Category Archives: Health

Weight Training and Chronic Fatigue – Part 3

The Story So Far

In the first and second parts of this series of articles, I gave a history of my experiences with Weight Training and Chronic Fatigue, defined some of the terms used, told in brief how I managed to get back into Weight Training and gave a run-down on the equipment that I use or have used.

This third and last article concludes by summarising the key points and touching on some issues, such as nutrition, that I have not yet mentioned. Lastly, I am providing a list of the online and other resources that have used over these last months and before.

Conclusion

What’s Missing?

One thing that I have not mentioned in the previous articles is nutrition, which may come as a surpise to regular readers of this site, where food is a majority topic. Correct nutrition is an important part of managing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; correct nutrition is an important part in an athlete’s regime. Combine the two and you have a critical and complex factor that is simply beyond the scope of this article. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all subject; after all, each and every one of us is unique. I know what works for me but, as they say, “your mileage may vary”. Consuming adequate protein is only a start. (See References.)

If you feel up to a little research, there is plenty of reading matter out there (once again, see References). There are also, of course, competent professionals who will be able to advise you. I would, however, make a word of warning: whether you are reading information or being told it, you will find conflicting opinions. Please, always, review all information critically. Does such-and-such an article cite references? If so, read them if they are available. (I have seen articles aimed at the bodybuilding market – generally endorsing a product – that look nice and scientific, cite references, but following the references shows them to be scarcely relevant and/or not supportive of the claims made). Doctors and nutritionists – even good ones – may have their own pet theories and panaceas (I know one who swears by apple cider vinegar as a cure for anything from aching joints to the plague). Never be afraid to ask “why?” or “is this just your opinion?”. You may decided to go along with them or not; the important thing is to consider carefully what you learn and not to accept anything blindly – especially if it involves you having to part with money. [End of sermon.]

Key Points

In no particular order:

  • Safety first.
  • If beginning Weight Training for the first time, or even getting back into it after a long break, consider professional coaching and check with your doctor.
  • Slow and steady is the key. Even if you have had a good level of fitness or strength in the past, treat this as a new venture.
  • Allow adequate rest.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Don’t dehydrate – remember to drink. If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated!
  • Remember that there are “gadgets” that can help you around injuries or injury-prone areas.
  • Above all, enjoy yourself! (Seriously. Enjoying your workouts is about the best motivation you can have to continue.)

The Story Goes On

Is this the end of the story? Certainly not. Exercise is a key to Health, Health is part of Life, and Life goes on. I will continue to lift weights as I am able; over time, I am certain that this will result in improvements to my condition and quality of life. Not only that – I will also continue to lift weight simply because I enjoy it!

Further articles on this topic will be posted under the Weighty Matters section of this site which also has an RSS Feed to which you can subscribe.

Acknowledgements

Remember my “I am not a…” disclaimer in the first article? Whilst I am not, I am deeply indebted to my two reviewers who are competent professionals. Many thanks to:

  • Melissa McLean Jory, Nutrition Therapy, Exercise Science and Gluten-Free Blogger – Golden, Colorado, USA
  • Neil Kelliher, Personal Trainer and owner of Inta Fitness – Personal Training, Supplements and Training Aids – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

…for reading the drafts of these articles and making sure I wasn’t writing total nonsense.

Kudos too, to Paige Waehner at exercise.about.com for giving me encouragement back at the very beginning last year when I was wondering whether or not I would ever be able to get back into Weight Training. Thanks Paige – I was.

References

Exercise

My primary online exercise reference is the excellent ExRx.net (exercise prescription). Video demonstrations of exercises being performed may be found on the bodybuilding.com supersite. Generally, however, Google Is Your Friend; if you know the name of an exercise, you will find all the information you want (and more) with a quick Google search. One place where you can find exercise advice and a forum is exercise.about.com.

On the bookshelf I have Kinesiology of Exercise by Dr Michael Yessis – ISBN 0-940279-36-3. I used to have a copy of Ralph Wirhead’s Athletic Ability and the Anatomy of Motion, but think it went astray when I did my inter-continental move.

Medical & Nutrition

My starting point for medical references is always PubMed, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. For those interested in sports nutrition, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition is well worth a look.

