Archive | September, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Pretty-Good-Paleo Storebought Dressing, and How to Make Tender Kale Salad

25 Sep

One of the best standard paleo meals one can possibly have is a nice big salad made with fresh, colorful, nutritious vegetables and other nifty add-ons like berries, nuts, or even sardines. Unfortunately, even though my taste buds have become more sensitive to the natural sensations of fresh veggies, I still have found it difficult to get myself excited over salad. Part of the problem is that most of my life conditioned me to expect flavorful dressings on top of said salads. I do enjoy vinegar and in a pinch will toss some good olive oil and red wine vinegar on a salad, but I miss the flavors of more complicated dressings. The vast, vast majority of store-bought dressings, though, proudly proclaim themselves to be low-fat, which is a dead giveaway that they are filled with crappy rancid vegetable oils and sweeteners like HFCS. You can make your own dressings, of course, but I have had trouble mustering enough effort to do so regularly. Over the last few years, I have kept my eye out for possible pre-packaged paleo dressings, but didn’t hold up much hope for success.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the following dressing caught my eye on a recent trip to my local independent grocery store. I was already familiar with the Bragg brand, as I am a big fan of their raw organic apple cider vinegar. I had no idea they were making bottled salad dressings. It made sense, though, since their company seems to deal primarily with vinegars and oils. Curious, I immediately did what any good paleo person does and turned the bottle around to read the ingredient label. What I found surprised me so much I read it twice:

Ingredients: Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Bragg Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, purified water, organic honey, organic garlic, Bragg Liquid Aminos (vegetable soy protein & purified water), organic onion, organic black pepper and natural xanthan gum.

No heavy sweeteners, no artificial sweeteners, no crappy vegetable oils. Pretty much the only non-paleo thing is the aminos, since they make theirs from soy protein. But I personally find that I do ok with a little bit of soy product (such as soy sauce), and its pretty low on the ingredient label anyway, so I was willing to give it a shot.

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Fresh Ginger Tea With Lemon and Honey

23 Sep

ginger_tea_iconI’m still not sure what the disease I dealt with this weekend was. I felt run down, with a minor sore throat and a bit of a fever at a couple points (100.4ºF/38ºC was the highest spike), and had aches that corresponded to the spikes in temperature. But altogether it wasn’t that bad. During breaks of my impromptu Disney Movie Netflix Marathon, I had enough energy to get up to make myself food and keep the kitchen in reasonable order.

But this experience made me realize how over-sensitized we paleo people can get to sickness when we’re not getting sick all the time. My new standard is one, maybe two, colds a year, with symptoms on the medium-to-low range of things. I still want to rest and take care of myself, of course, but if something serious in my real life came up, I would still be able to pull myself together and deal with it. So when something comes along that gives me the first fever that I’ve had in three years, part of me couldn’t help but panic and think I was dying.

It’s basically the paleo version of “The Man Cold”:

During the worst part of it, I was texting my friends to say I was dying of brain amoebas, which I must have contracted while we were swimming in a river the week prior, and if I died Kara could have my Le Creuset pots but for the love of god don’t use metal utensils or wire scrubbing pads in them. They all told me I was fine and I should just STFU and watch more cartoons. I was like, “Okay 😦” and figured if I was dying I might as well watch Treasure Planet cause there wasn’t anything else left in my Netflix Disney queue that I hadn’t seen yet (and was shocked to discover that it’s actually really good, I don’t know why it’s gotten a bad rap over the years, it’s totally worth even a non-deathbed viewing).

AAAAAAANYWAY. The point I am leading to is that this weekend was an excuse to practice some of my sick-care routines earlier than normal. One of my favorite home remedies is fresh ginger tea with lemon and honey. It’s fabulous for sore throats and headaches. I also make it as a delightfully warming, caffeine-free drink even when I’m not sick. I post it as a “recipe” but it’s so simple it’s barely a recipe; more a basic protocol that you can adapt to your own liking.

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…Starve a Cold?

20 Sep

One of the inescapable facts of life that us paleo-people sometimes have trouble with is acknowledging that, while we may be streets-ahead on many variables, we are not immune to common human diseases like cold and flu. I was reminded of my mortality this morning when I woke up tired, achy, with a sore throat and slightly elevated temperature. It seems early for disease season, but many of my close friends and coworkers have done a lot of travelling lately to the far corners of the continent so it’s likely they brought back some novel microbial souvenirs with them. Additionally, I can’t ignore the fact that I live in a major city, and cities have–throughout time–been cesspools of disease evolution and transmission.

In any event, I grumpily resigned myself to a day of working from home under a pile of blankets in bed. After a few hours of this, I noticed something interesting: I was tired, I was achy, but I wasn’t particularly hungry. Even the thought of some fresh baked bacon didn’t stir my appetite. Upon reflection, I realized that this might be a natural response of my body, using a short period of fasting to help my immune system and body cells deal with the stress of fighting…whatever the hell I’m dealing with right now.

