Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chicago Paleo (and vegan) Meals Challenge

On a recent trip to Chicago, IL I wanted to see how I would fare with dining out while maintaining a Paleo diet as much as possible.  I decided to provide a mini review of a few places that we ate at to show the Paleo choices and challenges that we encountered in hopes of helping others to make it easier to find Paleo friendly food as well.

Day 1:  Hartford to Chicago

The trip started off at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, CT.  Ah, my first meal challenge on the road.  As with most airports I've been in, there is the usual line up of fast food joints and then the possibility of getting a salad either to go or dine in a restaurant.  The thought flitted across my mind t just say the heck with it and just eat what I wanted for the next few days since we were on vacation.  Like vacation gives me a Paleo free pass or something.... Instead, I managed to actually order something that was as close to Paleo as I could.  At the Black Bear Restaurant I chose the Wedge Salad.  It was a nice chunk of lettuce with some bacon, tomato, and cheese although I picked around the cheese.  It was pretty satisfying especially knowing that I was going to be eating at a nice restaurant in Chicago later that night.

Wedge lettuce salad

Hubby is non-Paleo.  Here he is digging into his sweet potato fries.  He also had some kind of sandwich wrap.  It's always a challenge to eat my way and watch him eat what I believe not to be healthy for him.  Sweet potatoes are good on Paleo but I don't think fried in vegetable oil is the way to go...  I kept thinking about Robb Wolf's joke about the "five fries".   If you want to know more about that, Google it :-).  

Sweet potato fries

Dinner - Chicago 312 and my previous blog on that meal
I had planned to blog about each meal as they happened but it just didn't work out that way.  I did blog about Chicago 312 Italian restaurant though because I wanted to do more of a single review on it.  The service was wonderful and I really enjoyed the restaurant.  My vibes must have gotten through because they had bison flank steak on the menu!  If not for the bison I would have chosen the Halibut especially since it is so nutrient rich in magnesium.  I try to think about what nutrients are in the food and pay attention to what my body needs at the moment.  I got the Bison instead because I see that on menus even less than halibut.  So not only did I get a chunk of bison protein, but my meal was chock full of veggies with the kale and yellow and green beans and topped with roasted red peppers.  Win win!  

Grilled Bison Flank Steak with yellow and green beens and sauteed Kale.

Day 2:  Chicago - downtown near the loop

Oh my what was I going to do for a Paleo/Primal breakfast when I'm used to eating leftover dinner or my fresh eggs from the farm down the street from me?  I'm thinking beef.  I know it would have been a miracle if it was grass fed but what the heck.  So, the first morning we ate close to our hotel at Beef 'n Brandy.

I decided to avoid the beef and go with the California Frittata.  I really was craving an avocado so it was a hit for me.  It was made with Avocado, spinach, tomatoes and a touch of onions with potatoes, topped with low fat mozzarella for $9.50.  I had them leave out the potatoes and I forgot about the cheese so I scraped that off since it was only on the top.  Nice satisfying breakfast though.  

California Fritta (minus the potatos) from Beef 'n Brandy

Lunch:  The Vegan/Paleo Challenge at Native Foods Cafe, Chicago

My stepdaughter is now vegan.  She has been wanting to try Native Foods Cafe so we went to the one in downtown Chicago.  Suffice it to say that vegan restaurants seem a little strange to me because they have very little vegetables on the menu.  If they just put some simple plain good whole food like vegetables it would really make it a lot healthier.  What we ended up with was very tasty although with some non Paleo caveats.  

My meal, the only thing I liked that did not have wheat grain, tempeh, seitan, or tofu or some other soy thing in it was the Grilled California Caesar salad.  I had them leave the "savory tofu croutons" off.  I didn't notice any grilled veggies on it either but as far as Caesar salads go - this one was excellent.  It was very filling, fresh, crispy, cold lettuce and it had a tasty zing of lots of garlic!  I guess it had some fake parmesan cheese on it and I don't know what the dressing was made out of either so I can't comment on that but it was delicious.

Grilled California Caesar Salad (vegan)

And, of all things to have a cheat on, it was the nachos.  They were awesome.  I had been craving some Mexican food and this is the thing that did me in.  Homemade corn tortilla chips covered in black beans, Native Taco Meat, Native Chipotle Crema, Native Cheese, salsa fresca, and guacamole. Topped with corn, green onions, cilantro and jalapeƱos.  I ate the beans although as few as possible and ate the chips as well.  The guacamole was heavenly and it was all very fresh.  It was also very very spicy hot. There were a lot of very hot jalapeƱo's on it.  We couldn't stop ourselves though and kept digging into it going back for more pain and the pleasure of the taste.

