Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coconut Carrot Pecan Muffins

     Being pregnant has had some strange effects on me.

     As I've mentioned before, prior to my Paleo escapades, I was a hardcore sugar fiend--I pretty much lived off candy for most of my young adulthood (and I have the dental records to prove it).

     See this guy here?

     Yep. That was me.

     Root canals and tooth extractions aside, when I found out I was pregnant, one of my (many) fears was that I was going to be overcome with cravings for sweets and candy again--undoing more than a year's worth of good, clean eating habits. This would not only be bad for my baby, but also threatened to leave me toting a lot more extra pregnancy weight than anticipated--with the added task of building back up my sense of self-discipline in the midst of taking on the stresses of my new role as parent.

     Oddly enough though, nearly 6 months in, the only real cravings I'm having are for carbohydrates. It's not the carb cravings that are odd (those are quite typical during pregnancy)--it's the type of carbs I'm craving. I don't want ice cream, french fries, chocolate, or pizza--Instead, I want starchy sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, acorn squash, butternut squash--and pretty much any other orange, fibrous vegetable I can get my hands on.

     That being said, occasionally I do want something a little sweet, and lately I've realized that my Paleo recipe book is severely lacking in the treats department. While this is sort of a good thing (since the treats realm is sortof a slippery slope for me), it's still nice to have a bit of fresh-baked Paleo comfort food from time to time. So, between my love for orange vegetables and budding desire to create some oven-fresh treats, Coconut Carrot Muffins were born.

     What makes these a little bit different that most other Paleo baked goods is that these muffins are not sweetened with honey, maple syrup, stevia, or agave nectar. Instead, I only used fruit (applesauce and dates) to offer just a subtle hint of barely-there sweetness. I went with dates because, aside from the fact that they taste really good, they also contain a bunch of different nutrients like potassium, b-complex vitamins, iron, magnesium, and fiber--making them one of the healthiest natural sweeteners around.

It's Not My Milkshake that Brings all the Boys to the Yard.
..It's my Coconut Carrot Pecan Muffins
Makes 12
1 1/4 cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
3/4 cup Almond Meal
1 teas. Aluminum-Free Baking Soda
1/2 teas. Sea Salt
1 heaping T Cinnamon
1 cup Baby Carrots, shredded extra fine (I used a food processor for this)
1 single-serving Unsweetened Organic Applesauce Cup
1 teas. Vanilla Extract
2 T Coconut Oil
5 Medjool Dates, pitted
2 Omega-3 Eggs, whisked
Raw Pecans, coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

*Preheat oven to 350*

  • First, combine coconut flakes, almond meal, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl.
  • In a separate, large bowl, mix together carrot and applesauce. Set aside.
  • Next, make a paste out of the dates: In a small glass bowl, put dates + 3 Tablespoons of warm water. Microwave for 30 seconds on high. Mash dates with a fork until they become paste-like, add one more tablespoon of water, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Add coconut oil and vanilla. Mash some more. It should look greasy, sweet, and delicious:

  • Mix the date paste mixture into the carrot/apple bowl, and then mix the dry ingredients in a little bit at a time, followed by the eggs.
  • Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil, then spoon mixture into pan. Top with coarsely crushed pecans.
  • Bake for 19-21 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool in pan for about 15 minutes before trying to get them out. It helps to loosen them around the edges with a butter knife.

Warning: Putting a sock on your hand is not a suitable replacement for an oven mitt. You WILL burn yourself.

A few things about this recipe:

     There's a lot of things you could do to shake this recipe up a bit: You could add extra spices like ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom. Or, you could use walnuts instead of pecans on top--or mix them into the batter (I prefer the slightly toasted taste they get from using them as a topping). You could add some raisins or diced up apple as well, but know that this will affect the sugar content.

    These are really fast and easy to throw together, and aren't crazy bad for you, either. According to my calculations (thank you, Calorie Counter Android app), they only have about 1/3 of the amount of sugar of a Larabar, with less calories. They're actually somewhat dense, too, making them a filling, satisfying snack.

Per Muffin:                       Larabar (Carrot Cake):
171 Calories                       200 Calories
12.7g Fat                            8g Fat
13 Carbs                             32 Carbs
8.6g Sugar                          24g Sugar
3.7g Protein                       3g Protein

       Just add a little bit of protein on the side, and you'll have a well-balanced morsel of goodness to start your day. 

Nummy num!
     I messed with this recipe for three nights trying to get it right. I tried in earnest to go with sweetening them only with applesauce, but when I tasted the prototype, they were pretty bland and didn't really 'hit the spot.' I also experimented with using coconut flour for one batch--even after adding 2 extra eggs, (coconut flour sucks up any liquid you have), they turned out dry and incredibly dense--almost dense to eat (like little muffin paperweights--they probably had way more fiber than anyone should have in one sitting, too). I like coconut flour, and will probably toy around with it in the future, just not with these.

     Anyway, I'm pretty sure I got the final recipe right.

