Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Bread is not my usual subject in The Fairbanks Pedestrian.  However, I’m entering the below recipe in the Tanana Valley State Fair, who claims that my recipe will become property of the Fair.  The recipe is posted here first under a Creative Commons License (see below).  All-purpose flour has been replaced with bread flour.

Note: All grains are measured by weight, not volume.  5 oz. flour = approx. 1 c.

Mix together: • 20 oz. sourdough starter, consisting of equal weights bread flour and water • 16 oz. bread flour • 5 oz. water.

Cover loosely and let sit in a warm place 24 hours.

In a saucepan, combine: 25 oz. whole milk • 10 oz. water • 10 oz. raisins (chopped first or pureed in the liquid) • 4 oz. unsalted butter.  Heat slowly and simmer, stirring frequently, until butter is melted.

Stir in: • 3 oz. whole-grain cornmeal • 3 oz. flaxseed meal • 3 oz. ground sunflower seeds (roasted, salted) • ⅔ oz. (1 Tbsp.) table salt.

Turn heat to lowest setting, cook for 30 minutes with lid on, remove from heat, and allow to cool, covered, at least an hour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine: • “Porridge” from above • 12 oz. (approx. 1 c.) honey • 26 oz. whole-wheat flour • 3 oz. amaranth flour • 3 oz. oat flour • 3 oz. buckwheat flour.

Cover tightly with plastic and let sit 12-24 hours in a cool place.

Final dough
Knead together: • Soaker from above • Preferment from above • 5-10 oz. flour, bread flour and whole-wheat mixed in equal parts by weight.  Start with 5 oz. to dust work surface, between pre-doughs, and on top of layers.

Put dough in a large mixing bowl or stock pot oiled with olive oil.  Cover with a damp cloth and let sit 8-10 hours, until dough doubles in size.

Shaping and baking
Mist work surface and four bread pans (approx. 9” x 5”) with spray oil.  Divide dough into four equal portions.  For each piece, fold corners in to form a rectangle and flatten into a rectangle about 9” x 13”.  Fold the dough in thirds, letter-style, tapering the ends slightly; fold the ends toward the seam; and lay loaf seam-side-down in pan.  Let rise in a warm place 1-2 hours.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325°F.

Brush loaves with milk, sprinkle with rolled oats, and slash lengthwise along the center.

Bake at 325°F for 45-50 minutes, rotating each loaf 180° after 30 minutes.

Let cool on racks at least 1 hour before slicing.

I am grateful to Peter Reinhart, whose book Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads informed this recipe, and to Ruth Allman, whose Alaska Sourdough spawned and informed my early sourdough baking.

Creative Commons License
Powerhouse Breakfast Bread (Recipe) by Paul Adasiak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/122702030.

Brush loaves with milk, sprinkle with rolled oats, and slash lengthwise along the center.


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As you may have learned from the News-Miner or elsewhere, it is currently TV Turnoff Week (April 21-27) — a chance for us to power down the tube and do something a little healthier or more creative. But what to do?

Based on the readers of this blog whom I know, turning off the television for a week should be no great task for most of you — if you even have a television. But perhaps it is difficult to pull yourself away from American Idol, The Simpsons, or The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer for an entire week. Or perhaps you think it’s a great idea, and you’re just looking for ways to convince others that it’s feasible. Some may wonder: “But if I’m not watching TV, what is there to do in the evening? Stare at a wall?”

I have a few suggestions. Some of them are kind of nerdy, to be sure.

