Last month I realized that I had spent nearly three months without doing any real exercise… at all. It happened slowly, crept up on me. First, my three mile walks to work stopped, then my 45 minute long lunch walk was traded for a meal at my desk. My weekend outdoor sojourns with my beloved RadioLab (the best!) ceased to happen. The gym? What gym. Weights? No. I had turned into a sedentary blob.

As I stopped moving, I started getting more and more tired, which of course made it so that I had no more energy to move… or read.. or write. It’s a vicious cycle. I thrive on being fit and healthy, so finally, I decided to do something about it. And that something… was CrossFit. You may have heard of it, it’s basically giving your body a beating, in order to get stronger, fitter, and awesome-er. It’s non-repetitive, challenging, and most of all a lot of fun – which is exactly what I need to stay motivated. Watching Annie Thorisdottir bring it at the CrossFit games on ESPN was pretty much the most exciting thing ever – so I’ve been trying to channel her every time I step into the gym to get my ass handed to me.

This is her doing handstand pushups. Ridiculous.

I’m… not quite there yet.

(Photo via a random tumblr on the internets – I couldn’t for the life of me find the original source. Edit: actually by Fitbomb – see below! )

The one thing that becomes clear when you are doing this type of intense exercise is that in order to sustain energy you have to clean up your diet, and clean it up fast. Many CrossFitters have jumped on the Paleo bandwagon, and while I don’t subscribe to diets that cut out major food groups, I do tend to gravitate towards an eating style that champions proteins, vegetables, and slow-burning carbs.

Recently I’ve been getting a whole bunch of culinary inspiration from my blog-crush Michelle of Nom Nom Paleo, who to my absolute delight won a Saveur Best Food Blog award this year!

Now before you get all worried that I’m obsessed with a crazy-person-woo-woo-nutrition blog, you should know that Nom Nom Paleo is first and foremost a food blog with delightful food photography – it ain’t no preachin’ blog. Michelle and her husband Fitbomb, and two adorable kiddos Lil-O and Big-O live in the Bay Area. They have a gorgeous kitchen filled with some fun toys including the Sous Vide Supreme, and some beautifully seasoned cast iron pans. By night she’s a vampire drug-pusher (she works the graveyard shift at a hospital pharmacy), and yet she still manages to make meals for herself and her family daily.

The recipes on her site are just great. Things that I’ve made and savored: her damn fine chicken which, is in fact, damn fine, her rice-less Asian cauliflower fried rice, world’s best braised cabbage (a Molly Stevens recipe, but I love her too!), and her sister’s phenomenal grilled green chicken to name a few.

She also has a well-designed iPad app that I’ve taken in the kitchen and cooked from as well – last night we had her roasted pepper salad with dinner, and her magic mushroom powder seasoning is next up on my kitchen docket.

So, today, I have a recipe for you of sorts that I’ve adapted from her blog. It’s another one of those not-quite-a-real-recipe, core concept meals that I try to use every day to feed myself when I’m not feeling very creative in the kitchen.

Nom Nom Paleo’s Emergency Protein 
Adapted from the original recipe here

1 pound organic ground meat or protein (I most often use ground turkey)
2 tablespoons delicious fat (ghee, coconut oil, lard)
½-1 cup of an allium – onions, leeks, or shallots – diced
A few handfuls of vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, zucchini, etc.)
Several handfuls of leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, chard)
1-2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or Braggs, tamari, soy sauce, or dried spices)
Salt & Pepper

Here’s today’s version:

I first started by sautéing a shallot and a handful of garlic scapes in some organic ghee with a pinch of salt. Garlic scapes are some of my favorite summer vegetables that I usually make into this pesto. They are great in stir-fries because they impart a sort of sweet-garlicky flavor, and excellent crunch. If you can’t find garlic scapes, by all means use some more shallots, or an onion, or some leeks. You could also use scallions, but I find them to be a little too zippy.

I used ghee here, because it’s sweet and buttery and delicious. You could also use coconut oil, or lard, or good olive oil.

After the shallots and scapes softened, I added the longer cooking veg – in this case two chopped portobello mushroom caps  – and stirred everything around until they cooked down a bit. The mushrooms are a great addition because they add some heft and volume, and are supremely nutritious.

You can add any sort of vegetable you want to this dish. Sometimes, I’ll add carrots, or chopped tomatoes, or asparagus. I typically try to use what is in season and looks the freshest at the market.

After a few minutes of stirring, I added my ground turkey. I like using ground dark meat because it tastes better and has some more fat. Sometimes though I’ll use lamb, chicken thighs, ground beef, or bison. To season, I added a good pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and a tablespoon of coconut aminos.

Coco-whats-ohs?? Think of these as magic seasoning liquid. Coconut aminos lend some funkiness and depth of flavor, or umami similar to fish sauce or Worcestershire (which you could use here as a substitute) but are soy-free, gluten-free, and vegan. You can pick up a bottle of the stuff at Whole Foods for about 5 bucks, and it’ll last you a while.

When the turkey was cooked through, I tasted for seasoning and opted to add a pinch of my grandmother’s Turkish spice mix she makes in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. It’s a combination of a million things, but the main notes are cumin, hot pepper, and oregano. Another favorite addition is taco seasoning – I have my own mix, although in a pinch the Trader Joe’s taco seasoning works well here.

Finally, after giving it a few more minutes to let the flavors meld, I turned off the heat and added several big handfuls of baby spinach. Sometimes when I make this I use kale, or swiss chard, but baby spinach is my favorite.

Let the spinach wilt down, and voila!

The great thing about this dish is that it’s easy to make, keeps for a couple of days, and is really flexible. Leftovers work great for breakfast (topped with an egg), or for lunch in your lunchbox.

I could eat a variation of this every day without getting bored.

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