Sofrito/Epis – The delicious secret weapon for Athletes – A recipe

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This is a recipe that I am publishing for all my brothers and sisters in the Strength Sport community.  It is a tasty method of injecting a tasty, highly nutritional component into your rice, stews, sauces and such.

What follows is a personal observation regarding the value of eating 100 percent organic.  Please jump to the next non-italicized paragraph if you just want the recipe.

When I was a young child to teenager going back and forth from the Caribbean to the US, it was the period just before (and the beginning of) the Obesity epidemic in the States.  There just weren’t that many overweight people when I was a kid.  My early to late teen years coincided with the paradigm shift in food production in the US and consequent rise in obesity.  I remember coming back to the US – every year or two – and literally noticing a greater percentage of obesity with each trip.  Meanwhile back in my “home” country, most people had a hard enough time eating every day much less worry about getting fat.      Amongst the vast majority of the population, having sufficient resources to fatten up would have been very welcome indeed.  Yet even amongst the upper classes (who were often fantastically wealthy) obesity was a rarity.

So people were generally slim and, furthermore, I remember noticing that younger adults who did manual labor (peasant farmers, construction workers, etc) were often incredibly ripped.  Those men and women could have made a fortune on Instragram had they been born a generation later.   The phenomenon that foreign adults remarked most frequently was a huge increase in libido(I was a teenager couldn’t notice a difference as my libido was already in the stratosphere).  The Caribbean was (and remains) a place were some people’s marriages went to die.  The often heard remark is that “there must be something in the water”.  Close, but no Monte Cristo.  My thesis that everyone was (and in the poorer more rural parts of the country, still is) eating 100 percent organic produce, meat and dairy.  We did this not because organic, local produce was a thing back then.  Big chain stores and processed foods were rare.  You bought most of your food in the outdoor market from peasant farmers.  You ate lots of fruit and vegetables, ate meat and fish occasionally (it was expensive).  You also get a lot of sun and therefore aren’t deficient in Vitamin D.  Basically, if you ate this diet in sufficient quantity (not too much or too little) it’s like being physically turbocharged.  You are firing on all cylinders.  Sofrito is the perfect example – it combines all of the proven health benefits of garlic, ginger, hot peppers, green herbs (parsley, cilantro, etc), onions and more.  A friend of mine eats a few spoon fools, uncooked, instead of taking vitamins.  It’s hard to think of a better, more bio-available way of getting quite a few vitamins and minerals in one go.

The base of much of Caribbean cuisine is “sofrito” or “epis” (as it’s referred to in the country spent most of my time in).  This preparation can be used in just about anything but especially in rice, sauces and stews.    There are many different variations depending upon the eventual recipe.  I whip up a batch of sofrito/epis at least once a week.  The components vary, but for me the back bone of any “sofrito/epis” is the fresh garlic and ginger.  I make a special effort to make my epis/sofrito as jam-packed as possible with various nutrients.  In case you were wondering, it  tastes amazing.  Below are the components of my current epis\sofrito recipe:

NB:  All components of this recipe should be sourced organically for the reasons I alluded to above.

Fresh Garlic, peeled (this should be one of the building blocks.  The amount is up to you depending on the eventual quantity. )

Fresh Ginger, peeled  (If at all possible not from China)

Fresh Curcuma , peeled – also you may want to wear some gloves when peeling and cutting, as it stains quite a bit

Spring Onions

Onions and/or shallots

Habanero Peppers – OK, this depends on how much heat you like.  I live in Europe where the Habanero come from either Kenya or the Netherlands – they are weak AF.  If I used 2 Habanero from the Caribbean or the Yucatan in my recipe, I’d be crying.  For now, however, 2 from my current sources provide a decent amount of kick.  Also, as with the Curcuma, keep the gloves on while handling these.  Anybody who has every cut Habaneros without gloves and then gone to the bathroom shortly thereafter can tell you why.

Bell pepper (partial) – for color and fiber

Cloves, 2 or 3 should do it.

Fresh cilantro and parsley

True sea salt (no additives).

Apple cider vinegar or lime juice

Olive Oil

A bit of water.

