Emerald City Soup

Making salad is time consuming. But you know you need to get to the city of greens if you are going to be paleo-awesome.

Eating salad is also time consuming. Really. In my early paleo days I was all about the rapid weight loss and I didn’t really know what I was doing so here was my protocol:

  • Three salads a day. Each salad accompanied by one of those infuriatingly small deck-of-cards-sized portions of meat. Each salad consisted of infinite lettuce and just one cup of low carb veg. Like cucumber, celery & radishes. I was buying lettuce like a madwoman and consuming massive party-sized salads three times a day. I lost 75lbs in 5 months and I will not lie, I spent all of my discretionary time during those months making & eating salad.

I still think it was a good strategy for me at the time, but I want to do other things with my discretionary time now. Like run, do hot yoga, read, write, have fun with Matthew, go for walks with my girlfriends, and try to get my teenagers to hang out with me. That’s my yellow brick road.

I still make salads, a couple of times a week, but I’ve streamlined. Now I’m as likely to make a raw soup, like this one:

Emerald City Soup

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 handfuls spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 green onions
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons
  • ¼ cup coconut aminos
  • 1 litre (4 cups/1 large mason jarful) water
  • A shake of Himalayan salt
  • A generous shake of Chinese 5 spice
  • A pinch of cayenne
  • 1 cup watermelon cubes (optional)

Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender and hit play. Taste and adjust seasonings. Eat now or chill for later.

If you are on a dramatic weight loss kick, you might want to omit the watermelon temporarily.

Gazpacho variation

Use a good amount of tomatoes & some bell pepper rather than avocado and spinach.

Eliminate the water & coconut aminos. Add a splash of olive oil.

Your variation

Remove what you don’t like or what you don’t have.

Add what you do like and do have.

Get fancy

 Chop parsley or cilantro or watercress finely with a clove of garlic and some (organic) lemon, lime or orange peel. Sprinkle generously on each bowl before serving.

Get going

Fill a mason canning jar, screw the lid on tight, toss it in your purse (or similar) and get started on your adventure.

Follow petra8paleo Paleo for humans in a decaying civilization; Paleo for people who hate to cook! on facebook.


15 ways to hate cooking less

As a person who hated to cook but wanted to be paleo, I felt doomed. Kind of like Frodo facing a long walk through Mordor.

If you’re reading this because you’re looking for a work-around, a way to be paleo without cooking, I can only say that I searched everywhere for that loophole. The only solution I found was that I had to work on hating cooking less.

Here are 15 ways to learn to hate cooking less:

  1. Organize your kitchen
  2. Get free of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the SAD-loop it creates
  3. Learn to cook
  4. Be scientific: observe yourself
  5. Be intuitive: decide for yourself
  6. Source your food
  7. Have a plan
  8. Develop an ethic of advance prep; get behind ‘mise en place’
  9. Use your freezer
  10. Share the load
  11. Gather the right tools
  12. Decide you are worth it
  13. Find out why you hate cooking
  14. Pretend it’s your hobby
  15. Treat your aversion to cooking as an opportunity for growth

One thing I have done a lot of is experiment. I’ve tinkered with a variety of tactics and then observed myself intently while asking ‘How much am I hating this?’ In this way I have discovered moments when I forgot to hate cooking, and occasions when I actually slipped into enjoyment, and sometimes even instances of getting into the zone.

These moments don’t have to be long or strong. But if you find one, observe the conditions (time of day, level of hunger, number of people in your vicinity, music playing?, what you’re cooking, or maybe you aren’t cooking, you’re assembling salad, etc.) Make a mental (or actual) note of these conditions and then try to recreate them whenever you can.

There are lots of tricks that I have discovered to help me hate cooking less. I’ll share all of those. Stay tuned!


My petra8paleo food pyramid

Here’s my ideal paleo food pyramid, as I conceive it at this moment.

I’m learning more all the time and adjusting as I go, so I expect it might change.

