One of the more curious effects of my ongoing health kick has been an unhealthy obsession with salad spinners. Since I have been eating a lot of greens, I wash a lot of greens. Greens that come straight from the farmer, like spinach, tend to come with a lot of dirt on them, and really need to be washed. And those boxed salads from the grocery store have already been washed and dried, but the leaves tend to get too dry. You don’t need to eat them that way. Washing and drying the greens again, which is easiest in a salad spinner, can really liven those boxed salads up.
Now the problem is, salad spinners are generally pretty crappy gadgets. They tend to be made of 100% plastic, which means they tend to build up flavors and stains, and when their spinning mechanism (which is generally in the lid) breaks, it’s basically unfixable, which makes me furious. I’ve had the OXO salad spinner a few times, and broken the mechanism each time.
Ergo I went in search of an all-metal, unbreakable salad spinner, and found nothing. A few extremely expensive spinners had metal bowls, but the mechanisms were still plastic. Along the way I found a discussion on Chowhound about plastic-free salad spinning that suggested to me there really was no good “product” to buy. Thus I had to return to first principles and design my own. And who else to demonstrate first principles better than Julia Child?
(This video should start around the 10:55 mark. If it doesn’t, go there.)
The “French” salad spinner that Julia uses has only two basic elements:
- one, a porous mesh, colander, or filter which holds the greens that have been washed yet allows the water to pass through.
- two, something that uses physical action to encourage the separation of water and salad through centrifugal force.
Every other part is optional. Julia’s “French” salad spinner has no bowl, because the sink catches the thrown-off water. And it has no lid, because, well, I guess she’s not planning on storing anything after the meal. Julia’s salad is going to be so good there won’t be any left. :)
Personally I prefer a spinner to have a bowl and a lid, so that it’s possible to serve and store with the same bowl you used to wash the salad (why waste time washing extra dishes?)
For the record, here is a general diagram of a salad spinner:
(props to johnny_automatic and voyag3r at openclipart.org for the salad and hand elements of this drawing)
Once you understand that this is the design of every salad spinner in existence, you can make a salad spinner out of stuff you have around the house. It can be metal, plastic, fiber, whatever material you want. And since it will not have a complex mechanism, it will be nearly unbreakable. For example:
- you can put your washed salad in a pillowcase or other porous cloth bag and whip it around your head, like this blogger. The salad stays in the bag, the water flies out. The pillowcase is working as both the filtering element and the spinning element. This works surprisingly well — except you will get water all over the walls. (Of course you can go outside to do it, but that’s not my favorite method in the middle of a rainy winter.)
- you can do the same thing with big kitchen towels. I understand this is an old-timey method favored by many good cooks. Same results — nice salad, but splattered walls.
- a more sophisticated variation would be to put the salad-laden pillowcase or kitchen towels into a waterproof bag, then whip that around your head. In this case the towel or pillowcase is still the filtering element, but the waterproof bag acts as the “bowl” or water trap. That way the tossed-off water would won’t go on your walls.
- my preferred method is to put the greens in a stainless steel colander and use that for washing. Then I put salad that colander inside a larger bowl, and then put the whole combination down into a sturdy cloth bag, then whip that around for about 30 seconds. The colander is the filtering element, the bowl is the water trap, and the cloth bag is the thing that allows the bowl and colander to be “spun”.
Won’t the salad fall out without a lid? you say. No, it won’t, the centrifugal force keeps the open “top” of the bowl lined up the right way. After 30 seconds, stop whipping the bowl around, remove the colander, and dump the trapped water out of the bowl. You can then use the bowl for serving. If the bowl has a lid, then you can apply the lid if that suits your needs.
If all that verbiage was too much for you, check out the demonstration on Youtube:
The video shows that I tested two such homemade methods, and found they removed nearly as much water from a washed salad as the famous, and quite breakable Oxo spinner.
So basically, you never need to pay $25-$100 for a clunky and quite breakable salad spinner. There are lots of ways to wash and dry salad that are nearly free and practically unbreakable.