Where Smiffy Buys Stuff

The following are all companies (in Australia) from whom I have purchased and with which I have had no problems:

  • Australian Fitness and Nutrition – have purchased whey protein from here for my wife when looking for a product free of artificial sweeteners. Particularly responsive and helpful when I made an ‘awkward’ product enquiry. Orders are generally despatched the same day.
  • Gym Direct – the source of my power rack, bars and weight plates. I have been very happy with the performance of this company, both in responding to enquries and processing my orders. Also on eBay.
  • Intafitness – my source of “gadgets” and alpha-lipoic acid; sells supplements and training aids. Also has an eBay store. Always good communications and service.
  • Mr Supplement – my primary (cheapest) source of soy protein isolate. My FatTrack calipers also came from here. Quick and cheap.
  • Sam’s Fitness – source of my calf block. General gym equiment supplier.
  • Vitamin King – the cheapest source of bulk sodium ascorbate (Vitamin C) I have found.
  • VitaminMe – about the cheapest source of vitamins, minerals and the like (and I’m on a few) I have found. Of possible interest even to the non-exercising Aussie CFS sufferer who is taking a lot of these and wants to save a few dollars.

Update: I have been forced to remove the link to Fitnessxpress from the the above list due to Google flagging the site as having malware – much as I suspected. I am not satisfied that the sites owners are taking this issue and the security of their clients seriously enough (the original e-mail I sent reporting the problem was totally ignored), so I will neither endorse nor deal with this company again.

Weight Training and Chronic Fatigue – Part 2

The Story So Far

In the first article in this series, I gave some of my history as regards Weight Training, detailed some of the problems that I encounter and defined some of the terminology on which non weight-trainers tend to get confused. In this second article of the series, I will begin the story of how I, as a Chronic Fatigue sufferer, got back into Weight Training and give a rundown on the equipment that I use or have used.

Getting Started – Slow and Steady

April 27th, 2007 – with the Summer heat gone, I dusted off the weights and started, very gently, to exercise. Unfortunately, I did not keep a log when I first started other than very terse comments in my journal along the lines of “exerc”. I do, however, recall the principles to which I worked which were:

  1. Just a couple of light sets of just a few exercises.
  2. Leave any problem areas well alone. (This meant that I was only training arms, chest and shoulders initially.)
  3. Adequate recuperation – one day on, three days off.

This may sound fairly pathetic, but I was pathetic when I started. Only a month or so before, just getting out of a chair was a major exercise. Going to pick something for dinner from the kitchen garden was a killer.

At the outset, things were none too pleasant. I would suffer from myalgia just by getting tired (OK, I was – and still am – tired all the time; this was when I got more tired) – exercise made it worse. It wasn’t too long before I had a wrist injury – and not from exercise. This is when I became interested in the gadgets that I describe at the end of this article. Then, with my wrists protected, my elbows started playing up (my limb joints have been the bane of my life). Using ordinary elbow braces, I was able to continue.

Progress seemed slow, but if you consider that I am writing this less than 9 months after I started, it really wasn’t. I was able to add exercises to my routine and also to decrease the time I needed to allow for recovery. To those inclined to ask “how much” and “when”, there is only one answer: “listen to your body”.

After a couple of months, I had introduced a split system – one day of “push” exercises, a couple of rest days, then a day of “pull” exercises. As time went by, I was able to bring my rest days down to one. Every now and then I would try to exercise for two consecutive days – every time I regretted it. It would wipe me out for days.

Reviewing my situation in August, I could see that I had made good gains in strength (by then, I had been recording all my workouts on a spreadsheet for some time), no longer suffered from myalgia except on very rare occasion, and had managed to clear up long-standing lower back problems through the introduction of deadlifts. My bodyweight had not really budged but, much to my delight, I found that my body composition had: a drop in fat mass and a slightly greater gain in lean body mass. (As determined using an electronic skinfold caliper, the “FatTrack II”.)

Whilst I have experienced some surprising (to me) strength gains since last April, other than body parts that have only recently started to be brought into play (legs, for instance), progress has slowed down somewhat. My general health has not improved significantly and I still have a fair bit of intra-abdominal fat to worry about. However, exercise is just one part of the equation; it is something I can do to help manage my condition and – as they say – every bit counts. What is more, I am enjoying my workouts – there is no motivation quite like looking forward to something.

Having now given a brief summary of my experiences, I will go on to describe the equipment which I have been using.

