Friday, May 6, 2022

Recipe: Breakfast Greek Frittata

This makes a flavorful meal full of superfoods, providing a mix of protein and complex carbohydrates. It's an ovo-lacto-vegetarian recipe.

This can be eaten fresh, or stored and re-heated.

  • 4-8 eggs
  • 1/2-1 tomato, or handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2-1 whole onion
  • 1/2-1 medium whole potato
  • 1/2-1 C fresh spinach
  • 1/2-1 C mushrooms
  • 1-2 oz feta cheese
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Italian seasoning
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  1. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl.
  2. Chop tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach coarsely. Fold into eggs.
  3. Cube cheese. Fold into eggs.
  4. Fold in salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Chop onion coarsely.
  6. Grate potato.
  7. Heat oil in a pan large enough to hold the entire frittata.
  8. Saute onion in oil until clear. Add Italian seasoning to taste.
  9. Add potato and saute until golden. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Spread potato and onions across bottom of pan as a crust.
  11. Pour in egg mix and spread evenly across crust.
  12. Cover with a lid and continue heating until egg is firm, 5-10 minutes. The crust will caramelize on the bottom. The olive oil will bubble and release the crust from the pan, so the frittata slides out easily onto a serving plate.
Slice into 8 wedges. Serve with a sugar-free salsa; my favorite brand is Pace.

WW points: 3 points per ounce of cheese, 4 points per Tbsp of olive oil; 1-2 points per wedge.

Recipe: Super Green Fruit Smoothie

This is my NEW! IMPROVED! nearly-everyday breakfast, thanks to Joris Wils, one of my former coworkers. He had suggested adding greens to my Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl. I tried it and really liked it.

The greens have very little effect on the flavor, but they kick up the nutrition, consistent with the books I've been using for reference. Dark, leafy greens are always at the top of "superfood" lists. For Losing Weight With WW Purple (now WW Personal Points), each cup of greens adds a daily point that you can spend on other foods.

The recipe is simple: Start with Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl. Add:

  • 1/2-1 C baby kale
  • 1/2-1 C baby spinach
  • 1-2 C water (or almond milk)
  1. Blend thoroughly
WW points: 2, plus adds a free point for each cup of greens.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Two Useful EAP Wellness Webinars

I tend to be an eternal optimist. But I'm also a worrier. Lately, I've begun to feel the need for the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) wellness webinars offered at work. I'm a software engineer at iRobot, which uses KGA as their EAP provider.

Partly this is the pandemic finally getting to me, two years of being cooped up indoors nearly 100% of the time. That aggravated what was already a turbulent time in our country. All grist for the worrier's mill.

What do I have to complain about? Really, I have a great life, and I don't have nearly the things that are real tribulations for others. So this is definitely a case of first-world problems.

Nevertheless:

  • We have an endless supply of bad news.
  • There's always something at work not going as desired, something I'm not getting done or banging my head against the wall over.
  • There's always something at home needing service or repair, the car, the furnace.
  • There's always fretting over personal finances, costs going up, the arrival of tax season, bills to pay, retirement to save for (like that will ever happen!).
  • There's always that endless thought loop of worry. What if, what if???

What finally pushed me over the edge was getting sick a few weeks ago. We had our first real snowstorm of the season here in the Boston area. Not really significant, but enough to go out and clear the driveway. I spent an hour or so working on it.

The next day, Saturday, I woke up with a sore throat. My first concern was Covid, so I found a local facility offering rapid testing and went and got a test as I tried to think through where I might have gotten exposed while grocery shopping or eating at a restaurant (you know, the worrying part). I didn't have any fever, but my throat got worse over the next couple days. I ended up taking a couple of sick days off from work.

Fortunately, the test came back negative, and by Wednesday I felt well enough to work, but was still tired the rest of the week.

So an hour of time outside during some winter weather took me out for 4 days, and kept me mostly down for a week. That was pretty sad.

I realized I wasn't getting the outdoor time that I normally did pre-pandemic. All my exercise is indoors. All my life is indoors. So I resolved to take the dog out for at least 15 minutes a few times a week. Get some air, get some sun, get exposed to the elements.

I also realized the negative mental effects were starting to accumulate. I was just feeling bad, for no real reason. I was just down. This is like the "drift to low performance" system trap that Donella Meadows talked about in her fantastic book Thinking in Systems: A Primer.

