April 2010

With the boonies, 3 are alive, for sure. One looks good. The other four look more and more dubious by the moment, but I’ll keep watering them for a while. But I’m coming to the conclusion that I’ll need to grow a couple more plants from seed to really have the number of healthy plants I want. My wife thinks I took them out too early. Perhaps. Perhaps I have to lose the few that can’t survive winter to keep the ones that can.

I’m buying and putting into containers a tomato variety called husky cherry red. I’m hoping they are good container plants, though I’m reading that they can get 50 inches in height. I also bought a Japanese eggplant, because my daughter wanted one. I have no special hopes for the plant, but if it does well, so much the better.

If the plants get too big, I’m going to make cylinders of rabbit wire, drop them over the pots, and hope that keeps them growing.

Ever since my daughter went on spring break, my readership has dropped perhaps 30% and I’ve seen lows I haven’t seen in many months. This wasn’t an issue a year ago when I would have been happy to have 25 regular readers, but I was pretty satisfied with my late March numbers. I suspect an extended spring break by the colleges is the reason, but that would mean 1/3 of my readership are college students. If so, that’s news to me. According to people like Quantcast, my readership was an older sort.

Weight loss continues. Compared to the last time I told people how much I’ve lost, I guess I’ve now lost between 25 and 26 pounds from the date I entered the hospital, 41-42 pounds from my peak in early 2009. It fluctuates regularly, up and down so it’s hard to get a grip on it. Other signs though are promising.

A month ago I couldn’t even close the next lower pair of pants around my waist. Now I can. They’re tight, too tight to be comfortably worn but they can be closed. Since I only have one pair in this size range, if I lose 5-10 more pounds, this may be the only wearable pair of pants in my closet. The spreadsheet I use, Weight Tracker ODS, says my weight loss through April is proceeding at 1.9 pounds a week.

I can see a sizable donation to Good Will coming later this spring.

BuHi, of Eat Buford Highway, is holding a blogger and blogger fan get together this upcoming Wednesday. Barring an emergency, I’m planning to go.

As far as blood sugars go, I’m seeing some numbers in the 80s and 70s (that’s mg/dL). Nothing hypoglycemic yet, but low. And it’s not easy to treat. I added a teaspoon of maple syrup to some bread when I was at 77 and working from home. An hour after the meal my blood sugars were at 140 and I was on the walker. Exercise isn’t the cure for everything; I still need to eat smart.

Knowing that exercise can reduce a peak has been a huge relief to me. My only readings over 170 post hospital, with only one exception, have come as reactions to stress. And I work in a 6 story building, so if things get stressed/nasty, I plan to walk stairs until I can’t anymore. Walking 5 flights of stairs can be pretty effective therapy.

Finally, if there has been an increasing emphasis on omega-6/omega-3 issues on this blog, let me note that my left foot, post surgery, is still a little swollen. If it’s true that omega-3 supplementation can reduce inflammation, then I have a new weapon against the lingering effects of my gout. And this is about as hard as eating a 3-4 ounce can of salmon 4-5 times a week.

The Vortex in Midtown is, from the outside, the toned down, prettier analog of the Little Five Points location. Gone is the entry way through the head of a skull. There is nice looking outside seating here, a lot of chrome, housed in a tall building, as opposed to a rambling ranch style complex. And the sass? There is plenty of that, but only once you get inside.

Inside, one wall was dominated by provocative photos of what I assumed were waitstaff, the girls advertised on Vortex web pages as the “Girls of Vortex”.  Along another wall were small signed autographs, not only of various TV stars, but adult models as well. On the wall closest to me was a painting of a nude from the midriff up, on black velvet. Beside the velvet beauty was a water buffalo, who in my imagination was speaking to me and calling himself “Fred”. Other interesting props included a swan assembled from a vacuum cleaner, bombs falling from the roof, skeletons with the wings of an angel, and several variations of a skeleton riding a motorcycle, preferably with a bottle of Jägermeister close by. Other props, such as license plates, trays, old adverts were scattered about. What was missing were the demure older nudes that seemed to pepper the Five Points location.

Despite all the apparent toughness projected at Midtown, my waitress was actually quite normal and very cute. Ordering was easy. I asked for a house salad and also a cheeseburger, medium rare. There was a decent crowd when I arrived and it took a few minutes for the food to arrive. IPhones and touch pads started appearing and I was worried my neck of the woods would become insufferably yuppie. That issue resolved itself with the appearance of food.

