Friday, June 3, 2011

I am a terrible sell-out


Yesterday I saw a personal trainer.  I feel as if this is a horrible betrayal for some reason.  I’ve been training on my own for the last nine years.  I lifted three times a week while working 60 hours per, loading planes in Alaska.  However, I’ve had a nagging hip injury that has sidelined my running for awhile, and I thought maybe if I found a good trainer I could bypass hip surgery at the age of 35. 

My trainer is Jim Ferris ( and a super nice guy.  I noticed him at my gym, training guys who were 4-5 inches taller than me, and in way better shape.  Turns out he’s actually a professional, rather than a Bally’s stamped certificate variety of trainer, and I was seeing professional NBA players, etc.  Although wary of personal training, I decided that if he was being trusted with multi-million dollar athletes, he probably knew a thing or two about injury prevention, and could probably teach me a lesson.

That lesson was humility.   We ran through several stability and core exercises that basically destroyed me, in a fantastic way.  I’m looking forward to incorporating this new facet of training.  Jim’s been pretty excellent about looking for what I want in my training routine, and also been pretty charitable about working within my severely handicapped grad student budget (which is the reason this is partly a cooking blog and not a restaurant review one)

I ended up working myself so hard I gave myself heat exhaustion, and had to lie down and drink a gallon and a half of water the rest of the evening.  It was totally worth it.

My hip feels fantastic by the way.  Apparently it was a hip flexor issue that needed a special stretch to resolve.  How much damage I’ve done over the years is unknown right now, but at least it isn’t contracting my femur into the joint anymore.  So it goes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Getting Results From Your Lifting


I am a large man.  I am by no means a body-builder (no creatine, or steroids for me) but I get asked one question a lot:  “How often do you lift?”

And the answer, surprisingly, is ‘not that much’.

Three hours a week, on average, to be honest.  Getting serious results from lifting is much, much easier than people think.  I probably spend more time eating and hydrating, finding my workout gear, putting it on, and driving to the gym, and then doing all that in reverse.  There is one secret that separates serious results from serious injuries:

You have to make the muscle do the work.

Get it?

You have to make the muscle…do the work.

For aesthetic sculpting (ie, look good naked) working out, the one key to actually building good-looking muscle is making sure that your form is perfect and manageable.  It’s incredibly easy to learn how to do this.  Find an exercise you like.  Bicep curls, front raises, etc, and try this:

Stand perfectly still.  Do the exercise without moving your body to compensate, and focus on muscular contraction.

For all the tried and true workout sets, the one standard that most people can agree on is hitting each individual muscle with 8-10 good reps for two sets, with one “left in the tank”

This means that when lifting, do not cheat, and lift each set until your form suffers.  Meaning, if you can’t do another absolutely perfect rep, and you’re not up to 8 reps, then the weight you’re using needs to drop. 

Your weights will drop.  You will feel under-exercised.  You will feel self conscious that people are laughing at how little weight you are using.

But you will recover faster.  You will get stronger faster.  And you will get better looking.

So What Do You Actually DO?

The science behind it is horrifically complicated.  But all beginners will grow if they work out each muscle (not muscle GROUP, but INDIVIDUAL MUSCLE) like this:

once a week,

two sets (perfect form, 8-10 reps)

and to split body parts (legs + abs, back + bis, chest + tris) into three separate days.

Oh, and don’t forget to take every 4th week off.

-The Giant Hungry Polack

(P.S. I made an amazing crispy strawberry balsamic duck today but forgot to take pictures.  A wasted opportunity.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My favorite workout inspiration:


“I run slow.

I work in the social services, and a lot of the people we work with have a lot of regrets. I've asked our case managers to have their clients come out and watch me run. I run so slow, time run backwards. As I waddle along, your life runs in reverse. Scars becomes wounds become chances to exercise better judgment. I run slow.

Like most people, I enjoy running in the mornings, before it gets too hot. Unlike most people, I've been pushed over by a squirrel.

I run slow. Sometimes when I am running, I think of those zen fountains that absorb a drip drip drip of water down a bamboo tube before finally tipping over and dumping their contents into a pool. Each step I take is another drip. I think, that fountain would call me a pussy.

I run slow. But I know where I have been.

Six months ago, I didn't run.

Six months ago, I had heartburn bad enough to keep me from sleeping through the night. Six months ago, I felt like I needed to go to sleep at 2pm. And six months ago, running felt impossible.

