Archive for March, 2012

Animation project, Part I

For a few weeks now I’m working on a music video that’s animated. I use Creative Commons “Attribution” images as backgrounds, and then I animate the action by hand, frame by frame. I bought a Wacom tablet, and I do all the sketching on it and Photoshop. I used to sketch a lot when I was a kid, and I’m considerably good with it, but I have never done any animation work before. There’s a steep learning curve, but I learn as I go along. So far I have finished animating 16 seconds out of the 2:55 song. I estimate that the video will be ready sometime in May. I work on it a few hours a day.

Introduction scene to the bad guy:

The good guy on the run (scene where he meets the girl for the first time):

The tragedy that is “The City”

I’ve lived in 5 countries so far in my life, and in a variety of places (tiny villages, towns, bigger towns, cities, bigger cities, mega-cities). The places I liked it best at were villages, towns, and small cities (up to ~25k people).

I have a problem with big or mega-cities. A big city stops being a home, and instead it becomes a storage unit for human beings. Floor after floor, crammed in a dusty apartment with no yard, and only a few (over-crowded on weekends) parks to call “nature”. Life in a big city is by definition a routine: wake up, get the bus or drive to work, come back, watch TV, sleep, repeat. Everything looks artificial: the billboard ads, the sky with no stars at night, the countless cars on the street. Most humans resemble flocks of ants waiting for a green light to play Frog, while the rest live on the streets hoping for some change. This situation has a detrimental effect overtime in the human condition. People lose track of what’s important, and they become apathetic shadows of themselves. Violence then erupts at every corner. People still evolve, but they lose authenticity.

Sure, a big City provides big shops, exhibitions & events, entertainment. It all sounds exciting, no doubt, but in reality it’s more an addiction than anything else. Running on a puppy field with a kite, or having a picnic near the water, is more appealing to me than shopping. Storming a local art shop is also more interesting to me than a big art exhibition, because I’m always on the look out of new, revolutionary points of view though art, rather than admiring 100 year old points of view that someone else labelled them “classics”. Art is supposed to look forward, and it can equally happen in a small town, or a big city. It’s just that the art industry today doesn’t look there for talents.


New York Times Square at Night” by Werner Kunz. Licensed under the CC BY-SA-NC 2.0.

Having lived at my dad’s mountainous village for a few years (400 inhabitants in the 1960s, but only 150 left when I lived there in the ’80s, about 50 today), I got a good idea of what community really means. Sharing your milk, yogurt, eggs, vegetables with your neighbors. Knowing absolutely everyone there, and helping out when they are in need. Even on a town (like the one my family currently lives in Greece), the same feeling of community remains, albeit reduced in intensity. At the village I was among care-free, happy people, bosses of themselves. Even the ones who left for other cities or countries, still go back there as often as possible, and keep in touch with “home” via the village’s newspaper. Interestingly, the village was self-governed in many respects, nearly free of external state influences. Finally, houses are built far apart, as they all have land around them, but they’re still close enough: just 1-2 minutes of walk. The perfect ratio to both feel you’re with others, but also have the space you need to breath.

As with everything, there are some negative points living in such a commune, the biggest one being the unending gossip (everyone about everyone), and the lack of intellectuals. However, it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. When I lived there in the ’80s, most people only had 6 years of schooling on their belt at the time. But today this is not the case. In fact, I would expect the truly smart people to immigrate to such a place. Tele-commuting is a possibility these days for example, for many professions. And robots should soon free up the rest of the professions.


Mountain life” by John and Melanie Kotsopoulos. Licensed under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Unfortunately, today’s people try to connect with one another by getting physically closer to as many people as possible, by moving to a big city, but that’s a misguided approach. True connection only happens when people are free of multiple fake identity layers, and this can only happen in a relaxed and pure environment where humanity thrives.

Bliss

When I was a kid in Greece, after finishing my homework, I would run around my village’s steep mountainous terrain, and hang from olive and fig trees, usually upside-down. I had a particular time for this “meditative exercise” of mine: in the summers it was between 4 and 5:30 PM. The sun would have just send down its golden light, and everything looked so beautiful and serene, with only a few goat & sheep bells audible in the background, as they were returning to their stables from a day’s grazing up in our mountain’s top. The view was magnificent: from my village you could see miles and miles away left & right, while at the far front there is another, bigger mountain, just to keep us all in perspective.

