Winter comforts

You know it’s been a long time since you’ve posted on your blog when you have to reset the password! I knew it’s been a while but I’m rather shocked to see that more than a month has gone by.

Winter has truly settled in and this is a particularly cold one. We usually only see the first snow on the mountains in August, but this year we’ve had snow on the mountains twice already! This is our first Paleo winter and I must admit that I found myself harassed by cravings for cinnamon sweet pancakes, hearty pea and ham soup and crusty bread. I also felt the need to constantly fill my tummy with something warm and satisfying. It was time to act and act fast. I was not going to surrender to these grain-laden cravings and suffer from stomach cramps throughout this winter.

I had to find alternatives to my former winter favourites and I’m pretty pleased with the results. To satisfy my desire for cinnamon sweetness I treated myself to a bacon and fried banana breakfast. I first fry the bacon in a pan until nicely brown and crunchy crisp. The bacon is set aside and kept warm while I quickly fry the sliced banana in the remaining pan juices. I sprinkle them with a dusting of cinnamon, drizzle them with some honey and add a splash of lemon juice. It’s not the prettiest breakfast around, but for me this is breakfast heaven!

Another of our warm and wintery breakfast favourites is “banana porridge” (or “piesangpap” as we call it). The recipe for breakfast porridge is one of Paleo Spirit’s. Our son was not fond of this porridge until my husband made it one morning. It was delicious! My son asked for seconds and thirds. When I asked why his porridge tasted so much better than mine he answered that he followed the recipe – to the letter whereas I often use a recipe as a mere guide. Well, that was a lesson learned. And ever since whenever I make it our son pipes up: “Please follow the recipe mom.”

I still had to find an alternative to the pea and ham soup. My husband is not keen on soup and I managed to concoct a stew that satisfies both our needs for comfort food. It’s a beef stew made with soup ingredients! Ingenious right? Well, for me it was a first. I cut the parsnips, onion and leeks in big chunks (and I used loads of veggies). I cooked the beef in homemade chicken stock,  added chopped peeled tomatoes and seasoned the stew with coriander seeds, garlic, and thyme.

And when my husband is away on business I get to enjoy a butternut, sweet potato and carrot soup seasoned with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Oh my, my mouth is watering.

Another dinner favourite is this one from Everyday Paleo. Chicken adobo. She serves it with roasted greens and beetroot, but in my search for comfort food I served it with cauliflower spinach mash. It was a sure hit, especially with our 5-year old who is not keen on anything green. I replace the coconut aminos with tamari sauce, but you could also use soy sauce.

To satisfy the need for something crispy and crunchy I simply sliced the Paleo sandwich bread thinly and popped it in the toaster. It’s delicious on its own, with scrambled egg or spread with almond butter (and for a sweet treat some honey).

Well, it’s time to get out of bed and start this day. I think I’ll toast some sandwich bread and quickly put together a salmon egg scramble while I enjoy my second mug of Rooibos tea ;-).

 

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A 5th birthday party

Living a paleo lifestyle in a non-paleo world has a fair number of challenges. Eating in a restaurant has become slightly more problematic since your choices are often drastically reduced to either steak or grilled fish with salad and even then you have to keep a wary eye on the sauces and dressings. Afternoon visits with friends pose a new set of challenges for we really don’t mind just enjoying a relaxed cup of coffee along with the really great company, but we know how comforting it is to share a meal or treat. And we have in the past been unintentionally rude and caused some embarrassment because we did not eat the treats set before us. But as with all things – communication is key and we’re spreading the word about our alternative diet.

Top of my list for challenging situations however is THE BIRTHDAY PARTY – an occasion when kids are allowed to go wild on sweets, candy, chips, cool drink and of course birthday cake. But not this year and not at my Francois’ party.

The theme for his 5th birthday party was Cowboys. I managed to dissuade him from a dragon party seeing that he’s worn the same dragon costume to the last 5 dress up events; be they a birthday party, book day or Halloween.  I decided to put more emphasis on the décor than on the food. This year the cake would not be the center piece. It would merely serve as the stand for the candles and as a sweet baked treat.05IMG_0002

Luckily I kept one of the tall boxes from our move and my son and I transformed it into a prison. The invitations included a bandana for each child and we added some sheriff badges and money bags. And what would a cowboy be without his pistol?

