Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday morning conversation

The morning seems pretty ideal so far: Hugo and I are having fresh-baked lemon-cranberry scones (thanks to me), and we are reading the New York Times. Oliver is even cooperating more or less by playing destructively on the floor. I am thinking happily of the walk we will take around our neighborhood a little later; I need to go to the farmers' market, and the bank, and to get my phone checked out after its recent drooly handling by Oliver. To me, going to the farmers' market with our adorable son in the Bugaboo and my handsome husband at my side is pretty much my idea of the perfect way to spend a lovely Saturday spring morning. This is what happened when I foolishly opened my mouth:
Me (brightly): Honey, we can go by Verizon while we're out at the farmers' market!
Hugo: What?! See, this is why I don't want to go on a walk. You end up making me do WORK. I want to just SIT outside at the park, not go to a bunch of places!
Me (totally baffled): You mean, you don't WANT to go to the farmers' market?
Hugo: No!
Me: Really? But it's so fun! You can look around and pick something that you would like.
Hugo: But there's no selection!
Me: No selection?!
Hugo: There's no electronics! Nobody's naked! What more can I say?!

This gave me a really good laugh. In many ways, Hugo is a typical guy. He loves vampire movies and doesn't want our son wearing baby blue seersucker, for example. But he has also enthusiastically attended the ballet with me on several occasions and has even bought me shoes at the Opening Ceremony warehouse sale. So even though he has refused to accompany me to the farmers' market this morning, I will still believe that life with Hugo is pretty much the best of both worlds. :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

"But I'm afraid of butter!"

Hil just posted the following comment on my protein entry: "I still feel afraid of butter!" I have to respond to this.

If it's any comfort, Hilary, people used to eat a LOT of raw butter, cream, milk, buttermilk, etc. in the U.S. up until just 50 years ago. These products were staples and important sources of fat and many nutrients in the American diet. However, we were hoodwinked into thinking butter and cream in general were dangerous for our health by industry and interest groups that wanted to sell cheap oil-derived substitutes (margarine) and take business away from the farmers who were still selling small quantities of high-quality butter and dairy to people in the towns & cities. Things went downhill from there, which was around the same time we started employing modern production methods for growing crops and raising animals (like CAFOs, etc.). I have seen a diagram that showed a dramatic rise in obesity at the same time that people dramatically lowered butter consumption. Not that they are directly related, but clearly substituting other things for butter is not making anyone thin! I usually eat anywhere from 2-4 tbsp. of butter daily, as well as things like cream, sour cream, yogurt & kefir, a little cheese, about 8 oz. of milk, etc. (all raw, all unprocessed, all full-fat). Ever since I increased my fat consumption to about 50% of daily calories I have experienced only positive changes in my health and still fit all my old pre-pregnancy clothes. Butter (esp. raw, from pastured cattle) contains so many wonderful health benefits. Dentist & researcher Weston Price actually found that the heart attack rate was inversely proportional to the level of vitamins available in the butter; during the spring and fall months, when people were consuming butter from cattle grazing on fast-growing green grass, rates were lowest (see This butter is very rich in vitamins K2 and D which are crucial for heart health, among other things. It is also a wonderful source of true vitamin A which is very important for eye health. [It is no coincidence that our modern diet which is low in natural sources of true vitamin A, D, and K2 also brings us things like cavities, poor dental development (so that everyone needs braces), and poor vision (so that 2/3 of the population needs corrective lenses). More on this in another post.] Trust me, Hilary, butter is your FRIEND! Before everyone became paranoid about saturated fats people considered butterfat (cream) to be desirable -- some cultures more or less worshiped it! They recognized its life-giving power for fertility, for children's development, and for daily health and vitality. Fat truly does not make people fat. While it is important to listen to your body and figure out the right amount of fat that feels good for you, it's also important to keep in mind that responsibly-produced animal fats are deeply satisfying and nutritious. It is sugar in all its forms (white flour, white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.), processed vegetable oils, and modern methods of produce, dairy & meat production that are truly causing illness and obesity on a mass scale. So go out there and EAT YOUR BUTTER!

