Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vegetable of the Week: Spaghetti Squash

The taming of the squash

I've long been terrified of the different varieties of autumn/winter squash.  They seemed challenging to cook, and they'd only been served to me in childhood swimming in butter and coated with brown sugar.  If you have to do that much to a vegetable to make it edible, it can't be very good, right?

I honestly can't recall ever having eaten spaghetti squash, so this week's veggie was truly a leap for me.  We decided to serve the squash "noodles" with spaghetti sauce; it somehow seemed appropriate.

How to cook spaghetti squash:

  • Cut the stem end off the squash then cut the squash in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.
  • Microwave each half of the squash, cut side down, on a plate for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully (it's hot!!) remove the seeds and discard.  
  • Use a spoon to scrape out the squash innards into a serving dish.  Marvel at the way it falls into "noodles!"
The raw squash smelled like a pumpkin.  When the squash is cooked, it has a sweet smell.  The flavor was mild and slightly buttery and just a little sweet.  We added a touch of butter to bring out the flavor a bit more.  Elias and I both enjoyed it.  Maddie wasn't all that excited about it (but she's pretty picky anyway).  The hubby ate it but wasn't all that excited either. I think he really wants the pasta back.  

Recipe:  Spaghetti Squash with Turkey & Mushroom Sauce

  • 1 spaghetti squash, prepared as above
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • Jarred spaghetti or tomato sauce (we used our homemade canned tomato sauce -- sooo good!)
  • Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning to taste
  1. Cook the ground turkey in a deep skillet until no longer pink.
  2. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft.
  3. Stir in the sauce.  Season with salt, pepper, or Italian seasoning to your preference.
  4. Serve over hot spaghetti squash noodles.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vegetable of the Week: Green Beans

When we first made the switch to Paleo, we encountered some dissent over whether green beans fell under the banner of vegetable or legume.   Since legumes aren't Paleo, this was a pretty important question to answer!

The answer from a few trusted sources like Mark Sisson, Rob Wolff, and Diane SanFilippo is that while green beans are a legume, they have very little lectin, which is what makes other beans problematic.  I was pretty pleased to hear that since green beans are a favorite in our family!

Often when we have green beans as a side dish, we just steam them or saute them in a little coconut oil and garlic.  This week, we decided to revamp a traditional family dish from my husband's family that is known as "Laci beans" because it was the only way my husband's little sister would eat vegetables when she was little.

The story of the Laci beans is that they were created on a camping trip out of vegetable desperation.  They were essentially canned beans dumped in a pot with a bit of onion and some diced bacon and boiled.  I don't know what movies you grew up with, but when I think of boiled bacon, this is what comes to mind:

"You said you didn't like all the grease from fried bacon...
so I boiled it." 
We decided that we would like to revamp the Laci beans with fresh, tasty ingredients that still have nutritional content.  Here's what we came up with:

Recipe:  Sauteed Green Beans with Bacon and Onion (aka Laci Beans)


  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1/4 of a sweet onion, chopped 
  • 1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped
  1. Cook the bacon in a saute pan over medium heat until it is about halfway done.
  2. Add the chopped onion and cook together with the bacon until the onion is caramelized and the bacon is mostly done.
  3. Add your beans and saute them briefly with the bacon and onion just until heated through.  Be careful not to overcook.
Revamped Laci beans.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vegetable of the Week: Tomatoes!

Okay, so it's probably technically a fruit.  But most people consume it as a veggie, so it belongs here.  We're starting off easy, especially since tomatoes are probably my favorite vegetable and definitely one of the most versatile.

What did we do with tomatoes this week?  We ate them raw, sauteed them in oil, used them in place of bread, and canned our own homemade tomato sauce.  Talk about a treat!  We got really lucky with our tomatoes this week too.  The ones for the sauce came straight off a farm in Eastern Washington, and the rest were picked right out of my mother's garden.   The sauce tomatoes were Romas, and the rest were different varieties of cherries, and some beautiful heirlooms.  If you're eating tomatoes from the grocery store, you are really missing out.  Compared to garden-fresh tomatoes, store-bought tomatoes have basically no flavor at all.

The bounty out of my mother's garden.  Wish you could see the heirlooms!

One of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes is to saute the little cherry and grape tomatoes in a bit of butter or bacon fat.  I especially like this with my breakfast.   I've been slicing up the larger ones and eating them with tuna salad (per my sister's suggestion).  I also like to just roast them with some garlic and eat them on the side of whatever.

