while I’m away…

For the past few months I’ve been working with Paleo Magazine on various reviews and other freelance work. A couple of months ago I was given an exciting new project, and I’m thrilled to finally share it with you today — with the launch of the new and improved Paleo Magazine app, the editors will be releasing free guides and e-books to online subscribers, starting with my e-cookbook!

paleo e-cookbook

I developed and photographed 10 original Paleo recipes over the span of one hectic month, and the finished product is now available for free when you download the Paleo Magazine app. The entrees included appeal to all tastes and every season, and were inspired by some of my favorite flavor combinations: lime and cumin, shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, fresh peaches and roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and chorizo.

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The whole experience was a learning process. Sure, I’ve been creating my own recipes and photographing the end result for years now, but the pressure was on to create something more sophisticated and streamlined. I used every tool in my arsenal to create inventive flavor pairings and visually appealing photographs, and spent a good chunk of an afternoon scrounging for props at the thrift store. It was hard work, harder than I imagined, and after this experience I have an immense amount of respect for cookbook creators everywhere.

But you’d better believe we ate really well at my house that month.

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So while I’m away, head over to the Paleo Magazine app and check out my first published cookbook. Try the recipes, put your own spin on them, and get back to me with your stories. While I won’t necessarily be whipping up delicious dishes while on the road and sharing them with you here, you can take a little piece of my Paleo perspective with you on your smart phone or tablet to enjoy this fall. Cheers and happy eating!

herbed [activated] almonds

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Water, a dash of salt, a pound of raw almonds, twenty-four hours. This simple equation is all is takes to transform something ordinary into something incredibly delicious and nourishing. By harnessing — and in this case, by encouraging — the force of nature upon a little seed, we unlock vast potential, almost as if a door has been opened and a flood of energy unleashed. Sound a little trippy? Embrace your inner hippie and come along on a biochemical nutritional geekery magic carpet ride with me.

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Almonds, on their own, seem like a healthy snack. In their raw form they are free of roasting oils and seasonings that would never be found in nature — BBQ or wasabi almonds, anyone? — and seem to be the best choice, as any wellness magazine would tell you. But in reality, almonds contain a host of warriors that fight against digestion and mineral absorption when consumed raw, and can cause more harm to the body than good.

I first learned about the chemical makeup of almonds (and most other nuts and seeds) from the nutritional tome Nourishing Traditionsif you haven’t picked up a copy for yourself, I suggest that you do. I learned about the anti-nutrient contained in nuts and seeds that exist to protect the reproductive potential of the plant. Phytatic acid is what prevents much of the digestion of almonds and hinders the absorption of minerals in the body, often encouraging digestive upset, mineral deficiencies and a whole host of other problems, potentially leading to leaky gut and autoimmune disorders.

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Take a difference perspective: if you were a plant, you would want to protect your DNA-containing embryo that would help your species propogate. It’s the same reason why fowl protect their eggs and wheat kernels are so difficult to digest without some form of processing. The organism needs those seeds to survive in order for the organism’s lineage to survive.

It doesn’t only happen with wheat and almonds — when birds eat berries they are able to fully digest the fruit, but the seed of the blackberry or blueberry they just consumed passes whole through their digestive system and is spread across the country through their waste. This is one of the ingenious mechanisms of biochemistry that allows plants and animals to work together, synergistically.

So if we take into account the anti-nutrients contained in almonds and why those anti-nutrients exist, should we even eat almonds and other nuts in the first place? Yes, I contend, but in small doses, and with proper preparation.

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There is a process — called soaking, sprouting or “activating” — that helps to neutralize the harmful phytic acid and make the minerals within an almond more bio-available (meaning, our bodies can absorb them better). By soaking nuts overnight in clean water with a pinch of salt, we activate the almond’s growing response and thereby “turn off” the production of harmful phytic acid. Think of it this way: the almond has been on the defensive, trying to protect itself and its genetic material for the future. But now, under the right circumstances, it is being encouraged to grow, to start a sprout, and to eventually produce more almonds. In this “safe place,” it no longer needs phytic acid to protect itself, but now can use all of its resources — resources that are nutritious to the human body — to propagate.