A further note about raw vs. pasteurized dairy: Until pasteurization was enforced people ate mainly raw dairy products which were life-giving, as compared to the homogenized, pasteurized, hormone-laden, pesticide- and pus-filled products sold in supermarkets today. Not only is raw milk, cream, and butter from pastured happy cows clean and delicious, these things also provide vitamins, enzymes, and various compounds we don't see much of anymore in the American diet, which are all destroyed or diminished when pasteurized: like B6 (important for preventing depression) and the Wulzen factor (which protects against stiff joints and muscles). Even calcium can't be absorbed without its accompanying enzyme, phosphophatase, which is only present in raw milk. Did you get that the first time? All this talk of drinking lots of milk for calcium and osteoporosis-prevention is a lot of nonsense when the human body cannot actually absorb calcium properly without the enzyme phosphophatase, which is DESTROYED DURING PASTEURIZATION! Raw dairy is also far less likely to cause allergies or intolerances than regular pasteurized dairy because pasteurization warps the proteins in milk which renders it very hard to digest and absorb properly. If you want to get access to certified, clean raw dairy near you please email me ( and I will help you out. If you're concerned about cost, rest assured this stuff is a much better price than organic dairy at Whole Foods or most other stores, and it's far better. (I pay about $7 for a gallon for milk and $10 for a pound of butter, which is equivalent to 4 sticks.) Please see my article on butter at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The issue of protein is hotly debated these days, with advocates of different diets all claiming that their particular way of eating is best for people and/or for the environment. Some people think they can get all the protein their bodies need entirely from plants (like whole grains, beans, and nuts), others believe you should include eggs and dairy, and others think they must eat a steak a day for optimal health. So what is really the truth?

To begin this discussion, I must first say that everyone is different. As I have reiterated in other posts, we are all different people with unique traits and physiological needs. So I always encourage people to experiment with different types and amounts of protein. With all that said, however, there are some guidelines we need to consider:

1) humans are omnivores. There is no shame in this! Many people experience strong cravings for high-protein animal foods like meat and eggs. This is totally normal. When we deny our need for this type of basic nourishment we open up a whole Pandora's box of problems: weight gain, depression/anxiety, dramatic tooth decay, sugar cravings, lethargy, infertility, chronic hunger (i.e. not being able to get full)...the list goes on. I have noticed that many issues of Vegetarian Times (which I love for the veggie recipes!) tends to include main-dish recipes that are basically carb-on-carb because they are simply replacing the usual meat dish with carbohydrates (worse yet, these are generally "white" carbs like a curry-potato dish on top of white rice!). Because this is the natural tendency of people who "go veg" they can end up gaining weight on a diet that seems quite spartan. It is easy to forget that meat is uniquely filling and energizing for many people, and allows them to eat less of other foods because it fills so many requirements. Think of it this way: if you were to eat a good 4-8 oz. of meat at a dinner out would you also feel the need to fill up on the bread basket?

2) high-quality animal fats (such as those in grass-fat meats, small oily wild fish, pastured egg yolks, fish eggs, butterfat from grass-fed cows, organ meats, lard from pastured pigs, etc.) are essential for proper growth, fertility, strong teeth & bones, resistance to disease, mental health, and many other things because of their high levels of vitamins A, D, and K. They generally come along with plenty of protein (not in the case of fat or lard, though, obviously), so when people are trying to avoid fat they often end up avoiding protein which is bad news.

3) for people recovering from depression and other mental disorders it is sometimes quite effective to eat about 30 grams of animal protein at each meal. This sounds crazy, but it works. Tryptophan is an amino acid required to form serotonin. So a diet low in protein, and therefore low in tryptophan (think: the typical dieter's diet, a high-carb/low-protein diet, or a diet of candy, coffee, and other stimulating junk which many people try to live on) can actually set us up for depression and mental illness.

4) keep in mind that your body needs fat in order to absorb protein! So eating low-fat or fat-free yogurt, for example, is pretty pointless. (Not only will you not absorb the protein, but you also won't absorb the nutrients either.) Fat and protein go hand-in-hand. Also many people need saturated fats to feel full, and since large amounts of saturated fats are found only in animal protein, dairy & eggs (with the exception of coconuts) many people need to eat these foods on a regular basis. Have you ever had the experience of eating a serving of salmon or lean skinless chicken breast and then feeling hungry afterward? This is your body telling you it needs something more. And the "something more" isn't dessert or extra pasta, it's probably fat. Since we need fat to absorb protein and nutrients AND to feel full and satisfied, and since the most satisfying nutritious fats come attached to meat, yogurt, eggs, etc. then it follows that we need to eat these things. Again, not everyone does, but many people do. In traditional "primitive" cultures, people would go far out of their way for the chance to eat fat, and they would even throw away lean meat in times of plenty, and always consume the fattiest parts first. This is a fascinating article that shows the types of fat that Native Americans ate and how it affected their health:

5) protein from grains, beans, and nuts/seeds is harder to absorb, and these foods are much harder to digest as well. This is really true. Animals that exist solely on plants have more than one stomach so they can digest them properly and absorb the nutrients. Humans have only one stomach, so we have to be smart about how we prepare our food. If you are getting a lot of your protein from things like whole grains, beans, and nuts it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to prepare them properly. This means soaking or sprouting, or (in the case of bread) eating sourdough whole wheat that has been made the traditional way with a sourdough culture. Also, if you make any type of baked good at home like pancakes or biscuits, it is essential to use whole wheat flour and soak it overnight in an acidic medium. Grains (including flour), beans, and nuts are high in phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which really must be neutralized or they will have a demineralizing effect on the body (including bones & teeth). This problem is very real. Check out this story by a vegetarian mother -- it's quite illuminating re: the effect of diet on dental health (scroll halfway down the page to "Vegetarianism and Cavities"):

6) what about protein bars and shakes? Forget them. They are not real food and have no place in your diet.