Recipe:  Homemade Tomato Sauce

This is how we made the tomato sauce for canning.  It made approximately 16 pint jars.  I'm not going to include the full directions for canning, but once you've made the sauce, you can either freeze it or can it in the standard method.  This blog has the full directions for canning.  Our recipe was a variation on this one, though.  We did not add salt or sugar, which are frequently used in canned tomato sauce recipes.  Sugar is an obvious omission, but we figured we could add our own salt to taste when we cook with it.


  • 30 lbs. fresh Roma tomatoes
  • 4 onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • handful of fresh oregano
  • handful of fresh basil, slivered
  1. Prep the tomatoes by washing them well, cutting off the blossom end, and then quartering them.  
  2. Chop the onion and the garlic finely (a food processor is good for this).
  3. Heat the oil in a large stockpot (we split ours between several pots).  Saute the onion and garlic to release the flavors.
  4. Add tomatoes in batches.  As the tomatoes heat up, they will shrink down, and you can add more tomatoes to the pots.  Add the herbs at this time as well.  Let the tomatoes cook until they have released juices and are reduced by about half.  
  5. Process the tomatoes using a food mill.  Most food mills are different, so follow the directions specific to your mill.  This step takes all the juice and pulp out of the tomatoes (and other seasonings) and leaves the skin and seeds behind.
  6. Once you've processed all the tomatoes, return your sauce to the stockpot and simmer until it is reduced by half.  This is when the tomato sauce becomes thick, rich, and incredible.  Make sure to taste it.  The difference between fresh tomato sauce from farm tomatoes versus store-bought canned tomato sauce will absolutely blow your mind!
  7. Can sauce according to approved method.
That's a lot of tomatoes!!
Processing the tomatoes with the food mill. 
The beautiful finished product.

What is your favorite way to eat tomatoes??  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review: Eat Like a Dinosaur

Eat Like a Dinosaur by Stacy Toth and Matt McCarry (The Paleo Parents) is probably the most helpful book I have in my paleo arsenal.

The book is in three basic parts:  the part for adults, the mini-book for kids, and the cookbook, which features incredible recipes.

The Part for Adults

This part not only introduces the Paleo Parents and their family, it is also full of helpful and extremely practical advice for switching your family over to paleo.  This is something that I had been struggling with, so I absolutely loved this part.  It doesn't dwell on the science behind paleo or attempt to "convert" you in any way.  It assumes that if you bought the book, your mind is already made up.  You just need help getting the family on board.

It also contains some of the most useful, practical information I've seen on purchasing paleo ingredients.  It lists kitchen gadgets that are helpful to have and where to find paleo ingredients like the various nut flours and butters and assorted oils.

The Part for Kids

This was a cute story, as told by Matt and Stacy's son Cole, about what it means to eat paleo from a kid's perspective.  I sat down with Elias and Maddie and we read the story together.  Elias thought it was funny, and Maddie kept roaring.  I don't know how much sunk in, so we may do another reading.  It's a much easier way to explain the reasoning behind what we are trying to do and why we are choosing these foods. I do hope in time that the kids will learn to automatically reach for the healthier foods.

The Cookbook

This is the best part of the book, of course!  We've had a chance to try several recipes out of the book now. Our list includes:

  • 50/50 Bacon Burgers (oh yeah.....)
  • Pork Roast with Squishy Squashy Apples
  • Mini Egg Pizzas
  • Kale, Bacon & Black Olive Pie (we used spinach)
  • Fool's Gold (Chicken Nuggets)
  • Sweet Potato Fries
We haven't really had the opportunity to experiment with the sweet treats and other snacks that are featured in the book, although I do have a bunch of apples that I want to turn into dried apple slices, and we are definitely going to try out their jerky recipes.

These recipes were all fantastic.  The bacon burgers were mind-blowing (and it was satisfying to see that we can grind bacon in our food processor...).  The mini egg pizzas not only make a good meal but can also be refrigerated for on-the-go breakfasts and lunches.  We are planning to try them using different ingredient combinations since packing quick lunches is always a concern of ours.  

One of the things I really like about these recipes is the way that they indicate how the kids can help.  

Maddie dipping the chicken pieces to make Fool's Gold.

Elias peels sweet potatoes for Sweet Potato Fries.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with a family who needs a little help getting everyone I'm board. I'm really looking forward to trying out the paleo dessert items and seeing how the kids like them.   It's also fun to see the kids paging through the book when I ask them to pick out a meal they want to try this week. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Switching the Seasons

It's time for the winter veggies to take over...
Photo by Stuart Miles

As I was on my last grocery shopping trip, I couldn't help but notice the shift that was taking place in the produce department.  The zucchini had been moved to a smaller section, the cherries had disappeared, and the nectarines and peaches were no longer front and center.  Instead, I was seeing gourds of all types, apples, pears, and even pomegranates prominently displayed.  It's time to face the music:  Regardless of the weather outside, summer is leaving us, and the fall harvest is starting to come in.

