Nature Knows: Onions and Garlic Chase Away Winter Ills

Lamb bone broth, from our Passover lamb shanks.

This Winter, for the first time ever, our family made it through without any antibiotics for stuffy noses (or any other reason) and without getting the flu. Sure, we got some sniffles and some signs of illness, but we FOUGHT IT OFF each time, with relative ease.

No, we didn’t have flu shots. No, we didn’t slather ourselves in hand sanitizer or antibacterial soaps. And, no, we didn’t keep ourselves indoors and wrapped in bubble wrap. Instead, I used a simple strategy: Add lots of garlic and onion to our daily broth.

And it was that simple.

I have read of several natural remedies for Fall and Winter ailments (like cold, flu, and sinus infection) that include prodigious amounts of onions and garlic. And, miracle upon miracle, nature provides onions and garlic at just the right time and they store all winter long!

So, when our local farmer’s fall crop of onions and garlic were ready, I started adding them to our homemade bone broth. As the weather got colder, I added more. Sometimes, up to six onions and three or four heads of garlic! (Not cloves, HEADS!) I slow cooked our broth (which also contains bones—with or without meat—carrots, homegrown celery, a dash of vinegar, sometimes a chicken foot or four, and other leftover tidbits) for two days to extract all the minerals from the bones and vegetables. (For great instructions on bone broth, see the book/cookbook Nourishing Traditions and also check out www.marksdailyapple.com).

I made bone broth once or twice a week, which essentially means we had a pot going at most times. We drank our broth with real sea salt (which contains trace minerals) two or three times a day (before most meals), although sometimes we skipped a meal or only got in one cup. To change things up, we added cream or coconut cream and coconut oil to it.

Now, as spring arrives and the few remaining onions in my stores (and my farmer’s stores) are sending out shoots, despite being stored in totally unnatural conditions like a refrigerator, I have to wonder at how nature just knows. Our weather here has gotten warmer and cold and flu season are on their way out the door, at just the same time the onions and garlic held out for us all winter, but are now preparing themselves to multiply and grow in the earth until next cold and flu season. Is this my signal to ease off of the garlic and onion broth until the next crop?

Or, perhaps I should listen to Mother Nature and start replacing my winter onions and garlic with the wild spring onions that are jutting up from my organic anti-lawn.

Onion shoots.

Cook’s Note: The one exception to the above claim that we didn’t get sick is that Brian got a pretty inconvenient and uncomfortable stomach ailment after eating out, which lasted about a week… but I don’t think it was seasonal or related to what we do here at home!

Also, don’t use store bought broth for this reason, or any other! It doesn’t contain the same nutritional properties and is full of stuff you don’t want in your body, like MSG, chemical additives, and who knows what!

Posted in Natural Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Food, Fertility, Heartache, and Hope

I’ve waited to feel better about this news, to be through the worst part before I posted it on my blog. And, I’ve finally decided that it’s there isn’t going to be a good time. So, here it is: Real food gave us back our fertility, but it couldn’t keep us from heartache. Because my periods are irregular and the pregnancy was impossible to date (and because I’m considered very high risk for pregnancy) our OB did an ultrasound at our first appointment. It went well. She saw what she expected to see, although we were several weeks off in our dating everything was on track. However, the following week, my blood tests showed that my HSG levels weren’t increasing at a fast enough rate and the ultrasound showed no growth. A week later, a third ultrasound showed that there was still no growth and no heartbeat. Our OB gave us a heartbreaking diagnosis. Our pregnancy had failed.

We are still waiting to have a natural miscarriage. My doctor is encouraging me to have a D&C to avoid what she calls the high risk of infection. This seems to be the standard OB line, but I want to wait—partly because the World Health Organization, after a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, says that the risk of infection is actually significantly LOWER with managed care (natural miscarriage) than surgically induced miscarriage.

As you can imagine, this is a difficult time. We’ve cried. We’ve prayed. We’ve grieved. And, we’re still waiting for natural closure. At the same time, we are hopeful in a way we have never been before. Natural fertility is not something we ever expected to have. And, other than our ages, we have no risk factors that say we are at increased risk of having this happen again.

Before this pregnancy, we had stopped hoping. We had stopped planning. We never even dreamed of trying.

Now we know a larger family is a possibility we can weigh and explore. We can try again. And, that fact alone is a miracle.

In the meantime, we’re working on healing. So, if you wonder where I am and why I’ve stopped writing (again) or posting regularly on Facebook, I’m laying low, cooking great homemade food, and taking a bit of a break from everything but my family.

Posted in Natural Parenting | 11 Comments

Fertility: Our Surprise Hanukkah Gift!

Two lines means you are pregnant!

This morning, I opened up one of my old pregnancy manuals, flipped right past the “How to Conceive” chapters, zoomed right through the “Do You Need Fertility Treatment” section, and jumped right in to the “Your First Month of Pregnancy” chapter—and started bawling.

Last night, when I was making dinner, I turned around to find Brian standing behind me glowing. I started bawling.

Tears of joy.

Six tests can’t be wrong! I am pregnant!!! (Only five tests in the picture above, because I took the sixth test the following day.)

Our Decade Old History of Infertility

Despite years of infertility, I’ve only been pregnant once before, when I was carrying my daughter Mia.

Four years ago this month, Brian and I visited Dr. Vasquez, a well-known, very high-success-rate fertility specialist in Nashville, Tennessee. We had been struggling with infertility for a little over nine years. This was our last resort. We had tried everything from weight loss, dietary changes (including an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities), oral fertility drugs, relaxation techniques, exercises in Tantra, and even the old bottle of wine and night of wildness routine. Nothing worked.

Dr. Vasquez ran some tests. He confirmed what several doctors had already told us: I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and did not ovulate (EVER), my eggs were prematurely aging (and thus less likely to be successfully fertilized); I had a congenital abnormality of the uterus that made a successful pregnancy a challenge, and Brian’s sperm morphology (shape) was abnormal and unlikely to be able to penetrate the egg. In short, we were infertile and needed IVF to conceive.

Although there were many other options available (adoption, adoption, and adoption) we made the decision to go ahead with IVF. It’s not that we had a problem with adoption, which I think is a beautiful way to create a family. For many reasons, we just weren’t ready to adopt. We had a deeply rooted need to pursue having our own biological child. I wanted to nurture and nurse my offspring. We wanted that uniquely human experience of bringing our own child into the world.

A few months later, I started pre-IVF hormone therapy. In addition to prenatal vitamins and extra folic acid supplements, every morning, I gave myself hormone injections. Soon, injections increased to a few times a day—and to locations I couldn’t reach myself—and were combined with vaginal suppositories. I had lumps the size of tennis balls on both my hips where the giant, thick needles pumped sticky, sludgy pregnancy syrups into my body. Every other day, I went to the doctor’s office to have blood drawn—to test my hormone levels. I was black and blue and sore, and full of hope

My follicles matured (meaning became ready to pop out their eggs) at the rate of about 60 or 70 at once. I took my trigger shot (to release all those eggs) just before I went in to the surgery center to have my mature eggs removed under anesthesia. While I was unconscious, the doctor and his team took out dozens of eggs, which they then transferred in a high-speed chase, Hollywood movie style maneuver, to the fertility center lab (a few blocks away) and fertilized using Brian’s sperm and a tool that grabs on to the wiggly tail of a sperm and then thrusts it through the cell wall of the egg. While our babies were being conceived somewhere else in the city, I woke up from surgery and Brian and I drove home.

By that night, I was extremely ill. Something was going dreadfully wrong. The doctor was on the phone with me and with Brian constantly, supporting us through it, prescribing medications and fluid treatments. But, in the following two days, I gained over 20 pounds. I stopped being able to urinate. I started vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time. I was experiencing what is called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)—essentially my ovaries were over stimulated and flooding my body with so many hormones that my kidneys were overwhelmed and began to shut down. This extreme version of OHSS is pretty rare, but can be fatal—and often was before current treatments were developed.

I was hospitalized and given a PICC line (so they could administer the numerous drips I needed all at once) and pumped full of drugs to restore my kidney function. Even though our embryos were growing well in the lab, we couldn’t transfer them to my womb unless I was stable. It looked like our IVF cycle was going to end in complete failure. And, at around $30,000 including the drugs and medical charges, we couldn’t afford to do it again. If I hadn’t been holding on for dear life, I would have been devastated.

