Thursday, December 15, 2011

What "superfoods" should you eat? (if any)

I went searching for a list of superfoods to incorporate into the diet and now I see why nobody does it. Whose list is right? One is too "everyday foods" that don't really SEEM all that super. Another is so far-fetched that the foods require special-ordering or seeking out a specialty store.

The reality is that every culture ate differently (and with a very limited number of foods in terms of variety) and were profoundly healthy because they were eating whole, unprocessed, sometimes raw foods (see the book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" by Dr. Weston Price if you want to be fascinated by this fact... there's even pictures!). So it stands to reason that a case could be made for ANY food being a "superfood" because in some culture before the industrial age--it probably was. Each food has it's own special qualities--it's own unique footprint left on your body when ingested.

Keeping all of this in mind, here is my own list of superfoods worth striving towards that are woefully absent in large quantities in the American diet, and make a monumental difference.

Water: Seriously. Not VitaminWater (have you seen the scandal about this? The Federal judge's review states "At oral arguments, defendants (Coca-Cola) suggested that no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitamin water was a healthy beverage."). Not tea. Not coffee. Not juice. It's NOT. THE. SAME. At minimum, alternate between water and your beverage of choice, but DRINK. WATER. Everyone knows "it's important" but it would stun you to learn the things (some small, some huge) that not having enough water will do to you. Got a headache when you wake up? Drink an entire, large glass of water and lay back down for 15 minutes. TRY it. Tired? Drink an entire, large glass of water and wait 15 minutes before grabbing the coffee. No issues? GREAT! DRINK IT ANYWAY! And get your kids to drink water. Switch them over to water from fruit juice. They're not getting anything but unstable blood sugar from it.

Current-season vegetables: If you can manage to go organic and local, great. But let's focus on the real deal: eating what is grown in your area at your time of year is what will feed your body in ways that we generally don't think of. Ayurvedic medicine focuses quite a bit on this concept. Some of the things you find in winter in the northern part of the country are things we are no longer eating--yet they're full of Vitamin C and other nutrients that we need at that time of year; in addition to the physiological benefits that come with eating within the cycles of nature.

Some kind of fats: Preferably the animal fats that you've been brainwashed to believe are harming us. The backlash of that is a country dying of health problems that they believe are CAUSED by fats and are actually being worsened by LACK of fats. Including cardiovascular disease (which has found to be worsened not by fats, but by sugars and refined starches). Fats make you feel full and carry you longer without having to eat--stabilizing your blood sugar. Some have cholesterol--which is critical to brain function and development in small children. Got a cholesterol "problem"? Let's talk (or do some of your own research instead of just taking the prescription the doctor hands you)--because cholesterol is generally not "the" problem, but a symptom of something else going wrong. Olives, nuts, butter (especially for people with ADD/ADHD), red meat, salmon... all of these things incorporated into a balanced eating plan are not only wonderful, but HEALTHY. And for children and pregnant women, this is all the more critical.

Some amount of raw food: Approximately 30% of our body's energy is devoted to digestion because we eat cooked foods. Raw foods still have living enzymes in them. Those enzymes break our food down for us. In fact, that's kind of why we cook food: TO destroy the enzymes that break down the food ("spoil" the food). But if you have fresh food available, eat it raw. In addition to improved energy, your body is not depleting it's own reserves of enzymes. Add to it that your body launches an immune response to cooked foods--putting your immune system (which is responsible for keeping us healthy, but also the system that controls allergies) into overdrive.

Some amount of fermented food: Fermented food also contains wonderfully healthful bacteria (probiotics) for our system. Yogurt is what we are all familiar with, but what about kefir (a fermented milk drink), kombucha (a fermented tea drink), sauerkraut, kimchi (a fermented cabbage that's a bit more spicy than sauerkraut), red cabbage (a red version of sauerkraut with more sweet tang to it), pickles, tamari (a wheat-free soy sauce), vinegar, sourdough bread, tempeh (a fermented bean cake--usually soy--that can be used in place of meat in some dishes), miso (a fermented bean and grain mixture in many varieties but also often sold made with soy and rice and used for soups, salad dressings, etc.), giardiniera (an Italian recipe of multiple fermented vegetables often used with antipasta dishes). TRY something! In our house, each person has a different favorite. Yogurt, kefir, home-made kombucha, red cabbage, vinegar, miso (we use Shiro miso in soup) and pickles... we love them!

This list is "content". It speaks nothing to how your overall eating plan looks, just what it contains that you may not be getting enough of--things that make a difference. Sometimes things we know are important and don't get nearly enough of; or things we've been beaten over the head to avoid--much to the detriment of the health of our country.

And sure, there are plenty of other foods out there with claims to great qualities. Unless you have a specific problem and are going to eat those foods en masse, I don't see the point. Incorporating them into a well-balanced diet when you can find and afford them is great. But you have plenty available to you that will serve you well without struggling.

That's my list. Are there plenty of other "superfoods" out there? They're all super foods. Eat them!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meal planning

I think we've covered this before... the benefits of meal planning. Let's nutshell it:

If you've thought it out for the week and then taken the time to ensure you have what you need, then you know you're prepared to cook complete meals and will be full of home-cooked goodness instead of going out to eat (and/or looking for an unhealthy dessert if you only cook half of a meal).

Add to it that when you write it all down and look at the big picture of your eating, you either look at it and know it's healthy or you realize "Hmmm... something's gotta change!" and you change it for the better.

Less expensive
It's just cheaper to eat at home even if you're eating better quality food.

Less stressful
Even if you consciously decide to eat out somewhere in your meal plan (I do it), that is WAY less stressful than trying to hurriedly decide what to eat, realize you have nothing to prepare at-hand, and then struggle to decide where you can eat out.