This is certainly more time-intensive than eating raw almonds straight out of a package, but it is worth it in the long run to reap the health benefits and negate the detriments of phytic acid on the body. Plus, by soaking/sprouting/activating the almonds, you open up a whole new flavor profile and an opportunity to customize. With my typical recipe, I soak and dehydrate almonds without the addition of spices, but this time I created an autumn-inspired mix with sea salt, dried rosemary, and a little extra time in the oven to promote a roasted, toasted flavor.

Look at this as one big science experiment and have fun with it — that’s half the reason why we get into the kitchen in the first place, to tinker and to play.

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Salted Rosemary [Activated] Almonds

1 lb. raw almonds

2 quarts water

dash of sea salt (or an acidic medium like apple cider vinegar)

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sea salt

1-2 Tbsp. dried rosemary

Soak the raw almonds overnight in fresh water with a dash of salt or apple cider vinegar. This helps to begin the sprouting (or “activating”) process that removes many of the phytates and other anti-nutrients contained in the nut which prevent digestion and adequate mineral absorption.

After soaking, drain and rinse the raw almonds, shaking as much water off as possible. In a large bowl, toss the almonds with olive oil, salt and dried rosemary to coat. Spread on a lined baking sheet and leave in the oven for at least 12 hours at 170 degrees — the almonds are adequately dehydrated when they are crunchy and have a slightly sweet, toasted flavor.

Try other flavors and combinations:

smoked paprika + cayenne + garlic salt

pumpkin pie spice + maple syrup

cumin + chili powder + lime zest

oregano + tomato paste + olive oil + sea salt

honey + sea salt + sesame seeds

ginger + turmeric + honey

garam masala + sea salt

whole30: in conclusion

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My Whole30 challenged ended on Monday. Although I wasn’t 100% percent compliant for all of my Whole30 (I mentioned those rogue cookies), I was gluten-, dairy-, grain-, legume- and alcohol-free for 30 days.

I feel lighter, clearer and more in touch with both how I react to food and what triggers my cravings. I’ve lost a couple inches around my waist and feel more capable in the gym and on the trails. My sleep has been excellent, my skin is clearing up, and I no longer feel attachment to the treats I was dreaming about ten days ago. My mood has been more stable and PMS symptoms haven’t been so severe. I’ve had more energy and more of a positive outlook.

It wasn’t easy. There were a few times when I thought that I should just quit in the middle — what’s the point of this silly challenge? — but in the end I’m glad I stuck it out and made the full 30 days. Now I can see the other side of the coin, that in reality it also wasn’t that hard. Again, although I wasn’t “paleo perfect,” I feel an immense sense of accomplishment for sticking with something for an entire month. Doing a Whole30 is certainly about your health and the food you put in your mouth, but more than that I think it’s an exercise in discipline and self-control. Much like a spiritual fast, it represents the denial of momentary pleasure for a long-term payoff.

That being said, I find myself in more of a relaxed mental state now that the 30 days are over. I started to feel a little crazy, trapped with in the confines of the “rules,” and it made me greedy and grabby. I’m hoping I can transition back into normalcy without the mental restrictions yet while still maintaining the good habits I learned in the month.

I learned that I am addicted to sugar. I crave something sweet in the afternoons, in the evenings, or I reach for a treat whenever things get tough. I did not slay the sugar dragon during this Whole30; in fact, it may have gotten worse while doing this challenge as I wasn’t “allowed” sugar and therefore sought out more natural alternatives at every turn.

I learned that I am a stress-muncher and a mindless eater, and it is far too easy for me to disappear a bag of plantain chips without even realizing it while watching an episode of Parks & Rec. When I’m worried or anxious or busy or on a deadline, I grab handful after handful of whatever is lying around, and in devouring it I pay no attention to satiety or taste. The action of snacking is soothing, for some reason, and that quieting is all I pursue.

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I don’t snack because I’m hungry, usually. I snack because I’m bored, lonely, sad, anxious, annoyed, or have too much to do and don’t know where to start. I’m using physical inputs to try and satisfy a larger emotional need, and that, my friends, is where disordered eating comes into play. Challenges like the Whole30 are a great litmus test, removing us from our comfort zone and applying pressure and sting to see what kind of person comes out on the other end.

