The Low Down

The human body is a metabolic marvel comprised of dozens of little systems connecting to create one complex system. Food is the fuel, the input, for the systems. Our metabolic machinery evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to function optimally on select fuels. These fuels were the original, Primal foods of the human organism. Over these hundreds of thousands of years our Big Game Hunting, small prey capturing, scavenging, foraging, gathering, opportunistic ancestors accumulated experience and wisdom about nourishing themselves. The learned to preserve and predigest foods to maximize the quality of their metabolic fuel. Eventually they learned to cook foods without destroying the important nourishing properties of the food, and then they learned to heal the human body with food. Only recently in the human evolutionary experience, have we abandoned all these hundreds of thousands of years of accumulated epicurean genius. Now we fuel our marvelous, complex metabolic machinery with crap invented to create profits for agribusiness. We have become dumb eaters. As we regain our eating intelligence it doesn't make sense to move back to the savannah and put out our fires or climb into our cave and pretend there is a glacier next door. It makes sense to fuel our bodies with all the primal human foodstuffs, prepared and preserved with accumulated ancestral wisdom and served up for the undeniable desires of the human taste buds. Primal, paleolithic food choices, handled according to ancient food ways resulting in outrageously good food.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Hampshire HOPS

"Uses of Hops

Hops are perhaps best known for their use as a bitter agent in brewing beer. But hops also are a nerve sedative and hormonal agent. Because they promote stomach secretions, bitter herbs are good digestive tonics. The bitter principles in hops are particularly useful for indigestion aggravated by stress or insufficient stomach acid and for gassiness and sour burping. Research has shown that hops also may help the body metabolize natural toxins, such as those produced by bacteria.

Hops contain plant estrogens, and women who harvest hops flowers for an extended time sometimes develop menstrual-cycle abnormalities. Its estrogenic constituents make this plant useful in treating menopausal complaints, such as insomnia and hot flashes.

You also may use hops for anxiety and nervous complaints or for indigestion and cramps resulting from anxiety. Use the tincture or tea before bed if you experience insomnia."

As I have mentioned many times, this whole life-in-the-desert gig is a little weird to me. I like greenery, plants, dramatic seasons and my farm girls!! Last summer when I got to New Hampshire I was welcomed with homebrewed beer. Not made from ingredients purchased on line. My former neighbor and Sister Mama, Shannon (with her awesome chef/husband Andy), is one of those people who sees wild hops growing on the roadside, stops, harvests, and brews beer.
Like all plants (you heard me, all plants), Hops has some issues. Hops is extremely estrogenic (like our natural Paleo-life enemy soybeans). This, of course, is ironic since beer is so "manly". We could speculate all day why this relationship developed. Some believe the European governments/religions mandated the inclusion of Hops in beer to reduce the sexual drive in men!!! Tell that to the creators of TV beer ads.

The description above, from an herbal practitioner, talks about the power of hops. This is a plant that we need to treat with respect. Insomnia, mentrual irregularities and digestive issues. I love that my Farm Girl/Sister Mama Shannon can see and feel the presence of a plant like hops growing on the roadside.

Plants like hops can have a place in our lives if we understand the ability of the plant to effect our body. Shannon's brew felt nourishing and deeply delicious to me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Not in the Mood for a Mess

I love fish, but hate cooking it in the house. The smell and the messy cooking pans are just not enjoyable for me. I cook it outside on the charcoal grill. Same for steak. Outside is better. We needed something easy for lunches this week. Second to last week of school for the kiddos and it seems busier than usual. Decided on Fish Salad Verde. Although it is true that cutting vegetables initiates their deterioration and loss of vitamins, I occasionally pre-cut things if I know the week will be busy. This Sunday I chopped a green cabbage, 5 baby zucchini and a bunch of cilantro. I wedged a couple limes too and bought some salsa verde. Store the vegetables separately so that they retain their individual flavor. I grilled two packages of tilapia. As long as you get the grate of the grill super hot before you put the fish on, and you don't try to flip the fillets until they are a little browned on the side, you don't need to add any oil. I avoid brushing the fish with oil because I don't really want to eat extra grilled polyunsaturated oil. After I took the fish off the grill I sprinkled it with cumin, Mexican oregano and lime juice before putting it away.
It is really easy not to just throw a handful of the vegetables, a piece of fish and a lime wedge into a travel container with a spoonful of salsa verde. If you are looking for some extra fat, avocado is delicious on this!

Monday, April 18, 2011


A green love note for all the Coaches at CrossFit Works. Ingredients for their own Green Smoothie.
Met with a certain amount of skepticism by certain people who verified that it all goes in the blender together...and, yes, you drink it. Less work than chewing up those interminable salads!
Many athletes and people who begin a fitness or training program wonder about what they should eat to aid in their recovery. People start talking about proteins or carbohydrates or purchase expensive powdered mixes or consume corn syrup in artificial coloring-filled “sports drinks”. Many performance oriented folks are very savvy about clean protein with a high percentage of their carbohydrates post workout. We can talk about branch chain amino acids and creatine and all those useful things. It is rare to hear mention of green vegetables in a conversation about sports recovery. Isn’t post-workout nutrition the one place where green vegetables don’t matter? Afraid not. Greens are especially meaningful in these days of increasing heat and profuse sweating.
Let's not let your stereotype of the yoga/juice bar crowd prevent us from developing a close relationship with the green smoothie for recovery. In fact we can even learn a little bit from some old school "doping"...soda doping. Athletes involved in high intensity, anaerobic sports have been shown, clinically, to improve speed by ingesting baking soda. Baking soda is a powerfully alkalinizing substance which is thought to assist performance by increasing the rate at which the acidic muscle waste products can be removed and the production of ATP kept high. Clinical studies are more in agreement about the performance boosting effect of baking soda than a lot of the other fancier, more expensive performance aids. Ummm, yes, unpleasant digestive side effects can occur, as well as the negative effects of ingesting large amounts of sodium (baking soda is sodium bicarbonate). OK, so I'm not suggesting baking soda for performance enhancement, I'm just providing a little background to get you to take the alkalinity of the body seriously with regard to training and performance.
Our ability to benefit from our workouts is determined by our ability to recover from them. Recovery involves the inflammatory process, the anti-inflammatory response, glycogen replenishment, muscle building and bone modeling/construction. There is a wide assortment of nutrients involved in these complicated metabolic processes, but one controlling condition for many of them is our pH, particularly the pH of our blood stream. Working out, and heavy breathing increases acidity in the body. Healing , recovery and rebuilding happens most effectively at a slightly alkaline pH. If we remain in an acidic state we risk breaking down muscle tissue and cannibalizing our bones and losing calcium. Your body tries to restore alkalinity by releasing calcium from your bones and nitrogen from your muscle tissue-exactly what you don’t want! We can easily use food to quickly restore alkalinity to the body. The best foods (those with the most basic-producing pH) to restore alkalinity to the body are the vegetables and some fruits. Spinach, celery, carrots and zucchini are all good. Blend them up in your blender with water, ice and a lemon wedge. Add mint, parsely or basil if you'd like. Raisins, black currants and bananas are also alkaline producing. If weight loss is one of your fitness goals choose the vegetables over the fruits.
Raw greens also provide lots of minerals (especially the more bitter ones like dandelion greens), plenty of electrolytes and a dose of heat sensitive vitamins like Vitamin C.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Long week ahead, Empty fridge

You could, of course, make this stew with all fresh ingredients. I bet it would taste better. But this one is basically instant food cobbled together out of bags in the freezer and odds and ends in the fridge. It tastes rich, Italian without pasta, and delicious. In a short time, without a trip to the store, I have 4 dinners (or breakfasts).

1 bag frozen (already cooked) pearl onions
1 bag frozen multi-colored peppers
1 bag frozen asparagus
5c chicken stock
2/3 jar organic marinara sauce (I had this leftover in the fridge, but you could use a can of diced tomatoes too)
4lbs hot italian chicken sausage
1/4-1/2c pesto (if you don't have pesto you could use olive oil and some dried Italian seasonings like marjoram, thyme, oregano and basil)

Place the chicken sausage in one deep skillet. Add 1/2" water, cover and simmer about 20min. Meanwhile dump all the still-frozen vegetables into your large soup pot, add the pesto and the stock and turn on the heat. Bring to a simmer. When the sausage is done, remove it from the pan and slice it. Add sausage to the vegetables, add your tomatoes sauce and heat through. Sometimes it is just a relief to have appropriate food on hand.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Potluck