But, I responded well to treatment and the doctors declared me stable just in time to accept my embryos into the womb. Of the dozens or so that had been fertilized, only three had made it. Embryos don’t have a high chance of surviving transfer to the womb. Contrary to the viewpoint perpetuated by popular media stories, doctors cannot “implant” embryos in the womb. They simply place them floating inside—much the same way any embryo floats inside it’s mother—and like in all pregnancies, it’s up to the embryo and God to manage the implantation—the taking hold—of the baby inside.

There were five people in the room when Mia was transferred. My doctor and his two lab assistants, Brian (in a medical getup that looked like a lunch lady hat and apron) and me. While the medical team carefully placed each embryo in my womb, Brian held my hand and made lunch lady jokes, “OK, they’re serving up the kids now.” He said to me, “Would you like some roast beef? There it is! Would you like some mashed potatoes? Plop, here they are. How about some peach cobbler?” (To this day we wonder if Mia is the mashed potatoes, the cobbler, or the roast beef.)

I was hospitalized for several more days (because of the OHSS) and then we went home and waited. And waited.

The blood test that told us I was pregnant came very early. Our first ultrasound was at about eight weeks. One of our embryos had made it. We were going to have a baby! We had ultrasounds every few days at first to see if things were progressing smoothly. It was a long, hard struggle. During the first few months, I couldn’t tell the difference between the recovery from my OHSS and early pregnancy symptoms. My congenital abnormality made the pregnancy difficult and dangerous. I had two episodes of heavy, sudden bleeding, most likely me “losing” the two other embryos which had implanted after transfer but not survived. I was on complete bed rest for the first and third trimesters—including two months of hospital bed rest at the end of my pregnancy. All of this resulted in my most precious gift. My daughter Mia.

A New Chapter in Our Fertility History

Now, let’s skip forward a few years. Mia is turning three next week, and Brian and I have made some unprecedented life changes—all of which I’ve written about in this blog. We started eating the traditional foods of our ancestors (including long-cooked bone broths, red meats, healthy saturated fats, and organ meats) stopped eating out at restaurants (for the most part), started growing our own vegetables, stopped eating any pre-processed/packaged foods, started eating probiotic foods (including fermented foods and raw dairy) and eliminated gluten, grains, soy, added sugars and chemical additives from our diet.

And yet, even as late as last week, when someone asked us if we planned on having any more kids, we’d say, “We’ve had a long struggle with fertility. Mia was an IVF baby, but Sarah nearly died from IVF, so that isn’t an option for us anymore.” It was just understood that we were probably going to be a family of three.

But, lately I’d been feeling some signs that I was pregnant. We weren’t trying to have a baby, but we weren’t trying not to. I missed a period—which is nothing unusual for me. (It’s more unusual for me to have my period at all!) However, my hips were also aching in a way they hadn’t since I was pregnant before. Nursing was becoming uncomfortable and my milk supply seemed to have dropped. And, I was more tired than usual. After taking two negative ($17.00 grocery-store tests) I ordered some inexpensive tests online, just to make sure I wasn’t pregnant. They arrived and I took another one–trying to figure out why my newfound cycle wasn’t normal yet. After frantically reading the result and not believing my eyes, I took five more tests over the next twelve or so hours. Each one confirmed my suspicions: I am pregnant! It is the happiest accident we could ever hope to have!

Brian and I have given ourselves the second best Hanukkah gift either of us has ever received: the gift of fertility. (Mia was our first best gift, born the day after the last night of Hanukkah in 2008).

Thinking about our IVF, the complications, and the trouble, heartache and money that went with it, Brian describes our current state of fertility:

“It’s two kids for the price of one.”

Happy Hanukkah!

Notes: It is still very early to know how this pregnancy will go. We debated whether or not to share this news with our friends, with our family, and with my blog readers. But our fertility has been such a marriage-long struggle that we feel strange keeping our news from people. It is an amazing gift to know we can get pregnant on our own, without medical intervention! (By accident, like so many other people with normal fertility!) Please keep us and our growing family in your thoughts and prayers.

Would I do the IVF if I had it to do over again? Absolutely. I have no way of knowing if our current lifestyle change would have resulted in fertility had we not had a baby already. For one thing, once you have been pregnant, your uterus changes—you have new receptor sites, it’s a different shape, etc. Not only that, but life is too uncertain to second guess something like IVF, which gave me a wonderful, healthy, happy and much-loved daughter.

Posted in Grain Free, Natural Living, Natural Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Slow-Cooked (Get-A-Room) Leg of Lamb in Broth

 

So good, I almost don't even want to share the picture!

I’m pretty sure it’s illegal in at least seven different countries to have a homemade dinner, mid-workweek, that is as good as the dinner my family and I had last night. Our just-on-a-whim, mid-week leg of lamb simply blew us away. It went beyond good, tasty, great, and delicious and entered the realm of sublime in taste, texture and level of pure satisfaction. It elicited so many moans and groans of pleasure around our table, I thought I should rename it “Get a Room Leg of Lamb.” I was glad we weren’t eating it in public, at the Fridrik V, the restaurant that created the original: “Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb with Broth,” which I found online, translated (complete with confusing organization and word choice) from Icelandic. But, despite struggling to figure out the steps over the five-hour cooking time, I would do it again tomorrow, in a heartbeat. As Brian exclaimed, “I’ve never had anything like this!” Or, as I said, “This recipe makes me want to go to Iceland!”

Here is the recipe (which I have altered a bit to suit my cooking style, my delicious mistakes and my general interpretation of the unclear parts of the original recipe).

Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb with Broth

(Total cook time is about 5 hours, but I recommend cooking the broth several days ahead to get a richer stock.)

1 leg of lamb, bone in (from 100% grass fed lamb)
olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
2 carrots
2 large tomatoes (or two cups plain, home canned tomato sauce, which is what I used)
1 bay leaf
2 twigs of thyme
1 onion
salt and pepper
10 strands rosemary
2 twigs of thyme
2 twigs of tarragon
2 quarts to a gallon of filtered, cold water (approximate—this is more than the original recipe)
1 cup soft, pastured butter (original recipe called for ½ cup, but I used a cup because I had so much more broth)
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/40th tsp pure powdered stevia (the original recipe called for honey, but we aren’t using sugars so I made this substitution)

Prepare the leg of lamb one or two days ahead: Trim away excess fat and remove the pelvic bone and the shank. (I’m no expert on how to do this, but you can find videos of how to do this online. Or, you can have your butcher do it, as long as they also give you the bone!)

Make the broth one or two days ahead: (The original recipe calls for doing this while the leg of lamb cooks. I did it this way the first time, but recommend making the broth ahead of time because it allows you to get a richer broth and to have more control over meat cooking time!) Coarsely chop onion, carrot, and garlic. In a mid-sized stock pot, with an oven-safe lid, heat olive oil (enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan) and then lightly brown the vegetables and bones. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Place in a 170 degree oven for 90 minutes. Remove from oven and add water to cover the bone. (This took several quarts for me.) When the broth begins to boil, remove excess fat from the surface. (The grass-fed lamb we get from our farmer really doesn’t have as much excess fat as store-bought lamb, so I skip the skimming.) Reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour. (See Cook’s Note!) Pour broth through a fine sieve to remove all chunks. (I poured into a large pyrex bowl.) Discard the chunks. Store the broth until you are ready to cook the lamb. When you are ready to cook the lamb, heat your broth on the stove top and reduce to about one and a half to two quarts. Turn down the heat and keep warm until you reach the basting step.

To cook the lamb:

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Place leg of lamb in a roasting dish that is fitted with a wire rack (so it can drip without sitting in the drippings). It is most convenient if the roaster also has a lid, but (for now) keep the lid off! (See Cook’s Note!) Cook for 90 minutes and then remove from the oven to rest for five minutes. After five minutes, sprinkle the meat (fairly generously) with real sea salt (like Redmond or Celtic sea salt) and pepper. Then, rub the meat with finely chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and tarragon. Return the meat to the 170 degree oven for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, baste the leg of lamb with a ladle or two full of warm broth. Baste every 10 minutes for the next 50 minutes, using all the broth. After you have added all the broth, increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cook at this temperature for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and put the lid on the roasting dish. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.

