Sunday, 11 October 2009

My Primal Benefits

A commenter asked me what I found to be the greatest benefits as a woman doing Primal eating. I started to post a long answer in the comments and then I decided I'd also like to do a post. Not all of these benefits are exclusive to females, of course.

Benefit 1: I keep my curves. The first time I consciously tried to lose weight I went on a no fat whatsoever diet. Yes, I was young and stupid. Moving on. I got skinny, but I also had NO breasts/ass. Not fun. For some reason, eating Primal, I stay lean but I keep my curves=happy Cavewoman :)

Benefit 2: Fabulous hair/nails/skin. Oh yes, I have a nice sleek coat, nails I can open soda cans with, and a healthy glow. I never wear make up. Now granted, that's partly because I don't like make up. But I like having the option instead of feeling like I need to have something on my face to be presentable.

Benefit 3: I get to eat yummy food. No, I really don't miss Snickers, baguettes, and fries. I get to eat cheese, bacon, omelettes, chicken skin, ribs, burgers, etc. I have REAL cream in my coffee. I have dark chocolate for dessert, or strawberries, or a green tea protein smoothie (raw milk, matcha powder, stevia, whey protein, dash of vanilla, ice.)

Benefit 4: I don't stress about food. I was definitely one of those Type A calorie counting wonders. I can still tell you how many calories are in most food items. Now I just eat what is nourishing, eat until I am full, and leave it at that. Sure, I do have the urge to stress eat sometimes (see post below) but the moments are easily controlled because my blood sugar is always nice and level. As many Primal followers have noted, they can fast effortlessly, and I find that I can easily skip dinner or lunch some days no problem.

Benefit 5: Less severe PMS/cramps. Sorry boys, this may be TMI for you. My moods are much more even, I don't break out, and my cramps are much better. Not gone, mind you, but better.

I'm not perfect. I drink a fair bit, and I sometimes make less than optimal choices. I would encourage all of us not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I am very happy just getting right MOST of the time, and I would wager that most other would be too.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Maintaining Primalness When Stressed

Of course as soon as I decide to re up my blog, work goes batshit :) But whatevs, I shall plow through. It's amazing how eating Primal has changed my ability to cope with stress. I really believe food has a huge effect on mood.

I start my day with protein, I have protein at lunch, and more protein at dinner. With fat and non starchy carbs. And I don't ever have those lows anymore before mealtimes. You know, those shakey headachey (and for me, downright bitchy) moments where you desperately need to get something in you or something bad will happen?

Nope. I work placidly until I feel belly hunger. Mostly. I do occasionally get stress cravings, but I've found that tea helps quite nicely with those. Now, for those of you who are rolling your eyes and thinking tea would never do it for you, let me just say, I was in your camp. Really, I was.

Now, I'm not getting paid to endorse this particular brand, but I'm addicted to Good Earth Cocoa Spice Chai and Decaf Vanilla Chai. Honestly, sometimes I just brew it and sniff it, because it smells SO yummy. But I find that the warm liquid, and doing something with my mouth, psychologically soothes me.

And having a crutch like that that won't otherwise fuck up my Primal eating goes a long way in times when work is going like gangbusters or something else stressful comes up in my life. My other crutch is taking a walk, but I know that's not always an option in other parts of the (freezing cold) country :) Tea works everywhere :)

How do you cope with stress while maintaining a Primal lifestyle? Do you have crutches? Mabe crutch isn't the right word, maybe it's "trick."

Monday, 5 October 2009

Sunlight makes me happy

So, off the topic of food, but generally Primal, let's talk a little about the Sun. When I lived in the Northeast, or Midwest, I spent at least three months out of the year miserable and cranky. The cold got to me, but it was really the lack of sunlight.

Since I have moved to California, I've been a much happier person, and I would venture to say, it's the sunlight. I know there are a lot of people who don't buy the whole SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) thing. And frankly, I was one of them. I figured it was more the cold than the lack of sun.

But SF is not all that warm. It's basically coldish cold or warmish cold the vast majority of the time. And yet, I'm so perky my friends back East ask me if I'm on uppers on a regular basis. The thing is, SF may be chilly, but it's sunny.

Even today--perfectly blue skies, but I couldn't go out without a sweater. And yet, here I am, writing about my good mood :) It's not even that I get to go out in the sun very much (again, office drone) but even just walking to work in the sun and seeing it shining outside my window puts me in a happy frame of mind.

It's amazing to me how much my mood affects my appetite, even eating Primal. Now, it's more the kind of Primal food I eat rather than whether I eat Primal or not. But I notice when it's nice and bright and sunny and I'm in a good mood, I do tend to eat less.

And when it's darker and grayer, even if it's the same air temp? I'm definitely more snacky. I think it's just a basic human instinct: what's more primal that perking up in the sun? And as a side note, what could be more necessary to our ancestors when they were looking to get some vitamin D?

So am I crazy? Am I just making up the effects of sunlight? Or do you all experience it too?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Anecdotal observations

For a patient population of 1. I don't know about you, but I love experimenting with my diet and seeing how changes pan out. Of course, I do it in a totally unscientific way, altering multiple things at a time so that it's hard for me to isolate what single thing was the factor in a particular change, but whatever. I don't have the patience for the whole one thing at a time bit.

So, for example, I take fish oil, D3, and K2 on a daily basis and have for about a month. Why? I am D deficient (office drone) I do sometimes eat non free range meat (hello Omega 6s) and I also don't eat foie gras regularly (oh, how I would love to, but my budget will not tolerate it) and I've noticed a major change in my skin. I have mild acne (usually a few small pimples here and there, annoying but not a big deal) and lately, my skin has been totally calm. Love that. Now, is it the fish oil, the D, or the K? Or some combination thereof?

Or when I drink diet soda, my stomach gets extremely sensitive to anything else. I've been diet soda free for a week (YAY me) but I've also cut out all other artificial sweeteners (used to be a Splenda addict, now use liquid stevia on occasion, but far, far less frequently than I used the evil yellow packet) so I can't tell if the carbonation or the sweeteners (or again, some combination) that set my stomach off.

I just find it fun to play around with how my body reacts...

Friday, 2 October 2009

She returns!

Wow, I seriously doubt anyone is even checking here anymore :). But I was googling something today and a link to my poor little defunct blog popped up and it felt oddly like running into a friend you haven't seen in a long time. Slightly awkward, but nice too.
Besides, I couldn't let that slightly self pitying last post be my final statement. Not my style :)

I've fully settled into San Francisco, and I love the Bay area more than ever. I have gotten back into dairy. I know, not Paleo. But I am of Northern European ancestry, and you know what? I like my dairy. It tastes goooooood. You know what tastes really good? Raw milk. Oh my goodness. The beauty of California and legally permitted marketing of unpasteurized dairy in all its glorious forms to the public.

Oh, by the way, raw cream, raw butter, and raw cheese--also awesome. Almost as good as the look I get when I tell other people I eat raw milk products. You'd think I'd told them I lick it off the sidewalk. Honestly, it's hilarious. Never mind that everyone else in the office has caught the last version of whatever rhinovirus is floating around and I'm totally unstuffed. No, I'm the crazy one :)

Actually, I am the crazy one. But I'm ok with that. And gosh darn it, I'm back to blogging, even if I'm just blogging about what I eat so that I can keep track. And if anyone DOES start reading, hi :)

So let's talk chinese veggies. I grew up in Toronto, which means that even though I'm the whitest white girl you'll ever see, Asian food of all stripes is comfort food to me. Soon I'll discuss how fabulous Japanese flavours are for Paleo/Primal/whatever the hell you want to call my diet now. For now, let me just tell you about chinese broccoli, or gai lan. Gai lan is a delicious leafy green veggie that come in long stalks with long narrow leaves and stems about a centimeter (~.5 inch for you Americans who don't feel like doing the metric thing) in diameter. You will often see small yellow flowers midway up the stalk as well.

Gai lan is delicious steamed or stirfried. The one thing to remember is to cook the stems first, and the leaves at the end. When cooked, gai lan does taste a lot like broccoli, but is harder to overcook and doesn't get the same slightly sulfurous flavour that broccoli can get. I like to steam it in the microwave (3 minutes on medium heat for the stems, throw the leaves in at the last minute) and toss it with roasted garlic and butter. Or, stirfry it with coconut oil and shallots and throw in some hot pepper flakes at the last minute.

In any case, the gai lan is ready when the stalks are bright green (they start out a much duller grayish green) and the leaves are wilted. Gai lan can be found in Asian grocery store and in the Asian veggie section of some larger supermarkets. Oh, and if anyone out there has other gai lan recipes, please post them in the comments!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Primal and Dating?

