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

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

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!

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


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 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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