Paleo Staples

I’m famous!

Ok, not really, but sometimes its fun to pretend.

During the last weekend in June, I was lucky enough to be invited to two gorgeous weddings. One wedding was that of a former co-worker/classmate/fellow speechie, and she and the groom seemed to effortlessly blend her Kenyan traditions into a MidAtlantic Maryland ceremony. Bride Sandra, her photographer Katie (Who is insanely talented), and close friends handcrafted her wedding flowers and bouquets. I still can’t get over how gorgeous they were, despite hearing of how one box of flowers was burned at customs from containing a bug from South Africa. (What??? Burned?) I also was very much enamored with their chalkboard mason jars at the reception AND their lawn chess game. <3 Sandra and Jonny, your wedding was beautiful. 






The other wedding of the weekend was a gorgeous vintage-rustic glamorous ceremony and reception. Think glitter and blush nestled among wood, baby’s breath, gold, and antique furniture. Still dying.  The reception and ceremony were both on a farm in horse country, Virginia. Down through hills and pastures nestled between sparse gravel roads, was an elegant barn with my friend’s most beautiful wedding. I still can’t get over how gorgeous it was, and I am still so happy for my dear friends #kathyandcarl.





This guy's name is Anthony, what a doll.&nbsp;

This guy's name is Anthony, what a doll. 

Anyway, as I was sitting outside near the horse pasture (Yes, there were real, galloping horses) watching the sunset, a wedding guest approached me.

“Excuse me, Hi. Are you Kristina? From South of Vanilla? I recognize you! I love your blog!”

What?? When did I become recognizable?  Fellow wedding guest, groom’s family member, and primal enthusiast Theresa told me all about her Paleo and Crossfit experiences. She was so kind in saying that she loved my recipes and all the information on the blog. If you’re reading this post Theresa, thank you so much. You made my month!

Theresa approaching me reminded me very much of what it was like to be brand new to Paleo, and how much I relied upon friends and Google searches to get me through those first couple months of really committing to this lifestyle. In that fashion, I wanted to share with you all the Paleo staples I always have in my house for cooking and baking. These staples give me the basis for many of my Paleo meals, and having a stocked kitchen ensures that I won’t stray too far off the Paleo track. Please note that these “staples” are for both the Paleo cook and the Paleo baker. If you are only cooking, and not baking, you likely will not need the various types of flours I have listed, but please use this list as Paleo shopping list of sorts as a reference.

South of Vanilla’s Paleo Staples for The Kitchen**

Produce:

  • Apples
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Basil
  • Berries (Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts 
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Dates (Especially helpful for baking)
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Mint
  • Lemon
  • Lettuce
  • Lime
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Parsley
  • Peppers
  • Spaghetti squash/squash in season
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Kombucha

Dairy:

  • Kefir
  • Organic, grass-fed, free range Butter (Kerrygold is my favorite)
  • Organic, preferably pasture raised eggs

Shelf Items:

  • Raw, whole almonds, cashews, or nut of choice
  • Almond Butter
  • Almond milk, unsweetened (Or another nut milk of your preference.)
  • Coffee
  • Canned coconut cream or milk
  • Coconut oil
  • Ghee
  • Raw honey
  • Hot sauce
  • Olive Oil
  • Dried Seaweed
  • Sesame Oil
  • Vinegar

Baking Items:

  • Almond flour
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Cashew Flour
  • Coconut Palm Sugar
  • Dark chocolate
  • Rice Flour
  • Tapioca Flour
  • Vanilla Extract

Meats:

  • Uncured Bacon
  • Favorite cut of organic, grass-fed beef
  • Chicken thighs/chicken cut of choice
  • Marrow Bones/Bone Marrow
  • Ethically sourced and organically raised Tilapia, Tuna, Salmon, or other favorite fish of choice
  • Ground turkey

Spices:

  • Basil
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Cinnamon, powder and sticks
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Curry (Green, yellow, massaman, red)
  • Dill
  • Garlic Powder
  • Ginger
  • Hatch Chili Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Pepper
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Sea Salt
  • Himalayan Pink Salt

