Tools of the Trade: Crockpots, aka Slow Cookers

22 Oct

Well, summer is finally over, even here in San Francisco. I’ve been seeing the signs for weeks now, but in the last few days I’ve finally accepted that fall/winter is finally here. For example, this morning I was greeted by this sight from my porch:

"Computer, what is the nature of the universe?"

“Computer, what is the nature of the universe?”

With this turn of the weather, my mind (and stomach) has started craving hearty harvest meals like stews, squashes, and rich soups. All of these foods are made imminently more accessible by one of the staples of the paleo kitchen, the crock pot.

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Gluten Free Tapioca Cheese Biscuits (Pao de Queijo)

18 Oct

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that my boyfriend still insists on ordering his burgers with a bun. I decided to look up options for gluten free buns to make for burgers at the house that would still give him the experience of a bun (since we all know how tiring lettuce wraps can get). While conducting this research, I accidentally stumbled across something that has changed the way my boyfriend looks at gluten free eating, and changed my world as well.

Pao de queijo is cheeserollicona traditional Brazilian recipe. They are little buns, similar to a popover, made from egg, cheese, milk, butter, tapioca flour, and salt. That’s it. No tricky combinations of specialty flours and arrowroot. Just whole foods. What’s interesting is that this is a “natural” gluten free recipe, so if you google it you will come up with many different recipe variations and techniques. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them recommend ingredients like canola oil and skim milk. When I saw those I was like, “PSSSSSH, EFF THAT!!” and starting playing around with the recipe by replacing such bullshit ingredients with the original, high fat ingredients they were meant to replace.

The recipe I am sharing with you today is one that I’ve been developing over the last couple weeks. I’ve started making these regularly for my weekly RPG game-night dinner and they are popular with gluten-free and non-gluten free people alike. Our GM absolutely adores them, which is I think one of the only reasons my character is still alive.

But be warned. These things really do need to come with a warning label because they are addictive. As. Balls.

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The Accidental Caveman

14 Oct

Kara and Jim are good friends of mine whom I’ve mentioned here before. I convinced Jim to try going paleo around June of this year after I loaned him Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat (basically a toned-down and more-accessible version of his now-classic Good Calories Bad Calories). As of this writing he has lost 20 pounds and pretty much cured the frequent headaches he apparently has had since childhood. He and I now spend a lot of time exchanging recipes for offal meats and going on outdoor play adventures.

Kara (his wife), however, has not gone explicitly paleo. Despite this, she too has had some significant successes and improvements. I think her story is even more interesting and has a lot to teach those of us who are already neck-deep in paleo rhetoric. With her permission, I am sharing it with you here.

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What The Bear Does In The Woods

11 Oct

With Amazon rapidly becoming the marketplace of the world, it has also slowly become the forum for public reactions to global commerce. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wonderful and often genius satire of Amazon Joke Reviews. I first encountered this phenomenon when someone sent me a link to the helpful book, How To Avoid Huge Ships. Reading the reviews literally had me passing out with laughter at my desk. Over the years I have enjoyed other classics such as the Hutzler Banana Slicer (where the “customer-submitted images” are the real show stopper) and the BIC Cristal for Her debacle (in which some of the reviews seriously have some of the best social satire I have seen in years).

Thus I was excited to see a new contestant making the rounds of my Facebook feed this morning, this 5-lb bag of Sugar-Free Haribo Gummy Bears. As I read these reviews, my laughter came with a touch of fear, for this time I knew that these were not merely the elaborate works of trolls. Many of these horrifying stories are likely real.

How do I know this? Because I have seen these horrors for myself.

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Autumn is Coming

7 Oct

smoonI believe that one of the most salient signs of the hubris of modern society is how we consider ourselves somehow “above” the cycles of nature. The march of progress has been a steady progression away from the fluctuations of natural ecology and toward controlled environments. Why worry about changes of the season when we have buildings and heating/air conditioning? Why notice the length of the day when we have internal and external lights illuminating every step of our lives? Hell I wouldn’t even know the phase of the moon if I didn’t have an app for it.

But I also think that deep in our heart-of-hearts, we miss those fluctuations and changes that allow us to connect with the passing of time. This need can sometimes result in real physical effects. For example, many paleo writers have talked about how light exposure at inopportune hours or wavelengths can throw off our circadian rhythm, leading to serious health problems in the long run. This is something so well-documented that it’s even accepted in the mainstream.

I propose that we also miss our connections to the larger, yearly cycles of seasons, even though the effects of such seasonal-disconnection might not be as severe as in circadian-disconnection (although it occurs to me now that poor exposure to the gradual shift of the changing of the seasons might possibly influence the development of seasonal affective disorder). We might not be buffeted by changes of the natural environment on a daily basis, but we yearn for that connection so much that we find and create our own artificial markers in which to surround ourselves. Instead of observing changes in the  reproductive cycles of plants and the behavior of prey animals, we fixate on fashions, holiday decorations, and flavors of lattes. For most people, their subconscious has perhaps accepted these markers as the definition of the “seasons” (which, possibly could explain why people get so infuriated by holiday decorations and products being put out way ahead of their “proper times.” It’s seasonal schizophrenia that hits us on a biological level.) By this account, we have lost all connection to the natural cycles and have to make do with artificial ones.

Or have we?

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This Guy

2 Oct

I don’t know about you, but as the years go by, I get more and more frustrated when people jokingly imply that I must eat nothing but all raw meat, all the time. Additionally, more than a few people I have met have genuinely assumed that’s what the definition of a paleo diet is. I have patiently explained to them that human beings have had fire for a very, very long time and thus have likely adapted to digesting cooked meats (and other cooked foods) preferably. Indeed, it is much easier for our bodies to extract calories and nutrients from cooked meats, so switching to a diet based on cooked meats is quite likely what lead to our species’ drastic increase in body and brain size from our earlier Australopithecus ancestors.

rawBut then a guy like this comes along who just throws a wrench in the whole thing for the rest of us. Apparently this guy, Derek Nance, has been eating locally-sourced raw meat (most of which he butchers himself) for the last 6 years or so. He started doing it after a mysterious health condition left him unable to deal with almost any other foods, even after he cut out grains and dairy. In the article, he says that he suspects he had an imbalance in his intestinal flora which has been remedied by A) not eating any starches or sugars to promote bad flora and 2) replenishing his internal ecology with the bacterial cultures found in semi-rotting meat.

I’m not gonna lie, his theory about the flora is a good point. Also, before you get nauseous, remember that most of the meat we eat has also been “aged” for a period of time, since the beginnings of decomposition break down tough fibers and increase the flavor of the meat. Also if you’re a fan of salami and other charcuterie, many of the gamey flavors common to those meats come from similar controlled-decomposition reactions. And I do respect him for sourcing all his animals himself and being a proponent of healthy farming practices.

But I am still going to reiterate that his exclusively raw-meat approach is not the normal paleo approach, and if any smart-asses come at you with this article, just throw some more science at them.

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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