Wednesday, December 26, 2012

a bit of year-end nostalgia

I can't remember a time in my life, aside from a few bouts with depression long ago, when I was not enamored of food, just about every aspect of it. Cooking has long been my claim to fame, even though on a quite miniscule level. While there is much that I love about the way I cook and eat these days, I do miss a good deal of what I've left behind.

I miss coming home tired from work and starting yeast dough for a pizza that night. I've always made my own sauce, and it was ready and waiting in the freezer for the mood to strike. On several occasions, I made batch after batch of pizza dough from a recipe that had become muscle memory.  They were certainly not perfectly round, and the toppings were a bit esoteric for some tastes, I'm sure---artichoke, eggplant, feta cheese, fresh tomato, jalapeno peppers, anchovies, fresh herbs from the garden as well as the expected and accepted. I will never forget some of the children in our family discussing my pizzas. They all agreed they were the best they'd ever eaten. I loved that. And I miss it.

Yesterday, I served a lasagne as part of a buffet lunch. It had to be gluten-free so that I could even handle preparing and cooking it. I had to ask GK and my daughter to taste the sauce as I made it. It was big and heavy with several kinds of cheese, a bit of eggplant still hanging on in our garden, thin slices of summer squash, spinach, and of course, the somewhat spicy homemade sauce. As it came out of the oven to oohs and aahs from a few nearby family members, I was almost simultaneously sad that I could not enjoy it myself and guilty that I was serving something I don't look upon as healthy to people I love. It's a weird one, like pouring another drink for a friend who's had too many.

So I'm giving myself a few days to reminisce about foods of days past. At the same time, I refuse to fall victim to my own mental ramblings. Right now, I have the rear half of an organically raised turkey browning in the oven before I put in in a crock pot to simmer a bit with some vegetables. I'll remove the meat when it's done and let the rest continue to simmer. It may not be pizza, but it's still playing with food. And at the end, I can serve it guiltlessly to my family and enjoy it myself.

I won't deny feeling a little deprived occasionally, not so much by what I can't eat as by what I can't cook, but I wouldn't change a thing at this point. Well, maybe I'd speed up my progress with some new cooking skills. I'd like for people to look forward to what I'm serving, and pizza is sure off the table.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

my best breakfast yet

I used to love going out to breakfast, especially when I was presented with a meal that looked like a work of art. Eggs Florentine was a favorite, with all those spiffy garnishes and pools of delightful hollandaise. Those days are over for me, and I don't miss the pain one little bit. I do, however, miss pretty meals.

At home I'm sure I could make our table and plates look lovely, I just haven't gotten there. I'm still in the whining about preparing from scratch every single bite that goes into my mouth phase. It's been more than two years, so I hope I get over that soon.

I am over thinking of my meals as limited or limiting. I've mentioned one of my favorite things about this Paleo adventure is that I get to enjoy cooking and being a foodie again with no guilt, pain, or regrets. Yes, I'm still mourning the loss of really good cheeses but only slightly.

My mind started wandering down this path, the breakfasts out path, this morning as I ate my very ugly breakfast. This one did not even sort of look nice. I must have been REALLY hungry to serve myself a pile like that. (I did take the time to make GK's look pretty, partly to make up for forgetting to cook dinner last night.)

The thing is that lumpy bumpy pile of food was one of the best breakfasts I can remember eating. I sat there just savoring the flavors that almost took me by surprise. Not one thing on my plate was there for the first time: sweet potato hash browns cooked crisp in coconut oil, oven-baked and perfectly finished Beeler's bacon strips, two soy-free eggs cooked in bacon fat to just barely past over-easy. I don't think I've ever combined them all before. That's probably because sweet potato hash browns are fairly new to me and bacon, even safe humanely raised bacon, is not an everyday protein choice for me. Whatever the reason for the delightful flavor combo, I savored every bite.

I really should start working on the aesthetics, though. Flavorful and healthy may come first, but pretty meals are such fun.

If you've never made sweet potato hash browns, you're in for treat. With the use of a food processor, they are almost effortless. It certainly possible and not at all hard to make them without a food processor, though I can't make the effortless claim when a dish involves grating or shedding by hand.

Sweet potatoes vary in size, of course, and when shredded seem to grow in volume more than I ever expect. This is more of a method than it is recipe for that reason.

I usually peel one or two, since I keep them on hand for awhile. If your sweet potatoes are fresh and thin-skinned, you can certainly leave the peels on. Using the shredding disc or small julienne disc, shred potatoes. I use the pulse button, usually, as it give me more control. This takes approximately 45 seconds. To a preheated griddle or low, wide pan add an ounce or 2 of coconut oil and shredded sweet potatoes. I like to mound them in piles that touch but can be turned independently. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. All that's left is to turn them occasionally, keeping a close eye as sweet potatoes can burn quickly.  As I turn them, I often add a little more oil to the pan around the edges. The result is crispy, slightly sweet and salty goodness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

paleo processed food

What's not to love about processed food? It's fast. It's easily stored. It's often tasty. It's readily available. It's diverse. It's so nice to come home to after a hectic day. It requires little of us. It's healthy? Uh, not so much. Unless, of course, you are your own food processor.

I am convinced that daily meals and entertaining become so much easier with the help of a well-stocked pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. That for me means processed food.

Still, I buy almost no processed food. It's almost because I do but olive oil, coconut oil, almond flour, coconut flour, and coconut milk. I also buy meat that has been butchered, aged, and packaged. And I buy spices from around the world. So, I do not claim to do all my own processing by any means.

Paleo processed food is do-it-yourself processed food. It's really very easy and very cost-effective. Every time I hear complaints about how expensive it is to eat clean or how budgets just don't allow for good food, the first thing that crosses my mind is the unreal cost of processed food: potato chips, prepared frozen meals, pizza, burgers, ready-to-eat entrees. Seriously, while I may spend a lot on groceries, my steak, salad, and sweet potato fries cost less than most combo meals at a drive-through. And some do-ahead prep, your own processing makes it quick and easy, too.

So, teasers for today. Soon I'll post some specific tips for making meals healthy, quick, inexpensive, and most importantly, tasty. Can't wait a day? Check out all the great ideas from Well Fed from The Clothes Make the Girl.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

what i love most about paleo

All my adult life, and a fair amount of my childhood, has revolved around food and cooking. Not just the necessity of eating, the sheer joy of it. I simply adore it.

Much of that time has also been dedicated to health, though not always in ways that turned out to be so healthy. I've followed Adele Davis, Atkins, Fit for Life, vegetarian diets, low carb, low fat, high protein, low protein, low sugar, no sugar, all natural, mostly artificial. I've consulted with herbalists and a medical intuitive. Geez! At one very odd point in my life, I even tried Nutrisytem and ate food from little packets. That doesn't sound too foodie-like, most certainly.

One of the hardest aspects of food and health in my quest was the business of giving up food for health. Every healthy step forward seemed to involve doors slammed in the face of foods, all kinds of foods. More than eating them, often, I missed cooking those no-no foods. I missed playing in the kitchen, even cleaning and chopping, but mostly roasting, braising, and simmering. I missed turning the pages of Bon Appetit and Gourmet. I missed Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. So, often, I'd stray. Just a little at first, then before I knew it, I was making gourmet pizza again. And huge, fluffy cinnamon rolls, and lasagne.

Out of nowhere, it seemed, I slammed head first into a wall I couldn't ignore. The pain was unbearable; the other symptoms had become undeniable. It wasn't new, none of it was new, but now it was in my face in a way I could not ignore.  Maybe it was an age thing, maybe environment, could be stress-induced, I have no clue. I only know that there came a time when I simply had to sit up straight and listen to my body. I wanted to cry that day, that week, that month, that whole first year.

I followed the advice that I still give others, "Eat what you love that really works for your body. Ignore everything else on those food lists. Don't eat the "avoid" foods, but don't dwell on them either. And don't even consider trying to force yourself to eat foods you don't like just because they may be good for you. Ever!" As I did this, I found more and more and more foods I could not, cannot eat. Damn! Gluten-free alone has never worked for me. I had to eliminate all grains, all dairy, anything and everything artificial or enhanced.

Then I bumped into Paleo, that weird sounding world, oddly fixated on WOD and fat. Gee! This was the food I ate, and almost everyone was excited about it. Almost everyone on the Paleo sites and blogs and pages, I mean. Sure, occasionally there's some butter or potatoes or cheese. No big deal there, I can do a little subbing. I could read cookbooks again without getting teary. And magazines. And blogs! Lots of blogs!

As I was looking over recipes, food pics, and ideas from other bloggers this morning, I had a crystal clear vision of what really draws me almost magnetically to Paleo meals, food choices, and lifestyle.
I get to work toward healthy and healthier. I get to mostly avoid pain. I get to eat real food. And best of all! I still get to be a foodie while doing it.

I get to do this with little sacrifice, really no sacrifice. Have a hard time believing it? Check out these delightful recipes and articles from and about other bloggers.

Pumpkin pie bars
What's in the fridge, Whole9?
warm apple onion relish
Balanced Bites' Pumpkin Pancakes 

Next time I'll focus on the beast.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

slow cooking fun, a book review

For the next few days I plan to keep a few crock pots busy in my kitchen as I continue to try out as many recipes as I can manage from Carrie Forbes' (who we know and love as Ginger Lemon Girl) The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook.

I've been playing with these recipes for a week or two now, and I'm no where near through the list of dishes I want to try. So far, one of my favorites has been Dijon Beef Roast. It is so simple, yet the Dijon mustard adds just enough depth to the flavor to make it interesting and keep it familiar at the same time. This is one of those toss it together and it works kind of recipes as far as I'm concerned. I could make it every week and not get tired of this tender, tasty roast.

If you've recently started on a Paleo diet, have been eating this way for awhile, or are just removing wheat and other gluten-filled grains, Carrie's book will be a big help. While this is not a grain-free or Paleo cookbook, per se, many recipes fit that lifestyle just as they are, while others are easily adapted. I love thumbing through cookbooks for ideas just as much, if not more, than for recipes to try. This one is great for that. She shares so many ideas for different approaches to slow cooking that it just becomes a fun-filled adventure. Seriously.

I have never used a slow cooker for more quickly cooked dishes before. I must confess on my first attempt with salmon filets, I was a little too nonchalant and did not pay enough attention to timing. For dishes like this, timing matters, and the directions say so quite clearly. I'd suggest following the directions, unless you have someone like I do in the house who doesn't believe protein can ever be too done.

Think I'll head back to the kitchen now. I have two large Crock Pots going, but I still haven't tried the blackberry preserve recipe. Onward...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

it's all about method

I've recently come to a rather embarrassing realization, embarrassing for one who aspires to be a decent food blogger. I'm neither a fan of recipes nor of photography. I like reading recipes and looking at photos for sure. I just can't get really excited about creating either.

So what am I doing here? I am an avid cook. I cook for fun, for relaxation, for escape, and to eat, of course. I love playing in the kitchen. I rarely if ever know what I'm likely to end up with until I'm about to serve it. I love to look around the kitchen and start throwing things together. Fortunately for me and those I cook for, the results are usually pleasing.

I have had years and years of practice doing mostly this sort of cooking. I have and do follow recipes from time to time, though usually my (enormous) cookbook collection is more of a source of inspiration than of recipes I actually follow. I have mastered several methods and know which ingredients do what. So my kitchen has become more of a playground.

Improvisation in the kitchen is just plain fun in my book, though it does have its drawbacks. When someone likes a dish I've made and asks for the recipe, I stumble. I know it often sounds like I'm refusing to share, and truly it isn't that. Simply put, I don't have one. When I've tried to record each step and measure amounts and note specific ingredients, the dish suffers, suffers immeasurably. To those of you who create and share recipes, my hat is off to you. I will continue trying from time to time, but I know it's not my calling. I cook, I eat, and I write about food. Recipes --- clearly not so much.

Friday, August 24, 2012

a bit of a hiatus

As you are likely well aware, I haven't been posting a lot lately. Between Coco's two surgeries (both of which require months of recuperation,) my silly and embarrassing work injury, and lots of changes on the job, I've been overwhelmed and overloaded and, simply put, not very creative. I do hope to be back in gear soon after several months of craziness and too little fun-filled cooking. Thanks so much for bearing with me. Love to all, Pamela

Monday, July 30, 2012

cooking costco

I've made it no secret that I am not a fan of Costco for groceries. I read wonderful stories from those with access to Coscto warehouses that stock foods very different from ours here. I also hear from those who say they're more concerned with cost than quality. I have for the most part not been thrilled with the selection available nor the care given to the food when I shop there.

That is for the most part. Not always. Sometimes Costco is great, and if not great, perfectly satisfactory. This time of year, wild caught Alaskan salmon is available fresh and reasonably priced at $8.99 a pound here in central California. We can also get frozen organic blackberries and raspberries at far less than a standard grocery store. Asparagus has been plentiful and affordable, and though it's not organically grown, I feel relatively comfortable buying it. Asparagus does not appear on the "dirty" lists. When we get over to the central coast, we have more buying options. In SLO the Costco carries ground bison for less than half the price I see in my natural foods store here, as well as organically raised chickens, both whole and individual parts. In SLO they also often carry organically grown strawberries when is season, Alaskan cold-smoked salmon (lox), and unbelievably good procuitto (its only ingredients are pork and salt.) I'd love to see more of that here. I might be able to get excited about shopping there.

I usually don't buy much meat at Costco, but this week I was tempted by the whole, peeled filet of beef. Since the filet is very low in fat, and almost all the surface fat is removed in this form, I made an exception. It's certainly not that I avoid fat. It's just that when I'm unsure about the quality of the fat, as in not grass-fed and commercially raised beef, I want to avoid as much of THAT fat as possible. It is not a budget choice, most definitely. At $17.99 a pound, I usually wouldn't give it a second glance. In need of a treat and a menu shake-up, I decided to give it a try. Still, even after deciding to be indulgent, I looked for the smallest piece they had. I can only carry indulgence so far. That said, this stuff is really, really good. The filet was between 3 and 4 pounds and will make many meals for the two of us. I cut the whole filet into ten good-sized steaks, a dozen or so large chunks for skewers, and a couple of smaller breakfast steaks.

The side of wild salmon we cooked on the Big Green Egg (alongside a grass-fed tri-tip) with Vital Choice Seafood's great salmon seasoning and a touch of olive oil. The asparagus, I trimmed and washed, tossed in a little sea salt and olive oil, and grilled when the salmon came off. The salmon and asparagus, along with a quick salad, were Sunday night's dinner and the salmon will be found in lunches for a few days and at least one more dinner this week. The tri-tip (not from Costco) will also find its way into a few meals. I have some packed for breakfast (at my desk) this morning.

So, I'll admit it, I owe Costco a bit of an apology. Still, I can't help wishing they were a little more careful and consistent.

Friday, July 20, 2012

a struggle for self-care

I've been more than a bit remiss about posting as of late, and a large part of that centers on today's topic. This has and continues to be a hard subject for me to wrap my head around. Or maybe I simply don't want to see what's in front of my face. And it's not about food. Sorry.

I spend a good part of each day doing a job I used to love. I felt that I made a significant contribution to my students' lives and education. I took delight in almost every aspect of this job, down to paperwork and telephone calls. For years I worked with a delightful mix of teachers, support staff, and administrators. Then the sky fell.

