The Paleo Adventure

Over the years, for health and weight reasons I’ve tried almost every diet there is, except the Cabbage Soup Diet, and for some reason that escapes me, Slimming World, although I know people who’ve had great results with Slimming World.

My holy grail of the eating plan is the one where I can eat healthy food so I feel virtuous, never feel hungry or deprived, and still lose weight until I’m at the same weight I was at 16 and then maintain it, again without feeling hungry or deprived. A plan that fits with my chaotic, disorganised lifestyle and will do so for the rest of my life without me getting bored and binging on the bad stuff. So far, strangely, that magical diet, and let’s face it, it would have to be Harry Potter/Gandalf levels of magic, has eluded me.

However, I’m always a sucker for a new idea and a success story, so for many reasons, I’ve decided to start following a Paleo-based diet, as described beautifully by the people at Mark’s Daily Apple and PaleoPlan.com. I’ve subscribed to the menu service from PaleoPlan, which provides a complete menu plan (three meals a day plus a snack), plus complete shopping list, every week, for a very reasonable price. Frankly, it was the realisation that it will cost me substantially less than my Netflix subscription that persuaded me to give it a go. That and the lack of having to make the decisions that lead me to freeze in panic whenever I have to do a food shop.

I’m now a week and half in, and so far I’ve lost half a stone, eaten a huge amount of very lovely food, rediscovered my love of cooking and baking, and my colitis symptoms have not gone, but noticeably eased off. So far, so good. I say this now because I am impressed, I am grateful to the people at PaleoPlan for the hard work they put in, and I will stick to it (I’m just eating a Paleo friendly, low sugar vanilla loaf and it’s gorgeous). But it hasn’t been an easy path so far…

Ingredients:

  • Lots and lots of organic vegetables, some of them rather obscure, some of them straight from dinner parties of the late eighties/early nineties (haven’t seen sun-dried tomatoes yet though)
  • Lots of organic fruit, mostly berries
  • Lots of organic meat, some of which is impossible to get at Asda. Or Sainsburys. Or without taking out a second mortgage
  • A coconut plantation. Seriously, most of the recipes involve coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut cream or dessicated coconut
  • Some willpower, although given the large variety of delicious cakes I can now make that are entirely Paleo, and the fact that Green and Black’s 85% chocolate appears to be fairly Paleo from the wrapper, not as much willpower as you’d imagine.
  • The ability to use every bowl and utensil in the kitchen while cooking (people say that about men, but I’m far worse than The Husband)

Method

  1. (Tuesday) Receive shopping list. Attempt to buy ingredients online at Asda. Manage to get about 2/3 of the ingredients.
  2. Find an online supplier of coconut and all associated products (healthysupplies.co.uk, very fast delivery, quite good value for money, certainly compared to Waitrose).
  3. (Sunday) Realise I still haven’t got some of the ingredients and I’m supposed to start the plan today. Rush around Sainsburys in a panic. Can’t find chicken wings, can’t find canned pumpkin, can’t find fresh pumpkin. Decide to substitute bramley apples instead (for the pumpkin, not the chicken wings).
  4. During the course of the week, realise I have somehow got confused, and bought 24 pork chops. Also realise that no matter how beautifully cooked they are, I don’t like pork chops. Luckily, The Husband and all three children do like pork chops.
  5. Realise that all of the recipes are in cups. I have no idea what a cup converts to in UK measurements. Assume a cup is 4 oz of dry goods or 4 tablespoons liquid. Do all cooking on this basis – get some rather odd results, but nothing inedible. A week and a half later, find a measuring jug with cups down the side. Suddenly understand odd results, cooking and baking now much more successful.
  6. Attempt to stick exactly to meal plan lasts 1 day, after which meal plan is determined by what is going out of date next. Just like life before Paleo, but with healthier and more delicious ingredients.

