Archive for ‘Food For Thought’

September 24, 2014

A Very Long Run and My Paleo Power Smoothie

Sunday I had another 20-miler on the schedule and decided to reverse my usual route to avoid getting caught in the climate change march.  Perhaps to underscore the theme of the demonstration, the weather had turned unseasonably muggy and I was eager to get an early start.  

My run started with a loop of Central Park, then south along the Hudson River Greenway, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and up to Prospect Park. The uphill climb from the bridge was a bit of a slog, but when I got to Prospect I felt like a new person. I was at 17 miles at that point, and I decided to run the full loop and finished on the uphill, just for added fun. I was about 2 miles from home when I finished, but my legs still felt pretty good and I decided to keep running the rest of the way. I have to say that cutting the ‘unknown’ mileage on race day from 6 miles to 4 seems huge psychologically. We’re T minus four weeks to Baltimore, and I think I’m actually more excited than scared.

Now for the smoothie that fueled all those miles… My go-to recipe has evolved and over the years I’ve tweaked it to really optimize for long run fueling. The basis is black cherries, which have amazing anti-inflammatory properties.  The anthocyanins they contain protect connective tissue and may actually be more effective than aspirin as a pain reliever.  A few years ago I started using peach instead of banana for a little sweetness, as it’s lower in sugar and also high in potassium.  I recently replaced whey protein with gelatin, which has been getting lots of play in paleo circles recently.   In addition to providing about 6g protein per tablespoon, gelatin also protects joints and aids digestion.  The ginger root has been my latest tweak, both for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as its stomach-settling abilities.  For the liquid component I usually go with almond milk, but depending on your run pace and ability to digest fat on a run, you can swap in coconut milk.

I know there are a million paleo smoothie ideas out there, but I think this is worth adding to the mix:

Modernist Cavegirl’s Paleo Long Run Smoothie

1/3 – 1/2 cup frozen black cherries

1/3 -1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1/4 of one frozen peach, sliced

1/4 cup full-fat yogurt (if you abstain from dairy, throw in more peach for texture)

1 tbsp gelatin

~1/4″ – 1/2″ grated ginger root (I keep it in the freezer)

1/2 – 3/4 cup coconut or almond milk

Throw the ingredients through ginger root into a blender with about half of the coconut or almond milk.  Slowly blend, adding more liquid until desired consistency is reached.

 

 

April 11, 2012

More Press on the Dangers of Sugar

Runner’s World has been staunchly pushing high-carb diets for runners for years. I was pleasantly surprised to find this in my RW email tonight.

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April 2, 2012

Food for Thought: Bubbling Away

Last week I got curious about the GAPS diet, as it kept popping up on a lot of Paleo blogs.  After doing some reading I concluded that, while I can give up many things from my diet, alcohol and dark chocolate are not among them.  Still, I liked some of the ideas behind GAPS.  It got me interested in probiotics, which was an aspect of Paleo that I had never really explored.  Undeniably, cultured foods were a staple in the human diet until very recently.  Fermentation provided a means to preserve the harvest, prevent spoilage, and in some cases, provided an enjoyable side effects.  Aside from these obvious advantages, fermented foods were also providing more subtle improvements to human health. In Probiotic Foods for Good Health, Beatrice Trum Hunter details a wide range of studies showing that the addition of yogurt to the diet can improve not only digestive function, but also boost immune response (without promoting inflammation), reduce incidence of rotovirus and  rhinovirus infections, and lessen the effects of both food sensitivities and nasal allergies.  The presence of lactic acid in the diet also appears to inhibit cholesterol production in the liver.  The bacteria responsible for lacto-fermentation help to break down proteins and sugars in the gut, making nutrients more bio-available.  The mechanisms behind this process are fascinating, though I’ll leave it to those with a biology background that runs deeper than 7.013.

