My mum is coming for a visit tomorrow. I haven't told her yet about paleo - I might just present her with a plate of food without carbs and see if she notices.
Anyway, in my family, if you want to show hospitality, you bake a cake, and that's a habit I'm not ready to break. In general I'm not keen on paleo food that pretends to be 'normal' food, but I'll make an exception for my mum visiting.
Sometimes you need a quick meal, and it's tempting to reach for the ready meals and convenience foods. But the beauty of paleo is that you can create a wonderfully healthy, tasty meal with no trouble - as long as you've got the right stuff in the fridge. That's the trick.
Take this meal. Wednesdays are a rat race because both kids have to be picked up from different places and my husband and I are both at work. So we need something hot on the table pretty much as soon as we get home. The above meal is the perfect solution.
My husband gets in from work and puts the chicken in the oven - free range thighs and drumsticks, which Tesco does for less than £3 for enough for four. He just puts salt, pepper and oil on and bangs them in. Then he comes to pick me up, then the kids - a 40 min round trip. When we get home the chicken is done, so we toss a salad in pesto dressing and tuck in. Seeing the lobster gnawing on a chicken leg warms the cockles of my heart.
If you wanted to do it in 5 mins instead of 40, just buy ready-cooked chicken from M&S and grill for 5 mins. With the oven method, be warned - don't use breast meat, which will be terribly dry after 40 mins. The cheaper, fattier cuts, on the other hand, will be perfect.
Why don't the Inuit get scurvy? After all, they traditionally eat a 100% meat-fish diet. Surely we need vitamin C, which is present only in very small quantities in meat, to avoid illness?
This is just one of the dietary paradoxes addressed in an amazing book I'm reading by Gary Taubes, who writes for the highly respected journal Science. In the UK it's called The Diet Delusion, but I believe in the US it's called Good Calories, Bad Calories. I can't recommend it highly enough - it's a truly authoritative work which reviews the science behind current nutritional thinking in a way that I find very satisfying (bearing in mind that I'm a physicist and good science is very important to me!).
I'll be talking about this more over the coming weeks, but let me share with you the answer to the paradox of the Inuit. Vit C, Taubes explains, has a similar composition to glucose and is taken up by the same receptors in the body. When blood sugar is raised by eating carbohydrate, more glucose is present in the bloodstream and this is preferentially taken up by receptors. This in turn means that we need a lot more vitamin C because it is 'fighting' with the glucose to be used.
So if you eat a no-carb diet - for example, pure meat - you need much less vit C and the small amounts in meat are sufficient. Simples! In fact guys, it looks as though one can be completely healthy on a meat-only diet. Yum!
My 6-year-old daughter has just told me that she "hates paleo". She misses toast with her scrambled eggs and I think she's worried about what we'll eat at her Hallowe'en party. I think she's also really missing pasta.
But she does like things as well: like the fact that she now squeezes her own orange juice straight from the orange, the fact that we have a much wider selection of fruit (bananas are her favourite), and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
I'm not being too dogmatic with the kids. My husband and I are doing fairly strict paleo apart from still eating cheese and drinking beer, but I'm trying to ease the kids in gently. They get a choice in the morning - either whatever egg/fish I'm having that day, or their pre-paloe standard porridge with honey. They choose porridge about 50% of the time. Steve has a school lunch and the lobster has meat and vegetable stew for lunch (more on this another time) and they have tea with us, generally meat/fish, veg and some sort of sauce. This is all topped up with liberal applications of fruit.
To give you an idea of the kids' diets, here's what they had today; it's a weekend so slightly non-standard.
Scrambled eggs with parma ham
Grapes and raisins
Freshly squeezed OJ including the pith
Tuna mayonnaise with sweetcorn and carrot sticks
A bit of Gouda
Thai red chicken curry with babycorn, mangetout and cauliflower
I actually think, despite what Steve said, that they're enjoying it (with one caveat - they both keep on asking for pasta). I think she's worrying about the party. I'm worrying about it too!
I've already told you that my son, the lobster, has coeliac disease. He's nearly 3 and it was diagnosed about a year ago. I haven't eaten wheat for 10 years after developing a severe intolerance and my husband gave up gluten a couple of years ago for similar reasons. My father, who is nearly 70, gave up wheat a couple of years ago and has seen a big improvement in health.
So that just left my daughter, commonly known as Steve. She's 6 and had never had any problems with wheat or gluten. But.... but.... she's started complaining of a bad tum, and the doc has told us to try taking her off gluten to see if it improves. Poor little thing, she's very upset about it.
At the moment she's eating paleo at home but having a free rein at school, where she typically chooses things like fish fingers or pasta for lunch. If she does prove to be gluten-intolerant, it'll have to be packed lunches. I knew this was coming with the lobster, but thought it was years away. I'm going to have to do some pretty hard thinking about gluten-free, paleo sandwich substitutes. Any ideas welcome!
