Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Yogurt success!

Oliver LOVES yogurt. In fact, he loves it so much that he will happily eat 4-8 oz. every day. Since each quart costs $4-5, when we factor in my own desire to eat yogurt regularly, plus the fact that now that he insists on feeding himself much of the yogurt ends up decorating his face or even his lap, the weekly price is getting up there with the cost of butter. I am willing to pay $10 a week for good butter, but not for yogurt!

After discussing home yogurt-making with several people, and feeling guilty about the $17 candy thermometer I purchased at Whole Foods way last year in the throes of yogurt-making ambition, I finally decided to just take the plunge. I made sure I had some extra raw milk on hand and followed the fairly easy instructions. However, I messed up and the yogurt came out tasting mild and good, but with an unpleasant mucousy consistency. Oliver ate it without complaint, but I was pretty sure I could do better.

Last night, armed with 2 gallons of fresh raw milk, I decided to give it another try. This time: complete success! And at $1.73 (the price of 4 cups of raw milk) this quart is quite a bargain. Hurrah!

Here's how:

To make one quart, you will need:
-4 cups whole milk (preferably raw and unhomogenized -- NEVER ultra-pasteurized! However, if all you can buy is pasteurized milk, making it into yogurt will help restore some of the beneficial properties lost during pasteurization.)
-1/4 cup high-quality plain full-fat yogurt for starter (I used Seven Stars plain which is the best kind available in stores, but you could also use another brand, or even the yogurt starter culture which is available in freeze-dried form.)
-ceramic or glass bowl
-candy thermometer
-a warm place to keep the milk around 95-105 degrees

First, heat the milk in a saucepan until it reaches approximately 110-120 degrees. It's okay if it gets hotter; my mother has even had milk boil and then turn into yogurt just fine, and sometimes I lose track of time and it reaches the point where it begins to form a skin. But if you are using raw milk and you want to preserve all the "raw" qualities, try to catch it when it's still relatively cool (if using pasteurized, it should be heated to 185).

Next, let it cool to around 100-105 degrees. You can remove the pot lid and cool it in the refrigerator for a little while if it's very hot. If the milk has gotten warm enough to form a skin, these may keep forming on top while it's cooling, so you may want to remove them before adding the yogurt so that there is no unnecessary extra thickening.

Then, pour the milk into the bowl and add the 1/4 cup yogurt to serve as a starter. Mix this together very thoroughly. (I made the mistake of adding the yogurt to the hot milk, which killed the bugs the first time around. Don't do this -- wait til it's cool.)

Next, wrap the bowl in a blanket or sweater and put it in a warm place. This could be one of the following scenarios:
-in an oven with a pilot light,
-in an oven with a light bulb (light on) and a warming stone (first heat the oven so the warming stone gets warm, then turn it off),
-over an electric burner set on the lowest possible setting (this worked for my mother),
-on top of a heater,
-or (as I did) over the rear right burner of a stove with the oven set to 200-250 degrees (this will work as long as the heat from the stove comes up through this burner -- you should know which burner it is on your particular model, though I think this may be gas stoves only). I finally found the perfect use for the tea cozy my mother brought me from Scotland, and filled in the gaps at the bottom with dish towels.

Don't obsess over the exact temperature. I was told it had to stay at 105 degrees and was pulling my hair out the first time trying to get things just right. Even with this final set-up, I could only manage about 95 degrees or maybe a little more, but it worked JUST FINE. Just get your milk and yogurt starter to around 100 degrees, find a warm spot, wrap the bowl warmly, and leave it alone for several hours. (If you are concerned it isn't remaining at the correct temperature, feel free to go in and test it with the thermometer, then adjust the location or setup accordingly.)

I left the milk overnight (about 7 hours) and by morning we had this:

Absolutely delicious, thick yogurt with a pleasing custard-like consistency. The added boon: the taste is extremely mild with just the right hint of tartness. (The yellow layer on top is the final milk skin, which can be mixed in or removed with a spoon.)