Kilty Pleasure Scotch Ale

I’ve actually been making my own yogurt for years, and, while not strictly Paleo, I’ve also dabbled in home brewing for a while too.  Outside of these, though my only real experience with making fermented foods was my dad’s experiment with sauerkraut one summer, of which I was not a fan.  As a friend one said to me, “I love the idea of homemade sauerkraut, but I’m not sure I could eat anything made by someone willing to ferment cabbage in their home.”  Still, I was intrigued enough to try some DIY, and after some blog surfing, I came across this recipe for cultured strawberry applesauce.  I de-stemmed, cored, pureed, and waited.  When I opened the jar after about 36 hours, it smelled vaguely like sourdough, which seemed like a good sign.  I’m notoriously paranoid about food safety, though, and I was a little concerned that the wrong bacteria might have multiplied and be lurking to kill me.  I tried a teaspoon, which was delicious–applesauce with lovely strawberry overtones and a delightfully sour note.  After another 8 hours and no obvious adverse affects, I tried a tablespoon.  The next day I ramped it up to a quarter cup, after which I decided it was safe.  I also decided that I needed to read something that assessed the safety of what I was doing, so as not to drive myself crazy. I ordered Wild Fermentation and started reading. Putting the long history of fermented foods in context helped assuage my worries, and the multitude of recipes in the book had me hooked.  I decided that kimchi would be the next project, and today I got it underway.

I have no idea how spicy this first batch will turn out, but I’m of the general opinion that kimchi can never be too hot.  I assembled one head of Napa cabbage, a nice chunk of ginger, some radishes, a carrot, one jalapeno, four serranos, and two habenero peppers.  The cabbage got a rough chop and went in a pot to soak in some brine with the sliced carrot and radish for a few hours.  I then made the remaining peppers and ginger into a paste in the food processor.  After the cabbage and friends were done soaking I poured off the brine, reserving it, and combined it with the spice mixture.  I then jammed all of it into a jar and topped it off with the brine.

I used another jar to weigh everything down and keep the veggies submerged in the brine.  I covered the whole thing with some cheesecloth to keep the dust off and tucked it into a dark corner of the kitchen.  If all goes well, in a week or so, I should have some kickin’ kimchi, and I’ve got big plans for it…  Stay tuned.

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March 21, 2012

Food for Thought: Lunch for a Week in 30 Minutes

Since going Paleo I started packing a salad for lunch every day.  It’s quick to prepare, doesn’t require waiting for the microwave in the kitchen at work, and it also guarantees that by midday I’ve put a big dent in my veggie requirements.  It’s easy to get in a salad rut, though, and I like to mix up my proteins and fats throughout the week.  In the past year I’ve gotten a system down where I can prepare everything I need for a week’s worth of salads in about half an hour, and still eat something different every day.  I still often mix it up with dinner leftovers or a special lunch if I have extra time during the week to prepare something, but this guarantees that there will be  a healthy Paleo lunch option waiting in the fridge every morning–no excuses!

Every week I make sure the pantry is stocked with a few cans of wild-caught salmon and tuna.  (I also keep a few in my desk drawer at work in case of emergency.)  I also buy a pound of organic greens and package of organic, free-range chicken tenders every week.  (Buying full breasts would be more cost-effective, but this post is all about convenience.)  On my designated cooking day, I usually prepare three sauces or dry rubs.  My favorites are blackening spice rub, Asian marinade, barbecue sauce,  Mexican dry rub, and Buffalo sauce.  For the sauces and rubs that I use most often, I usually make a larger batch and store it for a few weeks’ of meals, further streamlining the process.  I also like to keep the “accessories” on hand: some roasted red peppers, pine nuts, sesame seeds, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, etc, which I can quickly throw in to build up the salad.  Leftover veggies from last night’s dinner are also an excellent resource.

Once you’ve prepared your seasonings of choice, take a pair of poultry shears and cut the chicken tenders into bite-sized pieces.  Divide them among the seasonings and stir to coat.  If you have time, you can marinate the chicken for 15 minutes to a few hours, or you can get right to it.  At this point you have two choices.  If you’re feeling particularly lazy, preheat the oven to 400° and grease up a baking sheet.  If  you have a little more time and energy, heat your fat of choice in a saute pan over medium heat.  If you opt for the oven, spread the chicken pieces into a single layer, keeping the different seasonings separate.  They should take between 10-15 minutes to cook through.  If I’m going with the oven method, I often take the opportunity to crisp up some turkey bacon at the same time (we are kosher-Paleo here at the Cavegirl) for additional salad garnishment options.

The advantage of using the saute pan is that you can tailor your fats to the complement the flavors of the seasonings you’ve chosen.  (If you work from the lightest flavors to the heaviest and spiciest, you can even skip rinsing the pan in between.)  Assuming your batches are around 3-5 tenders each, they shouldn’t take more than 7 or 8 minutes to cook through.

While the chicken is cooking, I make up some dressings.  For the seasonings listed above, I find I can get by with a citrus and a soy-ginger vinaigrette, though I like to keep a good commercial ranch around to pair with the spicier preparations.  There are some wonderful Paleo dressing recipes here, and I encourage you to try varying combinations.  When the chicken is done and cooled, I package it up into serving-sized portions and either freeze it or keep it at the ready in the fridge.

I am not a morning person, so I like things to be as simple as possible when I’m getting ready for work.  At that point, all I have to do is portion out my greens, select a protein, and throw in whatever extras I want.  The dressing goes in a little container on the side, and I’m out the door.  Between the different chicken seasonings and the canned fish at the ready, I find I can come up with a variety of salads from just a few ingredients.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages, but as this has become more and more routine, it also seemed less and less post-worthy.  It’s an incredibly simple preparation of already simple ingredients.  I think it’s worthwhile, though, because half the battle of successfully going Paleo is having some simple, go-to meals at the ready, especially in the beginning. Cooking ahead is a great solution, but it’s no fun eating the same thing for a week.  I always found that I was much more tempted to cheat when I was bored or in a rut with my meals.  And while salad every day doesn’t seem all that exciting on the surface, I find a little window dressing can go a long way.  As always, experiment, and see what works for you.

January 26, 2012

Paleo on a Budget: The Freezer Project

As I was cruising the Best Books of 2011 lists that have come out in the past few weeks I came across a recommendation for Wildly Affordable Organic by Linda Watson.  The book grew out her experiences taking  The Foodstamp Challenge to see if she could feed her family healthy, organic food on a food stamp budget, then $5.49 per person, per day in her home state of North Carolina.  Having noticed how much more expensive (and heavier) my grocery bags have become since going paleo, my curiosity was piqued.  One click and a few days later I was the proud owner of a copy.

The first thing to note about the book is that Watson is a vegetarian, so if you’re hoping for secrets to buying and storing free range meats affordably, look elsewhere.  Her reliance on pasta and vegetables for most meals goes a long way in stretching her budget, making the sample menus and recipes included largely unsuitable for paleo tables.  Still, she does offer great information about how to freeze and store nearly any fruit or vegetable.  Much of this will be familiar territory for the farmers’ market set, but there are plenty of good ideas and inspiration to go around. 

For my own part, I really rethought my freezer situation after reading Watson’s book.  In general, my approach has been to view the freezer as storage for my frozen veggies and the last-ditch repository for any leftovers that have been sitting in my fridge for a week and no longer interest me.  My freezer is also rather small and has no shelf, so the result is a cold, jumbled mess where things disappear for months until they eventually fall out and hit me on the foot. If I’m lucky, it’s a bag of broccoli.  If I’m not, it’s a frozen turkey breast.  Watson, on the other hand, advocates a tidy system in which everything is stored and stacked in labeled Zip-Loc bags with the air removed by means of a straw.  While this utopian view of an organized freezer totally hooked me, I could not reasonably imagine myself dutifully sucking air out of bags with a drinking straw, particularly when raw meat was involved.  Back to Amazon I went and ordered a vacuum sealer and a supply of bags.  I also hit Home Depot and picked up a small wire shelf (the type used for stacking plates in a cupboard), preparing to implement a two-tier system for organization. 