Conscious eating
You can't be healthy on auto-pilot. Take the small steps towards a healthier you by doing this simple task. If you didn't do it over the weekend, do it now--for the rest of the week. Even one full day planned out and prepared for is a lot better than none!

Monday, December 12, 2011

State of the Union

To date, we are:

Dairy- and soy-free completely.

We have come to realize that smallboyishness has no issue with fresh, whole corn. We're starting to think his issue with corn syrup has nothing to do with CORN, but with metals that leached into the corn syrup--specifically mercury. It would also explain his issues and reactions to his shots (which have high levels of metal in them). So we are currently corn SYRUP-free and occasionally indulge in corn in it's whole state. Corn is a grain, though, and we are toying with the idea of going completely grain-free.

We cheat on gluten. Not often, but given the length of time it takes to get out of your system, I wonder if we're ever completely gluten-free. That being said, I am planning on our being COMPLETELY gluten-free soon for a full year. I'm thinking January 1st. It won't really be difficult since there's so little in our diet.

We ARE salicylate-free. At least smallboyishness and I are. We have the most significant reactions--mostly with the excretory system. Blech. No tomatoes, oranges, apples, berries, grapes/raisins (yup... I drink rhubarb, pomegranate, or hibiscus honey-meade wine... remarkably good), peaches... the list goes on. But we manage.

And we are artificial coloring and preservative free including nitrates and nitrites. We are also clear of artificial and "natural" flavorings that are unspecified (just lumped under "natural flavorings").

I am done with my nearly 9 year hiatus from being the chief cook in the house and have taken it over with a vengeance. Weird. As quickly as the aversion came, it left. *sigh* It's nice because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen doing stuff the kids can do with me. Score.

We do finally own a juicer (a Green Star GS-2000) and we use it for fresh juices. Especially in the fall with Mabon moon cider (a mulled cider with grape and apple juice that reeked havoc on smallboyishness and myself since both are on the "no" list :/ ). It can make a "sorbet" of sorts if you put it on the nut butter setting and put frozen fruit through it. :)

We also recently bought a dehydrator and I'm regretting the kind we bought. It was an inexpensive one from a local box store, but it doesn't have nearly the versatility of the Excaliber that I should've bought--which can allow me not only to lay things out on a larger, rectangular sheet but would also allow me to remove trays and use the unit for yogurt. I think I'm going to return this one (it's stackable rings). I'm hoping to use it to experiment with some raw food recipes like pancakes. :)

My pressure canner has finally been mastered!! YAY!!! I'm a boiling-water bath kind of gal, but my needs have changed. I needed broth to keep and my freezer was getting full. Half of my standing freezer has 1/2 of a grassfed cow butchered up and I'm looking for pastured chickens to fill the rest. If I can find another way to store my broth, great. Now I need to set up my basement pantry to store it all because the laundry room isn't cutting it.

Life in our house has become very "food without a label". It's kind of neat. Healthfully, it's awesome. We're busy people but eating this way has slowed us down in wonderful ways that have reconnected us as a family. We COULD eat foods that are "safe" that come in a package for the sake of convenience (and make no mistake--we've done it). But it's not cost-efficient. And it not only eats up our money, but it eats up our connectedness as a family. So I'm not really sorry that it's become like this. I enjoy spending time planning and preparing our food... often side by side with my kids. The house smells different. We feel different--in so many ways.

In effect, smallboyishness' food allergies are pretty much the best thing that ever happened to this family--on many levels. He's my best little guy in the land--my best little man. And I am grateful in so many ways I couldn't have ever imagined back in the days when I was overwhelmed with removing dairy from my diet 7-1/2 years ago.

That's not to say that we are food Nazi's. Yes, we still go out to eat on occasion and when we are guests in someone's home--we are far more grateful for their generosity and happy to spend time with them than concerned about where their food comes from. As long as it's not one of our major allergens--we're good. People sometimes think that we would lay judgment on their eating decisions. I guess I would feel the same way in their shoes. I'm not really sure why we don't feel that way, but none of us do. I mean, I'm GLAD we're not like that! I just can't explain why. It's not a conscious effort or something we have to mentally rationalize so I don't quite know how or why we're like this. But we're not.

Food is a big picture thing. Our big picture is predominantly in our own control where food is concerned. So we don't sweat the small stuff. ;)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to work "slow food" into your eating

What is "slow food"? Well, you can take it by it's literal definition of "stuff that takes longer to cook". Or you can take it by it's more popular definition as "Everything fast food is not" and promotes local, sustainable foods and the planting of whatever you can contribute to your own diet. Really, it comes down to similar stuff: eating what is locally in season, as fresh and organic as you can get it.

In the winter, that means a lot of stuff that people are no longer accustomed to eating... sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, turnips, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower... The stuff we pass over looking for white potatoes, zucchini, carrots and string beans (which are not in season anywhere unless you live in the southern part of the U.S.).

Why aren't we eating these things? Do you have any clue that Butternut squash is high in Vitamin C? And that all of the winter veggies are high in Vitamins A and K (which is critical for blood clotting)?

These are just the vitamin content.

You can do this. It just takes some effort. C'mon. And share here your experiences!

People often complain that they don't have the time to cook the things I cook--especially in the winter. Root vegetables "take too long".

Too long for what?

Seriously... it's just a matter of planning and readjusting how you cook. While you're vegging in front of the TV, how hard is it to have popped some root veggies into the oven to roast for an hour? Clue: IT'S NOT! ;)

Once root vegetables are cooked, the skins usually peel right off--so it's not like you're left peeling stuff before you throw them into the oven. Beets, sweet potatoes/yams, turnips, all kinds of winter squash--it all follows the same pattern. So if you're just interested in eating them and don't have some kind of crazy recipe that requires peeling, cutting a special way and then doing all kinds of stuff, there's seriously NO reason to NOT eat root vegetables.

Then there's stock/broth (which really means the same thing except "stock" came from restaurants that used a specific method or set of ingredients for consistent taste). Stock. Really? This just sits on the stove for 1-3 days. At night I MIGHT turn it off while I sleep (I'm less inclined to do that now that I have an electric stove, but I turn it down to "not at a boil") but really, even if I do--so what? And when it's done, it can be frozen if I don't feel like canning it.

So it's a scheduling thing. Think about what you want to cook on the weekend, Monday or Tuesday and WRITE IT DOWN. Then, start all of this on Wednesday or Thursday night. By the time the weekend comes, you have food to eat and/or preserve depending on how much you've made.

And then there's the dark leafy greens. Those are easy. I have a recipe that I use for pretty much any leafy green: heat some olive oil in a large pot with a lid, add some garlic (minced, sliced—whatever) and let it brown for a minute, then add my washed, cut greens and coat them with the oil. Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat. In about five minutes, the greens are “wilted” (still a bright green, but really soft). I make just about everything like that—including collards.

Okay... you have the info, now GO GET 'EM!!! E-mail me if you need help at

Monday, October 24, 2011

My first batch of kombucha

Well, so far, so good. I have a spicket container so it was easy to taste test. Baby girl loved it. Small boy even liked it. I bottled 2 small bottles with a vanilla bean in it (can you say "cream soda"?), one small bottle plain, a large bottle plain, and then a large bottle with some lemon juice in it in the hopes of replicating the citrus stuff I bought in the store. Ought to be interesting. It had some fizz already but I bottled it and stuck it in the pantry (dark and not cold) so it would continue to ferment and possibly get fizzier.

I then promptly made a batch of tea (a macha & regular green tea mix), cleaned out the container, separated the SCOBYs (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) and put it in the old one in the "brewing" container with some of the leftover kombucha from the last batch. I separated it from the new SCOBY (which is currently in a REALLY big, glass measuring cup with some of the leftover kombucha--it should keep for 2 weeks like that). This morning, when the tea was cooled, I put it in the brewing container with the old SCOBY.

I feel like my kitchen needs to be more functional. *sigh* I feel like I don't have enough room for all the stuff I need room for. I really need to buy an island for in there. That would do it. Or maybe I'll bring that table up out of the basement and use that in the middle of my kitchen. Hmmm... wondering if that's possible...

Stay tuned...

I'm seriously considering 4 CSA shares next year

I know what you're thinking. I thought the same thing. Hear me out...

So this year, we had 2 shares--one from each of two different farms/CSAs. It was enough. We managed okay.

But I'm thinking that if we managed with 2 shares, how 'bout we double it and try to PRESERVE the other two shares. Riiiiiiiiiight? Riiiiiiight? I know, right?!?!

The reality is that we live within the confines of a homeowner's association that restricts the amount square footage I can use to grow food and I back to a woman who called us in easily 3 times before we moved in. (of things we CLEARED with the association, tyvm)

That being the case, I know I can't grow enough food for us next year. And finding enough organic stuff to preserve is difficult.


Of course, it is currently about 70* outside and I'm going to send hubby out to till some beds for growing with cold frames that I'm going to overpay for because stupid me didn't get to making our own early enough.

*sigh again*

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Raw and fermented... take 1

So, we decided to alter the amount of raw food in our diet such that we are ingesting more raw and less cooked. So far, so good! It's been weird, but not bad. We had raw beets and red cabbage (hubby's idea) with some cooked beef one night and I thought it was going to completely suck--but it was really good! He sliced the beets really thin and shredded the red cabbage. It was pretty good! And I remembered to keep in mind that dressings and condiments were good additions, too. I added raw cacao powder to boy-child's vanilla flavored coconut milk yogurt. He complained it wasn't sweet enough, but a tiny bit of raw honey fixed that! So it's going good! I just have to think REALLY differently.

I did buy 3 raw "cookbooks" (yes, a friend pointed out the irony!) but haven't completely gotten through them yet. Still looking. One thing I found is that they are furthering the case for a dehydrator! :) That being said, they have recipes for stuff I seriously never thought of. Including a mock sour cream (made from nuts--no dairy!).

As for fermenting, I have one word: KOMBUCHA!!! It's fermented tea. In fact, I had a citrus flavored one that tasted a little like wine--it was wonderful. So hubby and small child can have their kefir... I'll take the kombucha. Not sure what camp boy will land in.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dreading the winter

I seriously am dreading it. The cost of food is going to kill me. The availability of organics is abysmal.

And really, we need to get into eating more locally-and with that, what grows local in the winter. It's not much. We will switch over to meats, stews, squashes, parsnips, carrots, turnips... root vegetables.

I need to find a place to buy rice in bulk other than Whole Foods.

I need to get my cold frames installed. Those are little boxes that trap the sun's heat and heat the ground underneath to make winter growing somewhat possible--at least for a few things! Nothing horribly tall, of course. :/

I need to learn how to make cheese and start thinking about some raw dairy.

I need to look into fermented foods. I hate kefir. There must be something else.

Really, I just need to get my food act together.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Oy... I have TOO. MANY. GREEN. THINGS. in my fridge right now. Seriously. I don't really know how this happened, but we will be eating green things all week.

Today we started off with eggs and Daiya pepperjack cheese. Lunch was leftover battered cod with a salad (salad being lettuce and salad dressing) and then dinner we went to Outback because they'll cook around allergies (and because mommy can get a Tropical Relief martini).

