Monday 29 August 2011

Primal spaghetti squash "salad" with feta and cranberries

This recipe is an unabashed attempt to duplicate a spaghetti squash side that I had at a little café the other day.

I was starving, which usually doesn't bode well for a primal forager in my 'hood. The best I can usually do is sashimi, which is great, but expensive. Happily, I came across this dish and jumped at it as it seemed amazingly primal. It looked gorgeous and tasted even more delicious than looked.

I'm pretty happy with my version of it. I'd be happy to take it to or serve it at a dinner party. Its lime-vinegar dressing makes it refreshing on a hot summer night.

This made a lot of salad, but it was so good, Marcus and I ate it in 2 meals. Feel free to scale as you wish.


  • 2 medium sized spaghetti squash
  • 1/4 cup cold pressed olive oil 
  • 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 150 grams goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened, dried cranberries
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • juice of 1/2 - 1 lime
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Wash the squashes, pierce in several spots with a knife, and cook both in the microwave on High for 10-15 minutes. Turn once or twice while cooking as they tend to get soft at the spot they sit on. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash and the power of your microwave. For 2 squashes, I'd recommend checking at 10 minutes; in about 7 minutes for one. The squash should be soft when you press it. It can be overcooked and then you will have mush instead of strings so err on the side of caution. It will continue to cook a little more once you take it out of the microwave. If its still undercooked you can microwave it again once out of its shell.

Once you are happy that it is cooked, let the squash cool a little, then cut in half and scoop out and discard the seeds. With a fork, and gently scrape out the strands. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Put squash in a large, non reactive (glass) bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently until thoroughly mixed. Taste and adjust ingredients and seasonings to your own preference.

We had it with whole barbequed salmon but I think it would also be great with some seasoned, grilled chicken breast.

Got a favourite spaghetti squash recipe? Please share!

Sunday 21 August 2011

WWGD - What Would Grok Do?

The blackberries are just starting to ripen. My walk with the dogs now includes bringing a bucket and, as Marcus observed,  gear fit for the zombie apocalypse. The fire ants are horrible this year so I've had to resort to close fitting pants over boots with the cuffs taped to the boots to prevent stings. The berries are gorgeous however, so I'm not going to let the ants or the brambles stand in my way.

Blackberry season makes me feel like gathering and preserving like no other time of year. I find myself quite introspective on the walks back to the car, thinking about what it was like for our early ancestors and wondering about this sort of soundless, unconscious urge to gather and store food.

Perhaps because of me noticing this urge in myself, I think about what moves us as humans. Not as modern societal human, but what moves us instinctively. Or maybe it's the reverse. Maybe because I increasingly think about how humans "should" eat and move, like how we did when we were hunting and gathering to live, then I'm more aware of these urges within myself. It makes me think about how we really are creatures of our ancestral environment even though we feel so far removed from it now.

For example, I find it fascinating that fructose (the sugar found in fruits and berries) interferes in several ways with leptin (a satiety hormone) and also with insulin. This means that eating fructose means we don't feel as full as fast, so we eat more and gain body fat. Berries and fruits in the wild often ripen in late summer and early fall. As they ripen, the sugar (fructose) content rises and makes them more delicious to eat. It makes sense that we developed this response to fructose as it would trigger us to put on fat in preparation for colder temperatures and reduced food supplies. Developing a response to available fructose would have been a great design for ancestral humans, especially those in temperate climates.

The problem is that modern fruits and berries are bred to be much sweeter than they were in the wild, and they are available all year 'round. If the theory holds true, then by eating large amounts of fruit, we are basically continually telling our bodies that winter is coming and we need to get fat. Just another contributor to the prevalence of obesity we see these days.

There are many more examples like this, and as I mull on them during my walks, my thinking always comes back to: "What would Grok do?" What would our ancestors have had available, how would they have gotten it, how much would have been available and what would the nutritional content have been? For me, I find this is a great guide as to how I should eat, exercise and even sleep (although sleeping like Grok really isn't possible with a real world work schedule, at least not yet).

