over half left over. So… adjust as you see fit.

Here’s what I did, which is a combination of the original recipe plus the stuff I did to make it go.

  1. Remove ribs from the fridge, let come to room temperature. Trim off any excess fat, and remove the silverskin on the back side of the ribs. Season evenly with flake kosher salt and pepper. Let sit for a bit while things come up to room temperature and the grill is made ready.
  2. Set the grill at 220º. I turned on Super Smoke. I used hickory pellets. Let the grill come up to temperature.
  3. Place the ribs on the grill. I used one of those “rib racks” that position the ribs upright so you can fit more into the smoker – 5 of the racks went in there, 1 was flat on the grill surface.
  4. Leave them in for 1.5 hours.
  5. After 1.5 hours, baste generously in the sauce. Put them back in, rotated/flipped from how they were.
  6. Leave them in for another 1.5 hours (3 hours total).
  7. After 3 hours, take the ribs out and wrap each rack individually in foil. Return to the grill. Stick the probe thermometer in somewhere.
  8. According to the recipe, it should take an additional hour to get up to temp, but that wasn’t happening. Maybe because it was cool out? I don’t know. But when I first inserted the probe the temp of the meat was about 135º and not moving. So I cranked the grill temp to 275º and sure enough the meat temp began to steadily climb.
  9. When the meat hit 200º I took them off. NOTE: there was a LOT of liquid inside the foil, so had to be mindful when I was removing them because draining happened.
  10. I left them wrapped in the foil and let it rest for about 15-20 minutes.
  11. Unwrap, slice, eat.

Results

Wow.

This was fantastic.

The meat was cooked and tender. A couple of the racks simply fell apart so there wasn’t any cutting/slicing to do. The sauce didn’t form a layer – it was nice and worked into the meat. There was good caramelization, just not a crust – which I like, because to me sauce should complement, not cover nor be the focus. In fact, I’m generally reluctant to use sauce, but I gotta admit that here it worked quite well.

Cooked way too much. Completely overestimated how many racks I would need to feed 5 people, then adding 2 last-minute guests (picked up 2 racks simply because of that). I think for our family we could get away with 2 racks, maybe do 3 because there will be the grill space and leftovers are always good. If we did just 2-3 racks, I’d want to cut the sauce recipe in half from how it’s written – I don’t know how in the world they figured those amounts, but as written it’s way too much.

Would absolutely do this recipe again.

Random thoughts about it

The recipe itself was geared towards 3 hours unwrapped, 1 hour wrapped, and that should get it up to 202º internal temperature. That was NOT happening. Not sure why, but not sweating it too much. I think the crank to 275º was fine to finish things.

There was a LOT of liquid in the foil, which stands to reason. I wonder what would happen if I used butcher paper instead of foil. I mean, that helps a bit on the smoke side, but might there be so much moisture that the paper “melts”? Or that too much moisture is lost and the meat won’t be as moist and tender?

I think hickory wood was the best/right choice. I’m not sure any other wood would work here.

Kosher flake salt is a wonderful thing. I’ve found being moderate with it on the raw meat (any meat, not just this recipe/instance) for a little bit before cooking to be great. Not too much, not too little either. And not too much time needed – simply putting it on as the meat comes up to room temp and the grill is heating up is generally enough.

I continue to be impressed with the Traeger. Sometimes I still wish for a more pronounced smoke flavor, but the smoke flavor you get is present and not overpowering. The fact you get this flavor coupled with really even and controllable temps, and then the probe thermometer – it just makes cooking go well and product generally great results. I do wish the pellets “drained” a little better, because it just creates a big funnel hole and then the hopper indicator beeps that it’s almost empty when a simple redistribution “fills it” back up; small gripe. Oh and cleaning up after these ribs was a pain – all that sauce drip, pork fat, all baked onto stuff pretty good. Got it cleaned up, but sure was more work. Still tho, the Traeger is great.

Is this thing still on?

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I didn’t choose to stop writing… it just faded.

When I started this blog in 2009 I made the rule I had to post every day. It didn’t have to be something deep – and often it was just gym logs – but at least there was the discipline of a post every day: that I wrote one, that I published one, that readers saw (and maybe read). Come 2015, a major event in my life caused blogging to abruptly stop and my streak broken. That event lasted a while, and when I came back to it the spark was extinguished. Plus various things in life were changing and time and energy to write just wasn’t there. As of late, the blog’s just been nothing but Sunday Metal posts, which at least I was able to keep going because I could sit for a couple hours, schedule 6 months of posts, then move on.

A few years ago I had a major day job shift. I found myself writing less – or sometimes no – code at all. I was leading projects, considering bigger pictures, people-ing. Programming was a primary creative outlet for me – it’s my art. Solving someone else’s problem is merely my canvas. But as my day job duties shifted, so too did my creative outlet fade away. Oh sure I COULD do programming on nights and weekends, but in reality after a long day I want to get away from the computer, and my weekends are mostly filled up with teaching at KR Training. Then add in time for family, gym, etc. and there’s just not time nor energy remaining.

Oh sure, I did a complete rewrite of PanemQuotidianum in SwiftUI a few months back. That was fun. But interestingly it didn’t move me that much. As I’ve been telling people “Oooooh… yet another TableView”. It was cool to fiddle around more in the new hotness of SwiftUI, but there didn’t feel much challenge. It didn’t sing to me like programming once did.

I’ve realized… my creative outlets have faded. In fact, since taking on my new day job position as Director of Technology, all I do is meetings and people-ing. Don’t get me wrong, that in and of itself is fine for where I am in life – it’s just not an artistic/creative outlet.

I was lamenting to Mrs. Hsoi how I just don’t have any creative outlets any more. I don’t program nor have the time or energy for it. KR Training work is fun, but it’s work and not a lot of creative outlet (tho it has research outlets). The gym isn’t creative – it’s work, it’s fun, there’s satisfaction, but it’s not a place to pour my creative juices.

I started to think I needed a hobby – all my hobbies have turned into jobs/work. LOL I’ve always wanted to explore blacksmithing, but that’s not feasible right now. Working on engines was cool, but is that necessarily creative for me? And the more I thought about it, I realized it’s not a hobby I need.

I’ve noticed over the past some whiles as I take longer distance/time drives, I don’t listen to music or podcasts – I just think. I’m alone in the car, I can talk out loud, I can be silent, I can do whatever. I realize what I’ve been needing is just that: time to think. I spend all my days just acting and reacting to what’s going on (a fire over here, a problem over there, another meeting, etc.) – when do I ever get to just deeply think any more? I don’t. I miss that. My best work came from being able to just think about stuff. And it’s not something I can schedule: “Oh, it’s 10:00am, time for 1 hour of thinking!”. It’s about just allowing my schedule to have time to breathe.

The other day while driving to the KR Training facility it really hit me:

What I need: it’s not so much creative building, it’s creative thinking.

To program for the sake of programming – to make an app – that’s building. It’s not the building, it’s the thinking that goes into that building. Looking back, it’s why I have so many unfinished projects: it wasn’t about building that thing, it was thinking through a concept or a method or exploring or some other thinking, and once I finished that thought, it was done.

I’ve been collecting a lot of things in my notes – things that I would love to write about, but I don’t because of lack of time. But if I really look, I do have some time. I cut back on gym visits from 4x to 3x per week to better mesh with helping my sons train. But I still wake up early on Tuesday and Thursday, and I’ve found myself wasting that time because I don’t want to start the day job but I can’t do other life things either (e.g. make phone calls, schedule work, etc. because the people I need to talk with aren’t up and working yet). So I watch YouTube videos or other things to pass the time, and while a little relaxation is good, I’ve been finding myself feeling like I’m wasting time.

So… why not try writing again.

I’ve got things I want to write about. I’ve actually got a little time here and there.

I don’t plan on forcing myself to post every day or even every week. I have no idea what the cadence will be. I would like my writing to be better. This post is rambling because I’m just pouring my thinking out, and those posts are fine for what they are. But I also want to better compose particular thoughts. I want to see if I can be a better writer, or at least a more thoughtful one.

So let’s see… let’s see if this breathes life back into me.