Next week, I’m planning to try some of the cake recipes using lard or beef dripping instead of coconut oil, which is ferociously expensive. I’m not planning to tell the rest of the family though, at least not until after they’ve tasted it…

Emergency Desserts

Mayim Bialik, one of my heroines, Jewish Neuroscientist and Actress, has posted up to an application I’ve never heard of (snapp? I feel old) an easy and relatively quick to make dessert:

http://app.snapapp.com/MothersDayRecipeDownload

that is taken from her new vegan cookbook which I am saving up for. Even though I will probably never cook a vegan recipe. Although if I had the book I might…

However, this did get me thinking about emergency desserts. There are times in everyone’s life where nothing but a dessert will lift the spirits, and often, those are the times when energy levels are low and life is, frankly, disorganised. Mayim’s dessert looks easy and delicious, but you have to wait two whole hours for it to set in the fridge! Also, I’m not sure how often I’ll have peanut butter and coconut milk in my cupboard at the same time as I’m having a crisis, and popping into the local village shop is not likely to help. However, in our family we do have a couple of desserts that are suitable for dire emergencies, and require very little planning or preparation.

I think this is my favourite for speed, likelihood of having the ingredients in my house, ease of getting them in the local shop/garage if I haven’t, and general feeling of wellbeing after consumption. I also want to mention that although I have not intentionally copied this recipes out of any cookery books, and as far as I’m aware I completely made it up, it’s possible that it was once invented by someone else – in which case I apologise.

Chocolate Cream
Note – if you use very dark chocolate, which has low sugar levels, and since they’ve decided that saturated fat is no longer bad for us, this is a pretty virtuous dessert. It is however, extremely rich – use with caution.

Ingredients: Dark chocolate, clotted cream. Or double cream. Or single cream. (I’ve tried it with marscapone cheese – that really was an emergency – and it was a disaster, feel free to try it if you want to take the risk, but I won’t join you).

Method: melt the chocolate in the microwave, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (the microwave is quicker). 10-15 seconds at a time, and then stir and then wait a minute if you’re using the microwave – that way you won’t burn it.

When the chocolate is all liquid, or when it’s mostly liquid with some lumps in it, depending on how desperate you’re feeling, stir it into the clotted cream. Or double cream. Or single cream.

Put into the fridge until set. Or just wait until the mixture’s cooled down enough to not burn your mouth.

Eat.

Feel better.

Decision Fatigue

It’s exactly what it says on the tin. And it really does exist! Apparently there’s a raft of scientific evidence that there’s only a fixed amount of energy everyone has to deal with decision making. This energy is also the kind of energy you use up when you have to exert self-control.

The Husband has told me about this. He’s reading a book called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, and I’m planning to read it once he’s finished it, but he’s giving me little extracts and summaries as he goes. (Luckily for him, he has learned not to do this with fiction books and films:-)

As far as I can tell, there are various practical outcomes of this theory. For instance, Barack Obama only has two suits – or at least, two styles of suits, so that he only ever has to choose the light one or the dark one. He also never chooses what to eat, and every memo that crosses his desk is a multiple choice memo – yes, no, or let’s discuss. The rationale behind this is that he has to make the most important decisions in the world a lot of the time, so he can’t afford to let the trivial decisions take up any of his decision making energy.

Another outcome of this is that if you spend a lot of energy exerting self-control, so for instance, not shouting at the children (well, not unless it’s necessary!), not telling your colleagues at work that they are complete numpties, not swearing at the traffic warden, your ability to exert self-control in other areas will be severely affected – that is, you will not be able to stop yourself from eating that piece of chocolate cake, or drinking another glass of wine.