I now remember how much I LOVE potluck dinners. For awhile my feeling about potlucks was "where will I find any meat amongst the pasta salads and rice pilafs?". I've always been blessed with incredible friends, many of whom are very good cooks, but many of them, alas, have been vegetarians. Last night I had the good fortune to attend a potluck at which the majority of the people are Paleo eaters. There was one, probably a little bit hungry vegetarian, and I would've cooked some of my vegetables separately from the meat for her had I remembered. I was reminded of what I love about potlucks too. Surprises. Getting a little bit of inside information on the other folks. Checking out what people bring to a potluck is kind of like finding out what kind of underwear they like. It is a piece of personal information that brings you closer to them. When you live your life surrounded by people who like to live well and eat Paleo they also have the ability to inspire you. I love to be humbled by the cooks around me. For example, I always stuff my mushrooms with ground nuts, herbs and garlic. Some time soon I will do it in honor of Summer's mushrooms. There was a meat cake (it was a belated birthday celebration) topped with roasted red peppers, a delicious Paleo chili, stuffed mushrooms with pine nuts and raisins, a huge bowl of guacamole (and no one at Paleo potlucks expects you to only take a little spoonful of guacamole, they expect you to take a huge glop), sliced apples and strawberries with chocolate/avocado and chocolate/almond dip, a crab-spinach dish, delicious varieties of peppers stuffed with meats, some Paleo sweets with shredded coconut, and a shredded pork with sage and butternut squash. The shredded pork and butternut squash with sage was my offering. Here you go:

Whether or not I am cooking for a potluck I make an enormous amount. It is very good leftover. Sage is a pretty magical herb. Don't ruin it by combining it with other things. It stands on its own.

About 6lbs of pork shoulder or butt (don't use something fancy like a pork roast or loin, you need the heavily marbled fat)
3-4T dried sage (not the finely powdered stuff)
8T lard (or if you are bereft of lard use clarified butter)
black pepper
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and coarsely sliced
4c chicken stock
2 butternut squash (peel them with a carrot peeler and chop them into smallish bite-size pieces, you can either separate the seeds and toast them or eat them later or you can put them in the compost, discard the stringy stuff around the seeds into the compost)
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped

Heat the oven to 275F. Cut the pork into large chunks (3-4" pieces). On the stovetop, melt half your lard in an oven proof pot that can be covered. Place the pork pieces in one layer with space between them (you might have to do two batches). Cover with the sage and lots of black pepper. Brown them on high heat on two sides. Once all your pieces of pork are browned on two sides, add 3 cups of the chicken stock to the pan, bring to a simmer. Add all the sliced garlic, cover and place in the oven. The stock should come about 1/3 or 1/2 way up the meat chunks, but should not cover them. The meat should stay in the oven for around five hours. As the five hour mark approaches, place another heavy skillet on the stovetop and melt the rest of the lard in it. Add the squash and onions. Saute on high heat 'til browned (about 12min). Then add your remaining 1c chicken stock, cover and turn to low). Take the meat out of the oven. Remove the meat pieces from the pan and place them on a cutting board that will catch the juices. Put the pan on a burner and turn it onto high. You are going to reduce the liquid in the pan to about half. Stir it every now and then. While the squash and onions are cooking and the meat juices are reducing you shred the pork. Just get two forks and pull the meat apart. It will shred easily. Throw out any big chunks of fat that are left (or your potluck guests and your children will be grossed out). Once all the meat is shredded, and the liquid in the meat pan has been reduced by half, return the meat to the pan and mix it well with the reduced sauce. As soon as the butternut squash is soft and tender to the bite (about 40min, don't undercook it) add it to the meat. Mix gently, add a pinch of sage while you give thanks for the pig you are about to eat. Also add some sea salt if you'd like.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nutrition Research and Men or Never Be Without Sausage

