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.

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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's gravy

Gravy used to disgust me. I liked my turkey and potatoes dry as a kid. I'm not sure if this was a personal issue with stunted development or a commentary on the gravies I was served. Gravy is now the best part of any roasted meat meal, including the Thanksgiving behemoth, the turkey.

It is possible to get very sophisticated about terminology regarding gravy. "Gravy" is a thick, flour-based sauce. Potentially disgusting. A reduction sauce, or deglazed stock is thinner, more flavorful and all around more delicious, not to mention easily Paleo. Although we will serve this at our Thanksgiving table, and we will serve it out of a gravy boat, and we will call it gravy, it is not truly "gravy", it is a deglazed, reduction sauce. And it is better.

The first thing about making gravy is that if you are one of those super-stress freak type cooks who focuses more on the end result than on the process you need to get a hold of yourself. The gravy will be made after the turkey comes out of the oven when all the relatives and guests are peppering you with offers of "help" and/or asking when the food will be served. You will be tempted to rush and give in to this outside pressure. Don't do it. The final moments before a large meal with a roast of meat are sacred. Everyone but your true assistants steps aside. It is nice if the meat carver is a different person than the gravy maker. Do as my grandfather always wanted, and warm your gravy boat or dish on the back of the stove. Nothing takes a gravy downhill faster than pouring it into an ice cold dish.

If you begin the roasting process with that Holy Trinity of herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme) mixed in to softened butter, you will not have any worry regarding the flavor of your sauce. I slather this herb butter under the skin of my turkey as well as all over the top before it goes in the oven. Turkey skin is hardly attached to the meat, so this is easy. I use this melted butter as part of the pan drippings that I baste the turkey with during cooking. Once I remove the turkey form the roaster to the carving board I have a large pan full of delicous drippings. If the turkey was particularly succulent and there is a large amount of fat, I pour some of it off. I keep about 1 cup of fat in the roaster and all the other liquid and drippings. If you let your turkey get too dry during cooking you might need some additional stock or water. You can have additional stock on hand by simmering the "giblets", (the neck etc... that is in a little bag inside your turkey usually) in some water while the turkey is roasting. I like about 1 1/2c of liquid to 1c of fat, but to be honest, I usually just leave EVERYTHING in the roaster and get started. I take 1/2c of drippings out of the pan and put them in a pyrex measuring cup. I add 1/4c of arrowroot powder and I mix like mad until there are no lumps. Arrowroot is not as forgiving as flour about yielding up its lumps later on in the process. My grandmother's edition of The Joy of Cooking asserts that arrowroot will make the most delicate textured sauce! This gem of a book also reminds us that arrowroot has a neutral flavor and, unlike flour, does not need to be cooked to remove its "rawness". Arrowroot also has a calcium-base which makes it nice for the Paleo crew. Now, add your arrowroot mixture back into the roasting pan which you should have on a burner with the heat on medium. Whisk vigorously! At this point, your sauce is finished except for the addition of salt if you want it. I sometimes throw some onions, garlic, carrots, white wine etc... in around my roasting meat. You can use this as part of your sauce by removing all chunks of vegetables and blending them with stock before returning them to your roasting pan.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cranberry Sauce-truly hunted and gathered

Combining new and unusual flavors is one of the most rewarding expressions of culinary artistry. Our global food world has opened up a whole new array of tastes and ingredients to us in the kitchen. This is exciting and makes for some delicious recipes, but it also allows us to engage in some eating habits that are extremely suspect in terms of sustainability. The presence of international flavorings certainly takes us a long ways away from the flavor experiences of our hunter gatherer forebearers. We are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday. There is no shortage of writings on the meaning of Thanksgiving, food and the politics of settling the United States. Personally, I am grateful for a day of family, food, rest and feasting and I believe it is a wonderful day for many of us. However, I also spent many years learning about the history and politics of European settlers and the Native peoples they displaced. This blog is also not the place for an evaluation of that shocking chain of events. This blog is about food and hunter gatherer food traditions. We have robbed the native people's of the United States of many of their food traditions, either by hunting their food supply to extinction, forcing them off the land that sustained them, or by wreaking ecological havoc with water usage practices and invasive species. On this Thanksgiving Day, when we are supposed to be honoring the eastern native peoples, the Abenaki and their neighbors, for saving the helpless, starving pilgrims let's take a moment to be true to the food traditions of those people. Today, we begin with that deep red staple, the cranberry. Cranberry sauce is on many tables only once per year. For some of us it comes jellied in a can and for others we get more adventurous combining cranberries with cinnamon, cloves, oranges and sugar. I'd like you to think about how cranberries would have been used by the Abenaki (or maybe the pitiful pilgrims). Cranberries grow in a swamp where there are nice cold winters. They are primarily a crop of New England. Gathering cranberries is a spectacularly fun activity. There are no thorns like raspberries, you don't have to bend over like strawberries and there aren't zillions of flies and mosquitos like blueberries. In my experience you paddle down a lovely blue river on one of the final brilliantly sunny warm days of the season in your canoe. You paddle up to the bushes alongside the river and you reach out and pick the cranberries and toss them into your basket. If you are brave and adventurous you might climb out of the canoe and cautiously pick your way into the bushes hoping not to misplace a foot and end up waist deep in really cold water!
If we put our minds to the ingredients available to the Abenaki or other early New England settlers (who had used up all their ship stores) we quickly realize that cane sugar would not be available. Citrus fruit was certainly not around, nor were the spices of Asia and Africa. However, gelatin was available in great quantities as well as three wild sweeteners: birch syrup, maple syrup and honey. I made mine with birch syrup.
The Roots of Cranberry Sauce

