Tag Archives: paleo

My Deck Is My Dehydrator

Guess who’s back!

I know: it’s been a long time, and I’d apologize for my absence, but everybody needs breaks sometimes, including those of us who work from home and appear to live a life of ease (hint: if you live where you work, you never, ever, ever clock out). But now I’ve had a bit of a break, and I’ve returned all full of things to talk about.

So as with most conversations between people who haven’t seen each other in a while, we’ll start with the weather: it’s hot. Really, really hot. Ludicrously hot. Big chunks of the country have been declared natural disasters, on account of all the hot and drought and similar nonsense, and for the record, buffaloes are not huge fans of the heat. So I’ve mostly been keeping my head down; but I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and research about how to become less dependent on the grocery store and how to see to it that we have delicious food through the winter months without relying on people who import produce from, like, Timbuktu.

The most common answer: canning. “Make preserves!”, they say, “and pickles and jellies and salsas! Make stews and put it up in jars! Heck, just blanch some veggies and put that in jars!”

To them, I say: I hear you, and I agree with you, and I love the theories and principles you are espousing, and oh my god please tell me you are not asking me to boil giant vats of water in my already-slightly-too-warm kitchen for hours at a time.

So we are not doing any canning this year at the Buffalo Moon Ranch, because hahahahaha no. I did buy a few books on canning, and have started looking into the prices of canning supplies, and perhaps next year will be the year of Canning All the Things; but this year it’s just too hot even to think about it, so we’re going with plan B: dehydrating.

Before you ask, no, I do not have a dehydrator. And no, I am not using my oven, because this strikes me as being slightly counterproductive when the goal is to avoid having any more hot things in our house than is strictly necessary.

But you know what’s already hot, which we complain about pretty much daily and about which there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that we can do?

The great outdoors, that’s what. There’s this giant ball of flaming doom that passes overhead every day, beating the moisture out of everything upon whom its fiery gaze rests…and I have conquered it and made it my servant! Bwahahahaha! Kneel before Zod!

Ok, that’s perhaps a bit overwrought; but the bottom line is still the same: if the sun is going to try to destroy me slowly with unreasonably warm temperatures and the inability to keep a garden alive (“plant in the sun”, they said, “plants will grow there”. Uh-huh.), then the least it can do is help me put some food up for the winter.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been asking it to do, and it has been working like a charm. I’ve basically converted our deck into a giant dehydrator, and while it’s true that it takes longer than the thing you plug into the wall, this  method costs exactly zero dollars in utilities, looks oddly intriguing on the deck, and really, what else am I going to do on the deck when it’s 110 degrees out? Host pants-off dance-offs?

For those who’d like to play along at home, here’s everything you need to know about solar dehydrating:

1. Wake up to discover the weatherman is calling for a string of 100+-degree days. Curse softly.

2. Prepare fruits/veggies per the handy instructions you can find all over the interwebs. Seriously, just Google “sun drying [insert name of fruit or veggie here]”, then sit back and let the instructions roll in.

3. Place prepared fruits/veggies on trays (I’ve used drying racks, cookie sheets, and if these cherries don’t finish drying before the zucchini starts looking forlorn, I’m going to resort to the old “heavy cardboard, covered in foil, with holes punched in it” trick), and cover with cheesecloth to keep out the bugs.

4. Put trays in sun. You may have to keep half an eye on them through the day, because, y’know, the sun moves and stuff.

5. Go back inside for the rest of the day. Come back once the sun goes down. If your food is totally dry (in some cases this means “crispy”; in others, it means “leathery”; your handy Google searches will tell you what to look for. Basically, I use the rule that if you can squeeze it and no juice gets on your hands, then you’re good to go), bring it in and put it in zip-top bags or jars or your belly. If it needs more time, stash it someplace where the pets won’t get it, and put it back outside tomorrow morning. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s seriously that easy, and you can absolutely do this. Cut food up; put it on something that isn’t the ground; leave it outside until it’s dry, bringing it in overnight so the dew doesn’t set you back and the raccoons don’t start seeing your house as a nice buffet…. And that’s it! That’s really it. As with all things, if I can do this, you can totally do this.

So go! Hit your farmers market this weekend, stock up on whatever looks delicious, then come home and make the rarkin’ flarkin’ rootin’ tootin’ sun do all the heavy lifting for you. Come wintertime, when everybody else is eating fruit sprayed with a thousand gallons of chemicals and/or dehydrated with sugar added (really, now, who adds sugar to fruit? Stoopid food industry), you’ll be able to sit back and have a good laugh. And some nice apple rings. Which reminds me: I forgot to sprinkle the apple pie spice on this batch. Guess I’ll just have to make another. Drat!

To get you started, here’s a nice discussion of how to dehydrate apples. Mmm, apple rings!

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Well Played, Food Manufacturers. Well Played.