This was my bliss. And I was getting it almost daily, in high doses.

When I say “bliss”, I mean it. It’s a very specific feeling, one that can’t be easily described in words. It feels like everything is fine with the world and that there is absolutely no worry, about anything. It’s the ultimate happiness, an explosion of nirvana when the peaceful surroundings touch your inner self.

This was a feeling that I was self-medicating on, since my childhood was pretty bad overall. I grew up in poverty, for one. There were many times we had no money to buy bread for instance, one of the reasons we immigrated back to my dad’s village from the bigger city we were living. My parents would constantly fight, and violence was common. I also can’t claim that I have a gift in making close friends. Acquaintances plenty, but not close friends. Other kids would just not understand me, I was always the weirdo in the bunch. My geeky interests were simply different than theirs, and this only became more evident as I entered my teen years.

So this daily run at the stair-step fields at my village was much needed. It kept me happy, I was able to tap into nature somehow in a way that I could really see it with its true colors. Nature was honest with me. I felt connected, part of a bigger whole, but still being me. I guess you could say that I was getting “naturally high”, in a way.


Childhood, by Hartwig HKD. Licensed under the CC-BY-ND 2.0.

We moved to a nearby town when I was 12 years old. Without access to our big vegetable garden and our beautiful hens in the village anymore, my mom binged us on grains and potatoes; that was the time that my health started declining originally (my first symptoms were some hair loss, and lack of focus when trying to study). I suddenly lost my ability to be happy and one with nature. I still managed to get glimpses of this very specific feeling, but only rarely, and only for a few seconds. As the years went by, I lost the ability almost completely. Maybe in the last 20 years I have had this feeling 4-5 times overall. In the meantime, my health declined more. Sure, I have been happy many times in that time-frame, but that “bliss” feeling is very specific, and just different of just living a “good, happy life”.

And then, Paleo happened to me, 6 months ago now. Nearly all of my health issues have already resolved away, and my life, at last, has started taking a shape that’s not all doom & gloom. I suddenly felt that I still had a chance. During the first 4 months on Paleo, the feeling of bliss came back 2-3 times, at random points. In addition, my ADD was getting better, my situational depression vanished, and anxiety & brain fog was winding down too. My husband noted all this, and many times asked me… “WHO are you?“. He couldn’t believe that the real me had emerged after years of being miserable. See, I became sicker just 3 months after moving to the US to live with him, so in the 12 years we’re together he has seen very little of a happy-me. Not fair for me, and even less fair for him.

Because weight loss was sluggish with plain Paleo for me, I moved to Paleo-ketogenic on January 22nd of this year (25-40 gr of net carbs per day maximum). I knew that a ketogenic diet is the best diet for everyone’s mental health (not only for those with certain disorders), but I thought that the plain Paleo diet gave me most of what it would be possible for me to absorb at this point. Not so. The Paleo-ketogenic diet made me much happier, much more focused, more driven, and with an exceptional mental clarity — in less than a month’s time. I now know what it means to really be healthy and feel “good”. My husband told me a number of times this past month that I radiate from the inside, a rare thing to see in any human being. Additionally, on Paleo I’d still get SIBO/IBS-D symptoms 2-3 times a month too (down from 4-5 times a day on SAD), but since I went Paleo-ketogenic in January, I have had zero symptoms.

As for that specific feeling of bliss, let’s just say that I got it multiple times, in a single month, since I went Paleo-ketogenic. I expect it to become ever more prevalent as the rest of my body heals from years of bad health. Happiness is coming back, big time. I’m considering staying in ketosis for as long as possible, perhaps for life.

Update: Apparently this feeling of bliss has a name, it’s called “ketosis euphoria”, it’s known to scientists, and it’s essentially a natural “high”. Weeeeee…

Patsas

For the first time since I came to the US, I finally managed to find goat/sheep tripe at my local Mediterranean store yesterday. So I bought a kilo of it, which is enough for 5 cooking sessions (at 3-4 servings each). All this quantity only cost me $10, which is of course super-cheap for 15-20 servings! The butcher at the store knows me well now. I’m the only one it seems who buys all these odd animal parts…

The idea was to make “patsas”, or as otherwise known in the Balkans, “İşkembe” soup. It’s a traditional soup made from tripe, intestines, and sometimes feet or head-cheek meat. In Greece it’s used as a hang-over food too, consumed in the early morning after spending all night… drinking!