Photograph of Smiffy's previous weight bench

Weight Benches

Until recently, I have used a series of cheap, sometimes folding, weight benches. The one shown in the picture – if you can make it out from the background clutter of my office – was what I used last year to “get back into it”. The bench could be set at three levels of incline (plus flat), had an attachment that could be used for leg curls and leg extensions and an almost unusable preacher curl attachment.

For the beginner, such benches are a fairly affordable option that does not take up too much space – especially those that can fold up. If, for some reason, you find that you are not getting on with Weight Training and decide to stop (I would try to dissuade you – try changing your routine, seek professional coaching, think of the joys of coronary heart disease and osteoporosis) – you haven’t wasted too much investment and can always put it in the shed, cart it down to the second-hand shop, or list it on eBay.

Many of these cheaper benches are quite flimsy – especially those designed to fold. I found that as I made progress and used heavier weights, the bench shown did not feel too secure – with my 105kg (approximately 230lbs) bulk plus the weight being lifted, the bench was also rapidly approaching its maximum rated weight. The uprights that catch the bar were also too close together for me, I could not get sufficient weight on the leg attachment – so I decided that it was time to change. I was making enough progress and felt sufficiently committed to upgrade to something better.

Photograph of Smiffy's power rack and bench

Power Racks

Unlike the small, beginners’ benches, power racks are big. They also do not replace having a bench – you need a bench as well if you plan to do bench presses and a number of other exercises. It took considerable planning, measuring and marking the floor of my office with pieces of duct tape before I was confident that I would even be able to get one in and still use it. My office, which is only 4 metres (just over 13 feet) by 4 metres, required considerable re-arrangement and the banishment of many things to the shed (including the old weight bench) before I could get the power rack in and assembled.

The photograph shows my power rack and bench. I was only just able to site the camera far enough away to get it all in. On the wall opposite the rack (behind the camera) is the air conditioner that actually allows me to use the rack in anything but the winter. (See the heat section in the first article.)

So, what is a power rack? It is, essentially, a steel frame on which attachments can be fitted to hold a barbell at different heights/positions. Safety rails may be positioned just below the lowest travel of the bar in an exercise to prevent one getting trapped if unable to complete a lift. The safety rails have given me much more confidence in handling heavier weights and can be a boon to those training solo.

My particular power rack (a Bodymaker HMP2, for those who are interested) also has high and low cable attachments.

All in all, my power rack has enabled me to introduce many new exercises and to perform some of the old ones with considerably more comfort and safety.

Were my office bigger, I would probably have gone for a power rack of slightly more robust construction (greater wall thickness of the steel box-section). What I have is what would fit – just.

Companion to the power rack, I also have a calf block. This is a metal block like a small step that allows one to exercise the calf muscles in isolation (only front part of foot on block). The reason that I have this is that I have figured that calf isolation exercises may help strengthen my ankles which have a habit of collapsing and turning over – painfully – when I am least expecting it.

Bars

My collection of bars consists of:

  • A pair of spin-lock dumbell shafts
  • A 7 foot standard bar for use on the rack. (Note – weight bars and plates come in two main types: Olympic, a 50mm diameter bar and standard, with a diameter anywhere between 24mm and 28mm.)
  • A 5 foot standard bar for off the floor use (I can’t fit anything longer in the space where I perform these exercises); this wretched thing has spin-lock collars which are a total pain. I plan to replace this with a regular 5 foot bar with ordinary collars in the near future.
  • An EZ-curl standard bar
  • A standard tricep bar

Weight Plates

It would hardly be Weight Training without actual weights! I have a variety of cast iron plates, some of which I obtained as a set, the others more recently as I needed them. Some of my older plates have rather poor engineering tolerances and will only fit on the 7 foot, EZ-curl and tricep bars with a bit of deburring of the holes – some not at all. I have a lot of weight plates though, and can make up weights up to about 140kg quite easily, without having to use too many plates.

