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, March 22, 2010

Defeated...What to do about fat kids?

Saturday I took my son to a make up kung fu class. He did very well, but I lost. Nothing to do with kung fu. We arrived in time to watch the tail end of the girl's class which made my heart break and my blood boil and I couldn't figure out a single action to take. All the girls in the class are under the age of 12. Three of them were really fat. Get it straight. These were not kids having a chubby phase before they stretch out or kids just going through a little pudginess, or even kids just a little on the heavy side. These girls were really fat. My guess is TWICE the amount they should weigh. Anther small handful were probably technically overweight as well. It was the belt test for the girls, so one of the very heavy girls was having to respond to a stranger "attack" from the kindly, supportive, twinkly eyed kung fu teacher. In under 5 min, in a space of 12' x12', she was wheezing, red faced, panicking and crying. I heard someone ask her Mom if she had asthma. Her Mom said she did not, she was just nervous. This situation brought up SO MANY conflicting feelings for me. On the one hand, how wonderful that these parents are paying for an expensive martial arts program to help their daughters be more physically assertive and accomplished. On the other hand...get real! Once a week of a little kung fu is not going to change an 11 yr old who weighs twice what she should. The line between being a parent and caring for your child's health and creating poor self-esteem is, I agree, a fine one. But, I'm sorry, allowing your child to be 75lbs overweight at age 11 and basically NON FUNCTIONAL is just wrong. This little girl could never run across the playground when the bell rang. She could never run and play with a group of kids. I can guarantee her parents would find it unacceptable to prevent their daughter from learning to read or write, but somehow it has become ok to raise your child so that they cannot function physically. Being a parent is really hard and there are a million things to do well. I hate to find myself criticizing people's parenting. But there I was, truly angry at the physical condition of these kids. I watched the little brother of this girl eat an entire box of Wheat Thins during Kung Fu class!!! Wheat Thins contain soybean oil, flour and 3 types of sugar along with some other crap. If you are reading this and you don't know me well, please be assured my kids eat far from perfectly. For one thing, 50% of their time they live in a household where white bread, noodles and dessert are the staple foods. Just so you know I get much more worried when I see a kid who is all bones and titchy and weedy, than I do when I see a slightly heavy kid. My vision of the perfect human body runs more along the lines of farmer than triathlete. I am not in the business of being a parenting food zealot. BUT THESE KIDS ARE HUGELY FAT AND NON FUNCTIONAL. OK-so, in my mind, while this girl was gasping and wheezing and crying, I thought of all the ways I could make a difference: I could offer the owners of the kung fu studio a free nutrition talk for parents of their students. I could walk straight up to the Mom and say "Hey, I work with people to increase their fitness and health. I think I could make a difference for your daughter. Come and see me. No charge." I guess I just completely chickened out with the second option. How do you offer that kind of help and support without someone potentially feeling extremely insulted and offended? She didn't ask me for help and basically, it isn't any business of mine how her family cares for itself. As for offering to do some free nutrition work through the kung fu studio, I changed my mind about that when I saw the class assistant for my son's class... a huge young man. This young man was extremely kind and wonderful with the students and I'm sure he could keep me safe in a dark alley, but as a wellness role model? I was just stumped. I felt very disempowered. On the one hand people's lives are private and their health is their own business and I believe that strongly. However, that also feels like turning my back on a situation right here, in my own city, in my kids' own kung fu studio. I will be spending the next few days thinking about this and trying to either think of an appropriate response or make peace with doing nothing. Let's end with some Paleo kid snacks: carrot sticks with salt, celery sticks with a little nutbutter mixed with raw honey, nuts, grapes, apple slices, sunflower seeds, cubes of meat, pre-cooked turkey bacon, plantain chips, coconut/gelatin "jello" squares, home made trail mix, pieces of Lara Bar.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Best Breakfast includes saurkraut

This morning I had the very good fortune to have some leftover roast pork. I warmed it up with butter which took no time at all. Then, I utilized the best "instant" food ever invented-saurkraut. Northern Europe may not have contributed much to my general vegetable traditions, but they make up for their lack of Mediterranean/Asian vegetables skills with saurkraut. It gets spooned out of a jar onto my plate. I like Bubbies brand if I've been too lazy to make my own. 1/2c has only 1g of carbohydrate!!! Brilliant. All of you out there looking to lean out are supposed to be keeping a tight eye on your carbs. 1/2c also has 30% of your RDA for Vit C. I have at least 1c on my plate, so I've only got 2g carbs, 60% Vit C, 18%iron and a dose of probiotics. And of course it tastes salty and sour and gourmet with leftover pork roast. Should be a good day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