I found that I stopped missing breakfast treats like pancakes and waffles, and I feel my best eating a ton of veggies. Out of all of my sugary demons, dark chocolate was still what I missed the most. I think that’s okay. But, the cherry on top was how much I lamented my lost cocktails and glasses of wine.

Making a new cocktail every week or so was a fun ritual that Andrew and I would enjoy together — that, or picking out a bottle of wine and having a glass with dinner. Across the month we had several social occasions in which we’d meet friends at a bar or have drinks with food at a cookout or a movie night. It was surprisingly easy to navigate these situations, as I declared myself the designated driver and made sure to bring a bottle of kombucha with me for sipping. The fizz and the gentle sweetness helped me feel like I wasn’t missing out on the drinking. Now, I can tell that I run lighter without alcohol in my system, and I certainly sleep better without it. I don’t miss beer and would prefer not to drink it anymore. But all that to say: I’m looking forward to my next Maker’s Mark on the rocks, a gin & tonic, or a dirty martini sometime this weekend.

My post-Whole30 plan is this: keep going. Continue to avoid grains, gluten, dairy, legumes and sugar. Seek moderation in my dark chocolate indulgences. Have a cocktail once in a while. Celebrate Andrew’s upcoming birthday with homemade brownies. Relax. Settle into a rhythm. Congratulate myself on a job well done.

And then have a handful of my favorite snack, completely guilt-free. Yum.

than to receive

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I mentioned earlier this week that over the weekend our neighbor left a big box of bread on our doorstep as a gift. I’ve been thinking about that gesture all week, what it meant for him, what it means for me, and what it means when I read “It is better to give than to receive.” 

Our neighbors aren’t wealthy, by any means. At any one time there are five to seven people living in that house, with two travel trailers parked in the back yard and at least eight dogs barking through the fence. There are a couple of decomposing vehicles, waiting for a little love and repair, sinking into the dust of the driveway. They buy their bread in bulk from the discount bakery and put most of it in a deep freezer to preserve throughout the month.

We aren’t wealthy, either. We’re living off of one paycheck, augmented by sporadic bursts of income from my [freelance] end of the deal. We shop at the commissary, we put money into savings as often as possible, we rarely go out and we buy secondhand. But we have no debt from school or car payments, no crushing loans or credit card responsibilities, and we live comfortably.

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Lately I’ve been thinking about our neighbors when I bring home a big bag of groceries or when I shop at the farmer’s market. The luxury of it all. How is it okay that I’m in my kitchen, cooking macadamia-encrusted cod, while less than fifteen feet away they’re waiting on this month’s disability check? How it it okay that I can choose not to eat grains and sugar and instead buy fresh veggies and some grass-fed meats and eggs from a farmer when they subsist on Subway and Stripes?

I’m living in my own little world and it is insular and protected against the reality of poverty, of hunger, of financial security. What am I doing to alleviate those pressures on the world around me?

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So much is going on in my head and my heart. I’m reading Acts and Galations. “Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.” (Gal. 5:14 MSG) My world is in a tailspin, thanks very much to Jen Hatmaker and her revolutionary book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. (More about this later.) I’m in the middle of inventory-ing our home to prepare for our move and I’m facing the sheer magnitude of how much stuff we have. All good, beautiful things that we need and use. And all of this to say — we have been given so much, and what are we giving in response?

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I’m thinking about the national socio-economic divide that is displayed in the microcosm of my little neighborhood, my home next to my neighbor’s, and how much that relates to Dr. King’s revolutionary “I Have A Dream” speech we celebrated yesterday. I’m thinking about radical generosity — I am not thinking about socialism or political reform — and how Jesus loved and gave to the least, how Paul worked for what he needed and lived with what he could carry.

I’m struggling to make sense of it all and how it works realistically in my life. How do I give and serve without perpetuating the endless cycle of poverty? It’s the same question I face every time a homeless person asks for spare change: How is this going to help you? Does it make any difference in the long run?

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Heavy stuff for a post about enchiladas. I made these with equal parts joy and creativity combined with a good dose of solemnity, with one eye out the kitchen window to where that little ramshackle house sat. I’m trying my hardest to figure out what place I have in this mess. How to start small but make a big difference. How to get out of my comfort zone. How to shake up my concepts of service and generosity and love.