When you're trying to make produce a significant amount of your meal and save money while you're at it, eating local and in season is about the only way to go. Watch the prices on your produce over the next few weeks.  The berries are about to skyrocket in price, but the stores will be practically giving away apples.

These are the fruits and veggies currently in season in the Pacific Northwest:


  • apples
  • pears
  • blackberries
  • cantaloupes
  • huckleberries
  • plums
  • pomegranates
  • artichokes
  • beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celery
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • sunchokes
  • kale
  • kohlrabi
  • leeks
  • parsnips
  • pumpkins
  • rutabaga
  • winter squash
What's your favorite fall fruit or veggie?  I'm thrilled that pomegranates are back; that's a big favorite of mine.  I'm looking forward to trying some new veggies this year.  Winter veggies are the ones I usually tend to rebel against the most, so this is actually a great time to go for the veggie challenge.

What new local, in-season veggie are you going to commit to trying this fall?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Veggie Challenge

Let the games begin!
Photo by Kittikun

My family is in a vegetable rut.  We tend to get the same veggies day after day and week after week.  Green beans, spinach, broccoli, and -- if we're feeling really exotic -- green peppers and zucchini.  That's kind of sad.  There's a wealth of vegetables out there, and we really need to branch out.  There's stuff out there I haven't even tried, so I don't even know if I like it or not!  

Here's what I'm thinking.

Each week I'm going to report back on our "veggie of the week."  I'll let you know what we did with it and talk about some of the different cooking techniques used for it.  Most importantly, I'll let you know whether the family liked it!  I'm guessing it will start out easy and then get more challenging once we've burned through most of the "easy" veggies.  Since the season is changing and the fall veggies are coming out (more on that later), we may start hitting more uncommon veggies earlier than I would have if I had started this challenge in the summer.  

If you have suggestions for vegetables to try, let me hear them!  I'd love for you guys to participate in the challenge too! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paleo Brown Bag Lunches

What's in your lunch today?
Photo by ningmilo

This is one of the areas where we have been consistently challenged.  Both my son and my husband have to take lunches with them, and they are having problems thinking outside the sandwich bag.  The common complaint is that they aren't taking enough food and are fading shortly after lunch.  Sorry boys, a hard-boiled egg, nuts, and a piece of fruit aren't going to cut it!

They are both old enough to pack their own lunches (haha), so we've had to do some brainstorming to come up with more ideas.  Here are some of our winners:


  • Leftovers are definitely the big winner.  Before we dig into the main meal, we've been pulling aside an extra portion for each of them to take the next day.  
  • When we made the chorizo meatballs from Practical Paleo, these were a huge hit.  Next shopping trip, I'm going to grab extra pork sausage, and we're going to make a batch to keep in the freezer and fridge for fast lunches.
  • The "egg muffins" from Eat Like a Dinosaur have also been a great option for lunches.  We made them as in the book with diced tomatoes, olives, mushroom, and pepperoni.  This weekend we're going to play with them some more and try using different ingredients.
  • I found a package of turkey sausage in the meat discount bin.  I picked it up and we tossed them in the grill pan and then the fridge.  Not only were these a great option for the guys, but since Maddie and I had a "picnic" to go to that required a lunch, I sliced them up and put them in a baggie and they made the perfect finger food.  
  • Individual serving cups of tuna and salmon are the perfect size for lunch boxes.  Elias thinks that they are quite the treat.
Veggies/ Fruit

  • This one is kind of a no brainer.  Both the kids love fruit, so getting them to eat it is never a problem.  Apples, pears, berries, melons... whatever we have on hand, it all goes into the baggie.
  • Veggies are a little more challenging, but items like carrots, cucumbers, and green peppers are popular.
  • Each kid has the opportunity to pick out a piece of produce they want to try this week, so that has made fruit and veggie packing a little more interesting.
  • I'm planning a trip to an apple orchard soon, and we're going to try out some of those dried apple snacks from ELaD.  I suspect they will be huge hits.

