Friday, August 29, 2008

BEST OF: Feeding guests on the Atkins Diet

Soon, the Tanners will have guests for a week, all of whom are on the Atkins Diet. Since we dine closer to the vegetarian side of the dietary street, so to speak, this is going to be interesting.

As I understand it, Atkins' menus include protein, salad stuff and other skinny veggies, salad dressings, bacon and butter. Period.

I know that Atkins, the Zone and similar diets have different phases, wherein bits of carbohydrates are reintroduced — half an apple here, a spoonful of sweet potato there. And there are many new low-carb, sugar-substitute, phony-foods out there.

I’m not sure yet where my company is on the dietary ladder. So I’ll plan for the worst-case menu scenario.

My mind boggles, then starts winging its way around the calendar. Imagine a Labor Day barbecue on the Atkins diet. No garlic bread. No potato salad. No corn or shortcake. Sob.

I’d have to watch football on TV, because there wouldn’t be anything else left to do.

My mind and my doctor lecture me. We have friends who’ve lost significant weight on the diet. As a culture and individuals, we’re way too fat. If you can find a way to lose weight that doesn’t kill you in the process, do it.

But with no gall bladder, some kidney problems and a family history of osteoporosis, I’ve always talked myself out of going on Atkins, despite having fond memories of my life’s 15-minute “thin times” dancing in my head.

While there is some anecdotal and study evidence that the diet helps, rather than hinders, keeping cholesterol levels down, I’m not 100 percent convinced.

And while studies show your life is longer when you’re thinner, nobody’s been able to accurately quantify “longer.” How much more life will I gain if I lose? Would the deprivation be worth it now, while I feel good, to be a size six for a few more months toward the end of my life, when I may not?

Yes, I’m rationalizing, folks, and, awk! Time marches on. The guests are coming, the guests are coming. My hostess genes began wringing their little hands. This is not how my grandmother and mother raised me to feed company. No frills. No carbs. No fun.

Then my harried shopper peeked at ephemeral silver linings lurking in the fog bank.

Usually, I plan for weeks for company, then husband Richard and I shop like human hummingbirds. Clutching our computerized shopping lists, we scurry hither, thither and yon. Buying a week’s worth of meal ingredients can lead us a merry chase countywide to find the best, most exotic or unusual.

Hey, we’re former caterers. It’s a hard habit to break.

Buying for Atkins guests would be a snap. Eggs and meat for breakfast, plus protein for the other meals, nuts to munch, selected veggies, dressing. Easy. Yes, Atkinsers can have butter, but absent lobster or crab legs I can’t afford, what can they put it on?

Being a closet Pollyanna, however, I began taking the concept further, looking around our own kitchen.

Forget supposed health benefits. If we could adopt an Atkins-like diet, just look at the money we’d save.

Better still, look at the extra space we’d have.

The cereal cupboard would be empty, as would areas now stuffed with crackers, cookies, pastas, baking ingredients, mixing bowls and tools. Eight shelves worth of cookbooks would become obsolete, creating more room for knick-knacks we certainly don’t need. Even cans of fruit, Jello boxes, jam jars and slightly sweet sauces would vanish.

The bread drawer could hold whisks and spatulas, except I wouldn’t need them any more, either.

Somehow, using fancy, heart-shaped cookie cutters on hamburger patties doesn’t cut it.
What would I do with the ice-cream drawer in the freezer? Fill it with the extra ice we always need. Candy jars on the counter? Full of potpourri and unidentified found keys.

The breadmaker, blender, ice-cream maker and other specialty equipment would disappear into storage, joining other cobweb-draped, dusty relics. We’d relegate Richard’s 20-quart Hobart mixer to planter status.

There wouldn’t even be much need for a kitchen. Do it all with a coffeepot, hotplate and salad bowl. Almost everything else can be cooked on an outside barbeque.

I could live that way for a couple of weeks, even a couple of months, to make medical points with a primary care physician who tends to cluck a lot and make noises about set-points and cholesterol levels.

