Achy Joints Update

I have a quick weekend update on the status of the inflammation. I haven’t had any official tests done, so this is purely observational. However, after 12 days, all signs of the “talking” knees and shoulders is completely gone. In fact, it was basically gone within the first 3 days of clean Paleo eating.

A few other observations:

1. My energy throughout the day is very consistent. I don’t feel like I have to have coffee to make it to the second hour of the day, and there is definitely no mid-afternoon crash. (do I sound like an ad for 5-hour-energy?)
2. I don’t really have any cravings for sugar or other things that are sweet.
3. Black coffee isn’t really that bad, and the guy that invented the Aeropress is pretty smart.
4. I really enjoy cooking.
5. A pressure cooker might be a better kitchen investment than a slow cooker.
6. There are plenty of carbohydrate options in the absense of bread, pasta, rice, beans, grains, oatmeal, etc. Plenty of vegetables with a little bit of fruit works quite well.
7. My clothes fit better. Belts are a good measuring tool. So is a work uniform that you wear everyday.
8. Rachel noticed that her teeth are whiter and cleaner without any change in her daily tooth hygeine regimen.

For anyone who is unsure that you can eat well on a Paleo/Primal plan, let me share some of our meals from last weekend.
Friday dinner: Homemade meatballs with cauliflower rice. Between the 2 of us, we ate the whole head of cauliflower. 4 or 5 homemade meatballs (no breadcrumbs needed) with homemade marinara sauce.
Saturday dinner: Baked whole chicken with brussel sprouts, bacon and onions. Strawberries with reduced balsamic vinegar for dessert. (By the way, the dinner took less than an hour to cook, from start to table.)
Sunday dinner: Blackened chicken ceasar salad with bacon. One heart of romaine each, homemade dressing, bacon. Found the recipe for the blackening spice online, and the chicken breasts took 25 minutes to cook in the oven.

Lunches mostly consisted of leftovers from earlier in the week, or a salad. Breakfast is usually eggs or leftovers or nothing.

Anyways, just wanted to share some thoughts from the past 2 weeks. I’ll have a couple of recipes and other stuff later this week.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Achy Joints

So, last week I was just minding my own business, going about my life, you know; work, coffee shop, grocery store, general errands. Just the usual day to day stuff. Then, on Wednesday, my right knee started acting up. I couldn’t make sense of why it was bothering me. I didn’t knock it against anything, I didn’t remember tweaking it or anything unusual. I just had a low level pain in it. Nothing that would prevent me from getting around, or cause me to miss work, but enough to make me aware of my knee. And in general, I don’t like to be aware of my knees. I prefer they do their job and stay “quiet”. Around the same time, I noticed my right shoulder acting up a little bit. And in general, I don’t like to be aware of my shoulders either.
The thing that bothered me the most, in all of this, is that I hadn’t done anything obvious to cause the discomfort. And this is the key, it wasn’t obvious. However, in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas I haven’t paid particularly great attention to my food choices. I’ve fallen back into eating the convenient stuff, without enough planning ahead. I’m convinced that this eating of convenience has led to the inconvenience of my knee and shoulder “talking” to me.
I just finished reading The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf, (review coming) and I’ve decided to take on a strict Paleo approach early in 2012. January 4th is my planned start date. 30 days (at least) of strict Paleo lifestyle. No wheat, grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sweeteners. Probably not a lot of eating out either. Most of you will think I’m crazy. Some of you might even say so to my face. But, I have a goal and a plan. The goal is to reduce systemic inflammation. I could just continue on my way and pop some pills whenever the problems arises, but I’ve never been one for the “band-aid on a bullet wound” approach to things. Much better to find the root cause of the problem and treat that. I have some ideas as to the results, but I will be interested to see how it actually turns out. As well, you may wonder why I’m not starting today, or on January 1st, or something along those lines. My reason is both simple and selfish. I want to watch college football on January 2nd and January 3rd without worrying about sabotaging myself. I do plan in cleaning up some things this week, like the elimination of wheat, and not eating out. As well, I will do some advance planning for the following weeks and months. I also plan on posting here throughout the 30 days. If you feel motivated, or are looking for a change, or have achy joints, or jeans that don’t fit, (and I have all of these things…) you are welcome to join me. I’m fairly confident that this will be a better New Year’s Resolution than the decision that most make each year; to go to the gym and run every morning before work. It’s a choice that is doomed from the start. If “chronic cardio” worked, we wouldn’t all be making the same resolution every year, only to give it up before Valentine’s Day, and then proceeding to blame bad genes or “just getting older.”