Put all of these ingredients in a food processor and mix to the consistency you see in the picture.  You will have to be the judge regarding the essential components and the liquids, but that is actually quite fun.  In most cases, saute this mixture in a bit of coconut oil before adding it to the rice, quinoa, stews or whatever.  Note that depending on the recipe some people may add tomatoes or what have you.  This an infinitely adaptable recipe.

Pro Tip – for the best and quickest Guacamole recipe known to mankind, add sofrito and peeled avocado halves in a bowl.  Thoroughly mix/crush with a fork until you achieve the required consistency.  You may want to add a pinch of sea salt to taste.

5 hard-earned tips for alleviating culture shock

As a seasoned traveler and a person who has lived in 12 fairly different countries, I tend to embrace a bit of culture shock and see it as a positive experience.  I embrace it precisely because years of experience has taught me the potential pitfalls and also the hidden joys of being immersed in a new culture .  For those who encounter culture shock for the first time, it can be a disorienting, isolating experience.

How one reacts culture shock is entirely dependent their frame of mind.  Yes, travel can broaden the mind, but only if you welcome the experience.  Here are the top strategies I’ve used to make encountering a new culture an enriching experience:

  1. Open your mind – Obvious advice, I know, but absolutely critical.  Most of the people I know who had negative expat experiences left their host countries almost entirely ignorant of the country’s language, history, cuisine, culture, politics, etc.  If you travel for extended periods of time and/or live in a “foreign” country,  you will enjoy the experience more by learning as much as you can about that country before you travel as well as during you stay.  Opening your mind also means realizing that travel is as much about new experiences as it is visiting places.  Don’t leave your common sense at home, but at the same time try not to judge every single thing through your own cultural lens.  Know that some hard work is required on your end, but that the ultimate reward is a much richer, more positive experience.
  2. Learn the language – Another obvious piece of advice that is nevertheless not followed by quite a few Anglophones who live in non-English speaking countries.  Nothing makes you feel more isolated and helpless than spending extended periods of time surrounded by people you can’t understand.  English speaking countries generally do not place a high value on learning a foreign language and, as a result, many Anglophones mistakenly think that one has to be a genius to learn a foreign language.  In the country where I live, almost everyone speaks at least 3 languages fluently and knowing up to 5 languages is not uncommon.  Telling somebody here that you can speak another language would be like telling them you know how to drive or that you can read.  My point is that almost anybody can learn,  at the very least, the rudiments of a language.  Most people positively react to foreigners who try to learn their language so even the potentially awkward act of, say, asking for directions in a new language can be a more pleasant experience that you’d imagine.  There are no downsides to learning a new language other than the effort you will need to put in.  And, yes, when you return to your Anglophone country, people will think you’re a veritable genius.
  3. Enjoy the sheer novelty  –  This is the hidden gem.  When you first arrive in a country that is unfamiliar your mind will kick into overdrive.  You will notice everything; the sights, the sounds, the smells, how people behave, how they dress, your new surroundings and so forth.  Some of those memories will be so new that they will be imprinted on your brain.  If I had to guess, it’s survival mechanism that evolution has bestowed on us.  Your mind is trying to familiarize itself as quickly as possible with the new parameters.  For some people who have never experienced this phenomenon, it might be stressful at first.  To be honest, adjusting to a radically new situation can be tiring.  The positive side is that, for a short time, you once again have the hyper inquisitive mind of a child.  Your brain is absolutely alert.  You see the world with eyes that are not so jaded by experience or the same old drudgery.  Know that this period does not last for a long time.  Eventually your mind reverts to homeostasis, so enjoy the feeling while it lasts.
  4. Enlist your baser instincts –  It’s a cliché but I tell you it’s 100 percent true.  The FASTEST way,  bar none, of learning a new language and/or culture is via one’s romantic partner.  If he or she is from the country in question, you have both the motivation and the means of broadening your knowledge.  Barring that, I find that attraction to the lifestyle, potential “romantic” partners (i.e. “Wow,  Barcelona is full of amazing women”) or the cuisine are pretty significant motivators.  Food and sex are, after all, primal needs.  As an aside, I arrived at my current situation in Europe fueled by a passion for my then girlfriend but also everything related to the world of wine.  Double-whammy.  I am no longer into the former and not as much into the latter , but the momentary motivation they provided me with made a big impact on my life.
  5. Continue to pursue your interests – The benefits of continuing to cultivate your interests in a new environment are twofold.  Firstly, it will give you a familiar anchor in an unfamiliar situation.  More importantly, in my opinion, is that shared interests offer opportunities to meet new people in your new country.  If you are truly passionate about your interest(s) and search out like-minded people, new doors will open to you.