  • Go with a friend or loved one on a “garbage walk” through your neighborhood: bring a couple of plastic grocery bags and pick up all the garbage near your house, then work outward. You are permitted to enjoy each other’s company on this walk. Children are great companions, here, because to them it’s like a treasure hunt.
  • Got a spouse or partner? Spend a while taking stock of your relationship and the course of your life together. What’s working well? What not so well? What do you want to be doing with your lives that you’re not doing right now? Make lists.
  • Bake a cake. (Today I’m partial to pineapple upside-down cake, but you can find a bajillion recipes at Epicurious.) Pretend to be missing one crucial ingredient — say, a cup of sugar — and ask a neighbor you haven’t met before if you can borrow it. Later, bring the neighbor a piece of your cake.
  • If you belong to a church, volunteer for one of its committees. Surely your church has committees. Make sure it’s something that really interests you.
  • Apply for (and get) a position on one of the Borough’s many boards and commissions. If you don’t want to join, then just attend a meeting you’re interested in — perhaps the City Council or Borough Assembly, too.
  • Feeling gregarious? Go to a bar after work and chat up somebody you’ve never met. (Not your bartender or waiter.) Have a conversation about politics or religion. See if the two of you can find some point of agreement.
  • If you live on a paved street, get a push broom and sweep up all the gravel that street maintenance crews have laid down over the winter. It’s going to be weeks before the street-sweepers come by, and you might as well make your neighborhood streets nice-looking and safe.
  • Take a walk through your neighborhood. Look at people’s houses (and any stores or offices, if you’re lucky enough to have them) and redecorate them in your mind.
  • Join a book group, a poker club, a baseball team, or a bowling league.

The long and short of it is: do something for other people or with other people — and ideally in your own neighborhood. Build some bridges. Be a do-gooder nerd. Be sure to enjoy yourself.

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I just read in today’s Judith Kleinfeld column:

In “The Healing Power of Doing Good,” Alan Luks investigated the emotional and health benefits of acts of kindness.

Luks sent a confidential questionnaire to 3,300 volunteers at more than 20 organizations throughout the United States. Just writing a check to a charitable organization, he found, didn’t do anything much.

But face-to-face helping produced great benefits:

–which Kleinfeld then summarizes for us; they include a feeling of euphoria, greater calm, and a sense of greater energy and health. Two of Luks’s points (as summarized by Kleinfeld) are:

• Helping others once a week or more led to the greatest health benefits.

• The greatest effects came from helping people the volunteers didn’t know, not just helping friends and family whom they had to help.

The points that catch my attention are:

  1. While helping others from a distance — mailing a check or signing an online petition — probably does social good, the personal benefit comes from helping flesh-and-blood people right in front of you.
  2. Helping people more often is better (for the helper) than doing it less often (though perhaps within the limits of having your own life and personal integrity).
  3. Helping strangers is more beneficial than helping your family, friends, fellow parishioners, etc.

In short: for maximum benefit, help lots of strangers, in person.

Of course, for this to happen, you need to build a life that brings you into contact with strangers often.

Two of the things that concern me about car-culture are that (1) it puts us at tremendous distances from others, so it’s harder to rub elbows with strangers in the first place, and (2) every place we are likely to see people is a destination of choice, and so the people there are mostly people of choice, not strangers.

Let’s give ourselves the euphoria and other benefits of altruism. Let’s figure out ways to rub elbows with strangers and make altruism happen more often.

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My fellow Fairbanks blogger Discontinuous Permafrost recently reported that he was ordered by his doctor to “[incorporate] a ‘healthy diet and exercise’ or suffer the consequences down the road.” I felt so sorry for him. Little repulses me more than the prospect of having to “exercise”.

I don’t mean to say that I prefer sloth and reject physical activity. In fact, I prefer walking places to driving, when the places are within reasonable walking distance and when time and weather allow. For more distant destinations, I enjoy bicycling. I even enjoy a long, destination-free ride around Farmers Loop in the summer, when the sun is shining and the warm air can rush past my face. I’d play Ultimate Frisbee too, if I felt there were time.

At this point, those of rational mind may say, “But, Paul, those are exercise!”

Well, yes. But also no.

Walking is a means of reaching destinations. It lets me experience my surroundings at human speeds and to meet other people by chance. While walking, I am able to provide the public sphere with one more pair of eyes that look out for my fellow citizens’ safety, and I provide a human presence that tends to curb others’ public ill behavior.

