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.

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...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

5 min breakfast

3 eggs scrambled in a little butter. One box of Trader Joe's microgreens. One hunk of tomato. Drizzle of leftover parsely/garlic/olive oil/balsamic dressing from a previous dinner. I've spent a lot more time on meals that were much less lovely!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eating a Thistle

There are so many annoying know-it-alls in the Paleo world. Perhaps I find them especially annoying because a lot of them are men with cavemen and spears for avatars and are looking for an excuse to be boorish and rude. I don't think we have any evidence that CaveMen were boorish or rude. For all we know they had elaborate systems of manners and behaviors that were required. One of the most annoying Modern Paleo Man arguments you can find is the kind where they argue about whether or not a particular vegetable was eaten and whether or not we should eat certain vegetables in the present. You can even find them arguing over artichokes. Since I have not provided you with a pretend version of myself wrapped in an animal skin holding a spear, my masculinity is not at stake with regard to eating artichokes. I LOVE THEM. They are, to me, like asparagus - a lovely harbinger of spring. Botanically we are eating thistles which reminds me of Eyore and Winnie the Pooh and also brings a little magic to the whole thing. The Globe artichoke is the underdeveloped flower of the plant.

Artichokes are Mediterranean in origin and do not possess any folkloric (or real) historical reputation as poisons (like eggplant and tomatoes). We are not eating an underground stem (such as a tuber). Therefore, I am happy with them.

We do know that hunter-gatherers frequently ate a very high variety of plant species each year and anything that ups my plant variety is good.

Most people steam artichokes and then create a melted butter/lemon concoction for dipping the flower bracts (they are not leaves). When I want to eat butter and lemon I do, but to me the consistency and powerful flavor of a butter/lemon sauce is too much for my sweetly delicious artichoke. I eat it plain with maybe a little sea salt on the heart. Artichokes are notoriously poor matches for wine because they leave a sweet, unusual aftertaste that ruins good wine. So don't get all fancy and serve artichokes when you are trying to show off your wine. Don't cook artichokes in cast iron or stainless steel because they turn an unpleasant gray color (although they taste fine). Use your teeth to slide off the tender base of each flower bract and discard the rest. Once you get to the inner, pale, lavendar-tinged heart you can eat around the fibers. I use a sharp knife to cut away all the edible bits and leave the fibers. Large varieties require about 30-45min of steaming. You should be able to insert a sharp knife in the base easily. They are also a very glamorous cold picnic food. The taste, I think, is more pronounced cold.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Elk sausage

There really aren't enough hunters in my life. Especially since moving to Tucson. There is a certain cache to being a sustainable farmer or selling your grassfed beef at the Farmer's Markets or even buying your meat from the local ranchers and the Community Supported Agriculture. That puts you in with high brow crowd. All good for sure. But your average hunter goes underappreciated (or even possibly maligned) by the folks showing off their dogs at the farmer's market. Keep in mind that grass fed pastured meat is only a best substitute for wild game. Yesterday Crandall brought some elk meat to the CrossFit Works BBQ given to him by his Dad who was the hunter. He threw it on the grill (wrestling the tongs away from Cate J. who superbly manned the grill for nearly the entire evening) and then he cut it up and passed it around. It was rich without being strong and tender and delicious. Nothing like deer in case you are wondering. Even more fortunate for me was the gift from Crandall during the cleanup...a little package of elk sausage. IT. WAS. DELICIOUS. There it is in the picture-Sunday brunch. Elk sausage, saurkraut, salad with greens from my garden and a balsamic/parsley sauce. Thanks Crandall and abundant appreciation to the Hunter for his work.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Grown-Up Mushroom

Mushrooms are just one of those foods that a lot of kids don't like. I think that is perfectly fine. Mushrooms have plenty of adult energy considering all the powerful myth associated with them. They can, of course, be deadly, hallucinogenic and magically mysterious. If you have a chance to get out of this desert and harvest some wild mushrooms with a knowledgeable person I highly recommend it. Oyster mushrooms (on trees) are easy to recognize and not particularly similar to any of the more dangerous varieties. The boletes are tricky because there are some that are poisonous, but the bigger difficulty in my experience is that they become hosts to maggots and bugs as soon as they come into existence. It is disconcerting to get your mushroom basket home and leave it on the counter for an hour only to come back to it and see...yeah, gross. Anyway, here in Tucson you'll have to go to the grocery store. Stuffed mushrooms make any dinner feel kind of glamorous and they are easy to make Paleo.


As usual, I make many extras for leftovers.

3 packages of small portabellas. I like the kind that are 1-3" size.
3 cloves garlic
Stem of fresh rosemary (leaves removed from stem) about 4"
1/4c pine nuts
1/4c macadamias or cashews
Salt and pepper
Butter and white wine

With a small sharp knife take out the stem of the mushroom. Trim off the end if it is very dry or woody. Mince up the mushroom stems very small-set aside. I throw all the other ingredients except the butter and wine into my Vita Mix (you can use a food processor) and process until they are coarse crumbs. Then I mix that with the mushroom stems. Pack the mushroom caps tightly with the filling and put a pea size piece of butter on top. Arrange the mushrooms in a buttered baking dish and pour in some white wine (or you can use chicken stock) so there is about 1/8"-1/4" in the dish. Bake at 375 for about 20-30min. They should be tender, but not dried out, with the top of the filling a little bit brown and crispy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

NPR's Beef-tasting story

It has been so long since I wrote-sometimes life happens and blogs rest. I wanted to talk about National Public Radio's recent story on grass-fed vs corn-fed beef. In the story, they do explain some of the nutritional difference in the two beefs. Grass-fed beef has much higher Omega-3 fats than corn-fed. Remember, not all our hunting-gathering ancestors ate cold-water fish, and they sure as shootin' didn't eat flax seeds. Game meat, pastured meat has your O-3s. Another fatty acid not mentioned in the NPR story is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is ONLY found in ruminant animals (those with 4 stomachs-so if you only eat fish or poultry you lose). CLA is the subject of an enormous amount of research right now regarding its anti-diabetic, anti-cancer properties and it is already well known to be a fighter of fat-storage/obesity. Grass-fed beef also is derived from animals that are healthy. Ruminants are not meant to eat grain. It changes the pH of their stomachs and the bacterial populations of their guts. This makes them prone to hosting E. Coli and other nasty things that cannot survive in the stomachs of ruminants that eat grass.

In terms of the taste test that NPR did, you'll notice that Susan Stamberg said the grass-fed meat was "meatier". The flavor was more intense. To me that is a good thing... Of course the meat was chewier. This was partly a function of the way it was cooked. Quickly searing grass-fed beef is not the best option. Now, I'm not going to pretend that your grass-fed meat is ever going to be as buttery as a the meat from a fat, sedentary, corn-fed animal. It won't be. But cook it right and you'll have better results.
Try this:
Use the juice and zest of 2 lemons as well as a spoonful of crushed peppercorns. Pound your grass fed meat lightly with a meat pounder (you know all those old-fashioned kitchen tools should tell us something about food preparation). Marinate your tenderized meat for several hours or overnight. Then you can dry the meat and proceed.