7) so how much protein to eat? If pregnant you need 80-100 grams of good-quality (easily-absorbed) protein, like that found in meat, eggs, raw dairy, and properly-prepared beans, nuts & whole grains. Otherwise, there is no hard-and-fast rule for the rest of us. Personally, I have found that IN THE WINTER I generally need the equivalent of the following in one day: 2 eggs, 4 oz. yogurt or kefir, 2 oz. cheese or a glass of raw milk, 4-6 oz. meat/chicken/fish, 1-2 servings whole grain (oatmeal, quinoa, etc.). I will also sometimes have crispy nuts (which have simply been soaked overnight in salted water, then dried in a warm oven) on a salad or for a snack, and properly-prepared beans instead of meat maybe 2 times a week. This makes for a rough estimate of about 80 or more grams of protein per day; however, there will be days (maybe 2-3 days a week) when I eat very light and choose beans instead of animal protein. I have found that I need this much to be energetic and have no "bad" cravings, and I am a small person (5'2" 115 lbs.) and getting only moderate daily exercise (though considerably more than the average American as I walk to many of the places I go and run around after a small child all day). I am, however, breastfeeding so this raises my requirements. ALSO the seasons affect my protein needs quite a lot. In the winter I need more meat and heavy foods whereas in the summer I would be satisfied with a meal of raw cottage cheese and lots of fruit, or a big salad with a sliced egg, some nuts, and sourdough croutons. Exercise also affects protein requirements. When experimenting with different kinds of foods and protein keep these things in consideration: pregnant/nursing/menstruating, time of year, daily exercise, stress, cravings. Strong sugar cravings can be a sign that you need more meat (or, if you are already eating a big steak every day and craving sweets then this is a sign you need to cut way back on the meat). For me, if I go several days without red meat I usually begin having very strong cravings for things like cheese fries and fried chicken! Then if I have a small amount (maybe 4 oz.) of pot roast, for example, with accompanying veggies & butter, the cravings disappear.

8) many traditional cultures rely largely on carbohydrates for their nourishment, like beans, corn, or starchy roots. These people also have a way of preparing these foods to maximize their nutritional value (such as soaking). In addition, they use small quantities of high-quality animal fats (like lard) to make the food more nutritious and the nutrients more easily-absorbed. These traditional methods of preparation are used intuitively.

9) soy is a special topic so I will discuss it more in another post. Suffice it to say, for now, that modern soy products should be avoided as they depress thyroid function, harm fertility, and are high in phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors (not destroyed by modern production methods). Use small amounts of traditionally-fermented soy sauce or natto and tempeh if you wish. Soy milks, protein powders, soy "meat" and soy "cheese," and modern tofu are highly processed and not nourishing (in fact, they are quite the opposite!).

10) A little more about grass-fed vs. typical animal foods: Eggs & meat from grass-fed (pastured) animals contain a proper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which is extremely important for human health. For example, the typical supermarket egg contains a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats of 20:1 as compared to a pastured egg which is 1.5:1! It's the same deal with grass-fed beef. Since many health problems are due to the extreme imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the Western diet it is wisest, tastiest, and healthiest to choose local meats, dairy, and eggs from small farms that raise animals the right way: on pasture. Grass-fed beef and raw butterfat are also high in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which protects us from cancer, diabetes, immune disorders, and OBESITY. There you go: you truly can eat fat to be thin.

*One final note: it is really best to avoid any types of products from animals who were raised in misery. There are many other options available besides eating factory-farmed dairy, eggs, or poultry/meat/fish. If you are on a limited budget you can eat small amounts of sustainably-raised and harvested meat and fish and emphasize things like eggs & properly-prepared whole grains, beans, and legumes cooked with good-quality animal fats (such as lard from pigs raised on pasture). Cooking your grains and beans with homemade gelatin-rich bone broths is also a great way to stretch a small quantity of meat; these broths are extremely nutritious and "protein-sparing," which means they make a small amount of protein go farther in the body.

