Sunday, November 30, 2014

Eat the Skin! The Glories of Peau de Poulet

Last week I wrote about liver, how wonderful it is for us and a few ways to enjoy this nasty-tasting-but-whoa-so-good-for-you food. Well, my Darling smoked a turkey for Thanksgiving. This bird mercifully came with all it's innards intact, and last night I ground up it's heart and liver along with some grass-fed ground beef and fashioned it into chili! So yummy and no one tasted any yucky liver flavor! It's neck and some bones are currently in the slow cooker for broth, along with divine gelatinous bits that were at the bottom of the drippings pan.

This is called nose-to-tail eating, and it's they way to go, people. Use up every part of that animal! There is so much goodness in the other creature bits. Somehow we've gotten away from eating the whole bird (or pig, or cow, etc.) and it's a shame, because there is a lot of goodness to be had, not to mention the simple efficiency of it all. Especially when you're buying pastured animals (read: expensive), you don't want anything to go to waste.

Well, now that I've thoroughly grossed some of you out, I'm going to talk to you about chicken skin.
Bone-in, skin-on thighs--YUM!

Yay! Chicken skin!

You may find liver kinda nasty, but just about everyone loves a good bite of crispy skin. Sadly, however, skin is one of those foods that was put on the 'no' list during the dark, withering years of fat-phobia. It's a bit of a head-scratcher, though, because really--chicken skin doesn't even contain all that much saturated fat, which we have been erroneously taught to fear. Saturated fat is a post for another time, but even if you're very calorie conscious, eating the skin only adds about fifty calories.

A lot of people are jumping on the chicken skin bandwagon. When I started researching why we should eat the skin, I found a number of mainstream media outlets touting the 'go ahead and eat the skin' message. The reasons given were typically what I mentioned above--it's really not that bad for you, and it's yummy, so go ahead and enjoy a 'guilt-free indulgence.'

But I'm going to tell you more--not only is it 'not bad for you,' it's also GOOD for you! 

Chicken skin contains glycine, an amino acid that performs a host of functions in your body. Glycine plays a role in healthy metabolism, muscle development, sleep... wow, lots of stuff. In fact, I first learned about glycine and chicken skin in my never-ending sleep research. It's called a 'non-essential amino acid,' which means our bodies can manufacture it on their own, which is a good thing, because we'd be basically screwed without it.

Eating glycine-containing foods is a good idea. Other rich sources include bone broth and gelatin. Interestingly, muscle meats are high in another amino acid called methionine, which can deplete glycine, so that's another good reason to eat the skin.

The One 'Con'

The only caution I'd mention about skin is don't eat it every day. I learned it is quite high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6's are good for us, but they must be balanced by omega-3s, and most of us in the west get plenty of omega-6 and not enough omega-3. So maybe have some nice, wild salmon the day after eating your chicken skin.

And it's just yummy. Oh my, good, crispy chicken skin is so incredibly yummy. The best recipe I can recommend is Michelle Tam's Cracklin' Chicken, which you can find here. I will warn you that it is incredibly messy--you need a splatter screen. Or just wait until your kitchen is filthy and needs a good cleaning anyway. You will weep bitter tears if you have just scrubbed your stove top--mark my words.

The biggest fan of skin in our house is the Darling Son #1, who will troll around begging crispy skin off anyone who will listen. So if you still can't bring yourself to eat the skin, bring it on over. I have a very willing customer who will take it off your hands.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Feasting

Le Moi de Janvier from Les Tres Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry  
Musee Conde, Chantilly
As you might imagine, I follow a number of health and fitness people on social media (follow me on Twitter @stephaniehsiang, Instagram @momsatthebarre, or on Facebook here.) This time of year I see numerous posts on how to handle the onslaught of delectable treats that surround us. Some very useful tips on how to be restrained. How not to go overboard. Restraint. Discipline. Etc.

Somehow this doesn't sit well with me on the fourth Thursday in November. Not that we should stuff ourselves on Thanksgiving. That just feels yucky. But this is a feast day! It's a day for wine and song. It's a day for treats. Is it so terrible to feast on a feast day?

No. It isn't. Feasting is a blessing. It's a celebration. It's for our benefit. To sit around a table with people we love and/or like (that's not always the same thing) and feast together. And be thankful. There is feasting all over the Bible. There are feast days built into the church calendar. To celebrate with food is a beautiful thing. There is a season for everything under heaven, and Thanksgiving is for feasting.

The problem is not the feasting on the feast days, it's feasting on all the other days. It's when we're hiding from our kids in the basement with the potato chips so we don't have to share. It's when we're mindlessly noshing in front of the TV. If you don't feast on the ordinary days, then you can really enjoy the feast days, not fear them.

The thing about a feast day is that it's usually just that--one day. The exception, of course, is Christmas, which was traditionally twelve days, starting on Christmas Day and culminating with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th. Now Epiphany really gets the shaft, which is a shame, because it's a great day. Three kings day! It's the last hurrah.

Now, however, it seems people feast from Thanksgiving all the way to January 2nd, at which time some strict regime of penitence is undertaken. A period of atonement for all the excessive feasting. Oh dear. It should not be so. The atonement is finished. We feast for that on Easter Day. But, really, if you bypass the cookie jar on the ordinary days, the feast days are much more fun.

