Friday, September 30, 2011

Plans for next month

I'm hoping for great news when I weigh myself tomorrow morning, but however it goes, I'm not sure I truly did this Paleo experiment justice. First of all, I was extremely sedentary the whole month. I did go on a yoga kick where I attended classes for six days in a row, and I've gone on a few walks, but really, in between, I've done nothing but sit at the computer. Secondly, I think I ate way too many nuts. The more I read about them, the more I see that they're really not all that great for you. Plus they can be used to make sneaky fake-carb, easy-to-overeat, dessert-type items (like the yummy banana bread I made today and have already eaten half a loaf of).

So I'm giving these dietary changes at least another month to work their magic, hopefully with a more balanced diet and some more moving around. For October, though, I'm going to switch things up a bit to more of a primal style of eating, and also make some adjustments that seem reasonable and convenient for me. Here's what's in and what's out:

  • Grains: Mostly out. Okay, I'm convinced that grains are evil, but I'm going to make an exception for quinoa, partly because I went on a quinoa kick a while back and bought a ton of it that I need to eat up. But also partly because it seems to be a reasonably healthy grain, especially if soaked overnight before eating. And it's high in protein.
  • Legumes: Out. I don't think they're horrible, but they're carbs, and I don't even like them that much.
  • Dairy: In, in moderation. I think eating a bit of dairy (for example in a decent homemade ranch dressing) will actually make it easier for me to eat more vegetables. I don't plan on going crazy with it, but since I've never had any intolerance that I know of, and because I really like it, it's back in for now. Let's see if I can handle moderation in one area of my life.
  • Sugar: Mostly out. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but I'm going to make one exception. Dark chocolate is good for you, I love it, and it has a bit of sugar. (I have built-in moderation on this, because my husband is already in charge of doling out the dark chocolate squares.)
  • Potatoes: In. They are not all that nutritious, but they are certainly natural, and I don't think they do any harm. My not eating potatoes actually causes major inconveniences to my kids, because they love my husband's beef stew and my mashed potatoes and cauliflower.
  • Soy: Out. The only soy I remotely missed was soy sauce, and coconut aminos are a perfect substitute, so no problem there.
I think I can easily do one more month with zero cheating, and then I'll see if I have the willpower to transition to a 90% primal diet. Odd that 90% is probably going to be harder than 100%, but there it is.

So that's the plan. Did I forget anything?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In praise of chili

I can't believe I forgot to mention Paleo chili as one of my culinary successes. Chili is a no-brainer, because it's delicious, it's easy, the leftovers are microwavable, and all you have to do to make it Paleo is eliminate the beans, which I never really liked much anyway.

Plus, it has a strong flavor, so if you were to, say, mix in a few spoonfuls of weird enchilada sauce and top it with crumbled kale chips, your taste buds would never know the difference.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kale, and other fails

I've talked about a few of my Paleo culinary successes (the Pad Thai I love, the easy "orange whatever is on hand" stir fry I eat for lunch almost every day, the banana pancakes that delight me but horrify my family). But haven't mentioned as many of my dismal—what do the kids call them these days?—fails.

Just last week, I fell under the spell of a "chicken enchiladas" recipe. Of course, with no tortillas and no cheese, I should have realized it's nothing but chicken with sauce on it. But still, I spent 45 minutes chopping and simmering various things and then put it all in the blender to make it smooth. It looked like enchilada sauce, but when I poured it over chicken, it did not make enchiladas. It was chicken with some sauce on it. Weird-tasting sauce.

Then, the other day, armed with a few different almond flour bread recipes but no actual almond flour (that stuff is more precious than palladium, apparently), I tried to invent my own apple cinnamon bread. It was fun to make. I used blenderized walnuts, cashews, and flax, a couple of eggs, coconut oil, salt, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and lots of apples and cinnamon. I was shocked that it came out of the oven looking like bread (it had even risen) and that I was able to slice it without it falling apart. Then I was shocked again when I put it in my mouth and it was a salty, greasy, disgusting mess. Albeit with tasty little apple chunks.