     Members of CrossFit South Hills enjoyed them, at least. :)

     Also, please keep in mind: The fact that it's Paleo means you can eat it and feel good about it--but it doesn't mean you should curl up in front of the TV with a whole tray of them and take the Treats Train to Muffin Town. A Paleo muffin is still a muffin, just like a Paleo cookie is still a cookie. Moderation is key!

     So don't expect a lot of treats from me here--however, I will be presenting a pumpkin muffin recipe in the fall. ;)

    Mmm, orange vegetables. Mmm.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chimichurri - Not Just for the Halibut

     Summer is slowly dying--you can smell it in the air, and the near-deafening evening symphony of crickets singing and locusts screeching in the night. I figure I should try and squeeze in a few more summer meals before fall is officially here, and this recipe has a nice, summery feel to send the season off in style.
     Chimichurri is something I'd never even heard of until I began scouring online recipes sites and cookbooks for new Paleo meal ideas (not to be confused with chimichangas, the deep-fried burritos made popular by the now obsolete Chi-Chi's restaurant chain). Similar in appearance to a pesto, chimichurri is a fresh-tasting Argentinian green sauce that is often used as a topping or marinade for meat and seafood.  It's incredibly simple to prepare, extremly versatile, and only has a few ingredients--Most of which you may already have on-hand.

     For this recipe, I paired the chimichurri with halibut fillets, mini heirloom tomatoes (get them now while they're in season!), onion, and zucchini. The sauce you can make ahead--the flavors come together better when you make it a few hours in advance.

     Since I've never made chimichurri before, I let Epicurious take all of the guesswork out of it for me.

Halibut with Chimichurri and Heirloom Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Onion
(Makes enough sauce for about 4 generous servings)
For the chimichurri:
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 T Water
1 T minced Garlic
1 T minced Shallot
3/4 teas hot Red-Pepper Flakes
3/4 cup chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley
1/2 teas Sea Salt

1/4 teas fresh ground Pepper

For the other stuff (make as much as you see fit): 
Wild-Caught Halibut Filets - You can buy it fresh now (while it's in season), or frozen always works (I had some cubed up halibut from Trader Joe's in my freezer, so I went with that. Having a well-stocked freezer saved me a trip to the store. Woohoo.)
Some Zucchini
Some Mini Heirloom or Grape Tomatoes (The fish must have covered them in the pic, but mine were a mix of yellow, orange, and purple tomatoes.)
Some Onion
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive Oil

 It's like the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese..Except without all the sweaty kids!

  • For the Chimichurri: I'm sure there's some fancy way to do this--Epicurious said to whisk the ingredients by hand, but I just threw them in the food processor and got the job done fast.
  • Transfer to a small container and let the flavors get to know each other a little bit.
         (Pause for reflective Bob Ross moment.)

  • For the fish, I drizzled a small amount of olive oil on it, then seasoned it with a bit of salt, pepper, and a pinch of extra-finely diced shallots that I had leftover from the chimichurri.
  • If you plan to grill your fish, get your grill preheated to medium-high (or preheat your oven if you're doing the broiling thing) 
  • Cut up the zucchini into small slices, cut the heirloom tomatoes in half (here is a neat way to do this), and chop the onion into little square shaped chunks. Everything should be about the same size.
  • Toss the onion and zucchini in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil on medium-high, stirring often. Wait a couple of minutes and toss the tomatoes in, too. You may want to add salt, pepper, or a little bit of seasoning here (if you do, try and choose something that complements the flavors of the chimichurri, keeping in mind that it has a lot of flavor itself).
  • Place fish on well-oiled grill grate and cook for about 8-9 mins (mine was in pieces so I wrapped it in aluminum foil and stuck it on the grill for about 7-8 minutes) - until it is white and flakey. If you're broiling, you want to let it cook for about 7-8 mins, or until it looks done.
  • Meanwhile, back in the skillet, continue stirring the veggies until they are softened and ready to eat. Everything should finish up around the same time. We had ours over some fresh baby spinach, with the fish on top, followed by a few spoonfuls of chimichurri. It was quite tasty.

A few things about this recipe: 
     This is a very flavorful, distinctly piquant dish (with the chimichurri, a little goes a long way, so keep that in mind when you're plating up)..and by flavorful I mean: Garlic. Onion. Parsley. Lemon. Olive Oil. Halibut. An elegant polygamy of different tastes, which may not suit everyone's palate (however, I post this with confidence knowing that most Paleo people will enjoy it, particularly for it's simplicity and fresh taste).
     There are lots of variations of chimichurri out there though--some use vinegar, some use some other herbs, and some use a mix of cilantro and parsley, or even just all cilantro. Play to your own tastes - If you don't like garlic so much, cut the amount back from the start and add from there. Any version you'll find can be labeled as "Paleo" though, which makes it a definite winner in my book.

     It's usually served at room temperature, but can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

     It's also worth noting that halibut is a mild white fish--I like it here because it is a good canvas for the chimichurri to work its magic. You can also use other fish, shrimp, chicken, pork, steak (especially skirt steak or flank steak), or over vegetables - Or use the chimichurri as a marinade rather than a topping.

