Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Apple Packer

In my younger, kid rearing days I lived in Roslyn Washington. At that time I worked for the US Forest Service and work would occasionally have me on a trip to Forest Headquarters in Wenatchee. We were young and did not have a lot of money but with four little mouths to need, I would often stop by one of the apple packing houses on the way home and pick up a box of ‘culls’. These were apples that were perfectly fine but for one reason or another would be unsuitable for shipping. The most common ‘blemish’ was that they were too big! It was funny to see the kids attacking these big beautiful apples, almost the size of their heads with their little mouths. Next were color variations, too much yellow on the shady side or some such. At the time they were almost always Red Delicious. For years Reds and Goldens were the cash crop in the Wenatchee valley. No one thought about variety in apples, success was more about uniformity. By the way the price of a box of big, REALLY big, beautiful Red Delicious apples was about $4.00. For a week the kids would gorge on apples: “Really?,… I can have another one?” “Sure take all you want (one at a time) but eat all you take”. In the second week you’d start to find half eaten apples under the couch or behind the wood stove. Things came to a head one year when I had to pull the toilet off the mount and found a big ole apple in the goose neck with a couple little bites out of it. No one had any idea how it got there. We’d also dry these in the food dryer or if winter on the mitten rack above the wood stove. Pies, apple sauce, fruit leather, we used most of them.

These days I make it a point to travel with an apple. It is one thing to carry an apple around in your lunch box, coat pocket, or coffee cup holder in the truck until it goes soft, quite another to make a point to eat one each day. It may be  something of an acquired habit, but much easier to acquire than chewing Copenhagen (a habit of the past).

But an apple a day has become the cornerstone of my own personal healthy lifestyle conversion. Yes it is true; I have fallen into the Healthy Lifestyle Abyss. I’m not on a diet, oh no, I’ve changed my life style. You’ve probably heard it all before: A diet implies something for a short time after which you go back to where you were. Denying yourself something for a defined period. You know, the kumquat and tofu diet, the bacon, steak, and pork chop diet, the various “buy and eat only our food” diets.

I know the secret, I’ve known if for years I just have not been willing to make the moves needed to take advantage of it. Not that it means punishing yourself or giving up something good, it’s just that when you are deep enough in a hole it can be hard for some unknown reason to remember that the first step toward getting out is to put the shovel down. Oh yeah the secret? A simple but deceptively challenging formula: reduce calories in, increase calories out. Get on your bike, and pedal at 15 Kph and you will finish a winner. Both are simple but enigmatic. And I bet both are well known to most of you.

Embracing the apple has helped me turn simplicity to my great advantage. The apple is like shoe laces: A little thing but with a big impact. The 10:00 munchies? Eat an apple. Late afternoon and you start to get that gnawing feeling in your stomach? Reach for the Honey Crisp. It’s not a bullet proof vest that will always give you immunity from the tribe’s French fry chant, or doughnut challenge. But it works most times. If your inner skinny dude can make a pact with your outer fat and happy slob that first, before we do something stupid we will reach for that apple and actually eat it, all gone, you find that you tumble off the cliff much less frequently, and when you do it is not nearly as far to fall. Of course you can’t welcome twiggy just by adding an apple a day to your menu. You do have to reduce the calories in, and increase the calories out.  Like a brevet, what starts out so simply does become somewhat complex.  The apple serves as a valuable tool in the daily routine but is also stands as a very vivid, obviously symbol, a tribal totem if you will in this healthy lifestyle conversion.

Truth is, I have not had a Red Delicious in a long time. My current fave is the Jazz, followed closely by last years chart topper the Pink Lady. I live in Oakville where the variety and freshness of apples at the one grocery store in town is decidedly limited; however I work in Yuppie Land Olympia where a typical large urban grocery emporium will offer enormous variety. I wouldn’t want to move back but I do appreciate the variety and freshness of the produce.

Last fall we had a very pleasant, surprise at Rocky Acres. We have our own apple tree in the back yard, planted by the previous owners, I’ve been caring for this thing, watering, pruning etc. My kind of apple is very crunchy, tart and juicy. Color and sweetness are in the back seat as far as I am concerned. Our first crop of less than a dozen fruits were excellent on all counts that matter. The only short coming was that they were a too few and slightly small. I am hoping those two deficits fall by the wayside as the tree matures. You can bet I‘ll do a better job of watering the tree this year. We planted another decidedly small tree last weekend; I have visions of glorious fruit in years to come.

In addition to the apple I’ve moved to a much more plant base diet. I’m no vegan, but more fresh vegetables are part of the menu now, as well as more fruits. Most of the meat comes in the form of fish, another local fresh food that I make sure we take advantage of. Why gorge on beef from Nebraska, when I can have fresh salmon and halibut from local waters? One pleasant development is that Mrs. C has cultivated a taste for local seafood. To a lesser degree we eat chicken.

Here is a little treat I allow myself usually when I’m batching it: An open face avocado and sardine sandwich (I saw this on TV!)

Take a fresh demi-baguette (split) or slice of crusty French and brush it with the oil drained from a can of brisling sardines. If you were into canned fish as a kid then you’ll know that King Oscar Kippered Snacks are also mighty fine for this purpose, though they’re water packed. You can flavor that oil in a lot of different ways; I add lemon, and a dash of balsamic vinegar, but other flavors could work.

Here is where the recipe and I part ways: The recipe says take half that oil and mix it into the sardines, then let them sit for at least an hour. Come on, who whips up a yummy, quick to prepare treat an hour before they are hungry? Get real. I also add in a little shredded parmesan, or just top the bread with it after brushing on the oil. Broil the bread for two minutes and then spread half a mashed avocado on each slice of bread. You can get creative with the avocado: Flavor it with chili powder, or pesto, curry, Italian spices, really lots of room for ‘interpretation’ here. Top that with the sardines. Chairman thinks this is interesting and more times than not votes with his nose to share.

Mrs. C has not come that far across the great meat/fish divide yet.   That's unserstandable, even my Norwegian Brother in law considers sardines closer to bait than food.  I've heard others say they are close to but not quite fit for cat food.

Is it working, this healthy lifestyle conversion? Well yes to the degree that I pay attention to the calorie shift. When I do a little lunch time workout, ride the rollers after work, or walk around the block (that’s about 2 miles here in Oakville) the pounds slowly melt away. I’ve made progress, so far I’m down just shy of 20 pounds, but it’s way too premature to claim victory, and because I have so much further to go I’ll just say I like where I am and I like the trend but I’m a long way from satisfied. I am also trying not to have this be a crash loss. It’s taken me a long time to dig this hole, and I know that one big fallacy is the headline that says something like “Loose 20 pounds in 3 weeks”.  The time adds to the frustration, but if you remember that this is not a diet, “it’s a healthy lifestyle” then it helps with the acceptance at least a bit. When I’m just a wisp of the former me, it’ll help in all aspects of life, but it will really help on the bike!

Remember that movie Castaway with Tom Hanks? Remember his sort of make believe pal, Wilson? I’ve got my own version of Wilson here in my office, up on the top shelf of the book case looking down on me. Not taunting, just reminding me how easy it would be to go back to that not-so-healthy-lifestyle, and waiting patiently to help me down that path if I forget the way.

His name is Toasty


  1. Hey Paul,

    I'm a Macintosh apple guy. Nothing else comes close. Not always easy to find though.

    I'm way behind you in the new lifestyle/weight loss sweepstakes. I'm down only 9 lbs since the first of Feb, and I seem to have hit a plateau (if one can say that when decreasing things). On the Livestrong website there is the MyPlate pages and I've found that to be really useful in tracking food. It was an eye opener to find out just how much suger there is in everything. I'm always exceeding the suggested limit there.


  2. "If your inner skinny dude can make a pact with your outer fat and happy slob that first"...Hilarious. Inner skinny dude (mine) needs to work on negotiation skills!

  3. An Alplet a week, works wonders!