Puerto Rican Pork and Potato Stew

Puerto Rican Pork and Potato StewThis stew is delicious. I’m serious. Salty, briny, meaty, filling…everything you want on a cold, winter night. I say that, but I think it would be delicious on a hot summer day too. Once you get the meat browned, the rest comes together quickly and then it just simmers on the stove making you hungry. My husband loved it to and my son ate the pork like crazy and left the rest. He doesn’t like olives, though, so I guess we’ll let that be his excuse.

I’m not Puerto Rican but this dish brings together many typical ingredients in Puerto Rican cuisine, like olives, capers, and oregano. I used pork here because I had some stew meat all cut up and ready to go, but it would also be great with chicken if that’s what you have on hand. The white sweet potato worked perfectly – not too sweet but just providing a soft, starchy contrast and something to absorb the saltiness of the olives and capers. Either way, it’s a wonderful dish that keeps well and makes you really look forward to leftovers.

Puerto Rican Pork and Potato Stew

2 lbs. pork stew meat, 1 1/2 – 2 in. cubes

1 tsp. + 1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. + 1/2 tsp. dried oregano

2 Tbsp. + 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil (or F.O.C.)

1/2 large onion, chopped about 1 c.

1 bell pepper, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 jalapenos, sliced, seeds removed

1/2 c. green olives with pimentos, rinsed and sliced

1/4 c. capers, rinsed and roughly chopped

14 oz. can diced tomatoes

4 c. broth

1/2 lb. white sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1 in. cubes

1 c. water

1/2 c. cilantro, chopped about 1/4 c.

pepper

Directions

1) Massage pork with 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. oregano and set aside for about 30 minutes. Melt 1 Tbsp. coconut oil over medium-high heat in a large (preferably cast iron) pot and brown 1/2 the pork until well caramelized. Remove to a plate to catch any juices, add 1 Tbsp. coconut oil to the pot, brown the rest of the meat, and set aside.

2) Reduce heat to medium and add 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil.  Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic and 1/4 tsp. salt, plus a few grinds from a pepper mill, and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes.

3) Add tomatoes and stir up any browned bits from the bottom. Return meat to the pot, add broth, capers, olives, and 1/2 tsp. oregano. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 2 hours until the meat is tender and the stew is reduced by about half.

4) Peel and chop the sweet potato. Add it to the stew with the water and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.

5) When the potato is soft, add the cilantro and serve in big bowls with a green salad on the side. Enjoy!

Dusting Off the Crumbs

CrumbsWhen you’ve fallen off the wagon, eaten something you wish you hadn’t, not quite finished the eating challenge you set out to do, or had some other less than stellar episode with food or drink, what do you do? How do you get back up and continue on your journey towards better health? Here are a few things that I find helpful when getting back on track to a better version of me…

1) Reflect. Regardless of the journey you’re on, it can be extremely valuable to reflect along the way. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will miraculously have clarity around your actions and be able to stop any similar behaviors before they happen again (I wish!), but it does mean you will have a greater understanding of why you made those choices. The why is important because it provides an opportunity to understand what triggers certain behaviors, let’s you decide if those choices are in line with your goals or not, and perhaps sets the stage for making different decisions the next time. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. Just try to understand why you stumbled so that you can be aware of that particular obstacle in the future.

2) Plan. So you took a nose-dive. When you get up and dust off the crumbs, you need to start moving forward, and in order to do that effectively, you need a plan. Even if you aren’t a natural planner, this step is important and it helps you get back on the path to success. I’m not talking about an elaborate, step-by-step layout for your entire future, either. What really helps is just knowing what you’re going to do next. Maybe it’s your dinner plan or even just what things you’re going to buy at the grocery store so you’re all stocked up. Maybe you plan a few snacks so that when hunger strikes, you’re prepared. The point is to take some ownership of your next steps and then do it.

3) Get going. Totally unrelated to food, my dad once told me that sometimes you just need to start behaving as if “it” (in this case maybe the “it” is a balanced approach to food or whatever speaks to you) were true. This might sound strange, but think about it. Instead of dwelling on past disappointments or bad choices, just start BEING. Make the next bite a healthy food, drink a cup of tea, get a workout in. Don’t let what was or what might or might not be hold you back. Just get moving in the direction you want to go. The longer your behaviors align with your goals, the greater the likelihood of reaching them.