I love prawns so much. When I did Weightwatchers I always had a jacket potatoes with prawns in a yoghurt dressing for lunch. Always felt really sleepy afterwards, too! The paleo version is just as delicious and a lot quicker and easier, although it's also a lot dearer as I have a whole packet of prawns for a meal instead of half.
This was my lunch today. One ripe avocado, sliced; two tomatoes, sliced; a packet of Atlantic prawns (I worry about the air miles/farming techniques associated with Pacific prawns); and a dressing of pesto loosened with olive oil. Doesn't it look delicious? Believe me, it was!
You want to know what the most difficult thing about the paleo lifestyle is? It's blimmin' expensive. I've got an internet shop arriving tonight and, for a week's food for a family of four, the cost is going to be about £130. That's A LOT. When I was in my early 20s I was a vegan for a bit, and I could buy a week's food for £20!
What's driving the cost up? Well, to start with, loadsa meat. I only buy free range chicken, so that's expensive. Tuna steaks for four? £7. Ribeye steaks for four? £7.50. Big hunks of meat every evening - no cheapy pasta or jacket potatoes. Then breakfasts - lots more eggs than the normal family, free range of course, about £8. Smoked fish of various descriptions - not particularly expensive, but a heck of a lot dearer than a bowl of cereal.
And finally - I'm not giving the kids any puddings other than fruit, so I want them to have a nice selection. Another £15.
Haven't yet worked out how to get the cost down - at the moment I'm just concentrating on getting used to it. Good job we always go youth hostelling for our hols - the Bahamas are definitely going to be out for a while.
Postscript: The shopping just arrived and it was actually £147 - eek! Having said that, I made a mistake with quantities of beer and have ended up with 60 bottles. I do like the odd beer, but that's ridiculous.
As you can see from the blog, I have emphatically not been dieting in the traditional sense over the last few weeks. True, I've been eating more fruit and veg than previously, and, also true, I've pretty much cut out the crisps and chocolate. But I've been eating loads of meat, fat and eggs (plus too much cheese to be truly paleo!) In fact, I've been eating without restricting the quantities at all, and have been feeling pretty full most of the time.
And guess what? I've lost a bit of weight! I know this using the unarguable "trouser method". I wore the trousers I've got on today on a girls' night out a few weeks ago, before starting paleo. They were uncomfortably tight and led me to feel, frankly, shit about myself all night. And today? They're not quite as loose as they were last Christmas (lowest recent weight) but they are distinctly comfy. Happy days...
Incidentally, it's true that I've been making a bit more of an effort to exercise, and have started swimming twice a week. But I can tell you from loooong experience that that level of additional exercise will make no difference to your weight whatsoever. No, it's down to the meat and veg, man....
ps I should say that I reckon I need to lose about a stone (14lb). But it's always the last stone that's the hardest!
Looking at the last few days' posts, the obvious place where I am wildly veering off-paleo is in my cheese consumption. However looking at other blogs, a lot of people say things like "I allow myself a bit of cheese" or "if you're going to cheat, cheese is the least-worst option". I don't know what the thinking behind this is - I'm going to ask around and get back to you on that.
Disaster! The soup man wasn't there today. So what's a paleo gal to do? On campus there is only the Spar, so that's where I headed. Bought a packet of Parma ham and some Leerdammer sliced cheese. Cheese is by no means paleo, but this was an emergency and it's much, much better than bread or crisps!
So I ate three slices of Leerdammer and three slices of Parma ham at 1pm. At 3.30pm I cycled home and noted that I felt really, really full... Lasted until teatime and to be honest, I only ate dinner because I was putting it on the table for the family. It's so novel, eating delicious food that's really satisfying over a long time. Why didn't I discover this before?
I have always been one for snacking in front of the telly at night - a bag of crisps, maybe a chocolate bar - and so when we went paleo I made sure I laid in some paleo snacks, such as fish pate. I imagined myself sitting in front of the telly dipping sticks of celery in the pot.
But it hasn't turned out like that, and I've been feeding the fish pate to the kids to get it eaten up. Last night we had the Thai chicken curry. I didn't particularly have a larger portion of chicken than I would have previously, but I did have a lot more veggies. No rice though, so I think on balance the total volume eaten was the same or a bit less than an ordinary person would have.
Well, at 9.30pm, I was about to sit down in front of the telly and automatically wondered about having a snack. Then I realised that I was so full that I really, really didn't want one.
So it just goes to show - you really do eat less but feel fuller doing paleo!
Why is it that you can get a Thai curry to taste almost restaurant-quality at home, but never with an Indian curry? The prawn bhuna I made the other night was so disappointing... BUT today's Thai curry was delish. For two adults and two kids:
500g chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 tbsp thai red curry paste (more if you like it hot)
1 large onion, chopped
400ml coconut milk (I made it very thin)
2 packets Babycorn, halved lengthways
1 packet Mangetout
1/2 Cauliflower in smallish florets
Soften the onion but do not allow to colour. Add the curry paste and combine, then add the chicken and stir round until the meat is sealed. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. When the chicken is nearly cooked, add the babycorn and cauli. Wait a couple of minutes then add the mangetout. When the veg is cooked it's done!
