30 November 2010

30 Days Strict and Discussing Paleo

I have been going strict paleo for 30 days now. Besides a few bites of pork juice soaked bread at Woodberry Kitchen, I have been eating great without any urges to cheat. And other than a few late night social outings, I have been getting great sleep. All in all, I feel amazing.

One issue I've had when I've talked to people about how eating paleo has helped me lean up has been the response: "well you run like a 1,000 miles each week." Looking past the fact I would have shot myself long before completing that type of distance in a week, people would always attribute my improved health to my ultra-marathon running and training. They would assume that my ability to once or twice a month go off and run 30-50+ miles of backwoods trail involved a heavy training schedule. Hardly.

30 miles into Highland Sky 40M Trail Race
Having been rocking the paleo lifestyle for a few years, I quickly found the aerobic and anaerobic benefits of sprinting. For minimal time investment each week I was maintaining and improving my performance during my ultra trail races. So if anything, it was not 1,000 miles per week but maybe 10 minutes of sprints that helped me stay in shape. Ultimately though I know it was the high quality fuel I was consuming: high fat, moderate protein, and low to no carbohydrates from local, organic vegetables and grass-fed/pastured meat.

Where I am going with this is simple. With my knee I am unable to run. And although I've leaned out considerably over the years, I am far from having single digit body fat or well-defined six pack. And given I will not be able to run for at least a year, and not play soccer for probably two, I can now show results purely from diet.

That brings up other issues, as to do I care that much about wanting a six-pack and do I need the approval of others as to how I've accomplished my weight loss? First, yes I would like to at some point in my life have a noticeable six-pack and may be a little vain (see item 6). Second, I do not care what others think, however I do like to argue and debate. And when someone overweight gives me fitness or nutrition advice I want to tell them to STFU and smack the low-fat yogurt out of their hand. That is after I explain how they are wrong.

29 November 2010

Sunday Bloody Sunday

I heart deer season!

I spent a good part of Sunday either meeting up with hunters or slicing and dicing what they gave me into more appropriately meal sized portions. Throwing, say a whole ribcage, in the backyard loses it novelty after the first few times and the neigbhors have stopped calling the police. I ended up with several hearts, livers and meaty leg bones. I sliced up some of the heart and liver for myself... I look forward to comparing it with the grass-fed beef heart and liver I have been eating lately. And for lunch today I cubed some leg meat and cooked that in lard. It was delicious!

Although I currently do not hunt, I know I will eventually. Other than time, luck, and a well placed arrow or bullet, here is free food for you and/or your dogs. I have been offering the hunters help to clean the deer they shoot, hoping to learn everything so that when I do start I can be self-sufficient and avoid wasting anything. Of course if you have dogs that eat raw it is really hard to waste anything. Personally, I can easily justify the taking of a life of a deer if I can do it in a manner that utilizes the whole beast.  

The above hanging deer was from the first hunter I met with. He hunts rather close to Caliope Organic Farm who have lost most of their lettuce to deer like this one. While we were talking we saw cars slow down and a herd of five deer come sprinting by. They ran by about 100 feet from us. I will admit it was a strange feeling seeing in my vision both the quite dead cleaned deer and the quite alive running deer.

I just finished rereading Meditiations on Hunting by Jose Ortega y Gasset. It is interesting that one of my favorite books is on hunting and I have never hunted. He does delve briefly into the morality issues with hunting, and ultimately posits that "Every good hunter is uneasy when faced with the death he is about to inflict." In a future post I intend to present some of the ideas in the book and how they relate to our hunter-gatherer roots and the domestication of dogs for hunting.

27 November 2010

Turkey Day 3 of 3: Eating the Birds

This is the final of three posts on this Thanksgiving and the special bird that made the meal.The previous posts can be found here:

10.9 lbs of awesomeness
Actually the weight of the bird was the only issue. My grandmother said she usually gets a 15lb bird at the grocery store, so if I could get something around that size she would be happy. My bird, which was one of the larger of the heritage birds, ran just shy of 11lbs. Grandma was not a happy camper. However, after seeing the size of bird and listening to my explaination that the weight of a 15lb bird from a grocery store includes the giblets and the injected brine. I said my bird was comparable to a 13lb grocery bird. A bit of a stretch, but it worked. Grandma was happy again, so I was happy.

From Tom to Nom Nom
Long story short, the dinner went great. The turkey cooked amazingly well. The white meat was juicy and the dark meat was far from greasy. We had 18 people and two little kids and the bird fed everyone with some to spare. I am extremely satisfied with how everything turned out and very glad we had the opportunity to eat a fresh, local, pastured turkey this year. I hope we can continue this trend.

