Saturday, June 30, 2012


We've been pretty lucky so far up here considering all of the fires going off around the state.  Occasionally there will be a smokey, hazy day, but that we can handle.  Lately I've been especially reminded of all that's happening by some spectacular colors at sunset caused by the fires.  Mother Nature can be cruel and beautiful all at once.

There is, of course, major fire bans/restrictions all over right now.  Our 4th of July fireworks display was cancelled weeks ago.  I'd be surprised if anyone in the state is allowed to have them at this point.  I suppose we'll just have to substitute with 'Sunset displays' instead.  Here's hoping for some rain soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Paleo Restaurant Ideas

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to go into a restaurant where you know virtually everything on the menu is fair game for us Paleoheads.  You could be at ease reading the menu trying to decide what to eat rather than listing off what to avoid.   Instead, what we currently have is people reporting back on their experiences in restaurants picking out 'paleo friendly' menu items, trying to decipher which dishes might have things like gluten and dairy, or are cooked in seed oils (ubiquitous by the way). 

As there is no strict definition of what is truly Paleo and what is not, it would be impossible to have a one size fits all type establishment.  Having said that, I think that if you were to have a place that simply eschewed gluten and seed oils then you'd be taking a large step toward creating much healthier meals.  Sure, you could theoretically open a Paleo bakery while still avoiding the said two categories, but I think most of us would agree that stuff to be just a treat kind of thing.  What I'm talking about here is having a full on plate of food that fills your belly ... with maybe an optional treat for dessert if so desired.

There's obviously many different avenues one could take in trying to come up with a viable Paleo type restaurant.  Besides the actual menu itself, you would need to figure out what 'kind' of establishment to start.  From food cart all the way up to fine dining, with all of the options in between fair game as well.  There is no right or wrong way to go about it here, just different styles.

So as this is my blog, I'm going to tell you what I would like to personally start.  I guess I would call it a casual fast food paleo joint.  I'll bet there is a term for the type of place I have in mind, but I'm not familiar with it.  Actually, what I'm thinking of would be something like the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain of eateries.  A small menu where you choose different proteins (meats, seafood, eggs), veggies, and carbs (sweet potato's, rice) to mix and match.  Maybe some burgers and like I said possibly something desserty.  I'd try to keep it simple yet filling.  The meats and oils would ideally be sourced local and as best quality as possible, but ultimately it's a business so I would have to take cost into consideration.  If everything on the menu was overly expensive you would only get the dedicated Paleo crowd, and even then maybe just as an occasional splurge.   Instead,  I'd like to have a place where even someone who could care less about Paleo would find the food and prices good enough to come back for more.  Easier said than done no doubt, but I'm just floating ideas here so what the hay.  And the idea of mix and max isn't set in stone either, I could also see a small menu base (5-7 items) with some extras. Oh, and in case you're not familiar with Chipotle, you order in a cafeteria line deal and then find some seats - it's not a sit down with a menu restaurant.

Probably the biggest conundrum would be whether or not to be flexible with the menu.  Obvious pros and cons here.  If it's a set menu, you can purchase in bulk to keep the prices lower while also making it easier to duplicate in other locations.  Also, with a more fast food type of ambiance, people are going to drop by usually knowing what they want in advance, anticipating they can get some good grub in a hurry.  On the flip side, with a flexible menu, you can really take advantage of seasonal and specialty items.  It would also lend itself to potentially more exciting options, but prices could vary widely.

I do think there's a case to be made for a higher end type of Paleo restaurant as well.  In this realm it might be easier to get 'crossover' high end diners.  Possibly anyway.  And price wouldn't be such and issue.  Oh, and one more big thing - do you use Paleo in the name or not?  I'm leaning yes, but it could end up being a thorn in your side  (think news media).

I know lots of us folks prefer to cook for ourselves most of the time, but it sure would be nice to have some options out there.  And heck, maybe more people would see that Paleo isn't some raw meat eating, cave dwelling cult.  Soooo ... with all of this in mind, what kind of Paleo restaurant would you like to see?  Both personally and what you think ultimately would be the most likely to succeed.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Vitamin D' oh

A few quick thoughts on sunshine after my mostly cloudy and rainy trip to Portland.  In particular, sunshine on our bare skin.  If you think about it, sun exposure kinda has a good boy/bad boy persona.

