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Spring Cleaning Challenge: Sweep Out the Sugar!

Thursday, April 10th, 2014


If you read The Cave’s blog, you probably are much healthier than the average Joe or Josephine. You also probably wouldn’t be caught in an emergency shelter drinking anything like the three beverages pictured at left, which show the frightening amount of sugar hidden in the alluring fizz or enticing hues of the average commercial thirst quencher. Most likely, if you’re reading this, you don’t touch the stuff. But, you may not be aware how much hidden sugar you are consuming each day, and if you don’t keep count, I invite you to spend the next couple of days reading labels, tallying the numbers, and taking a sweet tooth inventory.

The USDA recommends limiting refined sugar to under 40 grams (12 teaspoons) per day, per 2000 calories. See where you land. Wherever it is, if it’s above zero, try and reasonably challenge yourself to cut back wherever you can.

Here are a dozen ideas to help:

1. Set a mindful intention to reduce sugar. (If you have a birthday coming up, blow out candles and wish for less cake.)

2. Read labels.  Don’t buy anything for which you could get a lower or zero sugar version.

3. Knowledge is power.  Identify where processed sugar enters your diet.

4. Know yourself.  When are you most likely to reach for something sugary? After dinner?  After a workout?  When you’re hungry? Late at night? And where?  At home? In the car? At the office?

5. For times when sugar beckons irresistibly, knowing alternatives ahead of time is invaluable. Take a few minutes to make a list of substitutes. Chai or a flavorful herb tea?  Fresh fruit and/or whole nuts?  A healthy, salty snack?  Whatever these are for you, make sure they are easily accessible to you, depending on your answers to #4.

6. Cut back a little at a time, setting a goal of reducing processed sugar by even just a few grams per day on a weekly basis. For example, if you average 40 grams per day, try cutting back to 35 a day for a week, then 30 the next week, etc.

7. Get inspired.  Google search, “Why is processed sugar bad?”

8. Get together with a friend or two or three and share lower sugar goals, or make it something to do with your whole family.

9. If you think of sugar as a reward, stop that right now!  Find replacement rewards.  Even if you swap sugar for shoe shopping you’ll live longer!

10. Experiment with spices as alternatives to sugar, like cardamom or cinnamon.  They have far more flavor and are great in coffee.

11. Don’t feel guilty about throwing away what’s left of the Girl Scout cookies.

12. And for a recipe this week, here’s probably the world’s easiest-to-make cookies that are moist, chewy, and completely unrefine-edly sweet:


  • 1 yellow-about-to-turn-black medium to large plantain
  • 1 cup almond butter (make sure there’s no added sugar)
  • optional (depending on your level of sugar dependency or if making for kids): 1/4 cup raisins or currants

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a food processor or powerful blender, combine peeled plantain and almond butter. Mix until smooth and then a minute or two more until creamy.

If using raisins, fold into batter at this point.

Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, cool, and enjoy a naturally sweet, high-protein, high-potassium dessert.  Store in fridge; will get sticky – but still delicious – after a few days.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Cave Cookbook co-author and nutritionist, Susannah Wallenstrom, had given this recipe to me to share back in September, and though it’s taken me a while to get it up at the blog, I’ve been enjoying making it right along. It really is a time saver as well as wholeheartedly delicious!

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
from Susannah Wallenstrom


Getting a healthy meal on the table every night is a challenge to say the least, but that’s where a slow cooker can come in handy! I love this dish because there are very few ingredients, it takes 15 minutes to put it together, and my whole family likes it (a miracle!) I put it together in the morning and it’s ready when I get home that evening.

The only ingredient you might not have on your spice rack is garam masala, which is a mixture of spices often used in Indian cooking. If you can’t find it in the spice aisle of your grocery store, you can make your own by combining ½ tsp cumin, ¼ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp coriander, ¼ tsp black pepper, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne.

You can serve this by itself, over brown rice or quinoa or over sautéed spinach (my favorite way).

Serves 8

Hands on time: 15 min

Cook time: On High: 3-4 hours, LOW: 7-8 hours


1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped (I sometimes use frozen garlic cubes from Trader Joe’s-so convenient and no mess!)

4 tablespoons tomato paste

4 tsp garam masala

kosher salt and black pepper

3 # boneless, skinless chicken thighs

½ English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 tbs fresh lemon juice


1. In a 4-6 quart slow cooker, stir together the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper. Place the chicken over the tomato mixture, cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours, depending on how much time you have.

