Jerseygator's Blog

Moving toward Meatless? A semi-vegetarian goes Paleo

Posted in food politics,locavore,Primal,Uncategorized,vegetarian by jerseygator on September 6, 2011

Earlier this year a friend of ours lost a tremendous amount of weight following “the caveman diet.”  I had never heard of it, but it didn’t sound healthy.  It is, however, hard to argue with success,and I reserved judgement until learning more.

If you’ve been reading this blog you know that we’ve been trying to decrease the amount of meat we eat, both for health and ethical reasons.  But have our “healthy” changes met with success?  Over the last few years both Darrol and I have had difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, despite eating a diet that is pretty consistent with the government’s food pyramid (or the new MyPlate).

October 2010

In addition, we cooked most of our meals at home using good ingredients: olive oil, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, organic/local vegetables and pastured meat from a local farmer.  Despite this, we were both overweight and on various medications.  Something wasn’t working!

I started researching the Paleo or Primal way of eating, first by asking our friends how they ate and what the rational for the diet was.  They were very helpful and pointed us to a few websites.  In college, my initial degree program was biochemistry and I was fascinated by evolutionary biology (total Stephen Jay Gould fangirl).  So when I began to understand that the underlying science of this way of eating was based on the evolution of the human species, I really got interested.

The basic premise of this eating lifestyle is that humans evolved for the vast majority of their time on earth as hunter-gatherers, not agrarians.  The introduction of grains, in the grand scheme of time, is very recent.  In addition, the last 100 years or so have seen a rapid manipulation of our foods, moving us farther away from “whole” foods to manufactured, processed food-like substances.  So to adapt to this lifestyle, one moves back to the initial way of eating to which our bodies evolved.

In addition to that basic premise, the role of insulin and other hormones and how they have evolved to work with our physiology is critical.  By eliminating grains, one is eliminating massive amounts of carbohydrates from the diet.  As insulin responds to carbohydrates, and insulin also promotes fat storage, the amount of fat stored decreases.  (I will blog on all these points soon, but just want to hit the basics today).

So what changes have we made? Surprisingly few.  The basics of the diet are grass fed/pastured meats (already doing),  vegetables (which have increased exponentially), some fruits, and healthy fats, such as coconut oil and avocado.  We eat a lot more eggs (pastured, from a local farmer) and no processed foods.  We seldom eat out, but when we do we avoid grains, breads, and starchy foods.  I’ve eliminated most dairy (no big deal for me), and Darrol’s moved to 2% or whole milk instead of skim.  We eat some cheese, mostly as garnish.  No breads, pastries, rice, pasta, etc.

Well, the proof is in the paleo pudding.  I had my lab work done and a doctor’s appointment today.  I have lost 14 pounds (just shy of 10% of my initial weight) and am in the healthy weight range for my height.  I’ve also lost 4 inches (!!) off my waist.  More importantly, my doctor looked at my lab work and stated “Wow!  Whatever you’re doing keep it up!”

Fasting glucose 67 (down from 87)

Total Cholesterol 148 (relatively unchanged…I was still on pravastatin)

HDL 63 (up from 54)

LDL 70 (down from 112)

VLDL 15 (down from 26)

Triglycerides 76 (down from 132!)

My vitamin D level went from 14 to 28 (still low but doubled from last time), so I’ll continue supplementation for a while, plus get my 30 minutes of sunshine daily at lunch (and much more when I’m not at work).  My thyroid level has been low off and on, so we’ll continue to monitor (I have no metabolic symptoms so am not overly concerned).  I’m off all medications and don’t have a follow up for 6 months!

So, I’m retiring the “Moving Toward Meatless” posts.  I’m excited to learn more about eating this way, and can’t see ANY reason to go back to the conventionally taught nutrition (eg, MyPlate).  I think one of the reasons it’s working is the focus on whole foods; removing the processed garbage removes so many non-food, potentially toxic things from the diet. I’ll be blogging about the science behind some of the ideas, as well as recipes we try.   Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll research what I can, or link you to some great sites.  I’m off to make some guacamole!

Darrol and I celebrate his recent birthday at Fogo de Chau


Moving Toward Meatless: The Pot

Posted in Cooking,vegetarian by jerseygator on June 3, 2011

No, not that kind of pot.

Those who know my know that I’m not the family cook.  I’m not the cook at all, actually.  Browse through the blog and you’ll notice that most of the cooking action shots involve Darrol.  But as I am working to make my diet healthier I am learning more techniques.  My latest adventure it a rice cooker.