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The money bags contained chocolate coins (not so very paleo, but it went down a treat) and the other snack on the table was a maize snack. My husband sent me an article by Loren Cordain on why potatoes are not paleo and having read that I decided I would rather give the kids a snack flavoured with MSG than potato crisps. (Oh, the choices I make!) Only after the party did my overloaded brain register that I could have bought MSG free maize snacks if I’d only done a bit more planning.
That’s the one negative about living in the Swartland. The nearest Woolworths store is 50 km away.

I wanted to give the moms a tea time treat as well and decided to bake another birthday cake and I served a cake version of the caramel pecan bar from paleomg.com.  When it came to deciding on the best chocolate cake I did do the necessary planning and even baked some trial cakes to make sure I had the right one. My search led me to supergluemom’s Chocolate cake recipe. I really liked this recipe for it uses only 4 eggs and it combined coconut and almond flour. I also spent some more time on the paleo mom’s website and have subsequently decided that it is okay to use brown sugar in my baking. It’s a whole lot cheaper than honey and it is not something we consume every day.

On my first attempt I followed the recipe exactly except for substituting the coconut milk for cow’s milk, the honey for sugar and the large eggs for extra-large eggs. (Did I say I followed the recipe exactly?) The batter was too runny and not at all like chocolate mousse so I added some more coconut flour, almond flour and cocoa powder. I weighed the ingredients carefully and jotted them down (not something I do all the time) and the end result was amazing. A moist soft chocolaty cake that looks and tastes like a traditional sponge cake. I sprinkled the kids’ version with icing sugar and covered the adult version in a rich chocolate ganache made with 70% dark chocolate and cream. (The recipe follows below. You’ll need a kitchen scale for this one, sorry.)

The kids had a fun time and the moms could not believe they were enjoying grain-free treats. And even though it was not strictly paleo, we came pretty close and bearing in mind that it was a kid’s party I was (and still is) really pleased!

 

Chocolate cake recipe

105 g sifted coconut flour
45 g sifted almond flour
10 ml baking powder
80 g unsweetened cocoa powder
4 XL eggs
160 g brown sugar
400 ml milk
10 ml vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 180 °C. Line a square baking tin (approximately 15 cm x 15cm) or two 19 cm diameter round cake pans with baking paper.
  2. Sift the flours, baking powder and cocoa powder together to combine.
  3. In a stand mixer beat the eggs until foamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is a very pale colour (ribbon stage). Add the milk and vanilla and beat for a short while on slow to combine.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat on slow to combine. The texture should be like chocolate mousse. Do not over mix.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a tooth pick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

The cake is best served on the day, but is still delicious straight from the fridge. I also freeze extra squares for lunch box treats.

 

 

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Taking the plunge

Change is one of the few things in life we can be certain of and yet it’s one that we struggle with the most. One has to be mentally and sometimes physically prepared for change. And when change is a choice it requires a level of commitment.

We all know the saying that it takes 21 or 28 or maybe 30 days to break a habit. But if you’ve followed a certain way of eating for the past 20 / 30 /40 or maybe 60 years it is going to take more than just a couple of weeks to break those bad eating habits or to alter course completely.

Often people ask me how we went about changing from the ‘traditional’ diet to the paleo lifestyle and whether we’re still sticking to it. At first I thought (and told them) that we went the drastic all-or-nothing way – but memory is fickle and now that I’ve spent some time evaluating the run up to our ‘drastic’ change I’ve noticed some key points.

Our desire to change was sparked by a couple of serious health issues in our family and a desire to once and for all shed the extra weight we carried. This set my husband off on a literature study that only a PhD student could appreciate and only after having immersed himself in this new found knowledge did he suggest this change of events.

I was the hesitant one, the one that needed to be converted and I would only agree to following a gluten-free diet. I was not yet ready to bid farewell to my muesli and oats and gluten-free pasta. During this initial weaning phase I did my bit of reading (only one book – thanks to my husband who narrowed it down for me) and became convinced of the merits of the paleo diet.