Then we came home and I made red lentil chili--which is the first of two batches this weekend since we'll be going to a block party tomorrow and a potluck Sunday. I'll need a batch for each. Husband made this Mabon moon cider. I had bought a case of organic Fuji apples today (40 lbs.) and we'd already had about 15 lbs. of organic white grapes that needed to get used. So he juiced them. Then he threw them in a pot with the appropriate mulling spices and voila... my cup is sitting here too hot to drink.

We are awaiting delivery (on 10/15) of a half-cow of beef. I'm also ordering 5 pasture-raised chickens to try out a new farm. Looking to get some raw dairy to make some yogurt and cheese for the house. And I'm fired up to do some preserving. I'm even going to try to use my pressure canner. :O

But it all the more makes me want to be growing our own. *sigh*

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

State of the Union, September 21, 2011

I'm now going to allow you to follow my weight-loss journey. From November of last year through early August, I lost roughly 25 lbs. through portion control and nothing else. No exercise, no change in WHAT I ate or quality of what I ate. Just eating less. Yup... true story.

Of course, from about mid-August through now, I have gained 7 lbs. thanks to 1) 9 days without husband and boy, which was doubly damning because husband has done ALL of the cooking in the house for at least 8 years and I have NEVER liked to eat alone (and 3yo doesn't really eat solids yet--long story)... so I spent a full-on week eating absolute crap. In true Depression-era style (I was raised by my Depression-era grandmother) I proced to eat everything I bought on the premise that "I paid for it". :/ I had this same problem at Disney in March. *sigh* But hubby came back and another 10 days later we went to the Minnesota State Fair for Labor Day weekend--staying with friends. Well, that's just a food-fest right there.

So I'm up 7 lbs. Actually, I WAS up 9 lbs. and I'm already back down two just for returning to normal for a week. Yeah... just a week. Because you see: when you start eating crap and expanding your stomach, it's a vicious cycle downward. The stuff that you thought tasted like crap at the beginning of it all now starts tasting kind of good, and mildly addicting. It's a scary thing. I finally snapped out of it when my cravings crept back and I thought "Wow--I'm in a bad place."

On Tuesday, September 20, 2011, I weighed in at 177.6 lbs. I had started trying to take a 20-minute walk each day starting on the prior Thursday, but took the weekend off.

Husband and I got a juicer and are studying up to do a few cleanses--the first being a "colon cleanse". It's a lot of work and requires a solid 10-12 days where we know we won't be completely tempted to eat meat (we are SERIOUS carnivores). We have a party on Oct. 1 that will blow us out of the water, but that will be the last of it. After that, we will do a week of "weaning" off of cooked food and animal products before doing a full week of juice-almost-fasting (there is some solid, albeit raw, food in there). Then we'll take a week to get back to what we're changing to. We will not be vegetarians, but we will be trying to change the balance of raw foods to cooked foods. Juicing will definitely help with this. I knew about the enzymatic benefits of raw foods for many years (the result of research about enzyme therapies for children in the autism spectrum) but I had never really been driven to do anything about it. We could TAKE enzymes (and we have on and off for several years). But I'm now looking into some research about how when the balance of raw to cooked is tilted in the "cooked" direction, it causes an immune system response that can ultimately lead to autoimmune disorders. This is something I want to find more information on. My son has an immune deficiency and we have a lot of autoimmune disorders in my family. I'm sure I'm not really articulating it fully enough to make sense to YOU, but the 90+ minute lecture I heard was enough to send me looking for data. I have enough data already to know that raw food gives us enzymes our body desperately needs.

If you look at the "Pottenger's Cats" study, it's disturbing. So the idea of altering the balance of raw food and cooked food in my family's diet isn't really difficult. We're not "going raw". We're not becoming vegetarian. We are just changing the balance of things. That will include continuing to eat more chicken than red meat--something we were really doing more because of cost and availability of antibiotic-free meat; but the information linking red meat to colon cancer is mildly overwhelming. :/ We won't NOT eat it, we're just going to change the balance. I say with a standing order for half a cow from a grassfed, antibiotic-free farm arriving on October 15th... should last us a year under these conditions. :/

So far, I love the juicer. It is VERY easy to use and really easy to clean. Score.

This week, I have re-introduced probiotics to our diets. We slipped off of a number of things for a while and this was one of them. So everyone now takes one daily as of Monday.

The week before this, we started our annual "cold season" regimen of daily Sambucus (black elderberry extract). While in Minnesota, my friend exposed me to these wonderful little tasteless Vitamin D drops where each drop is 2,000 IUs of Vitamin D. Holy. score. I HATE the chewables my kids have (I cringe for what it must do to their teeth) and I doubly hate having to get them to eat 4 of them to get 2,000 IUs of D/day. Now, I just put 1 drop in their Sambucus. YAY! Hubby and I still take pills because we take 5,000 IUs/day.

After the week of introducing probiotics, we will increase Vitamin C (again, dropped off the wagon). All of this time, I am trying to find good "raw" meals. I actually ordered a cookbook and I hope it won't disappoint. I really need this more for the week going into our cleanse and coming out of it; but I could incorporate a dish here and there when I'm changing our balance of things.

The kids WILL eat raw the weeks that we're doing it. There is nothing unhealthy about it in a way I need to worry about them--especially since these are not long-term changes. And really, once hubby and I remove the animal proteins, we are likely to continue making some for the kids if only to get them to eat at all while we transition everyone over to a different way of eating. Thankfully, my kids allergies have fostered a love (by necessity) of salad and broccoli. Well, actually, the little one is inconsistent with what she loves and we bring plenty of foods into the house that nobody else can eat just for the sake of finding something she'll love. So far, black olives are the only consistent "yes".

I think that's all the changin' we're doing right now. I also think that may be ENOUGH.