And just today I decided that no Paleo diet experiment would be complete without trying these kale chips I keep hearing so much about. They sounded weird to me, but every person I've ever heard mention them just raves: So much better than potato chips! Once I have one, I just can't stop! But it doesn't matter, because it's only kale! And a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt and perhaps a squeeze of lemon! In other words, they're a culinary litmus test as to whether or not you're cool.

So I made them. They're light, crispy…and taste like seaweed. Sort of like you'd expect them to taste, actually.

It was disappointing. I can handle the "learning experience" kind of fails. But being so vigorously off-trend, that burns a little.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blaming it on the Paleo

I cleverly planned to break up my busy, stressful workday with little bouts of fresh air and/or exercise.

Break number one was a refreshing late morning walk with my husband. It was truly a gorgeous day, and I contemplated the bright blue sky and interesting cloud patterns for about 10 steps before it dawned on me that I had a deadline assignment arriving RIGHT NOW, AND HOW COULD I FORGET THAT GOOD GRIEF AM I AN IDIOT? Total walk: 20 steps.

Break number two was a 6 p.m. yoga class. My afternoon was going like this: Get one page of work done. Send an email trying to solve the Great Font Disaster of '11 on the book I'm editing. Help my son with an algebra problem. Get another page of work done. Exchange another series of disaster-solving emails. Help my son with another algebra problem.

Finally I got fed up and went downstairs to have a snack I wasn't even hungry for. The time on the kitchen clock was 6:22. AAARGHHHH I NEEDED THIS BREAK IT'S A GOOD CLASS TOO HOW COULD I FORGET THE ONE THING I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO ALL DAY? Total yoga: 0.

I don't know what's wrong with me today. Did somebody slip me a gluten? Why am I not an efficient, bright-eyed rememberer of things? It's Day 27; where's my stinking After?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In the kitchen

Never eating out has its drawbacks.

We are constantly hand-washing frying pans. The vegetable drawer is stuffed so full you can't open it. We have three cutting boards, and they're always in the dishwasher. There's never a measuring cup or spoon clean when you need one. I've been buying fruit in bulk, and so there's always a bag of grapefruit or something out on the counter. The grill thingy we use for meat is constantly soaking in the sink. And we have to run the dishwasher twice a day.

Whine, whine, whine. But my mom says her blood pressure is down to 109/76—from what, I don't recall, but something a lot higher. I've never had high blood pressure, but I love hearing that, because it means good things are happening, and they're probably happening to me, too. Can't wait to weigh myself in five days and see if living like this is worth all the dishes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A kinder, gentler Paleo?

Something I read today made me suddenly realize that there IS a difference between the Paleo and primal styles of eating. Upon further research, I discovered that Paleo sticks strictly to the foods our ancestors would have eaten before the dawn of agriculture (evil, evil agriculture). Primal is a bit looser. It emphasizes those same foods but also allows a few things that, while they wouldn't have been available back then, aren't particularly harmful. The primal folks are big fans of grass-fed butter, for example. And—more to the point—they say that for a small treat, there's really nothing wrong with an occasional bit of cheese or dark chocolate.

Now we're talking!

It's funny, but I think eating this way for a month really does change your way of thinking. To me right now, a square of dark chocolate sounds like a huge, reckless indulgence. A peanut butter sandwich sounds crazy and dangerous. Cake with frosting is completely out of the question. I don't even know who I am anymore.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Paleo and the family

Some of you were asking how the Paleo thing is working with the rest of my family, so I thought I'd attempt to explain.

First of all, my husband and sons are too hilarious for their own good, and so the main effect it's had on their lives is that it provides endless fodder for jokes:
"Mom! Be careful! There's corn chips over here!"
"Do you want me to cook this steak, or are you just going to gnaw on it raw?"
"Did they make crackers in their cave blenders in Paleo times?"
"I don't think it counts as forage if you can buy it at Walmart."
And so on.
So no, no one is doing this with me. My husband, though, sees merit in cutting back on breads and sugars, and he's generally happy to share in the Paleo meals I make—though sometimes adding rice or cheese to them.

