Halloween (Mostly) Paleo Party

As I’ve mentioned before, E.J. and I do a lot of entertaining.  We have 3 major parties every year (New Years, Summer Birthdays, and Halloween) and many minor ones scattered in between (St. Patrick’s Day, July 4, Memorial Day, etc.) and then there are the big family holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.  All in all, we do a lot of big meals and big party spreads on a fairly regular basis, which is particularly challenging when it comes to a major shift in your diet like our transition to Paleo.

More and more of our close friends have made the transition, or are at least trying to eat more like E.J. and I do, so that takes the pressure off a bit, but in the end the goal is to make a tasty spread without a ton of leftovers we can’t eat.

Here is what the menu looked like for the Halloween party we had this past weekend

For the non-paleo folks, I added:

  • Tortilla & potato chips
  • Green onion dip
  • Rice Krispy treats

These last few items were special request from my mom on the understanding that any leftovers would be quickly handled so they wouldn’t tempt me or go to waste.

There were lots of compliments on the food options, and all in all, I think the party was a success.  Special thanks to Elaine and Anita for their help getting ready Friday so I could get all of it done!


Falling off the Wagon Gracefully

This weekend, E.J. and I had short vacation in Nacogdoches, TX where we went zip-lining, hiking, and shopping.  We also fell off the wagon a little bit, which is honestly bound to happen occasionally.  As tough as E.J. is on sticking to his plan, travel (especially for vacation) just requires a little leeway.  What’s interesting though is HOW we choose to go off the rails, now that we’ve been Paleo for over a year.

First, it is done with great care and consideration.  Neither of us mindlessly eats junk anymore. We think about each option and opportunity, and consciously choose when we’re going to eat something off-plan.  Here are a few of the things that go through my mind when I’m making that decision:

  • When was the last time I had this food?  Is there a Paleo analogue that I’ve enjoyed recently?  Am I likely to have the opportunity to have it again in the future?  Local delicacies and special occasions or holidays warrant some extra consideration too.  (i.e. when they buy you a cake for your birthday at work, you eat a small piece of cake.  Period.)
  • When was the last time I had something non-Paleo?  Today?  Last Week?  Last month?  When on vacation, I try not to be bad more than once a day, and even every other day if possible.
  • Am I willing to suffer the intestinal consequences of this choice?  At this point, every time I eat something off the plan, I end up with bloating at a minimum, and in many cases, severe abdominal pain, nausea, and/or gas.  Is the food I want to eat really worth it?

Generally, these internal questions guide me away from the common junk (chips & salsa, pasta, rice, bread, etc) and allow me to only step out of bounds when the occasion truly calls for it.  This weekend, we stayed at a bed and breakfast where the breakfast included biscuits and pancakes.  Was it worth it?  Yes, if for no other reason than because it pleased the grandmotherly lady that ran the place (though they really were delicious), but I certainly suffered for it afterward.  I was glad to be back on-plan today.  I just feel so much better when I stay the course.

Paleo Prep Shortcuts

This weekend marks the beginning of the Fall busy season for E.J. and I.  We have some kind of activity or even scheduled every weekend from now through mid-December, which means it’s going to be tough to find time to do full-on meal prep Sundays.  For E.J and I, meal prepping weekends have been crucial to our success, so how do we find the time to squeeze in 3 or 4 dishes of cooking with all of the other weekend work?   Here are some of my meal prep shortcuts:

  • Instant Pot – If you haven’t yet jumped on the Instant Pot craze, you should definitely look into it.  I use mine every weekend, mostly for making quick vegetable sides (sweet potatoes, beets, etc), but I’ve also cooked a whole chicken and done some stews in it. In less than an hour – this one is a huge time saver and doesn’t use the oven or stove, so it’s great for multitasking.
  • Slow Cooker – If you’re going to be out all day (sporting events, fairs, band performances) the Crock Pot is the way to go.  Chili, pot roast, chicken, pulled pork, lasagna, etc. – this one is great for starting it in the morning (or load the insert the night before and put it in the fridge before starting the cook in the morning) and letting it do the work for you all day.
  • Electric Smoker – Like the slow cooker, low and slow 225 degree smoking is really easy and can be left going all day while you’re out and about.  Brisket, Ribs, and Pork shoulder all need more than 7 hours of smoking time, which is good for set and forget cooking.  Of course, it’s better if you can put a little more wood on it throughout the smoking process, but it still works even if it’s unattended.  Just make sure it’s nice an low heat for safety.
  • Frozen Meals – Sometimes there’s just no time to cook at all, and this is when it’s great to have some frozen meals ready to just thaw, heat and eat.  Soup, chili, sausage, fish, and shrimp are great for this approach, and are also a great way to add some variety in the middle of the week if some of your weekend prep meals are starting to bore you.
  • Ultimate Cheat: Buy it Cooked – this weekend we headed out to Luling, TX for an Intro to Hang Gliding class (it was a blast, I highly recommend it) and decided to just stay the night in San Antonio rather than drive back to Houston.  We knew it would likely be 5 or 6pm by the time we got home, and since we stayed the night, there wasn’t an opportunity to start something in a smoker or slow cooker.  So what’s a Paleo food prepper to do?  BBQ for the win!  Most of the BBQ houses that you buy from out in the country make and season their own meats and don’t put in all of the additives that you get in the grocery store.  Many times just a quick ask of their ingredients in sausage and rubs will tell you if they add sugar or not, and if not, you’re golden.  Make sure you have cash in hand for the best deal, but if you can buy 4-8 lbs of meat and then Instant Pot & oven roast some veggies to go with it, you’re good to go for your whole week.