In comparing my plate to my pyramid, I’m still working on replacing foods that are high omega 6s with foods that are higher in omega 3s, but otherwise this picture pretty accurately reflects my foodstuffs.

Some primal people include full-fat dairy in their diet. I experimented with that but I feel more vibrant without it, and these days I’m all about the vibrancy.

If you’re going for rapid weight loss, you might decide to temporarily remove or limit the yellow sections (squash,  root veg, fruits, berries & paleo treats) as they are high in carbohydrates, but otherwise you might find this arrangement works for you, too.


If this food palate seems restricted, just think that every great cuisine on the planet evolved precisely because limited ingredients were available. We wouldn’t have Thai food or Ethiopian food or any other ethnic cuisine if people had always had supermarkets at their disposal. Through creativity and necessity, limitations make food great. The limitations of paleo are self-imposed, unlike those experienced by our ancestors, but I think these constraints still create opportunities for ingenuity and gastronomic greatness. The food I eat is delicious. And profoundly nourishing. It just takes a while to get used to restrictions when you’ve been accustomed to having anything you wanted from the supermarket.

But having anything we wanted from the supermarket has been making us collectively really unhealthy so maybe it’s time for change!

Getting started

A lot of paleo gurus suggest that you start right now.

Get a garbage bag, they say, and clean out your pantry of all non-paleo food. Get rid of the rice, pasta, bread, chips, beans, soy products, protein bars and peanut butter. Seize the day! I say if this approach is perfect for you, then go do it now!

But starting by purging your pantry doesn’t to acknowledge that you may live with people who aren’t (yet) paleo keeners: a partner, teenaged children, or roommates whose goodwill you are going to need, and who might react with hostility if you autocratically dispose of their food. In fact, if you want to provoke hostility, getting rid of the sweets and starches that most people rely on to get through the day is probably the most direct route.

If sanctifying the storecupboard and starting this minute is your style, go to it; for the rest of us a little thoughtfulness and preparation can make the difference between one more failed experiment and a transformed life. To be successful at paleo, you will have to relearn how to source your food. This will necessitate a change in habits and a different pattern of interacting with your environment. This can be a fun adventure, but if you’re trying to do it when you’re ravenous because you just pitched the contents of your pantry, it’ll be stressful and you’ll be more likely to bail.

Depending on the state of your health, your current commitment level, and the degree of anxiety you are facing about giving up your Standard American Diet (SAD), you’ll need to pick a strategy. Here are a few:

  • Commit to paleo for 30 days. That way you don’t have to deal with the anguish of renouncing your favorite SAD foods while you’re still dependent on them. After the 30 days you can gradually reintroduce the SAD foods you want to experiment with, observing yourself all the while. You might find you can easily give up some SAD foods after the 30 days. You might find that you feel amazing and are ready to commit fully to paleo life. With this approach, you don’t need to decide about forever right now. Defer that decision. Set a date to start your 30 and begin your preparations. Read about my extreme 30 here. Find help for ‘doing a 30’ at Nom Nom Paleo.
  • Start gradually. Eliminate gluten altogether as a first step. Avoid replacing donuts and pizza with gluten-free donuts and pizza. Start reading food labels: check out the carbohydrates and begin to reduce your carb intake. Try some paleo recipes. Find a source for grass-fed beef. Go to a farmers market. Eat more fish and vegetables. Bake a spaghetti squash and serve it with your favorite pasta sauce. Educate yourself. Keep in mind that you won’t get the increased energy that makes the effort of being paleo effortless until you have committed to paleo eating for at least 30 days and been through the ring of fire that is detoxing from carbs. If you choose to start gradually, think of it as purgatory. Don’t get stuck here. Plan to do a 30 before your next birthday.
  • Commit. If your health is failing, you are beyond tired of being overweight, are weary of a body that isn’t working, or otherwise need a complete change, plan to go paleo, full stop. Set a date (not too far in the future) and hold a wake for the SAD foods that have been your frenemies all these years. Then align the focus of entire life toward your goal, like a housecat stalking a sparrow.

