Grown-up cookies: or why paleo tastes good but makes no ecological sense
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!).
[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
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.