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Chaos and Order

There are some who posit that one of the big tasks of life is to attempt to bring some order out of the chaos of existence. It's a balancing act, really, as any student of the martial arts of eastern philosophy can tell you. We live in a cultural framework that favors order and increasingly so. But too much of any one thing isn't good.

Based on our cultural preconceptions it's easy to see where too much chaos is a problem. It's just madness and nothing ever gets done. But too much order? That's tyranny. It's stultifying. Creation comes from chaos.

It's all about finding balance. We need enough order to make sense of the world, to gain traction, and get things done. But the world is dynamic and what works in one instance might not work in another. We also have to embody a certain amount of chaos in order to be adaptable, to be creative, and to change.

Two years ago the order of my existence was turned on its head. (Yes, yours was too, but this is my blog, so were going to talk about me. If you have a blog, please share it below. I'd be happy to read it.)

I was told I couldn't work. The job I had honed for fifteen years was no longer available to me. I had to get creative and I had to adapt. This website was the product of that adaptation.

I originally envisioned it as a rougher, less polished version of what my friend, Ryan Hurst does with GMB. I'd offer online programming that people could do from the safety and comfort of their own homes. Great plan, right? There's only one catch. I hate creating that kind of content. I hate making videos. Specifically, I hate the editing process and there's no way to produce quality content without extensive time spent editing. And I hate it. Of course, part of the reason I hate it so much is that I'm no good at it. But I hate it so much I don't want to get good at it. That is a problem. Nevertheless, I sucked it up and did it anyway. I produced what I call Woodpile Workouts and created an 8 week program. It's fine. The programming is solid, but that's what I'm good at. The production is what I'd call functional at best. Which is actually a travesty given how much time I spent on it. I spent so much time putting together the program that the website that was meant to promote and sell it really suffered.

The main problem? Too much chaos. I wasn't clear on what I was trying to do.

That's not actually true. I was very clear on what I was trying to do - I was trying to maintain an income stream and avoid taking a position at my local Home Depot. But you can't sell a website or online programming with that degree of honesty, or at least that's what I've been told.

No the way to sell an online program is to identify your target audience, figure out a problem they have, and offer a solution. The key is you have to be very specific. Specific audience. Specific problem. Specific solution. Otherwise, it's just too big. Too much chaos. I don't know if you've noticed but I don't really like being pigeonholed. I'm a generalist by nature. There are a lot of things I'm interested in and they all come together to form what I consider to be a fairly highly functional me. I can solve all kinds of problems drawing from all kinds of experience. This works great in human, one on one types of interaction but not so much online. The website I created was vague and didn't do a very good job of explaining who I was or what I was trying to do. Over the last week or so I have been trying to rectify that while staying true to me. Part of my problem was that I wasn't fully aware of what I was trying to do (other than justify a steady paycheck doing something that I loved.) This blog has been very helpful in figuring out what it is I want to do. I hope as I make my way through the redesign process that becomes more apparent and clear.

Here's what I've learned:

My job is to help people move toward a more healthy mode of living.

That's it. What that actually looks like is individualistically specific. Exercise is, and has been, an excellent mode for getting there, but it's really just part of the conversation. Often a difficult one as the truth, for most people, is that they really don't want to do it. Sure, I make it more palatable than many, but hardly any of my clients exercise for the joy of exercise. If they could achieve the things they want via other means they would take them.

I've also come to realize through my own experience that exercise alone is not enough. Aside from the occasional illness or travel I haven't missed a workout in 17 years. In that same time I've had issues with blood pressure and cholesterol and a weight variance of 40 pounds. Stress and diet are huge factors in our overall well being. If I'm to have any real impact these have to be addressed as well. For some of us, they've reached such an apogee that they HAVE to be addressed before anything else can be done. Putting someone in this state in the gym actually becomes a disservice rather than a service.

Remove the barriers to entry.

