Is Paleo Extreme? (part one of many)

The amount of misinformation available is so great, and so predominant, that finding truth amidst all the “fact” is like finding a needle in a haystack. How are we supposed to even recognize the truth when we see it? So much sifting and hunting and looking and sorting is required; it is a lot of very hard work.

I feel this way about a lot of topics; chief among them being diet and nutrition. I have studied nutrition since high school, and not just as extracurricular reading. I’ve taken classes and have certificates in nutrition. We’re talking twelve years of reading and study and trial and error – it has taken me twelve years to finally find what I honestly believe and consider to be the truth of diet & nutrition amidst all the “fact”.

And, as I have found with most topics, the truth is so far distanced from popular, common thought & practice that at first glance it is extreme. At first glance, it is just the opposite swing of the pendulum. It is just another “craze” diet that surely will eventually show itself to be impossible to sustain and unhealthy in the long run.

I am referring the paleo diet – a traditional foods diet without grains – eating the way cavemen and early men ate, before the industrial revolution, when mankind still grew and killed to feed his family. When we still worked and subdued the earth, instead of polluting and raping it.

When I first came across the paleo diet, I thought it was extreme. I dismissed it as unsustainable and unhealthy in the long run – mostly because I still believed that grains were the staff of life, and I still had this bug in my ear about vegetarianism and wanted to try it. I did – I tried it, and it’s worst. Not because it isn’t do-able, or acheiveable: I was hard-core, man, I was vegan! I was also eating myself. In three months I lost so much upper body strength that it was hard for me to lift and carry my one-year-old son. (Read this article: Vegans are Cannibals.) It is dead-on accurate. I know because I lived it. I can introduce you to vegan families whose children have some of the worst dental problems I’ve ever seen. But it’s hard to argue with conviction; and vegans are nothing if not convicted.

And so at first glance, Paleo is just another fad diet, the opposing side of the great food debate. They argue that we are designed to eat animals and fat; vegetarians claim that all that meat just rots in your gut. (Which, by the way, is 100% scientifically false. Read this.)  Who to believe? What to believe? Sift, sift, sift through it all, trying to the truth in the midst of the propaganda. In the middle of these opposing views is the Standard American diet, looking sometimes like a great, tried & true, middle of the road option. At first glance, it touts balance and wisdom, and it is after all backed and supported by our government.

But what if the paleo diet doesn’t come up short? What if time proves it? I can already vouch for you that vegetarianism is flawed and unhealthy. What if our Standard American Diet isn’t in the middle of the road of two extremes (veganism and paleo)? What if the SAD is itself the extreme, and we are so far gone and away from how our bodies are designed to eat, and evolved eating, that we can’t recognize it for what it really is? We already are two, maybe three, generations deep in being so distanced from the origins of our food that most children, and many adults, don’t realize that only girl chickens, and all healthy girl chickens, lay eggs, and lay eggs every day. (True story: it is a summation of a conversation I had with the 8 year old girl that lives next door.) So is it possible, then, that since we don’t even recognize real food, or know how to grow and make real food for ourselves, isn’t it possible then that we are living and eating an extreme and unsustainable diet right now?

What if recent scientific study, funded by the government, isn’t right about their findings – or even worse, they are only publishing and pushing part of the findings, the part that supports their agenda? (True story: watch the movie FatHead.)

What if grains are bad for us? Even Weston A Price, whose traditional foods dietary guidelines include whole grains, includes them only if they are soaked or sprouted (an enzymatic process that changes the chemical structure of the grain).

Personally, grains make me sick, in more ways than one, so how can it be part of my healthy diet? And I am not the only one: celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is considered a genetic disorder, and it affects (according to reports) 1 in 133 Americans. (These figures don’t reflect folks like me, who have this disorder, in some form, without it being documented by a physician.)

Genetically, 1 in 133 people can’t digest the majority of grains. That’s a lot of people whose bodies can’t digest what the American Food Pyramid says needs to supply 6-11 servings -the bulk of our daily calories. And this number doesn’t include soy, corn, rice, dairy, peanut and other legume allergies, whose numbers are rising more and more every year.

The correlation is that those things make up more and more of our sad, SAD diet every year. Fast food hamburgers and tacos are made out of soy byproduct and cheap scraps of beef from cows fed on corn and soy, topped with cheese made from vegetable oil (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and sandwiched between two slices of good ole American highly processed wheat and corn syrup solids. Our problem isn’t just that we are eating too much and not moving enough, or that somehow we are genetically mutating and suddenly incapable of eating these “foods” – the problem is that we aren’t eating food. We’re eating soy, corn, and wheat, and not much else.

To me, all roads are pointing to this: Eat Real Food. Eat real food as close to its point of origin, and its original form, as is possible. If it comes in a box, a bag, a can, or anywhere in the inner aisles of the grocery store, don’t eat it. It’s not food. Grow what you can. Kill what you can. Make what you can. If you don’t know how, learn. Eat and live like you still are at the top of the food chain.

Baconnaise – a Lesson in Emulsion

Baconnaise is mayonnaise made with rendered bacon fat. 

I can hear the two opposing sides now: groans of nausea from one side, drooling & lip-smacking from the other.

Admittedly, this sauce is not to everyone’s liking. (Sauce? Yes, Virginia, mayonnaise is a sauce.) This particular mayonnaise has a strong flavor that goes exquisitely with grilled steak or shrimp, and personally I love it.

Mayonnaise is the most important of emulsified sauces; most important in that it is widely used and incredibly diverse. It is the base, or mother, of all popular and common salad dressings: Aioli, French, Ranch, Thousand Island, Russian, Bleu Cheese… The list continues.

Essentially mayonnaise is an emulsion of fat and lemon juice or vinegar, with egg yolks added to make sure it all stays together. Olive oil has always been the fat of choice and tradition, which is partly why I find this “new” olive oil mayonnaise on the market so humorous. There really is nothing new under the sun: just a different marketing package.

Emulsions are liquid-liquid colloids: which means they are a mixture of two un-mixable liquids (in this case water & oil). We are able to create the illusion of mixing them together by breaking them down into particles that are so tiny they are literally suspended around one another. (Think of a ball pit, and how the balls rest on one another & how they hold each other, or even a small child, above the ground.) This suspension is achieved by good ole fashioned elbow grease (via a wire whisk), or by use of a blender or food processor, and by pouring the fat into the water-based vinegar or lemon juice very slowly. 

Even with the proper amount of agitation to break down the particles, the two liquids will quickly separate without adding an emulsifier to the mix. Enter the workhorse of emulsification, the egg yolk! (Mustard is another permanent emulsifier, but personally I think it is horrible in mayonnaise, though I love it in vinaigrettes… more on that at a later time.)

For this recipe, I substituted bacon fat for half of the olive oil, which (if you care about such things) increases the saturated fat, the omega-3s, and cuts down on those very controversial polys & omega-6s. Next time around I am going to try coconut oil in place of the olive oil, still using bacon fat as well, just to see what the flavor profile is like.

Rendering the bacon fat: just cook it low & slow, and collect the fat as it accumulates. A cast iron skillet works best, I’ve found.

Baconnaise

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg yolks (the fresher the better)
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup rendered bacon fat (for regular mayonnaise, I replace the bacon fat with an equal amount of coconut oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced (optional)

Method:

  1. Make sure everything is at room temperature. Warm egg yolks emulsify exponentially better than cold! 
  2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl, or blender or food processor, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, the garlic if using, and whisk together until combined. 
  3. Whisking vigorously and consistently (blender or food processor on low), begin slowly adding the fat drop by drop. You are beginning the emulsification process, and adding too much oil at once will overload the egg yolks and cause the sauce to break. So proceed very slowly, and keep the egg yolks moving constantly.
  4. As it emulsifies, the mixture will begin to thicken, and you can begin adding the oil a little more quickly, in a thin stream. (If the sauce is too thick, add a teaspoon of lemon juice or water to thin, always always whisking…)
  5. Once all the oil is incorporated, season to taste with more of the lemon juice, salt and pepper. 
  6. Enjoy, without guilt! Store in the refrigerator to use as needed. (I toss mine after about a week, if there’s any to toss.)

But what if the mayonnaise breaks? And what does that even mean, “the mayonnaise breaks”?

A sauce breaking means that it isn’t emulsified, or fell out of emulsification: you can tell by the pool of oil sitting on top of the egg yolks, and the feeling that even though you are whisking, it just isn’t mixing. (If your sauce has reached this point of breaking, it is beyond repair. Start over*.) What has happened? One of the two un-mixable liquids hasn’t been broken down into small enough particles, and they are lumping back together. Remember the ball pit scenario? Instead of uniformly sized balls sitting on top of one another, the pit is half-comprised of plastic balls and the other half bowling balls. What happens? The bowling balls fall together to the bottom, and the plastic ones clump together on top. The same principle applies to this emulsion.

But not to worry, all is not lost! If you act quickly, you can most likely save your baconnaise. If you notice the fat globules starting to form around the edge of bowl, try one of the following things:

  • stop adding oil and add a little lemon juice or vinegar, and whisk like mad. The sauce should tighten up again, and proceed with adding the oil dribble by dribble once again.
  • add another egg yolk – this increases the amount of naturally occurring lecithin.
  • add a teaspoon of mustard – another, excellent emulsifier, but sadly will change the flavor profile of the mayonnaise.
  • *Starting over doesn’t mean throwing away: in a separate bowl, whisk together another egg yolk or two with a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Whisking constantly, begin adding the broken sauce to this new base about one teaspoon at a time. This works 99% of the time.


Meal Plan 10.20 thru 10.27

Breakfasts:

  • eggs
  • bacon
  • breakfast sausage
  • veggies or fruit
  • some combination of the above, like bacon-wrapped bananas (it’s amazing to me how these few simple options have yet to get old…)

Lunches:

  • burgers
  • liverwurst & eggs (for me)
  • smoothies (for me)
  • veggies
  • boiled eggs or egg salad
  • leftovers (if any)

Dinners:

  • brats & homemade kraut
  • coconut curry chicken
  • shrimp with cauliflower rice
  • bacon wrapped pork sirloin with grilled veggies
  • wild haddock with brown butter sauce and asparagus
  • meaty marinara sauce over zucchini noodles
  • coconut crusted chicken fingers with (surprise!) veggies or maybe baked sweet potato fries

Snacks:

  • cucumbers
  • fruit (bananas, apples, berries, raisins, prunes)
  • spoonful of almond butter (or peanut butter – we still have half a jar in the fridge we need to get rid of)
  • carrots (fermented or fresh)
  • pickles
  • boiled eggs
Desserts: (twice a week at most; this excludes our regular consumption of squares of dark chocolate)
  • primal banana splits (no added sugar – recipe coming soon!)
  • pumpkin cheesecake custard (recipe coming soon!)

The Great Turkey Adventure

It all started with wanting to smoke the turkey.

I had stumbled onto a steal of a deal: a free-range turkey for $1.99  pound. What a great find! I’ll roast it, we’ll have meat for lunches, bones for stock, hurray for me! Once I got the bird home, the Hubby asked if he could smoke it, as he did with a pork shoulder the weekend before. Sure, why not? Sounds like a great idea, and keeps the cooking mess outside, thought I. I’ll even spatchcock the turkey so it cooks more quickly. 

Spatchcocking is just another word for butterflying poultry. Removing the backbone and sternum from the bird allows it to lay flat & spread-eagle, reducing cooking times and ensuring more even cooking when using a grill or smoker. (Read: no more dry breast meat!)

Tom

How do you Spatchcock a Turkey? Go here & here. (Don’t forget to remove the sternum. I did, as you can see in the pictures below. Brilliant. *insert eye roll here)

Research on the Interwebs told us that to successfully smoke a turkey, it’s recommended that you brine it first. Awesome! I have always wanted to brine a turkey: I have heard and read that they are incredibly succulent and that the taste is vastly improved. (And I am all for improving the flavor: I have turned my nose up at roast turkey most, if not all, of my life. Seriously, can a meat be any more boring?)

Brining is just another age-old method of meat preservation that has gone by the wayside of everyday, modern cooking. Although it does require a little time, and a little effort, the gain far outweighs that initial, small investment. I recommend this site for excellent and thorough information on brining, including meat sizes & times, and suggested brine recipes. I also consulted Ye Olde Culinary Garde Manager textbook for brine recipes and guidance.

For the resulting brine I used:

1 gallon cold water

1/2 cup coarse sea salt, 1/4 cup organic raw sugar, 1 bay leaf, a handful of peppercorns, 4 cloves of garlic

I did not use any curing salts, as I didn’t have any on hand, and they are not necessary if you have refrigeration available. If it is unlikely that your brining bird will be kept below 40 degrees F, it would be wise to include a cure: the curing salts prevent the growth of bad bacteria.

All of the above was combined and brought to a boil, then removed from heat and allowed to rest until cool. It is very very important that the brine solution be cool, even cold. We are not poaching or boiling or cooking the turkey in this solution, so heat is not a part of the equation. The brine being cold also prevents the growth of unwelcome bacteria. Feel free to put the brine solution in the fridge or freezer to cool completely.

Finally, it was time for bird to meet brine. (Notice I didn’t remove the sternum? 😉 I’m so smart!)

Place the turkey in a large, nonmetal container, breast down if possible. (Please disregard the use of the metal container…) Add the brine.

Cover, and keep in a cool place for 24-48 hours. (notice the bird is now in a nonmetal container ;-))

Our turkey brined for a total of 28 hours. We removed the turkey from the fridge a few hours before we were going to smoke it; allowing it to come to room temperature is a good idea, as it makes the low heat of the smoker more efficient. Drain the turkey well before introducing it to your grill.

A side note: the brine solution, though used, can be saved & reused up to two or three times more, provided 1) the solution is still salty enough to truly brine, 2) it is kept under 40 degrees F, and 3) you only use it to brine the same meat, so no using this week’s turkey brine for next week’s pork shoulder – that is called cross-contamination, and it’s a bad idea.