Don't be discouraged if the first batch doesn't come out perfectly; chances are it will still be quite edible. Once you find the way that works in your home, with your equipment and available warm spots, you will be able to repeat these steps and get the same results every time. Final note: if the yogurt seems a bit liquidy, never fear -- it will firm up in the fridge. And PLEASE, if it gets too hot and separates, don't throw it away! Simply strain the curds from the whey, let the curds drain well and dry out a little, then season with herbs and sea salt, or make a sweet cheese with honey and walnuts. Directions forthcoming!

As for cost savings, it breaks down like this:

If I bought 2 quarts weekly (which is how much we can eat easily):

$4/qt x 8 qts = $32 monthly
$4.80 delivery charge (15%)
$36.80 (what we were spending before on yogurt)

I will now be spending the following:

$6/gallon x 2 gal = $12 monthly
$1.80 delivery charge (15%)
$13.80 (monthly expenses for buying the milk to make yogurt)

This makes a total savings of $23! Plus we will not be using and wasting plastic containers all the time, which makes me very happy. :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tooth powder

After a year spent trying every kind of natural toothpaste on the market (including a particularly atrocious one called Peelu, which contains tiny vegetable fibers that, rather than cleaning your teeth, get stuck between them!), and then using tooth soap for a few months, I was about to get myself some ash and a twig and do things the old fashioned way. Fortunately I saw sense, and decided instead to try tooth powder (recipe found in Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition -- a FANTASTIC book I recommend to everyone). I was hesitant at first because I tend to have sensitive teeth and I thought this would worsen the sensitivity because the salt is a little abrasive. However, it seemed my teeth were turning yellow with the tooth soap (which makes sense as there is nothing abrasive in tooth soap, which is simply a liquid -- however, I am sure it works well for many people), so I decided tooth powder might be the answer. It is more palatable than brushing with baking soda alone, though it definitely does have a salty flavor.

The problem with toothpastes, even those that are fluoride-free (remember, fluoride is an industrial poison and can cause tooth decay, late eruption of teeth from the gums, fluorosis (white spots on teeth), and many more problems), and contain no SLS (sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate), is that every single brand has glycerin, which is derived from vegetables and needed to maintain moistness. Unfortunately, glycerin is an inherently sticky paste which adheres very stubbornly to teeth and causes problems over time -- it would take 28 rinses to get all the glycerin off, and who has time for that?!

I have been brushing for about a week with tooth powder and so far, it is hands-down my favorite.

Tooth powder recipe:
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine-ground Celtic sea salt
10 drops peppermint oil

Mix all. Sprinkle a pinch or two on a wet toothbrush and enjoy the clean feeling and a very healthy smile!

And yes, I store ours in an individual-sized glass butter dish from Williams-Sonoma. At $6, this was the most expensive part of our tooth-cleaning regimen.

Don't forget that in the past, people did not use toothpaste, but rather brushed with things like ash and baking soda. Some people, like the Swiss living in isolated areas of the Rhone Valley, never brushed and still enjoyed complete freedom from decay (as Weston A. Price discovered)! Along with bad food, toothpaste is a modern invention and a grand money-making scheme. People who have decayed teeth have them because of a diet poor in nutrients and/or rich in refined sugar, white flour, and other processed, denatured foods. (To sum up the reason for this, it is due to the fact that these foods cause an imbalance in blood sugar, resulting in minerals being pulled from the bones and teeth. I highly recommend reading Cure Tooth Decay to completely understand your dental well-being and how to improve it, regardless of age or dental health. Most of the decay problems begin on the inside of the body, in the level and balance of specific minerals in the blood stream, not in the mouth itself.)

There is much more to be discussed on this topic, but here is one example of how the modernization of diet has transformed our dental health, facial structure, and dental palate width (thus plaguing every modern child for the last 40 years with cavities, crowded teeth, malocclusion, and impacted wisdom teeth) -- truly a triumph for the dental and orthodontic industries, but a tragedy for the rest of us!

The grandmother, at right, was of Polish Jewish descent and born in 1899 to recent immigrants to London's East End from Galicia. She lived to be 90 years old. Note the wide face and wide dental palate, with ample room for all her teeth (and no, this woman did not have orthodontics!). Her daughter's face is much narrower, with a noticeably narrowed dental palate, but still with straight teeth (as she grew up during the 30s, she would not have had orthodontics either). The little boy at left is the most striking -- a narrow face, narrow dental palate, and teeth that will need a lot of help to be straight. We can only speculate about the diet of the grandmother as a child, and the diet of her mother while she was pregnant and breastfeeding, but likely it was very nutrient-dense, with plenty of liver, sourdough breads, preserved fish and meats, and much more. (for a closer look, see this link)

Rotten egg whites, anyone?