Last year, Mark Sission did a multipart series discussing the various possible pros and cons of intermittent fasting. I was especially intrigued with his post that talked about the connection between fasting and improved immune response. He discussed it specifically through the lens of cancer, but I think a lot of the points can apply to other diseases as well. In the introduction, he points out:

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Gingerade Gelatin Gummies

16 Sep

gingeradeiconAs I have commented on before, I love gelatin-based gummies, but was growing rather tired of all of the purely fruity recipes out there. They are all very good, don’t get me wrong, but I have been enjoying experimenting with new combinations that are less sweet but still interesting.

I recently “stepped out of the cave,” so to speak, to indulge in some non-paleo ginger chew candies. I love ginger, and back before paleo I used to chow down on these things all the time, especially after I discovered that ginger helped mitigate some of my pre-menstrual migraine symptoms (although since going paleo I have had barely any migraine symptoms at all). I weaned myself off of them once I went paleo and absolved myself of excess sugar. I had almost forgotten about them until a friend offered me one a couple weeks ago. As I chewed it, enjoying the intense burst of ginger-y goodness, I wondered if there might be a way to get a similar experience from a gelatin-based treat.

What I came up with is not as chewy as those candies, but it still has a good burst of ginger flavor and—like my other recipe—is another less-sweet addition to the gelatin pantheon. My first batch of these was just ginger with some honey, but I found the flavor rather flat and unbalanced. I added the lemon/lime juice to help round out the flavor and evoke my favorite flavor of kombucha.

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My God It’s Full Of Stars

13 Sep

One of the reasons I jumped on board the paleo wagon (or, more likely, paleo travois) so easily was because its basic philosophy made such immediate sense. In my own words, this core hypothesis can be outlined as follows:

“Living organisms evolve and adapt to have maximum reproductive fitness in their natural environments. On the scale of human history, grains and processed foods are relatively new things in our environment, so it might follow that they are presenting us with health and fitness challenges that we have not yet adapted to.”

A simple enough idea. As a scientist, though, I of course had to test it. My immediate data results were that I lost 40 pounds and cured my clinical depression, which was more than enough evidence for me to accept the hypothesis as true.

But in the last few years, I have noticed an interesting pattern when discussing the paleo diet with other people. Many common misconceptions in scientific understanding prevent people from grasping that same core hypothesis I understood right away. Because of this, many times these people focus on debating extraneous details of the paleo diet (missing the forest for the trees, so to speak) or simply write the whole thing off altogether. It is especially frustrating to me because these are the same misconceptions that that I see on a daily basis as a science educator. Continue reading

Brined and Baked Pork Ribs

9 Sep

ribs_iconNow that we’re fully into September, much of the rest of North America is starting to think about the approach of fall. However, here in San Francisco, our “summer” is just beginning. For the next month, month-and-a-half if we’re lucky, the promise of sweltering-hot 85°F days leads to a brief flurry of outdoor concerts, festivals, and BBQs every weekend until the fog retakes us once again.

Of course, nothing says outdoor BBQ like a good rack of ribs, which is what brought today’s recipe to mind. Conveniently, though, this is a recipe that only uses the oven, so technically it can be done year-round. I am extremely proud of this recipe, since I came up with the protocol myself just by messing around in the kitchen. Everyone who has tried these ribs has raved about them, including a group of paleo people at a potluck a few months back. I’ve heard them called “delicious meat-candy” and “like bacon on a stick, only the stick is bone!”

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Paleolithic Park

6 Sep

me_tree_iconAs I’ve mentioned before, my new-paleo-convert friend Jim has whole-heartedly accepted the dietary wisdom I’ve shared with him and adjusted his habits accordingly. As of this writing, he has lost about 20 pounds over two months. Unfortunately, schedules and budget restrictions have limited his explorations into paleo-style exercising.  I’ve encouraged him to try to incorporate some simple body-weight exercises into his routine, but he has found doing such things around his apartment uninspiring. Thus, recently we decided to enjoy our brief San Franciscan summer by getting outside for some real paleo exercising.

Getting outside to move slowly, dash around, and play is more than just a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon. As Mark Sisson points out:

” ‘Try working out outdoors’ or ‘Go on a hike’ is not just tentatively recommended advice to be discarded or glossed over. Long walks don’t belong in the miscellaneous category, and playing is as important as lifting heavy things. All this stuff – the play, being outdoors, the frequent bouts of moving slowly – is crucial…Outdoor workouts [result] in greater revitalization, increased energy, and more positive engagement, along with less depression, anger, confusion, and tension.”

Living in the middle of San Francisco, it can be a little hard for us to get to the “real” great outdoors. Luckily, we are blessed to have a little slice of the great outdoors right in the middle of our own city, Golden Gate Park. But even a more “civilized” park can offer great opportunities for outdoor exercise and play. I share our adventures here today in the hopes that other people might be similarly inspired to find unconventional playgrounds in their own communities. Continue reading