The effect of prenatal, pre-conception and lactational nutrition has always been at the center of my interest in food and health. The majority of health care practitioners are deathly afraid of discussing pre-natal and pre-conception nutrition with women because they don't want women to feel guilty if their child has a health or behavioral issue that might be related to Mom's poor nutrition. Health care practitioners are afraid to discuss issues of nutrition with breastfeeding Moms (lactational nutrition) for the very real reason that if Mom thinks her diet is bad for her baby she will quit breastfeeding rather than change her own diet. We have lost touch with an incredibly important aspect of reproduction that was a hallmark of traditional cultures: what you eat is directly correlated with the health of your child. Even the most "primitive" of peoples had special nutrition practises for newly married couples (preconception) or pregnant and breastfeeding women. Foods such as raw organ meats, fish eggs, and bitter herbs and weeds were carefully collected by the families and hunters of a group and reserved for members of the group who were in child-bearing mode. Gathering these special foods was performed at great risk to the group often involving trading with an enemy or treacherous expeditions. When asked why they take such risk to procure special foods traditional peoples don't say "because decades of research finally convinced us that adequate folic acid prevents neurologic defects". They say "because without these sacred foods for the parents the children are not strong". The reality of hunter-gatherers was that a child with a significant health issue at birth would die and even a small issue, which we don't even consider a disability today, like poor eyesight or crooked teeth, would likely mean that child did not reach adult hood or could not hunt or support the group. There is no room in this discussion for blame. Guilt is not powerful. Knowledge is power. With knowledge and power comes responsibility. Responsibility is certainly a heavy burden at times, especially when it comes to raising children. During the last few centuries of industrialization we have forgotten our sacred food practises, so we rely on research. Recent research finally is getting around to handing some of the power for healthy babies over to the Dads!! We mostly think of men as sperm donors who either are "good" husbands and fathers or "bad" ones. Our concept of the importance of preconception nutrition for men has been stuck at knowing that if men had really poor nutrition their fertility would drop and they would have trouble fathering a child at all. Slowly, slowly research is digging more deeply into the effect of a father's nutrition on his future children. A fascinating study just published discusses the relationship between the protein intake of males and the cholesterol and lipid synthesis of their offspring:
"The phenomenon, called epigenetic inheritance – where changes in gene expression not caused by changes to the underlying DNA sequence are passed from a parent to a child – may be relevant to a number of illnesses.
Researchers fed different diets to two groups of male mice – the first set receiving a standard diet, while the second received a low-protein diet.
All females were fed the same, standard diet.
They observed that offspring of the mice fed the low-protein diet exhibited a marked increase in the genes responsible for lipid and cholesterol synthesis in comparison to offspring of the control group fed the standard diet – indicating an increased risk of heart disease.
Previous studies have suggested a father's lifestyle can come back to genetically affect his kids – but were unable to rule out socioeconomic factors."

I look forward to the day when men and women will discuss freely and openly with their health care practitioner and their families, the impact of preconception, prenatal and lactational nutrition on the next generation. In the meantime, although my childbearing days are firmly behind me, I'm not going to be one of the low-protein lab rats. Did you know that a couple pounds of chicken sausage cooked up on a Sunday evening is better than an Instant Breakfast on Monday morning? Sometimes I have been know to run late and lack organization in the morning, so while finding homework, computer cords and packing lunches, I just throw my chicken sausage into the nearest appliance that provides heat (pan on the stove, toaster oven) and then I dump it in a bowl and it becomes travel food. You just never know when, at the stoplight during your morning commute, a movement in the car next to you will catch your eye, you will look over expecting to see someone sipping a syrupy "coffee", eating a "breakfast sandwich" or applying mascara while talking on the phone. Instead you will see a completely organized, saucy mother of two boys, eating sausage with her fingers out of a hand made bowl. Mother and boys might be singing along with some classic rock at the same time because eating sausage in the car just calls out for accompaniment by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I believe Lynyrd Skynyrd is also the proper way to prepare for Spanish quizzes and multiplication tests. Try it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What to do with a Limequat

We have an abundance of citrus fruits ready here in Arizona. Go to the Farmer's market and get some. It is so important for food diversity and security of our food supply (as well as taking in a wider range of nutrients on a regular basis) that we try and eat more unusual plant foods. Many of the more unusual species are better suited to growing in your own local environment. Kumquats are a tiny little orange citrus fruit that are eaten whole (skin and all). Limequats are similar except they are yellow, larger and delicious! Unlike larger conventional citrus fruits the "quats" are actually eaten especially for the skin. It is the inside flesh that is the sour part.

I have encountered so many people who don't know what to do with these little citrus fruits even though they have a tree full of them! Aside from eating them whole you can use the zest to make delicious sauces. Using zest in recipes is lightening fast if you get yourself one of these cheap microplaners from the hardware store (see picture). Here is a ghee, parsley, limequat sauce that we had on grilled salmon for our Christmas dinner.

2/3c ghee (clarified butter)
1/4c finely minced fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
zest of 4 limequats

Let everything sit at room temperature for a couple hours so the flavors meld.