Cooking From Well Fed 2 (And An Exclusive Recipe From The Book!)

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Cooking from Well Fed 2 http://nomnompaleo.com

The first time I met Melissa Joulwan, she hugged me.

It was the summer of 2011. We had planned to meet for dinner at Animal in Los Angeles with the Hartwigs of Whole9, and my nerves were jangling like deranged wind chimes. I’d never before met any Internet celebs in real life (or, frankly, anybody from the community of Paleo bloggers at all). I was going to meet a group of real-food superheroes that I’d admired and followed ever since going Paleo; their advice had changed my life. As Henry and I approached the restaurant, I felt like the new kid at school. I was desperate for my inner goober to stay hidden.

But that first hug from Mel—and her warm smile—instantly put me at ease. She teased and I giggled, and in no time at all, we were all sharing plates of food and raucous laughter. It’s hard not to become good friends with people with whom you’ve shared a platter of fried brains.

Cooking from Well Fed 2 http://nomnompaleo.com

Since then, we’ve shut down restaurants in multiple time zones. Whenever Henry and I meet up with Mel and her husband Dave, we lose track of time, excitedly chattering about any and everything until we’re kicked out of whatever establishment we’re in. 

It’s not just Mel’s keen palate, sassy writing, and glossy hair that I love; she and Dave are among the most creative, funny, and generous trailblazers we know. They strive to always do the right thing, aligning their goals with their values, and balancing work with play (and travel!). No wonder Mel and Dave are our role models; they follow their passions and make cool stuff—all while staying absolutely true to themselves.

As you all know, Mel’s dazzling personality and love for amazing flavors shines brilliantly in her first cookbook, Well Fed—the most dog-eared, sauce-splattered, well-loved resource in my kitchen.

Cooking from Well Fed 2 http://nomnompaleo.com

It’s a flat-out amazing book—I can’t tell you how many people have confessed to me their deep love of it—but Mel’s now done the impossible: she somehow managed to improve on Well Fed. No matter if you’re cooking to impress a crowd or just yourself, Well Fed 2 offers everything a real food lover could hope for in a cookbook: international flavors, inventive tips, vivid stories, and stunning photography that dances off the page. The first time I flipped through the book, I already knew everything would be crazy-delicious, because my picky palate is rivaled only by Mel’s high flavor standards.

I joked recently in a recent interview with Liz Wolfe on the Balanced Bites podcast that I don’t read books any more—I just read magazines because I don’t have the time (or attention span) to get through anything longer than an US Weekly article (preferably about Baby Nori—and not just because her name makes me hungry for sushi). Besides, books are for smart people. But I do make an exception for cookbooks. And besides my own book, there’s no cookbook I’ve anticipated more than Well Fed 2

Cooking from Well Fed 2 http://nomnompaleo.com

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Do It Better! (Our Paleo Seminar)

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I spent a fitful Saturday night tossing and turning — and it wasn’t because of the thin air at 8,000 feet above sea level. Our full-day "Do It Better!" Paleo seminar at the YMCA of the Rockies was slated to start in a few hours, and my eagerness to speak to a roomful of Paleo-curious and converts had suddenly turned to white-knuckle fear.

As I lay in bed, it occurred to me that — as a graveyard shift pharmacist — I barely speak to anyone. My oratory skills are coated with a thick layer of rust; no one’s going to mistake me for a Toastmaster. (In fact, the last time I gave a toast was at my sister’s wedding. My booze-enhanced speech ended with this gem: “SO LEZZALL RAISE OUR GLASSES TO FIONA ‘N CHRIS, ‘CAUSE THERE’S NOTHIN’ LIKE MORE ALCOHOL! WOOO!”)

But the show must go on, right?

I was a little shocked that our seminar sold out. The YMCA ended up capping registration at 115 people, and had to turn some folks away. I sensed that expectations were high, which frazzled my nerves even more.

