Oh. Hello, Paleo.

Walking a Mile in a Caveman's Shoes

Holy Cr@p!! Is Bone Broth supposed to smell like that?!

I honestly thought something might have died in kitchen when I woke up that morning. The smell was awful and the whole house reeked. I had just started my first bone broth in the crock pot the prior afternoon, but apparently at some point after I’d gone to bed something had sneaked into the kitchen, slithered its way into my crock pot, and died. And was now slowly decaying in the simmering juices that was supposed to have been a nice warm comforting bone broth. At least that is what I imagined must have happened, because surely a bone broth was not supposed to smell like that! Right?

Just to be clear, I am a carnivore. I like meat. Eating meat was not one of the hard adjustments I had to make when switching to a paleo diet. One of my favorite ways to eat meat is in a nice hearty stew. I have very fond memories of my grandmother’s stew. She would make her stews from homemade stock that came from boiling bones for hours on end. And her stews were amazing. So when I read about bone broths on the paleo diet and how healthy they are, I didn’t have any of the reservations that I hear some people have about trying them. There was no “ick factor” for me. On the contrary, I was really looking forward to making my first bone broth and trying that “nice warm cup of broth” for breakfast that is apparently a staple for some. So, when I went to bed that evening, the crock pot simmering away with my grass-fed knuckle bone and fresh garlic, I fully expected to wake up the next morning with the house smelling of savory, beefy yumminess. So, imagine my surprise, when instead I woke to a smell so putrid and overwhelming that I rushed to open every window in the house, despite the brisk 50 degree morning. I immediately went to computer and Googled “bone broth smells bad”. Sure enough, I got a number of hits, mostly forum discussions of people asking if bone broth is supposed to smell bad. The responses ranged from “Its so bad, I can’t make it” to “I really like the smell of it”. Most were a general consensus of “It doesn’t smell quite like you might expect and might be mildly unpleasant, but don’t worry, your soups will taste great when you use it”. I decided maybe I had over-reacted, maybe just the aroma in the air was bad, but the broth itself would be tasty. I opened the crock pot to investigate. And nearly vomited into it. I quickly closed it again, unplugged it and hauled it onto the back deck. This stuff could not stay in the house any longer.

Still, there was a part of me that could not accept the fact that I, being such a big fan of all things meat, couldn’t take the smell, let alone the taste of bone broth. I went back to my reliable resource Google and found one gal who, like me, was shocked by the stench of her bone broth, but insisted that after she had strained all the solids out, left in the fridge overnight and then removed the fat that solidified at the top, that the resulting clarified broth did not smell bad at all and ended up making a great soup. Ok, I had some hope. I just might be able to keep my carnivore membership card. I strained out the bones, chunks of meat, fat, marrow, and other unidentifiables. Luckily I have a dog, I don’t know what people without dogs do with this stuff. I can’t imagine putting it in my trash. Maybe, they plan bone broth day around trash pickup day? In any case, my dog thought he had died and gone to heaven. I put the strained broth into a clean pot and into the fridge overnight. The next day, I optimistically pulled out the pot, carefully removed the solid layer of fat off the top and gingerly sniffed at the gelatinous goo that remained. Then I unceremoniously dumped it down the sink drain. I decided I just shouldn’t be forced to ingest something that makes me physically gag. I didn’t think there was any way I would be able to force myself to even taste anything made from it. The crock pot and the pot I used in the fridge over night sat out on the porch filled with dish soap, baking soda and lemon juice for 3 days. This experiment had not gone as planned.

After recovering from the trauma of it all, I did more research into making bone broths and identified some of the things I did which may or may not have been the reason my broth turned out so nauseatingly awful. I had used the first recipe I’d come across which called for one to simply plunk the bones into the pot with a couple tablespoons of cider vinegar, some crushed garlic and enough water to cover everything and cook on low for 8-24hrs. After reading more about it, I found the majority of sources recommend first roasting the bones in the oven and then simmering with a bunch of carrots, celery and onions. I also read the especially fatty bones (which my knuckle bone most certainly was) tend to smell much less pleasant than others. And, finally, I discovered, quite by accident that fresh garlic when cooked a long time in the crock pot takes on a certain character which I personally find exceptionally unpleasant. In the meantime, I had made another meal in the crock pot with fresh garlic and although my husband raved about it and ate it up, I couldn’t stomach it. So, armed with this new information and a new strategy in mind, it was off to the natural food store to find the freshest grass-fed marrow bones I could find.

Bone broth, round 2. I roasted my 2 pounds of marrow bones in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then I added them to my crock pot along with some chopped carrots and onions. (I didn’t use celery, I really despise celery and don’t see that it has any redeeming qualities. Any culinary professionals, feel free to try and convince me I am wrong). I tossed in a couple tablespoons of vinegar and pinch of rosemary and thyme. No garlic this time. I put the crock pot right under the kitchen window, opened the window wide, programed the cooker for 24hrs on low, and crossed my fingers. The next morning there was a faintly unpleasant smell in the air, but it was not overwhelming. Thank God for windows. I got up the courage to open the crock pot and smelled what I had created. It definitely wasn’t what I would call a pleasant smell, but it wasn’t terrible either. At the very least I didn’t gag. I strained out all the solid gunk and tossed it outside for the dog. The dog wonders why he gets two birthdays in one month. I might need to get a second dog. Paleo eating is definitely generating more meat scraps than my little 35 pound Shiba can keep up with. In any case, after removing all the solid stuff, the smell of the remaining broth although still not pleasant, is at least very faint. This was definitely not something that I was going to warm in a mug for breakfast, but I decided I would attempt to make it into a stew. I used a recipe I’ve used many times before because I know how it comes out and know that I like it a lot. It would be easy to tell how the bone broth affected it one way or the other. And let me just say, the stew turned out amazing! It was so rich and flavorful, far better than any of the times I had made it in the past with store bought broth. And it didn’t have even a trace of the unpleasant character of the original bone broth. And so, for any of you wondering about making a bone broth, or for those of you who like me have tried and thought that the result couldn’t possibly be anything edible, I tell you there is hope. It works, and it can be made into something super tasty. I still don’t think I will be able to drink the stuff straight anytime soon, but I am looking forward to a winter filled with soups and stews on the menu a couple of times a week.

I would love to hear any tips, advice or comments on different/better ways to do a bone broth from any professional cooks or other foodies out there. Maybe I am still missing something that would make the cup of broth palatable?

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Christmas in October?

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Is it Christmas already?  I guess not, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel as giddy as a 5 year old on Christmas morning.  I just got a notice that my order from US Wellness Meats is arriving today!

Being new to the whole Paleo world, I am still scrounging to find good sources for all the right types of food.  I stumbled across this website and it was like the first time walking into FAO Schwartz as a kid.  They have just about everything a Paleo carnivore could want, all grass-fed, pasture raised, or wild-caught.  Including sugar-free bacon!!  Well, that is if you can find it in stock, needless to say, it is a very hot item.  I recommend following them on facebook to get updates when things are available.  The bacon was out of stock when I first saw the website.  As soon as I saw they had more in stock yesterday, I placed my order for 10 (yes, 10!) packages of it.  Today, they are out of stock again.  But mine are on their way to my door, yay!  Along with some grass-fed, sugar free beef bacon.  I’ve never tried beef bacon, I am very curious to see how it tastes.  I also have a couple different types of organ sausage coming.  Maybe not that exciting to some people, but I happen to really like liver, and since I am the only one in the house who eats it, I don’t very often make up a whole meal of it, so this will be a nice way of getting my organ meats without quite as much work.  I am still waiting to catch the marrow bones in stock to order some of those.  Another really hot, hard to get item.  I am already on waiting lists at 2 different local health food stores for grass-fed marrow bones.  Who knew it could be so hard to get your hands on bones?

For any other Paleo gourmets out there, if you haven’t already seen this site, I highly recommend checking it out.  Even if you have a local source for good meat, they probably have something you can’t get.  Duck tongue, anyone??

Now entering the 7th level of hell…

Cookies!

No, that picture is not my latest recipe find for some super-yummy, “Paleo-friendly”, gluten free, sugar free, zero cal, zero (bad) fat, antioxidant packed, superfood divine chocolate chip cookies.  No, that is simply a picture of the chocolate chip cookies I made with my daughter this afternoon.  They were gooey and moist and smelled oh so wonderful.  And I did not get to take even one bite of one cookie.  And as I spooned balls of dough onto the cookie sheet, the thought crossed my mind that this was the first time in my ENTIRE life that I had made cookies and not licked my fingers, or the spoon, or the bowl.  And that was when it occurred to me that the entire weekend had felt like I was living my own little version of the 7th level of hell.