The Hubby then prepared the charcoal, and soon we were in the home stretch. He used some cherry wood chips, as well as a bit of pecan wood, for flavor and additional smoke, and to keep the temperature in the 250-degree sweet spot. Keeping the temperature up was trickier than we had anticipated, but as the Hubby said, there is a learning curve to these things! (It’s only our second time using the smoker, and we’re totally winging this as we go along)

The leg quarters were done in four hours, maybe a little less; the breast took at least six. Even having spatchcocked the turkey, the cooking time was still lengthy, and we ended up removing the bird before it was fully finished cooking so that we could still get to bed at a decent hour. (Mornings come early for us!)

But it smelled and looked divine! I have never seen a prettier turkey; the skin browned gorgeously, and the flavor was unparalleled. My position of being a life-long turkey hater is now up for grabs – there is nothing tastier, more succulent or tender, than a brined, smoked turkey. Just incredible! Absolutely worth the efforts!

We are looking forward to taking on this endeavor again (there are nine pounds of boneless pork sirloin waiting its turn in our refrigerator), with the understanding that any future smoking adventures will take place during the weekend, with ample free time and mornings without alarm-clocks. 

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is one of those foods I instinctually hated as a child. It smelled weird. It smelled awful. I don’t believe I ever ate it, much less tasted it, until I was an adult – and what creation crossed my palate was of the mass-produced, unfermented variety that accompanies mustard and onions atop an all-beef hot dog.

True sauerkraut, with depth of flavor and delightful texture, was something I never had until I made it myself. Initially I made it because of the health benefits of lactofermented foods, and the health benefits of cabbage itself; I keep making it, week after week, because I absolutely LOVE it.

 Here is how I make our weekly lactofermented sauerkraut:

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads of green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup whey (I collect mine from active yogurt)
Method:
  1. Combine the sliced cabbage, salt, and whey in a large bowl, and toss and mix with your hands.
  2. Pound the cabbage mixture with a wooden mallet, meat mallet, or even using your bare hands, for approximately ten minutes, kneading it thoroughly to break up the structure of the cabbage, encouraging it to release its natural juices.
  3. Place the cabbage in a half-gallon glass jar, two quart-sized mason jars, or a sauerkraut crock, and press down firmly on the cabbage with your hands or the meat mallet so that the cabbage remains below the liquid. (It is important that the bulk remains below the liquid – this creates a protective barrier that prevents molding.)
  4. Cover the jar tightly and store at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to the refrigerator. (or eating!)

We love our sauerkraut cooked in butter, with locally made pork bratwurst… Nom nom nom!

Brownies!

Per his request, I made these decadent brownies for my hubby’s birthday celebration last night. They are, in his words, “Ri-DONK-ulous!” 😉 He likes a little brownie with his nuts – feel free to use a lighter hand, or eliminate them altogether, if your tastes differ. These brownies would be stupendous with dark chocolate chips, or even some chopped dried cherries, instead of the walnuts.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup melted organic grass-fed butter or coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 pastured egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup whole walnuts
  • flavor options: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, dash of sea salt, dash of cayenne pepper
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8×8 (or similar size) baking dish with coconut oil or butter. (I prefer to use my 9×9 stoneware baker, as it seems more paleolithic, and is easier to clean.)
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and honey until combined.
  3. Add the milk, egg, and almond meal and stir until mixed well.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula. Arrange the whole walnuts in a decorative pattern, or chop roughly and scatter over the top.
  5. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. (Alternatively, you can serve it hot, but the texture will be more like a souffle or pudding. For very fudgy-textured brownies, place the pan in the refrigerator and cool for about an hour before service.)
  6. Serve with frozen homemade whipped cream (our favorite), custard, or ice cream.
Enjoy!

Coconut Hot Chocolate

There are times when we need comfort food.

My maternal grandmother’s recent passing was for me such a time; I found myself making this hot chocolate for many days as I was grieving. Now that our mornings are growing cold, I’ve been drinking this as my breakfast. It’s rich and filling, the way cocoa should be, without compromising my primal diet. It’s like a hug for my tummy. 😉

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon, sea salt and/or cayenne pepper for flavor
  • 1 raw pastured egg
  • optional: 1 teaspoon coconut oil
Method:
  1. Combine all the ingredients except the egg in a saucepan and heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk so that the milk does not burn, and heat to desired temperature.
  2. Beat the egg into the mixture just prior to serving. You can warm it a little longer if desired, but whisk constantly or you will have a chocolate-poached egg, instead of an enriched hot beverage. 😉
I like this with a dollop of plain, homemade whipped heavy cream, or sweetened with a bit of maple syrup, coconut sugar, or honey. Enjoy!