Not that I'm anywhere near being ready to date again yet, but I freely admit that with a break up comes some old fears. My former SO was really, really supportive of the way I chose to eat. But not every former SO has been that way.

I've been called controlling, anal, unable to relax. After all, why can't I just chill and have a couple slices of pizza? Why do I have to insist on ordering a salad with chicken? Why can't I just not record what I've eaten for a few days? Don't I realize I look disorderd? etc. etc.

To be clear: if I was really lusting for a slice of pizza, I would have it and move on. I'm talking about the situations where I really don't want to eat something I see as lower quality or as otherwise unappealing.

And while I have no problem being open with my friends, in a more intimate context I feel very sensitive about being judged. I'm not sure why. I know the feeling is irrational, and that someone who likes me will like me for all of me. But I can't help it.

When I cook for people I date, I NEVER weigh my food in front of them. I don't discuss my eating philosophies or talk about how I use my CRON-O-Meter. I joke with my friends that I am saving the "crazy" for later.

There seems to be sliding scale of socially acceptable eating habits. For example, being a vegetarian is fine, but vegans are nuts. Weight Watchers is a-Ok, but raw foodists are total weirdos. Hell, everyone is on South Beach, but breathe a word of Atkins and you're a bacon snarfing freak.

And rightly or wrongly, I feel like CR and Primal eating are both solidly in the unacceptable category. I would really love to find a way to screen for guys who were into Primal eating. Sadly, in my personal experience, most guys in good shape either 1) don't care what the hell they eat because they've never had to, or 2) are solidly in a nutritional camp I don't identify with, like the school of carrying tupperware protein everywhere for feedings every three hours. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

Hmmm. All of the sudden I appreciate the companionship of my cat so much more. He never cares what I eat so long as I feed him too.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Low and Slow

The credit for the cooking technique I am going to discuss today goes entirely to Richard at Free the Animal. I love his blog, and I highly recommend checking it out if you're at all interested in Primal eating. He and I have gotten into it a bit over CR, but he is a very reasonable, rational, and generous blogger.

I recently discovered a cut of beef I ADORE. Now, I generally adore red meat. My grandparents were cattle farmers, so it's in the blood. And I credit their, and my mother's, good health in part to the grassfed beef they ate frequently throughout their lives. And I have never even come close to being anemic ;)

As a side note, I should mention I have never gone through a vegetarian phase. Dyed in the wool carnivore here, folks. To each their own.

Anyways, back to the beef. So I was flipping through one of my many, many (seriously, I have a problem) cookbooks and it mentioned butcher's cut steak. Some of you may know it as hanger steak. This is a piece of meat that hangs down near the diaphragm of the cow. It's not too lean or too fatty, and it makes a delicious steak. Not only that, because it's generally a less familiar cut, it's usually cheap (and y'all know by now how much I like that :) ).

Which brings me to the title of the post. The best way to cook this steak, IMHO, is Richard's way. Which means roast the steak in a 250 degree oven until internal doneness is reached (depends on personal taste). A digital remote thermometer (one that has a lead cord so you can stick it in the meat but the temp monitor sits outside the oven) is a HUGE help here. Get one. They are the best.

Once internal doneness is reached, take the steak out. Don't worry that it doesn't have that yummy sear/crust you love so much. I'm getting to that. Now, turn on the broiler, rub the steak down with butter, and broil both sides until it looks the way it should.

Serve with some nice spinach pureed with olive oil. Or grilled asparagus. Or steamed broccoli with parm on top. Or anything else that looks appealing. I promise you this will be the most melt in your mouth steak you've had in ages, and you did it all by yourself.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Carb belly?

I have many slim Asian friends who refer to their 'rice bellies'--the phenomenon of being slim all over, except for a little roundness in the tummy area. Now, to my eye, they have no rice bellies to speak of, but they did get me thinking about an anecdotal observation of mine.

I definitely do get carb belly. Generally, I see it when I eat over 120g of carbs a day, which can happen, since I set my upper limit as 150 (not counting fiber). My daily carb count can vary between 50-150g on any given day.

There is more leeway for carbs in my diet because I'm not trying to lose weight. Also, 150g of carbs generally means I ate more fruit, including dried fruit, than usual, or I had more chocolate than usual--not that I went nose down into a baguette.

In any case, I do notice a little belly when I hit my upper carb limit. Generally when I see the carb belly, I know it's time to take it down for a few days, and I'll usually go right back down to about 50g. 3 days of 50g usually puts my belly to rights again.

The other thing I notice with carb belly is that, per my trusty (and I say that with sarcasm, because I have no idea how accurate it is) Tanita bodyfat scale, my body fat jumps ~3 percentage points along with the carb belly. My theory, since the scale judges body fat with electrical impulses, is that extra carbs somehow screw with water retention, which in turn screws with the readings.

It's observations like this that reinforce how important what you eat is to how you look and how you feel about yourself. Oh, and that remind me to watch my carb intake ;)

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Primal Passover

Oh, the joys of being a Jew. Most of our holidays revolve around eating and celebrating the fact that we escaped massacre. Good times :) For Hannukah (look, those who are about to bitch, there IS no right spelling, it's a transliteration, so if you don't like it, spell it the way you want to on your own blog :) ) it's food cooked in oil, for Purim it's hamantaschen, and Passover, well, Passover is the mack daddy of them all.

The first night of Passover there are specific foods you must eat. And yes, I break with Primal eating to have a bit of matzoh and charoset (a dried fruit paste bound with sweet wine) at the Seder because the ritual is very important to me. But even beyond the Seder, I keep kosher over Passover, something I don't do at any other time of the year. This year, I am actually trying to eat kosher and Primal. Adventures have and will continue to ensue, I'm sure, but I'm happy to report, it hasn't been that bad.

At the Seder itself, which was a meat (as opposed to dairy) there were the usual suspects, like brisket braised in red wine, veggies, and a few choice Jewish treats I will never be able to get into, like gefilte fish. Let me pause for a second--seriously, sweet fish? Who ever thought that would be a good idea? Anyways, there were also fabulous pickled veggies of all incarnations. Let me just say pickled asparagus, YUM.

As to the rest of the time, turns out keeping kosher and Primal is relatively easy, with the big caveat that I am lucky enough to have access to a steady supply of kosher meat. My plan for the week, at least for right now, is to avoid dairy completely, since I am far more reliant on meat than milk in my day to day consumption, and I hate the whole waiting period between eating milk and meat.

I have roasted off a nice kosher chicken, which is feeding me quite nicely right now, and then I have some hanger steak (post on that soon!) waiting in the freezer once that's eaten. Since I don't eat grains and legumes anyway, chometz and kitniyot, both trayf for the Passover period, aren't an issue. There are some cuts of meat I have to avoid during Passover, like beef tenderloin, and pork is obviously out :( And I cook with schmaltz or olive oil, and yes, I do miss butter. A lot.

But at least I have eggs, and lots and lots of yummy fruits and veggies. I've been having fresh strawberries as my sweet of choice lately, or baked apples doused in cinnamon. Dates are back on the dessert rotation too. I like the parallel, I can imagine the Jews fleeing Egypt eating dates in the desert on their way out.

Thursday, 9 April 2009


Caffeine is one of those gray areas for me. Coffee, I can't handle straight (and I know I'm not the only one) but good coffee is palatable with just cream, so it isn't paleo-horrible. And CR wise, it does have B vitamins and few calories, even with a little cream.

Tea, eh, I go through phases. Genmai-cha is one of the very few I drink consistently, and as April once pointed out on her fabulous blog, in a way it satisfies any residual or random grain craving you might have, since it tastes like what it is green tea + roasted rice.

Other sources of caffeine? I've come a looooooooooong way, baby. I have mostly cut out diet soda, and that would be my only other source. No, wait, I'm lying. I do eat chocolate. Diet soda would be my only other concentrated source.

The thing is, I don't think there's anything wrong with caffeine. It perks me up in the morning, but it doesn't give me a hardcore buzz, and it never has. It may be a genetic thing--my mom can drink a cup of coffee and fall asleep half an hour later, so can I. And I love, love, love a shot of espresso after a nice dinner.

But then I hear these tropes about how caffeine increases appetite, etc. So I go through caffeine fasts. I guess I'm just wondering if it's necessary? Some of the healthiest people I know, including bloggers like Mark Sisson and the aforementioned April, consume caffeine relatively regularly.

Hmmmm, on the fence about this once (while clutching my morning coffee in one hand...)

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The incredible, edible, well... you know

I think the egg is one of the most amazing foods in existence. Incredibly versatile, incredibly tasty, and absolutely brimming with nutrients that are hard to find elsewhere (choline, anyone?), they can also be an excellent convenience food.