  • Homemade trail mix has been the big winner in this category.  We hit the bulk bins at Fred Meyer and Elias can basically go through and pick out which nuts and unsweetened dried fruit he wants in his mix. This week he had sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, dates, and coconut flakes.
  • Canned olives are a HUGE favorite.  Just drain 'em and toss 'em in  bag.  I'm sure Elias sticks them on his fingers.  I don't want to know about it.
  • Elias has thought seaweed is incredible since he was little.  When I came home with a package of SeaSnax, his mind was completely blown.
  • Larabars and fruit leather are less common treats but still a possibility.
What are your favorite lunch options?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: "Practical Paleo"

Practical Paleo by Diane SanFilippo

A couple months ago, as I was overhauling my eating habits and looking for more resources on Paleo, I couldn't help but notice that every source I found was singing the praises of a (then) soon-to-be released book:  Practical Paleo by Diane SanFilippo from Balanced Bites, one of my favorite Paleo sites.  As I read reviews and listened to podcasts and got a better idea of what this book contained, I pretty much made up my mind that I would have to get my hands on this book.  

The Book

Of course, I'm not made of money.  I couldn't afford to pre-order it, so I had to wait until I could work this purchase into my monthly budget.  Once it finally arrived, I immediately tore right into it, and I read it from cover to cover.  I've reread certain sections.  I've gone over the various guides with Gavin.  I've run a couple... tests... and learned some interesting things about my own body.  

Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to get a lot of use out of the food plans.  While I had high hopes for the fat loss meal plan, it feels like it's geared more toward someone with unlimited budgetary resources and no additional family members to feed.  By the time I'm done substituting to make it fit my family, it bears little resemblance to the original plan.  That's okay.  I'm sure they'll be helpful to others; they just weren't realistic for us.  On the other hand, the guidelines that immediately precede each plan have some great information and tips. 

The Recipes

We've also had the chance now to sample several recipes out of the book.  The ones we've tried so far include:

Herbal tea-infused gelatin cubes
Swirly crustless quiche
Vanilla-almond sponge bread
Grain-free porridge (coco-nutty variety)
Citrus & herb whole roasted chicken
Indian spiced turkey burgers
Sage roasted turkey legs (we actually used chicken drumsticks)
Grilled garlic flank steak (we used petite sirloins)
Chorizo meatballs

It's been fun to go through the book and let the kids pick recipes to try.  They've also had a hand at helping prepare them, which I'm hoping will make them a bit more eager to try new things.  Elias has helped me make a number of recipes, including the chorizo meatballs, and last night Maddie helped measure the spices and mix them in for the Indian-spiced turkey burgers.  

Of course, we have some favorites and some not-so-favorites.  So far the chorizo meatballs and the chicken legs recipes have been the best.  The meatballs also made a fantastic lunch option the next day.  We'll probably whip up a huge batch soon and shove them in the freezer for a fast meal on a busy night.  I was hoping the tea-infused gelatin cubes might be appealing to the kids in the way that Jell-O would be (I chose a strawberry-pomegranate flavored herbal tea and sweetened them with a touch of honey).  Unfortunately, they aren't entirely enthralled with them, and neither was Gavin.  I'm suspecting that their palates have not quite adapted to less-sweet treats.  I may try them again further down the road to see if they are more appreciated at that point in time.  We weren't too keen on the sponge bread either.  While it was definitely "spongey," it certainly wasn't "bread."  It was very eggy and kind of bland.  

There's plenty of recipes that I still want to try, like the bacon-wrapped chicken thighs!  Elias is dying to get his hands on some of the recipes out of the dessert section.  

Is it Frugal?

From a frugal perspective, I believe that this book is a great buy and worth the money. It is a fantastic source of information that is broken down for easy digestion (haha).  It's also a great one to have out and present to people who are asking questions about how your family is eating.  Many of the recipes fit well into a frugal or budget-conscious lifestyle, and the ones that seem a little pricey are easy enough to tweak (like I did with swapping out the turkey legs for super-cheap chicken legs or switching flank steak for the petite sirloins that were on sale that week).  Since many of the recipes rely greatly on the seasoning mixes that are provided in the book (which are awesome and easy to make since we already have most of those seasonings on hand), it's easy to swap out meats and try different flavoring combinations.  

Diane is also kind enough to offer some tips for those of us who shop on a budget and discusses what your quality "priorities" should be when you are in the grocery store.  She also provides a short answer to the question of whether it's worth eating Paleo when you can't afford grass-fed everything (spoiler:  The answer is yes!).  

One more quick note:  Although this book is available for the Kindle, I think that going that route would limit the usefulness of this book.  You'd lose out on the tear-out guides, and probably most of the good graphics.  Additionally, I don't like the Kindle for recipes AT ALL.  It's electronic equipment, and I'm of the opinion that electronics + kitchens = problem.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Paleo "Bandwagon"

Welcome to the bandwagon.
Photo by Suat Eman

The other night, a friend of mine commented about how I had jumped on "the Paleo bandwagon."  As much as I wanted to shake it off, the comment irritated me greatly for a number of reasons.  For one thing, for reasons I shall not divulge, the statement came across as ridiculously hypocritical.  For the second, since when is choosing to eat healthy foods that improve my health a bandwagon?

