Food notes: Sushi rolling

I’ve always felt appropriative making sushi, being neither Japanese nor highbrow; but I do love fish, the sea, and the idea of paying obeisance to fish and the sea. Notes:

Tools and things

Rolled sushi is forgiving: the ingredients are on the inside, so the pieces don’t need to be as visually perfect as in nigiri. This means you can get away with a non-fish-specific knife, as long as it’s sharp. Also helpful: a colander for rinsing rice, a sushi rolling mat, a rice spatula, and an automatic rice cooker.

A cutting board and (sharp!) knife
A stainless-steel colander, a bamboo rolling mat, a wooden rice spatulaAn adorably tiny digital rice cooker

Making the rice

Sushi rice is supposed to be a little chewier than plain white rice, so it needs to be cooked with less water than usual. For four sushi rolls, try 2 cups of rice and 2 13 cups of water.

Measure out 2 cups of rice, rinse it until the water runs clean, let it drain, then add 2 + 1/3 cup water.Cook in rice cooker.

Meanwhile, mix the vinegar: combine 3 T rice vinegar, 3 T sugar, and 1 T salt in a non-metallic bowl, then heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.

Combine 3 T rice vinegar, 3 T sugar, and 1 T salt in a non-metallic bowl.Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.

To make the rice shiny and chewy, you need to cool it as quickly as possible while mixing in the vinegar. Traditionally, this is done in a wide, shallow tub made of Japanese cypress, which absorbs excess moisture and speeds cooling. If you don’t have one (they’re pricey), you can use any wide, shallow, non-metal container. Try to use something that lets you spread the rice over the largest possible surface area to cool. As you spread out the rice, move the spatula horizontally through the grains to separate them while pouring in the vinegar mixture.

Before mixing riceAfter mixing rice

Prepping the other parts

Toast the seaweed over a hot surface for a few seconds, just until crisp.

Toast the seaweed over a hot surface for a few seconds.

To stop the rice from sticking to your hands later, mix up a bowl of “hand vinegar” to keep your fingers moist: 3 T water plus 1 T rice vinegar. If you like, mix up some spicy mayo: 3 parts Kewpie to 1 part Sriracha.

Hand vinegarSpicy mayo

Cut up whatever ingredients you want to roll up (here: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, mango, papaya, cucumber, and avocado).

tuna, salmon, yellowtail
mango, papaya, cucumber, avocado

Normal rolling: Outside-out

Lay your rolling mat down on a clean, flat surface.
Lay the sheet of seaweed with its prettier side facing down.

Lay your rolling mat down on a clean, flat surface.Lay the sheet of seaweed with its prettier side facing down.

Dip your fingers in the hand vinegar to keep the rice from sticking to you. Spread the rice out evenly, leaving an empty strip at the far end.
Lay your ingredients across the rice, about a third of the way in.

Spread out rice in an even, thin layer.Lay your filling ingredients across the rice, about a third of the way in.

Roll up the sushi, starting from the side closest to you. (I find it easiest to hold the ingredients with my fingertips while rolling upward with my thumbs.) Hold the mat around the formed roll for a few seconds to shape it.

Place the sushi on a cutting board with the seam at the bottom, and using a wet knife blade cut the roll in half and each half into fourths.

Cut into eighths.

Alternative rolling: Inside-out

Wrap the mat in plastic wrap before you start, so that the rice doesn’t stick. Use half a sheet of seaweed instead of a full sheet.

Plastic-wrap your mat.Half-nori sheet on mat.

Spread the rice out the same way, but don’t leave any empty strip.
Flip the rice-and-seaweed sheet over, then place your filling on top.

Spread rice in an even, thin layer.Flip over and place ingredients.

Roll the sheet up, add some white or black sesame seeds if desired, and cut into eighths.

Roll up and cut.

Starvation games: A (fox’s) guide to fasting metabolism

Thing practiced: storytime with canids

Tools used: D3.js, pen + paper, PubMed (references)

You’re much too beautiful! Do you want us all to feel depressed?

For 382 days, a twenty-seven-year-old man chose to consume nothing but fluids, salt, vitamins, and yeast. He survived, dropping from 456 to 180 pounds—and weighed in at 196 five years later.