Achievement Unlocked: Paleo Tortillas

Hello Paleo Peeps!  It’s the first day of fall, and it’s still 90 degrees outside… what gives?  We’ve got football, pumpkin spice, apples, and Christmas stuff hitting the stores already…and the weather is just not cooperating.  Hopefully all that rain their forecasting for this weekend will finally bring that first cool front through, because I’ve got some cute new boots that I’m dying to wear.

Anywho, this past weekend, I decided to make yet another try at Paleo tortillas to go with some marinated skirt steak and nopales (cactus) that E.J. was jonesing for.  Every prior attempt at tortillas has been highly disappointing – too crumbly, messy, or pancaky – and I just need a go-to option here.  Finally, I think I have it, and it’s simpler than I thought.  Enter Paleo Tortilla recipe from Paleo Porn.  Ok, first, is that not the greatest website name, or what?  Second, these tortillas were the bomb.  They were chewy and bendy, yet strong enough to wrap around a hunk of meat, veggies and sauce, and still hold for a burrito-like bite.   Obviously with the copious amounts of tapioca flour, they can’t be a regular thing, but for the occasional Mexican food fix, they’re perfect.  I used the cast iron skillet as recommended and was rewarded with perfectly sized and flippable portions.

Some other successes for the week included Salisbury Steak and this amazing Cinnamon Butternut Squash and Plantain with Apples.  My grocery store didn’t have green plantains, so I left them out, but there’s something about cinnamon apples & anything that just gives me the warm-fuzzies of fall… even when someone forgot to tell mother nature what season it is.

Pumpkin-palooza Sunday

I don’t know about you, but I love Fall.  With the return of reasonable temperatures, Fall is always a busy time in the Houston area, and this year will be no exception.  We have something fun planned almost every weekend from mid-September to early December and I am truly looking forward to all of the adventures.  But last year in our dedication to Whole 30 and our early Paleo effort, we missed out on one of the best flavors of the season – Pumpkin Spice.  So this year, I decided to dedicate this week to all things pumpkin and find some new healthier ways to get my fix.

We started off Sunday with an easy new favorite, Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes from Practical Paleo (say that 5 times fast).  These were really yummy, and showed off that lovely cinnamon & pumpkin flavor as a great starter for the day.  I cooked them a little longer than I probably should have, but they are very likely to make a return visit for weekend breakfasts this fall.

img_1923Then, I started on some savory lunches for the week.  Pureed pumpkin lends itself very well to soups and stews, so I ended up doing a soup and a chili in the crock pot.  The Paleo Pork and Pumpkin Chili from Primally Inspired, has some real kick to it with the chipotle peppers and canned green chiles, and really you can’t tell that its made with pumpkin.  The flavors all meld into a nice even chili flavor, and the pork roast meat is an interesting departure from our classic Texas chili which always uses beef.

For the classic creamy Pumpkin soup, I tried Pumpkin and Chorizo Soup from Primal Palate.  This one really turned interesting.  I kept waffling between bacon and chorizo in this dish, and went with the chorizo only because I thought it might be an interesting flavor combination. IMG_1918.JPG I liked it more than I thought I would, but because I unintentionally ended up using a Hatch Chile chorizo, it had quite a spicy kick to it.  I don’t know that I would use that kind of meat again in the future, but E.J. loved the spicy twist.

Next I tried this Paleo Pumkin Cream Chicken Casserole from PaleOMG.  It was actually pretty simple to put together, and I really enjoyed the bit I tried when it first came out of the oven.  I’m looking forward to enjoying this one for lunches during the week.

I also made this Sweet Potato Pumpkin Shepherd’s Pie from WhitneyBond.com.  I’d not seen a shepherd’s pie made with a topping like this, but it looked awesome.  I used ground beef instead of turkey , but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.  I have this for lunch today and can’t wait to dig in!img_1922

And for the finale, I made Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies from Paleo Running Momma.  Oh man, these things are TO DIE FOR.  Brendon tried one last night and said they were probably the best brownies he’s ever had.  They’re very dark, with 85% chocolate chunks and the raw cacao that I used instead of cocoa.  Pure awesome.  Definitely making these again!