** These staples are tailored to my preference. For example, things like mushrooms, eggplant, artichokes, etc. are definitely Paleo and nutritious, healthy Paleo options, but they’re not included on the South of Vanilla list for staples because I don’t eat them regularly. If you need to go back to what is and isn’t included in Paleo, refer here. J

 

Your Mussels Look Great In that LBD

There's a Little Black Dress of dinner party dishes. It has an understated elegance, is easy to slip into, and pairs well with a nice bottle of white wine and a pearl necklace. It is always festively appropriate, and never fails to impress.

You'll never guess.

No, really.  You won't, because it's not what you think.

Ok, done guessing?

The answer: Mussels.


Mussels are actually very versatile, and take well to flavoring. I'm lucky enough to live 2 blocks from a fantastic Mussel bar, St. Arnold's, which I don’t go to nearly as much as I should. It took me almost a full year of living in D.C to find this place, and it was only by chance. After a Hawkeye loss and a night of drinking, my friend and I not-so-soberly decided that we wanted mussels. Right. Then. Nothing could get in our way. So we called a friend of a friend who recommended a restaurant that he swore had the best mussel pots a couple neighborhoods over, and we jumped in a cab at midnight and talked to the cabbie about mussels and barnacles. (Bless him, that wonderful cab driver.)

St. Arnold's has a fantastic mussel selection and beer list. (Actually, I believe they're mainly a bar with a mussel specialty on the side, which absolutely blows my mind.) Before I go any further, I know what you’re thinking. Beer is not Paleo. You’re absolutely right, it is not.  But what have I always said? Live a little. That’s what I say. Always. 

At St. Arnold’s, the types of mussels go on and on: Thai Basil Mussels, Italian red pepper mussels, duck fat mussels… yummmm


Surprisingly, mussels are so incredibly easy to make on your own. My favorite variation to make isn't a variation at all. It's the classic way, the Little Black Dress of mussels: the French way. (With a little Paleo twist, of course.)

When I'm trying hard to impress a dinner guest, but want to make it look effortless, I make this recipe. Also, it pairs well with a killer pair of black heels, a string of pearls, apron, and, you guessed it, a little black dress.

Bonus points if you light a candle for a, hmmmm, "Je ne sais crois..."


LBD Mussels

Serves 3 generously


  • 3 lbs. fresh, live mussels*
  • 1/2 finely chopped shallot
  • 1 1/2 head finely chopped, fresh garlic
  • 6 tbsp. fresh, chopped parsley plus extra to garnish
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. duck fat (optional, you can substitute this with more butter, ghee, or another fat of your choice)
  • 8 oz. canned coconut cream
  • Salt to taste
  1. Chop shallot, garlic, and parsley.
  2. Add olive oil to pan and heat until shimmering.
  3. Add shallot, garlic, and parsley to oil until fragrant and just starting to brown.
  4. Add white wine and simmer in pan.
  5. While oil-wine mixture is simmering, add butter and duck fat. Whisk until melted, then reduce heat to low and let wine mixture reduce for a few minutes.
  6. Add coconut cream and simmer until sauce is well melded.
  7. Add mussels to pot and cover tightly with lid. Let mussels steam for about 10-15 minutes. Stir mussels briefly every few minutes.
  8. Mussels are done when the majority have steamed open.**
  9. Garnish with parsley springs for color. 


*Mussels must be bought and served the same day. They can be stored in the fridge for some time, but they should be placed over ice in a bowl or container with open air. Mussels should never be covered in plastic. They are alive, so they will suffocate if they are derived of oxygen.

** Mussels are done with they have fully opened when steaming. However, in any batch of mussels, they're will be a couple that do not open. These are mussels that have died before steaming, and they should never be pried open and consumed. They can make you very sick.

