OT: Food, Cars, Exercise, Discipline, Tolerance.

Corn Soup. With Olive Oil garnish.

I have a really insane diet plan. I thought I'd share mine in the same week in which Michael Johnston goes off topic at theonlinephotographer to discuss his views about diet. I'm not making a case that either of us is right or wrong, but at around 63 years of experience I can safely say that we both have our perspectives about what makes the most sense for each of us, individually. 

I am not a vegan or even a vegatarian. I'm a moderationist. I believe that part of being an omnivore is the privilege to enjoy a wide variety of foodstuffs. If you talked to my close friends I think you would find that they definitely consider me to be a "foodie" in the sense that good restaurants and great chefs cause me much happiness, across many cuisines. I think the human body was designed to not just tolerate many different ingredients in our diets but that we actually crave the variety, and that it makes sustaining ourselves part the pleasure equation that ensures long life and health. 

We follow a similar pattern around here for functional reasons and for fun. Belinda goes grocery shopping for the bulk of our home-cooked food on Sunday afternoons so we generally always have fresh fish at dinner on Mondays. If you're going to buy really good fish you want to prepare it and eat it while it's fresh, right? On Tuesday Ben cooks dinner and loves to create new dishes inspired, in part, by his time in S. Korea. I'm just getting settled in with kimchi. I'm responsible for Wednesday dinners and I'm all over the map but we do have a few family rules for whoever is cooking. One is that we should have a flavorful and high quality protein at each evening meal. It could be a pairing of rice, black beans and corn (supercharged with some avocado), it could be fish, well prepared beef, or even (gasp) hummus or something soy based. Every evening meal needs at least one fresh vegetable; preferably two, and a clean starch. 

It was my turn last night and I cooked sirloin steaks. I started by trimming the fat and then searing three six ounce pieces of the beef, cut about 1.5 inches thick, in a very, very hot cast iron skillet. One minute on each side and then the edges seared while holding each piece with tongs. Then the skillet goes straight into a preheated 450 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Pull out the skillet, put the pieces of meat on a warmed plate and let rest for five minutes before serving. They generally come out nice and tender this way and are cooked to a medium/medium rare level of doneness. Pink in the middle; not red. 

Last night I paired this with freshly made mashed potatoes and a big salad of julienned fresh broccoli, kale, red peppers, finely sliced cucumbers, sunflower seeds, blueberries and cherries and a very light dressing. 

Belinda is partial to green tea with her dinners, Ben is a water fanatic but is known to have a craft beer from time to time and I'm trying to lose weight by cutting out red wine and replacing it with sparkling water with lime. 

Every breakfast is done individually; we all have different schedules. I'm partial to toasting sprouted flax bread and pairing it (sandwich style) with Laura Scudder's organic (crunchy) peanut butter and blueberry preserves. It's a perfect morning eye-opener and it pairs really nicely with good coffee (whole milk, steamed). Most cold days it's oatmeal with walnuts and fresh berries.

Ben grazes on whatever looks healthy in the fridge. Lately he's been making a pudding from chia seeds and almond milk, and pairing that with fresh berries, and sometimes a wedge of hard cheese. 

I can never keep track of Belinda's breakfasts as she's always whipping up something amazingly healthy with yogurt, coconut oil, spinach, kale and other zany stuff ---- which she professes to actually like. 

Lunch is all over the map but if I'm home I'm usually making a bowl with a mix of brown rice, sardines, chopped spinach and soy sauce. Ben is partial to veggie bowls at Cava, and Belinda --- healthy leftovers. 

I love a good glass of red wine but over the last year I've had to compromise my exercise schedule a lot to take care of family stuff and because of a crazy travel schedule. I've gone on an alcohol fast until such a time as I can take off the 5 to 7 seven pounds my doctor believes (in his heart) that I've gained in the past 18 months. He's got a good point. It's easy to get lazy when you are operating under a certain amount of stress. 

The one thing we do as almost a family ritual is to have Pizza Night on Thursdays. And NO! I am not talking about gluten free, whole wheat crust dabbled with fresh veggies and finished off with some sort of soy cheese. I'm talking about traditional crust, puddles of great tomato sauce and ample cheese that is stringy and delicious. You know, the cheese that ties you to that slice of pizza at arm's length...

We eat eggs two or three times a week. We have two vegetarian dinners a week and, most importantly, we try to maintain rational, healthy serving sizes. 

