Archive | February, 2013

Double Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

20 Feb

I resisted the chia seed thing for a long time. Seeds as a category are usually dubious as a paleo-appropriate food (we eschew seed oils for a reason), the chia kombucha at Whole Foods looks exactly like bottled salamander egg masses, and I’m generally inclined to roll my eyes at the term “superfood.” The only “superfood” I eat is lots and lots of liver. But one day recently I decided to give drinking a mix of water, electrolyte powder, and chia seeds before running a try, and I found to my consternation that this actually helped me feel a lot better on my run, and had the interesting side effect of causing me to not be hungry for a few hours afterwards. If you are thinking of starting to practice intermittent fasting as part of your paleo / primal lifestyle, chia seeds might be a good gateway to that.

So anyway, I have these chia seeds, and I went looking for other ways to use them. If you’re somehow not familiar with chia seeds, they absorb a ton of liquid and form a thick gel, so they are used a lot as a thickener. One popular use for them is to make pudding. I’ve tried a couple of different chia pudding recipes and this is my favorite so far:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (store bought or homemade)
  • 2 T unsweetened high-quality cocoa powder
  • 1 T cacoa nibs, either raw or roasted
  • 2 T chia seeds
  • Sweetener of choice, to taste (I’ve successfully used 1 fresh date added to the almond milk and blended [i.e., with a blender] and 1 T maple syrup, but there are plenty more options)

Put all ingredients into a container with a lid and shake vigorously. Put in refrigerator. After about 15 minutes, shake again. Let sit another 15 or so minutes and shake a third time. Let stand several hours until very thick.

I find the chia seeds and the cacao nibs give this a genuinely pleasant crunch. It’s like tapioca pudding, but better, mostly because it doesn’t make me feel awful.

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A Simple Method for Steak Tartare

19 Feb
Steak Tartare

Having health insurance is nice.

I love steak tartare. I might eat it at every meal if I didn’t think that would send my beloved into absolute hysterics. I recently decided that, at the very least, it’s time that tartare stops becoming something I only ever get at very fancy restaurants and starts being something I’m brave enough to make at home. I found a few different methods for preparing it online, and decided to go for it. Before we start, I feel the need to say that this might not be for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not for the weak of stomach. These procedures are meant to reduce the risk of food-borne illness, but you are still eating raw meat. I think the risk is acceptable for me personally, you’ll have to make a decision for yourself.

The first step is meat selection. Generally speaking you want a rather lean and uniform cut of steak. I chose London Broil, which is also what I tend to choose for jerky. It’s nice and uniform and flavorful without being unbearably tough. I bought the nicest, freshest grass-fed piece I could get my hands on, directly from my extremely competent butcher. This is not something I would do with a smeary, plastic-wrapped abomination.

When you’re ready to make the tartare, clean your tools and work surface as well as you possibly can. I prefer to start with a cutting board and knife that are fresh from the dishwasher and a counter that has been wiped down thoroughly. Honestly, I bleach my counters fairly regularly, because I am pretty uptight, and I bleached my countertop before starting because I couldn’t remember for sure the last time I had.

Once everything is clean, it’s time to prep your meat. Some people recommend rinsing and then drying off the meat first, although I didn’t myself. Select a portion of your meat that is approximately 3-5 ounces in size and very uniform in texture, marbling, etc. and cut it out from the rest of your meat. Choose a storage container that is just barely bigger than this portion of meat and put about a half inch layer of salt in the bottom of it. Put the meat into the container and then completely cover it with salt. I used Kosher salt for this as it’s cheap and I have a lot of it. Put the container into the refrigerator and let is sit anywhere from 1-3 hours (I chose one hour). This salting step accomplishes a few things: it improves the texture and flavor (in my opinion) and desiccates any bacteria on the surface of the meat for safety.

After the meat has sat refrigerated for at least an hour, remove it from the salt, rinse it, and dry it. Using your sharpest knife (and again ensuring that your knife and cutting board have been sanitized before you start), slice the meat into tiny cubes.

Now it comes time to season, dress, and garnish the meat. I used a bit of salt (yeah, even after salting, I wanted more salt), freshly ground pepper, finely minced shallot, and the yolk of a very fresh organic and reputably-sourced egg. Fresh parsley would have also been great, but I had none. Traditionally steak tartare is served with toast, which obviously isn’t paleo and plus I can’t eat gluten even if I want to, so I ate this alongside a pear. A bit of pear after a few bites of the tartare really cut the richness, and was a perfect counterpoint (although not an option if you are keeping strictly low carb).

This was one of the most delicious things I’ve made myself recently, and I felt like I climbed a culinary mountain. I genuinely cannot wait to try this again!

Bacon, Leek, and Parsnip Soup

18 Feb

I made a truly wonderful soup for dinner tonight from some produce bin orphans, leftover stock, and some homemade bacon. It was different from anything I’ve made before so I thought I’d post about it.

