Thursday, November 20, 2014

What if the president were paleo-friendly?

This is going to seem like a political post, an endorsement even. And, for the love of all that is good and right, believe me when I say that it's not.

(Seriously, I really don't know who I'd vote for in 2016 for president if the election were tomorrow. Last time, I voted for this guy, and, just yesterday, I said nice things about this guy's decision to form a 2016 exploratory committee. Yeah, I'm a bit of a political junkie, but as an observer, not an ideologue. My views are all over the political spectrum, depending on the issue).

But, when I saw that article by Dr. Mark Hyman about the wonders of combining the best parts of vegan and paleo eating -- something I do myself -- I got to thinking:

"Hey, wait a minute.... Isn't Mark Hyman Hillary Clinton's doctor?"

He is.

And, according to this article -- and this one too -- Dr. Hyman has convinced Bill Clinton to ditch veganism for a vegan/paleo hybrid. Hillary Clinton has been eating that way too.

Are you seeing where I'm headed here?

If the person elected president in 2016 were paleo, it seems like this:

would have a lot better chance of turning into this:

On one hand, my libertarian-ish instincts make me seriously question why the government is in the business of suggesting how people should eat, but when it seems like it's going to be quite a while before that stops, it'd be nice in the meantime if the suggestions were updated a bit to get off the grain/hidden-sugar train.

A paleo-friendly president might help that happen. Surgeon General Mark Hyman?

Food for thought, anyway.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Combining the best of veganism and paleo? It makes a lot of sense.

I have no beef with vegans. (You may see what I did there). Seriously, I've never been one to bait or harass the vegan community. I think most vegans eat like they do for principled reasons, and I also think that when their focus is appropriately on eating (mostly organic) vegetables and fruits, that aspect of their lifestyle is right on the money.

But I also think there is a solid place in a well-rounded diet for well-sourced animal protein.

That's why I like this article so much. It's called: "Why I'm a Pegan -- or Paleo-Vegan -- and Why You Should Be Too."

In the article, Dr. Mark Hyman lays out a compelling case for combining the best aspects of paleo and vegan food plans. In fact, part of the reason I like it so much is that it's exactly what I have been doing lately. I feel like I am right on target.

I've often explained my food choices of late as: "OK, so you know what a vegan is, right? I'm a no-wheat/no-soy vegan plus animal protein."

And, as someone who hasn't really liked the word "paleo" for a while -- because it just launches people off on a "caveman reenactment" tangent --  I applaud the effort to rename it (despite the name of this blog).

But, dude, "pegan" sounds like a person who consumes no animal products, and... is incontinent.

I opt for "pagan." And I don't care if it means something else. No one's going to seriously confuse the two. Or not any worse than what they'll do with "pegan," anyway.

The Pagan Drummer? I could attract a whole new crowd....

                                          (pic from Experience Life magazine)

Monday, November 17, 2014

A return to the Pickled Heron for a spectacular pork dinner

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a Philly restaurant called The Pickled Heron. I ranted. I raved. I still stand by the notion that the foie gras I ate that night is the single most delicious food item I have ever tasted. It was a very good meal.

But Philadelphia has a lot of great restaurants, and, somehow, amidst going to a lot of those other places, we only made it back to The Pickled Heron once -- in 2013 -- for another great meal. So the other day when I saw an ad for this:

I made a reservation for my wife and me. Date night? Pastured pork from Philly CowShare? Done up right in a myriad of ways by Daniela D'Ambrosio and Todd Braley, the very same two chefs responsible for that foie gras? Sign us up. We even got a spot at the vaunted 5:30 p.m. seating -- "vaunted" to us because we are old and 8:30 on a Sunday night seemed like a really late dinner with work looming the next day. (Sleep is paleo).

The Pickled Heron is BYOB (but they now accept your Visa and Master Card, unlike the cash-only operation they were when we first went there; have I mentioned the foie gras we had back then?), and I am good with that. We splurged at the liquor store on a $35 bottle of Amarone for which most restaurants would have charged someone else (because we would never spend that much on wine) $100.

And into the restaurant we went. Todd and Daniela greeted everyone with a little spiel about the wonders of Philly CowShare (and they must be nice bosses because the same funny dude who was our server in April 2012 was our server again last night), and into the first course we were launched....

It was called "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." There were three parts: head-cheese-filled croquettes, pork rillons on a small piece of semolina bread with mustard and a housemade trotter terrine with cranberries. I dig the nasty bits, so I loved it all, but particularly the first two items. The trotter terrine was also very good, but paled a bit in comparison to the other two. And the standout was the pork rillons, which took me briefly to a sunny hillside in my mind where I could gaze upon further memories of that foie gras. It was almost that good.