For an interesting article on protein & osteoporosis, click here:

A Model Baby

Well, at least we know if our hopes for Oliver's future career as a brilliant farmer-intellectual or composer don't work out, he can always be a Ralph Lauren model. He has the brow-furrowed-staring-into-the-distance look down pat!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lessons in Eating for your Body

This past week I learned an important lesson about eating in tune with what my body needs. As you may know, I have an underactive thyroid which I am trying to heal. One of the main influencing factors, of course, is diet, and I am always trying to gather more information on how I can do better. I ran into someone I knew as a thyroid "expert" at a talk I attended, and began discussing my thyroid condition with her afterward. She asked if I eat raw vegetables and I said yes, I do, mainly in the form of a big seasonal salad which I have a few times a week. She told me I needed to stop eating any raw vegetables because they contain goitrogens which attack thyroid hormone. I am not sure if she meant salad was taboo as well, but I took this to mean that I shouldn't have any type of raw green thing, and since I'm not into cooked lettuce I simply stopped eating salad. For the following week and a half I noticed a strange shift in my mood and energy level: I became very irritable, unmotivated, and fatigued. I wasn't keeping appointments or getting anything done at home which is totally unlike me. Friends heard me complain often about everything from my strange lack of energy to my odd desire to do absolutely nothing. I couldn't seem to stop griping and complaining about things in general! I was starting to have thoughts that maybe I had developed a food allergy or my thyroid medication wasn't working, etc.; I really couldn't figure out what was happening to me. Finally (after feeling pretty bad for a full week), I realized the only thing that had changed in my life was that I had STOPPED EATING SALADS. I spoke with my friend Sharon who reminded me that the woman I had consulted follows macrobiotic principles, which teaches that raw vegetables of any kind are very unhealthy. I realized I had misapplied information and made a drastic change that wasn't right for my body (something I warn other people against!). I began eating salads again as much as I wanted and began to feel better immediately. The change was dramatic. I don't know if somehow the nutrients I was missing are what was making me so miserable, or if it was that I was suppressing myself (I LOVE making --and eating-- beautiful salads of spring greens and to not eat them was to deny a part of myself). I suspect it was a mix of both. I have reached a point where I know what my body needs: it tells me when I need protein and what kind, when to eat fruit, when to have something lacto-fermented. I have to keep listening to that inner knowledge. This is what we all must do. Forget the so-called "experts;" they have their place of course, but the real expert on you is YOU.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Make whey while the sun shines

To put it very simply, whey is the watery part of milk and is rich in lactobacilli (friendly bacteria which produce lactic acid). I use it to start many food-prep processes, including soaking oatmeal, lacto-fermentation, preserving homemade mayo, and preparing raw fish. Before I started buying whey through our buyers' club, I made my own from a container of plain organic yogurt. I use Seven Stars, which worked well, but you could use any kind -- just make sure it's unflavored and full fat. As a byproduct (or really the whey is the byproduct I suppose) you will also have a sort of homemade cream cheese which is delicious spread on muffins. I take my recipe (and most of my recipes) from Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. Here's what she writes:

"Line a large strainer set over a bowl with a clean dish towel. Pour in the yogurt, cover with a towel, and let stand at room temperature for about a day. The whey will run into the bowl and the milk solids will stay in the strainer. After a day, tie up the towel with the milk solids inside, being careful not to squeeze. Tie this little sack to a wooden spoon placed across the top of a container so that more whey can drip out. When the bag stops dripping, the cream cheese is ready. Store whey in a glass jar and cream cheese in a covered glass container. Refrigerated, the cream cheese keeps for about 1 month and the whey for about 6 months."

Orangina that's good for you!

A few weeks ago I shared my experiences making lacto-fermented cucumbers for the first time. I will be experimenting with more veggies in the near future (as well as beans, then fruit when it's in season), but first I wanted to share about my first experience crafting my own lacto-fermented version of orangina at home. It's really quite easy--juicing the oranges is the hardest part!

You will need:
  • a quart-size glass jar with lid that screws on tightly
  • the juice of 6-8 oranges
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt (use Celtic sea salt, or a similar high-quality unprocessed sea salt)
  • 2 tbsp. whey
  • 1/4 tsp. orange extract (OPTIONAL I didn't use it; if you go for this be absolutely sure you've got orange extract, not orange flavoring)
  • filtered water
Simply combine all ingredients in the jar, add filtered water to fill it most of the way (leave at least an inch of space at the top), stir well, then screw the lid on tightly. Leave the jar at room temperature for 2 full days before transferring to the refrigerator. This drink is refreshing and fizzy, but barely sweet so don't expect the sugary Orangina flavor. It is delicious, though, and will still be a pretty orange color when finished. It lasts very well, but you will drink it all up before long.