I won't go into all the sordid details. They're painful and boring. I will say that I am not alone in my frustration and near hopelessness in this. Virtually all of our staff at my school and others are facing almost the same issues. We have all in essence been told that we do nothing, provide no value to our students, and are not paid to think. I kid you not. Our daily schedules have been reworked adding 4 to 5 hours of structured assignments without removing a single other responsibility. All that we valued about our contribution to our students has been removed from the program. Teachers who could, have retired, many others are looking for different positions, some have decided they'll stay home with their families for a time. It's that extreme. Others of us, of course, are staying. At least for now. Or until the Prozac runs out. (Just kidding there. At least for now.)

Taking care of myself right now is a daily an hourly struggle. The weird thing is, I'm usually so good at this. I (usually) meditate, I (usually) pamper myself a bit. I'm a bubble bath nut and would happily spend hours relaxing there, and yet lately, I've had to consciously remind myself even to bathe. It's been awhile since I bothered to put on makeup. This may sound silly, but I recognize signs of depression setting in, and it's scaring me. I am not up for taking care of myself right now. When I go to work each day, I have no idea how I will manage taking care of the teenagers who need me to be there for them.

As I began this, I fantasized about reaching a wonderful conclusion, about telling you how I was going to make this work, find the silver lining. Now I know I am not there, probably not even close. I am lucky to have and thankful for a loving family's moral support. I have friends who care and listen. I am not alone. I am at a loss, still. Thanks for letting me share.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

lots of right ways to do paleo

Sometimes I can be a little dense. I don't know how else to explain it.

I began following a Paleo diet because it just seemed to click. I had been telling people who asked, often those in restaurants or generous friends trying to cook for me, what I could and couldn't eat, what was in and what was out, for what seemed like forever. Then there was Paleo: no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no artificial crap, all the obvious. The "yes" list was short but abundant: quality proteins, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats. Perfect!

I was never committed to the historical aspects. I didn't care what Paleolithic women and men actually ate or whether they cooked it or if anyone would ever have eaten this meat with that produce. I liked the workability of it from a practical health standpoint. And I loved it from a foodie standpoint. The blogs and cookbooks were delightful. I could read Paleo recipes and know I could eat most of them. It seemed obvious. It seemed easy. I felt I was home. It was great.

Then, the way it always does with anything living, the picture changed. More and more and more recipes and pics included copious amounts of butter. People were writing odes to goat cheese. Processed meats were everywhere. I was seeing BACON BACON BACON. Discussions of how easy it is to eat in ethnic restaurants or even food courts abounded. Then the grains were randomly interspersed: rice or corn, mostly. Lots and lots of recipes with chocolate. Yes, it was dark chocolate, but it always contained a bit of milk. And then I started noticing how much people were talking about cheat days and percentages and ridiculing anyone adhering closely to the basic premiss. Here I was going, "but...but...but..."

While all these things were likely there all along, I mostly didn't notice. I do admit to some surprise when a highly anticipated cookbook came out with a huge dessert section. And I, of course, have seen the myriad of discussions about what is truly Paleo and whose version is most accurate. I just didn't ever find them very interesting.

Finally, while reading a well-written account of a blogger's off-the-grid restaurant meals, it really registered. I've seen post after post and photo after photo detailing restaurant, even fast food meals. I would often think "Where do they find these places? What about cross-contamination? What other ingredients are in there?" But, of course, these questions don't come up for everyone choosing Paleo. She can do this occasionally. It doesn't mean she's failed or has to go on some sort of silly binge. It means she chose to eat something fun or special. But she also will not get sick as a result. I would. And it would normally not be short-lived. It's just too scary. And yeah, I'm a coward. Eating in restaurants is virtually non-existent in my life because I follow this plan out of necessity. It's neither better nor worse. It's just the way it is.

I still contend wholeheartedly that I am not severely tortured by my food choices. By some standards, sure, they're limited. Not by mine. I have stopped thinking of artificial anything as food. I can't imagine wanting cereal for breakfast. And while I may wistfully look at a take out Chinese menu or a beautiful, thick lasagne, I'll get more excited by a perfectly cooked lobster tail or a rare rib eye steak, believe me.

As always, a work in progress...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

yikes! my diet just got more restrictive

Several years ago now, in an attempt to discover what was causing pain so intense I entertained the idea of my image on a voodoo doll, I removed gluten completely from my diet. I was delighted and a bit surprised when the symptoms that had been cutting my work days short, leaving me whining in bed in the mornings, and generally disrupting my life morning to night, went away. I mean really gone. In a matter of days, I was no longer in pain. It felt like a miracle.

As many of you know if you've been through this scenario, the miracle doesn't exactly last. The intense pain didn't come back, thankfully, but other aches and discomforts started slowly manifesting. My feet were swollen or I was having new digestive issues or foods I hadn't thought of as problematic became so. I tried gluten-free grains for awhile, and while they taste good and are fun to play with in the kitchen, they just didn't work for me. Ouch! Over time, I removed more and more foods from my safe-eating list. It was scary; it was frustrating, but it helped for awhile. I no longer EVER consume dairy products, grains, legumes, sugar or sweeteners. I do still whine about a few absolutely wonderful artisan cheeses, but I wouldn't eat them on a bet.

I still love to cook and love to eat. Finding my way to a Paleo approach to food has been a lifesaver. People in this community share recipes, silly stories, amazing food pics, and encouragement. A funny thing goes along with all this support. I doubt that any of us want to say, "Hey! Something's still not working here." When we do say it, it's almost always accompanied by an apology of sorts. It seems like it should work just fine. Period. I follow a really strict program when it comes to food, so it's not that I've taken a 80/20 concept and turned it into 50/50. If I eat something "non-Paleo," it's because I didn't know it was there. Like relaxing with friends and forgetting for a heartbeat that I'm not at home where nothing crosses the threshold unless it's safe. Or so I thought.

some of this can stay
I don't cheat. Really, not ever do I eat or drink something knowing it to be something I do not tolerate. I do, apparently, miss some of the rules of the game as they apply to me. For instance, the whole autoimmune issue just kind of aluded me. I just assumed it didn't apply to me. Irresponsible as this may sound, I had not paid much attention to what that term means. Clearly, I should have, since several apply directly to me. I knew I had those issues. I just didn't know they fell under that category. I know, irresponsible and rather stupid on my part. As I spent hours last night pouring over the whole autoimmune issue and foods that are likely problematic, I just wanted to cry. Seriously. I already prepare 98% of all the food I eat, never touch anything packaged or artificial, buy local and organic whenever possible, eat only vegetables, grass-fed meat and wild-caught, sustainable fish, a few local fruits, and high quality fats.

Oh! I forgot for a moment the point of my whining here. I eat a lot of eggs and have spent unbelievably huge amounts of time over many, many months finding safe (ha!) soy-free and pastured eggs. Nuts, also, have been too big a part of my diet because I can grab a handful and eat them as I do any number of other things. And then there's our garden. We haven't had much of a garden in several years, so this has been a treat. We have at least 9 different heirloom tomatoes, 3 types of eggplant, 8 different pepper varieties, and tomatillos. They are beautiful, starting to be harvestable size, and completely off-limits to me if I want to tackle this health thing before it lays me out. Wah!
So yes, working with the autoimmune issues means just saying "No!" to eggs, nuts, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, and both sweet and hot peppers. Crap! I'm working hard right now to do what I always advise others to do when faced with food limitations. I'm trying to focus on what I can still comfortably and safely eat. I know I still have lots and lots of great tasting options that lend themselves to creativity in the kitchen. I'm going to start working on coconut instead of almond meal. (Funny how the ingredient that replaced grains becomes a no-no.) Good meat and seafood are still appealing options. A couple more days of whining and I may be there.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

thoughts of dad on fathers' day

It's Fathers' Day today, and I'm thinking about my dad, as I know many of you are.

