Thursday, June 5, 2014

Preparing a Paleo Pantry

After providing some suggestions on preparing Paleo meals efficiently, I also wanted to include a list of good Paleo staples to have on hand so that given some fresh or frozen meats and veggies, you can whip up a variety of healthy meals.

A good place to start is with the list of basic cooking styles and what staples each one typically needs (this is by no means exhaustive):
  • Sautes - olive oil, garlic, fresh or dried herbs, salt and pepper, hot sauce, chopped or sliced nuts, coconut milk
  • Stir fry - olive oil, coconut aminos (soy sauce alternative), chili-garlic paste, vinegar (plum, balsamic), garlic, sweetener (coconut sugar, agave, stevia, etc.), sesame oil, ginger (I like a garlic and ginger paste), broth, lime juice
  • Tomato sauce with veggies and ground meats, put on zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, baked potatoes, eggplant slices, etc. - high quality canned tomatoes (I like crushed, but they can be any style and work), olive oil, fresh or dried herbs (oregano, basil, paprika, garlic) 
  • Salads - dried fruits and nuts (sweet or not), olive oil and balsamic vinegar (I love trying new flavors of both at Con Olio.  Adding these pantry staples will really improve a basic salad.  Also, you can make it more antipasti style with marinated/pickled veggies and canned tuna
  • Roasting - olive oil, canned tomatoes, salt and pepper, dried herbs, meat rubs, jarred bell peppers
  • Grilling - olive oil, dried herbs or rubs, BBQ sauces and marinades, salt and pepper
  • Tex-Mex Style - salsa, jalapeños, olives, spicy rubs for meats
  • Smoothies - juice, canned coconut milk, almond milk, dried powders, nut butters
A condensed list of basics:
  • Olive oil (Corta is a cheap but high quality brand), vinegars (balsamic, plum), dried herbs, salt and pepper, coconut aminos, chili-garlic paste, ginger (dried or paste), hot sauce (Tabasco, Sriracha, etc.)
  • Nuts - I usually buy large bags of almonds, pecans, and walnuts at Costco; other options - pine nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Dried fruit - cranberries, cherries, raisins, blueberries,
  • Canned/jarred items - tomatoes, keep a mix of large and small cans of various types; mushrooms; artichoke hearts, pickles, roasted red peppers, olives (black and green), jalapenos, tuna/salmon, salsa, nut butters, canned coconut milk
And, as you might notice from my picture, I also have a large selection of Paleo snacks which is indispensable with kids and if you go out for large amounts of time.  Here are some of my favorites (I may be addicted to variety!):

  • Large bags of trail mix from Costco; also home-made mixes; snacking nuts; dried mangos
  • Lara bars
  • KIT's Organic
  • Power Snack
  • SeaSnax roasted seaweed
  • Epic bars
  • Tanka bars
  • Paleo Diet Bar
  • Fruit Clusters
  • 180 Snacks (nut and fruit)
  • Nick's Sticks (at Snap kitchen)
  • Happy Squeeze coconut squeezes
  • Fruit Chia bars
  • Raw Revolution
  • Simple Squares
Hope this helps you get started and makes trying a Paleo lifestyle a little easier.


How to Prepare Paleo Efficiently

Now that we have been eating Paleo for almost 8 months, I feel like I have some tried and true suggestions to share about how to go about it as easily and time effectively as possible.  Of course, this needs to be tailored to your own tastes and preferences and allergies, but here are some guidelines to get you started.

1) Chop large quantities of vegetables at a time - nothing kills more time than prepping 1/2 a zucchini at a time.  You can then either make a double/triple meal with them or have them pre-chopped and on hand for omelets, salads, sautés and stir-fries.  You can always freeze them if they start to get too ripe and then pull them out for cooked meals (sauces and soups especially)

2) Cook large quantities of meat at a time - grill two chickens (or four), larger roasts, then use them with different mixes of veggies and sauces or salads later in the week for meals.

2) Prepare larger quantities of meals than you are used to - you will find yourself hungry if you just cut out grains and dairy and don't eat more.  Use the extras for breakfasts, lunches and dinner again.

