Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Tallies

The answer to "what do you eat?" and a couple bonus recipes. Enjoy!

Monday's Food as Fuel:

Breakfast: Spinach salad with 6 oz canned wild salmon, a Granny Smith apple, 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts and pecans, and olive oil & lemon juice dressing.

Lunch: Two hardboiled eggs and a can of kippered herring.

Dinner: Mexican Chicken and Cauliflower Soup

Mexican Chicken and Cauliflower Soup

1 medium onion, diced
1 pasilla, diced
1 jalipeno, seeded & minced
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs cumin
2 cans chicken broth
1 chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 cup fresh cauliflower, grated (try it -- it's like rice!)
1 can diced green chilis
1/3 cup black olives, sliced
1/2 cup heavy cream
shredded cheddar cheese for topping

Saute onion, pasilla, jalipeno, and garlic in butter for several minutes, until onions turn yellow. Add cumin and saute 1 minute more. Add broth, chicken, cauliflower, green chilis, and olives. Simmer about 15 minutes. Add cream and stir until hot but not boiling. Serve topped with cheddar. Serves 3.

Monday's Workout: 300 air squats, 100 pushups, and 150 situps for time (21 minutes even). Tougher than it sounds!


Tuesday's Food as Fuel

Exactly the same as Monday, except for lunch, which consisted of a quick Primal Egg and Bacon Salad

Primal Egg and Bacon Salad
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
2 strips bacon, crumbled
3 green olives, chopped
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 Tbs plain, full-fat yogurt

Combine ingredients and serve. Serves 1.

Tuesday's Workout: 5x rotation of heavy lunges, deadlifts, pull-ups, and renegade rows

Totals for both days, once I added in a few tablespoons of coconut milk consumed with peppermint tea and a couple tablespoons of almond butter for dessert, came in around 2,060 calories, 65g carbs, 135g fat, and 110g protein. Perfect.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hottie Hen with a Pig -- Primal Redux

Once upon a roadtrip, my mother and I stumbled upon a brightly painted cafe in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Stites, Idaho. Inside, we found a menu that included one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten. "Hottie Hen with a Pig" featured a handmade crust topped with the usual sauce and cheese, plus strips of roasted chicken, slices of jalapeno, smoked bacon, and fresh pineapple. It's a meal I've duplicated many times...but not since going primal.

Even Conventional Wisdom knows that pizza is an indulgence, but for the primal eater, it becomes even more so. All that dairy and, worse, all that bread! Many of us are willing to excuse dairy, on occasion, but the carb-laden bread can be, um, harder to swallow. The fat wouldn't be a big deal, except for all those carbs waiting to open the insulin floodgates and shuttle both carbohydrate and fat energy into storage as bodyfat.

Primal and low-carb forums abound with recipes for primal pizza crusts. Some are comprised of baked parmesan, others of grated cauliflower, coconut flour, or almond flour. The only one I've tried was made from shredded zucchini and cheese. It was tasty, but extremely high-calorie (I don't usually worry about calories, but this thing was ridiculous!) and not particularly effective as a substitute crust.

Now, I'm not big on low-carb substitutes for high-carb foods. I'd rather build my meals around foods that are naturally low in carbohydrates than engage in culinary gymnastics with mediocre results. On the rare occasion that I decide to to eat something high carb, I plan for it and enjoy the real thing. But this weekend, when I got to thinking this weekend about Hottie Hen with a Pig ... and my planned Christmas indulgences ... I decided to try something new.

Another primal blogger (can anybody remind me who?) has written about his experiments with meatzza, a pizza-like concoction with a "crust" of ground beef. What would happen, I wondered, if I turned that Hottie Hen into a crust instead of a topping? The answer? Good things. You gotta try this.


Hottie Hen with a Pig

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/4 cup tomato paste
1.5 tsp dried oregano
2 oz cheese, shredded (I used mozzarella and parmesan)
2 slices bacon, crisped and broken into pieces
1/4 cup pineapple, diced
2 Tbs jalapeno, diced (leave the seeds if you like it hot!)
1 Tbs red onion, diced

Place the chicken breast between two sheets of waxed paper. Using a mallet, pound it to 1/4 inch thickness. Saute chicken breast in butter over medium heat until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Place chicken breast in a pie plate and spread with combined tomato paste and oregano. Top with cheese and remaining ingredients. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Slice into wedges and serve hot. Serves 1.

575 calories, 21g carbohydrate, 26g fat, 66g protein.

(Compare that to 726 calories, 66g carbs, 30g fat, 55g protein if you put half the chicken breast, along with the other toppings, on 1/3 of a Boboli whole wheat crust.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pumpkin-Banana Noatmeal

Giving up grains wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The vast majority of the time, I'm quite content to build my meals of vegetables, meat, fruits, eggs, and nuts.

All the same, there's something about 0-degree weather than can make a woman want a huge, steaming bowl of oatmeal swimming in cream. A nice omelet will kill that craving, of course, but today I tried a different route: Noatmeal.

Yes, yes, this concoction is relatively high carb. Winter squash, including pumpkin, and bananas are outliers in the primal eating world because, as produce goes, they're both quite high in sugar. A bowl of this noatmeal will run you about 55 grams of carbs. PANIC! Um, no. I'm having a Melissa Urban moment on this one.

Besides, this meal fits nicely into into a day during which I consumed only about 30 carbs up until dinnertime, slammed out a tough metcon workout, and manually hauled 80 gallons of water from garage to horse paddocks because the outdoor spigots are frozen. Deal with it.

I can't claim all the credit (well, okay, I can claim hardly any of the credit) for this recipe. I got the idea from another poster at the MDA forums. I even stole the term "no-atmeal" from a different non-cereal recipe Mark posted recently. Worse yet, I don't even have a photo for you because my desktop computer is currently languishing with an expired video card, which means that while I can, technically, access my photo processing software, I can't actually see anything on the screen. So. Use your imagination.

Pumpkin-Banana Noatmeal

1 medium banana
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 1/2 tsp coconut oil (the MDA poster noted that cream cheese works, too)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp salt
pinch cloves
chopped nuts

Chop the banana into very small cubes (the size of corn niblets). Mix together all ingredients except nuts. Cook in a heavy saucepan over low heat until hot, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Serve topped with chopped nuts and more coconut milk, if desired. Serves 1.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Unfettered

It's been nearly two months since I last posted. Life went crazy for a while, and it's only now that I'm able to downshift long enough to consider how my primal journey was affected by a combination of office-induced stress and long hours. I'm delighted to note that the changes have been both dramatic and positive:

1) I'm content without eating for long periods.

For as long as I can remember, I've hauled healthful snacks everywhere lest I be beset by a "hypoglycemic moment." You know the feeling -- that sudden, lightheaded, weak, must-eat-NOW-or-I'll-gnaw-off-my-own-bicep, carb-crashing hunger.

So ingrained was my assumption that if I didn't eat every few hours, I'd be in for some serious suffering, that it took me most of these past two months to trust my body not to do that anymore. But it doesn't. It really, truly doesn't. I can happily metabolize body fat for energy for fifteen hours or more, workouts included. Hunger is a gentle nudge instead of a raging beast. I am boundless!

2) I no longer need to count carbs.

Using Fitday and My Fitness Pal for my first few months of primal living had value. It enabled me to memorize the carb content of the foods I eat most frequently, and it gave me a good feel for primal macronutrient balance. However, tracking food intake is undeniably time-consuming, and when I saw myself running short on hours, I figured I ought to try flying solo.

