Product review: Alpha Brain nootropic by Onnit

Alpha Brain is a nootropic by Onnit. Nootropics are any supplement or drug (however you want to see it) designed to improve your brain in some way, be it processing speed, memory retention or whatever else.

alpha-brainAlpha Brain purports to be the first nootropic tested by a non-interested party to get statistically significant improvements in brain function; that's reported in press releases from the company that produces it, so take that at face value. Personally, I'm skeptical about achieving statistically significant results with a sample size of 18, but my research background is in social science, not in science as applied to actual humans.

WebMD rambles on a bit about whether a supplement could improve brain function, but focuses specifically on certain forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's. The not-quite-a-conclusion is that if you hit a battered brain with enough stuff, something's bound to help a little bit.

Lots of drugs, vitamins, minerals and supplements are listed as potential nootropics; here's a little more from Wikipedia.

Now, let me tell you about my own experience. I've been using Alpha Brain for most of 2015, taking a week off here and there to let my brain reset to its natural, unsupplemented state (well, I don't stop the caffeine, so, there's that). I will say that about 45 minutes after taking it, I feel sharper. I make fewer typos and generally fewer minor mistakes. I have a desk job that requires strong control of the English language, and I take fewer tries to get it right while I have it in my system.

I do know that Onnit runs banned substance tests to make sure everything that goes into Alpha Brain is legal in most capacities, including pro sports.

I take it, and I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet. Talk to your doctor before taking supplements – they are largely unregulated by the FDA. Also, if you buy this product using my link, I will get a small percentage of the sale. This product was not provided free of charge for review; I pay full price for my Alpha Brain.

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Recipe: Low country rice with shrimp and andouille sausage

This wound up so delicious I thought I might share. It's a bit of a project; give yourself a bunch of time.

2015-03-09 15.55.37Ingredients:

  • Six slices bacon
  • 2 lbs. shrimp
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 4 jalapeño peppers
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Creole seasoning (I used a local blend from The Salt Table)
  • 1 lb. rice
  • 3 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2.5 cups chicken broth

In a large pan or pot (or dutch oven), cut up about six slices of bacon and get them cooking. While that's going on, slice a couple of celery stalks, a large onion, a few cloves of garlic, a green bell pepper and a couple of jalapeño peppers.

When the bacon is crispy, scoop it out with a slotted spoon and set it aside, leaving the fat in the pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour all the veggies in and let them cook. Add the diced tomatoes (including the liquid) and chicken broth. Let simmer. Add the rice.

When the rice is done cooking, transfer to a casserole dish (or, if using the dutch oven, leave it in there), and put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

Peel the shrimp and cut up the andouille sausage. Add the bacon and creole seasoning and toss, then cook.

When everything's done, combine and toss.

Recipe: Breakfast cookies

Breakfast cookies!

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

Take three overripe bananas, mash them up until they're the consistency of apple sauce. Add two cups of oats and mix well.

After that, the ingredients are negotiable, but here is what I added:

• One chopped apple
• Four tablespoons peanut butter
• Dash of vanilla

Mix it all well. Spoon it onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Let cool. Eat. The end.

Autumn, here

This is what a sunny autumn afternoon looks like in our backyard. By autumn, I mean that yesterday, it was 60 degrees and sunny, while those back in Central New York (and in other parts of the northeast) were digging out from a 15-inch snowfall.

The stuff hanging from the tree, which is a live oak (after they shed their leaves in fall, they bud again immediately instead of waiting until spring), is Spanish moss. It's pretty and it gives an ancient, mysterious feel to the trees it hangs from. It's also home to a mite called the chigger, which will inject a digestive hormone into your skin and live off an inner layer of skin for a while until you start seeing a rash and get rid of it (which means you don't touch the stuff).

We're starting to meet our neighbors, getting accustomed to walking out the door and spending 15 minutes chatting before getting on our way. The dog is off leash during the day, typically.

We got to meet the good Brothers of Roger Lacey Lodge No. 722 and their Ladies at their election and installation. We're finding community.

We have enough stuff unpacked to cook a decent meal. The first thing that wasn't a simple veggie omelet was ox tail soup, with yucca root, carrots and onions. I took some of the beef fat from the soup, cooked some kale in it and poured the soup over the kale.

We found some sriracha amongst our things, and added it for some spice.

If you haven't had it, yucca root has sort of the consistency of a chewy potato, but with a hint of a sort of coconut sweetness to it.

By early next week, we'll have most of the amenities of home. Our furniture will be out of storage, as will our washer and dryer. Our TV and Internet hookup will be connected. We'll have stuff to get rid of and trash day to figure out, but that can all wait until it needs to happen.

In the meantime, we have fresh air and sunshine, and we've spent a lot of time speaking to the neighbors. We miss our friends back in CNY, but we'll connect soon, there, here or in between.