We then took the next step and banned refined sugar from our kitchen. No more sugar in coffee or tea or a teaspoon added to the Bolognese. About a week later the BIG kitchen cupboard clear-out followed. Any canned goods that contained MSG, soy, starch (potato, rice, maize), colourants and flavourants or any other unfamiliar ingredient went to the soup kitchen. We were left with canned chopped tomatoes and coconut milk. We stopped buying processed meats other than salamis (after we’ve scrutinised the label) and whole muscle cold cuts. Suddenly I had loads of empty plastic containers that used to contain the cereals, flours, legumes and beans.

We continued to consume dairy, though in smaller quantities and as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post we choose the lesser of the evils when it comes to deciding on which yoghurt to buy for our 5 year old.

Many people can’t stomach the idea of increasing the fat portion of their diet and the thought of cooking (and even eating) the chicken with the skin on is enough to send them running for cover. We never had this experience as we have always enjoyed our meat with a bit of fat on. We love cooking with olive oil and we never shied away from eating egg yolk. But I can understand that for some people this will be a challenge and to suddenly start cooking with coconut milk or even to leave the skin on the chicken will upset a few tummies.

So my advice would be to take a gradual approach. Become convinced of the merits of the paleo diet; wean yourself off the bad habits and don’t become disheartened if you cannot stick to it 100% faithfully. It’s a lifestyle not a religion. And use the resources available on the web.

It’s not always an easy journey, but it is so worth it!

I’m going to share with you this recipe for chocolate date balls. These tasty treats served as a great reward in the initial 30 days and they are still a great go-to for a quick dessert or tea time treat.

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Chocolate date balls

1 cup raw almonds
15 pitted dates, soaked for 30 minutes in enough hot water to cover them
3½ Tbsp. cocoa powder (Dutch processed is excellent)
4 Tbsp. desiccated coconut plus more to roll the balls in.
½ t salt
1 t vanilla extract (if you’re using extract that is mixed with invert sugar. If not add just a drop)

Chop the almonds in a blender or food processor. Some coarse pieces will add nice texture. Remove from the blender and put aside. Now add the softened dates to the blender or food processor and pulse till smooth. (This 2 step process seems a bit cumbersome but I prefer the finished texture if done this way).

Now add the almonds back to the blender along with the other ingredients. Pulse to combine. You should be able to form balls by rolling the dough in your hands. If the ingredients won’t stick add a little bit of water. Don’t worry if the balls are slightly too sticky. That’s why we roll them in more desiccated coconut.

Store in the fridge and enjoy!

 

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Blowing off steam

Fad diets have once again been the hot topic of discussion in the South African press over the last couple of weeks. In talks on the radio as well as in newspaper and magazine articles the Banting diet and paleo lifestyle have been included in the list of unsustainable fad diets that only result in easy gained short term weight loss.

What made me decide to write this particular blog post was the article “Fad food nation” in the Autumn 2014 Discovery magazine. The author of the article is under the impression that those following a paleo and Banting (low carbohydrate high fat) lifestyle eat only meat with steamed vegetables and that it is not an eating plan one can follow in the long term. She also states that “it does not make sense to eat like this”

She’s concerned that those following a paleo lifestyle miss out on the good B vitamins that a slice of rye provides and that we’ll miss out on the potassium found in bananas. Dietitian Jade Campbell goes on to state: “The paleo diet excludes grains, which play an extremely important role in the diet. They are high in fibre, which contributes to the prevention of constipation. They also hold essential vitamins and phytoestrogens, which help maintain heart health and may protect against some cancers. Why leave them out?”

Campbell also gives advice on what a healthy diet looks like: A balance of the three food groups – protein, fat and carbohydrates and to choose unrefined, high fibre carbs. She further states: “Eat more food in a form as close to its natural state as possible; the closer you get to a food’s original state – and the less it is ‘prepared’ (barring a few exceptions) – the better it is for you. It is much better to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables that ensure we’re getting the nutrients we need than to focus on a few fashionable food items.”

