A quick evening hike

Mountain Huckleberries ripe for the picking.

I got done with work this afternoon and recalled that I was flying solo – my wife and the boy were away. Rather than head out to see a movie or sitting on the couch playing video games until my eyes rotted out, I decided that it would be a fun evening event to go for a hike instead. In the greater Seattle area we have ample hiking trails within a stones throw from most metropolitan areas. I decided the best one to tackle today was Rattlesnake ledge – it was already 6 PM and the hike is a good 4 miles.

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You have to be fit if you want to thrive

Learn how to lift heavy things.

Fuel seems to be a major topic in the paleosphere. I have spoken about it at length (perhaps ad nauseum, considering all the other places out there). What’s not addressed nearly so much is the fitness aspect. There is definitely a call to action in paleo circles to get fit, and many folks turn to CrossFit – myself included. In many ways the two philosophies go hand in hand – CrossFit focuses on ten spheres of fitness – cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Paleo or primal lifestyle (particularly the fuel portion of it) focuses on quality of intake vs. calorie of intake, the eating of nutritionally benevolent foods vs. nutritionally indifferent (or even malevolent), eating the correct amount of food, and eating in such a manner that is ethical – insofar as it is the diet the human animal was meant to eat – as well as caring about the status of our food BEFORE it became food – whether plant or animal.

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Paleo Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Tonight, we at casa del Primalfringe were contemplating what we were going to have for dinner. We had chicken, vegetables, and spices ready to go. rummaging through the freezer, I found some chicken (or possibly turkey – hard to say) stock we had previously cooked up and frozen. Considering today was about 20 degrees cooler than yesterday, soup seemed like a good choice. With that, we were off to the races.

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My ChooseMyPlate – Part 1 – Deconstruction of ChooseMyPlate

My MyPlates

Many of you by now have seen the new USDA ChooseMyPlate recommendations, where they eschew the near ubiquitous “Food Pyramid” for something much more nebulous – 4 roughly sized areas on a plate of indeterminate size, complete with another area off to the side to represent dairy. On the plate are the usual suspects – Vegetables, Fruit, Grains, and Protein (not meat, because we have to be sensitive to the people that choose not to eat meat. To do otherwise would be at the very least rude, and we can’t ignore protein completely. So we instead name that section after not the type(s) of food you eat (meat, nuts, dairy, tortured-vegetable-protein byproduct), but instead the macronutrient that the foods replace. Great. Should we do that with the other stuff? Nah, because then we would have the following: Protein, carbohydrate, carbohydrate, carbohydrate, and that would just look funny and a little sad.

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My submission to Mark’s Daily Apple’s workout of the week.

Weighted squats... because you never know.

This was my submission to Mark’s Daily Apple’s DIY WoW. I hope you all enjoy it.

Good morning, world.

Warm up: Place both feet on ground and move into a squatting position. While squatting, raise arms, bending slightly at waist to stretch muscles under arms on back and ribcage. Crawl hands out until in a push up position and lower body to ground. Push arms up, leaving hips on the ground. Drop back down to ‘gravitationally inert plank’ and breathe deeply. Walk your hands backwards, lifting your body in a pike position until you can push yourself to a stand.

Now it’s time for some movement. Start with a series of high-knee walks and exaggerated saddle walking (knees way out to the side, stretching the connective tissues in the groin). While doing the high knee walks and saddle walk, work your shoulders and elbows, rotating them in both forwards and backwards directions. Increase movement to a normal jog (on the toes, people!) and get the blood flowing through your body.

Now let’s get started. Lift something heavy up to your shoulders (placing it behind your neck atop your traps). Weight will vary depending on your physical capabilities, but it should be heavy enough to strain, but not so heavy that you can’t do the motion – 20 stationary lunges (10 each leg). Focus on quality form over quantity of weight – we ultimately want everything as neutral as possible. I will be using around fifty pounds.

From there, drop the weight (I’m using a sandbag) and drop your body into a plank.
Begin 50 pushups, focusing on chaining as many as you can together. Again, focus on full range of motion, making sure to touch your chest to the ground. Keep a consistent pace, but you don’t have to time yourself (you can – and I think should for an added challenge/metric).
Now do 15 burpees, again focusing on quality over speed.
Finally, 50 situps.
Ideally this should all be timed, so you can go back in 3 months and test yourself again.

Sorry, forgot to add: Walk a quarter mile to cool down. On stretching and recovery, focus on legs, particularly hip flexors, back, quads, and hamstrings. Some attention should be put on the shoulders, arms, and core because 50 is a good amount of pushups and situps.

First trip foraging in the ‘wilderness’

A home amongst the nettles

Today the family and I loaded up the trusty wagon and headed down to visit some friends and do something that I had never done before – forage for nettles! For those of you that don’t know, nettles are a stinging plant (not everyone is sensitive to them, but be warned) that is commonly found across Europe, Asia, and North America. Many a child has been hit by the stinging needles of the Nettle. The upside to these hurty plants is that they’re also delicious and full of vitamins and minerals that will keep you coming back for more.

About Nettles

Nettles are leafy green shoots which are usually found in areas of heavier rainfall and grow particularly well in areas with a high phosphorus soil content. The leaves range from thin and tender

when young to much thicker when mature. The leaves can reach nine inches in length and five or six in width. The stalks are generally fibrous and tough. Both historically and currently they are being used in textiles and cordage.

The leaves are generally eaten blanched and in conjunction with something else (as blanching tends to compress the leaves into fairly dense blocks of green – think frozen grocery store spinach) and provide a fresh ‘green’ or herbal flavor. The leaves can also be dehydrated and crumbled and used as a tea or decoction, or sprinkled over meat or into sauces as an herb. It is quite versatile.

The nettle is rich in vitamins A and C, and contains the following minerals: iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein (for a leafy green vegetable), containing up to 25% by dry weight.

Harvest

A boy, a man, and a dog go walking in a park...

Harvesting without getting stung can be a challenge. It is recommended (if you don’t know if you are sensitive or not) that when you go you come in the following items: Long pants, long sleeved shirt, shoes, plastic grocery bags, and gloves. The gloves should be leather or latex coated cotton gloves. (Pro Tip: Special care should be made to ensure the back sides of the gloves are coated in latex also. Particularly the fingers.) Additional protection may be garnered by wrapping thin or compromised locations with electrical tape. (Pro Tip: long sleeves with thumb holes might come in handy to protect from the sleeve slipping up and exposing your wrists.) Once you have these items, all you need is a nettle patch to tromp through to look for tasty-looking ones. From there it’s a simple matter of snapping the plant off at the midpoint or so and stuffing it in the sack. Repeat until your sacks are full. Then we get to head home for more adventures! (for more on harvesting stinging nettles, check out learning herbs‘ article on how to harvest without gloves!).

Preparation

Preparation is easy if involved. This is performed in 4 steps.

  1. Soak nettles in cold water to remove bugs, debris, and theoretically stinging (While I did not get stung AFTER we soaked them, I still wore latex gloves to protect myself from any potential stings).
  2. Remove stems and unwanted leaves. Grade the leaves according to size and toughness (larger and tougher leaves are better used for tea).
  3. Transfer soaked nettles into a pot of boiling water. They should stay in the boiling waterfor 10-20 seconds.
  4. Remove from boiling water and proceed to wringing the blanched leaves out and forming a thick and dense puck or ball of nettles.
  5. Package using conventional ziplock bags or a vacuum sealer. If they are vacuum sealed, they can be frozen and kept good for a very long time.
  6. For tea, throw the leaves in a dehydrator (DIY or storebought doesn’t matter) and dry those things out. In a pinch, a low heat oven will work. When they have dried, simply crumble the leaves and enjoy (try pairing with peppermint, chamomile, or lavender to soften the ‘green’ flavor nettle tea has on its own).

And that’s how we did it! It was an excellent day out with friends and family, and we got to get out, explore the nature around us and get back to our primal roots a little bit.

Food is an important part of our lives, and we feel that our kid needs to know that food doesn’t just ‘come from the store’, but rather has its own place in nature, requires real and honest work to procure, and that the experience of gathering food can be just as rewarding as the consumption of the food itself. I feel that foraging and hunting is very important to the primal way of life and once again connecting our lives to the foods which enrich us and allow us to thrive and prosper in a way that oreos, doritos, or any other ‘food’ that ends in ‘os’ would never be able to do.

Medicinal

For more information on nettles, including medicinal effects, check out this link from the Idaho Observer.

References:

http://www.learningherbs.com/nettles.html

http://proliberty.com/observer/20060517.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica

Coconut milk ‘iced cream’ in five minutes!?!

Strawberries!

Even we of the primal-set aren’t so austere that we don’t enjoy a good dessert every now and again. This one is easy, delicious, and makes a delicious iced cream substitute. (In fact, this recipe might even be considered… vegan!) Basically, it’s an easy iced cream analog that takes almost no time to make up and is tasty, wonderful, and about as simple as you can get. Without further ado, here is the LONG list of ingredients:

  • 1 14 oz can of Coconut milk
  • 14oz of FROZEN fruit (we generally use berries, but you could theoretically use any fruits – besides, berries are more primal-friendly, right?;)
  • 3 tablespoons of honey (or to taste. I think that 3 tablespoons isn’t too sweet, but less wouldn’t have been horrible, either).

That’s it. Now for the instructions…

  1. Scoop the coconut milk into a food processor, and blend until no longer lumpy.
  2. Throw in your frozen berries.
  3. Add your honey.
  4. Blend until everything is smooth and the consistency of iced cream.

And that’s it! It’ll be soft, but it’s ready to eat right now. If you want, you can drop it into a bowl and throw it in the fridge to set up further. I’m not sure on how long it will keep in the freezer, but it won’t last long!

Other thoughts I’ve had regarding this treat:

  • Blend then freeze (in an ice cube tray) a can worth of coconut milk. Prepare as above, substituting the frozen coconut milk for the fruit. Add in vanilla to taste.
  • Follow the above steps, but add dark chocolate instead.

Good luck, and remember: it’s about having fun and getting in the kitchen and trying things out!

Enjoy!

Still life - Flowers, iced cream, chocolate and rabbit

Question and Answer

I get questions like these quite a bit. I finally decided to take my thoughts and concatenate them into a single post. Hopefully it helps you, too!

What would be a good daily eating plan?
I want to get in better shape, weight included.

There is so much info out there on carb this, fat that…

It’s overwhelming.

-anonymous

Well maybe it is overwhelming, but there are a couple of ways to mitigate that.

First, you should start thinking about your body like a mini chemistry set. You put chemicals (food) in, and see what happens. The neat thing about your chemistry set is that it has a pretty quick response time – within 30 days, you should have noticable, measurable results.

Second is that you need to introduce some information filtering. Most of the ‘studies’ you see on the news are epidemiological studies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology) and have questionable validity (for instance, by listening to the news, you would assume that cholesterol was the most evil thing you could put in your body, when in fact your body (and brain in particular) NEEDS cholesterol to survive). But I digress. You need to stay focused on your goal like a laser beam. Again, it’s only 30 days, and from there you can adjust as needed. But I think that if you don’t give something at least 30 honest days, you cannot comment on it’s validity or efficacy.

Finally, You’ll have to tailor your eating plan to your own preferences and food choices. That said…

I would recommend a fairly strict paleo regimen for a 30 day period. It’s not easy, and it requires that you get the ‘bad stuff’ out of your house (so you’re not tempted to go back and ‘cheat’). But it is something that is achievable and realistic.

The goal is simple: on the standard western diet, your body becomes acclimated to running off of sugars and carbohydrates (both of which your body needs, but more on that later). However, in order to run off of those types of things (sugars, and specificially glucose), your body will produce increased levels of insulin (for a good description of how insulin works and can cause you to gain fat, watch the movie Fat Head (http://www.hulu.com/watch/196879/fat-head) on Hulu), which in turn can cause your body to store fat. This is only one of the things we are trying to avoid, but for the goal of weight loss, it is an important one.

In addition to higher insulin levels, we’re also looking to avoid items in many of the low level toxins found in many different sources of carbohydrates. These toxins are a protective response to prevent animals and bugs from eating the seeds (offspring) of different plants. These include saponins, lechtins, and phytates (phytic acid), and are considered ‘anti-nutrients’ in that they actually hinder absorption of vitamins and minerals in the stomach and intestine.

We’re also looking to avoid inflammatory foods – at the very least for the duration of the 30 day period. Our goal with this is to reduce overall inflammation in the body and promote anti-inflammatory consumption throughout the process.

Finally, we’re looking to replace high-caloric, low-nutritive foods with low-caloric, high-nutritive foods. This is accomplished by doing what your mom always told you… you have to eat your vegetables. It can be hard for some people for sure, but it’s an important thing to note, nonetheless.

So all that said, what does this mean for what we don’t want to eat in order to fulfill the requirements above (don’t think if it as “I can’t eat this or I can’t eat that,” as it is a sure path to failure. You’re not depriving yourself, you’re restricting what you want to eat based on very specific goals and criteria.)? Well, lets investigate that a little further.

What? Wheat!

First off, the biggest items to restrict completely (at least for the 30 day experimentation period) are ALL grains. Period. This means no wheat, oats, sohrgum, quinoa, corn, barley, rye, etc, etc etc. None. They are gone from your diet completely. The next is most legumes. Most paleo regimens allow for green beans and snap/snow peas (despite the fact they are legumes) because they are mostly pod. Other than that – ditch the beans. We also need to dump the sugar and processed foods. They’re full of transfats (oils tortured out of the seeds and legumes we are trying to avoid) and sugar and salt. You don’t need any of that, so they’re all out.

Finally we get to dairy. Dairy is inflammatory, and you can do without it for 30 days (and introduce it back in, if you so choose, later). The noticable exception here is butter from grassfed milk (see Kerrygold, for example). Other than that, no milk, no cheese, no whey, etc. Just stay away from the dairy.

A few last things to avoid: Juices, sodas, energy drinks, or anything where you are consuming calories through liquid. It’s just a bad idea.

Also limit alcohol intake, especially in the first 30 days. (alcohol to drink, in order of least inflammatory to most, is clear distilled non grain alcohol (gin, vodka, etc), wine (red, then white), and beer.)

Beef, beef, it's good for your heart

So now we get to what we want to eat. Meat is good. It is full of the protein and saturated fats that your body needs, and that we are focusing on converting your body to run off of. The best kinds of meat are grass fed and pastured. Grain fed animals will have some of the inflammatory properties of the grains they are fed (weird how that works, right?) Beef, fish, lamb, and pork are all considered fair game. With beef, go for grassfed, and for fish, wild caught. Lamb is always grassfed, and pork never is (pigs eat all kinds of things, so they are higher on the inflammatory spectrum).

Vegetables!

Additionally, eat lots of vegetables. I cannot overstate how many vegetables you will end up eating. Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) are all fair game. Kale, lettuces, bok choi, beets, radishes, carrots, chard, onion, cucumber, spinach, celery, etc. are all fair game. There are lots of vegetables that are higher on the carbohydrate scale (important if you are working out and expending lots of energy) including winter squashes (acorn, butternut, carnival, spaghetti, etc) and sweet potatoes (both the white and the orange). All are good for you and full of vitamins.

You can eat SOME nuts. I tend to stick to macadamia nuts as they are low in omega 3 fatty acids, which is important when considering inflammation. (They are also buttery and delicious, so that helps, too). Don’t eat too many, though.

You can also eat SOME (like one serving per day) of fruit. Fruit is high in fructose, which the body processes in the same way it processes ethanol, and overconsumption of fructose has led to the creation of a new disease – non alcohol related fatty liver disease… bad news.

Other than that, the rules are:
1) eat when you’re hungry.
2) eat until you are satisfied.
3) do not count calories.
4) Have both a protein and carbohydrate source whenever you eat.
5) Stick with it for 30 days.

Additionally, it is important that you get a benchmark. Weigh yourself, and measure your total inches (measure at the midpoint of each bicep, your waist at the belly button, your hips, and each thigh at the midpoint). In addition to your total inches, measure your neck at as well, as you can use it to help determine your body fat percentage using the US Navy calculation (there are lots of calculators on line, and you need both your neck and waist measurements in order to calculate it. Take pictures in as few bits of clothing as you feel comfortable in. It won’t be pretty. It will show you your changes, and will be important for your measurements.

So, if you’re sold on trying it, head on over to Robb Wolf’s website, where he has a free quick start guide, food matrix, and shopping list (http://robbwolf.com/book-resources/). It’s not hard, but it does require a bit of perserverance and dedication. It’s HARD to find things to eat on the go, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Robb Wolf’s Liberty Garden concept

Lettuce have some salad!

One of the most important things you do every day is make decisions on what kinds of things you will use to fuel your body. Beef or chicken? Grassfed or storebought? What kinds of veggies? You gonna throw some corn down, or perhaps a big-ass sandwich? Maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Regardless of the choices you ultimately end up making, the choice itself is an important one. Your body is – without a doubt – the most important thing you own. How you choose to fuel it should respect that level of importance, in my opinion. And herein lies a problem inherent in the system – you can make good choices that still end up being less good choices based on how that fuel was raised/grown/created. And while you may not be able to fully know how all your fuel was created, it’s important to take those baby steps to getting to where you would like to be. (If you’re happy guzzling Mountain Dew and Ritz crackers, you can pretty much disregard this. Realistically, you’re probably not reading this anyway.)

Enter the Liberty Garden concept as promoted by Robb Wolf. Here’s the concept in an even smaller nutshell than Robb’s site talks about it: You are what you eat; in order to know what you’re eating, you should grow some of it because factory farming is involved in practices that can be called questionable (not to mention non sustainable), and that a great way to start it is using your own yard/kitchen window/balcony/veranda/fire escape/WHATEVER to start growing some of your own stuff. Sounds easy, right? It is! Just throw some seeds in some healthy soil (dirt is such a dead sounding word), keep it watered as per the directions on the back of the package, make sure the plants have adequate sunlight, and voila! instant food.

The Liberty Garden – Robb Wolf

To start, I would recommend some herbs. They’re usually very resilient and do well. If you think you have a black thumb, go with these to start. They’re almost a sure thing.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, and get growing!

Three months on the primal fringe-Part One

On Tuesday, April 5th, I will have three months under my belt in my transformation from a rather marshmallowy everyman into an old-is-new archetype. I have lost 18 pounds (230 -> 212) in that time, monitored changes in my body measurements and lost nearly 3 inches overall, while actually gaining inches in my legs and arms. I can do pullups, both dead-hang and kipping, and can run a mile at a respectable speed. I’ve learned the basics of the Olympic lifts, and my max weight on those has been steadily increasing. Overall, my strength has increased dramatically, and I just feel better.

In addition to all that, my allergies have let up to the point where I only intermittently take Claritin, and even then only on the bad days. I have not gotten sick despite working in an office building in a large city where it will hopefully someday stop raining. I rarely get acne or outbreaks, but even the acne I did have seems to be less. My skin in general is healthier – color, elasticity, the whole nine yards. The jury is still out, but it is starting to look like gray hair which had begun sprouting when I was 19, has begun to come in dark once more. My teeth are whiter. I’m sleeping better.

I have been toying with the idea of doing this stuff for years.

I have been aware of Crossfit as well as the paleo method of diet and had looked into it, but thought “Nah, there’s nothing in this for me.” I felt pretty healthy, was in better shape than most of my colleagues, and was in general doing well. Crossfit seemed ‘too hard’, or ‘too intense’. I stuck to spin classes and cycling. My back was weak, so I suffered through back pain from the cycling. I couldn’t quite hold my body rigid over the bicycle, and relied too much on my handlebars. In reality, what I had thought of as ‘doing pretty well’, was in fact kind of ‘being lackluster’. I effectively was lying to myself, justifying my fitness by comparing myself to other people around me. This was a mistake. I was surrounded by people that spend their time in offices and whom are not, in general, athletic. So while I talked myself into thinking that I was doing pretty good in the grand scheme of things, deep down I knew I was fooling myself.

Wherein I learn the truth

The new year was fast approaching, and I had been thinking about my health and wellness as well as my wife’s. We had a new little one that had just turned one, and was beginning to take his first steps. I knew where this was headed – running, jumping, playing, etc. Neither my wife nor I wanted to miss out on that because of our health. I began looking for solutions.

We had recently moved to a new city, so I began to look around for a gym. I wasn’t interested in a gym that was shiny and glittery, or a gym that was tiny and filled with machines. I wanted something real. I remembered Crossfit – indeed I had been watching the main site’s WOD’s (workout of the day) for a while now, but never doing any of them. I looked up crossfit gyms in the area. There were two nearby.

Call it providence, good timing, or just flat out good luck, but I found that one had an end of the year deal going on, and additionally offered an introduction program for new initiates. This intro program was designed to acclimate an individual untrained in the sport of fitness that is offered by crossfit, as well as train them in many of the movements and lifts which would be frequently used in the WOD’s offered at the gym. After asking a few questions of the gym owner, particularly surrounding the fact that my wife was traveling fairly far outside of her comfort range, we signed up. I had a good feeling about this place, despite never having been there. I was excited.

I get whipped

The first week was the sorest that I think I have ever been. We ran, lifted little or no weight, practiced ‘double unders’ (a method of jumping rope where the rope travels under your body twice for every jump you make), box jumps, pullups, pushups, situps, deadlifts, and a myriad of other movements. I was torched. I ached everywhere. I started taking fish oil to help lubricate my joints. Glucosamine chased that, as well as a nice morning dose of ibuprofen. I am not one to take to a something half assedly, and I was feeling it. I could tell this would be a long journey.

As the weeks wore on, the soreness and fatigue wore away, and successes began to mount. With the passing of time and the gaining of familiarity, I grew more comfortable and stronger, trading old non-fringe fat for new primal muscle. I traded slow, deliberate movements for speedy explosive ones. My cardiovascular system improved greatly, and I felt better than I had when I was cycling 60 miles or more per week.

An additional benefit of membership at the gym is the workshops and classes they offer. Our first week there, they were offering a class on the paleo method of eating. Sure, I thought, why not? It’ll at least be interesting. How true that statement would turn out to be.

The workshop was very interesting, and Jessica, the gym’s resident RD (registered dietician), was very frank and honest about the research she had done and about the benefits she personally had reaped from moving to this diet. I was intrigued, and – having had very little success in losing the weight I wanted to (and getting to a point where I had six pack abs), I did a little more research. Robb Wolf is one of the larger characters in this ‘paleo diet’ business, and was one of the first places Jessica referred the class to on the web (he offers free meal plans and shopping lists for the first 30 days). I started reading through this, seeing the issues it had the potential to address, and instantly thought of my dad.

My dad has been fighting with his health since before I was born. In many ways, he is a medical textbook, having suffered through a gauntlet of different and serious medical conditions. So much of what Robb Wolf claimed was like it was designed exactly for my dad. So I began to look into it even more deeply.

I began to voraciously read articles and websites about paleo, primal, natural movement, crossfit, etc. It was all very interesting and something about it really spoke to me. I decided almost immediately that I would ‘go paleo’, at least for  the 30 days, and see how things went.