Friday, February 26, 2010

Quick winter soup

I've recently become a big fan of broth. Well, okay, so I've been a fan of broth for a long time, but now I want to eat it every day, pretty much just straight up. Bone broth is so warming, sustaining, and delicious in these cold, snowy months -- there is really nothing like it! And of course, in addition to being tasty and comforting, it's also an excellent source of gelatin which serves to attract digestive juices to the food in our stomachs, which makes it the perfect thing to serve before a winter meal. (Winter meals generally contain mainly cooked foods which repel digestive juices, but including gelatin in the form of broth remedies this problem.)

These days I am still making stock about once a week, and for a while now I've been alternating between chicken, beef, shrimp, and fish, generally keeping a Mason jar or two in the fridge all the time for a quick meal. I like to chop onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, or leeks and throw them in the pot while I heat the broth. Ginger is also a good addition, though you have to use it sparingly. In January I made my first oxtail soup (pho style) and it has quickly become my favorite thing, served with extra fish sauce, chili sauce, and hoisin sauce (though I leave these out when serving to Oliver).

So that's my tip: make stock weekly, freeze most of it but keep some always thawed in your fridge, pour a few cups in your smallest pot, add some freshly-chopped aromatics (or shrimp butter if making a fish or shrimp broth), and boil briefly. Technically this could hardly be called soup, I suppose...but still, it's a great meal starter, and if you wanted something heartier you could add some beans, brown rice, greens, or winter vegetables as well -- even frozen meatballs or sliced sausage.

We will be covering most of the dishes I've mentioned in my upcoming cooking series.

Just for the heck of it, here's a picture of Oliver post-oatmeal yesterday morning (note the great lighting of our brand new kitchen! we moved last Sunday).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A discussion of carbs

Reader question: I wanted to let you know that I have started the GAPS book by Dr. Campbell-McBride and I just bought "Primal Body, Primal Mind" which was given 2 thumbs up in the last Wise Traditions. When you are done moving/have had a chance to look at them, I would love to chat with you about them. Both recommend almost no carbs- even oats, brown rice, etc because of their effect on blood sugar. I haven't finished the books yet so I don't know if they mention soaking, but I would assume that soaking the grains first mitigates their deleterious effects. Anyway, would love to know your opinion.

In terms of carbs, yes it is very true that excess carbohydrate consumption is at the root of our modern health crisis (along with mass-consumption of rancid vegetable oils and a few other things as well). And it is particularly the refined carbs and sweeteners that are doing the most damage. The USDA Food Pyramid recommends 300 grams of carbohydrates from grains a day!! This is the amount that a marathon runner would need to run the marathon -- not the amount that a sedentary person needs. So yes, everything we have been taught about cereals, bread, and pasta being the "staff of life" is completely wrong.

However, before you jump on the Atkins bandwagon, it is really incredibly important to keep in mind the findings of Weston A. Price who discovered many "primitive" cultures who ate quite a lot of carbohydrates and were extremely healthy. The Scottish people living in the outer Hebrides are a perfect example: they ate as many as 1000 calories per day from oats, yet had almost no tooth decay (remember, tooth decay is the physical manifestation of recurring imbalances in blood sugar and blood mineral levels). It is my belief - based on everything I have read and observed - that certain carbohydrates work best for certain people based on their ethnic heritage and the way their ancestors evolved specifically. For example, oatmeal works great for me, and I eat it almost every morning, but it makes Hugo want to fall asleep immediately. I have Scottish/Irish and European ancestry (oats were also big in other cooler parts of Europe) and so it is my experience and belief (based on being in tune with my body) that oats properly prepared work well for me. However, Hugo's heritage is entirely Spanish and Mexican (including Indian), and oats were never eaten by his ancestors. He is also blood type O (as are many Mexicans) which means he requires and is able to digest a lot of protein, especially meat -- but this doesn't mean that he needs to avoid carbs. Rather, he also does really well with corn and beans, both very starchy carb-rich foods. I could go on to give you other examples of this, but I'm sure you get the point. If you can look to your genetic heritage and determine roughly what your ancestors would have been eating, this may help you to at least find modern equivalents.

If you are prone to hypoglycemia and adrenal issues, as I was, you will need to completely cut out alcohol (which turns immediately to sugar in the body), white flour (also white rice and white pasta), all refined sweeteners, and all but very small servings of natural sweeteners and fruit. You will also need to be sure to have adequate animal fat and protein intake, coupled with fermented foods and/or beverages at every meal, and bone broth taken before eating meat (as you are blood type A this will help you digest the protein properly). You may also need to strictly limit carbohydrate consumption in the form of bread and flour, even whole-grain, because flour is basically very small particles of carbohydrate and therefore very easily absorbed, which can still cause something of an imbalance in blood sugar (sourdough breads and soaked-flour home-baked items are something of an exception, though they will still need to be used in moderation -- I recommend no more than 1-2 servings daily of flour items of any kind). This will all help with adrenal issues and a tendency to hypoglycemia. You may even notice a difference in your response to oats in various forms -- i.e. steel-cut oats will likely keep you going much longer than Scottish oatmeal which is in a highly crushed/milled form. This is a sign that your body is working harder to break down the more fibrous parts of the oats, thereby releasing glucose into the blood stream more slowly, which is exactly what we want.

It is also worth noting that rice is uniquely starchy in comparison to most other whole grains; it has a much higher starch-to-fiber ratio. It's wise to keep rice consumption to a minimum, even brown rice consumption, because the pancreas of the average Westerner is simply not adapted to produce enough insulin to digest rice on a regular basis. Asian and Japanese people actually have larger pancreases to handle rice! Again, we can take a cue from what's available locally. You can indeed grow oats in our Northeast climate, but not rice!

The key is to 1) find which healthy sources of carbs work for your body, and 2) use them in moderation or in the proper balance that works for you. Signs of blood sugar imbalances may include things like acne, PMS, PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndome) and breast cysts, reproductive disorders, adrenal stress, thyroid issues, insulin resistance (with its signature weight gain around the belly), hypoglycemia, fatigue after eating, tooth decay, unwanted hair growth, yeast infections, irritability, depression, and susceptibility to infection.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Coconut oil mayonnaise

Until recently I always made mayonnaise using only olive oil, and I was pretty happy with it -- but I really wanted to find some ways to incorporate more coconut oil into our diet. Well, it only took one experimental try to discover that it works really great in mayo! I actually got a better texture and firmness with the coconut oil. Oliver will eat several spoonfuls at a sitting, not as a condiment but as a stand-alone food. It's really delicious and you can eat as much as you want and enjoy all the beneficial properties of the coconut oil as well as the flavor (and no, it doesn't taste like coconut if you buy the expeller-pressed, semi-refined variety).

First, if coconut oil is solid, remove lid and place jar in pot of water on the stove. Turn on very low heat and allow water to warm gently so that oil becomes liquefied, but not hot. In food processor, blend the following for 30 seconds (or mix vigorously with a whisk):

• 1 egg + 1 egg yolk (at room temperature - VERY important!)
• 1 tbsp. whey (instructions for making your own are here)
• 1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
• 1.5 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (4 1/2 tsp.)
• 3 generous pinches of unrefined sea salt

Using drip attachment on processor, add 1/2 cup liquefied coconut oil very slowly, and allow to blend well. Check for seasonings, and add more salt, lemon, or mustard if desired (garlic powder or fresh minced garlic may also be added at this time). Pour mayonnaise into a small jar, screw on lid tightly, and allow it to remain at room temperature for 7 hours; this will “inoculate” the mayonnaise with good bacteria from the whey and prevent it from harboring any dangerous bacteria. After 7 hours, store in refrigerator. Mayonnaise made with whey will last much longer than you could possibly need it to! Store in a slightly warmer part of the refrigerator (such as the door) to keep it from getting too firm. You can always let it sit at room temperature to warm up.

Coconut oil is a unique vegetable source of lauric acid (also found in breastmilk) and has impressive anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-tumor properties which make it wonderful for individuals with candida, yeast overgrowth, imbalanced digestion, frequent infections, and much more. Coconut oil has been found to halt the HIV and herpes simplex viruses in vitro as well as many other viruses. In Thailand, where coconuts are a main staple of the diet, cancer rates were found to be the lowest out of 50 countries surveyed. Coconut oil is even effective against antibiotic-resistant "super-bugs!" Forget the flu shot -- instead, incorporate coconut oil into your daily diet, in baking, frying/sauteeing (low-temperature), in smoothies, melted in hot water, on oatmeal and other hot whole grain cereals, and in mayonnaise. I recommend the expeller-pressed semi-refined organic coconut oil from; it has no coconut flavor which makes it excellent for mayo.

*Note added 3/25/12: I have been making mayo for well over a year and a half now with a blend of coconut oil and olive oil. I use somewhere around a 70/30 ratio (coconut oil 70%, olive oil 30%). Since I always make a double batch, this translates to 2/3 cup coconut oil and 1/3 cup olive oil. Mainly I started doing this because the coconut oil mayo was just too hard after refrigeration. Play around with it and see what you prefer.