To finish the dish: Place leg of lamb (without the juices) on a serving dish. Pour the broth and juices through a sieve. Collect the juice for use, and make sure to scrape the roasting dish clean and collect and keep all the solids in the sieve. (Don’t throw any of it out!) Place the broth in a stock pot (or if you have it, return it to the stovetop safe roaster) and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the contents of the sieve in a blender with the softened butter, fresh lemon zest, and stevia. Blend until smooth. When the stock begins to bubble, turn off heat and whisk in the butter and herb mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. (And try not to eat the whole pan of gravy when you sample it!)

To serve: Serve the lamb semi-submerged in the broth. (You may have more broth than your serving tray can handle, in which case, you may need a gravy boat!)

Cook’s Notes:  

A note about the broth in this recipe: I like to cook broth for 24 to 48 hours to really pull out the flavor and health benefits of the bone, which is what I plan to do with this recipe next time I try it. So, instead of cooking it stove top for one hour, I will cover it and put it in my oven on the slow cook setting (about 200 degrees) for a day or two. This will require me to use more water. I’m guessing I will use about one gallon. But, I recommend that you try this as well, instead of settling for a one-hour broth!

A note about cookware: I was fortunate enough years ago to find a gorgeous stainless steel roasting pan on sale. What I like about my pan is that both the roaster and the lid can be used as separate pans on the stovetop. It also comes with a wire rack insert. If you don’t have such a roaster, you can still make this dish. To roast the meat, simply balance a rack over any kind of baking pan, or just trim the excess fat really well and skip the rack step. Then, when you are ready for the basting stage, transfer the meat to a casserole dish that can be fitted with a lid (when necessary) or use foil as a lid.

A note about all that butter: Just go for it! And, don’t feel guilty eating it! I weighed myself the day after eating this recipe and I was down by half a pound! It’s all in the controlled carbohydrate approach to life. Keep the carbs to a minimum (I stay below 20 grams a day) and enjoy vitamin rich butter from cows that have truly been raised on pasture! If you can’t eat butter, but can use Ghee, I think it would work superbly in this recipe!

A note about pictures and our kitchen remodel: I had trouble getting a great picture, in part because we still have no light in our kitchen–or at least the dining area of our kitchen. Our remodel is progressing, but we’ve had so much company lately it’s going slowly. Thankfully, Brian has some time off this month to work on it!

Posted in Grain Free, Recipes | 4 Comments

Winter Backyard: Vegetable Encampment

Our vegetable encampment.

Our backyard looks like a civil war encampment. Or, so my mother said when she saw how we’d wrapped our garden beds for the winter. In fact, I’m pretty sure that our garden is drawing stares from folks around the neighborhood. (Not everyone appreciates our wrapped garden a la Christo and Jeanne-Claude). Everyone who walks by cranes their neck to peer between our fence pickets. Some point. Some gesture.

“What do you have under there?” I’ve been asked on more than a few occasions.

“Seeds?” one neighbor guessed.

“No,” I said, “They’re full of plants. In fact, we have way too much salad again. Would you like some?”

“You have salad? Really? In December?”

Yes. We do have salad. And plenty. Enough to nourish us through winter and supply the neighbors with a few complimentary family-size bowls of leafy green stuff. We also have carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, kale, endive, radicchio, cabbage, chard, and green onions. Planted in August and September, these crops should take us through winter. And, in February, when our world will still feel pretty frozen, we’ll be planting our spring crops, which should appear weeks before the local farmers markets open.

A lot of our family, friends, and neighbors seem surprised that we’re still gardening in the cold. But, winter gardening isn’t a new thing. Most likely, it’s been around for as long as there have been people farming and gardening. According to Eliot Coleman, in his book Four-Season Harvest, the people of Southern France have a long tradition of winter gardening and food gathering. Their climate is warmer than that found in much of North America, but most of the United States falls below their latitude, meaning that we have equal or greater amounts of sunlight in the winter months—and, as it turns out, that’s what matters. As long as you can protect your plants from the cold—especially the cold wind—you can grow and eat garden-fresh foods all year round. (Coleman and his family have successfully grown a wide variety of winter hardy crops on their Maine garden and farm for decades!)

And, that’s why my garden now looks like a civil war encampment for the vertically challenged. We’ve built tents, greenhouses, row covers, low tunnels—whatever you prefer to call them—and have sheltered our produce for the winter.

I read Coleman’s book last year, and it inspired me to start planting our garden early: We began in February. By the end of March, we were eating fresh salads out of our 3’x10’ garden bed. This year, we have a dozen beds and they are all covered and full of wonderful, cold-hardy produce. (That means no corn, tomatoes, cucumber, or watermelon—which are summer crops.)

They key to winter gardening is getting your planting timed right. Plants will store just fine in low tunnels or under row cover, but they aren’t going to grow at their peak. So, you have to know what your first frost date typically is and then calculate from there how much time your plants need to grow and be established (but not go to seed) before the cold hits. In our area, where the first frost date falls around October 31st, we were still planting some things (like radishes) up to early October.

Frost all around the morning I took these pictures.

And, so far, things are going well. We have large bunches of crunchy mixed green salad, plump ripe turnips, sweet juicy beets, tender leaves of kale, and bright orange carrots (that taste like candy), to name a few. Sure, later in this winter garden game we might have to peel wilted leaves off the outside of our cabbage, or toss the carrot tops to the compost, but the fact is, these vegetables are great in cold weather and will provide a major source of fresh winter produce, right from our backyard.

In just under a year, we’ve gone from a family that bought all of our vegetables to a family that raises almost all of our vegetables—though for variety we supplement from our full-diet, full-year CSA farmer. And, our garden should sustain us through even the coldest months when all the summer-only gardeners are looking longingly at their frozen beds.

Warm, happy, green and lovely. Kale under cover on a frosty morning.

Cook’s Notes: Eliot Coleman’s book has excellent charts to help the beginning winter gardener, including maps with approximate first frost dates and a table telling you the planting dates for your crops. Succession planting is the name of game in full-year gardening. We cleared and replanted each bed (using crop rotation) as soon as the last crop was harvested. You can find this book in my Amazon store, located here. (This is a direct buy from Amazon, not from me. I would receive royalties if I ever met their minimum for sales referrals, which so far I have not.)

A note about our full diet CSA from Moutoux Orchard: We were fortunate this year to be part of a ground breaking local foods program offered by our farmer: a full-diet, full-year CSA. Each week, we drive to his farm (about 45 minutes from our house) and collect as much milk, eggs, yogurt, fresh cheese, produce, and meat as we need for the upcoming week. There are no limits to what we take, but we only take what we need. This has allowed me to do things I might not have otherwise tried—like making cheeses. Also, Moutoux Orchard grew a huge variety of crops this year, and we could have gone without our garden; however, buying in to the farm’s produce has allowed us to selectively choose what we grew ourselves. Growing enough garlic, onions and tomatoes on our city lot would be a challenge—we use approximately 14 heads of garlic a week, 20 (or more ) onions, and I canned about 300 or so pounds of tomatoes this summer. I’m not sure I could grow that in our space! (We live on about a quarter acre and portions of our lot are mostly in shade.) I’m not sure what our farmer has planned for next year. This was his first year offering the program and he’s been pretty quiet on how his program will evolve into next year. I just hope we have it this good!

Posted in Gardening, Natural Living, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Raw Milk: Not a Threat to My Health, Certainly Not a Threat to the PUBLIC Health (And My KID LOVES it Too!!)

(Photos are from the Rally for Food and Farm Freedom,  Washington, DC, May 16, 2011).

Raw milk is in the news again today. This time, five people are ill in California and the finger is pointing at Organic Pastures Dairy. (Incidentally, third party testing found no contaminant in their milk.) I have no problem with recalls if milk (or any other food) causes an outbreak. But, I do have a problem with the demonizing of an entire food group when the statistics and history of its consumption don’t warrant it. That’s why I was royally ticked off when I read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle. The article starts by painting a portrait (with words) of a Mom who feeds her kid local, even homegrown food and who–unphased by the recent Organic Pastures recall–continued to give her kids raw milk . I was dismayed by the inflamatory and biased reporting, but I was horrified when I read the comments. Clearly, there are a lot of sheeple out there who think I (if  I apply their comments to myself instead of the mother featured in the story)  should lose my happy, well adjusted, healthy, child—the one I stay home with each day, hold when she’s sick, have breastfed since she was born (she’s almost three), have sung to and read to, and have an excellent parent-child bond with—simply because I feed her raw milk instead of taking her to McDonalds or feeding her a high-soy, a high sugar, or a vegan diet. (And perhaps because I don’t get my nutrition information from the China Study).