I run slow, and I have ways to go. But I can sleep. I feel alive. I can run two, slow, miles. Slowly.

Sometimes I get discouraged. I compare where I am to where other people are. But all that matters is where I am compared to where I was.

Once something good becomes something you are going to do for the rest of your life, the pace becomes less important. I know that my drip drip drip will amount to that deluge, eventually. Someday I will run 3 miles, slowly.”

-Author Unknown


This is really my favorite workout inspiration of all time.  I read this when I was fat and identified with the idea of the slow and painstaking progress I was making on the road to a better life.  That one line, “But all that matters is where I am compared to where I was” is a great way to pick yourself up in the middle of a brutal run.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Roasted Garlic Grilled Pizza



This recipe is absolutely perfect for impressing any woman in your life.  Before you grill the pizza you will need to roast garlic, saute the onions, and saute the broccoli.  The real secret is buying your pizza dough fresh from any locally owned pizza shop.  Their dough is much better than your homemade (or store bought) dough will ever be, and generally will only cost you $1-$2 for a 16 inch pizza’s worth.

Note:  Do not use extra virgin olive oil.  Use regular olive oil.  Extra virgin olive oil burns at a very low temperature and will ruin the garlic and pizza



1 Ball Pizza Dough (Purchased from any local pizza shop)

1 Head Roasted Garlic

1 Heads Broccoli

1/4 lb Mozzarella

1 medium spanish onion

Kosher Salt (to taste)

Broccoli (to taste)


Directions:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Chop top off garlic head, drizzle with olive oil and salt, wrap tightly in aluminum foil.  Let roast for 1 hour.  Slice onions and roughly chop broccoli.  Saute in two different pans, until  onions are sweet and caramelized, and until broccoli is crispy and caramelized.  The onions will need olive oil and salt, the broccoli will need olive oil, salt, and a few pinches of sugar to caramelize.

Preheat the grill to 350 Degrees.  Roll out pizza dough.  Coat both sides in olive oil.  When grill is preheated, carefully place pizza dough on grill, and let cook (1-2 minutes) until well marked and crispy.  Pull pizza dough off and flip over so the cooked side is up.  On the cooked side, spread roasted garlic, broccoli, caramelized onions, and mozzarella cheese.  Place uncooked side of pizza back directly on the grill, and cook until well marked and crispy, 4-5 minutes.  Cool on wire rack 5 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Things That Help:



Mastering the Grill:  By far the best and most useful grilling book ever devised.  Simply explained science helps you control and perfect the art of cooking with fire.  The authors won several awards for their cookbooks for these very reasons.

A Decent Knife: If you’re going to cook, leave the cheap blades behind.  This is a real workman’s knife.  Highly rated and dependable, I actually purchase these for my family so I don’t have to deal with inferior knives when I cook on the holidays.

Cutting Board:  Bamboo.  Cheap, effective, durable, and from a renewable resource (if you care about that sort of thing).  The best part about bamboo is that it’s lightweight so you can carry the cutting board one handed while going to and from the grill, or more easily hold it while cleaning.

Smoke Box:  The slow and even heating of this cast iron smoker box is all you need to start cranking out serious smoked meats on your grill.  The conventional wisdom that people need an entire smoker set up is being slowly turned on its head.  Simply put, most smoked meats are oversaturated in smoke to the point where they are at times unpleasant to eat.  With a small smoke box and low heat, a gas grill is entirely capable of putting out a properly smoky and nuanced meal.




MP3 Player:  Probably the biggest impediment to working out is not having any music.  Find your rhythm.  The clip + is hands down the best MP3 player for lifting.  Excellent sound quality, unobtrusive, and simple to use.  The prepackaged headphones need to be replaced.

Workout Headphones:  These headphones are comfortable and stay put.  High quality also allows enough noise so oncoming cars are audible.

Whey Protein by Optimum Nutrition: The best price point for premium whey:  It mixes, tastes, and works the best, with absolutely no filler or gimmicks. 

Stainless Steel Protein Shaker: Anyone who knows whey knows this: cheap plastic shakers get awful smelly bacteria growing in them that makes them quite frankly disgusting to use.


Next Time:  Easy Smoked Brisket.

Monday, May 16, 2011

One of my better efforts


A teaser from a recipe I’m working on:



Finally: A Recipe Appears!


The Quick Science Behind Beer Can Chicken.


