How to Master the Art of Seasoning: 5 Tips for Reinventing the Slow-Carb Diet

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beef & broccoli 1

The Slow-Carb Diet need not be boring.

Moreover, it doesn’t take much to jump from repetitive to inventive. In my case, even as a grass-fed beef aficionado, I grew weary of flank with nothing more than salt and pepper. Game meats made things more interesting, but the real gold was struck when I began experimenting with Montreal steak rub and, separately, a mixture I remembered as “CPR”: cumin, paprika, and rosemary.

Delicious, not to mention biochemically kick-ass for your heart and anti-inflammation.

The point being: for many people (in particular, cooking-inept bachelors like myself), Slow-Carb meals sometimes become an exercise in culinary déjà vu. This is often paired with common beginner frustrations:

- How do I drink coffee without milk?!? (Answer: cinnamon and/or vanilla extract)
– What can I put on my eggs? (Answer: read this post)

The solutions need not be complicated. In this post, Jules Clancy will focus on primarily spices and include: beginner tips, a starter recipe experiment, and a shopping list for the fundamentals.

Jules is a qualified food scientist who was introduced to me by the minimalist maestro himself, Leo Babauta

Enter Jules

As you’d expect from someone who blogs about food for a living, I dove straight into the Slow-Carb Diet chapter after picking up my copy of The 4-Hour Body. (Actually, it was right after checking out the chapter on 15-minute female orgasms. What’s a girl to do?)

The one thing that bothered me about the Slow-Carb Diet, though, was the assumption that it would be boring for most people. Simplicity does not have to equal boredom. The Slow-Carb Diet can, and should, be both fun and delicious.

If you are willing to learn the basics of seasoning, a world of variety and amazing food can be yours with minimal effort.

5 Tips for Overcoming Boredom on the Slow-Carb Diet

1. Lay the foundation with salt & pepper
One of the oldest but best tricks in the book. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your basic seasoning right to maximize flavor. Forget what you’ve been told about the perils of a high sodium diet; the amount you’ll be adding will be minuscule compared to what’s put in by food manufacturers. For slow-cooked dishes, it’s a good idea to add some salt in early so it can spread through the whole dish over time. For other dishes, seasoning at the end is the best way to go.

2. Harness the power of acid
While the warm and wonderful Thai people mastered the balance between sweet, sour, salty, and heat ages ago, it’s actually something I learned to appreciate during my wayward years as a winemaker.

At winemaking school, we did many experiments where we would ‘doctor’ a wine with different types and amounts of acid. We’d then taste the different samples to see which ones were best. It was incredibly enlightening to see the difference that sourness played in the wine. At the optimal acid level, the wine would be more bright and alive on the taste buds. It would sing.

I’ve since learned to apply this to my cooking. When something doesn’t taste as fresh as I’d like and I’ve already given it a bit of salt, my next step is to add a little vinegar or a squeeze of lemon. Test this on some steamed veg or wilted spinach, and you’ll see how dramatic the difference can be.

3. Unleash umami (a flavor explosion) with humble soy sauce
The Japanese were the first to recognize the fifth taste, umami (also called “savoriness”). Foods that are high in umami components are delicious tasting things like beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese.

It is said that soy sauce was invented by Buddhist monks to make vegetarian food taste more like meat. Soy is all about the umami, and a little bit can turn almost any food (not just Asian dishes) into a flavor explosion.

4. Add depth with chili
It’s hard to beat the wonderful warming feeling you get from a bit of chili. While I like it hot, it’s more about feeling the warmth and still being able to taste what you’re eating, rather than having your mouth burst into flame. For one suggested brand, check out Dave’s 6-chili pepper flakes shaker for a variety of heat levels.

5. Spice & herbs – the accessories of the kitchen
Using herbs and spices is where you can really start to have fun breathing variety into an old faithful dish. A little curry powder can have your taste buds on a passage to India, whereas the same dish treated to some chili, lime, and fresh cilantro will transport you to Acapulco. See the suggested variations on the recipe below for more ideas on how herbs and spices can work for you.