A few days later, the vacuum sealer arrived, and I found myself simultaneously excited to execute my grand freezer plans, and moderately ashamed of that excitement.  Stage one was to empty everything out, identify what I could and throw out what I could not. 

Here's the Before...

There were plenty of pre-paleo purchases still languishing in the back of the freezer, along with many Zip-Loc bags full of what appeared to be snow balls.  After weeding through everything, categorizing into animal, vegetable, or unidentifiable, I began the process of repacking and stacking.  I plugged in the vacuum sealer and went to work.  I had chosen the Rival model based on the Amazon reviews, which at $40 seemed like a good investment.  It’s a compact machine and turned out to be quite easy to use.  After about 20 minutes I had managed to get all of the longer-term storage items repackaged and sealed and was debating putting my Han Solo action figure into Carbonite freeze.

  

As I see it, there are two big advantages to the freezer project.  First, I won’t lose nearly as much food to freezer burn, which should save considerable money and frustration.  Second, I can repackage food into single-serving units, eliminating the problem of having to defrost 3 days’ of chicken thighs at once.  I’ve always tried to freeze food so that it wouldn’t stick together in a big lump, but inevitably something in the freezer would shift and I’d be left with a big mass of turkey burgers.

The real bonus, as I realized a few days later, is guacamole.  Guacamole, elixir of the gods, is really one of the great casualties of living alone.  There’s just no good reason to make guac for one.  Until now, that is.  I can whip up a batch, vacuum seal it, and eat it for days.  In the same vein, it occurred to me that I can also take apple slices for snacking on the plane without worrying about them turning brown.  I also made a batch of Elana’s Paleo Gingersnaps, now safely packed and stale-proofed for shipment to the Caveboy.

...and the After

Part of me feels like a vacuum sealer shouldn’t improve my quality of life this much, but then anything that facilitates ready availability of guacamole is worth serious consideration.

December 18, 2011

Food For Thought: A Guide to Going Paleo

As promised, my first order of business in the Food for Thought series is assembling a Cavegirl’s guide to going Paleo.  When I first undertook the transition I was overwhelmed with the amount and breadth of the information out there.  After all, Paleo isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle, and there was a lot to figure out at first.  It was easy to get lost in the nuances of nut milk production and dead lifting.  Almost a year later I’ve read a lot, experimented, and have more or less figured out what works for me.  It’s an ongoing process, but I think it’s important to focus on the big picture and figure out the smaller stuff as you go.

 

A Top 5 List for Going Paleo Without Going Crazy

First of all, you’re here reading about going Paleo, and that’s the first giant leap in the right direction.  You’ve most likely already learned some of the health benefits of making the transition to a more primal lifestyle, so I’ll jump right into the how-to.  There is a great deal written about the finer points of Paleo-style living, but here are the main ones you need to worry about first:

1. Eliminate processed foods from your diet.  The rule of thumb is that if your great-grandmother, or better yet a cave person, wouldn’t recognize something as food, don’t eat it.

2. Include generous servings of quality meats and fats in your meals.  For many of us who were trying to make healthy choices by eating  vegetarian or diets with minimal animal products, you may have to to reintroduce meat back into your diet slowly.

3. Strive to make as many of your produce and meat choices organic as you can.  There are ways to be strategic about this without breaking the bank, and I’ll cover that in another post.  In general, though, I tend to follow the food chain rule: The higher a food source is on the food chain, the more important it is to go organic.

4. Exercise.  As you may have realized by now, I’m a runner, which many proponents of primal living would disapprove of.  Personally, I believe the jury is still out on “chronic cardio,” but regardless, do what works.  It’s more important that you find an activity you enjoy than that you do the perfect regimen on of something you hate.  Most workouts can be adjusted to be more Primal, but worry about that later.

5. Relax.  You will not be perfect at this.  Don’t stress too much over the finer points as you’re making the transition to Paleo.  If you make it a goal to replace processed snack foods with fruits, you’re making a significant positive change.  There’s no need to worry about the glycemic index of apples versus peaches for now.

 

Required Reading

Now, if you’re still with me, fantastic.  You’ve got the basics and now you want to learn more.  The Paleo community is wide, welcoming, and enthusiastic, and there are a ton of resources on the web.  Before we get there, though, I think it’s helpful to get your bearings with a good solid overview of the science and nutrition that drive the Paleo philosophy.

If you’re only going to read one book on the subject, I would recommend The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.  It’s very clear and concise, and does a great job presenting the big picture.

For those who don’t mind a little more homework, my next choice would beThe Paleo Diet, or The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain.  These books get more into detail on nutritional science, and the Paleo Diet for Athletes is a great guide for those who choose to pursue endurance sports while cutting their carb consumption.

Other helpful reads include Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and Real Food by Nina Planck.  Though neither of these is strictly Paleo, both explore why the fat myths are wrong and are excellent choices if you’re still worried about ignoring the conventional wisdom on healthy diets.

 

Paleo in the Kitchen

Now that you’re on board, where can you find recipes to get you started?  I would argue that the first source can be the cookbooks you already own.  Many standard recipes can be made more primal by choosing organic meat and produce and though simple substitutions.  There are also a few staples your Paleo kitchen should not be without.  When you make your first primal shopping trip, try to pick up the following:

Coconut oil

Coconut milk

Almond flour

Real butter, if you’re including dairy (Kerry Gold is my favorite)

A selection of unsalted (or lightly salted) nuts

Free range Omega-3 eggs

 

These will take you a long way in making your cooking more Paleo.  Almond flour can be used for breading chicken and fish, and also for the occasional baked treat.  Coconut oil is healthy and affordable fat for cooking.  Coconut milk can be used in smoothies, as a dairy substitute, and to make delicious Thai-inspired Paleo dishes. 🙂  There are plenty more ingredients that could go on this list, but I believe these make a good starting point.  I’ll do a later post on Paleo cookbooks and the many recipe sources available on the web, but I want to emphasize that the transition need not be a complete overhaul.  You can still make many of your favorite recipes and it will be a lot easier if you don’t jump into kale smoothies on Day 1.

 

I’m sure there are many more great books and sources out there, so if anyone has any suggestions for titles and links that should be included here, please let me know.  Good Luck!

 

 

December 18, 2011

Thoughts on a New Feature

I saw an issue of Oprah’s magazine at the gym this week, and the cover promised, “Change Your Relationship with Food–Forever!”  That title stopped me in my tracks. I made the transition to Paleo almost a year ago, and in that time I can’t remember thinking about my relationship with food once.  In fact, even terming it a relationship would seem to infuse the situation with a lot of emotional baggage that seems less than helpful.  Seeing the magazine got me thinking about the outrage I felt when I first realized that pretty much everything I had ever been taught about food was wrong.  I started reading everything I could find  on nutrition and decided pretty quickly that the Paleo approach just seemed like good sense.  Still, I was overwhelmed with discussions of anti-nutrients, entire rants for and against almond milk, and trying to decide whether sweet potatoes were acceptable or would ultimately kill me.

A year later, I’m still not totally clear on any of those things, but I feel like I’ve taken giant steps in the right direction.  (And for the record, I had almond milk in my smoothie yesterday and baked sweet potatoes with dinner tonight.) Eliminating most of the processed crap I was eating and switching to organic foods where possible have been big , but surprisingly easy changes to make.  I’ve also been pleased to see more and more studies validating the salubrity of Paleo and traditional foods.  Still, making the transition can be a little scary–first you find out that everything you’ve been doing ‘right’ is wrong and suddenly you’re confronted with navigating the nuances of grass-fed versus grass-finished beef.  In an effort to ease the transition (even for those of us who have been at it for a while), I’ve decided to start what I hope will be a weekly feature here at the Cavegirl–Food for Thought.  I’ll be posting on studies that might be of interest to the Paleo community, along with other links and stories that  seem relevant.  Stay with me and we’ll see how it goes.  For now, I’ll leave you with this food for thought:

A slideshow of The Most Over-the-Top Fast Foods of 2011

A study on the effectiveness of intermittent low-carb diets for weight loss and disease prevention