So do we cook two different sets of food at every meal? I wish. It's usually more like three or four. See, one of my kids has dietary allergies, and we've always had to cook something separate for him. The other one is fairly picky, and over the years we've found it hard to enforce that he has to eat what we're eating when his brother never has to.

But we're used to adapting everyone's meal. Say we're having tacos, for example. Allergy Son has his with everything but the cheese. Picky Son has cheese microwaved on a tortilla and refried beans, and then is forced against his will to eat a tiny pile of ground beef and a bit of iceberg lettuce. Paleo Mom turns hers into a taco salad with fancy lettuce, ground beef, and tomatoes. And Normal Dad has normal tacos.

Sometimes, I admit, it gets a bit wacky. Just now for "meal" I wanted hamburgers and the kids wanted pancakes. So I had a lettuce-wrapped burger, cauliflower, and mushrooms. My husband had a hamburger patty with cheese and mushrooms, cauliflower, and a couple of soymilk pancakes. And the kids had the pancakes with chocolate chips…and cauliflower.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Paleo Pad Thai

I just made a version of this Pad Thai recipe (one of my bazillion new recipe links)—and it was by far the best Paleo creation I have ever made. If it fell short of restaurant Pad Thai, it was only because it wasn't topped with chopped peanuts (which are forbidden). The recipe did suggest topping it with chopped cashews, and if I had had any around, that probably would have made it perfect.

I was supposed to use spaghetti squash as a substitute for noodles, but I'm a little scared of squash in general, and besides, the grocery store didn't have it. So I used my previous (genius) idea and substituted broccoli slaw instead. It makes such perfect little "noodles," turning sort of translucent and picking up the flavor of the sauce.

I'm going to have fun working my way through all these Paleo recipes (there's even one for bread!). I've never found cooking particularly enjoyable, but I love experimenting.

As far as the overall Paleo experiment, it's Day 22 and I'm pretty happy. I'm sure I've lost some weight, and when I can get to yoga class, it feels amazing—I'm stronger than I was a few weeks ago. I think it's unfortunate that I've been so busy with work all month. But if I manage to lose weight, even after being chained to my computer for four weeks straight? Well, let's just say I won't be hurrying back to the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Recipe bonanza

So this Paleo blog I've been reading asked people to post links to their favorite recipes. And it got 50 bajillion comments in response. I read through a couple of pages and bookmarked a bunch of recipes, but I had to stop because I've got two book deadlines coming up and I don't have time for this nonsense. (I was all, "Down, girl! The Paleo cooking fun will still be there when your work is finished.")

Then later I couldn't stand it anymore and tried to make some "strawberry ice cream" out of frozen strawberries and coconut milk. I'm eating it right now. It's really nothing like ice cream, but it beats sitting at the computer and not eating a frozen dessert.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eating out

Despite last week's potluck fiasco, I've been feeling confident about my ability to survive on this diet (an achievement, trust me). So much so that I've been in a bit of a rut with my food choices. And so that's why I agreed to go out to dinner with my husband last weekend. We went to my favorite pizza place. They have a lot of variety, and I figured if all else failed I could always have a salad or a steak. It turned out they had a salad with steak on it, so that seemed perfect. But it wasn't. I had to send it back once. And even afterward, it was just okay.

But of course that's the real problem. Why was I even out to eat at all if my meal was just going to be okay? There were delicious-looking pizzas and calzones all around me, and even though my husband was kind enough not to order something I particularly loved, his french fries looked mouthwatering.

Maybe the time will come when I feel so great eating this way that I can't imagine even wanting to have a piece of pizza. But for now, feeling more or less the same as I did before, my takeaway lesson was this: Avoid eating out. And if you do, just have the stupid pizza. After my 30 days are up, of course.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What works and what doesn't

We had a potluck for my kid's swim team last night. They told last names A-L to bring hamburger buns and brownies, and last names M-Z to bring chips and Rice Krispies treats (Coach likes his desserts). The team provided hamburgers, potato salad, and beans. So guess what I could eat?