I took the carcass home and have made a large amount of an excellent stock that smells of Thanksgiving. And having currently surived two Thanksgiving feasts, with two more on the horizon, my plan of sticking to my guns and eating paleo throughout the holiday is going well. I have not walked away from the table feeling bloated and have throughly enjoyed spending quality time with so many family and friends. Life is good.

Wake Up Call and Death Sprints

My mornings usually go like this:
Sunrise. Light creeps into my room.
I stretch and yawn.
All hell brakes loose.

When I get up, that means breakfast. Cyprus will jump up and either off the bed or on to me. If Shaman does not move fast enough, Cyprus is back on the bed to move him along. Sometimes I am not ready to get up, so I try to calm Cyprus down and get her back to laying down. This works fairly well, but if I am unable to reign her in before she convinces Shaman it is time to wake, I have to get up.

Having two or more dogs can present issues in and of itself. Individually both dogs are extremely obedient, but in situations like this they can feed off each other and get out of control quickly. I also see this frequently if they are told to STAY and someone or something of interest presents itself. If either dog was alone, there would be no issue and they would not break the STAY command. But together you can watch them start to eye each other. One may lean towards the target, which will cause the other to lean towards it as well. At that point, unless I break out my deep alpha voice, whether it is a twitch of a paw or an all out explosive burst, they are both off after said person or thing trying to be the first to it.

This reminds me of the summer before my senior year in high school. One of my brothers was going to be a freshman and we were both training hard in preparation of the upcoming soccer team tryouts. We would run a half mile loop in my parent's subdivision for up to 10 miles. Yes, extremely boring. Hell, some runs I was solving my computer programing homework in my head as I ran. Anyway, my brothers and I have always been extremely competitive, so when we ran, it would either be at separate times or in different directions as not to cause conflict. One day, at the request of our father, we ran together, side my side. We were supposed to run 8 miles that day and things started innocently enough. However, one of us must have pulled slightly ahead of the other, causing us both to start running faster. Not saying a word, next thing we know we are in an all out sprint, throwing elbows. We did not even make it a third of the way around the first loop before we were both physically spent and on the verge of vomitting. The more I think about this moment, there was no reasoning behind our unplanned sprint. It was pure instinct. We had to beat the other one.

Cyprus throwing an elbow
With time my brothers and I were able to run together, generally peacefully, and definitely without any death sprints breaking out and consuming us. And with dogs I am sure with group rather than indiviual training I could break them of their similar competitive drive to beat the other. It would kill me if they got injured or killed chasing after something simply because one thought the other was going to get to something first. But at the same time, it is this competitive streak that can help one excel and improve in many aspects of life. Of course I am confident that I can train them to ignore the other and stay put and not even remotely damage any innate desire or instinct. Still, when I see the dogs push harder and harder to get one up on the other, I see a glimpse of me and my brothers, our sprints to the death, and have a hard time not smiling.

26 November 2010

Wolf Behavior

While waiting to get a haircut I flipped through the various magazines available and stumbled across the November issue of Outside. In this magazine I came across an interesting article on the various wolf packs in Yellowstone National Park and their observed behavior and mannerisms.

The article comes at us through the eyes of Rick McIntyre who has spent over 3,500 consecutive days monitoring the various packs in Yellowstone. Apparently this means he has no social life, but his observations are quite useful in terms of understanding wolves and their pack behaviors. Below are a few interesting things in the article.

One pack, the Druid Peak pack, peaked at 37 members. This is the largest pack ever recorded. According to McIntyre the average pack size in Yellowstone is 8. So how the pack was able to sustain that many members without serious drama is interesting. It brings to mind Dunbar's number, which for humans puts the maximum number of stable relationships we have at around 150. Maybe wolves have the potential to maintain extremely large pack sizes, it just usually not sustainable in most environments. The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone also included an overpopulation of elk. As the elderly elk  slowly ran out, not having natural predators before, I am guessing the large pack size became unsustainable. 

The number one killer of Yellowstone wolves? Other wolves. Whereas most areas have de-listed the wolves from the Endangered Species List, one would think hunters are responsible for any decline. Wolf-on-wolf violence seems to be increasing as the elk and wolf populations reach more sustainable numbers. So is dog fighting natural? Was Michael Vick in the right? Hardly. Death is natural, but is violence? Is war? I think so. Overpopulation and limited resources, if it gets out of hand, will eventually come to a head. Wolf on wolf, man on man, country on country, whatever, history has shown this is the case. It will be interesting what will ultimately happen to mankind in the long run, but that is another issue in and of itself.

Pack cohesion highly depends on relationships. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it seems a loss of a member can lead to the downfall of the pack. McIntyre mentions that when the alpha female of a pack was killed by a rival pack, the alpha male simply gave up and left the pack. What does this tell us? I doubt wolves are monogamous in any sense, but it seems to be that this example is one where the alpha male's life as #1 was tied to being with that special female and losing her uprooted his world. The article also goes into a year when one pack did not have any offspring survive and how that seemed to upset the pack as a whole. In that case I am sure their yearly cycle included the care and training of new pups and this change of routine threw them into a funk. Sounds a lot like what happens with people when they lose a friend, loved one, or a child.

Wolves may follow a moral code. The article talks about a certain alpha male of the Druids, known as Wolf 21, who seemed to be a badass and a half. He frequently fought and won fights, highly outnumbered (like 6 to 1) and seemed to take it in stride. He was known to never kill a rival, always letting them go. As mentioned above, wolves will kill other wolves, and here is an example of one who seemed to rise above it. Another story involves Wolf 21 caring for a younger sibling who was unable to feed himself. When 21 would bring food back to his pack, he would sit with his sibling to make sure they ate. I have often heard of the sick and elderly being left behind or killed to protect the pack... survival of the fittest, but here is an example showing otherwise. 

How old do wolves live? Wolf 21 apparently lived to 9 years old, before he just curled up under a tree and died. This is old for a wolf. Regarding dogs, unless you own a Great Dane, 9 years old seems rather young. I have often read that hunter-gatherers would live to an average age of 35... and in 2008 the average life expectancy the US was 78.4. Modern life does have its perks. And the domesticated dog tends to have dedicated shelter, veterinarians, food, and overall their survival is 100% dependent on their owner. So as with humans, one would expect that these modern conveniences would extend the life of dogs versus the hard knock life of the wild. I imagine Wolf 21 would live quite awhile longer if he had Mr. and Mrs. Human and their influence. That is unless they feed him Old Roy or some other bullshit. The question I would have is would Wolf 21 have been such a physically awesome badass had he not had to fight for survival? Would he have been the same had he be raised in a modern environment like a domesticated dog?

My thoughts. I am sure for each wolf that lived long or had specific behaviors there was a wolf that did the exact opposite. With each individual, how evolution rolls, there will be slight changes from genetic makeup to behavior. The things that improved survival propagated and that which didn't died off. I am sure Wolf 21's 'moral code' of not killing his rivals was not the best move in terms of survival. These rivals could heal up and return with his buddies to try, try again. Did that make him a better wolf? I am not sure if the rivals that were spared changed their tune, if they in-turn started sparing rivals they defeated or they were unchanged. From the rest of the article, it seems both the elk and wolf populations are transitioning to more sustainable levels. And the reintroduction of the wolves has allowed the plants, trees, songbirds and other parts of the ecosystem to boom. It seems that, at least in Yellowstone, there is some sort of balance forming. I look forward to reading more on these packs and their impact.

If interested, the article can be found here.

23 November 2010

Sustainable Agriculture and Woodberry Kitchen

Yesterday I participated in a sustainable agriculture task force through the EFC of University of Maryland, College Park. We had an amazing discussion on how to improve the local food options in Maryland's 157 municipalities. Ultimately we will create several action items for municipalities to complete to achieve the Sustainable Maryland Certified recognition. I got to meet several intelligent and interesting people who work in all aspects of the food system. One lady in particular was Joan Norman of One Straw Farm which is the largest certified organic vegetable farm in Maryland. I spoke with Joan about my plans of visiting Woodberry Kitchen for dinner to which she said ever since they opened they have been buying from her.

After the meeting I drove to downtown Baltimore to walk around and kill time until Mike, an old friend of mine, got off work. We had discussed dinner options and once Woodberry came up I was sold. Being a farm-to-table restaurant, I knew that if we went anywhere else I would regret it. And having read the menu online my mouth was already watering thinking of all the awesome offerings.

Upon seating, I immediately apologized to my friend for any perceived gluttony. I ended up starting with the Veal Cheek and Farro soup, followed by the Butcher's Board. The board contained all sorts of charcuterie, including beef, veal, and pork. It was explained to me that they do all of the butchering in house. I do not know why I was surprised by this, but upon thinking about it longer, it gives the chef almost complete control over the meat. And you can definitely taste it! I shared several pieces of each with Mike who found himself highly impressed with it all, especially the corned beef tongue.

For the main course (as if I had not eaten enough already), I got the Truck Patch Farms Pork Chop with buttered cabbage and pork belly. As if things could not have gotten tastier. Once I had consumed every the meal I actually deviated from my 60+ day strict paleo challenge and soaked up the last of the juices with a bit of their homemade bread. Well worth it in my opinion.

