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(Blue Apron is a home delivery service that provides meal kits for people who like to cook but don’t have the time or inclination to shop for the ingredients they need. It promises fresh, perfectly proportioned, good quality ingredients and step-by-step recipe cards delivered to your doorstep. Meals take approximately 30-40 minutes to cook and cost approximately $10 per serving. There are several such services and some of the others are Home Chef, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon.)

My wife and I became aware of Blue Apron because our son, who works long hours, sometimes uses it. We ourselves had never used it until recently, when a friend gifted us a 2 meal subscription. It was a thoughtful gift because we both like to cook. When the Styrofoam Blue Apron box arrived on our doorstep, we opened it with great anticipation. Inside, on a slab of dry ice, were the neatly packed ingredients. The meats were in tightly sealed vacuum packed pouches, the sauces in plastic bags or little bottles and the vegetables separately wrapped in a plastic bag. Our shipment was for two 2-person meals: Ginger – Marinated Steaks with Stir -fried vegetables and Jasmine Rice & Balsamic glazed Chicken w/ Roasted Vegetables. The recipes were on heavy stock paper with an enticing technicolor photograph of the completed dishes and smaller photographs illustrating the different steps in their preparation.

I have to say we enjoyed cooking the dishes and dining on them. We felt the steak dish was the better of the two but both of them were very good. The steak recipe was inspired by an episode from Top Chef Season 15 and we loved the combination of the sliced steak (marinated in an Asian style marinade of ginger, soy sauce and ponzu), sautéed bok choy, sliced red radishes and jasmine rice. I don’t have the Chicken recipe card in front of me and can’t describe it in detail but we enjoyed it too.

There are several features of Blue Apron that I liked. The ingredients are exactly proportioned and they are good quality. It’s easy to unwrap them and prep them all at once before proceeding to cook. Initially, I thought the portions were a little skimpy but I was wrong; they represent healthy servings which are what a dietitian would recommend. When we finished our meal, we were satisfied but not stuffed. The experience showed us that when we eat out, or on our own at home, we tend to over-eat because we have no real idea of how much is enough; the portions are way too large. Using meal kits means that there are no left overs or wastage; you eat everything that you’ve prepared and you don’t have unused vegetables or meats in the refrigerator that have to be used up subsequently. The recipes themselves are good and there is sufficient variety that you will not get bored , ever. They offer a wide range of dishes from a variety of cuisines. Some services also cater to special requirements such as gluten free or low carb. Since our two meals were a gift, I have no idea of the cost but am inclined to accept that they cost the advertised price of $ 10 – $11 per serving. Not sure whether that price takes into account the discount coupons that are widely available, but it probably does. At that price, they work out cheaper than eating out or even take-out. For busy young professionals short on time, they are a good alternative.

Even so, I do not see myself being a regular patron of Blue apron or its competitors.

There are a number of reasons, among them cost ( I would think we can eat for about half that price) and variety ( we eat mostly Asian food and like to experiment with exotic dishes and cuisines). The main reason is that cooking with Blue Apron is like ” painting by the numbers”. It is not a personal experience in which I get the pleasure of feeling I have done something on my own ; it is mechanical. Furthermore,I like to go food shopping, checking out unfamiliar foods and dreaming up new dishes ( which sometimes turn out horribly!). That, of course, is no longer available if I utilize Blue apron or some other meal kit.

I have a couple of $30 -off coupons and, at some point in the future, I will use them and try some Blue Apron dishes but, as for being a regular user of meal kits … it is not going to happen. I will leave them to those who are pressed for time. Me, I want to enjoy my cooking.

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I was at the gym this morning and, while I was on the treadmill, I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two guys who were using the weight machines. They were talking about the stock market and the stocks they held.

One man said,” Whenever I want to buy a stock, my wife finds reasons why we shouldn’t. When I check six months or a year later, I find the stock has doubled in value. Years ago, when Amazon was just starting out, I wanted to buy but my wife said, ‘ Amazon is a river in South America. Why would you want to buy stock in a company named for it?’