Time to do something about it. Of the things in life we can control, this is one.

Serendipitously, the company had an upcoming EAP wellness webinar. So I resolved to participate in all the wellness webinars the company offers. I appreciate the commitment and effort they've made to support their employees as people. Time to put that to use.

First Webinar

The first webinar was "Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results." It was excellent. I realized I had completely misinterpreted the title of James Clear's book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. I had thought it was about large, monumental, difficult, powerful, explosive changes. But it was the opposite metaphor: tiny, achievable atom-sized changes that add up.

So I ordered the book. I also requested a copy of BJ Fogg's book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything through KGA's bookshelf benefit.

I'm applying the advice from the webinar and Clear's book, primarily habit stacking and the 4 laws. This is definitely worth following.

Second Webinar

Yesterday was the second webinar, "Cultivating Wellbeing Through the Science of Thanks." This was also excellent. While this kind of thing can sound eye-roll-worthy, it's a very practical attitude adjustment.

Rather than focusing on all the negative things, actively focus on the good things. Those are the things to be thankful for.

It doesn't make the negatives go away, or affect them in any way. But it does affect the way your mind deals with them. It reminds you that in the midst of all those negatives crowding out everything else, there are good things in your life. Maybe very small, but there nonetheless.

There's a whole Positive Psychology study and practice. One of the items is three good things: write down at least 3 good things that you noted for the day. The presenter was very adamant that you have to write them down, not just think about them. That act of writing plants them more firmly in your brain.

At first this seemed like so much fluff to me. But then I started to think about 3 good things for the day. And it actually felt pretty good! So, OK, I resolved to do that.

I have a stack of traveler's pocket journal notebooks that I got for recording random mind maps. I took one of those to use for a daily 3 Good Things.

My guidelines for this are simple:

  • Think about whatever good things were in the day.
  • Find at least 3. More is fine.
  • "Good things" can be anything from stupid little things that spark joy or trigger a dopamine spike, up to major accomplishments. Something that feels good, big or little.
  • It can be something observed, something done, something experienced, or something thought.
  • Write down a brief line about it, enough to spark the memory.
  • Don't worry about keeping them in chronological order.
  • Add more things later if they happen or come to mind. Those "Oh yeah, that was good, add that one!" moments are part of the mindfulness.
Some advice for this says to go into great detail, but I want to keep it as simple and easy to maintain as possible so that I maintain the benefit it provides. That's applying Clear's 3rd Law for habits.

For yesterday, I wrote down 12 things:

  • Good yoga workout.
  • Helped a new college grad with resume review and job-hunting/interviewing advice.
  • Good avocado lunch salad.
  • Read a few pages of Atomic Habits over lunch.
  • Updated my interview question Confluence page (questions we use for interviewing candidates).
  • Good EAP webinar.
  • 3 Good Things is a great idea!
  • Good sunny walk with the dog: bright clear blue sky, green pine trees, white snow on the ground, crisp air, smiling happy dog.
  • Ducks on the pond: the emerald flash of the mallard's head turning in the sunlight.
  • Did 2 easy leetcode questions (taking my own advice to the college grad about practicing coding).
  • Instant Pot collard greens came out well.
  • Started 3 Good Things habit.
Nothing big. Mostly just trivia. But this is for rebuilding. Baby steps. Small successes become big successes. Small positives become big positives.

Were there bad things or frustrations during the day? Yes. But that's not the point here. The good things are.

Just reading back through them makes the dopamine sparkle. That's the real benefit, like Dr. Herbert Benson's relaxation response, the brain chemistry changes to face the world, good and bad.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Using Speed Reading Skimming

One of the techniques I've been using since I've been learning about speed reading is skimming. This is surprisingly effective.

There are several variations of it. The specific method I've been using is to skim a book's table of contents, then skim its actual contents:

  • For the table of contents, I read the chapter and top-level section headings.
  • For the actual contents, I read each heading and the first clause, line, or sentence of each paragraph.
The content skim depends a bit on the writing style and layout. Some paragraphs might be very short, or might be only a single long sentence consisting of multiple clauses. Others might be very long, just a couple per page.

In general, I'm trying to read roughly one out of every 5 lines, or 3-5 sentences per page.

That allows me to cover 100-300 pages per hour. Make no mistake, this is not a deep dive on information; it's a sampling method. I use the pomodoro technique with it, in 25 minute/5 minute cycles.

