Healthy Eats Department
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Junk Food of the Epoch - The Philly Soft Pretzel
You will notice that my cheesesteak review ran for much longer than one month. Since this is likely to happen each time I update this page (either due to laziness or, ahem, the server being down), I have changed "Month" to "Epoch" (a nice, open-ended time frame) in the name of this department.
Each of us, at some point in our lives, has gnawed on a soft pretzel. However, there are probably very few of you reading this who have had both the good fortune and the appetite to scarf down a genuine Philly Soft Pretzel. While you're probably most familiar with the standard Superpretzel / Auntie Anne's shaped zel, a typical Philly is more figure-8 shaped, where the long sides of the "8" are flat rather than round and the loops are elongated. The girth of these pretzels is comparable to that of a standard bagel. This thing is a freaking meal. The South Philly pretzel bakeries generally churn these guys out in rows of eight that can easily be hand-separated into individual zels. Simply put, until you can claim to have eaten a genuine Philly pretzel right out of the oven, you have no idea just how satiating a soft pretzel can be.
As far as Philly pretzel places go, there are really two heavyweights. The first, and my favorite by a nose, is the Federal Pretzel Company, located near the intersection of 7th and Federal (and not too far from Pat's King of Steaks; hit both places and knock yourself out!). Their zels have a smooth texture with a nice brown skin and a fair amount of salt (although nowhere near as much as you might get at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike). For a mere $8, you get yourself a box of 50! Of course, vendors outside Veterans Stadium will try to sell you 3 for a dollar, obviously not a good deal for a cold, going stale zel. Federal sells zels in quantities up to 1000! The other place, which is Dad's favorite but my second favorite, is Center City Pretzel, located just a few blocks from Federal, on Washington Street. Dad prefers the taste and the fact that there's noticeably less salt on these guys. I also notice that they are not quite as dark or as smooth as Federal's, and I do notice a difference in taste. Whichever you choose, you'll not only be satisfied with the taste, but also filled!
Since Space Shuttle between Cleveland and Philly isn't available yet, I have to live with whatever I can find here. The most popular variety seems to be Auntie Anne's which has several locations in the area. I think this place is absolutely disgusting. I hate the taste and the fact that they befoul their zels by dipping them in the nearest vat of molten aardvark innards before handing them to you. Bastards! Anne must have been the aunt that all the kids detested. If there is any saving grace to this place, it is the fact that you can get different shapes, like nubs or the braided kind that looks like two tangled wires (the "Dave Effect"). Hot Sam's (or whatever they're calling it these days) is at least a full head above Crappy Anne's and also offers a variety of shapes. The supermarket variety basically consists of Superpretzel, which is pretty good too. I especially like the fact that you directly control the amount of salt that goes on these zels. I guess the one fact that unifies all these varieties is that they're just not bulky enough to satisfy this appetite, like the Federals are (hell, I usually eat at least two Federals at a time). Oh well.
Philly does lack one important element: Stadium Mustard. 'Nuff said.
Nutritional Supplement of the Epoch - The Caffeine-Ephedrine-Aspirin Stack
In early summer 1993, I was a soft 223 pounds and hoping to shed some weight. I was perusing some muscle mag that reported on a recent study on the use of caffeine and ephedrine as an agent in weight loss. Reportedly, when used at a certain ratio, the supplement had a "supra-additive" effect on fat burning. By the end of June, I had gotten down to 213 but was stuck. So I went to GNC to see if I could find some of this ephedrine. The only thing I found was this product called Chi Powder, consisting of the Chinese herb Ma Huang, which was known to contain ephedrine. So I picked up some of this stuff, and began to ingest the capsules every morning as I stopped at 7-11 to get a Diet Pepsi Super Big Gulp (caffeine). I don't have the slightest idea if I was using the proper ratio, but within a week, I was at 208 and falling fast. By the time I returned to Cleveland in August, I was at 195!
So what the hell happened? Well, I had hit upon what still is the most effective over-the-counter weight loss supplement. Basically, the original article said that the combination of 200mg caffeine and 20mg ephedrine triggered a "thermogenic" effect. In so many words, the pituitary gland was tricked into thinking that heat needed to be generated (i.e. fat burned). It turns out that many bodybuilders had been using this trick to cut down before a contest for a fair amount of time already. Soon after, however, I read about the potential side effects: increased production of free radicals, possible connection to heart attacks, blood, death, devastation, war, horror, etc, without proper antioxidant intake (Vitamins A,C,E, etc.). Also, I found out that various athletics organizations like the NCAA banned the use of ephedrine (luckily, my stellar CWRU baseball career was already over). In fact, I noticed that after a couple weeks of use, I developed a tingling sensation around my right clavicle that never hurt but often "tickled", almost as if a feather was growing in there. No doubt this was related to the usage of Chi Powder, but I never did find the feather.
In following years, we heard of people dying allegedly from the use of this stuff, which led to "safe" (Ma Huang-free) versions of such products as TwinLab's Ripped Fuel. What was often overlooked in each of these stories was that most victims either already had a history of heart problems or used monster doses of the stuff. As time wore on, it was learned that the best protector against these unwanted side effects also seemed to increase the fat burning. That protector was none other than the wonder drug itself, aspirin (which, of course, is known to benefit people with heart problems). In fact, I recently read that the idea of using this "stack" (200mg caffeine, 20mg ephedrine, 300mg aspirin) has been around for nearly ten years, and that a few years back, somebody actually won a U.S. patent for it.
Unfortunately, this someone isn't marketing this stack in product form, so we fitness junkies have to get our fix from multiple sources. Personally, I use the aforementioned Ripped Fuel and whatever aspirin happens to be on sale. I'll take 2 Ripped Fuel capsules and one regular strength (about 325mg) aspirin 3 times a day, an hour before each major meal. Or, on days when I'm ambitious enough to get to the gym for some cardio early, I'll have my first dose ½ hour before working out. I'll do this for 4 weeks at a time, then take at least 4 weeks off. Primarily, this is because the stack's effect seems to die out after a month. Usually, maybe a day or two after I start one of these cycles, I'll get a big energy boost that lasts for a few days.
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