Gadgets

gadgets, as described below

To round off the review of my equipment, I will describe 3 “gadgets” that I use:

  1. The “Manta Ray”. It had been quite some time since I had been able to squat. My bench, back in England, had a squat stand attachment, but this is an exercise that I never found comfortable due to the bar pressing on my spine. The power rack is a fine device for squats – especially with the safety bars – but does not overcome this problem. The “Manta Ray”, however, does. I now positively enjoy doing squats. This lump of blue, moulded plastic clips onto the bar (only loosely, as it is actually designed for an Olympic bar) and transfers the load across the trapezius. At the time of writing this, I can squat 8 repetitions at 125kg (275 lbs), which would be quite unthinkable without this little gadget – not with all that weight concentrated in one spot.
  2. “New Grip” gloves. Gloves is perhaps not quite the right word. The consist of a dense foam pad which covers the palm and an elastic strip that goes over the fingers. This is then attached to a wrist strap by Velcro. The whole thing takes strain off the wrist (I have terrible problems with my wrists – very prone to injury) and cushion the palm. I will not perform any dumbell exercise without them (once again, due to my wrists) and also use them with the wrist straps loose when performing the bench press – the foam makes the pressure of a heavy bar far more bearable.
  3. “1 Ton Hooks”. This gadget comprises a rubber-coated metal hook which is hung from a padded wrist brace by a strap. They remove the limitation of strength of grip (or flaky wrists) from exercises such as deadlifts and shrugs.

There are those who may consider the use of my gadgets cheating. I do not feel this to be the case; they just enable me to perform exercises that would otherwise give me problems due to my own mechanical issues. Certainly no more cheating than wearing shoes to exercise – something I do not do. (I spend most of my life barefoot and wouldn’t have it any other way.) For those who are interested, all of my gadgets were obtained from the very nice people at Intafitness. (They also do alpha lipoic acid for a good price – I use it to assist diabetes control.)

The Next Installment

The third and final article in this series will be a conclusion and a list of resources that I have used over the few months to learn about what I am doing and to obtain various bits and pieces. Read Part 3.

Weight Training and Chronic Fatigue – Part 1

Preamble

I should probably start this article with a disclaimer: I am not a doctor; I am not qualified to give advice on exercise or health issues; what you read here is just my personal experience and opinions. Having said that, I would like to think that this series of articles may inspire those with chronic health conditions to consider weight training as an exercise option – with assistance from suitably qualified health/exercise professionals.

History

Let’s start with a bit of ancient history. I have owned and exercised with free weights and a small bench on and off for a number of years – at least fifteen. When I say “on and off”, the “on” has been only a tiny percentage of the total time. So, whilst I have had a passing familiarity with weight training, it has always been on an irregular and infrequent basis.

Why so much more “off” than “on”? My poor memory cannot take me back to how I was feeling and what was going on when I started/stopped training in the past but I know that there have always been two issues which have plagued me, and still do:

  1. Heat intolerance; whilst this is something that has worsened over the last few years, I have had a tendency to overheat easily and not be able to cool down again. Any form of sustained exercise – unless performed in a very cold environment – gets me very hot, uncomfortable and feeling unwell.
  2. Tendency to injury of wrists, elbows, knees, ankles. I have very loose joints and the slightest mis-step can produce an inflamed joint that takes some weeks to heal.

Now let’s jump forward to April, 2007 – this was when I recommenced Weight Training, and since when I have not stopped. (I am writing this in January, 2008.) At the beginning of 2007, 4 years of declining health saw me vegetating in a chair most of the time. Walking down to the vegetable garden was a major and uncomfortable feat; I was very weak and regularly suffered from all-over myalgia. This is not a condition conducive to the control of Metabolic Syndrome, Type II Diabetes, a crappy lipid profile and other cardiovascular risks. Doing everything that I could diet-wise, I realised that I would have to exercise – somehow.

Walking was my thought. However, even going to shut the front gate (about 170 metres round-trip, on the flat) can be enough to cause severe over-heating. On hot days (above about 23° Celsius for me), more than 10 seconds outside can cause me to overheat. On top of this, attempts at walks of about 300 metres or so – on cool evenings – would leave me incapacitated the next day.

With Summer over and my office cool enough to enter, I decided to give the weights another try on the basis that High Intensity Training (HIT) takes very little time – not enough time to get too hot. To expand on this, if I am half way through a set and feel that I am overheating, I can just lower the weight and sit down – not something that is possible if I am walking and have several hundred metres to get back to the house.

Terminology

Before we go any further, let’s clarify some terms. To those who do not participate, there tends to be a certain amount of confusion and mis-application of the terms Resistance Training, Weight Training, Weight Lifting, Bodybuilding, and Powerlifting. What I do is actually Weight Training which, itself, is a subset of Resistance Training.