But never again to make homemade whole-wheat bread, a fresh-strawberry smoothie, blueberry pancakes, brownies or even freshly steamed brown rice just because they sound good?

What happens when we have visitors who eat normal meals?

What about Richard’s legendary chocolate truffles? Or grandchildren, who want to help make cookies, popcorn balls and Grandma’s traditional coffeecake?

No, this would never work at Tanner Manor.

So our company will arrive, and we’ll feed them Atkins while sneaking our bananas and whole-wheat English muffins on the side. Then we’ll go back to our rounded lives, menus and bodies, contemplating the dietary restrictions we’ll have to work around for our next batch of visitors.

This column appeared on Nov. 14, 2003 in The Cambrian.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The strait answer

“There are no gold medals, no loving cups and no elaborately inscribed certificates to laud David Yudovin's all-time world record” achievements.
Margot Smith, The Cambrian, July 19, 1990,

In Beijing, the world’s winningest Olympic athlete Michael Phelps has kept millions of people awestruck. His swimming accomplishments are flat-out astonishing. Just imagine winning almost enough Olympic gold medals for a game of checkers!

But in the Azores, on the North Coast and worldwide, people also are intrigued by the latest adventure for David Yudovin, Cambria’s world-class swimmer.

He and wife Beth left home Aug. 13 for Horta on Faial Island, where he’ll tackle more first-ever swims, this time across open ocean channels in the Portuguese archipelago.

The accomplishments of Cambria’s super swimmer are featured in books, magazines, Web sites and documentaries, and are enshrined in the Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. Now, Azorean media is all over the story, and there’s even talk of a half-hour TV show about Yudovin and his swims.

His lifelong quest to be first across a strait doesn’t produce trophies, only pride for achieving his personal goals. “I don’t get medals, I get American Express bills,” he quipped, “and I don’t even have a Gold Card.”

Like Phelps, Yudovin not only sets and accomplishes his goals, he shatters them.

For instance, in about 6 hours and 20 minutes in April, the 56-year-old leukemia and heart-attack survivor swam 10 nautical miles between Papeete, Tahiti, and Mo'orea, French Polynesia. He powered through big swells of 80-degree-plus tropical water, under intense sun and in dicey weather.

Nobody of any age had ever swum across that channel.

He already had aced channel swimming’s “triple crown”: The English Channel, Catalina to the California coast and Cook Strait in New Zealand. He was the oldest athlete to complete the latter swim, at the age of 52 in 2004.

In each of eight other channels worldwide, Yudovin was the first to swim across.

This time, he aims to conquer the major channels between various Azorean islands, one after another. Nobody’s ever done that before, either, or even swum across one of them.

One really good reason why is the Portuguese man o’war.

Warm waters around the Azores are laced with the picturesque but dangerous jellyfish-like creature, more plentiful recently perhaps because of global climate changes.

Yudovin knows about jellyfish stings, having been attacked by thousands of them during his swim across the Sunda Strait in Indonesia. However, men o’war are world-class stingers and are in a pain-and-danger class all by themselves.

Fortunately, Azorean waters are cooler now than they were in February when Yudovin trained there for a month (and got stung twice). Men o’war don’t like cooler water, he said, so there should be fewer there now. He hopes.

Enthusiastic Azorean officials aren’t taking any chances. They’re requiring a doctor on board the accompanying boat for all swims, plus a wide variety of medical supplies to combat any emergency.

Yudovin’s swimming schedule depends on the whims of Atlantic tides about 950 miles from Lisbon. He has already powered across the first 5-nautical-mile channel (on Aug. 20) in 2 hours 20 minutes "under perfect conditions," he said in an e-mail. Next, he'll tackle a 10-mile swim about Sept. 6 and another 10-miler about Sept. 26.

His other Azorean target channels are even longer.

If he doesn’t accomplish it all this year, Yudovin said matter-of-factly, he’ll simply go back next year.