I tried to leave my comment in the comments section, but (as my regular readers know), I go on a bit. A 2,500 character limit is just too small, in my opinion. Or, perhaps, for my opinion.

This is my response:

As a professional journalist and editor of over a decade, I am appalled by the bias and misinformation contained in this article.

Let’s start with the title. “Organic Pastures raw milk sickens five.” Let’s be perfectly honest here. Five people are sick. The health department is pointing the finger at raw milk. However, the finger pointing is based on coincidence (they all consumed raw milk). It is not based on a lab result, because no lab results have been returned. A more correct statement in your headline would be that all five drank raw milk. What’s the difference? The difference is that the evidence, as stated, does not rule out the possibility that they all got sick from another common source (or different sources). Sound unlikely? It’s not. Really.

According to the CDC, E. coli 0157-H7 is not exclusive to raw milk. Also, according to the CDC, there were 350 outbreaks of E. coli 0157-H7 from 1982 to 2002. (For those of you who are counting, that’s just over 17 outbreaks per year. Here is what the CDC has to say about about the locations and sources of those outbreaks:

Foodborne outbreaks most frequently occurred in communities (53 [29%] of 183), restaurants/food facilities (51 [28%]), and schools (16 [9%]). Median size of foodborne outbreaks varied by setting: the smallest occurred in individual residences (3 cases), and the largest outbreaks in residential facilities (44 cases), followed by camps (36 cases). Among 51 restaurant and food facility outbreaks, 22 were from chain establishments (including 12 fast-food establishments) and 29 from single establishments. The median number of cases per restaurant/food facility outbreak was larger in chain than single establishments (21 vs. 8, p < 0.001). Among the 183 foodborne outbreaks, the food vehicle for 75 (41%) was ground beef, 42 (23%) unknown, 38 (21%) produce, 11 (6%) other beef, 10 (5%) other foods, and 7 (4%) dairy products.

Read that again, more carefully. That’s the CDC website folks—not some raw/real food freak site. (I say freak lovingly, as I consider myself one of the real food, raw milk freaks.) Yes, it says 4% were caused by dairy products—note they CANNOT say unpasteurized dairy products. This is because pasteurized products can be contaminated and were also implicated. Look further and you will also see that in the ten year period, only 7 outbreaks were related to milk. Only six had any connection to a raw milk product. That means of all the raw milk and milk products consumed in this country, in twenty years there were only six outbreaks of e. coli 0157-H7 illness. Do the math. This is NOT a threat to public health. And, by and large, the raw milk produced to be consumed raw simply CANNOT be the vehicle of poison the FDA says it is.

Look even more closely. Group dining facilities, like restaurants and school cafeterias are the most frequent locations of e. coli 0157-H7 contamination and the most frequent food vehicles are GROUND BEEF, UNKNOWN, and PRODUCE. Now, THAT sounds like a threat to the public health to me. (Chew on that, all you commentators who say that those of us who give our children clean raw milk—often from farmers we know and cows we’ve seen milked—should have our kids taken away.) Curious about the number of total illnesses (categorized as outbreaks or not) associated with pasteurized milk? Check out this site, which lists thousands of recorded illnesses in California over a several year period– http://www.realmilk.com/foodborne.html. Clearly, pasteurizing is not the be all and end all in protection from any of these bacteria.

It would be hard to create such a sensational spin as the one used to open this article by showing the mother who continues to let her kid eat school lunch, go out for fast food, or chew on an apple for a snack. Or, the mother who continues to give her kid pasteurized milk in the face of the THOUSANDS of illnesses recorded and associated with pasteurized milk products. I just can’t see the momementum gathering to shut down restaurants and pull all pasteurized milk from the shelves for good.

What we don’t know in the current situation is whether or not any of the afflicted were exposed to any other common source, or separate sources of infection. We simply haven’t been given the data, in this article or anywhere else. What we do know is that of the hundreds (or is it thousands) of people who drank OP milk in the past week, only five people are sick. Clearly, this is not a case of filthy food or widespread contamination. It would be heartless not to sympathize with the victims of illness, but let’s put it in perspective. This is not a widespread outbreak, even among Organic Pastures customers. And, it is nothing compared to outbreaks we’ve seen in other food industries or food sources.  Are we going to outlaw ground beef? How about vegetables, fruit, and peanuts? What about closing down all restaurants and school cafeterias? What about all those people who are still dying of the tainted canteaoupe. Surely we should confiscate all children whose parents feed them melon and put them in the foster care system. (Can you feel the seething sarcasm?)

Second, without presenting an opposing opinion the article sites claims that raw milk is particularly dangerous because it isn’t cooked and can’t be washed. It further claims that the risks from other food sources that have been subject to contamination (and the cause of massive outbreaks) are different from those associated with raw milk because the foods involved are ones that are usually cooked or washed. Maybe that sounds reasonable, but is it true? Well, for starters, let’s just examine the obvious. Those foods aren’t safer, because outbreaks from those foods occur more frequently than dairy outbreaks. Not convinced? Well, ground beef, the number one contaminant is often cooked and (if Food Inc is a good source) the meat (if from a commercial factory source) is often ammonia washed. And yet, washed and cooked though it is, it has been the vehicle of considerablely more illness. Do you eat it? Do you feed it to your kids? (Maybe not if you are a vegetarian, so let’s continue.)

How about eggs? You can wash the outside (or “pasteurize” it, as the article states, though I think they mean a chemical wash) but what no one tells us is that the insides are also potentially contaminated. That’s right. Epidemiologists know that contaminants are now penetrating the shell of the egg, which is porous! OK, so most eggs are cooked, right? Yes and no. Many people consume soft-yolked eggs. And, eggs cooked at high temps get rather rubbery—many people, even those who don’t consider themselves food freedom activists–find them unappetizing. The idea that a blanket statement about risks of undercooked eggs actually protects us from outbreak–in a way that a warning about raw milk cannot–is ludicris.

The truth is that the shell of an egg, the peel of a fruit, the washable surface of a vegetable is no assurance that the vegetable has not been and is not contaminated with e coli or any other bacteria–either on its surface or inside of it. In fact, we’ve seen outbreaks from washed and bagged salads and spinaches as well as bagless tomatoes, and cantaloupes. Let me say it again: The bacteria penetrate the surface. (SFC staff, after finding out this intensely interesting bit of common knowledge–which can be investgated through a simple Google search and some reading of scientific journals and reports, I can’t wait to see your article on the negligent mothers who don’t boil their kid’s salad before serving it.)

So, all these foods (from beef to veggies to eggs) can be washed on the outside, and all have been the source of outbreaks. It is simply bad journalism to publish an article that is biased in face of the statistical record, the epidemiology, of food borne illness.

And third, what about that claim that before pasteurization milk was full of “nasty bugs that could make humans ill, from the E. coli and salmonella occasionally found today, to diseases like tuberculosis and diphtheria”? While it’s true that SOME raw milk carried those pathogens, it was far from all of it. In fact, for most of human history, raw milk has been consumed safely—at least as safely as most of our other valued and cherished food sources. It wasn’t until milk producers in large cities started feeding dairy cattle a diet of leftover swill from whisky production that the dairy cows became SICK and produced contaminated milk. Milk produced in traditional, clean, open fields, from cattle that eat a diet of 100% grass (preferred) or at least a high forage diet is very unlikely to get you sick. (Check out this resource, including the citations at the bottom of the page. http://www.raw-milk-facts.com/raw_milk_safety.html).

As to the claim that there are no beneficial bacteria in raw milk and that pasteurization does not change the nutritional value of milk—well, that’s subject to some debate. In all honesty, it’s not a case where there is “little evidence” on either side of the claim. In fact. There is a lot of evidence on both sides. What there is, in addition to a lot of scientific literature, is a difference of opinion on what the science means and how to interpret the tests and results. A difference that goes as deep as the perspective on germs and our relationship with bacteria and our environment. For example, this page (Milk and Human Health from the Cornell University website) is by no means pro-raw milk. It discusses the differences in raw milk and pasteurized milk, downplaying them because much of the probiotic activity in raw milk is not directly from the milk itself. That is, according to this article, if you could remove the raw milk directly from the udder, it would be sterile and would not have live, active probiotic bacteria. This is enough for the authors to claim that milk doesn’t have these properties. (This idea that milk is sterile is debated elsewhere, but let’s assume for argument it’s true.)