Bicycling also is a way of reaching destinations. When biking for pleasure, I’m able to enjoy fresh air, the breeze on my face, the calm of my own thoughts, and the exhilaration of speed.

While Ultimate Frisbee gets me nowhere, it is a chance to work (or play) cooperatively with others whom I might not meet otherwise, to laugh, and to make friends.

But exercise is an abstraction. It can take place in the confined solitude of your own home, the open solitude of the woods, or the more crowded solitude of the treadmill at a gym. In itself, exercise is unrelated to environment, to pleasure, or to community. The doctor who prescribes it does not care whether you are picking up trash, meeting neighbors, keeping an eye on the drug dealer down the street, doing your shopping, making friends, or performing a community service. He or she wants you to move your body enough to raise your heart rate by so much, for so long, so often.

Our ability to abstract the notion of exercise from any social utility that physical exertion might serve, and the need to prescribe this abstraction, testify to the fragmentation — the “dis-integration” — of our lives. Now is the time when we work. Now is the time when we socialize. Now is the time when we raise our heart rates. Now is the time when we ingest protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber.

To the perfectly rational mind (or the mind that thinks of itself thus), this dis-integrated life makes sense. It is acceptable to live in a single-family home where walking is never required and chance encounters are eliminated, and to work in a job that requires no exertion, provides no pleasure, and keeps the worker physically and socially isolated. The rational souls (they believe) will exercise rational choices to meet all their needs: Now I will drive to a friend’s house for society! Now I will buy nutritious foods online! Now I will raise my heart rate by jogging! And because they meet their needs by choice, they believe they will be happier than those who rely on the vagaries of irrational, unpredictable systems.

Well, maybe some are happier. But I think that, for the most part, this kind of dis-integration only only hurts our mental, physical, and social well-being. Even if possible at all, it’s tremendously difficult to lead a balanced life if you must take responsibility for every element in the balance. It is mentally taxing. There’s not enough time in the day to meet every need if it’s taken separately.

Look with suspicion on any activity that performs only one function, or very few. Take the risk of living in complex systems that leave you more whole. Live, not only with integrity, but with integration.

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As readers of Dermot Cole’s column may have heard, Prevention Magazine, in association with the American Podiatric Medical Association, named Fairbanks the best city in Alaska for walkers. The APMA developed the Best Walking Cities Competition in part “to educate the public on the health benefits of walking.” However, as an educational tool, their ranking leaves something to be desired.

While there are criteria, the end product is merely a ranked listing of 501 “cities” (more on that in a moment) – the ten most populous from each state, plus the District of Columbia. There seems to be no way to view a city’s score for any individual criterion, so a city wishing to improve its walkability has nothing to work with.

How would the end-user of the list use the rankings? If I were moving and weren’t tied to a job in a particular place, I would make walkability a strong criterion in my choice. But, if I were an Outsider choosing to move to Fairbanks on the basis of its ranking in Alaska, I might be disappointed. I don’t know where in Fairbanks you can live and have easy walking access to your work and to retail, commercial, civic, and recreational activities. It’s quite possible that the walkability within the City of Fairbanks exceeds that of the Municipality of Anchorage as a whole — but at least in Anchorage, as I remember from growing up there, you can find a neighborhood in which people reside, work, play, and shop. That’s awfully hard in Fairbanks. (Though I shouldn’t imply that such neighborhoods are common or cheap in Anchorage.)

So there are at least two ways of looking at walkability: (1) How is the walkability of the city or town overall? or, (2) Can a person who wishes not to own a car find a place in the city or town to live comfortably — where his or her time for leisure or civic life is not eaten up by over-long walks or circuitous bus rides? I have a feeling that the criteria favor walkability in the first sense.