It works. I haven't counted carbs in two months, except mentally, but I know I've dropped my daily intake from about 150g to 90-100g per day. Usually, my food days look something like this (yesterday's menu):

Breakfast -- Spinach salad with apple, fresh cranberries, walnuts, pecans, 6 oz canned wild salmon, and lemon-olive oil dressing.

Lunch -- Leftover Thai chicken and coconut soup with veggies.

Dinner -- Hamburger (no bun) with a melted cheddar, half an avocado, butter-sauteed onions and mushrooms, and a dill pickle slices. Peppermint tea with coconut cream for dessert.

Today, I had eggs and bacon for breakfast, an apple with almond butter for lunch, and I'm roasting a turkey roasting for dinner, to be served with lightly steamed green beans and mashed cauliflower.

3) My workouts are more flexible.

Everyone who knows me well (or even not-so-well) knows that I thrive on structure. I am the queen of lists, spreadsheets, and self-discipline. Granted, this is a positive quality...but it can be taken too far and become a stressor in its own right. The past couple months of business and winter weather have forced me to flex not only the timing of my workouts, many of which moved from 4:30 a.m. to afternoon or evening, but often their nature as well.

Lack of sleep, extra meetings, and high stress levels convinced me of the value of listening to my body from day to day. As Mark Sisson notes in his definitive work The Primal Blueprint (have you read it yet?), it's often best to pay attention when I don't feel up to the killer workout for which I'md scheduled -- or to throw in a few unplanned sprints on my evening walk, if I feel particularly energetic.

I haven't worked out any less than usual, but I have certainly worked out less rigidly. My heavy workouts are as heavy as ever, my push-up and pull-up counts continue to climb, and despite a travel-induced shortage of sprint sessions, today's hill repeats were up to par. The message? Keep the self-discipline. Lose the schedule.

Ok, the changes are good. Thank you, Life. I heard you. Now, could we please settle back down to normal? Please?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You Are Here


I realized something the other day: For the first time in my life, I feel completely satisfied with my physique.

At 31, I am fitter than I have ever been. Leaner. Stronger. With a BMI of roughly 18, I'm in the "low-normal" or "athlete" range for females (who, me?). I have a six-pack and obliques and (according to Ironman, who might be biased) a pretty nice butt.

But it isn't about looks, is it? It's about health. Longevity. Vitality. Ability.
I love being able to lift heavier and run faster than ever before -- not for numbers on a chart, though visual progress is satisfying, but because it's practical, here on the farm, to be able to lift ranch panels and buck hay and haul water.

I love being able to hike up a mountain, row down a river, camp in the wilderness, ride a horse 50 miles in a day.

I love feeling as though I have, for once, actually arrived.

Not that I'll stop striving. I'll still add weight, still try to make each hill sprint faster than the one before. All the same, it's high time I settled back a bit, mentally, so as to enjoy not just the doing, but the sense of having done.

Fitness is freedom, my friends. It ought to be earned -- and once earned, it ought to be enjoyed.

Seize the day.
___________________________

Related Posts
Go Figure

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Primal Hamburger Casserole

Raise your hand if you've ever eaten Hamburger Helper. (Yes, I confess that my hand is up. But I haven't touched the stuff in at least 4 years, and I rarely did so before that.)

Because my family lived on a small farm and raised a beef cow every year, I grew up eating a lot of ground beef. Though I never have come around to liking meatloaf, I do have fond memories of meaty spaghetti sauce, thick burgers, and hamburger casserole.

The problem with most hamburger casseroles, however, is that they tend to include pasta and/or beans, either of which renders them high-carb and un-primal. Fortunately, a dose of big flavor (in the form of herbs, olives, and especially sundried tomatoes) can primalize this meal with ease.

I've enjoyed this quick, one-dish casserole several times lately, including once over spaghetti squash fried in butter for a large dinner, and once for breakfast with an egg over easy on top. If you eat dairy, a sprinkle of parmisan or cheddar would make an excellent garnish. I used fresh herbs because my garden is bursting with them, but dried will work too if they're all you have on hand.


Primal Hamburger Casserole

1/3 lb ground beef (not lean -- we want those saturated fats!)
1/3 cup onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 mushrooms, sliced
10 black olives, sliced
10 sundried tomato halves, chopped
1 Tbs each fresh basil and oregano (or 1 tsp each dried)

Pre-heat skillet over medium flame. Add beef, onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Stir to crumble beef, and occasionally until meat is cooked. Add olives, sundried tomatoes, and herbs and cook about 1 minute until heated through. Serves 1.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Road Again

It's vacation time! Ironman and I are spending six days in Idaho's Owyhee canyonlands -- a vast, scenic expanse of rough canyons, steep hills, sagebrush, antelope, and sky.

I'm spending much of my time horseback, participating in the Owyhee Canyonlands Pioneer multi-day endurance race. Technically, my mare and I are doing Limited Distance (30 mile races) rather than endurance (50+ mile races) because this is her first year in the sport and she's not quite fit for endurance yet. Still, we hope to rack up 85 miles throughout the week.

Ironman, meanwhile, is splitting his time between volunteering in ridecamp and exploring the glories of Idaho with a fly rod in one hand and his rifle in the other. Hmm...maybe we'll get another meal of trout and chukar out of the deal!

If not, we're still eating well and as primal as possible. Planning primal meals for a whole week in camp is a bit tougher than it was for just the weekend race we attended last month. I've packed a variety of cold, cooked meats, tinned and smoked fish, avocados, eggs (hardboiled and raw), Primal Energy Mix, nut butters, Larabars, sliced veggies, fresh fruits, primal dressings and dips, and possibly some adult beverages, just in case.

We take our vacation food seriously, Ironman and I...but not too seriously. ;)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Tallies: Primal Menus & Movement

Welcome to Tuesday Tallies, my weekly answer to the FAQs: What do you eat? and Good gravy, woman, how much do you work out?

(For those who prefer not to slog through the details, the brief answers are, respectively, a lot and not as much as you'd think.)

Primal living is hardly a matter of dietary deprivation or physical exhaustion. To paraphrase primal guru Mark Sisson: Eat real food. Move around a lot at a slow pace. Lift heavy things. Sprint occasionally. Get enough sleep.

In other words, it's a simple matter of living well, eating the right foods, and working out smart instead of long. Below are samples of my attempt to do precisely that:

Wednesday's Food as Fuel:

Vegetable and sausage omelet. Cherry tomatoes with olive oil and lime.
Apple with almond butter.
Spinach salad with black olives and hard boiled eggs.
Sardines in mustard sauce. Sundried tomatoes.
Chukar fried in butter with fresh herbs. Pork tenderloin. Sauteed vegetables. Spinach salad with avocado, artichoke hearts, and olives.
A couple beers and some whiskey.

2,464 calories, 113g carbs, 145g fat, 122g protein

Wednesday's Workout:

Rest day from formal workout. Slept in instead!
12 mile equine endurance conditioning ride with some running beside the horse.
Farm chores and general activity.
_____________________________________

Thursday's Food as Fuel:

Spinach salad with avocado and hard boiled eggs. Grapes.
Coconut and White Fish Stir Fry.
Primal nut and coconut mix.
Two hard boiled eggs. Cucumber slices with feta.
Chicken breast with peach chutney. Spaghetti squash sauteed with butter and crisped sage leaves. Cherry tomatoes.
Dark chocolate and coconut milk.