This is the first time I made the soup myself, so I had to Skype my mom in Greece today, to make sure I had the recipe right. I cooked it tonight, and it came out great! Apparently in the US it’s not legal to sell intestines from what the butcher told me, so along the tripe, I used some heart meat for the soup. Here’s how I did it, just in case you come across some tripe. A perfect Paleo food!

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings, 2 gr of net carbs each)
* 200 gr of sheep or goat tripe
* 100 gr of sheep/goat intestines, or heart, or cheek meat, or kidneys
* 30 gr of butter
* 5-6 garlic cloves
* 1 large egg, in room temperature
* 1 large juicy lemon, or 2 smaller ones
* Salt & pepper to taste

Method
1. *IF* using intestines, you must wash them well under running water. Then, get a wooden chopstick or any other wooden branch that looks like it, and penetrate the one side of the intestine. Keep pulling the intestine towards the chopstick, until you reach the other end. You then pick that end, and you pull the intestine. This basically turns the intestine inside-out, allowing you to clean it up from the inside too! So wash it up very, very well with water.

2. Boil water on a big cooking pan. Immerse the tripe for about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan, set aside. If using intestines, immerse them too for another 2-3 minutes. Then throw away that water. This step kills any microbes still living on the tripe and intestines. You don’t need to do this for the heart, cheek meat or kidneys (if using).

3. Wash the cooking pan with some washing liquid, rinse, and add lots of water again, bringing it into boil again. Immerse the tripe again (and intestines, if using). Using a tablespoon, remove and throw away the white stuff that start floating on top. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove the tripe/intestines, set aside, throw away the water. A note: if you know for sure that your tripe/intestines is coming from a baby lamb/goat, you might not need to do this step, as it won’t be as smelly as from an older animal. Definitely avoid non-castrated older male goats btw, they smell bad.

4. Wash the cooking pan with some washing liquid, rinse, and add 2.5 litters of water, bringing it into boil. While the water is getting into boiling point, cut the tripe (and intestines, if using) in 1 inch by 1.5 inch pieces. If using heard/meat/kidneys, cut them in thin stripes too. Add them all into the boiling water. Using a tablespoon, remove and throw away the white stuff that might start floating on top.

5. Peel the garlic, and chop it in small pieces. Add it to the boiling pan, along the butter, and salt. Cover the pan, and let it cook for 2 hours in low heat. It might need more water/time if the tripe is from an older animal.

6. Remove the pan from the heat. Get a deep plate, and put the egg white in it (keep the egg yolk for later, separately). Start beating the egg white with a whisk for 3-4 minutes, until it becomes a fluffy, creamy substance.


How beaten egg white should look like

7. Add into the plate the egg yolk and beat again for 1 minute or so. The fluffy substance should remain.

8. Add the lemon juice in it, and beat again for 30 seconds.


How beaten egg white, egg yolk and lemon should look like

9. Using a deep ladle, remove some broth from the soup and slowly pour it into the deep plate. Keep beating. Make sure the broth is not super-hot, or the egg will cook. You don’t want that! Doing “avgolemono” sauce without the egg cooking is a bit of an art, but it’s not as hard as it seems. Keep bringing broth to your deep plate, about half the broth from the soup. Just pour it slowly, and keep beating! It should look frothy!


How it should look like when you add the broth

10. Pour the plate’s content back into the pan, and stir vigorously. Your soup now has a thick look! Crack some black pepper in it, stir again, and serve hot (reheat if required). If it feels unsalted, just add more lemon instead. When cool, you can place patsas in your refrigerator, and keep for up to 2-3 days. Reheat to eat only the portion you need. Enjoy!


How it should look like when you poured everything back to the cooking pan

Top-10 Must-Eat Paleo Foods

UPDATE Feb 2014: Part II is here.