But, of course, the alternative perspective is that humans have never consumed milk in a vacuum. (Not even breast milk—which is traditionally drunk at a breast which is (hopefully) clean, but hardly sanitized.) Humans milked cows into containers, the milk was exposed to air, food prep surfaces (like the pail surface) and a whole host of other things. This exposure caused it to host probiotics like Lactobacilli bacteria, which aids in lactose digestion. Those natural probiotics do the same things for humans that the probiotics we now PAY to have added back into our yogurt do. They do the same thing as lactose intolerance medications. Only they do it better.

And, for the most part, until the swill milk making machines gave us SICK milk, people enjoyed milk from the family cow or neighboring dairy without getting sick. Raw milk, in fact, was valued as a traditional medicine.

No matter your scientific perspective on germs (or probiotics) and their desirability, it’s hard to argue with this: Pasteurization (especially ultra pasteurization) does change milk. It super heats it and blasts molecules apart. It destroys Lactobacilli bacteria, which is the bacteria that aids in the digestion of lactose. This is why many people who formerly thought they were lactose intolerant (me included) can consume raw milk products with no health problems. According to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund:

“In addition to killing off beneficial bacteria and enzymes, pasteurization also destroys other nutritional aspects of milk. Pasteurized milk often contains less than half the vitamin A, C, D and E compared to raw milk (the vitamin D content in commercial milk is synthetic). Valuable B6 and B12 vitamins are completely obliterated when exposed to heat. In addition, the minerals in pasteurized milk are not bioavailable like those in raw milk. Amino acids like tyrosine and lysine are also altered during pasteurization.” (Please see this article, including the journals cited at the bottom. http://www.ftcldf.org/news/news-28Oct2009.html )

Bottom line is this. There is a risk in consuming raw milk. But, it is no more of a risk than that assumed in consuming many other foods. In fact, commonly accepted practices such as visiting a restaurant or a school cafeteria for a meal, are by far more likely to get you sick. (But I bet most people are going to keep doing it anyway.)

My family, including my kid, consumes raw milk. We eat a 99% local diet—getting our milk, eggs, and dairy from a small local farmer. We avoid restaurants. We raise a good amount of our own food (in our suburban lot). My daughter is NEVER exposed to corn syrup, added sugar or artificial sweetener, commercially processed flour, hydrogenated oil, trans fat, chemical additives, or artificial coloring, all of which have been increasingly linked to serious health problems in both children and adults.

We’ve put a lot of research and thought into our food choices and have assessed the risks—and been shocked to find facts such as that deli meats are a much bigger threat for serious, life threatening food born illness than raw milk (even when you adjust figures to account for the wider consumption of lunch meat)—and it is disheartening and thoroughly disappointing to see media coverage that is so biased and unresearched.

Posted in Raw Milk | 1 Comment

It’s Been A Long Time Since We’ve Rock and Rolled*

My gorgeous fridge and freezer! The one thing that is done, or mostly so, in my kitchen! (We still have to install the built-in surround, when we get cabinets!)

Ok. So. It has been a long time.

My last blog was months ago. And, as always, a lot has been going on here in Hard-Core Cookville. So, first, let me give you some updates. After that, I’ll talk a little about where I’ve been and where I think I’m going, both in this blog and outside of it.

The Kitchen Remodel Project

Kitchen remodel? What kitchen remodel? Did I announce that we were do-it-your-self-ing our kitchen, and that it should take only about a month or so? Well, let me tell you a little story…

Once upon a time (just before canning season), a wife and traditional hard-core cook looked around her outdated kitchen and found that it was lacking storage. Imagining the massive amounts of produce she was going to be putting up for winter, she said to herself, “This just will not do.” So she picked up the phone and called her husband at work, “This just will not do. We have to build some shelves in the kitchen on which to put all of these delicious foods I’m planning on storing for Winter.”

So, she drew up a plan and they discussed it.

At length.

It was a simple plan.

Move a cabinet. Add some storage (both refrigerator, freezer, and shelf storage) but keep most of what was already there in the way of furnishings to both save money, energy, and time. When they finished, they looked at the plan. And. it was a good plan.

They got to work right away. The nasty old acoustic ceiling tiles came down. The light fixtures came down. A cabinet came out. Broken grout was removed and new put in—on half the floor. (The other half would wait for some further kitchen repair. A new refrigerator and freezer (separate side-by-side units) were delivered and installed. And all was going well.

Then, along came a painter. He was hired to fix the ceiling, which was scarred from the glue and lattice work used to hang the acoustic ceiling tile. He got to work and the rest of the project ground to a halt. In fact, all cooking ground to a halt. The drywall work was extensive. Dust covered the kitchen in thick layers (which had to be removed every night before dinner). The painter was slow. It took him two weeks of solid work to finish. By the time he left, there was a beautiful new ceiling in the kitchen. However, he had also been hired to remove acoustic ceiling tiles in the adjacent room (the library). And, in that room, the repair had not gone so well. The entire ceiling had to be removed. And with, it came the door jam, the library shelves, and the fireplace surround. Because, as the couple reasoned, this was all drywall work and should be done at the same time.

And that’s where it got complicated. The couple was committed to doing most of the job themselves. (Plus, the quotes for drywall were outrageous). So, they dismissed the painter until a later date, and took on the project themselves. And, they made good progress. Then, company came to town. Two weeks in a row. And, on the third week, the husband broke his foot. By that time, canning season was upon them. So, the wife canned 300 pounds of tomatoes, and put up many jars of lacto-fermented goodies all with a quarter of her former counter space and storage space. (But managed quite successfully.) And then, the wife got sick for a week. After that, the kid got sick for a week. And so it went.

As you can probably guess, (especially if you’ve ever been a serious do-it-yourselfer) we still have a hole for a ceiling in the library, and no further work has been done on the kitchen. But, all of that time spent with a broken foot, alternating between couch and crutches (and trying to will away his pain without pain medication, because he is allergic to most pain meds) gave Brian a lot of time to surf the internet. And, what he searched for were kitchen cabinets. Which, he showed to me at regular intervals.

Brian and Mia using their levels in our library.

“No,” I told him, nearly every night. “We agreed. We’re going to use what we have. It’s economical and it’s green.”

“But, we could have this,” he’d say, showing me cabinets available through any of a number of discount suppliers.

“The cabinets are beautiful,” I’d say, “But they aren’t going to give us exactly what we’d want, if we were starting from scratch, so I think we should just stick to the plan… when you get better.”

After awhile, he gave up on me saying yes to buying cabinets. And, that’s when he started talking about building cabinets from scratch.

And, somewhere along the line, I started to listen. And then to believe. And then to dream. He ordered a Kreg jig and clamps. As soon as he could bear to stand on his healing foot, he built a prototype cabinet box. It looked beautiful. Even knowing that this would delay our finished kitchen indefinitely, I was on board 100%.

Here are some pictures of the kitchen cabinets we’re modeling ours after, though I expect to have some differences. (Notice that they had theirs built by a professional, and she’s a designer.) Brian found this blog after I showed him several inspiration pictures. My inspiration photos were also from Dwell, just like this blogger’s inspiration photos. The cabinets may look simple, and even minimalist, but don’t let looks fool you. Those inset doors with all the edges showing are some of the most difficult cabinets to build. Not only does everything need to be perfectly square (the acceptable margin of error is only one sixteenth of an inch), but the wood needs to be perfect, the cuts need to be perfect. In fact, it’s a cabinet and door style that many cabinet builders refuse to do, or will charge you so much for that you will wish you’d gone to IKEA and had the cabinets hand dipped in solid gold.

So, why do I think Brian can do it? Well, aside from the twin facts that he DID take wood shop in eighth grade, and we HAVE slowly been acquiring a mass of contractor grade tools in our nearly 13 years of marriage, I have simply decided to just have a little faith. It may take him awhile. He may have some failed attempts, but he’s my husband and I believe in him. He CAN do it. (Brian jokes that my faith in his abilities is based on stereotype—as in, I believe he can do carpentry because he’s Jewish.) And, I’ll keep saying that I know he can do it, even if I end up cooking for a year on plywood countertops wrapped in plastic tablecloths. (Btw, my old kitchen is still here, so I’m not in danger of that, YET.)