Oh, and for whatever reason, my 8+ year absolute aversion (bordering on phobia--but it didn't scare me, I just couldn't bring myself to doing it) of cooking appears to be over. I have no idea why. I'm thankful. A few years ago, I almost saw a therapist for it because it was just... WEIRD. Sometimes I didn't even want my husband to cook (although I think that was more because it was a reminder to me that I wasn't cooking). My husband actually never complained about it. In truth, he enjoys cooking and experimenting. I just felt that it was my "job"--especially when I was staying home all day. But, it's over now... Just like that. Equally weird.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Of course, breakfast was the rice pudding, warmed up on the stove with some pureed organic pumpkin stirred in and a shake of pumpkin pie spice on top. Believe it or not, this took some convincing to get the kids to eat. :/

Lunch was leftover red lentil chili over brown rice that I hadn't soaked--so it took easily 45 minutes to cook if not an hour. :/ Easily made minus the peppers but it did have tomatoes so it is NOT Feingold-safe. We're now in "testing" mode to see which veggies we react to strongly. I always make this chili in bulk and stick it in the freezer.

Dinner was home made chicken soup. I made a stock/broth from the prior night's roast chicken, some turnip greens I was going to juice, a bulb of fennel that would've probably gone bad if not used for this, some red onions (with the peels on), crushed cloves of garlic and a few organic carrots that were scrubbed but not peeled. When the broth was done (maybe an hour? two?) I set two coffee mugs full into a freezer container for when we might be sick & in need of straight broth.. Then I took all of that stuff out and threw in the rest of "what was going to go bad if not used" from the fridge. So... tomatoes, beets, celery, a small head of cabbage, some carrots and the rest of the chicken that we hadn't eaten (which was quite a bit). Some oregano, rosemary, basil, salt, pepper and more garlic... voila--soup. Enough for tonight and two or three other nights (or lunches) for the fridge. It was delicious, if not beautiful. :)

And... dessert was more leftover rice pudding. Cold and not really as creamy and delightful as when first made (or when warmed up this morning). But still pretty good. :)

Home made rice pudding

So, both Arborio rice and sweet brown rice were on sale at Whole Foods this week in the bulk section. Needless to say, I'm diving into rice recipes. As it was, I felt like rice was highly underutilized as a breakfast staple in our home. So here I am...

I made some of the sweet brown rice with my red lentil chili tonight and it really worked. It was really sticky and I clearly didn't "do" it right, but it worked.

But in the process of reading about how to make Arborio rice, the article noted that it's starch content made it very creamy and therefore perfect for desserts (in addition to risotto).

Desserts... rice pudding... and one of THOSE articles pointed to rice pudding for breakfast...

Now they're talkin'. I mean, really--how is this different from sweetened oatmeal? Heaven KNOWS it's better than that sugar-only cereal you buy in the store! So I started cooking using the following recipe from : and I doubled the recipe in the hopes of having enough for dessert and breakfast. I used canned coconut milk (which is thicker than whole milk) and because the cans only gave me 3-1/2 cups of coconut milk, I added water to make the 5 cups I needed. Otherwise, I didn't need substitutions. Worked wonderfully, although it would've been helpful for them to tell you to COVER the pot for most of the process (I cooked it uncovered after adding the egg/sugar mixture). Oh, and it presumably freezes well, fyi...


Things You'll Need

  • 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) of whole milk
  • 1/3 cup (66 grams) of uncooked long or short grain white rice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Whisk
  • Mixing bowl
  • Medium saucepan
  • Serving dish
    • 1

      Combine the rice, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan and heat the mixture on the stove until it comes to a boil.

    • 2

      Reduce the heat to a simmer and mix the contents constantly for 20 minutes, or until the rice becomes tender.

    • 3

      Remove the rice mixture from the heat, but keep the element you used on and at a low heat.

    • 4

      Mix the egg and the brown sugar together with a whisk in a mixing bowl. While you are mixing, slowly add in a half cup of the rice mixture.

    • 5

      Add everything in the bowl to the rest of the rice mixture in the saucepan and place it back on the low heat, cooking it for another ten minutes.

    • 6

      Turn off the heat and remove the saucepan, transferring the rice pudding to a serving dish.

    • 7

      Mix in the vanilla and top the rice pudding with cinnamon.

In the end, nobody ate it for dessert because they didn't move their arses to clean up. It is DELIGHTFULLY creamy and sweet without being TOO sweet. My thought, however, is that tomorrow morning when I reheat it, I'm going to stir in some organic pureed pumpkin from a can of it I opened today in an attempt to make a mock Pumpkin Spice Latte (apparently a Starbucks thing) that required 2 Tbl. of the can. :/ That with some pumpkin pie spice and I say "BREAKFAST!".

Monday, September 19, 2011

We now own a juicer

Yup... that's right: a juicer. "Why?" you ask... I will tell you why.

First, it's a great way for us to use some of our veggies that we don't really love to eat by hiding their flavors in with something else we DO like to eat so that we continue to get the nutrients and vitamins from the food we don't love so much.

Second (and after this, I'm abandoning the ordinal numbering), there are just too many benefits to juicing to eliminate it from the diet. The way the body accesses and absorbs nutrients and the nutrient levels in raw food are just overwhelming. We're not going "raw" and we're not going to juice for 30 days straight, but we are absolutely going to make it a daily part of our eating.

And while we're not going to do a 30-day juicing thing, we ARE going to do a series of juicing "cleanses" and change the way we're eating to include more raw foods than cooked. I am still hunting up data to support a claim I heard that over 50% of your meal being cooked triggers an immune response that can ultimately end in auto-immune disorders (my interest in this partially to do with my own family's auto-immune issues) but the evidence around what is beneficially provided via raw foods isn't really in question. I had already understood the damage done by heating when I was researching enzyme therapy for children in the autism spectrum.