Attractive meals results in attractive company

Attractive meals results in attractive company


Note: traditional mussels are served with either crusty bread or frites. (French fries.) Sweet potato fries don't work well with this, so I either give in and scoop up the sauce with some bread, or I will pour it over some white rice if I can't afford to go off the Paleo rails. Your choice, but don't waste that sauce. It's duckfatty gold. 

Oops, I ate too much bad food….

Hello, my name is Kristina, and I am addicted to bone marrow.

Eww, that sounds gross when I saw it like that. A year ago, if someone would have told me that I would intentionally be seeking out bones to dig out the marrow, I would have called them crazy, and knowing myself and my OCD-like organizational skills, I would have set up a future Google alert to ensure that I reminded myself to check into the crazy house for some rehab. Now, I truly think that if there can be a spiritual connection to food, bone marrow has got to be on the top of that list. (See, I’m not crazy at all….  :/ )

But seriously, bone marrow is so good. The Paleo/primal movement advocates consuming things like organ meats and bone marrow because these animal items are packed with nutrients. I haven’t quite gotten the handle on animal organs yet, but I am a true bone marrow convert. I might sound a little odd in saying this, but whenever I eat some straight marrow, I feel a little tingle- almost like my body is humming from the inside out. I compare it to how I feel after I eat some intensely dark chocolate, oysters, or get a really good neck massage. If I eat enough of it, it almost feels like a slight runner’s high. This feeling is so hard to put into words, but I promise within 10 minutes of eating bone marrow, you will feel amazing.

I first sought bone marrow after reading up on all the insanely crazy health claims that follow marrow. Bone marrow is so packed with vitamins and healthy fats that it fuels your body to fight infection. (After all, white blood cells are made from the stuff inside your bones- there’s a reason why homemade chicken noodle soup is supposed to cure illness.) Whenever I feel a twinge of a cold coming on, I have some bone marrow, and I am right back to normal within a day. I have only been sick once since starting Paleo, and I attribute it to the food and lifestyle changes that came along with this choice. The one time I did become sick in the past year, I had strep throat and a sinus infection. I was so sick, and I wasn’t getting better after being on heavy antibiotics for 3 days. While still on meds, my fever had come back, and knew that I was on the cusp of having to go back to the doctor to get even more antibiotics. My boyfriend had the brilliant idea to try eating some bone marrow. We ate it straight, then bought marrowbones to make broth for soup. Within 6 hours, my fever was gone, within 24 I was able to leave my apartment, and in 36 I was back at work. Bone Marrow: the primal miracle.

Bone Marrow now is starting to make a comeback- in restaurants they charge a ridiculous amount for a few bites, and its considered an exquisite menu item. I had a friend visit D.C. last month, who incidentally loves bone marrow too, and I taught her how to make it. She didn’t realize how easy it was, and it was a perfect weekend preparation. You see, Dani had come to visit D.C., but we impulsively decided to go visit Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware. Dani has a pretty cool job in the wine/beverage industry, so when we were both invited to go take a VIP brewery tour, we jumped on it:

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Since we were also so close to the coast, we decided to go visit the Atlantic, which was not the best idea in the middle of a cold spell:

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Needless to say, we were feeling the effects of *sampling* every brew on tap (Beer is definitely not Paleo, for so many reasons), so we decided to stop at Union Market in D.C. on our way back to pick up some bones from my favorite butcher, Harvey’s. This little shop in Union Market is awesome: it has everything from beef tongue to oxtail to the best thick cut, uncured, hickory smoked bacon a girl could ever ask for. All his meat is from grass-fed, antibiotic free, all-natural cows, and everything is so reasonably priced. (His current marrow bone prices are $2.99/lb.…..$5/lb. cheaper than the nearest butcher!) He also has no problem cutting the bones lengthwise for me- whenever I’m there he always tells me that he identifies the people who just eat the bone marrow straight because of how they ask the bones to be sliced. Super nice guy- I can’t rave enough about that place (and Union Market), the quality of the products, or the kindness of the employees:


I could go on and on about bone marrow, but to make a long story short, Dani and I felt back to our normal selves that night, and she vowed to take this recipe home to impress her boyfriend. (And there are only 5 easy steps!) Hope you all love it!