Allow me to pimp a product for a minute, because it has improved my already good relationship with the egg This little gizmo, which cooks eggs in the microwave, is a LIFESAVER in the morning.

I'm a huge fan of soft boiled eggs for breakfast. I also love hardboiled eggs minced up on salad, and a frittata is a great way to deal with leftovers.

I look back on my egg white eating days with some amusement. I never really liked egg whites on their own, but I made myself eat them for the protein. Not that they were all bad, especially topped with a slice of cheese.

But the lovely, luscious soft yolk is definitely the best part. I will never forget my first salade Lyonnaise--frisee, bacon, and poached egg perched on top, pierced so that it would run down the leaves of the frisee and mix with the bacon grease, forming a totally delicious dressing.

I even eat eggs raw (gasp! scandal! salmonella!) mixed into steak tartare or in homemade caesar salad dressing. Each cooking method, or lack thereof, brings out something different in the egg.

The only thing you HAVE to do with the egg is handle it gently. The proteins in the egg do not react well to high, dry, heat--they seize and get tough and become, in the words of one great french chef "elephant skin." And anyone who's had an overcooked hardboiled egg can attest to the tongue desiccating nature of overcooked yolk. But treat the egg with love and patience, and it will repay you handsomely.

I'll finish with a cooking recommendation, rather than a recipe, because this is more technique than anything. For a truly indulgent, glorious example of what the egg can do, I recommend scrambling two or three gently in some clarified butter, over low heat. Stir the eggs gently and slowly in a figure of eight motion until just barely cooked through. It feels like eating rich, creamy, yellow clouds and it is possibly my favourite meal on a Sunday morning.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

What to eat when you don't much feel like eating

Paleo survival mode. I'm not an emotional eater. If anything, I'm an emotional faster. When I'm upset, food tastes different to me, and I avoid things I otherwise love and consider treats.

Have you ever stood in front of an open fridge door, wondering why there's nothing in there that appeals to you? I've been doing that a lot lately. So I've defaulted to things that are very easy, and don't require much chewing.

For example, the green smoothie. Whey powder, frozen spinach, and coconut milk. I use Jay Robb Vanilla whey powder, which is delicious. Sometimes, when I've been low on carbs for the day, I throw in a little (~35g) frozen banana. It's not necessary though. Between the whey and the coconut milk, you don't taste the spinach, and you get a nice dose of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. Plus, the smoothie is a very attractive shade of green, pale and appealing and springlike.

Another dish involving spinach is where I get some chicken sausage(check the nutritional label and make sure there is 1g carb or less per serving) slice it up, and nuke it with frozen spinach. At the end, throw in a little herbed goat cheese for creaminess, mix it all together, and enjoy.

Another good one is soft boiled eggs, all on their own or with some salami. I like dipping salami pieces in the nice soft yolks.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a recipe for hot chocolate made with coconut milk, and let me tell you, it's delicious even without added sweeteners, because the coconut milk has a certain natural sweetness itself.

I know that particularly at a low point, it is important for me to care for and nourish myself, and cooking for myself is a key component of that self care. Of course, I'm always open to more Paleo comfort food suggestions :)...

Monday, 6 April 2009

Cooking in my cave

I will be back to normal postings tomorrow. I rarely talk about my personal life on the blog, but I wanted to explain this absence. The SO and I are no longer together. I'm not changing the blog name (maybe 'our' can now just be a universal term for all Paleo/CRON bloggers :) ).

The upside is I'm learning all about Paleo comfort food. More on that tomorrow...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Brussel sprouts

Not surprisingly, given my cabbage obsession, I am magnetically attracted to brussel sprouts. Now, maybe it's because there's a 5 year old girl inside me who squeals "awwwww look at the little baby cabbages." I blame many things on my inner 5 year old.

There isn't much love for the b. sprout in the general populace. In spite of their obvious cuteness (at least to me) people tend to avoid them in favour of more pedestrian, accessible veggies. Or maybe they can't bring themselves to eat them BECAUSE of their cuteness, the way some people won't eat lamb but have no problem chowing down on prime rib.

Those who do choose to cook them often seem to prepare them as if the b. sprouts have offended them in some way, such that they must be punished by boiling until they've reached a grayish dark green tint and smell of sulfur.

I like to treat my sprouts with a little more love. I peel off the nasty outermost leaves, slice them in half. Then I melt some bacon grease in a frying pan, saute some onion, throw in some hot pepper flakes, turn the heat up and lay the sprouts in the pan, cut side down, for 2-3 minutes. Then I flip them over, douse them with some white wine (or stock, or water, or whatever else you think might be good as a braising liquid), throw on the lid, and let them steam for a few minutes. Then I poke them with a fork, to see if they're soft, throw on some salt and pepper, and there you go, Lightly charred, bright green sprout deliciousness.

Or you can slice them up (for this endeavour, as well as an other veggie cutting project, let me HEARTILY endorse a ceramic knife. Mine is a Kyocera and one of my favourite things) thinly and saute them--that's even faster.

One word of advice: overcooking is the kiss of death of b. sprouts. Remember: bright green=good, dark grayish green=bad.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Of breasts and thighs

Aren't I naughty ;)?

I'm talking poultry today, because I had a revelation over the weekend.

The chicken breast: much maligned by foodies, the dieter's cut when boneless and skinless, the safe order in restaurants, etc.
The chicken thigh: much praised by foodies, the dieter's nightmare no matter what, the rarely seen option in restaurants unless you just see 'chicken' listed at your local cheap places.

I love chicken. But I always thought I loved the breasts way more than the thighs. Sure, they were slightly dry plain, but they were also predictably acceptable tasting steady protein sources whether you were at a Chinese, Indian, French, or Aghani restaurant. And when one is trying to CRON and have some semblance of a social life, being familiar with a good protein source/relatively low calorie item is a real plus.

And chicken breasts are not bad. Roast chicken breast will never be derided from this corner. But I fear my affections have indeed shifted to the dark side.

Now, to be fair to the thigh, I never did give it a chance before. The few times I cooked it when I was younger, I tried to cook it like a chicken breast and it just seemed too fatty and weirdly gristly. And while I love pork fat on a nice pork chop, I've never warmed to chicken fat on the bone.

But lately, I've come to appreciate the thigh. It's always cheaper than the breast, and has a deeper, more nuanced flavour. It is more reliably juicy. And calorie wise, the difference is not that significant at all (1.7 cal/g vs. 1.8 cal/g).

The trick with cooking a thigh at home, to my mind, is to realize you can be a little rougher with it. Breasts require attention so that they don't dry out. Thighs need less TLC and can still be delicious. I really like to braise skinless or skin on chicken thighs (depending on my audience) with canned tomatoes and big hunks of onion on the stove in a Dutch oven for 45 min-1 hour.

I keep trying to convince my friends to give the thigh a chance, but I think the bias against dark meat runs deep. On the other hand, why should I encourage them when their rejection just means there'll be more for me :)?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Pondering dairy

I am not anti-dairy. I know many Paleo eaters who are. Although I was never a milk drinker, I am deeply attached to cheese and cream, and I consume them in relatively small amounts (an ounce of cheese a day, for example) so I figure they're not a big deal.

Previously, I was a fiend for yogurt, particularly greek yogurt (Fage loyalist here) and goat milk yogurt. Now, I have a tendency to play tastes out. I will get obsessive about something for a while, eat it far too often, and not want to see it again for many moons. Many innocent foodstuffs have fallen victim to my unfortunate habit (pickles, canned pumpkin in everything, shrimp cocktail) but I never thought my beloved yogurt would be one.

And yet I notice for the past two weeks, other than cheese, I have not been eating it, nor have I been craving it. This is kind of shocking for me because I thought I could NEVER give up yogurt. It was my dessert/breakfast go to protein filled comfort food. Smooth, thick, creamy, it lasted far long than many of my obsessions did.

But, to my shock, I find I can live without it. My tastes have been swinging more savoury than sweet of late, and I've been making a concerted, and I'm proud to say, successful, effort to give up artifical sweeteners--when I would have greek yogurt, I would always put in a little Splenda. Lately, my dessert of choice has been dates and almonds, or salami, cheese, and other nuts like pistachios and cashews.

In the absence of major dairy intake for the first time in a long time, I have also been able to make some observations. For me personally, dairy is not a negative feature in my diet. Without it I have not lost weight, my skin as not become any clearer, I have not felt any better (of course, I typically feel pretty good).

So I wonder whether I will reintroduce it or not at some point. I know from a Paleo perspective, yogurt is not a great choice, and should be a once in a while thing. And now that I've broken my addiction, perhaps it's better to avoid it. I don't know. But it's something to think about.