And so, my friends, let us enjoy this day. Let us eat good yummy food until we're satisfied, not stuffed. Let us enjoy our people and our food and drink. Let us keep the feast!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We're Organ-izing: Liver, Mediterranean-Style!

I have to give a big shout-out to the Darling Husband. He's been a real sport over the last few months as I've been tweaking our diets. He's been seeing a lot less of his favorites, like rice, and a lot of more of things that really don't light him up... like liver. Oh yeah, and he's been paying a little more for the privilege. Good food doesn't come cheap.

Anyway, back to liver. I had some years ago in this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in France. I don't remember loving it, but it wasn't super nasty. I mean, it was France. Pretty much everything in France is yummy.

Liver has really fallen out of favor in my lifetime, but the more I've been reading about it, the more I've been wanting to incorporate it into our diets. Here's why:

Liver is massively, wildly, insanely nutritious. It is absolutely a super food, especially beef liver, which is very high in Vitamin A, folate, copper, biotin, phosphorus, Vitamins B6 and B12... I could go on and on. This post by Chris Kresser includes an interesting chart on how beef liver stacks up to muscle meats, apples and carrots. No contest--beef liver wins every time. And it doesn't just have a little more of most of these nutrients. It has WAY more.

Liver is also blissfully cheap. Even grass-fed beef liver is cheap. Cows are supposed to eat grass, not grains. It's better for them and it's better for us, but meat (and milk) from grass-fed cows is more expensive. I recently bought a pound of grass-fed beef liver at Whole Paycheck for... wait for it... FOUR DOLLARS!! The cheapest I've ever seen grass-fed any-cut-of-beef was ground beef for five dollars a pound on sale (it's normally at least $7 a pound), so four bucks is crazy cheap for a nutrient powerhouse like liver.

So what's the problem? Why isn't everyone slurping down liver with reckless abandon??

The Taste

It's just too much of a coincidence that 'offal' and 'awful' are homonyms. It's yucky. Oh dear. Liver is so yucky. The flavor is very strong, the texture is weird and it really stays with you. I mean, aftertaste... whoa. A few months ago I bought a very small piece of beef liver for only $1.50 and fried it up with onions for my lunch. I couldn't even choke it down. I threw it away. And that's saying a lot, because I *never* throw food away. But I hadn't given up on liver. It's a food worth fighting for.

So I was very excited to crack open a cookbook I just bought and find several recipes for liver! 

Mediterranean Paleo Cooking is a compendium of recipes created by Algerian-born chef Nabil Boumrar and his nutrition-consultant wife Caitlin Weeks. I heard about this book from Diane Sanfilippo, author The 21 Day Sugar Detox program I did earlier this fall and the NY Times bestseller Practical Paleo, which is pretty much open on my kitchen counter all the time. Diane collaborated with Nabil and Caitlin to produce an absolutely beautiful cookbook with great recipes and LOTS of information and modifications to accommodate a host of dietary conditions.

A couple of weeks ago I packed into a local Barnes and Noble shop for a book signing and talk by Nabil, Caitlin and Diane. It was quite a thrill for me and all the other health geeks seated around me. Nabil gave us some great cooking tips and look! We took a picture!
Nabil, Caitlin and Diane
I came home all fired up to cook from the book, especially, you know, the liver dishes.

Liver, Take 1

I decided to try Braised Liver and Mushrooms (page 300.)
The recipe description said, "Braising liver in a sauce is a great way to improve it's texture and flavor." Well, those are our primary beefs with liver (haha! couldn't resist) so I decided to give this one a whirl. I told the DH we're having liver tonight! He wasn't super psyched but was willing to give it a go. I decided to just tell the small people we were having beef, which was entirely true.

The dish was easy to prepare and smelled delicious. I simmered it much of the afternoon and, as is my custom, forbade snacks to get everyone to the table nice and hungry ready to sup on our marvelous healthy dinner. The small people tucked right into it. Only at the very end did Darling Son #1 say, "I don't want anymore of the meat, Mommy. But I like the mushrooms." He ate most of it, and the DS#2 schnarfed down the whole thing. Win!

The DH, however, struggled with the liver. He said, "I liked the recipe. It definitely took the edge off the liver. But if you had made it with stew meat, I would have eaten three bowls." Ok, good to know.

Liver, Take 2

I remained undaunted, and scoured the book for another recipe. I settled on Liver Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy (page 312. By the way, both these recipes are located in the 'odd bits' section of the book, which cracked me up.)
I know. It looks a lot like the other recipe. I blame the cilantro.
This one involved mixing the liver with ground beef to disguise it's, shall we say, less palatable qualities? The recipe called for calf's liver, but I decided to use chicken liver instead. I couldn't find beef liver that day, and I had read the taste of chicken liver is a little milder. It isn't quite the nutritional badass that is beef liver, but it's still pretty potent.

Score! It was delicious. No discernible liver flavor whatsoever. Super yummy. Small people asked for seconds.