How do you align the focus of your entire life to ensure you’re paleo-ready on the date you’ve chosen?

Try a force field analysis. A force field analysis will give you the insight of a Jedi master.  Designed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s, it enables you to identify where the force is with you, where it is against you, and which Jedi moves to use in any situation.

All you need to do is brainstorm every single thing you can think of that is standing in the way of your new paleo life. Make a picture like the one below, but give each impediment a customized arrow on the ‘restraining forces’ side. A huge barrier gets a huge arrow, a tiny hurdle gets a mini-arrow. Next, brainstorm everything you can think of that is working in your favor (dig deep), and give each of these an appropriately sized arrow on the ‘driving forces’ side of your picture. Then pause to acknowledge that the combination of these forces are keeping you stuck where you are right now. To unstick, think of at least one way that you can reduce or redirect the restraining forces. You don’t need to eliminate them, just diminish their power. Then generate a list of ways you can strengthen the driving forces, even a little bit. Now you have a list of things you can do to help you get paleo-ready by the date you’ve chosen. Do them.

Once you’re in the paleo groove, a force field analysis is still a great way to approach any situation that will test your resolve, such as houseguests bearing homemade granola, a business trip, or the approaching holidays.

“Already know you, that which you need.” ~ Yoda


A paleo week


Here’s my real-life paleo week in summary, from Thanksgiving Monday until Sunday evening.

Caveat: A week in my life pre-paleo was nothing like this.

Paleo week kilometers: 63. That breaks down to:

  • 11.5km walking;
  • 8.5km mushroom foraging; &
  • 43km trail running, which coincidentally is about the length of a marathon…  and that is amusing because marathoners usually finish in under 5 hours and I rocked one in just 7 days!;

I log my physical activities on mapmyrun.com, but had to guess for the mushroom hunting expedition as we were off-trail most of the time.

Though a week in my pre-paleo life wasn’t anything like this with regard to activity and food, some things remain the same. I still have a career, I’m still married to the sexiest man on the planet, and I still have a couple of fascinating, miscreant teenagers. But eighteen months ago, my weekly km log was more in the 0.00 range and I didn’t own a pair of running shoes. I went to yoga because it was the form exercise I hated the least, but the time I spent dreading yoga compared to the time I spent in class ran about 12:1.

Here’s my paleo week foodstuffs:

  Breakfast I rarely plan a lunch-type meal. Sometimes I want one and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I eat leftovers or veg or nuts or salad. Sometimes I eat nothing. Supper
Monday Coho salmon, yam oven fries, avocado Turkey, roast parsnips & onions, green salad, blackberries & coconut cream
Tuesday Scrambled eggs, kabocha squash, avocado Turkey soup with leeks, cauli-rice pilaf
Wednesday Bacon, yam oven fries, cooked kale Leftover turkey soup with leeks, chanterelles with garlic
Thursday Ham, spaghetti squash with paleo pad thai sauce & cashews Steak, tabbouleh salad (made with leftover cauli-rice pilaf)
Friday Chanterelle & kale omelettes, yam & carrot oven fries ‘Zucchini yacht’ stuffed with ground bison, green salad
Saturday Ahi tuna steaks, sautéed apples with walnuts & bacon Beef & mushroom slow cooker stew, sliced cucumber & green olives
Sunday Coconut pancakes with blackberries & maple syrup Fry-up of ground chicken, savoy cabbage & chard

Food notes:

  • I stowed turkey soup, chanterelles in turkey stock, and beef stew in the freezer for a rainy day.
  • I put my higher carb foods into breakfast this week as I was running most mornings before I ate.
  • Yams were 45 cents a pound for thanksgiving and they looked dandy! Even though I normally lurk the organic section in the supermarket, when conventional yams are looking that pretty & are that cheap… we eat yam-fries!
  • In some ways this is a typical week but in other ways it’s just a randomized snapshot. For example, last week I ate a lot of sauerkraut at breakfast, but this week not once.