Eating out can be tricky with my diet; you have to watch everything. However, a simple modern utensil can save those of us on long extended diets, and that is the stainless steel knife. Applying it, we also get to see that when you order medium rare at the Vortex, you actually get medium rare at the Vortex.

The salad was good. Perhaps 2 cups in size, there were plenty of tender, tasty greens and the vinaigrette was tangy and flavorful at the same time. The burger, in a word, was fine. The meats were juicy and tender. The cheese was delightful. I guess I need another trip sometime, to see if I can get a second slice of cheese on my burger. I need that extra fat at dinner.

Verdict: One of the primo burger shops in the city, as long as you can handle the attitude. Highly recommended.

Vortex Bar and Grill (Midtown)
878 Peachtree St
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 875-1667

Vortex Bar & Grill (Midtown) on Urbanspoon

Seo Ra Beol is a 24 hour Korean BBQ restaurant on a stretch of Steve Reynolds so close to Pleasant Hill that the restaurant could be said to be on both roads. I became familiar with it because of its sign on Pleasant Hill, pretty near “What the Pho?”. I was also curious if I could even eat this kind of food anymore. One of the big issues with diabetes and barbecue are sugars in the sauces, particularly brown sugar. But I didn’t recall bulgogi as being overwhelmingly sweet. So in I went, seeking my bulgogi fix.

The interior of Seo Ra Beol is quite nice. The tables are heavy and wooden. There are prints everywhere, some long and thin, others huge and framed. The separators between tables are often on rollers, so they can be moved. Some of the seating has burners, and most of those have large metal venting overhead. Fan blades were carved into the shape of tree leaves. It was a busy place. Staff scurried about constantly.

As Chef Invisible has noted, the staff look as if they are flight attendants. It’s not a bad look; they’re very neat, if at this stage a little disorganized. After ordering bulgogi, it took about 4 trips before everything arrived, the bulgogi arriving first. I rather like it when the banchan arrives first and the main entree last.

Bulgogi and some banchan. More banchan arrived later.

I found the staff easy to talk to. The banchan were being refilled regularly once they arrived and I was concentrating on the kimchi and the pickled daikon when I could. The bulgogi was good. I ate perhaps 2/3 of it, saving the rest for my daughter. Of the starches and sweets, I ate perhaps a tablespoon or two of the rice, and one bite of the orange slice they gave me after the meal was ended.

I went home, and exercised afterwards. Blood sugars ended up in a safe, normal range. Next time I’ll eat a few more bites of rice. Evidently I can afford to.

Verdict: Nice looking restaurant with good food, pretty interior and responsive staff. Recommended.

Seo Ra Beol
3040 Steve Reynolds Blvd.
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 497-1155

Seo Ra Beol on Urbanspoon

In 1982 the Nobel Prize for Physiology was awarded to three researchers, Sune Bergstrom, Bengt Samuelsson, and John Vane, for their elucidation of the pathway by which arachidonic acid becomes prostglandins and leukotrienes. These compounds cause pain and inflammation. John Vane was able to determine where aspirin fit in all this (blocking the creation of prostaglandins), and how it affected pain and inflammation. I remember this because someone at Rice University managed to get Bengt Samuelsson as a speaker, and his lecture was really excellent. From this research we now have a whole stable of NSAIDs: knowing where aspirin worked, people tested other compounds to create a whole array of drugs.

This work is important because omega 3 fatty acids work on the tail end of this same process. It turns out that dietary omega 6 fatty acids are the precursers to arachidonic acid. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids use the same enzymes in these pathways, and they are competitive inhibitors of each other. Hence, by reducing the ability of the body to turn omega 6 fatty acids into arachidonic acid and then into prostaglandins, omega 3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation.

Of the omega 3 fatty acids, the most effective are the long chain omega 3s, DHA and EPA. This can cause issues for vegans, as they need to get their omega 3s in the form of ALA. ALAs then need to be converted to DHA and EPA by the body, but that conversion is regarded as “limited” by the research we have at the time. Or is it?

One novel interpretation of the data is provided by Doctor Bill Lands. Lands argues that the conversion itself is being limited by the overwhelming presence of omega 6 fatty acids. In other words, the conversion of omega 3s from 18 chain (ALA) to 20 (EPA) and 22 chain omega 3s (DPA) works much better the less omega 6 is around in the first place. It was the writer and diabetic David Mendosa who noticed this before I did, so if you want the details, please check out Mr. Mendosa’s article on his blog. It includes charts (table 2 is the important one) and a link to a video of Bill Lands’s presentation to military physicians.