The DH said, 'Is there liver in this?' Why yes, my Darling, I cannot tell a lie.

"Well. It's good."


I highly recommend Mediterranean Paleo Cooking. It doesn't just contain organ meat recipes. There are tons of tasty dishes using a variety of ingredients... not just variety meats. Later this week we're having the cover recipe, Chicken and Olive Tajine. It looks delicious and should go over well, since no one in the family finds fowl, well, foul.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All About Chocolate Cravings

Goodness, I'm such a chatty Cathy lately! Just posted last night and here I am again!

Well, I have a lot to say. I realized I need to update you on week 2 of the 21 Day Sugar Detox. Happily, it went much better than week one. That was *such* a crappy week. But week 2 has gone much better. I'm not even missing sugar.

Of course, then Halloween comes along. I'm looking at the kids' stash last night and really, most of it isn't even looking that good to me. Except the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Normally, I Mommy-tax the living daylights out of those. Darling Son #1 tasted his very first PB cup last night because typically, I eat them before he's even had a chance to try them. (I know. That's bad.)

Even so.... I, ah, might have fallen off the wagon and had one... or... maybe two.

Honestly, they weren't even that good. I don't know why I had the second one in light of this fact, but there you go. The funny thing about stuff like this is the memory of it is better than the actual item. When I was pregnant with Darling Son #2, sweets made me sick the whole 37 weeks 5 days. I'd look at sweets and think, I bet that's tasty. Then I'd eat it and realize it still wasn't. Funny how the mind works.

This brings me to Almond Butter Cups!
This is one of the not-sweet treats in the 21 Day Sugar Detox. You can find the recipe here.

The first time I bit in to one of these bad boys (good boys?) my taste buds freaked a little bit. I *thought* it was going to be sweet, but it wasn't. It was still strangely satisfying, though. I've made this recipe a few times over the past however-many-days (15? maybe?) The fats are mostly good saturated fats from coconut oil and butter from grass-fed cows. The amount of almond butter is fairly small, so  you're not getting a crazy-lot of polyunsaturated fats, which we talked about in week 1.

And yes, I called saturated fat 'good.' I'll write more about saturated fat another time, but for now I really want to talk about the cacao powder.


We've talked about chocolate before, and all the health benefits contained in good quality, dark chocolate. One I didn't mention is magnesium.

Magnesium is a mineral, and it's very important. Some 300 functions in the body are dependent on magnesium, and it turns out, many of us aren't getting enough of it. Poor mineral content in soil is part of the problem, but the main one is absorption--I read that we absorb only about 40-50% of the magnesium we consume.

According to Dr. Elson Haas, author of the book Staying Healthy with Nutrition, "To function optimally, magnesium must be balanced in the body with calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium chloride." Vitamin D levels also affect magnesium, and since many people supplement with vitamin D and calcium, in particular, this can throw off the balance of these other minerals. This is a big part of the reason I try to get my nutrients from food, rather than isolated supplements.

There are other reasons we don't absorb magnesium--drinking soft water, alcohol, caffeine and general sugar consumption can affect how well we assimilate magnesium. Phosphoric acid found in diet sodas also hinders magnesium absorption. (Diet Coke is a 'sometimes' food!)

The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is between 300-400 milligrams, but many people who know more than I do suggest it should be much higher--closer to 700 milligrams per day. Happily, if you consume more than your body needs, it seems you just pee it out, so there's little worry about overdoing it.

I really became interested in magnesium a couple of weeks ago. I was wicked sore after my barre3 class, so I took an Epsom Salt bath. Epsom Salts are magnesium sulfate, and taking baths is one way to up magnesium intake through your skin. I noticed I slept really well that night, so I tried it again the following night and wow! Another great night. I don't know that a couple of Epsom Salt baths really did that much for my mag. levels, but it turns out insomnia can be related to magnesium deficiency. So I was taking hot Epsom Salt baths every night until my skin kind of revolted, so I'm looking into other things.

Anyhoo, what does this have to do with almond butter cups? Cocoa is rich in magnesium, which is why chocolate cravings might be an indication of magnesium deficiency. Of course, oatmeal is also rich in magnesium and I think I can safely say I've never craved oatmeal. The first time someone told me about the chocolate/magnesium craving thing, I figured she was just trying to make me feel better. "You're not a glutton! You're just need magnesium!" (Maybe it's a bit of both?)

Other good sources of magnesium include Brazil nuts (along with several other nuts and seeds), avocado and bananas. So I made a magnesium smoothie! Here's the recipe:

1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1/4 avocado
1 small banana, preferably frozen
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder*

*I've found raw cacao powder for the best price at TJMaxx, of all places. Locals: please don't go clean out the shelves on me, k?

Toss all ingredients in a blender and mix. You may want to thin it a bit or add ice cubes. Mine came out quite thick:

It was almost like ice cream! ('Almost' being the operative word.)

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve, so expect to hear more about magnesium. In the meantime, if you find yourself tempted to dip into the cheap Hershey-type chocolate in your kids' Halloween baskets, try the smoothie or some almond butter cups. Maybe you're deficient in magnesium! I can promise, the cheap chocolate isn't going to help you on that one.