Continue reading “5 hard-earned tips for alleviating culture shock”

The unexpected consequences of lifting.

What motivates people to train in the strength sports?  Ask 100 different lifters why they lift and you will no doubt get a 100 different answers that are just variations of the same theme.  The common thread running through their answers would be that it’s that it’s just flat out fun being strong.  Being stronger than you ever imagined you’d be is a hoot.

Everyone is familiar with runners’ high and “getting a pump” as just 2 examples of an immediate positive consequence or feedback from physical activity.   Whether you’re a  natural powerlifter, strong man competitor or Olympic lifter, one of the best things about lifting is working towards a well-defined goal and achieving it.  For strength athletes, the broad goal is to get stronger in your competition lifts. You do this by working your ass off, yes, but also by careful training and nutritional programming so that you are at your peak on the day of the competition.  Thus we get an even more potent high; the elation of hitting a PR as result of weeks or months of hard training or the “contact high” of seeing a training buddy hit theirs.  These are highs that can last for days.

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What, though, are the unintended consequences of lifting?  These are those things that happen as a result of your training but aren’t the reason you train and/or are something you would have anticipated.   Below are some of my personal unintended consequences – I’d like to this post to be more of a  forum thread and would love to hear about your “top” unanticipated consequences in the comments section below.

  • Diet and nutrition  –  Once I hit middle-age, became serious about strength training and decided  I was not going to take any Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), I  developed a healthy (yes, there will be puns) interest in achieving optimal performance via nutrition.  While none of this interested me before I now know why GMOs are bad, the value of organically raised produce, why processed “food” is so unhealthy and a number of other subjects that I once thought was the sole preserve of the patchouli-scented self-righteous.  This is probably the subject for another post, but suffice to say when you drive a Ferrari to the gas station, you don’t put diesel into it.  So why would you ingest something your body is not designed to handle?  Taken in a wider context, why would you poison an ecosystem in the same manner?
  • Quieting the monkey mind – Yes, meditation.  Once I started down the slippery slope of optimal performance via natural methods, I heard mediation referred to many times by too many disparate sources to ignore it any longer.  I’m still very much in the beginner stage of meditation and mindfulness training.   Considering how much of a difference it makes already,  I think it might be analogous to the “beginner gains” phenomenon that all weightlifters have experienced.
  • Negative reactions – I have never engaged in a sport that has garnered this much negative feedback – and that includes boxing, kickboxing, “point” sparring in Karate tournaments and running marathons.  Much of this sort of reaction is out of genuine albeit uninformed concern, as in “Me:  “Hey, I had a 190KG squat PR the other day!”  Concerned family member:  “You know, you could really hurt yourself”.  Really?  You don’t run a marathon without putting in some serious training nor do you put 190KG on your back and squat it on a whim.  To further the marathon analogy, when you run that marathon you’re going to be suffering the effects for days after.  You hit a squat PR, you’re just going to have a PR “high” for days after.  Another type of negative feedback is a lingering but common place feeling that people who engage in strength sports are illiterate knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.  People who don’t know you often make snap judgements which hopefully they are disabused of once they make your acquaintance.   And, finally, I’ve had more than a few female friends/past girlfriends/ex-wife as well as a few male acquaintances be kind enough to share their opinions of one of my favorite past-times, or at least its physical manifestation.  The script always as follows,  ” You know, this weight training thing, don’t you thing you want to tone it down a bit?  