So we're going to try to move to having more raw food in our diets. Juicing will make it easier for us to accomplish this.

For the record, we got a Green Star GS-2000. :) It can make nut butters and juice wheat grass (if we wanted that) without having to change a whole bunch of stuff. You can even run frozen fruit through it to turn out a kind of sorbet. Awesome, since someone on my Facebook friends list just noted that their kids were THRILLED to have "ice cream" for breakfast (which was essentially frozen fruit they had somehow squashed into "ice cream" consistency but I can't remember how... but my juicer will do it!)

My husband says it looks like a little chef when you look at it head-on. :)

Of course, after reading the manual and watching the DVD and thinking I was otherwise fully prepared--I proced to make the maiden voyage be apple juice... using the "wrong" apples. :/

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ode to an olive...

Olives. Or as my nearly 3yo daughter will call them, "aw-yups".

Ooooooh olives--how I love you. How I wish I could grow and cure you on my own. How I long for you to be cheaper. But how I will tolerate all of that for the sake of my nearly 3yo eating some kind of solid food.

Good fats. GREAT snack foods. Tolerant of being toted in a diaper bag for a full day without spoiling (or at least they haven't yet made us sick!). What is better?

Nothing, I think...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

We do not own a microwave

I'm thrilled to say that we are now officially living without a microwave. It marks the point in our life where we have finally stopped eating rushed. Eating has become a part of a bigger picture and bigger part of our lives--one that gets time and attention. It's not an "aside" and it's not something we do on auto-pilot or as an afterthought. That's not to say we don't live chaotically because we totally do. But we are now building into that chaos more time to take care of eating.

Of course, warming up my coffee is done in a stovetop kettle; and reheating leftovers can take 15-40 minutes rather than 5-10. And that's fine.

As much as possible, I'd rather remove sources of radiation from the house. Yes, yes--microwaves are regulated by the government; but there is plenty of evidence of harm of microwaves period. Just because the government has deemed there to be an "acceptable level" doesn't mean it's acceptable or safe. It means "they haven't yet seen the problems", as is the case with countless other things the government deems "safe & acceptable" including drugs that have presumably gone through testing and research--hello? I don't trust what the gov't finds to be "safe and acceptable".

The thing with microwaves is that there are a number of things that just add up to "I don't really need/want this in my life". Dr. Mercola has a decent article on this:

We are also looking at hard-wiring the computers to get rid of the WiFi router. The information on the effect of cell phones on the body are disturbing. Frankly, I don't need the government to do my research for me. I don't find them to be the reviewers of anything objective anyway. If the government did THEIR OWN research, that would be one thing. But by and large, they are reviewing the findings of someone that has a vested interest in what those findings say; and there are too many cases where that person/company has hidden the findings that don't serve them only to have the government approve something without all of the information--ending with illness, injury and occasionally death.

No, thanks.

Oh... and cast iron pots are next. :)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday CSA pickup - 7/31/2011

True to form, it's tiny. I will never spend this kind of money on this farm again. They better kick it into HIGH gear at some point during this season to make up for the lack this early on.

So, the box contains a bag of 10 small to medium sized carrots, 3 relatively decent sized leeks, a tiny zucchini, a medium sized yellow squash, 2 medium sized bulbs of garlic, 8-9 small onions, a small container of mixed salad greens (maybe enough for the 3 of us to have salad, plus a fourth or fifth) and a tiny (read: barely enough for 3 of us to have salad) head of lettuce.

Now, this particular CSA has a pickup at Whole Foods; and their box contains (every week) a locally produced packaged product. The value of the product ranges, but is probably averaging $6/week. Frankly, I'd rather have produce. I'm not sure if the product is funded by my CSA share cost or if it's a promotion from Whole Foods. Either way, it's usually very useless to me. I tend to think it's Whole Foods contribution because once or twice they have remembered that my household is dairy free and given me something non-dairy in exchange (usually also a locally produced item) which is NICE, but I'm still not even feeding my family for more than 1-1/2 to 2 days on this box... at best.

The big goals for this week are to use the cooked beets and turnips; and make up kohlrabi and squash empanadas. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday CSA pickup - 7/29/2011

First, let me just say that we never saw the 9 acre property. It was under contract when our agent called to make the appointment. :(

Anyway... we belong to two CSA farms this year and neither of them is the one we belonged to last year. Last year's CSA didn't have spots in the pickup point closest to where we live. Last year, we joined before we moved to IL and picked a pickup point closest to where we were SUPPOSED to live... and that fell apart. :/ I seriously could not drive 30 mins one way to pick up veggies again.

So we joined two. First of all, one share isn't enough for us. But if I buy a share from each of two CSAs, I get to try two CSAs out during one season. So far, one is by far outpacing the other. And that would be the cheaper one. >:(

We have one pickup on Friday night and one on Sunday morning. Tonight's pickup included about 4 VERY large beets with greens, two small (like tiny) zucchini, a small head of cabbage, 6 medium sized carrots, a nice sized bunch of chard, a bunch of scallions, two mildly hot peppers, a big cucumber, a bunch of basil, 9 very small (but not cherry-small) tomatoes, one relatively large slicing tomato, a small bag of new potatoes, and so help me I can't remember what else.

In the fridge, I have the nearly 9 prior beets that were roasted, peeled and cut up. I should've frozen them, but we'll eat them tomorrow. Same for the Hakurei turnips (they were boiled and cut up. I also have a bunch of snap peas that I'm not sure are still any good and a ton of kohlrabi that I need to find something to do with. I'm all over these kohlrabi & squash empanadas and freezing the extras for a quick, microwavable lunch option since I have a package of gluten-free pie crust mix in the cabinet. :D I tossed the no-less-than-6 bulbs of fennel since they were getting soft, although I DID find an awesome site with lots of do-able fennel recipes. I also have two very small jalapenos left. Hmmm... maybe some 10-pepper chutney is in order?