Easy Chicken Salad

What to do with a leg of cold chicken from last Sunday? Make a yummy seasonal chicken salad! Simply remove the meat from the bone and cut into bite-size pieces, then toss with the following:
  • 1/4 apple, diced
  • 1 large handful chopped greens (I used baby mustard greens & arugula today)
  • 1 large spoonful mayo (homemade, if you like)
  • lots of curry powder (I use muchi curry, which is a delicious mix of many spices)
  • dash garlic powder
  • sea salt & black pepper
Serve on toasted whole wheat sourdough (buttered). If you use a whole leg (thigh and drumstick) or a very large chicken breast there should be enough for 2 people. This is a great meal for springtime as it incorporates the last of winter's apples and plenty of fresh leafy greens. Look for pastured chicken and whole wheat sourdough at your farmers' market as well! They should be available throughout most of the year, though when it comes to chicken this depends on the farmer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Easy Hollandaise

For a ridiculously luscious (but easy) springtime brunch, try poached eggs over whole wheat sourdough toast with Hollandaise sauce and steamed asparagus spears. I served breakfast sausage links from Abner Lapp's farm as well, but found these extraneous (you may want to serve them for hearty eaters of the male variety). Do not be intimidated by the word Hollandaise! I have suffered from Hollandaise-paranoia for some time, but decided to take the plunge. It was surprisingly easy, and came out perfectly the first time. I made one mistake, and that was to leave the sauce over the heat after it was done, which caused it to separate. HOWEVER, it still tasted yummy! Trust me -- you can do this, and it only takes a few minutes. Just squeeze a large wedge of lemon so you have 1 tsp. of juice, separate one egg so you are left with the yolk, and melt about 3 tbsp. of butter. Then proceed as follows:

Easy Hollandaise:
In a small metal or ceramic bowl combine 1 egg yolk with 1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Place the bowl over a small pot of hot (not boiling) water, and whisk while slowly pouring in 3 tbsp. melted butter. Whisk in 1/2 tbsp. dried tarragon leaves, black pepper, and a small pinch of salt. Sauce will thicken quickly -- remove from heat so it doesn't get too hot and separate. Serve over eggs and asparagus spears. This makes an adequate amount for 2 people.

About asparagus: Spring is the time for asparagus so eat up!! I have finally come to terms with the fact that I tend to get lazy and not use asparagus and other veggies that require a little prep, so I have found it's a good practice to wash, snap, and steam it ahead of time (until bright green and tender) so you can easily pop it into different dishes. It's even great cold with this breakfast! All I had to do was open my handy pyrex container of steamed asparagus and place a few spears on each plate -- it was really that easy.

A note on fat: As you know, I am a big advocate of wholesome animal fats (which are saturated); however, occasionally I feel a meal is too heavy in saturated fats for my body and I need to balance it with something green. I buttered the toast for this particular brunch as I usually do, but I discovered that between the butter, eggs, sausage, and Hollandaise (I served too much) I felt quite overwhelmed with saturated fats. The asparagus definitely saved the day, though, and rounded out the meal perfectly. Hugo said it was just right (he ate my portion of sausage) and didn't feel there was too much fat. People are different! It's important to pay attention to how you feel and adjust quantities accordingly.

Molasses for Leg Cramps

The other night I was experiencing some very unpleasant aching in my legs, concentrated around my knees. This was the sort of feeling I hadn't had since I was young and got "growing pains" on a regular basis (or after a day of hiking or excessive walking). My friend Sharon suggested I take a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses as it is high in calcium which apparently helps leg cramps. Surprisingly enough, it really worked! The strong aching feeling disappeared within an hour. I love eating blackstrap molasses on apple pancakes, but had never used it as a home remedy. The vitamin & mineral content in just one tbsp. of blackstrap is shockingly high:
  • potassium 10% RDA
  • calcium 20%
  • iron 20%
  • vitamin A-precursor 20% (plant form of vitamin A or beta-carotene)
  • magnesium (most kinds have up to 20% of your RDA, though my bottle didn't mention this)
You can buy blackstrap molasses at Whole Foods, health foods stores, food co-ops, and sometimes your local grocery store as well. Be sure the label says BLACKSTRAP and UNSULPHURED. *Note: blackstrap isn't a brand, but refers to the way the molasses is produced; this method renders it quite nutritious, whereas other forms of molasses don't come near this level of nutritional stardom.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Checkout Line Musings

October, 2008

My neighborhood has only two "major" grocery stores – if they can even be called that. The one closer to our apartment was my choice this Sunday evening, after coming back from a long walk along the Hudson Bay bike path with my husband and our baby. It was also the choice of many other Bay Ridgers as it always is on Sunday nights, when everyone is buying last-minute items for the coming week. As I walk the aisles I observe what other shoppers are placing in their carts or baskets; it gives me a sense of their lives, what they like and dislike, what they turn to for comfort, how they perceive things like price and value and “healthiness." Tonight there is a young couple who have selected some type of orange beverage in a fancy bottle; two middle-aged women picking out bags of potato chips and cans of cat food and comparing prices in loud voices; a gray-haired dark-complexioned man buying a loaf of sandwich bread and a container of fat-free yogurt.