3) Even eating lots of extra meat and veggies, you will need to eat higher fat foods like nuts, seeds, olives, coconut oil and avocados to feel satisfied.  I often bake muffins with almond flour or make my own granola bars or desserts with nuts and dried fruits.  Smoothies are another great way to boost your nutrition and get some healthy fats - use avocados, coconut milk and oil, bananas, and fresh, frozen or dried fruits - the variety is endless.

Fresh from the Farmer's Market and my pantry

4) Get good at a few simple cooking techniques and then get creative with lots of variations:

  • Sautes 
  • Stir fry
  • Tomato sauce with veggies and ground meats, put on zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, baked potatoes, eggplant slices, etc.
  • Salads
  • Roasting
  • Grilling
5) Breakfasts are often rushed and there aren't a lot of Paleo cereals out there to buy.  Some easy options are egg-based meals, or sausages, leftover meat, with some fruit or a smoothie, and some leftover veggies (or pre-chopped).  If you bake, then make a double batch of almond or coconut based muffins, extra points for putting veggies in them!

6) Snacks - you can make your own, but luckily there are also lots of new Paleo snacks out there, and trail mix, fruit or raw veggies are always a good option.

7) Have fun and when you miss something a lot - you can almost always find a Paleo-fied recipe of it on Pinterest!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Vacation House - Cooking Paleo Away From Home, pt. 1

In a couple weeks, we are going to Long Island to visit family and friends.  Since we live in Texas, this will be an especially welcome change in vista and weather.  I love beach vacations anywhere but it's especially fun when we get a chance to play house and rent someone's lovely home and kitchen to help us prepare healthy food.

It's also a bit more work than a resort in Cancun!  But planning ahead makes it a lot easier and yummier.  In the past, I've brought some favorite recipes and a few needed condiments, so that's the plan this time, only Paleo.  Which means I also have to think about breakfasts and lunches and snacks more since we can't use the easy grain and dairy stand-bys that we used to rely on for about half our calories.

So, first strategy I am going to try is something I've thought about implementing at home, but haven't.  I will make double sized dinners so we have lots of leftovers for other meals. I will bring enough recipe ideas to cook every night, but, hopefully, we will also go out for a few meals - seafood and fresh veggies should be available somewhere nearby!

Second, for meals I will try to stick with simple ingredients and bring my own spices.

Third, I am going to look up local markets and hopefully find a farmer's market or Whole Foods nearby.

Fourth, for travel and snacks I will load up on paleo snacks and bring them with us.  I've recently begun compiling a list of new paleo products and snacks and we had a chance to try some that aren't widely available yet at the Austin 2014 Paleo Expo.  I will try to get that on the blog soon.

Fifth, and most important, I will not stress and I'm sure we will find plenty of unexpected yummy places to eat and shop and no one will have to eat unhealthy.  

Resisting ice cream will be the hardest - our mantra used to be - "It's vacation - let's have ice cream for lunch!"  Sigh...luckily, at home, we are pretty happy with coconut ice cream and home made Zoku pops.  Also, "Let's Do Gluten Free" ice cream cones are made with potato flour - check them out if you haven't yet!  

Here are a few meals I am already thinking of putting on the list:

   Balsamic and olive - can use for salads, grilled chicken breasts, and cooked veggies.

   Chicken Marbella - can expand easily - cut up whole chickens with olives and prunes

   Spaghetti Squash with tomato sauce and pork sausage meatballs - I don't think I could
   ever make too much of this - we all love it.  Good one to use with guests.

   Lots of eggs and bacon - plain and made into a frittata with leftover veggies

   Lots of fresh local (if possible) veggies to use for salad, side dishes, frittatas - favorites
   are kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, basil, beets, spinach, arugula, cauliflower

   And I hope to find a fish market where we can get lobster and shrimp and other fish

  Extras: fresh fruit, coconut milk for smoothies and drinks, almond milk, coffee and tea

I'll let you know how the trip and cooking goes and other suggestions when I get back.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Paleo Dog - pt 1

Well, now that I feel like I have my family's diet on track and humming along without too much stress and work, I thought I would tackle our dog's diet.