I shouldn’t have listened.”

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I was reading an interesting excerpt from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD about how our sleep patterns are the key to a much longer life. According to him, we are not sleeping the way our distant ancestors  did, the way Nature intended us to.

Walker states that in olden times, in hunter-gatherer societies, people enjoyed a biphasic sleep pattern, seven or eight hours in bed at night resulting in about seven hours of sleep , along with a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon. Furthermore, the nightly slumbers usually began 2-3 hours after dusk, around 9pm and lasted until dawn. No doubt, this was because those early cultures did not have the benefit of electric light and even firelight represented a drain on scarce resources.

Nowadays, in the post industrial age, we have been forced into a mono-phasic sleep pattern in which we sleep  for less than seven hours a night. Typically, this begins late at night though we still wake up quite early. And ,of course, modern office hours don’t permit the taking of an afternoon nap.

In support of his argument, that this enforced monophasic pattern is harmful to health, Walker points to a study of people who had to switch from a biphasic to a monophasic sleep pattern. Previously, they had office hours that incorporated an afternoon siesta but  were then forced to fall in line with the rest of the world and work regular 9 to 5 shifts. This study showed that over 6 years, these people suffered a 37% increased risk of death due to heart disease. Another statistic: People on the Greek island of Ikaria were four times as likely  to reach the age of ninety as Americans did.

When I began to read this excerpt, I did so with an open mind, but the more I read the more my doubts began to mount. Firstly, even if a biphasic sleep pattern is ” natural”, most of us never enjoyed it once we started our working lives. So how could we feel deprived of something we never had? Just as some factory workers, medical staff and others  get used to working the night shift, is it not likely that a monophasic pattern is becomes the new standard for us? In any case, what choice do we have? There is no way we will be able to shift back to a biphasic pattern. Even nations that enjoyed a siesta are switching to a 9 to 5 schedule.

As for those people in Ikaria who have a four times greater chance of living to the age of ninety, can this be attributed solely to their biphasic sleep pattern? These people are mostly farmers or shepherds; they work hard, live in an unpolluted environment,  eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and have a less stressful lifestyle. Is it not likely that these factors all contribute to their longevity?

I think so.

I also think that , as long as one gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily, it doesn’t matter if it occurs all at once or in two or more installments. When the mind and body need rest, the person craves sleep. As long as that need is satisfied, you are fine. I find that, with  most of my friends who are retired, an afternoon nap is an imperative, partly because they tire more easily and partly because they no longer get seven hours uninterrupted sleep at night. One of my friends who is in his eighties wrote me to say that the day’s activities are now accomplished ” between naps”.

So… never mind about terms like monophasic or biphasic.  Just listen to your body and all will be well.

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Yesterday, I got from the library a beautiful book Aging Gracefully, Portraits of People Over 100, by the German photographer/ writer Karsten Thormahaelen. The book contains 52 portraits of men and women who have already celebrated their 100th birthdays. On the pages facing their photographs, they tell us briefly what makes them tick. The author had a wonderful relationship with his grandparents when he was growing up and his passion is taking photographs of old people. He has traveled all over the world to bring us these portraits. And what portraits! Just looking at them makes us feel good. Most of these centenarians are smiling and happy; their faces exude a quiet strength and contentment. They are from all over the world (France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Italy, the United States, Peru) but many are from two places known for the longevity of their inhabitants: Vilcabamba( Ecuador) and Okinawa ( Japan).

After enjoying the photographs, I tried to mine the capsule biographies for clues to the longevity of these people. What was it that enabled them to live long and, more importantly, to remain engaged and happy? At first they did not seem to have much in common. For instance, many of them had long and happy marriages but then there was Henriette Cathala, a Parisienne and former hotel staff manager. She had never been married and is happy with her lot. “No husband, no children, no problems”, she says with a smile. Sometimes, people contradicted themselves. One, a Dutchman, advised “Go to bed early, don’t smoke and don’t drink – although you can make an exception now and then for a whisky, And for gin, too.” That hardly makes him an advocate for abstinence.