Suggested Starter Experiments to Try

beef & broccoli 2

Beef & broccoli stir-fry with beans
Serves 1-2
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

Feel free to play around with the seasoning on this one. I like to use dried chili flakes because they look nice, but by all means use whole dried chilies or chili powder.

If you’d prefer to use fresh broccoli, substitute in 1 or 2 heads chopped into florettes. I used white cannellini beans but black beans, pinto, etc. are all equally delicious.

1lb (450g) ground beef, preferably grass-fed
1lb (450g) bag frozen broccoli
1-2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 can beans (14oz / 400g), well drained

  1. Preheat a large frying pan or wok over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of macadamia or peanut oil, then add the beef.
  2. Fry the beef for a few minutes, stirring constantly to break up the chunks and to get the beef browned evenly all over.
  3. When the beef is no longer pink, add in the broccoli. Cover with a lid, baking sheet, or foil, and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, still on high heat.
  4. Stir and test broccoli. It should be bright green and no longer frozen in the middle. If it’s still cold, continue cooking with the lid on for another minute or so.
  5. Add chili and soy sauce. Stir and taste. If you think it needs a flavor boost, add more soy or some salt. Likewise with the heat level and the chili.
  6. Add drained beans. Stir until beans are warm.

Here is a video version of the above recipe to guide you through the steps:

Alternate Serving Suggestions:
Once you’ve mastered the basic version above, you can really mix things up by modifying the way you prepare the meal. It’s amazing how different this dish can taste with a few simple tweaks.

Option #1: Beef & broccoli on a bed of mashed beans
Instead of adding the beans at step 6, crush the drained beans with a fork and stir in a little olive oil. Serve beef and broccoli on top of the mash. The heat from the stir-fry will warm up the beans.

beef & broccoli 3

Option #2: Beef & beans with steamed broccoli on the side
This is a good option for people who are a bit shy when it comes to eating greens. Just nuke the broccoli for 4-5 minutes on high, or boil for 3 minutes and drain. Cook the beef and beans as per the recipe above, skipping steps 4 and 5.

beef & broccoli 4

Option #3: Beef on a bed of mashed beans with steamed broccoli on the side
Crush the drained beans with a fork and stir in a little olive oil. Microwave the broccoli separately for 4-5 minutes on high or boil for 3 minutes. Cook beef as directions state above, skipping steps 4 & 5. Serve beef on a bed of mash with broccoli on the side.

beef & broccoli 5

Bonus: Essentials for the Perfect Pantry

If you’re just getting started with building out your pantry, the below list will give you a solid foundation of seasonings you can use for any occasion.

Salt. I prefer salt flakes (such as Maldon) that have a nice large flake structure, making them perfect for crushing over meals at the last minute. Iodized salt is great for people who don’t get any seafood in their diet and can help combat hypothyroidism. Plain kosher salt is also an excellent, tasty option.

Pepper. If you don’t own a pepper grinder, a disposable bottle of peppercorns from the supermarket will suffice. However, there truly is no substitute for the fragrance of freshly ground pepper. I prefer black peppercorns because I find that white pepper has a nasty odor.

Sauces. I highly recommend starting out with a bottle of soy sauce. Don’t only have it with Asian-inspired dishes; use it instead of salt whenever you crave a more intense, savory flavor. If you like spicy foods, a bottle of Cholula or Sriracha will be indispensable. Oyster sauce is great for lovers of Thai food.

Spices. Take it slow. Start with dried chili flakes, chili powder, or whole chilies, then add 1-2 of the following to your pantry at a time:

- Ground cumin. Combine a tablespoon of this with an equal amount of olive oil, then use it to marinate your steak before cooking. A pinch of cumin will also add a new dimension of flavor to a tub of hummus.
Ground coriander. Sprinkle some over cooked fish or pork. It’s also brilliant when added to your spinach before microwaving.
Curry powder. Add a few teaspoons to your lentils before heating them for lunch. I love to add a little to my scrambled eggs.
Smoked paprika. Use as a dry rub on chicken before grilling. It’s also wonderful with tomato-based dishes.