It’s not that I wasn’t ready. I’d gone over my slides a bazillion times. And knowing that the final portion of my 90-minute talk consisted of a short cooking demo (and tasting) of three of my signature dishes, I’d busied myself with food prep, too.

The night before the seminar, I started slow-cooking two pork shoulder roasts to make Slow Cooker Kalua Pig. The pork needed 16 hours to cook, so before breakfast with the gang, Henry and I brought the slow cookers to the seminar venue to finish cooking.

As a result, the conference center was suffused with the rich fragrance of slow-cooked swine all day. Thankfully, no one seemed to mind being perfumed with pork. 

I spent a few minutes chatting with Mel and Holly before the start of the event. Don’t my co-presenters look mah-velous? And despite the butterflies in our digestive systems, none of us looked particularly nervous to the untrained eye. The Dry Idea anti-perspirant commercials got it right: Never let ‘em see you sweat.

As the attendees trickled in, Dave and Henry tested and re-tested the AV equipment (it’s good to have compulsively perfectionist husbands) while we eyed the prizes that would be given away to audience members throughout the day. Per Cami’s suggestion, the seminar would be punctuated with Get Up, Stand Up breaks (expertly led by Mel) and giveaways every 30 minutes.

Among the prizes were Mel's fantabulous cookbook, Well Fed, and matching Well Fed socks(!), a $100 U.S. Wellness Meats gift certificate, jars of coconut butter, a pair of Nom Nom Paleo socks and a copy of my iPad app, and a couple of bottles of Red Boat Fish Sauce that had been generously donated by Cuong Pham, Red Boat’s owner.

Honestly, part of me wanted to just throw everything into a big duffle bag and hightail it outta there.

Mel was going to be the first up, and started readying herself for the podium. Have I mentioned lately how head-over-heels we are for Mel and Dave? Seriously: We can’t get enough of them, and spent most of our time in Estes Park furiously conspiring with them and Holly (who’s just as awesome) over food. Mel and Dave are one of our favoritest couples ever, and it gave me the warm and fuzzies to see them support each other all weekend.

By the way, here’s a secret that we all share: Whatever our successes, they’re due in large part to having our own respective live-in personal paparazzo.

The room gradually filled up with folks who made the looooong drive into Estes Park (some even came from out-of-state!), and upon arrival, they generously personalized T-shirts for us with incredibly kind words of encouragement and thanks. Many of the attendees wrote about how excited they were to come hear us speak.

No pressure or anything, right…?

Thankfully, I spotted one (insanely cute) attendee who I could count on to reserve judgment even if I melted into a pool of flop sweat.

Cami led off by introducing Mel as the first speaker of the day…

…and naturally, Mel hit it out of the park.

She offered a concise but comprehensive introduction to the Paleo framework, punctuated with personal stories and hilarious asides. With her warm, witty, and engaging stage presence, Mel managed to cram an entire book’s worth of Paleo education into a two-hour presentation that flew by. She patiently answered every question — including a request for her to don her cute fur hat. 

The whole room was rapt with attention as Mel set forth the foundations of a Paleo lifestyle, and relayed practical advice on how to take steps to make healthy changes in their lives.

As always, she was disarmingly funny, and as she interrupted herself to give out prizes and lead the audience in squats and shrugs and stretches, I could see the wide smiles on everyone’s faces.

At noon, all 100+ of us hiked over to the Walnut Dining Room for lunch. The YMCA’s staff had whipped up a Paleo buffet with recipes from Mel’s cookbook, Well Fed. I bow down to the chef and his team — they replicated her dishes perfectly, and on a massive scale, no less. 

What was on the menu, you ask?

Chocolate Chili and cauliflower mashed potatoes…

…Shepherd’s Pie…

Rogan Josh

The Best Chicken You’ll Ever Eat

…veggies, Moroccan Dipping Sauce, and fresh fruit for dessert.

I couldn’t stop shoveling the food in my mouth.

