Guest Post: Sarah's cooking for healing and happiness

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Welcome to the site! This content is old and may not reflect my current opinions. I keep it up mainly for reference and because I hope at least some of it is still good, but I encourage you to check out more recent posts as well as my Start Here page

  I am excited to welcome our first ever guest blogger. Sarah Davies is a member of Eating Paleo in NYC and is a testament to the diverse appeal of our group. We have everyone from Crossfitters building muscle to celiacs interested in healthy healing grain-free eating. Sarah is an example of the latter. Last week she helped me teach the first NYC Paleo Skillshare making some delicious roasted vegetables, soup, salad, and mandarin chicken! She talked about how her cooking methods allow her to get through the week without stressing about food. That's very appealing to me, because as long as I've been doing this, I admittedly don't plan as much as I should. I often come home from work and realize that salmon filet that I was planning to eat was eaten three weeks ago and all my vegetables are spoiled! Inspired by Sarah, I'm planning to well...plan more! Hopefully you will be too!

 

Thank you, Melissa, for inviting me to share my food philosophies and routines with your readers.  It was so great to meet you and your Paleo group last weekend at the Paleo Kitchen Skillshare.  You were all so wonderfully polite and inviting to me as a newcomer to this lifestyle, as well as generous in my servings of friendly ribbing for my pea and potato Paleo faux pas.
 
As someone with celiac disease the Paleo diet is one that is very attractive and easy to adapt to from my current lifestyle.  I have been grain-free for more than seven years now, and added-chemical free for one.  Having this disease necessitates the absence of grains from my diet, but eliminating the added chemicals is a choice I have made out of respect for my self, my body, my future and the environment I share with others.  My life is sustained by real foods, with real ingredients.  The nutrients I consume are from a balanced diet of food alone.  I do not eat chemicals I do not understand, or take supplements my body was not built to process in high volumes. 
Due to my diet restrictions and ideals I generally only eat foods I am able to prepare myself.  However, as a high school teacher with 12-hour workdays, a commute, and a disease to manage it has taken some time to learn how to maintain a dietary discipline with very little thought or energy. 
 
As it is now, I cook one day per week for approximately three hours.  Every Saturday I invite some friends for tea while I prepare 3-5 dishes that I can mix, match and rotate throughout the week (thank goodness for refrigeration!), and a dozen or more dishes I can rotate throughout the months.  Of course, more variety in the week’s meals prevents the possibility of growing tired of my food, but too many dishes to prepare ends up taking so long that the routine interferes with other priorities, or leaves me feeling tired of the maintenance.  I eventually learned that the secret to a strict diet regimen is keeping things as simple as possible, thus leaving me with plenty of time to attend to other priorities.
 
The path to the diet and routines I have now has had many developmental stages.  Once I learned of my disease I was forced to begin a process of dietary rearrangement.  I immediately began to replace the food I was used to eating with their gluten-free grocery counterparts—gluten-free pastas, breads, flours, and treats.  However, as I have become more informed on the ingredients that are used as gluten substitutes, and the chemicals used make gluten-free and conventional foods a more exciting color, consistency and taste, I have realized that the only sure way to eat healthy is to keep it fresh, real and simple.   It took me several years to get to this dietary stage, but I eventually made it.  After that, all I had left to learn was how to adjust my skills and routines to my diet needs.
 
As my skills and routines developed I found myself interested in learning more about the nutritional properties of the food I eat.  Before then, most of what I knew was based on the mantras of moms and health teachers.  Since, the following chart has become the ingredients list from which I design the menu my body requires.  Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture’s website has two tools I refer to often for guidance.  The first is a set of tables constructed by the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board that list Daily Reference Intake (DRI)values for all nutrients.   I also use their Interactive DRI for Medical Professionals tool to calculate what my dietary needs are depending on my sex, age, height, weight, and activity level. I use these tools to calibrate my dietary needs as I grow and change, and base my menus on their recommendations.  However, what my body requires will not be what yours requires.  You may not have the same nutritional considerations as someone living with a disease, or someone of another gender, age, height, weight and activity level as yours.  Check to see what your recommendations are, and tailor your food intake to your specific needs.
 
As my tastes for foods change with the seasons the dishes I prepare for the week change as well.   However, I am careful not to eat too much of any one food, as moderation is always a good idea—it is when I begin to use one ingredient too often that I find inflammation, irritation or general imbalances emerge.  In autumn and winter I enjoy slow-cooking stews, and preparing veggies, roots, tubers, meats and fish.  In spring and summer I continue to eat meats, fish, veggies, and roots, adding other seafood, and raw fruits and vegetables to my menus.  I generally roast most things in the warmer months rather than slow-cook.  I eat fruits, seeds and nuts throughout the year, and legumes (mainly lentils and peanuts) and cheeses (goat) on occasion.
 