This first came to me as a maxim of the martial arts. The idea being that if you are going to attack someone, you must first get past their defenses (barriers to entry.) But this is also a principle and like all principles applies well outside its originally intended sphere of influence. This applies to my work as well.

For many of us, exercise is barrier to entry. We don't like it. We had bad experiences in the past with it and as a result avoid it or only do it if we have to. It is for this reason that I don't run a Crossfit. I know that the people I want to work with or who want to work with me are looking to avoid pain and discomfort. Throwing up from effort is not on their list of things to do today.

I have intentionally shaped the way I teach exercise to be a gradual process of development that does not necessitate extremes of effort or discomfort.

I have learned that food is another way in. Of course I know people like to eat and I even know people like my food. What I didn't realize was that people would want to read about my food. Or that I could use the way I write about my food to share how I view health and well being, even use that to help nudge people in more positive healthful directions.

That's two pillars, exercise and diet, or in the parlance of my new web design, Gym and Kitchen. The Gym part of the website is, I think, finished. Which makes sense, it's the part I've worked the most on and am best known for. Kitchen is next. The blog is developing a good momentum. I have become that annoying guy who has to take a picture of his food before he eats it, but because I'm cooking for you as well as myself and my family we all have benefited and, so far, my family has overlooked this minor annoyance. In the future, I intend to set up a Kitchen consultant service. The aim is over the course of a few visits help you move your diet in a better-for-you direction based on your needs and where you are now. I'll have more details in the near future.

The third pillar is Garden. My whole adult life I have been attracted to gardening. Part of it, I'm sure, is the desire to maintain a connection with my grandfather, whose primary occupation in my mind has always been farmer. I have engaged in various degrees of gardening throughout my adult life, but fall very short, I'm afraid, of being a master. It is my joy in this current phase of life that I now have the time and health to fully engage. It is also my fear that I may discover that I'm actually no good at it, and that all my various excuses over the years of too much work and not enough time were just attempts to cover up a fundamental failing. Nevertheless, I persist and boldly so, going so far as to include it in this website, writing blog posts about it, and eventually offering myself as a consultant in this area. For this I know, gardening is the perfect amalgamation of all things healthy. It's outside. It's physical and requires work. It involves food. Best of all it is autonomous. You get to decide how much, how often, when, where, and why. You plant what you want and even if it is a complete and utter failure, you are still better off for having done it. It's the ultimate exercise in balancing the chaos of nature with the order of the human mind.


About two weeks ago I was in conversation with one of my jiu-jitsu brothers, Eric. There is something absolutely unique about jiu-jitsu training and the bonds and relationships you build with those you train with. I usually only see Eric twice a week, for an hour each time. Over the course of class we'll fist bump a greeting and maybe exchange a few words before class starts or at the end. Occasionally we'll roll, but usually no more than two or three times a month. A roll lasts three minutes, so depending on how we're partnered up we might have three to six minutes of contact. This has gone on for a good five years now. Yet, I consider Eric one of my closest and dearest friends. There is something that happens in the crucible of battle that cuts to the core of who a person is. It doesn't take long for you to figure out who you can trust. For me, Eric is one of those people. I know I can always seek his advice and he knows the same of me.

I can't remember if he called me for training advice or if I called him to talk me off a ledge of self doubt. I do know we got to talking about my website and he was pumping me up about the blog. At one point he said, "I hope you get around to talking about stock. I see you mention it from time to time, but I have no idea about how to go about making it."

Today I intend to correct that oversight. But before I do, a word about this section of the blog. It is my intention that the format of the blog be as follows:

  1. Stuff I want to talk about

  2. Food I made last week that I'm really proud of.

I lead with the photo of whatever food I'm going to discuss, then prattle on about whatever thing has struck my fancy this week, and then I discuss that food. I say discuss because I'm trying to get away from the concept of recipe. The standard format of a recipe came about for the convenience of inexperienced cooks. First you start with the list of ingredient in their requisite amounts. Then follow with a detailed description of technique. The problem I find with this is that it, to borrow from the previous section, is too much order. It's tyranny. It's Betty Crocker and Irma Rombauer squashing any creativity through the structure of a recipe. Of course, you can always go off recipe, but beginning cooks hardly ever do. There's too much fear. Oh, I don't know enough. What if I ruin it?