I'm also STILL sitting on at least 6 lbs. of organic cherries that were bought on sale that need to be pitted and frozen. :( As for Sunday's CSA pickup: I'm not really worried about it. That's been really light. Like "Seriously? I'm paying close to $800 for the season and you have YET to fill a box???" light. >:( But then, this CSA pickup seemed a little light this week, too. We were supposed to be able to go out and pick our own green beans but the deluge of rain (countless flash flood warnings this week) made the fields too wet. :(

Monday, July 11, 2011

CSA 102: How to make a CSA work for your family

The question posed was whether or not it was cheaper to join a CSA to get organic produce. The answers ranged from "absolutely" to "absolutely not" and as we dug deeper into the topic, it became clear that working with a CSA and making it an economical option was an acquired skill. I don't think many of us really looked at it that way even though all of our advice for the original poster (and "absolutely not" posters) pointed directly to that statement. Go figure.

But it is. So here's what you should know (and do) to make the most of using a CSA (or a co-op for that matter--since the challenges are similar; but I will use the term “CSA” here).

Your first year, it would be ideal if you could find a CSA with pickups that are 1) very close to your home; and 2) on a Friday evening or Saturday (preferably morning).This not only makes it very convenient for you (which means you’re less likely to just skip a pickup) but it also means you’re picking up your food at a time when generally, you have time available to give some thought to what you received and how to use it without being rushed.Worst case, you have the time to store it properly so it doesn’t spoil.

If they offer a half-share, start with that; but realize that you may not get enough of any one thing to make a meal out of. This is okay if you’re willing to work to combine vegetables to get enough to suit your needs. Or use it as a “sampler” with no expectation of it fulfilling your needs in terms of a meal as opposed to using it to learn about the vegetables themselves. I’m not sure this is a great option because it becomes to easy to put off using it if it’s not going to be part of a meal. Better yet, see if they offer a bi-weekly pickup. If it’s only weekly, see if you can partner up with another family and alternate pickup weeks.

Get a good vegetable book. It doesn’t need to be a cookbook. A good vegetable growing book with pictures will be just as useful to you as a vegetarian cookbook. You need to identify what you have! Often, a cookbook won’t show you a picture of the vegetable in its whole, harvested form. That’s not going to help the newbie produce eater. Make sure it includes pictures of kohlrabi, multiple types of squash, bok or pak choi, kale, spinach, and different types of greens (I’ve yet to see one with komatsuna, but that would be a great book). Leaf through it and get to know the vegetables whether you have them or not—because at some point, you’ll run into them. Actually, there's an AWESOME book called "The Visual Food Lover's Guide" (which includes information on how to buy, prepare and store over 1,000 types of food--very awesome)

You CAN get yourself a vegetarian cookbook if you’d like, but there are recipes abound on the internet. That being said, if you’re not one who has time to sit down at the computer on the weekend, a vegetarian cookbook is the thing to have. Maybe two or three if you’re not an internet person. Sometimes, the vegetarian cookbooks are more likely to give you recipes for the less common vegetables because vegetarians don’t have meats to fill their plates and are therefore sometimes more inclined to stretch their boundaries outward from the more commonly eaten veggies. One I like (that uses all the “different” veggies) is “From Asparagus to Zucchini

Take a look at what you’ve received, and then take some time planning out how to use it. The first year, this could take quite a bit of time. But each subsequent year, it gets MUCH, MUCH easier. The majority of foods you get will not change drastically and you will now have the prior year’s recipes to fall back on (and build upon for the following years). If you get your food on Friday night or Saturday morning and it literally takes you a few hours over the course of the rest of the weekend to figure it out—this doesn’t mean you’re failing or this can’t work for you. It means you’re learning something you didn’t know before and it will take a few rounds of this to become fluent in “using fresh produce you don’t recognize at first glance yet”. There’s a difference. And there IS a learning curve. You won’t be fluent the first year. It’s like learning a new language. You’ll be functional at the end of the first year. But each year that you take it on, you’ll get better and better.

Having a plan to use your food is critical. This is critical to your food not going to waste. It is also likely to be the most time consuming part of your weekly experience in the beginning.

Have a stash of “go to” recipes that can use pretty much any vegetable. Are you opposed to eating stew in the summer? Hope not! What about frittata or quiche? Stir-fry? Soup? I have a recipe that I use for pretty much any leafy green: heat some olive oil in a large pot with a lid, add some garlic (minced, sliced—whatever) and let it brown for a minute, then add my washed, cut greens and coat them with the oil. Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat. In about five minutes, the greens are “wilted” (still a bright green, but really soft). I make just about everything like that—including collards.

Get yourself some Debbie Meyer Green Bags... and USE them. This has saved me many times because without question, my food has lasted significantly longer. The trick is to use a paper towel to wipe out any built up condensation inside the bag to prevent the water and cool air itself to cause spoilage. Read the instructions: they say NOT to clean your food before putting it in the bags!