The take home is pretty simple. If ALAs are your main source of omega 3s, you need to work at reducing your omega 6 intake. If you’re taking fish oils or eating a lot of fish, it’s not as crucial to lower omega 6s to get a medical effect (If table 1 of David Mendosa’s article is correct, though, it might extend your lifespan).

One of the more amazing traits of flax seed oil is that a single 5 ml serving (1 teaspoon) contains 2.4 grams of omega 3 fatty acids. It’s high enough that I became curious about its properties and bought a bottle. It supplies α-linolenic acid, or ALA, and therefore isn’t as effective in terms of lowering triglycerides or reducing inflammation as are the fish omega 3s eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA).  But it’s not something to be sneezed at either, especially if someone is on a vegan diet or otherwise has trouble eating fish.

I bought a bottle, opened it. There was a slight grassy smell to the oil. I poured out a teaspoon, put it on a plate, added cracked black pepper. I dipped bread into it. I didn’t detect a flavor to the oil, the flavor was dominated by the cracked pepper. But neither was it offensive in any way, and it seemed to be a reasonable supplement, to be used perhaps twice a week or so.

This oil is delicate, so after opening it, it must be refrigerated.

One of the more peculiar lawn invaders I suffer from are these wild onions.

A third boonie pepper has sprouted leaves. That makes 3 of 7. My fingers are crossed for the other 4.

As my foot heals, I can walk more and more. A short walk immediately after dinner (20 minutes or so) has a huge impact on my morning blood sugars, putting them into the low normal range. Weight loss is ongoing, if not as dramatic as the middle of March.

The LA Times has a terrific article on Brazilian food that isn’t yet another churrascaria, and the New York Times is saying that heavy weight and just a few reps is better for weight loss than light weights and many reps.

Messina’s is a little hard to find. Head northeast along Highway 29 from the intersection of Beaver Ruin and Lawrenceville Highway. Go past the maroon sign of an Indian restaurant, pass the Hispanic place. And there it is, on the left, and hard to see. The building is much longer than it is wide, and doesn’t present a lot of face to the road. The sign is scarily short, in an age of oversized trucks and SUVs, and can’t be relied upon.

Though the AJC reviewed this restaurant in 2005 (and access Atlanta managed not to lose this review), I’m not sure it resembles the place Lori Johnston discussed after some five years. What I saw were  dark bare formica tables, showing clear signs of chipping and wear. Chairs were the inexpensive metal tube type you can pick up at Wall Mart or Target. The building seemed a little low roofed and a little small, a holdover from the days when the average home was perhaps 1,000 square feet in size. There are some nice features otherwise. The walls of the building are well maintained and the booths look nice, if a bit old. But this isn’t a place trying to win on looks.

It does seem to win the hearts of those in uniform. Two sheriffs were in the eatery when I arrived with my daughter. A gaggle of nurses soon followed.  The nurses must have ordered by phone, because soon after they sat their food arrived. Every plate I could see looked large, and the serving of fries was ample. That, at least, was an interesting sign. Otherwise, the clientèle were all over the board. Couples and singles, families, groups of men, groups of women, all combinations could be seen. Customers never filled the place, but they never stopped coming either.

I ended up ordering an Italian panini and my daughter got a gyro plate. She got fries, and I ended up with a side salad. There was very little to the side salad, just romaine lettuce and onions, and after the plain looks of the eatery and the rather plain salad, I was wondering if Messina’s was going to be a bust. Thankfully the sandwiches pushed aside that thought.

The panini I ordered was tasty, had a lot of flavor. My daughter’s gyro was huge. Half of it was about the size of my fist. She was very pleased with the taste and the sheer amount of food.

Service was decent. I can’t say it was much better than that. There were loud spills. People up front tended to be ignored at points. Staff could be slow seating people. The whole restaurant had the feeling of being a little understaffed on the day we arrived.

The cost of our meal was a nice surprise. Two of us were fed for about 14 dollars. None of what we had were the lunch specials, which were advertised at $5.25.

Verdict: Inexpensive food, with a lot of flavor. Recommended.

Messina’s Mediterranean Cuisine
4075 Lawrenceville Highway
Lilburn, GA 30047
(770) 935-9990

Messinas Mediterranean Cuisine on Urbanspoon

CANS Taqueria is part of a row of pastel colored houses that could be easily mistaken for model homes, or part of a brand new subdivision. It doesn’t have any of the refactored grace of, say, a post garage Decatur eatery, or a in-the-basement charm of a Center City Philadelphia chocolate shop found in a block of row houses. The area looks and feels like a growing suburb, and CANS could just be the sign on the door of a next door neighbor. As you pass however, you might catch the “KIDS EAT FREE” sign in the tiny strip of green between the eatery and the road, and manage to turn around in time to try this place out.