Sorry no pic - it looked as good as it tasted - but we piled in from work/school, grabbed it out of the fridge, heated it and it was gone!
"When can we have porridge?" wails my daughter on being presented with a plate of cold hard-boiled eggs and smoked haddock. She didn't like it much, although the lobster chomped it up no problem. Actually it wasn't that nice; I followed the instructions on the packet and baked the fish, but it ended up horribly dry. Next time will poach it.
I thought this egg/fish combination would be like kedgeree but without the rice; but it wasn't anything like as nice. Maybe I should have poached both the fish and the egg? Anyway, so far the best egg/fish combo is scrambled eggs with smoked salmon (on the side, not cooked in). Mmmm.
My husband is still eating porridge. He can't keep up with me; I've been nagging him to eat porridge instead of sugary cereal for years, and now that he does I want him to eat meat! He'll come round eventually...
I've decided that I won't progress on the paleo journey unless I list everything I eat, in order to pinpoint my weaknesses. Today was an odd day because I went for a long country walk so I'll start a proper audit tomorrow, but this is what I reckon I had today:
Picnics are so much less fuss the paleo way (as long as you've got the right stuff in the fridge). No making piles of sandwiches; just reach into the fridge and pull out several packets of cold meat. Take along some tomatoes and carrot sticks (I buy these ready-prepared) and some fruit and a bottle of water, and you're away. We did this today. Having said that, we went for a long walk before lunch, and before tucking into our parma ham and bananas, we had, er, an ice-cream. Oh well.
Got home really tired and not really in the mood to make tea, so did a really quick but massively healthy meal. We had fresh tuna steaks, which cook in about 5 mins, with green beans, carrots and broccoli. I buy the veg prepared for just these situations and cooked them all in the same pan - green beans first, add the carrots after a minute, then sit the broccoli on top after another couple of mins with just the stems in the water so that they half steam. They were all done perfectly at the same time. It would have been really boring without a sauce though, but this one's gorgeous and easy:
Home made tartare sauce
You will need:
Capers or caperberries
Mayo (I use Hellmann's)
Put some gherkins, an equal volume of caperberries and a big handful of curly parsley into a mini-blender with a dsp of mayo. Blend until chopped (I did it smooth but less blending probably gives a more interesting texture). Stir in a few more dsp mayo to taste - I used three more. Perfect with pretty much any fish.
After a harmonious breakfast of boiled eggs chopped-up-in-a-cup (which my Mum used to make for me) and a potter round town, we met friends in a local vegetarian cafe for lunch. Now I don't want to stop meeting my friends for lunch, but this place is paleo-impossible! The lobster had chips and beans and I had skins with sour cream and salad. And boy did it take its toll - I had to go for a nap after lunch. It's true what they say; potatoes really do put you to sleep.
For tea I made myself a prawn bhuna. It was all right but disappointingly tasted nothing like the ones you buy from the curry house. So all in all, food today has been disappointing.
So what do you do when your kids have friends over for tea? How do you provide an unknown child with something they will probably like without resorting to beige foods? In the past our staple friends-to-tea meal has been fish fingers and chips. Obviously that's now a thing of the past. But while my kids might be happy to eat, say, fresh tuna with broccoli and carrots, their friends might completely refuse and then there would be the humiliation of telling the collecting parent that they hadn't eaten anything.
We had one of my daughter's friends over for tea tonight - a six-year-old girl - and I gave them sausages (M&S premium, wheat- and gluten-free) with mini corn on the cobs. Every last morsel was eaten and nobody commented on the lack of chips. For pudding we had lots of different types of fruit which also went down well. However some kids don't like fruit... I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. And as for the vegetarians... scrambled egg? Help!
The one meal I've been chickening out of tackling the paleo way is breakfast. There's something about first thing in the morning that makes me want sweet stuff in a way that I don't the rest of the day. I've been having Oatiflakes with skimmed milk and Splenda so far, but this is the week for a change. I've decided that the most palatable thing for me in the morning is smoked fish so I've stocked up.
So this morning I had that most English of breakfasts - kippers! Hadn't had them since I was a child. I remembered them as being full of bones, and of course they are, but so small you can just eat them. They were tasty but really shockingly salty, and also very filling - the packet in the picture contained two and I struggled to finish them. The kids helped me, though, they loved them. Next time I'll just have one. Must try different brands to see if I can reduce the saltiness, or could I maybe rinse them? Or is that just part of what kippers are?
OK, I've got to be more on the ball. My internet shop is due to be delivered tonight, and due to bad planning the fridge is empty. My husband and I got in late for lunch, both hungry; I spent 10 minutes making an egg and tuna salad, but he didn't have the patience and went for the wheat-free bread. This won't be an option for much longer, as I'm running down the stocks, but still - must be better organised to avoid hunger-induced non-paleo feeding frenzies.
Tea tonight is perforce totally scratch; chicken out of the freezer for the grown-ups, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon pate for the kids. Normally I like us all to eat the same thing at the same time, but needs must.... better than a shared bowl of pasta....