consciouscavegirl

We're all about local-eating, the paleo way!


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Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine

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I warn you, this is a bit of a whiney post so I apologize in advance. No, I have not disappeared off the face of the earth. As sometimes happens in the beginnings of a new year, this has been a bit of a difficult one. Ironically, one of the things that has been keeping me from writing has been the absolute required dedication to the diet of which I have grown to promote.

Let me take a step back, and also stop writing like someone out of Downton Abbey (just got caught up, so the lingo is fresh in my mind). I’ll be blunt. Migraines suck ass. They suck even more ass when you’ve had close to 10 in the last month. They suck even more ass still when they are broken up by intermittent headaches. Just in case I haven’t gotten my point across, this past month has seriously sucked ass.

So what do I do? I’ve seen the doctor, I’ve seen the neurologist. I’ve started a headache journal to try to pinpoint what they all have in common. I’ve started several medications; some that work, some that don’t. But by far the most challenging change has been…completely cutting processed food out of my diet. The fact that I call this challenging may come as a surprise to those who have followed my blog consistently. I am always preaching the value of real, wholesome, local food in order to nourish the body and the spirit. While I still hold by that belief, it is incredibly more difficult when you have to follow it to a “T”. The past 2-3 weeks I’ve been good as gold, looking at every label for anything that I don’t recognize as a real food ingredient. Heavy cream, gone. Boxed coconut milk and almond milk, gone. Most inexpensive cheeses, gone. It’s been exhausting but I am starting to feel better.

One of the things that truly does help the pain when my head is throbbing is spicy food. Weird, but true. Maybe it has something to do with the capsaicin. I do not know, all I know is that a hefty does of chilies or cayenne in a dish does ease the pain when I have a headache.

So, my dinner of choice these last few evenings has been an absolutely delicious Ancho Chile Butternut Squash Soup. I got the inspiration for a southwestern cooking class I took last week at The Seasoned Chef Cooking School. If you’ve never taken a cooking class, I highly recommend it. It’s a fun way to spend an evening, especially if you like conversing with other foodies.

Butternut squash can be so delicious but most of the recipes out there try to make it sweet. Yuck! I know I’m in the minority here, but sweet squash is just not my thing. This soup is not sweet at all. It’s perfectly velvety with a subtle chili undertone that you feel in the back of your throat but is not overpowering. Complimented with herbs and white wine, the way to finish it is pure genius…at the last minute, stir in 2 tablespoons of ghee. It makes it so luscious, you’ll think you’re on vacation in Mexico.

Ancho Chili Butternut Squash Soup
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* 1 large butternut squash peeled, seeded, cubed
* 1 medium onion
* 3 ribs celery,diced
* 3 carrots, diced
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 2 large dried Ancho Chilies, seeded and torn into big chunks
* 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
* 4 cups chicken broth
* 2 tsp dried thyme
* 1 tsp dried oregano
* 1 cup canned coconut milk
* 2 Tb Ghee (or butter)

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss butternut squash cubes with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in a thin layer on a sheet pan and roast for about 20-30 min until soft and slightly caramelized. Cool completely.

In a large pot, drizzle a layer of olive oil and add onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and chilies. Allow to sweat out over med heat for about 5-7 min. Add white wine and herbs. Bring to a bubble and add chicken broth and squash. Allow to simmer for about 20-30 min.

Puree with an immersion blender (or blender in batches). Remove from the heat. Stir in coconut milk and ghee until melted. Garnish with cilantro, roasted pepitas, or goat cheese.


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Coconut-Almond “Breaded”Mahi-Mahi with Nutty Kale

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Whew, what a weekend. After that miserable cold spell we have had day after day of absolutely gorgeous weather. It’s my birthday on Sunday so I decided to treat myself to a ski day at Copper Mountain on Friday. It was an absolutely perfect day for it. Only a touch of wind at the top of the mountain, beautifully sunny, and nearly 20″ of fresh snow from the last week. I haven’t been skiing in 4 years so it was a great way to break my hiatus.
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Saturday, I began the day with an honor WOD at Crossfit Parker. I have to say, if anything sets the Crossfit community apart, it’s their ability to unite together and support one another in their time of triumph and in their time of need. If you have not heard, Kevin Ogar, a Crossfit coach from Crossfit Unbroken in Englewood, suffered a severe back injury while competing in the OC Throwdown in California last weekend. Kevin is uninsured and he is fighting to regain the use of his legs. The Crossfit community has rallied around him, hosting workouts, workshops, and fundraisers to raise money to help with his medical bills. If you are interested in donating to help Kevin, please check out http://kevinogar.com/.