Good boy:     Make Vitamin D (and probably a host of other synergistic co-factors)
                        Mood - it just does a mind good
                        Tan - protects against burns and looks nice

Bad boy:        Can cause burns, sometimes very severe ones
                        Possible skin carcinogen
                        'Ages' skin

In my mind at least, it's not too hard to come up with a simple and effective (but maybe not always easy) plan to find a good balance of sun time.

                       Get frequent sun exposure on your bare skin
                       Don't burn your skin
                       Wear clothing to protect your skin for prolonged exposures
                       Only use sunscreen when absolutely necessary

A little more detail here perhaps.  For sun exposure, ideally you need to get it on a large chunk of your body.  Your bare skin showing while wearing a t-shirt and shorts is better than nothing, but try to shoot for shirtless if at all possible (see, not so easy).  Also, you want to be under the sun in the late morning or early afternoon.  This has to do with the 'angle' of the rays as they come through the atmosphere and penetrate your skin.  A good rule of thumb here is to be in the sun when your shadow is roughly your height or smaller.  Not coincidentally, this 'angle' thing is also why we don't make vitamin D from sun exposure in increasingly Northern/Southern latitudes in the middle of winter.  One more detail:  progressively build up your sun time in the spring so as not to burn yourself.

As with anything, you can make this a lot more complicated if you so desire (not recommended).  For instance, you can debate about what optimum serum vitamin D levels are and if you should or should not take supplements to reach some arbitrary threshold.  And you could try to figure out how long your sun exposure should be depending on your skin color, time of year, and even things like altitude in my case.  Or if you do need to use sunscreen, what type (chemicals or no chemicals, UVA and UVB protection or not) and SPF strength.

Instead of going crazy, remember that the sun should be fun.  Respect it, but don't fear it.  Use it, but don't abuse it.  Enough said right?   As I found out in Portland, not so much.  My niece and nephew essentially don't get non-sunscreened sun exposure ... by their parents choice.  Even the week I was there when it was mostly cloudy and rainy outside, sunscreen would be applied copiously.

To be sure, I understand what's going through the mind of my bro and his wife.  It's not hard to figure out.  Avoid sunburns for the kids at all costs.  I get that.  You get that.  My friend's pet turtle gets that.  But what I don't get is how they cannot see the benefit, nay, the absolute importance of some sun exposure, or the downside of sunscreen (which I admit is not so common knowledge in conventional wisdom circles).  Unfortunately, the kids being kids, they don't get vitamin D in their diets (I'm purposely not counting the synthetic D in the 2%! milk they drink - oy vey).  In other words, they don't eat eggs or fish and such.  Not that this would or could make up for a lack of sun exposure.  I'm actually not going to get into their diets here, that's a subject I'll just leave alone.  It pains me to see what they eat, but it's not under my control ... especially with my sister-in-law being a registered dietician.  And you know what?  I didn't say a word to them about sun exposure either.  If I thought it would have left even a seed of doubt in their minds I surely would have, but they see old uncle Aaron as on the fringes.  The fringes of insanity probably.

Ah well, what can one do?  Enjoy the heck out of family time while I'm there is what.  Have catches and conversations and read the kids a book before bedtime.  Sing songs, do sprints together and go out for ice cream.  That's the good stuff right there.  If I ever have kids of my own, I'll undoubtedly feed and sun them differently, but that's me.  When my niece and nephew get older and begin to make choices for themselves, hopefully, the conventional wisdom will have shifted some by then.  It has started already, I can feel that much at least.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Emotion through Affection

There are a breed of us out there (myself included) who need affection or physical touch in order to experience emotion.  It's not always easy to pick us out, especially if you just know us casually, but in children it's usually pretty obvious.  My nephew definitely falls into this category while my niece does not.  She is pure emotion baby.  And when you're six, emotion translates into the world coming to an end at least a few times a week.  Seemingly anyway.  But if emotion doesn't flow through your veins so easily and you're four, like my nephew, you need games and snuggles to establish bonds.  This is why we click so well I figure.  When we wrestle, tackle (a game as simple as it sounds), play basketball or just stare each other down from close range (in the picture), our emotions are engaged.  It's hard for us to imagine freaking out because you can't wear the jacket or shoes of your choice. 