1 bag organic cranberries, washed
3T powdered gelatin (this obviously is not the form the original Thanksgiving kitchen would have possessed)
1/4-1/2c birch syrup
Clean water

Cook cranberries in 1/4c water on low heat until they soften and burst (about 15min).
You can either press the cooked cranberries through a sieve (wait til they cool) or you can dump them in a blender. I used the blender because I want to eat all the skins and seeds. In my blender I added the birch syrup. Blend until smooth. In the pot you cooked the cranberries in add 1/4c water and heat so that you can dissolve your gelatin in it. Stir up your gelatin until it dissolves and then pour the blended cranberries and sweetener in with the dissolved gelatin. Stir well. Use any type of glass mold or dish that is smooth. If you are worried about removing the sauce from the mold you could line the mold with saran wrap, but let the sauce cool a little before you pour it in. Pour the sauce into the mold and refrigerate for several hours. The flavor of my sauce is deep, rich, and tart, but it is actually less sour than many of the overly sweet canned sauces I've tasted.

Honor the hunter gatherers that gave us this holiday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Minerals for your bones, from bones

I believe one of the single biggest flaws in the average Paleo person is the absence of bone stock in the diet. It is absolutely true that paleolithic people did not use dairy and that dairy foods are not required for optimal calcium intake. However, non-dairy eating, paleo person had an extremely good, frequent source of not only calcium, but every other mineral that is required to create strong bone in our body. They got these bone building minerals straight from...other bones. One early cooking method used by several indigenous cultures involved placing chunks of meat and bone into a vessel containing water and heating the contents either over fire or by adding hot stones to the mix. Bones were cracked open and the marrow eaten out and they were sometimes ground and eaten powdered. Fish bones from small fish were always eaten whole (which is why sardines with the bones in are such a good source of calcium whereas boned sardines are not). Even our great grandmothers fed their families bone minerals. A few generations ago no self respecting head-of-the-kitchen would have thrown away a chicken carcass or beef knuckle bone. It would have gone into the stock pot. Modern day Paleo folk who sustain themselves on salmon fillet, boneless chicken breasts and ground beef are missing out. Have your kids do the following experiment just to make it fun. Try to bend a chicken thigh bone. Feel that it is hard. Soak the bone in vinegar for 24 hours. Now check it out. It is rubbery. All the hard minerals like calcium have been dissolved by the acid in the vinegar and are now in solution in your water. Here is how to do it as a delicious stock instead of as a science experiment.

1 chicken carcass precooked. My family likes roast chicken so I use the leftover gristly pieces and bones from our roast chicken. I take any leftover meat off before this process.

Fill a large stock pot with non-chlorinated water. Add 1/4c of vinegar (you won't taste it in the soup). Add the carcass (don't add the leftover gravy or gelatin). Add a couple bay leaves, a few celery stalks, a quartered onion and a few hunks of carrot. Leave this pot at room temperature for about 2 hours.

Bring it to a boil on the stove and then turn it way way down, until it is just barely simmering. Leave it simmering for about 1-2 hours.

Let the stock cool just a little. I set up a large colander over a huge pot or bowl and I dump the contents of the pot into the colander. All the beautiful stock drains into the bowl and I get rid of the rest.

Now you have a plain chicken stock that you can use right away or freeze for later. All winter long you should be consuming bone stock daily. Soup for breakfast is my favorite in cold weather.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Make Your Own Superfood…MAYONNAISE!