So today it’s my birthday. I’m chilling out of the couch, blogging, and waiting for the Broncos game. I decided to be good for lunch today because tonight there is a white-chocolate blueberry cheesecake with my name on it. Hey, if you’re going to indulge, REALLY indulge. As my legs are absolutely ACHING from the weekend’s festivities, I decided to have Mahi Mahi in hopes that the omega-3s will help any inflammation…not really, I just really wanted Mahi Mahi. I decided to “bread” them in hopes that I might find a technique that will work for fish tacos. I have to say, these came out rather nicely. Nice crispy crusted fish, and 100% paleo. Happy Birthday to Me!

Coconut-Almond “Breaded” Mahi Mahi with Nutty Kale
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* 1 Bunch Kale (I used lucinato), washed and roughly chopped
* 1 shallot, thinly diced
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 TB coconut oil
* 1/4 cup almond butter
* 2 TB coconut milk
* 2 Mahi Mahi fillets (or any hardy white fish)
* 1 cup almond meal
* 1 egg
* 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

In a large skillet, melt the coconut oil and add the onions. Cook over medium low until translucent. Add garlic and stir to heat. Add kale, and 4 TB of water (to help it steam) and cover. Cook until wilted. In a small bowl, mix the almond butter and coconut milk until smooth. (If necessary, you can use a blender). Turn off the heat and tossed into the kale. Season with salt and pepper.

Create a 3 bowl “breading” station. In one bowl, add the almond meal and season with salt and pepper. In another, beat the egg. In the last, add the coconut. Dip the fish into the almond meal, tossing to coat, then into the egg,then into the coconut, coating thoroughly at each station. Allow to sit on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes, allowing to dry slightly.

Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Once the skillet is how, add the fish. Cook about 3 minutes per side until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the crust is golden brown. Thicker pieces of fish may take longer.


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CSA 101

A sample of 1 week's winter share

A sample of 1 week’s winter share


A new year has begun and that means it’s time to start shopping for CSAs. Most farms start their enrollment as early as possible and many offer early bird discounts if you sign up. I’ve had quite a few people ask me about CSAs and the process of joining one so I decided to give you a brief overview of the CSA model and some guidelines on what to look for.

A CSA is a model for direct marketing farm products directly to the consumer. Agriculture requires a lot of upfront capital in order for the farm to get started every season. Equipment, fertilizer, seed, water rights, all require a lot of money months before the farmer is able to produce any product to bring to market. There is also the fact that farming is a very risky business. Many things can put a harvest in jeopardy. Bad weather, hail, drought, disease, pests, the list goes on. In the traditional farming model, one bad season can bankrupt a farmer. A CSA is exactly what it stands for, community-supported agriculture. By paying the farmer upfront for a share in the that year’s harvest, you provide the farmer with the start up capital they need to begin the season. This in turn allows smaller farms to get established without having to compete with the big guys. (Yet another way to avoid industrial agriculture) You also take on the same risks as the farmer which can soften the blow financially in bad harvest years. The benefit to joining a CSA is that you get fresh (and I mean just picked off the vine FRESH), healthy, nutritious food every week. Locally produced the way you want it to be produced.

So, how do you do it?
1.) Check out CSAs that are available. coloradocsas.info and localharvest.org are both really good resources to list CSAs available in different areas. Tip: make sure to look at the date the information was last updated. If it has been over a year, their information is probably not current.

Here are a list of CSAs that I have either joined in the past or have known people that recommended them.
*Lora’s Nourishing Produce-Veggie, herbs, eggs and fruit. Fantastic, small scale, could even be called heirloom CSA. I was a member last year and I will be a member this year.
*Miller Farms-Veggies only. Wonderfully convenient with many many pickup locations. Also, they are unique in the fact that you choose what you want in your share every week. They give you a basket and you fill it up at their farmers market stand. A great choice if this is your first CSA.
*Grant Farms CSA- Certified organic veggies, fruits, canning shares, mushrooms, microgreens, cheese and eggs. They are kind of the forerunner for CSAs in CO. They offer multiple size shares and many pickup locations so you can best fit your needs.
*Monroe Organic Farm-Certified organic veggies, fruit, eggs, and honey. I have not personally had experience with this farm but I have heard good things.

2.) Work out your logistics. Some CSAs do pickups in conjunction with farmers markets which give you a much larger window to pick up your share. Others have very specific times and locations where pick ups occur. Choose one that best fits your needs. Also, CSAs by definition are a pay in advance model. Sometimes that can mean a large upfront investment which can be challenging. However, many farms allow you to make several payments over a few months which can make it easier. Again, find a farm that fits your needs.

3.) Contact the farm. Send them an e-mail, give them a call. Ask any questions you want about the farm and their farming practice. Remember, you are investing a lot of time and money to support them so feel free to ask as many questions as you want. Most likely, they will be itching to tell you because they are passionate about what they do. If you decide a farms is for you, ask them how to reserve a 2014 membership.

There you go, CSA 101.


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Detox Carrot-Ginger Juice

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I don’t think I ever sweated so much in my life. I’m giving hot yoga a try which, although it is slightly miserable for about 15 minutes when the room is over 100 degrees, turns my muscles into putty and I can fall into poses I never thought I could do. Well today I did a brutal Crossfit workout…immediately followed by an hour of hot yoga. Why did I put myself through this torture? No, I did not have turtles for breakfast this morning, why do you ask? Ok, maybe one or two…or five.

So I made up for it by kicking my own butt for 2 hours straight and leaving no less than a gallon of sweat on the floor. But I have to say, I feel slightly detoxed. I’ve given detoxing a try several times before and a good cleanse is nothing to scoff at. No I’m not talking about pills that are basically glorified laxatives. I’m talking about a good sweat followed by some good nutrition.

Here’s my detox strategy. For one, I’m a juicer. (No not steroids, get your head out of the gutter) Juicing whole, organic produce is an extremely fast way to get micronutrients directly into the blood in a very short period of time. Think about it. In one glass, I can drink the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from 4 carrots, 1 apple, and a whole bell pepper in one sitting. Now, I don’t drink juice as a substitute for whole produce. There is a lot of fiber and macronutrients that you miss by just drinking the juice. I use it more as a supplement. Step 2, down your juice with a chia seed chaser. Chia seeds are an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential minerals. They have also been known to have some detoxifying effects of their own. Just add about 1 tablespoon of raw chia seeds to a small glass of water, let them sit for a few minutes and chug. The texture takes some getting used to I admit but the health benefits can’t be beat.

Carrot-Ginger Juice
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* 3 whole carrots-washed but not peeled
* 1 whole apple
* About a grape-sizes piece ginger
* 1 whole red bell pepper-seeded
* 1/2 cup coconut water

Throw all the fruits and veggies into a juice extractor. Skim the foam, top with coconut water. Perfect for a post-workout pick me up.


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Time to be Naughty

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Hey it’s Christmas. Time to be a little naughty. Yes, I do see the irony of writing this post a mere 3 days after ranting about the evils of hidden sugars in our foods. No I am not a hypocrite. Why? There is absolutely NOTHING I am trying to hide from this recipe. I admit it. The main base is sugar on top of sugar, on top of cream, topped with chocolate. The result: a rich, creamy caramel oozing between toasted pecans and topped with melted chocolate. If you were to eat more than a few bites of these sugary delights, I assure you they would lapse you into a diabetic coma. I hide nothing!

So why am I tempting you with these tantalizing turtles? Well, because I have been tempted by these little beauties for over a week now and it’s time to share the wealth. Chocolate turtles are my holiday specialty. They are absolutely decadent! Not only did I have my usual requests from friends and family that have enjoyed them in the past, but this year I had an order of over 100 of them for company gift baskets. Needless to say, they are a popular gift around the holidays.

Racks and racks of pecans waiting for ooey gooey caramel

Racks and racks of pecans waiting for ooey gooey caramel


This is a family recipe. My grandmother made them every year and when I was about 14, she passed the torch to me. Now if you’ve ever made your own candy before, you know that most recipes are very specific about temperatures. Problem is, I never learned with a candy thermometer so I do it all by how the caramel looks and feels. I guess that’s the beauty of a homegrown recipe. It’s perfected by experience. Don’t let that be intimidating though! I will be as descriptive as I can and if this is a project you truly want to tackle, feel free to add questions in the comment section and I will be happy to answer. This is a bit of a project but the results are well worth it. Trust me, there is no better way to show your friends and family how much they mean to you this holiday season, than to grace them with some homemade chocolatey, caramely goodness.

Homemade Chocolate Turtles
About 100 pieces
* About 2 lbs of toasted pecans
* 1 bottle dark Karo syrup (16 fl oz)
* 4 cups sugar (That’s right 4 cups)
* 30 fl oz evaporated milk (2 1/2 12oz cans)
* 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
* 1 TB vanilla
* 1 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 lb good quality chocolate (I used Merckens Chocolate Disks because they don’t have to be tempered. In the past I have used the big bricks used for making chocolate bark.)