What's so surprising about this is that despite actually reading only 10-20% of the material, I'm able to pull a good amount of information out of it. That allows me to digest a complete book in an hour or three.

This takes advantage of the fact that paragraph structure is typically a topic sentence followed by supporting sentences. The high level information is there at the beginning. That's not uniformly the case, but it's consistent enough that the overall gist of the material can be extracted this way.

While I may not comprehend 100% of the book (since I didn't actually read it), before I skimmed it I comprehended zero percent of it. So it's definitely useful progress.

Skimming works equally well with short-form content such as articles or online posts, taking just a few minutes, and with medium-form content such as entire newspapers, magazines, and journals, taking 10 minutes to an hour.

Skimming has a number of benefits:

  • It acts as a first pass to prepare my mind for a more in-depth read, preloading a summary of the information.
  • It provides a gestalt and context to help grok the overall material.
  • It helps me quickly assess the quality of the material, for instance for a review.
  • It helps me prioritize the things I want to cover more deeply in a second pass, skipping the ones I don't need.
  • It allows me to quickly refresh, review, reassess, and reintegrate material I've read before.
  • If I'm going through multiple books and resources, I can do a first-pass digest of all of them, then a second pass on each one subject to what I got from the others.
The ability to take repeated passes through material is very helpful for increasing comprehension and retention, making use of the brain's reticular activating system (RAS). This is something Jim Kwik talks about in Limitless (see Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik). Spaced repetition helps overcome the "forgetting curve."

The pomodoro technique takes advantage of the primacy and recency effects of memory by splitting the activity into multiple sessions with breaks that allow the brain to consolidate information: primacy means we remember what we learned at the beginning of a session, and recency means we remember what we learned most recently at the end of a session. It's the stuff in the middle that doesn't do well, which is part of why cramming for hours without breaks is not effective.

I don't use this for everything. It's not suitable as the first pass for all material. When I'm reading a novel for pleasure, I want to savor every detail (and not get hopelessly confused in the plot and character interactions).

But when I want to acquire information quickly, it really does work. It also works well for incremental, additive understanding and reinforcement, lighting up the memory. That even works for later passes over material that I read normally the first time.

Here are two videos on reading a book a day that talk about skimming, with some slight variations and applications of the method. The first is a great short overview of the speed reading techniques I'm practicing, including skimming. The second talks about using skimming to filter the material down to the really interesting parts worth focusing on.

I cannot overstate how mind-bogglingly effective this is. I wish I'd learned it 50 years ago! Now I'll use it for the next 50.

Using The Pomodoro Technique

Over the past couple of years, I've been using the Pomodoro Technique more and more, for a variety of things. This is a very effective time management method.

The idea is that you set a timer for a specific amount of time to spend on something, and during that time you focus exclusively on that task. You can add additional work periods, or alternate with rest periods.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and the technique is named for kitchen timers that are shaped like tomatoes. Each work period of 10-60 minutes is called a pomodoro.

I like to use my cellphone timer, the Brain Focus app, or a timer similar to this one. There are a number of phone apps similar to Brain Focus; I picked it pretty much at random from the choices that showed up.

What's nice about the app is that it sets up an alternating cycle of work periods and rest periods. I use it for studying and reading, to make sure I take regular breaks. The default setting is 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest, with a longer 20-minute rest every 4 cycles.

As I mentioned in Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, the rest periods are to allow my brain to consolidate information. If I'm doing some kind of physical activity, the rest periods allow me to recover physically and avoid overdoing it. Both cases allow me to put in a sustained effort that can add up to several hours.

I spend the rest period in a variety of ways, depending on the main activity and how I'm feeling:

  • Doing a deep-breathing meditation, which I also covered in the Kwik review. Another common pattern I use is to count breaths to 10 (5 breaths alternating inhale and exhale, then start over; start over if I lose count or my mind wanders).
  • Standing up and doing stretches to work out the kinks.
  • Doing "chair yoga," simplified yoga poses that use the furniture as props.
  • Doing simple calisthenics like situps, pushups, or deep knee-bends. Where the other rest activities are relaxing, this is stimulating.
  • Going for a short walk.
  • Getting coffee or water. It's important to stay hydrated during any mental or physical effort.
  • Going to the bathroom.
There are a variety of benefits. In addition to pacing out and breaking up work and making sure I get brief rests, it enforces both minimum and maximum times.