We were not always close. In actuality, there were times, I'm ashamed to say, when I waited for him to go to work, dreaded his return, and delighted in the fact that he worked very long hours. Those, of course, were thoughts left behind in childhood. I don't think my father was quite ready for all the responsibilities of fatherhood as a young man. He sort of grew into the role, in his own way for sure, as he matured. I never knew I'd miss him as much as I do, and I sometimes think I miss him more over the years.

I am the eldest of five children, and as such had my own special set of rules. Rules I deemed totally unfair. Somehow, I was to be the shining example to my brothers and sisters. If they slipped up or embarrassed him, that was my fault. I should have been a better example. If any of my younger siblings were punished for an indiscretion, I was also punished. Well before I married and moved away from home at the ancient age of 18, this punishment concept had shifted to be oddly more inclusive. Grounding was the usual punishment, and if one of us were to be grounded, we were ALL grounded. You can just imagine how much my mother, as a stay-at-home mom, loved this arrangement. He went to work and she stayed home with five outraged, whiny children. The oddest thing in this whole scenario (in my opinion, at least) is that after I was no longer in the house, when he could no longer ground us all, and especially me as the eldest who was to be setting the great example, grounding ended. Most, though not all, punishment of any kind ended. He did not deem it fair to ground them when he couldn't ground me. My dad was smart and funny and quite the character, but he had some down-right interesting ideas about child-rearing.

One thing I didn't realize until much, much later in life was how proud he was of each of us. It's comforting now. Though as I began to write this my mind wandered back to childhood, when I think of him now, I mostly think of later years. I think of silly things, like meeting my parents at the farmers' market here, and wandering through vegetables and fruit looking for just the perfect ones for the yet undetermined dish. Or carefully picking out small, fresh cucumbers to make into pickles. He also enjoyed curing olives, and it was fun to watch the process, though I rarely participated.

Interestingly, we also rarely ate the end results be it olives or pickles. At least I don't remember eating them. My brothers and sisters may. Hmm, I still don't do well with fermented foods of any kind. I make them. They look great. They smell great. I'm afraid to eat them, so I wait until they've gone bad, then I throw them away. Maybe that's my legacy.

Happy Fathers' Day, Dad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

it starts with food book review; i love good writing.

Of all the reasons---and trust me, there are many--- to own, read, and enjoy It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, just plain enjoying good writing ranks at the top with me. I love the way they write.

Truth be told, and a slightly embarrassing truth it is, I do believe I started my first Whole30 based almost entirely on their writing. I don't mean the ideas and information. I mean the style. It was fun. It was witty. It was straightforward and down-to-earth. And yes, I loved the ideas, the plan, the rationale, of course. But the writing spoke to me in a way I can't explain. I am so glad they weren't advocating a banana split diet. Who know where that path may have led. Shallow, aren't I?

Of course, It Starts with Food has lots more than style going for it. What they refer to as the "science-y" stuff is plentiful and fully understandable. References are abundant; you're not asked to just take their word for anything. And while this is not a cookbook, the sections on the foods you'll want to keep in your kitchen and how to make the most of them are accessible, easy to follow, fun, and offer a lot to foodie and non, alike. A couple of chapters address the specifics of the Whole30, so far my all-time favorite way to tighten up my food choices and feel just a bit healthier. While this has been available online since its inception, a version in print that can be read and reread is welcome. I may need two copies: one to treat with respect and another one to underline, highlight, and write in the margins---oh! and take into the kitchen.

I have but one tiny complaint; it's not really even a complaint. I do love this book and could hardly put it down. It's just that I'm pretty sure I would love it even more with a slightly larger font size. I'd happily pay more. Still, this is clearly minor.

Even if you're not a sucker for writing with style and flair, you need this book. Or, like me, two copies of it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

where do we go from here?

Following a new program, food-wise, can be fun and exciting in the beginning. So much is new. So much is intriguing. And there's just so much to learn. What's not to love?

After a while, though, the newness fades and then it's just life. It's daily meals. It's shopping. It's cooking. It's planning. It's sometimes far less than exciting. It's a strange predicament for a foodie with health issues. You love to cook. You love to eat. also want to get through the day without pain and pills.

Lately, I've begun to experience a bit of ambivalence about food. In fact, I feel a bit at odds with myself most days. It seems like I cook all the time and that I don't cook at all. It seems I write all the time and that I don't write at all. Some days I'm a health nut and some days a wine enthusiast. Some days I feel like a food snob. Some days I'd give almost anything to be able to order a pizza. Or Chinese food. Or eat ice cream. Or Linn's olallieberry pie. With whipped cream.

Of course, I don't follow any of those self-destructive whims. But even now, as I try to express this often frustrating side-trip in my food world, my mind keeps turning to foods I will, in all likelihood, never even taste again. Gooey, cheesy, lasagne for instance. I always recommend focusing on the foods you love that love you back---or at the very least, don't attack when you least expect it. Usually, I follow my own advice with ease. But sometimes, it's harder. Sometimes I feel neither creative nor practical. Sometimes I wish I could simply eat a slice of Pyrenees bread, slathered in butter and follow that with some creamy Point Reyes blue cheese.

One place I look for inspiration at times like these is to other food bloggers, to Facebook foodie friends, and Paleo books and articles. And if I can keep myself from constantly gravitating towards the few dishes that include butter, I am able to find the fun once again. Not for good, but for awhile. For I am convinced, we will not likely ever arrive at a place where all is done and settled, where creativity and excitement are constants. We have to continually recreate that new feel, that excitement we had at the start. And looking to one another may be the very best way to do that. I will be back to foodie talk and recipes soon. Thanks for bearing with me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

in my dreams

Don't you just love spring? Breezy cool days as temperatures slowly begin to rise. Sprouts and blossoms, new leaves on previously dormant trees.

I've heard of spring. I've read about spring. I've seen pictures of it.

I've just never---well---experienced a spring. Our weather usually goes from coats and sweaters to shorts and tank tops overnight. While I may be ever-so-slightly exaggerating, it always feels like yesterday was winter and today is summer. Every year.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a kitchen garden. And for me, no other kind of garden makes any sense. Of course, I grow flowers, edible flowers. Our trees are fruit trees. GK wants a small pine forest in the back yard. "Which ones have edible pine nuts and will they grow here?" was my only response. And yes, we do have some ornamental landscaping that was here when we bought the house. Even so, every plant we've added in seven years is edible.

I'm lucky with our growing climate in many ways. We have a least a dozen citrus trees. Rarely is winter weather here cold enough to threaten them, though it does happen. Eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, grapes, okra, all sorts of squash, even melons and pumpkins grow beautifully here. We have a long, hot growing season. And I know I've mentioned before that much of the world's garlic is grown here. I have little room to complain. It's just that I would love lots of dainty lettuces, radishes, sugar snap peas---all those lovely spring crops I fantasize about every year. Still, to this day, I convince myself that I can do it, that I can coax spring crops out of my 80 and 90 degree April and May. Pure fantasy. I can plant them, and I have. I can pray they come up, and they have. I have been known to actually clip a few tiny lettuce leaves for a salad. A moment of two that hold a glimpse of success, and then Wham! reality. Hot, sunny---no glary, dry days turn all those tender little leaves brown.

Every time I toy with the idea of eating local, always local, it comes back to our weather. Wonderful summer crops, satisfying fall harvests, not too horrible winters, but...but...but... My only recourse, I believe, is to create such an amazing, self-contained micro-climate somewhere in my yard that any and every spring crop would thrive. Do you think there's a kit?

Monday, April 16, 2012

can't stop thinking about breakfast

For some unknown reason, breakfast has been on my mind a lot lately. In general, I'm not really even a big breakfast fan. That is---I alwasy eat it; I just don't get excited about it. Lunch, dinner, even afternoon snacks, excite me. Breakfast not so much. That wasn't always the case, however. When I think of what I loved about breakfast in the past, my mind goes immediately to extra-crispy hash browns and Eggs Florentine, then skates on to chile verde omelets and shrimp and jalapeno burritos. At one time not so very long ago, anything drowned in hollandaise would quickly catch my eye and my imagination. Mmm, thinking large grilled shrimp, resting on a bed of hollandaise, edged by crispy hash browns and softly poached eggs.

Okay, back to reality, Pamela. Most of that no longer works for me, though the best parts still do. And one of these days, I swear, I'm going to figure out a way to enjoy the hollandaise experience dairy-free. Mayonnaise, even beautifully creamy homemade mayo, just doesn't do it for me.

Still, this is an ode to breakfast present, not a lament of breakfast past. And while I love a breakfast of meat and veggies, eggs are what I've focused on as of late. Eggs cooked lots and lots of different ways. Steak and eggs, poached eggs, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets, shrimp and eggs---seems to be no end of possibilities.

grass-fed beef strips, kale and beet greens make a bed for eggs to gently poach
One of my favorite things to do is to start by sauteeing whatever veggies look tempting (often meaning cleaned and ready to use) in the fridge. Often that means mushrooms, scallions or onions, broccoli, asparagus, or leafy greens. I love them all. I may or may not add meat. When all is near done, I drop an egg or two or three on top, then cover it all with a lid, letting the eggs gently poach on the veggies until softly cooked. This can be varied in so many ways; you could follow almost the same steps each day for a year and never repeat---unless, of course, you want to. Without the eggs, even, it's still a great breakfast. I could eat a version of this everyday.

soy-free egg "poached" on a bed of beef and spinach with raw sauerkraut

As I've mentioned often, we go to great lengths to get soy-free eggs. I recommend them wholeheartedly. And while we're talking tasty and healthy, a little raw sauerkraut on the side makes almost any breakfast better. Trust me on that one and give it a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

theme song

This is not my favorite prompt. I simply do not like it and will not write a lot. Maybe that's in keeping with the song that keeps running through my mind.

Are any of you old enough to remember "It's my Party and I'll Cry if I Want To"? Yeah, maybe not, but possibly your parents or grandparents would.

For my theme song, chosen under duress (sort of) and while laughing at myself and sung to the tune of the afore mentioned tune---

"It's my blog, and I'll whine if I want to,
Whine  if I want to, whine if I want to,
You would whine too if it happened to you."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

dear pamela at 16

A letter to myself at sixteen.

Dear Pamela at sixteen,

You have so many exciting things ahead of you. I know you think of yourself as inept, unattractive, unpopular, and way too skinny. The good news is all these concepts will pass and very quickly, really. Your self-doubt is not going to last a lifetime, believe me. You love to write, and you will continue to write. You love to cook, and you'll continue to cook. You'll also discover soon that others don't view you in nearly as harsh a light as you view yourself. I know you have a hard time believing that.

There's so much I could say, so much I would love to say, but most of it you would not believe. You are going to have a fairly easy life as compared to others, not without hardship, but easy. You may be surprised to see the rebel in you, as well as the leader, come to the surface with a bit of a vengeance. Your love of public speaking and debate will serve you well. You will be loved, you will love, and wholeheartedly. You'll know how it feels to love unconditionally and have that put to the test. You'll come out knowing that, yes, unconditional love exists and is the only love worth the effort.

You'll struggle with health, as you always have, and you'll be relieved to learn that all the lethargy and total lack of strength you're going through now is valley fever, not laziness. It'll take a couple of years for them to figure that out. And at some point you will stop waiting for others to figure it out, and you'll learn to follow your intuition rather than doubting it. I could tell you "eat this, drink that, avoid those" but that means far less than these simple words, trust yourself. Trust that you know when something makes you ill. You know when something makes your heart sing. You know when you can breathe freely. You know that swollen ankles and stomach pain are not ways your body tells you you're in balance. Just listen. Not to those with credentials or degrees or loud followers. Listen to yourself, your body, your spirit, your mind.

And always know you're loved.

Monday, April 9, 2012

is eating well too expensive?

My post for day 9 of 30 days of health posts has taken a bit of a curve off topic.

Still, for many if not most of us, the question of cost is a huge one. We have a peculiar method of dealing with food budgets. We hide our heads in the sand and pretend. And heck, if we can't see it, it can't see us. Clearly, this approach may be flawed, and always, at some point, we have to face up to reality if only briefly.

Today, while grocery shopping, I thought a lot about such things. About budgets and choices and just how any of us manages to put this crazy puzzle together. We have a decent income. There are only two of us. It should be easy, but...clearly, it's not. It's not easy for lots of reasons, but most of those are universal, not ours alone. We want to eat healthy food. We want to eat safe food. We want to eat delicious food. Don't think we're alone in much of that.

I do not profess to have all the answers. I'm not sure I have all the questions. I do have a few tips. I'm a foodie. I'm a health nut. I'm also good at making my money go a pretty long way---never far enough to satisfy me, but a long way, nonetheless.

For most of us, our protein sources are the biggest portion of our food bill. (While it may be naive on my part, I'm assuming for the moment that none of us is still buying pre-made, boxed, frozen, or packaged food.) We drove well over a hundred miles to shop at stores that carry the meats we're comfortable eating. While that may sound odd to some, I know many of you know this experience only too well. When we do this, we stock up as much as we can. At New Frontiers in San Luis Obispo, the choices are amazing to me. They must have 30 different fresh sausages with all sorts of meat bases, and the complete list of ingredients is displayed in front of each one. I am a sucker for full disclosure.

They carry many types of beef, but we usually buy grass-fed beef from Hearst Ranch. They promise happy, healthy animals and humane conditions. We like such things. Rib eye steaks and New York steaks are $18.99 a pound at New Frontiers. That price is considerably less than if you order from their website or directly from their display in the visitors center at Hearst Castle. Still, that's hardly budget friendly. Sirloin tip steaks, on the other hand, sell for $6.99 per pound. While they made not carry the same name appeal, they have the same protein content and are equally flavorful. They are delightfully tender if not overcooked. One steak at just under a pound can easily serve two. I like to cook one, cut it into strips, and take it to work with a fresh vegetable or salad to serve as both breakfast and lunch. That is less than picking up a breakfast sandwich on the way to work and far, far more healthy.

My obsession with braising is pretty obvious, I know. If you also enjoy braising or a slow cooker, another great option for less expensive grass-fed beef is the chuck steak. We bought some yesterday for $5.99 per pound. This morning while breakfast was on the stove, I browned one that weighed in at 1.3 pounds and popped it in my small crock pot with sliced onion, 2 carrots, and a few cloves of whole garlic. This entire meal, which will serve 2 with leftovers for another meal (possibly my lunch tomorrow,) had a total cost of under $8. That includes all veggies and seasonings.

Of course, there are other inexpensive cuts, and sales are great options when you can find them. But for everyday choices, these cuts are two of my favorites.

Friday, April 6, 2012

health haiku for day 6

Moving through April.
the path is clearer, the mood,
the food, a healthy life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

i am such an (expletives deleted)

My post today will be short. Our prompt was delightful; I on the other hand, was not.