Wrong! The hamburger patty I got was disgustingly raw in the middle. And due to some poor planning, the line for raw meat was a mile long, and I wasn't willing to stand in it again.

While all this is inconvenient, I am NOT complaining about having an iron-first set of dietary rules for 30 days. It's actually very instructive. When the choice is "come up with something you can eat" or "starve," you tend to do the hard work (planning, shopping, chopping, cooking) to avoid Option #2.

In fact, yesterday I made a great discovery. I can make a super-easy "orange whatever" stir-fry in about 10 minutes flat. You definitely don't need a recipe, but I will say that broccoli slaw makes an ideal base veggie to fry up because it's already chopped—and when it's cooked you can pretend it's rice noodles. For the sauce, there's a fancy way to do it, and then there's my way: Once the veggies and whatever are cooked, just pour on a little coconut aminos (fake soy sauce), a little orange juice, and some red pepper flakes and let it simmer awhile. It's really filling and tasty!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Out in the real world

I can't believe it; I had another diet-violation nightmare. This time in the dream I accidentally ate three brownies—a far more horrifying lapse than a single Mini Wheat. (Dairy?! Wheat??! SUGAR???!!)

It must be that my subconscious wanted to up the stakes to prepare me for the bigger challenges the weekend would bring. So far today I've been offered hot apple pie, a trip to Dairy Queen, and a lunch out, not to mention I had to walk through Costco hungry and turn down every single sample. Technically I probably could have done the lunch out, but I just can't see the point of playing 20 questions with a waitress in order to overpay for a slab of meat with vegetable sides, when I could just have that at home.

Overall, I've found this diet fairly easy when I'm eating in, but clearly the "real world" is where the obstacles lie. It would be nice if I was feeling superfantastic and so could rationalize that it's completely worth the trouble and sacrifice. But for now, I'm still waiting for that to happen and instead feeling a bit mournful about the loss of pizza from my life.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Two blog posts in the same day (what is this, the week before the Ironman?) to brag about my breakthroughs in Paleo pancakes and crackers.

Pancakes: 1 cup walnuts ground in the blender, a banana, 2 eggs, dash of salt, a little vanilla, maybe some cinnamon. Cook in a little coconut oil.*

Crackers: 1½ cup walnuts and ½ cup sesame seeds ground in the blender, a little water to make a paste, and a little salt or cinnamon or whatever seasoning sounds good. Roll thin on a cookie sheet between two pieces of wax paper, take the top paper off, score into cracker shapes, and then cook at 350 for 25 minutes.*

I really do think I'm violating the "no fake carbs" spirit of the Paleo challenge now. I also might have overdosed on walnuts.

Good morning!

I had a dream—nightmare?—that I absentmindedly ate a Frosted Mini Wheat, and I had to admit it on my blog and then start the 30-day challenge all over. (The horrors! But I was glad to wake up and discover it hadn't really happened.)

I got another pleasant surprise shortly after getting out of bed. The plantar fasciitis that has had me limping around every morning for, oh, since February 20, is much, much better all of a sudden. Since that was one of the not-even-joking concerns I had about my life before this challenge, I am delighted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cooking again

I got fed up with working last night and decided to try to make a version of Paleo crackers out of ground walnuts and sesame seeds. They tasted pretty good, but the way they turned out, I would certainly not call them "crackers." Let's just say I had a small bowl of them for breakfast. With a spoon.

I also didn't want to repeat the cauliflowtrocity that was yesterday's lunch, so I put some time and effort into it and made an orange chicken stir-fry. Then as an afterthought, I ate it with the leftover cauliflower as if it were rice and salvaged that meal, too. Hey, did you know Google has a recipe search engine? It's terrific for finding new meals to try. I just type in whatever ingredients I am hoping to use—today was chicken and coconut aminos—and add the word "Paleo."