Resistance Training

Resistance Training is exercise working against a resistance – this may come in the form of weights, machines, rubber bands, other people. It may be performed to improve perfomance in a specific sport or activity, to gain overall strength or just for general health and fitness.

Weight Training

Weight Training is resistance training performed specifically with weights. I call what I do Weight Training, although I do cable exercises; admittedly there is a weight on the end of the cable, but I am a little uncertain of the correct semantics here. For the purposes of this article, Weight Training it is. Barbells, dumbells, and kettlebells – weights that are not attached to anything – are termed “free weights”. (My weight plates cost about $2 AUD per kilo plus delivery, so they are anything but free. Just my joke.)

Weight Lifting

Weight Lifting is an Olympic sport, testing strength through two movements, the Snatch, and the Clean and Jerk.

Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is an activity (I won’t use the term sport, as it is judged subjectively on an aesthetic basis rather than any faster/stronger/longer/higher basis) focused on developing muscular size with a focus on symmetry and proportion.

Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a sport which is a pure test of strength. It involves three movements – the bench press, squat and deadlift.

Overcoming the Problems

Heat

Overcoming the overheating problem can be difficult. Cold weather is a great help – I probably would not have manged to get such a good start as I did had it not been Autumn (Fall) when I decided to pick up the weights. Hydration is important – whether or not you have a heat issue. I tend not to feel thirst much, but do when exercising; this is rather handy because it actually makes me remember to drink. I go through a fair amount of water even during a short workout.

The greatest boon to me was installing a small air conditioner in my office. This not only means that I can now exercise in the warmer months, but also that I can work in my office all year round, rather than having it as a 9-month storeroom. Setting it at 21° Celsius, with the fan on ‘high’ allows me to exercise even on the hottest days although I still need to drink vast quantities of water and have a shower afterwards to cool down.

The last heat-related component is clothing. Whilst I tend towards natural fibres as much as possible, cotton can be hot and heavy and can absorb a considerable weight of water. “Hi-tech” synthetics designed for sports use can be light and wick away sweat keeping one cool and comfortable. For example, I have shorts from the Under Armour® Heat Gear range. I have found that these make a huge difference from my old cotton shorts, which feel like sail canvas in comparison.

Injuries

I don’t have the best physical coordination and my joints do tend to “let go” at unforeseen times (my wrists and ankles are especially troublesome) so I doubt that I will ever be injury-free. However, the incidence of injury may be reduced by:

  1. Just doing it; Weight Training strengthens the joints, thus reducing the chance of injury.
  2. Good exercise practice – adequate warm-up, stretches, etc.
  3. Safe practice with exercise equipment – checking that bars are always loaded symmetrically, double-checking collars are done up correctly before every lift, checking nuts and bolts on equipment are not coming loose, checking cables for wear, etc.
  4. Use of certain supports and “gadgets”, which I will describe in my next article in this series.

For those using a public gymnasium rather than exercising at home, (2) may be achieved through professional coaching and enables working with a partner/spotter. I would suggest to anyone thinking of training with weights for the first time that they should at least start under the tutelage of of a qualified trainer, just to learn the correct form of exercises. Being pretty well housebound myself, I fully realise that this may be a hard proposition for Chronic Fatigue sufferers, but should nonetheless be attempted. (If you have home exercise equipment, you may even be able to get a trainer to come to you. Like my doctor, they may see you as a personal challenge.)

One final word on injuries/safety: before starting any exercise programme check with your doctor or a similar competent professional.

Coming Up in Part 2

In the next installment of this series of articles, I will describe the equipment that I am using and have used and my experiences of getting started back into Weight Training. Read Part 2.

Introducing: Weighty Matters

Over the last 4 months or so, I have been working on a series of articles about Weight Training and Chronic Fatigue. (I have made several attempts to start writing these, but have only managed to really get anywhere in the last week.) Whilst I have touched on Chronic Fatigue in previous articles, Weight Training is something of a new departure in my writings.

Now that the articles are nearly ready for publication, I have decided to dedicate a new Smiffy’s Place Category to them and other articles to follow: Weighty Matters. Future articles may include observations on my lifting and how it is impacted by my health situation and notes from my ongoing readings on sports nutrition and sports medicine.