But, like a good first course ought to be, that was just a tame warmup for what followed: "Cider Braised Belly of the Beast." We both exclaimed, "Oh my god," on the first bite. I suppose that, in some sense, even a kitchen oaf like myself could find it hard to ruin pork belly, but this was so far on the "perfect" end of the scale that I can't even imagine making it myself. Daniela and Todd know their way around a kitchen.

"This one's called pork-crusted pork loin and, no, no one was drunk when this idea was made up. [Pause] I'm lying; of course they were." Server-dude then described the third course that he had put on the table. It was pork, wrapped in cabbage, wrapped in pork with corned-beef seasonings. And it sat on a plate with a "red-beet flannel hash" that exploded with flavor. You simply can't make this at home. You will fail in epic sorts of ways that will cause you to get drunk, but a drown-your-sorrows kind of drunk, not the celebratory one that must have followed (inspired?) the creation of this dish. This is why you sometimes go to places like The Pickled Heron and pay other people to make your food for you.

We were exhausted from all the deliciousness.

Dessert followed. Apple pie with a lard crust (from El Piggo, the real superstar of the evening) and a bourbon malted ice cream. Of course it was amazing.

In sum, they've done it again. The Pickled Heron has blown our minds with another meal. At the end of the dinner, we got to say hi to Daniela and Todd.  Of course they are absurdly nice people in addition to being talented chefs. (She said something like, "Yes! We know you. We follow you on Facebook! I love all your food stuff." I win!) And seriously, I've already placed a pastured-pork order this morning with PhillyCowShare. Everyone wins. Go eat at The Pickled Heron.

The paleo stuff:

Having made it this far through this post without making jokes that involve the words "pork" or "head," I feel somewhat obligated to continue this unexpected venture into maturity and instead address a question that the paleoistas amongst us might have. I think that question goes something like:

"What the hell, dude?"

Translated: some of you are likely pointing out that some of that meal wasn't very paleo.

Wellllll, sort of. Actually it was pretty paleo. And here's my deal with the parts that weren't: I wanted to eat them, and I eat whatever I want. It's that simple. I eat pretty close to a Whole30-style version of paleo at home these days. I never eat wheat at home (and almost never anywhere else either) and I have found that a number of things other than wheat bug the crap out of my stomach if consumed with any regularity. Lately those things have been dairy, coffee, black beans, tomatoes and red wine, so I hardly ever have them. But yes, I was pretty sure that the small doses I had of wheat and dairy and the not-so-small dose of red wine were worth it in terms of (a) having fun and (b) minimal hassle. So I ate every single thing on my plates. My wife ate every single thing on hers. This caused our server to say, "You guys are the ones I never have had to doubt during this meal."

And sure enough, by the way home I had enough of a burn in my stomach that some activated charcoal was my savior. (Seriously, it is the escape hatch from questionable food decisions).

As that wise man once said, "Buy the ticket; take the ride." Eat whatever you want; just know what you really want.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In the Age of Awesome, the troglodytes really stick out, or: Why I'm never flying US Air again

The New Jersey Turnpike is, traffic-wise, traditionally speaking, a portal to hell. The last few years? It's been a significant bit worse than that. See, there's been this widening project.

It's been a colossal undertaking. A 35-mile-long stretch of road that was six lanes wide was slated to be widened to 12 lanes. That meant clearing 70 miles (35 on each side) of obstructions, side roads, etc. Then came the real kicker: every bridge/overpass over the thing had to be torn down and a new one constructed at double the length.

Just think about that for a moment and let it all sink in.

Like I said, it was a huge project.

And it got finished early, for $200 million under budget.

The "new" road is spectacular. The other day I took a 100+ mile drive on it for work and, instead of the three(or more)-hour slog that I had gotten used to for that trip, I sailed through at top speed.

I see the whole thing as a testament to hard work, technology and the modern age. Serious congrats to anyone who was involved with that. We Garden Staters appreciate it.


Another thing I have learned to appreciate in recent months is a free phone app called Waze. It's, at first blush, "just" a GPS device, but its users input so much current data into it that it manages to stay, fairly spectacularly, on top of traffic conditions. As a friend says, "Waze don't lie!"

When my wife and I were recently in San Francisco, Waze guided us through traffic there seamlessly. One day we were doing a drive that I had previously done twice that week. I almost didn't turn on Waze because I had gotten used to the route. But I did anyway....

"What the hell?!!" I exclaimed moments later. Waze appeared to be taking us on an absurdly circular route waaaaaaay around the usual one. "Waze has lost its mind. I'm not doing that!"

