Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Meatless Monday: Finding Common Ground

Many (perhaps most) American families are currently disagreeing about one hot button topic or another. In my immediate family, the subject is food, specifically diets. I’m a flexitarian bordering on vegetarian, while my son and daughter-in-law adhere to the Paleo Diet

I respect their right to choose.  When I first heard the phrase “Paleo Diet,” and learned that adherents eat animal protein (flesh or eggs) at almost every meal and avoid grains, legumes, and dairy, I was a little freaked. But, trusting the intelligence of my two kids, and seeing their leaner, trimmer figures after a mere couple of months, I opted to learn more.

In reading about their Paleo lifestyle choice, I found some common ground. According to Paleo Diet founder Dr. Loren Cordain, “The Paleo Diet is the unique diet to which our species is genetically adapted… The Paleo Diet is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, or Stone age…” 

“…These foods include fresh meats (preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat, if you can get it), fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed).” Missing from the Paleo Diet are: dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars, and all processed foods, none of which were part of the diet of our paleolithic ancestors. Dr. Cordain cites the Agricultural Revolution as the starting point for a wide range of chronic diseases including obesity, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and acne. 

Here is the first bit of common ground – the premise that processed food is inherently bad.

I read more about the Paleo Diet on the website’s FAQ page. There I learned that along with meat and seafood, “the foundation of the Paleo diet is UNLIMITED consumption of fruits and vegetables” — a second bit of common ground.

There is a plethora of recipe sites for the modern-day Paleo dieter on which I found recipes for meals, but also for baked treats.

In a nod to the good I’d discovered in my brief exploration into Paleo principles, I decided to tweak one of my favorite recipes from New Haven vegetarian restaurateur Claire Cricusolo’s Claire’s Corner Copia Cookbook to make it more Paleo friendly. I took a couple of steps beforehand.

  • Paleo recipes do not use grain-based flours. In preparation for this exercise, at Trader Joe’s I purchased a bag of Almond Meal, which is simply ground almonds. 1/4 cup of almond meal has 180 calories and 7 grams of protein. [1/4 cup of unbleached white flour has 124 calories, and 4 grams of protein.] Information on the bag advised substituting almond meal for no more than 1/2 the amount of flour in the recipe to ensure that the baked good would hold together and not be too crumbly.
  • Also, Paleo recipes never use sugar, but honey can be used in moderation. I made sure I had plenty on hand.
  • I made a small batch of applesauce; that way I could be sure there was no extra sugar.

Here goes. Wherever I made any edits to the original recipe, I have placed the original ingredients in brackets.

Applesauce-Spice Cake 
Makes an 8-inch square cake

1 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup almond meal [substituting for an additional 3/4 cup flour]
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 tablespoons butter or margarine at room temp.
7/8 cup local honey [substituting for 1 cup sugar]
1 egg
1 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°
Combine flour, almond meal, soda, salt and spices in a bowl.
In a large bowl, cream butter with honey until light and fluffy. 
[Easiest with an electric mixer]
Add egg and applesauce and continue beating for an additional minute.
Add flour mixture and stir until combined. 
Stir in raisins and nuts.

Grease and flour the pan. Turn the batter into the pan. Smooth the top. 
Bake in the center of the oven for approximately 45 minutes [test at 40] until cake tester comes out clean and cake starts to pull away from the side of the pan. Be careful that the cake does not get too dry.

After the cake cools, cut into squares. Enjoy!

Note that on the East Coast it is Tuesday now. This day really got away.

For those of you reading on Monday, happy Monday. For the rest of you, have a great week!         

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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