'Neanderthal' eaters Bill Staley and Hayley Mason go from blog to cookbook: 'Make It Paleo'


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For cave people, Hayley Mason and Bill Staley are pretty plugged in.

The young Pittsburgh-area couple, who just moved to Fox Chapel, have a food blog that gets about 1.5 million page views annually. They have 8,100 Facebook fans, 2,000-plus Twitter followers, and do YouTube videos and podcasts.

As of today, they also have a cookbook, published by Victory Belt ($34.95), titled "Make it Paleo."

It's all about eating like our paleolithic, hunter-gatherer forebears did: Lots of meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, but nots of grains or starches, legumes, dairy, alcohol or processed foods.

'Make It Paleo' book release party and signing with authors Haley Mason and Bill Staley

How much: Free and open to the public.

When: 6 to 10 p.m. tonight, Oct. 20

Where: E², 5904 Bryant St., Highland Park

Those "are not as easy for our bodies to digest," the couple write, noting that paleo diet foods "generally provide our bodies with more efficient, long-lasting energy that also aids in burning fat."

While it may sound like Atkins or some other diet plan (some would say fad diet), the paleo or primal diet is a phenomenon of its own, one with many proponents, including Robb Wolf, who wrote "The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet" that was a New York Times bestseller in the fall of 2010. Now the "paleo lifestyle" even has its own magazine, Paleo Magazine, which is subtitled, "Modern Day Primal Living" (paleomagonline.com). "Tribes" of followers get together for Grokfeasts.

Meanwhile, many dieticians and others band together in panning it for reasons including it being high in fat and cholesterol. When U.S. News & World Report had an expert panel rate 20 popular diets earlier this year, the paleo came in last: "Regardless of what a dieter's goal is--weight loss, heart health, or finding a diet that's easy to follow -- most experts concluded he or she is better off looking elsewhere. In one expert's words: 'A true Paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants. The modern approximations ... are far from it.' " Proponents, of course, took issue, arguing that they stress eating grass-fed animals. And there's not a lot of solid research. Standard advice is to consult your own doctor or dietician.

Ms. Mason, 26, and Mr. Staley, 28, are firm believers. They got into this after they started dating in the summer of 2010. Ms. Mason, a native of O'Hara, was working as a high-definition makeup artist on the set of a music video for local musician Anthony Rankin.

Mr. Staley, a Monroeville native and landscape architect by training, was playing drums. But he overheard her talking about being sore from her previous day's CrossFit workout, and they clicked with a shared interest in health and wellness.

Ms. Mason had recently shifted from being a vegetarian to the Primal Blueprint way of eating championed by Mark Sisson (marksdailyapple.com). She loved it for how it made her look and feel, and gradually turned Mr. Staley on to "evolutionary eating," and that led them to start the blog, primal-palate.com.

The high-quality content got some attention, including from Mr. Sisson, whose sharing of their recipes brought to their blog many more eyes. They also were in the sights of the publisher of "Paleo Solution," an employee of which had been making their recipes.

And so less than a year after they got started, Ms. Mason dove into doing most of th development of the recipes for the book while Mr. Staley photographed them. And then they ate them.

"It's kind of been gangbusters since then," Mr. Staley said this week as they prepared for a string of public appearances. Paleo food seems to be hot, embraced by everyone from those who need or want to be gluten-free to those who are into CrossFit, a type of strength and conditioning regimen that emphasizes short, intensive workouts of natural movements.

What is paleo food?

Well, it's mostly food as anyone knows it, less defined by any unusual ingredients it contains than by those that it doesn't. Their cookbook, being officially released tonight with a party and signing at E2 restaurant in Highland Park, is subtitled "Over 200 Grain-free Recipes for any Occasion." So while some recipes call for specialty ingredients such as coconut oil or flour (and a soy-sauce alternative called "coconut aminos"), most are made up of basic whole foods -- just not grains and dairy products.

As Mr. Sisson writes in the foreword, "You don't even have to be on a primal diet to get something out of it. It's just good, real food."

The recipes start with breakfast foods such as "Eggs Paleo," eggs Benedict served on a tomato slice instead of an English muffin, and with an avocado drizzle instead of Hollandaise sauce. Their Grain-free Granola is made with seeds, nuts and dried fruit. Their version of egg-in-a-hole uses a slice of eggplant instead of bread.

Entrees are heavy on the meat, poultry and seafood, often grilled, but also include a Zucchini Lasagna, for which thin slices of zucchini stand in for the traditional noodles, and a cheese-less Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza made with a crust of grated eggplant and flax-seed and almond meals.

Side dishes seem "normal," but don't expect butter or cheese in your mashed ... turnips and parsnips (though the couple do use a tablespoon or two of butter here or there). "Rice" is made from cauliflower, coarsely grated. "Spaghetti" comes from the squash.

They also do generally simple appetizers, salads, soups, sauces and dressings. And in the back of the book, they put their recipes together into menus including ones for holidays such as paleo Thanksgiving: Rosemary Roasted Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Carrot Souffle, Garlic and Herb Mashed Cauliflower and Pumpkin Chiffon Pie (Ms. Mason's father's recipe that she reinvented without wheat flour).

They wander off the paleo path a bit in their chapter on desserts, which they titled "Treats and Cheats." In the introduction, they note, "We believe that birthdays, holidays and special occasions should be duly celebrated with delicious treats" -- in moderation. What follows is an array of grain-free, naturally sweetened sweets such as coconut milk ice cream and cookies made with almond flour and maple syrup, including "N'oatmeal Raisin Cookies" and, their favorite, Infamous Bacon Cookies.

They say that beyond their desserts, they're pretty strict about sticking to the paleo diet, but she believes people can feel better by being mostly paleo, and eschewing grains and processed foods. "We won't touch gluten," she says, adding that their new kitchen contains no processed foods beyond canned tomatoes and coconut milk.

They very occasionally might have dark chocolate and red wine, and will have some of the latter at tonight's book party.

They also plan to appear Friday, Oct. 21, at a "Barbells for Boobs" breast cancer fundraiser at the CrossFit Focus in Robinson, and will be at Saturday's all-day "Fall Brawl" at the RAW Training in Hampton. Then they'll see where this all leads.

Creating the book "was an exhausting process, but it was so much fun," she says. "We're really looking forward to getting going on the next one."

For more on the cookbook, go to makeitpaleo.com. It's available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and may be in some area retail stores, too.



MINT 'LAMBURGERS'

PG tested

Hayley Mason and Bill Staley say these easy, grilled bunless burgers are one of their very favorite entree recipes (the other is roast Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic). "Plating these burgers over a deconstructed Greek salad will complete the full effect of this meal."

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons mint, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Greek Salad with Greek Salad Dressing (recipes follow)

Heat grill to medium heat.

Mix ground lamb with minced garlic, shallot, mint, salt and pepper.

Form into 4 equal-sized patties.

Grill lamburgers for approximately 4 minutes per side, turning once. Adjust cook time for desired internal temperature accordingly.

Garnish lamburgers with mint leaf.



GREEK SALAD

PG tested

  • 5 cups spring mix greens
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, halved
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup sliced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/2 cup black or kalamata olives

Toss greens with tomatoes, pepper, onion and cucumber

Top salad with capers and olives.



GREEK SALAD DRESSING

PG tested

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in olive oil, minced garlic and oregano.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss with salad.

-- "Make it Paleo" by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason (Victory Belt, Oct. 2011, $34.95)



MASHED TURNIPS AND PARSNIPS

PG tested

"Pureed roasted root vegetables are a delicious alternative to traditional mashed potatoes," Hayley Mason and Bill Staley write. "The warm and slightly sweet flavor from roasting these vegetables makes this side dish perfect for a juicy, slow-roasted cut of meat." They suggest stirring the vegetables every 15 minutes while roasting to ensure they don't burn.

  • 2 cups turnips, chopped
  • 3 cups parsnips, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to roast at 400 degrees.

Rinse and chop turnips, parsnips and onion.

Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Spread out evenly on a roasting pan.

Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.

Puree vegetables in high-speed blender or food processor until smooth.

--Make it Paleo" by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason (Victory Belt, $34.95)


Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.


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