Maybe fructose is one of many subtle signals, along with shortening day length, changing quality of light and warmth of the sun, which triggers me to gather and put aside food for the coming winter. Whatever it is, I know that friends and family are happy with my little urges, as they benefit with jars of jelly and jam, perhaps tarter than they are used to, but delicious none the less.

Anyone else get the urge to preserve this time of year? Any other paleo or primals notice this effect? Please share!

If you want to know more about primal living, or ancestral philosophy of eating and living (some people also call it the caveman diet), Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple wrote a great book called The Primal Blueprint. Pick it up  for a compelling overview of how to combine evolutionary biology with modern living. Then perhaps, like me, you will give it a try and be prone to fits of philosophical musings. Oh, and also feel better than you ever have before.

Monday 15 August 2011

Perfect Primal Mayonnaise

After much trial and error,  I think Ive perfected the stick blender method. Stick (immersion) blender mayonnaise is super easy, fast, and almost infallible. If you own a stick blender, here's my recipe. If you don't own a stick blender and you love mayonnaise, get one! For those that want to "stick" with the beater method, read on.

I love me some mayonnaise, but Marcus REALLY loves him some mayonnaise.

However, I shudder every time I think about what is in the Hellman's I still love. Even worse is the Hellman's made with canola oil and marketed as heart healthy. There are so many things wrong with that declaration that I don't know even where to start. How can any oil that is subjected to high heat, degumming, deorderizing, and bleaching be good for you? Whatever heart healthy Omega-3s there were in the beginning have long since been oxidized out of existence. What's left is proinflammatory trans-fat. Healthy? Ha! Besides, there is more and more evidence that shows the whole heart disease-saturated fat link is non existent.

Okay, rant over.

But, we still love mayo. Which has sent me on the quest to make a perfect mayonnaise. Mayo is made from egg yolks (or even the whole egg), vinegar and/or lemon juice, and a lot of oil. Which oil to choose has been an interesting adventure. We want to choose an oil that is healthy, but also has the right taste and the right texture.

I tried with cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), but the olive oil taste was overwhelming. Olive oil also makes it an interesting greenish colour which is neither here nor there except that it looks weird. Primal Kid refused to believe it was mayonnaise.

I next tried with coconut oil à la Mark's Daily Apple, but it solidified even at room temperature. It was pretty bland as well. I also tried with grapeseed oil, but it was boring too. Besides, its fatty acid profile isn't that spectacular either. I gave up on it for a while, but recently tried again and I think I've hit on a pretty darn good combo, if I do say so myself.

Anyone who has ever made mayonnaise knows that it can be finicky to make. It takes patience and cannot be rushed. If the stars aren't aligned properly it might not set. (*Update: apparently adding water to the yolks helps the emulsification process so I've added that to my recipe. I haven't had the mayo break since).

I use an electric mixer with the small bowl, but it could be made into a crossfit WOD by whisking by hand (I've never managed it) or you can use a blender.

  • 2 pastured egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (optional)
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1/2 cup cold pressed light or delicate tasting olive oil (If you can't find light olive oil which is cold pressed, use EVOO. Your may0 will be greener and taste more strongly of olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1/4 cup liquid (not warm) coconut oil 

All ingredients and equipment must be at room temperature.

Place egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, water, mustard and cayenne in the mixing bowl and beat until yolks are lighter coloured and creamy. If using a mixer, beat on low to medium speed, if a blender, use medium.

 Add 1/4 cup of oil to yolk mixture, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, in drops. It doesn't matter which kind of oil you add first - I usually mix all mine together in a small cup. This step is the most important; if the oil is added too fast it won't emulsify. If using a mixer, occasionally run a spatula around the edge of the bowl to make sure the oil is incorporated evenly.

Once the first 1/4 cup of oil is in and the mixture is thickening, you can relax a little and add the remaining oil a teaspoon at a time in a thin stream.