2,217 calories, 107g carbs, 157g fat, 123g protein

Thursday's Workout:

5x rotation of push-ups, heavy squats, and overhead presses
3x renegade rows
2x pull-ups
_____________________________________

Sunday's Food as Fuel:

Coconut milk.
Primal Hamburger Casserole (recipe coming later this week). Egg over easy.
Spinach salad with tuna.
Apple with almond butter.
Turkey drumstick and thigh, with skin.
Dark chocolate and green tea with coconut milk.

2,034 calories, 71g carbs, 137g fat, 147g protein

Sunday's Workout:

6x rotation of incline push-ups, weighted walking lunges, pull-ups, and weighted hanging leg raises

Primal living: So easy, a caveman could do it! ;)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

From Sky to Skillet: Ironman Takes Primal to a New Level

Ironman has been showing me up on the primal front, lately -- and he doesn't even claim to be primal! (He has been experimenting with grain elimination, however, with positive results including decreased "hunger crashes.")

Yes, while I've been sitting in my office shuffling papers, Ironman has been traversing Idaho's wild hillsides with a rifle in one hand and eyes peeled for game birds.

Last week, he managed to bag not one, not two, but four sage grouse. These large-chicken-sized birds live on sagebrush leaves and insects, and Ironman's fellow hunters warned him that they make lousy eating. Not one to waste a kill, Ironman decided to try it anyway.

After putting the grouse meat through two, long brine soaks (he changd the saltwater out halfway through), Ironman dusted the meat with seasoned flour and panfried it in butter with plenty of garlic and capers. It was incredible! Not gamey at all, the grouse featured beautifully in a meal that also included herb-sauteed vegetables, spinach salad, and an appetizer of fresh, grilled trout.

Yes, we were pretty happy with ourselves. Can you tell?

A few days later, he brought in a chukar. Native to Eurasia and first introduced to North America in the late 1800's, these wily little gamebirds yield small but tasty breasts. Here's one:

We fried him up in butter -- the chukar, not Ironman! -- along with fresh sage leaves (culinary sage, that is, not sagebrush), which turn delightfully crisp when removed from the pan. He was delicious.
Hmm. I think I can deal with being outdone once in a while. ;)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Go Figure

I once dated a guy who told me I was too fat. His reasoning? The insides of my upper thighs touched each other.

I'm sorry to say that, presumably because I was young and brainwashed by our weight-obsessed culture, his comment affected me for years. It became a measure by which I assessed my own fitness, which was never poor, but wasn't always peak, either. I recall with dismay the internal monologue: My thighs are touching! Crap! Gotta run more! (Wrong.)

This past March, while still eating flegan, I dived into a fitness regime unprecedented by anything I'd tried before, including my distance running days. A friend put me onto bodyweight training and Tabata, hill sprints and weight lifting.

In my typically obsessive manner, I devoured literature on the subject of strength training and HIIT (high intensity interval training). Plenty of science backed it up, but the best proof of all was the changes in my own physique. By June, I was leaner than I'd ever been. My biceps earned admiration from colleagues, and the shadow of a six-pack appeared in my midsection. I was getting close to doing the first pull-up of my life. And, my thighs didn't touch. Score!

Then, something changed. Along about July, my fitness efforts bogged down in a quagmire of fatigue, bloating, and poor quality sleep. I looked pretty good, but I felt worse and worse. What on earth was I doing wrong?

My research led me first to the possibility of removing grains from my diet. It took me two months of reading to accept that the "healthy whole grains" that comprised nearly half of my daily intake could actually be wreaking cumulative damage on my intestines due to glucose intolerance, or simply the toxins such foods contain.

By the time I was convinced that going grain-free was worth a try, I'd also come around to understanding the detrimental effects of excessive carbohydrate intake. Thus began my shift to primal eating, which I embraced whole-heartedly by mid-August.

Now, looking down the barrel of October with a growing set of Tuesday Tallies documenting my new eating patterns (low carb, high fat, moderate protein) and continued bodybuilding and sprint workouts, I have replaced bloating and fatigue with muscle mass and power.

There's just one problem: My thighs touch.

I confess this bothered me, when I first noticed it a few weeks back. Were the primal advocates wrong? Would all that new thigh muscle make me look fat? How about the newly-defined obliques that both strengthened and thickened my core? Was I losing the figure I'd worked months to achieve?

Yes, the questions bothered me...but not nearly as much as the thought of giving up my workouts. After all, my primary goal had always been to achieve a high level of functional strength and cardiovascular endurance -- and I'd never felt better nor been more powerful! No way was I going to sacrifice athleticism for cultural ideals.

All the same, I was most gratified to stumble across the photo below.

I'm no professional pole-vaulter, but I'm proud to say that my physique doesn't fall too far short of this chick's. I'm no guy, either, but I think she's pretty damn hot -- sculpted obliques, touching thighs, and all.

Go figure.

______________________
Related Resources:

The Definitive Guide to Grains from Mark's Daily Apple

The Real Truth About Those "Healthy Whole Grains" from Fitness Spotlight

Unexpected Effects of a Wheat-Free Diet from Heart Scan Blog

The Definitive Guide to Fats from Mark's Daily Apple

Fats: The Real Story and Why You Need Them from Fitness Spotlight

Saturated Fat Intake vs Heart Disease & Stroke from Free the Animal

Sugar is Poison -- a link from Fathead to Dr. Lustig's excellent video presentation. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Further Adventures with Coconut & Fish

I seem to have developed a new addiction. The combination of fish and coconut, particularly with a generous helping of mixed vegetables, is remarkably seductive. It wasn't long ago that I posted this Thai Fish and Vegetable Soup with Coconut Milk. Last week, I threw together this 10-minute meal of Coconut Mahi-Mahi with Tomato-Avocado Salad.

Yesterday, after an evening of riding lessons and farm chores, Ironman and I whipped up a quick meal featuring similar flavors in another form: Coconut and White Fish Stir Fry. Unfortunately, I failed to take a photo of the dish before inhaling it along with a dessert of sliced bananas and strawberries topped with a bit of dark chocolate and coconut milk, so you'll just have to imagine its bright vegetables, white flakes of fish, and flavorful, orange sauce.

Coconut and White Fish Stir Fry

12 oz cooked, firm white fish, separated into large flakes (We used red snapper last night, baked just like the Coconut Mahi-Mahi in the link above.)
6 cups julienned vegetables (We used carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, onion, tomatoes, and spinach. Note that the spinach doesn't count toward the 6 cups!)
2 Tbs Coconut oil
1/2 Tbs fresh chili paste
Lime juice
1/3 cup coconut flakes, dried and unsweetened

Heat coconut oil in wok or large skillet. Add veggies and saute quickly, stirring frequently; season with chili paste and a generous squeeze of lime. Add fish and allow to heat briefly, stirring gently. Plate and top stir fry with a sprinkle of coconut flakes. Serves 3-4.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Tallies

Welcome to Tuesday Tallies!

Below are day-in-the life samples of the primal lifestyle. They're not intended to be exemplary for everyone -- just honest snapshots of what's working (or not) for one Idaho farmgirl.

This week, I've been considering whether I'm eating too much protein. I'm certainly taking in more than the commonly-recommended 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight, but thus far, I've come across no evidence that this is dangerous or undesirable.