13 reasons we hate to cook

There are lots of reasons why you might hate to cook…

  1. You have no time
  2. You’re overwhelmed & exhausted
  3. You have a (chronically) messy kitchen
  4. You feel oppressed, harried, unappreciated
  5. You have difficulty nourishing yourself
  6. You don’t know how
  7. You’re spoiled
  8. You have a complicated relationship with food & eating
  9. You have no plan
  10. You devalue domestic work
  11. Your notions of progress do not include menial tasks
  12. You have cooking/kitchen trauma
  13. You’ve never seen it done & it seems mysterious or unnecessary

Most of these were true for me. Some still are. I still have a thorny relationship with food, but I’ve improved my rapport with cooking. I’ve been writing this blog in my head for a year because I think that if I can learn to not hate cooking (most of the time), you can too. And if we can learn to not hate cooking, we can ace this paleo thing and transform ourselves. Because I loathed cooking – as in, there was nothing about it that I liked.

Some of the reasons I hated to cook was that I was eating crap food, and that was keeping me in a dispirited state. I wasn’t eating at Mickey D’s or subsisting on donuts, just the standard, nutritionist-recommended food that fills our grocery aisles. In fact, I was a health food-eating fat person: wheat-free breakfast cereal, beans, rice chips, fruit smoothies, bins of cashews, protein bars, spinach ravioli, and soy lattes. I now know the food I was consuming was both the cause and the result of my chronic lethargy, as well as my animosity toward cooking. I was too drained to cook, so I spent as little time cooking as possible, which kept me eating the sad, crap diet that ensured I’d be continually depleted. It’s called the Standard American Diet (and it is really, really SAD).

I ate SAD food (with a vegetarian twist) for many reasons: I had no time; I felt overwhelmed & exhausted; I had a messy kitchen (because I had no time and was exhausted); and on some fundamental level, I had difficulty nourishing myself.

I had a self-worth problem that was ‘cured’ (in minutes!) and exacerbated (for years) with carbs. It was a tidy little enslavement that I was unknowingly perpetuating on myself. But mostly I ate SAD food because I thought I was doing the right thing.  My reasons weren’t excuses. I can totally imagine a fanatical trainer at the gym telling me I was overweight because I was lazy and just needed to get off my butt. But I wasn’t lazy. I was working my butt off at my day job, raising my kids, never getting enough sleep, and going uphill both ways in a carb-focused/SAD-loop of fatness and depression. I was demoralized because of the food I was eating, and the food I was eating was keeping me demoralized. That was my SAD-loop, and I looped that sucker for decades.

YOU ARE NOT FLAWED! I have to emphasize that because I used to think I was flawed. I tried so hard. Ate gluten-free. Went to yoga. Kept myself perpetually insatiate, always craving, went to bed hungry most of the time, in an attempt to feel better and lose weight. I hated cooking, but I cooked anyway – with a superabundance of kids and extremely limited money I had to.

I will not lie. Getting off the carb-centred tilt-a-whirl that has hijacked our bodies is enormously and utterly hard. But it’s also completely doable, and once you’re off the SAD-loop, you’re free.

And when you’re free, the whole world wants to get down with you.


Chanterelles & coconut cream

Yesterday I picked chanterelles for the first time.

I source a lot of my food at stores, but I’m diversifying.  I get chicken at a nearby farm; local eggs from one health food store; grass-fed beef from another.  I prowl around the land, city & country, for food.

Food sourcing has become my practice since I’ve become paleo.  Maybe it’s even a spiritual practice sometimes.

I picked a trillion blackberries this summer.  They’re in my freezer now, just waiting to be partially defrosted and served with coconut cream (find the recipe for coconut cream below!)

I’m a newbie wildcrafter, but I’m already appreciating all the intrinsic primal-certified exercise as well as the food, and as a perk wildcrafting also appeases my latent bunker-freak survivalist.

