On Food and Self Acceptance for the New Year

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Check out this post from Feeding My Boychick. Here’s a quote:

“I will continue to feed myself as best I know how. I will accept myself exactly as I am. I will eat foods I enjoy, that nourish me, that fuel me, that fill me. I will be gentle with myself regardless of what I put in my body.”

While I am currently thrilled with the elimination-style Paleo diet I’ve been following, I strive to focus on how much agency and choice I have without falling into habit of categorizing foods as “good” or “bad”. Even “more healthy” or “less healthy”.

I’ll write more in the coming weeks about why I am currently making the food choices I am, and let me tell you this: It is not about ideal body composition, weight loss, optimal performance, or any of the other reasons people often give for a paleo diet. For me, it is about health care, not having access to health insurance, and having some significant health issues that I need to manage long term (increasing insulin resistance, chronic inflammation). I haven’t yet reintroduced non-Paleo foods (sweeteners, grains, legumes, dairy). As I do, I plan to be gentle with myself, non-judgmental, and observant about how the foods I eat affect my body, and then I will enjoy and savor every food I eat, regardless of it’s Paleo status.

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Wintery Local Breakfast: Salsa-poached Eggs on a Bed of Greens

One concern I’ve had about the paleo diet is how hard it is to get local produce in the winter, and produce makes up at least 50% of what I am eating everyday. This morning, I relied on my teammate The Farmboy’s,  foresight this fall to make us a delicious breakfast that was 100% local. Beginning with the fat we cooked with: Lard, lovingly rendered from a friend’s humanely raised and organically fed pigs this fall. Then eggs from a local farm, salsa we canned in the height of tomato season with produce from the farm The Farmboy works on, and kale that was harvested, blanched, then frozen in the late fall. Best of all, it only took a few minutes to prepare, and if you didn’t preserve your own salsa, lard, and kale this fall, you can easily substitue fresh! Here’s how:

Salsa Poached Eggs on a Bed of Greens, serves 2, less than 15 min. cook time

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. lard (or ghee, coconut oil, or bacon fat)

2 c. blanched, frozen kale or 1 bunch fresh kale, sliced

4 eggs (look for eggs with bright, deep orange yolks and thick shells)

1 c. salsa (homemade or store bought)

  1. Over medium heat, melt 1/2 the lard (or other fat) in a medium cast iron skillet (or whatever pan you usually use). Add the kale (could substitute any dark, leafy green), and cook until thoroughly heated through (for frozen) or tender (for fresh), 4-7 minutes. Add a teaspoon or two of water to the skillet of the kale seems to be drying out, the stem will help it cook quickly. Put the cooked greens into bowls.
  2. In the same skillet, melt the rest of the oil and then heat the salsa to simmering, adjusting the heat to keep it hot but not boiling.
  3. Crack the eggs into the simmering salsa, and cover with a lid. Wait patiently for 3-6 minutes until the whites are set to your liking, then spoon out two eggs and half the salsa onto each waiting bed of greens. Eat up!

We noticed the eggs cooked this way gave a silky texture that made the whole meal seem rich, like we had melted cheese into it or something. Delicious!

Bone Broth! (Or: How to Make everything More Delicious and Nutritious)

Bone broth is a precious resource in our household. I first started making it about six years ago when I discovered Nourishing Traditions and the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Bone broth is like any other broth in that it adds flavor. But through the magic of a long, slow simmer and the addition of a bit of vinegar, it becomes a mineral-rich nutritional powerhouse with bio-available calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. ImageThe cartilage and tendons break down and provide gut-soothing and joint-healing nutrients like collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulphates. Not only is it super healthy for your whole body, but it supports a sustainable diet by using parts of the animals we eat that most people discard.

Because it requires some planning, I have to admit that I don’t always use it as much as I’d like to. It is so worth the effort! 

  1. Get yourself some bones! I use chicken, lamb, beef, venison, elk- whatever I have on hand. I prefer bones that have joints, as the collagen makes the broth silky, gelatinous, and that much more nutritious. How much? However much you have, at the minimum enough to fill your stockpot half way full. One chicken carcass or a couple of pounds of other bones should be a nice start. If you get really into bone broth, you can get a really big stock pot and make large batches for freezing or canning later.
  2. Roast the bones for flavor. This is an optional step, but browning the meaty bones in the oven adds a richer, deeper flavor. Line a baking sheet or two with your beautiful bones, turn your oven to 400 degrees, and bakes until roasty (30-45 minutes should do it, every oven is different, and so are different kinds of bones). Bonus: If you roasted a whole chicken, and then use the bones from that to make your broth, you will already have done this step plus gotten to eat a beautiful meal!
  3. Put the bones in the pot.
  4. Cover them with water. Make sure there is a few inches of water above the bones so that the broth can reduce without uncovering the bones. 
  5. Add some sea salt or kosher salt– how much varies depending on your taste and how much water/bones you use. I usually pour some in my hand and toss it in, I’m guessing 1 Tbsp. for a 4 quart pot with a chicken carcass in it.
  6. Add some vinegar. Not much. 1-2 tsp. for a 4 quart pot, 1-2 Tbsp. for a big pot. The vinegar helps extract the minerals in the bones. You can actually tell the difference at the end of simmering if you forgot to add the vinegar, because instead of soft, crumbly, lacy-textured bones, you end up with hard bones that don’t seem much different than what you started with. 
  7. Bring the whole thing to a slow simmer. Do not boil your broth! It breaks down the collagen and makes it taste less clear later. It may take some fine tuning to find the right heat level for your stove/pot combo, but it is worth your effort. 
  8. Simmer covered, for 6-24  hours. Check it periodically to make sure the bones are covered. If they aren’t you can add some boiling water from your kettle, just enough to submerge them. You can reduce the broth near the end of cooking time to make a more concentrated broth that will gel up when cold by uncovering it and letting the steam evaporate. Simmer chicken for less time (12 hours should do it), other bones for longer. 
  9. Cool down, then strain. I like to let the broth cool enough so it won’t burn me if it splatters when I pour. You can use a fine-mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth to strain it into a large bowl or pot. Make sure you don’t overflow the container you are pouring into and lose your broth!
  10. Store it. Use a ladle and a wide mouth funnel to pour into canning jars for storing in the fridge, freezing, or canning. If freezing, be sure to cool completely in the fridge before freezing and leave at least 1″ of headspace to allow the liquid to expand once frozen. It will keep 4-6 days in the fridge. If you can it, follow directions from a trusted resource like Stocking Up, and use a pressure canner. 
  11. Use it! Add it to soups, sauces, use it to deglaze a pan, put a few spoonfuls into sautes. Drink a warm cup of it, seasoned lightly with sliced scallions, julienned carrots, some slivered kale, and a bit of salt to taste. Substitute it in savory baking for other liquids. If you eat grains or beans, cook in broth instead of water (but omit salt in your broth if you want to use it for beans, and soak grains and beans first in water to neutralize phytates!). 