Acids. Vinegar is easiest because it lasts for ages. Go for either balsamic, red wine, or sherry vinegar. Try combining 1 part vinegar with 2 parts olive oil for an instant sugar-free salad dressing. Also, a tablespoon of vinegar stirred through warm canned lentils really brings them to life.

It’s hard to beat the freshening flavor properties of citrus juice and, as Tim’s experiments showed, lemon juice helps to lower glycemic response. I always keep a few lemons in the fridge for drizzling over cooked spinach. Limes can be lovely as well for creating a more Mexican feel.

Herbs. Dried herbs tend to just make everything taste like stale weed. Stay away from herbs until you’re ready to either handle them fresh or start growing your own in a window box. When you are ready to give them a shot, start with basil (great with anything tomato-based) or cilantro (coriander) for its wonderful freshness.

Anything else? I always have some canned tomatoes or tomato paste in my pantry, along with a jar of roasted red peppers. While not strictly seasonings, they are great for adding variety and a bit of instant veg. A jar of pesto can be a great flavor hit, as well.

###

Jules Clancy is a qualified food scientist. She blogs about her commitment to cooking recipes with only five ingredients at Stonesoup.com. She also runs an online cooking class, Reclaim Your Waistline, featuring recipes that take 10 minutes or less to cook.

Question of the Day (QOD): Do you have an awesome, non-boring Slow-Carb recipe you want others to try? Submit it here to potentially have it featured in the next version of the Slow-Carb Diet Cookbook!

Posted on: February 16, 2011.

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591 comments on “How to Master the Art of Seasoning: 5 Tips for Reinventing the Slow-Carb Diet

  1. Depends on a couple of variables:

    1. Eat 30g protein within 1/2 hour of waking up – I can eat something like 1/2 block of tofu, 2 whole eggs and a few pieces of meat to make up any differences. Or go just with the eggs and have 5 whole eggs (based on 6g protein/egg). Or something to that effect. I usually stir-fry those items with a mix totalling 1 cup of cabbage (red or green – both are good stir-fried), broccoli, and cauliflower OR 1 cup frozen veggies (preferably the slower carb versions – ie no peas or carrots or corn though I’ve done it if I’m desperate for veggies. Then I also have 1/2 cup beans – whatever kind you choose to have. I do find that I can skip the extra pieces of meat mentioned above if I’m having beans since I’m only losing 1-3g protein from animals and gaining sometimes more than that from beans. Typically, though I try to get my protein from animal sources and just use the beans as a filler for carbs.

    *If I eat this amount of protein within 1/2 hour of waking then I rarely get hungry for at least 6-7 hours – though I only found that out by accident… I follow eating 3-4 times per day depending on when I wake up and how long I stay awake.

    *If you find yourself tiring within 2-3 hours of eating up your carb intake a bit at a time until you find yourself energetic through ’til lunch.

    2. Lunch and supper tend to be smaller portions (I go with the palm-sized/thickness portion version) for protein and the same amounts as breakfast for the veggies and beans.

    3. Despite being a woman I can generally eat 2-3x the average male and this is one of the few meal plans I can follow without getting hungry on the portion sizes – God bless the beans.

    4. I took 6 months easing myself into eating the beans and paid close attention to which bothered me despite the careful adding and simply eliminated those from my diet – no sense in suffering when lentils and other types of beans don’t bother my system.

    5. REMEMBER… you should NOT be hungry on this diet. If you are, you aren’t eating enough protein and, possibly, enough beans. Start at the above levels and increase as needed (except for breakfast – Tim recommended that amount himself – though all humans are different and you may find that a few grams less or more works better for you).

    6. Try to eat every 4-5 hours to keep your energy up and your hunger pains away.

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  2. Thanks for the info K-Lea! What portions to eat, was one of the questions I had. I have read the book, and enjoyed it, and I have been following the plan for about 6 weeks. I must admit that there is no way I could eat 5 eggs in the morning so I substitute 3 or 4 slices of turkey bacon for additional protein. I also prepare a variety of lentil dishes and keep them in the fridge. My current favorites are curried lentils or lentil soup, both of which I make from scratch… adds a little more variety to the meals.

    The only issue I have with the diet is that I can’t eat 4 meals in a day… I am fine with three… I don’t know if this impacts the effectiveness of the diet or not. Perhaps someone can help me there.

    BTW, I have not lost a lot of weight (maybe 10 pounds) but I can see that I am dropping inches (fitting easily into pants that previously were only on my wish list!)

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  3. Hey John V,

    I truly believe 3 meals is fine so long as you don’t get hungry; honestly, never feeling hungry can go a ridiculously long way to losing weight. I try to make sure I never get hungry which is why I have 4 meals on the days that I’m awake longer and only 3 when my day is shorter.

    Don’t forget to drink plenty of water or you won’t lose much water weight (that’s generally the largest/fastest weight loss when starting a diet); keeping hydrated will help immensely.

    Also, forget the scale and pay attention to fat to lean body muscle percentages – the scale won’t record much accurately because it doesn’t take into account lean muscle gain and I cannot stress enough muscle weighs WAY MORE than fat! Or use the scale to supplement the body fat percentage measurements.

    Like

  4. Love the book and the recipes/tips. Anyone have specific advice for transitioning from the Slow Carb to weight gain “Geek to Freak” program? There is a lot of detail in the book about both, but I’ve lost a ton of weight and am getting ready to switch to adding more muscle … and I’d love to hear any tips for the 1-3 weeks between the two? Slow adjustment? Fast? Add milk into 6 non-cheat days gradually? etc.

    Like

  5. I ended up on this page in the hopes that somewhere on the site Tim had expanded his position on fruit since under the “Don’t Eat Fruit” rule he says, “There are a few biochemical exceptions to this, but avoiding fruit six days per week is the most reliable policy.” I don’t want to avoid fruit six days a week, even if it means my weight loss will slow down.

    I’ve made an expanded list of allowed foods based on their glycemic load because unlike Tim, I find the extreme limitations undermine my ability to stick to the larger plan. I’d like to add fruit and have found that the following fruits have a zero on the glycemic load index:

    • Blackberries
    • Black Currants
    • Blueberries
    • Lemons
    • Limes
    • Raspberries

    I’m wondering if these are the exceptions to the rule he referred to? Also, there seems to be a lot of confusion about grapefruit. I believe grapefruit juice is only recommended for your *cheat* days.

    I’m also confused about nuts. Brazil nuts seem to be recommended, as well as almond butter (on celery at bed time), and nuts as emergency travel meals, but they’re not on the allowed list. I’m perfectly capable of limiting how many I’d eat ~ I’d just like to know what a healthy limit is.

    P.S. Bananas and other tropical fruits tend to have the the highest GL. Apples are considered low but they’re a 6 vs. the zeros I’ve listed above.

    Like

    • I have been on the Slow-Carb diet for almost a year and have lost about 35 lbs (28% to 20% body fat as measured by bodpod) My biggest problem has always been the fruit restriction.After reading your post, I bought a half a pint of blueberries and rasberries and ate them in about 90 seconds. I will try the zero glycemic load fruits you mentioned and see how it goes.Thanks!

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  6. I’ve been seeing a lot of debate and such with cheeses, and I’m still a bit confused. I like to have a big salad with a can of tuna for one of my meals, and a Caesar or Ranch type of creamy dressing goes best on it. I found a delicious one with 0 carbs or sugars, but “parmesan and romano cheeses” is the 7th ingredient. There is also cultured whey far down the list.

    Nutrition info of the dressing: http://www.fatsecret.com/Diary.aspx?pa=fjrd&rid=1991305

    If someone has tips for a better no-carb/no-sugar creamy dressing, I’m all ears (or eyes heh). Thanks.

    Like

  7. 1st let me say the diet has changed my life and my whole way of eating… I do see above that you spoke about Siracha Chilli sauce and Oyster sauce, both of those sauces have sugar listed in the ingredients (Which has been MUCH to my dismay) You would make my month if you told me these sauces are 100% okay on the slow carb diet…

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  8. If you ate drinking 6-8 8 or more ounce glasses of water, and are experiencing dehydration, please go to a doctor. Unless you’re working hard physical labor in dry, hot conditions.

    There is no way the diet is causing those symptoms itself. It may be that you got some kind of stomach ailment at the same time you started the diet, or there may be something else wrong.

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  9. This diet is so much easier to do than others I’ve tried. Having a limited selection to choose from makes it much easier to plan, and beans are so inexpensive that it keeps the cost down.

    Also, the diet is working for me. I lost 9 lbs. the first week, and expect to lose a couple more this week.

    Thanks, Tim!

    Like

  10. I just started this diet. I’m very young (still in high school) and aiming to lose 50 pounds! I dislike eating boring meals and have come up with a couple recipes that I test on myself and my dad (who introduced me to the book, which I promptly read almost cover to cover, in under a day).

    One of my recent creations is the Black Bean Chicken Burger, which I think is really freaking good. I brought it to school one day and my friend tried it and loved it, so it’s not just “diet food” its just good food! Each burger is 15 grams of protein, with some beans to keep you fuller longer.
    If you want to try it (and I suggest you do if you find yourself in a diet rut) here’s the recipe:
    -24oz chicken, shredded (I use canned breast meat and shred it because I’m lazy)
    -1 can black beans (I toss them in a colander and rinse them, as Tim suggests)
    -4 eggs (egg whites are acceptable too)
    -3 stalks celery, finely chopped
    -1/2 onion, finely chopped
    -parsley flakes
    -old bay seasoning
    -curry powder
    -salt
    -pepper

    Super simple: Mix the above ingredients together. I suggest using your hands as it works the best for me. Depending on how much flavor you want depends on how much of each spice you use. I use: 2 pinches parsley flakes, about 1tsp curry powder, and 1tsp old bay seasoning, with a couple cracks of salt and pepper.
    On a heated skillet add a bit of olive oil and form a patty with your hands, add to the skillet. Flatten with spatula. Cook for 3-5 minutes and flip (this is really tricky cause if you aren’t careful they will fall apart!), and cook another 3-5 minutes. Recipe makes about 8 burgers.
    Top a burger with a chopped hard-boiled egg or two and a bit of salsa for a kick of heat and even more protein.
    I eat them cold sometimes and they’re yummy. Good for a snack or meal, just pair with a veggie. You can make all of them in about half an hour and eat for the rest of the week!

    I feel very proud to have created the above recipe, so please don’t steal my thunder =/ If you try this and like, it let me know! =]

    Like

  11. Quick check-in here: 48 years old, exactly 3 months on the 4HB, have lost 34lbs,over two full pant and jacket sizes, and doubled my strength as per measure using HCB for kettle bell swings. My wife is 47 and has lost 25lbs. 4HB is like magic (can you spell DGW?) – HOWEVER, I have stalled two separate ways, in interesting fashions: (1) simply overdoing beef has caused me to stall twice (no weight loss in a week) and (2) I’ve been using 1tbsp heavy whipping cream in my coffee with great results – one week I outsmarted myself and switched to lactose-free whole milk and STALLED – turns out that lactose-free milk is created by converting the lactose into SUGAR (12g!) and it was enough to throw me off. Apart from that this has been a dream, with so many positives in my life, and really only one down side – a bit more gas beyond what I had – but I feel like a million bucks. And I travel – this is THE eating travel solution. THANK YOU TIM – game changer, life saver.

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  12. Did the almond milk question get answer? I am a huge fan of homemade nut milks and was thinking of giving a try to this diet. I am vegan but thought that for 1 month could stand with free range eggs and pea protein on almond milk to boost the protein intake.
    So I would appreciate a lot some light on this forgotten milk…after all almond milk is only almonds and water if you dont want to put anything else on it
    Thanks

    Like

  13. Out of curiosity, if the only dairy and sugar I consume in a day is 1tsp Maple and 1tbs of Whole Milk with black tea, would that ruin the effects of the slow carb diet?

    Do I absolutely need to cut that out???

    Like

    • If you can recall from the “4 hour body” book, Mr. Feiress talks about how changing only one of your regular meals to a slow carb diet meal will help you see results. However, the more adherence you have to the diet, the more drastic your results will be.

      So to answer your question, 1tbsp of maple and 1 tbsp of whole milk should not hinder your progress significantly, especially if you follow the other aspects of the diet.

      Like

      • thanks for the reply. I see what you’re saying. I suppose it can be any worse than the allowance of a couple of glasses of wine a night.

        Like

  14. Breads that are made of just millet and flax? Or chickpea flour?

    Any chance one can get away with enjoying something like that while on the SlowCarb Diet?

    Like

    • My wife is on slow-carb diet for the last 3 months, and I make bread of flax flour for her. She has it every day and it looks like it’s ok for the diet.

      Like

  15. I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent information I was looking for this information for my mission.

    Like

  16. Can you do this diet as a vegetarian with eggs and a vegan protein powder such as sunwarrior brown rice protein mixed with unsweetened almond milk??
    Advice would be greatly appreciated!!
    Thank you!

    Like

  17. Just started the slow carb diet this week and already seeing results on the scale and on my body! Just a couple things I wanted to check on if are ok to eat: chick peas, sweet potatoes and honey?

    Also, I do play sports, so was wondering on those days should I eat some carbs before?

    PS: Love your books Tim, read them all!

    Like

  18. i’ve seen others post versions of this question, but no answers. Are the following allowed (yes / in moderation / no) 6-days/week on the slow-carb diet?
    * unsweetened almond milk
    * coconut water
    * low-fat coconut milk
    * celery root (celeriac)
    * beets
    * parsnips
    * chestnuts
    * jicama
    * winter squash (butternut, spaghetti, pumpkin, acorn, etc.)

    thanks

    Like

  19. I am new to the slow-carb diet but have long been dairy free. I drink unsweetened almond milk (or the unsweetened vanilla flavor) and am hoping it is allowed on the slow-carb diet?

    Like

  20. Hi there,
    I was just wondering about dairy products. I’ve never been much of a cow milk drinker, but I’m a big fan of Almond milk. Is this allowed on the slow carb diet?

    Cheers,
    Sarah

    Like

    • http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/04/06/how-to-lose-20-lbs-of-fat-in-30-days-without-doing-any-exercise/

      I found the following in the above thread and thought it might be helpful:

      Tim Ferriss — April 19th, 2007, 2:20 am

      Wow! This post is getting out of control. I’ll do my best to answer a few of these, but with the book launch (www.fourhourworkweek.com) coming up next Tuesday, I won’t be able to give specific diet recommendations to each person. Grab the books I recommended, and you’ll be set.

      A few things:

      1. Cody, excellent observations. I use vinegar on salads, cinnamon, and even lemon in drinks to lower collective meal GI. Smart lad, you are.

      2. I never said you need to limit veggies to those I listed, but I’ve found that the more variety you try and build in, the less you stick to your diet. My diet is not designed to be fun — it’s designed to be effective. Those four are the four I’ve found to be most tolerable when eating again and again. Feel free to substitute whichever you want, but some legumes are a good ideas for sufficient calories.

      3. On MY diet (this is not to say it’s for everyone), brown rice is not OK unless within an hour after exercise. Too calorically dense and still normally high GI. Some will disagree, but here’s the thing. I’m not trying to get to 12% bodyfat (bf), I’m trying to get to 5-6%. This is HARD and requires that I be more strict that the average person.

      4. This diet is great for gaining muscle. Just up volume and ensure you get a good amount of low-GI starches (organic whole-grain brown rice or quinoa; the latter is my favorite) after training sessions. Macaroni mixed with tuna is also a great bulking meal.

      5. None of the supplements I recommended generally cause anxiety or insomnia. None are stimulants.

      6. Fruit, and fructose, are not good for fat-loss diets — period. Fructose is easily converted into fat after it spills over from the liver. I eat one organic orange before sleep to increase HDL cholesterol, but this is not for fat loss.

      7. Cheese (ideally low-fat), nuts, and occassional fried food (ideally without a ton of breading) are fine on this diet. Notice that all are protein-rich and low GI.

      Buy the books! They’re more comprehensive than I can hope to be on this post, and I apologize in advance if I can respond to more personalized requests.

      Please help each other if you can, and thanks for the discussion!

      Tim

      Of course it was in 2007 so who knows, some things may have changed…

      Like