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

A post within a post…

So, this post is not about eating or food. I know, I owe you one, or two. I will tell you that I do have a couple of things coming regarding food. Homemade things that we always buy but really are better when made at home, if only for the reason that you know all of the ingredients involved and can spare yourself the extra preservatives and chemicals.

This is more of a wedding-ish post.

When Rachel and I got engaged in July, besides the usual questions of if we had picked a date yet and where the wedding was and all of that stuff, some of you were genuinely concerned about what we were doing for our wedding photography. I tried to assure you that we had someone in mind. Someone really, really good.

Well, the Friday after Thanksgiving, while most of you were either standing in a line to get a headstart on your Christmas shopping, were back in bed because you were already shopped out, or were watching football and eating leftovers, Rachel and I had a photo shoot with our fantastic wedding photographer, Arielle Doneson.

Right now we’re on the first page of her blog, but that will surely change within a week, as she posts more of her fantastic work. So here is the direct link to our shoot.

If you’re interested in checking it out, head over to Arielle’s blog, snoop around, leave a comment or two. Photographers love comments.

As for food. I’ll try and get something out to you before Friday. It is two of the busiest weeks of the church season, between Messiah, Lessons and Carols and Christmas Eve, but I’ll try my best. Also, a book review coming, hopefully next week.

I hope everyone is having a good holiday season so far. Try and stay sane and limit that sugar intake whenever possible. New Years Resolutions that involve going to the gym 8 days a week are only needed if you pack on the pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, make a December resolution to truly eat in moderation at those holiday parties.

And go check our Arielle’s website. And leave a comment. Please. 🙂

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

The best homemade stock. Guaranteed.

Quite the promise there in the title, isn’t it? And this from a guy that doesn’t have much experience making or using stock. But I have done a little bit of interweb sleuthing, and a small bit of experimenting, and what I am about to report is true.

If you are willing to take a little bit of time, you will NEVER have to search the bottom shelf at the grocery for your favorite low-sodium chicken or vegetable or beef stock ever again.

Now, you might want to keep a container or two of the store-bought stuff in the back of the pantry, because emergencies do happen, but with a little bit of planning you should be fully stocked with the homemade stuff in no time. And, for those watching sodium intake, our batch will be the lowest sodium.

The trick to the whole process is a pressure cooker. That’s right, that funny looking pot that your parents have in the cupboard and you remember seeing as a kid. The pot with the weird weight, wiggling on the top. The same pressure cooker that you didn’t register for when you were engaged because you figured there was no point. Well, I’m here to tell you, there is a point. And homemade stock is just the beginning. A pressure cooker, you see, changes the physics of cooking. And anything that can change physics without needing 1.21 gigawatts of energy and disrupting the space-time continuum, is alright by me.

At its core, the pressure cooker will allow its contents to cook at a higher temperature than boiling, which is 212F. Most standard pressure cookers create 15psi, which creates a lot of steam and a cooking temperature of around 257F, I think. The result is a remarkable extraction of flavor from whatever is in the pot, and a much reduced cooking time. 45 minutes for stock from a pressure cooker, versus 4-8 hours in a traditional stock pot.

If you are not familiar, pressure cookers come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 4 quarts to 10 quarts, generally in 2 quart increments. They aren’t the cheapest piece of kitchen equipment, but I’m willing to bet that after cooking a couple of meals and making a couple batches of stock, you’ll never question the price. Also, Christmas is coming, so maybe it’s something to add to your wishlist. I would imagine a 6 quart cooker will do for most everyone’s needs, but if you have a really big family, maybe 8 quarts is better. If it’s just 2 of you, or just you alone, 4 quarts would probably get the job done. Rachel and I registered for a “pressure cooker 2-pack”: 4 quarts and 8 quarts.

