Grown-up cookies: or why paleo tastes good but makes no ecological sense
December 7, 2013, 4:48 pm by bottleman. Filed under: diy, fitness, holidays, kids.

Is this blog jumping the shark?  Over the years it has descended from serious issues through miscellaneous fads to, finally, today:  a recipe requested by my sister-in-law (Hi Lynette!).

paleo chocolate-chip cookies by flickr user Chris and Jenni, used under Creative Commons
[photo by Chris & Jenni, Creative Commons]

But hey, these cookies are wheat-free, and feature a delightful clash of chunks of bitter chocolate and coarse sea salt, which give them a decidedly grown-up flavor.  That’s why I call them Grown-Up Cookies.  Unlike most advice on this blog, you can actually apply this material and receive some enjoyment now. :)

Call it my holiday gift to the Internet.

That clash of flavors and textures is my small innovation, and I’m kind of proud of it.  Otherwise these cookies are largely similar in ingredients to other “paleo” chocolate chip cookie recipes out there — there are dozens.

One of those recipes, Jenni’s,  had a cookie picture that was fantastic, and infinitely better than any picture I could take.  And yet, the cookies looked quite similar to the cookies I make.  I used it as the visual reference above. Thanks Jenni!

The “paleo” diet is fashionable in the Crossfit world, and it fits well with the kind of food I like to eat anyway, so I’ve been eating an easy, non-radicalized version of paleo lately.

The basic notion — that it makes sense to eat foods that fit with one’s evolutionary history — seems quite logical on the surface of it.  White sugar, for example, was not widely available until the 19th century, so it’s no surprise our bodies seem to suffer from an excess of it.

But after such examples, the logic and practice of the paleo theory gets harder and harder to support.

The paleo movement basically makes two claims.  First, that this diet is more “authentic” or “natural” given human history.  And second, that there are health benefits to eating this way.

I actually believe the health benefits part. There is persuasive evidence about the role of high-starch and -sugar diets in the chronic problems that trouble us in the modern world.  The low-fat diets that have been encouraged since the 70’s have been a failure. Etc.

But the authentic part is what I’m beginning to question.

Real paleo diets were likely to be extremely irregular, for one thing.  Anyone who’s ever read accounts of life among hunter-gatherers will recognize that these diets can be, above all, inconsistent.  Kill a big animal and everyone feasts.  But then game may disappear for weeks.   There aren’t that many calories in berries.  Starvation was a real possibility.

Real paleo diets were also extremely local, and potentially limited.  A prehistoric person in, say, the Great Lakes region might have plenty of deer to eat, but no avocados or coconuts.  Meanwhile someone in Mexico would be in the opposite situation.

So there certainly wasn’t one prehistoric diet.  People ate what they could from the local environment, not from all over the world.  If available food was the engine behind the evolution of diet, then the genes and diets of different human groups would have been pulled different ways… until groups of humans interbred and everything got mixed up.  That doesn’t seem like a formula for a meat-centric, a plant-centric, or an anything-centric diet.

Fast forward to today.  A tame, but probably healthful, version of paleo might go like this: “don’t eat anything that wasn’t available in the prehistoric environment.”  So that would rule out things like wheat flour and cane sugar — substances which in a chemical sense are natural but which require laborious agricultural and/or industrial processes to purify and make consumable.

To apply this rule when making cookies, the typical response would be to use non-cane sugar — for example coconut sugar.  Yes, it’s got a lower glycemic index and you can make a health case for it on that basis.  But it’s still a concentrated product of agriculture and industry.  There weren’t any cavemen walking around eating that stuff, or other concentrated products such as 70% cacao chocolate chips. For that matter, there weren’t any cavemen walking around eating the kind of almonds, spinach, etc that “paleo” dieters eat today — because crops like those have been relentlessly bred over thousands of years to make them more edible.   Eating a few wild almonds could, sadly enough, kill a cave man.

So come on — if you want to spear a deer and eat it with some huckleberries, that’s paleo for sure. And it sounds pretty tasty to me.   But beyond that the thing we know as the paleo diet is just as artificial as, well, most other diets. :)

Grown-Up Chocolate-Chip Cookies (with bitter chocolate and sea salt)

preheat oven to 350F

2 squares  (2 oz.) UNSWEETENED baking chocolate (unsweetened is key)

1/3 cup butter, softened, or corn oil (canola oil may also be substituted but cookies will be flat)
1/3 cup sugar — white, brown, coconut, whatever
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey

1 and 1/2 cups almond flour
2 tbsp corn meal
2 tbsp flax meal
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp COARSE sea salt (coarse is key)

the fun part: put chocolate squares in a sturdy plastic or paper bag, and go outside on a rock or concrete and break the chocolate squares apart with a hammer, until you get chunks and shards of various sizes.  The bigger the pieces are, the more bitter they will feel in the finished cookie.  I make the biggest pieces about the width of a pea.  Put the bag aside until later.