As you may recall, Moon Man has decided to unleash his inner Ogg-the-Caveman. He’s following a kinda-sorta Paleo-Primal-mostly-meat-and-plants-but-sometimes-you’ve-gotta-have-some-cheese diet, and allowing himself one Splurge Day and one Splurge Meal per week (O glorious doughnuts, I can’t quit you…). One of the tenets of this lifestyle, as we’ve discovered, is that legumes are a no-fly zone–your average caveman probably didn’t spend a whole lot of time cultivating beans for fun and profit, so they’re just not part of the diet plan. And as you may recall from your favorite trivia game, peanuts are a legume. Ergo, peanuts are generally a no-no (splurge days notwithstanding. On Splurge Days, all bets are off, and it is not unheard of for us to make an “emergency” run to the store to buy every single thing in their bakery and devour it in a single gluttonous sitting).

And since peanuts are Not Caveman Food, then by extension peanut butter, especially with all its sugar and such, is definitely Not Caveman Food. So we decided to try almond butter, because almonds are really truly nuts (not beans), and besides, almond butter sounded yummy.

So a coupla weeks ago, I picked up a jar of almond butter at the grocery store. There were two brands available; one of them, the one I bought, contained only almonds and salt, while the other one apparently felt the need to add honey and preservatives and kitchen sinks and things. I twitched a little bit at the price–it was about $6.50 for the 11-ounce jar–but chalked it up as being another example of how Being a Caveman Is Not for the Faint of Budget (though you save a surprising amount of grocery money as you start veering away from the “foods” that utterly fail to keep you full for more than an hour or so) and brought it home, whereupon Moon Man fell on it like a rabid weasel and devoured it like he was being paid to endorse the stuff. And I have to admit: it really was delicious. Like, seriously delicious. Like “why on earth did we ever eat peanut butter when this stuff was out there the whole time?!?” delicious. Spread some of it on a celery stick and boy howdy, you’ve got yourself a treat.

But the problem was the cost. Given that we could go through a jar every week or two if we exercised serious self-restraint (and could easily go through a jar in a single sitting if we felt particularly self-indulgent), $6.50 per jar was just a bit more than I could bear to spend.

So I looked into making our own at home. I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated by this idea; I mean, all the things I read on the internet made it sound terribly easy, but the internet is a strange place whose advice should be taken with a grain of salt. The internet also makes it sound like becoming a millionaire is easy (just follow these simple steps!), as is losing all your belly fat and raising chickens and learning to play the sousaphone. The internet exaggerates a little bit, is all I’m sayin’.

But I set out today with my trusty food processor and a jar of dry-roasted almonds with sea salt ($11 for 2.5 pounds at Costco), and figured that I should at least give it a try. Sometimes the internet is right, y’know, so it’s usually worth a shot.

And I learned something important today: the amount of money I saved in the last 20 minutes by making my own almond butter is enough to buy myself a new pair of pants, to replace the ones I ruined by wetting myself from laughing so hard at the ludicrousness of it all.

Here’s how you make almond butter. Step 1: Put almonds in food processor (I used a pound). Step 2: Push the “On” button. Step 3: Wait until it stops being almonds and starts being almond butter, about 5-7 minutes, pausing periodically to scrape down the sides because I can’t resist fidgeting with the food when I’m “cooking”. Step 4: Push the “Off” button.

It was seriously that easy. I added a couple of teaspoons of water at one point, because I was becoming neurotic about not having to do anything; but really, I could’ve just stood there, maybe filed my nails or sorted the recycling or something. The hardest part by far (aside from battling my own psyche) was the discovery that almonds are apparently an invasive species, in that the little particles will find nooks and crannies of your food processor that you never dreamed were there, and will hide in them so that washing the thing afterwards is something of a challenge.

At the end of it all, I put my fresh homemade almond butter in a little reusable storage container and stuck it in the fridge (they say you should refrigerate it), and did a bit of mental math. I reckon that at 2.5 pounds for $11, it would cost me about $3.00 to make the same 11 ounces I bought for $6.50 at the store. So, y’know, half price, plus a few minutes of my time and a bit of noise in the kitchen.

In other words: well played, food manufacturers, well played. You have successfully fooled the populace into believing that in order to have “premium” foods, i.e., ones that aren’t all full of chemicals and crap, they have to spend a boatload of money. You have taught us that making things at home is too hard, and that we are all far too busy to do wacky hippie things like making our own almond butter. You have made us believe that you are on our side, and that you want us to be healthy and happy and that for a teensy extra fee, you can make that happen. Excellent work, folks. I applaud you.

But I’m here to tell you, ‘Tracters, that while it’s certainly true that some things (neurosurgery, rocket science, massage) are best left to the pros, almond butter is totally within your grasp. It’s completely do-able, and in fact, it’s embarrassingly easy.

And cheap. And while honey badger might not give a damn about the budget, this particular Mrs Honey Badger does. And she is not about to fall for the Food Manufacturers’ shenanigans anymore.