Ok, so to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell looked like, (and I didn’t take the time to google for you, sorry.)  But I am sure that surviving a weekend full of dinners out at an italian restaurants, children’s birthday parties, and a cookie baking session with the kiddos, all while trying to adhere to a very strict initial “30 day reset” for a Paleo diet had to be pretty darn close to what he had in mind.

It started out innocently enough. Friday afternoon was a visit day at my daughter’s school.  I knew they’d be offering refreshments and so I planned ahead and made myself a smoothie right before heading out the door:  My own concoction I made up with banana, coconut milk, almond butter and cinnamon. Super yummy, super filling, and even kind of satisfies that sweet tooth.  Its good enough that drinking it feels like an indulgence and I think maybe I won’t even miss the cookies I can’t have later.  What I didn’t count on was those soft, plump, chewy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies they had on the refreshment table.  I am sucker for anything pumpkin flavored in the fall and I remember these cookies from the same visit day last year.  They were good.  Really good.  I’ve been so disciplined on this 30 day reset so far, probably it wouldn’t hurt to have ONE cookie, right?  But, no, the words came back to me, the same words I’ve read in one form or another from a dozen different paleo resources: “Paleo has room for cheating every now and then, but during this first 30 days is not the time to cheat, blah, blah, blah”.  Ok, so I will just distance myself far from the refreshment table and remind myself that I am, in all honesty, not hungry.  The afternoon might have passed easily enough after that except that apparently Satan decided to send one of his little minions to the party.  Dressed as my husband, he kept going back to the that table for another of those pumpkin chocolate chip cookies just so he could come over and eat it next to me.  He thought I couldn’t see those evil green, little horns just barely poking out from under his hair.  Well, I could.  I am on to your games, buddy and it isn’t gonna work this time.

Apparently Satan likes a challenge, because that evening found me at an Italian restaurant with my in-laws.  Have you ever tried to eat Paleo at an Italian restaurant?  Not easy, I assure you.  There are the obvious pitfalls of all the pasta and bread (and boy did that warm bread in the middle of the table look divine), but the real problem was I had eaten at this particular restaurant before I knew that most of the usual fall backs were a no go.  I’d never had a salad there where the lettuce wasn’t wilted and soft, I just couldn’t bring myself to stomach that.  All the chicken and beef options are breaded.  That left seafood.  The only seafood I could find on the menu that wasn’t a pasta dish was a filet of sole with sauteed spinach.  I am not a big fish fan, but I ordered it anyway as it seemed like the only viable option.  What came out of the kitchen was a breaded (the menu had not said it was breaded) greasy mess.  As I watched everyone else at the table enjoying their pizza and pasta and sipping their wine (*sigh*…wine…), I picked the breading off as best I could and tried to drain the mystery oil off to one side of the plate.  I ate a few bites of fish, but after finding bones in two consecutive bites, I just couldn’t do it anymore without gagging, I ate the less greasy half of the spinach and promised myself a smoothie as soon as I go home.   The nice waitress brought by a dessert menu.  I tried to ignore my daughter and father-in-law ordering ice cream with chocolate sauce.  Then Satan’s little minion took over my husband’s body again and held the dessert menu out to me asking innocently, “Don’t you want to look at the desserts?”  I quietly, so as not to offend the in-laws, told him where he could stick his menu. Satan: 0, Me: 2.

The next morning brought a whole new kind of torture:  the children’s birthday party!  My daughter’s friend was having his birthday party at a movie theater of all places.  So, not only did I have to endure the usual pizza/ice cream/birthday cake thing, but now there is movie popcorn and candy heaped on top of this bundle of fun.  Well played, devil man, well played.  I had known what I was walking into ahead of time of course, but in the rush to get out the door on time, I had totally forgotten to eat a quick bite or even bring a good snack with me.  As all the kids sat down to eat their pizza, the gracious hostess made sure to hand plates and napkins to all the adults, “Please, eat, there is enough for everyone!”  “Oh, Thanks”  I reply, “Maybe a little later”  (Lie #1,).  My daughter was heartily enjoying her own slice.  “Mommy, this pizza is really good, do you want a taste of mine?”  “No thanks, honey, I’m all set.”  (Lie #2, I really wanted just one little taste, it smelled so good!)  “But, Mommy, look.  All the other adults are eating, why aren’t you eating too?”  “I’m not really very hungry right now, I ate right before we left”  (Lie #3, I’m starving and wondering how I am going to make it through the rest of the party and the hour and half long movie before eating).  The cake comes out, slices are passed around.  I tell everyone I will just share with my daughter.  And that is what we usually do:  she eats all the frosting, I eat the cake.  We do that with everything, cake, cookies, cupcakes.  An unspoken agreement we’ve relied on pretty much her whole life.  She finishes up her frosting, “Here you go, Mommy, I’m all done.”  “Thanks” I say, and then stealthily slip the plate into the garbage without letting her notice I didn’t touch the cake.  Finally it is time for movie to start.  Snack packs filled with popcorn, candy and juice are passed out to all the kids.  Once again, my sweet little daughter comes through, “Mommy, you can share my popcorn if you want.”  Clearly the little demon man has chosen a new disguise today.  “No, thanks, I don’t really like the popcorn here.”  (Lie #4)  Idly I wonder if all these lies in any way undermine my little ongoing battle with the red-horned imp.  On a more serious level I wonder why I am not just being honest with everyone?  Why not just come out and say “No, thanks, I am not eating any of that crap anymore.”  Part of me doesn’t want to offend anyone, but I also think there is part of me that is just not ready to deal with all the questions, explanations, and justifications.  This is probably something I should come to terms with at some point, perhaps the subject of a future blog?  But I digress…The rest of the party went smoothly.  Long, tedious kids movie ended and I survived another day’s battle.

The rest of the weekend was planned for quiet family time at home.  I silently celebrated in my head, thinking what a relief it would be to be at home eating food I was preparing myself and not worrying about any more temptations.  Then on a gorgeous, lazy sunday afternoon, my daughter got the brilliant idea to bake cookies.  We had bought a mix weeks ago, before I decided to take the plunge try out a Paleo diet, including this strict initial 30 day period.  I probably could have told her no.  But I had already told her no so many times before for much more legitimate reasons.  She had been waiting to make these cookies for weeks, and so faced with the prospect of disappointing her one more time just so I could avoid a little more temptation, I caved in and said yes.  And that was when I found myself spooning balls of gooey chocolate chip cookie dough onto the pan, both hands covered in the sticky stuff and unable to lick any of it off.  I walked over to the sink to wash it off instead and thought to myself, “If there really are Nine Circles of Hell, then one of the deepest ones, the ones reserved for the worst type of offenders must be just like this.  Forced to make chocolate chip cookies and then wash all the extra off your fingers with water without eating one bite.”

I thought back to whole weekend and the tests I had been put through and how I had come out the other side all in one piece.  It had been hard. There had been moments that were really, really hard.  But there had never really been any question about whether or not to make the right decision at any of those moments.  I realized I had been tested and proven to myself that I am totally ready to take on this challenge for the long haul.  If I made it through this past weekend, I am confident I can face anything that might be thrown at me.  And as I moved the plate of chocolate chip cookies off the counter to make room to prepare my brussel sprouts for dinner, I thought to myself, “Final score, Me: 5  Satan: 0.  Bring it on!”

Oh. Hello, Paleo.

What?!  No frosted mini-wheats for breakfast?  No sweetened/flavored creamer in my coffee? No more *gasp* sandwiches?  Or even wraps?  Or hot out of the oven fresh baked rolls?  Oh.  Hello, Paleo.  So, I get to eat bacon? And I’m allowed to saute my spinach in the bacon grease? And eggs get a green light?  Oh! Hellooo, Paleo!  And while I am on the subject:  whipped coconut cream over berries, where have you been hiding my whole life? Yep, I’ve just taken the dive down the rabbit hole (or should that be caveman’s cave?) that is Paleo living.  If you haven’t heard of “paleo” you might be living in a rabbit hole, yourself.  Just kidding.  I hadn’t heard the word Paleo 2 months ago (unless you count 8th grade science class).  But seriously, I am not qualified to give you the details.  A quick google search will provide you with a couple bazillion websites, many of which will contradict all the others, each of which will tell you theirs is the only correct way of doing things, but all of which can give you a better rundown of the philosphy and history of the Paleo diet and lifestyle than I can.

