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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Salt, salty, salt

Salt is a perfect example of how, in our efforts to make our food more "user-friendly" we wreck it up. When we added anti-caking agents to our salt and bleached it so that it could flow easily out of a salt shaker we took a step away from using it wisely. The picture shows true sea salt, dried at low temperature. It doesn't sprinkle out of a shaker. It has to be served in a salt. Did you know there was such a thing as "a salt"? The one in the picture is an antique that my Aunt Judith gave to me, complete with its little silver spoon. Real sea salt, after you spoon it up and put it on your food, does not become invisible. Think about it. Pure white, miniscule crystals that you shake out do not give you the opportunity to truly notice how much salt you are using.
There is plenty of debate in the Paleo world about the role of salt. Some very well known authors claim that salt should be avoided and was not a Paleo food. These tend to be the people who are mired in their own "knowledge". They also don't know much about cooking and eating in my opinion. It is absolutely true of course that Paleo Person took in vastly less sodium, and no processed iodized salt. They maintained a proper ratio of magnesium to sodium and potassium which is virtually impossible if you consume much salt or processed food. However, hunter-gatherers went through extreme efforts to obtain salt. They sent yak caravans over mighty mountains, they traded with enemies, they burnt the roots of certain plants that concentrate sodium, they drank blood, they sprinkled their food with clay and they ate bones. They engaged in all sorts of eating behaviors that provided a more concentrated source of sodium and other minerals which modern people do not do. Dr. Howell, who studied enzymes, theorized that cultures who consumed primarily raw foods (yes, meat) did not need very much salt because they did not require the activation of many digestive enzymes (raw meat is practically already digested) whereas cultures that ate primarily cooked foods required more salt to activate digestive enzymes. Especially here in Arizona during the summer months we have to be careful to ingest enough electrolytes, including sodium. Zucchini and celery are good vegetable sources of salt. The best sea salt for consumption is grey in color and moist. Delicious and primal.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Primal Boys? Go to the Skate Park.

I bought my 7 yr old son, Ezra, a real live skate board for Christmas, complete with DC shoes in red and black which he was pining for after a visit to Starr Skate shop in Tucson. This is the kind of present I feel super happy about giving my kid. Could it result in several traumas? Yes. Important for a boy and anyway, he got Hello Kitty band aids to go with it. Could it result in physical challenges, risk taking and integrating himself into a “tribe”? Check, check and check.

We spent part of Christmas day at one of Tucson’s best skate parks and were back again today. Holy Smokes those bowls are steep!!! As you might guess there are scant few women or grrrls of any sort at the Skate Park, and no one else had their mother there, but no one else was 7 either, so I felt justified and Ezra stayed a reasonably cool distance away. I certainly did not anticipate writing about Skateboarding on my Primal Living blog spot, but once I got up close to all those boys it hit me hard… boys are primitive and skate parks are a place to go to honor that primitive nature. Why is the world always trying so hard to make boys into civilized, proper creatures? I hope my beloved sexism-fighting sisters and I aren’t to blame. I hope we didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Date rape is not acceptable, but crews of boys doing their thing? I saw the Primal nature of it today at the Skate Park.

We know that hunter-gatherer cultures usually have a system in place for recognizing achievements, physical and intellectual in their boys and young men and honoring the different stages in life that mark entry into manhood. This is sadly missing in our modern culture as many sociologists have recognized. The self-help and family sections of the book stores are packed with books on the problems with boys and modern society. Everyone knows that public schools reward typical girl behavior and that we overuse dangerous medication to create quiet, sitting-still, non-rambunctious boys. Boys need danger and other boys. They need skate boards and skaters.

It was a complete multi racial mix at the Skate park : black, Latino, and white blonde ranging in age from 7 to early 20s. I watched them check out each other’s boards. Older boys complimenting the younger ones on their boards. I watched teenage boys teach younger kids moves. Watched them perform feats for each other where they were really impressed and offered congratulations for a good accomplishment. It was genuinely cool. Even though it was not designed to impress girls (since I was the only one there), it was impressive from a girl perspective. I ended up with a crush on them all. They were funny, daring, athletic, and jovial. All things wonderfully boyish. I dragged Ezra away after an hour since I had to get to work, with him saying “I love skateboarding”. I decided that I would be more than happy with my kid hanging out at the Skate Park with a boy crew…especially if I’m there, the only Mom, keeping an eye on things. I’ll be cool about it though. Promise.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