The muscle-bound look isn’t great and, honestly, women don’t find it attractive”  That’s fair, people are entitled to their opinions but what I find so interesting in this case is why these people are so eager to share this particular opinion when they wouldn’t do it to a fat person, a skinny person, a really gaunt but athletic type (think triathlon, etc) or pretty any other body type.  My thinking on the subject is as follows:  I’m (quite obviously) not a bodybuilder.  My physical appearance is just the byproduct of what I do and I’m aware that a person with an above-average amount of muscle combined with an average percentage of body fat will look much bulkier than a skinny-fat dude (less muscle, higher body fat percentage).  However, I do this activity because I like it makes me feel so how it makes me look is  of secondary or even tertiary importance. As far as women are concerned, no doubt some if not many find this look not to their liking.  However, one of the benefits of living 50 years is that I have realized that pretty much all women dislike a man who has no passion and only does whatever he thinks will please them in a given moment.  So I do what I do because it makes me happy.  To quote from Slaughterhouse 5 (yes, I could say “Kurt Vonnegut’s” but I like to think that would superfluous for any reader of this blog) “So it goes”.
  • Sex:  Don’t worry, I will not, repeat, will not go into detail.  Suffice it to say this, strength training will certainly not interfere with one’s sex drive. In most cases (embarrassed cough) it will  help things.  For one, all that exercise and attention to proper nutrition means that, hormonally speaking, you’re firing on all cylinders.  And being able to “pick things up and put them down”  can be kind of fun in the bedroom.  Also, and in spite of the negative feedback I’ve described above, I’ve found that some women do quite like the look.  It is a double-edged sword, I’m aware, to have somebody interested in you for purely physical reasons or whatever they think you represent, but that is the subject for another post.  Interestingly, I’ve often found that I’ve garnered the most interest  from women in the “entourage” of the same people who freely offered me their opinion.  (let me be clear, I’m divorced and currently not seeing anybody lest anyone think I’m a cad).
  • Happiness/Contentment:  Sustained physical activity done with focus and intent is or should be an integral part of everyone’s life.  A sound body does indeed help to foster a sound mind.  To be honest, if my schedule allowed for it, my main activity would once again be some sort of martial art, but my living situation, work schedule, etc precludes a long-term commitment to be consistently in the same place at the same time week after week.  With powerlifting all I need is access to good gyms and  to occasionally check in with my coach and my home “club”.  The feeling of physical well-being after a heavy squat session is, for me, almost indescribable.  (high praise for squats, to be honest, as I’m well above average in bench press, OK at squats and have a “poverty” deadlift”.)  Endorphins, stress reduction and the, as I mentioned earlier, the flat out fun of being strong are a potent combination.

What are your top “unintended consequences”?

Random Musings on Gym Behavior – Part 1

30 years ago I joined my first gym.  It was a hugely overpriced affair located in Boston’s Financial District.  It was filled to the brim with big, bright,  shiny machines (Nautilus was a big deal in those days) and entitled Type A douchebags.  Forget even approaching the bench press in those days as: a) there were very few of them and b) they were permanently colonized by Roided out curl-bro neanderthals who had a predilection for silly baggy multi-colored “work out” pants.  This was decades before “leg day” entered the lexicon.  Since the gym was always, always crowded you had to learn a form of gym etiquette very quickly to avoid, shall we say, “unpleasant” experiences.  But it was there that I realized that gyms are amazing places to study human interaction.  African wildlife documentaries  always have watering hole scene as it’s an easy way to film a large number of species interacting in a relatively small space.  And I put to you that if I was young Sociology or Anthropology student, I’d do my field work in a gym for the same reason.