In the end, I think he will build me us a beautiful kitchen. Will it be finished by the end of this year? Likely not. But I’m betting it will be done sometime in 2012. And, as we progress, I’ll keep you updated.

...or maybe I just have to have faith because I have no ceiling!

My Health, Adventures in GAPS, and Low-Carb Living

I’m about to get really personal when it comes to diet and my health—both my physical and mental well being. As you may remember (if you stuck with me during my long, unannounced hiatus), my family was grain free for several months at the beginning of this year, mostly due to some health problems I was encountering. Specifically, I suffered from a fairly aggressive combination of bacterial and fungal infection on the skin of my arms and underarms. It is an understatement to say it was horrible. I was on antifungal creams, steroid creams and antibiotics. My arms swollen, red, and hot to the touch—as if I had a sunburn. At one point, the infection sent long, snaking red tendrils marching down my breast tissue (in the direction of my heart) and threatened to develop into mastitis. I’ll be honest, after trying several more natural remedies, I was pretty glad for some serious western medical intervention of steroids and antibiotics.

But—and this is the big BUT—after my treatment, I was left feeling down, depressed and unmotivated. For no particular reason that I could think of or put a finger on, I simply lost my drive to exercise, to cook, to write, and even to do basic chores around the house. Simple chores like changing the laundry over from the washer to the dryer felt like major tasks. And, I couldn’t attribute it to the reintroduction of grains because it started BEFORE I reintroduced them.

I didn’t even feel like Facebooking!!

It was like a fog had crept over me sometime in the middle of winter and just refused to go away. It got worse with some stressful incidents with the extended family in late spring. I thought time, summer and the sunshine would resolve it. And, I did manage to press through tomato canning season (and 300 pounds of tomatoes) without letting any go to waste. But, when August rolled around, I was still waiting for my summer energy to kick in.

It took me awhile, but I began to realize that it wasn’t just a normal fluctuation in mood or energy. I started to question what was going on.

You can’t read real food blogs (like Cheeseslave) without hearing or seeing the term GAPS. GAPS refers to Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a condition (or group of conditions) identified by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who wrote a book by the same name (and holds the trademark on the term). Campbell-McBride’s book jacket proclaims, “[s]he believes the link between physical and mental health, the food and drink that we take, and the condition of our digestive system is absolute…” In other words, the foundation of the dietary recommendations are that our physical and mental health is directly, intricately, and intimately linked to our digestive health. In even more words, heal your gut and your problems will dissolve like a bottle of Tums at one of America’s traditional greasy spoons.

I’ll admit. It sounds too good to be true. And, I’m skeptical of anything or anyone proclaiming that all psychological problems (or even all of any type—like eating disorders) can be cured through a healthier digestive system. But, I read the book, and started checking its references. While some of the cited sources are less credible (in my opinion) than others, the book on the whole is a very compelling work. I decided to give it a try. I ordered a probiotic supplement, got all my lacto-fermented vegetables in order (also probiotic, as well as excellent sources of digestive enzyme) and geared up to eat soup for breakfast. Brian thought I was more than a little bit crazy.

However, a few weeks in and I was feeling much better. I was still dragging a bit and my generally daily levels of motivation still had not quite returned to normal, but other (hormone-related) things had—for the first time in all my years of struggle with infertility. (For those of you who don’t know, we struggled with infertility our entire marriage and conceived our beautiful daughter through IVF, and feel blessed for having been given this miracle!)

At the same time I was delving into GAPS, I was also reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, and in every chapter, every point, could see my whole medical history unfolding and being re-explained. Taubes argues convincingly, with good science supporting his arguments, that there is very little evidence that fat accumulation is due to a simple calories in minus calories out equation. He says that when it comes to excess weight gain (we’re talking the clinically overweight and obese here, and not necessarily the person with a few more pounds than they’d like to carry) there are metabolic forces at work in the body (like insulin and cortisol) that promote fat accumulation—rather than fat burning. And, that the standard recommendation to eat a low fat, varied diet, might just be (and probably is) a leading factor in the obesity epidemic. He also argues that there is evidence that exercising more just doesn’t help—because the body automatically adjusts energy levels to conserve and promote fat storage. (I am paraphrasing horribly here… just read the book. It’s a tight, tidy, and compelling work of scientific journalism!)

A lot of what he reports makes sense in context of my life. When I was in grade school, my grandfather had a heart attack. A few years later, my mom got her cholesterol checked and it came back high. (You should know that cholesterol numbers a poor predictor of heart disease—unless perhaps you are talking about a full assay of the cholesterol particle size, including VLDL counts as opposed to LDL and HDL—and the science to show that cholesterol numbers don’t predict heart disease is about as old and consistent as the advice to check your numbers!) I came back from summer camp that year to find a HUGE cut your cholesterol book on her counter and our family diet radically changed. Out went the butter, the breakfast meats, and the regular cheese. In came the fat free and low fat sour cream, the fat free breakfast cereals, and the fat free yogurt. About that same time, I started junior high AND started having stomach aches every morning at school and was eventually diagnosed as being hypoglycemic—and told to have an orange juice mid-morning. I couldn’t go a day without a hypoglycemic reaction. I couldn’t make it from morning to break without and then break to lunch (about two hour intervals) without feeling queasy. No one attributed my rapid change in health to our new diet. Our new diet was, after all, based on the leading recommendations on nutrition for the day.

I put on fat all through junior high and high school, which my mom attributed to me eating junk food at my boyfriend’s house. (I ate lots of junk food when exposed to it at other people’s houses because I was ALWAYS hungry!) Also during that time, I developed chronic urinary tract infections, chronic yeast infections. I can also trace the beginnings of my eating disorder back to that very same time. (For those of you in the know, you might sum it up by saying, I became a GAPs patient!) And, incidentally, despite eating a mostly low fat, high fiber diet my cholesterol when tested at the end of my senior year of high school was 310. Way above the numbers that had sparked my mom’s initial enthusiasm for overhauling our family food supply. (Incidentally, we did not have cable growing up and we lived in the country, so I had a childhood full of manual labor, swimming in creeks, hiking, running around outside and generally being active.)

Reading Taubes’s book (along with works by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon) I had to reassess and wonder, would I have been so hungry and have gotten so fat and eating disordered if I’d been eating more meat and more fat, if I’d been eating the closer-to-traditional foods we had eaten before cholesterol became the big scary issue in my childhood home? My mom was just following the latest and loudest health advice, and doing what she thought was best, I think she was misinformed. I think we all were. The consequences, for me, were dire.

Skip forward through years of college and grad school, where I put on still more weight—despite a rollercoaster of dieting and a year of being a vegetarian. Medical professionals, my friends, and even me had started to wonder if birth control pills (which I’d been on since fifteen) were contributing to my health problems, so I stopped taking them and after a year was diagnosed with amenorrhea. After that, we come to my adult years when I was diagnosed as obese, infertile, and insulin resistant. At the time, I was put on glucophage (a terrible experience) and advised to exercise more and eat the standard American diabetic diet—which adds a double-D to the SAD. The standard diabetic diet is low in fat (including healthy saturated fats like coconut oil) and still includes lots of insulin spiking foods. The glucophage did nothing but make me sicker. I eventually gave it up and started on my own path of diet and healing-a path that was marked by a vast reduction in (among other things) carbohydrates and commercially processed food.

I have a strong suspicion that insulin, related to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat (and yes, at times processed foods—though certainly not in the past few years) diet is a major factor in the weight and health problems that have plagued me for much of my life. My most successful weight loss, which occurred before Mia was born and which I have maintained to this day, happened when I (among other things) cut out most of the sugar and refined carbohydrates in my diet. And, when I was pregnant and monitoring my blood sugars, I had the unique opportunity to test my blood sugar after every meal and keep notes on what caused spikes. It wasn’t fats or meats. It was the carbs. Especially whole grain bread—which spiked my blood sugar higher and faster than anything else.

Lowering my carb intake even further is most likely a necessity for my health. I have Gary Taubes and his book to thank for laying it out in a way that was devoid of diet frenzy and packed full of credible research. And, I have a whole body of real food writers (including bloggers) to thank as well.