In my defense, today was not a normal day. I has amazing plans. Really. A super duper wonderful facial with Rhonda (who is next to impossible to book) plus a "Swiss Bliss" body wrap,  a few other cool body treatments and hair with Michelle. This is a great day for me. But, how is it that life keeps getting in the way?

Okay, cut to the chase, I got in my own way, but it took the entire day to realize that.

About an hour after getting up today, I noticed a very large lesion of some kind on my right forearm. I freaked. I do not freak. Although, clearly, I can no longer claim that. It's hard right now to give this story justice. For most of the day that should have been relaxing and wonderful, I worried that I may be faced with melanoma and chastised myself for hours spent in the tanning bed.

Gk went with me to my doctor's appointment this afternoon. He's a sweetie. I'm a baby. And I must add, I rarely go to doctors. I just freaked. This thing looked awful.

Turns out, it's a bruise. An odd looking sucker for sure. But a bruise none the less. Yay! Slight blush of embarrassment and on to the next foot in mouth adventure.

Tomorrow, I'll do better.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

why i write about my health

When I first read the prompt for today, all sorts of happy thoughts raced through my head. I love to write. I love the topic of health. I love to cook great tasting healthy food. Blogging is a rather personal avenue. Why wouldn't I write about my health? And then the truth sort of hit me. I write about my health, mostly---so I won't cry about my health.

I am not in really bad health. That is not a perception I would ever want to leave. I take no medications. I can get up and go to work at a job I love every day. I can do my own shopping. I can do my own cooking. I can travel and entertain. I have a loving family, delightful friends, and an amazing little Frenchie, Coco. So very many people have far worse issues to deal with than I. My health issues are not the worst. They are, however, my issues, so they're the ones I deal with. And what I write about. 

Over the last few years, I have managed to identify one at a time many of the foods that have plagued me for years. I don't know when I started having problems with what seems to be 95% of the foods on the planet; it may have been in childhood. I didn't know what it was. I knew my stomach hurt. I thought I was whiny. I knew I had no energy. I thought I was lazy. I had no idea it could be the foods I was eating. And when I did make that connection, I tried all sorts of remedies, all in vain. I couldn't eat the foods I loved. I couldn't cook the foods I loved. And what the hell?! The pain never really went away. I kept trying and trying. Maybe I hadn't given it long enough. Maybe I made a mistake, missed an ingredient on a label. I tried so many different "cures" over the years, I probably couldn't remember them all, much less list them.

Now, even though I feel I have a little more of a healthy handle on the issues around my health, in the back of my mind I can always hear my own questioning voice wondering if this again will prove futile. Gee, I hope not. (That's my G-rated language for it.) I am still not pain free. I am, however, far, far healthier than I've been in years. And I get to cook real food. And write about it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

if i had a superpower

If I had a superpower, I would want it to be...

I have mulled this over and over as the prompt for day 3 of the 30 day health writers' challenge. I would pretty much like any of them, I think. Okay, maybe not shooting spider webs from my finger tips, but I wouldn't mind super speeds or super strength. I love being in an airplane, but I could do without airports and coughing passengers. Speed would be good. But if I can only choose one, it won't be speed. I don't travel enough to warrant the opportunity cost.

If I had a superpower, I think I might like it to be the ability to tell truth from BS. I'd like to know when I read a medical study if there's good science behind it or a lot of hot air. I'd like to know if the foods I'm told are healthy are actually slowly poisoning me. I'd like to always be sure that the "experts" have some real expertise. Over the years, I have subjected my body to all sorts of nonsense because I believed it to be the healthiest, most reasonable way to go. I cringe thinking of some of those choices, of eating virtually everything artificial while looking in disdain at real foods. I cringe at what I fed my children. I didn't make all that up. Experts recommended it. The current literature confirmed it. And it's not like I just took their word for it each time I read about the newest, greatest idea. I researched; I read what I could find. Every time. And you all know what that's like. We don't blindly follow like so many sheep. We check; we question. But we keep looking for answers, for something that will work. And we hope. Even when the next step calls for a screeching halt and a complete u-turn. So, yes, there are some definite upsides to the power of knowing truth from untruth or propaganda.

Clearly, there could be a few drawbacks to this power. I like it when my mom tells me I look like I'm losing weight. I like it when friends rave about my cooking. I like it when GK says he loves my writing. I like it when my daughter is complemented for any of the hundreds of things she does exceedingly well, and she says she gets it from her mother. I like thinking all those things are true whether or not that is the case. Still, I'd have to consider it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

day 2 post with wego's health challenge

"I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble." --- Rudyard Kipling

I wish I could say I always do exactly this. That would not be true. What is true for me is that I do always prefer to do so. And what is also true is that it does always save so much trouble. On the surface, for me this has always suggested that thinking ill of someone and being wrong could cause all sorts of trouble, and this I still believe to be true. It does have other layers though and reminds me of a conversation with GK a couple of days ago.

We were joking recently while driving about the probable direction the car to our right would take. Odd, I know, but we are a bit weird. We're entertained, when driving a route nearby, with one of the lanes that begins and ends rather quickly. The purpose of the lane is to allow drivers who will turn right to continue on without adding to the long line of cars continuing on the same road. The lane is directly connected to that particular exit. It ends there. Should be a simple driving exercise, but people often, very often, use it to pass the cars in the lane that continues on. It's annoying and can be downright dangerous when drivers challenge one another for position. (I shall refrain from discussing how often I may have been a passenger in one of those challenging cars, the ones going straight, never the ones passing on the right.) Two cars had just passed us on the right as we were following a slow procession of vehicles up the overpass ahead. "Are they turning right or cutting in ahead?" I asked in our usual let's make a wager on this mode. GK laughed. With some slightly descriptive language that need not be repeated, he indicated that the drivers' intentions were to pass on the right and squeeze into the lane ahead of us. I always say they'll turn. In that setting, I always expect the best, that they're turning right and using the lane as intended. Wish I could say I'm always right, but we all know better than that. This day, however, I was right. No forcing their way into an already slow lane of traffic. The cars veered right and exited. We laughed; he may have accused me of being complicit in their actions. Silly talk. But as we talked about it then, I realized very clearly why I always make the choice I do in our little "bets." If I'm right, when I win, I get to feel good about it. I get to acknowledge the courtesy of the drivers, their willingness to follow the rules of the road and contribute to the safety of all involved, and I get to be right.

It's far nicer to be right and feel good about it, than it is to be right in the knowledge that, yet again, people or an individual person, has let you down. That's a bonus for expecting the best.

Granted, this would appear to have little to nothing to do with food or health on the surface. We all know, or at least suspect, that our health has far more to do with our minds and our attitudes and our full acceptance a connection with others than we often admit. Thank you, Rudyard Kipling, I love this quote. And thank you, WEGO, for this second writers' challenge to choose a favorite quote and write about it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

my time capsule

Along with many other bloggers who have an expressed interest in health today, I'm participating in WEGO's Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge.  Each day we'll each address a different subject. Today, I'm preparing a time capsule that will not be opened for 100 years.

Oh my, where to start? So much is changing day to day, it's hard to get a grip on right now. What would I choose to send into the future to let a glimpse of that live on? My first thought, and I do apologize for this, is that I don't want to record for posterity what I view as an atrocity to our heath and our species. Somehow, in the name of profit and arrogance, we as a whole seem to be intent on annihilating ourselves. That said, I still have a time capsule to fill.

I'd start with several current health magazines and newspapers, each with its own take on health and healthy living. They contradict each other with a vehemence that's hard to imagine if you don't look it in the face. Exercise, diet, food choices, clean air, fresh water---no one agrees. We can't even agree, it seems, that natural is better than engineered or that toxic should be avoided. Unfortunately, we all occupy the same small planet and have few options, especially if we don't agree.