Today I will not write a long post about all the types of hunger that don't have to do with food, but there are a bunch. Nourishment has to do with many aspects of life. Satisfying our most innate desires is important so that we don't compensate later. Today is the Winter Solstice and acknowledging and celebrating this day makes huge contributions to some of that non-food type of nourishment. The Winter Solstice is an extremely Primal moment in the year. This 24hr period is the longest stretch of darkness we will experience in the year. Cold and dark. Two of the original human challenges. We need visible, feel-it-in-your-gut type enemies, like coldness and darkness. These are human challenges that unite us in our attempts to overcome them. For those of you with experience living in cold places you are familiar with that slight euphoria that precedes a big Nor-easter. Everyone runs to the store for batteries and bread and laughs and jokes and shakes their heads together. As a society we don't have those moments very often. Some of my most memorable moments from when my children were very little involve battling the weather with my Circle of Mamas. Leaving the house to be together, to make soup together and to mother together was a big adventure in the winter. I remember one cold winter day where we congregated at my friend Katy's house for some sledding. The Moms joined forces to keep the kids mittened, booted and warm, but while the fun was going on there was a little thaw so that the icy driveway became even slipperier. When the sun headed down over the horizon everyone went to go home and my friend Deb couldn't get out of the driveway. Her old SUV was of the type that did not engage 4WD unless it could move a little. An entire crew of tired Mamas and kids worked to push, shovel, innovate and sand to get Deb's vehicle free. Unite and fight together against an enemy that is real and not another human!! Cookie swaps were less about cookies than about a little human contact in that long stretch of cold and dark. Fire takes on an important role at the Solstice too. Heat from a fire is warming like no central heat system can ever be. Kids love fire (like most adults). Let them light candles and poke the back yard Chiminea. Teach them to build a fire. If they burn their fingers give them some ice and aloe and they will have grown smarter in the process. Fire is dangerous, challenging and incredibly rewarding. Of course cooking food on your fire makes it better. Keep it simple. Four Christmases ago my family and I spent the holiday in the Chiricahua Mtns. Santa found us there, but I forgot to pack any knives or silverware! We cooked over an open fire with sticks and it was hilariously challenging. Amazing how inept and useless we all become without out little crutches! Following a Primal diet should not be done out of context. Notice your seasons, your weather. Provide yourself and your family with some of those other aspects of primal living that are just as nourishing as food. Celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oh no! Steamed Meat?

Getting ready to roast my Thanksgiving turkey involved the usual scanning of magazines and cookbooks for anything inspirational. In my mind I was anticipating finding something like a new herb butter rub or gravy addition. For some reason I got out my grandmother's original Joy of Cooking to read about roasting a turkey. And there I found myself accused of steaming my turkey instead of roasting it! It said that the modern cook now often covers the bird with tin foil thinking to prevent it from drying out, but that the tin foil actually results in the turkey being steamed due to trapped moisture rather than a true roasting process. No way in hell was I steaming my turkey (even though I've always been very pleased with my turkeys). The solution? Take a cloth, soak it in butter, and lay it over the turkey during cooking. I am always keen on the idea of plenty of butter, but a cloth soaked in it? Was I gonna burn the house down or ruin the turkey? Who knew, but no tin foil was going to be in my oven, so I tried it. I used an old fashioned, very thin, linen dish towel soaked in melted butter. Every 25min I basted the turkey right over the cloth so it stayed moist. I did have to add a little more stock than I would have to my steamed bird, but it went swimmingly and was delicious. The skin was actually the very best turkey skin I have ever tasted. Perfect texture. Every year from now on this will be my method. Tin foil-another example of how "modern" cookery has stolen from us!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Best Use for Candy and Sugar

It is the holiday season. I've got kids. All that candy and crap is appealing. Gingerbread houses are cool...but potentially edible which has always driven me crazy. Candy is totally suited to construction projects in a way that it is not suited to consumption. This year we made a sugar cube castle stuck together with GLUE rendering it completely inedible. It was an architectural experience for my 11 year old especially since the instructions called for sugar tablets and I bought sugar cubes. Who knew there was a difference? Apparently sugar tablets are rectangles. You can see the problem. Anyway, building this sparkling winter wonderland castle enabled us to pick out bags of candy and there was a little taste testing during construction, but then it was all over. Now, I can look at this thing composed of all things detrimental and enjoy it because I won't have to think about anyone eating it too!