I also have come to believe that I DO have some issues with gut flora. What clued me in? The chronic candida issues, for one. The chronic UTIs, which are caused by e-coli, for another. (According to McBride, some forms of e-coli are naturally part of the gut, and even necessary, but they shouldn’t migrate out to wreak havoc on the urinary tract. If I want to end the rounds of antibiotics, antifungals, and steroid creams, as well as generally feel better, then following a diet protocol to heal my gut is a good bet for me—and my family. (Flora issues are often family issues.)

Ultimately, what I decided to do was to keep some of the GAPS protocol that was working for me and also go low carb. That’s not to say I completely revamped our diets. I did not. We had already switched to 100% whole grain flour (milled at home) and limited our carbohydrate to whole food sources like root veggies and salad from our garden. And, though we were still using maple syrup and honey as sweeteners, our consumption of them was far, far, FAR below the national average.

So, I increased my consumption of homemade meat and bone broths, eggs, meats, saturated fat (from 100% grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chickens, coconut oil, butter from pastured cows, pastured local-produced lard and tallow, etc.) and bacon (glorious bacon) and decreased my consumption of all carbohydrates—eliminating all grains and fruits as well as some starchy root vegetables. I am still consuming dairy, but only fermented and drained yogurts, raw milk cheeses, and raw milk cream.

I consider it a lifestyle change, not a diet. So, unlike other times in my diet history when I have tried to do low-carb diets solely for weight loss, I am first and foremost adhering to a real-food diet sourced f largely from local farmers and my own garden. No artificial sweeteners or commercially packaged bars, candies, or foodstuffs otherwise labeled and marketed to the low-carb dieter cross my threshold, let alone my lips. (Have you read the ingredients lists on those things???? They are NOT food!!) I’m also leaving out the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and nuts—at least for now. (For anyone who is concerned, Mia is still eating a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and root veggies!)

I implemented these changes the minute I finished Taubes’s book.

And, like a miracle, one week in, I was bouncing off the walls with energy. I cleaned my house from top to bottom and then effortlessly kept it clean. I had more energy to do things with Mia—like entertain her with crafts AND cook at the same time! I got my Winter garden planted. We went for more walks. My mood lifted. (I also lost a few pounds and a few percentages of body fat!) I can honestly say I’ve never felt so good in my life! What is left of my rash is disappearing. My body is responding more quickly to exercise—I have more muscle, more pep, and for the first time since my c-section (almost three years ago) a noticeably diminishing lower belly. (I hope I don’t jinx it by writing that!)

I also started working on this blog post. My first post in months (and it has taken me a few weeks to write) but hopefully not my last!

Where I’m Going With this Blog

For the time being, I’m going to aim for at least one blog a week, but I’m not going to make any promises, yet. Sometimes it will be more, sometimes less. You can expect to see me blog about the food I cook as well as the ever evolving life altering course of eating wholesome food to heal my body. You can also expect to see me blog about the life of a family living on the fringes of society: consuming real, raw milk, local (properly-produced) meats, and lots of saturated fat; unschooling our child; avoiding restaurants; and, generally doing things our own way. (I’ve been making homemade sausage and branching out in my cheese making and can’t wait to write about it!) Along the way, I may blog about related social causes, something I feel passionately about, but don’t always have the time to research and write about in the kind of detail I’d prefer.

A sneak preview of my homemade cheddar! (I name each one and write details on a card!)

As time goes on, I would like to get back to a regular publication schedule. But, like many things, life is evolving here and I have to take time to make sure my family gets the attention it needs. I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that my computer gets all my attention!

In the meantime, between blog posts, you can follow me on Facebook, and to a lesser degree on Twitter. (I don’t tend to Tweet much, but it’s something I know I’ll grow into eventually!)

Cook’s Notes: I no longer worry about my cholesterol numbers—at all. They have very little (if anything) to do with my risk of heart disease or metabolic disease for that matter. For more information on cholesterol, heart disease risk, low-carb diets, exercise, and metabolic diseases, read Gary Taubes book and see these links:

(And, just FYI, after starting on a real foods only diet a few years ago, my cholesterol was in the neighborhood of 220–a significant drop from 310. And, while I haven’t had my numbers checked, my diet and lifestyle are even healthier now. I will update you when (if) I get my numbers checked.)

*Credit Where Credit is Due: The title of this blog is a near word-for-word play on lyrics from the 1972 Led Zeppelin tune, “Rock and Roll” (Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant), also known as “It’s Been A Long Time”.

Posted in Grain Free, Kitchen Remodel, Natural Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Steamed Squash Blossom Dumplings (Grain Free)

Squash blossoms.

This weekend, in the midst of our remodel project, I took time to make up a new dish. Why? Well, let me show you. We’ve got a small urban pumpkin (and other winter squash) farm taking over our front and back yard with plenty of blossoms to spare: of both the male blossom and pruning to grow big jack o’lantern varieties. (We’re growing several types of eating pumpkins, some jack o’lanterns for the neighborhood kids, as well as lots of heirloom varieties of winter squash.) And, with all those blossoms in season and ready for picking, it was either figure out what to do with them or let them go to waste.

Pumpkin vines go marching across my lawn. (Please don't call the police!)

The thing to do with squash blossoms, if you believe the most common Google results, seems to be to stuff them, bread them, and fry them. And, I tried that—using egg and milk, coconut flour, and homemade cheese. And they were good. But, not good enough. (Tell me, what don’t we Americans stuff with cheese, bread and fry?)

Ingredients.

So, I thought about what else I could do with them. And, I came up with the idea of turning them into steamed dumplings, inspired by the ones I enjoy at my favorite Thai, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants. I decided that I was going to just use what I had on hand and they were delicious. Mia learned a new word, “Dumpling!” which she used again and again to request more bites!

Not the pretty stage of dumpling making.

I don’t have a recipe for these. I mostly don’t do recipes. But, I think they are pretty easy to recreate and you should feel free to be creative. This is what I did:

In a food processor, I combined two garden fresh carrots, three spring onions, three cloves of garlic, one zucchini, and a handful of okra (this was all from my garden, you could use other veggies), then I added two eggs, a generous chug of coconut amino and some real sea salt. I processed until the chunks were even and fairly smooth, then added about a dozen wild caught scallops and a cup of leftover hamburger (precooked and seasoned and just hanging out in my fridge). I pulsed it all in and stuffed the squash blossoms, leaving enough room to gently twist the upper petals to close into a dumpling and arranged them in a steamer basket.

Steamer full of blossoms. (Sounds like a good band name, doesn't it?)

I steamed them for about twenty minutes, but your steam time will depend on your particular mixture and dumpling size.

Yum!

Serve with more coconut amino and fresh picked basil! Enjoy!

Cook’s Notes:

Next time I do these, I’m going to try adding ginger and basil to my stuffing mix. Also, the inner bits of the blossom (the stamen and the carpel, I think…) have a strong flavor. You might want to try a taste of it and see if you prefer to remove it (by gently pinching it off) before cooking!

Where do you get your squash blossoms? You might be able to get them at a specialty food store or a farmer’s market. Your best bet is in your own garden. Feel free to pick any of the male flowers you want. (Those are the ones without baby squash growing under them!) You can also pick the female flowers, especially if you are pruning blossoms to grow bigger squash!

I had a lot of extra stuffing for the number of blossoms I had picked. I used it to stuff some seeded zucchini halves (like boats) and baked them at 450 degrees. I also sautéed some of the stuffing with leftover pea pods and we ate it wrapped in lettuce from the garden. Lots of yum!

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival on KellytheKitchenKop.com! Check it out for lots of good real food reads!

Posted in Gardening, Grain Free, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Paleo-Friendly, Grain-Free Blueberry Cobbler

This is a picture of the recipe cobbler. The one that isn't quite like mine. (It's also not blueberry, but that's a different story...) This was really good, but it wasn't really my cobbler. Moral of the story? Make your own!

When I was a kid in Oregon, we picked berries. Lots and lots of berries. We picked strawberries by the pound, and got paid about $2 a crate to do so. (We thought we had struck it rich when we came home with $10 in our pockets and sunburns on our noses after spending the day picking berries and singing Milli Vanilli songs with friends!). When we got older, my friends and I earned minimum wage by working a berry harvesting machine—a type of tractor that drives down a row of raspberries (or blueberries) and gently shakes them loose onto conveyor belts—eight hours a day, seven days a week for the first six to eight weeks of summer. And, when wild blackberry season came? It was cobbler time.

