Yesterday, we held an event at our kitchen studio, the first public event in that space. We had been looking forward to it for quite awhile.
I haven’t said much about our studio here, even though I put up photos on Instagram occasionally. This summer, Danny and I started renting a space for our work. We still dig each other after nearly 8 years of knowing each other, but working from home together was growing a little tiresome. It turns out we’re more productive if we’re forced to change out of our pajamas and go to work. So we found a beautiful space on a 10-acre farm on Vashon, a big room with tall ceilings, lots of windows, and a kitchen. Since then, we’ve been testing recipes for our next cookbook and this site, painting the walls white, and planning. We have plans.
I’ll tell you more about those plans soon.
But the past few days, we have been moving boxes and decorating shelves, rounding up white plates, and finally truly moving into this space we love.
Time to have a party.
I love that hush and rush the hour or two before a party, bustling around cleaning, laying out plates, arranging flowers. If everything works, it’s going to be a space filled with laughter soon.
We were ready. Finally. Time.
Quickly, the room filled with good people. They walked through the front door, couple after couple, clutching tickets in their hands, ready to be there. Some of them were people whose work I knew. (The guy on the left is Stephan Guyenet, who writes Whole Health Source, one of my favorite science and food blogs.) They sipped on kombucha from Communitea Kombucha. They listened to our landlord talk about the grass-fed beef and pastured-pork meat company he runs from Vashon. (Midlife Crisis Farms! They sell at the Vashon farmers’ market, and soon, at our studio.) They talked with each other and waited to talk with our man of the hour.
After all, we were there to meet Chris Kresser.
If you are interested in food that sustains you, finding your health through good nutrition, and reading the smart scientific wonderings of someone who truly knows his stuff, you might want to meet this man. Chris Kresser is whip-smart and gentle-kind. He’s constantly thinking and making his way through the latest scientific studies, reading it all with an open mind and changing his ideas when the science is clear. But he has been on a powerful personal journey, from chronic pain and the confusing thicket of medical specialists who could not help him to vibrant health. For Chris, science is more than studies. It’s clear evidence he can use to help people.
So many of us wish we could see Chris in practice. These days, he’s booked up, unable to see new patients. But the copious writings he shares on his website are a guide for many of us, fodder for asking our doctors the right questions.
This past year, I have been transforming my health. When I was diagnosed with celiac in 2005, I had been terribly sick for months, pretty sick for years, and low-level lousy for most of my life. I was so damned happy to find that I could heal myself by cutting gluten out of my life that I felt like telling everyone, all the time. (Well, I guess I have.) For a year or two, I felt the best I ever have. And then, it started slipping back into low-level lousy. Was it pregnancy? Not enough sleep or exercise when I had a sleepless baby and toddler to care for? Other food intolerances? Another mystery illness?
Every winter, for years, I have dipped down. It’s easy to do, here in the Pacific Northwest. We don’t soak in enough vitamin D from the sun. The rain and grey leave everyone feeling dampened. And every winter, I told myself it was that. Or the flu going through town. Or growing older. Last winter, however, I was so lousy sick that we went through another round of multiple medical tests (and bills we are still paying off), wondering if I had cancer. Getting off Tamoxifen after three years of being on it helped, mostly. But during that terrible time, I had suddenly become pre-diabetic. Even though my blood sugar levels returned to normal, I wanted to move as far away from that line as possible. That’s why I decided to quit sugar this summer.
(These days, I will ever-so-occaionally have something made with sugar, because I am not a purist. I don’t believe in making any food forbidden, except gluten, for me. To my surprise, I find I don’t enjoy that sugary treat anymore. Give me a fruit salad of grapefruit, frozen blueberries, kiwi slices, and vanilla bean, with a drizzle of honey, any day.)
When I had such success with that —— sleeping better, losing weight, feeling renewed energy —— I decided to investigate the other foods that might be inflaming me, rather than feeding me.
For over a year, I had woken up with a raw throat, my entire head stuffed. I woke up at 3 in the morning, hacking with it sometimes. Friends told me it had to be allergies. We closed the bedroom windows in summer and bought hypoallergenic sheets and pillows. That didn’t help. We investigated mold problems in the house or water issues. Nothing. A friend told me she had this too, that it sounded like GERD. The solution? Sleep with a brick under the bed, to raise it. Sleep sitting up, propped up on pillows. Avoid spicy foods. I tried. It still didn’t work.
Finally, one night, at 3 am, with the entire house dark and quiet, I sat on the living room couch, sniffing and gulping for air around my sore throat. I googled every combination of symptoms I had, the niggling and enormous, all together in one frantic attempt to understand what the heck was wrong with me. I landed, over and over again, on this series by Chris Kresser, about how too many carbohydrates can cause GERD. The next morning, I told Danny I just wanted to eat meats, fats, and vegetables for awhile, to see if it could help. Within a week, I slept through the night without problems, not a stuffed nose or raw throat in sight. I haven’t suffered with it since.
That’s the thing about Chris Kresser. He doesn’t have any dogma. He’s a scientist who has suffered, and thus wants to help others. He certainly has helped me.
So it was an absolute joy to host a party in honor of Chris’s wonderful new book, Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life. I’d like to suggest you cover up the word paleo with your hand. This isn’t the paleo you might have heard: caveman, grok, no carb, ketosis, eating only bacon and butter-drenched coffee. This is common sense and wise counsel.