     This is a good recipe to play around with, is budget-friendly, and a great way to make use of ingredients you already have laying around (notice a theme here?)

     If you have any other decent chimichurri recipes or wind up with your own variation of this one, post it here!

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Primal Stuffed Peppers: Breakfast Edition

         I don't know what it is about them, but I have always found stuffed peppers to be incredibly appetizing. When I was younger, my Italian Grandma used to make stuffed peppers (the kind with rice and meat, covered in sauce) and they were one of my top favorite home-cooked meals. Now that I'm older, and no longer eat rice, I still relish the concept of using a pepper as a receptacle for tasty goodness--except these days, I've been finding more creative things to stuff them with.

         Recently I've been in a bit of a breakfast rut, growing bored with eating omelettes and scrambles every day. Don't get me wrong--I love my eggs in the morning..I just thought I would try something new to spice things up a bit. Lately, my fascination with stuffed peppers left me certain that stuffing a pepper full of eggs and meat was simply the right thing to do.

    Primal Stuffed (Sorta Spicy) Breakfast Peppers
    Makes 3 generous servings - 2 Pepper Halves Each

    6 Bell Peppers, sliced in half, lengthwise, and hollowed out. I did red, orange, and yellow, for a pretty rainbow of colors. Er. I mean. Because they have more vitamins and stuff.
    5 Omega-3 eggs
    2 Spicy Italian Chicken Sausages (I got mine at Trader Joe's, but you can get other brands of natural/organic chicken sausages at large grocery stores and Whole Foods. These ones came 4 in a pack, and were sort of big--if using a sausage that that comes in a pack of 5, use three sausages.)
    2 T Diced White Onion
    1/4 c. Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade (also from Trader Joe's. If you don't have a TJ's nearby, you could substitute diced red peppers and jarred artichokes--I used the pre-made stuff to cut back on time. Salsa would probably also work pretty well. The idea is to give it a warm, saucey vibe.)

    *Preheat oven to 350.*

    Before I get started, I always like to peel the casings off the sausage. No real reason--I just don't like them. To do this, cut each sausage lengthwise, almost in half, but not quite (the casing will be the only thing connecting the two halves). Place it cut-sides-down on a cutting board, and from the top, pull the skin down and off. It will look something like a used condom. Throw it away.

    Now you're ready to go.
    • Break sausage up into smaller pieces and put in a food processor. Pulse until the sausage is crumbled, like cooked ground meat. You can also do this with a blender. Or, if you're feeling spry, chop it extra-super-finely with a knife (this is how I used to do it, back when my kitchen setup was about as primal as my diet. Thank goodness for advances in technology).
    • Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Pour the crumbled sausage in, and stir it around a bit. Add onions and tapenade. Stir some more.
    • In a separate bowl, whisk eggs together. Once sausage begins to brown ever-so-slightly, add eggs and mix it around with a big spoon. Let the eggs cook for about a minute, then start scooping the sausage egg mixture into the hollowed out peppers. (The eggs will be very runny still--don't worry, they will cook the rest of the way in the oven.)
    • Place pepper halves in a roasting or cake pan lightly greased with olive oil.
    • Stick in oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until eggs are cooked all the way (you can tell by pushing you finger at the top of one--it should feel somewhat firm. If it still feels giggly, it's not done yet.)
    • Remove from oven and serve. I prefer to eat mine topped with salsa--but diced, canned tomatoes would probably be good too.

    A few words about this recipe:
         Hot damn, these were delicious. Mike used expletives in describing how good they were--which means they definitely got two thumbs up--and he didn't even get to sample them fresh.  His were day-afters, reheated.
         The total cooking time can seem a bit daunting, especially if you don't have a lot of time in the morning. However, these come together pretty quickly and most of their journey to awesomeness is spent in the oven, so the actual work time/effort is minimal. They'll stay good in the fridge for at least a few days--so if you make a batch on, say, a Sunday, you won't have to worry about breakfast until later in the week.

         They are totally portable, and great for when you're on-the-go. I mean, what's better than a small, edible plate brimming with meat?

         Anyway, there's a million different ways you could spice up this recipe. You could try other varieties of chicken sausage (or skip the chicken sausage and just go for regular chicken. Or ground beef--ground beef with taco seasoning would probably be amazing. Like a little Paleo breakfast taco), or, mix other vegetables in with the eggs to keep things interesting. Or, line the pepper with cooked bacon before adding the sausage/egg mixture (that's a little more involved, but something tells me it would TOTALLY be worth it.)
         If you go with chicken sausages though, be sure to read the label because they're all different, and some contain some not-so-natural ingredients. I chose these ones in particular because they contained so few ingredients, and no sugar:

         Me likey that.

        Sometime next week I'll post another stuffed pepper recipe I came up with: Shrimp-Stuffed Peppers with Walnuts and Mirepoix Vegetables (just a fancy way of saying celery, carrot, and onion.)
        It will be delightful.

        In the meantime, check out this link detailing some of the health benefits of eggs, including information about choline (found in the yoke), a nutrient that is good for fetal brain and memory development, among other things.

         Try this recipe, or put your own spin on it? Let me know how it turns out!

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Primal Kitchen Chaos - Minus the Kitchen: Day 2

         Day two of my Paleo weekend started in typical Me fashion: Rolled out of bed a little later than I wanted to, grabbed a quick shower, tripped around the room clumsily getting dressed, and then scrambled around trying and gather my study materials for my certification. A master procrastinator by trade, I didn't print out my study guide, or even glance over it prior to this particular morning. And, of course, when I went to print it out in the hotel room, our printer ran out of ink.

         Breakfast needed to happen, and it needed to happen fast. With no time to be picky, we settled for a little 24-hour diner a few blocks from our hotel. Trying to put together a Paleo breakfast is probably the easiest part of the day:  Avoid french toast, waffles, and pancakes (unless they're Paleo pancakes--which you'd be hard-pressed to find in a restaurant--but we'll be covering soon), and stick with eggs (preferably an omelette to squeeze some veggies in) and a couple strips of bacon, and you'll be golden. I went with a 'vegetarian omelette": 3 eggs scrambled with peppers, onion, mushrooms, and tomato (without cheese), plus some bacon-y goodness on the side.

         When my food came, it was accompanied by a pile of greasy potato shavings, which I promptly slid off my plate onto my coffee saucer. Restaurant breakfasts always come with bread and potatoes attached to them--Normally I try to ask for a substitute like a fruit cup or steamed veggies, but this was a no-nonsense, gritty diner. Our waitress was an older lady named Marge who faintly smelled like cigarettes and looked like she had a rough night.  I didn't want to mess with her, so I politely accepted the meal as it was written on the menu.

         From there we sped off to Crossfit King of Prussia, which is about 25 minutes outside of the city. Got in, got registered, and got ready to learn some stuff. Things were going fine until about an hour into it, I started feeling like the Sandman drop-kicked me in the face. You see, prior to my pregnancy, I was a 2-pots-of-coffee-a-day kind of girl. Now, subsisting only on the tiny precious bits of trace caffeine found in a cup of decaf, my energy is frequently flagging (which is compounded threefold by that whole I'm-making-a-person-inside-of-me thing). I needed a pick-me-up, so I reached in my bag and ate a few slices of apple. I've read before that an apple will wake you up as much as a cup of coffee (likely because of the fructose), and I was feeling pretty desperate. It did the trick though, and before I knew it, it was time to get up and start going through some of the Crossfit movement demonstrations, which were sure to keep me awake the rest of the day.

         Lunch rolled around eventually, and I tucked into a corner with my little brown lunch satchel and dug in. Surrounded by my CrossFit brethren, it felt strange (yet incredibly awesome) to be among like-minded people who were tearing into similar tasty Paleo vittles--meat, jerky, nuts, fruits, and veggies. There was a vending machine that had Paleokits and Larabars in it, and the awesome people hosting the certification had a selection of fresh-made Paleo edibles (sliced avocado, turkey lettuce wraps, and a few other things) available for purchase. I was seriously in awe. I got no strange looks as I casually dipped the previous night's leftover Thai chicken in my coconut almond butter (oddly delicious), and no one around me was eating anything from any of the local fast food restaurants. It was glorious.
          I ate the remaining portion of my apple, and a handful each of my cherries and blueberries before heading back to my seat.
         The lecture continued on after lunch, where my nagging pregnant appetite had me digging for snacks again an hour later. I had a little packet of dried fruit and nuts, and it quieted my hunger pangs for the remaining duration of the lecture. As soon as the learning part wrapped up, it was time for the painful part--i.e. the workout.

    *Cue ominous music*


        Yep. I did Fran.

        That's all I have to say about that.

        That pretty much marked the end of my first day at the Cert., and I shuffled to the car in a post-WOD haze, collapsing in the passenger seat, sweaty and exhausted. On the way home Mike and I shared some more of the jerky we'd bought, and once back in the room, I ate a few celery sticks with almond butter to hold me over until dinner. So far, all of my eating was right on track.

         This night we had big plans for dinner--a trip to my most favorite restaurant in the world, Fogo de Chao. Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian steakhouse--and, if you've never been to one, it basically goes something like this: a bunch of guys in silly pants run around the restaurant with giant skewers of meat, slicing you off some whenever you have your green "go" card showing. When you don't want anymore meat, you just flip to the red "no" side.

         There is no cap on meat. You can eat as much as you want.
         It is pretty much the best thing ever.

         We started off somewhat light, each getting a small salad from the salad bar with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette, along with some giant, stalky pieces of asparagus that looked like something Paul Bunyan would eat.
         Then the carnivory ensued: Top sirloin, bottom sirloin, filet mignon, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, pork, lamb--they had it all. I stuck with mostly lean cuts of meat, knowing there was no way in hell any of this was grass-fed. My mental limit was something in the neighborhood of 10 ounces of meat--I may have gone over a little bit. It was hard to keep track.
          But really. Who can say No to unlimited servings of cooked-to-perfection filet mignon??
         Not this girl, that's for damn sure.

         I managed to avoid the mashed potatoes that came with the meal, and rejected the little cheesy balls of puffy golden dough sadly peeking out from the bread basket.

    I couldn't resist trying the sauteed bananas they brought though--they were quite orgasmic..and I don't even really like bananas.

         On our way out of the restaurant, I snagged an extra slice of bacon from the salad bar (the baby made me do it), and we headed back to the hotel again.

        And then it struck.

        Out of nowhere, despite the copious amounts of meat I'd just eaten, I was hit with the strongest, most powerful desire to eat something sweet and horribly un-Paleo. What to do, what to do?
        I could:
        a.) resist the urge and go home and go to bed.
        b.) give into the urge and get it out of my system.

        Under the dizzying spell of fierce sugary cravings, I decided to give in.


        Yeah, I know. I'm a horrible person.

         The truth is, I hardly ever choose Option B. Most of the time, I find a Paleo substitute to abate my hunger (like berries or a piece of fruit), and go on about my day. But we were in a different city, I'd been pretty on-target all weekend thus far, and I did Fran today for God's sake. I did Fran pregnant. I deserved to treat myself.
         There, I said it:

         I hate thinking of straying from the Paleo diet as "cheating." The word "cheating" evokes feelings of shame and self-loathing, making you feel like you're about to do (or did) something dirty. You cheat on your taxes. Your Trig exam. Your girlfriend. These are things to feel bad about. In this case though, I wanted an indulgence--not something I give myself every day, or even every week--and I wasn't going to beat myself up about it. I wanted sticky sweet, ooey gooey goodness. And I was bound and determined to get it.

         If you don't know me personally, it's worth mentioning that my determination literally knows no bounds. It can be a double-edged sword at times, because once I get something stuck in my head, I will not rest until it is mine. We walked around Philly for the good part of an hour, missing ice cream shops here and there by mere minutes of them closing their doors for the night. A normal person would've probably given up, taking it as a sign.
         But no, not me.
         I was a pregnant girl on a mission.

         We eventually found our way back toward the hotel, on the brink of giving up on my sugary fantasy, when we saw that Ruby Tuesday was still open. Knowing that every chain restaurant has a dessert menu full of scandalously delicious treats, we entered. I helped myself to a giant chocolate chip blondie with ice cream, smothered in chocolate and caramel, and it was heaven in my mouth. I savored every last bite of it without an ounce of guilt.
        The fact that I hardly ever treat myself like this made it extra-specially satisfying.
        Leaving only a few crumbs and a small dollop of melting ice cream on the plate, the savage sugar beast inside of me tamed and lulled to sleep, we went back to our hotel and crawled into bed.

        Another day of Crossfitting goodness awaited, I needed all the rest I could get.

    So what did I learn that day?

    1.) If you need a quick, non-caffeinated pick-me-up, an apple is a decent, short-term solution.
    2.) For the most part, members of the CrossFit community have their heads on straight when it comes to nutrition.
    3.) Meat is awesome. Then again, I already knew that.
    4.) It's ok to give in to cravings from time to time. Please don't misinterpret this post as me giving the green light to dive in and say Yes every time you feel the urge to go on a sugar bender. I think it's important to try your best to stay on track, but acknowledge that sometimes, life warrants a little indulgence--and it shouldn't be something you should beat yourself up over (unless, maybe, you're doing the Whole30, The 21-Day Sugar Detox, or something along those lines--those programs are designed to be extra strict to detoxify and heal your body--but even then, don't fall into a pit of despair--or give up completely--if you wind up 'slipping up.')

        For other people struggling to adjust to the lifestyle, Mark Sisson has a really good piece of advice he refers to as the "80/20 principle": Basically, if you strive to give it your best 100% of the time, odds are, most often, in a realistic world,  you'll stay on track about 80% of the time. Don't feel like a total disgrace about about the other 20%, or abandon the plan--just acknowledge your weaknesses, tackle them one by one, and continue trying.

          It's when the ratio gets to be something like 60/40, or when you give into cravings whenever they strike, that you may need to step back and reevaluate/refocus your goals, and decide whether or not to prioritize a little better. You determine your own level of commitment, and need to find the best way to make it work for YOU. Eating Primal/Paleo isn't an all or nothing deal. If you're content to only be 60% Paleo, and you are happy with how you feel, look, and perform, then that's awesome. 60% Paleo is better than 0% Paleo.

         You get out of it what you put in--and no one ever said it would always be easy. Eating whole, real food makes you feel better from the inside out--and it shows in every avenue of your life. You will experience greater athletic performance, mental focus and clarity, effortless weight loss and maintenance, less pain and inflammation, and better overall health, the closer you stick to the Paleo lifestyle. Yes, it is difficult at times. And yes, it beckons a lot of commitment. But what it doesn't do, is demand that you stress and obsess over everything you put in your mouth. That is not living! When "Paleo" starts becoming synonymous with "neurotic," you really need to step outside of the situation and reassess your relationship with food..and yourself.

        Robb Wolf and The Paleo police aren't going to cascade down from the ceiling from grappling hooks to cart you off to Paleo Jail if they catch you eating a slice of pizza.

        Paleo is a lifestyle, yes--and it WILL make your life better--but it shouldn't be your whole life.

        And that's all I'm going to say about that (for now, at least).

        *After writing all of this I found these couple posts by the Whole9, which are definitely worth sharing:

         Stay tuned for Day 3, where I'll share more of our weekend food shenanigans, and offer up some more menu deciphering tips to help take some of the guesswork out of ordering Paleo when out on the road.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    "I Can't Believe It's Not Hummus"

         There have been many times since I began my foray into Paleo living that I have thrown my fist to the sky in anger, crying out, "DAMN YOU LECTINS! DAMN YOOOUUU!", but one particular food that has had me cursing the insidious Leaky Gut gods even more than peanut butter and soy was--hummus.

         Oh man, I used to freaking love hummus. Not only was it awesome in (now-forbidden) wraps and with pita bread, it also helped make raw vegetables more palatable and tasty chunks of meat even tastier on their way to my stomach. But since hummus is traditionally made with chickpeas, a legume, it has since been exiled from my food repertoire.

         But why? They're just chickpeas, right?

         Sure, they seem harmless enough, but like other beans and legumes (as well as grains and dairy), they contain lectins (appropriately described as "the cloaked thugs of the anti-nutrient underworld"), which are indigestible proteins found in plants that attach themselves to the lower intestine, causing a really unpleasant inflammatory response and a whole litany of bowel issues (enter auto-immune and other diseases, and the impending threat of leptin resistance). In short, lectins are bad news. If you really wanna get down and dirty with it (it's actually pretty ickily fascinating stuff), just google "lectins and inflammation" and "leptin resistance", or check out some of the handy links at the bottom of this page.

         Enough talk of leaky guts and bowel distress--lets get back to the main topic here. Hummus.

         I've spent many nights (well, maybe like, two) frustratedly scouring the internets for a proper Paleo substitute for hummus, and found there were basically two alternatives: one popular option is to make hummus using zucchini in place of chickpeas (Son of Grok and the The Label Says Paleo had some good ones for this), and another version, especially popular among the raw food community, uses cashews instead of chickpeas (Whole9 did their own take on this recently as well). Both versions are suitable replacements, and both taste distinctive and delicious--yet, for me, the zucchini one missed the mark a little bit, and the cashew one, while very tasty, seemed a bit too fat-dense for me (since the main ingredients are cashews, tahini, and olive oil)..not such a good idea for someone like me who used to sit down with a pile of veggies and kill half a container of Sabra's.

          My idea was to marry the basic concepts of each, using both zucchini and nuts--using the zucchini to cut back of the amount of fat slightly without taking away from the hummus-like taste (not that I mind fat, but I wanted to attempt to balance it out a little better). In addtion, for my version, I opted to use macadamia nuts instead of cashews, since they have a slightly better nutritional profile than cashews (mac nuts have a really small amount of Omega-6's compared to other nuts, and there's something special about them that helps lower cholesterol. Woo!)

         And, well, I just thought I'd try something a little different.

         A few of the Paleo recipes I found online left you with almost a quart of hummus, which, even for someone like me who loves hummus, is a bit much. This particular recipe will leave you with a small container (about a cup and half?), roughly the same size as one you'd find at the grocery store.

         So, here we are.

    Paleo Hummus Version 1.0
    Or, as my sister-in-law called it, "I Can't Believe it's Not Hummus."
     -Roasted Red Pepper on the Left, "Original" on the Right-

    1 3/4 cup Zucchini (approximately half a 'decent-sized' one), peeled and cut into smaller pieces
    1/2 cup raw, unsalted Macadamia Nuts
    2 T Tahini
    2 T Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
    2 1/2 teas. Lemon Juice
    1+ cloves of Garlic (I used one big ass clove, but you may need several smaller cloves to suit your tastes)
    1 teas. Sea Salt
    1 slightly rounded teas. Cumin
    Dash of Cayenne Pepper
    Paprika to garnish, if you're into that sort of thing.

    Optional Add-Ins: Roasted Red Peppers, Pine Nuts, Artichokes, Sun-Dried Tomato, Black or Kalamata Olives, etc.

    This one is pretty simple.

    You ready?
    • Put all ingredients into a food processor (I just used a blender).
    • Blend until smooth and creamy.

         Yeah, it took me a few go 'rounds with this recipe to get the proportions right, but I tested it out on several people, and everyone agreed that yes, it actually tastes like real hummus, not some hummus imposter. Woot, I say.

    Now, a few things about this recipe:

         Everyone's taste is different. Some people may want more lemon/cumin/tahini/whatever, so use this recipe as a starting point and make adjustments as you see fit. It's always best to start with less and add from there--you can always add something to a recipe, but you can't pull it out once it's mixed in.
         Also, for variations (like in the picture above), blend other things in with the other ingredients. Roasted Red Pepper used to be my favorite flavor variety of the store bought stuff, so I just took a few jarred roasted red peppers in water and tossed them into the mix. You can also add things like pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, or olives of some sort. If you like it spicy, add some more cayenne or red pepper flakes to give it more of a kick.

    This stuff is great with raw veggies (score!), and goes well with chicken/turkey too.


         You can try these awesome Sunflower & Sesame crackers I found on Girl Gone Primal's blog (also pimped by Mark Sisson). They are too easy not to make. These nutty little crackers really hit the I-want-something-chip-like spot, and are definitely worth a try. They even passed the Outsider Edibility Test--both my Non-Paleo brother and sister-in-law both thought they were really tasty.
         (Also, if you're interested, check the Girl Gone Primal link above for a quick primer on how and why you may want to soak your seeds first.)

    Sunflower Sesame Crackers w/ Italian Herbs

    1 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
    1 cup of sesame seeds
    1/3 cup water
    Mrs. Dash Italian Medley Seasoning Blend
    Salt to taste, if desired
    • In food processor, grind down the sunflower seeds until they look like a heavy flour (similar to almond meal, but a little thicker. It should take a couple minutes.)
    • Add sesame seeds and pulse a few times (don't reduce the seeds to dust, just pulse enough to get them mixed in evenly)
    • Slowly add water and stir, making a sort of seedy dough. If the dough seems too dry, just add a little bit more water.
    • Shake a few dashes of Mrs. Dash (heh) and salt, and mix until evenly distributed. Give it a quick taste and see if it's right. Add more as needed.
    • Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll out as thinly as possible.
    • Remove top sheet of parchment paper and put the bottom piece of parchment with the rolled out dough on a baking sheet. Use a pizza cutter or knife to score the crackers into the size you want.
    • Bake for 20 mins at 350, or until crackers turn golden and crispy and delicious looking.

    A few words about this recipe:

         I chose to add Mrs. Dash because she's my homegirl, but these are fine without it as well. Play around with these a little--add whatever seasonings you like, or experiment with different nuts.

         I made these today and it was a lot harder typing out how to make them than it actually was throwing them together. My oven is currently out of commission, so I made them at my brother and sister-in-law's house where I learned a very important lesson about food processors (I don't own one myself): Food processor blades are very sharp. Don't stick your hand down in there to loosen things up with your fingers. You WILL cut yourself.

    Thanks for letting me mess up your kitchen, guys!

    And for anyone who may be curious, here is the Fitday nutrition breakdown of the hummus, if you make it as written:

    (Keep in mind that is for the whole recipe, not each serving. Portion accordingly.)

    Extra Linky Goodness:
    Mark's Daily Apple - The Lowdown on Lectins
    Mark's Daily Apple - Leptin
    Mark's Daily Apple - Further Adventures with Leptin
    Agrarian Diet and Diseases of Affluence – Do Evolutionary Novel Dietary Lectins Cause Leptin Resistance?
    Lectins: Their Damaging Role in Intestinal Health, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Weight Loss

    Have some zucchini and red peppers leftover?
    Throw it in a skillet with a couple eggs and some (also leftover) cooked chicken for a quick, easy breakfast!

    I <3 leftovers.

    Stay posted for Day 2 of my Paleo weekend excursion, coming up soon. :)


    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Primal Kitchen Chaos - Minus the Kitchen: Day 1

         So last weekend we had a lot going on--Mike and I trekked out to Philadelphia so I could get my CrossFit Level 1 Certification.  I figured this would be an excellent opportunity to put my primal tactics into practice, considering the facts that:
    a.) We were going to be spending about 10 hours in the car between the trips there and back.
    b.) We were going to be in a place where we wouldn't have access to any of our own cooking methods.
    c.) I was going to need some sort of healthy snackery to have at my certification, which ran from 9am-5:30pm Saturday and Sunday (since Mike was dropping me off there, and I wouldn't be able to drive myself to get anything).

          On top of that was the whole I'm-Pregnant thing, which wound up presenting it's own unique little set of challenges along the way. Ah, pregnancy cravings.

         Having a rough map of what the weekend was going to entail, I made a (very) quick (last minute) trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on everything I thought we'd need to get us through the weekend (well, for the most part. I assumed we were probably going to be eating breakfast and dinner in a restaurant, but wanted to make sure we had enough to sustain us for the time in between those two meals, and the car rides there and back).

         I purchased 2 oranges, 2 organic apples, 5 bags of jerky (4 turkey, 1 organic beef), one container each of organic rainier cherries, sweet cherries, and blueberries, a jar of almond butter, and two bags of single-serving nut/dried fruit packs. I also had some organic celery at the house, which I included as well.

        The main idea here was to be totally, if not overly, prepared. Who knew what kind of cravings were going to strike over the course of the next couple of days?

