I noticed it for the first time yesterday morning, in the early grey light that barely squeaked its way through my blinds and into my tiny nook of a room. As I reluctantly pushed off my blue and gold paisley comforter and stumbled out of bed and into slippers to warm up the Keurig, I shivered – the AC is now becoming less of a necessity and more of a habit.
I consulted the weather while taking a deep sip of coffee – low 70’s. I opted for pants and a blouse with a light blazer – not the usual skirt and tank top.
It’s nearing fall, and while summer doesn’t officially end until September 21st, you can already feel the change in the air. I’m not being dramatic, it’s true – Starbucks brought back the pumpkin spice latte and it’s making me morose. Summers in New York are truly magical, and for the second year in a row, I’m mourning its passing. No more long days spent at the beach in the Rockaways, swimming in the warm water and eating beef and cheese arepas on bright orange picnic tables under turquoise and yellow and red awnings. No more days spent lazily wandering through the twisted enclaves of the East Village, hanging out on a park bench with a book or a boy and listening to the guitarists either charm (or assault, depending on the guitarist) your ears. No more outdoor food festivals, music festivals, al fresco sidewalk dining. The season for shuffling quickly from place to place to avoid the cold, of bundling up and finding a restaurant with a cozy hearth and blazing fireplace, of opting to stay in with Netflix and coffee instead of running into the city for breakfast or staying out for drinks, is upon us.
For the last few days, the weather can be described as textbook-perfect – but I know it’s only because we are at the liminal state of being between summer and fall. Transitional periods have always fascinated me – I even wrote my undergraduate thesis on liminality in the sculptural and architectural works of Gianlorenzo Bernini – because they are neither here nor there, neither one thing nor the other. With one foot firmly planted in either world, the point at which that “flip” occurs is hard to locate. It is this transcendent, ephemeral quality, rife with possibility, that I love about transitional periods.
Transitional periods are also a good time to refocus and recenter yourself, to define (or redefine) your goals. It doesn’t have to be anything major – progress is measured by self-reflection, minor adjustments, and our ability to stick to both consistently. It could be in a renewed effort to read more books, or to spend a little more time in movement. It could be a renewed vigor to finish that scrapbook you’ve been idly working on for a couple of summers, or to finally unpack the last of those boxes you’ve been storing on the top shelf of your closet. It could be to keep a gratitude journal, or to get involved in your community more, or to make more home cooked meals.
As we begin the slow fade from summer into fall, my goal is to refocus on a few different things, including writing/blogging more, practicing mindfulness through yoga and other mind-body connections, and getting back into the kitchen to give my body what it needs to thrive – not just survive. In the summer, things tend to be a little more lackadaisical – maybe I’ll eat dinner, but more often than not I’ll simply stretch my wine-and-cheese dates long into the night and return home deeming it too late to eat a meal, opting for more snack foods. Or maybe I’ll skip dinner entirely, since The Bea Arthur from Big Gay Ice Cream didn’t leave much room in my stomach for greens and veggies. Sometimes life just gets busy, and between the concerts and events and kickboxing after work I don’t have much time to go home and cook a meal. Whatever the case may be, a transitional period can be just the right time to inspire a regrouping of thoughts and a refocusing on things that make you happy and healthy.
I feel happiest and healthiest when I know I am feeding my body with foods that nourish it and provide it with the best nutrients so that it functions optimally. Every person and every body is different, so what works for me may not work for everyone else. Through trial and error over the last few years, I personally have found it best to avoid processed foods, grains, and sugar – focusing instead on fresh seasonal produce, meats and fish, and healthy fats like avocado, cashews, and coconut.
Recently, I have decided to experiment with a paleo/primal lifestyle. While there are many different approaches to nutrition out there – almost all of them conflicting – the principles of the paleo movement really resonated with me, and I particularly like its focus on long-term health as opposed to a quick, fad diet or temporary solution for what should be a lifelong commitment. Health, both mental and physical, truly is a journey and not a destination. I also like that the paleo lifestyle emphasizes body movement and exercise as pure “play” – a way to express and experience joy in movement, not a punishment on yourself or your body for an overindulgence or “mistake.” I like that paleo encourages sleep, mindfulness, and detaching from screens and social media periodically to recharge and live in the present. In terms of nutrition, their philosophy theorizes that, as descendants of our “caveman” ancestors, humans were created to eat whole, unprocessed foods similar to those found in the paleolithic era – not the grains stripped of nutrients and products loaded with sneaky sugars and chemicals that line supermarket shelves today.