Bone Marrow

Serves 2

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  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. group tricolor peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 lb. high quality beef marrow bones, sliced lengthwise so marrow is exposed
  • 1 tsp. chopped basil
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Mix all ingredients well in small bowl. Make sure fresh parsley and basil are covered thoroughly with oil-herb mixture. 
  3. Pour evenly over marrowbones, place bones on foil in baking dish. 
  4. Bake in oven at 400 F for 25 minutes
  5. Eat your heart out
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Tuesday: the worst day of the week

Ugh, Tuesdays. TUESDAYS.

At my old job, my coworkers (Now I am lucky enough to call them my friends) and I came up with this theory that Tuesdays are the worst day of the week. Here’s why: when Tuesday morning rolls around, you’re still exhausted from Monday shenanigans. On Tuesday, you still remember the happy glow of your past weekend, and realize that there are so many days until you can get to that bliss again. On Tuesday, you haven’t even gotten to hump day yet…and we all know that there are just no inappropriate jokes to say about Tuesdays. Tuesdays are just the worst. The. Worst.

 

On Tuesdays, I am rarely motivated to do anything. It’s amazing if I make it to the gym after work, and to be honest, its miracle if I actually go out and do something social on a Tuesday night. Most of the ridiculous fights I’ve picked with my boyfriend have been on, you guessed it: Tuesdays. And the worst night classes in both my undergrad and graduate school years? On Tuesdays. (You’re such a jerk, Tuesday. I hope Karma gets you.) By the time Tuesday night rolls around, I rarely cook- I usually eat leftovers or whatever snacks I can piece together to try to form a legitimate meal. I call this technique creating an artful, eclectic charcuterie (Haha, yeah right), but really, this is just Tuesday speaking through me again in food form. Oh, and actually getting up on time Tuesday morning to make a decent breakfast? Ha. Please……..Oh, was that a serious question? Yeah…. No. Tuesday breakfast never ever happens. Not ever.

For all the reasons I have listed above, I bring you a recipe I have titled “Tuesday Oatmeal” because it is quite possibly the easiest 4 minute Paleo breakfast you can make in the morning. I make this mix ahead of time and store it in a water bottle for easy pouring. (Helpful when I am trying to make myself breakfast at 6am and still fumbling around because I am half asleep.) You can choose to keep this in any storage container of your choosing, and please note that the serving size for the “preparation” stage is for one ½ cup serving, not for the entire prepared mix.


 

Tuesday Oatmeal

Mix makes 4 servings

Grain free, dairy free, gluten free

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To make ahead:

  • ½ cup chia seeds
  • ¼ cup flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) Golden flaxseed meal is also an option
  • ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

When preparing:

  • ½ cup already prepared chia seed mix
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla almond milk
  • Toppings of your choice (chocolate pieces, fruit, almond butter, cashew butter, nuts etc.) optional
  • 1 tsp. raw honey optional
  • 1 cup water
  1. Mix chia seeds, flaxseed meal, and coconut together. Store in a container.
  2. When ready to prepare, pour ½ cup chia mix into a bowl and add water and almond milk. You may add honey if you would like some sweetness, but it is not necessary.
  3. Microwave for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir well, add toppings if you would like, and enjoy!
  5. Just get through Tuesday J
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P.S I originally saw this recipe months ago on another grain-free blog. I tweaked this recipe for my own tastes, renamed it, and now cannot find the original recipe author. If anyone out there sees this recipe out on another blog, can you let me know? I would love to cite them and be able to give them credit for the inspiration! Thank you!

 

P.P.S. Once, I put in a spoonful of Nutella into this, and it was amazing. And then later I tried a spoonful of cookie butter. That too was amazing, but so not Paleo. But, you know what they say about Tuesdays….. 