2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with the lemon juice and ¼ tsp salt and pepper. This can sit in the fridge for up to 8 hours.

3. 5 minutes before serving, sauté the spinach and serve chicken on top

4. Serve with the cucumber relish

Zaatar and Plantain Bread

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

zaatarOne of the many advantages of a caveman diet is a healthy salt to potassium ratio. For the hunter gatherer, sodium – like sugar – was scarce whereas potassium was abundant. Consequently we adapted: our need for sodium is around 200 - 500 mg/day depending on climate and roughly 5,000 mg/day for potassium. Although there hasn’t been conclusive evidence linking a high sodium diet alone to cardiovascular disease, studies compellingly show that it’s the ratio of salt to potassium that makes a difference. A modern diet averages 4:1 sodium to potassium whereas our primal ancestors could boast the exact opposite. And when a healthy balance of potassium to salt is achieved, it’s not just heart health we can enjoy but many other benefits as well including a strong defense against age-related muscle loss, stroke, and osteoporosis.

So for the recipe this week, let’s up the potassium and lower the salt with plantains and za’atar. One 8 ounce plantain has close to 900 mg potassium, and Purely Twins got me started – and I can’t stop – enjoying the easy and delicious recipe below. Za’atar is a wonderfully flavorful Mid-Eastern spice blend made with sumac (can be found at Whole Foods) which has a zesty salt-lemon flavor. Combined with thyme and sesame seeds, this very low-sodium blend is wonderful spread on chicken or fish prior to baking, eggs, veggies, or even just stealing a pinch from the jar!

Za’atar Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground sumac

Oven dry the thyme for a few minutes in a 350° oven. Combine with rest of ingredients in a mortar and pestal, spice or coffee grinder and blend well. Store in a cool dark spot in an airtight container for 3-6 months.

Plantain Bread Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sized green plantain (you can use one that’s yellow, but the recipe will turn out very sweet)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350°. Place peeled plantain along with eggs into blender or food processor and mix until smooth. Grease a 9×12” pyrex baking dish with coconut oil and pour in mixture. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy warm sprinkled with olive oil and za’atar.


Thursday, March 20th, 2014

zucchetti1Since being confirmed gluten intolerant and consequently giving up pasta completely – even as a cheat – I just was never jazzed about the idea of vegetables subbing as spaghetti. But I recently broke down, gave in and am really glad I did! Super easy, healthy, and bowl-licking good, I find myself making this more than I ever made its grain-based namesake. Is it pasta? No. But is it good? Yes! The trick to making this is a solid julienne peeler. I’m quite happy with my Kuhn Rikon; just make sure you get one with a good grip as whether you are strict Paleo, gluten intolerant, or just want a delicious and ridiculously easy side dish in a pinch, you may find yourself making zucchetti a lot!


This is for a single serving, but scales up well

  • 1 medium zucchini, washed (no need to peel)
  • olive oil
  • salt

Julienne the zucchini, skin and all, as shown in photo above. Place in a pyrex or otherwise microwave safe bowl. No need to add anything else. Cover and cook at regular heat setting for two minutes. Test for doneness, drizzle with olive oil, dash on some salt, and enjoy plain or with any topping you might enjoy over pasta. (Told you this was easy!)

Anyone for Dinner?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

If you’re planning on having Paleo pals to dinner, or haven’t in a while, here are some thoughts for an easy evening’s meal. The links below are to recipes posted here that I’ve served to friends both Cave-conscious and Cave-oblivious, with common ground met by everyone enjoying delicious, healthy food and having a good time. So grab the phone, send some texts, and make some plans!

Appetizers: Cayenne & Lime Pepitas,  Muhammara Serve with gluten-free crackers, plantain chips, or vegetable chips like sliced raw carrot and zucchini rounds.

Soups: Deb’s Carrot Ginger Soup,  Avocado Soup

Main dishes: Seared Ahi with Japanese Salsa,  Coffee and Cocoa Meat Rub,  Aaron’s Lemon Chicken

Veggie sides: Cocoa Roasted CauliflowerPan-seared Asparagus (This is a really popular recipe, which is great since asparagus is perfect right now!)