I can not recommend this place enough. The staff, especially our waitress Amanda, were extremely friendly and the atmosphere was quite classy and relaxing. Many paleo friendly options. If you are ever in Baltimore, eat here.

22 November 2010

Turkey Day 2 of 3: Processing the Birds

Saturday I helped Greenbranch with the slaughter and processing of their 157 turkeys. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of these birds will be going home with me and will be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving this year. One of my goals has been to 'meet my meat' and I am honored to have been able to help out and extremely satisfied to have learned so much.

The farmers eyeing the flock
I arrived at 8am and helped get everything set up. The process basically involved catching a bird and placing in a cone, killing and letting them bleed out, steeping in a scalder, placing in a de-feathering device, evisceration, soaking in cold water, and then bagging. I managed to participate in each of these steps throughout the day. Here are my experiences and thoughts with each.

Catching The Bird
In the begining with so many birds it was easy to catch them, but as the day went on they had more room to run. Or maybe we selected the slower birds and in the end had all the speed demons that had escaped capture thus far. Usually a lunge for a foot was enough to snag one. I eventually stopped this part of the process as I realized I am not quite as quick with my knee as it is. Anyway, this is a great workout.

A Spanish Black Turkey

A Narragansett Turkey
The Kill
Once caught, the birds would be placed upside down in metal cones. Their heads would stick out of the bottom where they would be killed with a knife and bleed into a bucket. I have participated in this part of the process before with chickens, so other than everything being bigger, the kill process is the same. There are many ways to cut the throat and the one I have found to be the quickest was the stick method. In the morning when we had fewer people I did most of the killing... I was titled The Executioner. It was in the morning that we did all of the heritage birds and they definitely felt different than their white cousins. Around noon we took a break, which I desparately needed. I was able to kill many without incident, but one of the last heritage birds got to me. I cannot really explain it, not sure if it was a moral dilemma or what, but I had to stop. In the afternoon and into the night there were more people so I was able to move on to other sections. At the end of the night I went back to this part and did both the killing and the foot holding.

Heritage birds in the cones

As the bird dies you had to hold the feet

Bled out
The Rest
Once the bird has been bled out, it then goes into the scalder for about 40 seconds. The feathers can mostly be pulled out by hand at this point, but there is a device that does it far quicker. After all the feathers are gone it is then eviscerated. It was this step that I was most curious to learn but at the same time most afraid to try. A part of cleaning the birds is to keep them presentable, and the last thing I wanted to do was mangle several of the birds as I learned. After a few examples, I feel I picked it up quickly. It was this process and the killing that I spent most of the day doing. The basic process involved cutting off the head and feet, cutting off the neck and an oil gland near the tail, and pulling out the guts, keeping the liver and heart. I feel that with each bird I got better and better and overall it was this part that I felt the most satisfation and walked away much more confident. I feel like I could gut a deer now with no problems. Once clean, the birds went into an ice bath before bagging and being weighed.

Feather Removal
After 10 hours at the farm I drove home both physically and mentally wiped, not to mention covered in blood. The dogs thought I was the best thing ever... like one big blood popcicle. As I mentioned above, I was extremely honored I got to help and definitely feel I could check off that I met my meat. It was an amazing experience and I will gladly help out next year if they need me. And I have to mention that as a way of saying thanks, each one of the helpers was given a bird. And where I stayed the entire day I was told that my heritage bird would be free! That was so awesome of them. So, as I say often, and will continue to say: go meet your farmers. Volunteering and helping out has its perks. It is events like this where farmers could use an extra hand and if you are lucky, you will walk away feeling closer to your food, learned a lot, and get some goodies. And, if you are especially lucky like me, you will make some amazing friends in the process. In addition to the bird, I took many of the heads and feet for dog food. When I bagged them all up to put in my chest freezer I calculated that it provides me with a month of food for both dogs. Combined with the venison I received recently, I will not have to buy food for the dogs in a long time. Needless to say, I went to bed and slept like a baby.

Taking a break after killing
One of the helpers caught red handed
For dog food and/or voodoo

19 November 2010

Turkey Day 1 of 3: Meeting the Birds

About a month ago I called up my grandmother who usually picks out a turkey from the grocery store. I told her the local farm near me is raising turkeys and I would like for us to get one from them. Grandma gave the green light.

At Greenbranch Farm, no more than a half mile from my house, they started letting people sign up for either a heritage bird or a normal 'butterball' bird (my quotation). They pasture/grassfeed all their animals, so either way you are getting a quality bird. The heritage breeds are, if I am correct, Spanish Black and Bourbon Red.