I quickly learned that Waze had its reasons. My independent-minded/Waze-less route ran headlong into a sprawling street fair that had closed blocks and blocks of the Castro. It took me half an hour to extricate us out of the mess I had created and, at the end of the half hour, I got onto the seemingly circular path that Waze had first charted out for us.

Waze don't lie. We were "home" to the place we were staying with no problem, once I decided to accept Waze's sage advice.

So, in addition to saluting the hard-working folks involved in that gargantuan NJ Turnpike expansion, I'd also like to single out Waze for technological/yay-for-the-modern-age kudos. I've used it many times since, with never-fail results each time.


But before you think we're just about to form a drum circle and sing Kumbaya, celebrating just how awesome our little niche of history is....

Let me tell you about US Air.

You may have seen those Southwest ads, the ones about "no change fees." (I love flying Southwest, by the way).

US Air has change fees. 

But it's worse than you might think. And there is just no reason for it to be this bad.

Earlier this year, a relative of mine was headed to Europe for academic-study purposes -- basically a summer-abroad program. I was paying for said program and so, when I booked his flight, I did it on US Air despite having heard some horror stories about their baggage handling (particularly in Philadelphia). US Air simply had the best price and the only nonstop from Philly for the flight he wanted.

He got really sick with mononucleosis about a week before the trip. The whole thing had to be canceled. Any possible thoughts of toughing it out and going anyway were ground to a screeching halt by his doctor. "No way," we were told.

OK. So I contact US Air about canceling the flight and, presumably, getting a voucher that he could use for another flight some other time that he needed to fly. Here's what I was told:

He had one year from the original booking to rebook any round-trip flight, domestic or international. Cool. He had $1150 worth of voucher to do that. If the new flight cost more, he would have to pay the difference, and if it were less, he would lose the difference. OK. I get all that. There's a $300 "change fee" as well. I'm not thrilled, but OK....

I say to the US Air agent on the phone: "So, basically, because 1150 minus 300 is 850, he can book any round trip for $850 or less and he will be good?"

"Yes, sir," the agent replies.

Not really, it turns out.

So, moving forward to last week, my relative is running out of time to use his voucher. He needs to book a flight before the end of February. He doesn't really have many reasons to fly anywhere, but it turns out that he and his friends have figured out somewhere to go, and I volunteer to book his flight for him because I have all the original voucher info.

I book him a flight that costs 500-something. Cool. I figure 500-something plus the "change fee" will still come in way under $1150. Yeah, a few hundred in voucher will be lost, but whatever.

It turns out that US Air's already backward policy of charging a change fee at all is worse than I was told. It appears that they don't take the change fee out of the voucher. You have to pay that with real money.

I called US Air. They explained to me that, yes, this is their policy and no, nothing can be done about it, and yes, it will cost me 300 extra dollars of real money beyond the money that I have already paid them if I want to book that flight.

I book the flight. I pay the $300 change fee, with real money. Not from the $1150 voucher, because they won't let me.

I booked it because I felt bad for my relative. He had made plans based on my assurance that it was all going to be easily covered by the voucher. But...

Let me just take this moment to tell US Air that I will never, ever pay to fly your airline again. If you are the only airline flying from Philadelphia to a destination that I want, I will fly another airline through Reykjavik with a layover in Dubai if necessary. Your already greedy and senseless imposition of a change fee is bad enough, but refusing to apply voucher money to it -- money of mine that your airline already has in its pocket -- is a special brand of avarice.

Truly, I hope you lose all of your business to more forward-thinking airlines like Southwest.

So I raise my mug of delicious caffeinated beverage to you, the workers on the New Jersey Turnpike, and to you the app-developers at Waze, and yes, to you too, Southwest Airlines. You are shining examples of how we keep moving forward, despite the shuffling, stumbling, downright infuriating behavior of the troglodyte companies.

Like US Air. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Guest Post from Lisa Perkins, PrimalFit ICT. The Stubborn Fitness Professional’s Journey to Mindfulness: What I Learned From The Paleo Drummer’s 30-Day Meditation Challenge

A quick note from Steve: You might recall that I've previously had Skylee Robinson do a guest post on the wonders of floating in an isolation tank, and Jim Eaton told us all about his experience during a previous 30-day meditation challenge. So when I announced another meditation challenge during October 2014, I was happy that, once again, readers were interested in telling us about their struggles, challenges and triumphs with mindfulness. First up is Lisa Perkins, a trainer/coach from Wichita, Kansas whom I met this past April at Paleo FX in Austin. Thanks, Lisa!