Winter weekend locavore breakfast

A typical weekend breakfast for our family involves pastured eggs, breakfast meat of some kind, a whole-grain traditionally-prepared carbohydrate like oatmeal in some form (or pancakes), homemade yogurt, plenty of butter, sometimes local maple syrup, and a lacto-fermented condiment or beverage. Yesterday (Saturday) we had scrumptious apple pancakes made with locally-grown and milled whole wheat flour (from the Union Square farmers' market) and upstate apples, along with raw butter from our special source. It was a very busy day for me that included getting up early for the raw milk pick-up, rushing home to make pancakes, and rushing out again to go to Union Square for a big grocery haul, then coming home on the crowded subway to put everything away and gulp a glass of raw milk before heading out to the Raindance Farm monthly pick-up where I got some goodies from Siobhan.

Today we had time for a more leisurely meal, which included:
~Irish breakfast sausage with organic pastured pork (from Raindance Farm) -- truly DELICIOUS!!! and with a wonderful texture. I couldn't believe that even the casing on this sausage tasted so good (it was nice and brown from the griddle).
~scrambled pastured eggs from Raindance Farm (Siobhan brought them to me as a special favor; the chickens aren't really laying much yet, but they will be soon as the days get longer).
~oat cakes (made from leftover congealed oatmeal and fried in bacon fat from locally-produced pastured bacon -- and no the oatmeal was not local :( but I hope to begin eating only local oats soon courtesy of Cayuga Pure Organics!). Local maple syrup was served with the oat cakes, along with homemade yogurt made from raw, local, grass-fed milk.
~whole grain spelt & rye sourdough from Hawthorne Valley Farm with plenty of local raw butter
~also some jalapeno sauerkraut from Hawthorne Valley, located in Ghent, NY (I always finish off breakfast with something lacto-fermented or else I don't feel quite right. These foods contain beneficial bacteria and enzymes, as well as increased vitamin content from the fermentation process. The jalapeno sauerkraut is a great follow-up for egg breakfasts as it helps with digesting egg whites.)

Sitting at my computer more than four hours after finishing the meal I still feel good from breakfast! With a meal like this to start the day, often I only need one more good-sized meal, and maybe a snack before bed. This is a huge contrast to how I used to eat: grazing all day long, having hypoglycemic attacks on a daily basis, never able to go out for 10 minutes without packing a snack. And always low-fat, low-fat, low-fat. Not anymore! And contrary to the popular belief that eating more fat will make you gain weight, I actually weigh slightly less than I used to and certainly without dieting (except avoiding processed foods and sugar) -- even in winter, the time when I always packed on a few extra pounds. For Hugo and Ollie, regular meals (3x a day plus snacks) are very important; it's good to keep in mind that everyone is different, with varying requirements for protein and calories.

Gourmet chicken liver pâté

This easy recipe for delicious chicken liver pâté is adapted slightly from Mark Bittman's recipe, 12/30/09 New York Times. It should be puréed very smooth and refrigerated for a few hours to achieve the right consistency; however, babies and toddlers will enjoy eating some warm from a spoon directly after puréeing. For a snack or light lunch rich in nourishing fat-soluble vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, folic acid, and much more, serve on buttered whole grain sourdough bread (I recommend toasted!) along with fermented grape juice or my lacto-fermented ginger ale.

* 15 peppercorns
* 4 allspice berries
* 2 cloves
* 8 coriander seeds
* 2 tbsp. butter + 6 tbsp. butter
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 pound chicken livers (from free-range, pastured, organically-raised chickens -- livers may be soaked in lemon juice for several hours to draw out toxins, but honestly I have never done this yet)
* 2-3 tablespoons brandy (any inexpensive brand will do)
* unrefined sea salt to taste
* 1/3 cup cream (heavy/light/or cultured, such as sour cream or creme fraiche)

1. In a spice grinder or using a knife (heavy handle for crushing, then the blade for mincing), crush the peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves and coriander seeds; grind until fine and set aside.

2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add livers to pan along with any blood that is in the package (don't worry about separating out the connective tissue -- just dump everything in) and sprinkle thoroughly with salt; cook livers on one side until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes, then flip them and cook the other side (sprinkle with salt again). Be sure to keep heat relatively high so that the outside of the livers sear and the inside stays pink. Add brandy while cooking so the alcohol will evaporate.

3. Put onion, livers and the pan juices into a food processor or blender with the remaining butter (6 tbsp.), the cream, and spices. Purée mixture until it is completely smooth; taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Put pâté in a crock or heavy glass dish with lid, smooth the top and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours or until fully set. Serve with fresh or toasted whole-grain sourdough bread.