In a mixing bowl, mix well the butter (or oil), egg, sugar, vanilla, and honey.  In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients — the almond flour, corn meal, flax meal, baking soda, and coarse sea salt.

Combine the dry ingredients with the wet, but DON’T MIX TOO MUCH.   Just get everything evenly distributed.

Put in the chocolate chunks.  Mix, but again, don’t do too much.

Now you will have very sticky and delicious sludge.  Form into 9-12 ping-pong sized balls and place on parchment paper (another thing cave men didn’t have :) ) on a cookie sheet.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes.  They won’t quite look done but take them out anyway.

Let cool if you can.

Devour.  I like them with milk, just like Santa.

Happy holidays!



My tiny house, finally furnished right
September 28, 2013, 10:21 am by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, my tiny house project, tiny houses.

When my tiny house was finished six and a half years ago, my mother-in-law needed to move in immediately, and our budget was spent.  So we never really furnished it the way in a way that did justice to the architect’s design.  No more!

After 6 years of wonderful support for my spouse and child, my MIL has moved back East to take care of another grandchild, and we finally have dressed up the place for its new life as a furnished rental. I got help from interior designer Ann Reed at Redu.

Here’s a tour.  (All photos by ElleMPhotography and Martin Brown, used by permission).

Over the patio and through the door:

…more



A barefoot climb of Mt. St. Helens
September 16, 2013, 12:46 pm by bottleman. Filed under: explosions, fall, fitness, love those goofy b*st*rds, photography, summer, trails.

climbing Monitor Ridge barefoot

Barefoot hiking has never caused the kind of controversy and acrimony that barefoot running has. Perhaps it’s because hiking doesn’t come so overloaded with notions about proper form and “performance.” People generally go hiking for recreation and sightseeing — any exercise or positive health effects hikers get are side benefits. Most runners participate in races of some kind, but hiking is less competitive — unless you get two diehard “peak baggers” on the same trail. (Count me out, man, I’d rather stop and smell the flowers.)

So barefoot hiking should be a lot like barefoot trail running — not so much about performance as about the experience. I thought I’d give it a try when my friend Ron Krull invited me to climb Mt. St. Helens late in the summer. The photos are by him unless otherwise noted. And a special note: FWIW here barefoot means actually barefoot.  There is nothing wrong with minimal shoes — or any shoes you want — but, dude, it’s not the same thing.

I’ve done Mt. St. Helens before, so I knew what I was getting into. …more



Crossfit and barefoot running, part 2: the saga of the beer keg
November 15, 2012, 11:41 am by bottleman. Filed under: fitness.

Like I wrote in my last post, my fitness activity this year has mostly been Crossfit.  And no question, Crossfit has been doing something.  My pants are looser, and I have a much clearer idea of my strength and how to apply it, at least to rudimentary tasks. Recently at a party, I helped the hostess by picking up a nearly full beer keg (about 150 pounds) and moving it where she wanted — with no worries whatsoever that I was going to hurt myself.

photo by twothirstycats (creative commons)

[photo by twothirstycats (Flickr, Creative Commons)]

But at the same time I’ve been chucking beer kegs, I’ve been developing a nagging set of doubts about Crossfit, and thinking back wistfully on last year’s fitness quest (running 500 miles and 9 trail races barefoot), the way one might pine after a long-gone girlfriend.   I miss that time alone on the trails, sometimes literally in the dark, feeling my way through the trees.

(Special note: when I say barefoot running, I mean actual barefoot running.  Running in minimal shoes may be a fine thing, but it is not the same.  Just take off your minimal shoes and you’ll see. ;)  )

Crossfit criticisms and apologetics

Stay with that beer keg because it will reappear  later.  But for now know that my mixed feelings didn’t fit neatly into the most common critiques of Crossfit.  …more



Crossfit and barefoot running, part 1: interview with TJ Murphy
November 15, 2012, 9:14 am by bottleman. Filed under: fitness, interviews, reviews.

(Excuse the long intro — those dying for the interview please skip to the bottom of the post!)

I haven’t been doing much running lately, because in January I joined a gym.  I thought I’d focus on Jiu-Jitsu, but I’ve ended up going mostly to Crossfit classes.

It’s a big change because Crossfit is so goal-oriented.  Little could be less goal-oriented than the  barefoot trail running I did last year.  While yes, I did have goals for mileage and races completed, performance in minutes/mile was not really part of it.  Barefoot running isn’t about acing races, it’s about the experience of  running — feeling every grain of earth, hearing every bird, letting your body adapt itself to the environment.