So far I haven’t accomplished much by way of revelation, and so far these ramblings have very little direction, but I’m leaning into the tension and looking for opportunities to act. To show that I care enough. To give. For it is far better to do that than to receive.

All of this from a box of bread.

SONY DSCVegetable Enchiladas with Salsa Fresca

6-9 med. plantain tortillas (or corn tortillas if you’d prefer)

1 med. butternut squash

2 med. pattypan squash

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 Tbsp. lard or coconut oil

sea salt + black pepper

1 c. homemade broth

1/2 c. coconut milk

1 tsp. smoked paprika

pinch of cayenne

Incredibly, all of this produce came from my farmers market — except for the plantains, that is. Those were dirt cheap from our commissary. I don’t think anyone else knows what to do with them so I’m counting myself lucky that they even exist in west Texas. 

Begin by making your plantain tortillas or, if you’re short on time or prefer the flavor of masa harina, use small prepared corn tortillas. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. of lard. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash and dice into small cubes. This will go into the skillet first, with a generous pinch of salt, to brown and soften. Once squash is tender, remove half of the amount from the skillet and set aside for the sauce. Add in diced pattypan squash and crushed garlic, plus a little more salt and pepper. Saute until all is tender.

Meanwhile, make the enchilada sauce: in a food processor, combine reserved butternut squash, broth, paprika, cayenne and coconut milk. Blitz until smooth and season to taste.

Begin filling the tortillas with a scoop of the squash mixture and roll into little enchiladas. Fill a 9×11″ glass baking pan with the enchilada rolls — or, if you’re lazy like I was, layer the tortillas with the squash, stacking it up flat. Top with all of the enchilada sauce and bake until tortillas are starting to crisp and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Serve with a big scoop of this salsa fresca:

Pomegranate-Sungold Salsa Fresca

2 qt. sungold tomatoes

1 med. pink pomegranate, seeded

1 lg. bunch cilantro, chopped

1 lime, juiced

1/4 red onion, sliced thin

In a bowl, combine halved tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, cilantro, lime juice, and paper-thin red onion slices with a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and let marinate while the enchiladas are baking.

a cheater’s tale

Whole30 day 12 and I miss ice cream. I also miss dark chocolate, red wine, gin & tonics, and my favorite movie-watching snack: Glutino pretzels and Enjoy life chocolate chips.

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On Sunday I baked a cake from scratch for a friend’s birthday — a gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free creation that took most of the morning and an extra pair of hands to execute, with two types of frosting. We delivered the cake and I had a piece in celebration with said friend and — you know what? — NO ONE DIED. The world, also, continued to orbit the sun and turn on its axis. I’m all for total compliance on a program like the Whole30. I don’t believe in “everything in moderation.” And I still felt great about that cake.

You know what else I feel great about? Cramming as many vegetables as possible into my day. Not having to weigh the pros and cons of having a cocktail after dinner or a handful of dark chocolate squares. Aiming for nutrient density. Not thinking all that much about what I’m eating. Is it a fruit? Mine. Is it a vegetable? Get in my belly. Is it high quality meat, simply prepared? Dinnertime.

I’m still eating my favorite zucchini soup for lunch every day and making eggs for most breakfasts, but lately I’ve been making these nonstop and I urge you to do the same. And yes, I’ve also been making this: a play on the “apple pie a la mode pudding” you might have seen in my last Whole30 recap and at Paleo Magazine. I contest that nearly everything can be turned into ice cream if you want it badly enough. And boy, do I ever.

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Apple Pie A La Mode Ice Cream

1 can full-fat coconut milk

1 pastured egg yolk

1 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

3-5 apples

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

pinch of salt

In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk and apples to a boil and then lower to a quiet simmer for 30 minutes. If you forget about it and walk away for the better part of an hour, the flavor will be all that much more concentrated. If you’re not concerned with your sugar intake or would prefer more of a treat, include more apples or simply add in a half cup of maple syrup while on the stove.

Once the apples are soft, remove the mixture from the heat. Stir in spices, vanilla, egg yolks and gelatin. Let cool before pureeing in a food processor or blender. Cover and chill in the fridge for an hour or two, or until it is no longer warm. Warm custard makes for impossible ice cream.

Pour the cooled mixture into your ice cream machine and let it work its magic for 25 minutes or so, or until the custard has thickened to your liking. Eat all of it, immediately, with the cool white drops streaming down your forearm.