My current read, 5 pgs today waiting inline at the post office and a few more tonight listening to my kids' shaolin kung fu teacher exhort them to live a life of love, is called "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper A Sweet Sour Memoir of Eating in China" by Fuchsia Dunlop. I am loving this book. Click here to check her out. It chronicles Fuchsia's developing relationship with the gnarliest components of Sichuanese food. This is something that the most ardent Paleo proponents often ignore. I don't know if they neglect the topic through ignorance or eyes squeezed tightly shut to avoid contemplating eating gristle, tendons, guts, feet, eyes and brains. Please don't think I am braver than I am. I am as grossed out by this stuff as you probably are, although I can eat raw meat without difficulty these days. But, the reality of the Paleolithic peoples and more recent hunter-gatherers is that they ate just like the Sichuanese people that Fuchsia describes in her book. These gruesome tidbits are also, of course, purveyors of nutrients that we undersupply ourselves with on a regular basis. Check out this excerpt from her book on pg. 145 "The artistry of the finest Chinese cooking, with it's subtle command of colour, aroma, taste and mouthfeel, still leaves me speechless with admiration. Those fugues on a single theme-imagine, if you will, an entire banquet based on on duck: wings, webbed feet, liver, gizzards, intestines, tongues, hearts, heads, skin and flesh, each part cooked according to its particular character! That combination of intellectual thrill with raw, sexy, sensual pleasure! Those smooth and bouncy and silky and chewy and crunchy and tender textures! Those games with hot and cold! Apply yourself to the study of Chinese gastronomic culture, and most particularly, to the understanding of texture, and whole worlds open up." The photo is a page in Ms Dunlop's scrapbook from her website.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Dinner Side dishes: Japanese Miso meets Chippewa Wild RIce

Wild Rice with caramelized onions, Baby Greens with Sesame Dressing

Finally, we have managed to grow an abundant enough crop of greens so that I can make a salad and haven't used up the entire garden! This is absolutely due to NO work of my own. My father and sons are the gardeners. Tonight's salad will have sorrel, 3 kinds of leaf lettuce, tat soi and red mustard greens. The red mustard greens have a peppery bitterness as they should, so they can stand up to a robust dressing.
Sesame Dressing
1t toasted sesame oil
3 heaping Tablespoons of white chick pea miso (see note below)
1/8c rice vinegar
1/8c water
You could add a touch of raw honey to cut the vinegar if you wanted.

You might wonder if miso could possibly be Paleo since it is made from either soy beans or chick peas usually. Clearly the answer is "no". In my home I use miso because it is one of a few easily included sources of good bacteria and enzymes that are so sadly missing from our ridiculously hygenic existence. There is some very interesting research about the protective effects of miso for those exposed to the atomic bombs in Japan. Finally, any food that takes years to make has to be special. My favorite is South River Miso because they use traditional processes, excellent ingredients and package in glass. This is an excerpt from their website:
Unpasteurized miso is a "living food" containing natural digestive enzymes, Lactobacillus, and other microorganisms which aid in the digestion of all foods, and which have been shown to ward off and destroy harmful microorganisms, thereby creating a healthy digestive system.

In traditional Japan, miso gained a special place in the minds and hearts of generations who came to rely on miso soup as an essential part of their daily life. In Physical Constitution and Food, Dr. Shinichiro Akizuki, director of St. Francis Hospital, Nagasaki, writes:

I have found that, with very few exceptions, families, which make a practice of serving miso soup daily, are almost never sick.... I believe that miso belongs to the highest class of medicines, those which help prevent disease and strengthen the body through continued usage...Some people speak of miso as a condiment, but miso brings out the flavor and nutritional value in all foods and helps the body to digest and assimilate whatever we eat....
-The Book of Miso, page 25.

Wild Rice with Caramelized Onions
Wild rice is the seed of a marsh grass. Try to purchase rice harvested by the Anishinabe. Traditional users of wild rice. It is extremely important to their local economy and the cultural survival of their people. You can read about it here. This site has a picture and description of the difference between the most commonly available "Wild Rice" and true American wild rice.