Just remember one thing. Salad spinning should be a vigorous part of the cooking process — not an attack with a medieval flail. So leave plenty of room when you’re swinging that thing around your head. :)
But hey, these cookies are wheat-free, and feature a delightful clash of chunks of bitter chocolate and coarse sea salt, which give them a decidedly grown-up flavor. That’s why I call them Grown-Up Cookies. Unlike most advice on this blog, you can actually apply this material and receive some enjoyment now. :)
Call it my holiday gift to the Internet.
That clash of flavors and textures is my small innovation, and I’m kind of proud of it. Otherwise these cookies are largely similar in ingredients to other “paleo” chocolate chip cookie recipes out there — there are dozens.
One of those recipes, Jenni’s, had a cookie picture that was fantastic, and infinitely better than any picture I could take. And yet, the cookies looked quite similar to the cookies I make. I used it as the visual reference above. Thanks Jenni!
The “paleo” diet is fashionable in the Crossfit world, and it fits well with the kind of food I like to eat anyway, so I’ve been eating an easy, non-radicalized version of paleo lately.
The basic notion — that it makes sense to eat foods that fit with one’s evolutionary history — seems quite logical on the surface of it. White sugar, for example, was not widely available until the 19th century, so it’s no surprise our bodies seem to suffer from an excess of it.
But after such examples, the logic and practice of the paleo theory gets harder and harder to support.
The paleo movement basically makes two claims. First, that this diet is more “authentic” or “natural” given human history. And second, that there are health benefits to eating this way.
I actually believe the health benefits part. There is persuasive evidence about the role of high-starch and -sugar diets in the chronic problems that trouble us in the modern world. The low-fat diets that have been encouraged since the 70’s have been a failure. Etc.
But the authentic part is what I’m beginning to question.
Real paleo diets were likely to be extremely irregular, for one thing. Anyone who’s ever read accounts of life among hunter-gatherers will recognize that these diets can be, above all, inconsistent. Kill a big animal and everyone feasts. But then game may disappear for weeks. There aren’t that many calories in berries. Starvation was a real possibility.
Real paleo diets were also extremely local, and potentially limited. A prehistoric person in, say, the Great Lakes region might have plenty of deer to eat, but no avocados or coconuts. Meanwhile someone in Mexico would be in the opposite situation.
So there certainly wasn’t one prehistoric diet. People ate what they could from the local environment, not from all over the world. If available food was the engine behind the evolution of diet, then the genes and diets of different human groups would have been pulled different ways… until groups of humans interbred and everything got mixed up. That doesn’t seem like a formula for a meat-centric, a plant-centric, or an anything-centric diet.
Fast forward to today. A tame, but probably healthful, version of paleo might go like this: “don’t eat anything that wasn’t available in the prehistoric environment.” So that would rule out things like wheat flour and cane sugar — substances which in a chemical sense are natural but which require laborious agricultural and/or industrial processes to purify and make consumable.
To apply this rule when making cookies, the typical response would be to use non-cane sugar — for example coconut sugar. Yes, it’s got a lower glycemic index and you can make a health case for it on that basis. But it’s still a concentrated product of agriculture and industry. There weren’t any cavemen walking around eating that stuff, or other concentrated products such as 70% cacao chocolate chips. For that matter, there weren’t any cavemen walking around eating the kind of almonds, spinach, etc that “paleo” dieters eat today — because crops like those have been relentlessly bred over thousands of years to make them more edible. Eating a few wild almonds could, sadly enough, kill a cave man.
So come on — if you want to spear a deer and eat it with some huckleberries, that’s paleo for sure. And it sounds pretty tasty to me. But beyond that the thing we know as the paleo diet is just as artificial as, well, most other diets. :)
Grown-Up Chocolate-Chip Cookies (with bitter chocolate and sea salt)
preheat oven to 350F
2 squares (2 oz.) UNSWEETENED baking chocolate (unsweetened is key)
1/3 cup butter, softened, or corn oil (canola oil may also be substituted but cookies will be flat)
1/3 cup sugar — white, brown, coconut, whatever
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
1 and 1/2 cups almond flour
2 tbsp corn meal
2 tbsp flax meal
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp COARSE sea salt (coarse is key)
the fun part: put chocolate squares in a sturdy plastic or paper bag, and go outside on a rock or concrete and break the chocolate squares apart with a hammer, until you get chunks and shards of various sizes. The bigger the pieces are, the more bitter they will feel in the finished cookie. I make the biggest pieces about the width of a pea. Put the bag aside until later.