Or, if you’re of the patient variety, let the ice cream harden in the fridge for 30-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. If you’re not on the Whole30 bandwagon, top this baby with applejack molasses cookies and/or oatmeal butterscotch cookies for the ultimate yum factor. I won’t be jealous. (<< lying)

apple pie a la mode pudding for Paleo Magazine

SONY DSCI’m not kidding when I say that this tastes frighteningly like apple pie — without any of the sugar, flour or other additives that mar the flavor of a perfect apple. This easy snack is crazy good. Head on over Paleo Magazine online to get the recipe and read more about the versatility of this dish.

whole30, round two

Yes, I am here again proclaiming my intentions to complete a Whole30. You may remember how I stopped mid-way through the challenge this past January, learned a lot, and continued to implement paleo/primal details into my diet and lifestyle. Welp, I’m at it again. I’m declaring this to you, anonymous internet, for a little bit of accountability and for record-keeping benefits.

One of my goals for this month was to complete a Whole30, modified to match my schedule for the month. Instead of starting on August 1, I started on Monday and will go through the end of the month into September. What is the Whole30, you may ask? This is a great resource, but you can also do a quick web search and come up with a ton of results based on individuals’ experiences.

Over the weekend I prepped some meals to make weeknight cooking a little easier — I hardboiled half a dozen eggs, roasted up a couple of sweet potatoes, washed and chopped raw veggies, set some chicken thighs in a brine and some beef in to marinate. I made a big batch of Mel’s yummy Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup, and I put on a pot of bone broth to simmer overnight. Plus, I’ve got activated almonds, plenty of farmers market melon and a jar full of EPIC bars. I think I’m going to be fine.

Here’s my progress so far:

BREAKFAST  1/30: egg and veggie scramble with cilantro pistou. Coffee.

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LUNCH 1/30: salad with veggies and leftover beef kabobs, zucchini soup.

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SNACK 1/30: Israeli melon from our farmers market.

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DINNER 1/30: coriander chicken thigh, garlic roasted cauliflower, side salad.

BREAKFAST 2/30: kale and roasted sweet potato with two fried eggs, PG Tips tea.

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LUNCH 2/30: leftover coriander chicken thigh, salad with 1/4 avocado, zucchini soup.

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SNACK 2/30: “apple pie a la mode” pudding.

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DINNER 2/30: beef liver fajita salad with bell peppers and onions, avocado and cilantro pistou.

DESSERT/SNACK 2/30: blended frozen banana with coconut milk and cacao.

SONY DSCBREAKFAST 3/30: cashew cookie Lara bar, leftover broccoli sauteed in ghee, deli turkey. Coffee with coconut milk and grass-fed gelatin.

SONY DSCLUNCH 3/30: zucchini soup, deli turkey, sliced radishes and cucumbers.

SONY DSCDINNER 3/30: shiitake shrimp stir fry with baby bok choy.

DESSERT/SNACK 3/30: “apple pie a la mode” pudding with ground flax.

BREAKFAST 4/30: kale and sweet potato hash with two fried eggs. Coffee.

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LUNCH 4/30: remaining zucchini soup, salad with smoked mackerel and fresh dill.

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SNACK 4/30: CocomoJoe “baby bar” and remaining Israeli melon.

DINNER 4/30: coriander chicken thigh with peach-cherry tomato salsa, kale salad with avocado dressing, smoky spiced sweet potato fries.SONY DSCI’ll be keeping track of my progress throughout the month and will report back regularly on how I’m feeling and what I’m eating. This time around I have a better mindset, and have approached the guidelines with less of a sense of duty and perfection and as more of an investment in my health. Plus I’ve been really busy lately with new projects and moving preparations, and eating this way dramatically simplifies my day-to-day. I’m feeling light, energetic, positive and nourished — not deprived.

Across the weekend I’ll be working on incorporating more fermented foods, homemade bone broth, seaweed and fresh vegetables into my meals. My snacks have been a little heavy on the fruit, and as I’m trying to curb sugar cravings I’m going to pay more attention to how I snack from now on.

Meanwhile, I’m going to continue to pretend that red wine and gin and tonics do not exist. It’s just a little bit easier that way.