Had I joined Weight Watchers would I have gotten this statement?  Nope.  I would have been applauded for my decision to throw thirty bucks every month into a hole so that I would have the privilege of carefully tracking everything that goes into my mouth while I am offered samples of sugary treats or snacks that are loaded with preservatives and other crap.  I've been there and done that.

Another reason this statement bothers me is that it assumes that I just suddenly chose to do something for the sole reason that everyone else is now doing it.  This says that the person who is saying it really doesn't know me well at all, and that makes me sad.  I'm not a bandwagon type of person.  I'm usually the first person to be skeptical and point out the flaws behind a given plan -- especially if it's super popular.  The fact is, I've read the books and thoughtfully considered the science.  It makes sense.

It's a sad statement on our current thoughts on health when eating whole, nutritious foods prepared from scratch and cutting out the packaged, chemical crap is considered a "bandwagon."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Weighting Game

Measuring what's really important.
Image by David Castillo Dominici

I know I've been really quiet over here for quite some time.  I've been a bit overwhelmed with the type of work that pays the bills, and that makes it easy to forget to do the work that's for me, like this blog.

I've been reading my way through more books about living a paleo lifestyle (I'm planning on doing reviews for Practical Paleo and Eat Like a Dinosaur since these are the two books that are making the biggest difference right now).  I've found that I'm slowly beginning to phase out dairy and getting closer to true paleo, which is something I never though that I would do.

Most importantly, we are working on making the full-family switch.  Gavin is on board, but the kids are a bit more resistant.  I'm suspecting that even after we make the full switch, we'll still be dealing with the "wheeling and dealing" nature of the kids.

I've said before that I started eating paleo because I wanted first and foremost to lose the weight.  I'm finding that I'm starting to make a slow switchover on that mindset as well.  My weight has been stubborn.  There's a bit of fluctuation but not the steady downward crawl that I was hoping for.  I'm halfway through the biggest loser competition, and I'm not halfway to the goal I set to myself.

I think that competition and that goal are my biggest enemies right now.  I'm much too focused on the numbers game, and it's the wrong thing to focus on.  Between conversations with my paleo friends on my facebook group and reading blogs like this one and listening to fantastic podcasts like Live, Love, Eat and The Paleo View, I'm finally coming to see the error of my ways.

I might not win the biggest loser competition.  Although it would be cool to win, that $150 or whatever should not be my ultimate goal.  The number on my scale should not be my ultimate goal.

My goal is finally shifting to being as healthy as I can possibly be.  As many of my new heroes have noted, I didn't put that weight on overnight, and it's simply not going to come off that way.  It will work its way down eventually, but in the meantime, I can focus on eating the right kinds of foods and taking care of my family as best I know how.

I can now see a distinct difference when I eat something that I really shouldn't.  A few nights ago, I went out to dinner with friends at a much-loved Mediterranean restaurant.  For the first time in about six weeks, I went right ahead and dug in to the naan, rice, and hummus.  Screw paleo!  I was going to enjoy myself!

By the end of the night, I felt distinctly lightheaded.  By the time I got home, I was subjecting poor Gavin to garlic-scented belches.  The next day, I felt sick to my stomach the entire day, completely bloated, and barely able to eat.  I'll spare you the remaining details of my intestinal distress.

The point is, I learned a valuable lesson about straying from my healthy eating ways.  I made myself miserable, and I made the people around me miserable.  Why should I be miserable?  Don't I deserve better than that?   It wasn't worth it.

As we continue to work on transitioning the kids, I'm looking for fun activities to get them involved and make them more interested in this switch.  It's cool to see them poring over the books, looking for fun recipes to try, and picking out the fresh produce that they want to try this week.  I've found a u-pick apple orchard.  It's a bit of a drive, but I'm thinking we can make a nice day out of it, and we'll come back with plenty of apples so we can try some dehydrated apple recipes. I'm also looking up year-round farms and farmers' markets so we can have some fun experimenting.

I'll try to do a better job of keeping up with the blog.  Doing things for me is important, and it shouldn't be on the back burner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Recipe: Dijon Pork Chops

This recipe contains dairy.


