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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pie and Sauce

For the crust:
You really need a food processor. I do mine in the Vita Mix, but it doesn't appreciate it.
in the evening soak 2c of raw almonds in plenty of fresh water. In the morning, drain them and get rid of any skins that are easily removed. Process them with about 6 dates, pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg and a spoonful of vanilla. It should be moist and crumbly. Mix in by hand, 1/2c of almond meal and press it into a pie plate. These nut-based crusts are very rich and heavy so press it in as absolutely thinly as possible.
For the filling:
In a sauce pan cook up 2 bags of frozen raspberries. You may need to add a tiny bit of water. When they are nice and hot I add 4T of Dr. Bernard Jensen's gelatin. I add this anytime to anything I can. Put it all in the blender and puree.
We sliced up about 2lbs of little apples, just removing the core and stem, but not peeling them. Slice them thinly so that they will cook more easily. Fill up your pie crust with them. Pour the raspberry/gelatin puree over the apples.
Bake for 45min at 325. You might need to cover it with foil at the end so that you don't burn the top, but the apples get nice and soft.
This pie brought up some interesting thoughts for me. The apples we used weren't very sweet and hence the pie wasn't very sweet. After the first couple bites I found myself thinking, "I should've added a little raw honey or maple syrup". Then I realized how crazy it is that my taste buds no longer find apples and raspberries sweet enough! I also observed that the pie actually felt like a positive component of the meal instead of this detrimental ending that I would need to prevent myself from having more of 2 hours later. My suggestion is that if eating Paleo is new to you and your family and you are trying to get comfortable with it and feel happy about it, check the sweetness of your apples. If they are a little bit tart you might add some honey to the raspberry puree.
The pie was also good with coconut milk poured over it!

I used the other bag of apples we had to make a sauce. These apples were pretty ugly, wrinkled and lumpy. No way I was getting my kids to eat them as is. I have made gallons of apple sauce the proper way in my day using an ancient food mill and then canning it. Too busy now, so all I did was take out the core and stem and throw them in a big pot. I added a bag of frozen strawberries and some cinnamon. I also had to add a little water because the apples were pretty dry. I cooked everything until the apples were pretty soft and then poured the whole thing into the blender, added my 4T of gelatin, and blended it up. It was pretty and pink and I sprinkled on some dried coconut and some chopped macadamia nuts. Good warm or cold.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Apple seeds

What about the seeds in those little tiny delicious apples? EAT THEM. Wasn't there a whole thing in the 70s about cyanide in apple seeds causing death?? Maybe in the 70s, although that probably had more to do with disappointment regarding apple seeds as a mind blowing hallucination source.
There is a category of chemicals in many foods called nitrosilamides. Dr. Krebs called the nitrosilamides Vitamin B-17. In the anti-cancer research community B-17 is also called laetrile. There is a complex story behind laetrile and its use as a cancer treatment. G. Edward Griffin documents this story in his book World Without Cancer: The Story of Vitamin B-17. Even if we aren't interested in the politics of cancer research there is plenty of interesting information in that book about the incidence of cancer related to the nitrosilamide content of the diet. The prunus rosacea family (plums, peaches, apricots) as well as many grasses and apples contain nitrosilamides. As always, we should look at traditional people and their relationship to these foods. The Hunza, one of the world's longest-lived people in the mtns of central Asia eat the seeds of the apricot as a primary food. Inuit peoples who do not have access to fruits regularly eat the partially fermented stomach contents of reindeer and caribou. These grazing ruminants eat arrowgrass which is very high in nitrosilamides. Cassava, not the popular sweet version of today, but the original bitter cassava that was the staple of many African peoples is also quite high in nitrosilamides. Cancer was virtually unknown in these cultural groups. Mr. Griffin writes that primates will automatically pull open a stone fruit, take out the pit, crack it and eat the nitrosilamide-rich kernel or seed. If you like the technical scientific/political stuff read Mr. Griffin's book. If you just think that apes and hunter-gatherers know what to do with food just do what they do! In the most condensed way possible here is how nitrosilamides perform their anti-cancer function: Nitrosilamides contain two glucose molecules, one benzaldehyde molecule and one cyanide molecule-safely locked up in this molecule. The molecule can be "unlocked" by an enzyme called beta-glucosidase. When beta-glucosidase contacts B-17 the toxic cyanide and benzaldehyde are released. Guess where we find the enzyme beta-glucosidase? In cancer cells. Only cancer cells can release the cyanide-which then kills the cancer cell. We must consider another enzyme called rhodanese which is protective against cyanide. All our healthy cells are protected by rhodanese, but our cancer cells do not have rhodanese. OK-enough science. Back to the food. Traditional fruit preserves made a couple hundred years ago almost always contained the fruit pits. I once was given a jar of traditional cherry preserves and found to my surprise the cherry pits were in it! I still think about those cherry preserves. You can find bags of apricot kernels at Trader Joes or Himalayan kernels at Aqua Vita. They taste a little like marzipan/almond. Or you can eat your apple seeds: a lovely source of nitrosilamides. As you live your Paleo/Hunter-gatherer lifestyle don't forget to look at your food in new ways and be sure you aren't putting the most valuable part on the compost pile!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Paleo Fruit

What about fruit and Paleo? Fruit technically is Paleo. However, the problem is, of course, our fruit. As fruit growers over the last decades we've selected for appearance, sweetness and storage capacity. We haven't bred our fruit to be more nutritious or have less sugar in it. In short, we haven't created fruit that is healthier. We've created fruit that is less beneficial. Look at the apples in my son's hand. He is a tiny 7 yr old. He holds multiple apples in his hands. These are locally grown, organic, heirloom varieties of apples. Even 150 yrs ago, when every small homestead or farm had a few apples trees, these would be your apples. The flavors are exquisite, even now at the end of the apples' season. Go to the farmer's market (Sunday AM at St. Philips plaza) and the orchard owner will give you a tasting. As with everything the answer to the question, "What about fruit?" is more complex than you might imagine. But, as always, if we look back in time we see part of the answer. Remember though, when you see these apples at the Farmer's Market, it is moving to the end of the apples' storage capacity. They are getting a little bit smaller, dehydrated and wrinkled. Does that mean you should pass them up for those Roid Rage apples or the imported New Zealand ones? NOOO. It means you should use them to make a pie. In my next post, I'll talk about the sticky pie issue when dealing with nature's fruit.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Horse Boy, and reindeer herders

Showing right now at The Loft is a movie called The Horse Boy. It is a fascinating story of one family's attempt to address their young son's autism. They decide to take a trip to inner Mongolia to take advantage of their son's connection with horses and to ask the shamans of Mongolia to help them. It is a cool movie, not sappy or melodramatic at all.
Personally, I love any movie that shows indigenous people eating their own food. Wow. There was a scene in this movie which makes me sort of glad I'm not visiting inner Mongolia, although at the same time I am drawn to it like crazy. First of all, I love all things arctic and subarctic. The peoples impress me, the wilderness compels me. I dream of northern lights, heavy felt coats and giant furry dogs. Yes, I know. Tucson is a strange place for a girl whose most desired place to travel to next is Iceland.
Back to the movie. In one scene the father of the family is invited into the yurt and offered food. The food is one communal dish of meat. There is no muscle meat. And it sure doesn't look like it was roasted over an open fire. It looks boiled. And it is all organs including the lungs. What can we learn about food from these amazing reindeer herders? First of all humans and reindeer have an unusual relationship. Reindeer were one of the last animals domesticated because they are practically domestic by nature. One researcher hypothesizes:
"Why reindeer were domesticated so late is speculation, but some scholars believe that it may relate to the docile nature of reindeer. As wild adults reindeer are willing to be milked and stay close to human settlements, but at the same time they are also extremely independent, and don't need to be fed or housed by humans."
Perhaps reindeer were one of the first animals to make our non-herding, Big Game Hunting ancestors scratch their heads and wonder about adding some milk to their diet. Who knows.
Boiled organ meats as dinner would be a tough sell in my house (including to me), but they are packed full of nutrients, enough to sustain a person in an arctic desert where spinach and avocados are scarce.
Go and see The Horse Boy. Think about eating boiled lung.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Part III “Sunday night. The Ghost of Shopping at Five Grocery Stores in one Weekend”

Right. So, if you buy food at 5 grocery stores there is a quantity of cooking to follow. Here is what I started with:

1. The scaffolding for that salad of roasted red pepper/sun-dried tomato from the radical feminist vegetarian cookbook (that whole pendulum swing thing you know? I really like men now, and meat, of course) . I roasted a bunch of cheap red peppers from Costco over the burner on my stove. I contemplated firing up my grill, but lighting a fire of real wood demands my appreciation in the form of a good oatmeal stout and a couple hours of sitting outside next to it, so I opted out. I soaked sun-dried tomatoes ( a raw food) in warm water to rehydrate them. After covering the roasted peppers in foil to steam I pulled out the stem, slid off the burnt bits and cut them up. I added the soft squishy dried tomatoes, drizzled on some olive oil , sprinkled on sea salt and some minced parsley. A quantity of minced parsely. Very good for you. I will use this throughout the week on top of sunflower sprouts or the baby heirloom ruby lettuces I found for .79cents each. It also goes very well mixed up with ground beef or shredded beef.

2. Scaffolding for an orange/beet salad. I steamed 2 large beets while I was doing the peppers. Dice them up and add 4T raw apple cider vinegar and the juice of 4 clementines that had shriveled up too much to eat normally (or squeeze some fresh OJ). This is a great topping for any type of lettuces or greens you have and will last several days in the fridge.

3. Thai Soup. I went all out on this one. Many unusual ingredients, all paleo. Restaurant quality. But it was stupidly easy. Do this:

Pour 2 cartons of organic chicken stock (or use 2liters of your own) into a heavy soup pot. Add 8 kaffir lime leaves, 3 inches of ginger in peeled slices, 3 stalks of lemongrass and 1/4t red chili flakes. Boil. Turn off. Let sit.

In a separate skillet melt a spoonful of coconut oil and sauté up 6 chicken breast halves, chopped into large bite-size pieces. When the chicken is cooked through, but not browned get out your strainer (a tea one works fine or larger). Pour the chicken stock into the chicken straining out all the aromatics. Bring to a simmer. Add 2 cans whole coconut milk. I threw in 10 baby yellow, red and orange peppers sliced thinly as well as about 3c sliced oyster mushrooms. Thanks Aqua Vita. Oyster mushrooms do not get mushy and disgusting like button or crimini mushrooms. They have backbone. I also added about 1/4c of ribboned fresh basil from Trader Joe’s and finally, add 4T fish sauce and the juice of 1 lime. Top each bowlful with a pinch of fresh minced cilantro.

All this took me 2 1/2 hours. I listened to Sinead O’Connnor, The Lion and the Cobra and Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire (soul-nourishing) and made a schedule for my kids’ homeschool work for the week. I also cleaned up after myself. And put together the schedule for my CrossFit Affiliate. No excuses. It Can Be Done. You can do it. I can do it. We can do it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Part II “The Ghost of Cooking Past”

Heirloom baby ruby lettuce ($0.79), pumpkin seeds, steamed beets in fresh squeezed clementine juice w/ olive oil and sea salt

I was in high school before I realized that some people love cooking. I mean I was a TEENAGER before I knew that some people considered cooking an enjoyable artistic, creative endeavor. I thought cooking was something that resulted in swearing, crashing pots, and standoffs between parents and kids at the dinner table. I love my mother and she nourished me very well and I am eternally appreciative, but it was absolutely joyless. Except for chocolate cakes. Delicious. Here is my story of realizing that cooking could be an art form or hobby:

I was a town kid at a very expensive boarding school. My Dad subjected himself to a teaching position that absolutely did not suit him so I could get the best education New Hampshire could provide me. I was a righteous kid and at least graduated Valedictorian. Goody two shoes? Let’s call it “late bloomer”.

Anyway, each year we had “Project Period”. “Project Period” was something that made my prep school stand out as innovative and creative. You could spend 1-3wks doing all sorts of interesting and exotic activities like going to Machu Pichu, rafting the Colorado River, seeing Paris or going on Safari in Kenya. If you happened to be raised by parents who loved having you around, but didn’t have fat wads of cash, you got to choose from things like horseback riding at a local farm, visiting colleges or learning how to cook. You see how it was? Anyway, one year my very best friend Amanda and I signed up to stay in town and cook. You can imagine us just in knots trying to decide “should we go sailing in the Caribbean or stay in town and cook”? Right on. Amanda is the most creative person I know. She is an awesome artist and grew up one of two girls living with her single mother and her artist grandmother. So here we are in a cooking project spear headed by our English teacher, Chris Noll. Son of the Pittsburg Steelers coach Chuck Noll. Chris had quite a following among the debutantes, so there were a bunch of us, some of whom might otherwise have been in more exotic locations. I had never seen a man approach cooking as a genuine desireable activity, except my grandfather who cooked as an extension of his hunting and fishing prowess. I mean, when it was my Dad’s turn to cook he threw together a mean meatloaf, but we begged him not to tell us what was in it. Chris taught us how to use a Wok and create proper Chinese stir frys. When it came to baking day, for some reason, Chris took pity on me and Amanda. Since we both had been baking sh** for years, he decided to teach the junior yacht club how to sweet talk yeast and he let me and Amanda bake our own bread in his apartment kitchen. He said something like “Cooking should be really enjoyable. Glass of good wine and good music. Well, you can’t have wine, but you can use my stereo.” That just shattered my whole image of cooking. “Enjoyable? Music? Wine?” Apparently there is “cooking” and then there is “Cooking”!!

In case you are wondering, the next year for “Project Period” I visited colleges.

Anyway-I’m telling this story for you: My Brothers and Sisters in Charge of Nourishment. Meet your Chris Noll. Turn up your stereo. Find some wine. Give your kid a cookbook and let him pick out a pie with Cherimoyas. Substitute frozen strawberries from Costco. Attitude adjustment.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Multi Part Series on Shopping and Food Prep


Part I: "The Gathering"

Five grocery stores in a 48 hour period is unusual even for me, but every now and then I just get absorbed in food and it seems like the best use of my time to scour the City of Tucson looking for the foods that are calling to me. Anyway, since I no longer live on a little mountain in the middle of nowhere, I may as well take advantage of my urban bounty. A different kind of joy. I strayed very very far from local foods this weekend, but I had lots of fun.

I gave my 11 year old son a Raw Food cookbook and told him to pick two recipes out of it for the week. He chose a vinaigrette dressing (no shopping required) and a raw fruit pie made of…cherimoyas. A cherimoya is a delicious little tropical fruit, but a tiny bit on the unusual side. My best guess was that just maybe 17th St. Market would have them, but they didn’t. Without doing my research I’d guess cherimoyas are out of season and do not appear to come canned or frozen. No big deal, we’ll use something else, but while at 17th St. I was inspired by some plaintains and kaffir lime leaves as well as grape leaves and sun-dried, oil-cured olives.

That evening I got out a pile of my favorite cookbooks and searched for vegetable inspiration. In a book that I grew up on (as a cooking feminist that is) called The Perennial Political Palate by The Bloodroot Collective, I found a little salad made of sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers (among other things that aren’t Paleo, but easily fixed). Now I know not all of you want to spend your weekends at grocery stores and reading cookbooks. Bow in deep gratitude if you have someone who takes care of your nourishment so that you are rendered free of food shopping and meal planning. If you don’t have such a Divine creature, male or female, in your life then f***ing dive in! Making excuses like “I don’t have time” or “I’m not a good cook” or “I don’t know how” or “I don’t like to” is bullsh**. That’s like saying you don’t bother brushing your teeth because you don’t know how, or you don’t wipe your bum because you don’t have time or you don’t wash your hair because you don’t like to. Procuring and preparing food is a life requirement. Do it well, live well. Do it like shite, feel and look like shite.

If you are a woman, and the constant servitude of cooking, feeding and cleaning up the mess has worn you down and made you resentful don’t fall into that self-sabotaging gerbil wheel. I have a cadre of powerful women in the generation of my family that precedes me who do not like to cook. I think it is a tightly woven complicated story, but the general plot line is that to constantly serve and nourish the ungrateful is a sh**ty way to spend your years. There are the constraints of time, food budgets and the futile sense of needing to make others happy. Pile on top of all that the fact that if you are one of my relatives you likely wish you were thinner and having to cook makes you deal with food which makes you guilty and angry and miserable and you wish that you could be left alone to read books. Dude. Bad news. Bust out. Throw it off. Do it for yourself and give a harsh smack down to anyone who whines, complains or undermines your work in the kitchen. If you have to get divorced, do it. Just kidding. Actually, that might be my ex-husband’s very best feature. He never complained about my cooking and was always grateful. Stay tuned for Part II when I’ll tell you how I stumbled across the concept that cooking might be pleasurable.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"You should write this one down..."

I don't really cook by recipe, although one of my fondest pleasures is reading cookbooks and cooking magazines. Somewhere, jumbled up in my head are all the recipes I've ever read and all the things I've ever cooked and that's what shows up on the plate.
This can be annoying to people who eat my cooking because it is sometimes difficult to get a repeat performance. Carl has taken to saying "You should write that one down so you can make it again." Here it goes:

Shredded beef with Ginger-Mushrooms
I sometimes purchase already cooked shredded beef, or you can make it yourself. When you make it yourself, make extra!

Finely mince 1" ginger, 3 cloves garlic and begin to saute them in a large heavy skillet in 3T coconut oil.
Add 4 chopped scallions, greens and all. Add 1/4-1/2t dried red pepper flakes.
Add 4 minced carrots. You have to cut the carrots very small or they will take too long to cook.
Saute about 10min.
Add 1 box crimini mushrooms, sliced.
Saute about 5min or until carrots are done.
Sprinkle on 1T toasted, dark sesame oil and 8T wheat-free tamari.
If we want to be quibblers, which I do not have time for, toasted sesame oil is not the greatest ingredient. However, it is delicious and unusual and improves my life. Use it very sparingly. We can also quibble about the wheat-free tamari. Same answer. If you have it, you could use truly fermented fish sauce instead which is absolutely Paleo and it sustained the Roman army.

Add in your shredded beef (about 6oz for this recipe). Mix it in and heat everything through.
Eat. OK-I wrote it down.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bacon-the ultimate vegetable improver

I will make a daring statement: all vegetables are improved with bacon. More nutrients from plants are absorbed if we ingest a little fat with them because many important nutrients are fat soluble. More people will eat vegetables if the are cooked with bacon, therefore bacon increases the vegetable content of peoples' diets. Finally, bacon tastes magnificent. Even my son described the green beans I cooked with bacon as "These green beans are actually pretty good." Now, it is true that some people do not believe green beans are Paleo because they are a legume. Since a green bean is primarily the shell of the bean, and I am not looking to reduce anyone's vegetable intake by making rules about string beans I'm going to leave the quibbling to others. The biggest problem with using bacon as a vegetable-improver is that cooking bacon makes a mess. I don't like spending a lot of time cleaning up bacon pans. Here is how I do it: I take my sharpest knife and about 3 strips of real, smoked, non-chemical bacon. I stack the slices and cut them into tiny little pieces by making one cut lengthwise down the stack and then slicing all along. I throw the tiny bacon pieces into a heavy skillet and saute them until brown. This produces crispy little bacon pieces and a thin coating of drippings. The pan is just starting to look as if it will be unpleasant to wash. At this moment I toss in my green vegetables with a spoonful or two of water (careful of splattering) and use a metal spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan. Then cover the pan for 5-10 minutes (or longer depending on your vegetable). Once everything is done the moisture from the vegetables will have cleaned the bacon mess from the bottom of the pan! And your kid will pronounce the vegetables more edible than usual.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Primal Creations of my beautiful friends, the Heinos

In my mind what makes a true dessert is when my Sister Mama, beautiful Steph Z-H, makes it for my son on his eleventh birthday. Desserts nourish the heart and soul because they are special and sweet. When Steph makes you a dessert, her passion and love is in every spoonful. First of all, like everything made by Steph, it will look pretty, so it nourishes the senses. It might be, like this one, made from berries that she herself foraged from some muddy, mosquito-y, stand of berry bushes. On top it will have raw cream, from the Owens Farm, where Steph does chores. Potentially, this raw cream will be sweetened with maple syrup that Steph and her family boiled in the spring when the sap was running. Steph is an ancestral culinary tradition Goddess.

Steph is also an artist and recently has tapped into one of our most Primal raw materials for her work. All that Big Game hunting and early domestication of animals didn't just feed us, it clothed us. I love my artificial-fiber-CrossFitting-gear as much as the next grrrl, but when I dressed my babies, when I care for my sick children, when I need to remind myself that I am of, and from, this earth, I turn to wool. In fact, my least favorite thing about living in southern AZ, might be the lack of wool clothing required. I miss my mittens, scarves and sweaters! Check out Steph's wool creations at her family's website, where you can find her husband, JD, doing the other most Primal of activities, building with stone. The picture is my son Ezra standing in front of one of JD' s walls.