I’ve always avoided rice cookers.  Seemed stupid.  With my chemistry background, I proudly proclaimed I could cook rice and boiled eggs…both require timing.  Why get a rice cooker?  Then I started following Roger Ebert on twitter, then facebook.  Prior to his cancer, Ebert lost around 100 pounds with diet and exercise change.  Subsequently, he had numerous surgeries that prevent his eating…he gets his nutrition via liquid nutrients only.  However, he continues to cook healthy meals for his wife and friends.  Ebert is a devout follower of “The Pot,” as he calls it.  After reading his tweeted recipes and facebook posts, I broke down and bought an inexpensive rice cooker ($16.99 at Target).

I bought The Pot three days ago and have made things in it: barley, grits (real southern grits and easier than anything), oatmeal, and basmati rice.  I’m hooked!  The rice cooker is fast, non-stick, doesn’t heat up the kitchen and is intuitive.  Plus, for a cook like me, it’s simple.  On and warm.  Plus it turns itself to warm when it’s done cooking, so I don’t even have to monitor it!  Lazy cooks dream.

Last night I cooked dinner (don’t faint…I even cleaned up) and made a dish using the pot that was a great hit.  I adapted it from a couple of Mark Bittman’s recipes.  I started by cooking couscous in the pot, and while it was cooking a sauteed some chopped onion, garlic and chopped roasted red pepper in a little olive oil.  When the couscous was done I added it to the vegetables with a little more olive oil (this one was basil infused, something my husband had made last month).  I topped this with a topping that Bittman featured on one of his minimalist recipes.  Not sure what it’s called, but basically pureed 1 Tbsp smoked paprika, 2 garlic cloves and about 1/4 cup olive oil in the food processor, then added a couple slices of pumpernickel bread (rye is also very good) to the processor and ground it into wet breadcrumbs.  This taste like chorizo sausage and is amazingly good and very pretty.  Bittman used it in a lamb recipe, but I just put this over the couscous and popped it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  Everyone loved it, it’s vegan (although not low-fat!) and it looked pretty on the plate.

This morning I got up and cooked some oatmeal while getting ready for work.  This has become my morning ritual.  After I emptied the oatmeal out of the pot I put some barley in to cook to take to lunch.  I’ll have it with some white beans and dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, herbs) plus a slice of that leftover pumpernickel.  If you have a rice cooker, dust it off and do some experimenting.  If not, less than $20 may be a good investment for you.  Enjoy!

Moving toward meatless: Gardein products

Posted in Cooking,food politics,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 31, 2011

As we look toward more meatless dishes to serve our family, we are investigating some “meat substitute” products.  I had always felt that eating something fake, as in pretending to be something it’s not, was counter-intuitive to eating real, natural foods.  Most vegetarians I know don’t eat meat-like products; they simply don’t miss eating meat.  For my family of omnivores, however, that could present a problem, so a little experimentation was in order.

I recently read “The Conscious Cook” by Chef Tal Ronnen.  He cooks vegan meals which are beautiful and (presumably) tasty, and uses a product called “Gardein.”  This meat substitute gets its name by combining garden + protein.  It’s been shown that vegetarians get plenty of protein in their diets without any additional supplementation necessary, however many eaters like the taste/consistency of meat and these products are designed for them.  I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to find them, but they were in the frozen case at my local supermarket.

Gardein Chick'n Scallopini

We choose two products to try: the Chick’n Scallopini and the Beefless Tips.  For the first dinner, I made a “chicken” piccata using Chef Tal’s recipe from the book.  The Gardein product looks like chicken patties when removed from the bag, and, after dredging in flour, fried up just like any chicken pattie.  After cooking the chick’n, I made a sauce using lemon juice, white wine, veg stock, shallots, capers and garlic.  The chicken was placed back in the sauce for just a couple minutes then served.

Chick'n fillets

The finished dinner fooled my son, who loved it and couldn’t believe the meal was vegan.  The “meat” had a pretty good consistency; not stringy like chicken but toothsome.  My biggest complaint is that it tasted just like a chicken.  I’m just not a big fan of the bird.  However, everyone loved the meal and it will definitely be added to the menu list.

Chick'n Piccata

The next evening we tried the beefless tips.  I modified one of Chef Tal’s recipes and

Gardein Beefless tips and Earth Balance buttery spread

made a sauce from mushrooms, wine, veg stock, shallots, garlic and Earth Balance “butter.”  The chunks of Gardein went from freezer right to saute pan and cooked up within minutes.  Once combined with the sauce in the pan for just a couple more minutes, the dish was placed on a bed of rice.  Again, the meal was delicious.  The meat substitute tasted like meat and the consistency was close (not stringy like meat would be).

Gardein beefless tips sauteed right from the freezer and cooked in about 3 minutes

The sauce was amazing, and I went back for more rice with sauce drizzled on top.

I think Chef Tal nailed the secret to good vegan/vegetarian cooking: fat.  Too many vegetarian dishes are what he dismisses as “hippie food.”  There’s nothing wrong with brown rice and steamed vegies, but it’s not very satisfying over the long run.  By using butter or a butter substitute, you add flavor, unctuousness and satiety.  Using capers, mushrooms or other umami flavors adds richness.  It’s interesting, because many people feel vegetarian food is boring, yet most omnivores I know cook the same things over and over.  Yes, it’s comfort food, but it’s not much of a stretch. I’m excited to add more vegan/vegetarian dishes to our repertoire.

"beef" tips in a mushroom/wine sauce over rice

Links: for more information on “The Conscious Cook” as well as recipes and videos demonstrating some of the recipes. for more information on the products, as well as the company philosophy and mission. for more information on Earth Balance spreads, made from cold-pressed oils, no hydrogenated oils or trans-fats.  Plus, the “butter” spread really taste and cooks just like butter and is my new go-to for toast and cooking.

Moving toward meatless

Posted in Cooking,food politics,locavore,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 26, 2011

Over the past few years we have had occasion to learn more about the food production in this country.  Some of the education is through national multi-media; books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemna,” movies such as “Food, Inc.,” radio podcasts such as “Earth Eats,” and, of course, countless websites, such as the Ted talks.  Moving to New Jersey was also an education.  The farms, road stands, and overall food culture here in South Jersey is amazing.  Farmers are so willing to share what they’re doing (and how they’re doing it), as well as the struggles they have in providing good products.  It’s still difficult to find organic products at many of the road stands (though not impossible), but at least we’re eating a large portion of our food sourced locally.

With this education, however, comes a moral dilemna.  Can one continue to consume a product which doesn’t align with one’s own moral compass?  Obviously, many people do.  No one I know condones animal cruelty, yet most buy meat from the supermarket without a second thought, pushing the factory farm that the meat came from out of their minds.  Becoming a vegetarian is an option, but an option not chosen by many.  Being an omnivore is culturally excepted, and most people like the taste of meat.  There are still some who argue that we aren’t designed to be herbivores, an argument I consider specious.  We aren’t “designed” to use birth control, either, but I don’t see many people arguing against condoms, the pill, or the rhythm method.

So what is a conscientious person to do?  In my explorations I find too many people who try to convince their audience to their viewpoint using emotion.  Not being an overly emotional person, I just find that annoying.  Give me facts, figures, and, most importantly, a grounding in reality…the reality of raising a family and the time constraints, budgets and personalities that come with it.

As we struggle with it, here’s some of the decisions that I or we as a family have made:

  • Conscientious meat consumption.  We don’t want to support the CAFO’s so we are buying our beef, pork, lamb and goat from a local farmer.  We found her on, and are comfortable that she is raising the animals to have normal lives: pasture, sunlight, grass, antibiotics only if ill, access to mother/baby relationship.  Currently, we are getting chicken at the farmer’s market.  Free range, cage free chickens are EXPENSIVE, so chicken has become a much less consumed item.  (Full disclosure: occasionally Darrol will buy chicken from the supermarket, usually for stock, but is minimizing these purchases.  The chicken industry is truly horrible.)
  • Eggs are purchased from a local farmer.  We can actually see the chickens running around, eating bugs and vegetable scraps.  The eggs are amazing: firm orange yolks and wonderful flavor.  Again, the poultry industry is one of the worst offenders for animal husbandry standards.
  • Using the whole animal.  We recently had an “offal party” for our friends.  The menu included liver & onions, heart and veg stew, steak and kidney pie, and tongue tacos.  It seems more respectful to consume the entire animal if you’re going to make that choice.  I’ll be blogging about the party soon.
  • Moving toward meatless:  Although I doubt my husband or son will ever become vegetarians, I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually went in that direction.  Currently I’m following Mark Bittman’s advice: vegan before 6pm.  I’ve replaced butter with EarthBalance (made with cold pressed oils, not hydrogentated) and milk with almond milk.  I started this because my LDL cholesterol moved up enough for my doctor to prescribe a low dose of a statin, and I’d really like to move away from taking medication.  I’ll blog about these food decisions as well.  (Funny, I found very few blogs via Google about moving toward meatless…most are already vegetarians or are make the move abruptly).
  • Continuing education:  I’ll continue reading and viewing food related media, keeping an open mind.
  • Political activism:  I’m not the type to stand on the roadway with a sandwich board, but I have been known to contact my senators and/or state representatives, so I’ll continue to do that on things that are important to me.  As with voting, if you don’t participate, you really don’t have the right to bitch.

I’d be interested to hear how others handle their choices.  Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion.