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.