And now I think I'll go have some Gouda.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

I'm keeping my salt

This morning at the doctor's office (annual physical, nothing exciting going on) we had this conversation:

Dr: Does low blood pressure run in your family?
Me: Yes, why?
Dr: Because yours is LOW. (95/60 for those who are curious)

I take this as a sign from some higher deity that I can just keep on sprinkling my sea salt on things. 'Cause I love me my salt. I even like salt in sweet things. I find it heightens the sweetness. I'm a HUGE fan of salt chocolate. Lake Champlain Co. makes this AMAZING chocolate bar with sea salt and almonds. SO has been sent to the store more than once to fetch me one of those little buggers (they only seem to carry them in 35g portions, which I guess is good. Sigh.) when I've been struck by a craving. My salt cravings are SO well known that my stepfather, fabulous guy that he is, got me a salt sampler of all these different fancy salts for Christmas. One of my favourite snacks, discovered when I lived in France, is raw radishes with a smear of butter and a sprinkling of salt. Try them, they're the fastest tastiest appetizer.

I know there are divided opinions on salt, and to each his/her own. For me, it's just an essential element of my cooking and eating. I have tried to eliminate it, and the elimination makes me so unhappy it's just not worth it. It's all about balance, right :)?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Ode to Pork Butt

Lovely, lovely pork butt
at $3.89 a pound
All marbled and sexy in that glass case

How can I resist you?
Cheap, porky fatty goodness
I had to take you home with me

But what to do with you, all raw and tough and full of cartilage...
I contemplated the best way to bring out
the tenderness I know you have in you

I gently coated you in Worchestershire
Left you to sit for 30 minutes
And then I covered you and set you in the oven at 200F to keep you warm

And I'll bet you thought I forgot about you
Because I left you in there
For 7 hours while I ran errands on a Sunday

You should have known I would never do that to you!
You had a long time to soften up in that nice warm oven
And hot fat bath that pooled around you

I gently lifted you out, freed you from that bone
Shredded you and tossed some Sriracha on you, just to wake you up a bit
And you, you were delicious.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Blog? What blog? Oh, THAT blog

So, moving to CA and settling in is in fact more intense than I thought. But I think we're through the worst of it, and on that note I will bring you my latest favourite recipe, along with my hope that all has been well with all of you :)

Slow Roasted Sirloin Tip
Now, I have discussed my fondness for buying big honking slabs of meat and cooking them off. It's cheaper, easy (yay leftovers), and less time consuming than preparing little bits every night. Sirloin tip roast is relatively inexpensive, mainly because it's relatively lean--which means you can throw a crazy rich sauce on to get your fat--and can dry out easily if you don't know what you're doing. Here's what you need/do:
1) One 3-4lb sirloin tip roast (or eye of round, or any other lean roast)
2) Something yummy to rub on it, I did butter and oregano, but you can do what ever you want

1) Preheat the oven to 500F. This is very important, give your oven a good 20 minutes to get there.
2) Put the roast in a roasting pan, give it a good rub down with your seasonings.
3) Throw it in the oven and let it roast 7min/lb. So for a three pound roast, 21 min.
4) Turn off the oven. Let the roast sit in the oven for 2.5 hours.
That's it. Take the roast out and you are good to go. I let it rest, carve it into slices, and eat it over the course of a few days. To heat up the slices, get a frying pan nice and hot and sear the outsides. Yummy, I tell you.

As for sauces, go wild :) Bearnaise, gravy from the roast drippings, slather it with butter...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Change up

My wonderful foodie has been a bit preoccupied, so I thought I would take a moment to brief you on our happenings. We have been going out to eat at least twice a week, but have made quite a run of the grocery scene here in SF. Our key local favorite is the Berkeley Bowl, suplimented by our staple place for random items, Trader Joes.

The highlight of eating over the last three weeks has been Pork Butt. With this, I will leave it to my love to tell you more about receipes and variations there of . . .

Friday, 20 February 2009

And another recipe!

Yes, I freely admit I am trying to use up the head of cabbage I bought. I love cabbage. I love it raw, I love it boiled, I love it braised. I really really love it braised, actually, because cabbage gets all lovely and silky and tender but still has just enough chew and it takes on this delicate sweetness that is just amazing. So I had some leftover ground turkey, and ground beef, and cabbage. And I had about an hour before the SO would start whining for food.

So, I Googled around for recipes and came up with one for unstuffed cabbage, which of course I screwed around with because that's how I roll. This meal comes together very easily and requires little supervision, and since the SO loved this, I thought it was worthy of a post.

For this recipe, which will serve one small female and one larger, very hungry male with some leftovers, you will need
1) 7 g/1.5 tsp butter
2) 454 g/1 lb of cabbage of cabbage
3) 120 g onion, thinly sliced.
4) 1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
5) 200 g jarred tomato sauce+1/2 cup water OR 1 16 oz can tomatoes
6) 454 g ground beef/turkey
7) Malt vinegar (or any other you have lying around)
8) Red pepper flakes
9) Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Use butter to grease bottom of large dutch oven.
3) Slice cabbage into 1.5" wedges and lay on the bottom of the oven.
4) Lay onion slices and garlic slices on top of cabbage.
5) Pour tomatoes or tomato sauce+water over cabbage+onions+garlic.
6) Roll the meat into 1.5" diameter balls. Wedge meatballs between cabbage slices. When doing so, make sure you give them a good roll in the tomatoes.
7) Douse the pot with a nice shake of vinegar, salt and pepper, and hot pepper flakes to taste.
8) Throw the lid on the pot and stick the whole shebang in the oven for an hour. Halfway through cooking, remove the lid.
9. Serve in bowls in order to savour properly with the lovely meaty tomatoey broth that will form on the bottom of the pan.

In the last 20 minutes or so of cooking, carefully monitor the meat. My turkey meatballs we slightly overcooked, although the beef was dandy. This recipe would work nicely with ground lamb or chicken as well. And it's an economical dish, owing to the cheap ingredients.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend :)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Kind Bar hacks

So a while ago, starving at an airport, I grabbed a Kind Bar in my mad dash to make my flight. For those not familiar with them, these bars are actually pretty good, in my opinion. They're made of fruits and nuts, and while some have icing, and all are bonded together with glucose syrup, some of them are still pretty good re: fat (lots of it) and carbs (not too too high). What I really loved were the flavors of the dried fruit and the nuts together.

Let me say I don't recommend dried fruits if you're trying to lose weight. They are sugar bullets. But for an occasional dessert, I really like them.

My two favorite bars are the date walnut and the apricot almond. So here's what I do: I buy dates and I split them open and stuff them with walnuts and eat them like a sandwich. Three big dates and my sweet tooth is MORE than satisfied. With the apricots and almonds I slice three dried almonds into strips and eat them with ten almonds, a strip of apricot on top of each almond. So I control the portion of dried fruit and pair it with some good nutritive fat. And I get my dessert fix AND I save money and avoid the glucose syrup in the Kind Bar.

I know this hack thing sounds basic. But Kind Bars sell pretty well, so I assume people either haven't thought about doing this or just can't be bothered to buy the raw ingredients (of which there are two each) and make these snacks themselves. That fact in and of itself kind of blows my mind. Or maybe I'm just that cheap ;)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Hunting for supplies

One of my favorite things to do is to go searching for various supplies requested. This is always fun, as these random assortments are not things that I would purchase myself (but then, I am no cook like her) . . .

Salami, various meats, different foods of precise nutritional composition. It is fun because it is always somewhat challenging and always educational. I have made mistakes from time to time, therefore the charge now is to give me explicit instructions when making purchases.

I have always been into the culture of eating; my largest discretionary expenses have always been food and eating out . . . I enjoy the atmosphere of great meals, though since we met this has transitioned more to home, than out. I have various interests and hobbies and developing skills in cooking is one for 2009. I am still trying to make a mental picture of where to start and since I have been fetching random bits and pieces for a while, I am starting to get an idea on what to look for.

More on how I figure out how to cook things beyond my chicken taco recipe later.

If you're afraid of cooking fish...

I have the technique for you! It's fast, easy, delicious, and as a bonus, there is little clean up after. Interested?