If you're not accustomed to working with fresh produce to begin with, you may have an extra challenge. Working with fresh produce isn't the same as frozen or canned. If nothing else, the frozen/canned kind is at minimum already cleaned and chopped up. That alone is a time eater most people don't account for. And it may annoy you. Now, you might think that it’s a good idea to just clean and chop the food when you get it—on the weekend (when you have time), but the reality is that if you wash your food and put it in the fridge, it will spoil faster because of the water left on it. Lettuce might be easy to get around on this point because you can wash it, spin it (yeah, salad spinners actually DO have a purpose in life) and then put it in a bag lined with dry paper towels and leave the bag open in the fridge. But other things are not so easy. I think if you sit and plan what you’re going to eat this week and know that it will be eaten in the week, you could go through and cut up the things that are likely to take the most time. For me, this is stuff like kale and chard—because I remove the stem/vein and chop it into smaller pieces. Normally, I do this right after I wash it and right before I’m going to use it. But as I think about it, you could cut it all up, put it in the fridge, and wash it just before use.

Last, but not least: if you can’t figure out how to use it, figure out how to preserve it. Most things can be washed, cut up, and either frozen or cooked a bit before freezing. A good site for how to preserve countless food items is the National Center for Home Food Preservation (which will also tell you when something isn't suitable for freezing, and why).

This should make your first year manageable, and encourage you to take on a second year--knowing they will get easier as they come!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

CSA 101: What is a CSA and how does it differ from a co-op?

In this post, I will explain what a CSA is (and how it differs from a co-op) and where to find one. In a separate post, I will explain how to make it work for you.

So, what IS a CSA? CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" and in the most basic of terms, it just means that you buy a "share" of a farmer's crop for the season and therefore get a share of the harvest each week throughout the season. Of course, as part-owner of the crop, you enjoy any extra bountiful harvests but you also suffer with losses due to forces of nature like flooding or drought or an invasion by a particularly nasty new insect. Not common, but it happens and you should know this is part of the risk you take.

The number of weeks in a harvest season will depend on the CSA farm itself, how experienced they are, how much cold-weather mitigation they do, etc. Where I am (in Northern IL, growing zone 5) it is not uncommon to find the CSAs doing a 16- or 20-week season. Some offer a partial season (11 weeks). Some offer a "bonus box" near Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this is a critical factor in determining the cost-benefit.

Most CSAs will give you a fraction of the harvest and simply divide up what they have by the number of members; but others will give you a weekly number of "points" and then assign each item (or amount of an item) a point-value--so you pretty much pick whatever you want until you use your points. This allows you to avoid the stuff you don't really like. But for the most, you get an allocated portion of the whole harvest. Some even offer eggs as part of their harvest if the farm keeps chickens.

Some CSAs also offer pick-your-own rights on the farm. So if you want to drive out, you can add to the bounty by picking something of your own. We belonged to a CSA back in NJ that delivered your share to a local drop-off point, but if you wanted to drive out the farm--you could pick your own things that weren't in your regular share. Usually fruits and berries. Others offer all sorts of different things--farm tours, training, pot-luck dinners, etc. The experienced ones publish a newsletter with helpful recipes and information about what's going on at the farm. After all: you're part-owner, so you have the right to know!

CSAs differ from co-operatives (co-ops) in that a CSA is a farm share where a co-op is a usually a buying club. As a result, co-ops can operate year-round with some level of stability in the quantity of what you will get because they are not locked into a single farm for their food. If one farm suffers, they can go find their food elsewhere. Some co-ops require members to participate somehow in the workload; but I have belonged to co-ops that don't (or that let you "sell" your workload to another member with the time to do it). Co-ops also operate on different frequency schedules. Most of the ones I belonged to had bi-weekly deliveries (to a drop-off point)... which stinks if you need food every week.

Co-ops and CSAs also differ in when you can get involved in them and how you pay for them. Because co-ops are not defined or limited by season, you can usually get involved in them at any time of the year. You can also pay-as-you-go with a co-op. I have yet to see one where you don't pay in advance of the delivery, but it is not like a CSA--where (most often) you pay for the season in-full before the first harvest. That can be a hefty bill. Some CSAs allow you some form of modified payment, but I haven't yet found one that isn't paid in full before the first harvest.

To that end, a farm only has a limited number of people it can feed. I've found that the well-loved and/or better know CSAs (or those with the cool features like pick your own or special items) are generally sold out a few months before the first harvest. This helps the farmer know how much to hold back if they are not sold out. Back in NJ, some of the CSAs were sold out in March. Others (and these were good ones, but lesser known or requiring further distance to pick up and/or less convenient pickup times) could be gotten into later in the spring. But start investigating now.

Either way, there is sometimes a "try before you buy" option by offering to buy (or just pick up free of charge) someone's share when they're on vacation and they can't find someone else to do it. That allows you to see first-hand the quality of the produce and the amount you get. This option exists in both CSA and co-op situations. Just let the farm or the co-op coordinator know that you're available for this and they will likely have a few boxes for you over the course of the summer. If it's a co-op, you may also wind up with a share during the December holidays or spring break--always during prime vacationing time.

Sometimes you can do work for the farm or co-op to offset the cost. I hosted a co-op delivery site for a while and because I provided the hosting location AND did the recruiting and financials, my food was practically free. I certainly worked for it, but if you're in a position where you don't HAVE the dollars but can do the effort--it's something to ask about. It's not always known.

Finding a local co-op or CSA isn't always easy. Great if you know someone that's getting stuff already, but if you don't or you're new to an area--that's another story. A good place to start is . You can search for CSAs, co-ops/groceries, even farmer's markets. Farmer's markets might be a place to find them, too. Sometimes they are selling the produce that isn't assigned to a shareholder yet because they didn't sell out their shares (especially if it's a new farm, but lately the economy could put any farm in this position) or because they specifically grow extra produce for market. If you have a local chapter of the Holistic Moms Network or Weston A. Price Foundation, they may also know where to find a CSA or co-op. Just e-mail their chapter leader and ask!

Feel free to post additional questions (or resources) if you have them!

Oh... and when you're ready, be sure to read "CSA 102: How to make a CSA work for your family"