4 pork chops
salt & pepper
butter or other Paleo fat
1/3 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup half & half


1.  Season each pork chop with salt and pepper.
2.  Melt butter or fat in a skillet.  Cook pork chops for five to seven minutes on each side, until done through.  Remove and keep warm.
3.  Stir broth into the skillet and scrape up browned bits.  Stir in the mustard until well-blended, then blend in the half & half.  Bring sauce just to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until sauce thickens, about five to six minutes.  Drizzle sauce over chops.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Building a Paleo Pantry on a Budget

And read your labels, for Pete's sake!
Photo by Ambro

While I'm sure there are some folks out there who wake up one day and decide "I'm going to eat paleo!" and then run to their nearest farmstead and buy themselves an entire grass-fed cow (plus grass-fed butter, free range eggs, coconut oil, almond meal, etc. etc.) for most of us this isn't exactly an option. This stuff can be pricey, and if I were to rush out and buy it all at once, I wouldn't be able to pay rent (ahh, if only I were joking...).

I've found that working slowly and adding in a few items on each grocery trip is the way to go.  For example, I've started making it a habit to stock up on eggs.  This week I hit a Trader Joe's and found a great deal on coconut oil and a killer raw organic honey (that it's taking all my willpower not to dig into).  These items are going to last me a while, so by staggering my purchases, I won't have to buy a bunch of high-end products all at once.

We also bought some tamari sauce to make a paleo beef jerky.  That jerky probably isn't going to last more than a day or so, but we'll still have the sauce, which will make the next batch cheaper.  When we run low, I think I'm going to look for it at the Asian market up the street -- I'm betting they have it cheaper than Safeway.

Basically, as we use up a "nonpaleo" item, I'm replacing it with a paleo item.  Stuff isn't going to waste, and we don't feel quite as much of a financial hit.  Our other trick is watching for sales on meat and then buying a bunch of it.  Our grocery bill was a little higher than normal this week, but that's because Safeway had sales on chicken, pork, AND beef.  So we bought the value packs.  Next week I'll have so much meat in the freezer, my grocery bill will be lower than normal. I also found a store-brand organic spaghetti sauce with no sugar in it!  It was only $2.49.  The other brand with no sugar in it was $5.99, so I felt like quite the savvy shopper.

A word about coupons:  Don't even bother.  The only items that coupons are good for are prepackaged sugary junk.  Seriously.  Watch for store sales (and coupons that are specific to the store can be helpful) and shop that way.  I like the Just For U program that Safeway started.  I can check the website before I go and it provides added discounts on stuff that I buy (because Big Brother is watching when I shop, of course).  Oh well -- they're giving me $1 off of almond milk... I'll take it!

What are your best paleo shopping tips? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Recipe: Balsamic Chicken Salad

This is a quick and easy meal that is perfect for a lunch or dinner.  You might even want to prep extra chicken for another meal using this marinade -- it's that good!

Balsamic Chicken Salad


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
1 cup balsamic vinegar
a few leaves of fresh basil, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
mixed greens

1.  Mix the vinegar, basil, garlic, and olive oil in a small bowl, then combine with the chicken breasts to marinate. Marinate in refrigerator for two to three hours.

2.  Prepare outdoor grill or grill pan.

3.  Remove chicken and discard marinade.  Grill chicken until done through, about eight minutes per side.  Let chicken rest, then slice.

4.  Top greens with chicken and a few extra shreds of basil.

Prepping for Shopping

Today's special is...
Image by Simon Howden

Tomorrow is going to be grocery day.  I have the list prepped and dinners planned.  One thing that occurs to me is that I need to find some different lunch options because tuna is going to get old soon.  It's easy to get stuck in a rut once you find something that is tasty and easy, but boredom is often my downfall.

To keep my food bill down, I scour the ads to see who's having the best sales on proteins, and then I base my meals on those proteins.  I'm not a "store loyalist."  I'll go to whichever store happens to be having the best sale that particular week.  This week's winner was Safeway, with deals on chicken breasts, pork chops, and petite beef tip steaks.

Here's my dinner list for the week:

  • Skillet pork chops with sauteed veggies
  • Balsamic chicken breasts with mushrooms and salad
  • Pork chops with Dijon sauce and sauteed spinach
  • Grilled steak with salad
  • Blueberry balsamic chicken salad
  • Italian spinach casserole
I will include the recipes for these meals later in the week.  We also have a potluck to go to on Sunday.  As long as burgers are on the menu I can make it work, but finding something to bring is going to be challenging since my old potluck standbys always included pasta.  I might plan on deviled eggs, but I'll have to think about it.

What is your menu for the week?  What is your Paleo potluck standby?  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Paradigm Shift

We have to break out of this mindset.
Photo by Grant Cochrane

One of the biggest challenges for me, and I'm guessing for a lot of people who switch to a Paleo/Primal lifestyle, is making the complete mental switch that it requires.  Coming from a good 20 years of the diet roller coaster, I've had it beaten into my head that fat = bad, whole grains = good, and every single thing that goes into my mouth should be carefully logged and tracked so that I can beat myself up over it later.