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Not Quite Reese's, but Still Pretty Good

Ahhh, Valentine’s Day. I think I can speak for everyone in saying that renaming to the day to “Eat Fancy Chocolate Day” would be more appropriate. Unless you live in Chicago, and today is actually, in fact, the anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. (In school in Chicago, we really did learn about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Talk about some heavy elementary curriculum.)

Anyway, I would like to share with you a fun, chocolaty Paleo-approved recipe. I decided to try to make these after realizing that I really really really missed eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my favorite Valentine’ Day treat. If you’re like me, almond butter will never be able to replace peanut butter, but almond butter is still pretty great…and after making these lovely Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups, I proceeded to eat all of them over the course of two days. (Along with an entire batch of kale chips. It’s called a balanced diet, people.)

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Makes about 15 mini cups, or 6-7 large cups

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For the almond butter base:

·      Just over ¾ cup almond flour or almond meal

· ½ cup almond butter, crunchy or smooth (You could also substitute peanut butter for you non-Paleo followers, or another nut butter of choice. I would imagine that cashew butter would be great in these.)

· 2 tbsp. liquid coconut oil

·      2 tbsp. raw honey, melted (add more honey to taste if you want this base to be sweeter)

·      2 tsp. alcohol-free vanilla extract

 

For the chocolate topping:

·      3 tbsp. coconut oil, melted

·      3 tbsp. raw honey, melted

·      2 ½ tbsp. dark chocolate cocoa powder

·      1 tsp. instant ground coffee or espresso granules

Variations: If you would like to add additional flavors, I think adding sea salt, raspberries, or strawberries on top of the chocolate layer would be excellent. If you would like to make these cups into an almond butter-mocha variety, add up to 1 ½ tbsp. of the instant espresso or coffee granules into the chocolate mixtures. The possibilities are endless!

 

1. Combine all ingredients for the almond butter base in a bowl and set aside. Make sure that this mixture is well combined and sticks together without crumbling.

2. Combine all ingredients for the chocolate topping together in a small bowl. You can omit the instant coffee if you would like, but adding this intensifies the chocolate flavor. (When cooking with coconut oil, I find that often the coconut flavor from the oil can overtake everything else. What better way to combat this by making the chocolate taste stronger? Exactly.)

3. Line a cupcake or mini cupcake pan with paper liners. (Or you can do what I did and stick mini cupcake liners in a normal cupcake pan.) Add a small ball of the almond butter base into each liner and press to evenly fill the bottom of each one.

4. Spoon a thin layer of the chocolate mixture over each almond butter base. Start with a thin layer first, and then go back and add more chocolate evenly until the chocolate mixture is completely gone.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and place the pan in the freezer for about 45 minutes until set.

6. Remove and eat them all in one sitting J

 

*Remember that since these almond butter cups will melt if in a warm enough environment. So if you have the willpower to save these for later, keep them covered in the freezer, fridge, or a cooler location.

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What is Paleo?

As I get this blog up and running, I'm starting with the topics of why and what of Paleo. Eventually I'll get to some other stuff, but like anything, I think creating a foundation is good practice. 

So what is paleo? This Infographic sums it up pretty nicely: 

The Ultimate Guide to Eating Paleo

Get health and fitness tips at Greatist.com


This infographic gives a great summary of what you can and can't eat while being Paleo. To clarify a couple points, paleo eliminates all fast food, processed food, refined sugars, and starches. The easiest way to think about this is when grocery shopping, only shop the perimeter of the store. (Where all the fresh, perishable foods are sold.) I will be creating another blog post about Paleo resources, as I do not consider myself an expert…yet. Those resources gave me the information I needed to make the change, and if you're interested, I highly suggest checking them out. 

I mentioned in my post titled "Why Paleo" that I do not follow Paleo 100% of the time. I did, however, forget to mention that through Paleo, I have discovered foods that I absolutely cannot tolerate. For example, I cannot tolerate even minuscule amounts of legumes or industrial oils. Having too many grains in a night makes me feel more hungover and fatigued the morning after than downing a whole bottle of wine. But, I can tolerate dairy and some sugars without feeling sick. Everyone is different; I suggest finding out what works best for you as an individual. :)

Why Paleo?