After filling our bellies and reconvening for the afternoon portion of the seminar, we remained perky and alert. No sugar spikes and crashes for us!

Holly was up next, and she blew us all away. Tears were flowing freely — not only from hearing about Holly’s deeply personal story about her struggles with weight loss, but also from laughing at her rapid-fire one-liners.

I love Holly. She’s comedy GOLD, and also one of the warmest, kindest people I’ve met in a long while. After just a few minutes with her, I felt like I’d known her for years, and I could see that the audience felt that way, too.

She spoke about her experiences with diets throughout her life, and her introduction to Paleo. Holly’s an inspiration: She lost 100 pounds by changing her approach to nutrition, and recently completed her first Whole30, too.

Of course, it’s not just that Holly has a compelling story (or ten) to tell; her presentation’s also packed with valuable practical advice — ranging from how to approach Paleo as a beginner to how to pick a fitness regimen that works for you. And she delivers everything with breezy charm like nobody’s business.

I absolutely loved Mel’s and Holly’s presentations — but they’re a one-two punch that’s impossible to follow. I just hoped I wouldn’t trigger a stampede for the exits when it was my turn to take the podium.

Once Holly’s talk was over, she bonded with a newfound pal…

…while I set up for my presentation. Juli Bauer was in the front row, so I conscripted her into co-chef duty and told her to be ready to hop up on stage when she got the high sign.

In case you’re wondering: Yes, PaleOMG Megafans, I can confirm that Juli is super-cute and spunky, and is exactly like the persona you read about on her awesome blog. She’s the real deal, folks.

And then it was time for me to take the mike. For an hour-and-a-half, I discussed my personal journey to Paleo…

…the shortcuts I take in the kitchen…

…how we’ve gotten the family on board…

…and how to use umami-packed ingredients to maximize flavor while minimizing time in the kitchen.

Naturally, I got a standing ovation. 

(Except not really. The audience was actually standing for another Get Up, Stand Up! interlude. Remember to get up and move around, people!)

At the tail end of my presentation, I dragged Juli up on stage to help me demonstrate how to make Magic Mushroom Powder, Spicy Pineapple Salsa, and Slow Cooker Kalua Pig.

Juli’s such a good sport — she even shook her booty as she mixed up the Magic Mushroom Powder. Aren’t you sorry you weren’t there to witness it?

As the seminar ended, we divvied up the pork and invited the audience to come up and eat. And finally — FINALLY! — I could exhale with relief and share some laughs with the many wonderful people who had traveled up to the mountains to spend their Saturday with us. 

Sometimes, blogging can seem like a chore, but it’s all worth it because it’s given me the opportunity to meet all of you incredible people who came to our seminar. I am truly honored and grateful to have been invited to join Mel and Holly in Estes Park for this event. I hope that those of you who came to the event loved it as much as we did!

On a final note, I wanted to take a sec to thank all of our wonderful sponsors who donated goods or services to the event:

Holy moly, this was a special weekend, and ridiculously fun, too. (More on our extracurricular activities later.)

What do you think — should we take this show on the road?

Paleo Eats: 8/4/11

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I’m gonna be straight with you guys: this weekend my blogging will be intermittent and sparse since I’m gonna be fully immersed in the whole Ancestral Health Symposium experience. A girl’s gotta sleep, you know.

This morning, Fitbomb and I piled our luggage and coolers into our trusty Prius and we drove straight from Palo Alto to Los Angeles with no stops. We weren’t even tempted by the In-N-Out in Kettleman City because I’d packed a ton of Paleo snacks in our cooler.

When we arrived at our hotel, I emptied out the mini bar and restocked it with our remaining perishable foods.

Since sitting in a car for six hours was so damn exhausting, especially when you’re the passenger, I took a quick nap before meating (pun intended) Dallas, Melissa, Melicious, and Dave (Melicious’s hubby) for dinner at Animal Restaurant

Can’t wait for the Paleo Nerdfest to begin tomorrow morning!