Equipment (I know I usually don’t have an equipment list but the type of equipment is important)
* Wax Paper
* Large, stainless steel pot (5 qts minimum-boil over are dangerous however you don’t want it to be too tall. You should be able to stir the mixture without putting your hand over the lip)
* Long handled, WOODEN spoon (Don’t use plastic, it will melt. Don’t use metal, it’ll burn your hand)
* med saucepan
* ladle

Arrange the pecans on wax paper in clusters about 1/2″ apart. Arrange with one end of each pecan towards the center of the cluster. This will make them look like “legs” for the turtle. Make sure to do this step BEFORE you make the caramel. Once the caramel is done, it sets quickly.

For the caramel-This step chains you to the stove so clear your schedule for a couple hours. Also, you are working with boiling hot sugar here (around 300F). It doesn’t just burn, it maimes. So be extra careful and this is not a project to do with young kiddies.

On one burner, place a med to large saucepan over low heat. Add the evaporated milk and butter. Heat slowly until the butter has melted, stirring occasionally. Keep over low heat so the mixture stays hot without boiling or scalding.

On another burner, in a large, stainless steel pot, mix the entire bottle of karo syrup and the sugar. Over medium heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved in the syrup. The syrup is clear brown to slightly cloudy. Turn up the heat to medium high and bring the mix to a boil, stirring constantly (DO NOT STOP). This is your arm workout for the day. The syrup need to be at a rolling boil for about 3-5 minutes. Turn up the heat to high.

Stir! Stir like your life depends on it!!

Stir! Stir like your life depends on it!!


Very Carefully ladle the milk mixture into the sugar mixture, 1 ladle at a time, stirring in between. There is going to be a boil up each time you add a ladle and a lot of hot steam is going to rise. I use a long handled spoon and keep my hand on the outside edge of the pot so the steam doesn’t burn my hand as I’m stirring. The pattern is: add, allow for bubble, stir out bubble, add again. Do this continuously until all the milk is added. If the mixture stops boiling, wait a few seconds before adding another ladle. If the mixture is hot enough, it should bubble each time the cooler milk mixture is added. If it doesn’t, it has cooled down too much.
Once all the milk is added, turn the burner temp down to medium.

Stir the mixture constantly until the mixture thickens. Be patient, this will take about 20-30 min. The mixture should continue to boil but not as vigorously as before. The volume will decrease to about half. Once the caramel seems about the consistency of honey, start testing it. Dab a small about onto a bowl of ice cubes. Allow to sit for a few seconds (believe me this stuff is HOT) then see if you can fold the ribbons into a solid ball that holds it shape. It should be pliable but slightly stiff (not too stiff, I’ve almost ripped people’s fillings out that way). This may take a few attempts (I’ve never done it with less than 5 “tests”). Once it’s ready, take it off the heat and start spooning it over the pecans. Make sure to get a little caramel over each pecan to hold them together. If the caramel starts to harden, heat it up over low heat just until it flows again. Safety note: The caramel will stop boiling and look completely harmless as soon as you take it off the heat. IT’S STILL REALLY HOT. Again, cooked sugar maimes! Warn people not to “sample” until it has completely cooled.
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Allow caramel to cool for at least one hour (I usually let them sit overnight). Melt chocolate in small batches (about 1/4 lb at a time) over a double boiler (or a med bowl over a pan of boiling water-don’t let the water touch the bowl). Spoon melted chocolate over cooled caramel. Allow to set then enjoy!


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Smoked Salmon and Pomegranate Salad

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My name is Anne, and I’m addicted to smoked salmon. I was lucky enough to find not one but two suppliers at the farmers market over the summer and I completely stocked up. Unfortunately I’ve gone through almost 3 pounds in less than a month. I just can’t help myself. The sweet scent of the alder smoke with the nice oily texture of the bright pink flesh is just too good to resist. Plus you can use it on everything. Omelets, salads, sandwiches, pizza, you name it. Hell I’ve been guilty of just picking pieces out of the package right in front of the refrigerator.

Winter is supposedly hard for salads because it’s not peak produce season but I have to say, winter salads are definitely my forte. I like simple 3-4 ingredient salads where one ingredient takes center stage and the rest make up the back up singers. So for my lunch the last few days I’ve made a delicious salad featuring, you guessed it, smoked salmon. The hearty fish paired with sweet, purple-red pomegranate seeds and just a hint of smoked goat cheese all tossed with a sweet tangy pomegranate-balsamic vinaigrette.