So what, exactly, does a paleo diet entail? The line demarcating what is paleo and what is non-paleo is a bit blurry; if the food pyramid were to be reconstructed by its practitioners, it would never be reconstructed at all, as there are many different opinions under the umbrella of what constitutes a proper paleo diet. In general, consensus has it that at the bottom of the paleo food pyramid you’ll find loads of fresh vegetables – in-season greens and veggies such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach – should be the base of every meal. This includes starchier vegetables such as carrots, squash, and potatoes according to individual tolerance. Next up would be moderate amounts of protein, particularly grass-fed meat, fish, eggs, and free-range, antibiotic-free poultry, followed by decent amounts of healthy fats such as avocado, olive, and coconut (and their derivative oils).
More difficult to place are what could be considered “moderation foods” – including nuts/seeds, red wine, dark chocolate, and natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. Trickiest of all is the role of dairy. Some followers eschew it entirely, arguing that modern dairy has been so highly processed as to be stripped entirely of its nutritional value, while at the same time being pumped full of harmful hormones. This in conjunction with the fact that dairy was never consumed in the paleolithic era thus makes it unsuitable for human consumption in a “proper” paleo diet. Others take a more methodical, moderate approach, arguing that dairy in its proper, non-processed state is loaded with vitamins and minerals and can be very beneficial to the body if consumed in the forms of raw whole milk/cream, raw cheese (the harder the better), and full-fat Greek yogurt. One thing on which the paleo community is united is the role of grains, legumes, soy, preservatives/additives, and refined sugar. These things are totally out of the paleo spectrum.
While I plan on using paleo as a general template for every day life, my goal is to live by an 80/20 rule – you won’t see my giving up on my Wine Wednesdays or weekend bagel runs any time soon! In fact, knowing that I am treating my body well the majority of the time with both food and exercise will probably make those Bloody Mary’s over brunch even more enjoyable, since life is all about balance and health relates just as much to the mental and social as it does to the physical.
Whenever I need to refocus on healthy habits, I turn to a few different sources for inspiration. Below is a list of websites that I consult regularly for recipes and ideas – I seriously would not have been able to implement several of the healthy changes I’ve made in my life over the past couple of years were it not for their delicious, creative, and inspired creations. I know I’ll be turning to them as I buckle down on my primal adventure! I’ve also included a few of my favorite go-to recipes – ones I keep in my arsenal for dinner parties, weekends in, or quick dishes for a healthy weeknight meal.
- All Day I Dream About Food
Carolyn Ketchum’s website, marketed as a “Low Carb, Gluten Free Test Kitchen” is my favorite website for finding healthy recipes and recreations of classic favorites without all of that extra added junk (i.e. sugar, grains, additives/preservatives). She is an absolute gem of a resource to turn to when you are looking for beautiful and delicious recipes to make for friends or guests, or if you have a specific craving and want to recreate one of your favorite meals or desserts using low-carb, sugar-free ingredients. I can personally vouch for her Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Glaze – I made them for friends without telling them they were grain-free/sugar free and I can’t tell you how many people asked me for the recipe. Plus they look super cute, too!
- I Breathe I’m Hungry
One of my favorite sites for a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet is Melissa Sevigny’s I Breathe I’m Hungry (mostly because I identify with the name of her website #kiddingnotkidding). All of her recipes are grain free and sugar free, meaning you can enjoy them guilt free, too. While her focus is for people trying to enter into/already in a state of ketosis, you can find a lot of recipes suitable for any healthy diet free of processed foods.
- Rubies and Radishes
Rubies and Radishes is great for Paleo newbies! Not only does it provide you with some insight about the Paleo diet in general – it has some truly delicious quick-and-easy time-saving recipes, including this great list of easy slow cooker recipes.
- My Heart Beets
With absolutely stunning food photography that will make anyone’s mouth water regardless of diet, one of the best things about My Heart Beets is the user-friendly function that allows you to filter your recipes according to specific dietary needs. Ashley and her husband Rob have a TON of recipes under their belt, and as a fan of ethnic foods, I particularly like the Southeast Asian/Indian influences in their flavorful dishes!
