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!



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



Most unlikely Justice League ever?
August 3, 2009, 8:45 pm by bottleman. Filed under: invasive species, kids, off-topic.

The Goat Justice League advocates and educates on behalf of urban goats, who can be pets and milk producers (or wanderers).  In contrast, the goat above was actually more of a professional, part of a weeding crew cleaning out a construction site in Seattle, according to the photog.  Thanks Courtney!



An attic playroom
March 27, 2009, 9:36 am by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, kids.

I refit this end of the attic in my 1922 house as a play area for my son.  I wanted this attic to continue to feel like an attic, even though I was finishing it off.  So I did the walls and ceiling in tongue & groove beadboard, a material which was also used when the house was built.  It has new fireproofing and insulation underneath.  Other features inlcude: marmoleum sheet scraps for flooring, with soft padding underneath; an antique star-mullioned window to suggest a sunset; a Velux roof window for emergency egress; low-temperature LED light fixtures; a verdant-brand thermostat with an occupancy sensor, controlling a “hydronic” baseboard heater; and a tent-sized nap bay.

    More pics on flickr.



    A thermostat that knows when you’re away (review of Verdant V8-BB-7S with occupancy sensor)
    March 16, 2009, 10:22 am by bottleman. Filed under: diy, energy, kids, making a difference, reviews.

    Resources used by housing and transportation dwarf those associated by other parts of our “lifestyle.” (Click here for geeky background data.) If you want to be green in deed as well as attitude, you’ve got to take on the way you get around, and the energy used by your house.

    In the house, technology can obviate the impulse to nobly suffer to save energy (remember President Carter in his sweater?). Probably the first thing I installed in my family’s house when I moved in was a programmable thermostat.  It saves energy by lowering the thermostat when I’m not likely to be home or wanting heat, and raise it when I know I want it to come on. No more running across a freezing floor at 5:30 AM to turn the heat on.

    Now comes a thermostat that takes this idea one step further …more



    An even tinier house
    December 31, 2008, 4:00 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, kids.

    Updated, expanded room in this post.



    Making a DIY balance bike for $5
    October 13, 2008, 12:25 am by bottleman. Filed under: diy, kids, transportation.

    There’s been a little trend brewing in the world of kids’ bikes: skipping the training wheels and getting the kid to ride a “balance bike” or “runbike” instead.  It’s a pedal- and chain-free kids bike with a low seat so the feet can comfortably touch the ground.  Here are pictures of two: a fancy one for $315, and a functionally similar one I made recently for $5.

    diy balance bike and tester

    Here’s why I made the second balance bike, and how: …more