But first let’s talk about bacon! I recently made two batches of bacon from one whole pork belly. One batch was cured with a mixture of salt, sodium nitrite curing salt, juniper berries, pepper, caraway seeds, bay leaf, and honey. The second batch was not technically cured as I did not use nitrites* — I “faux cured” it using salt, allspice, pepper, and maple syrup. Both batches were cold smoked using apple wood. I put too much salt on the uncured batch, so I’ve discovered that it kind of only works as an ingredient in soup. I made my wife some pea soup with whole yellow peas, some onion, fresh herbs, and a generous amount of bacon which I cooked over coals in a small earthenware crock that’s a replica of pots from the Viking era (what, you don’t cook like that?) and she loved it. She’s been asking me to make it ever since. Peas being legumes obviously aren’t paleo, and although they tend to upset my tummy less than most beans I wanted to find a use for this bacon that we could both enjoy. We’ve been accumulating slow-cooking vegetables for a few weeks and I happened to have some duck stock left from another project, so I decided to make a nice pureed soup. I’ve adapted what I did to be a recipe that other people who don’t happen to have a freezer full of too-salty bacon and random containers of duck stock could also follow:

Ingredients:

  • ~1 cup bacon ends and pieces or chopped up bacon (more or less to suit your taste)
  • 5 small to medium parsnips, washed, peeled, and chopped
  • 3 medium sized leeks, washed, sliced into rings, and washed again, because leeks always bring plenty of their native earth with them
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary, several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 quart stock, broth, or just water

Cook the bacon over medium low heat until the fat begins to render out. Add the sliced leeks and cook until they start to soften. Add the parsnip pieces and cook a little longer. Add the stock, broth, or water and herbs, and bring to gentle boil. Simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours, until the soup is quite thick and the vegetables have really fallen apart. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy. Makes roughly four servings if you’re having it with something else.

Note that this has a TON of fat — I thought this gave the soup a great creamy mouthfeel without any tummy-destroying dairy, but this might not be one to serve to fat-phobic friends. I know that cooking the bacon like this is a total departure from the general consensus of how to approach using bacon in a soup, but I love the layers of smokey, salty flavor this imparts through every bite. I believe bacon should be used like a spice, or a condiment — bacon makes everything better, and I like my food to be bacon infused. Mmmmmm… baaaaacoooonnnnn…

*Note: There may be risks to using nitrites in food, but there are definitely risks to not using them, namely the increased risk of Really Very Serious Things like botulism. Obviously, don’t discount those real risks; it is much safer to just use nitrites and use them properly. Making bacon at home is not one of those things that you can just kind of “wing” and have it turn out okay. Safe choices, mmmkay? Realistically, the nitrite bacon was so wonderful that I see no need to ever try uncured bacon again.

How I got here: my journey so far

16 Feb

Warning: Long, personal, rambling.

I’ve always been fat. Well… maybe not always. I’m willing to concede that there might have been a brief window in between when I was a typically chubby toddler and when I became a genuinely tubby kid, but I don’t remember it and I can’t find any conclusive proof. In any case, I’ve been fat as long as I can remember. I was the big girl in elementary school, the big girl in middle school, the big girl in high school, the big girl in college, and I remain a big woman. There were times when I agonized about my fat more (middle school) and times when I embraced it and lived my life to the fullest regardless of my extra insulation (college), and my relative fatness has fluctuated, but this blanket of subcutaneous lipids has always been here.

It’s funny — both my parents are skinny. Like, really skinny. Like, I’m pretty sure I weigh more now than my parents did combined when they got married. Okay, I’m not actually positive of that, but take my word for it that I do not come from a long line of heavy folk. I am like the cuckoo chick in the wren’s nest. My weight probably causes my parents more grief than it causes me. (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, by the way, chill out. Nobody looks at me and thinks MY GOD WHO RAISED THAT BLIMP.) I know they both love me “no matter what” but they’ve definitely made it clear that they “just want me to be healthy” and “are concerned about me” and all those other lines that us fat people just totally love hearing from our skinny loved ones.

I’ve never really dieted. I would occasionally embark on various absolutist I WILL EAT HEALTHY FOREVER AND ALWAYS!!!1! campaigns (nearly always stemming from my parents), but they never really stuck. For a brief period around my sophomore year of high school I succumbed to pressure and started tracking everything I ate, weighing myself religiously, exercising like a fiend, and limiting my caloric intake, and I did manage to lose weight. But anyone who has ever been fat, especially a fat teenager, knows that anything you don’t do for yourself never sticks. I didn’t exercise because it gave me joy or track what I ate because it helped me feel in control; this was a joyless and frenzied time overall.

So we’ve pretty well set the stage for when I went away to college and lived on my own for the first time: food freedom! No one watching and judging! I’ll show you mom and dad, I’m going to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s and then go have waffles! BWA HA HA!

I got fatter in college. I also started learning to love myself, fat and all. I dipped my toes in the fat acceptance waters. I read wonderful studies debunking much of what we are told about obesity. I graduated college, started working, got even less active, had even fewer motivations to eat well, got even fatter, didn’t really care.