To me, cobbler isn’t something you use a recipe for. It’s something you make after a long walk through the woods with your mom (or other family and friends), when you’ve happened on just the right patch of ripe summer berries, and have brought them home in a hat, the butter dish you raced down the hill and through the kitchen door to get, or a bucket you brought along just in case.

How much of anything you use, what size baking dish, and even the taste largely depends on how many berries you’ve brought home and how naturally sweet they are. (When the berries are ripe and sweet, you don’t need to add anything to them, although, you can add honey if you need to.) It’s the topping that gets a little tricky. As a kid I learned to make an easy topping with Bisquick, sugar and milk. Obviously, in my new real food lifestyle, the Bisquick won’t cut it. (It’s just not real food!)

So far, this summer has been a lot like those summers growing up, at least in the sense that I’ve been picking a lot of berries lately. The blueberries are ripe and gorgeous at Frog Eye Farm, just over the border in Maryland. Mia and I have been there nearly every week, often picking side by side with our friends from Sunny Knoll EcoFarm. And no matter how many berries we pick (we ate almost three gallons of blueberries in four days) we never seem to be able to save enough to freeze. There is just no end to delicious when it comes to these little barrels of antioxidant.

Most of the time, we eat them plain, straight out of the picking container. However, some of them we reserve for special treats. Sarah (from Sunny Knoll EcoFarm) makes amazing blueberry ice cream. It is the perfect pair for my grain-free (Bisquick free) blueberry cobbler. In fact, they go together so well that Sarah asked me for the cobbler recipe.

“You need to post this on your blog before the season is over,” she said to me as our families polished off bowls of cobbler topped with ice cream.

The only problem? I don’t have a recipe. In fact, my attempt to write it out for her was pretty much a failure. After she made it, she wrote me a quick e-mail, “Thanks for writing this down and sending it to me!! I made it, and it was good, but not as good as when you made it. It was quite different, actually, from when you made it.”

I frowned. I had been planning on publishing it on the blog that same day. Instead, I pulled my recipe out and tried to make it. And, guess what? It was still good, but it wasn’t my cobbler. I’ve tried it a few times since and the only way it turns out is if I don’t use a recipe. Any attempt to write it down and use the same quantities results in something that isn’t quite right. Good, but not quite right.

But, the real thing—the no-recipe version—is fantastic! So good that I have to share.

So, here’s my proposition. I’m going to share this as a non-recipe. Rather than making the Hard-Core Traditional Cook’s cobbler, you should use your tastes and senses to guide you and come up with your own cobbler. Practice. Experiment. It’s bound to be edible, and most likely really good. Eventually you’ll develop a method that is just right for your family and their tastes!

Oils: Use a combination of butter and coconut oil, or just coconut oil. I use about 4 oz butter and 4 oz coconut oil, but sometimes it’s a lot more coconut oil and less butter. It depends on the weather (and softness of the oil) to some extent. It also depends on what I have on hand.

  • 4 oz butter
  • 4 oz coconut oil

Binding: 1 to 2 pastured, farm fresh eggs, or a cup of chia seeds soaked in water to form a paste. (This is to bind the cobbler into a dough. I usually start with one egg and only add another if I need more liquid.)

Sweetener: 2 heaping tablespoons of honey (or up to ¼ cup)

Coconut Flour: 4 to 6 oz of coconut flour.

Nuts and Texture: Unsweetened coconut (without preservative) 1 cup (or more when you aren’t using nuts), a handful of chia seeds, and a few handfuls of nuts. If you are leaving out the nuts, experiment with more coconut or chia.

Spices: Cinnamon to taste ( I use gobs and gobs)

Berries: Enough blueberries to fill your baking dish one or two inches high

Cream oil (start with 4 oz of each), egg, and honey until soft. Add coconut flour. You should get a really soft, not quite as stiff as frosting texture. Don’t be afraid to taste your dough at this point. If it feels chalky on the tongue, you need more oil or egg. If it’s soft and gooey, add the coconut, nuts and spices. It should be about the consistency of a cookie dough. If it’s not, it needs more liquid. If it tastes or feels chalky, it needs more liquid. If it crumbles to bits, it probably needs more binder (and maybe more liquid). Experiment until you have a dough that tastes good raw—like something you’d eat out of the tube if you bought it at the store. Place your berries in their baking dish. Crumble or spread your dough over top.

Bake at 350 until brown.

Serve with homemade blueberry ice cream. (If you can bribe Sarah for her recipe!)

(You can also serve this with homemade vanilla yogurt—that makes it breakfast!)

Cook’s Note: We used to love our Bisquick growing up. It was a staple of sorts in our home. We made pancakes with it and everything else! So, why have I scorned the boxed mix that has treated me so well for so many years? For one thing, although you can eat flour from a box or bag, it actually begins to degrade very quickly once it is milled—it can take a few months to become fully and completely rancid, but the destruction of vitamins, micronutrients, and amino acids starts right away. (A few months, you say? That’s a long time! But, how long has your flour been sitting in a warehouse or the supermarket?) All bagged flours are at least partly rancid and thus not at their nutritional prime!

Another strike against Bisquick? It’s an industrial processed food full of commercial food producer’s favorite ingredients. Bisquick’s ingredient list includes enriched flour (that means white flour with nutrients added in because the flour is going to go rancid in the box, of maybe even before they mixed it into the bisquick mix) partially hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil (TRANS FAT ALERT!!), baking soda (and sodium ALUMINUM phosphate), dextrose, and salt. So-called “Heart Smart Bisquick” subs in canola oil for the fat (if you think canola oil is a heart healthy oil, check out the link below), and contains added texturizers and fillers like corn starch. (GMO ALERT) What it comes down to is that I just don’t eat stuff like that anymore.

Want to know more about the fats you eat, or the ones you think you shouldn’t, but see me cooking with all the time? Read The Oiling of America. This is an excellent article written by Mary G. Enig and Sally Fallon on the Weston A. Price Foundation website.

This blog is part of the Traditional Tuesday Blog Hop on Real Food Whole Health.

This blog is also part of the Healthy 2day Wednesday on day2dayjoys.blogspot.com!

Posted in Grain Free, Recipes | 2 Comments

Kitchen Remodeling II: Weekend Warriors Eat at Restaurants?

This weekend, our kitchen was mostly out of commission. We moved everything that wasn’t nailed down or screwed in (and even some things that were) from the kitchen to the library to make way for our home improvement project. And, although we set things up to cook while we work on our project, we decided to simplify matters “just this once” and go out to eat. (Insert gasp and dramatic pause!)

But why? You ask.

I don’t blame you. It’s the same thing I’ve been asking myself. But, the main one was convenience. When you’re talking about two projects going at once (the make all your own food project and the remodel your kitchen yourself project) It’s just hard to get it all done AND get it all done. So, I thought, “What’s the harm in a few meals out? At this point it’s not likely to bring back old habits.”

As we were piling kitchenware on every available surface in our library, I said as much to Brian, who looked at me askance. He’s just no longer used to me suggesting that we eat out. But, he reluctantly agreed that we might be better off grabbing a meal out and using our productive daytime for working on our remodel and spending time with Mia—rather than all the other kitchen chores that go along with cooking. Plus, the kitchen was about to get really dusty with all that ceiling tile coming down.

We ate two meals out. One at an Italian restaurant and one at a New York style deli. At each place, we ordered your average meal. Pasta with grilled veggies and a side salad was my meal at the first restaurant, Brian and Mia had pizza. A tuna melt on rye for me and a roast beef sandwich for Brian at the second. (Mia ate what we ate.) After each meal, I felt tired, distracted, and physically full but still craving food. It was a familiar feeling. I used to feel this way all the time after eating.

I’ve come to expect that the food I eat will give me a burst of energy. It’s not supposed to make me tired! And, it’s definitely not supposed to fill my head with fog and make me long to be asleep just after noon. I think one of the most important questions you can ask yourself about your diet and health is not whether or not you are following the advice of a government organization, but rather this: How does what you eat make you feel?

Also, I’ve come to this conclusion, and it’s something to chew on with your next meal:

We should feel a boost of energy after we eat or at least we shouldn’t feel drained of energy. When we eat diets that run us down, the so-called food we eat is changing who we are as a species.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that we’ll figure out a way to cook at home while we do this project.

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