I like to use a longer cooking approach to my wild rice, but you can just follow instructions on the package. I begin early Sunday morning by rinsing the rice. In a heavy stock pot I place 2c rice, 6c Non-tap water and 2T whey or saurkraut liquid. It is important to avoid chlorinated water when you want the benefit of living cultures in your food. Chlorine kills things. Nerve gas, you know? The whey (from raw milk which I give to my kids) or the saurkraut liquid adds an acidity to the soaking liquid as well as some bacterial activity. I leave this in a sunny spot on the counter all day til I am ready to bring it to a boil and simmer it for about an hour. Sometimes there is excess liquid I drain off, sometimes it all cooks away. Just keep an eye on it at the end. The grains should be a little chewy, but tender.

To caramelize onions, chop 3lg yellow onions . Melt 6T butter in a heavy pan and add the onions. It takes nearly 30min to properly caramelize onions. Keep the heat high enough so that the onions are browning, but not so hot they crisp or burn. The longer you allow the cooking, the sweeter they will taste.
Add a big spoonful of caramelized onions on your serving of wild rice.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sweet Potato Soup and pink cake!

So, on the east coast in the winter, this is how they stay warm. Toussaint the Liberator is my sister's partner, or more importantly, Daddy to my fantabulous niece who is turning FIVE on St. Patrick's Day. Born on St. P's day in Boston to a reggae/soul singer and a red-haired mama, go figure. Inari wants a pink cake for her birthday. She is allergic to egg so my sister will produce an undoubtedly spectacular egg-free, pink cake. Maybe we'll get a picture. Happy birthday Inari. I hope the strawberry cake is delicious! In Tucson, while I guess we have a lot of sunshine to keep us warm, I'm not that impressed with the hot music. Plenty of tattooed hipsters, not too much soul. Oh well. Keep warm with soup. Try some Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup with bacon and red onion salsa. I got the idea for this soup from Ming Tsai, owner of Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, MA. He has a degree in Engineering from Yale, so he must really have followed his true passion when he became a chef. I love that.

Use your kitchen scissors to snip up 5 pieces of good smoky bacon. Saute the bits in a heavy soup pot until browned. Scoop out the bacon, set aside, take 3T of bacon drippings and add them to a small skillet.

In the heavy soup pot, in the remaining bacon drippings, saute 2 large yellow onions with 5 cloves of garlic. Don't worry about chopping stuff small, because you'll puree it later. When the onions are soft add 3 large or 6 small peeled chunked sweet potatoes and 8-10c chicken stock. Add 1 scant teaspoon powdered ginger and 1-4t chipotle puree (depending on your tolerance for spice). Simmer until sweet potatoes are very soft. Use a hand immersion blender or your regular blender. Just be careful blending hot soup. Cover the top of the blender with a heavy kitchen towel.

Finish the salsa by mincing a red pepper and a medium size red onion. Saute them until just soft in the reserved bacon drippings. Add the bacon bits and squeeze half a lime in.

Serve the soup with a big spoonful of the salsa on top and a little salt and pepper. You can use it as a side dish or starter. I also used it as my main dish by chopping up a piece of leftover steak and adding it to my bowl. Really good.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Delicate food. Crab Salad.

I love the way food smells, tastes, feels and looks. Cookbooks with photos, cooking magazines, food blogs and the whole cooking thing itself makes me happy. These ancillary aspects of eating are not, apparently, rewarding for many of my nearest and dearest ones. The subtle beauty of all the various hues of greens on the yellow of a square enamel plate is lost on my sons. Diced mango mixed with crab is likely to cause my father to ask “what is this yellow stuff with the meat?” followed by “this green stuff isn’t cilantro is it?”. Faced with the above meal delivered to his office, Carl would be fervently hoping the next meal would have a lot more butter and something that sounds like “steak”. So, one of my personal pleasures is to cook this sort of thing for myself on Sunday evening when the kids are at their Dad’s and everyone else is fending for themselves. It feels so civilized! A quality, sadly lacking, in many of my days.
Crab Salad with warm tomatoes.
2 cans of Trader Joe’s crab
1/8c diced parsley
1/2c frozen mango chunks minced
3 pinches ground coriander
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8c minced red onion soaked for a minimum of 30min in rice vinegar, drained.
Salt and pepper
3 large fresh basil leaves minced
Mix well.
In a pan drizzle 1-3t olive oil and add halved cherry tomatoes (however many you would like to eat). Turn pan on to low and heat carefully so that nothing sizzles but the tomatoes are hot.
Make a nest of little greens. I used mache and microgreens from Trader Joes, but baby lettuces would be nice too.
Top the greens with the warm tomatoes and their juice and a few heaping spoonfuls of the crab mixture.