As I write this, on Wednesday afternoon (a little later than I’d like, but better late than never), I can confirm that the good vibes of paleo are starting to kick in. Pain in my wrists, from my surgery in 2009 and arthritis I’ve developed is almost completely gone. The muscle fatigue and labored breathing I was experiencing during my depressingly short walk to and from the train has vanished. My mood is better—despite numerous shitty things occurring at work, not directly to me, which nevertheless leave me unhappy—as are my concentration and memory.
I’m not ready to call it a miracle yet, but the chronic, debilitating pain in my foot has abated significantly. I’m not sure about weight loss—I weighed myself for the first time in this challenge just last night, and I was not happy with the number I saw—because I see the weight loss more as a pleasant side effect than the main goal. The goal is to feel good, physically and mentally, and it’s truly amazing how much of that can be accomplished through diet alone. (I haven’t exercised over the past two weeks, as I readjust to the diet.)
I’m not eating pork on this challenge, so I substituted traditional Italian sausage with Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage by “The Original Brat Hans.” I also dramatically reduced the amount of sweet potatoes, from the two the recipe calls for to one-half.
I also made a huge mistake. You’ll notice the recipe calls for “almond or coconut milk.” Here’s a fun fact about me: I hate (absolutely hate) the taste of coconut. Literally the only thing I dislike about the paleo diet is the reliance on coconuts. Look, I get it: they’re extremely versatile, they mimic the properties of certain non-paleo foods better than nut replacements, and they’re healthy to boot. But shit, I have paleo-eating friends who love coconuts but agree that too many recipes abuse coconut ingredients. To avoid that nasty taste permeating every inch of your food, a good recipe will recognize that a little coconut goes a loooooong way.
This recipe recognizes that with its recommendation of almond milk. (In fact, Paleo Leap has a handy reference page for avoiding coconut.) The problem: I’ve never found almond milk sold in stores that doesn’t have additives I don’t want to consume (and can’t, under the guidelines of this challenge), and no matter how much the internet tries to sugarcoat it, making your own is a pain in the ass. Coconut milk, on the other hand, is a available in a pure, canned form in the Asian section of pretty much every grocery store on the planet.
Against my better judgment, I used coconut milk. My assumption is that the recipe calls for coconut milk to fluff up the eggs a little, a task that’s just as easily accomplished with water. Still, I didn’t want to be wrong; plus, I thought the small amount of milk combined with spicy sausage and a shitload of vegetables would counteract the coconut flavor.
Of course, I was completely wrong. The recipe has potential, but I couldn’t get past the coconut. I’ll try it again in the future using water and report back.
I made only one change to the recipe: to the dressing, which calls for coconut oil (see above, re: my disgust for all things coconut). I considered other oils that might complement the lime juice and, almost as importantly, retain the overall Asian flavor. I landed on unrefined sesame oil, Googled around to make sure the combination of lime and sesame would not taste disgusting (in fact, many recipe sites have introduced me to the fact that something called “sesame lime dressing” actually exists–fun fact!), and simply subbed the coconut oil for sesame oil.
I ate this salad three times this week. The first time, I found it disgusting. I’m pinning the blame squarely on the overwhelming flavor of the fresh cilantro and mint. It seems to be the goal of this recipe to combine many bold, varied flavors, but I have a pretty unrefined palate. I’m very much a meat and (sweet) potatoes guy. I wouldn’t say I’m unadventurous, because I’m willing to try all manner of exotic recipes in the quest to add variety (and much-needed veggies) to my diet, and I love plenty of exotic foods. What I’ve found I don’t like are recipes wherein the chef wants to combine as many different types of flavors as possible, the sort of meal where they exclaim, in a very haughty and pretentious manner, that each bite is a new frontier. As I started digging into the salad on my first attempt, I found myself overwhelmed and fairly grossed out by the number of different flavors attacking my tastebuds all at once. They didn’t complement each other, and although the individual ingredients all added up to Thai flavors, the salad itself didn’t taste particularly Thai, or even very Asian.
I needed to solve this problem, because I made enough for three meals, and I found meal number one virtually inedible (although I forced myself to eat most of it). The first move was to omit the fresh cilantro and mint, and just sprinkle the lettuce with some dried cilantro. I figured that would give the salad an appropriate hint of flavor without overwhelming the rest of the salad. That alone improved the recipe quite a bit. However, on the third day, I substituted Romaine lettuce for some leftover baby spinach I had from the night before…and that made it even better!
Still, it took substantial rejiggering to make the recipe “edible,” but not strictly what I’d call “good.” This is not a recipe I’ll make again.
Paleo Taco Salad (Attempt #2)
As mentioned last week, I cut some corners that yielded a less-than-pleasant experience. Did I do better this time?
The answer, ultimately, is yes, but this recipe still didn’t quite blow me away. I made my own pico de gallo, I diced up some red peppers, I used fresh cilantro in the dressing (and, for all the reasons described above, omitted the excessive cilantro in the rest of the recipe), and yeah—it was pretty good. It tasted like someone attempted to make lettuce-wrap tacos that fell apart, into the bowl, in the shape of a salad. The proper ingredients, particularly the homemade pico de gallo, enhanced the overall Mexican-ness of the dish.
My complaints about the Thai-Style Steak Salad might be enough to make me sound like a cilantro-hater. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t think it should be abused. This recipe, the MVP of the week, perfectly balances it with other ingredients. In fact, you might get the impression from the name that this is a tangy, perhaps even sour entrée; in fact, it’s quite spicy. The cilantro, lime, and olive oil give it a nice balance. I’d definitely recommend this recipe, with one side-note: turn up the heat on your stove enough to blacken the edges of the chicken (as seen in the picture, it almost looks grilled), medium or medium-high depending on your output. Full disclosure: I didn’t actually do this myself, but I have a feeling the faux-blackened taste will enhance the flavors even more.
I really like Primal Kitchen’s mayo, as well as their Greek vinaigrette dressing. I’m not sure what to make of this, because as something labeled “vinaigrette,” I definitely didn’t expect some kind of thick, honey mustard sauce. I also didn’t want something that was basically spiced honey (honey is actually one of the last ingredients listed, a big plus). But my issue is less with the viscosity than the subtlety of the flavors. This tastes more like spiced avocado oil than spiced honey, which would be fine if it weren’t billing itself as “honey mustard.”
If the Cashew Swirls were too liquidy, Almond Swirls is simply too separated. Sure, almond butter separates, just like cashew butter tends to be more liquidy. Maybe adding macadamia simply brings out the worst qualities in a nut butter, but I found it nearly impossible to stir this butter enough to infuse the thick, semisolid portion with the entirely liquid oil portion. I tried my two favorite tricks for solidifying: putting it in the refrigerator, and placing the jar upside down. The change was very, very slight, which made this a big disappointment. Nut oil by doesn’t taste good; neither does gritty, hard-to-chew “butter.”
I found the Cashew Swirls’ excessive liquid a little annoying, but I still liked the way it tasted. This stuff is, for me, like taking medicine: pinch the nose and try to swallow quickly. If I hadn’t paid so much for it, and I didn’t need to get in one serving of nuts everyday, I’d throw it away. Instead, it’ll serve its purpose, but I won’t make the mistake of buying it again.