So why do we avoid grains? The best way for me to inform you is to quote from Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution. “Cereal grains tend to have proteins that are high in amino acids proline. These prolamines (protein rich proteins) are tough to digest, and thus remain intact despite the best efforts of the digestive process to break them down. The result is gut irritation, increased systemic inflammation, and the potential for autoimmune disease.” Grains also contain anti-nutrients such as phytates. Phytates once consumed bind to magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron making them unavailable for absorption and thus useless to your body. Grains attack the gut lining and a damaged lining increases the risk of autoimmune disease and several types of cancer. Wolf lists a number of problems associated with leaky gut and the autoimmune response (I’ve shortened his original list):

–          Infertility

–          Type 2 diabetes

–          Multiple sclerosis

–          Rheumatoid arthritis

–          Narcolepsy

–          Schizophrenia

–          Autism

–          Depression

–          Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

This table, taken from Wolf’s book compares the nutrient density of grains, milk, fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat and nuts. It is clear that grains are not the nutrient dense food others would have us believe. Now if you consider the health risk of grains and their relative poor nutrient values why would you include grains in your diet?

As for eating food in as natural a state as possible – this is another key component of the paleo diet. If you’ve ever gone to the trouble of reading the list of ingredients on many prepared / processed food items you would probably not eat that any more even if you weren’t following a paleo diet. That is unless you want to consume high amounts of MSG, artificial colourants and flavourants, preservatives, gluten, sweeteners, sugar and salt. All of these are detrimental to your health.

We switched to the paleo lifestyle in order to improve our health. The bonus is that we lost weight. Over the last 7 months my husband has steadily lost 19 kg and I have lost 7 kg. Not once did we experience the highs and lows of sugar rushes or food cravings. We are never as all-consumingly hungry as when we followed the ‘traditional’ low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Our taste sensation improved, our health improved and we live a better life.

But that’s the thing about this ‘fad’ diet. It’s not a diet – it’s a lifestyle.
For more on this topic I would like to direct you to an article on Sweden’s new food pyramid, Robb Wolf’s website and the paleo mom.

 

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One to rely on with a twist

Prompted by a friend’s suggestion and with over-ripe bananas in the freezer I decided to experiment with my trusted bread recipe.

I’ve been spending a bit of time on the Paleo mom’s blog  and having read her article on almond flour I’ve decided to add some extra variety to our baked goods.

I would not call this a banana bread per se as it does not have the distinct banana taste of a traditional banana bread although this might still develop over the next day or two.  I baked it last night and had a bite this morning. Our son also tried it and the bread has his approval!

I replaced the yoghurt with mashed banana and used sunflower seed flour and pecan flour instead of the almond flour.

Banana sandwich bread
100 g(1 cup) sunflower seed flour*
100 g (1 cup) pecan flour*
½ cup tapioca flour
1 t bicarbonate of soda
46 g (just less than ½ cup) flax seed meal**
pinch of salt
100 ml light taste olive oil
2 medium sized over-ripe bananas,mashed
1 t apple cider vinegar
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 180°C. Combine the ingredients in a food processor or mix with a whisk in a bowl. Pour batter into prepared small loaf tin and bake for approx. 50 minutes until baked through.

* You can make your own sunflower seed and pecan flour by grinding the seeds / nuts in the food processor.

** As mentioned in my previous post I grind the whole flax seed in the liquidiser to make flax seed meal. It is not as fine as milled flax seed and it actually improves the bread’s texture.

Thank you, Peter!

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One to rely on

I know we all have them even if we won’t admit that we do. And I most definitely had one this week. I was just grateful that my husband was not home to witness this monumental flop. I had an absolute kitchen disaster!

My mind and day had been occupied with my latest sewing project and so I decided to prepare something quick, easy, comforting and obviously nutritious for dinner for my son and I. And as the weather showed the sure signs of autumn I thought that the spinach (actually Swiss chard) in the fridge along with some mushrooms and a dollop of cream would make a great soup and I could serve it with sausages on the side.