Each of the three checkout lanes is crowded, so I choose the first, the one next to the small deli counter. As I wait my eyes scan the unopened smooth-skinned loaves of processed meat and cheese, prompting me to wonder how long they have been there and how their makers managed to press their contents into such nature-defying shapes. A reduced-sodium ham boasts the American Heart Association seal of approval and I am reminded of the new packaged Healthy Choice meals I noticed earlier in the beans-&-rice aisle. These tiny meals in plastic oval containers offer a supposedly home-style meal ready for the microwave. Everything in each package is pre-cooked and their ingredient lists contain at least twenty items, most of which are artificial. The Southwestern chicken and (white) rice boasts only 2.5 grams of fat, and 310 calories, yet appears to be a preposterously tiny meal that should contain only about 150 calories at the most. This product also proudly bears the AHA stamp.

Now I turn my attention to the customer in front of me in line: a young man wearing headphones and glasses. His face is pale with a pleasant, bland expression, his hair covered with a hat. His pants are baggy and he wears a loose jacket. As he places his items on the belt I take a look: a loaf of Weight Watchers sandwich bread, a 2-liter bottle of Mug diet root beer, several SmartOnes microwave dinners. I can’t help but be surprised by this array of “diet” food, and think perhaps he is doing the weekly shopping for his mother. Most likely she is trying to lose weight and is following the best path she knows: reducing calories. As Michael Pollan has pointed out in his books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, these three items (among an entire galaxy of similar products) cannot even truly be considered food. If your great-grandmother went grocery shopping with you, she might be convinced by the sliced sandwich bread, but she would be hard put to identify the frozen lumps of matter that are modern-day “healthy” microwave dinners.

Let’s take for example one of the items in my neighbor’s cart. SmartOnes Penne Pollo will set you back only 280 calories and 6 grams of fat, an admittedly tiny meal even for a strict dieter, and one not likely to provide much energy for a busy day or keep you full for long. The only reason this product does not bear the AHA heart-healthy check mark is because it has too much fat: 6 grams instead of the 3 allowed, and 2.5 grams of saturated fat instead of the one gram allowed under this classification (which, just in case there is any confusion, is a certification available to any manufacturer of low-fat products willing to pay the price). The list of ingredients on the package of SmartOnes Penne Pollo also contains more than 56 items – yes, you heard that right, 56 – without counting water or the vitamin and mineral compounds that have been added back after first removing them intentionally through processing (which is how white pasta, white bread, and other processed wheat products are made marginally nourishing again after they have been stripped of their nutrients during the processes that make them “white”). If the same meal were created in the shopper’s kitchen instead of pulled from a grocery freezer shelf, it would probably contain only about twelve items, all of which are identifiable foods: chicken, pasta, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cheese, salt, spices, and some kind of oil (hopefully extra-virgin olive oil). Gone would be the mono- and diglycerides, the autolyzed yeast, the lipolyzed cream, the partially hydrogenated soybean oil, the sodium benzoate, and the artificial flavors. Do these ingredients sound familiar? Do they concern you? Or has it become so routine to be confronted with unending lists of unpronounceable compounds on the sides of our food packages that we simply ignore them? Maybe you comfort yourself by thinking, well hey, if it were bad for me they wouldn’t put it in the food. Let me assure you that yes, they will. And they do. Why? Because high-priced processed foods made from cheap chemical ingredients = BIG profits.

Due to the extraordinarily bad methods employed for modern conventional (i.e. non-organic) food production in this country, the actual macronutrients themselves are, yes, important! but almost a secondary consideration in our quest for health. After all, the amount of calories we have avoided eating hardly matters when we are diagnosed with cancer at the age of 40 caused by the artificial sweeteners that have saved us those calories. The dangers are insidious and often invisible, like the pesticides that have become part of the flesh of an apple, but they are nevertheless something we should be concerned about. It’s not only protein and fat and carbohydrates that we are putting into our bodies, it’s all those things surrounding the making of our food and going into the foods themselves: things like petroleum, toxic metals, chemicals of all kinds (including many, like MSG, that are classified as toxins), pesticides, herbicides, dyes and colorings, artificial flavors, chemical fertilizers (many of which are known to cause disease), sewage sludge (used to grow crops), potentially-deadly genetically-modified components, radiation – the list goes on.

Let’s put the microwave meals back in the freezer section, and take a step away. Let’s go to the part of the store where the packages contain only one or two ingredients, or better yet, where they don’t even need a package. All we have to look for is the #9 at the beginning of the PLU number on the produce sticker, and know we’re getting something good for us: a piece of organic produce without strings attached. Or, for a basket of food good for you and good for the planet, forget the grocery store and head to your local farmers' market.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

So they're crowning babies now?

Babies' teeth that is...

At our pediatrician visit last Friday the doctor warned me away from letting Oliver nurse during the night. She says the milk coats their teeth and causes decay, which is why one of her little patients needs crowns put on her tiny teeth! What an awful awful thing.