Here is a list of the ten most populous “cities” from Alaska used in the competition, with their rankings:

  • 110 Fairbanks city
  • 118 Juneau city and borough
  • 208 Sitka city and borough
  • 306 College CDP [Census-designated place, I believe]
  • 426 Meadow Lakes CDP
  • 427 Madison city
  • 429 Anchorage municipality
  • 469 Knik-Fairview CDP
  • 470 Lakes CDP
  • 471 Tanaina CDP

I notice a few things about the list: First, the types of jurisdictions vary: city, city and borough, CDP, and municipality. This makes comparison difficult.

Second, some of the place names are unfamiliar to me. For example, where is the city Madison? The U.S. Board on Geographic Names doesn’t recognize it. And wouldn’t the cities of Wasilla, Palmer, Kenai, Soldotna, or Kodiak have greater populations, and make for better comparisons, than some of the CDPs selected? This lowers the credibility and the utility of the ranking.

Third — and most relevant to our topping the Alaska list — the part of Fairbanks surveyed seems to have been the city, not the greater Borough. A person might move to “Fairbanks” on the basis of its walkability, then find that the only affordable property was in University West or on Badger Road. Where would the walkability be then?

Fourth, the criteria could use a little scrutiny. The most heavily-weighted criterion is a “Walking Expert Panel”. I do not know who is on the panel or what their expertise is in. Have any of them ever been to Fairbanks (or the 500 other “cities”)? I wrote Friday (five days ago) to the contact people but have not heard back from them yet.

Another criterion is the Walkscore.com Index — which lost a bit of credibility with me when it listed eight grocery stores within a mile of my house and claimed the George C. Thomas library as one of the assets in my neighborhood.

Had I set the criteria, I might have included multi-use zoning as a criterion: does the city actually allow neighborhoods where people can work, play, shop, and gather without getting in a car? Rather than Total Cars Per Household, I might have used Total Annual Miles Driven Per Household.

But, no matter what statistical measures you use, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: as you move between home and work, between school and shopping, between public meetings and private parties — how many people do you see walking? how many driving? and which are you?


Addendum: The expert panel of seven people is listed, not on the APMA’s Best Walking Cities Competition pages, but on the website of Prevention magazine.  Between the seven people, could they have visited all 500 cities?  It’s a stretch, but I suppose it’s possible.

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The cold snap is behind us for now, thank heavens, though surely we’ll get more in winters to come. Now seems like a fair time to look at the relationship between people’s civil right of peaceable assembly (yes, the one guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) and Interior Alaska’s weather — at least, it’s being painted as the weather.

According to a recent article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (“Fairbanks air quality deemed unhealthy,” published February 8),

Air quality in the Fairbanks area has been classified as unhealthy today due to the recent cold snap, with the amount of small particles more than double what the federal government allows, according to the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The most vulnerable people in the community—children, the elderly and people with heart or lung problems—should limit their activity and stay home, Miller said.

There was no mention in the article of where this unhealthy air comes from. There was some mention in the next day’s paper (“Cold causes air quality to dive and respiratory viruses to spike”), where the reporter wrote that, because of the thermal inversion, “people are breathing the exhaust from cars, power plants and wood stoves in greater quantity.”

What alarms me about this is not air pollution per se. Like most people, I think that air pollution is bad. How could it not be? The alarming thing to me is whom this affects first: “children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung problems.”

As a parent of small children — children whom I would like to have learn about their neighborhood and the community around them, children who need friends and play and human society — I get concerned when largely preventable circumstances cut my kids off from the rest of the world. And as the son of two people who will someday be old and infirm — people who need culture and society no less than my children — I get concerned when public health officials recommend isolating the elderly and keeping them out of the public sphere, due to environmental conditions that could have been prevented.

The News-Miner articles make scant mention of these conditions. If we’re to trust these articles, the unhealthy air was caused by the cold — and cold can’t be prevented, can it?

Of course, it wasn’t the cold that caused the presence of pollutants; only human activity produces “the exhaust from cars, power plants and wood stoves” mentioned in the February 9 article. The News-Miner kept the emphases of its stories far away from the human causes of air pollution, which is itself a cause for concern.