Well, I managed to burn the sausages and the soup was close to inedible. My brave son and I managed to swallow some of the soup and we cut the worst of the burnt bits from the sausages and then we had a paleo sandwich with cheese instead.

This is one recipe that I can always rely on. It has never let me down. Even once when I added whole almonds instead of almond meal to the other ingredients already in the food processor it came out looking and tasting as good as ever. Yes, the pieces of almond was more noticeable but we quite enjoyed the extra texture.  I found the original recipe on Adriana Harlan’s Living Healthy with Chocolate site. (Click here for the link.)

Paleo Sandwich bread
200g / 2 cups almond mealIMG_0001_2t
46g / just a bit less than ½ cup flax seed meal
½ cup tapioca flour
pinch of salt
1 t bicarbonate of soda
1 t apple cider vinegar
125 ml Greek (or plain) yogurt
4 eggs
100 ml cooking / light taste olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a small loaf tin (approx. 20cm x 10cm).
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl (if you want to mix it by hand with a whisk) or in the food processor (if you have one) until well mixed. Pour batter in the loaf tin and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until done.  As a side note: I buy whole flax seed and grind it in the liquidizer.

I often use this bIMG_0002_1tread for sandwiches in our son’s school lunch box. He also enjoys the “fishy” version – toasted, cut into fish shapes and spread with almond nut butter. Thinly sliced and toasted it is a great substitute for a cracker served with dip.

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Banting / paleo shopping

Having done the big kitchen clean-out I suddenly realised how much the contents of my cupboards have changed. Where the jams and peanut butter used to be I now have a jar of honey and a pot of almond butter. The cereals, rice and other grains have been replaced with raw almonds, tapioca flour, flax seed and some other seeds and nuts. In my tinned goods cupboard I now only have peeled, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and yes, I admit, stock concentrate. Sunflower and canola oil have been replaced with cooking olive oil and coconut oil.

The fridge is stocked with fresh vegetables and I’m grateful for my husband who decided to buy a bigger fridge. It definitely spares me a number of shopping trips a week. And thanks to a friend who supplies us with great quality Karoo lamb the freezer is stocked with tasty meat cuts.

Going shopping has taken on a new dimension. We never used to bother much with reading the labels but now we scrutinize the ingredient list before we put any item in our trolley, especially when it comes to sausages, bacon, smoked chicken and yoghurt. And oh, be especially aware if you’d like to buy marinated or spiced meat.

As I mentioned in an earlier post we have an almost 5 year old who is not following a strict paleo/banting diet. I try to choose the lesser of the evils and I’m happy knowing that at least 90% of his food is healthy, natural, sugar and additive free.

The ingredients we try to avoid are:
– Gluten
– MSG
– Starch (maize, rice)
– Artificial colourants and flavourants
– Soya
– Any grains

And those we try to limit are:
– Sugar
– Potatoes / potato starch

So where do I do my shopping?
Free range eggs and poultry are readily available and if you can afford it, it’s definitely the way to go. Even better would be if you could keep your own chickens, but for most of us this will only ever be a dream.
Dis-chem in Willowbridge is my go-to place for almonds, coconut flour, flax seed, chia seed, dates and cranberries. I order my free range veldt grazed Karoo lamb from Hartebeestfontein Karoo Lamb.  And at Woolworths I stock up on 2L cooking olive oil, ostrich sausage (the only gluten free sausage available at Woolworths), salami sticks, sauerkraut, bockwurst (for the young one) and stock concentrate. The remainder of my shopping I do at our local award-winning SPAR in Malmesbury.

I hope to someday soon harvest my own vegetables, but establishing the vegetable garden is my current challenge – I am not a green thumb! And while I wait for the first autumn rains to help me prepare the soil for my garden I’ll share with you my favourite recipe for 5-ingredients- mayonnaise.

Paleo mayonnaise
You will need:
1 Egg
15 ml Apple cider vinegar
5 ml Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt
Cooking or light taste olive oil

Break the egg into the beaker of the stick blender. Add the vinegar, mustard and salt. Pour in olive oil until it measures 300 ml on the beaker. Blend until thick and creamy. Store in the refrigerator and use within 4-5 days.

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