        The jerky I selected was not entirely Paleo (thanks to a small amount of sugar and soy sauce), but I wanted something that would last the weekend, would not need to be kept cold or heated, and was a not-so-messy, eat-while-driving type snack--this stuff fit the bill, and was way better than any jerky I'd be finding in any convenience store, which are usually packed with sodium, preservatives, and other weird ingredients, like 'hydrolyzed corn protein'. (I should probably add that a longer road trip may have warranted something a little more substantial, like actual meat of some sort--but we weren't driving cross-country. Just across the state.)

         I took the time to pit the cherries, and cut up the apples (which I sprinkled with cinnamon), oranges, and celery, putting each in a ziploc bag. I wanted everything to be totally grabable for ultimate snackability.

    Protein: Check
    Produce: Check.

    I also included a little container of jazzed up almond butter I threw together:

    Creamy Almond Butter
    Coconut Butter
    Ground Flaxseed

         I don't do measurements here, but it is pretty much a few giant spoonfuls of almond butter, with a couple spoonfuls of coconut butter. A little bit of flaxseed is added to enhance the texture, making it a little less sticky--I usually shake in a little bit at a time until it tastes the way I like it, and use a tiny dab of honey to give it a note of subtle sweetness.

    Sweet nutty fix: Check.

       ..and also had the little bags of mixed nuts.

    Not-so-sweet nutty fix: Check.

        So why fruit and no vegetables besides celery? Well, this was a personal preference. I'm not really a fan of raw veggies unless I have something to dip them in (some old, non-Paleo habits die hard). I am currently fine-tuning some of my own Paleo hummus though, which I'm hoping will solve that little problem for me. I'll be posting that as soon as I get it up to post-worthy standards. I usually eat a ton of vegetables, so I wasn't too worried about it.

         We also packed several bottles of water. This should be a given.

    Hydration Fix: Check.

        Anyway, with all of our bases covered and packed neatly inside a nice little travel cooler, early Friday afternoon we set out on the road. Realizing we were going to be eating a lot of Paleo snack foods over the 3-day weekend, we figured we should stop and squeeze in one quick, substantial meal before we really got moving. We found an Eat n' Park on the way, whose menu includes several healthy choices (like plain grilled chicken, salmon, pork, eggs, salads, steamed veggies, and fresh fruit). I was in the mood for breakfast so I stuck with a good Paleo breakfast staple: The omelette.

         I chose the 3-egg Western omelette with no cheese, and bacon on the side. In place of my breakfast potato, I opted for a fruit cup.

         The car ride wasn't a terribly long one, but me being pregnant meant that we had to stop a few times along the way for bathroom breaks and to stretch out my legs (since being in the car for so long isn't great for circulation). Pit stops usually mean rest stops. Rest stops usually have fast food joints or convenience stores. These are breeding grounds for temptation, with aisles of snack chips, candy, and the wafting smell of Big Macs threatening to derail even the best laid Paleo plans. Knowing that we had everything we needed with us meant that we didn't need to even stop to look around these places--which made staying on track a whole lot easier.

        Over the course of the 4.5 hour car ride, we stopped twice and bought nothing except gas. Between the two of us, we ate one bag of jerky, one pack of nuts, and one apple.

        By the time we got to Philly and got changed and ready to go out, our appetites were blazing. We wandered around on foot trying to find a decent spot for about an hour (passing over numerous Italian restaurants and pizza shops), before deciding on Jon's Bar and Grille on South Street. As far as Paleo dining is concerned, any place that says "Grille" is generally a safe bet.

        On their list of appetizers, they had Thai chicken skewers, which were pretty much just skewers of grilled chicken with a thai peanut sauce (which we didn't really use. Peanuts Bad!).

         Considering the carnivorous plans we had in store for the following night (steak madness!), for my entree, I ordered a chicken wrap with tomato, onion, sauteed spinach, and guacamole...but without the wrap. It was pretty tasty, and, along with the chicken skewers, left me comfortably satiated. There were still a couple of chicken skewers leftover, so I took them to go, figuring they'd be good to have for lunch the next day at my cert.

        There was a Michael Jackson impersonator making his way about South Street as we left the restaurant causing traffic jams and a crazy amount of commotion. This has nothing to do with food, but it was funny nonetheless.

        With Day 1 wrapped up nicely, we headed back to the hotel.

    Stuff I learned about Paleo traveling:

    1.) Be prepared. Proper planning (even last minute planning) is the key to Paleo success. Be sure to pack some source of protein, some produce, some fats, and water.
    2.) Have a variety of choices to suit your needs and keep cravings at bay.
    3.) Make foods accessible for in-the-car (or on-the-plane) consumption.
    4.) Eat a real meal before you set out, to eradicate the need to stop for food.
    5.) If you do eat out, choose restaurants wisely - Many post their menu outside. Check it out BEFORE you go in and sit down. Look for places that serve grilled meat/fish and include fresh vegetables on their menu. If all you see is 'fried this' or 'batter-dipped that', skip it and look elsewhere.

    Stay tuned to find out how the rest of the (Drama! Suspense! Meat!) weekend went.