Mayonnaise is creamy, delicious, rich and…Paleo. For those of you missing your creamy dairy, make some mayonnaise and it should make you feel like you ate something creamy and cow-like. Mayonnaise is not supposed to be sweet and cloying. It should be complex and delicious.
Homemade mayo will include raw eggs, olive oil, mustard, sea salt and an acid like raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The use of raw eggs calls for a conscious search for clean food. There is nothing dangerous about raw eggs if your own immune system is decently functioning, and if your eggs are from a farm that cares for its animals and grounds. Remember that salmonella bacteria is all around us. Kids and old folks or those with autoimmune diseases are the ones who suffer seriously from food poisoning. It doesn’t make sense for us to try to sterilize our food. It makes sense for us to repair our immune systems and to restore the microorganism populations that kill the pathogens in our guts.
Homemade mayo with raw eggs is an extremely enzymatically-rich sauce. Another way to improve your homemade mayo, to turn it into a super food, is to use liquid whey. Liquid whey is a blip in the Paleo approach since it is derived from dairy. Whey is the clear liquid you see on top of yogurt. Using whey enables you to create a lacto-fermentation process such as is used to make traditional saurkraut or Korean kimchi. Anybody who says hunter-gatherers did not eat fermented foods does not understand lacto-fermentation. This is different process from yeast-sugar fermentation which results in alcohol. In lacto-fermentation the process derives from lactic acid producing bacteria. These are many of the bacterial strains people pay money to get in a probiotic nutritional supplement. Lactic acid producing bacteria are the microorganisms that create an inhospitable habitat for pathogenic bacteria like salmonella. You can make your own lacto-fermented foods without whey, but it is an extremely hit-or-miss process which terrifies many people because we have lost the intuitive sense, as well as the food-crafting techniques, to recognize when our fermentation has gone correctly versus when we have cultivated the wrong types of microorganisms. Therefore, please keep in mind that you ABSOLUTELY CAN LACTO-FERMENT WITHOUT DAIRY. Using liquid whey makes the process easier.
Today I added 1 teaspoon of chipotle puree to my homemade mayo so that it made a creamy, spicy dressing for some mahi mahi chunks I had grilled the day before. Here is the recipe:
2 egg yolks + 1 egg at room temperature (or warm the blender jar)
¾ c olive oil (don’t use the extra virgin, green oil, use the cheaper variety or your may will have a decidedly olive oil flavor)
1/2t sea salt
2T raw apple cider vinegar
1/2t Dijon mustard
1T whey

Place all ingredients except olive oil in your blender and blend on low until well mixed, drizzle in the olive oil extremely slowly while the blender is running and then do the same with the whey. Leave at room temperature for 6-8 hrs, then refrigerate. It will last a few weeks. If you don’t use whey, refrigerate your mayo right away and it will only keep a week or so.

To make your own whey you have two choices.
1. If you have access to raw milk, pour raw milk into a quart jar and leave it for 2-3 days at room temperature until it separates. The clear liquid is whey.
2. Purchase a large container of unflavored, plain, whole milk, organic yogurt. Dump the whole thing into a thin, linen dish cloth, tie the dish cloth up and hang it from a hook at room temperature over a large bowl. Over about 24hrs all the whey will drain into the bowl. In the dish towel will be a cultured , cream cheese that if you have anyone in your life who eats dairy , will be a lucky beneficiary.

Monday, November 1, 2010

North African Steamed eggs

This summer I had a chance to eat brunch with my sister at Amanouz Cafe, a Mediterranean- North African restaurant in North Hampton, MA. It was a great paleo brunch without any sense of loss and even with new things to try. The spicy lamb sausage links served with a little onion, tomato salad were unbelievably tasty. The eggs were spectacular. One plate of eggs had a buttery herb sauce over the eggs and the other plate of eggs had a spiced tomato sauce. The most noteworthy thing about the eggs was that although they appeared scrambled (my favorite) they were actually steamed. Most of us only think of poached eggs when we think of steaming eggs. Those of us who enjoy our eggs scrambled up and cooked in a skillet, are unfortunately ruining the eggs in the process. Scrambling the yolk and then subjecting it to the temperature of a hot skillet oxidizes the cholesterol in the eggs and damages the Omega-3 fats in the yolk as well. This is an issue many eaters of eggs are willing to accept, especially those of us who do not like egg whites separately no matter how they are cooked! However, scrambling the eggs and then gently steaming them prevents you from wrecking the delicate, beneficial fats in your egg yolks. You need to have an egg poacher or heat proof cups (ramekins) to put the eggs in and then the cups sit in a shallow water bath that is gently simmering. The pan containing the water bath is covered with a tight fitting lid so the eggs are cooked via indirect steam heat. First, scramble your eggs with some liquid. You can use water. A ratio of 1.5:1 will make silky smooth eggs. If you want them drier and firmer use less liquid. You can use broth too. They are moist and fluffy and delicious. And will essentially be "molded" (think jello mold) when they are done so they look extremely chic on the plate. Just in case you need to bust out that kind of impressive food skill. Caveman style...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Definition of an adult

Within the Paleo community and the traditional food ways community there is an on-going "conversation" regarding dairy. Strict Paleo followers obviously do not include dairy. In general, I suggest to my clients that they avoid dairy with the exception of butter/clarified butter which is an incredibly valuable, rare source of the short chain saturates. I also am intimately familiar with the work of Dr. Weston A Price and his nutrition research as well as the experience of thousands of present day families and individuals who have introduced raw dairy into their diets with profound health benefits. Where does that leave us with regard to what to do with dairy? It leaves us in the usual position when it comes to our food. How do you respond to it? How do you feel, behave, perform, look? How is your health? How is your body composition? What happens to you when you leave dairy out of your diet completely for six weeks? Be ruthless in your assessment. Don't make excuses for yourself. For example, dairy is impactful enough on my 12 year old son's acne that even he has begun to turn down ice cream on occasion. He doesn't say to himself "Well I'm a pre pubescent adolescent boy, I'd have zits anyway."

One thing is absolutely certain about dairy. If you are going to eat it you must consume it in it's original, nutritious form. Raw, alive and complete. No pasteurization, no homogenization, no skimming, no heating or cooking. You can culture it (raw cheese, raw sour cream and raw kefir). If you can't get your dairy in this form, DO NOT EAT IT.

Dr. Tom Cowan, M.D. is the author of The Fourfold Path to Healing, a brilliant look at many common illnesses with the adherence to Ancient Food Ways (although not Paleo ways) as one of the four healing paths. He likes to tell the following story: One day his son asked him, "Do you know the definition of an adult?" "What is it?" asked Dr. Cowan. "A person who likes vegetables" replied his son. Dr. Cowan uses this story to illustrate a vital point about nourishing a growing body-namely that human beings likely possess an intuitive sense about nutrition to which most of us have lost our connection. In the case of vegetables as fodder for children the issue of the necessity for fat-soluble nutrients is raised. When we reach adult hood our metabolism becomes more proficient at turning plant nutrients into forms usable by humans. As children, or when we are older, or if we have a metabolic deficiency, we are not proficient at using plant nutrients for our requirements. Dr. Cowan encourages parents (or those of us who are older or who have illness) to derive excellent nutrition by running the vegetables through a cow first!! Raw cream, butter, organ meat, bone broths come out the other side. For all you muscle-adding athletes out there you should think of yourselves as growing children. A child's body is in the process of building proteins, collagens, connective tissue, hormones, bone and muscle just like yours. All the original strong men knew this too. They ate raw cream, raw whole milk and raw beef and eggs (WITH THE YOLK).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Red Palm Oil

Red palm oil has not had the rebirth that coconut oil has been fortunate enough to experience. It may be that the taste is more unfamiliar to westerners and a little stronger. Red palm oil is a nutrient dense fat. It is loaded with beta-carotene (hence the color) as well as coenzyme Q10 and other benefits. You can read the story of red palm oil here.

There is a legitimate concern amongst folks who take environmental stability and sustainability into account when they chose their food supply that the Paleo diet is not an earth-friendly diet. In its correct form, the Paleo diet should be the MOST sustainable diet. Including a variety of foods that are produced in marginal ecological zones where conventional agriculture is not possible should be a desire we all have as Paleo eaters. Red palm oil needs to be on our radar. You can read more about it here. I think that African cooking is not on our radar at all! It doesn't have the cache of Asian cooking or the popularity of other ethnic cuisines. We miss out on some very Paleo food concepts if we don't look at many of the food traditions of African nations. I purchase my red palm oil at our international grocery store in Tucson and it is very affordable. In the pictures is the brand I found, and the nutrition label.

A study from right here in our own home state, looked at the dietary intake of red palm oil and its effect on the nutrient intake of breastfed babies: "Dr. Canefield of the University of Arizona in the US discovered that mothers who nursed their babies provided their babies with more vitamin A and carotenes by pre- paring their food with red palm oil than the control group which took beta-carotene capsules."

For a recipe that includes red palm oil and is derived from several African traditions sign up for the mailing list at!! This month's recipes coming soon...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Family Food traditions - The Pea

Green peas aren't really Paleo. They are legumes. But in my personal nourishing food universe, I try my best to eat freshly shelled peas once a year. My uncle makes fun of me, "You have to pay extra to get the peas that you have to do the work of shelling! Why not just buy the frozen ones?" He is right about the price actually, but I still don't care, because he didn't mention taste and effect on the soul. These days, if I get to New England at the right time of year, I take some money to Crossroads Farm and get a big bag of peas in the pod. Peas in their pod are a powerful reminder of the fact that there are some foods that just cannot be available all year around. There are only a couple weeks where gardens produce peas in their pod. As a kid we ravished the pea vines in my grandparents' garden gobbling them up right there in the row. We had to take turns shelling the peas on the front porch with my mother, grandmother and aunts so that they could be blanched and frozen. It was one of those tasks that was sort of boring, yet reassuring and peaceful. It was kind of a test to see how big a pea could get before, upon popping it in your mouth, you realized it had turned bitter instead of sweet. Eating peas from their shell once a year is a reminder to me that growing food is special, seasonal food is special, local food is special and family food traditions can be special. This past summer I wanted my sons to experience what I felt. The picture is my oldest son, shelling peas with my grandmother at her kitchen table. Eating green peas once a year may not be strictly text book Paleo, but it encompasses so many important aspects of eating well that I'm not throwing that baby out with the bath water just yet!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paleo Hors d'œuvre

At our recent "In the Paleo House Event" we served up several different Paleo party foods. This one was a little skewer of marinated lamb, heirloom cherry tomatoes and cracked green olives. Traditionally, a Middle Eastern lamb with lemon and oregano would be served with a yogurt sauce. Ours was served with a tahini sauce. When I make a tahini sauce I don't like to use lemon juice. The flavor is too harsh. I put some sesame tahini in my Vita-Mix. If I use 1c tahini, I add about 1/4c water and 1/4c olive oil. Then I add the grated zest of about 2-3 lemons. That is a nice powerful lemon flavor without the sharp acid sourness of lemon juice. Tahini and olive oil take quite a lot of salt as well, so I would add about 1T of grey, sun-dried sea salt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bored eating the same old thing?

It seems that lots of people find themselves stuck in a rut when they start eating Paleo. I think there are a bunch of reasons for this. The first one is that many people want any old excuse to go back to eating the same cereal/bagels/toast they were eating for the previous twenty years (although they never complained about having to eat the same thing every day then?!?!). Another reason is that many people think that breakfast is supposed to look a certain way. For example, when I tell people I eat stew for breakfast they think that is CRAZY because stew is for dinner not for breakfast. Why?? There is no good reason for that at all. In fact we should eat our most nourishing food earlier in the day. Another reason people feel stuck in a rut with their food is because we are so ADHD and overstimulated that we no longer notice and appreciate subtle differences in flavors and textures. Let's talk asparagus. During asparagus season I like to have it a few times per week, but it is different every time. Sometimes I grill it and then drizzle it with olive oil. Other times I make a little Hollaindaise sauce for it. Sometimes I steam it and serve it with garlic butter. Once in awhile I steam it with matchsticked carrots and make a little chili/miso sauce for it. The photo shows lightly steamed asparagus sprinkled with truffle salt. The truffle salt was a beautiful gift. It tastes nothing like regular salt, and asparagus with truffle salt tastes nothing like asparagus with olive oil and lime juice. Allow yourself the opportunity to see your food in all its wide range of beauty. Develop an appreciation for the more refined and subtle nuances of your food. My Dad had a stock answer for my sisters and me when we whined about being bored, "Only boring people get bored." Hmmm, I won't go so far as to accuse you of being boring if you are complaining about being bored with your food, but my father would.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Hello again. The long hot Sonoran summers drain me of all zest for life and creativity. The end of this inferno is in sight and I'm ready to write here again! As I've mentioned before, my definition of "Paleo eating" always returns to the hunter-gatherers. During the Tucson summer my spirit creeps north where it hides in a mossy, shady spruce forest near a cold little splashy brook. In those parts of the world we have three hunted/gathered sweeteners: raw honey, maple syrup and birch syrup. Almost nobody has had a chance to taste birch syrup. You have to order it from Alaska or Canada. This is not as unreasonable as it sounds unless you have made a commitment to eating locally because I'm sure you eat many foods every day that come from that far away. It would be better to order birch syrup from Alaska than to eat unfinished honey imported from China (see this NPR story).

Birch syrup is more precious than maple syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap from a maple tree to make one gallon of syrup. It takes nearly 100 gallons of sap from birch trees to make 1 gallon of birch sap. It can be done sustainably and without harming the trees. Check out the management of the sugar bush that produces Kahiltna Gold birch syrup. They let the trees rest two years between tappings! Birch syrup is less sweet than maple syrup and tastes faintly of molasses. It has a similar nutrient profile to maple syrup including manganese, magnesium, iron and some B vitamins, but birch syrup has more than double the nutritional content. The one drawback, as far as I'm concerned, about birch syrup is that it is primarily fructose as opposed to maple syrup which is sucrose. Isn't it fascinating that trees have different types of sugars!

Birch syrup is delicious and pretty soon I'll give you a couple recipes. The basket in the picture is perhaps my favorite possession. It was made by a Penobscot man in Maine using the traditional brown ash. It is strong as an ox and beautiful. I grew up watching my grandfather use his Penobscot-made pack basket for all his hunting and fishing trips. No plastic, no fancy fishing bags. I feel honored to have this beautiful, utilitarian basket. Brown ash trees, birch trees and sugar maple trees are found in similar ecological zones.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Friends are for Experimenting

It might have been easy for me to go Paleo because I've never really liked baking. I did the whole homemade wholegrain bread thing and mountains of "healthy" muffins for play groups. I never liked it. Didn't like all the stirring, the messy flour everywhere and the sticky dough in the bowl that has to be washed out. Give me vegetables to chop and meat to roast and I'll cook all day, but baking? Nahh. At this point though, it is really important for my household to remain grain-free (and potato starch-free and rice flour-free and free of all the other crap in gluten-free mixes). I also like to keep my troops happy (when appropriate) and I love to use food to celebrate important moments in life, SO baking delicious things has a place in my world.
If you read advice on cooking for others or hosting dinners I think it is generally accepted that busting out an experimental concoction is not recommended. I do get the good sense in that, having made some pretty disgusting stuff in my time. But I feel like it is a test of your friends and families' character to use them as guinea pigs. I feel as though if you have someone in your life that seems like "good folks" then they will tolerate and perhaps, on occasion, benefit from kitchen experiments.
Last week it was Crandall's birthday. Crandall absolutely qualifies as good folks, so I though it was safe to experiment on a birthday cake. Plus I had extra insurance because I knew he'd be worn out from lifting a whole bunch of heavy weights beforehand, so there was a chance his judgement would be impaired. Plus, Crandall then qualifies as a Power Athlete so full-fat dairy is in his Paleo cupboard which makes desserts a reasonable undertaking.