Yesterday I came across some notes from Paul Pitchford, who presented on healing foods while I was at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. At one point he talked at some length about eggs and how the white has the effect of gumming up the liver. Some cultures would apparently pack egg whites in ash and bury the whole thing for weeks, then eat it rotten! This would ensure it would break down properly in the liver. A much more palatable alternative is to simply eat something spicy with eggs, such as cayenne pepper, a hot spicy drink (as in Korea), or hot sauce (as in the Southwest and Mexico).

He also said that spicy peppers (such as chili, jalapeno, and habanero) help to cleanse the body, and do the following:
-transform mucoid excesses in lungs, liver, and gall bladder (as well as mucus
build-up from egg whites),
-remove plaque from heart and arteries,
-help with high blood pressure, heart inflammation, and blood clots,
-and remove amyloid plaque in the brain.

As if flavor weren't reason enough, here's another reason to incorporate some spice into your food, and consume your eggs in traditional ways!

In terms of eggs, the other thing to be aware of is cooking time/style. I eat raw egg yolks semi-regularly, as does Oliver, but raw egg whites are another thing entirely; for one, they are very hard to digest. This may not seem like a big deal, but our digestion (and whether it's proceeding properly) can have a big impact on how we feel. I have been noticing lately on a few occasions that I become very irritable after eating undercooked egg whites, specifically in the form of soft-boiled and poached eggs; I couldn't figure out why this would be and thought it had something to do with blood sugar. However, I also have been craving spicy foods with egg breakfasts lately, and looking back at some of the egg breakfasts I've enjoyed in the past, I can see that incorporating a spicy element really makes sense and has made a big difference. Such as in this breakfast, which includes jalapeno sauerkraut from Hawthorne Valley. I wasn't able to get more of this yesterday at the market as HV was not there, but the kim chee I picked up will do the trick for sure. Yet another lesson in the importance of listening to your body!

Eating on the run

It's challenging enough juggling winter coats & scarves, a toddler, a stroller, bags of compost, and bags of groceries all while navigating subway stairs, crowded sidewalks, the farmers' market, and an insanely busy Whole Foods -- not to mention planning and packing meals for when we're out and about! Yesterday we headed into the city to drop off compost, deliver a dress to a sewing client, and stock up at the Union Square Greenmarket and Whole Foods. At the Greenmarket I finally got my mustard greens (yay!); kim chee (from the Korean couple w/the organic mustard greens); grass-fed ground beef from Central Valley Farm (best stuff around, and a bargain at only $5/lb.); raw milk cheddar (also from Central Valley); lots of shallots, onions & garlic; two potatoes; and 4 giant portabello mushrooms (I have been having a craving for mushrooms lately).

By the end of shopping (and Oliver's nap) we were both quite hungry, so I decided to make a makeshift meal with what I had just bought and supplement with some sliced pear from the lunch bag. I had sourdough rye wasa crackers with salame rosa and proscuitto de parma (the BEST you can get, and still semi-affordable); Ollie stuck with the proscuitto. Did I mention this snack took place in the upstairs dining area at Whole Foods? I probably looked completely insane with my package of crackers and the paper-thin slices of proscuitto arrayed on deli paper in front of me. Oh well. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and I would wager that my meal was one of the more nutritious being consumed there -- and definitely the most affordable! :)

Later that night, after meeting a friend and fellow health counselor, Angela ( in Park Slope, I had a late-night snack of the same, but paired this time with mustard greens and kim chee. And yes, I have been craving them so much that I am crazy enough to eat mustard greens raw and straight up -- let me tell you, they are spicy enough to clear all the sinuses in your head! The kim chee, with its exquisite blend of salty, sour, and chili-spice, kept me coming back for more. (If you want to get some of your own delicious Korean-style kim chee, visit the Union Square Greenmarket on a Monday. The booth, which faces east and has its back to Staples (approximately), has a white tent and a big sign that reads "ORGANIC." There will be a man out in front saying "Organic greens! Two for 5!" A pint of kim chee is $5.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Midnight snack