I'm sure people who are emotional enjoy physical contact too, but they don't need it in order to experience emotions.  A case in point here is Art.  Viewing masterful Artwork can bring people to tears.  Or make them happy or sad or whatever.  For me, and those like me, we're unmoved.  Looking at pictures with people as their subjects is more interesting for us than scenes/pieces without them, but to say we get emotional would be a stretch.  This is probably why I don't take pictures of food very often to put on this blog.  When I'm savoring a great meal, I do so with taste and smell.  Viewing pictures of food doesn't make me hungry or even want to try the item.  It's good to see what it looks like for descriptive purposes, but I can't 'taste' food through pictures.  Apparently, though, I'm in the minority here, at least judging by other peoples reactions to pics of food (not to mention the vast array of television commercials with food in them).

The Portland Sprint Club
Now, I'm in no way criticizing emotions or emotional people.  Heck, I wish I was a bit more emotional myself (a bit I say).   I'm jealous of people who can feel things just by looking or thinking about them.  I guess I'm trying to play Jr. psychologist and point out that people emotionally experience the world in different ways.  Not exactly groundbreaking news I suppose, but if you take a minute and try to put yourself into the shoes of someone on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, I think it's possible to gain some understanding for the way they respond to certain situations.  Although it scares me a bit to see my brother go off the reservation for something trivial, I know that this is his initial way of dealing with things.  He soon comes down to reality and in short order doesn't even remember that he got so angry (but I sure do).  His daughter is the same way and they're having difficulty trying to get her to control her emotional outbursts.  This is their natural tendency, it is not good or bad, it just is what it is.  Likewise, seeing that some people don't often get charged up doesn't mean that they don't care.  It simply means they don't show that much emotion.  A perfect example is when I was a late teenager and my family and I were at a hotel for a special event.  The phone rang and I answered it.  It was horrible news, but I conveyed it to my parents so calmly that they didn't believe me.  They actually had to call someone back to confirm it.  It's not that I didn't think what happened was bad, it's just not in my blood to be very expressive.  But, as I've pointed out, if someone had told me that news eye to eye and then given me a big reassuring hug, I might have reacted differently.

Where I think this mutual understanding has the most potential for benefit is in relationships.  If two very emotional people or two very unemotional people get together then I believe it's easier for them to progress in their relationship as they know how the other one feels more often than not.  If the opposite happens and two unlikes are paired, then it will be harder on everybody.  In no way impossible, or even a bad thing, just more challenging.  Take, for example, when there is a fight or argument.  The emotional person naturally wants to get it all out and be done with it.  The unemotional person wants to rationally discuss the situation until a satisfactory agreement is reached.  If each person is aware of the natural emotional inclination of the other, things could be easier.  Or not ... it may still boggle your mind that someone can be so callous/emotional. 

One more thing along this line of thinking.  Various cultures and countries around the globe have different standards of what is normal and acceptable in terms of affection people have towards one another.  Has anyone ever done research into figuring out if more affectionate societies are less violent, smarter, more tolerant etc. etc.?  I'm just thinking out loud at this point.  Anyway, it was nice to load up on affection with my family while I was away. 

Friday, June 15, 2012


Back from vacation with my batteries nice and re-charged.  I need to get out of Dodge a little more often I think.  Good timing though as Aspen is hosting the 30th annual Food and Wine festival this weekend and from here it remains busy all summer.