Dessert: For dessert, the recipe below is especially fun if you don’t tell your guests the secret ingredient, but rather let them try and figure out the elusive but ever-so-familiar flavor of basil that makes this minutes-to-make treat shine with unexpected elegance.

basil_panna_cottaBasil Coconut-Panna Cotta

Yield: 2-4 servings


  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil chiffonade
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 envelope gelatin (about 3 T) or 2 T agar-agar flakes if vegan
  • 2 T (or to taste) maple syrup
  • smidgen of salt (1/32 tsp. if you don’t have a smidgen measure)


  1. In a small bowl, stir gelatin (or agar-agar if vegan) into 1/4 cup of coconut milk and set aside.
  2. Place remaining coconut milk in a saucepan along with basil. Warm at low heat for 10-15 minutes; do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and pour coconut basil mixture through a sieve. Discard leaves and return coconut milk to the saucepan.
  3. Over low heat, bring the coconut milk up to a simmer. Whisk the gelatin mixture into the hot coconut milk and blend thoroughly.
  4. Turn off the heat, let cool slightly, and add the vanilla, maple syrup and salt.
  5. Pour into individual serving bowls and chill until set, about 3-4 hours.

Sweet Potato Bites

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

sweet_potato_bitesThis superbly healthy guilt-free snack can be eaten any time you need a quick boost of energy. Free of processed sugar, full of healthy carbs and a pinch of protein, it also makes a fantastic pre-work out food and is a great take-along treat to pack before dashing out to a busy day.


  • 1.5 lbs sweet potatoes (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup brewer’s yeast (60g protein)
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 plantain
  • 1 cup firm packed kale (cooked or raw)
  • 1 cup lose packed fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°.

Scrub potatoes and give each side a few jabs with a fork before placing in microwave to cook until soft – about 5 or 6 minutes turning them half way through.

When done, trim ends but do not peel. Slice and add with rest of ingredients to food processor.

Blend until everything is mixed thoroughly and of an even consistency.

Drop batter by tablespoon-fulls onto a parchment lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Place in oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

These will keep a week or so in the fridge and will travel well with you as a snack to have on hand during the day when you need it.

DIY Paleo Chocolate Bars

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

chocolateI’d like to say I eat chocolate because it’s healthy. But I don’t. I eat it because it makes me happy. If any health benefits come along for the ride, that’s fine it’s just never been top priority when it comes to chocolate. Really, though, as far as treats go, it’s not that bad although it’s very difficult to find chocolate bars that don’t contain soy or processed sugar. That’s why I was totally jazzed when I found out how to make my own chocolate bars (in under 15 minutes not counting chill time), which I’m very excited to share here!

Helpful Equipment

  • double boiler
  • digital thermometer
  • parchment paper or silicone molds


  • ½ cup cacao or cocoa butter (basically the same thing, just cacao is raw; can be found at Whole Foods)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (or even better: vanilla beans to taste)
  • cinnamon (optional but I find it means I can add less sweetener)
  • sweeter of choice (maple syrup, honey, stevia – I find a combination of maple syrup and stevia to be good; honey will make finished product somewhat chewy)
  • sprinkles of choice (add-ons to finished but still warm chocolate such as chopped nuts, dried fruit, shredded coconut, fresh orange zest, fresh lime zest and cayenne, chopped fresh herbs such as basil, mint, or thyme, etc – can you tell I’ve been making this a lot!)

In a double boiler, gently melt cacao butter. If you have a digital cooking thermometer, try not to let cacao butter exceed 48° C as its texture can get a bit grainy if it reaches temperatures much higher than this.

Once butter has melted, gradually add cocoa powder a couple tablespoons at a time as well as cinnamon, vanilla and sweetener(s) to taste. Part of the fun of making chocolate is checking and adjusting the flavor as you go along!

When your ingredients are thoroughly mixed, you should have a thick warm paste which can be spread onto parchment paper about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Or, if you have happen to have silicone mini loaf pans, these make absolutely perfect chocolate bars. (I used a silicone muffin pan for chocolate in photo).

At this point, sprinkle desired add-ons on top. Note that dried fruit such as cherries or currants mean less sweetener needed when making the chocolate. And just plain with nothing added is delicious.

Refrigerate chocolate for an hour or so and then it’s ready. (Doesn’t need to be refrigerated but don’t leave it in the sun.) And now enjoy a truly healthy as well as indulgent Paleo treat!

Paleo Sweet Tooth

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

When Team BoManda headed to CrossFit Oakdale’s “Every Second Counts” competition in December, I met some of the Paleo Sweet Tooth people.  They gave me some of their almond butters to try, which are delicious!.  I am a HUGE fan of apples and nut butter as a snack, dessert, meal (basically any way I can justify eating it).  If I am being totally honest, it was peanut butter that started the relationship, but I’ve been having an affair with almond butter in my paleo attempts.

Paleo Sweet Tooth
I have seen Paleo Sweet Tooth at some of the other competitions we have gone to. Here is a shout out to their brand for making delicious treats!


Thursday, February 20th, 2014

I got this amazing salsa recipe from Amy Wise a few months back and have been continuously enjoying it ever since. It’s become my fool proof go-to recipe to bring to festive occasions. I usually make a double batch to have some for myself as it’s always an empty bowl I bring home. This one is a total keeper!

Miguel’s Salsa
from Amy Wise


This Salsa is not just any salsa. Nick and I consider ourselves somewhat of salsa snobs, and this is one of our favorites. One of my coworkers brought this salsa in and I was standing next to the bowl the whole potluck trying to figure out who made this amazing green goodness. It was my coworker Miguel! I promise people will be impressed by the look and taste of this salsa.

2 lbs of tomatiillos
5-6 Serrano chiles ( you can add some habaneros to make it spicier)
1/2 a bunch of cilantro
1/2 a purple onion
1/2 tbs salt
1/2 lemon
1/2 lime
2-3 ripe avocados

1) Peel husk from tomatillos and wash off- then throw those and the chiles (without the stems) in a pot of water
2) Once water starts to boil check the color on the tomatillos the color should now be darker ( if not wait until it is) about 15-20 minutes- Drain tomatillos and chiles
3) Let them cool down - either put colander in the fridge or put in ice bath
4) Once cool-blend tomatillos and chiles in food processor
5) Chop the cilantro ,onions and avocados
6) Place the blended tomatillo-chile mixture in a bowl and fold in chopped avocados, onions and cilantro
7) add lemon, lime and salt to taste

You can use this salsa on chips, tacos, lettuce wraps, salads anything really! The dark green base with bright green chunks and purple pieces looks so pretty!


Just Because It’s Paleo Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Actually healthy food

Actually healthy food

The concept of Paleo eating used to be confined to a very limited crowd. In the early 2000s only those that were very actively seeking out nutritional information were even aware of it. This has changed. The term paleo has hit the mainstream, it is being talked about on major talk shows, news reports and other mainstream media. There are now paleo food products (which in itself is a bit of a stretch of the term).

This makes it even more important as consumers (in the literal sense of the term) to pay attention to our food. As paleo becomes more popular it is going to become a buzz word for the food producers to use on their packaging. I assure you, their intent will NOT be to make their food more healthy. They will try to fulfill any requirements of the buzz words (at this time there are no constraints on the term paleo) while still making the food as appealing as possible, with no real consideration for the health consequences of the food.

Think of the low fat ideas in the 80s. Everything became “low fat”. There were “low fat” and “reduced fat” versions of everything. In order to pull this off food producers packed the foods with sugar and processed grains. In most cases making the food far worse for you than the full fat original versions. The food industry even came up with engineered substitutes for fat so that they could label their food “low fat”. These substitutes have side effects, on example being expulsion of fat soluble vitamins because these substitutes are not digested and carry nutrients with them.

Sugar substitutes have been around for a long time. People like sweet things, but we have known for a long time that excessive sugar consumption isn’t good for you, so we’ve figured out how to make things sweet without calories, or with drastically reduced calories. This now allowed food producers to label their over sweetened products “sugar free”. More buzz words for packaging.

I have been offered to try out new “paleo” food products. In most cases they have been foods that I would recommend to our students here at The Cave, but in some cases it was clear these were not healthy food choices. They were loaded with honey or other “paleo” sweeteners. As the paleo idea grows and more people jump on board more food producers will want a part of the market. This will mean products labeled “paleo”. This label does not necessarily mean it is a good food choice.

The base line concept behind paleo is to eat naturally occurring whole foods. Stuff that grows and hasn’t been refined. This means that you should prepare the vast majority of your food. If the food comes in a package you should really consider how it was produced before consuming it. Highly produced, refined food products are simply not a good choice. Pay attention to your food. Do not buy into the idea that you can eat large quantity of “treats” because they are “paleo”. Do not get caught up in buzz words. Eat foods produced by nature, not refined by people.