This is the part where in a normal fat memoir I’d talk about the moment when I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me, or broke down in tears when my doctor told me about the grandchildren I’d never see, or some crap like that. But this isn’t that kind of story. This is my story, and I’m kind of weird. My moment when everything changed came when I won second place in a hotly contested medieval costume contest. I was so proud of myself! I had tackled this huge undertaking, making everything from my socks and shoes to all the parts of my hat. A friend helped me draft a dress pattern from an extant garment, and helped me figure out how to adjust it so that it would actually fit me, given that medieval people were skinny and I am not.

That was my moment, right there: making that pattern work on my body was hard. I realized that I wanted to sew more, and that sewing is easier when you’re smaller.

I should have warned you there wasn’t going to be anything profound in here. It turns out that I decided I wanted to lose weight because, at the age of 26 and of my own initiative, I discovered vanity. That year I started using My Plate, I tracked my caloric intake and expenditure religiously, and I lost 35 pounds.

During the next year, I joined Weight Watchers. I liked the social aspect of it, and the cutesy rewards system, but the reliance on processed food and especially artificial sweeteners grossed me out. I lost some more weight, probably another 15 pounds or so.

It was during this time that I started to seriously investigate eating paleo. I have a dog whom I love dearly, and I feed him a raw species-appropriate diet. I started to ask myself why I fed the dog an evolutionary based diet and didn’t feed myself one. I read more about it and jumped in with both feet. I wasn’t too strict about carbs and I fell off the wagon periodically, but I became more active, based my diet around meat, fat, vegetables, and fruit, and started to feel healthy in a way I had never previously experienced. I took some flak from my friends and my Better Half for my use of terms like “neolithic antinutrients” and “suboptimal MUFA to PUFA ratio”– I was definitely a strident convert.

I lost another 10 pounds, but very slowly. Mostly what I noticed was all my clothes suddenly fit differently. I believe that much of my initial weight loss was muscle weight, and during this period I was able to reduce my body fat further while rebuilding lost muscle, but since I don’t have a system for tracking my body fat percentage I’ll never know for sure.

The summer of maximum paleo awesomeness was also the summer my sweetie proposed. I was hip deep in water, had just finished eating a bag of raw coconut macaroons, and wearing Vibram Five Fingers at the time. Too much sexy 😉

Fall rolled back around and things were still going pretty well. But that winter and spring were an incredibly rough time for me. The short version is, work was really, really, really stressful. And I did not rise to the occasion, health-wise. I stopped eating paleo and started drinking and eating junk food again. I gained a good 15+ pounds, which totally sucked. Even though my weight loss had gone in bursts, I was always really proud that I had managed not to gain back any weight even when I wasn’t losing weight either, so this really hurt. I made a brief foray into jogging during this time, and was starting to really feel like a rockstar about it, but somehow managed to get prickly heat rash (IN JANUARY IN OREGON OH MY GOD MY BODY IS DEFECTIVE) and was actually told by a doctor to hold off on running. Suck fest!

I left my job. I got married. I was still not serious about eating well. I gained weight on our honeymoon. My weight fluctuated by about 5 pounds but mostly stayed steady. I was now up a solid 20 pounds from my lowest. I got a new job. I love my new job. I discovered that I’m gluten intolerant. I went on a gluten free junk food eating marathon between Thanksgiving and mid-January. I looked at myself and said “What the fuck are you doing?” and vowed to get back on track.

But I still don’t know what “on track” means for me. I’ve started running again (I’m doing Couch to 5K) and I love it. Once the weather warms up I’m looking forward to having more chances to get outside and move. I’ve really been struggling to track what I eat every day, but I have been steadily (if slowly) losing weight. I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of eating meat, fat, and vegetables, but I’ve also noticed that since I started running I really have been craving carbs more than usual. I do indulge in moderate gluten free treats more often than I probably should — for example I recently figured out how to make genuinely amazing homemade fritters — and I’ve been eating rice more than I used to.

I guess I want this story to have some kind of amazing solid ending, like, “And that’s how I lost 120 pounds and regained my health and never ate macaroni and cheese again.” But I don’t think my story goes that way. I think the reality is I’m healthier than I have ever been by a wide variety of measurements, and I might be ready to learn how to do something totally new for me: moderation. Can I be a six-days-a-week cavegirl? Can I have gluten free macaroni and cheese for dinner without it causing me go on a cookie binge the next day? I don’t know.

I guess what I’m saying here is stay tuned, because this story is far from over. I like to think I’m just getting to the good part.

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Road Trip Essentials

14 Feb

Road Trip Essentials

Mostly putting this here as a reminder to myself — this is what I once packed for a road trip from Oregon to Vegas. This kept me from stopping for junk food along the way! Not pictured: some leftover roast pork with peach sauce that was also part of this food adventure.

Obligatory First Post

14 Feb

Let the adventure begin!

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