This nice man made his own almond butter and posted pictures! He started from raw almonds, though, so had to toast them first (I'm too lazy for all that), and he added some spices to his finished product (which I find intriguing, and will probably try sometime).

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My Husband, the Caveman

So. Moon Man has decided to be a caveman.

There’s this diet making the rounds, which apparently became wildly popular when I wasn’t lookin’, generally referred to as the Paleo Diet, or Primal Eating, or similar; basically, it says that you should eat like a caveman. Anything you could reasonably hunt/gather for yourself is fair game (and assuming a basic level of nomadism is ok here, so you’re not stuck with nothing but squash during those long winter months); anything you’d have to settle down and farm is off-limits–so no grains, for instance, and whenever possible your meats/veggies should be organic/chemical-free/grass-fed/etc. If you like, you can think of it as Atkins with more grunting (I confess: that’s pretty much exactly how I think of it), and a lot of people we love and respect have been following it with great success.

So Moon Man decided to give it a try. And darned if he didn’t lose weight (five pounds!) in the first week, even with a coupla splurge days thrown into the mix (every diet has to have wiggle room. Tell me I can never have chocolate cake again, and watch me laugh at you until I wet myself. However, tell me that I just can’t have any until next Tuesday, and we’re pretty ok.).

First off, I have to brag on him a little bit. Moon Man just up and lost five pounds, gang. He just went and did that. He looked at the doughnuts at the store, said “ehh, no thanks”, and went and ate some leaves and grass and dinosaurs and things, and lost five pounds. In a week. Just, y’know, because. This is not shabby, and I for one am highly impressed.

But I also have to brag on myself here, because as it turns out, his new eating plan is also having some effects on me. I hadn’t originally intended to follow him down that rabbit hole; but y’know, really, it does feel kinda awkward to be the only one at the table chowing down on a pile of rolls while your hubby is virtuously munching on his asparagus. So I find myself, intentionally or otherwise, eating more-or-less the same way he does: lots of protein and veggies, and rather less carbs than I used to consume.

And lo and behold, I also lost a coupla pounds last week. Wouldja lookit that.

I think the most exciting change around here, though, is that all of this is making me flex my cooking muscles again. We’d gotten into a bit of a food rut: we’d found our favorites, and, as with most families, I just cooked those over and over. Beef and noodles. Tacos. Breaded chicken in various forms. Steak and asparagus, sure, but with a nice big baked potato on the side. We dabbled periodically in things like mashed cauliflower and spaghetti squash, but not in any really committed sort of way.

But now a lot of my old recipes aren’t really usable. “Beef and noodles”, minus the noodles, pretty much just becomes “pile of beef chunks on plate”…and since they came with a sort of gravy, which was, of course, flour-based, it actually becomes “pile of dry beef chunks on plate”. Mmm, yummy! “Breaded chicken” becomes “chicken slab”. “Tacos” become “seasoned ground meat heap”.

So while he’s learning how to distinguish hunger from boredom and doing free-time research on the science behind the Paleo diet (and very helpfully finding hilarious “Is Is Paleo?” flowcharts for me, to make grocery shopping less daunting), I’m hunting down new recipes and finding intriguing new proteins to test-drive. Last week, for instance, we had steelhead trout, which, as it turns out, is friggin’ delicious. We tried lamb arm chops, which we loved; and I made carnitas on Monday (pro tip: when halving the amount of meat the recipe calls for, the wise cook also halves the number of chipotles one tosses into the pot. The unwise cook forgets to do this, and ends up with profoundly clear sinuses. We’ll leave it to you to guess which camp I landed in.). Tonight, I think, will be salmon pinwheels, or maybe kebabs, one of the few tried-and-true recipes to survive the Paleorevolution.

And if I am learning nothing else from this, I am learning that cultural training really can, in fact, go jump directly into the nearest lake. It is completely and totally possible to take leaves and seeds and weeds and things and make a delicious meal out of ’em. There is no law that says that chicken must be breaded. Not even one of the Ten Commandments can be translated, even extremely loosely, as “thou shalt serve potatoes with thy beef”. Heck, there’s not even a rule that says that things like tacos must be served on tortillas (pro tip: lettuce leaves add a bit of crunch, and hold taco filling just as readily as a tortilla does).

So despite my original response to Moon Man’s announcement that he was going to be a caveman–which, I hate to admit, was something along the lines of “I support you in your desire to make healthier choices, but can you please take a moment to acknowledge that you are inconveniencing the bejeezus outta me right now? I mean, seriously, every single one of my recipes is going straight out the window here, and the only replacement you have suggested so far is ‘make things without flour’. I am going to need more guidance, and possibly a coupla shots of vodka”–I am pleased to announce that I’m warming up to the idea after all. It’s making me cook outside my comfort zone, making me learn some new recipes, making me try some new foods…and as it turns out, I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

And besides, it’s helping make Moon Man healthier. And I’ll take that result any day.

Not gonna lie–every time I hear “caveman”, this is the first one that comes to mind. Captain Caaaaaavemannnnnnn!!

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