On Christmas night I felt the need for some cleansing greens. I was feeling a little sticky internally -- it's hard to describe the feeling exactly. I am not referring delicately to a digestive problem or anything of that nature, but I could tell that my body needed a big plate of kale. (Actually, I have been CRAVING mustard greens lately -- the baby kind that are nice and spicy, but not too hot and not bitter, but I can't always obtain baby mustard greens. The only place I know to get them regularly is from the Korean couple who have a small organic produce booth at the Union Square Greenmarket on Mondays -- they have several coolers of organic baby greens. But since I hadn't been there in a few weeks, kale from the local grocery store was the next best option. I am always in the mood for kale, unlike swiss chard, for example.)

On Christmas day we had blueberry pancakes (yes, with frozen blueberries - gasp! - so unseasonal), and the most delicious bacon from a local farm. I think blueberry pancakes are so yummy that I don't even put maple syrup on them. For lunch we had nachos (a rare indulgence!) with beans (cooked in bone broth), avocado, tomato, black olives, salsa, and lots of melted cheese and raw sour cream. Delicious!! At dinner we shared 1.5 lbs. of pork spare ribs with my homemade BBQ sauce (recipe forthcoming!) and a baked potato. We also had a little cabernet sauvignon (a very cheap bottle, I will admit) heated for several hours in the crock pot with a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, honey, and slices of pear and orange. I would estimate the alcohol content was reduced to less than 1%, so I wasn't feeling imbalanced from alcohol, but from all the other stuff, probably the excessive amounts of salt and the sugar from the wine (and the lack of vegetables!).

Whatever the reason, the kale really hit the spot. All you have to do is rinse and chop several leaves, steam them until bright green using a steamer basket, top with butter, and enjoy! You may also add a little sea salt if desired.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Curry-apple-chicken salad

A perfect use for leftover roast chicken: curry-apple-chicken salad!

The hardest part is removing all the meat from the bones and patiently separating the edibles from the inedibles -- I'm very picky about this as I do not like any type of cartilage, skin, or other unappetizing parts in my chicken salad. Be sure to save the bones, skin, and everything you don't eat for making stock (a.k.a. bone broth).

Chop the meat into small pieces, and mix with plenty of chopped apple (try half an apple to start), homemade mayonnaise, curry powder (I use muchi curry), salt, and black pepper. Serve on toasted, buttered whole wheat sourdough bread topped with mustard greens, kale, or your choice of seasonal greens. This is a perfect lunch box meal, provided you have an insulated bag (like these from BuiltNY) and freezer pack.

The version of this that I made last spring, which featured fresh arugula, made for a prettier picture.

Here is a special tip on roasting chicken: If you were smart and saved all the juice and fat after roasting the chicken (assuming you didn't make gravy with it), you can refrigerate the juice/fat in a gravy boat, and when it solidifies simply remove the fat from the top and save it for frying potatoes or making chopped liver (recipe coming soon!). This fat is also known as schmaltz. So now you know where that term came from. :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Really, Mama? We have to carry all this compost?

Yes, my little Oliver. Your 5'2" mama is going to carry all these bags of food scraps down the subway stairs along with you and your stroller. Just so we can make sure it goes to the happy worms at the Lower East Side Ecology Center rather than in a landfill! (The food scrap drop-off site is on the northern side of Union Square, generally across from Barnes & Noble, every day of the Greenmarket (M,W,F,S) year-round. Look for the white van and the large garbage bins.)

At my current teenage weight it is quite clear to me now that mothers who eat traditional foods, visit farmers' markets routinely, and take public transportation need never go to the gym!

It's beginning to look a lot... Christmas!

We bought our small but delightfully fat tree from the Quebecois guys who sell trees every year down by the Rite Aid on 3rd Ave. and 93rd St. here in Bay Ridge. We decided a small tree would be a more prudent choice this year, both for the budget and because we can keep it out of Oliver's reach entirely by having it on a small table. Hugo is responsible for the lovely bows. :) He also made his stocking last year, at the same time that I made mine and Oliver's. Sadly we have not gotten good at stocking up on stocking stuffers throughout the year yet, though... But at least this year we will have Christmas music played on the piano! Hugo picked up a wonderful book of traditional and modern Christmas songs for me last night at Borders.

Just for fun, here is a picture of my two cuties reading the Times by the tree:

Recently we went into the city to see the Macy's Christmas windows (which are also largely Hugo's work). Oliver was entranced!

Monday, December 21, 2009

In response to a question about stress

A reader asked if I have any food and natural remedy suggestions to help in coping with stress. Here are my recommendations:

1) First of all, on a daily basis try to take some time away from the source of stress -- this is harder for us marrieds-with-children when the source of stress is something like a teething child or a tired spouse, but if you can at all get some downtime just for you, be sure to make it a priority.
2) Take high-vitamin cod liver oil. See my other posts about this and just start doing it. When we are under stress our bodies become depleted of vitamin A, and CLO is the best backup source that we can take as a daily supplement. Vitamin A is needed to convert cholesterol into our hormones, and hormones will help keep us calm and on an even keel. Also, the high levels of vitamin D in CLO will support the immune system. Vitamins A and D work synergistically and really do help keep us well even in difficult circumstances or in the face of fatigue, stress, germ exposure, and cold weather.
3) Avoid stimulants as much as you can. These include things like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods (which contain many additives), and white flour -- easier said than done around the holidays when we are constantly eating cookies, drinking hot chocolate, and having drinks at parties! These foods put stress on the body, deplete us of important nutrients and minerals, and have the effect of jolting the adrenal glands to make them produce extra energy. This can end up making us feel even more stressed out because our adrenaline response is constantly activated. Think of it this way: each time you stimulate your adrenal glands, they continue firing for a full 24 hours. So if you have coffee every morning, guess what? your adrenal glands never get a day off. This spells big trouble when you come under additional stress, because your adrenals are likely fatigued and you will be tempted to stimulate them even more than usual to keep yourself going.
4) Fats from animals raised on grass are an important source of the cholesterol mentioned above which helps our bodies make the appropriate hormones. These fats are also great sources of the all-important vitamins A and D (also mentioned above). Focus on foods like butter, cream, egg yolks, lard, chicken fat (think chicken skin & roasting drippings!), and other meat fats. Fat from oily fish is wonderful as well. [When it comes to dairy, choose raw if you have the option, but if not always get organic, grass-fed & unhomogenized if you can, and never ever ultra-pasteurized.]
5) Treat yourself to something a special caffeine-free tea (try to get something that has only herbs, flowers, and fruits in it -- no natural flavors or other additives), a warm bath, or a massage. If you have a favorite way of relaxing, such as meditation, yoga, stretching, playing an instrument, or taking a walk in the woods, by all means make time for it! We all know that doing these things are important, but it's so easy to do everything else first...and then never have time for relaxation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

These days, we can work through anything!

Have you seen the new commercial for Delsym cough medicine? It shows people struggling to live their lives with the misery of an awful cold -- then they pour down some syrup and suddenly they are filled with energy and relief and are doing things like running marathons, playing in the snow, and cooking dinner for 20. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little...but you get the idea. It struck me as funny this time because it was suddenly so apparent how the message about illness is always the same: do whatever it takes to mask the symptoms for a few hours so you can carry on at your usual pace, or perhaps at an even faster rate since now you're all hopped up on medicine! To quote the Electrolux commercial out of context, we must always "be even more amazing" (clearly I watch too much television now!). What about a commercial that shows sick people staying in bed? drinking teas and bone broth? keeping warm? staying away from excessive stimulation and just resting? Even if they still have to be depicted taking some chemical cocktail with a chaser of high-fructose corn syrup and red dye number 3, at least they could be resting at the same time! But no! we must work no matter what happens, no matter how crappy we feel, no matter how sick we are.

In the past couple of months I have had two colds (the 2nd occurred after eating a cupcake, go figure - this is why I eat sugar about twice a year now instead of daily) and I have at last concluded that mainly it's from stress. After a certain point, my body somehow knows that the only way it's going to get me to rest and stop running like a hamster in a wheel is to break down for a little while. I am pretty sure that without these forced rest-holidays I would go full-tilt for years on end. Before the first cold in late October I hadn't been sick in a year, and I was definitely due for some lying-in time. I believe in taking something when you need it (like cough syrup if your cough won't let you sleep), but aside from that I think it's generally best to let your body work things out for itself, with the help of some nourishing bone broths, lots of fluids, and lots of rest. And maybe a break from the cupcakes. :)

Colorful stock

I am boiling our weekly bone broth for 24 hours this time, rather than the usual 6-8; we will see how it turns out! It certainly looked beautiful going into the pot, with the tops from a bunch of carrots and an onion, plus extra purple onion skins (after all, why let all that good stuff go into the compost? there's still a lot to be had from the leaves and skins of veggies). I always add 2 tbsp. raw vinegar to the water and let everything sit for about half an hour before turning on the heat to begin pulling minerals from the bones, cartilage, and veggies. You will see from the picture that we are still using an old unclaimed pot I snitched from my grad school apartment that has some sort of evil black coating on it (ugh). Any sponsors out there who want to send us a test pot? :)

*Note added later: This broth turned out oddly -- it tasted quite bad actually, somewhere between bitter and burned. I can only figure it was the carrot tops, though I have seen recipes that include carrot tops... the other possibility is that our horrible pot has at last bitten the proverbial dust, so maybe that was the problem. For my next batch I will stick with the conventional aromatic veggies and chicken - nothing else.

Food diary

In case you have ever felt curious to know exactly what I might eat in any given day, I am going to share my food diary with you today (not that I actually keep a food diary, I am just writing everything down here for once). I didn't really cook much today, just did a fair amount of snacking on little bits of things here and there, making meals out of what I had on hand. Here is the rundown (now you will see how weird I really am!):

oatmeal w/butter, coconut oil, maple syrup & milk
kombucha (b/c my stomach felt slightly unsettled)
chicken liver pate and butter on crackers (was out of ww. sourdough)
chicken broth
leftover stuffed pepper w/brown rice & ground beef w/organs
pinto beans refried in lard, w/salsa, sour cream & blue corn chips
beef tongue (from a friend -- delicious!)
jalapeno sauerkraut
raw milk w/raw egg yolk and 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
homemade apple muffin w/butter & salame rosa (Italian cured salami)
high-vitamin cod liver oil

Most of these things were very small portions, just a few bites in some cases. I am quite amazed at the variety here! If you were to look in our refrigerator you wouldn't think there was much of anything there, and the pantry only has things like dry beans, but somehow there was enough to eat.

Oliver had:

raw milk & cod liver oil
cheddar cheese
chicken liver pate (he kept eating more and more! I couldn't hold him back)
pumpkin custard (home-cooked pumpkin w/eggs, milk, maple syrup & spices)
refried black beans w/salsa and sour cream
beef tongue
scrambled egg
boiled carrots w/butter

Sunday, December 6, 2009

There is truth in color...

...if only you pay attention!

After running out of our unbelievably fabulous truly yellow raw butter (this picture does not do it justice -- it is really a sunny bright yellow color) from cows on grass, I was forced to pick up the next best from Whole Foods: Natural by Nature grass-fed high-CLA butter. Not only did this prove to be a big compromise on flavor, but the COLOR--! Or, I should say, the utter LACK of color, even from a butter purported to be from cows on grass, was shocking. This butter should be yellow, which shows the high levels of vitamin A from the cows eating green grass but alas! it looks pale and pasty in comparison. And at $4.99 for 8 oz. of the whipped variety, it is not exactly a bargain. (We pay $9 for a whole pound of the good stuff, plus a 15% delivery fee -- definitely a better deal.)

It just reminded me yet again of how what's available even in the best stores is sub-par. I would have been better off buying Kerry Gold butter from Ireland I suppose, but the carbon footprint on that product is ridiculous and definitely doesn't justify buying it on a regular basis. I should add that I have been very happy with the special "summer" pastured butter from Organic Valley; it is actually quite delicious and has a fairly good yellow color. At Whole Foods it is $3.69, so definitely not cheap, but if you are looking for something good, have a great selection to choose from, and don't have access to local butter, this is what I would recommend.