As I have an overdeveloped respect for authority I didn't tell her this poor baby probably already had dental caries as early as in the womb. Deficiencies in vitamin D during early crucial development can actually lead to teeth decaying BEFORE they even erupt from the gums. Tooth decay happens from the inside out. Forget fluoride (which is poisonous) and depriving your hungry baby of milk during the night. Don't give up the ol' brush & floss yet, but it's really good nutrition that equals good dental health. I will talk more about this in a later post as this is a much larger topic.

*Note added 5/15: just spoke with local breastfeeding specialist for the Bay Ridge chapter of La Leche League. She says as some babies are born with teeth (!) the argument against nighttime feedings is preposterous. What is a baby supposed to do -- starve? As she said on the phone, next thing you know the baby isn't gaining weight, the mother's milk supply is drying up, and the pediatrician is telling you to supplement with formula! She will be sending along some scientific studies showing that breastmilk does not harm babies' teeth, and I will link to them later.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Operation: Lacto-fermented Cukes

What to do with a 1.5-foot-long cucumber from a greenhouse vendor at the Greenmarket? You can always enjoy it fresh of course...or slave away making a pointlessly small quantity of pickles...or create a Kramer-style pizza...

OR you can transform it into lacto-fermented sliced cucumbers! I had never had anything like this in my life until I opened my first jar tonight...

It all started Friday evening when I was feeling pretty ambitious in the kitchen. I realized I had all the ingredients necessary to try my hand at lacto-fermenting for the first time, but since I didn't have a meat hammer I would have to go with cukes since they don't require any pounding or pressing to release the juices. I washed and sliced the cucumber, then placed it in a one-quart jar with:
  • 1 tbsp. mustard seeds,
  • 2 tbsp. dried dill (since I didn't have fresh),
  • 1 tbsp. Celtic sea salt,
  • 4 tbsp. whey,
  • and 1 cup filtered water.
I made sure the cucumber slices were covered with liquid, and that the top of the liquid was at least 1" below the top of the jar. Then I closed the jar tightly and let it sit on the counter until this evening when I put it in the fridge (whole cukes will need 3 days on the counter at normal room temperature before transferring to cold storage, but the sliced ones only need 2 days). Lacto-fermented products are supposedly better the more they age (to a certain extent), but I'm not that patient so tonight I decided to try my LF cucumbers. They were very soft, not crisp like pickles, but with this amazing salty-fizzy-dill flavor. They are actually really delicious and leave a refreshingly-effervescent feeling in the mouth, with a pleasant after-taste. They're hard to describe -- you really should try this for yourself. We eat lacto-fermented sauerkraut in our house, and kim chee, but the cucumbers are totally different.

This was so incredibly easy -- seriously anyone can do it. If you hate lifting a hand in the kitchen this is for you since there is nothing more rewarding that spending about 5-10 minutes preparing something and then sitting back and letting lactobacilli do the work for you and produce a completely different product than you started with! Lactobacilli are found on and in every raw veggie and fruit (if I understand correctly), and this process of fermenting creates an environment in which these bacteria can reproduce and preserve the veggie/fruit in question. Whey is needed for preserving fruits in this way, while whey and/or sea salt is needed for preserving veggies. These bacteria are extremely helpful to humans, providing help with digestion (read: less burping, less gas, improved "transit" time, and easy digestion that you don't have to notice or think about), creating a stronger immune system (since our gut is the most important part of our immunity), and actually increasing the nutritional value of the food and your body's ability to absorb the nutrients. Plus they taste great!

If you're still hesitating, consider this:
  • in classic French cuisine, lacto-fermented cucumbers were always served with sausages and other preserved meats -- not only a delicious practice, but a wise one as well since "this vegetable is able to dissolve precipitates of uric acid and thus prevents the formation of stones, often caused by meats and sausages, foods rich in uric acid." -Claude Aubert, Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels
  • a 1999 Lancet study found that Swedish children who ate lacto-fermented veggies had lower rates of asthma, autoimmune disorders, and skin problems; drinking raw milk and avoiding vaccinations provided additional protection
Of course, obtaining natural old-fashioned whey might be a problem (unless you belong to the TNG like we do), so I will post about how to make your own whey from a container of yogurt. Soon, I promise.

Oliver update

Feeding the Popper solids got off to a very slow start, but he is at last showing marked interest in our food. (On a side note, I have noticed a big increase in my own milk production over the past couple of months since he has been getting 90% of his nourishment from me and is growing so big, and since I have been eating so well!). We tried the pureeing thing, and freezing mashed food in little ice cube trays and then thawing them out, etc. The food really doesn't taste good like this, a little sawdusty no matter how good it tasted fresh, and I can't blame Ollie for not being too into it.