If so, here's what you need to make 4 servings:
1) 4 firm fleshed fish fillets (salmon, cod, mahimahi) about an inch thick and 4-6 oz (112 to 168 g)
2) 2 cloves of garlic, slivered or finely chopped, however you prefer
3) 1 lemon
4) butter
5) Salt
6) Four large sheets of foil

1) Preheat oven to 450F.
2) Place one fillet in the center of each piece of foil. Top with some of the garlic, lemon, a couple pats of butter (I used 6g per packet, but you can use more if you'd like) and good sprinkle of salt. You can also had herbs like dill if you have them lying around. Yell at cat who is trying to sample bit of raw fillet.*
3) Lock cat in bathroom until finished with step 4.
4) Bring two of the opposite sides together and crimp them so they're sealed shut. Now crimp the other two ends until they're sealed shut. Make sure everything is nice and tightly closed.
5) Place packets on cookie sheet and slide into the over for 12-15 minutes (adjust time accordingly for thinner or fatter fillets).
6) Remove packets from oven, place on plate and slit open packets VERY CAREFULLY as there has been steam build up and nobody likes 2nd degree burns before dinner.
7) Enjoy your moist, perfectly cooked, no pan to clean up fish. Taunt cat, then take pity and slip a bit into his food bowl.

*Please note, some instructions apply only to cat owners.

This dish is what we had for dinner last night, along with sauteed cabbage as I completely forgot about my mushrooms (which will be on the menu tonight!) until after dinner ;)

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Getting back on the blog wagon :)

I was going to title this post "Falling off the blog wagon" but I decided I was going to be glass half full for once in my otherwise Nelly Naysayer life ;) Busy busy busy at work and moving in, but things are starting to settle. Boxes have been emptied, my kitchen has been resurrected in a new and improved form (my mom generously stocked me with Le Creuset from the Le Creuset outlet store, and it's already been put to good use) and I am off and running with the meal preparation.

So what have I been up to the last week or so? Well, aside from all the boring stuff, I've discovered an AWESOME new way to exercise. For a once a week high stress bit of training, right near my new apartment are the Filbert Steps. These are a very long set of stairs up the side of Telegraph Hill, and let me tell you, running up those is a serious workout. And, it's free! Love, love, love. And my legs, although sore as the dickens, secretly love it too. Or at least, my brain will take them to a bar, get them drunk, and eventually convince them of that, I'm sure.

And I went to my first San Francisco Farmers Market at the Ferry building. Among my amazing purchases were gorgeous organic dried pork sausage from the Fatted Calf, purple heart lettuce that is so beautiful I almost wanted to decorate with it instead of eat it, perfect mandarin oranges, some deliciously oozy goat camembert, and black trumpet mushrooms, which are kind of earthy and spicy. Needless to say, I've been cooking up a storm.

The lettuce was tossed with lemon juice and walnut oil and a little bit of salt and pepper, and decorated with hunks of avocado and grilled portabella mushrooms, served alongside a meatloaf with lots of chopped fresh parsley, onion, and a few good shakes of worchestershire sauce. The mandarins are munched out of hand with the camembert for dessert.

Tonight I am doing pan roasted mahimahi with lemon, butter, and garlic served with the sauteed black trumpt mushrooms. With so much delicious fresh stuff out here, Paleo seems easier than ever. Ironically, there are also a million more temptations out here. Real french pastry (as opposed to the easily avoidable nasty americanized cotton ball versions), San Francisco sourdough with that fabulous golden crust on every corner. Although the SO bought a bag of Ghirardelli chocolates and how sad was I to see they use HFCS in their chocolates? Thankfully, it's only in the filled ones, but still.

In any case, please forgive my absence!

Monday, 9 February 2009

A less considered aspect of primal living

Today, I want to talk a little bit about my other SO. His name is Rocky, and he's a 10 year old, 13 pound orange tabby I adopted about 8 months ago.

Growing up, I always had cats around. And as a teenager, my family acquired a basset hound as well. So I have always associated home with pets. When I moved out on my own, I was hesitant to get a one--it took me 8 years of being on my own before I got up the nerve to acquire one. I take the responsibility that comes with pet ownership very seriously, and I wanted to be sure I could provide a good environment for an animal.

So about 8 months ago I set myself to the task of finding a cat. I went to the excellent SPCA in Boston, since I firmly believe adopting shelter kitties. And I was immediately attracted to a playful ten month old unfortunately named Boo Boo (sidenote: why do people do this to animals? Seriously????) until my friend pointed out I would still have Boo Boo when I was 40.

Sufficiently freaked out, I kept looking until I saw this other cat, waaaay in the back, with a pretty orange patch on his nose. I looked at his description--he was old. PERFECT. So in due course, Rocky (aka Rocko, Rockstar, Rockefeller--I'm amazed he's not totally confused as to his actual name, not that he responds to any of the above anyway) came home with me.

So what does cat ownership have to do with this blog? Well, I eat the way I eat because I want to be healthy. Pets have been shown over and over again to have a symbiotic relationship with their owners: their presence lowers blood pressure, makes people feel less lonely, and can otherwise relieve stress. I can personally vouch that I am a happier person for having Rocky around; it's hard to be cranky when you have a warm fuzzy critter snuggling up to you asking for head rubs.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Long time no post

For me, anyway. I have an excuse, I promise! Our stuff has still not arrived from Boston, so we've temporarily relocated to a hotel because frankly, I'm a princess and 4 nights on an air mattress is my limit. So there hasn't been much cooking going on.

I am making psychological progress that is very encouraging to me. For example, I had a lovely experience last night. The SO and I met up with an old, old friend of mine who I haven't seen for 5 or 6 years. She's in SF getting her PhD in neuroscience (yeah, she was the smart one in our group, can ya tell?) We went to a Thai place in Inner Sunset for dinner.

I had Po Tak, which is a mixed seafood soup in a clear chicken/lime spicy broth, as well as a green pumpkin veggie curry I split with the SO. I have lost a decent amount of weight since the last time this friend saw me. From some people, this would elicit some kind of expression of concern. But she just told me I looked great. And she didn't make one crack about me not eating any rice.

Most of my friends are very much like this, but I was curious to see how one I hadn't seen in a long time would react. I'm obviously still a bit defensive, anticipating negative comments. But I also wasn't about to eat the rice as some kind of anticipatory 'see, I'm normal, really!' or order dessert for show. That I consider progress. But I was also reminded I need to give people more credit sometimes, and not let a few bad apples spoil my impression of the lot.

The other bit of progress for me was at lunch on Friday. Where I work, on Fridays everyone in the office eats lunch together. This week, it was sandwiches. Someone was complaining about how heavy they were, and someone else said "you could eat the inside out" and I actually said "yeah, that's what I do." I would NEVER have said that out loud even a few months ago. I would have done it, but I would have been furtive about it (see above: trying to avoid the perception I'm a freak.) I also stole the kale garnish from the sandwich tray to top my meat.

So I'm going to pat myself on the back for the progress I have made in being more comfortable about being open with the way I eat. And I'm going to remember that it can't hurt to give someone the benefit of the doubt until he or she shows me that he or she doesn't deserve it. It's definitely easier on the knees not to be in a defensive crouch all the time.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Dietary Vices

We all have them, whether we give in to them or not. I am one of those who does. It would be disengenous of me to pretend I'm the perfect Paleo/CR chick all the time. I do the best I can, and I think I do pretty well, and I'm happy with that.

I know there are a lot of people who take the all or nothing attitude with eating healthfully--I used to be one of them. Waaaaaaaaay back in the day in my deeply fat phobic phase, I would beat myself up if I had even a small amount of the stuff.

Then I happened on a helpful rule of thumb. Basically, would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself when you screw up? I began to automatically apply that rule to my self criticism, and I decided I should stop being so mean to me. So if I knew I was making a less than ideal choice, did that mean I had blown the whole day? If I had some chocolate at lunch, then I wouldn't have chocolate after dinner. After all, that's what I would tell a friend to do. I wouldn't tell her she was weak and lazy and didn't really want to be healthy.

And I still do that now, because I definitely have some dietary vices. I love how Mark Sisson advocates healthy vices, like dark chocolate, and I agree with him. But I also have some not so healthy vices. And even though I'm most definitely not Catholic, sometimes confession is good for the soul, so here goes:

1) Diet soda, aka Diet Satan: It erodes your teeth and your esophagus, it's full of crap, it's bad bad bad. But it's sweet and fizzy and caffeinated. Sigh. I have cut back on my consumption considerably, but I still fall off the wagon, particularly at movie theaters. Yes, I know plain water is better. Yes, I am trying to switch to seltzer. I'm working on it.

2) Ice cream: this is an occasional treat for me, but I don't think dairy is particularly good for me and I really don't think dairy full of sugar is good for me. And then I see the beautiful curvy bright red Dairy Queen sign and my mind goes blank... Good thing there aren't any near my home.

3) Low carb tortillas: Grain, soy, where do I begin with this? Again, it's an occasional thing, but every once in a while I miss the particular chew that comes with bread products. I justify them to myself because of the low carb content, but I'm a shitty liar and I know I'm full of it.