I’d like to kill a deer.  I’ve never killed anything in my life, and I’m hazy on the details of what is involved in turning a stag into venison, but I’d like to know.  I think.

And yesterday I went mushroom picking.

My good friend and mushroom guide, Elaine, can spot chanterelles under a log in a gloomy hollow from 50 feet away.  As we loped through the understory, talking incessantly like old girlfriends do, she’d stop to tell me there were some right under my feet.  I’d hunker down, peer around, and poke at the moss until I found them.  It’s late in the season and they’d been fairly picked over, but she found lots peeking out from under the moss and rotten logs.  She taught me to leave the small ones and we only harvested those that were at least palm sized.

Elaine showed me all her favorite, best, secret mushroom spots.

After a while I noticed I was crouching in the moss and finding them as we talked.  I was discovering the mushroom wavelength; suddenly seeing fungi everywhere.

We gathered about 10lbs of chanterelles in 2 hours, mostly golden and a few white ones, and Elaine insisted I take most of them home.

I arrived home with a big bag of mushrooms covered in pine needles, leaf litter and dirt and realized I’d been so excited about mushroom picking that I hadn’t given any thought to cooking them.  Not surprising for someone who (still, sometimes) hates to cook!

After cleaning them, which took 2 of us working concertedly for 20 minutes, I followed Elaine’s advice and let them cook ‘dry’ without oil in my two biggest cast iron pans.  They released a lot of liquid which I was supposed to let evaporate, but there was such an improbable quantity of mushroom liquor that I poured some off.  Once the remaining liquid had cooked off, I added coconut oil (rather than the recommended butter) and big chunks of garlic, and browned everything gloriously.  We ate them with leftover thanksgiving-turkey soup and they were….medium!

Next time I won’t pour any of the liquid off (must learn to do as I’m told).  Matthew and I agreed they’d make a great omelette filling, and the leftovers are snuggled into a glass container in the fridge awaiting that fate tomorrow.  I found a promising recipe for Warm Chanterelle and Pancetta Salad online, which I’ll be ready with next time I head out.

Meanwhile, here’s a recipe that makes a cup of coffee or any kind of fruit divine in moments…

Coconut cream

I’ve found this recipe in several locations, but I first discovered it in my favorite paleo cookbook, Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan.

  1. Refrigerate 1 or 2 tins of coconut milk overnight.
  2. Separate the thick white cream from the clear coconut water. Add a capfull of vanilla extract and some nutmeg to the cream, if you like, and beat briefly until gloriously thick, like whipped cream.
  3. Serve it with berries or dollop it in your coffee.
  4. Use the coconut water in a smoothie, salad dressing, or soup.


You’ll change

A few of my girlfriends were charmed into buying boy-band concert tickets for their tweener daughters 2 years in advance.

At the time, every one of those kids was in steadfast boy-band love and insisted that there would be no contentment for anyone in this incarnation without those tickets.  Two years later, all of those (now-teenaged) girls were somewhere between lukewarm and embarrassed about the tickets once the concert rolled around. Some bailed. Some tried to sell their tickets.  Some were forced to attend the concert by their grouchy mamas. Some of those grouchy mamas went too, with tickets originally destined for similarly disenchanted teen-aged girlfriends.  I was spared all of the drama and the dilemma because my #3 teenaged kid is a drama-geek. Something I am grateful for every day.

First off, brilliant boy-band marketing scheme.  Secondly, a splendid reminder that people change.  Great news for those of us who hate cooking or are otherwise imperfect.

I’ve changed.  In commonplace and extraordinary ways in the 18 months I’ve been paleo. I’ve lost 75lbs and maintained that new weight for over a year.  I’ve become an avid, rabid trail runner.  I’ve learned how to (re)inhabit my house, my body and my life.  And I’ve learned how to not hate cooking.  Mostly.

In less time that it takes to fall out of love with a boy-band.