1 Whole Chicken (3.5-4lbs)

Vegetable Oil

Kosher Salt

Glaze (Jam, Fruit Butter, any Sugar based Sauce.

Calibrated instant read thermometer

1 (or many more) Beer Can(s)

The reason everyone loves beer can chicken is 1) it involves beer 2) it is an ingenious method for ensuring that grilled chicken stays juicy and tender.

Remove chicken from fridge one hour before roasting to bring up to temperature to ensure even cooking. Drink half of beer. Preheat grill to 350. Remove Giblets, pat chicken thoroughly dry with paper towels. Rub oil around outside of chicken, salt the chicken liberally, and then stand up on beer can. Transfer chicken to preheated grill and roast chicken over indirect heat (middle burner turned off on three burner grill). It should take about an hour and a half to reach the proper temperature. Fifteen minutes before the hour and a half mark, brush on the glaze. Fifteen minutes should be enough for the glaze to reduce down and even become crispy without burning. When the chicken reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast meat, remove it from the grill and let rest for fifteen minutes before serving. It will be fall apart tender and it can be sectioned by hand. My favorite easy recipe is just to use Trader Joe’s line of fruit butters (such as pumpkin) or my homemade strawberry jam.

How it works:

Chicken is a very delicate protein, and responds best to slow roasting (Popeye’s notwithstanding). The other secret to chicken is to treat the different parts, well, differently.

The breast meat is vastly different from the thigh, leg, and wing meat. Breast meat is very low in fat and low in connective tissue. Subsequently, it is low in flavor and sort of boring most of the time.

Leg and thigh meat is high in fat and connective tissue and (sorry) this makes it much tastier. However, due to these differences, these parts of the chicken are considered ‘done’ at different temperatures.

Breast meat is done at 165

Leg and Thigh meat is done at 175.

Do not trust the FDA recommendations. They have been disproven, and are only used by institutions such as prisons and poorly run reformatory schools. Your dinner guests will laugh at your cooking ability.

A ten degree swing in either direction for any of the chicken pieces makes it much less enjoyable, completely inedible by restaurant standards.

The true genius of the beer can roasting method on the grill is that with the beer can stuffed into the cavity of the chicken, it acts as a tripod, which exposes the thigh and leg meat to more direct heat, while keeping the breast from overcooking.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Injury Prevention

Exercises to Avoid:
This list will probably anger a lot of purists.  That is OK.  Most of these exercises can be passably safe if done completely perfectly while being observed by three or more people to correct your form, but avoiding them is easier and safer. 
      1.  Bench Press:  Easy to do improperly, and when done improperly, will eventually ruin -shoulders, elbows, and wrists.  No exercise inspires more dumb risks than the bench press.  The shape of the barbell and bench lead people into unnatural body positions, and the exercise’s notoriety causes plate obsession.

-Alternatives:  Floor Press (if you must), pushups, dumbbell press.

      2.   Barbell Shoulder Press:  Even Gregg ‘The Man Whose Arms Exploded’ Valentino had this to say about barbell shoulder press:  “It’s a great way to kill your shoulders.”

-Alternatives:  Dumbbell shoulder press, bench reclined to 70 degrees.  Rotational dumbbell lifts.

      3.  Behind the Neck Pulldowns/Pullups:  More shoulder killers.  Your arms are not supposed to go back that far.

-Alternatives:  Pretty much every back exercise that doesn’t involve pulling something onto or behind your head.

      4.  Leg Press Machine:  Great for your ego, terrible for your lower back.  Inspires poor form, muscle imbalances, and lower spinal injuries.

-Alternatives:  Lunges, Bulgarian split squats.  Both of these hit stabilizers much more effectively

Again, many of these exercises can be done safely.  But most often they are not, and cause severe repetitive stress injuries at best, or catastrophic damage at worst.  I always cringe when I hear about someone trying for their 1 Rep Max in any of these exercises. 
Number and plate obsession come entirely from a need to dominate, rather than a desire to create.  Working out is not about battling iron, but about creating a new you, someone who takes shape with each movement.  In the words of Henry Rollins:

“It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything. That's the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Workout Things That Took Me YEARS To Learn (that you can know in five minutes)

Workout Tips That Took Me YEARS to Learn

The 7 Day Cycle:  I’m going to ask you a simple question:  Who invented the week?  People did, your body didn’t.  This means that although it fits better into our schedules, the seven day lifting cycle is a completely arbitrary one.