A year ago, Yudovin told Cambria Rotarians he’d reached “the pinnacle of my swimming career,” and was going to retire from his sport and his work. He and Beth would devote much of their time to helping fellow Cambrians, he said.

Some of us were skeptical. Not of his dedication to various causes, but of his ability to step back from the call of the sea. We were right. Recently, he acknowledged, “We have learned that the pinnacle keeps moving with us.”

Now, when he and Beth are home, they balance his rigorous training schedule with delivering Meals on Wheels to shut-ins, providing free transportation to seniors and others on the Cambria Bus, and being part of the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team.

So, as long as Yudovin’s body allows it, he’ll keep on swimming, looking like a human metronome as he churns through the sea that challenges him. In the process, he’ll continue captivating the imagination of those who recognize what an exceptional, world-class athlete he is in the Olympics of life.

For more on Cambria’s world-class swimmer, go to

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Try a little kindness

It was just a little thing--a shiny piece of heavy paper folded to about 2 inches square and sporting a perky photo of an otter. Under the sea mammal's mug shot is some golden cursive writing that reads "Cambria, CA."

It's a bookmark, complete with matched magnets inside each flap. To use it, I fold the marker over the top of the last page I read. Snap! Being a good little bookmark, it won't fall out and lose my place in the process.

I buy them five or six at a time at Cambria Drug & Gift, because they're handy for those of us who read in bed at night and don't want to have to scrabble around in the covers to find a lost bookmark at 11 p. m., when all we really want to do is close the book and, finally, go to sleep.

Husband Richard and I read lots of books. We buy some, but primarily we check them out at the Cambria Public Library.

Our tri-county library cards are good at any of the branches, which is a lovely perk when we're out of town with 10 or 15 minutes to spare. (September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, so you might want to beat the rush and do it early.)

Whenever I finish a book (or decide it's not worth my time and mental effort to read it), I take out my bookmark and move it to the next book on my nightstand.

It doesn't always happen, however.

So, before husband Richard makes his weekly library trek to trade in a bagful of books we've read for those we haven't, it's always our intention to check every book for left-behind, forgotten markers.

That doesn't always happen, either.

We're well aware of our failings and foibles. So, before we ever use a new bookmark, I label the back with a self-adhesive address label (from among the hundreds sent to us so often in the mail, along with fervent pleas for donations in support of good causes).

Fortunately, when our bookmarks stay stuck in books we've returned, Cambria's lovely library ladies and genial gents find the markers and save them for us, thanks to the address labels that tell them whose bookmarks they are.

Very rarely, that doesn't happen, either.

In mid-July, I got a note from Mary Flores of Nipomo. I don't think I know any Nipomo residents, let alone a Mary Flores. I studied the envelope, trying to exercise my ESP to divine who she could be.

It didn't work. Finally, when I opened the envelope, one of our bookmarks fell out.

On a perky greeting card, Mrs. Flores had written: "Hi! I found this in a book from the Nipomo Library. Since you have a return-address label on it I assumed you would like your cute little bookmark returned. I know I would like it back if it were mine. Mary Lou."

How delightful! I had just received an act of random kindness from a stranger, a thoughtful gesture that cost her a snippet of time, the price of the card and a 42-cent postage stamp.

Yes, it was just a little thing, but it made me smile for days.

So, of course, as soon as I could, I stopped at the drug store to buy more bookmarks.

I stuck one in a bright "Thank You!" greeting card with a note.

"How kind you were to send back my bookmark. I try not to leave them in the books I read, but sometimes I forget. One sweet kindness deserves another, so I hope you'll enjoy having your own bookmark, and it will remind you what a nice person you are. Kathe."

Now, I do know someone in Nipomo, and we have a common bond. When we look at our little otter faces, maybe we'll think of each other and smile. Perhaps one of these days, we'll even meet somewhere in between, over tea and scones, and talk about books we love and other shared interests.

It was just a little thing, you see, but you just never know what might happen because of it.

Contact Kathe Tanner at