This video captures the spirit of it. (And just in case you were wondering, it’s exactly what I would look like if I lost a few pounds, gained a few inches height, and went in for a full-body waxing. :) )

Meanwhile Crossfit is all about overwhelming numerical barriers.  These girls are racing each other to finish this killer workout (check in on the struggles at about 7 minutes in):

There’s no question that the high-intensity workouts in Crossfit have been doing something for me — my pants are looser for sure.

It’s also one of the biggest trends in fitness.  …more



Fitness victory for the year: 500 plus barefoot running miles
December 30, 2011, 10:05 am by bottleman. Filed under: off-topic, trails.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest years ago, I’ve become a kind of slacker athlete.   I don’t want to become a complete couch potato (or these days it’s more like “laptop easy chair potato”), so I usually sign up for some sort of exercise or martial arts class and basically “show up.” That is, I just can’t or won’t get competitive.   But it does help to have a goal that is at least a little bit scary.

In 2011 that goal was running 500 trail miles barefoot (note this means actually barefoot, not with minimal shoes, which aren’t the same for me), and doing every race in the X-Dog trail series barefoot.  At 510 miles and 9 out of 12 races completed, I’m declaring victory.

running to finish line at McCubbins Gulch run 2011

[photos by Thaddeus Duhme]

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t concerned at all about the 500 miles part.  That’s only about 10 miles a week, and for me at least, barefoot running is easier on my body and more fun.  It was the surfaces and terrain of the X-Dog trail races, for instance this one on Mt. Hood that had me concerned.  Going through all that mud and rocks and snow wasn’t going to be a quick dash across the golf course.

The X-Dog running season started on a pretty easy note, with a muddy run around Hagg Lake.  But the second event, the Havoc at the Hideout [where I was joined by some other, better :) barefoot runners], was punishing.  Miles of hilly dirt road turned into incredibly deep sucking mud, with buried (and therefore invisible) pieces of sharp gravel. When I got to the end I was sure my feet would be mincemeat…

…But I think I had just one small cut, on the top of my foot not the bottom… and I actually felt really good otherwise.  No limping around or sore muscles like other people have.  I was totally comfortable in the beer line.  This is the great benefit of barefoot running for me: though there is a bit of discomfort as you get used to the sensations, you learn how to treat your body better.

After the Havoc I was on my guard, and always carried an emergency set of minimal shoes in my pockets–but I found I never wanted to use them.  It turns out you can run barefoot down a boulder-strewn mountainside, and it’s totally fun.  But you can’t crash your way down it, like you might if you had shoes and the focus was on winning.  And the bigger lesson is that your body can do so much more than you think it can, if you just give it a chance.  Other than two or three cuts on the top of the foot from not picking my feet up enough on surfaces like this…

[photo by paraganek]

I had absolutely no running injuries this year.  Well, I did tweak my calf muscle in December, running on smooth pavement, which I guess was just too consistent a surface for my trail-running brain to adjust to, but I was back running like normal a few days later.  “No lost training days”– pretty good for a whole year of running.

Now I need a new goal for 2012.  Suggestions?  It doesn’t need to be running related.



A new web site about ADU’s: AccessoryDwellings.org
November 16, 2011, 4:39 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, ecological footprints, energy, making a difference, simple living, tiny houses.

This blog gets a lot of visitors curious about the tiny house I made by converting my garage.

photo by flickr user Lance McCord, thanks!

That place (just a wee bit bigger than the one in the picture above) has three main virtues:

1. it’s smallness makes it very green, given that size is the primary determinant of a dwelling’s environmental footprint;
2. it’s nice, making it possible to live small without feeling like you are living in poverty; and
3. it’s very close to, but still quite separate from, the main house, meaning I can live a few feet from my mother-in-law and still think it’s a good thing. :)

In short, those are the virtues of the modern accessory dwelling unit, also known as a granny flat, backyard cottage, ADU, etc. Given that the nation will need to build millions of dwellings for aging 1- and 2-person households over the next 30 years, I think they are a really interesting option both socially and environmentally.

Now I’m one of the editors of a new site that’s all about accessory dwelling units — what they look like, how to build them, what regulations are, etc. It’s called AccessoryDwellings.org.

AccessoryDwellings.org banner, based on a graphic by PasteInPlace

Please come check it and consider becoming a contributor. Thanks!!



The yogurt crime scene, or, why spending $70 for a lunch box no longer seems insane [Review of the PlanetBox]
November 8, 2011, 12:46 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, kids, reviews.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I hate it when consumer products are designed to fail.

For me there is a certain quiet pleasure in having well-made things in my everyday life.  You know, things that work well for their purpose, feel right in my hands, and are worthy and capable of being repaired, rather than just cast into the landfill.  And so when I encounter things that don’t have those qualities–are badly made, badly designed for their purpose, and incapable of being repaired, I start to sputter with anger.  Is it right that I feel personally insulted by poorly done products?