4) Take it one step at a time. Sometimes we fall so hard that it can seem overwhelming to begin again. We think we’ve failed and might as well just give up. Or we might identify so deeply with the person who returned to old habits that we think it’s impossible to break free. In order to move forward, we need to be okay with taking small steps in the direction of our goal. Each moment is an opportunity to remind yourself that you already ARE that person you see in your mind’s eye and each deliberate step in that direction helps strengthen that belief. With each tiny step, we get closer and closer to realizing that best version of our self.

5) Celebrate. Celebrate every little thing. Our brain loves it when we reward it so if we celebrate frequently the little actions that we take that move us closer to our goal, our brain is going to help us move a little closer again. We want our brain on our side, right? Well then…tell it that it’s doing a great job! Pat yourself on the back, literally or figuratively, give a little cheer for yourself, actually SAY, “Great job!”, or do a little something special, like carving out some time for a bubble bath or buying some new workout gear. Whatever! The important thing is to take a moment to mark the occasion of working towards your goal. You deserve it!

Super Simple Taco Meat (no MSG required)

Taco SaladWe had some young friends visiting for dinner so I decided to make tacos. I don’t need – or even miss – the shell so I planned to have taco salad. All my life, I’ve always made taco meat with that little packet you get at the supermarket or maybe it’s even included with the taco shells. You know the seasoning packet, right? All those crazy ingredients and words you can’t pronounce? Well, I decided that I didn’t want to eat that anymore so it was time to make my own. The test would be if the kids ate the taco meat without noticing the difference. And they did! Loved it and even had seconds. No sugar, MSG, or other crazy science!

Taco salad is one of those fantastic recipes that you can make with whatever you have on hand. I would have loved some black olives, but I didn’t have any. Still delicious! If you don’t like bell pepper, it isn’t necessary. Just throw the still-hot meat onto the lettuce, top it with whatever veggies you have on hand that sound good to you, a tablespoon or more of salsa to make a dressing, a pinch of salt and away you go. Lunch or dinner (or even breakfast) is done!

Taco Meat

1 Tbsp. tallow or F.O.C. (fat of choice)

1/2 onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

3/4 tsp. salt

14 oz. can tomato sauce

4 oz. can diced green chiles

1/2 c. water

Directions

1) Melt tallow in a large skillet over medium-high. Add chopped onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.

2) Add meat and garlic and cook while breaking into smaller chunks until brown, about 10 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3) Pour in tomato sauce, green chiles, and water. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until most of the moisture has evaporated, about 25-30 minutes. If the meat dries out too quickly, add an additional 1/4-1/2 c. water, and continue to simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Eat with salad, eggs, lettuce cups, or on its own – you can’t go wrong!

Serves 3 kids + 1 adult

All or Nothing

It-is-good-to-have-an-end

My entire life, particularly where food is involved, I have been an All or Nothing kind of person. I’m either dieting and trying to lose weight or I’m eating and drinking and having a ball. I have never been able to find that middle ground. That elusive thing that some call moderation, and that I might call balance, has remained a dream in the distance.

A large part of Balancing Paleo is this search to find balance in various areas of my life – including food. I seek balance in my family life, my fitness goals, my friends and social engagements versus time I need to be internal. These aspects of life, while sometimes a little out of whack, are generally stable, ebbing and flowing like the sea. And that’s exactly how I like it. There might be times when we are filled with friends and outings and visits and those are balanced with some time just hanging out. It happens naturally and I often think about how that would feel in terms of food. How I might look at food if I felt truly in tune with it.

A few months ago I read a memoir about a foodie and she looked at it from a feast or fast perspective. Sometimes she was feasting and indulging quite frequently, and when that time would come to an end, she would eat lighter fare and smaller portions. It didn’t seem to bother her, and while it didn’t sound effortless, she seemed comfortable with it. I think there is something very important in that concept. That maybe it’s less about what is actually happening and more about how we perceive what is happening. Perhaps if I could be happy in times of feasting, I could be equally happy in times of fasting, knowing that it was a rhythm tied to life.