I'd include a bit of pink slime, along with the statements of its opponents and proponents. I'd also add some GMO products with similar statements. A few heirloom seeds would round it off.

I'd also add some current news. I would love to know what the take one hundred years from now would be on the current war against women and their right to have a say in their own health. Forty years ago I would not have seen this coming. I'm guessing 100 years will take us in a better direction.

I'd like to include some of my favorite things from 2012, as well. For the life of me, I can't see how lamb shanks and grass-fed fillet of beef are going to make it in this time capsule. For posterity though, I must include DVDs of the complete series of West Wing, one of my all-time favorite TV series.

Talk to you tomorrow, when I will have something more substantial to say. At least I sure hope so.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

our paleo comfort breakfasts

hash-browned cauliflower is great with scrambled eggs
Weather is funny. Sometimes I barely notice it, but it's always a factor, a major backdrop to everything else that's going on. Today, we have rain, lots of rain. We've had almost none this year, so this is a big deal. I've spent so much time marveling over the rain, enjoying heavy drops on my kitchen skylight that I forgot to cook breakfast. I always wake up hungry. We always eat breakfast. On weekends, it's usually a big breakfast because, well, because it's the weekend. It's also usually an early breakfast since we run lots of errands in the morning before GK's standing lunch date with the guys. Only today, mesmerized by the rain, I forgot. How do you forget breakfast? It's his favorite meal of the day, so trust me, he did not understand.

Though I always wake up hungry, breakfast is not my favorite meal. Breakfast foods have never been my favorites, at least not the traditional breakfast foods I've been around. I hear people mention liking or not liking foods based on what they had in childhood. I'm sure that must be true of me in some ways, though it's overwhelmingly the opposite in most cases. When I was a child breakfast was cold cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancakes, waffles, bacon, eggs, and toast. Not all at the same time, certainly. Breakfast sometimes meant only toast with a little jelly, very little jelly, just enough to make the surface shimmer. When my mother discovered refrigerator biscuits in those cans that were prone to explode when opened, they became a staple on non-cereal days. It was much later that potatoes entered the picture. I'm not sure when I was introduced to breakfast potatoes like hash browns or potatoes O'Brien or country fries. I may very well have been an adult. I really don't remember them at all during childhood.

My favorite breakfast when I was young was never cereal for sure. I've never been a fan. I was an egg girl. My mother would fry bacon, then scramble or fry eggs in the same pan and without removing any of the fat. Now, those I liked. Eggs completely soaked in and dripping with bacon grease were my idea of the perfect breakfast. Sometimes she made omelets: eggs whipped with milk and seasoned with dried mint, then cooked quickly in butter. Nah, it was likely margarine, then, and lots of it. Interestingly, I started high school weighing 86 pounds and graduated weighing almost 96. That fat was clearly not making me fat, much as I longed to put on weight. Then along came the low-fat era, and my pleasure in eating those eggs quickly vanished. I have been health conscious, though admittedly misguided from time to time, most of my adult life. The bacon was out; the bacon fat was out; even the eggs were deemed practically life-threatening.

If I could safely eat anything I wanted, which I cannot for sure, breakfast would be either Eggs Florentine or softly poached and piles of hash browned potatoes, extra crispy, with either choice. Or maybe eggs fried and in butter. Most of those options are totally out of the question for me. But I've found what (almost fully) fills the bill. These days, one of our favorites when we long for an old fashioned breakfast is hash browned cauliflower with eggs. My eggs are usually over easy to medium, while GK prefers his scrambled. Sometimes his become an omelet or a scramble with veggies and aromatics, but mostly he prefers plain scrambled eggs in either olive or coconut oil. I'm not a big fan of eggs in coconut oil, but butter is not an option for me, and olive oil is a bit scary for cooking. Often I cook my eggs in beef tallow or bacon fat.

If you haven't yet tried hash browned cauliflower, you must---even if you're not sure about cauliflower. It's not potatoes; I'll grant you that. But it is a truly satisfying alternative, considering all the drawbacks of potatoes---nightshades in general, for that matter.

For starters, they are one of the quickest and easiest dishes around. After much trial and error, I now always start with raw cauliflower. Trust me on this one. Though some suggest using a food processor to chop cauliflower into small, rice-like chunks, I prefer to use a knife. It gives you much more control over the size you ultimately end up with. Sometimes I want tiny little pieces, and sometimes I want larger chunks, more like country fries. Other times, I go for something in between.
This step is so simple. Just place your rinsed cauliflower on a board or chopping block and, avoiding your fingers, slice through the head of cauliflower. Turn the cut pieces 90 degrees and chop again. Do this as often as you like until the pieces are a size that looks good to you. There is no right size.
Melt some coconut oil, or the healthy fat of your choice, in a saute pan. The quantity is a matter of personal preference. I like to use enough to cover the bottom of the pan generously. Fat is what will make your hash browns crisp and, well, hash browns. Don't skimp. I own only two non-stick pans. Neither is Teflon. Teflon is good for tossing in the trash, little else, in my opinion. For sauteing cauliflower, either non-stick or standard pans work great. Today I was feeling a little lazy, hence the non-stick.
Add a generous layer of cauliflower to your heated, well oiled pan, and resist the temptation to stir constantly. Add a generous sprinkling of salt, I prefer sea salt, and pepper.
As your cauliflower begins to brown, turn or stir. Add another sprinkling of salt, as you stir.
Continue to cook until they reach a beautiful toasty brown color or to your preferred depth of color. I like them a dark brown, but you should be the judge when you're cooking.

If you'd like, add onions, bell pepper, or other aromatics to the cauliflower at the beginning of the cooking process for an almost unlimited number of variations.

Please give this a try and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

an (almost) paleo birthday party

When I decided to start the Whole30 on March 1, it was partially because March would be an easy shot. I saw nothing ahead that would throw a wrench into the works.

We have a huge, really huge, party on Easter with dozens and dozens and dozens of eggs to be hidden and found, more food than eggs, a sacrificial lamb (cake), Champagne and wine. This is not a kids-only kind of party or egg hunt, clearly, though the little ones are well represented, usually. It's a fun day. I want to fully participate. And it's in April this year. March looked great.

In the past, too, I've loved to simmer corned beef and cabbage in Guinness and make black and tans for St. Patrick's Day. That's not happening anymore for lots of health-related reasons. No conflict there.

March 11 is my son's birthday and March 14 is his son's. Sometimes we get together on his birthday but not every year. Sometimes he has a kids' party for the little one, not always. This year we invited Jeff over here for his birthday. I was thinking small family Bar-B-Que. I always seem to forget, however, we don't have a small family. As his birthday approached, I finally realized we weren't really talking small BBQ; we were talking party. Birthday party. The reason you can handle being a year older party. And with Adam's birthday only a few days later, it was also a child's party. Kids live for their birthdays. Yikes!

BBQ to me meant steak, maybe chicken or salmon, on the Big Green Egg. We'd toss a salad, add a veggie. Easy. Kristen offered to make some cupcakes for the little one, complete with Angry Birds. No biggie.

Not Paleo, the only exception in fact, but too darned cute.
Party meant PARTY. Lots of choices, probably a buffet since people would come and stay awhile. Goodbye BBQ. That's way too much hands on during the PARTY.

Fresh veggies piled on a platter lined in lettuce leaves looks fancy and is SO easy.
My current go-to where parties are concerned is a meat and veggie buffet that is becoming more and more Paleotized with each event. A year ago I would have been scrambling to find something I could eat in the mass of food I presented as party fare. This time, other than the cakes, we only had one item I skipped, the marinated mushrooms. They were perfectly Paleo, but the bare pinch of sweetener in the marinade kept them out of Whole30 status. No problem. Mushrooms are not leaving the planet.