If you prefer more concise bone broth directions with measured amounts of ingredients you can look at Broth is Beautiful or this Balanced Bites recipe, and both links have great info in them as well!  

Note: I don’t add veggies or herbs because I think the long simmer muddies up the flavor you would be trying to add. If I want to add that kind of flavor, I add veggies and aromatics in the last hour or two of cooking, or saute the veggies I want to eat and then deglaze the pan with bone broth to create a layered flavor.

Book Review: Well Fed

ImageAt first glance, I was annoyed by Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat. I’m not totally sure why, and I bought despite my reservations. I think maybe it was the perkiness of author Melissa Joulwan. Or possibly the richly detailed photographs (I often want more content, less visual pop), or the fact that there were recipes that seemed incredibly basic (as in, why did I spend money on a recipe for cooked ground beef?). Or maybe it was just me being cranky. Probably just me being cranky.

Anyway, I take it back. I love the cookbook. I own dozens of cookbooks. I have read thousands of recipes. What’s more I have cooked from scratch nearly everyday for the last 20 years (ever since I went vegetarian at the tender age of 10, but that’s another story). So, while I am not a chef, I am a damn good cook and pride myself in being able to tell if recipes will be good by glancing at them and in not really needing recipes to whip up tasty meals.

Well Fed is an excellent cookbook. Everything my family has tried from this book has been beyond good- it’s been delicious. We’ve gotten rave reviews from non-paleo friends and family who’ve been lucky enough to be standing by when we’ve prepared the Italian Sausage and Eggplant Strata, or the Bora Bora Fireballs. (Who would’ve imagined meatballs would be so good with pineapple and coconut? We substituted wild-caught elk mixed with pasture-raised  rendered lard for the ground pork… yum!) Image

While I heart all the recipes I’ve tried, I do make modifications. One, many recipes include a microwave as a tool. Lots of folks probably don’t mind saving the mess and time, but somehow, I can’t stand integrating a microwave into my cooking. I resent microwaves and only recently have conceded to reheating food in them, and only then when there is no stove option. So I adjust, and steam or saute or melt on the stovetop ingredients that are microwaved in the original recipes.

I also don’t use prepackaged broth, so where it calls for broth, I either substitute some homemade bone broth or count on the caramelizing and deglazing to build enough flavor, and it has worked beautifully so far. There are other ingredient substitutions I make , as well, usually just based on what I do or don’t have on hand.

Whether you’ve got mad kitchen skills or you are still learning to slice and dice, there is yummy and doable food in this book for you. Melissa’s formula for Hot Plates will help folks who struggle with last-minute meals. I appreciate the way she offers multiple variations on her recipes, increasing the mileage the cook can get out of the book and helping people become more imaginative and creative in the kitchen. The verdict: Totally worth the dough I spent on it. It made being paleo more fun this month! And food should be fun.

Why Sustainable Paleo?

I’m new to eating a paleo diet. However, I am not new to eating healthful, whole foods in season and as local as possible! My teammate in life is an aspiring farmer, and his efforts have brought us to live on five different homesteads/farms over the past several years. We preserve the harvest, too: canning, freezing, lacto-fermenting, and drying. I grew up as a child of Minneapolis’ local foods and cooperative grocery movement. I even got in trouble my first day of 1st grade for “terrorizing” the other students- apparently I told them that the bananas they were eating with blue oval stickers  were poison (my mom’s reason for never buying bananas with stickers at the regular market).  For ten years, I have called my relationship to local, fresh foods my “health insurance policy”.

All this healthy eating still left me feeling blah, struggling with eating more sugar and refined foods than I wanted (though far less than average americans). So I looked to some friends who were trying a paleo diet, and discovering they had more energy! less body aches! they felt great! and then read “It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. I decided to try the Whole30, their version of a 30-day elimination diet that targets reducing inflammation. I’m only a little over half-way through my first Whole30, and it has some ups and downs, but I can see this may be a more permanent shift in how I eat.

Which brings me to my dilemma: How do I eat this much meat, eggs, and fish in a sustainable way? How do I eat the volume of veggies it will take to fill a paleo plate through the winter without buying produce from California (or New Zealand, or Chile, or wherever)? Can I do it? And most of all: Is it possible eat this way and stay sane? I guess we’ll find out together, here.