I still catch myself doing it.  "It's a good thing that egg is only 80 calories."  "Do you know how many points that would be??"  "Hmmm, that's probably about a quarter cup of almonds."  "Mmmm, bacon would be good.... oh wait, maybe I should have turkey bacon; it's lower in fat."


I wonder how long before these types of thoughts go away?  Dieting is almost a religion, isn't it?  I can recite you the gospel of Weight Watchers backwards, forwards, and inside out.  Even the whole bit about how "It's not a diet; it's a lifestyle change."  Okay, well maybe it is, but it's not a very good one.  Even when you're maintaining your weight, you're suffering from deprivation, and just ask any successful Weight Watcher about their grueling exercise routine.  Sorry, it's a diet.

When we were moving, I agonized over my digital food scale.  I remember purchasing it and how excited I was to own one.  Now I could know exactly how much food I was eating at any given time and, more importantly -- or so I thought, where I was crossing the line into too much.  Not having to weigh and measure my food is one of the strangest shifts my head has had to make.  Stop eating when I'm full?  But.... how will I know???

The digital scale went to the Goodwill.  My measuring cups and tablespoons are now only used for their original purpose:  to calculate the correct amount of ingredients to keep a recipe in proper proportion.  When I decide I would like to have a snack of almonds, I simply take a handful, and I don't fret over how many I popped in my mouth.  I chose the real bacon and enjoyed every delicious mouthful (and then saved the grease for my eggs tomorrow morning -- damn that's going to be good!).

When I start to stress or I recognize the old thoughts creeping in, I find it helpful to visit a website dedicated to the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, like Mark's Daily Apple or Balanced Bites.  They help me regain my perspective and banish the "diet" guilt that keeps trying to creep back in.  Now that's a lifestyle change.

Simple Sides

Photo by Grant Cochrane

One of the things that is most appealing about eating Primal/Paleo is how simple side dishes suddenly become.  Gone are the days of choosing a protein (unless it was meat-free day -- boy does that make me laugh now!) and trying to come up with something unique and different that we hadn't eaten four thousand times before.  ("Well, we why don't we try having some couscous since we're all so burned out on rice?" "Ugh, couscous is so bland."  "Well, I could toss in some cheese or something....")

When I'm fixing sides to go along with my Paleo meals, I'm just working with veggies.  Not only is this good for me because I'm truly lazy at heart, it's also a lot cheaper.  Really.  Veggies are cheaper than all these darn starches that we've been having up 'til recently.  True, a box of pasta or a cup of rice is mighty inexpensive, but have you considered how much you add to make them taste like anything other than bland cardboard?

Tonight's dinner was petite sirloin steak, with fresh spinach salad, and zucchini sauteed in butter.  The zucchini cost me about 50 cents, the butter was already in my fridge, and I finished it with a few leaves of rosemary off  the plant that is growing in my kitchen windowsill.

Zucchini nutrition information (per cup):

2 grams protein
2 grams fiber
40 mg calcium
20 mg vitamin C
41 mcg folate
319 mg potassium
2011 mg vitamin A (no, that is seriously not a typo)

and other assorted vitamins and minerals including phosphorous, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin K, and iron.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Greek" Chicken Casserole

We adapted a family favorite recipe to make it more primal friendly (it does use feta cheese, so it's more primal than paleo).  Casseroles are a little hard to come by when it comes to eating paleo/primal, but they're so awesomely quick to put together, I still find a way to make it work.  This one goes together really fast and tastes fantastic.

"Greek" Chicken Casserole


1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used the ones not packed in oil), chopped
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
handful Greek olives, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
boneless/skinless chicken breasts (you can probably also use chicken thighs if you prefer)
pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350.

1.  In a mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, spinach, feta cheese, olives, garlic, tomatoes, and pepper.
2.  Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish with butter or coconut oil.
3.  Place chicken along the bottom of the pan.
4.  Top with spinach mixture and spread to coat.
5.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the chicken is done.

This goes well with a nice spinach salad.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Incredible, Edible Egg

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
Photo by nuttakit

To the egg commission:  Please don't sue me for using your tag line!  I'm saying good things about your product, I swear!

Eggs are the ultimate frugal paleo food.  Even superstar eggs, the ones laid by chickens that are happily living the chicken dream are affordable, even at twice the price of "regular" eggs.  My favorite way to procure eggs?  My mom owns a few chickens and they lay more eggs than she and my step-dad could ever possibly eat.  So about once a month or so I get to score an 18-ct pack of farm fresh eggs.  Yum!!!  And pretty easy on the budget, too...

My go-to breakfast is a fried egg (in butter), with a slice of ham (browned up nicely in the leftover butter, oh yeahhh).  This typically keeps me full until noon or later.  If I'm forgetting to eat, you know I'm in a good place!  I do feel like I should be including some veggies in this breakfast.  Part of my morning challenge is getting two kids ready for the day, and taking the time to properly feed myself can sometimes be a last-minute task.  Eggs fry up easy and it doesn't take me long to scarf them down, so this works.  Trying to chop veggies might be a bit more than I can handle some mornings.

This leads itself to an obvious solution, doesn't it?  Chop the darn things the night before!!

Here's one of the first things I learned about eating paleo on a budget:  If you don't plan ahead, you're screwed.  It's that simple.  I plan out the family's meals once a week and create the grocery list based on that plan, including options for snacks.  I will definitely have a lot more to say about this later, but let's get back to eggs, shall we?

If you're only eating eggs for breakfast, you are missing out big time.  We eat eggs pretty much around the clock.  Eggs with bacon or other assorted meats plus fresh fruit is a favorite super easy and cheapo meal in this house.  We also started buying double the eggs and hard boiling half of them to keep around as snacks and fast meal options.  (Note:  If you do this, LABEL LABEL LABEL the container you are keeping the hard boiled ones in to avoid a Ramona Quimby moment.)  I personally don't care for the taste of hard boiled eggs, although having them around makes it easier to make deviled eggs and I love those.  The hubby and the kids all like the boiled eggs though, and I don't have to nag the hubby about packing a healthy lunch.

While leafing through one of my magazines last night, I found hidden amongst all the recipes for various pasta-based dishes a little gem:  spinach and goat cheese frittata.  (Note:  I lean more toward the primal side of things, so I do include full-fat cheeses in my diet occasionally.)  It looks like the only tweak it needs is to substitute the olive oil for butter (you do know you shouldn't cook with olive oil, right?). I think that will be on the menu next week.

So tell us... what kind of eggs do you buy and what's your favorite way to cook them?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Welcome to the Frugal Paleo!

Beef.  Nom.
Photo by piyato

I wear a lot of hats.

One hat that I have tried on and decided that I would like to wear is that of a healthier person.  I'm currently extremely overweight, and, well, I'm kind of tired of being that way.  When it comes to diets, I've been there and done that.  I've been up and down the scale, although at the moment, getting below 200 lbs. would be my holy grail.  I don't think I've seen a scale number below 200 since high school (and my 20-year reunion isn't that far away).  When we recently moved, I sent bags and bags of clothing on to the Goodwill, in everything from a size 16 to a size 30. I tossed over 30 skirts and pairs of pants and over 50 tops.  Despite that packed closet, I was only able to wear about three or four outfits at any given time.

Being overweight is, quite literally, a royal pain in the ass.  My back hurts, my hips hurt, my knees hurt, and my feet hurt.  I can't keep up with my kids.  It's all I can do to haul myself up my stairs every day.  The thought of going for a fifteen minute walk makes me want to cry.  I hate feeling so limited.  

A while ago, my sister inspired me to start eating Paleo/Primal, and I read The Primal Blueprint.

Despite my initial reservations and insistence that I could never eat like this and that this diet was a fad and fats are baaaaaaad, and so on and so forth, the science was compelling and made perfect sense.  Plus, I couldn't deny that after a few weeks eating paleo, I felt incredible.  My skin was clearing up, I actually had energy (for a change), and the weight was practically falling off.

Then a whole string of birthdays and other life-type stuff got in the way, and soon I was snarfing down cake and potato chips again.  I regained some of the weight and went back to my pimply, cranky, low-energy self.  

Well, I'm giving it another go.

I'm gonna give this bad boy another try.  I saw the results and I believe in it.  Plus, I'm in a Biggest Loser type competition with a group of friends and I want to win that pot!  

Which brings me to my next point.

My family isn't exactly rolling in the dough, if you know what I mean.  Items like pasture-raised/grass-fed beef are a little challenging to procure when the weekly grocery budget for a family of four is often less than $100.  At the same time, I don't feel like stuffing our faces with cheap rice and pasta is an option either, now that I'm aware of what they do to me.  

So here's my plan:  I'm going to write about what my family is doing to eat Paleo/Primal on a limited budget, share with you what we learn and discover along the way (including ways to buy quality ingredients for less and good Paleo-style recipes I find), and you can cheer me on or share your stories and ideas.  Sound like a deal?


Let's shake on it.