LIVER: What's not to love? Quite simply, it contains more nutrients, gram for gram, than any other food. In summary, liver provides:
• An excellent source of high-quality protein
• Nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A
• All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
• One of our best sources of folic acid
• A highly usable form of iron
• Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium; liver is our best source of copper
• An unidentified anti-fatigue factor
• CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardio-vascular function
• A good source of purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feeding a toddler is a contact sport

No one told me it would be like this. As soon as they start to feed themselves, the peace, sanity, and relative cleanliness of mealtime disappears. Suddenly it's all about preempting their every move, scooting implements and bowls of liquid out of the way, keeping glasses on the other side of the table, having several wet washcloths ready to mop up spills and wipe hands and faces, and always always keeping one hand at the ready to refasten the clothes pin on the dish towel Oliver wears as a bib (and I'm using "wears" in the figurative sense -- it's more of an on-again, off-again part of his mealtime attire. Bibs were given up long ago as they 1) cover only a small fraction of the toddler body, and 2) are far-too-easily ripped off immediately.) Oliver now wears a large apron tied around the waist, and the aforementioned dish towel, fastened at the back of his neck with a clothespin. I have learned to place the first course before him just as a I fasten this, or else the clothespin and dish towel are on the floor in no time. And yes, we often go through 2 dish towels and several washings of dish cloths throughout this process.

At lunch yesterday I had a very nice spread for Oliver to enjoy. Here it is, clockwise from lower left: chicken broth with garlic and carrots, veal tongue, raw milk cheddar, salmon bites with homemade lacto-fermented coconut oil mayonnaise, homemade lacto-fermented ginger ale, and lacto-fermented dilly beans (saved for the end as they are a favorite). For dessert we had pumpkin custard.

Feeding Oliver went something like this:

Oliver tries a salmon bite and promptly spits it out (sometimes he likes it, sometimes he doesn't). He uses his small spoon to scoop up the mayonnaise and eats it with relish. He wants more, so I give him another serving. Then another. And another. At last he is done, the plate is pushed away vigorously, and he reaches for the broth. Tries some broth, then a carrot, spits it out, pulls the bowl, then pushes it away -- back and forth. I am of course trying to make him stop, and between the two of us tugging, naturally it spills. I swoop in and mop up the mess. Now he is asking for water, but it isn't water he wants, it's ginger ale, just like I have. And no, he doesn't want to drink it out of his little cup, he wants to use a spoon. For some reason I really don't feel like entertaining this for more than 10 seconds, so I take the spoon away and encourage him to drink from the little cup. NO! He starts screaming and gets red in the face. This is the toddler side of Oliver that I am discovering lately and one I REALLY don't like. I promptly turn his chair to face away from the table. He settles a little, and I turn him back around. Next he tries the veal tongue (which he usually likes b/c it is the one meat tender enough for a mostly toothless person to chew) but the bite is too large; he spits it out. I break the piece into tinier shreds. He doesn't want it from my hand, he wants it from a fork. I spear each tiny shredded piece of veal tongue with his toddler fork for each bite that he takes; he eats probably one piece of sliced tongue, which is very good. Suddenly he is reaching for my bowl (I am eating, or rather not eating, my leftover chicken fricassee). I have placed a piece of chewy chicken skin on the side of my bowl, and this is what Oliver wants. He chews on it and sucks the gravy off, then hands it back to me and makes urgent signs for more. He wants more disgusting flabby chicken skin! I fish out another piece for him. Then he tries some chicken meat. Okay, enough of that. He is ready for something else. He has some more mayonnaise, then spies the dilly beans. For him, "eating" dilly beans consists of waving the beans about in the air, biting off pieces, spitting out each barely-chewed piece into my hand, and pretending to gag when a small piece remains on his tongue too long. At least he gets some of the dilly bean juice which is the important part for him at this point (he can't properly chew or digest extremely fibrous vegetables yet).

By the end of the meal he has had:
1) one piece of carrot
2) a tiny bit of broth
3) one slice of veal tongue
4) 4 tsp. of coconut oil mayonnaise
5) chicken fricassee gravy & an iota of chicken (plus whatever he got from the skin)
6) dilly bean juice
7) a very tiny bite of raw milk cheese
8) several sips of homemade ginger ale
9) a few bites of pumpkin custard (the most peaceful part of the meal)

My own meal seems barely enough to replace the calories I expended in feeding Oliver, and I'm a bit exhausted -- but these crazy fast-paced mealtimes are something I will probably look back on fondly, and I'm happy that he is eating such good food. Fortunately there are days when lunch time is peaceful and gratifying, like the day when he discovered how fun it is to eat both fish broth (with shrimp butter) and whole wheat sourdough toast with butter, chicken liver pate, and bone marrow at the same time. That sight truly warmed my nutrient-dense-foods-obsessed little heart!