What’s with all the gluten-free recipes? (Primal Blueprint 101)

Vedgetables on the market of Saint-Tropez 3Some of you have been asking what’s with all the gluten-free recipes lately, so I thought it might be time I came clean on what’s been going on at our place.

For the last seven weeks we’ve been following the Primal Blueprint, a different way of eating and exercising for a healthy life.

Two of the main parts of the Primal Blueprint are eating and exercise. Let’s look at eating first, since that’s always at the top of my mind.


We’ve cut out grains, potatoes, and beans – that means no bread, rice, pasta, or sugary breakfast cereal. What we’re eating instead is meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, and fruit.

But how can you feel full without the starch? I can tell you, when you’ve eaten enough meat and vegetables, you’re full, but without that slightly dopey feeling you get from a big plate of pasta.

How can this be a healthy diet without whole grains? Don’t we need whole grains for fibre and good nutrition? According to the Primal Blueprint, we can get all the fibre, vitamins, and minerals we need from meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, and fruit. Whole grains fill us up, but meat and vegetables are nutritionally superior.

The Primal Blueprint, along with other similar diets such as the Paleo diet and Gary Taubes’ low-carb diet, says that maintaining a healthy weight, and losing weight to get to a healthy weight, is all about controlling your hormones, especially insulin. Starchy carbs lead to insulin spikes, which tells your body to store food in fat cells to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

If you don’t eat the starchy carbs, your blood sugar remains stable and insulin low, so your body burns fat. People who are naturally skinny and seem to be able to eat anything have good genes that prompt them to burn fat rather than store it, whereas the rest of us who tend to accumulate an extra pound or two, or more, don’t have such good genes and thus need to be more careful to keep our insulin levels down in order to burn fat.

It’s nothing to do with eating too much or not eating enough. Research shows that even people on a near starvation diet can be obese.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been one of those people who goes crazy when my blood sugar drops. Give me food and give it to me now – and preferably something sweet that I can process quickly. But for the last seven weeks I’ve been craving sugary food less, and not having those crazy-making episodes. I’ve felt full and satisfied, and clear-headed. I’ve lost a little weight (a steady pound a week) and toned up.


On the exercise front, the Primal Blueprint recommends doing less moderately-intense cardio. If you’re like me, you’ve probably tried to use gym classes, running, cycling, and other sports to keep your weight under control.

The new thinking is that if you exercise moderately hard all the time, you make yourself hungry, which means you’ll eat more – and if you’re not in fat burning mode, you’ll just store that extra food in your fat cells. Think about it. If someone invited you to a fancy dinner cooked by a top chef, and told you to come hungry, what would you do? Eat less and do some exercise to build up an appetite. Yet that’s what we’ve been taught to do to lose weight! Doesn’t make sense does it?

Instead what we need to do is low-intensity exercise – walking, hiking, playing with the kids – mixed with some weights (or gardening, or lifting boxes or groceries), and the odd session of high-intensity “sprints”. This gives our bodies enough work to build muscle, but avoids cranking up our appetite.

So we’ve been getting out for some walks and easy bike rides, I’ve been going to a strength and conditioning class at the gym, and Patrick’s been doing primal fitness exercises at home. It’s all so easy, I almost feel guilty. But it’s working.

How can I get started?

As with any lifestyle change, the only way to know if the Primal Blueprint will work for you is to try it. And that’s what I’m recommending. Try it for one meal – that’s easy, right? Try it for a week, or better yet, try it for 30 days. Even if you change your eating patterns but do no exercise, you’ll see results. According to the Primal Blueprint, it’s 80% diet, 20% exercise.

And remember, stick to eating these things:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Fruit

If you’re desperate to substitute something for mashed potatoes or rice, try these easy cauliflower substitutions:

Mashed cauliflower

  1. Chop the cauliflower into chunks and cook it like you usually would in a pot of hot water.
  2. Drain it, add a splash of olive oil or a little butter, then use a hand blender to blend it into a smooth mash.

Cauliflower rice

  1. Grate raw cauliflower (by hand with a grater, or in a food processer) until the cauliflower looks roughly like rice.
  2. Cook it in the microwave in a covered dish for about 6 minutes. Pull it out and stir it with a fork every 2 minutes to make sure it cooks evenly.

Further reading

Mark’s Daily Apple (the website of Mark Sisson who created the Primal Blueprint)
Primal Blueprint Success Stories
Primal Blueprint 101
Primal Blueprint Fitness
Primal Blueprint Recipes
Protein options for vegetarians

Let me know if you have questions. And tell me how it goes if you try it!

Photo via Flickr user risastla


Who do you trust?

Patrick with the Bilenky

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Conventional Wisdom and how much trust it takes to go against it. It’s something I struggle with.

Take cycling, for example.

I’m married to a cycling nut. Every waking minute that he isn’t working, he’s thinking, breathing, living bicycles.

He follows the big European cycling races, he knows who is on which team, which bikes they ride, who won which stage or which jersey. He reads books and blogs about cycling legends, training methods, coaching, heart rate monitors, pedals, diet. And he reads about bicycles – the history of bicycles, the many uses of bicycles, and the machine itself.

You’d think I’d trust him, right?

“You should get some cycling shorts. You’d be much more comfortable.” – Yeah, right. Me in lycra on a bicycle? I don’t think so!