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In the past 30 years I have worked out in gyms across North America, South America, Africa and above all in many countries in Europe.  I’ve noticed some behavior is fairly universal while others are what you’d call site specific.  Some of these include:

  • Nudity in the locker room – Ah, the locker room…stomping ground of the archetypal Naked Old Dude.  Yes, they exist in ever single country I’ve ever visited and, no, they didn’t give single f***.  Clipping toenails, drying their hair (or worse) and engaging in extended conversations all whilst butt nekkid.  As for the under 65 crowd, I’ve noticed some cultural differences.  People from Germanic influenced countries and cultures are by far the most at ease being naked, at not just in the locker room.  Think of them as Naked Old Dudes in training.  In the US, Latin America, UK, etc people generally are not phased by it given that you go, take your shower, get dressed.  If you want debate last night’s game, for God’s sake put some clothes on.  And, perhaps surprising to some, the most reserved are Europeans from the “Romance Language” countries.  Wearing your boxers into the shower is very common.  I am, of course, a product of the cultures I am exposed to the most so I admit on more on US/Romance language side of the spectrum.  Ok, yes, one has to get nekkid to change clothes or take a shower but why, oh, why do you need to be over by the sink, shaving, without a stitch of clothes on.
  • Working “in” with a stranger – This is very common, necessary practice in US gyms, especially in bigger cities.  What this means in practice is that you very nicely ask the person who is using the equipment you’d like to use if you can work in as she or he rests between sets.  In Latin America and Africa this is fairly common as well.  In my experience, it’s fairly rare in “commercial gyms” in many Western European countries.  Not coincidentally, I find that Western Europeans are also much less likely to engage in conversations with random strangers than those other cultures.  The exception to this rule (speaking of Western Europe) are specialty gyms – power lifting, strong man or Olympic lifting.  The difference is you’re then in a subculture with its own norms.
  • Using the gym as a pick-up joint – I haven’t noticed much regional variation for this behavior.  Yes, there are some men and women who do, but it’s actually far less common than people think.  The big whopping exception to the rule are personal trainers.  I have known people who own and/or managed commercial gyms and judging from the “behind the scenes” tales they tell (as related to them by their staff), it’s probably even more soap opera-esque than people think.  Note:  I am not referring to strength training gyms as they don’t have “personal trainers”.  They have coaches whose job it is to teach the proper form and programming you need to achieve your sporting goals.  Personal Trainers work in commercial gyms and, aside from making you look ridiculous on a Bosu ball, I’m not sure if they serve a useful function unless it’s the service alluded to above.  Finally there is universal Gym archetype number 2 – the creeper.  This is generally a guy who is more interested in staring at women than achieving a new PR.  At a commercial gym, it’s undeniable that 95 percent of the women are there to take class of some sort and or run on a treadmill.  They avoid the weight room it can be intimidating to the uninitiated but also, I imagine, because it’s populated mainly by dudes and thus the chance for being ogled is that much higher.  Which is a shame as they are depriving themselves of a chance to get stronger.  If a guy is doing his thing in the weight room, chances are he’s all business and goal oriented.  I’ve seen many guys more interested at checking themselves out in the mirrors or taking Instagram pics than ogling the few women that venture into the weight room.  That lone guy in your Zumba class, though….

 

Stranger in a strange land

In my first post I touched briefly (albeit not very coherently) on the the notion of nationality, cultural identity and, I suppose, the idea of diaspora.  What makes it strange for people like me is that Americans think of themselves of the immigrant nation par excellence.  People, according to this narrative, are literally dying to come to the US.  The notion that Americans would choose to live elsewhere, perhaps permanently, does not register as if it’s some sort of fringe activity.  Yet there are millions of us: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_diaspora

If you take the lower estimate, that means are more US diaspora than the current population of the Republic of Ireland.  Nevertheless, even if we take the higher estimate of 9 million, that is a small fraction of the current US population. As globalization continues, the phenomena of US diaspora may one day be more than a blip on the US cultural radar.   My point is that having lived quite a bit in countries that have a very large diaspora population, I know what the general consensus tends to be from the folks in the home country:  Yes, they’re like us, but not entirely.  There’s something a bit off about them and, besides, they aren’t true citizens of (fill in the blank) because they haven’t been living here, sharing our experiences.  This is a fairly common sentiment that I’ve seen in many different countries.  The flip side of the coin is the experience of the diaspora – he or she is the perennial outsider.  They may master the language and culture of the country where they live, they are “not from here”.  And they aren’t entirely accepted back home either.   For now, most Americans don’t have an opinion regarding diaspora simply because they’re not that aware of it and don’t know anybody personally living outside the country.