Unfortunately, more often than not, I feel guilty when I’m eating too much. And guilt is never good. It wreaks havoc on the heart, mind, and spirit and generally creates an environment of self-loathing or at least great disappointment. It is difficult to break free of that cycle.

My wonderful friend Sonja posted over on her blog about something similar. She is a competitive triathlete who WINS Ironman competitions. She actually won her most recent Ironman while completing her first Whole30! She received a comment on her blog criticizing her because during her training and her race, she fueled with things that were not Whole30 compliant, but she just kept going on her Whole30 journey anyway. She ended up reaching out to the authors of It Starts with Food to get their take and, in a nutshell, they reiterated that adherence to the guidelines is critical, but you also need to keep in mind your own personal goals. Sonja is incredibly health conscious, but it has to support or improve her triathlon performance, otherwise she’ll make a concession. So her Whole30 looks different given those expectations.

My Whole30 should be pretty traditional looking, though, because I don’t do anything that warrants special fueling. Whole foods work just fine for me. But here I am on Day 26 and I made Paleo cookies – and I ate a couple. Why? Well…it snowed and I always bake cookies for my son on days that it snows. I made them Paleo because I think that almond flour and honey is a better idea for my family too – not just for me. Still they aren’t Whole30 compliant. At all.

The context of it, though, is that I’ve been finding it harder and harder to finish this Whole30. This has been an emotionally charged month complete with a job change and some other stuff. I made it through all of that – lots of sleepless nights, hunger completely gone for several days, just a lot of stuff – and I stayed true to my goals through all of it. These past few days, though, I’ve been in a bit of a funk and just haven’t felt very motivated to continue. So I’m sure that part of me made those cookies because I wanted to eat them too.

So what to do? Throw in the towel? Scrap my Whole30? Accept that I failed? It’s frustrating because I don’t want to leave my journey here at Day 26, but I certainly did not adhere to the rules of a Whole30. I think that when I examine my goals, primary amongst them is to live a Paleo lifestyle intentionally, forever, and with balance. I want to live this way because I am healthier and happier with steady energy and a vitality that I don’t have when I’m eating a more conventional diet. I want to continue this not just for 30 days but far beyond that. And that means that tomorrow is not Day 1. It’s not even Day 27. It’s a continuation of a way of eating that promotes a healthier me.

I was considering continuing on with Day 27, but in the end, I feel better accepting that this time, I ate squeaky clean for 25 days and my body and mind appreciate it. Please don’t judge me too harshly as I continue on my journey towards a balanced Paleo life. I’m not too worried about a careful reintroduction of foods – I already know what sugar does to me. It gives me a headache. I don’t need to learn that this time. What I really need to learn is how to pick up the pieces after stumbling and keep on going rather than throw in the towel. So that’s what I’m going to do…I’m going to keep on going.

Thank you for being there.

2014 New Year, New Whole30 – Day 26

Whole30 2014For the next 30+ days, I will be eating meat, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits and nuts. I will not be eating processed food, sugar, dairy, grains or legumes, and I won’t be consuming any alcohol.

This is not my first Whole30, but this time I want to focus on a couple of specific elements: 1) fewer nuts as snacks and 2) fewer snacks in general. I would like to find the right mix of meals and pre-/post-workout fuel to keep me steady throughout the day.

If you’re doing a Whole30 or other challenge, if you are living/exploring the Paleo lifestyle, or if you are simply looking for some tasty recipes to add to your repertoire, be sure to leave a comment to let me know you’re out there! I am so glad you stopped by!

************************************************************************************************************************************

This week’s focus: Daily yoga or meditation. I need to find my calm center again and I have let my regular practice slide. I’ve decided that if I don’t have enough time for yoga, I do have 5 minutes to sit calmly and breath.