- Real Food with Dana
Real Food with Dana is another great resource for paleo/primal newbies. Dana is a fun twenty-something who has successfully used the paleo lifestyle to treat her various autoimmune disorders. I discovered her site when I was doing my Whole30 back in January of this year, and while I find that many of her recipes tend to be a little bit too carb-heavy for me (and a little more complicated than other sites), she is another excellent resource to turn to for those just beginning paleo. Her recipes are delicious, highly original, and well-photographed, and her style of writing and blogging are really engaging to read. Plus, she provides a ton of other resources including personal coaching and health/beauty products to really round out a healthy lifestyle. If you have a lazy weekend or a little bit of extra time in the weeknight to try out one of her recipes, I highly recommend giving her page a look.
- Real Simple Good
Another resource I found while doing Whole30, Real Simple Good is just that – real food, simple recipes, and delicious results. I love that in the recipe descriptions you can see exactly which program (i.e. paleo, Whole30, sugar-free, etc.) the food is suitable for, which makes it very easy to find recipes according to your specific dietary needs. Personally, I think Real Simple Good is a great place to browse recipes for inspiration by looking at their beautiful photos and ingredients lists. Sometimes you just need to have your brain jogged for ideas of things (i.e. salads, frittatas, one pot dishes) to throw together without necessarily following a specific recipe – and this site does the trick.
- Paleo Leap
Paleo Leap is a great, well-rounded resource for those who are interested in learning more about the paleo diet. While it does outline the rules of paleo-approved foods, it isn’t limited to just that – it focuses on the lifestyle aspects, too.
- Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Glaze
Of course with fall just around the corner, this amazing recipe from All Day I Dream About Food had to top the list. Entirely sugar free and grain free, you can be sure these little beauties will be warming up my apartment on a chilly afternoon sometime soon!
- Cheap Creamy Chicken Curry
This recipe is on rotation a couple of times a month for me. I almost always have the ingredients on hand – onion, garlic, turmeric, curry powder, coconut milk, chicken breast, and tomato paste. Serve it over some riced cauliflower and you’ve got dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
- Buffalo Chicken, Bacon and Ranch Skillet with Roasted Brussels Sprouts
It’s pretty self-explanatory why this is one of my newest obsessions – I literally love every ingredient in the title. AND it’s healthy? Win-win.
- Shakshuka with Feta
Eggs baked in a spicy pepper-onion-tomato sauce, sprinkled with feta cheese and cilantro? I’m in.
- Clean Boneless Bites
Wonderfully paired with this delicious dairy-free paleo ranch dressing recipe, these Buffalo Chicken bites are a great alternative to their deep fried restaurant counterpart. Make them for your Sunday night football parties and nobody will be wondering where the Wing Stop is.
- Easy Slow Cooker Curry – 2 Ways!
This title literally has four of my favorite words in it. Throw a can of coconut milk, green thai curry paste, and chicken thighs into a slow cooker before leaving for work. Come home from work and shred. Throw in sauteed yellow squash if desired. Serve over cauliflower rice. DONE. It took longer to type that out than it did to make this whole meal (which is delicious enough to serve to guests and simple enough that even your younger brother can do it).
- Fluffy Coconut Flour Waffles + Simple Berry Compote
As a lover of all things breakfast and whipped cream and heart-shaped, this was one of the very first grain-free, sugar-free recipes I ever made. I was SO surprised to see how amazing these waffles turned out – so fluffy and filling and delicious! you couldn’t tell the difference between these treats and “regular” waffles. Topped with berry compote and homemade whipped cream, these will satisfy your sweet tooth without weighing you down all day. Hang on, brb, going to make second breakfast…
- Pumpkin Spice Latte Creamer
For the basic white girl in me (no shame; I like what I like and so should you!). Ready in 10 minutes, this coffee creamer blows Starbuck’s chemical-laden original out of the water. Seriously. Leave out the maple syrup and it’s completely sugar free. Or, for an extra special indulgence, top with homemade whipped cream (sensing a theme here yet?). YUM.
What will you be cooking up as the weather starts to cool down? Any special recipes/blog sites that help keep you on track? Do you have any goals you hope to work towards this fall? Let me know in the comments!