 This combination made a light coloured, velvety, perfectly textured, thick mayonnaise that passed Primal Kid inspection (EVOO makes it just slightly green; light olive oil makes it quite yellow). The coconut oil lightened the colour and the avocado oil added a depth and richness that was missing with just coconut oil.

If you like your mayo a little tangier you can add more lemon juice either at the beginning or the end.  This is also the time to add spices or herbs for a gourmet flavour.

Mexican night? Try lime juice instead of lemon and add chopped cilantro and chipotles at the end.
Sweet potato fries? Add roasted or crushed fresh garlic.
The possibilites are endless.

[Insert here Standard Legal Liability yadda-yadda about uncooked eggs, salmonella etc.]
Eat at your own risk. Refrigerate immediately and eat within 4 days. 

Got a favourite flavour? A great recipe? Please share!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Agility with a reactive dog

Our dog, Blue, is a reactive dog. For those of you who already know what that means, I sympathize. For those that don't, it means your dog has a fear of something and reacts to it (usually) in what people perceive as an aggressive manner. Blue loves people but he reacts to other dogs getting in his space. Blue is a mastiff-lab cross, a rather large dog, so being reactive is not a Good Thing.

Blue had a hard childhood. Dumped in a park by his mother's owner just as he was born, he grew up without his momma to teach him confidence. Even as a baby, eyes not yet open, he already had food sensitivities and would cry in pain if his formula changed.

I socialized him like crazy, knowing that growing up without a mother was potentially going to have detrimental effects on him. I'd had a reactive adult dog before and was determined that because I got Blue as a puppy, I was not going to let that happen. I did everything I was supposed to. Puppy classes, consistent, positive, Ian Dunbar and Stanley Coren training, lots of people and dog play at the park, exposure to many different situations.

Unfortunately, at 5 months of age, play with other dogs became painful. Xrays showed that he had elbow and hip dysplasia. The next 4 months of his life were filled with multiple surgeries and recoveries to try to repair his painful joints. During this time he missed a vital socialization period. Despite missing this time to get to know other dogs, after he had healed from all the surgery all seemed to be well until he reached the age of social maturity, at about 18 months of age.

At social maturity brain chemistry changes. It was as if something had flipped in his brain and he started charging other dogs. He had learned as a puppy that other dogs caused pain when they tried to play with him. He now headed off their attempts to play with barking and growling. As this worked so well to make the other dog go away, the reactive behaviour quickly became ingrained and he would react faster and with each subsequent time. In his head, it made perfect sense. Although he had never bitten another dog, I was worried that it might happen.

It wasn't looking good for Blue. I saw him consigned to a life where he couldn't get enough exercise because he couldn't be off leash at the park or beach when other dogs were there, not being able to enjoy him as I was constantly on the watch for a situation where he might get into an encounter with another dog, him wearing a muzzle most of his life so no fetching sticks or balls, or even euthanasia.

Blue had taken puppy classes at DogSmart and I knew that they helped with behaviour problems. We met with Alice, DogSmart's director and CPDT-KA certified trainer who specializes in problem dog behaviour. Although in our initial consult it took Blue a full hour to settle down to chew a bone, Alice saw hope for Blue. She recommended we also consult with a veterinary behaviourist, as well as enrolling him in reactivate dog classes. She fitted him with a basket muzzle and Gentle Leader collar so he could pant and laugh but be safe around other dogs, suggested getting a D.A.P. collar and diffuser, and set about retraining me with some tough love. Alice thought he would be a candidate for medication to lower his stimulation level and the veterinary behaviourist agreed.

Over the next 8 months, with lots of hard work, Blue became a much better dog. The medication allowed him to be able to pay attention and he learned to look to me for cues as to what he should do, rather than making (bad) decisions on his own. The muzzle meant that I could relax around other dogs, allowing calm and positive retraining of behaviours. The  D.A.P. calmed him one step further. We took lots of classes with Alice and Blue learned he had a different choice than acting defensively. More and more he chose to turn away and avoid encounters.