I am a personal trainer and health coach with a master’s degree in library science and I positively adore research.  I listen to podcasts incessantly, subscribe to dozens of blogs, and read peer-reviewed journal articles just for fun.   I use resistant starch, brain enhancing nootropics, and a standing workstation as part of my lifelong n=1 experiment.  I know an inordinate amount about things like the gut microbiome, triggers for autoimmune disease, and the different ways men and women partition fuel during exercise.  You get the picture:  To say I love all of this stuff would be a huge understatement. 

Enter the proverbial monkey wrench:  My increasing awareness of a growing movement amongst health and fitness experts, as well as successful entrepreneurs, emphasizing the key role mindfulness and meditation play in optimizing health, fitness, and mental performance.

Ugh… I mean seriously??  Where did THAT come from?!

A little background:  I grew up on an island in Alaska in a predominantly male household.  Attributes such as physical agility and mental toughness were highly prized; self-reflection and emoting all over each other were most emphatically not.  Having grown up this way, it took me an inordinately long time to get behind the ‘lifestyle’ component of health – optimizing sleep, stress reduction, plenty of low level activity.  But I finally did. You know why?  Because there is scientific proof that these things play a role in our physiological health.  Therefore, I dutifully (if somewhat begrudgingly) don my blue light blocking glasses in the evening, sleep 8+ hours a night in a pitch black room, and take daily leisure walks.  These have been tough concessions for a hard-charging ‘sleep when I’m dead’ type of gal but I made them because the science dictates their importance.

With this in mind, imagine how duped I felt when I began to be aware of the groundswell amongst my beloved health and fitness experts espousing the need for everyone to sit down and ‘get quiet.'  I felt like I’d been blind-sided.  Seriously. Ben Greenfield, a bastion of tips on cold thermogenesis and foam rolling techniques, now starts his day with a five-minute gratitude journal.  Mark Sisson, my go-to guy on all things Primal, now cites meditation as one of the best ways to increase heart rate variability.  Lifestyle entrepreneur Lewis Howes, credits his mindfulness practice for enhancing his success and quality of life.  Even Men’s Fitness has jumped on the bandwagon, stating that, ‘from stress reduction and weight loss to increased energy and enhanced sleep, meditation could be your most powerful prescription to date.'

It sounds facetious to say, but anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have gone through the five stages of grief on this issue, spending most of my time in Denial-land.  Thanks to Steve Kirsch’s 30-day meditation challenge, I’ve finally reached the final step:  Acceptance. 

Before I made the decision to take up this challenge, I did what any biohacker worth their salt would do; delved into the research.  I needed to understand the science before I could fully embrace the process.  Based on my research, I’ve come (with a moderate amount of kicking and screaming) to the conclusion that there is ample scientific evidence to support the direct impact a mindfulness practice can have on physiological health (examples here, here, and here). 

Ok, no more procrastinating. Time to get started….

I’m not going to sugarcoat this.  This has been hard for me - probably harder than anything I’ve ever done.  I have NO problem obliterating myself in the gym but sitting down and focusing on box breathing was excruciating, particularly at the outset.  I wiggled, I wriggled, I heard every ambient sound within a city block.  However, thanks to the Meditation for Dummies Cheat Sheet, I was able to develop my own unique approach for establishing focus; first for less than a minute and now for at least ten.  The benefits I’ve experienced over the 30-day period?  Enormous.

According to Mindful Fitness, a company that incorporates mindfulness into traditional fitness practices, ‘Paying attention to the present moment without judgment or attachment allows you to live in the moment and awaken to experience. It nurtures clarity and enhances growth and transformation in all aspects of life, including health and fitness.'

I’ve certainly found this to be the case.  While I haven’t meditated every day as I intended, I’ve done it enough during this 30-day challenge to experience noticeable improvements in my capacity to cope with stressful situations, quiet my overactive brain, and feel more calm and centered overall.  My kids have noted a change in me.  Where before I would’ve flown off the handle about something silly like a pile of wet towels, I now am able to take a minute to process before reacting.  That is empowering and, dare I say it, life altering.

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, author of  A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, states in an article on that 'Mindfulness can be a great opportunity for us as a country, for all of us to develop this skill in some way, improve our performance… but there’s some fundamental things that are essential to that, and it’s the ability to concentrate, to relax, to be aware, and to cultivate and develop these skills; they’re going to improve your performance, regardless of what you are trying to do.'

I am now a believer.  I will continue to fine-tune my mindfulness practice, tweaking it to fit my individual needs and quirks (i.e., I recently had knee surgery so can’t sit in a lotus position).  I can’t see myself ever going back to my non self-reflective days as I believe I have just glimpsed the possibilities that can come from getting quiet and letting my mind Just Be.  Acceptance:  It’s a beautiful thing and I am grateful.