More Work = Bigger Muscles:  Muscle grows not in the gym, but outside the gym, during rest and sleep periods.  Most workouts are designed by people on steroids, FOR people on steroids, and they trickle down to the normal people like you and I.  The human body doesn’t get that much better at repairing muscle and joints, and the rate is set by the internal organs which act as filtering mechanisms (not nuclear power plants) for the raw building blocks of the human body.  Proper cycling time PLUS weeks off are incredibly important.  Three rules for putting on a consistent amount of size:

 1.  8 Hours of sleep.
       2.  Eat Protein
       3.  Do not work-out too much.

However, this doesn’t mean you can half-ass it in the gym and expect results.  It means you need to sorta kick your ass without murdering yourself.  This brings me to my next point:

Lifting for Tone:  No such thing.  Being ‘toned’ just means someone has a low body-fat %.  Classic ‘toning’ exercises tend to be exercises that hit stability muscles that most people have difficulty hitting with standard hypertrophy exercises.

Ten pounds of muscle in a month!:  Another lie.  The most lean muscle a normal male can put on in a month is about one pound.  Two pounds is for a serious genetic freak following a perfect diet and lifting program.  Most people who put on “Ten pounds of muscle” are adding water weight, intramuscular fat, glycogen around the liver, or just plain fat.  I can put on five pounds of water weight in a day by laying off the coffee, eating pickles, and drinking whey + water.

No pain, no gain:  Advice normally given by ex football players who are plagued with injuries and can’t workout past their mid-twenties.  This is what it means when your body is in pain:
It is being damaged.

If an exercise hurts, it means one of three things:
      1.  You are doing the exercise incorrectly
      2.  You are not strong enough to do the exercise (due to weakness, muscle imbalance, etc)
      3.  It is a bad exercise

None of these reasons are anything to be ashamed about.  I myself have muscle imbalances and  a strange bone structure that determines my workout.  Weakness and pain are useful information to determine the next step you take.

Next Week:  Exercises to avoid, forever, and a delicious recipe.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Food & Iron

Part I:  I am an ex-fatkid. 

 I always loved food, and always will.  I was born chubby, grew up chubbier, and ended up breaking, not tipping, the scales at 260 pounds.  This was nobody’s fault but mine.  6’4”, two hundred and sixty pounds:  great stats for an offensive lineman, not so much for someone who lifted a couple of times a week.  During my years at school I lived with my friends I knew from the hockey team.  Some of them spent some time in the NHL, and to them my nickname was “big guy”.  This was not a compliment.

I am better now.  I do not rearrange floor boards when I walk, and my head is only gigantic rather than pumpkin sized.  During the course of my weight-loss I worked manual labor and still went to the gym during all the time, and what I changed was my cooking and eating habits, not the frequency or intensity of my workouts.  I am now down to 205 pounds.  I feel better every day, and all of my clothes (including my shoes) are smaller and less than two years old.  I work out roughly the same amount of time I did when I was a fatty.  In fact, if anything, I lift less intensely than before.

I originally started cooking years ago in an attempt to eat healthier and shed some of my formidable size. My first recipes were embarrassingly simple and pretty all around bad:  grilled, defrosted chicken breasts covered in whatever stale, pre-mixed seasonings I could afford.  I stood in front of my parents’ giant cast-iron grill, overcooking the hell out of anything I could get my giant ham hands on, and somehow loving every minute of it.  My years of cooking taught me two things:

1.        Cooking is a science
2.        Flavoring is an art

Part II:  So Why the blog?

Make Awesome Food

While reading about weight-lifting, inevitably one comes across recipes, and what I can tell you about them  is that they are all...uniformly...terrible.  It's almost all crap, because the large amount of people who are into working out view food as fuel.

Avoid Injuries

Most of the work-out advice forums are filled with ex-football players (play through the PAIN!) or people on steroids.  They give bad, bad advice.  My workout advice will be which exercises to NOT do.
            Lose Weight
            There are a million different diets out there.  All the real scientific studies coming out now support a lower carbohydrate, restricted sugar, healthy fat diet.  Except for trans-fats, which are still terri-bad for you.
             On the other hand, many workout diets demand stunningly precise caloric and macro-nutrient splits.  Most of us aren't cutting down to 4% body fat for a show; we just want to look better naked..  You can always get more complicated, but starting is the most important part.

So to sum up:

1.        Make Awesome Food.
2.        Avoid Injuries
3.        Lose Weight

My name is Stefan, and I’m here to help.