Nuevo Native Nachos (vegan)

Non-Paleo hubby had this wonderful Ensalada Azteca salad.  Fresh avocado, cucumber and jicama 
salsa, and mango on top of quinoa, romaine with mango lime vinaigrette. Also topped with currants, toasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro.  I wished I had gotten it instead of mine after I saw his.  Look at all the avocado!  I'm not so sure about quinoa as a grain, vs not a grain. I'm not a biochemist or botanist. I've read blog posts and references on it and can't seem to make up my mind who to believe.   I've tried it several different ways and it's just not tasty enough for me to bother eating it. 

Ensalada Azteca Salad

Heather got the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger. Paleo version without the bread would have been awesome for me!  But no, this was Seitan [wheat meat or wheat gluten]melted cheddar [vegan], caramelized onions, and crispy Native Bacon [vegan] on a bun [more wheat grains] slathered with BBQ sauce [aka sugar] and ranch dressing, romaine, carrots, onions, and tomato.  She thoroughly enjoyed it though!  

Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger (vegan)

All in all, I liked Native Foods Cafe and I also liked that the menu listed whether the food was gluten free or not.  That was really helpful in choosing a Paleo meal.   It it makes your stomach feel a little iffy after eating the soy and wheat gluten, I'd really recommend eliminating that from your diet for 30-45 days and see how you feel.  Since there are plenty of GF meals on the menu it would be easy enough to do and still eat here.

Dinner:  The Grillroom Restaurant, 33 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL 

First, they have GRASS FED BEEF!  OMG.  I had been searching for days for a steak house that served grass fed beef in Chicago.  We just stumbled upon this restaurant because one of the bellhops in front of our hotel (the Palmer House) recommended it.  We didn't want to walk that far (we were in the middle of a heat wave in Chicago) and we wanted to get some beef while in Chicago.  So for once, without me overanalyzing it, we tried it.  It was very quiet in there since we were there pretty early for dinner.  Nice typical steakhouse with the warm wood, nice quiet booths.  We got to sit in the back in a nice quiet spot.  Very nice.  I opened the menu and was shocked to see that it said grass fed!  I had to ask when the server came because I didn't quite believe it was real and it was for all the cuts of beef.  It was grass fed alright!  The prices were not bad at all.  Incredible   I got the 8 oz filet.  It came with a head of roasted garlic.  I also got Bernaise sauce which is probably not Paleo but I had just enough to flavor a few bites of the beef.  It had a nice lemon hint to it.  Beautiful.  Can you tell in the pics which plate was more Paleo than the other???  Hubby is still afraid to eat too much beef (even though this was grass-fed) so he always gets the smaller cut.  I was always told to get the larger cut of tenderloin because you don't get a line of grizzle in it - or something like that anyway.  To complete the meal, I got a plate full of veggies, the broccolini and spinach duo with olive oil and roasted garlic.  I was able to order more healthy veggies on this menu than at the vegan restaurant!  It was all lovely, simply lovely.

8 oz Filet - Grass Fed Beef, The Grillroom Restaurant, Chicago
6 oz Filet - Grass Fed Beef, The Grillroom Restaurant, Chicago

Broccolini and Spinach duo w/olive oil

Day 3 - Evanston, IL

Had to get to Evanston for daughter's graduation from Northwestern.  Left early by taxi and got there a lot earlier than expected.  It was good because we were able to have a nice breakfast in Evanston before the ceremony.  Just had an omelet and hubby had a large bowl of fresh fruit filled with mostly berries.  

Lunch:  Karyn's on Green, Chicago, IL

Graduation celebration brunch at Karyn's on Green, an "earth friendly vegan approach to contemporary dining" in Chicago.  Vegan.  Raw.  What is a Primal eater to do?  
Well, I was getting a lot more nutritional veggies than I think I've ever had on any vacation!  

Again, not too many things I could eat on the menu.  But I saw the Butternut squash coconut milk, guajillo oil, fried chickpeas soup.  Tasted wonderful.  Was worried about the chickpeas but there were only four of them and they were nice and crunchy at the bottom of the bowl.  Silky smooth, tasty soup.  Excellent.  For my meal I had the Kale red cabbage, apple, cashews, sesame vinaigrette.  Best I could do on the menu besides the dandelion salad.  That looked pretty good too.  The kale for a change was much better than when I eat it at home.  It's always a little too fibrous or something and gets in between my teeth and drives me crazy.  This was perfect and tastily dressed.  The pieces of cashew were a nice crunchy addition.

Kale Salad
Butternut Squash soup

And here's hubby's meal -- the beautiful dandelion salad and... some fried crab cakes - tempeh style.

 A couple of the other diners with us got the non-Paleo French Toast w/cinnamon, maple syrup, and toasted almonds.  Way beyond my style of carb load but they were smelled heavenly!