I'll tell you this: I've certainly built muscle mass since going primal! This despite the fact that I've eased off on my workout schedule slightly in favor of additional sleep. Just more evidence that being flegan wasn't best for bodybuilding...

Feel free to share your own tallies or recipes in the comments. We could all use a few, fresh ideas!

Thursday's Food as Fuel:

Grapes.
Spaghetti squash with coconut milk and cashews. (This is a fantastic oatmeal substitute for those who like a hot, slightly-sweet breakfast.)
Greek salad with chicken and spinach. Jicama strips and guacamole.
Banana with almond butter.
Veggie and sausage omelet cooked in butter.

2,438 calories, 132g carbs, 184g fat, 97g protein

Thursday's Workout:

6x 100-yard hill sprints
Thrusters (squat & overhead press with light weight) and pull-ups
3.5 mile dog walk
___________________________________

Friday's Food as Fuel:

Grapes.
Spinach salad with canned salmon, avocado, and almonds.
Hard boiled eggs (2).
Curried chicken salad with broccoli, carrots, grapes, and walnuts.
Coconut Mahi-Mahi with Tomato-Avocado Salad.
Apple with almond butter.

2,276 calories, 135g carbs, 142g fat, 136g protein

Friday's Workout:

6x rotation of heavy squats, incline push-ups, and overhead presses
3x rotation of Tabata hops and pull-ups
10 mile equine endurance conditioning ride
__________________________________

Sunday's Food as Fuel:

Peach with coconut milk.
Vegetable and sausage frittata.
Bigos (Polish hunter's stew with poetry to match).
Mixed nuts and coconut flakes.
Spinach salad with avocado and olives.
Coconut milk and dark chocolate.

2,301 calories, 105g carbs, 159g fat, 125 g protein

Sunday's Workout:

Rest day, but very active with horse training, housework, and farm chores.
2.5 mile dog walk.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fat Guacamole Devils

Confession: I'm still adjusting to the concept of intentionally and preferentially adding fat to my diet. It's just so contrary to everything I've ever been taught! But, it makes sense when you consider how your body processes food:

Dietary fat does not raise blood sugar (which the body recognizes as toxic in excess), so there is no need for the body to generate an insulin rush whereby to hustle said blood sugar into its cells, where it is stored as body fat. That's what carbohydrates do. Fat, on the other hand, triggers the release of a different hormone -- one that indicates satiety to the brain, so you stop eating and your body can happily process its safe, non-insulin-spiking fuel. (This process is explained beautifully in a brief video of the Drs. Eades, provided by Fathead.)

So, eating fat not only notifies the brain that you're full, instead of setting you up for an insulin crash and resultant hunger even though your fat cells are freshly stocked with fuel, as carbohydrates do, but it provides a fuel that your body can safely burn for hours to come. Dietary fat is not stored as body fat! Plus, it tastes good!

This quick, easy, high fat, low carb, moderate protein snack is one of my new favorites. Check out the recipe, which I was honored to have featured at my favorite primal blog, Mark's Daily Apple.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Simply Primal: A 10 Minute Meal

I love to cook, and I usually schedule my evenings such that I have plenty of time to prepare a nice meal. But you know how it is. Some evenings refuse to go as planned. Fortunately, primal meals can be almost laughably simple.

This evening after work, I had such fun out on an endurance conditioning ride with my horse that I added a few miles -- and half an hour -- to our loop. We returned happy but sweaty, so I spent some extra time hosing her off after unsaddling. Then, I still had evening chores to do...

By the time I came inside, I didn't really want to spend much time in the kitchen. A quick look at My Fitness Pal told me that I should shoot for a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein meal to finish out the day. Here's what I came up with:

Coconut Mahi-Mahi with Tomato-Avocado Salad


It was delicious, and it took me all of 10 minutes' prep time. (That includes a trip to my garden to pick the tomatoes.) Here's what I did:

1) Coat tops of mahi-mahi fillets with coconut oil and unsweetened, dried coconut. Put in a 375 degree oven.

2) Slice tomatoes and avocado. Dress lightly with olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper.

3) Serve when fish is done (bake time is approximately 20 minutes for 4-oz fillets).

Nutritional stats for this meal, assuming 1 4-oz fillet, 1 cup tomatoes, and 1 whole, small avocado per serving: 674 calories, 30g carbohydrate, 53g fat, 18g protein

Perfect.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Tale of Oregon Elk: On Food and Gratitude

When I was in high school, my family owned a whitewater rafting company. Our offerings of four- to seven-day expedition trips down wilderness rivers attracted mostly outdoor-types from the West, but we also booked the occasional city slicker.

Mary Jo, a hefty and good-natured soul with glossy, black curls and florid cheeks, was one of the latter. She hailed from Boston and was startled to learn that there really wasn't any point in packing her alarm clock in her waterproof gear bag. (Nope, not even with an extension cord.)

Along about Day 3 of Mary Jo's trip, we were floating through open range, where cattle spend the summer feeding on the vast acreage of public lands. Mary Jo, spotting a pair of Herefords drinking along the bank, exclaimed, "Look! Wildlife! What kind of animals are those?"

Sure Mary Jo was kidding, the nearest guide joked, "Oh, those are Oregon elk. They're very rare!" Imagine his surprise when Mary Jo pulled out her camera and started clicking away. He did some fast talking to spare our guest the embarrassment of hauling out her photo album and showing all her friends back home the elusive "Oregon elk," which almost anybody would recognize immediately as garden-variety cattle.

That night in camp, we served up an Italian feast of wine, garlic bread, salad, and spaghetti with marinara and meatballs. Mary Jo ate with her usual gusto. Watching her from across the circle of canvas chairs in the fading light, I wondered if she had even a passing thought connecting her "wildlife" sighting with the meal rapidly disappearing from her plate. I was saddened to conclude, probably not.

Saddened, I say, because although Mary Jo may have been an extreme case, she is far from an anomaly. Too many people these days believe that food comes from the grocery store. I once heard of a woman who, listening in on a discussion about the danger a single plant disease could pose to our inadequately-diverse food supply, said "Oh, I'm sure they'll always have flour at the store." She, like Mary Jo, clearly had no concept of the sacrificial exchange that fuels our bodies.

We the People, with our fast food joints and deep freezes, are so far separated from farm life that we rarely consider that from the T-bones we gnaw once hung the loin of a cow with a swishing tail and liquid eyes. That neat mound of poultry breast was made to nestle warm about a clutch of eggs. Those egg yolks formed to nourish chicks 'til they grew large enough to hatch.

Now, I'm not saying I have a moral problem with eating meat or eggs, any more than I have one with tearing carrots from the soil and scattering my salad with their precious roots. Zucchini grow to ensure there is seed for the next generation, not to be sauteed in my breakfast hash, but saute them I do, anyway. To live is to take other lives. Any farmer knows there's no escaping the fact, no denying it, no point feeling guilty about it.

But I do believe there is benefit in understanding it -- not just believing it intellectually, but experiencing it firsthand -- for in understanding there is value, and in value, gratitude.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to be reared in agricultural country are probably at least halfway there. We visited u-pick orchards every fall, plucked wild blackberries from their vines, perhaps retrieved eggs from the nests of disgruntled hens. Some of us even fattened stock for slaughter.

I was eight the first time I observed the death our annual beef cow. The man from the packing plant shot her three times, right there in our barn, before her sway turned to a topple and her topple to utter collapse. He hooked a chain to her hind legs and winched her outside to his truck, where he peeled away her chestnut coat and spilled her foul-smelling offal among the weeds. My mother worried that I, an empathetic child who had bottle fed that animal as a calf, would be put off our daily meals of hamburgers and steak. But I was untroubled. Somehow, with the innate wisdom of the very young, I understood.

Not all children have such opportunities. One of my best friends grew up in the jungles of Chicago. He claims once to have stumbled over a pile of milk bottles and thought he'd found a cow's nest. Does that mean he shouldn't be permitted to eat meat, because he hasn't paid his dues?

Of course not. But I do think it means he should look for opportunities to connect with the lives and deaths that feed him. From farmers markets to bookstores, there is plenty of recourse for those who wish to understand their meals. A number of authors have addressed the concept of late, all from different perspectives. Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma), Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), and most recently, Lierre Keith (The Vegetarian Myth) come readily to mind.

For the most adventurous -- and wisest? -- more creativity could lead one to a farm on butchering day, to feel the blood from chickens' throats run hot across his fingers, see the feathers float on scalding water and stick like rain soaked leaves to pluckers' wrists. She might pull the trigger that ploughs a painless path through the brain of a hog, or gut a fish from the neighbor's pond, or even simply gather the bosoms of ripe onions as they press up from the soil, or strip peas from their pods, or sever the stems of living herbs to rub beneath a turkey's freshly-denuded skin.

One of the most poignant experiences of my life occurred on a blustery day in early spring at In the Night Farm. A freshly-slaughtered lamb had hung for several days from the north deck, aging beneath its burlap wrap. Meanwhile, out beyond the horse paddocks, lambing had begun. I spent the entire day running between the kitchen, where I rinsed and packaged chunks of carcass for later meals, and the lambing jugs, where I knelt in the hay to draw colostrum from ewes' udders and coax it down the fragile throats of newborn lambs.

I ate lamb that night, with the smell of sheep's milk still strong upon my hands. The following winter, I butchered the wooley babies whose lifes I had saved. Come spring, I nurtured several more.

Death. Life. Death feeding life feeding death feeding life. The unbroken circle. Don't feel guilty. But please, don't forget. Real food costs more than pennies for pounds.

This post is participating in Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade. Stop by and see what else is on the menu!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Tallies: Primal Menus & Movement

Welcome to Tuesday Tallies!

Below are day-in-the-life samples of the primal lifestyle. They're not intended to be exemplary for everyone -- just honest snapshots of what's working (or not) for one Idaho farmgirl. Use them to get a feel for what primal living looks like on a daily basis, as a jumping-off point if you're on the edge of taking the primal plunge, or as creative sparks for primal veterans.

Feel free to share your own tallies in the comments. We could all use a few fresh ideas!

Tuesday's Food as Fuel:

Green grapes.

Spinach salad with hard boiled eggs, avocado, mixed veggies, and peach-balsamic viniagrette.

Mixed raw nuts with coconut flakes.

Thai Fish & Vegetable Soup with Coconut Milk and crudites with yogurt-dijon-dill dip.

Apple with almond butter.

Lamb chop with mint-walnut pesto. Zucchini and carrots lightly sauteed in butter.

Pear, dried figs, and Havarti.

2219 calories, 156g carbs, 152g fat, 85g protein

Tuesday's Workout:

8x 100-meter hill sprints.

Farm chores and horse dancing.
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Wednesday's Food as Fuel:

Grapes and a few almonds.

Crustless spinach, onion, and zucchini quiche and crudites with yogurt-dijon-dill dip.

Lamb chop with mint-walnut pesto and apple with almond butter.

Leftover Thai Fish & Vegetable Soup with Coconut Milk

Primal Dessert Salad with Berry-Orange Dressing

1,966 calories, 154g carbs, 126g fat, 80g protein

Wednesday's Workout:

6x rotation of weighted squats, incline push-ups, pull-ups, and planks.

Farm chores.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Packing Primal: Meal Planning Hits the Trail

I find primal meal planning extraordinary simply at home, but as with any diet that diverges significantly from the Standard American Diet, it can be hard to maintain on the road. This weekend, I'm headed into the wilderness to compete in the Old Selam Endurance Ride -- an equestrian challenge for which I want to be well-nourished on a familiar diet.

The good news is that I'm doing the meal planning, so I have full control over what I'll consume. However, there are a few complicating factors:
  • No refrigeration. Instead, I'll have an ice chest with limited space.
  • Little prep time. I've been to enough endurance races to know that cooking becomes a low priority in the heat of competition. I'll have a camp stove, but little interest in making a big production of it. I have a horse to care for!
  • Others' needs. My significant other, who can outrun, outswim, and outcycle me any day of the week and shall henceforth be known as Ironman, is all for eating clean. However, as an endurance athlete, he goes for more carbs than I do, and he doesn't eliminate grains. Our meals should accommodate both diets, which gets tricky when you can't take the entire refrigerator and pantry along.
  • Energy requirements. This is an athletic competition. I'll need extra, non-grain, low-glycemic-index carbs to pull it off, but I want to remain focused on dietary fats for the bulk of my fuel. It's a matter of striking the right balance!
Here's the solution I've come up with. Hopefully, it'll be useful next time you find yourself in a similar situation...and if you have any brilliant suggestions for me, please share in the comments!

Saturday's Lunch on the Road -- Turkey and avocado wraps (in romaine leaves for me, and in tortillas for Ironman). Jicama, apple, and grape salad with lemon-mint dressing.

Saturday's Dinner in Ridecamp -- Stifado (pre-made and reheated). Spinach salad with mixed raw vegetables and peach viniagrette. Larabars. Cabernet and dark chocolate (hey, we're here to have fun!)

Sunday's Breakfast Pre-Race -- Banana with almond butter. Cold Hay Day Hash (Pre-made. Ironman will have time to reheat his and cook eggs on the stove, if he wishes, but I'll need to get saddled up for an 8:00 a.m. start time.)

Sunday's Lunch Mid-Race -- Southwest chicken salad with olives, crudites and dip, hard boiled eggs, and plums. (I'll be eating this during the mandatory hold, during which most of my time will be spent caring for my horse instead of preparing food, though Ironman's help will make this a lot easier.)

Sunday's Dinner Post-Race -- Beef enchiladas (filling pre-made) with avocado and olives (in tortillas for Ironman, in a bowl for me). Coleslaw made with carrots, apples, raisins, and cinnamon. Celebratory (or possibly conciliatory) whiskey and dark chocolate.

Monday's Breakfast in Ridecamp -- Apple with almond butter. Hard boiled eggs. Larabars. (Basically, whatever is handy as we pack up for an early departure.)

Snacks -- Primal Energy Mix, Larabars, and kippered herring to our hearts' content. And, okay, beer.

Ride on!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Primal Energy Mix

Many primals consume a lot of nuts, and for good reason. They're simple, energy-dense, and full of healthful fats. Trail mix is a popular snacking recommendation -- but you have to be careful with commercial mixes.

Most commercial trail mixes are made with roasted nuts, whose fats are damaged, and contain added salt or sugar. It can also be hard to find mixes without pusedo-chocolate or other candy pieces, which naturally jack up carb/sugar intake and tend to spur cravings that can result in excessive consumption of otherwise-healthful nuts. Fortunately, it's easy to make your own mix from quality ingredients.