Some of the heritage birds
$5 per pound. Quite pricey as compared to what you can get in the grocery stores this time of year. For feeding the dogs I usually go store to store and stock up on the biggest birds I can find when they are down to 29 to 39 cents per pound. They usually come frozen and injected with what I will call a capitalist 'brine' - Injected to make the crap meat taste better, using the cheapest ingredients possible to do so, and increasing the overall weight so that you pay more. I usually soak out as much of the industrial brine as possible before feeding to the dogs. Do not get me wrong, in an age of convenience, having a pre-brined bird is nice. And for so cheap too! But brines are easy to make... all you need is time and salt.

But yes, $5 per pound... working out to roughly $75 to $100 per bird. I can see that making most people balk. Hell, when I have bought countless for only $10-15, I cannot help but cringe just a little. However, knowing that these birds have been pastured raised, living with plenty of space and being moved frequently to new grounds, and they will not come with some horrible brine helps make the price sound a little more reasonable. Also, this is a once a year meal, so why not get the best I can get? Lastly, I contacted a few of my relatives who are a little more quality focused and they've offered to pitch in. Quite doable for most people and definitely worth it.

This will be a three part series. The second post shall be on tomorrow's event: processing the birds. I've helped this farm process chickens before... but everyone I spoke with who helped with the turkeys last year spoke of having nightmares the following nights. Fun fun.

Posing in front of their frankenturkey brethren

18 November 2010

Deer Season!

You know it is deer season at my home when the backyard is filled with bones and sometimes larger uneaten portions of deer.

Got head?
A few days before my first surgery I got a call from my uncle about a large buck that had been hit recently near his house. He told me it was quite large and had only been dead a few hours. He has supplied me with venison before and also hates to see anything go to waste, so he called me and suggested it would make great dog food. Now I have never fed my dogs roadkill, but this sounded too good to let go.

Shaman going to town

So this buck was not technically part of deer season, but I've already starting getting set up to receive more meat, bones and organs for myself and the dogs. In the past the dogs tend to eat 95% of the venison I get, but this year I hope to get enough that I can fully supply the dogs for some time while also providing quite a bit for myself. I've not cooked either the heart or liver of a deer, so I look forward to trying that this winter.

Cyprus examining her dinner.
In regards to how much, or what, to feed the dogs I really cannot say. I tend to know approximately how much to feed from experience and tend to view their dietary intake over a week rather than day to day. So I give them various amounts and make sure they never get too skinny or too fat. But what parts of the deer do I not feed them... I usually let them tell me. I've give them a week, sometimes two, to let me know if they will or will not eat something. In the case of throwing a whole head out on my deck, I still fed them regularly, but would let them eat to satiety by gnawing away on the head. Great exercise for them and amazing at cleaning their teeth!

I imagine this is a bit disgusting for some people. But as an advocate of nose to tail eating I will gladly argue the benefits of them eating something like this versus industrial meat or kibble (bleh).

17 November 2010

Strict Paleo and a F**k'd Up Knee

About a month ago, while playing with my club soccer team, I ran into a goalkeeper and wrecked my knee. With one of at least two surgeries down I realized that I would not be running or exercising in general anytime soon. To avoid weight gain from inactivity I decided to go strict Paleo for a few months.
Post Surgery
Whereas previously I would have a periodic beer or slice of pizza, I always knew I could run it off. Currently I am two and a half weeks into it and things are going quite smooth. I am getting plenty of sleep and am definitely in ketosis (ketostix verified!). Not being as mobile does make me a bit anxious and not having an immediate avenue to run the dogs is causing minor issues. However, I am looking forward to the challenge of staying strict, especially with the holidays on the way.

On New Years I will reflect and review on what the 60+ days has accomplished in a Robb Wolf look/feel/perform way. I may reincorporate a few things depending on the results, like whole milk (grass-fed) and coffee (organic).

In the coming days and weeks I will periodically update on the things I am doing (besides limping around) and what, if any, results I am noticing. Also I have some planned posts on topics ranging from deer being awesome dog food to making this Thanksgiving turkey dinner extra special.

16 November 2010


I've decided to start Paleohund for many reasons and have equally as many things I want to write about and stories to share.

Ultimately, if you've known me for a decent amount of time, you will know I've changed a lot over the years. I have definitely made it a point to live life to the fullest and have made many lifestyle changes to accomplish that goal.

I am many things. I am Paleo. I am my Ridgebacks. I thrive. I am happy. And if by any chance one of my stories can bring you even a fraction of the contentment and/or superior health I have and continue to gain, well that would just be awesome.

Here we go!