4) Vodka: I do have the occasional tipple... 'nuff said.

5) Almond M&Ms: only after the vodka. Sigh.

Phew! That feels better. I hope I haven't completely lost my Paleo cred with y'all :) I do always keep my calories consistent, so at least I'm CR'ed if not always ON'ed. I'm not perfect. I just try my best and make my peace with my screw ups--it's a much less stressful life that way.

Kindred Spirits

Part of the reason I started this blog is that my style of eating is not one that has met with widespread approval among real world folks. In the virtual world it is easier to find those people whose dietary philosophies align with my own.*

This morning, my stepfather had a stress echo on his heart (he's fine, it's a routine check up for him) and his cardiologist mentioned that he (the doc, not my stepfather) did the caveman diet. My stepfather told him I did too and the cardiologist got all excited. I'll bet he was feeling the same way I felt when I found all of the wonderful blogs I have found online. It's really nice to find kindred spirits.

One of the marvelous things about San Francisco, particularly since I don't have my kitchen set up yet, is the plethora of good options for us Paleo eaters. Finding even fast(ish) food that contains organic meat and veggies and good fat is surprisingly easy. For example, today I had a takeout soup of roasted chicken and summer squash in a lime/chicken broth with a salad (and lots of healthy oil on the salad). There was even a chicken bone in my soup, which showed they were using... wait for it... REAL CHICKEN instead of that pre fab crap they try to pass off as chicken at some joints (Au Bon Pain, I'm looking at you!).

I'm sure for many people who attempt Paleo, one of the biggest hurdles is what to eat when they're out and about, because frankly, the options out there are not great. For example, the aforementioned and maligned Au Bon Pain does have a sort of decent cobb salad that you can get with or without cheese depending on how Paleo you are. Eating the inside out of sandwiches works well for me, particularly if you get a grilled chicken sandwich. Most places do have olives or nuts for decent fat options. At bars at happy hour I've been known to corral the celery sticks and blue cheese dressing from the wing platter. But it is frustrating, and I feel your pain. There have been times when I have opted to just hold out, because there are literally no options. There are other times when I have peeled the fried coating back to get at least some of the poor abused protein underneath. Not pretty, let me tell you.

Anyway, I think my point, as I meander to it, is that I hope my blog serves the same purpose other paleo and CR blogs have served for me, which is to make those who choose to eat this way, or try to eat this way, feel like they have a community that welcomes them. Some of us are lucky enough to have the support of our families and SOs, but others are not, and particularly for those who lack that real world support, the blogging community can perform a very important role. And besides, I do love getting comments :)

*Not to exclude you vegans/vegetarians/others--I love you all too! We all need to do what is best for ourselves, not what other people tell us to do :)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


At least my Cards were valiant to the end... So now we are established in San Francisco. I know I'm not the first East Coast refugee to say this, but it is stunningly lovely out here. And the food. Oh, the glorious food.

But first, my mother's rib recipe. She boils pork back ribs with onions until mostly cooked, and then slaters them with a homemade barbecue sauce like this one I would make the same but with homemade ketchup a la Mark's Daily Apple and no sugar, but a tablespoon of molasses. In any case, once slathered, they are grilled. HEAVEN. With some grilled veggies it was a feast.

San Francisco is a foodie haven, of course. I only got here last night and I'm already blown away by the quality of the produce around here. I found some lovely crisp asian pears 4/$1.99. They're going for $2/piece in Boston. Last night's dinner was quick and easy, since we're still lacking most of our equipment.

Chicken burgers:
3/4 lb Ground chicken (breast or thigh, whatever you like)
1/2 medium jalapeno, finely diced
1/2 medium onion (100g), finely diced
Salt-to taste
Pepper-to taste
Chili powder-to taste
Romaine leaves
Tomato slices
Avocado slices

Mix together all the ingredients up to and including the seasonings gently and pack into burger shape. Cook in a frying pan at medium to high heat. If you use chicken breast, throw a little fat on the pan, cook for approximatly four minutes each side
or until done. Lay on one half of romaine leaf, top with tomato and avocado slices, fold over other half of romaine leaf to make a bun. Yummy, easy, spicy.

We had that with a side of raw shredded cabbage with a quick vinaigrette (3 parts oil to one part acid, salt, pepper, and enough mustard to make it emulsify, shaken hard in a bottle). We both vastly preferred having home cooking to a restaurant, tired as we were. It amazed both of us how much our tastes have changed since we really started making a concerted effort to eat in a few months ago.

On the long drive out we had beef jerky, almonds, lots of water and iced tea, and the occasional diet soda (I'm working on it :( ). I can't wait to get my kitchen set up and really start exploring the farmers markets here.

Sunday, 1 February 2009


:) So now you know where my loyalties lie. We are in transit from Beantown to the City on the Bay, so posting will be light until Wednesday when we are settled. Currently we're in AZ, hanging with my parents, preparing to cheer on the home team. On the menu-RIBS! Hope you're all having a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Care and feeding of sick SOs

Between getting everything packed up (finally) and the SO's bout with some bug (vibrio, salmonella, rotovirus--hey, it's anyone's guess. I vote vibrio, but only because it sounds cool), I'm only up to a short one today: what to feed nauseous sickies.

I personally am in the camp that if the nauseous sickie does not want to eat, there is no reason to try and shove things down their throats. I am also not perched over the sickie with IV fluids in hand, waiting for the first signs of dehydration. I'm more of the leading the horse to water type. I provide low calorie Gatorade because that's what my sickie requested, and I left it by his beside. When he wanted it, he drank. I know that when someone you love is sick, the instinct is to DO something, anything. And that's a hard instinct to fight.

But I think it causes you and the sickie more stress than necessary if you get into a battle of wills. Just a thought.

If any of you have ever had food poisoning, you know how miserable it can be. Also, how quickly you bounce back. Now, I don't buy the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) for obvious reasons. I do think that bland is best, so my sickie, when he was up to it late last night, had some lean ground turkey mixed with black beans, topped with mild salsa and chopped avocado. When your body has been through a trial, why give it nutritionally devoid carbs when you can give it nutrient packed goodies? I'm happy to say the SO is up and about today (if FAR more suspicious of the meat at the taco joint down the street.)

When I'm sick, I personally love soup (shocker, I know) which is also bland and soothing, but nutritive. I'll bet I recover faster than the saltine eater.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

It's all in our heads...

The adjective convenient, unlike say, horrible or wonderful, generally has a neutral connotation. When I think of things that are convenient, I think of things that are easy to do, that require little stress or effort or energetic output on my part.

Much of our society seems to be structured around making things easier and more convenient. Electricity, cars, indoor plumbing, grocery stores: all designed so it is easier and more convenient to live our lives. True, some things that are designed to make life more convenient have the opposite effect (cell phone customer representatives spring to mind).

Now, I'm certainly not going to bash hot running water or functioning refrigerators. I may believe in Paleo eating, but I'm not going to throw on a loincloth, grab a spear, and take up residence in a field--I don't even like camping with a tent and sleeping bags. And I am certainly not against making food convenient, especially given my love of prechopped frozen spinach :)

What I do have a problem with is the way this mentality of convenience is applied to food, particularly in this country. Convenience seems to mean 'as quickly as possible with no regard to the healthfulness of what is being provided.' I hate the association of food with convenience with a complete disregard for taste beyond an assault of salt, sugar, or both.

I also don't like that convenient means getting your money's worth in giant portions so that manufacturers have to spin their nutrition labels and break down a massive packaged chocolate chip cookie into two servings (because most people stop at half the cookie, right?) to obscure the fact that there are 600 calories in that beast. I hate that convenience food must be food so crammed full of preservatives that cockroaches will be able to munch on the leftovers after a nuclear holocaust. And it's this mentality of food merely being a commodity to be valued at the lowest common denominators of healthfulness and taste that is spreading (check out Living Healthy in the Real World, where there is a fabulous review of a book on this very topic) throughout the globe.

When I was living in France, it was gauche to walk and eat at the same time (I know because I was the recipient of a lot of staring). One did not snack. One took time to prepare proper meals, sit down, and eat them, even if preparing the proper meal was taking the frozen cassoulet you had purchased at Monoprix and heating it in the oven. Taste was important. Portion size was moderated as much by cultural norms as a sense of satiation. It was simply not 'comme il faut' to eat until you groan. I'm not going to pretend the French don't like convenience foods too--but their convenience foods tend to be yogurts and frozen versions of classic dishes and individual portions of grated carrot salad, rather than bags of potato chips. And their portion sizes are still considerably smaller.