The newest thing, though, (which seems to work really well) is to chew a bite of food for Oliver and then put it in a special little bowl for him and feed it to him with a baby spoon while I eat my own meal. This is not the most elegant dinner-table practice, but it does allow for easy preparation of an appropriately-small quantity of food and also provides a digestive boost in the form of enzymes from the parental saliva. Oliver shows a marked preference for animal protein at this point, and has recently enjoyed pork breakfast sausage links, smoked venison sausage, breaded water buffalo cutlets, and artisanal raw milk cheeses (all from our local Greenmarkets or Abner Lapp's farm). He also likes soft egg yolks which I share with him when I make poached or fried eggs, and various fermented & cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, olives, and kim chee. He enjoys cooked apple with cream on occasion, and sometimes mashed potato with butter or gravy or some other orange veggie with butter (carrots, yams, etc.). He will also eagerly eat sour cream from a spoon all by itself! Hugo and I attended Nina Planck's talk this week on 'Real Food for Mother & Baby' where we learned about an interesting experiment done several decades ago where older babies were allowed to feed themselves anything they wanted, as much as they wanted. The babies seemed to know intuitively what they needed: one drank cod liver oil until he was cured of rickets; another ate large quantities of sea salt and then stopped when he no longer needed it. It was quite interesting to learn this. Of course babies also have natural appetites for unhealthy sweet foods which we can't really indulge in this way since they don't realize these foods are bad for them (they were not available in the experiment), but since Oliver shows a preference for certain healthy foods I am allowing him to eat them. He enjoyed asparagus-ramp-spinach quiche this week, and some asparagus-white bean soup; he always likes having a little raw milk ice cream occasionally, and of course he still has the daily high-vitamin cod liver oil in raw milk.

At our 9-month-old checkup on Friday we found out that Mr. Popper now weighs 19 lbs. 6 oz. and is 28.2" long! He has also never been sick (one episode of teething fevers aside) and is a strong, happy, and hearty little boy. We are very proud. :) And also very glad that our efforts to keep him healthy and well are paying off so far...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Philly Cheesesteak gets an Update

I'm posting about this kind of late...but the memory of this delicious sandwich is still fresh in my mind and I wanted to share the recipe with all of you!

All you need to serve two people is:
-about 2/3 lb. steak (we used two thin sandwich-style rib-eye steaks, each weighing 1/3 of a pound from Grazin' Angus Acres - you could use any type of steak sliced thin, though, including a less expensive cut like London Broil -- try for grass-fed, though, if you can get it!)
-cheese, if desired (we used Valley Thunder cheddar-style sheep's milk artisanal cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery)
-one green pepper, sliced
-1 onion, sliced
-sourdough bread or sandwich roll of some kind (we used whole wheat sourdough, also from Union Square Greenmarket)
-Worcestershire sauce
-butter & olive oil
-salt & pepper

Saute the veggies in olive oil and a little seasoning til tender; remove from heat and saute the meat with a little extra olive oil, some Worcestershire sauce, sea salt & pepper. If using very thin steaks they will cook in just a few minutes. When meat is cooked as desired remove from heat and slice into thin pieces (remember to save any fat/gristle/bone, etc. to make broth with later).

Reheat veggies quickly in frying pan. Toast bread or rolls and butter them; top with meat, veggies, and slices of cheese. You can also use pan drippings as a little extra sauce (or be sure to save for broth or gravy later). Serve with pickles or kim chee and your favorite organic potato chips (in honor of Hugo). Enjoy!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Brooklyn Food Conference!

Here's the face of Earth/Body Kitchen! what a lovely table at the brooklyn food expo.
but will they come?

of course they will! there are hordes of people here and they all stop by to see 'what's this talk of a local meal planning service?'
is there anyone prouder of his wife than this husband?
I doubt it :>

-- Post From the blessed iphone

Friday, May 1, 2009

In praise of spring butter

Hugo picked up our raw dairy from Abner Lapp tonight. The milk is SO rich and creamy this time - even more so than usual. And the butter is so yellow! [This picture doesn't do it justice -- it is really a vivid yellow-orange color.] It must be that renowned spring grass everyone is always talking about, which makes the butter extra-rich in vitamin A. Traditional Swiss villagers in the valley of Loetschental considered spring butter to be a sacred food, with special traditions and ceremonies built around it. They made sure to give this special butter to the women of childbearing age, and to the babies and children because they recognized that this was a fantastic source of healthy nutrients for fertility and for developing bodies.

Spring butter is extra-rich in A & D, but also high in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, in case you're wondering), which protects against cancer, helps build lean muscle rather than fat, and encourages plentiful milk production (great for us breastfeeding Mamas!). And of course this butter (like all raw butter) contains the special Wulzen Factor, known for reducing joint stiffness. Spring butter does amazing things, and it does them so deliciously, I might add. Sacrificing taste for "health" is so passe. If you've been following this blog at all, by now you know that many of the foods that taste the best to us and are the most satisfying are actually also the most nutritious.