Enjoy Thursday, friends.

The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss: Books that will change your life, and how to use them

Tim Ferriss is, by now, well-known for the 4-hour franchise. His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was famously rejected by dozens of publishers before becoming an overwhelming hit, having been translated into thirty-something languages (as of this writing) and sending a lot of people into entrepreneurship.

That book was basically a collection of productivity hacks for people with a product to sell, giving them the opportunity to cut down drastically on the amount of work they had to do while keeping their revenue streams up.

The message for me from The 4-Hour Workweek that sticks, though, is not the main message of the book, which is essentially how to get rich while other people handle the tough work for you. It’s that it’s an instruction manual for stuff that Ferriss tried himself, using his own business to experiment on.

And so we pick up Ferriss’ second book, The 4-Hour Body, a 600-page book about changing your body. Ferriss writes about losing fat and gaining muscle, both quickly and over the long term, including doing so while more or less ignoring every dieting “rule” you’ve ever heard. He writes about having better sex. He writes about supplementation (read: drugs). He draws from the experiments he’s performed on himself (and a few other willing subjects).

That brings us to the punchline, about how this book really does change your life.

The takeaway: It’s OK to experiment on yourself.

Sure, it’s nice to have a physician available, especially if you don’t understand the chemistry at play in your body and in certain drugs. And if you are trying new stuff for the first time, having an urgent care or emergency medical facility nearby is a good thing (and maybe you want to have a ride available, just in case). But to be honest, while the body can be a fragile thing, it’s also really resilient, and it lets you know when you’re taking it too far through pain or other reactions (like swelling, for example).

But in general, you should really learn to be comfortable trying new things, and also observing how they affect you. This applies to food, activities, sleep and pretty much any part of life you want to apply it to.

To observe correctly, however, you must measure and document. Ferriss has done pretty much all the work for you. If you want to lose 2% body fat in two weeks, he’ll give you the shortcuts. If you want to put on 18 pounds tomorrow, he’ll let you know. But he also lets you know how to measure and document your progress, so you can see for yourself, and that’s the part of The 4-Hour Body that’s most interesting to me.

Why it’s important: It makes you the expert.

You don’t need a personal trainer, or a dietitian or a scientist. You record what you eat, you record how you feel, how it changes your weight, etc., and you do it again under the same conditions at another time to see if there were any extraneous factors (that is, to see if it’s replicable).

You would be the best expert on you, if you were to pay attention. And, the punchline here, is that you can extrapolate all you learn to other parts of life. The observation, data collection and other skills certainly translate outside of eating and running.

How to use it: Ferriss himself leaves instructions for how to use the book. Pick a couple of chapters that are relevant to you, and read those first. Utilize the tips. Do your experimenting. Then read the rest of the book if it’s interesting to you.

End-of-summer to Thanksgiving challenge: Week 2

I thought I was actually going to put on a couple of pounds this week. I've been having some major food issues — notably not eating enough calories during the day, then back-loading on high-sugar foods at midnight or later to catch up.

2014-weight-loss-002But I listened to Steve Austin's podcast (auto-plays, NSFW), and someone asked about his diet, since he's trying to lean out for some upcoming TV shows. He's eating a lot of protein (350g) and calories (over 3,000), which is way more than I need, but he's also filling some of his meals out with oatmeal and potatoes and rice.

So I picked up some of those dense starches to take the place of things like, oh, peanut butter cups and cookies. And even in just a couple of days, it worked wonders. So, that's going to be part of the plan for the fall, I think. Not whole meals of piles of rice, of course, but a couple of fistfuls of oatmeal in my protein shake in the morning means it will stick a little longer. In fact, the first time I did it, it was 30g of whey protein, a banana, a serving of peanut butter and a little bit of oatmeal, and I had enough fuel for a three-mile run three hours after I drank it, on what was supposed to be a rest day (I just had some energy I needed to get out).

Anyway. It was also a pushups and pull-ups day. My two-minute max pushups was up almost 15%; my pull-ups increased twice that.

Here's the updated tracker sheet.

Weight Miles 2-minute pushups Pullups 3 sets to failure (total)
8/25/2014 163.2 N/A 63 23
9/1/2014 161.6 10.03 N/A N/A
9/8/2014 160.2 13.41 72 30
9/15/2014 N/A N/A
9/22/2014
9/29/2014 N/A N/A
10/6/2014
10/13/2014 N/A N/A
10/20/2014
10/27/2014 N/A N/A
11/3/2014
11/10/2014 N/A N/A
11/17/2014 N/A N/A
11/24/2014

End of summer-to-Thanksgiving weight loss challenge Week 1

2014-weight-loss-001

Well, I'm not going to lie. I didn't do great Week 1. I hit my 1.5-pounds-per-week goal, but you'd think at the start of a new program you lose big the first week and then everything kind of averages out.