Today marks the one-week point of the Paleo experiment. I'm not sure I feel any different, other than occasionally being pouty about not being able to have chocolate, or cheese. Of course it's early, and I felt fine to begin with. Also, I wonder if I'm sabotaging this challenge somewhat by having my butt parked at the computer 14 hours a day. But I guess it's better to be sedentary eating cattails and woolly mammoths than sedentary eating Cheetos and pudding pops. Right?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One of those days

I've been busy editing two books at once, so shopping and cooking have fallen by the wayside. This led to today's failed attempt to turn a head of cauliflower and some leftover chicken into something that passes for lunch. I'm sure a more skilled person with more time could have done it, but what I made was repulsive. (And worse, there are leftovers.)

I am sick of eating gross stuff, sick of having to cook and plan, sick of editing all day long, and seriously craving chocolate.

To summarize: ME WANT COOKIE.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Emu kebabs and cactus salad

We've been eating dinner at my mom and dad's house the past few days because we have other relatives in town staying with them. I can't tell you how nice it is to have someone else not only cook for me, but cook Paleo for me (and my sister, who decided to do it, too). Mom bought a Paleo cookbook, so we were browsing through that for ideas—and laughing at recipes like emu kebabs and cactus salad. ("What's in the cactus salad?" "CACTUS.")

Of course, everyone not eating Paleo thinks we are a bit nuts, and they are laughing, too.

It's good that everyone is so cheerful right now because, even though I obviously didn't force anyone to eat this way, I still feel responsible.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Not to be constituted as medical advice or anything

See what I mean about these success stories? It's crazy. But it's only Day 2 over here, so I've got nothing inspirational for you. Except maybe you'll like this: Today was just eggs, salads, and leftovers, and it was a breeze! A breeze, I tell you! Tomorrow I'll probably have to cook something again.

My mom was asking me about what a Paleo diet does for cholesterol; she didn't want to make hers worse by eating a bunch of eggs. All I could do was suggest she get her blood checked after the month is up and see what happens. But then I did some Internet research and found some stuff that said a Paleo diet could increase your cholesterol… And then some stuff that said the body regulates its own cholesterol production, so if you eat more it will make less… And then some stuff that said cholesterol is necessary and good, that high cholesterol is a symptom and not a problem in and of itself… And then some stuff that says high cholesterol is very, very bad and caused by eating too many animal products.

Thanks, Internet! That was so helpful!

But here's my thought: You don't necessarily have to eat more meat and eggs to do this. You can just replace your bread and sugar with fruits and vegetables. (I don't know nothin' 'bout the dairy and the soy and the beans and all that.) But there's no way that's not healthier.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Day 1

I know it's a boring-blog cliche to write about what you're eating, but I thought in this case you might be interested to see how I made it through the day. (And by the way, one day down…YAY!)

Breakfast was Paleo pancakes* made of bananas, almond butter, an egg, and cinnamon, cooked in a little coconut oil and topped with sliced strawberries. They were quite tasty, but they essentially blew my entire fruit allowance for the day before 8 a.m., which was kind of a bummer. I was surprised at how filling these were. The recipe included two bananas and about a quarter-cup of almond butter, so it may have been intended to be two servings. (Not that anyone in my family would have shared them with me. I believe my husband used the word "bananatrocity.") At any rate, it was the first time a Paleo meal has made me feel truly full, so I'll remember that in the future. Bananas good.

Lunch was a big salad with veggies, bacon, a hard-boiled egg, and my homemade ranch dressing. I noticed that the dressing actually got the lettuce a bit soggy. I didn't really mind, but it got me to thinking. Do you suppose grocery store dressings have some weird ingredient that prevents that? Ew.

"Meal," which we eat around 4 p.m. right after school, was steak and the stuffed mushrooms I made yesterday. So good.

And dinner was just a bowl of the chili I made this morning.

Overall, today was amazingly easy. "Practicing" for a week before diving in seems to have been a really good idea.

* The 30-day challenge expressly forbids Paleo pancakes, saying it's important not to "try to shove your old, unhealthy diet into a shiny new Whole30 mold." I'm choosing to ignore this one tiny rule, because pancakes aren't something I crave or eat on a regular basis anyway, especially for breakfast. If I was whipping up a batch of Paleo Cheerios, we might have a problem.