One of the many classes I took him to was a tricks and games class. In the final class, the instructor put out a tunnel and some jumps to play with. Just once through the tunnel and it was like Blue suddenly realized what he was born to do, and that was agility. I'd never seen him so excited and happy. We enrolled him in agility classes with instructor Nicole and he has never looked back.

Blue focussed on the agility course

Blue's reactivity has decreased dramatically. I gradually was able to wean him off the D.A.P. collar and basket muzzle as he became more and more focussed. He avoid dogs if at all possible and he never initiates an encounter. If another dog ignores his body language that says that he wants to be left alone and insists on being in his space, he will bark defensively and try to get away. Dogs being dogs, he has been attacked by a few dogs. In the few tussles that have inevitably resulted, he has never bitten another dog.

He has gotten better and better at agility the longer he works. He amazes me with how smart he is.  He tolerates other dogs amazingly well. Just over 3 years later, this reactive and unlikely agility dog is a Masters Agility Champion. The only thing that will stop him in the future will be arthritis in his joints, as in spirit, he would love to  do agility forever.

 He loves to go to class and trials.
I love that he wins me many colourful ribbons.

And we just love him.

Thank you, Alice for saving his life, and thank you, Nicole, for shaping a champion.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

How green is my reel mower? Let me count the ways...

I mowed the lawn today.

Marcus and I went away for the long weekend and the lawn was looking a little raggedy before we left. I'd been looking at it ruefully, knowing that it was going to be a beast when I got back, but not willing to put off the weekend for one single minute more.

It had been a glorious weekend and the corn had literally grown a foot while we were gone. So had the lawn, or so it seemed. Eyeing the out of control, sun drunk, extra long grass blades balefully, I pulled out the reel mower and prepared to do battle.

I love my reel mower.

After a full season of use, the blades are still razor sharp. The grass never stood a chance. It was a little more effort to push it through the extra long grass, but since I haven't been to the gym in a week, I figured it was the least I deserved. I was actually wondering how to make it into a crossfit workout. Make it a metcon by cutting the lawn via 21-15-9 lawnmower thrusters, lawnmower burpees, and lawnmower deadlifts? Maybe a grinder by cutting all the neighbours' lawns as well? But I digress.

My neighbour came out to comment (again) on how nice and quiet the mower was and to apologize that his (electric) was going to noise up the neighbourhood. As I was chatting with him and daydreaming about crossfits WODs, the Insane Dog jumped into my path and flung her ball right into the reel in a mad attempt to get me to throw it. No harm done, the ball stopped the reel immediately, and her attempt to cut her nose off while retrieving her ball was foiled. Reels are super safe to have around kids and dogs.

I thought about raking the extra long trimmings but decided instead to just go over them a couple more times. Who knew that a reel mower could actually be a mulching mower? I've found that by doing this, we use less water and I can help the dog pee-killed spots fill in a little.

Our mowers have all been (almost) free so we've never had one that quite suits the lawn. The first was a battery assisted Gardena that I got for a steal at a yard sale. It was fantastic but too big for our little space. It was heavy, but the assist made it almost pull itself along. It was older and so eventually the battery died. We elected not to replace the battery and got a Great States 18 inch model on points. Again, I love it for all the "reel" reasons, but its still too big for our yard. I wish we'd done all the research we've now done now on reel mowers, before we got a new one. If we'd only known then what we know now.... we would have got a much smaller model, maybe a 14 incher.

Do yourself a favour and get a reel mower, but get the one that's right for your lawn size, topography and grass type. Read what we wish we'd known before we bought, and you will be even happier with yours than we are with ours.

Here's the lowdown: Choose the Right Reel Mower for You.

So what are the ways?
  1. Super quiet
  2. Super safe
  3. A good little workout
  4. Mulches
  5. No emissions/environmentally friendly
  6. Inexpensive
  7. Low maintenance

What's not to love?