Convenience food doesn't have to be the way many American food manufacturers make it now. What if I told you of this fabulous new low calorie product that was individually packaged with organic materials, came chock full of vitamins and nutrients and fiber, and was available NOW in your grocery store?

Interested yet? I'm talking about oranges (and many other fruits). It's all about the spin, baby. In other words, the issue is not that healthy, convenient food is not available to us--it's that we don't view healthy food as convenient. And when someone is tired and stressed and feeling economically stretched, even the perception that healthy=extra effort may be enough to turn people towards sub optimal choices. American food manufacturers help create and sustain that perception because it is good for their bottom line, at the expense of our waistlines.

I feel like we have made great strides in the recent past--how else can we explain the popularity of "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I worry that the economic downturn will lead, however, to a backward slide (note the fact the Spam and McDonalds are resurgent). I don't know how we decouple convenience and nutritional bankruptcy on a large scale, but there must be a way. I think it will have to be a combination of top down (getting our government to be more proactive) and bottom up (actually getting that frozen spinach in peoples' grocery carts). But like I said, I believe the issue is not that we don't have the resources, it's that we lack the mindset.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Diet and Anger

So I'm sure at least some of the people who stop by my blog read the article in the New York Times that referenced the Paleo diet, among other things

The article implied that following the Paleo diet was part of a 'paleofantasy' us modern humans cling to that doesn't reflect the modern society we live in today and further, is built on a shakey and fragmented understanding of how our ancestors lived. I think the author makes a valid scientific point that correlation is not causality, and there may be more than our modern diets to blame for our modern illnesses. The author also agrees that eating a less processed food based diet would probably be better for us.

The author does make many at least seemingly counter Paleo points. For example, the article argues that evolution does not stop, and cites lactose tolerance among modern humans of European dissent, a genetic mutation borne of the evolutionary environment. If I follow correctly, the implication is that we are also now, thanks to evolution, grain tolerant and legume tolerant and generally well adapted now to survive on carbohydrates. Other bloggers have taken up the points made in the NYT piece with vociferous enthusiasm and somewhat expanded and distorted the author's argument to generally attack the Paleo philosophy. Interestingly, at least to my mind, there is genuine nastiness in the dialogue between some of the Paleo camp and some of Paleofantasy camp, mostly arising from the Paleofantasy end.

I'm pretty much a live and let live type. I don't tell other people how and what they should eat, and I don't bash other people's food choices. I'm actually surprised people care enough to really get into it. But now that I've seen some of the points made, I do feel the urge to respond to some of them, if only for my own edification.

1) We don't know what our ancesters ate: True. We can only make educated guesses. And we can back up these guesses with scientific studies that show the efficacy of different ways of eating. And pretty much all the studies I have read that are halfway decently done tend to support the hypothesis that moderating carbohydrates, upping protein, getting good amounts of healthy fats,and eating whole natural minimally processed foods (not whole grains, which are by definition highly processed) is good for us.

2) It is a fallacious assumption that the point to which we evolved 50K years ago is the ideal: Maybe. But isn't it equally fallacious to assume either that we have evolved significantly from that point and that it WASN'T the ideal? I'll take my chances, as you will take yours, with our different approaches. But I don't see how my view can be categorically knocked out.

3) Sugar, high fructose syrup, heck, grains generally aren't bad for us since we make them/grow them ourselves: I respectfully disagree. They are very dense sources of calories with few or no nutrients, especially compared on a calorie for calorie basis with other foods. Just because we have created them doesn't mean they're good for us. Please note I'm evaluating these foods on their NUTRITIVE value. Animals are adapted to consume that which is optimally nutritive for them. On this basis, grains simply cannot match meat, vegetables, fruits, and naturally occuring fats.

4) Different groups of humans have evolved to eat different things, so what works for an African will not necessarily work for an Inuit: again, respectful and qualified disagreement. Masai eat cows and cow blood, Inuits eat whale meat and blubber. But it's all animal protein and fat. And I believe I just named two of the healthiest ethnic groups on the planet when they stick to their customary diets, which are heavily weighted in favour of animal protein and fat. Of course, you can cite the Chinese or the Japanese with higher carbohydrate intake, and I will concede that it is possible that some ethnic groups are more carb tolerant. But even in those groups the carbohydrates are not heavily processed and/or treated in such a way as to minimize their negative effects (e.g. fermenting soy products).

These are only a few points of rebuttal, and they likely won't change anyone's mind. I know that I eat the way I eat for the simple reason that it makes me feel good. I just don't get the anger associated with what people choose to eat and why. In the end, so long as everyone is happy, does it matter? And when did we all become so intolerant of dietary dissent? I generally find that those who react negatively to my food choices tend to take my choices as a repudiation of their own, which is an inaccurate personalization of my diet. Perhaps those who are unhappy with the way I eat are perhaps instead really expressing an unhappiness with themselves.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Fit as a fiddle

As I'm getting ready to move I'm saying goodbye to people I know in the Northeast. This includes my paternal grandparents. My grandmother is 81 and my grandfather will be 90 in a few months. As I was visiting with them yesterday I was struck by how mobile they are, and how lucid, in spite of their advanced ages.

Both my grandfather and my grandmother were quite phyiscally active into their 70s. My grandfather was a tennis champ in his youth, and in his retirement he was a tennis coach for a small college. My grandmother began figure skating in her thirties, a sport she continued into her late 60s, as well as an avid swimmer.

While neither eschewed grains or ate particularly healthfully, they both maintained normal body weights through the course of their adult lives. My grandfather, a former smoker who quit cold turkey in his 50s, has had quadruple bypass surgery. But he's still kicking around now. And my grandmother actually fell down the stairs in her late 70s and didn't break a bone!

My maternal grandparents were farmers. Both died in their 90s. Again, both had perhaps less than the ideal diet (a fair bit of grain) but both also ate a good amount of protein and veggies, and it was often lean, grassfed beef because they were cattle and wheat farmers. They also didn't have access to most processed foods. And they were both very physically active for most of their adult lives. In fact, had my maternal grandfather not been a smoker himself, and developed bad emphysema, he would have had an excellent quality of life even in his 90s.

I feel like I was and am blessed to get to have my grandparents around. And I feel like there are lessons I can learn from their lives. They didn't go to the gym and run on a treadmill for an hour. They did sports that they enjoyed and found relaxing, and they did them not out of a sense of obligation, but a sense of play. And they were all what we would call today intuitive eaters, eating when they were hungry and stopping when full.

But it also strikes me that they have the benefit of good genes. Both of my grandfathers smoked, and they didn't get lung cancer. My paternal grandfather basically has no heart function left, most of his coronary arteries have been blocked for years, and by all rights he should not be running around the way he does. For the love of Pete, people, DON'T SMOKE. Bad, bad stuff those ciggies.

Also, it seems that those genetic conditions that might predispose someone towards obesity aren't present in my genetic code (not that I am incapable of gaining weight, but I seem to top out in a normal range, even eating totally ad lib). So I may not need to eat as carefully as I do, but I would anyway because of how it makes me feel.

So the conclusion I draw from watching my family is both that I'm lucky and that it pays enormous dividends at the end of life to be attentive to your body earlier on (oh yeah, and that my kids will never be tall-the tallest we got on either side is 5'9"; I'm lucky I'm not a dwarf). And that it's much easier to be attentive when you're doing activities you like. We all have to work with what we have, but we are also all capable of maximizing what we have.

Friday, 23 January 2009


We love restaurants. We tend to eat out at least once a week, it mixes things up and we enjoy trying new places. We a have a few favorites that we visit over and over again. Sometimes it is a certain dish, a favorite drink or the combination.

Sometimes I can eat a starter, main and followed by a delish dessert. Other-times I am happy with a hearty main. Before ordering, we have a bit of debate on what we should have, because I tend to go conventional, while she has more elaborate tastes that I end up becoming very interested in, as they usually taste very, very good.

The trick as someone who is often interested in someone's elses food, is to make sure they order something you will like too. But it is pretty easy with her . . .

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Yes, I write down everything I eat

One of the details of my diet I am most paranoid about discussing is the fact that I record everything I eat in a database. Because I am paranoid about it, I figured the ultimate anti-paranoia thing to do would be to blog about it. So, here goes.

I use a freeware program called the CRON-O-Meter. I know some people use SparkPeople or other programs, and some simply write down what they eat. I use the the CRON-O-Meter because I find it to be particularly convenient and user friendly. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I first got into journaling food when I began with CRON. Both elements of CRON, restriction and optimal nutrition, are aided significantly by tracking what you eat. First, most people have no idea what or how much they really eat during the day. I've watched people forget not just nibbles here and there, but whole slabs of lasagna they've had for lunch. Also, people generally have no idea how many calories are in things. Especially when it comes to processed food, things usually have far more calories than people expect. Beyond that, I seriously doubt most people know or care whether or not they're getting their RDAs, even if they are relatively educated and careful about food.