5:00 Black coffee

6:30 Better butter Brussels sprouts, 2 eggs, 1/4 avocado

10:30 (post-workout) Turkey on the run

3:00 Paleo cookies

6:00 Roast chicken, carrots and turnips, 1 cookie

Food It snowed today and I always bake cookies for my son when it does. It’s a tradition. I didn’t make a giant batch and yes, I could have skipped tasting them, but I didn’t. And I made them with almond flour and honey. Honey is a no-no. And cookies are SWYPO – a total no-no. Is my Whole30 a failure? Maybe.

Mood Good! Happy! But I suppose a bit conflicted about my choices.

Sleep 7 hours. I feel rested.

Activity Chest and arms today. Fun!

Focus Didn’t set the time aside today and I should have. 

2014 New Year, New Whole30 – Day 25

Whole30 2014For the next 30+ days, I will be eating meat, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits and nuts. I will not be eating processed food, sugar, dairy, grains or legumes, and I won’t be consuming any alcohol.

This is not my first Whole30, but this time I want to focus on a couple of specific elements: 1) fewer nuts as snacks and 2) fewer snacks in general. I would like to find the right mix of meals and pre-/post-workout fuel to keep me steady throughout the day.

If you’re doing a Whole30 or other challenge, if you are living/exploring the Paleo lifestyle, or if you are simply looking for some tasty recipes to add to your repertoire, be sure to leave a comment to let me know you’re out there! I am so glad you stopped by!

************************************************************************************************************************************

This week’s focus: Daily yoga or meditation. I need to find my calm center again and I have let my regular practice slide. I’ve decided that if I don’t have enough time for yoga, I do have 5 minutes to sit calmly and breath.

5:00 Black coffee

6:30 Collards, 3 eggs, salsa, 1/4 avocado, salsa

10:30 (post-workout) Chicken soup

12:30 Salad with salmon, veggies, avocado, lemon dressing

3:00 Sweet potato, HB egg

6:00 Lebanese meatballs, Cauliflower rice

Food Wow. Better. Yesterday was just crazy-insane. I don’t know what got into me; maybe just old habits taking over. The mind is a powerful thing and it may have been working very hard to return to what has been the status quo. I am trying to change that and sometimes it is hard work!

Mood Feeling brighter by the day.

Sleep 7.5. A solid sleep!

Activity Filthy Fifty WOD followed by a dog walk. Good stuff!

Focus 20 minutes of yoga in the afternoon.

2014 New Year, New Whole30 – Day 24

Whole30 2014For the next 30+ days, I will be eating meat, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits and nuts. I will not be eating processed food, sugar, dairy, grains or legumes, and I won’t be consuming any alcohol.

This is not my first Whole30, but this time I want to focus on a couple of specific elements: 1) fewer nuts as snacks and 2) fewer snacks in general. I would like to find the right mix of meals and pre-/post-workout fuel to keep me steady throughout the day.

If you’re doing a Whole30 or other challenge, if you are living/exploring the Paleo lifestyle, or if you are simply looking for some tasty recipes to add to your repertoire, be sure to leave a comment to let me know you’re out there! I am so glad you stopped by!

************************************************************************************************************************************

This week’s focus: Daily yoga or meditation. I need to find my calm center again and I have let my regular practice slide. I’ve decided that if I don’t have enough time for yoga, I do have 5 minutes to sit calmly and breath.

5:00 Black coffee

6:30 Mushroom, onion, bell pepper, 3 eggs, 1/2 a small avocado

12:00 Chicken soup, 2 Salmon salad wraps, almonds & raisins

2:00 Nuts and raisins, HB egg

6:00 Pork, Brussels sprouts, Celery-Beet-Grapefruit salad

Food Ugh. Totally had a day of nuts and fruit. I just wanted to snack like crazy and I suppose the good thing is that it wasn’t a bag of chips or cookies or something. If an overdose of almonds and raisins is where I end up, I think that’s going to have to be okay.

Mood I got really tired in the mid-afternoon. Not sure what that was about. Tired and snacky.

Sleep 7 hours. I slept pretty well. I think I’m back to my normal school day sleep schedule.

Activity Much needed rest day!

Focus I found 5 minutes to sit and breath. I didn’t find a reason for the snack-craziness, but I was able to let go of it.