So, I’m not saying my experience is analogous to an economic migrant.  Far from it, most American diaspora live outside the US due to circumstances other than economic.  For me being the outsider is sometimes curious state of being but it never weighs heavily.  At worst, on a rare trip back to the US I feel like a character from the Twilight Zone – somebody who fell asleep in 1997 only to awake in 2017 to a country that is both familiar but at the same time radically changed.

Random Musings

 

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The topics for this blog will range far and wide but suffice it to say I’ll spend a fair time talking about strength training, politics, culture, the expat life, languages, cooking, wine and anything else that strikes my fancy.  For now I’ll do this on a somewhat anonymous basis as I plan to keep it real and I’ve better things to do than deal with legions of Red Bull-guzzling trolls.

Firstly, I suppose, I should introduce myself.  I  could only probably call myself middle-aged if I believe I’ll live to 100.  I am American (born to American parents) but I wasn’t born in the US, spent a decent part of my childhood outside the US and now have spent the majority of my adult life outside North America.  The word “expat” often connotes somebody who goes “abroad” for a year or so, interacts to varying degrees with the new culture/language and eventually goes “home”.  That is not my situation.  If you met me today and we spoke English, I have an undeniable North American accent, albeit a non-regional, neutral one.  The way I talk, my mannerisms and many of my cultural references are American.  In my experience, you have to live in a country for fairly long time to even begin to understand it.  Conversely, not living in country for extended periods of time means that you lose context and a shared cultural history, even in the internet age.

I work in the financial services industry in what, I suppose, could be considered a middle management post.  Don’t panic, that will never figure in any blog posts but I mention because it because one of my recent areas of interest is sports and social class.  The classic example would golfing.  In my experience, if you want to network effectively,  golf is unbeatable.  Running or training for endurance sports are well-regarded as well and offer many opportunities for professional “bonding” over lunch time runs.  Strength training…not as much.  The truth is, in certain social circles, if you strength train to the extent it’s obvious to casual observer you’re regarded as a sort of emotionally-stunted freak.   I strength train (mostly powerlifting) because I love the mental and athletic challenge.   I love the team spirit and atmosphere in a good powerlifting gym as it’s similar to a serious dojo (except for the music cranked to 11 and abundant chalk dust).  While increased strength is the ultimate goal, increased muscle mass is indeed a byproduct.

How people react to this “mass” is, I think, fascinating.  It’s like a Rorshach test in many ways.  Nobody feels free to walk up to visibly gaunt ultra-marathoner at a party and say things like “What you’re doing is so unhealthy and visually unappealing.  Furthermore, women really don’t like this look.  Do you have a psychological problem that compels you to run distances that I find extreme”?  Put on a bit of muscle mass, however,  and it’s open season.  In my lifetime I’ve been thin to gaunt (running and martial arts), normal (less running and bit more general aimless gym time) and had of period of “few years into your marriage/young kids at home/total lack of exercise” induced pudginess.  Not once during those periods was I ever approached by friends, family, acquaintances or total strangers at a party and given what amounts to negative feedback.  It’s not all negative, there is plenty of positive (ahem) feedback too.  That’s what so interesting  – why have a strong reaction either way?

For those of you not familiar with strength sports, powerlifters by and large would never been confused with bodybuilders.  While some are pretty jacked, the most common look is what’s known as “fuscular” i.e. there’s s six pack in there some where under that layer of fat.  Aesthetics are not a priority.  I’m in the latter category.  I could be leaner, perhaps, were it not for my diet.  That doesn’t mean I eat crap, though.  I eat “clean”, cooking most of my food myself from organic sources whenever possible.  I also take pains to eat balanced, nutritious meals and take supplements (fish oil, vitamin d3, creatine, maca) judiciously.  I don’t take PEDs, but not from a moral standpoint.  Rather, my body still produces things like Testosterone in pretty decent quantities.  Why introduce exogenous sources for a short-time and risk f**king up my hormonal health long term?  No thanks.  That being said, I drink wine and beer like they aren’t going to make any more.  Yes, yes, I know it’s bad for you.  We are dichotomous creatures.  Yin and yang is an actual thing.