This ensure that I at least put in some minimum amount of time for something I don't like doing, such as housework; and that I don't let time get away from me when I'm doing something I like, such as reading.

It also makes sure I address and balance the various demands on my time. That prevents exhausting all my energy on one thing while overlooking other things. Just about anything can be done in small segments, mixed in with segments of other things.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Recipe: Lunch Super Salad

Like my Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl, this is my nearly-everyday salad, combining a number of the superfoods I listed in Losing Weight With WW Purple.

As with that one, it's not a precise recipe. I've listed general ranges for amounts, loosely packed, and the specific items vary by what I have on hand.

Lunch Super Salad

  • 1/2-1 C Red leaf lettuce
  • 1/2-1 C Napa cabbage
  • 1/2-1 C Baby spinach
  • 1/2-1 C Baby kale
  • 1/2-1 C Baby arugula
  • 1/4-1/2 C English cucumber
  • 1/4-1/2 C Sweet red/orange/yellow pepper
  • 1-3 Mushrooms
  • 1/4-1/2 C Tomato
  • 1 slice Spanish onion
  • 1 scallion
  • 1/4-1/2 C Kimchi
  • 1/2-1 slice sourdough bread (1-2 WW points)
  • 1/4-1/2 Avocado (3-5 WW points)
  • 2 Tbsp hummus (2 WW points)
  • 1/2 Tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 Tsp ground black pepper (to activate the curcumin in the turmeric)
  • 1/4 Tsp cayenne pepper powder (for the capsaicin)
  • 2 Tbsp Bolthouse Farms Chunky blue cheese yogurt dressing (1 WW point)
  1. Slice and chop all items into bitesize pieces.
7-10 WW Purple points.

Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl

This was formerly my nearly-everyday breakfast (see Recipe: Lunch Super Salad for my nearly-everyday lunch), and forms the basis of my new nearly-everyday breakfast, by adding greens to make Recipe: Super Green Fruit Smoothie. It combines a number of the superfoods I listed in Losing Weight With WW Purple.

A couple of the items are bitter or sour tastes, but the fruit sweetens them. I don't add sweeteners.

I've made one recent change to it since starting, replacing unsweetened fat-free Greek Yogurt with unsweetened coconut-milk kefir, based on Dr. Will Bulsiewicz' book Fiber Fueled, which is very consistent with Dr. Uma Naidoo's book This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More. The reason for the replacement is to switch from a dairy-based probiotic to a plant-based one.

This is actually a two-part recipe. The first part is a dry mix that I premix in bulk.

It's also not a precise recipe. Except for items that have WW point values, these are all Purple free foods, so the amounts are variable according to my whims and what I have on hand. I've listed recommended amount ranges.

I list specific brands where I've checked the ingredients and point values carefully. It takes constant vigilance to avoid or minimize unwanted sugars and sweeteners, so be careful making substitutions.

Dry Mix

This is a combination of spices, seeds, grains, and vegan protein powder. I use the protein powder scoop to measure everything out and store the mix in an empty protein powder jug.

All measurements in "scoops".

  • 6 Ground turmeric
  • 1/4 Ground black pepper (to activate the curcumin in the turmeric)
  • 1 Cinnamon
  • 1 Sesame seeds
  • 1 Vega Essential Shake protein powder, vanilla
  • 1 PB2 powdered peanut butter
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill muesli
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill chia seeds
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill flaxseed meal
  • 1 Unsweetened toasted coconut flakes
  1. Chop the coconut flakes finely.
  2. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl

  • 1/2-1 scoop dry mix
  • 7 g walnuts (2 halves, 1 WW point)
  • 5 g dark chocolate (8 Ghirardelli 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate chips, 1 WW point)
  • 1/2-1 C unsweetened coconut-milk kefir
  • 1/2-1 C blueberries
  • 3-6 strawberries
  • 1/4-1/2 banana
  • 1/4-1/2 apple
  • 1/4-1/2 peach
  • Optional for smoothie: 1/2-1 C unsweetened almond milk
  1. Chop walnuts and chocolate finely.
  2. Slice fruit pieces into bitesize pieces.
  3. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
  4. Optional for smoothie: add almond milk and blend smooth.
WW Purple points: 2