At this point, people might ask, “What would you have us do? Never go anywhere? Freeze in our homes?”

Well, no.

But notice that greater Fairbanks is laid out in a sprawling, low-density fashion: our residences, usually single-family houses, are put on large lots (often zoned to a minimum size); land is cheaper and less taxed when distant from the city center; and with few exceptions residential areas are kept far from commercial, office, light industrial, and civic areas. The net effect of this is that people can walk hardly anywhere they need to go, that they must drive — far and frequently.

Also, according to 2006 Census Bureau data, only a third of housing structures in the Borough consisted of two or more units. (Compare this with 2000 data from Manhattan county, where 99 percent of housing structures had two or more units, with more than 75 percent in the 20-units-or-more category.) This is relevant because when you share walls with others, you lose less heat to the outside. In clusters of apartments, condominiums, or row houses, heat is exchanged through the floors, ceilings, and walls — and thus is better conserved, so those homes require less heating.

Don’t get me wrong. I love building fires and sitting by wood stoves, and I am charmed by rustic living. Growing up in Anchorage, I loved the occasional drive to a friend’s cabin for a peaceful, low-tech weekend of cooking, hiking, and saunas. But the scale on which we do this in the Interior (a metropolitan area of some 90,000 people) and the frequency with which we drive (i.e., daily) to our private houses, whether in the city or in the woods, turn a quaint, idiosyncratic lifestyle choice into a near-obscenity.

The way we have planned the Borough — low-density housing, one-family homes, single-use zoning, large lots, cheap land, and the need to drive to get anywhere worth going — we have sown the seeds for our own citizens’ disenfranchisement. That makes a sooty, black smudge on Alaska’s Golden Heart.

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An acquaintance of mine works in an office building downtown. She tells me that she’s thinking of quitting her job because:

  1. She lives on the west side of Fairbanks, and driving to and from downtown is an unpleasant commute; and
  2. The air around her building stinks. She described it as smoky and diesel-ish, and that makes her uncomfortable.

And who wouldn’t be uncomfortable, breathing air full of car exhaust?

I like walking, whether on an idle stroll or on a pointed errand, and I suspect that most people do, when it’s pleasant. It saddens me that downtown Fairbanks, a place that ought to be full with the hustle and bustle of human activity, is so inhospitable that people not only don’t want to travel there on pleasure, but are even reluctant to work there in air-filtered offices.

Downtown isn’t just my neighborhood. It should be everyone’s neighborhood — that is, our city commons, the place where all of Fairbanks feels welcome and safe. Everybody with any business in the Fairbanks area has a right to be there. But what a shallow right it is, when the air quality puts people in fear for their health.

I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the poor air quality near my acquaintance’s place of work is due mostly to automobile exhaust. (If anybody has another suggestion, please speak up.) If that’s so, the exhaust is due to high numbers of automobiles — probably single-occupancy — traveling or idling in our streets and parking lots.

Can anybody see a better way? something that might help downtown be a pleasant, safe, welcoming environment?

Here is my very short list of suggestions. (The first will work only if coupled with the second.)

  1. Get private automobiles out of downtown. Limit motorized traffic to emergency vehicles, utility vehicles, possibly some commercial service vehicles, and public transportation.
  2. Provide copious public transportation all around the Borough to bring people into downtown.

Given the fact that most of Fairbanks would be driving downtown from somewhere, the transit stops would have to provide a modicum of parking. Transit would have to be frequent — say, never more than a five-minute wait at stops — so that people would not feel it was too much of a time burden to come downtown to begin with.

The car — a ton or more of smoke-belching steel — is a natural enemy to the pedestrian. It never makes the pedestrian’s life any safer, only scarier, and it causes the pedestrian’s retreat from the public sphere that is our common right. Take the cars from downtown, and watch it become a place worth being.

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