In a mixing bowl, mix well the butter (or oil), egg, sugar, vanilla, and honey. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients — the almond flour, corn meal, flax meal, baking soda, and coarse sea salt.
Combine the dry ingredients with the wet, but DON’T MIX TOO MUCH. Just get everything evenly distributed.
Put in the chocolate chunks. Mix, but again, don’t do too much.
Now you will have very sticky and delicious sludge. Form into 9-12 ping-pong sized balls and place on parchment paper (another thing cave men didn’t have :) ) on a cookie sheet.
Bake for approximately 12 minutes. They won’t quite look done but take them out anyway.
Barefoothiking has never caused the kind of controversy and acrimony that barefoot running has. Perhaps it’s because hiking doesn’t come so overloaded with notions about proper form and “performance.” People generally go hiking for recreation and sightseeing — any exercise or positive health effects hikers get are side benefits. Most runners participate in races of some kind, but hiking is less competitive — unless you get two diehard “peak baggers” on the same trail. (Count me out, man, I’d rather stop and smell the flowers.)
So barefoot hiking should be a lot like barefoot trail running — not so much about performance as about the experience. I thought I’d give it a try when my friend Ron Krull invited me to climb Mt. St. Helens late in the summer. The photos are by him unless otherwise noted. And a special note: FWIW here barefoot means actually barefoot. There is nothing wrong with minimal shoes — or any shoes you want — but, dude, it’s not the same thing.
I’ve done Mt. St. Helens before, so I knew what I was getting into. …more
Like I wrote in my last post, my fitness activity this year has mostly been Crossfit. And no question, Crossfit has been doing something. My pants are looser, and I have a much clearer idea of my strength and how to apply it, at least to rudimentary tasks. Recently at a party, I helped the hostess by picking up a nearly full beer keg (about 150 pounds) and moving it where she wanted — with no worries whatsoever that I was going to hurt myself.
[photo by twothirstycats (Flickr, Creative Commons)]
But at the same time I’ve been chucking beer kegs, I’ve been developing a nagging set of doubts about Crossfit, and thinking back wistfully on last year’s fitness quest (running 500 miles and 9 trail races barefoot), the way one might pine after a long-gone girlfriend. I miss that time alone on the trails, sometimes literally in the dark, feeling my way through the trees.
(Special note: when I say barefoot running, I mean actual barefoot running. Running in minimal shoes may be a fine thing, but it is not the same. Just take off your minimal shoes and you’ll see. ;) )
Crossfit criticisms and apologetics
Stay with that beer keg because it will reappear later. But for now know that my mixed feelings didn’t fit neatly into the most common critiques of Crossfit. …more
(Excuse the long intro — those dying for the interview please skip to the bottom of the post!)
I haven’t been doing much running lately, because in January I joined a gym. I thought I’d focus on Jiu-Jitsu, but I’ve ended up going mostly to Crossfit classes.
It’s a big change because Crossfit is so goal-oriented. Little could be less goal-oriented than the barefoot trail running I did last year. While yes, I did have goals for mileage and races completed, performance in minutes/mile was not really part of it. Barefoot running isn’t about acing races, it’s about the experience of running — feeling every grain of earth, hearing every bird, letting your body adapt itself to the environment.
This video captures the spirit of it. (And just in case you were wondering, it’s exactly what I would look like if I lost a few pounds, gained a few inches height, and went in for a full-body waxing. :) )
Meanwhile Crossfit is all about overwhelming numerical barriers. These girls are racing each other to finish this killer workout (check in on the struggles at about 7 minutes in):
There’s no question that the high-intensity workouts in Crossfit have been doing something for me — my pants are looser for sure.
It’s also one of the biggest trends in fitness. …more