When it comes to desserts there is no carton of ice cream in the freezer, nor is there a pantry stuffed with cookies or weird sweets. Ben is immune to sweets and Belinda and I share a love for dark chocolate. A square or two of dark chocolate fills up that emotional space that calls out for the sweets of our youth.

I guess what we do is considered moderation. We don't do fast food. We rarely do frozen or canned foods. We mostly buy good stuff and prepare it in fun and tasty ways. And we nearly always eat our evening meal altogether. There is a strict rule that bans cellphones and other electronic devices at the dinner table and this has been a hard and fast rule since we've been parents (could this be one reason why the child graduated magna cum laude from his college? And can carry on interesting dinner table conversation?) We want everyone to appreciate the work and creativity each person brings to their preparation of the family meal. 

I also believe that if negative stress can cause disease, heart attacks, cancer, etc. then it only makes sense that good thoughts, happiness, connection and a sense of community can have the opposite effect and reduce those same metrics. Happiness and connection being much more powerful than lipitor, or a joyless, cardboard diet endured in solitude. 

Okay. So, all good things in moderation with occasional splurges for BBQ, Pizza, a steak, some sloppy Tex-Mex food, etc. But in context these kinds of food are much more the exception that a rule around here. We might go out for dinner at a restaurant two evenings a month. A few more times during the holidays. Maybe.

So, how do you keep from getting fat, unhealthy, and in near constant need of ever expanding clothes? 

This part is simple. MOVE. I think we thrive on exercise. It's pretty hard to overdose if you enjoy the exercises that you do. My two favorites are long, long walks and competitive swim workouts. I think the doctors are wrong when they suggest 25-30 minutes of exercise three or four days a week as a good regimen. I think the human body thrives on daily exercise and also is happier with more calories spent than less. Our swim workouts on weekdays are an hour and fifteen minutes and we don't stop more than ten or fifteen seconds between sets. Any day that doesn't include a good swim gets at least an hour walk. Usually it's a two hour walk and a swim. Believe me, there's time in the day. Especially if you unplug your TV and stop thinking of your computer as a close, personal friend. 

In my estimation a healthy exercise regimen/habit is far, far more important, overall, than diet. There is a famous swimmer who wrote a popular vegan diet book and everyone seems to credit his diet with his amazing physique and fitness. He's a genetic lottery winner. He's always had a great physique and level of fitness. How do I know? I watched him swim at UT, long before he adopted his vegan diet and he was plainly in the .001% of fit adults in the country. And I watch him each morning (because we've swum in the same program for the last 15+ years) and he is still looking great. The diet did not come first. The years of highly disciplined exercise set the stage. Years of running and biking as a professional triathlete coupled with decades of high level, competitive swimming. I think I could feed this guy a diet of Twinkies and cream puffs and as long as he can get in the water and bang out a fast 5,000 yard workout,  pacing along with a couple his fellow swimmers who are Olympic gold medalists, he'll never be fat or unfit. 

But I'd bet you hard currency that if you fed this guy his cookbook diet and never gave him time to exercise he'd be indistinguishable from all the office workers everywhere, with just a little paunch hanging over the belt line. 

The take away? If you want to be healthy exercise a lot. Get up now and go out for a long, long walk. The article will (probably) be here by the time you get back. Do it every day. Sun, snow, rain or meteor showers. Get out of breath. Get the ole heart rate up. Feel sore from time to time. You'll love it.

My take is that if you are always comfortable you are always getting fatter...

I'm on a roll; let's do cars now. Nah. Everyone who lives in an urban area knows that you only need three things in a car: Reliability, enough space for the crap you need to carry around with you and (depending on where you live) a good heater or air conditioner. Don't spend more than $35,000 on a new car. An $18K Toyota Corolla has a better reliability metric than a $90,000 BMW.  Always save up and pay cash. Moving on.... If you are buying a car just because you love the way it drives, well, I just won't be able to relate.

Discipline. The difference between a published author, the owner of successful manufacturing company, a world class athlete, a great painter, a marvelous chef, a person good at anything, and everyone else, is that the people who get stuff done know how to get started, how to stick with the process longer,  and to work until they master whatever it is they want to do. Discipline is getting up in the dark and heading out into the cold because there is something you want to get done. Now.

I have a story about starting, doing the work and finishing. When I got my first book contract it was to write and illustrate "Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Lighting on Location." The publisher read my outline, sent me a contract and an advance check. I sat down the day I got my advance and worked on the book for the first three hours of every day for the next three month. I'd arrange photo shoots to create the sample photographs in my spare time, between paying photography gigs. I finished up the project a couple days before the deadline the publisher had set arrived, sent the work along and then waited.