Happy Pumpkin Season!



Party Foods!

This weekend we had some friends over to say img_1905goodbye to the summer with a good old fashioned Labor Day weekend pool party.  Most of our friends are now down with the Paleo thing, so I got to flex my kitchen muscles a little bit and try some new baked goods and dips.

I have to say it all turned out pretty yummy, so I’ll be adding these to my recommended recipes page shortly:

  • Lemon, Coconut & Blueberry Muffins – I followed the recipe here as written, except for adding about 1 cup of fresh blueberries to the mix before baking… Yum!!
  • Paleo Sour Cream & Onion Dip – This one is made with cashew cheese – I’m still working on how to get the really creamy texture, but the flavor was really great.
  • Rosemary Crackers – I am addicted to these things.  They are light and crisp and nutty, and a perfect companion to the Roasted Beet Dip.
  • Paleo Carrot Cake – So this very tasty, but quite different from regular carrot cake in texture and flavor.  You can really taste the orange peel in it, for starters, and mine came out a lot more like a torte, rather than a cake – very dense.   But all in all, I think it was pretty good.
  • Paleo Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip – OMG, this stuff is crack.  Granted, there’s a ton of coconut sugar in it, so it’s very sweet, but wow is it yummy.  If you’re a pumpkin spice junky, this is a great fix.  Especially with…
  • Paleo Apple Chips – this week there were honeycrisp apples featured and on sale in the grocery store, and honestly I think they make the best chips

And then there was the coup de grace, the Crusty Paleo Bread loaf.  Oh, where have you been for the last year of my life?  This yeasty bread came out perfectly golden and delicious – sliced well and held it’s shape to be slathered with butter, pate, pumpkin dip, or whatever I had lying around.   I know this recipe is going to be pulled out for every holiday from now on – it’s that good…

Of course, after gorging myself on all of this stuff, brisket, sausage, paleo cole slaw, sweet potatoes, and balsamic brussels sprouts, the scale is not my friend.  Ah well, it was another lovely diversion, but now it’s back to the daily routine.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today is our 1 year anniversary of when we started our Paleo journey.  E.J. and I have been through a lot of changes this year – not just with the lifestyle changes and weight loss, but also with our careers.  I can honestly say I took some giant leaps out of my comfort zone in the last year, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the result.  I’ve managed to achieve 2 really big goals of mine all in the span of that year, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the next.


Here are some important life lessons I’ve learned in the last year:

  • Fat doesn’t make me fat – In fact, for me, eating foods with natural fat keep me fuller longer, and makes digestion easier
  • Sugar is not as awesome as I used to think, and I actively choose to avoid it – In the beginning, I wasn’t sure I could actually stop eating sugary foods.  I had such a strong sugar addiction that I had incredibly nasty withdrawal symptoms during my Whole30, and really struggled to find ways to cope with stress that didn’t involve something sweet.  I can say that I still get cravings occasionally today, but I have found that a small paleo treat after dinner every 2 or 3 days is my “sweet” spot as it were.  Anything more than that (like the sugar overload I allowed myself on my birthday this week) and I’m dealing with bloating, shaking, acne, and stomach aches.  So I know my limits, understand the consequences, and feel like I can actively choose when to treat myself, and when I just don’t want to deal with it.  That for me is a breakthrough – I’m in control for the first time in my life.
  • I can maintain a lower weight without exercise – This seems like a simple thing, but to me, it was a huge revelation.  When my job situation changed this summer, my stress-level went through the roof and my schedule changed.  I wasn’t sleeping well on top, so getting up and running in the morning wasn’t happening.  Initially, I was getting a bit depressed, thinking that all of the hard work I had done over the year was going to be wasted, but I didn’t gain the weight back.  In fact I still lost, just much more slowly by just continuing my new eating habits and limiting the sugar.
  • I can go off the rails for special occasions and get back on again – Again, this is something that people often worry about and struggle with.  I’ve certainly fallen “off the wagon” in previous diets which led to scrapping the entire effort.  But at this point, with this effort, I can say that eating sugary foods and breads truly feels like an exception, and I while I don’t regret my choices, I look forward to getting back to “normal” because of how much better I feel.
  • Life is better without junk food – I think I spent the majority of my life so far not really believing that concept.  I believed that junk food was one of life’s great happiness-generators, and that my life was richer because I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  But this is a bit of a lie, or at least a half-truth.  The truth is that while I do miss a few junky foods, I don’t feel like my life is unfulfilled because I’ve removed them from my regular diet.  The way I see it, they’re like an amusement park – fun to visit now and then, but generally less enjoyable and downright ugly to live there long term.  I look and feel so much better than I ever have, and so many of my ailments have cleared up, that I’m not just ok with not eating the junk, but I’m glad I don’t anymore.

I hope some or all of these revelations speak to you in some way, and that you will consider making a change in your life that takes you outside of your comfort zone.  I’m sure glad I did!