I loved the contemporary setting and space at Karyn's.  And I loved their mission statement - written on the wall for everyone to read:  "There is no judgement here - no good or bad - no right or wrong - just a chance for an earth friendly experience - for body mind and spirit, for you and your planet.  If you don't take care of your body, the most magnificent machine you'll ever be given, where will you live?"  

I learned something that afternoon.  It's really not about the food.  It's about feelings and connections and love and soul.

That's the end of my Chicago Paleo (and vegan) food tour for today.  Hope you enjoyed the photos and info and may this help someone to easily find some Paleo (or vegan) places to dine while in Chicago.  


Friday, June 15, 2012

312 Chicago Paleo Meal

312 Chicago Italian Restaurant in Chicago, IL.  It's an italian restaurant in downtown Chicago that I found when searching for a Paleo meal to enjoy while on vacation.  Normally you would not think of an Italian restaurant as a go to choice for a Paleo meal but this one seemed to fit.  I read that it had organic foods, and gluten free items on the menu.  With our love of Italian food and the fact that it had a few items that might fit for both of us we gave it a try.

Here are a few of the items we enjoyed:  First, the appetizer.  My husband loves octopus and usually gets some kind of ceviche or seafood mix for an appetizer so this one worked well.  Grilled Octopus with shrimp and assorted vegetables.  He loved it.  So that was his paleo non dairy choice. 

Next, my appetizer was one of my favorites and if it's on the menu I usually get it.  Here's the beef carpaccio.  Nice chilled slices of rare beef with some capers, arugula and thin slices of fresh mushrooms topped with slices of parmesan cheese.  Not exactly Paleo with the cheese but since I rarely eat dairy these days I went with it.

And for my Paleo meal they had Bison Flank Steak on the menu for a special!  I asked the waiter to see if they could substitute the potatoes for one of their vegetable side dishes and here it it... Yellow and green beans with Tuscan Kale topped with the Bison steak and some roasted red peppers.  Yum!

So, yes, Paleo can be done in an Italian restaurant!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Home Baked Bread and Memories

Bread baking and cooking and eating many gluten foods are deeply steeped in cultures and rituals of family, food, memories, and love.  I grew up waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread every Sunday morning when I stayed over at my Grandmother Bentley's house.  On Saturday night after she got out of work from the night shift at the convalescent home she worked at, she would start the bread dough.  By early morning after it had risen all night long there would be bowls of yeasty smelling bread dough ready to knead by hand and put into the bread loaf pans.  The smell wafting out of the oven of those freshly baked loaves of bread and the ensuing taste of warm buttered bread slices is one of my favorite foodie memories.  

Alas, my Grandmother's bread may have been the devil at the root of her diseases.   

Both of my Grandmother's hands and fingers were horribly disfigured from arthritis. She and other family members led me to believe it was caused from years of knitting (and probably kneading the dough too..).  Grandma Bentley also had diabetes that eventually caused her feet to lose circulation of blood and so afflicted that she could no longer walk.  And worse, she ended up dying from stomach cancer.  Hmmmm.  It couldn't have been caused by the gluten from the amount of breads and pastries that my grandmother baked and consumed could it?  It seems many people do not want to consider the growing evidence that gluten is the root of many autoimmune and other diseases.  What I hear from most folks when I mention the "grain connection" and a Paleo diet is how grains are healthy and good for them.   Unfortunately for my Grandmother, the evidence about gluten intolerance was not there.  Although she, like many others, might not have wanted to give up her bread and pastries either.  

My fond memories of growing up with the smell and taste of the best bread I have ever had in my life to this day is also why part of going Paleo is so hard.  My favorite part of the meal at a restaurant has always been the bread served at the beginning of it.  So I get why so many people are resistant to the idea of living without grains in their diet.  With the research being done now and when so many autoimmune diseases can be linked to gluten I had to see the writing on the wall and cut out the bread and other gluten  foods.  I want to be healthy into my old age and not follow into my Grandmother's footsteps ending up with diabetes and an autoimmune disease, both of which my be put in check from giving up the grain.  

If you are unsure what an autoimmune disease is here's a list of some of them: myasthenia gravis, Addison's,  Lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, scleroderma, vitiligo, ulcerative colitis, and Graves'.  Other diseases and symptoms: alopecia, autoimmune thyroiditis, schizophrenia, depression, rheumatioid arthritis, fibromyagia, and something many would probably not even associate with anything other than what it is, recurrent urinary tract infection!  

So do your research, read about gluten and disease and make your decision.  I have my loving memories of my Grandmother and time spent with her baking bread and pies.  That's the good part.  Then I think about how she died and how it could have been different, how her end of life years could have been pleasant instead of riddled with pain.