Suki, out 8 year old labradoodle is literally THE BEST DOG in the WORLD!  No bad habits (we can't stand), the perfect size, non-shedding, friendly towards everyone (except squirrels)...just perfect.  We love her dearly and would do anything for her, so I figure, even though she's been on a good dog food her whole life and seems healthy, I think we can do better.

Currently, Suki eats a high end food that still has brown rice, barley (darn - I thought it was gluten free), millet, rice bran, oatmeal, and canola oil.  The other ingredients seem good plus lots of supplements.  It's the diet we put her on as a puppy after she started getting lots of ear infections, and it seemed to clear those up so we stuck with it.

Suki isn't over weight, and seems healthy but she isn't very active around the house and she has pretty bad teeth (they need cleaning yearly) and she even lost a couple from cracking.  She also pulled her back leg tendon a year ago and she occasionally re-injures it, so I've thought about a joint or fish oil supplement.

Good news - I can definitely do better, even if we don't switch to a full raw food diet.  Given my time and energy to devote to changing her diet, I decided to start by finding a healthier dry food, can food, and to look at supplementing with raw food (maybe the pre-made kind, as well as leftovers and scraps from the kitchen).

Since we do not have young children who play in the yard where she poops, I'm not worried about bacteria contamination from a raw diet, but I've heard that can be an issue.  When we first got Suki as a puppy, I considered a raw diet but decided not to pursue because our kids were young.  I am also not going to feed her large bones because she has  a propensity to chew too hard and crack her teeth.

I went to one of our local high end dog stores and looked at lots of healthy food and treat and supplement options.  The employees there were super helpful but also non-judgemental, both about my choice of diet for my dog, but also about the foods they offer.  In general, the store tries to only offer healthy options, but still, lots of them didn't meet my Paleo requirements of no grains, dairy or beans.  We basically read ingredients and figured it out together.  Luckily there were a couple options and three different raw food options (all pretty pricey).

I decided on Merrick Grain Free Buffalo and Sweet Potato dry food, Merrick Grain Free can food, Primal Formula for Dogs, Beef, raw food (in the freezer), and Grizzly Salmon oil supplement.  I also picked up some chicken wings.

It's been about a week now since I introduced her new diet.  I kind of mixed in her old dry food with the new one (about 1/4 old to 3/4 new) but in general, I decided to just switch over right away even if it gave her some loose stools.

So far, she has LOVED her new food - I really haven't seen her so excited about eating in years.  She's eating more than usual, too.  I think she's had a little tummy upset since she's been eating more grass and threw up once, but it may have also been too much fat on the chicken wing which I gave her a couple days in a row.

Her energy level has had the most dramatic change - she is much more energetic in the mornings and evenings, playing more and wanting to run outside and explore every time we open the door.  This is in contrast to days when we could barely get her out of bed to go potty because she wanted to sleep in until 10 am or later.  Instead of getting excited only if someone came over or we took her for a walk, she seems happy and excited all the time.  Instead of seeming lazy and despondent, she is perky and playful - and this is only after one week!

My next goal is to ask around at all the places I shop for raw meats to supplement.  Costco is the only one I asked so far and they use basically everything except fat and some bones.  I plan to ask HEB, Whole Foods, Central Market, and a Grass-Fed butcher shop in the area.

Here are some of the websites I consulted about a Paleo dog diet and good raw foods to feed dogs:

And here's a list of dangerous foods for dogs:

As always, read with a critical eye anything you find on the Internet.  I'm still doing my research and will definitely update this blog if anything proves false.  I really came across a large variety of recommendations regarding dog diets and the efficacy of a raw diet vs. commercial one.  I even found a reputable source which included raw meat and eggs on the dangerous foods for dogs list!  Raw meats do have bacteria that wouldn't be safe for humans to digest but dogs have much stronger stomach acid and do not typically get sick from it, but people (and young kids) need to be safer around the feces of animals fed a raw diet than a non-raw one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Light and Chewy Paleo Egg Free Bagels

These are some of the nicest plain bread bagels/mini pizzas/biscuits you can make using paleo flours and even substituting for eggs (since we are sensitive to those too).  It’s been adapted from a traditional gluten free bagel recipe by Bette Hagman.  Feel free to add flavors and toppings like poppy seeds if you like.

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. almond meal
1 c. tapioca or potato starch
1 tsp xanthum gum
Dash salt
1 ½ Tblsp sugar (optional and you can always add a little agave syrup or honey instead)

Wet Ingredients:
2 ¼ tsp Active dry yeast
½ c warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 Tblsp Coconut Oil
¼ c hot water
2 egg whites if you can have them or egg substitute with water (see pkg for directions); I often use a teaspoon of chia seeds in a couple tablespoons of water. Let gel a minute.

Mix dry ingredients in a stand mixer or by hand (a food processor could be used too).  Dissolve the yeast in the WARM water with the teaspoon of sugar.  Melt the shortening in the hot water.  Pour both into the dry ingredients and blend on low.  Add the egg whites and blend again.  Turn the mixer to high and beat for 3 ½ minutes.  This dough will be a little sticky still.  You can spoon the dough and drop onto cookie sheets for biscuits, or spoon or pipe it into a donut pan for nice round bagels with holes.  Add any toppings now.  Let the dough rise for 30-60 minutes.  Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes (convection 400 for 13-15).  Use for just about anything but don’t get too addicted, the starches do not make these the healthiest Paleo option - but it sure helps me feel not too deprived of all normal foods!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sean's Story

A couple years ago, my 8 year old son developed Crohn's disease like me. But he was much sicker after two years than I had been for much of my life.  He missed weeks of school, could barely get out of bed and even while taking prednisone, continued to get worse and then developed infections.  We turned to Remicade and it got better for a while but after the prednisone was stopped, he became sick again - after just a couple months of recuperation. We were facing adding Methotrexate and more prednisone or even surgery.

Desperate to try something different, I took him to a functional medicine doctor I had heard good things about.  I had seen the results she was getting from a couple friends and acquaintances.  I was already convinced that the right diet would help, but he had avoided gluten and lactose for 6 months and it didn't seem to help so I wanted professional help before I forced him to avoid more foods while he was so sick and losing weight.

She immediately put him on the Paleo diet and then ran a bunch of tests to check for additional antigens to foods.  I was shocked at the recommendation because I thought we would test first, maybe do an elimination diet or cut out gluten and dairy but I never suspected that other grains would be bad for us, much less beans and lentils!

Full of trepidation but willing to try anything at that point, we started the Paleo diet within a couple days.  Like many people, there was a week or two of discomfort, some yeast over-growth, easily treated, but by week 3 we could see some significant improvement.  He didn't need to go to the nurse several times per day at school, his stomach aches were better, and he seemed to be fairly happy about eating the new diet.  After tests also ruled out eggs, I baked new muffins, found new ways of filling him up (weight loss was a big concern) and kept at it.  By week 6, he was no longer having any symptoms of Crohn's disease!  It had been a full year since he was that healthy and you could just look at him and see how good he felt.

Does it work for everyone?  I don't know, but I was not fully following the diet at first even though I had been having a mild flare-up of my own .  When the flare-up became serious, I started following it completely and 4 weeks later, my symptoms started to clear up. I seldom have flare ups (however, I am always on medicine), but when I do, it usually takes many rounds of prednisone and new medicine, lasting as long as a year in order to calm my immune system down again.  It's been six months now and I'm feeling pretty good and do not doubt that following this diet was what stopped the flare up.  Both of us are now reducing our medication and hope to stop them eventually.

Why Does the Paleo Diet Work?

Good question!  You will see several different reasons touted for why it works, from an evolutionary perspective to a scientific one and lots of health reasons in between.

The big question mark out there for most of us though is whether or not it's been "proven".  As we've seen over the last couple decades, proving a scientific theory is not as easy as it sounds (global warming anyone?)  Going from theory to fact is such a high bar, that very few new theories reach it within a lifetime, much less a decade or two.  If you have that amount of time to wait and aren't looking for a way to be healthier now, then wait and we'll probably understand a lot more about diet in a few decades.

But if you are willing to lower the bar there are many good scientific studies which support the elimination of grains and dairy to reduce the inflammatory responses in our bodies. Ultimately, though, you may just have to try it for yourself like we did.  But if you are also struggling with immune system issues, there may be even more foods which are affecting you and seeking out a doctor trained in functional medicine to help you identify them may be necessary.  If you just want to feel better, lose some weight, avoid further health issues as you get older, then eating this way should be very helpful.

A lot of people find that reading either the Paleo Diet or Paleo Solution give them a good understanding of why this diet works.  

Here are some other good resources and sites that collect links to studies and other helpful information:

One of the originators of modern day Paleo eating; great research links:

Scientific info., eating Paleo for Autoimmune diseases, and more women friendly

This one is  good for medical info. and more guy friendly:

Great recipes and tips for kids

Simple and well tested recipes (esp. for baked goods)

The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf
The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain
Eat Like a Dinosaur (by Paleo Parents)
Paleo Cooking by Elana
Grain Brain - David Perlmutter

Paleo Magazine - very well done and interesting magazine about all things Paleo - really nice way to learn even more about healthy living and products

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Paleo (Egg Free) Raisin "Bran" Muffins

Paleo Raisin "Bran" Muffin

This is a surprisingly yummy muffin that you can feel proud of sharing with non-Paleo friends.  They also freeze well for snacks and weekday mornings. They have an excellent bran muffin texture, light and chewy with a mild gingerbread flavor - top with nuts or icing for a healthy cupcake.  
Paleo Raisin "Bran" Muffins

Dry ingredients:
1 ½  c. almond meal
½ c. potato starch
½ c. flax meal
2 Tblsp finely shredded coconut (super fine is better)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt

Wet ingredients:
⅓ c. finely chopped dates
1 c. warm almond milk (or other milk)
½ c. melted coconut oil
⅓ c. molasses
¼ c. brown sugar or coconut sugar (skip if your milk is sweetened)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp chia seeds soaked a few minutes in 2 Tbsp warm water (my favorite egg replacer)

½ c. raisins (golden or regular)
½ c. chopped walnuts (opt.)
Icing (opt.)

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk.  Mix wet ingredients in a food processor or mixer.  Add to dry ingredients and mix well, add raisins and then let sit for 5-10 minutes. Fill standard muffin cups almost full and add a sprinkle of chopped walnuts (if using) on top. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes (or convection oven at 350 for 20-25 min.) or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.  Let cool slightly and enjoy!  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why I Am A Reluctant Paleo Convert

Yes, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Paleo movement, by my body, my child, my doctor.  But here I am and loving it!  Well, kind of, except, if you are like me you have decades of fond food memories and desires to be tamed and adapted.  And you have no idea what to do with some of the new foods you find yourself buying at the Farmer’s Market or Whole Foods. (Turban squash anyone?)

Luckily, with the Internet, books, and some helpful blogs, I've found some creative and talented guides to help me on my quest to transform my family's diet. It wasn't easy after 20 years of cooking the way I thought was healthy and tasty - I love food and have had to cut some things out already which made me love the rest even more.

Given that there are already several great websites and cookbooks out there, I really had to justify to myself why I needed to add my voice (and time) to the Paleo movement.  Honestly, I had often thought about writing about food, health and disease many times before.  Over the years, I have sought out information and tried many things to help my Crohn’s disease and had many set-backs and experiences that I thought could help others with similar problems.  But time, lack of confidence, dislike of computers, and my lack of energy have all held me back from trying.

Now, I feel like I’ve had my eyes opened to achieving lasting health for me and my family in a natural way, and I want to help others, as well as stay motivated to keep on a healthy path myself.  I hope to blog mostly about common issues for similarly reluctant, but hopeful, Paleo eaters. I'll share our experiences eating Paleo as family - how we are cooking, eating, shopping, traveling, and trying to live our life as fully as possible with dietary constraints. And I will add and index my favorite new recipes. I may even tackle some lingering doubts and questions I have about the sustainability of eating Paleo.

I am making this somewhat radical change under the guidance and supervision of a terrific doctor who has studied diet and the connection to health for years, and if I can share some of the wisdom I've received, I will. But I am not myself a doctor or even a trained scientist, so I will try to share other sites that seem to be written with that background if you are looking for a more scientific reason about why this diet works.