Not if you don't eat right, of course. I guess I've got another week or two of summer slacking my body wants to do, but I'm going to try to balance it well. I'm opening up the grill this afternoon, and you can betcha I'm gonna eat.

Anyway. I did get over 10 miles this week (along with a couple of goes on the elliptical and on the exercise bike). I'm hoping to get out today for a few miles (the gym's closed, so I guess if I'm going to lift anything it'll be a 70-pound Labrador who's not really into the whole being off the ground thing).

Onward. How are you doing?

Weight Miles 2-minute pushups Pullups 3 sets to failure (total)
8/25/2014 163.2 N/A 63 23
9/1/2014 161.6 10.03 N/A N/A
9/8/2014
9/15/2014 N/A N/A
9/22/2014
9/29/2014 N/A N/A
10/6/2014
10/13/2014 N/A N/A
10/20/2014
10/27/2014 N/A N/A
11/3/2014
11/10/2014 N/A N/A
11/17/2014 N/A N/A
11/24/2014

A season with Early Morning Farm’s CSA

An early season share. Bok choy, strawberries, lettuce, hakurei turnips and a bunch more.

An early season share. Bok choy, strawberries, lettuce, hakurei turnips and a bunch more.

Last night I stopped by my local drop point and picked up our final three-quarter bushel box of vegetables from Early Morning Farm (EMF). A farm share is an investment, but this definitely turned out worth it.

If you're not familiar with farm shares, here's the deal. You sign up for the season, and you pay for however long the farm thinks they'll have veggies, in this case, 23 weeks. EMF had two size options coming into the season, and there was a full-season share (June to November) or an academic season share (beginning in August).

For us, getting a larger share (I eat a lot, though this would definitely have fed a family of five with normal, and we have lots of root veggies and squash left) for the full season wound up costing about $27 a week (compare that to your weekly grocery bill if all your fruits and veggies are organic). You do, of course, take some risk. Once you've bought into the system, you've bought into the system, and if there's a flood or drought, you're not getting much in the way of veggies.

Daikon radish

Daikon radish vs. arm

We got a lot of new-to-us veggies we'd never tried before. My favorites were hakurei turnips and sunchokes. Both are crispy when eaten raw, and sunchokes get really sweet when cooked.

We got several different kinds of kale during the season, along with other greens like mizuna, dandelion and mustard greens, napa cabbage, and they managed to have tomatoes a lot longer than some other farms, since their high tunnels managed to hold off the blight that hit this year.

In addition to getting to try new-to-me foods and stretch a bit with recipes, the farm itself was exactly the right fit for someone like me. Their Facebook page was alive right from planting season – they post a photo a day during the week from planting right on through to harvest – they post recipes on their blog, and they're always in touch by email to let us know what we can expect in the box, which gives you meal planners out there the opportunity to schedule your ideas out a few days.

As for pickup, they deliver to a location about a half mile from me. There are lots of drop points, and what day you get your veggies depends on what area you live in. They also invited members to an open house (we didn't make the trip; turns out they're a hike on a night when I was working).

Definitely something I'd recommend you try.

Why [I] won’t be returning to Empire Brewing Co.

Update 4/7/13 — It's clear to me that I've gotten my point across with this post and my emails to the restaurant; I think I've had a healthy enough exchange with Empire, and that they've done enough to try to do right by me. As I mentioned in the original post, I think the restaurant does a lot of good for our local economy and environment, sourcing locally and being locally owned; I don't feel that leaving details of my negative experience up is really warranted. That's not to say I'll necessarily go back to Empire, but if you've had positive experiences there, by all means, you should continue to return.

So I've taken down the content of the post, but I'm going to leave the headline up and continue to allow comments.

Tasting Charleston: Boulevard Diner

2013-02-28 12.07.02
Shrimp and cheesy grits and fried pickle spears at Boulevard Diner.

Despite the fact that it's the last Tasting Charleston spot I'm writing about, Boulevard Diner was our first restaurant stop in Charleston. We stopped after a windy walk at Shem Creek, where we saw shrimp boats and pluff mud and piles of oysters sitting under the raised walkways.

The sweet tea was perfect, the fried pickles are always going to be an acquired taste (one I'm not likely to acquire, though I will admit to consuming them), but oh my, the shrimp and grits.

This is one of those places that is primarily an eatery for locals, including people who were clearly there on their lunch breaks, where the servers are friendly and the portions are ample.

I just can't tell you, though, how creamy and delicious those grits were. When you eat food and you suddenly feel like you're sitting in front of a fire drinking sherry and eating chocolate lava cake, even though it's clearly lunch, you know you got the right meal.

Like Black Bean Co., I wouldn't make Boulevard Diner a destination stop, but if you're in the area and looking for a place to go, you could do a whole lot worse.