In a nutshell the diet is based on eating natural foods that the human body was designed (evolved) to eat and avoiding foods that were never meant to go in our bodies.   Makes sense to me!  The details of exactly what is and what is not ok on a Paleo diet have some gray areas depending on where you decide to get your information.  I am not here to debate the merits of any one side.  But, I am scientist (biochemist) by training (if not in practice) and so when I started looking into the Paleo diet, I researched it.  A lot.  And I read as much info as I could find on the cold hard facts behind the ideas, rather all the “opinions” that are out there on what the diet “should” be for this or that reason.  Without boring you with any details, suffice it to say that I have settled on following (mostly) the advice and information on Chris Kresser’s website http://www.chriskresser.com which from my research differs from some of the more “hardcore” or “strict” Paleo diets in that it emphasizes (good!) fats and also allows for dairy (assuming the individual tolerates it well).  The basics are as follows:  Eat high quality (grass-fed) meats, lots fresh vegetables, and “good” fats and avoid all grains, legumes, sweeteners, processed or refined foods, industrial seed oils and (for now) dairy.  Other things like nuts and fruits can be eaten in moderation.  I give this information simply as a background for what I am embarking on.  I am not endorsing or recommending the site and I certainly am not looking for any debates on the “right” vs “wrong” paleo diet.   The purpose of this blog is simply to chronicle my experiences on this new (for me) adventure and see where it leads.

As of this writing, I am exactly one week and 2 days into the initial 30 day “reset” phase of the diet.  I told you, I am a newbie!  And so far the journey has been at once exhilirating (I just lost 5 pounds eating bacon for breakfast, what?!)  and tedious (I actually have to COOK all these meal…like with a stove not a mirowave.  Yeah, I know, right?)  For the record.  I am not  a cook.  For real.  Not. A. Cook.  I’ve survived the first 30+ years of my life with probably less kitchen time than the average house mom puts in in a week.  Ok, so that might be a slight exageration, but seriously, I think the biggest adjustment this past week has been getting used to the idea that I have to cook.  Well, that and the sugar cravings…Wait!  Don’t think about sugar, don’t think about sugar, don’t think about…They tell me this will stop, I am not sure I believe them.  Anyway, back to my point.  Yeah, I have to cook.  A lot.  Over and over.  It never ends.  I eat all the left overs, but then when they are gone?  Yep, time to cook some more.  Mom, how did you guys survive without prepackaged frozen food?  Seriously though, I am a scientist.  I know how to follow a lab protocol, so I know how to follow a recipe.  I haven’t burned down the house yet.  And I’ve only had to throw out one pot of bone broth (Don’t ask.)  My husband even says he likes my “cooking”.  And honestly, 95% of what I’ve made has turned out great and I’m kind of excited about my new kitchen skills.  I have tried more new dishes in the last week than I probably did in the last year prior.  And that has been pretty fun.  Well, it would be fun if someone else had been cooking them.

The other really hard part this first week has been the sugar cravings.  Oh wait.  We are not going to talk about those.  It only makes the pain of loss worse.  We won’t talk about it until the pain goes away.  Which may be never.

On a happy note.  I really did lose 5 pounds in a week.  Maybe it was water weight, maybe it was muscle, maybe it was an empty colon  (TMI??)  I don’t know.  All I know is that my scale has had roughly the same number on it since a few months after my second daughter was born and two days ago it was 5 pounds less.  To be clear, I did not start the Paelo diet to lose weight.  I came to it out of a desire to start eating in a healthy, natural way and of all the “natural” diet fads out there right now, this one made sense.  I actually decided to keep a close tab on my weight because I was a tad worried about the possibility of gaining weight.  Despite the fact that my previous diet was not the most healthy (pre packaged? yes please)  I did always try to keep it low cal and low fat.  And for the most part I am happy with my current weight.  So when this diet plan was telling me I would be better off eating bacon and eggs for breakfast rather than my usual frosted mini-wheats with skim milk, I decided I had better check-in every now and then and make sure things weren’t headed in the wrong direction.  I remain a bit skeptical about the weight loss I have seen.  Time will tell if it is legit and permanent or not.

And so, with a spice rack filled with things I’d never heard of 2 weeks ago,  a cupboard sadly lacking in any kind of sweet decadent chocolate, and heart full of anticipation, my journey begins.  Let’s see where it leads.  Oh.  Hello, Paleo.  It’s nice to meet you.  Let’s take a walk, shall we?

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