Probably not; my condition probably has a code in the DSM V.  In any case it flared up this year when confronted with the subject of lunchboxes.  Before my kid went to school I had no idea how revolting lunchboxes could be.  I had visions of him traipsing along with one of those classy stackable things like in Eat Drink Man Woman (go to 1:55 in the video below).

Of course that wasn’t going to happen.  Little kids want pictures, colors, logos, characters.   So last year (kindergarten) we tried two kinds of lunch boxes that ended up raising my hackles. …more



Building ADUs by the book: a review of In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats by Michael Litchfield
August 29, 2011, 3:57 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, reviews, tiny houses.

When people see the granny cottage I built, a lot of them ask, “I’ve been thinking of doing something like that on my property – how do I get started?”

There haven’t been many good sources I can refer to, and though I try to be friendly I haven’t been that encouraging. Developing that cottage was actually quite a struggle, even in the supposed progressive city of Portland.  When you create a second dwelling in or around your house, like this one photographed by radworld

photo by flickr user radworld, licensed under Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kworth30/2276499256/in/photostream/

… you are essentially becoming a mini real estate developer, where you take on a lot of risks and responsibilities before you get—you hope—to the rewards.

A solid one-stop source of good information was sorely needed about how to develop a second dwelling on your property, whether you call it an in-law unit, a basement apartment, a backyard cottage, a garden suite, a secondary unit, or (to use the term favored by planners) an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU.

Of course architects and contractors will offer …more



Installing and using Arke Karina alternating tread stairs: a review
June 27, 2011, 12:00 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, tiny houses.

As a fan of alternating tread stairs, and the owner of a rare city-permitted custom made set of them in the granny cottage I built, I’ve always been curious about one staircase option I did not use: the Arke Karina stair kit.

My own alternating tread device, like most I see around on the internet, was custom made out of wood by a carpenter, and is straight.  However the Arke kit uses a modular metal unit as its spine, giving it a lighter appearance, and giving it the ability to curve.  The Arke kit isn’t cheap ($1600 minimum, plus >$200 extra if you want a second handrail), though custom carpentry isn’t either.   Neither a custom made wood alternating tread stair, nor the Arke kit, meets most residential codes in the US so it’s a wash in that respect.  What’s the better choice for someone building or modding a small house?

I finally got a chance to see an Arke Karina kit in action, …more



Don’t think, feel (review of The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard)
June 8, 2010, 1:48 pm by bottleman. Filed under: reviews, simple living.

One of the biggest hills to climb for any human being is actually noticing what is happening around you.

photo by flickr user paperskye, used under creative commons, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/paperkim/4209542881/

It’s not an easy task.  People are deeply, instinctively attracted to theories and legends and plans.  They want to be part of a story that makes their existence meaningful. And no matter how deep or shallow that identity is–from being part of a 5000-year old religion to following the latest, greatest version of the grapefruit diet– the ideology tends to occlude as much as it explains.  It makes us ignore the experience of our senses.  And occasionally it makes us insufferable new converts, robotically parroting the party line, immune to any new input, whether we’re born again Christians or diehard Apple or Linux users.  (Is anyone a diehard Microsoft user?)

That’s why I was so pleased with a new book about the hot-button topic of the day: barefoot running.   Barefoot running has been lighting up flame wars on fitness blogs and the Runner’s World forums for the last year (where I admit I’ve been spending way too much time).   The main topic of contention is ostensibly which form of running (barefoot or “shod”) is more natural or suited to our existence today, and less likely …more



Certified backyard wildlife habitat
June 2, 2010, 5:20 pm by bottleman. Filed under: gardening, making a difference.

I got my yard inspected as backyard habitat as part of a program run by the Portland Audobon Society and Three Rivers Land Conservancy.  I already knew it was working because in recent years we’ve been visited by a whole cocktail party of birds, insects (including dragonflies) and the occasional bat.  But it was nice to receive the “Gold” certification anyway, because  I  got an all-important SIGN to put on my fence.

Fireweed (native), penstemon (native), and day lilies (not) under an Oregon white oak.

Black locust “Frisia” (“naturalized” in Oregon but not native)

Clockwise from bottom left: cultured variety of ninebark (a native), strawberry bush (similar to madrone, a native), hops on gate arbor, day lilies and Oregon white oak (native), low tech “rain garden” (read: glorified bucket surrounded by rocks and native rushes) and streamside lupin (native)

my certified backyard habitat sign

The sign

This sign was the answer to a bourgeois little quandary I’ve had: how to explain to the neighbors what I am doing (or not doing) with our “garden”?  Without lecturing anyone, that is.  …more