I enjoy my food most when I can taste all the ingredients I have used, so I use very few ingredients in my recipes.  More importantly, however, keeping my recipes simple not only reduces the amount of time required to prepare them, but also increases the likelihood that I will continue my cooking routine uninterrupted.  
A good model of efficiency is a great place to start in any dietary lifestyle adjustment.  Although my diet has a lot of nutritional benefits (and arguably some deterrents), the model I live now is not perfectly Paleo.  Still, it is a healthy place to start, with room for more information and improvement. 
I’d like to share my routines with you here in hopes that it will be a helpful model from which you can develop yours on your way to a Paleo diet; or, at the very least, a grain-free diet with Paleo influences.
 
My week starts on Saturdays.  I usually wake up groggy from the wine I shouldn’t have drank the happy-hour eve before.  I make myself some coffee and a fresh fruit smoothie and listen to some music while I get ready for friends to arrive at noon to keep me company while I prepare my food for the week.  Making my food prep a regular social event ensures that I will stick to my routine.  After approximately three hours, my friends and I have chatted, snacked, caffeinated, hypothesized, laughed, teased each other, learned from one another, and strengthened our bonds.  I have made all my food for the week, and am ready to enjoy my weekend.  I put all the food in the refrigerator, grab some fresh fruit to take with me for the day, and make sure I have enough nuts and preservative-free dried fruits in my bag to snack on if the urge arises. 
 
On Sunday mornings I make my daily fresh fruit smoothie and pack a very full container of food to carry with me wherever I am going.  I pack enough food for lunch and a second small afternoon meal that will sustain me until I get home for dinner. 
 
The rest of the week I do the same, except I pack two meals per day to bring with me to work, with the fruit and nut snacks to sustain me between meals.  When I get home from my day I already have dinner waiting in the fridge.  All I have to do is heat it up.  I never have to worry about not having time to cook, or suffering the take-out consequences many New Yorkers endure.  While my food is warming I prepare the next day’s containers of food and fresh fruit so I can grab-them-and-go in the morning.  No thinking, no extra time in the morning, just grab-and-go. 
 
How does this apply to the Paleo diet?  Well, the purpose of the routines I have described can be generalized to any lifestyle.  If you want a thing, make it easy for yourself to have.  If you want to eat Paleo, make the foods you desire available. Finally, be patient with yourself as you learn the skills and make the transition, as it will surely take time.  Once you have the skills share them, practice them, prefect them!  Invite your friends over for social meals when you try new recipes.  Everyone loves to be fed. 
After acquiring a basic nutritional knowledge of food, cooking skills, and cementing of the routines to maintain the diet, the deeper understanding can come.  Seek out nutrition information again.  You will notice details about your foods you hadn’t noticed before.  You will find problems with your current food choices and benefits you weren’t aware of.  You will also learn how to find good substitutes to replace any foods you have eliminated from your diet.  Do your own research on scientific studies in human biology, nutrition, anti-nutrition, evolution, and archeology.  The more you read the easier it will become to discriminate between scientists and enthusiasts, evidence and circumstance, sensible and nonsensical conclusions, biases, opinions, and intriguing hypotheses.  Consider their evidence for yourself, and collect your own from your life.  Then reconsider it all after some time has passed and ask yourself if it still applies.
 
Life is dynamic.  It and we are always changing.  Even with as much as we have come to understand over the last few centuries about ourselves and our natural systems, it would behoove us to accept that there is exponentially more that we don’t understand. Even with what we think we understand about how things were, are, or will be, there is always something, some evidence that has not yet been revealed, that changes our social and cultural constructs of what we thought we knew to be true.  In this regard, humility is a responsibility that must be taken seriously, even in the realm of diet.   For everything we think we know for sure, scientists and non-scientists alike, there are infinite variations of the same idea and contradictory ideas.  Each should be considered when making a personal choice. 
 
The Paleo diet and lifestyle is a powerful and compelling one to consider adopting.  Based on the amazing people I met at the Paleo Kitchen Skillshare, is it apparent that the New York City group is populated with people who are warm, welcoming, exciting and highly knowledgeable in the realm of food. For them, this is a discipline that revolves around the simple ideals of living well, cooperatively and sustainably for body, community and mind.  They carry a profound respect for the ecological, genetic, nutritional and physical conditions under which our species emerged, and use this knowledge to inform their decisions on how to adapt that environment to our modern one.   Their hypothesis that our modern lifestyle has become one that results in physical and biological conditions that can produce diseases, damaged habitats and unhealthy minds is sensible and rational.  It is one that most people would probably not argue with, except for variations on the epidemiological details of the issues.  Regardless, living well is the primary objective here.  How that is done is up to you.
 
It was definitely a good point of discussion when Sarah made split pea soup! But I have to note that paleo isn't about some magic list of food, it's about thinking evolutionarily. Recently I saw on a paleo message board a lady ask "I am pregnant and craving black beans!!! What should I do?" I say eat them! Sometimes eliminating neolithic foods is important for healing, but I don't think some servings of beans are going to cause leaky gut in an otherwise healthy person. Both spinach and beans contain antinutrients...are the antinutrients in beans really that much worse? Well, that depends on who you are. 

 Sarah, I think you would definitely enjoy the blog Whole Health Source and the cookbook Nourishing Traditions.