As some of you already know, it irks me when people say that they eat Paleo, but what they really mean is that they removed certain Neolithic foods from their diet, but without adding other foods that are fundamental to good health. So I thought I should put up a list together of some of these foods that are must-eat in order to ensure good health (besides, Paleo is primarily about restoring and preserving good health, and secondly a weight loss program). This is how I was able to fix such a large array of my health problems so fast. From the moment I had solid proof that diet alone can fix, or make asymptomatic many “incurable” health problems, I left absolutely nothing to chance. This is my recipe to success so far, and I hope it pays forward:

1. Offal
Offal, offal, offal. Liver, heart, tongue, kidneys, tripe (from pastured animals, especially from goat/sheep/buffalo/horse). And if you can find them, and they’re indeed from healthy pastured animals, also get intestines, spleen, pancreas, lungs (I personally avoid only brains, not sure if I can fully trust the animal’s health). Offal is a superfood, with high doses of many nutrients that you know, and many you might not know (like PQQ and CoQ10). The cool thing about offal is that their prices are really, really low, as people usually snob these parts! Little do they know how much more important offal is to muscle meat.

2. Bone marrow broth
I’m personally against 3-month old chicken and vegetable broths because these have no major nutrients to speak about. But a broth from either pastured animals, or at least a 2-3 year old free range hen/duck, contains a lot of minerals that you won’t find elsewhere in enough concentration. From calcium, to potassium, to phosphorus, magnesium etc. And of course, collagen, which is what eventually heals your leaky gut. Cook the marrow bones (with the marrow exposed, so you can eat it too afterwards) for at least 15 hours in low heat. Here’s the actual recipe and more info about it.

3. Home-made, lactose-free, probiotic, goat/sheep kefir & yogurt
Kefir is a superfood with great nutrition and probiotic abilities, coming to you from Caucasus. The big difference with yogurt is that its “grain” bacteria actually colonize the human gut, while the yogurt ones (extracted from the gut of cows which is not fully compatible with the human gut) tend to shed away after a few hours/days. It also contains over 40+ bacteria/yeasts, while yogurt contains 4-6. Please note that for kefir to be potent, it MUST be home-made (commercial kefir only has up to 10-12 strains). In other words, kefir is more potent than yogurt, and it can fight even super-bad strains, like C-Diff. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need full fat yogurt though. Dairy, when it’s made from compatible-to-humans animal casein A2 (goats/sheep/buffalo), and when it’s properly fermented for 24 hours to remove most lactose, is acceptable food, and so it becomes the only point I don’t agree with mainstream Paleo. I fully explained my position on dairy and Paleo here.

4. Fermentation: Sauerkraut, Miso, Natto etc.
Fermented foods is another important missing piece in the modern diet, but thankfully, unpasteurised sauerkraut & kimchi are still easy to find in health stores or on Farmer’s Markets. They go great with sashimi too! *Unpasteurized* non-barley miso is also great in miso soups (make sure your soup is not too hot when you’re adding the miso, or you will kill the beneficial bacteria in it). Natto is fermented soy beans with a lot of PQQ and K2 vitamins in it, but it requires a lot of getting-used to as its taste is very particular (fermented wheat-free tamari, unpasteurized soy-based miso & traditionally-prepared natto are the only soy-based byproducts that are considered healthy and acceptable on Paleo). Other fermentated options are lacto-fermented vegetables, whey-fermented home-made mayonaise, and pickles.

5. Coconut Oil
Cold-pressed, virgin, unrefined coconut oil is a magical oil for cooking, and even for topical application (e.g. skin problems, fungus). It has anti-bacterial properties, but the biggest one for me is that it can bring amazing mental clarity. Cook with coconut oil for a month, and you will realize that you had brain fog for most of your life without knowing about it. Use extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil for salads and raw foods only.

6. Sea Veggies & Kelp Noodles
Ah, sea veggies. When I told my mom in Greece what these are (“φύκια”), she nearly gagged. But these sea veggies are delicious when prepared properly (as a salad or in miso soups), and they have a different kind of nutrition than most land-based foods. Not to mention that they have high doses of iodine, which is important for proper thyroid function. I personally buy these, which are admittedly expensive, but at least you get a variety of 6 different sea veggies, diversifying your nutrition. Then there are these kelp “noodles”, which are great in seafood stir-fries!

7. Shellfish
Most people who can tolerate shellfish eat shrimp. But there’s a whole world of shellfish to explore, from urchins to clams and saint-Jacques to name just a few. The most nutrient-rich ones though you should be going after are oysters and mussels, don’t skimp on them and their super-high content of Zinc! When it comes to fish, stay with wild fish only, and particularly wild Alaskan salmon (the only truly wild salmon), and wild whole sardines. Prefer seafood over meat, and when possible, have a small amount of seafood daily.

8. Sideritis Syriaca
A herbal tea that unfortunately isn’t currently under the Paleo radar, but it’s possibly more potent than kombucha in many different health areas, is sideritis, or “Greek Mountain Tea“. Don’t take my word for it, just read Pubmed’s research results! The thing obviously works, while Kombucha hasn’t shown good results on research! Here’s how to prepare it. Other very healthy herbal teas are the Cretan “Dictamnus” (even more difficult to find than Greek Mountain Tea though), and good, old plain chamomile. Just don’t root for coffee or highly caffeinated teas. Caffeinated teas also contain high amounts of fluoride, while herbal teas don’t.

9. Raw & Unfiltered local honey
Honey gets the bad wrap in the Paleo community mainly because most Paleo dieters are in it for the weight loss, and not as much for the additional health benefits. Unless you’re following a Paleo-ketogenic diet, then honey is one of these superfoods that you should not be avoiding. Yes, it’s got its share of glucose and fructose, but then again, so do most fruits. In order for its anti-microbial and anti-allergenic properties to be potent, it must be raw, unfiltered, AND local. Don’t look at buying big brands, look at your local farmer’s market instead. Don’t use it with kefir (since its anti-microbial properties kill the good kefir bacteria), and don’t heat it up. When it comes to Paleo desserts, avoid all these “Paleo cookies” and “Paleo breads” that you read online, these are most certainly not Paleo. Just do fruit/gello-based raw desserts (there are many recipes online about such desserts on vegan raw web sites).

10. Supplementation
I wish I could tell you that you don’t need to supplement. That just by following a great diet it would cure your ailments without any additional help. But unfortunately, after 10,000 years of continuing selection for both veggies (more sugar) and animals (more milk/fat), the nutrients on modern food is thin. In addition, our soil is depleted of minerals, so our food is too. Not to mention that our water is a far cry in both taste and nutrients compared to what our ancestors drank. In Greece we used to have “ok” water, but when I came to the US I found all the water that I tried here tasting… diluted. Think about that for a moment! Diluted-tasting water! Why? Because it had no minerals in it, it has been treated to exhaustion. So supplementation is definitely needed IMHO, there’s no way around it, especially if you have just converted from the SAD diet to Paleo, and your gut needs the extra help.

The first line of supplementation is vitamin D3 at 1000 IU every 2-3 mornings, especially if you’re not going out to the sun daily. Then, there’s Magnesium (20 mins before sleep), K2-Mk4 (not K, or K2-Mk7), krill oil or fish oil (only if you’re not eating seafood daily — you should), and maybe some E-tocotrienol (without tocophenols in it) — all no more than 2-3 times a week. Track your macro-nutrients with an app, like cronometer.com, to find out what nutrient you might be missing. Get a C+Bioflavonoids vitamin 2-3 times a week to boost your immune system, especially if you’re not eating a lot of fruits. You don’t need PQQ/CoQ10 if you’re eating offal once or twice a week, but you will need to supplement twice a week with these if you don’t eat or can’t find offal in your country (for CoQ10, it must be the Ubiquinol kind, not Ubiquinone). Finally, if you’re having trouble with inflammation or some types of tumors, you might want to try this one.

Bonus 1: Eat lesser-known veggies, e.g. turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, swiss chard, kale, sorrel, collard greens, parsnips, beets, and especially beet greens (highest potassium content than any other food) etc. etc.

Bonus 2: 85%-99% cocoa dark chocolate in small doses. They help with cravings. Your taste buds will regrow within one month of doing Paleo, and you will be able to eat bitter chocolates easily. I used to buy 90% and 99% cocoa chocolates, but they’re not available in my area anymore, so I now buy this one instead (tastes the best from the ones I tried).

Bonus 3: Move your butt, and exercise. Yeah, sorry about that. Nobody said it would be as easy as just eating the right foods. It also requires you to move, and “see” the sun daily.