Smoked Salmon and Pomegranate Salad
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* 1/2 cup Wild Caught Smoked Salmon, torn into small pieces
* 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
* 3 cups mixed salad greens
* 1 TB Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar
* 2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* Smoked Goat Cheese, optional

Place vinegar and oil in a small tupperware and shake the hell out of it. Toss with salmon, greens, and pomegranate seeds. Sprinkle with goat cheese if desired. Enjoy

Sources
Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar-Rocky Mountain Olive Oil
Goat Cheese-Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese
Smoked Salmon-I can’t remember! I bought it from a fisherman who went up to Alaska, pole-caught each fish and smoked them. Unfortunately I can’t remember his name! Damn I suck


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A Sweet Problem: Hidden Sugars in Our Food

Fair warning, this entire post is going to be me on my soapbox. While I encourage you to read further, if the food movement is not your thing, feel free to wait until the next post which I promise will be up in a few days.

Over the past weekend I caught the cold-weather crud. While I never developed anything worse than a running nose, plugged sinuses, and a nasty cough, I didn’t really feel up to anything besides parking myself on the sofa and watching some documentaries.

I watched Food Fight which was a decent documentary about the food movement. It wasn’t the best one I have seen but it had a piece on the history of the industrial food system that I thought was done very well. In this segment, they discussed how government subsidies were directed almost solely to commodity-type crops i.e. corn. They also pointed out how the model for our country’s current food system has basically turned into a simple principle, grow lots of corn, we’ll turn it into cheap food. That is the only way this system is profitable.

After watching that segment, I thought back to several ads I had seen on t.v. from the American Corn Refiners Association addressing the nation’s apparent fear of high fructose corn syrup. Their response was, “it’s just sugar.” They do make a valid point, HFCS isn’t any worse than plain old table sugar when it comes to its ill-effects on our health. In fact, when I looked for any other reasons HFCS was evil aside from its contribution to the obesity epidemic, I came out pretty short handed. (I did find a piece on presence of heavy metals, but you would find that in many “natural” food too including rice and sugar cane.)

What the Corn Refiners Association fail to address is the price gap between HFCS and any other natural sweeteners. Most people know that HFCS does not occur naturally. It must be chemically extracted from corn to exist. The reason the industrial food system went through the trouble of coming up with this method was because the surplus of corn produced due to the governement subsidies meant that we had to do something with it. Viola, we found a super-cheap way to sweeten EVERYTHING.

Ultimately that is the problem with HFCS. Because it comes with such a cheap price tag, it is now found in everything from cookies and sodas to spaghetti sauces and yogurts. Sure it has the same caloric balance as sugar, but if processed foods required the same amount of sugar as it does HFCS in order to be palatable, there is no way it would be sold at a price that Americans would be willing to pay. Take Mexican Coke for example. The price is over double what the cost of an American Coke would be and it has nothing to do with importation costs. It is because Mexican Coke is sweetened with cane sugar and American is with HFCS.

So what if HFCS is cheap? What’s the problem with that? Americans like to save money, right? Not when that money is turning around and going directly into our healthcare costs. With all the up and up over the Affordable Care Act, I find it amazing that people haven’t turned around and tried to hold the Farm Bill accountable for the state of America’s health. Because HFCS is so cheap, it has become a staple ingredient in almost every processed foodstuff on the shelves. The reason? Processed food is only made palatable by 3 simple ingredients, salt, fat, and sugar. The 3 ingredients that under natural circumstances would keep us alive in a starvation situation and the same 3 ingredients that are responsible for the obesity epidemic. Michael Moss does a wonderful job of explaining this connection in his book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Not only does he describe how these ingredients are used to make processed food tasty, he also goes into how the companies have created formulas for their products that cater to our “bliss point”, a natural connection with the brain that makes us crave more. You add up all these factors and then add in the fact that HFCS is a cheap ingredient that makes processed food irresistible, what do you get? Companies that can produce products that cost almost nothing to make, that can sell for a huge profit margin, that can become addictive to the consumer. The only downside, the fact that the consumers are quickly becoming part of the largest health crisis America has ever seen.

While I have gone back and forth with different diets in order to find out which one is best for me, there is one rule I truly feel is the key to good health: eat real food. While I do fall off the paleo wagon from time to time, the fact that I continue to stick with real food that was created by a real plant not a processing plant means that even when I’m allowing myself the occasional indulgence, I still feel good. I don’t get the bloaty, heartburn filled, fatigue that comes with packaged foods (Eat nothing but real food for a month and then eat one serving of Kraft Mac and Cheese, you’ll know exactly what I mean). I have posted many pictures of my giant 32oz honey jar. Produced in a hive as a bi-product of pollinating the crops that keep us healthy. Caloric-wise they may be the same, but I know which sweetener I would choose.

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