Now I’m not in charge of a large country. Or a small country. Or my family, or my home apparently. But because we have children, The Husband and I are making many many decisions, all of the time. Decisions which could affect not just our futures, but our children’s futures. What schools they go to. How exactly to explain the subtleties of our moral code and spiritual stance to a six year old. How to discipline the children without damaging their self-esteem. Whether we really are bad parents for feeding them chicken nuggets and fish fingers on alternate nights all week instead of home-made lentil stew with home grown salad – that kind of thing. I’m sure being President of the USA is harder, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

So all of this makes perfect sense to me. That’s why every parent in the world reaches for their vice of choice after a long hard day parenting – in my case, chocolate, often wine, in The Husband’s case, 2.8% stubbies. That’s why diets rarely work, especially if you’re constantly confronted with temptation. If you use up all your energy denying yourself the goodies in the cupboard, you’ll run out of energy before the goodies run out. (By they way, does anyone else have an official Goodies Cupboard in their house??) So if you feel you need to lose a bit of weight, make the children suffer as well by removing all the diet-breaking temptations from your house. A few months without Mars Bars and fizzy orange won’t do them any harm! Although it might do your ears some harm…

It also explains why parents are always tired. Especially parents of ‘spirited’ children. Especially parents with more than one ‘spirited’ child. Especially parents with three spirited children.

After thinking about these theories for some time, I have decided on a few coping tactics. Firstly, I will be insisting that in future, I will only ever have to answer questions with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘ask your Dad’. I will never again choose what to have for dinner. That’s The Husband’s job, and he does it extremely well. From now on I will have a ‘work’ look (black suit, coloured shirt) and a ‘casual’ look (jeans, tshirt), and enough clothes to last me a week at work and a weekend – and that’s it. I will use up my perfumes sequentially so I never have to choose which perfume to wear. I have one necklace, one pair of earrings and my wedding ring, so I’ll never have to choose what jewellery to wear. Already I can feel my life becoming more relaxing…

So remember, if you are a parent, and you’re always exhausted/unable to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan/reaching for the wine the second the children are in bed, give yourself a break. It’s actually because you’re doing the right thing by your children all day long.

Last Day of the Holidays

Today is the last day of the Easter holidays. You can tell that in our house because all five of us are slobbing out on the sofas, in front of the TV, watching something that looks as if it’s Total Wipeout for children – and none of us can be bothered to switch over to something more highbrow. I’m not watching it, honest. Except I just caught a glimpse of a woman dressed as WonderWoman. Shame she’s clearly way too young to remember the original series.

During this holiday, The Husband has taken the children shopping more times than his sanity should be able to cope with, accompanied us on a Matzo ramble, taken one of our children to a gym competition (he came fourth out of four but did incredibly well considering it was his first competition), taken them all swimming, to to the cinema, to a local stately home type thingy with grottos and interesting footpaths (and a cafe, the most important element of all) and to a local park, where all the equipment was wet and it started to rain. He’s supervised the consumption of vast amounts of chocolate, mediated arguments and sometimes physical fights about whose turn it is on the computer/wii/tv/iPhone/laptop, not all just within the family, saved the cats from being ‘cuddled’ rather too enthusiastically (you’d think they could save themselves but they are incredibly soppy cats), and somehow managed to keep all five of us adequately fed and in reasonably clean clothes.

And I went to work. I got paid for sitting in a calm and peaceful office, talking to adults, and messing around with data, which is up there with eating chocolate in the list of my favourite things to do. I couldn’t do his job. We know this because I was a housewife for quite some time, and not only was I just not very good, but I really didn’t enjoy it. And he couldn’t do my job. We know this because he worked in an office for 15 years, hating it more and more every day, until the inevitable happened and he got ‘let go’ for being unable to hide his contempt for stupid rules (who wears ties these days?? Really??) and even stupider bosses.

I’m so incredibly grateful to The Husband for working as hard as he does for my family. And the last day of the holidays is usually the day when I’m most grateful of all.

Links Wot I Like

Although obviously, it’s not the links themselves that I like but the websites on the other end of them…

http://iscentyouaday.com/

1001 days of perfume – (almost) daily reviews of perfume, from the sublime to the ridiculous in both price and quality. Handy hints and tips on where to get good deals on certain scents, and thorough descriptions of the perfumes themselves – invaluable for someone like me, who can just about tell whether something smells nice or unpleasant once I’ve sprayed it on.

http://www.angelpaths.com

Angel Paths is the best tarot website on the interweb, owned and run by the best tarot reader in the world ever – Jan. A fantastic tarot information resource, plus a shop well worth a look if you’re having trouble knowing what to buy the person who has everything, plus forums discussing everything spiritual – mainly based on tarot, but also including discussions on crystals, gardening, the state of the world today, and probably the most valuable resource of all – the Huggy Healing forum, where you can go to ask for help or advice, to vent, complain or kvetch, where there is always a sympathetic and often an empathetic ear. Please note – everyone is welcome on the forums regardless of belief (or lack of it) as long as you treat everyone else there and their beliefs with respect.

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/

A fitness and diet way of life which works on the principle that while our lifestyles and the food we eat have evolved since we were cavemen, our bodies have not. Known as the Paleo or Primal diet, the food involves a lowish carb, high fat, good quality protein diet. We try to stick to it as best we can, fail often, but probably do a little bit better healthwise and weightwise and exercise wise than we were before we started. Like all plans involving food or exercise, it’s a bit extreme, but unlike most of the others I’ve tried, it’s more or less doable, and has tangible benefits in a short time. I’m still fat though – I blame the matzos. They’re not Paleo friendly, just compulsory over Passover…

http://www.kveller.com/mayim-bialik/

The official Mayim Bialik blog, at Kveller.com. Kveller is a website which talks about all things parenting from a Jewish perspective. Mayim Bialik is the lady who plays Amy Farrar Fowler on the Big Bang Theory tv series, and in her youth, played Blossom in the sitcom of the same name (I’m big fans of both). Mayim is a Conservadox Jew, which I think means she observes Judaism somewhere between Orthodox and Conservative (Reform or Liberal in the UK). It’s similar to Masorti Judaism, vaguely, but American. Mayim is also a vegan, and practises attachment parenting. I read the blog partly because I’m such a fan, and partly because in an ideal world I would aspire to her values and practices, but I stand not a hope in hell of ever living up to them.

And lastly for now:

http://gabrielecirulli.github.io/2048/

A very simple but addictive game! My whole family plays, and none of us have made it to 2048 as of today. My highest number so far is 1024…

Paleo Oat Cakes

In our mixed up, muddled up family, we are great admirers, and lethargic, well-intentioned followers, of the Paleo way of life – both eating and exercise. Yesterday we walked up a near vertical hill, which I’m sure our Paleo ancestors would have done once in a while, and then we trampled through both Paleo and Passover laws with the free hot cross buns we were given as a reward for reaching the top thanks to the Cymdeithas Twmbarlwm Society. Moving on, here is a vaguely Paleo friendly recipe for something a bit like a cross between a cake, a flapjack and a biscuit. It’s also reasonably lowish carb, more so than most of the treats it replaces in our house.

8oz oats (the kind you make porridge with. I’ve never figured out the difference between porridge oats and rolled oats, probably best not to use instant porridge mix)
4oz ground almonds (replacing this with dessicated coconut just to see what happens, is on our To Do list)
2 tablespoons honey
8oz block butter
Some raspberries – about 2oz?

1) Melt the butter over a low light or in short bursts in the microwave
2) Once the butter is melted, add the honey and mix well
3) Mix the oats and almonds together
4) Add the honey and butter mixture to the oats and almonds and mix very well
5) Add the raspberries to the mix and mix well
6) Put into silicone fairy cake cases and cook in the oven at 200 celcius for 12 minutes. If they don’t look done after 12 minutes, keep checking a minute at a time and take them out just when the tips are starting to burn slightly

If you can, leave them until they are cold to eat – they crumble a little bit less that way. But either way, you will probably be eating them with a teaspoon out of the cake case. They are strangely and compellingly delicious.