I concocted this Primal Energy Mix specifically for use during extended physical exertion, such as when participating in equestrian endurance racing or long conditioning rides. For snacking on regular days, I make a similar mix without the dried fruit, which adds more carbs than I need for sitting in front of a computer all afternoon.


Primal Energy Mix

2 parts raw almonds
2 parts raw walnuts
1 part raw cashews
1 part coconut flakes, unsweetened
1 part dried fruit, unsweetened and unsulfered (I like figs and home-dried apricots.)

Combine in a large bowl or zip-top storage bag. Store, airtight, in a cool and dark location to protect those precious fats!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thai Fish & Vegetable Soup with Coconut Milk

Ahh, coconut. The darling of primals everywhere, coconut is a richly satisfying source of healthful (yes, healthful!) saturated fats. Rarely does a day go by that I don't use coconut milk and oil, or at least consume a few unsweetened, dried coconut flakes in my homemade trail mix. I cook in coconut oil and use the canned, full-fat version of coconut milk for topping bowls of berries or other fruit, blending in smoothies and salad dressings, making flavorful curries, accompanying a half-ounce of dark chocolate for dessert, dressing up black coffee, and making soups like this one.

This Thai-inspired dish comes together quickly for a weeknight supper that reheats well for lunch the next day. Like most soups, it's flexible, so feel free to add additional vegetables such as carrot and zucchini. Serve with a dish of sliced cucumbers drizzled with sesame oil.


Thai Fish & Vegetable Soup with Coconut Milk

2 Tbs coconut oil
1 1/2 medium onions, julienned
1 large pasilla, julienned
2 cans vegetable stock (14.5 oz cans)
1 1/2 cans coconut milk (14.5 oz cans)
3 cups fresh tomatoes, sliced into large pieces
3 cups cauliflower, chopped into large florets
1 Tbs fresh chile paste, such as sambal oelek
1/4 tsp salt
12 oz white fish, cooked and broken into bite-sized chunks (I used baked mahi mahi, but you could use any firm, white fish and your cooking method of choice.)
1 cup fresh basil, loosely packed
Lime wedges (optional, for garnish)

Heat coconut oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes; add pasilla and saute 3 minutes more. Add vegetable stock, coconut milk, vegetables, chile paste, and salt. Simmer 15 minutes or until cauliflower is al dente. Add fish and heat through. Stir in basil and allow to wilt immediately prior to serving. Garnish with lime wedges or finish with a squeeze of lime juice, if desired.

Serves 8.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tuesday Tallies: Primal Menus & Movement

Welcome to Tuesday Tallies!

Below are day-in-the-life samples of the primal lifestyle. They're not intended to be exemplary for everyone -- just honest snapshots of what's working (or not) for one Idaho farmgirl. Use them to get a feel for what primal living looks like on a daily basis, as a jumping-off point if you're on the edge of taking the primal plunge, or as creative sparks for primal veterans.

Feel free to share your own tallies in the comments. We could all use a few fresh ideas!

Tuesday's Food as Fuel:

Banana.

Scrambled eggs and broccoli. Cottage cheese with mixed fruit.

Spinach salad with canned salmon, garden tomatoes, black olives, and southwest dressing.

Two hard boiled eggs and crudites with yogurt-dill dip.

Trail mix (Nuts, dried fruit, and a few white chocolate & butterscotch chips that made me crave carbs for the rest of the day. Bad idea. Better to stick with just the nuts.)

Stifado (Beef simmered with red wine, onions, tomatoes, and warm spices. This is a Cooking Light recipe that I highly recommend. I made the recipe as written, with one exception: I didn't have beef broth, so I subbed vegetable broth plus a couple tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.)

Coconut cream and 1/2 ounce extra dark chocolate.

2364 calories, 201 g carbs, 108 g fat, 161 g protein

Tuesday's Workout:

3x max-out sets of push-ups, air squats, pull-ups, hanging leg raises, and overhead presses.

Farm chores and horse training.

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Friday's Food as Fuel:

Peach.

Spinach salad with 2 hard boiled eggs, avocado, jicama, carrot, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, mushrooms, and lemon-dijon dressing made with olive oil.

Chicken cacchetore (no pasta -- just chicken, marinara, and parmisan) with garlic-sauteed zucchini. (Next time, I'll forgo the cheese, as it made me feel slightly bloated all afternoon.)

1.5 ounces of almonds and walnuts.

Primal Dessert Salad with Berry-Orange Dressing.

Balsamic roasted carrots, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Leftover stifado.

1/2 cup mango with coconut cream.

2129 calories, 179 g carbs, 114 g fat, 120 g protein
Friday's Workout:

Rest day from formal workout.

4.5 miles brisk dog walks, with a bit of running thrown in for fun.

Extra farm chores (raking and shoveling) in anticipation of hay delivery.

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Saturday's Food as Fuel:

Hay Day Hash with two eggs over easy.

Banana with almond butter.

Spinach salad with grilled chicken, avocado, broccoli, carrot, jicama, mushrooms, and lemon-dijon dressing.

Trail mix (Yes, the kind with the candy chips. In the midst of intense physical labor, that bit of sugar isn't a major problem, health-wise, but I still found it hard to put the stuff down. Good thing I ran out. I won't buy it again.)

Baked spaghetti squash with marinara.

Peach with coconut cream.

2314 calories, 194 g carbs, 131 g fat, 113 g protein

Saturday's Workout:

5 hours unloading and stacking 100-lb bales of hay. That'll do a girl in!

But, there are still chores waiting...

Thoughts on the week:

I'm still experimenting with the right number of carbs for me. Tuesday was quite high (in anticipation of stacking 2,800 lbs of hay on Wednesday morning), as was Saturday (more hay hauling!) I felt energetic all week -- more than when I kept carbs below 150 -- so it may be that this diet was appropriate for the week's effort.

But what's with all the dairy? Cottage cheese, yogurt, and some hard cheese? Sure, it totaled less than a cup of dairy all week, but that's more than I'd normally eat in a month. Blech. I feel better without the stuff, even though I'm of Swedish descent and not particularly lactose intolerant. It just makes me feel slightly bloated and "heavy."

This week's workouts were strange, too, considering the unusually high quantity of real-world labor in place of formal workouts. I feel like I didn't do enough squats and pull-ups, but that's a mental issue, not a physical one. You can bet your booties I did more than enough pushing, pulling, and lifting to compensate...and isn't functional strength what it's all about? I train most of the year so I can do real work when it needs to be done.

Cheers!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Frittercakes

Looking down the barrel of another day of stacking hay, I found myself in the mood for a relatively high-carb breakfast -- but something different from yesterday's Hay Day Hash. Vegetable pancakes, which tend to be more like fritters in texture, sounded perfect. Instead of the usual savories like onion and garlic, I chose to flavor these with warm spices, dried fruit, and coconut. They were delicious!

On a less active day, I would lower the carb count in this recipe by switching out half the dried fruit for walnuts, and possibly swapping the quantities of sweet potato and zucchini. The latter change would render even more important the step of salting, draining, and squeezing out the vegetables; if they're too moist, the frittercakes won't stick together in the pan.


Sweet Potato & Zucchini Frittercakes

1 1/2 cups sweet potato, grated
1 cup zucchini, grated
1/4 tsp salt
1 small egg (or half of a large, beaten egg)
1/4 cup raisins (not packed)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (not packed)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ground clove
2 Tbs coconut oil

Combine grated sweet potato and zucchini with salt, and allow to sit in a colander for 10 minutes. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer vegetable mixture to a bowl and add remaining ingredients, except coconut oil, and combine thoroughly.

Heat coconut oil on griddle. Drop batter by large spoonfuls onto griddle and flatten into "pancakes." Fry until browned and crispy, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve with butter and a snowfall of unsweetened coconut.

Makes 4 frittercakes.
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In the Night Gym

Farm life is good for keeping a body in shape. A few equines, ovines, canines, and felines, with a side of gallus domesticus, will keep you moving enough to maintain a basic level of fitness (though not necessarily leanness, which is more heavily influenced by diet than by exercise).

When I took up bodybuilding last March, however, it was with something more than the daily work in mind. Something like this:


That is 16.83 tons of hay. It can't stay on that trailer all winter. Somebody has to move it. Welcome to In the Night Gym.


I spent about five hours yesterday in a state of intense gratitude for every squat, lunge, push-up, pull-up, Roman chair, plank, and renegade row I've pounded out in the past few months. This is what it's always been about: Functional strength -- having what it takes to do what needs to be done, efficiently and without fear of injury.


I took care to eat a few extra carbs (in the form of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and a banana, which brought me up to about 200g, vs. my usual 150-175g...and the fattening, American standard of 300-400g), and was amazed by my consistent energy level. This is exactly what the primal people said would happen as I adjusted to eating low-carb. They weren't kidding!


Sure, stacking the 100-pound bales was still hard work. But it wasn't nearly as hard as last year. This year, I worked longer and harder, with less fatigue and -- to my surprise -- very little next-day soreness with which to contend.


Good thing...because 7 tons remain on the trailer. Looks like I'll be hitting the gym again today! Would you believe I'm actually looking forward to it?


...after a generous breakfast of Sweet Potato & Zucchini Frittercakes, that is.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hay Day Hash

You've heard about farmhands and big breakfasts, right?

I've worked at a ranch or two in my time, and I'm here to say that everything you've heard is true. Even here at In the Night Farm -- no massive operation by any stretch of the imagination -- breakfast has extra significance on certain days.

Take today, for example: Up at dawn to feed the horses. Coffee. Chow down on Hay Day Hash...because next, we're driving across the Idaho-Oregon border to pick up 20 tons of hay. Lucky for us, the farmer will load it on the flatbed semi trailer...but guess who gets to unload all those bales and re-stack them here on the farm? Yep. Yours truly. Stack and sweat, sweat and stack. 20 tons is a lot of hay. Moving it requires a lot of breakfast.


Hay Day Hash

1 cup zucchini, diced
1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
1/2 cup pasilla, diced
1 jalapeno, minced (Seed the jalapeno before mincing if you prefer less heat.)
1 cup sweet potato, diced small, boiled until al dente, and drained (Note that many primals avoid sweet potatoes, though their glycemic index is vastly preferable to white potatoes. I eat them on days, like today, when I want to boost my carb intake in anticipation of extensive physical activity.)
4 ounces cooked meat (I used leftover beef roast, but you could also dice up some chicken or use a bit of sasuage.)
Creole seasoning to taste

Saute zucchini, onion, and peppers in large skillet over medium heat, using butter or coconut oil to prevent sticking, 3-5 minutes. Add sweet potato and cooked meat; heat through. Season to taste. Top with hot sauce, if desired, and serve with a side of fried eggs.

Serves 1-2, depending how much hay you have to move!
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Primal Dessert Salad with Berry-Orange Dressing

As a recovering flegan, I eat more produce than do many adherents to the primal lifestyle. Indeed, more than a few swear they thrive on animal products -- or even just meat -- alone.

Well. You'll never see me go that far. I'm too thoroughly convinced of the macronutrient value provided by fresh vegetables and fruits. Even primal guru Mark Sisson swears by his daily salad.

Besides, I can still be plenty weird without sacrificing spinach. Not only do I regularly astonish (appall?) co-workers by carting gigantic containers of greens, veggies, avocado, and hardboiled eggs to the office for breakfast, I also enjoy this sweet salad in place of dessert:


Primal Dessert Salad with Berry-Orange Dressing

Salad:
2-3 cups mixed salad greens
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh peach slices (Mango and cantaloupe are good, too)
1 ounce walnuts, chopped

Dressing:
1 whole orange, peeled and sectioned
1/2 cup red berries (Raspberries and strawberries work beautifully. Cranberries are a particular favorite of mine, as I like a bit of tartness in food and people alike.)
1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil (Coconut oil will solidify and make the dressing grainer, but it imparts wonderful flavor.)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp honey (Optional. Not all primals eat honey because, although it is a natural sweetener, it is quite high in fructose, which stimulates the release of insulin in the body. Once you're accustomed to an un-sugared diet, this dish will be quite sweet enough without the honey.)

Blend dressing ingredients thoroughly, then chill. The juices, orange pulp, and oil will emulsify into a prettily pink, shiny, thick dressing to toss with the greens immediately before serving. (The dressing recipe makes enough for 4-6 salads, and keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.) Top the dressed greens with fruit and nuts, and enjoy. Serves 1 for brunch or 2 for dessert.

It's a piece of cake...only better!
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This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop. Be sure to drop in and see what else is on the menu!
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Intersection: NightLife Goes Primal

Fleganism.

Goodness. Three years of eating a "flexible vegan" diet are now under the bridge.

I enjoyed them. Being flegan expanded my culinary skills and leaned my body. The prodigious consumption of fresh produce virtually eliminated my seasonal allergies and longstanding arthritis pain in my bunions. I felt virtuous and strong.

Until I tried to get stronger.

Last March, a good friend got me started on bodybuilding. No, not the steroid-laced hoax whose ultimate goal is the perfect(ly grotesque) photo of a musclebound body that can't perform real work.

I'm talking about real bodybuilding. Pushing, pulling, and lifting bodyweight and iron. Building functional strength that can drive a fence post, buck hay, run for miles, and ride an endurance horse as effortlessly through mile 45 as at the starting line.

For several months, all went well. I ate my usual flegan meals based on whole grains, legumes, and plenty of vegetables. My push-up count climbed. My sprint times fell. By June, I could see the beginnings of six-pack abs...but I could also feel the strain.

Slower recovery times, cottony muscles that performed hard workouts in the morning but wanted to nap by afternoon, and reduced sleep quality all had me looking for answers. I knew nutrition was almost certainly a major factor, but wasn't I already offering my cells a glorious buffet of healthful, whole foods? What was going wrong?

Intuition, research, and discourse with my bodybuilding friend led me to one of the more obvious solutions: protein. Even the most protein-rich vegan foods, many of which are highly-processed soy products, don't hold a candle to animal products.

I stopped selling my chickens' eggs and started eating them. Two a day. It helped. I kept reading, scouring the library and internet for ideas supported by published, independent, peer-reviewed research rather than the industry-financed, politically-motivated stuff of conventional wisdom.
Patterns emerged. Startling patterns that warred with my existing nutritional construct. Patterns backed by research. Patterns I couldn't ignore. Protein, it transpired, was the tip of the iceberg.