My aim is to get you familiar with enough techniques that you can begin to make delicious meals out of what you have on hand. A few solid techniques and a wide array of ingredients can keep you happy in your kitchen producing tasty, nutritious meals much more economically than relying on take out or processed meals.

Which brings us to stock. At it's simplest stock is simply bones simmered in water for an extended period of time. Of course there are a number of ways you can go about this, but today I'm going to keep it simple.

Rule #1. Save your bones. Bought a rotisserie chicken? Good. Save the bones. Turkey from Thanksgiving? Awesome. Save the bones. Lamb? Beef? Pork? Duck? Venison? Fantastic. Save the bones. My kitchen freezer is stocked with gallon sized zip lock bags full of various bones. I segregate loosely. Poultry with poultry. Red meat, lamb and beef, with red meat. Pork goes with itself. Venison goes wherever I'm light. The divisions are made purely based on flavor. You can mix all of your bones together and produce a very flavorful stock, but I like having the option of flavoring chicken dishes with poultry stock, and beef dishes with the heartier, more robust beef stock.

Rule #2 Big batches rule. You don't have to do like I did and truck yourself down to Restaurant Depot for a 16 quart stock pot, but if you do may I suggest you also purchase a few Lexan containers in the 4 and 8 quart size for storage. A 6 or 8 quart dutch oven works well as does your Instapot or even an old school crock pot. The point is make as big a batch as you can handle. I like to keep stock on hand at all times. It's instant flavor, perfect for adding to sauces, making rice, or as the base for a soup or stew.

Here it is at its simplest. Take your bones and put them in a pot, crock pot, or Instapot. Cover the bones with an inch of water. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. If you're using your crock or Instapot just put the lid on and turn it on low heat. Walk away.

If you're still on the stove you have a couple more steps. Once the pot starts boiling turn the heat down to a simmer. Which basically just means the liquid bubbles a little bit. You'll notice a bit of scum has formed on top of your stock. Simply skim that off. Your stock is not ruined if you don't or forget that step, notice it's not part of the Instapot or crock pot routine. It just helps make for a clearer, more presentable product. Once you've got that simmer going just let it go. I generally let my stocks go on the stove for three to five days, sometimes a whole week (sometimes I get lazy and put off the decanting.) How ever long you let it go once you're done take it off the heat and let it cool. I pour my stock through a large chinois (AKA China cap, hmm is that racist?) A chinois is a conical strainer. It fits nicely inside my 8 and 4 quart Lexan containers and makes it easier to separate the bones from the stock. Once it's cool enough you can store it in the fridge for a few weeks. You can also freeze it. Some folks like to fill ice trays and keep stock cubes on hand. That's just too much trouble for me.

The whole point of stock is extract the flavor and nutrition from the bones. Bones are high in collagen and long slow cooking is the best way to extract that collagen. A really good stock will actually gel up in the fridge. In fancy, bougie circles they used to make clarified stocks, cool them until they gelled and then serve them sliced over salad greens. The gelled clarified stock was called aspic.

So, this is the most basic version. Feel free to play around. As you can see from the picture with this stock I cleaned out my cabinets of stale spices and herbs that were past their prime. You can also add vegetables, if using old stuff, just be sure to cut off or remove any rotten or moldy bits. A word of caution, stay clear of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and turnips. Also stay clear of super soft vegetables like eggplant and squashes.

Hmm, how can I bring this full circle? The chaos of waste transformed into well ordered elegance of a tasty stock? Maybe that's pushing it. Enjoy.

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