"So why Paleo?" 

 

I've gotten this question a lot since embarking on this journey. A LOT. Along with the questions, I have also gotten a lot of cavemen and bacon jokes. (Just to clear things up, I do not live in a cave and roast things over a fire, and I do I eat bacon for every meal. ;) ) 

I went on this lifestyle change because, quite simply, I needed a change. For years I thought my fatigue and low energy levels were from of a combination of a rigorous school schedule, stress, and just generally overexerting myself. In May of 2013, I decided to take my health and energy levels into some serious questioning; there was no reason a 25 year old should be sleeping 9 hours a night yet waking up exhausted and having heavy brain fog throughout the day. On top of all that, I actually had trouble sleeping through the night, had some persistent acne that hadn't resolved since middle school (!), caught strep throat every 6 months, and regularly suffered from nausea 1-4 times per week. In spring of 2013 I had an unexplained anaphylactic allergic reaction that sent me to the ER and reason to carry not one, but TWO EpiPens on me at all times.  (The doctors still don't know what I am allergic to, nor why I went into anaphylaxis.)

Although I had been successful in my life up until this point, this was only from sheer motivation, willpower, and espresso, and I knew that I was quickly running out of steam. I was tired of being tired. I was tired of feeling sick all the time. 

After a summer of heavy research (books, research articles, blogs, podcasts, etc.), I decided to try out the Paleo, or Paleolithic, diet. During the last week of August, 2013, I decided to try out Paleo for 6 weeks. I told myself that I could do anything for 6 weeks, and if I didn't like it, I could simply quit….but honestly, I've never looked back. Paleo has changed the whole way I look at a diet and food; It has truly been such a positive lifestyle change. 

My energy levels improved drastically, and I no longer felt like I was dragging every day. My cognition improved: I felt more alert, focused, and sharper. I haven't gotten strep throat (or even so much as a cold), I sleep through the night, and I have cut down my caffeine consumption from 4-5 cups of coffee a day to 1. I stopped counting calories, my skin cleared up for the first time in a over a decade, and I can remember exactly 3 days over the past 6 months where I have taken any type of aspirin or ibuprofen. 

My whole goal of starting this way of eating was to regain control over my energy levels, but Paleo changed things that I didn't even know I could change. My intense cravings for sweets went away. (Don't get me wrong, I still have a sweet tooth, but those havetohaveitrightnow cravings are gone.) My mood stabilized. (No more mood swings, less moments where I was crying and didn't know why I was crying.) My stamina for workouts increased. (I am currently scheduled to run my first half-marathon in April.) 

The first 4 weeks of starting Paleo were hellacious for me. I had done enough research so I knew that this was headed my way, but it was absolutely miserable. I had the "paleo flu" for two weeks straight, and my fatigue actually got worse than it was before. Long ago, I eliminated fast food, conventionally raised and farmed food, and some processed foods from my diet. I have long been a believer in organic, sustainable farming methods, so I thought I wouldn't have as tough as a time switching over to Paleo as other people have. I was wrong. I had terrible headaches, malaise, and I ate more avocados in those first two weeks than I ever thought possible. Seriously, I was the girl at the grocery store buying three bags of avocados at once time. 

Although I am a strong believer in Paleo, I do not follow the diet 100% of the time. I occasionally will still have a plate of pasta, a slice of pizza, some cubes of cheese, and I am definitely a fan of a glass of wine. I love chips and salsa, and I love ice cream. There are some things in life that I don't want to give up permanently, so I've realized that having these foods every once in awhile is ok. There are many people in the Paleo Community who differ from me on this issue. 

 

This whole way of thinking and eating has changed my life, and I'm starting a blog to document this journey as well as collect the recipes I have tried out or have created. It has been incredibly empowering, and I hope that someone else can benefit from my journey as well! I also plan to document some of the other things I do in my life- like DIY projects and traveling!