For your most flavorful batch of stock, you will need 2 things. More time and more chicken parts. By more time, I mean 45 minutes to an hour. If you don’t have 60 minutes or you need the stock in a hurry, cook it for less time. My guess is, you’ll see results starting at 20 minutes. It will still be better than store-bought, but not as good as 45-60 minutes under pressure. More chicken parts is just what it sounds like. If you’ve made a couple attempts at cooking a whole chicken, you should have a couple of backbones and possibly a leftover carcass or two. If you’ve been saving these in the freezer, today is the day to let them loose. In addition to your backbones and carcasses, you will probably want to add some actual chicken meat. Bones will provide a good amount of gelatin, but having some actual meat in the pot will provide the depth of flavor and quality that we are after. If you check at your local grocery, you will likely be able to find packages of chicken necks and backs, as well as livers and hearts. Trust me, I’m not ready to eat them either, but they will do wonders for your stock. And they are cheap. If you don’t see them in the grocery meat cooler, ask the butcher. Your other option is to add chicken wings. If you do add the wings, cut them at the knuckles so there is more surface area. For myself, I would rather eat chicken wings while watching football, but, to each their own.

To make the actual stock, you will just need a couple of things in addition to your pressure cooker and chicken parts. A carrot, some celery, an onion, (referred to as mirepoix), some herbs and some water. Parsley, thyme and bay leaf are the most traditional herbs. If you want to be particularly fancy, you can make a bouquet garni. If you’re feeling less fancy, or don’t want to buy kitchen twine, you can just add the herbs loose.

The process is then quite simple. Roughly chop the carrot, celery and onion. Add them to the cooker with the chicken and herbs. Cover with water. You don’t have to measure the water, just don’t overfill your pressure cooker. Check the user manual to see what is recommended. From here, lock down the lid on the pressure cooker and place the weight on top. Heat on high until the pressure cooker locks, then turn down the heat (usually between 3 and 4 is good) until the weight on top jiggles back and forth constantly. The jiggling weight is the key. This is your “simmer”. Let it jiggle for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes or so, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and let the pressure dissipate.. This happens naturally and will take around 15-20 minutes. If you’re in a rush, or are impatient like me, you can run the pressure cooker under cold water. Regardless of the method you choose, DO NOT REMOVE THE WEIGHT FROM THE TOP OF THE PRESSURE COOKER UNTIL THE PRESSURE IS RELEASED. Once the lid “unlocks”, you can remove the weight. What you should have inside is the most flavorful, golden chicken stock you’ve ever made. Strain the stock into another pot or large bowl, through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Once it cools, you should have a layer of fat that separates from the stock. Skim and dispose. You can then store your stock in fridge for a few (3) days, or in the freezer for a few (4ish) months. If freezing, you can use ice-cube trays, which will allow you to use what you need in a reasonable portion. As well, if you like a more concentrated flavor, you can reduce the stock, on the stove top. After straining and skimming, before freezing. Feel free to experiment.

If your preference, or need, is to make vegetable or beef stock, the process is the same. For the beef stock, substitute beef bones and/or oxtails. You might have to make a request with the butcher, but this shouldn’t be a problem. For the vegetable stock, feel free to add leeks, parsnips, fennel, tomato, and/or mushrooms.

For those of you that are wondering, I used this technique for the first time last week, on Thanksgiving. I was in need of stock for the Turkey Giblet Gravy, and I didn’t want to go to the store. I also didn’t think it would be very good if I just used water. So, I used the turkey neck, carrots, celery, onion, leek, parsley, sage and thyme. My experience with a pressure cooker is limited, but the interwebs said to pressure cook for 30 minutes. My mom, the owner of the pressure cooker, insisted that 20 minutes was plenty. So we cooked for 20 minutes. The turkey neck absolutely fell apart, and the neck meat was “hand-shreddable.” And the gravy that we made later that afternoon was excellent, and gluten-free. A potato starch slurry worked quite well for thickening.

Hopefully one of you will find this useful. If you try it out I would love to hear how about it.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick