Monday, 31 December 2012

This is NOT a New Year's Resolution

What will the new year be like for you?

This is not going to be a post about losing weight, about eating less cheats or getting in more exercise.  Nope.  This post is NOT about New Year's Resolutions.

I'm not big on New Years Resolutions.  If you really want to change something, change it as soon as the idea is fully formed in your head.  Changes happen gradually, with much effort, not overnight.

I'd like to say that this whole switch to paleo happened over night, and maybe I did make the decision to change my diet overnight, and  commit to it after a couple more days of reading (I read for more than a couple of days, in fact, I've been reading all about it for the past year and a half, incessantly and obsessively.)  I may have committed to it in a single day, but lets' be honest, this whole paleo thing is HUGE, we all make mistakes along the way, we try things that work and try things that don't work.  We eat things we think are paleo-appropriate, then change our minds.  We eat things that are definitely paleo-appropriate, then find we just can't digest them and have to give them up.

This paleo thing is ever-evolving.

It is not the same diet, or lifestyle, now, that it was a year and a half ago.

Right out of the gate, I was hard-core.  For the first month or two, there were no sweets, no cheats.  Then I decided to allow dairy back in my life.  Then I nixed it.  then I let it back in.  Then I discovered bacon wasn't so bad, even the conventional kind, and the floodgates of bacon-enabling opened.  Then I discovered fatty cuts of meats.  Then I took the fatty cuts out because I wasn't able to afford pastured meat and all that is evil is concentrated in the fat.  Then I ate them anyways, devil-may-care.  I overdid it on paleo "treats".  Many times over.  I overdid it trying to prepare neolithic foods with paleo-appropriate ingredients and made preparing dinner every night into a marathon of cooking.


We forced this diet on our teens, then allowed them to do what they wanted, then forced them some more.  Our 3 big 'allowances' to the teens to this day are hot dogs, peanut butter, and occasionally, a loaf of bread. We feed our teens a paleo-appropriate diet, and those treat foods keep them from slitting our throats as we sleep.

Somewhere along the journey, I joined the local Paleo Meetup Group.  The group just exploded after that, and it's really opened my world up.  And my eyes.  When I asked Glen about what kinds of foods he likes to eat at home (I was still in my converting-neolithic-foods-to-paleo-foods phase , he oh-so-simply said "meat with salad."  Almost always, without err.  Meat and vegetables.  That's it.  No almond-flour-crusted pan-seared-on-cauli-pilaf creations.  Just cook some meat, and throw it on a salad with kefir as salad dressing or with some sweet potato instead.  Repeat.  Keep repeating.  At first, I thought that this was the most colossally boring way to go about eating ever.  I thought he was un-inventive and I, on the other hand, was a food-lover, a real foodie and THAT way of eating would never, ever do.  I questioned him on it.  But he defended his choices, and he pointed out that the way I was eating vs. the way he was eating, it was an evolution.  Many of us start out trying to grasp something that is familiar and over-do it, over-complicate it.  But over time, and experience, things settle down, meals simplify and life just gets easier.  We start to do all these things out of habit instead of with forced effort.  We get used to this.  And we find ways to simplify things, we accept the things that matter the most to us and forgive ourselves the choices we make--like whether or not to buy organic, or from farmers markets, or pastured meat and eggs, or allow dairy into our lives.

Thanks to Glen, my meals have simplified a lot.  Gather up some meat, some veggies, and throw them together.

I have learned to cook the meat bone-in and skin-on, to roast slowly whenever possible.  I have learned to love fat, to use all the drippings to make gravies and sauces with those fats, and I am learning still how to use every scrap of meat and waste nothing.  I have learned how to bake without grain flours and with minimal sweeteners, but I think I need to scale back on that a bit.  What the paleo world really needs is more ways to make use of fats, to cook more traditional foods and get comfortable with the odd bits.  To learn how to get thrifty like our grandparents were.  But maybe that's just me.

It took me a year to find a grassfed source of beef that I was proud to have--and at $4/pound, it was economical, too.  Wouldn't have been able to buy it any other way.  It came roasts, and ground meat, and steaks, and also with organs and bones and hard white chunks of waxy fat.  I paid for it.  I will learn how to use it.  Planning my meals is no harder than wandering downstairs to my freezer and pulling out a hunk of meat and deciding what veggies would go best with it that day.  It really has been that simple.

And now I want more of that simple.
This image actually came from Zephyr Organics....

I'm hooked.

Wouldn't it be a perfect world if all of your food came right to your door?  To never have to set foot in a grocery store again?  I know that will never happen, not really.  But this year, I want to focus on finding ways to simplify some of those basic food needs.  Fill my freezer with meats.  Join a CSA.  Let what I already own be the deciding factor in what I eat--enough driving around looking for weird food ingredients.  Waste less.  Ferment more.  Spend less time with food and more time doing the other things I love.

My beef came right to my door, thank you very much John Snowdon.  And  I found a vegetable CSA in Zephyr that will deliver, too.  I need to find a good, affordable source for pork and stock my freezer, or even buy a second freezer.  Then, I think I will be set.

You know you want it.
This coming year on the blog, you will see more real food fermentation recipes, more traditional foods, cooking with offal, more ways to work with fat, and less sweet treats.  Oh, and make no mistake, there will still be snacks and treats--but they will be deceptively high-fat and low-sweetener and still delicious, and very pared-down and plain old 'why didn't I think of that' simple.

THAT is what I want to do in 2013.  No resolutions.  But I have some goals.  Some things  I want to focus on.  And some things I want to focus less on.  Simplicity is my plan.

What are you going to change this year?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Bone Broth Tomato Soup

Sometimes I just want simple and filling--and in the wintertime, warm comfort food.

Sometimes that comfort comes in the form of a hot bowl of soup.  As much as I love a warm mug of homemade bone broth, sometimes a bit of flavour variety is needed.  Sure, sometimes boiling broth with a scrambed egg dropped in with chopped green onions (egg drop soup) is divine, but is that all there is to life? I say no.  Eating should be an adventure.

This idea came from 2 places--first, a simple tomato soup from Canadian Living Magazine here, which I paleo-ified up and served to my family to great reviews, and this recipe by my low-carb-loving friend Danny at Primal North.  This soup is waaay better tasting than that canned stuff so many of us grew up on.  And it uses bone broth, so it's good for the guts, too.  Win, win.  And it's super-fast and easy.  What more can I say?!  So here goes.

Serves 1 very hearty bowlful.


  • 1 c homemade bone broth, preferably poultry
  • 1/2 c tomato sauce (look for no-sugar-added brands)
  • 2 Tbs finely chopped leeks (or onion, or shallots)
  • butter, for frying leeks
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp italian seasoning
  • 1/4 c full-fat whipping cream (or coconut milk if you don't mind a bit of coconut flavour)
  • sour cream/yogurt/bacon for garnish, optional

Saute leeks in butter until softened.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute more.  Add italian seasoning, bone broth and tomato sauce, simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, add whipping cream, stir.

Add garnishes, if using.  

*I tend to freeze my bone broth in ice cube trays, and in 1-cup servings (that I freeze, remove from their containers, then stack them in a freezer bag to store).  This made preparing this recipe especially fast and easy.  How do you store your bone broths?

See the white chunks?  My yogurt garnish sank to the bottom of the bowl ;( 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Crockpot Carnitas and Herbed Cauli-Rice

I have begun to suspect that there is a paleo advocate carefully camouflaged inside the Chatelaine Magazine recipe-creating staff....  And it makes me so, so happy.

We will infiltrate everything, everywhere, until we have taken over the world, bwa-ha-ha-ha....

Because in Canada, paleo is still mostly unheard of.  It is a secret world mostly known only to crossfitters, celiac-sufferers and mega fad-dieters.  And the Canadian magazine Chatelaine is distributed worldwide; according to Rogers Publishing, it has a readership of 3,280,000.  So any recipe they publish is going to really, really be seen.

Of course, they don't CALL those recipes paleo.  Or primal.  Or grain-free.

But they exist.  Oh, how they exist--just look a little closer.

And even better than that, of the non-paleo recipes they present, many of those recipes are no longer carb-centric either, lending themselves to easy translation into a paleo-acceptable meal.  Or so I find.  Is it just me?  You decide--go check it out here.

So it is that I came upon this recipe for easy crockpot pork carnitas.  With a pretty picture for herbed rice, too, which is apparently the way we're supposed to be serving out carnitas, if we're going to do it right.  (I want THEIR food photographer...sigh...see right pic; next time I'm just going to have to try to imitate their photo set-up)

Now, I've seen paleo carnita recipes out there before.  I've cooked a few of those recipes.  And while they were definitely tasty, they were also hi-effort.  And I'm a lazy cook.

So, a few small tweaks to the Chatelaine recipe, and voila, perfection and deliciousness happened.  And as for the herbed rice?  A quick google taught me that its just rice with fresh herbs and lime juice added to it.  Wow, how simple and tasty THAT turned out.  So here's what I did:

Crockpot Carnitas


  • 2 lbs pork shoulder
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp dried minced onions
  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 bay leaf


If you have regular grocery-store meat, trim off all visible fat.  Cut pork into large chunks and place them in your crockpot.  Add all spices except bay and toss to mix. Place your bay leaf ontop of the meat, cover and cook according to crockpot manufacturers instructions.  With my crockpot, it's 10-12 hours on low, or 4-5 hours on high.

Go to work and forget about it.

At the end of the day, give the meat a quick stir to re-distribute juices, if there are any.  Heat frypan to med-high, add some fat of choice and throw those meat chunks in just to slightly crisp them on the sides that weren't face-up in the crockpot.

Herbed Cauli-Rice


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1-2 Tbs chicken broth
  • 1/2 c green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 c fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 c fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 frozen cubes of fresh dill, or 2 tsp dill from those "tubes" or 2 Tbs chopped fresh dill
  • juice of 1 lime
  • butter, for frying

Rice your cauliflower.  In frypan on med-high, add cauliflower and chicken broth, cover and "steam" for a few minutes, until broth evaporates.  Add butter, lime juice, and all spices, cook for a couple more minutes until fragrant and cauli is cooked al dente.

Serve pork over herbed cauli-rice. I served mine with all the extra pan-juices poured over top because I'm like that.  I love my fatty-fat-fat.   Enjoy!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Drop Shortbread

In my house, as a kid, I remember my grandmother always making drop shortbread cookies at Christmastime.  It was never the hard, dry Scottish shortbread.  It was a powdery white cookie, dropped by the spoonful onto the pan with half of a maraschino cherry stuck into the middle of each one, some red, some green, little Christmas coloured shiny blobs in a mound of white.  I hated those cherries at first, and forever hated them in anything BUT these cookies.  But over the years I came to appreciate about how these buttery and simple shortbread cookies came to life with the addition of those little cherry bits in them.

And then I had kids.  And they loved the drop shortbread cookies, and hated the cherries.  I tried to bake them with everything and anything else that I could--red and green coloured sugar crystals, Hersheys Kisses, jujubes--and just eventually started making the drop shortbread PLAIN.  Gasp!  I know, I know, eh? I didn't know then what I know now about candied fruit and food colouring and all the other other awful crap they put in those marachino "cherries".

But you know what?  We all loved those cookies plain.  They were simple and light and just sort-of crumbled apart in the mouth.  They were only lightly sweet and smooth and buttery and it was too, too easy to gobble up 12 of them.  They went down easy.

Well, shortbread cookies are really just flour, powdered sugar, and butter.  No eggs.  No vanilla.  No anything fancy or weird or difficult to find.  Creating a shortbread-flavoured cookie without flour and powdered sugar was not an easy thing to do since those were the only flavours in them.  It took a few tries.  And the end result??  Sure, they don't look like the real deal.  Not when you grind your own almonds into flour like I do.  (If you can afford the super-fine ground almond meal, I'm sure they'll look pretty authentic.  But I can't.)

And while the ground almonds in these cookies have a bit more chewiness than traditional shortbread, these cookies still crumble gently in the mouth like drop shortbread should, and the buttery simple sweetness comes pretty damn close to what I remember it should be.  So try them.  They're oh-so-simple to make.  Have them with a spot of Earl Grey tea.  You're welcome.

Drop Shortbread

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 c slivered almonds, blended/processed into almond meal
  • 1/2 c coconut sugar
  • 1/3 c coconut flour
  • 1 cup cold butter
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Blend almonds in food processor as finely as you can.  You can use almond meal if you already have that, same measurement.  Add your coconut sugar and blend a bit more.  You're trying to finely grind the sugar, too, if you can.  If you can't, don't sweat it.  Add coconut flour.  Add butter in cubes, pulsing, until all blended and a dough forms.

Drop by spoonful onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or use an insulated cookie sheet without parchment).  Bake 25 minutes.  Let cool 5-7 minutes before trying to move from pan to cooling rack.  Cookies are delicate.

Nutrition Facts (per cookie)
81 calories
6g fat (3g saturated)
5g carbohydrate
2g fiber
2g protein

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Organic Semantics

Is it just me, or the label "organic" just another reason to double the sticker cost at the grocery store?  I mean, really, how do you justify spending $1.99 an apple, when you can spend $0.99/lb?  It begins to add up when you're feeding 2, 3, 4, or more mouths--and especially when those mouths are teens!  Holy cow can they ever put food back!

I have a little confession to make, just between you and me, of course...I ....don't..... always...... buy.... organic.... produce....

Gasp!  I know, I know.  I've been playing Russian Roulette with my family's health and endangering us all, and....well, hold on a minute!  Let's back that truck up and take a closer look at this...

So why would I want to buy organic?  What, really, does the organic label mean?  We all kind-of assume that "organic" means it's raised without man-made chemical pesticides and hormones.  How bad, really, can those pesticides be, honestly??  They passed the FDA test, right?!  And what about the other side of the coin--nutrition content?

In order to receive an organic label, produce must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, without GMOs, without petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage-based fertilizers, and must be grown in safe, unmodified soil (ref. this link).   The Canadian Government defines it this way--

"The general principals of organic production include the following:
1. Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, optimize biological
productivity and promote a sound state of health.
2. Maintain long-term soil fertility by optimizing conditions for biological activity within the soil.
3. Maintain biological diversity within the system.
4. Recycle materials and resources to the greatest extent possible within the enterprise.
5. Provide attentive care that promotes the health and meets the behavioural needs of livestock.
6. Prepare organic products, emphasizing careful processing, and handling methods in order to maintain the
organic integrity and vital qualities of the products at all stages of production.
7. Rely on renewable resources in locally organized agricultural systems."  (see this Government of Canada PDF document for more on this)

Sounds promising, right?  Further down in the nitty gritty details that I doubt anyone truly wants to read in its entirety, is a list of what is banned, and that ban covers "...all materials and products produced from genetic engineering" (GMOs) as well as "Synthetic growth regulators...veterinary drugs, including antibiotics... ionizing radiation and forms of irradiation... cloned farm animals and their descendants... "  The list goes on, and covers quite a lot of things we probably even haven't given any thought to, or are completely unaware such things even existed.  This is a fabulous resource, this document, but wow...long and tedious read if you're not into that kind of stuff.

In Canada, as of 2009, organic producers MUST be certified by an accredited agency to be able to use the organic label, which is a great idea, but apparently accreditation companies are not required to test the food being labelled.  They are allowed to accept the words of the farmer/producer as good enough.   The organic farmer IS required to keep detailed records of everything they do, though--so accreditation all boils down to getting an ISO audit (if you've never been part of an ISO audit--I have--the auditor reads your notes, questions why you did what you did, suggests small changes and when you show you've made the changes, your certification follows in the mail).  Also of note; food additives can be used to help maintain the "nutritional value, composition, consistency and appearance", and "stability" of the so-called organic food.  Also, there are sprays out there akin to petroleum-based sprays that do count as "natural" and so can be used--so don't assume that they aren't spraying the crops, just that they're not using specifically identified chemical compounds.  And here's another interesting tidbit--for any food "product" to be classed as organic, it must have at least 70% of its ingredients labelled as organic.  In other words, that $6 can of organic tomato sauce has up to 30% conventional food ingredients in it.  That little tidbit of information came from the actual Cdn. Govt. document 'Organic Products Regulations' here .

The honest truth is that "organic" definitions differ everywhere--country to country, province to province, even farm to farm.  For an awesome list of organic regulations all over Canada, check out this site from Pro-Cert.  It includes not just the regulations in Canada, but also European, Swiss, Taiwan regulations, and how those regulations cross-reference against our own standards.  Neat stuff, if you like reading government documents.  I have always, always questioned the validity of the word "organic" when my cherries have come from somewhere like Chili.  Our standards are not their standards, you know?  But then I found this FAQ article by the CBC--and it totally makes me feel better--scroll down to the end where it discusses imported organic products.  The suggestion is that to be sold as organic here, it must pass OUR standard definition of organic.

Ok, enough poking holes.  Nothing is 100% foolproof, lets be honest.  We'll leave the hole-poking up to the media herehere, and here.  I'll let you decide for yourself on the validity of these articles.  We've all heard those horror stories of organic growers spraying their crops in the middle of the night to avoid detection.  Perhaps I've been listening too much to THOSE kinds of voices in the past.

Know what the best way to really get to the bottom of organics and spraying is?  Get to know the farmer you want to buy it from.  Meet the farmer.  Talk to him.  Tour his farm, see what he does, ask questions.  Most farmers are pretty open to this.  Beware a farmer that isn't.

Organic is great in principal.  And when it comes to produce, some things matter more than others.  We've all heard about the "dirty dozen", right?  Those foods that are just drenched in the worst pesticides out there?  Lets review quickly.  Produce that, on average, contains the highest level of pesticides are:
  • apples
  • carrots
  • peppers
  • celery
  • cherries, blueberries (on some lists but not others)
  • imported grapes
  • kale, spinach, lettuce (and other leafy greens, I would personally add)
  • potatoes
  • imported nectarines
  • peaches
  • pears
  • strawberries
Some lists also include conventional, fatty cuts of meat because all the bad stuff is the most concentrated in the fat--so if you don't buy your beef and pork 'grass-fed' yet, please DO trim all visible fat and replace the fat with a healthier fat like coconut oil until you can find a good grass-fed source.  And coffee is now making this bad list.  And to those of you who consider yourself primal over paleo, milk and milk products are making their way onto this list more and more often as well.  Of course, those of you that I know personally, you already buy all your dairy in its organic form, but not everyone can afford to do that.  I don't buy milk or cream, but I do enjoy butter, so while I do still buy the conventional stuff, I am trying to find an acceptable price on the organic or raw stuff.  I don't buy organic cheese, either, but I do buy Kerrygold brand anything-I-can-get-my-hands-on (their Dublin Cheese is freakin' awesome!).  Kerrygold comes from Ireland, is completely natural and is from 100% pasture-fed cows (not to be confused by pasteurized).   

When it comes to weighing the pro's and con's of organic vs. conventional produce, what's more important (at least to me) is the SECOND list, the list of things that are surprisingly untainted by pesticides for the most part, and this list includes:
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • avocado
  • eggplant
  • mango
  • kiwi
  • onions
  • sweet potatoes
  • pineapples
  • tomatoes
  • watermelon
I've also recently heard Mark Sisson state that coconut is another product mostly untainted by pesticides.  Whew, because that organic coconut milk is ridiculously over-priced.  We're not looking at Bisphenol-A (BPA) or BHA/BHT here, so don't focus on that problem in this blog post.  That one's for some other time.

Now, both of the above lists are all about pesticides.  They are not any guarantee of nutritional value.  There are a million articles all over the internet lately on how organic-labelled produce is no more nutritious than conventional.  But we already knew that, right?  We don't recommend organic because of its nutritious qualities, we do it to reduce our exposure to any chemicals it was grown with.  If you want to read a bit more on the nutrition topic, this post by Mark Sisson really goes over the topic of nutrient quality.

The truth is that, when it comes to nutrition, fresh is what matters most--it is waaay more important than any organic label.  The closer that food is grown to home, the less time it travels to your table, the more nutritious it's going to be.  Those cherries from the orchard down the road are 10x as nutritious as those organic-labelled cherries at the grocery store that came all the way from Chili.  Which means you HAVE to buy only what's in season as much as possible.  Which probably works in California, but it's kinda challenging in Canada.  Our growing season in Ontario is 5 months long (and other provinces have far shorter growing seasons than we do here).  In October, the farmers markets all close down and its every-man-for-himself unless you live close to some place like the St Lawrence Market.  If you don't, it's grocery-store organic and your food could have traveled from the other side of the world to make it to your table and that organic kiwi you want to toss in a salad might just cost you $5 and still have almost no nutrients left in it anyways when compared to those non-organic strawberries that came from California, which are still less nutritious than the strawberries you picked yourself, in excess, and froze half of them last summer. So you begin to see why I don't always buy organic.  It's only half of the picture and its just not always feasible.

But I do champion the fight to make organic more feasible for more people.  That is a fight I can get behind.  People deserve to eat food that is uncontaminated by synthetic pesticides, they deserve fresh, affordable, and nutritous food.  Large families should not have to eat inferior food just because they have less money and more mouths to feed.  Local and organic foods should be the normal food sold everywhere, it should not be the exception to the rule, and yet it is.  Organic is something that only a select few can afford.

Organic is a choice, and it is not something that either makes you paleo, or not.  You have to decide what works for you, and what does not.  I ate conventional meats until I could find a good, affordable source for grass-fed.  It is much the same with organic produce.  I buy what I can afford, and I focus on the worst offenders first, and I don't sweat the rest.  I do what I can.  Organic isn't a bad idea.  At least, for some things it does seem to make sense.  Of course, knowing that doesn't help with the sticker shock of buying said organic item, so you really have to pick and choose what matters most to you personally, and to your family, when you consider buying organics.  Personally, I would put buying locally above buying organic, every time.  I want to support the small farms that surround my community, and I KNOW that they have not traveled far to my table.  I want to know where my food comes from, and everything else will follow.

So with all of that in mind, know that there are ways to make organic easier on the wallet, and more nutritious, including:
  • Shop your farmers markets whenever you can; often these items are priced fairly competitively, and they are always local and organic--a double bonus.  Plus, you are supporting your local farmers and local economy.  How can that go wrong?
  • Buy what's in-season--easier said than done in Canada, I know, but more and more organic farmers are using greenhouses to grow tender greens, making them in-season even in the wintertime.  
  • Buy from your local CSA.  There are tonnes around the Toronto area, and several in my area that actually deliver FOR FREE!  Depending on the CSA, some even let you tell them what you don't want in your box (potatoes and corn).  I will definitely be testing this out in 2013.   Looks like I'll be paying about $40/wk, which I already spend in the grocery store anyway, so I'm sold.  
  • Consider freezing and other means of preservation.  You'll thank yourself in the winter when you're still eating cheap local organic and everyone else is paying a fortune for theirs at the store...
  • Get to know your local farmers, and buy directly from the farmer.  It does take time to search out the farmers in the area, and get to know them, but it is so worth it.  Knowing your food's source is awesome.  I adore my grass-fed beef supplier, and have a couple of good sources for chicken, but I'm still looking for an affordable source of grass-fed pork and eggs at a price I can justify.  See?  No one is perfect at this.  It takes time to make these changes.
  • Join a buying group.  I cannot stress this one enough.  Why do all the research yourself when you can let someone else do the research for you?  Let them find the best sources and prices, and by buying in bigger groups, you're likely to get better and better prices.  It also means you don't have to buy a half cow all by yourself to get that great price.  
  • Buy an extra freezer--even a used freezer from some place like Kijiji.  So that when you find that elusive and awesome price, stock up!  (Know that a 7.5 cu ft freezer will not quite hold a half cow...maybe consider buying 2 freezers--one for a cow, and the other for everything else)

So with all of that in mind, the decision remains yours to make.  If I had a million dollars, would I buy nothing but organic?    Well, I'd probably buy MORE things organic than I do now, sure.  But I think I'd still rather focus my efforts on buying everything local, to meet all of the farmers in my region and find a way to have all my food brought straight from the farm to my house.  That would be sweet!

So here's the last question of the day...  I pose it to anyone out there who can answer me this--  why does my organic apple still feel like it has a wax coating on it?  Does anyone know?  Anyone???

Huh?  Don't believe everything you see.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Paleo Life presents.... MovNat

Ever wonder what MovNat is, really?

I know, I know, it's moving around REALLY SLOWLY, right?  In the woods?  Uh, no, actually, it's not.  It IS a series of movements, though, that are meant to make your body move the way it should move, and those moves can be joined together in a circuit for a workout that will have you seriously sweating.

So this half hour video (don't worry, I know it says its 15 minutes long, then the other one will start, honest!) is all about what Movnat is, what some of the moves are like, and at the end, a workout using them.

Try it, you'll like it!  I'll be incorporating more of these movements into my own workouts for sure!

And thank you Jonathan Randles, for taking the time to teach me.  His website and info is all at the end of the video, if you're in the GTA and interested in having him train you, too...

Thanks for watching Paleo Life!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Ahh, the lessons from my kitchen.  Baking cookies should never, ever make you want to cry.  But these did. And not the good kinda cry, either.  These cookies took 4 complete do-overs to get them right.  Not kidding.  I got the taste right on the first shot...but the texture?  Crap, I could not have made more stupid mistakes.

So this recipe is an adaptation from a very old Chatelaine recipe.  The original, of course, used wheat flour and shortening and white sugar--by the boatload.  But I figured I was up to the challenge.  In hindsight, I have to ask myself--was I really?

So lets go over those mistakes 1 by 1.

First--do not make the cookies too big or stick them too close together. They go from perfectly nice cookies to a big sheet of solid goo which dripped off the edges of my insulated cookie pan all over  my stove, which led to an oven cleaning, just one day after the last oven cleaning...

Too thin...

Next, do not melt the lard/coconut oil fist, thinking it makes the molasses and lard easier to blend into the dough.  The cookies melt all over the cookie sheet before it even goes in the oven, making them too thin and lacy to call gingersnaps.
Too cake-like

Next, do not add an extra egg, trying to set the dough faster, because what it does is leaven the cookies and gives them a cake texture--which might have been great for snicker doodles, but not gingersnaps.

Too burnt...
And most importantly--do NOT walk away on baking cookies.  Even if they turned out perfect on the first round, the second dozen is not a guarantee of perfection to follow.  The element can come on, scorches all of the cookies and ruins everything.

So, so many lessons.  Here's a couple more--do not taste every batch, raw and cooked, when making 4 x 48 cookies.  It will give you an awful bellyache.  Do not cry into your cookie dough.  No one will want to eat it.  Do not scrape ruined partially-cooked cookie dough off a hot baking sheet and shovel it into your mouth.  That will also make you feel ill, eventually, and it will still increase your waist circumference even if it is grain-free and refined-sugar-free and all that.  And my final lesson--do not make these to keep to yourself.  Share them.  Because they are soooo good that you will eat all of them.  And then you will blame me when you put weight on.  Me, I'm blaming the dogs for all of this.  Because they can't argue with me.

So here's the right way to make these cookies....

Makes 48 cookies (or more)


  • 1 c slivered almonds (or almond meal)
  • 1 c tapioca starch
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger 
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c coconut sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • 3/4 c lard or coconut oil

Move oven rack to highest setting.  (Cookies scorch easily).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In food processor, puree almonds until fine crumbs/almond meal texture.  Add dry ingredients and blend.  Add lard.  Blend until fine crumbles.  Add egg and molasses.  Puree until mixed thoroughly.

Place by small, very scant spoonful (they REALLY spread) onto parchment-lined cookie sheet (This is waaay important--they stick like crazy if you don't).  Bake 7-9 minutes.  If the element comes on, just turn the oven off and let them finish with it turned off.  Don't worry.  they'll still cook.  Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheet before moving to cooling rack.

A lot of sweat and tears, for sure.  But worth it?  I totally love these cookies.  You'd never know they were wheat-free or refined-sugar-free.  Freakin' delicious.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Gingerbread Cake

You know, the first time I mentioned I was baking a gingerbread CAKE, Steve said 'cake?  I don't know if I've ever had it as a cake.'  Yes, CAKE!  All that rich, dark, molasses flavor in a light, fluffy cake instead of those awful dry cookies they use like bricks to make houses out of.  My dad's mom used to make this cake for Christmas dinners, and she served it with a heaping spoonful of real whipped cream.  The cake was so intense-tasting that you HAD to have the whipped cream to cut the flavor down a bit, it was that intense.  And I LOVED it that way.  Years later, when I was living for a short period with my Aunt (my dad's sister), we'd make this cake just because we loved it--at any time of year--and it always tasted like Christmas to us.

So here's to kicking off the Christmas season.  While everyone south of the border is celebrating their Thanksgiving over turkey (ours is long-since past), I will be eating Christmas dinner (yea, Christmas in November, don't ask, it just IS this way in my family) and I will be eating some of this cake, and getting all nostalgic about it.

So this is an adaptation of the recipe that came from my grandma.  I don't know where she got the recipe (she passed away years ago)--maybe the Toronto Star newspaper published the recipe 50 years ago or so.  She got a lot of recipes from the Toronto Star over the years.

Little bit of trivia here; the Toronto Star used to publish a new recipe every week--and they tried to use ingredients that were affordable for those times--like making cookies with lard instead of butter because it was much cheaper and more available at the time.  Homemakers would eagerly await the next new recipe each week.  Through the 40's and 50's, houses all over Toronto would be serving up the same Sunday night dinner--whatever was featured that week in the newspaper.

So here's my paleo-adapted version.  Let's be honest here, it may not contain flour and may have reduced and altered healthier sweeteners in it, but it's still cake.  During the holidays, you still deserve to eat cake.  Just let it be cake that doesn't turn your guts inside-out.  Don't eat the whole cake (once you taste it, you'll want to!).  Share it with guests like a nice host/hostess...


  • 1/2 c lard
  • 1/2 c coconut sugar
  • 1/3 c molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 pan with whatever fat you want to use (I used coconut oil).  Using a hand-mixer or stand-mixer, cream lard and coconut sugar together until fluffy.  Add molasses and eggs, mix thoroughly.  In separate bowl, mix all remaining dry ingredients.  Add to molasses mixture, alternating with boiling water, until all is added in.    Pour/spread in prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.  Serve with real whipped cream or whipped coconut milk (with just a pinch of coconut sugar in it--trust me on this one).

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Paleo Life presents....Fermentation 101

Presenting....Paleo Life, the show!!

Lately, I've been putting in a lot of time on a project called Paleo Life.  As part of the Toronto Paleo Meetup Group (here), and T.O. Paleo Life, the FB page, I've been searching for a way to get the word out there about not just the paleo diet and lifestyle, but also to showcase all of the talent and the brains behind the paleo movement up here in the Greater Toronto Area.  Paleo Life is going to be a 1/2-hour show featuring local paleo advocates, presenting many of the various aspects of paleo life/the paleo movement.  Episodes will include current trends in science research (gut-health, ketosis, the diabetes link) to health and lifestyle (next episode--I'm going to learn MovNat!)

This video was filmed as part of a seminar that we (the GTA-Toronto Paleo Meetup Group with special guest presenter Andra) hosted and presented last weekend at the Toronto Health Studios (thanks Cheryl for letting us use your studio).  The seminar was actually over 2 hours and it was just awesome.  The video recording only caught the first portion of it--all the science, but none of the how-to's.  We covered a lot of different types of ferments that I thought were important to include in the video, so in editing, I went and added in all the recipes that we covered.  I hope you like it--it was my very first recording and I had to do it without a cameraman that day.  I've learned from it--next time have a cameraman and next time place the camera where the viewing audience is so we're looking in that direction)

So here's to  my new beginning--as a YouTube Paleo Life show host extraordinaire.  We have a lot of interesting guests lined up covering a wide range topics for the near future, and there will be several video formats used.  Hope you keep watching and let me know what you think! 

(And if you have an area of expertise that you think the world deserves to learn about, drop me a note!)


Tortiere, Two-Way

Ah, and so begins my Ode to Canadian Food.  Once I figure out what Canadian food is, anyways....

Tortiere (tor-tee-ay) pie is a very traditional French-Canadian meat pie.  It was typically served on Christmas eve, but due to it's ability to be made ahead of time and it's sheer simplicity, it seems to be served a whole lot more in many households around here--spreading well beyond the French-Canadian border and into Anglo-Canadian homes everywhere (and is one of the most available foods-in-a-box at any grocery store in any part of Canada).

So, tortiere is typically made with a mixture of ground meats.  Beef, Veal, and pork, most often, but sometimes game meat is in there, too, for an extra punch of flavor.  My mom made this a lot when we were growing up.  With all 3 kinds of ground meat.  Funny thing is, even though we ate almost nothing but pre-packaged box foods from the freezer aisle, THIS she made from scratch.  In our house, it was served at any time through the winter on a weekend, but especially Christmas eve, Boxing Day and New Year's Day because it could be prepped ahead of time, leaving my mom free to entertain/socialize with the rest of us.  My mom was no slave to the kitchen; she was (and still is) a social butterfly that to this day outshines anyone else in the room at a party.

When I grew up and moved out, I started buying the frozen-boxed variety of it because I couldn't stand making pastry.  Or being a social butterfly at a party.  It was never as good as home-made.

Turns out this stuff is ridiculously easy to make.

And I've found that I like mine made with nothing but pork like Montrealers do it.  Easy-peasy.

Now, I've made this recipe two ways--the "traditional" way, paleo-ified up, for when you have guests coming, for special occasions, for pleasing a family that feels robbed of their comfy carbohydrates from your pre-paleo days...  And I've made a simple pared-down low-carb weeknight version for those days when you just want food.  Real.  Simple.

Classic Tortiere


  • 1 c almond meal
  • 3/4 c tapioca starch
  • 1/4 c butter, coconut oil or lard, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1Tbs cold water, to bind
Meat Filling:
  • 2 lbs ground pork
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tsp savory
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground celery seed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbs tapioca


First, get started on your meat.  In a big dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan, add all ingredients except the tapioca.  Bring it to a boil and simmer it for 30 minutes, frequently breaking it up with a spoon.  Use tapioca, dissolved in a bit of water, to thicken into a gravy at the very end.

While you meat is simmering, work on your pastry.  Mix all dry ingredients in bowl first, then, using bare hands, work in butter until pastry is crumbly.  Add egg and cold water.  Form into a ball and set in fridge for at least 5 minutes, preferably 15 minutes.  Don't skip this step (like I did)--you'll be fighting with your pastry if you skip it.  I had to re-roll mine twice before I realized what I'd done.

Now pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Ok, after it chills for a while, pull it back out and divide it onto 2.  Roll out your pastry between 2 layers of waxed paper or parchment paper.  Paleo pastry is definitely more crumbly to work with, so save yourself the aggravation and use some paper.  After your first piece is rolled out about 1 - 2 inches bigger than your pie dish, carefully loosen the top piece of waxed paper and then put it right back on, loosely.  Flip the whole thing over carefully, loosen the other side, then try to transfer it to the pie dish.  Don't worry if it STILL crumbles a bit.  It's the bottom and no one will see it.  Just press the crumbles back into place.

Pour in your prepared filling.  Then do the same pastry routine with the top layer, press the edges together, cut a few slashes into the pie to let steam escape, and stick it in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Sometimes paleo pastry darkens faster around the edges than traditional pastry.  You can carefully place a few narrow strips of tinfoil around the edges to cover them when they start to get brown, or just ignore it like I do.  It still comes out great.

Now, if you want the simple version, just follow all the meat steps the exact same, but skip the pastry.  As soon as you get your meat simmering in the pot, throw some cauliflower into another pot and simmer it up for some classic mashed cauliflower.

Know any other traditional Canadian foods?  How do you define traditional?  Canada is such a mixture of cultures that anything goes, and it varies by region.  Let me know what you think!  

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chocolate Sustenance

I saw this awesome post from my friend Danny at Primal North (here).

Now, Danny is a huge primal weight-loss success story (not a huge person anymore, it's his success that is huge--DO NOT MISQUOTE ME on that one!!)  He teaches a low-carb ketogenic regime that works wonders for him (more on Danny another time, I guarantee it).

But what really caught my eye on this particular day was something he called chocolate blubber.  Yes, blubber.  Now, once you get past that all-too-pictographic name, you see what he's doing is making portable fat for his road travels, and to make it extra-palatable, he's making it chocolate.  Seriously.  It's super-fatty chocolate.  Can I put those words together without smiling?  They make me happy.  Chocolate.  Fat.  Fatty chocolate.

Fat is the most filling and satisfying of the 3 macro-nutrients, right?  It's what causes satiety.  Do you know what I've been snacking on at the end of my work day lately??  A mixture of butter, cocoa and home made coconut butter.  Heavy on the butter.  Because I can't seem to get enough of fat these days.  Because fat is filling and it totally squashes any hunger-craving I might be having.  For those of you that are still fat-phobic, you are soooo missing out on delicious things.

So I saw Danny's post, and I thought, hey, now this is a much prettier version than what I was doing!  He's gone and classed-up my fat-snack-food-treat.  Heck, he even makes it look good.  But the name?  Danny--we've got to change the name!!!

I wanted to make my chocolate blubber just like his.  Except I didn't have any dark chocolate in my house (the horror!!)  What I did have was a lot of cocoa (a Costco-sized container of it...) and coconut sugar.  And a hankering for seriously fatty chocolate.  So I thought....well....this is how it went down:

1/2 c coconut oil
1/2 c butter (salted is fine, heck, add some salt, you'll like it)
1/2 c cocoa powder
3-4 tsp coconut sugar (I used 2 tsp coconut sugar and 4 scoops stevia, but it imparts an aftertaste--stick with real coconut sugar)

Melt all together, pour into a silicone meatloaf pan or into muffin silicone cups and set in fridge.  Let it set.

Snack on that deliciousness.  A 1" square or two will fill you.  I swear.

If I added chopped bacon, or chopped jerky, I could call it chocolate pemmican.  Mmmm.

But I will call this....Chocolate Sustenance.  It just sounds better than blubber.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lacto-Fermented Ketchup

Round 1--did I go too far too fast?  Yes, I did.

Have you discovered fermented foods yet?

Oh, boy I have.  I have suddenly been swept away with lacto-fermentation fever.  I'm loving it.  I feel like a mad scientist creating crazy concoctions in my kitchen.  Some of them work out fabulous, some of them do not (which requires that I try it again, with modifications).

My first batch of fermented beets was awful.  They came out ridiculously salty (beets should be sweet, not salty--that was offensive to taste--but my second attempt was AWESOME!!).  And my first batch of cucumbers went overtly soft and salty and sour--I know now that I left them both out on the counter for waaaay too long.  My first batch of roasted hot pepper sauce grew several inches of mold  and even when I removed it and tried again, it happened again.  I think the bad bacteria went too deep into the sauce, so I had to pitch it.  My first mistake there was making the sauce with still-warm peppers straight from the oven, which is bad, and then I set that jar right beside the crockpot and used the crockpot, which caused the jar to heat up again, killing the good bacteria and letting the bad bateria take over.  Funny thing; the hot sauce still tasted good even though it had grown mold (yea, I bravely tasted it), and it was hotter than all heck.  But I didn't think it was a good idea to keep that science experiment.

This is NOT supposed to fail.

The worst complaint that I have with fermenting is that it takes time.  So if you make a mistake, if it doesn't go right, it can take a long time to get the issue sorted out.

Fortunately for me, the ketchup recipe worked out THE FIRST TIME!

Always a good thing.  Failures can be discouraging.  I have an incredibly short attention span, so I'm with you on that one.  But don't give up.  While improper canning techniques can have disastrous consequences, lacto-fermentation experiments that go wrong simply end in...yuck factor.  Not sickness.  So get brave and try something!  For the initiate, I recommend this easy home-made yogurt recipe, or this easy home-made sauerkraut recipe.  But for the adventurous, I give you.......

Homemade Ketchup!

I really missed ketchup after going all paleo-like.  It was a sugar-trap, I knew that.  But since fermentation allows the bacteria to feed on the sugar, which drastically reduces or eliminates the sugar content altogether, why not ferment some ketchup?  Before Heinz ketchup took over the world, ketchup was thick and smoky tasting, not so sugar-and-vinegar like it is today.  It had complex flavor and depth and need I say more?

This recipe comes from Nourished Kitchen here .  This makes a pretty big amount, which is good, because once you have, you're going to start putting it back into all the things you used to put ketchup in and had to omit once you went paleo.  I think this weekend, I'm going to try making a sweet, sticky fermented bbq sauce and it's going to start with this ketchup base.


2 cups tomato paste
1/4 cup honey 
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whey
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Basically, combine all ingredients in a clean jar (except the 2 Tbs whey).  Pour the 2 Tbs whey over the mixture and leave it on top of everything.  Cover it up loosely with a tea towel and an elastic to keep the bugs out.  Forget about it for a couple of days.  After day 2, start to taste it to see when it has reached your desired level of sour.  It will get less and less sweet (and more complex tasting) with each day that it ferments.  When its done enough (probably 4-5 days), you can stir in a bit more vinegar to give it the right texture, or not (the longer it sits, the more liquid that will evaporate).  Up to you.  The vinegar will only add to the amount of time it can be kept in your fridge.

That's the whey on top--nothing bad happening here...
It wouldn't be fair of me to just copy her whole recipe.  So I won't.  Check out the link.  But a couple of things should be noted; I used canned tomato paste.  I used honey and not any special sugar.  You don't have whey?  I bought plain full-fat Balkan Yogurt from the grocery store and made yogurt cheese/greek yogurt to extract the whey (the watery by-product of straining yogurt).  What to do with the leftover greek yogurt?  I'm working on a fermented apple chutney to try in the greek yogurt, also from Nourished Kitchen...  

Now, I've heard you don't need whey to lacto-ferment.  You could just use salt and water.  Well, that works great with vegetable ferments, but not so great with sauces, as far as I've discovered.  If it involves any kind of pureed foods, you better use some whey (or other starter culture) to speed up the process so you can get it fermented and into the fridge (which then slows or halts the fermenting process) before the BAD bacteria (ie. mold) takes over your little experiment.  But maybe you have a different technique?

I learned some stuff along the way......  Keep your fermenting foods away from sources of heat and sunlight.  Allowing your foods to get all warm and toasty will allow mold to grow and you probably won't like that.  It won't kill you, but it will negatively flavor the ketchup or anything else, so don't place it near to the crockpot or in the windowsill, ok?  Not in the fridge, but just....away from everything.  Maybe a separate counter or in the cupboard.  It might be too hot ontop of your fridge.

I let my ketchup sit for 2 days before sticking it in the fridge.  It could have gone 3.  Days later, I pulled it back out and added a bit more whey ontop and let it go a couple more days.  I had to add some apple cider vinegar to thin it down in the end, too, because the fermentation process drew all the excess moisture out of the tomato paste.  But it is now perfect.  It goes great on burgers, and is awesome in Shepherd's Pie with some Worcestershire sauce.  Oh, by the way, you can make your own fermented Worcestershire sauce, too.  Maybe I'll try that soon.  I'll start by searching the Nourishing Traditions and Nourished Kitchen websites.  They're both freakin' awesome.  So don't forget to check it out, will ya?

Doesn't it look great here?  Only the ketchup came out right, though.....


For those of you who suffer like I do....

Know what RWH is?  Red Wine Headache.  It can come on 15 minutes after that first sip, or 8 hours after.  I'm not talking about the headache that comes from having a few too many drinks--that's called a hangover and this is not it.  For some people, as many as 1/3 of people who try to drink red wine, this RWH sucks all the fun out of having a social glass of wine every time.  It's a common enough problem to have its' own Wikipedia page, and several posts dedicated to it on Livestrong.

I may even re-name it RWM for Red Wine Migraine, because these headaches don't tend to improve with painkillers of any kind.  They're ugly.  They're often accompanied by congestion and sinus pain.  They often strike hard and long, and come back a few times before truly disappearing.  It just sucks.

And they get me every time.

So I've looked into this.  And I've experimented with it.  Because someone had to.  It's not like I was going to give up drinking wine--hell no!

I know, I know, if wine makes my head hurt, why drink it, right?  My daughter asked me that one.  Well, I'm a mother in her 40's and I have teenagers.  This is my right of passage and I will continue to drink wine and experience this lovely right of passage for at least the next decade.  What else is a cougar-ish woman supposed to do at this point?  Am I the only one who watched Cougartown and saw some serious parallels to her own life?  Hey, I know people who have a "Big Joe" glass for wine--one cup will do ya when that one glass holds a whole bottle.  If that doesn't convince you of the right of passage, watch Penny on Big Bang Theory.  Call it a woman's prerogative.  Thou shalt drink wine.  It has been written.

I'm not promoting rampant alcoholism.  The media does that for me.  I'm just going to share some knowledge about this rather annoyingly common and vexing problem.

So what causes RWH?

The old theory was sulfites.  But that's old news and it's wrong.  Sulfites are added to food to preserve it, but there are more sulfites in white wine than red, and this headache problem is far more pronounced in red wine than white.  Besides, a reaction to sulfites would actually be an allergic reaction with hives, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  So that's not it.  I've actually heard that people who are allergic to sulfa-based medicines also react to sulfites in wine (don't know if it's true or not, though).  My daughter is allergic to sulfa.  Can this be used to deter her from that teenage right of passage--the drink till you puke party?


So, the other causes for RWH are suggested to be; tannins and/or amines (histamine and tyramine).

Lets talk tannins first.  Tannins exist naturally in all fruit as they act to help ripen the fruit (and give it the astringent taste), but are especially high in blueberries, pomegranates  persimmons and grapes, as well as apple juice.  They exist in wood, and are therefore high in smoked/processed foods.  And are highly concentrated in pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts.  They also exist in high amounts in chocolate (the darker, the more concentrated).  So if you don't get headaches from chocolate or nuts, its probably not the problem.

So how about histamines?  Histamines occur due to the fermentation process.  They're also released in the body as a response to allergens.  Red wine can contain up to 200% more histamines than white.  Apparently taking a Claritin before consumption can resolve this issue, or at least help identify if it is indeed the issue.  Can you imagine popping a Benadryl before a glass of wine?  Don't do that.  Wow, that would be a drunken mess.  But if you suspect it IS histamines, try taking an antihistamine just once, and see if it makes a difference.  It did for me.  Ironically, other foods that are high in histamines (and therefore you'd assume would cause similar reactions as wine does) include; avocado, parmesan cheese, eggplants, and balsamic vinegar.  Other foods that release histamines into the body include bananas, nuts, cocoa and chocolate, black and green tea, eggs, strawberries, pineapples, tomatoes and citrus fruit.  Ok, I HAVE gotten headaches from tomatoes, citrus fruit, pineapples, strawberries and nuts.  Oh, crap.  See this article on identifying a true histamine intolerance.

Histamine issues can also include stomach issues like cramping, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, local inflammation and facial flushing.  Hmmm, yes to bloating, local swelling and facial flushing.  Ohhh, no.

The studies on histamines are, unfortunately, frequently contradictory.  Some suggest there is no correlation whatsoever between histamines in foods and reactions to it.  Some studies have even suggested that rather than a true allergic response to histamines, the problem is that wine is a vasodilator and therefore causes worsening of existing allergies and rhinitis.  They suggest that this exacerbation of symptoms are the cause of RWH, but isn't that like the chicken-or-the-egg problem?  (For more on this, see this article and this NY Times article).  Livestrong has this to say about consumption of histamines.  If that doesn't confuse you, note that while taking a benadryl worked on my headache one day, it did not work the second day, and other fermented beverages like kombucha, and home-fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut, do not seem to have the same effect on me.  I tend to drink 1-2 cups of home made kombucha per day.  However, store-bought ordinary pickles and sauerkraut CAN give me a headache.  So can white vinegar and malt vinegar.

In my case, all roads lead to histamines, I think.

And lastly, let's talk tyramines.  These occur in food as it breaks down, over ripens, spoils or ferments.  So it's in over-ripe bananas.  And the bruises in apples.  But also in aged cheese, cured meats, dried fruits, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and many other processed foods.  It is in the yeast used in condiments.  Tyramines are suspected of causing up to 40% of all migraines.  Pretty telling, huh?  They both contract and dilate blood vessels, making them a pretty obvious evil for anyone out there who also gets barometric-pressure migraines.   Younger wines contain higher doses of tyramines than aged wines, oddly enough.  Weirdest tidbit I've read on this subject so far--people who react (get a headache) from citrus fruit have a connection to tyramine sensitivity.  Hmm.  Amines are looking pretty suspect, huh?

So what if you drank a glass of wine one day and were fine, and then drank the same stuff the next night and it lead to a terrible headache?  Frustrating, right?

The long and short of it is that migraines are often caused by cumulative factors.  It may be two or three things in combination that cause your body to revolt.  It may even include outside factors like a combo of tyramine and an incoming storm, or dehydration and tannins.  It may be all of the above.

So what do you do?

Well, I'm trying to find some wines that are low in tannins and amines.  This is a serious enough issue that the wine-making world is actually experimenting with how to make decent low tannin and low amine wines with varying rates of success.  Low tannin wines are definitely out there, but ask for a low-histamine wine and they'll look at you cross-eyed.

White wines are an obvious answer to both the tannin and amine problem, but not all white wines are low in both, or either of these compounds.  Some are just as bad as reds, so buyer beware.  I'm not as big of a fan of whites as I am of reds.  As far as I'm concerned, white wines should be relegated to breakfast drinking and poolside spritzers in the summertime.  They're not as classy as reds.  But that's my personal opinion.

So what are the safest wines to drink, if you just gotta drink?

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and sauterne are low in tyramine, according to this article.  All of these and pinot grigio are low in tannins, too....  But what about reds?  Generally, the drier the wine, the more tannins in it.  California wines are on the low-tannin end of the spectrum--but high in the amine end of the spectrum.  Avoid "oaked" wines as they are all high in tannins.  Pinot Noir, Gamay, French Bordeaux, Sauternes and Merlot are safe bets to test for adverse reactions first as they are the lowest-tannin reds.

On the other hand, if the problem is histamines, white wines are generally all safe except for Chardonnays and Californian wines.  Contradictory, I know, go figure.  Fruit wines have a lower histamine content, as do rose wines.  I can't find a definitive list of low-amine reds anywhere out there.

Wines to definitely avoid include Riesling, Shiraz, Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.

So far, here's what I've tested (oh, the suffering of having to TEST so many wines...sigh....)

"Safe" Low Tannin/Amine Wines

Sauvignin blanc (Silver Point)  

  • White from New Zealand
  • Taste is slightly sweet, best as a wine with appetizers
  • Got a 90 rating!  (though sweeter than I like, personally)
  • Great Price at $12.95

Skinny Grape Chardonnay (Round Petal)
  • White from British Columbia
  • added bonus--low cal!
  • About as sweet as the previous wine, but different fruit taste
  • good summer wine, great with club soda as a spritzer
  • great price at about $11.95

Pinot Noir (HobNob)

  • dark red, bold taste for a pinot (darker than many pinots)
  • not "oaky", vaguely sweeter than a typical pinot but not sweet
  • strong notes of dark cherry, medium body
  • great change for people who usually prefer shiraz
  • about $12.95 at LCBO
  • one day 1 no headachhe, but on day 2 this one still gave me a headache

Yellowtail Pinot Grigio
  • Australian white
  • tastes of pear and green apple, a bit less sweet than the others
  • best white so far
  • about $10.95

Copper Moon Shiraz
  • my fave red, and it causes serious headaches
  • $9.95
  • I'll say it again--ouch!

Fuzion Shiraz Malbec

  • seriously affordable wine @ $7.95
  • very tasty, mellow red
  • sometimes causes headaches, but not always
  • might be able to drink this one night, but not 2

This Livestrong link suggests that the best low-histamine alcoholic beverages are gin, rum and vodka.  Maybe for those of us who suffer the RWH, these are the best answer.  It's not the answer I was looking for, and its probably not a popular answer for many of you, either.  We'll just have to keep testing until we find one that consistently does not cause a headache.  I will continue to test and post and amend this particular blog posting as I sample my way through the entire collection of LCBO wines...  A daunting task, but someone has to do it (sigh)....

Have you found a red that doesn't cause headaches?  Let me know!  Between you and me, we can create a cohesive list of "safe" wines so that 40-something cougar-ish moms everywhere can enjoy this right of passage with as much zeal as a tv show portrays it to be (just short of alcoholism, though, because THAT would not be paleo-appropriate)

Want more info on this?  It's a big enough deal to get it's own Wikipedia page!  Yaay Livestong--always good for science info.  Use their search engine for more on tannins, amines, and many other things I haven't covered here.