Surprisingly, only a few mentioned prayer and of the five who did, two were priests.

These are the things I did find that many of them shared.

  1. Many of them were born poor and had led very difficult lives. Several had begun to lose their faculties. Some were suffering loss of hearing, one had lost the use of her legs and another was blind. Yet all of them accepted their lot and retained their positive attitude. They did not let their handicaps cramp their style but worked around them.
  2. They were still independent to a surprising degree. They lived by themselves, cooked and cared for themselves with only occasional help from the family or from caregivers. Many of those from Okinawa and Ecuador grew their own vegetables in little family plots.
  3. Many stressed the importance of walking or otherwise being active. One Norwegian described how he takes short walks every two hours throughout the day.
  4. Many had hobbies or interests which they enjoyed. Common hobbies were music, singing, working out, reading, knitting, gardening and watching TV. One man from Los Angeles took up metal sculpting late in life and had his first exhibition at the age of 100!
  5. They were very social and maintained close relationships with family, friends and neighbors. A lady from Okinawa said that it was important not to stay at home but to do things with others.
  6. They were moderate in their habits.” Never go to extremes “as one put it.
  7. Lastly and most importantly, was maintaining a positive attitude, avoiding stress and trying to do good. This was expressed by several people in different ways. “Enjoy, be happy, laugh”. “Give love to others. Be noble”. “Live and work in harmony with yourself and others’.

Perhaps the attitude of these centenarians is best exemplified by Edward Palkot of Long Island who still plays golf at age 102, lives on his own, tends his garden, eats out frequently, reads, does crossword puzzles, chats with the neighbors and loves doing the polka.

I admire the vigor and zest for life that these elders have but what I appreciate even more is the serenity and sense of fulfillment they possess. One gentleman from Okinawa, who is very much at peace with himself and his life, says that if he ever met a kind hearted fairy, he wouldn’t know what he could possibly ask  for.” I really have everything I need.”

What a wonderful thing to be able to say.

 

 

 

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What a fantastic game it was yesterday ! Last year, when the Patriots won after trailing by 25 points in the second half, I didn’t think there could be a more exciting game. I was wrong and how! Last year’s game was one-sided for more than a half ; this year, there was tension throughout. The Patriots and the Eagles traded scores before New England nosed ahead only to see the Eagles grab the lead and strip -sack Brady to put the game almost out of reach. With just over a minute remaining, it would have taken a miracle ( a TD and a two point conversion) for the Pats to pull it out but Brady’s Hail Mary fell short.

In the past, I’ve gone along with those who think a defensive struggle ending in a tight 9-7 or 10-9 finish as the ideal game. I’ve changed my mind. Yesterday’s game showed that a high scoring game can be just as enjoyable, if not more so. If the game is close throughout, and if the lead changes hands once or more, a high scoring game is more exciting to me.

Yesterday, there were Super Bowl records set for most yards gained and most points scored. What is one to make of this? Some sports scribes label this a failure of the defenses.  I can’t agree. The Eagles pass rush was fierce throughout and, if they sacked Brady only once, I credit Brady for his coolness and poise under fire. Many times he only just escaped the pass rushers to throw strikes to his receivers. Foles too was equally impressive. Thus, I wouldn’t fault the defenses on either team; it’s just that the offenses were outstanding.

So was the play calling. After the first quarter, almost every time the Patriots had the ball they looked likely to score and often did. I’m not sure whether to give all the credit to Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator ( or reserve some for Belichick) but as, the game wore on, it seemed like the Pats were one step ahead of the Eagles defense. One has  come to expect that from Bill Belichick led teams but, yesterday, Doug Pedersen, the Eagles head coach, was just as brilliant. His play-calling was innovative and daring, never more so than on the two fourth down plays both of which the Eagles came through, once for a TD.

One topic that will be the subject of much discussion is Bill Belichick’s decision not to start Malcolm Butler, the cornerback who became a Super Bowl star when the intercepted Seattle QB Rick Wilson on the goal line and preserved a Patriots victory. Belichick is, of course, mum on his reasons for doing so. One school of thought is that Butler was benched in favor of Eric Rowan because the latter being taller would be more effective against the Eagles athletic receivers. Considering that Rowan was repeatedly torched by the Eagle wide-outs, it boggles the mind that Belichick did not relent and re-insert Butler.. if indeed the reason for the original decision was as surmised above. Belichick is always pragmatic and you’d think he would not let his stubbornness get in the way of what was best for the team. Another ( rumor?) is that Butler was benched for disciplinary reasons. What the truth is we may never know. In any case, Butler will soon be an unrestricted free agent and has probably played his last game for the Patriots.

I had been rooting for the Eagles to win, though I had no real hope that they would do so. Even though I consider Brady as perhaps the best QB ever and Bill Belichick unquestionably the greatest coach and judge of talent in the NFL, I was tired of seeing the Patriots win. Furthermore Brady,  though he says and does all the right things, strikes me as being arrogant. Thus I was very happy when the Eagles pulled off an upset yesterday even though I’m not an Eagles fan. Nick Foles has had an up-and-down career and I was glad for him and for the Eagles as they won their first Super Bowl rings ever.

For a variety of reasons, chief among them the fact that my team (the N. Y. Giants) was dismal this season, I’d not really followed the NFL this season. Yesterday’s game was only the second I’d seen all season long, the first being the Patriots- Jacksonville thriller two weeks ago. Hearing about the Eagles roster, how they are loaded with talent and will be a force for years to come, makes me apprehensive for the Giants future. With an aging QB in Eli Manning and with gaping holes at a number of positions, the Giants are in for a long re-building phase. Since I’m not a fair weather fan, I won’t abandon the Giants but it looks like rough seas ahead. But all that is in the future. For now, congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles for a game well played and a tremendous victory.

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I was in the checkout lane at the local supermarket and the cashier was ringing up my purchases when she hit a snag. One item had her stymied . She held it up and asked the girl at the next lane,” Do you know what this is?” The other girl knew the answer.

“THIS” was a cauliflower.

This was many years ago. It would not happen today, mostly because every item has a bar code that can be scanned. Cashiers don’t need to know what the items they are checking out are. Otherwise … who knows?

At the time this incident happened, I remember being astounded. How could she not know what a cauliflower was? Then I realized it was not surprising when you consider how few vegetables most Americans eat. Even today, the American diet is heavily meat-centric. When I’ve been invited to dinner at the homes of my friends, the meal has consisted of a salad followed by roast chicken or steak accompanied by potatoes( boiled, mashed or French Fries) and a vegetable.  “Vegetable” usually means carrots, green beans or green peas. This I believe is the standard fare in most American homes. BTW, this comment does not apply to families living in the big metropolitan centers and to first generation immigrants ( particularly Asians) who still eat the cuisine of their native countries. I know this is true when I look at the laden shopping carts of fellow shoppers in the supermarket: Meat, frozen entrees and pizzas, pasta, tomato products, very few vegetables, bags of chopped salad, cereals, eggs, desserts and soda. Though, nowadays the soda has been replaced by bottled water. When I took my friend to an Indian supermarket he was amazed at the number of vegetables on offer, many of which he had never seen and did not know the names of.

Why is this so? Why is the American diet so meat oriented? I don’t know the answer but I have observed this fascination with meat in other countries too. When we were in the Dominican Republic, some years ago, I went to a local restaurant to see what the local food was like. There on a steam table were mostly meat dishes, the only difference with high end hotels being that they were stews and casseroles made with inferior cuts of meat, what we would call ” organ meats” or ” offal”. Vegetables( except for potatoes, onions, tomatoes and carrots) were conspicuously absent and I later found out that vegetables were in short supply and relatively expensive.

Even among the poor, there is a hankering to eat more meat. I remember reading about a riot in Egypt where the rioters marched on the luxury hotels in Cairo shouting slogans, among them ” We eat bread while they eat meat!”

Many of us seem to make a connection between meat eating and upward mobility. In Shanghai, we were dining in a half empty restaurant on some the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. Next door was a jam packed McDonalds with a line of customers snaking out the door. Our guide remarked sadly that Chinese never had a problem with obesity until the American fast food chains came to China.” Now”, she said ” kids want to eat hamburgers and fried chicken all the time. They don’t want to eat Chinese food anymore”. The results were not difficult to see. Shortly thereafter, I was looking at the Guinness Book of World Records and noticed that the world record for heaviest child was held by a Chinese boy of 14 who weighed in excess of 350 pounds( I can’t remember the exact figure). I also saw the record for the maximum weight loss was also held by another Chinese boy.

And yet, all this meat eating is not good for the body. My wife had been to a talk by a nutritionist at the public library. After talking about the desirability of a balanced diet with plenty of fiber and lots of grains and vegetables, he mentioned how they aid digestion and bowel movements. Going to the toilet at least once a day was a must, he declare; otherwise retaining this waste in the body for longer periods could lead to illnesses such as colon cancer, besides being highly uncomfortable. One lady in the audience was amazed. ” But I go only once a week !” she said. I don’t know what else was said in response but I can’t help thinking she must have been perennially constipated. What a horrible condition to be in. If I miss going even for a day, I feel terrible and I know I’m difficult to live with. To be in such a condition for a week, week in and week out, boggles the mind. No wonder I see so many TV ads for extra strong laxatives and stool softeners.

I want to make it clear that I am not a vegetarian. I do eat meat, all kinds of meat ( beef, pork, chicken, fish), though in much smaller quantities. I do not eat it at every meal though I have some protein every day. When I eat meat, it is the supporting, rather than the main, component of the meal. While I occasionally will have a steak or roast chicken, most of the time I eat meat in the form of curries, casseroles, stews or chili. And , of course, plenty of vegetables, sprouted grains and legumes. To my mind, the Japanese and the Chinese have the ideal diets; small quantities of meat or fish in almost every dish and plenty of vegetables, often raw or par-cooked. Perhaps a strict vegetarian diet is best, as some diet gurus aver, but it is not for me. I like the taste of meat and to satisfy my  body’s protein needs entirely from vegetarian sources would be difficult and too much of an effort.

 

 

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In all of December 2017, Moscow received exactly six minutes of sunlight. Six minutes…. over thirty-one days!! The rest of the time it was cloudy and overcast. Not that last December was much worse than usual. The average amount of sunlight that Muscovites enjoyed in other Decembers was eighteen minutes. Still pitiful.

The lack of sunlight, the early darkness and the longer nights are the things that bother me most about winter. The cold and the snow of a New Jersey winter I can handle particularly since I don’t have to worry about shoveling the driveway ( taken care as part of the maintenance package in our development) or going to work ( I’m retired). What’s also good is that, in New Jersey, there are usually aren’t periods of sustained cold and that, even when it is cold, the sun is out almost every day. We count sunlight hours , not minutes… unlike Moscow. And what a difference it makes. True, the sunlight is weak. It doesn’t matter. Just the fact that the sun is shining is enough; that we can see it provides a lift to the spirit. We had some days last week when the temperature was in the teens ( 14 deg. F = minus 8C) but this week it is in the mid-forties ( about 7 deg. C). It’s a big difference and one almost feels warm today.

And winter has its compensations. It snowed last week  (about 4 inches) and, because it was below freezing, the snow froze and clung to the tree branches like icicles. I was driving to the supermarket and it was a fairytale setting with the snow covered fields and the ice clad trees. By today, all the snow had melted and one was left with the stark beauty of barren fields and leafless trees. There was also the knowledge that this is a passing phase. February is usually the coldest, snowiest month but then there is the promise of spring . Winter just makes us appreciate it more.

San Diego is said to have the perfect weather.. sunny all year around with the temperature never far from 70degrees F.  I admit that it sometimes sounds attractive but then I think it would soon become boring. ( Another perfect day… Ho hum). Give me New Jersey and the change of seasons any day.

 

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