Today’s Experiments

Well, it’s Sunday Cookday again, so I’ve spent most of the day in the kitchen again.  I started with a recipe from a new blog I found this weekend – Paleo Pot.  The band that I’m in with E.J. and our daughter, Gelli, is getting ready to start playing weekly on Sundays and I’m just not going to have the time in the kitchen I used to have, which means I need to find ways to start doing more in the smoker and slow cooker.

To start, I chose this Hungry Man Sweet Potato Casserole which looks really delicious, but I don’t know yet because it’s been cooking all day and will sit in the fridge all day tonight.  I did 1 lb beef and 1 lb pork and used Northwoods seasoning from Penzey’s.  I also used the rest of the bacon that E.J. made from scratch last week, so I can’t wait to try it tomorrow at lunch.

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I also made a pot of our favorite chili, a batch of paleo almond butter cups from Primal Palate, and this Orange Chipotle Shrimp with Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower rice.  All of these turned out fantastic.  The almond butter cups are really nice – not as sweet as Reece’s but a nice freezable treat that can be pulled out when the cravings really start hitting.  The Shrimp was not as spicy as I thought it would be, but along with a side of sauteed zucchini with tomatoes and chiles, it was quite tasty.  E.J. asked to add it to the regular rotation, so that’s a pretty nice endorsement.

 

Allergies

I’ve been a moderate to severe allergy sufferer all of my life.  When I was little, I was the kid who always had a stuffy nose, but I guess mom and I both chalked it up to kids passing germs around and generally being a kid.  It wasn’t until our cat passed away, and we went to visit a family member who had several that we realized how severe my allergy to cats is.  I remember on that visit, my entire face swelled up, I started sneezing uncontrollably, and couldn’t breathe well again for hours afterward.  We had to leave early because my reaction was so bad and I wasn’t prepared for it.  I think I was about 9 or 10 when that happened.

Since then, I have kept a respectful distance from cats whenever possible (except for that stint in college when my roommate sold me on this adorably cute kitten, for which I paid dearly).  And I always carry or take allergy medicine before I visit people with cats, just to be on the safe side.  Generally, these simple precautions have been enough to keep me clear – except for springtime (pine pollen, anyone?) and a week or so in the fall when the fronts blow through ragweed and other nasty things in the air.

Invariably, I have always suffered horrible nasal congestion in early March, both because of the pollens, and because I find the need to brave the outdoors for a few weekends to do yard work in the spring – cutting back overgrowth, weeding, trimming, and planting spring flowers and herbs.   I have always assumed that the discomfort and sleepless nights were a necessary evil for enjoying the outdoors this time of year….until this one.

I’m not sure exactly why, but after doing all of my annual trimming & planting, and even hanging out on patios with friends, I’m actually breathing pretty well this year without medication.  Yesterday I had a minor sniffle, for which I took Benedryl (which typically wouldn’t make a dent in my congestion. Normally I had to have pseudoephedrin or nasal spray to get any relief at all) and it cleared right up.

So what’s different?  There are really only 2 things I can point to that are happening this year.  One, I’ve lost 55 lbs (made it official this morning) and I know I’ve lost a lot of that weight in my face, which probably also translates to clearer nasal and sinus passages in general.  And two, I’ve added a whole lot of local raw honey to my diet as a part of our paleo eating.  Oddly enough, another allergy-related problem has also magically cleared up – my dry, scaly elbows.  I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I didn’t have rough elbows, and they were always worse in the spring and fall along with my other allergies.  They’ve both cleared up to the point that they only feel a little dry.

I know they “say” that honey fights allergies, but wow, I didn’t know it could practically eliminate them!  Yay for Paleo!

New Adventures

One of the big advantages to losing weight is that you have a lot more energy and confidence, which naturally lends one to do things they might not have otherwise done…

That would at least explain why I agreed to get in a car and drift around a race track with my son on Sunday.  Race cars are his passion, and he’s been working on this one now for a few months.  I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to ride with him, but I’m glad I did in the end.  It was really a lot of fun!