I’ve to some extent avoided CANS, because CANS Taqueria and Pure Taqueria have very vocal and rather nasty online partisans, and their boorish behavior vandalizes almost all the review sites for these two restaurants. It’s not uncommon to see people create accounts, log onto a review site, say something like “(CANS|Pure) sucks! (Pure|CANS) is far better; you need to go there” and never be seen again. Since this kind of nasty fighting can involve overzealous staff, I would suggest that both restaurants should do their best to put an end to it. It only makes their own establishments look bad.

That aside, CANS was looking like something out of a Bogart and Bacall tropical scene when I arrived. They were taking full advantage of the cooler spring weather and windows were open and the patio had a fair amount of customers. What it didn’t have this day was a crowd. Unlike Pure, where the seating is often cramped, people had room to spread out here. Many of the tables had a copper or brass outer layer. I sure thought that was cool.

Chips came early and they were nicely arranged. I didn’t eat chips, but the table next to me with three kids sure did, and they refilled the chips routinely. The salsa is good and has a decent amount of cilantro. A couple tastes and I was looking forward to what they could serve.

I didn’t see any mind blowing entrees at CANS. I saw panuchos, which I’d never had, but that was it. The appetizers have a lot of variety and depth, however, and they offer 5 different salsas. Things like Chiquitos (tiny tacos) and Mexican riblets dot the appetizer section of the menu. The tacos were diverse but missing exotics such as beef tongue.

To start I ordered ceviche and I had their pollo plate (chicken tacos). I was very tempted by the puerco tacos (pork shoulder and mexican cheese), but didn’t want the headache of figuring out how much cheese I was eating and how much fat was in that particular cheese. Simple foods work best for me these days, and I knew as well that I was ordering food I would end up doggie bagging.

The ceviche was good and fresh. I was having a hard time not eating it all, and it was nearly a day’s serving of meat for me these days. I had the same issue with the tacos, as the serving size was more than ample for me. I nibbled on the ceviche and ate a pair of tacos. The banana chips were too good looking not to try at least one. The same held for the green rice and the black beans.

Service was very good. I was being tag teamed by at least two people all the time I was there. They also have the neatest delivery car. Surf boards on the top and a hula girl on the dash make it a wonderful bit of eye candy.

To summarize, this place is a cut above. I have no problem recommending CANS as a place to eat. The food is very good, the atmosphere relaxed, and the solid service make it a pleasure to attend. If the overly partisan fans can stop bickering on the Internet, then everyone would be better served, because there is plenty of room in Atlanta for taquerias as good as this one.

Verdict: Roomy, breezy, fun restaurant with excellent service and very good food. Highly recommended.

CANS Taqueria
12635 Crabapple Rd
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 663-0908

CANS Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Meehan’s Public House is a small chain of 3 restaurants, owned by the 101 Concepts group. There is one in Sandy Springs, Vinings, and one downtown. This  day I went to the one in Sandy Springs, though at the time it wasn’t a first choice. I was, nonetheless, glad to have this pub as a second choice.

The menu is fairly plain pub food with a nod to English/Irish dishes. You’ll find things like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash here. They have good large buffalo wings, and they have plenty of options in their burgers. They have a bison burger, for one, and the day I arrived they had a lamb burger special. I ordered a salad and the lamb.

The salad came over well. Bit of walnuts added good fats, and the vinaigrette was welcome as well. The lamb burger looked plain, but with a rich lamb taste and a healthy bit of goat cheese between the bread, delivered big time on flavor. I asked for a knife and a doggie bag, as this one was a bit much for me at lunch. Bun size alone would have me cutting this burger in half.

Counting taps, there were something like 15 in this pub. Ales, ciders, and good beers seemed to pattern the drink mix. The interior was rich in wood and large flat screens. Almost all the screen action was on fútbol, or what Americans call soccer. It seemed appropriate for what is an Irish themed bar. Service, all told, was excellent, despite the small crowd the day and time I arrived (very late lunch).

Verdict: Nice neighborhood bar with an Irish theme. Food looks plain, delivers on flavor. Recommended.

Meehan’s Public House
227 Sandy Springs Place
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 843-8059

Meehan's Public House on Urbanspoon

2810 Paces Ferry Road Northwest
Vinings, GA 30339
(770) 433-1920

Meehan's on Urbanspoon

180 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 214-9821

Meehan's Public House - Downtown on Urbanspoon

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