Here's what I learned:

  • Whole grains are bad for you. Legumes aren't much better.
  • Carbohydrate reduction -- not calorie reduction -- is the key to fat loss and good health.
  • Large quantities of natural dietary fats, including saturated fats, are beneficial.
  • Animal products are important for thriving health.
Scores of articles, chapters, blog posts, and research papers passed under my review as I evaluated these ideas. Meanwhile, I added a daily serving of fish to my diet....and felt better. I took the huge step of eliminating all grains and legumes....and felt much better. Reluctantly, I reintroduced more meats while maintaining my usual, high rate of vegetable consumption...and felt better still.

But what did I eat? How does a person who has relied for calories predominantly on grains and legumes survive without them? By replacing them with natural, healthful fats and proteins, that's how.

My daily diet shifted from this "flegan" menu:

Pre-workout: Green drink (smoothie made with bananas, pear, grapes, kale, and flaxseed)
Breakfast: More green drink and oatmeal with walnuts, dried fruit, and unsweetened soy milk
Lunch: Spinach salad with chickpeas, mixed raw vegetables, and olive oil vinaigrette
Snack: Natural peanut butter
Dinner: Barley pilaf with artichoke hearts

2,287 calories, 314 grams carbs, 100 grams fat, 74 grams protein

...to this "primal" menu:

Pre-workout: Banana with almond butter
Breakfast: Spinach salad with tuna, olives, sunflower seeds, mixed raw vegetables, and olive oil vinaigrette
Lunch: Hot vegetable curry topped with 2 hard boiled eggs
Snack: Walnuts
Dinner: Gazpacho with avocado and grilled chicken, mango, and jicama salad
Dessert: Blueberries with coconut milk

2,271 calories, 135 grams carbs, 147 grams fat, 137 grams protein

Same number of calories. Half the carbs. One and a half times the fats. Twice the protein. All the produce!

Since that shift, I've played around with the carbohydrates a bit and found that I do best on slightly more than your typical "primal" maintainance level, given my penchant for extreme(ish) fitness and extensive physical activity. I've leaned out, chiseled that six-pack, built and cut some serious muscle in my limbs and back, and banished the bloating and low-energy that had plagued my flegan self.

So. So long, fleganism. I loved ya, but it's time to move on.

Needless to say, this shift from "ideal eating" (according to conventional wisdom and the vegan crowd) has caused quite a stir among my acquaintances, particularly those who shared a vegetarian bent. Several people have expressed downright alarm. Many have asked the same questions I did, questions no doubt raised by this post:

What on earth is wrong with whole grains and legumes?
Are you sure fat is healthful?
Animal products? Seriously?
So, you're doing Atkins now? (Nope!)
What does "primal" mean?

I don't claim to have all the answers -- but I do have some, along with a lot of logic and research to back up my own, anecdotal experience. Instead of trying to regurgitate all of it here, allow me to refer those who are interested to a few resources, just for starters:

Mark's Daily Apple (Primal nutrition and fitness)
Fitness Spotlight (Low-carb nutrition and fitness)
The Vegetarian Myth (book review by Dr. Michael Eades)
Cholesterol and Health (Fat and cholesterol research)
Food Renegade (Real food & related politics. Home of Fight Back Fridays!)
Good Calories, Bad Calories (Book regarding the science of low-carb eating by Gary Taubes)

Note: Most of the above links will take you to main pages; be sure to click around and read the sites more deeply. I'll link directly to articles on particular topics in future posts.

And so, my friends, NightLife turns down the primal path. Shall we see where it leads?
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vegetable & Mung Bean Noodle Salad with Creamy Teriyaki Dressing

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a recipe with a name like this one has would have scared me off. Asian flavor profiles have never been my strong suit, and an ingredient list like this one takes some getting used to.

Tofu...miso...sambal oelek... Not everyone has purchased these items before. Don't worry; they're easy to find in any large grocery. Check the refrigerated produce section for tofu (often near other "specialty foods" like ginger root, fresh herbs, and bottled garlic) and the Asian foods section for everything else that sounds strange. Though the products may be unfamiliar, I guarantee you'll recognize their aromas and flavors. They may even become new staples in your kitchen, as they have in mine.

Though it involves stir-frying, this recipe is more easily managed than many Asian dishes because it is intended to be served at room temperature. So, there's not need for that sweaty rush from wok to table. Speaking of woks: If you don't have one, a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet works fine. I prefer to use a Dutch oven to make tossing the ingredients easier.


Vegetable & Mung Bean Noodle Salad with Creamy Teriyaki Dressing

Dressing:
4 oz firm silken tofu
1/3 cup spicy miso teriyaki sauce
1 Tbs sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste)
2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated
2 Tbs lemon juice
1Tbs sesame oil

Combine dressing ingredients in food processor and blend until creamy. If you prefer more heat, add additional sambal oelek to taste. Bear in mind that the dressing will taste milder once combined with the vegetables and noodles. For a saltier dressing, add a dash of soy sauce.

Salad:
1 (6 oz) package saifun (mung bean noodles)
6 cups thinly sliced vegetables (I used carrots, broccoli, celery, and bell peppers. Sugar snap peas, mushrooms, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and more would also be tasty.)
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs sesame seeds, toasted
3 scallions, chopped

Stir fry vegetables (except scallions) in sesame oil, over medium-high heat, until crisp-tender. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, cook saifun according to package directions (boil, don't fry). Drain and rinse with cold water to cool.

Combine saifun, vegetables, and dressing in large bowl, stirring gently to combine. Serve topped with sesame seeds and scallions.

Makes 4 dinner servings.

Side dish suggestion: Mix hot, brown basmati rice with onion, garlic, and kale lightly sauteed in sesame oil and drizzled with soy sauce.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Curried Coconut Coercion

My mother isn't fond of the spice that gives curries their name, so I wasn't introduced to this marvelously flexible dish until I was well into my twenties. These days, they're one of my favorites for quick, hearty, aromatic suppers. Curries adapt readily to whatever ingredients you have on hand; the fact that I had pasillas instead of sweet bell peppers led to this rather unusual, but surprisingly tasty, version. As an added benefit, the dish reheats beautifully for lunch the next day.

In this curry, which is named in honor of loyal reader who insisted that I get back here and post something already, I use red lentils for their attractive color. I located them in the bulk section of a large grocery, and any specialty foods store ought to carry them. If you can't find them or don't want to bother, regular brown lentils would work just fine. I opted for the richness of full-fact coconut milk (C'mon, have you ever heard of anyone getting obese off coconuts? Plant fats are good for you!), but the reduced fat version would also do the trick.

The recipe as written will deliver a flavorful but mild curry. If you want to turn up the heat, increase the red curry paste or add hot curry powder. You could also throw in a diced jalipeno, so long as we're flirting with fusion!


Curried Coconut Coersion
Flegan

1 medium onion, diced
1 pasilla (also known as a poblano), diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 Tbs red curry paste
1 (14.5 oz) can coconut milk
1 (14.5 oz) vegetable broth
1 (14.5 oz) can petite-diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 tsp salt
4 green onions, chopped
Lime juice to taste

Saute onion and pasilla over low to medium heat for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute. Add red curry paste and saute one minute more. Add next five ingredients (coconut milk through salt) and simmer until lentils are done, about 25 minutes. Serve over brown basmati rice with a sprinkle of green onions and a squeeze of lime.

Serves 6.
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Still hungry? Try my November Lentil Curry