As a way to celebrate our new lease on life, E.J. and I have started putting together a bucket list – both one with local things here in Houston, and global adventures we’d like to take on someday.  I may not be able to experience them all, but I’d like to take a shot at it now that our kids are grown and we don’t yet have grand-kids to spoil.

Some of the things on my list:

  • Indoor Skydiving (I’m way too much of a chicken to try the real thing)
  • Dance Lessons
  • Parasailing
  • Hang Gliding
  • Kayaking
  • Zip-lining
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Bouncing at a trampoline park
  • Whale watching

I’ve got a couple of these scoped out already, but I figure if I can arrange about one adventure a month, that would really help me knock things off the list.

What kind of adventures have you had that I really need to try?

Irish Paleo

So last Friday night, we held our annual St. Patty’s day ‘dinner and a movie’ party, where we enjoy traditional Irish foods and watch The Boondock Saints.   This is like the 10th year we’ve done it, and though the technology in the movie gets more and more ancient, we still love it, and pretty much quote along with it the whole time.

Every year, I make corned beef and cabbage, but for the last several, I’ve added another dish called a Dublin coddle, which is basically a baked casserole with sausage, bacon, potatoes, onions, and carrots.  While E.J. and I have been trying to avoid white potatoes as a general rule, they’re not exactly forbidden in a Paleo diet, so with the assurance of sugar and nitrate-free sausage from Bellville Meat Market, making the dish compliant was not a big deal.

The real stars of the show, however, were the Paleo Irish soda bread, courtesy of Elana’s Pantry and the Paleo Irish Mint Patties, from Delighted Momma.   I made 2 loaves of the soda bread, and only added a handful of raisins to make it more like the breads we have traditionally bought from the store.  The result was fantastic, and people couldn’t believe that there was no wheat flour in it.

For dessert, the Paleo Irish Mint Patties were also a hit, though I added coconut butter to the recipe to get more of a peppermint patty-like creme consistency for the inside.  It was just one more example of the many delicious things we CAN have with this new way of eating, and just reinforces what we’ve learned about Paleo:  It’s not about what you can’t have;  it’s about enjoying food in a different way.

One of our closest couple friends have started trying to eat Paleo starting after the Super Bowl, and he’s lost about 15 lbs and she’s lost a pant size.  It’s unbelievable what a difference removing empty carbs and refined sugar can make.

Garden Plans

It’s day 3 of our annual spring welcoming storm, and it looks like we have 2 more days of cloudy weather to go.   That’s the bad news.

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The good news is that it looks like we’re going to have a nice weekend again, so hopefully I’ll get to plant some herbs in my herb garden.  I love having fresh herbs to cook with in the spring & summer.  Typically basil and oregano grow like weeds here, but I also like having rosemary (if I can keep it from drying out and/or drowning to death), thyme, sage, & parsley.

I usually try to grow tomatoes and peppers too, but end up fighting the birds for the fruit, so I don’t know if I’ll plant them this year.  Maybe I’ll just rely on our local farmer’s markets.  There’s nothing better than a fresh vine ripe tomato.  Mmmm.

One thing I get to enjoy year-round though is green onions.  Did you know that when you buy green onions at the store, if you leave most of the white part with the roots, and cut just into the green, you can plant the root part and it will grow?  I’ve done this now with several bunches of onions, and while not all of them will grow, about half will if I do it soon after I purchased them from the store.   I now have a nice bunch of green onions that produce for me pretty much year round if we don’t get any severe freezes.  Whenever I need a couple of tablespoons for cooking, I just head outside with the kitchen shears and cut off a few “leaves”.  They taste so much brighter in your recipes when they’re fresh from the garden.

Anyway, there was a short break in the rain this morning where I was able to take Buddy for a 15 minute walk in the neighborhood.  I really could just use a good run though.  Today I’ll probably head to the mall again at lunch so I can at least stretch my legs and keep moving.