“We should get a tandem so we can ride together.” – Spend money on another bicycle?

“You’ve got sore feet? Why don’t we get you some cycling shoes?” – More money on bikes?

“You’re cold and wet? How about we get you a gortex jacket?” – Ridiculous! I can’t justify spending that much money on a jacket.

“You want to get stronger on the bike? Buy a heart rate monitor and write yourself a training plan.” – Are you crazy? I don’t need to download my heart rate to the computer so I can see pretty graphs of my training rides!

You get the picture. Every time he suggests something new, I question it, and question and question. After all, what makes him such an expert? Any why should I trust him?

Then four years ago, he wanted to ride Paris Brest Paris, a 1200km bike ride over 4 days. Yes – a new level of insanity! But not only that, he wanted to buy a new tandem, one with 650B wheels. Because some guy in Seattle said that bikes with 650B wheels offered a more comfortable ride. NO!

But after weeks (or was it months?) of discussing it, he convinced me. And of course he was right. The new tandem with the 650B wheels, with fat tires and a fork with extra rake, IS more comfortable. The cushy tires absorb the bumps in the road and the bike rides in a straight line, especially at low speeds. When we ride at night, our headlight shines a steady, straight path – no weaving for us!

Even though conventional wisdom, bike shops, cycling magazines, coaches, and blogs, tell us that a road bike with 700C wheels is what we need for riding on the road, I’ve learned from experience that it simply isn’t the case for me, for long distance cycling and touring. 650B with fat tires is better.

Finally, I think that’s what it comes down to. To go against conventional wisdom, I need anecdotal evidence from people I trust. But ultimately, I have to try it and experience it myself.

How about you? Who do you trust? And when are you prepared to go against conventional wisdom?

Thai Green Curry

It seems like Green Curry comes out differently every time I make it. Since tonight’s curry was a good one, I’m writing it down so I can make it this way again.

As an aside, you know that corny saying that the quickest way to a guy’s heart is through his stomach? Well Green Curry is the first meal I cooked for Patrick, and he liked it enough to stick around (although it’s lucky he’d had his tonsils out when he was a kid, because that curry was so spicy, we nearly had to use the fire extinguisher!)

Thai Green Curry

1 pound of boneless chicken or pork (we used turkey), chopped into bite-size pieces
1 onion, sliced
2 handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
1 large zucchini, sliced
1 cup of spinach (fresh or frozen)
2 heaped teaspoons of green curry paste (we use the Mae Ploy brand – you can make your own, but if you were in Thailand you would get it from the curry paste vendor at the market)
1 can of coconut milk
a small bunch of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 serrano chilli (leave this out if you don’t like your curry too spicy)
1 pound of asparagas, chopped

  1. Sauté the meat in a large pot until it’s mostly cooked.
  2. Add the onion and cook another minute or two.
  3. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, and spinach and cook until tender.
  4. Clear a small space in the bottom of the pot and fry the curry paste.
  5. Add the coconut milk, cilantro and serrano chilli. (Be careful to only boil the coconut milk gently, otherwise it can go thin and watery.)
  6. Add the asparagas and cook until tender. (I don’t mind the other vegetables being soft, but I prefer the asparagas to still be a bit crunchy.)
  7. Once the asparagas is done, the curry is ready to serve.

P.S. If you’re worried about the amount of salt in the curry paste, you can make your own paste. Jamie Oliver’s “The Food Revolution” has a good recipe.

Walnut brownies

Food memories – I have lots of them! Like the first time I had brownie.

Patrick and I went to the movies at the Penthouse cinema at the top of the Brooklyn Hill in Wellington. I don’t remember what we saw. But I do remember going to the deli before the movie for hot chocolate and a brownie. I think I’d been reading a novel set in the States, so I wanted to try this quintessential American treat. Nibbling the dry slab of cake, I had to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Fortunately North American friends have since introduced me to the rich, dark, moist version that make brownies so popular! The smell and taste of barely-cooked gooey-chocolatey-goodness is one of my fondest memories of our first apartment in Canada.

This week, craving something sweet, I pulled out a new cookbook, and it dropped open on the brownie page. Fate? Try these walnut brownies at your own risk!

Walnut Brownies
(From The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, by Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier)

1 3/4 cups walnut meal (I ground up some raw walnuts in the food processor until it looked like breadcrumbs)
3/4 cup cocoa (the best you can find)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil (gently melted)

  1. In a medium bowl, mix the walnut meal, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs for a minute, then add the coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla, and oil, whisking until completely blended.
  3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, mixing until there are no dry pockets.
  4. Butter a 13 x 9 inch pan.
  5. Pour the mixture into the pan.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350 F. Cool before cutting.

This makes a lighter, more crumbly brownie than you might be used to, but it’s good!

Recent visitors to the feeder

Since we put up the bird feeder, we’ve had a steady stream of chickadees and bushtits. Over the last two weeks we’ve finally had some newcomers. (Unfortunately I can’t claim credit for the photos. If you like them, please click the photos to visit the Flickr photographers.)


Nuthatch in the traditional pose – hanging upside down

Downy woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

Red finch – House finch?
Winter Finch

We had a cheeky starling one day too. The starlings have been by before, but have been put off by the wildly swinging feeder. But this one starling must have been very hungry. After he finally got a good grip on the mesh bag, he sat on the feeder for at least five minutes.