My nephew and I
While away I got some fodder for a few posts which I'll tap out here in the next week or so.  I want to start with some of my food experiences before they fade in my memory.  I'm not a food picture taker and probably never will be, so I'll just describe a few things and keep it short.  Also, when on vacation I don't order things on menus which obviously have gluten, but neither do I inquire as to specific ingredients in items.  I consider my diet at home very under my control and don't sweat it while 'away'. 

Here are the two meals that stuck out the most:

Cultured Caveman
     After picking my Mom up from the airport we headed to this cool little Paleo food cart for lunch.  It's located in Portland's Northeast section which appears to be a funky little enclave of, well, funk.  I had mapped it out so it was no problem finding, but it would be really hard to spot just driving by.  Despite that and despite some cool and rainy weather we had a very good lunch.  We ordered the chicken drumsticks, the egg frittata muffins, the sweet and russet potato fries and some bone broth with wild mushrooms.  And I would've had the beef cheeks but they were out (which I think is a good sign for things to come as we were there on only their 5th day of business).
     Before I get to my favorites I want to mention that Joe and Heather are super nice and obviously very excited to be starting this venture.  Joe even brought us out some extra fries which I happily devoured.  I wish them the best.
     Speaking of the fries, those were probably my fave.  Joe said they use purple sweet potatoes that they can only get from North Carolina right now and pressure fry them in organic grass fed beef tallow.  Yum indeed.
     The chicken drumsticks were also very good.  They were breaded with coconut flour, I believe, and fried to crispy goodness.  They also came with a delicious aioli dipping sauce accented with chili peppers.  It's been a long, long time since I've had chicken this way and I don't know that I would go out of my way to make it at home, but if it's good, quick, comfort food made with impeccable ingredients you're after, then this will hit the spot.
     The egg frittata muffins were made from coconut flour and eggs, and stuffed with spinach, red pepper and wild mushrooms.  They're little as far as what passes for conventional muffins these days, but they packed a punch with flavor and nutrition.
Joe from Cultured Caveman
     The bone broth with wild mushrooms was the only thing we tried that lacked a little in taste.  It wasn't bad, it just needed a little more salt or spice in my opinion.
     All in all, a great place with a bright future.  And if they're ever interested in expanding to a casual sit down Paleo joint I just might be interested in joining them.
     One final though here is that the coolest things about having a full on Paleo menu is the comfort level it puts you in while ordering.  You don't have to worry about gluten, or seed oils one little bit.  Absolutely everything on the menu is fair game.  Here's hoping that more and more establishments in the future follow Joe and Heathers lead.

     Sometimes fate just smacks you in the face.  Unlike seeking out Cultured Caveman, this Argentinian restaurant in Tacoma, WA just fell into our laps as my brother and I returned from a day trip up to Seattle.  I won't get into how we found it, instead I'll just put the summary up front and say it was the second best meal I've ever eaten in a restaurant. 
     Actually I'm not even going to get into detailed ingredients.  My brother had the Lomillo steak and I had some pork shoulder which was the special of the day.  They both came with purple mashed potatoes, and we started with the ceviche and plantain chips.
     We were just staring at each other in amazement the whole meal.  The meat was just absolutely melt in you mouth perfect.  I mean just perfect.  You might be able to go to a fancy dancy place and get similarly cooked meat for like $70 a plate.  Here it was under $25.  And the ceviche with guacamole was fresh and delicious ... and was awesome with fried plantain chips (like I said before, I'm sure they were fried in vegetable oil, but on this occasion it did not matter).
    Two things here.  First, sometimes the stars just align in your favor and the food gods give you a gift.  Most of the time you have to seek this stuff out or put the effort into making it yourself ... but every once in awhile :)  Second, why is meat so darn tough sometimes and melt in your mouth yummy others?  I know it's got to be about quality and cooking method, but to make a point - while here in Aspen my mother and I went to a restaurant and she ended up returning the steak she ordered because it was far to tough.  And at another place we dined my steak was somewhere in-between.  Obviously if you owned a restaurant that served steak you would want it to be good enough for people to keep coming back, so it must not be that easy to get perfect every time.  Something I'll have to look into further I suppose.
That's it for now.  I'll write again soon about more vacation stuff.