 

Rainy Days

We’ve had overcast skies now since yesterday morning, and today it’s actively drizzling. I don’t know if it’s because of the disappointment at losing 2 people in our I.T. department this week, or if it’s the lack of sunshine, but my craving for sweets and/or snacks has been absolutely out of control since yesterday.  As far as I’ve come, I think I could still sit down with a box of Thin Mints and finish both sleeves without breaking a sweat right now.

Ok, I probably would break a sweat as my stomach did somersaults afterward, but you get what I mean.  I’m tired and a tiny bit depressed, and just want something to make me feel better.   I can’t even go for a walk in the sun, which typically helps for some reason when I’ve got cravings.

Of course, when it gets bad like this, I lean on my hubby, if not directly, then at least in spirit.  Wouldn’t he be disappointed it me?  I would probably feel guilty as hell about it and have a stomach ache to boot.  And he would have no sympathy either.  Damn it.

Ok, new plan.  Obviously wallowing in whatever this is and giving into cravings isn’t healthy behavior.  And whatever leftovers they just said are sitting in the breakroom for anyone who wants some probably aren’t all that good anyway.  So, I’m going to get up from my desk and find someplace where I can do some stretching.  Not for long, but just long enough to refocus and try to dig into a project that will keep my mind occupied for the rest of the afternoon.  Hopefully I can make it through the rest of the day and not do something stupid.

FOLLOW UP:  I ended up finding a quiet room for some good stretching, and then walking down 8 floors in the stairwell and coming back up.  My thighs are burning a bit, but now my heart rate is up, I’ve got a fresh glass of ice water with lemon, and I’m ready to tackle the afternoon.  Yay, willpower!

Spring Weekend in Houston

So I know the official first day of spring isn’t until the 20th, but down here in Houston, springtime starts in late February, early March when the temperatures warm back up into the 70s and the pine pollen bursts into the air to kick off our spring allergy season.  Aside from the pollen-laden air, the weather was simply perfect this weekend, with highs around 80 and lows around 70.  That means that it was time to come out from our air-conditioned cocoons and enjoy the outdoors with friends.

Well, first it meant getting some outdoor chores done, then hanging out with friends.  Saturday morning found E.J. and I staining our poor weathered fence, which looks much nicer now that it’s done.

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By 2 pm, our friends arrived just in time to help with the complicated staining around the AC compressors and help clean it all up.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to things we all love – sun, water, and food.  Before we started the fence project, E.J. looked up a couple of recipes for paleo wings in the smoker.  He made 2 different kinds, both which marinaded for 4 hours while we worked on the fence, and then went in the smoker for about an hour and a half, and finally finished on the grill for a nice crispy outside.  They were fantastic, and we paired them with some oven roasted asparagus and sweet potato bites. Yum!!

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We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon sitting by the pool (or in the hot tub) and enjoying the gorgeous weather and good company.  Then we headed out to see Whisky Tango Foxtrot at our local movie theater to cap off the day.

Sunday started like my typical cook-day with laundry, 2 lbs of fried bacon, and E.J’s requested Tex Mex Casserole to enjoy for lunches this week.  But we were invited to go over and watch the Vegas NASCAR race at our friend’s place, and I needed to bring a paleo snack to share.

I decided to take inspiration from our recent visit to Corner Table, a fantastic restaurant we found that has special Paleo dishes, including appetizers and desserts.  E.J. and I really enjoy their Beet Root Hummus appetizer, so I decided to see if I could make my own.  I used this Roasted Beet Dip recipe and then made my own savory almond “crackers” to dip in it adapted from a recipe in my Against all Grain cookbook for “chips” for salsa.

The result was very tasty, and while not everyone was with me on the beets (my son wasn’t a fan, but our hosts liked it), everyone liked the crackers.  I think I’ll be playing with that recipe again in the future to see what other varieties I can come up with.

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