One of the easiest party foods for me is a big, bright, beautiful platter of fresh vegetables. Virtually all of these can be cleaned and trimmed in advance. I like to blanch some like the French green beans and asparagus. Carrots and cauliflower do well with a quick blanching, too, but it is not required. When I say quick, I mean 30 to 60 seconds in boiling water---no more, followed by a dip in ice water. We usually wrap each type in paper towels and store them in plastic bags or storage containers in the fridge. A large platter, like a turkey platter, or even a cookie sheet works beautifully when lined with fresh, leafy lettuce. This is a great use for those big, heavy leaves from lettuce that has begun to bolt. It isn't great in a salad, but it's perfect for a lining. I'm always looking for uses for lettuce in this condition because that's what I usually get in my farm box. It's too tough and bitter to be a good salad option, but neither of those qualities are a problem here. Veggies look a bit artistic, too, in piles showing off their color, shape, and textures.

Without rare meat, no one would know it was our house.
Crudites is fine, but prime top sirloin, grilled in large chunks and sliced, is just plain fun party food. We also had a small platter with well-done meat for those who prefer it, including one of the birthday boys.

In addition to the beast, I grilled lemon chicken, which we served in half inch slices on skewers, and my take on Ginger Lime Shrimp from Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed. Also from Well Fed came baba ghanoush, ranch dressing, and the inspiration for adding sun butter and coconut milk to the base of our (formerly peanut) sauce.

Mixed olives and two types of almond flour crackers inspired by Elana Amsterdam's Elana's Pantry rounded out the food. Oops, almost forgot our marinated mushrooms---a hit at every party.

Our buffet just needs a few finishing touches and we're good to go.
It turned out great. It turned out Paleo (if we ignore the adorable cupcakes.) It turned out comfortably Whole30 safe for me. I never eat everything at a party, anyway.

I'm pleased with the direction my party planning is going. I'm getting closer and closer to serving only good, healthy, great tasting food. I love it, too, that my guests are expecting just that.

Happy birthday Jeff and Adam.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

my favorite whole30 words

"Start now. Today. This minute."

Those are the words that prompted me to start the Whole30 for the first time. I see that morning clearly, amazingly so, really, in my mind. I was lying in bed on a Saturday morning, being lazy and reading whatever caught my eye on Facebook. I followed a link to the Whole9 website and started reading through comments and then the specifics of the Whole30. I'd heard about the Whole30 but never really examined it before that morning. It was mid-morning early last October. I'd already eaten a very unusual breakfast, unusual for me anyway since I almost never do sweet: fresh Paleo apple crisp with an almond crust, sweetened with stevia and topped with whipped coconut milk. It was certainly not Whole30 approved. But it didn't matter. I followed their directions. I started right then. Right after reading the detailed description on their website.

No fanfare. No big prep. No worrying. I walked into my bathroom, weighed myself one last time, and just started. And I am so glad I did.

Of all the delightful things they have to say, and they are excellent writers, those words remain my favorites.

"Start now. Today. This minute."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

parents, aunts, uncles, kids at heart

Eat Like a Dinosaur is coming to a bookstore near you this month, and the authors, Paleo Parents, are celebrating in style. Enter their colossal contest at Eat Like a Dinosaur.

It's easy. It's fun. And you'll want these books.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

stews and my whole30

Stew is one of my favorite dishes. I like to cook it and eat it. I like to think about it. Though I've certainly made lots of vegetable stews, I like the moist, tender, flavorful meat best of all. In years past, potatoes were always a component of my stews. These days I don't use them and don't miss them. I think the almond flour used in the cooking adds a starchy feeling, and I don't miss potatoes in the least.

Stews are easy, versatile, they make the house smell great, and they can be SO forgiving. While doing this round of the Whole30, I'm keeping stew or ingredients that can quickly become a stew in the fridge. I have two distinctly different approaches to stew and use one or the other depending on which ingredients I have handy. One starts with cooked meats and vegetables, while the other starts in the raw state. Both are easy.

This week for quick lunches, I've been simply pulling roast and veggies from the refrigerator, cutting them into large bite size pieces, and combining them in my cool little warming Crock Pot, which I then take to work and plug in at my desk.

Stew Re-purposed from a Roast

This method is so easy it doesn't really warrant a recipe. When I cook a pot roast, which for me usually means grass-fed chuck roast because I love the flavor and texture, I add extra carrots, celery, and onions. Often, but not always, I'll throw in turnips, cauliflower, or parsnips. I don't use potatoes. I also usually throw in a handful of almond flour, quite unceremoniously, to slightly thicken the cooking liquid. This is an ideal combination for me to use later in impromptu stews.
baby veggies are a nice addition
Stew for Stew's Sake

The other method is almost as easy and a little more fun. The directions work for boneless beef, chicken, oxtails, short ribs, turkey thighs---any meat that can handle or benefit from long, slow, moist  cooking.
turkey hindquarter ready to become stew
Start by browning your meat of choice. Though we're looking at turkey here, this method works well with all sort of meats. I often brown turkey, oxtails, lamb shanks, and other large cuts under the broiler, watching it very closely as it browns. Boneless and smaller pieces, I brown on the stove top in coconut oil or rendered fat, often with a sprinkling of sea salt, ground pepper, and almond flour. Whether you've used the broiler method or the stove top method, the next step is the same. Slowly brown chopped onions in the fat rendered from browning your meat until well-caramelized but not burned. This adds a real richness to your stew. Next add garlic and cook for about 30 to 60 seconds, just to ever so slightly brown. I use dried granulated garlic in a lot of my cooking, but for a roast or stew that's going to cook for an extended period of time, I like whole or sliced cloves of fresh garlic. To slice or not to slice the garlic is totally a personal choice. Lazy cook that I am, my usual practice is probably pretty obvious.
start with chopped onions, then brown in coconut oil or beef or chicken fat
As soon as you begin to smell the garlic, remove the pan from the heat.

I'm a big fan of a slow cooker for stews, but I sometimes use a heavy French or Dutch oven, like Le Creuset, on the stove top when I'll be at home for a few hours. The advantage to the slow cooker is that you can leave and come back to perfect stew. The stove top advantage is that you can play with it all day. Given the option and the free time, I want to touch and taste and stir. I'm also likely to decide to add a bit of thyme from the garden or a little tomato because it looks good as the stew simmers over the course of a few hours.

Whichever method you choose, layer your browned vegetables with 1" to 3" pieces of carrots, celery,
tomatoes are optional, go with your mood
turnips, parsnips, cauliflower---the veggies you personally like in a stew. Put the meat on the top if it's a large piece like the turkey above, or stir it in if you've used smaller chunks. Top with sprigs of fresh parsley, about 2 ounces of almond flour, a tablespoon salt and a teaspoon of black pepper. Finally, add 1/2 to 1 cup broth or water.

Simmer, covered, for several hours. Meat should be tender and vegetables cooked through but still intact. Taste, adjust seasonings if needed. You may also remove the lid to allow the liquid to continue thickening, if desired.
If you're using a large piece of meat, you'll, of course, cut that into pieces a little larger than bite size after simmering. You'll notice very few quantities list here. This is really more of a template than a recipe. Thyme is a great addition with almost any meat. Half a lemon is nice simmered with lamb, if that's your meat of choice. The possibilities are (almost) endless.

Stews in general are better the second day or third. If you can, refrigerate overnight and reheat to serve. You can remove any fat that has solidified on the surface, especially if you're not using grass-fed beef or lamb.

One thing that makes the Whole30 so much easier is having good food, food you love and don't tire of quickly, on hand and ready to go. The great thing about both this stew and its primary ingredients is that they're easy to keep on hand, fresh or frozen. We have two versions in the fridge much of the time during cooler weather.