Chronic illness may be a significant factor in my life, but I would like to show others in similar situations that it does not neccessarily preclude exercise which can lead to gains in strength and fitness and – I would hope – a better quality of life.

Perfecting Gluten-Free Fish and Chips

This is not the first time I have written about gluten free fish and chips.  Since my original experiment I have managed to get both thebatter and the chips just the way we like them.

Chips

To be perfectly honest, I had never given much thought about how to make chips; I just assumed that you needed decent potatoes (you do) and you fried them, end of story.  Not so – there is an art to making chips, but it’s not a hard one to learn.  I picked up an invaluable tip watching the BBC food show, The Hairy Bikers Ride Again.

Firstly, find out what type of good chipping potato your greengrocer or supermarket (or garden!) has available.  I don’t grow my own potatoes due to the fact that our soil goes between a slurry when (and if) it rains and concrete in the summer – not conducive to harvesting things that need digging up.  Of late, I have been using a variety called ‘Red Rascal’.

If the potatoes are not washed, wash them thorougly.  If the skin is manky, peel them, otherwise don’t waste the best bit of the potato!   Slice the potato into chip-thick slices.  Are the surfaces of the slices really wet?  If so, get as much water out as you can with paper kitchen towel, unless you want the fat to boil over.   Then cut the slices into chips.

Pop the chips into the deep fat fryer for about 10 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius.  Remove, allow to drain, then set aside and allow to go cold.  That’s the Hairy Biker tip.

Turn the fryer up to 180 degrees Celsius, then fry the cold, nearly-cooked chips “until ready” – about five minutes, but may vary.

Fish

As I mentioned in my previous article, Tommy Ruffs (Arripis georgianus) make for great fish and chips.

My rice batter now consists of a cup of rice flour, about half a teaspoon of guar gum and a cup of water.  If too thin, add more flour.  If too thick (you want it to cling to the fish, but not the whole bowl-full), add more water.  The temperature of the water does not seem to matter too much, we’re not making tempura here.  You can add salt to the batter or not – it doesn’t appear to affect the way the batter sticks or cooks.  One variant is to replace part of the water with white wine.

Make up the batter, dip the fish in, fry at 180 degrees Celsius in threes or fours (based on something the size of a Tommy Ruff fillet) for a couple of minutes, remove and reserve.  Once all fish have been battered and have had their initial fry, get them all in the basket together – provided that your fryer is big enough –  to finish them off.  The reason for batching is to ensure that all pieces get roughly the same cooking time.

Serving

If you are lucky enough to have the time and energy, serve your fish and chips the civilised way with some freshly made mayonnaise.  (If you can get Hellmann’s, it’s probably the best you’ll get out of a jar, although I can only speak for the British variety.)  Otherwise, salt and a little balsamic vinegar.

Blogathon 2007

It has been some time since Smiffy’s Place last saw any new material – some 3 months in fact.  Maybe an explanation for this lapse would be appropriate.

Since this past June, I have been busy.  With my impaired health, I am only able to work about 5 hours every other day – combine this with 3 client projects, one rather large, and that accounts for nearly all the time that I have spent in front of a computer in the last 6 months.  Whilst still working on one of the client projects, I am allowing myself some “me” time to work on some of my own stuff.

Due to the combination of ill-health and general busy-ness, a few projects have fallen behind.  One of these, I am sad to say, is my Dublin Core for Drupal project.  As my paying clients have to come first and because I am moving away from Drupal for my own projects, it is with some regret that I must put this project on indefinite hold; I simply cannot commit the time required at present to learning the Drupal API to the degree required to produced an effective module that integrates correctly with the Drupal core.  Should anyone interested in the project wish to see the database mechanisms that I was going to use, please get in touch.

Another sad miss was this years OzeWAI conference.  Although too sick to attend last year, I was at least able to make a presentation via Skype and some remote-controlled HTML.  This year, pressures of work prevented even that.  Hopefully next year…

One personal project that is about to “go” is a simplified re-write of my “Aggie the Aggregator” RSS aggregation software which will be driving the Gluten Free Feeds site.  This site is an aggregation of feeds from sites and bloggers with the topic of gluten-free living.  The site is currently generated using the RSS aggregator module of Drupal.  Unfortunately, the Drupal aggregator is highly intolerant of errors in feeds so content frequently does not make it to the front page.  Whilst I would like to live in a world where all site feeds are well-formed, valid XML and contain no weird (like Windows character set) characters, I believe that this world – which has also cured cancer, eliminated poverty, war and Western-style fast food – is one that does not, and never will exist.  So, the plan is to build a light-weight aggregator that uses the Perl HTML::Parser module – a most lenient and forgiving piece of code that should ensure that all but the worst of feeds may be parsed, sanitised and displayed.

In other news, I will be reporting on the iPod Nano, weight training with Chronic Fatigue, an anti-disablist cartoonist, and how to make perfect gluten-free fish and chips.

Blogathon 2007 posts will be filed under the Blogathon07 category in addition to any others.

Gluten Free Feeds

It is now 5 months since the launch of Gluten Free Feeds, an aggregation service for feeds from gluten free bloggers the world over.

There are currently 6 feeds being aggregated on GFF (see sources), including Life Without Gluten, from this very site.  Whilst this may not sound a lot, there are some prolific writers amongst that number so there is always plenty of fresh content.

If you are a gluten free blogger and would like your feed added, please get in touch through the GFF site.

When I am less busy, I plan to replace the Drupal software currently running GFF with an updated version of my own Aggie the Aggregator software.  Whilst I think that Drupal is a great content management system, I find the aggregator rather weak and inflexible; the gluten free Aggie should present a tidier, fully searchable site.

Rice Waffles: The Definitive Recipe

After several batches of rice-based waffles, I present my batter recipe for public consumption:

  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon guar gum
  • 1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (I use peanut)
  • 2 cups water

And that’s it. It makes a fair number of waffles, but I try to make sufficient that I only need to do them every fortnight. (My wife uses them for breakfast.)

Smiffy’s Madeira Fruit Cake

I have further developed my gluten and dairy free fruitcake recipe, this time including Madeira – actually a verdelho liquer from Sevenhill Cellars, our friendly local Jesuit winery. This is about my fifth fruitcake variant, as I go through a process of what we software developers call “debugging”.

The following are approximations as this is deliberately a “not rocket science” recipe.

  • 1 cup green pea flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (or 2 of this if no green pea available)
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • very heaped teaspoon guar gum
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 400g+ dried fruit
  • 4 eggs
  • 1.5 cups vegetable oil
  • 0.5 cups Madeira
  • 50ml dark rum
  • large pinch ground ginger
  • large pinch ground cinnamon/cassia
  • large pinch ground cardamom

Sieve all dry ingredients apart from fruit into bowl, stir together with a DRY whisk.

Make well in centre, add eggs and liquid ingredients, stir well until thoroughly mixed.

Add fruit, stir until well distributed. Beat if you have the energy. Thorough mixing is important for this recipe, aeration not particularly so.

Divide into greased baking moulds. I use a couple of silicone bun (muffin) moulds for the bulk of the mixture, the rest going into a silicone loaf tin.

Prove for 1 hour with oven just on (warm to the hand, not hot).

Oven to 150°C, bake for 35 minutes or so for buns, another 15 or so minutes for small loaves, longer for large loaves.

Gluten Free Fruitcake, Simplified

Cooking Should Not Be Rocket Science

Whilst it has been interesting to go through the motions of developing gluten-free recipes, making precise measurements of ingredients, this is slow and tedious for a “production” environment. If everyday cooking gets this complicated, it will end up not getting done.

Everyone has advised me that precision is, however, required for gluten-free recipes for them to be successful. As one who normally cooks by gut feeling, I decided to see whether this really was the case and decided to “guess” a fruitcake.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup green pea flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Heaped teaspoon guar gum
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • Handful brown sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 500g mixed dried fruit
  • Large pinches of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom (all ground)
  • Packet dried yeast.

The ingredients above were not measured with any precision. They were mixed, with the exception of the fruit, with a hand whisk to form a very stiff batter, after which I combined the fruit with a wooden spoon.

Dividing the mixture into my usual (greased) silicone bun and loaf tins, I gave the mixture a full hour to rise, as size increase was very much slower than that of the “precision” batter. A rise did occur during baking.

Results

I was half expecting to get a result which was rather solid, but the result was lighter than anticipated and had a texture of “real” (wheat-based) fruitcake.

It now remains to be seen if I am able to replicate my results, still using rough measurements fine-tuning by the look and feel of the batter, as I would in “normal” cooking.