Fasting is in vogue now, and not just among self-flagellants. Fans of intermittent fasting say hunger hones our bodies’ recovery mechanisms and preserves lean tissue while eliminating fat. Paleo Diet adherents—who argue that obesity, diabetes, and heart disease stem from the mismatch between our evolutionary history and the modern environment—remind us that humans evolved to thrive when meals were rare. So (how) do our bodies survive when we’re not eating?

All our energy derives from breaking carbon-carbon bonds, and we have various carbon backbones available to burn. Glycogen, a branched carbohydrate, is our fast fuel: all our cells maintain a stash, and all can quickly mobilize it as sugar when needed. Stockpiling glycogen is inefficient, though, because we package it with water. (We think of carbohydrates as yielding 4 calories per gram, but we reap only 1-2 calories per gram of hydrated glycogen.)

A larger store of potential energy is in body proteins, which are linear polymers of amino acids. Proteins serve critical functions (skin, ligaments, muscle, enzymes, hormones), so we preserve them as much as possible. Though proteins can and do get broken down for energy, catabolizing more than about half will kill us.

Our main fuel store is fat, which is both efficient to store (because it’s not hydrated) and otherwise useless (meaning it’s easily expendable). Theoretically, a man with 20% body fat could survive off his fat layer for weeks.

Stored energy reserves in a 170-pound, 20% body fat man; one day’s resting energy usage is shown for reference.

In practice, though, calories from different sources aren’t interchangeable. Our bodies don’t literally burn fuel, but instead send it through energy-harvesting pathways that accept specific inputs. Some cell types lack the machinery needed to process certain molecules; for example, red blood cells don’t have mitochondria, so they can use only glucose (sugar) for energy. Other tissues can’t use certain fuels because they’re not physically accessible; for instance, the brain can’t burn fat because fatty acids can’t permeate the blood-brain barrier. And our bodies can interconvert our energy stores in only limited ways: we can convert glucose to fat, and protein to glucose or fat, but we can’t convert fatty acids to either glucose or protein.

When we’re starving, our bodies prioritize two things: maintaining an uninterrupted flow of energy to the brain and spinal cord, and preserving as much body protein as possible. Normally, our brains run solely on glucose. During starvation, though, glucose is precious: we can create it only by destroying body protein. To conserve protein, the brain reduces its glucose usage by burning the ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate as fuel. Likewise, muscle tissue and major organs like the heart and liver usually burn a mixture of glucose and fatty acids, but switch to a ketones-added, lower-glucose, higher-fat mixture.

How brain and muscle adjust their energy usage as starvation progresses: the brain switches to use ketone bodies (β-OHB and AcAc) as its primary fuel, while muscle replaces most of its glucose usage with fatty acids (FFA). (Percentages shown are oxygen equivalents).

During the first phase of fasting, as we run down our short-term glycogen stores, the liver ramps up its ketone production to allow us to make these fuel usage transitions.

As starvation progresses, blood concentrations of ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate (β-OHB) and acetoacetate (AcAc) rise by orders of magnitude; free fatty acid (FFA) concentration doubles.

These metabolic transitions spare vital organ and muscle proteins, but we do still burn some protein—both to produce the minimal glucose some tissues still need and to provide the four-carbon intermediates required to catabolize ketones and fat. Throughout this “steady” state of fasting, which can last weeks to months, our bodies gradually cannibalize our protein stores. Eventually, enough protein is consumed that our organ systems lose function and we die, usually when our respiratory muscles fail. (We die of starvation even if we’ve retained large stores of fat.)

So, what does any of this have to do with a plan to lose weight? Not much, I hope. It’s tempting to think that 20 or 30 days of buckling down and getting hardcore will turn us into perfect, beautiful people. If only.

we’re all fucked up skinny bitch


Things practiced: calming down, making food, hanging out

Insomniac cooking

Thing practiced: cooking

Tool used: phone

I couldn’t sleep so instead I made a bunch of food.

Food: Provençal

Thing practiced: making food

Trying gradually to expand my cooking style from nonexistent to unsophisticated.

Provençal beef stew (Daube de bouef)
Eggplant custard (Aubergines à la Provençale)

Onion panade (Panade à l’oignon au gratin)
Zucchini fans (Courgettes en éventail)

Garlic chicken (Poulet aux 40 gousses d’ail)
Pork chops with Dijon & apples (Côtes de porc à la moutarde & pommes)