When I couldn't wait anymore I called to find out if I'd passed or failed, or would be re-writing for the rest of my life. The editor laughed and told me (this was weeks after I sent the manuscript via overnight Federal Express) that it was in their stack and that they would get to it shortly.

I was confused. "But the deadline....?" I think I said.

"Oh yeah. Well we always set a deadline for projects but you're the first writer I can remember who actually got us the work on time. Most are weeks or months late." Said the editor.

I must have registered some sort of amazement at the idea so many people would actually miss a deadline. 

"That's nothing" the editor remarked, "For every ten advance checks we send out only one person actually finishes their book." 

You don't have to be exceedingly bright to write a book. You don't have to have a powerful agent. You don't need a ground breaking idea.  You just have to start. And then proceed. And then finish. If you do that you will already be so far ahead of your competition that they cease to be competition. It's just discipline.

Tolerance. When I was younger I thought I knew so much more than I think I know now. I wanted everyone to think the way I did. I still do but now, at least, that's tempered with my understanding that everyone has different thoughts, tastes, skills, ideas about food, ideas about cars, ideas about exercise and ideas about life. I'll never change most people's minds and if I continue to try and have everyone think like me I'll end up alienating a lot of interesting people while missing out on a lot of good ideas.

I'd hate to miss out on such a rich mixture so I'm learning one very valuable phrase and I keep repeating it over and over again to myself: What if the other guy is right?

What do you really want from your cameras and lenses that you aren't already getting?

We're such social creatures. Even the brightest and most independent folks among us can fall into "follow the leader" mode when the stars and the rationales line up correctly. Here's a case in point: I have a friend who changes systems at least as often as I do. The big difference between us is that he's primarily a videographer who also does photographs while I am very much a photographer who happens to do some video.

While my friend owns a Sony FS 7 video camera for big, high production video projects he fell for the lure of the Panasonic GH5 system and ended up with a couple of cameras and a bushel basket full of lenses. After using them for the better part of a year, and having done a number of very successful assignments with them he decided that the files generated are too noisy for a camera that he likes to press into service for many different kinds of projects. He also is much less fond of lighting as much as I do and would love for his cameras to all be great low light shooting tools. This week he sold off all of his Panasonic gear at once and re-oriented himself back to the Sony A7xxx cameras he'd been hot and cold on before.

Seems he really likes the color of the Panasonics better but the noise rendition of the Sonys better. He's acutely disturbed by noise in video files so he's made his move back into a system that he hopes will solve his problems. With the proceeds from the sale of his Panasonic stuff he's gone into the process of cherry-picking new Sony lenses (which will work with his still cameras as well as with the FS camera) like the 70-200mm f2.8G, the 24-70mm f2.8G and several others. I wish him much happiness with his new choices; I really do.

But here's the maddening thing for me; I think my friend is an extremely creative artist and I feel drawn into his slipstream to also better sort out my camera systems. I did a quick inventory of my m4:3 gear and talked to my dealer about its trade-in value. He tossed out a number and I did what I normally do, I started putting together a list of my fantasy purchases to round out my Fuji camera system. I figured I could sell off the smaller format gear and plow the proceeds into the bigger, APS-C system. It's a kind of madness that I've done before with other systems it's just that this time I had my very own thought leader making the jump before me and, by extension, making it okay for me to consider the same kind of transitioning.

In the end I have little doubt that I'll go ahead with the whole transaction. Having one unified system has been a goal of mine for a while. The timing is good as the stuff I currently own will never go up in value while the lenses I'd like to add to my Fuji system are both on sale and will give me a $1,000 savings if I make the trade before the Fuji sale runs its course at the end of March.

If I stick with my plan I'll have an excellent collection of Fuji lenses that will give me the range of 8mm to 400mm or, in full frame speak, from the equivalent of 12mm to 600mm. Every lens I've bought for the Fuji system so far is really good and I haven't yet stumbled across a reason for regrets.

I'm trying hard to fall in love with wide angle lenses and I'm hoping I'll have some sort of epiphany or satori with the 8-16mm. Or maybe I'll just mellow out with the 14mm f2.8; I already know that lens is a keeper.

Usually, I'm more drawn to acquiring new camera bodies but in this regard I feel well situated with the three XH-1 bodies I've accumulated, along with the XT3 and EX3.

The allure of having a single menu to keep in my mind is strong. We'll see how it all pans out...