Experimental, Chocolate-Coconut Birthday Cake

1/4c coconut oil
1/4c coconut butter (I use half oil and half butter to cut the noticeable after-taste of straight coconut oil)
1 1/2T vanilla
1 1/4c Rapadura (this is a specific sweetener. It is dehydrated crushed sugar cane. Sucanat is NOT THE SAME.)
3/8 cup RAW (I used Vivapura brand) cacao powder
1/4c coconut milk

9 eggs
3/4t salt
scant 3/4c SIFTED coconut flour
3/4t aluminum-free baking powder

Melt coconut butter and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add cacao powder, Rapadura and coconut milk and mix together. Remove from heat and set aside. In a bowl, mix together eggs and salt. Stir in cocoa mixture. Combine coconut flour with baking powder and whisk into batter until there are no lumps. Pour batter into greased 8x8x2 or 9x9x2-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.

This time when I made the cake I topped it with hard-whipped heavy cream (I add 1T Dr. Bernard Jensen's gelatin dissolved in 2T hot water to the cream) mixed with shredded coconut, and 6T maple syrup. However, it turns out this cake, because of all the eggs and coconut flour, is like a firm sponge cake. It is a little bit on the dry side (sorry Crandall). It has a firm, even texture and is not at all crumbly like a cake. Next time I will make a hot cherry or raspberry fruit compote. Then I will slice the cake thinly and pour the hot fruit sauce over the cake and then put a little whipped cream on top. This will make it more like a traditional trifle and this cake recipe will hold up perfectly for it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Loquats and a Kid breakfast

I LOVE to try new fruits and vegetables and yesterday at the farmer's market I tried and purchased some loquats. These are members of the rosaceae family (see my post on Jan 22 about the importance of these seeds). According to the citrus man at the farmer's market, loquats don't last long once picked and the season is short too. Ahhhh, the hallmark of a real paleo fruit! They also require a little bit of effort and mess to eat. They are about 1 1/2" in diameter with a slightly fuzzy skin like a peach. The skin is flavorless, but a bit tough so some people slip it off although I ate it. The flesh tastes like ripe apricots and their is a giant cluster of seeds in the middle. I chewed up and swallowed a couple of the seeds which had the characteristic almond-like flavor of the cyanide-bearing rosaceae family. I overheard one lady at the farmer's market who characterized the typical American approach to food. The citrus man was incredibly kind and tolerant, but I had to restrain myself from giving her an impromptu lecture! He gave her a loquat to taste after showing her how to slip the skin off and expose the flesh and the seeds. She said it tasted good, but was too much work to bother with and she didn't purchase any. This lady looked like she spent more time getting dressed to go to the farmer's market than me and my kids put together. I can guarantee her car is very clean, she has a well maintained yard (probably done by a staff) and probably sets the table each evening for dinner with matching table ware, but she can't be bothered with a 45second process so that she can eat a sweet, juicy, local, fresh fruit. Get your priorities straight people!! Do you want the farmer to wash, peel, and separate your food for you? Do you want him to cut it up into bite size pieces? Maybe you want him to hand feed you and then clean up afterwards?

The kids got loquats, turkey kielbasa, half an egg, cherries and bananas with pumpkin seeds and coconut for breakfast.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


My table is blessed this week with gifts of fruits and vegetables. First, from Mateo's client Daniel, came organic roma tomatoes, heirloom yellow and purple tomatoes, cucumbers and jalapenos. Later from Mike T. came fresh rosemary, mint and one of his last lemons. If you've never eaten any of the giant, lumpy, bumpy, strangely colored tomatoes you're missing out. They should just be sliced up (don't refrigerate them because the flavor gets reduced), sprinkled with a little sea salt and slurped. I had thawed some mahi mahi for the grill before Mike gifted me with the herbs and lemon, so I made a marinade/sauce for the fish. I put 1/4c balsamic vinegar, 1/2 oliveoil, leaves from the 10" stalk of rosemary and all the zest from the lemon (not the juice) into my blender and made a thick vinaigrette. I marinated the fish in it for about 20min before grilling it. While the fish was grilling I poured the leftover vinaigrette/marinade into a saucepan and brought it to a boil. I reduced it for about 7min while the fish was grilling. This takes care of the raw fish factor and makes the balsamic a little sweeter. You end up with a thick, lemony/sweet/herb sauce for your fish. Gratitude Mike and Daniel.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mmmmm. A new Paleo delight. Crandall found it. A Pan de Higo Almendrado, from Spain. Translated as Fig Almond Cake. My kids said it was in no way a "cake", but that does not diminish it's deliciousness. It is basically mashed up figs pressed with whole almonds. The ingredients are: Pajarero Figs and Marcona Almonds. That is a good ingredient list.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Swiss Chard and Beet Greens

We have an abundant crop of swiss chard in my back yard and I bought a bunch of small beets at the Farmer's Market which came with greens, so I decided to add them to breakfast. I know A LOT of people who don't really like the dark leafy greens and I've been served dark leafy greens in many ways that make me appreciate why people wouldn't like them!! The first trick to make lovely greens is to not leave them whole with big thick stems. Gross. If the stem is very thick cut it out. You don't have to waste it. I then chop them up very small and add them back in. Slice the greens into ribbons, ACROSS the stems. Place the chopped stems into a frying pan with a little water and turn the heat on high. Once the stems soften a little then you can add the rest of the greens and just gently steam them in a very small amount of water that is mostly cooked away by the time the greens are refinished. This means you need to keep your eye on things so the pan doesn't dry out.
For the breakfast in the picture, I minced 4 cloves of garlic (I was cooking enough greens for 4 adults) and very gently sauteed them in about 5T of butter. I cooked the garlic just until it started to turn golden so it didn't have a burnt taste. When the greens were done I poured the garlic and melted butter into the pan with the greens and added a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cacao Butter

I'm always getting asked about Paleo desserts. Even more frequently than questions about Paleo desserts, are questions about Good Fats. One of the ways I approach desserts, especially in the land of kids, is to use them as a vehicle for good fat. There are the usual options, most frequently eggs, butter and coconut. There is one other MOST EXCELLENT option which has only recently become widely available in food grade form. Thanks to the Raw Food Movement, raw organic cacao butter can now be purchased in nearly all natural food stores. Sadly, I feel as though when I mention the Raw Foodists I must immediately distance myself at the same time. Vegan Raw Food activists are primarily a group of slightly to intensely flaky people pushing their own strange/hypocritical food morality, often with trust funds, who would benefit from a very good steak. They have some things really right about food, so I don't like to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I can't stand their preaching about how people who eat animals are not as spiritually "high", and yet most of these Raw people have adopted several spiritual traditions (drumming, sacred circles, chanting etc...) that originated with the world's HUNTER-gatherers. Uggh. Still, I'm not beyond acknowledging and thanking the Raw Food Folks for making raw cacao butter an option for me.
Cacao beans grow on a tree. A tree called Theobroma cacao. This, of course, translates to Food of the Gods. Cacao trees are originally a South and Central American equatorial shade tree. Nearly 50% of the cacao bean is fat. This fat is cacao butter. It is about half saturated and half unsaturated fat. Cacao butter is rich and delicious and provides you with a lovely variety of fats. All you hard gainers out there, if you are tired of olive, coconut and eggs, get some cacao butter. It comes in soapy-feeling chunks which need to be gently melted over a pot of hot water (double boiler). After that you can mix in anything you like including minced dried fruit or nuts. Here is an example:

1c unsweetened shredded coconut
1c finely chopped goji berries
1/4 raw honey
3 drops orange oil
3/4c melted cacao butter

Mix well, it will be very crumbly. Press into a pan in a layer and refrigerate. Once it has cooled you'll be able to cut squares out of it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Paleo Greek - Episode #3: Bacon Wrapped Figs

It turns out it was the post-age 50, possessor of more strict pushups than years, Betty F., who made the bacon-wrapped figs at our CrossFit BBQ the other day. I've been wanting them again and somehow I am sure that figs qualify as Greek, even if bacon might be a stretch. The thought of bringing them to our theatrical potluck occurred to me in the grocery store, so I bought the only figs I could find: dried Tena Figs. Once I was home and began researching the methodology it became clear these were not the preferred fig. Never mind. Push on through. Just like making grape leaves and spring rolls reveals my inner character flaws, making bacon-wrapped figs revealed an inner truth about Son #1. I gave him the job of poking a hole in each fig and inserting 2 pine nuts. Done and done. Then I mentioned he would now be wrapping the figs in raw bacon... "What!? Raw, slimy bacon!!! Do I have to??" "Yes, you have to" I said. I sliced the strips of raw bacon long-lengthwise and then in half cross-ways. I gave him the bacon strips, toothpicks and the figs. The first 5 bacon-wrappings were accompanied by squeals of disgust and allegations of child torture which I pretended not to hear. Then there was a long silence. I spied a little bit and it was clear that the engineering issues involved in taking a round fig, a long strip of bacon and a toothpick and trying to cover as much area of the fig as possible had won out over the grossness factor of raw bacon. He was hooked, and worked in quiet concentration until they were all finished. Son #1 played King Midas in one of the plays, so here is his recipe. He also wanted to make sure it was clear in the photos that he is wearing a Red Sox hat...

King Midas' Bacon-Wrapped Figs Stuffed with Pine Nuts

Preheat oven to 400 deg.

25 dried Tena Figs
50 raw pine nuts
25 strips of uncured bacon (cut as described above)

Using a sharp knife, poke a little hole in each fig and insert 2 pine nuts. Wrap a strip of bacon around the stuffed Fig, secure it with a toothpick and lay it on a cookie sheet.

Bake in the oven, about 12min per side, turning once.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Paleo Greek - Episode #2: Grape Leaves, The Filling

Grape leaves can be found in Middle Eastern as well as Mediterranean cuisine. As we searched recipes for a more Greek version, we noticed two types of spice themes: the allspice/cinnamon version sometimes incorporating raisins or the dill/mint/oregano version never including raisins. The allspice version is a little more Turkish-leaning and the green aromatics are a little more Greek. I'm a little particular about when dill shows up in my life (I love it, but not in every setting), so we went with the mint/oregano spice theme. Because I wasn't using rice and I wanted the finished Grape Leaves to have a lot of flavor, I wanted to use lamb. Lamb is flavorful, but a little strong and expensive. I mixed it 1/3 with 2/3 ground turkey and was very happy with the meat flavor. I made an enormous quantity of the filling. It was easy and I used the leftovers to make meatballs for later.

Paleo Grape Leaves: Filling

1 lg white onion (minced very small)
5 garlic cloves (minced)
4T butter
In a small saucepan melt the butter and add the onions. Cook them over medium heat until they begin to turn transluscent (again don't overdo it). Add the garlic and cook another 3min just to remove the "raw" garlic taste, but to keep the garlic flavor strong.

1lb ground lamb
2lbs ground turkey
4-5 T. shredded/minced fresh mint leaves
3-4T. dried Greek oregano
Salt and Pepper
Saute until just cooked (use a little butter if you need to)-don't brown the meat. It will cook more later. While the meat is still hot add the herbs and some salt and pepper as well as your onion/garlic mix.

Let your filling cool enough to be handled.

To stuff the grape leaves, lay one out flat. Put a small spoonful of filling at the base of the leaf. Fold up the bottom, in the sides and then roll. It is easier to use the largest leaves (although the steam and veins are tougher so they are a little harder to chew). If you have kid helpers, let them do the big ones. I always have to check my greed and Zen nature when I make grape leaves or spring rolls because it gets boring and I start rushing. This means I try to put too much filling in and then it won't roll well. Plus the filling tastes delicious so naturally I try to cram in as much as possible. Who knew that making stuffed grape leaves could reveal your inner character flaws? Roll the leaves as tightly as possible without breaking them.

Use a heavy pot. Coat the bottom with olive oil. Use all the broken or extra grape leaves to line the bottom of the pot. Pack the stuffed grape leaves in tightly, seam side down. You can layer them up. Add enough water to cover the bottom layer of stuffed leaves. Add the juice from a lemon to the pot. Use a heavy plate that fits just inside your pot to weigh down the grape leaves. I have a pottery one that I place on the grape leaves and then I put a clean rock on top of the plate. Bring your pot to a low boil and then let it gently simmer for about 30-45min. Keep an eye on it to make sure the water level stays steady. When they are done, remove them from the pot. I like to serve mine cold, so I put them on a plate coated with olive oil in the fridge. Just before serving, I drizzle more high quality olive oil and maybe a little salt and pepper. Looking at the non-uniform nature of my grape leaves it is obvious I do not possess a Greek grandmother who taught me how to roll grape leaves, but they taste good! I ate some for breakfast one morning and it made a very good, cooling meal out in the sunshine in my back yard.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paleo Greek - Episode #1: Grape Leaves

My sons performed some plays last night based on 4 Greek myths. Their fellow cast members were a bunch of other homeschoolers. Homeschoolers are notorious for leaving no stone unturned, so in honor of the Greek myths we had a Greek potluck. This seemed the perfect reason to unearth the jar of grape leaves from my shelf (that had been there awhile) and make stuffed grape leaves. My sister, realizing my often frantic, over-scheduled existence, was like "why the hell don't you just go buy some stuffed grape leaves"? "They won't be Paleo. They'll have rice" I said. "Yeah, like 14 grains of rice. So what." My sister is way more sensible than I am. But I had already envisioned an idyllic homeschool, mother-son experience -cooking Greek food to soak up the whole Greek thing before the debut. First, as I was gingerly tugging the wad of grape leaves out of the too-narrow-mouthed jar I told my sons the story of their Dad and I watching the very old Portugese women pick grape leaves from a vine alongside our triple decker apartment building in Somerville, MA. Like most children of divorced parents, my kids find stories involving their parents together, fairly compelling. Grape leaves aside. I gave Son #1 the task of carefully peeling apart the fragile leaves, unwrinkling them, and rinsing them. Since Son #1 is currently the physical equivalent of a bull in a china shop, this was risky, but turned out OK. Son #2 was playing the role of "grape picker" in one of the Greek plays. We had been to the dollar store the previous day to find some plastic grapes for a costume piece. "Look Ezra", I said, "these are real grape leaves, like the ones on the plastic grapes". "Grandma says the Greeks picked grapes to make wine," Ezra says skeptically. My mother, with good reason, is a tee totaller of the most stoic variety. Somehow she managed to pass on her feelings about wine to her grandson even in the context of a Greek myth! "Yup. Dionysus was the God of wine. He was very important." I try to inject some objectivity, but I'm pretty sure Grandma is more influential. "We don't have to eat these do we?" both sons ask. Maybe my sister was right...