It makes sense to me, after years of resisting this paleo thing. I heard Chris Kresser talking to a scientist named Mat LeLonde on one of my many walks this summer, the sun on my skin, while I listened to biochemists on my headphones. I stopped walking and looked up at the sky when I heard LaLonde say something that has stuck with me. If you look at human history on this planet as a long scientific experiment, choose the foods that have been in the human diet for the longest, because they obviously work for us. Anything that did not further the species? We dropped it long time ago.
I hope that means we’ll get rid of Twinkies, eventually.
So eat the foods that have served us the best, the foods that have been part of human evolution the longest. The newest foods are the ones most likely to cause inflammation.
That inflammation can happen especially in those of us with damaged guts from celiac or other related syndromes that cause gluten to act like a toxin in our bodies. Going gluten-free — and especially if you are replacing all those foods with grocery-store substitutes — may not be enough to heal us. For me, right now, after years of suffering and never fully healing my gut, my body struggles with foods high in insoluble fiber, like whole grains, coconut flour, and beans. Does that mean I think those foods are evil and no one should be eating them? Of course not! I still eat Jovial brown rice pasta (the brown rice is soaked before being made into flour, increasing its digestibility), homemade hummus, the occasional bowl of gluten-free oatmeal, and more frequently, buckwheat and quinoa. (Those are actually seeds, which my body right now seems to prefer.) I certainly enjoy the heck out of those foods.
And I have no interest in telling anyone else how to live or what to eat.
I just know I feel best if I make 80% of my diet good quality meats, lots of vegetables, good fats, tubers (such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and plantains), starches like tapioca and arrowroot, fermented foods and drinks, nuts, seeds, fruits, and dark chocolate. For me, that’s real food, essential food. That’s what we cook in our kitchen. The other 20%? I decide that in the moment. I have found that too much rigidity causes inflammation as well. I still want to enjoy my food, around the table, with friends.
(I’d like to make it clear that I’m not on a low-carb diet. I cut out most carbohydrates out of my diet at first, just to test if that helped with the GERD. And it did. But after a month or so on a very low-carb diet, I started having more insomnia and fuzzy thinking and sluggishness. There’s quite a bit of research to suggest that women in particular don’t do so well with a low-carb diet. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the gut microbiome suffers when we cut back on all carbs. If I call my diet anything, it’s the creating-a-healthy-microbiome diet. I still have healing to do. But I’m definitely not on a low-carb diet. I’m on a low crap diet.)
This is why I love Chris’s book so much. In clear language, he teaches you how to use the “paleo” diet as an elimination diet for 30 days, giving you careful explanation of why certain groups of foods might inflame you. And then he walks you through a clear process for bringing back foods you might be able to tolerate, like full-fat dairy. (Turns out, my body loves good cheese and homemade yogurt.) Or buckwheat or white rice or other foods you might have missed.
But for me, the best part of the book is not about food at all. More than half of Chris’s book is a clear guide for why we need more sleep, more stillness, more movement, more fresh air, less sitting, less social media and more direct connections. These changes have been the most significant of the last year, for me. I could write a book about this alone.
Chris wrote the book. Read that one first.
It wouldn’t be a party without good food.
Chris was happy that this event was about the joy of using local ingredients to make our meals. This is roasted pork loin stuffed with chorizo. The four enormous hogs that lived in the pasture just outside our studio window ate all our cooking scraps and leftovers for months. They were slaughtered two weeks ago. The chorizo came from their meat.
We bought one of the smaller pigs this summer. That is the only pork we are eating this year.
This is a roasted chicken salad, made with macadamia-nut-oil mayonnaise, dried gooseberries, tarragon, and walnuts. We loved serving this in the tiny boats of bitter endive. (Thank you to California Endive Farms for supplying the endive for this party.)
And this is a kale salad from Chris’s book: three different kinds of kale with roasted kabocha squash and a bacony -lemon dressing. That dressing is worth the price of that book.
This has been an extraordinary year for our family. And for me, particularly, I feel like I am finding my full health, finally. Chris Kresser has helped me along this path. Thank you, Chris. It was an honor to throw a party for you and all those wonderful people who showed up.
And now, there’s going to be plenty of food and gatherings in our future at that studio space. We can’t wait to feed more of you there, soon.
I love Chris’s book and I think many of you will too. His publisher has provided three copies for us to give away. Leave a thoughtful comment about any and all of this to enter the giveaway. Winners will be chosen at random on Monday, February 3rd.
Roasted Cauliflower with Cacao Powder and Smoked Paprika
Years ago, I made a crazy cauliflower dish for friends, something inspired by a conversation about cocoa powder with a food friend who attended the CIA. When Danny came along, he helped me to make the recipe better, then it made its way into my first book. We hadn’t thought of it in years.
But I continue to love cauliflower. And smoked paprika. Lately, I have come to love the distinctly not-sweet taste of cacao powder, which is raw cacao beans ground into a powder with minimal processing. I think it makes this switch makes the dish even more distinct.
After making this cauliflower dish for yesterday’s event, we’re going to be making more for our dinner tonight.
- Making the spice rub: Stir together the cacao powder, smoked paprika, sea salt, and cracked black pepper in a small bowl. (You might have some left over afterwards. That’s not a problem. I promise.)
- Preparing to bake: Heat the oven to 425°.
- Baking the cauliflower: Rub the head of cauliflower in olive oil. Coat it entirely in the spice rub. Put the cauliflower in a cast-iron skillet or sauté pan. Roast until the cauliflower is soft and starting to brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the cauliflower from the oven.
- Preparing to serve: When the cauliflower has cooled enough to touch, break it into florets. You can also cut it with a paring knife. Put the cauliflower into a serving platter. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and some more salt, if you wish. Serve.