The CRON-O-Meter was an absolute revelation for me. One facet in particular which is very effective as a visual aid is the fact that it shows, in pie chart form, the macronutrient distribution of different foods. Imagine my surprise the day I saw that ~75% of the calories in almonds are from fat, not protein. Or that skim milk has more carbs than protein. Beyond that, I was amazed to see what I was consuming, in what proportions. I can tell you that when I first began paying attention to what I ate, the picture was not pretty. I was eating more than I thought calorie wise, a 60% carb diet when I thought I was getting loads of protein, far too little fat, and my RDAs? Totally hit or miss.

Journaling is helpful to me in many respects. 1) It allows me to track my calories, which is comforting for me because I have the hard visual data to counteract water weight swings on the scale (I know for a fact there is NO way I had put on three pounds over night). 2) It allows me to see that I am getting enough protein and fat, and controlling my carbs-I was fat phobic, as I think a lot of women are, for a long time, and seeing that my weight remained steady even as I upped my fat intake was psychologically important for me. 3) It allows me to ensure I am getting all my vitamins and see my deficiencies. 4) It provides me with data over the long term so I can analyze myself: for example, I was able to link food cravings I had to certain nutrient deficiencies.

Now, journaling is like a game to me. For example, if I'm low in C one meal, I figure out how to add it to the next. Unlike some people, I don't find writing down what I eat to be a huge hassle. It takes me about 10 minutes a day, and for that investment the dividends are hugely rewarding. But I know it looks disordered and anal retentive, hence the insecurity. I hid my journaling from my SO when we first started dating. Luckily, he's an engineer, so when I showed him the CRON-O-Meter, he thought it was cool--it was just a tool for analysis to him, not a symbol of anything else.

I think that if you're interested in improving your nutrition and trying to lose weight, one of the best things you can do is track your food for a week and see what happens. I'll bet you'd be surprised how your diet compares to what your perception of your diet is. I'm not saying journaling like I do is necessary or desirable for everyone, but from personal experience, it is a very useful tool in my toolkit.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A sweet AND a savoury treat

Having had two culinary successes in the last couple of days that the SO has raved about, I feel obliged to share. First, a ridiculously simple, in no way authentic, put-it-on-everything guac:

1 ripe avocado (or more if you're trying to use, say, some of the 10 for $10 you bought in a fit of excitement because avocadoes have been $1.99 a piece lately)
1 small wedge of onion (1/2 oz or 15g), diced finely
1/2 lime (fresh is better, but if all you have is bottled, go for it)
Sriracha to taste
Salt to taste

1. Slice avocado in half. Twist gently to separate halves. Scoop out seedless half with a spoon, gently running the spoon around the edge of the avocado skin. Do the same to the half with the seed. Gently pull the avocado flesh away from the seed. Taste a bit of the avocado now to get a sense of how much salt you want to add.
2. Mash the avocado to the desired level of smoothness with a fork on a cutting board. I like it chunky :)
3. Place the avocado in a bowl. Add the lime juice, onion, Sriracha, and salt. Stir well and arm yourself with a fork to fend off the SO as he comes barging into the kitchen with every intention of eating ALL of your freshly prepared stash.

I actually love to use this mixture, mixed with salsa, as a salad dressing. But I'm weird.

And now, the sweet. Full disclosure: this dessert requires a bit of skill and some artificial sweetener. But sometimes, a girl needs a little fix. So, without further ado, I present broiled figs with sabayon;

6-8 nice plump figs, sliced in half lengthwise
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp butter, melted
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp Marsala wine/spiced rum/another liquor of your choice
1 packet Splenda

1) Turn on oven broiler to low. Place the figs on a baking sheet, cut side up. Mix honey and butter together.
2) Set the bottom half of a double boiler on the stove, filled with water, and boil water. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks together until nice and homogenous. Place the eggs in the top half of the double boiler and with a whisk, begin beating the egg yolks vigorously. The goal of the exercise is to warm the yolks, but NOT to scramble them, so moving them constantly is important. As the yolks get thick and lighter coloured, add the liquor and Splenda. Continue beating until the mixture is pale yellow, at least doubled in volume, and when you raise the whisk, ribbons of egg foam fall from the whisk.
If you don't have a double boiler, you can achieve the same effect by placing the eggs in a glass bowl or metal bowl over a pot of boiling water.
3) Immediately remove the eggs from the heat and pour into a bowl.
4) Slide the figs into the oven and broil until the figs are starting to cook, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven, brush with butter/honey mixture, and return to oven until honey browns lightly. Remove from oven and divide figs onto two plates. Allow the figs to cool for five minutes, spoon the sabayon over the figs and dig in :)

The sabayon recipe works well on any fruit, raw or cooked. In the summer I have it with fresh berries. It also goes very well with poached pears in the winter.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Spinach (a.k.a. confirming my rep as a culinary nerd)

First, let me just say I am working from home today to watch the inauguration. All I can say is Wow. Today is a great day.

And now, on to the spinach. Spinach has had the benefit of at least one free schill, but let's face it, Popeye is a little out of date. I know this because I made a Popeye reference a few days ago to someone about 10 years younger than me, and they thought I was talking about the fast food chain. Yup, I'm looking for gray hairs in the mirror right now.

Now, I know I've made the case for unpopular veggies before, but few actually face the negative press of spinach. Take steakhouses, for example. Apparently, spinach is so unpalatable it needs to be literally drowned in butter and cream to make it tolerable. And I respectfully submit that canned spinach is the ultimate way for parents to guarantee their children will never want to touch a green veggie again.

But last night I was out with the SO and we had a spinach salad that was, in his words, perfection. Delicate baby spinach with goat cheese, slivered almonds, macintosh apple slices and cranberries with a cranberry beer vinaigrette. The fresh bright flavour and delicate chew of the spinach was a great contrast to the crisp apple, soft cranberries, and creamy cheese. And baby spinach is still tough enough to stand up to a heavier dressing.

In fact, baby spinach is an excellent salad green with an assertive, but not aggressive taste and a beautiful rich green colour. But why stop at fresh? After all, anyone who has tried to cook with fresh spinach knows of it's disconcerting habit of shrinking to 1/20 of its original volume in precisely two seconds flat, leaving one cursing the day she didn't listen to her mother and buy four bags instead of two while she serves her spinach dish in miniscule portions to her ten guests. Ok, maybe that's just me. In any case, frozen spinach is a fabulous alternative that has the advantage of already being (ahem) volume reduced. It is the base of one of my favourite quick soups (full disclosure, I stole this from Mary's CRON Diary blog)--pop about 150g of frozen spinach in a microwave for two minutes until nice and hot. Dump it in a blender with some hot chicken broth and 15g feta. Blend (with the lid off and a towel thrown over the top, unless you really like playing hide and seek with little chunks of spinach for months after) until smooth, and enjoy. I usually have to throw the soup back in the microwave for 30 seconds, taking the total production time to about 7 minutes. But you can also throw it in an omelette or toss it with seasonings and stuff a chicken breast or a pork chop with it.

Did I mention frozen spinach is cheap, tastes good, and keeps forever? And I mean seriously, forever. I discovered a bag in my freezer I haven't touched in a year, tried it yesterday, and yup, still good. Oh yeah, and I heard somewhere it had TONS of nutrients in it? For anyone on a budget, monetary OR caloric, spinach is a great deal. Just try it. Grab a bag. It'll be around $1 and I promise you you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Paging Dr. Gupta

You may have heard that Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been discussed as nominee for Surgeon General in the Obama administration. Although there has been a lot of positive feedback regarding this nomination, there has also been a significant amount of criticism about his candidacy.

Despite Dr. Gupta's accomplishments as a practicing neurologist and a White House Fellow in the Clinton Administration, criticism is being made towards his nomination because of his lack of experience in the public health corps. Many believe because he has not worked in the administration, practice and management of public health beyond his WH fellowship, he is not appropriate to lead this part of government.

The Surgeon General is the face of medicine in the United States. With over 50 million Americans uninsured and health care costs increasing yearly, the Obama administration has made universal health care a top priority. My love and I are quite passionate about food, as you can tell by her daily writing, but health in general, is also something we are equally passionate about and we are specifically concerned by the growing issue of obesity within the United States. We believe Dr. Gupta’s experiences as a journalist and ability to explain medicine to the layperson, prepare him to being an influential advocate on issues in nutrition, among others. With that, he has our virtual support.