Saturday, December 25, 2010

Vacation and Merry Christmas

So I figured that most folks will be away or sleeping or in general not surfing the internet during the next week. So I have decided to take a little vacation. Plus I am working on a side project that I am anxious to share with you upon my return!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I wish you many blessing in the coming year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spinach Madeline: The Best Holiday Side You'll Ever Eat

Spinach Madeline is an old recipe from one of those 1940's era Junior League Cookbooks that uses a can of soup as the first ingredient for virtually everything.

My father has just opened this email and he is now dying laughing.

I was born in New Orleans. My parents lived there for several years and I think they truly enjoyed the local culture, which even today has a uniquely regional feeling. New Orleans is unlike any place I can think of in the US. When I was there recently I felt that the natives celebrated their differences from standard American culture. For this I was especially happy!! While we place so much importance in our culture on indiviuality we are all, remarkably, the same.

Spinach Madeline was a recipe that my parents discovered while they were living in New Orleans. I was never sure exactly where they had it first, a friend's house, or if they had the cookbook and made it because it looked good. Perhaps my Dad will comment down below and solve the mystery. But today, this recipe has gone viral. We make the spinach for every holiday gathering. And most of the folks that have married into our family are now making the dish. My brother now makes it at every holiday with his family. I do as well. And some of my sister-in-law's do too. My grandmother on my mother's side always made it and some of my friends have too. It just isn't a Christmas without someone emailing me asking for this recipe. A few years ago, my Dad converted it to a word document, so now whenever anyone asks for the original recipe there it is all typed up and ready to attach!

The recipe can be found in a book called The River Road Recipes, which is filled with recipes for things that you'd never want to eat. In fact, the original recipe is filled with ingredients that you'd never want to eat like processed cheese and evaporated milk. Though when we were kids, my folks made it exactly the way the recipe called, roll cheese and all. As I have become an adult, I have altered the recipe to make it more "real food".

Here is the altered recipe-

Spinach Madeleine

2 pkgs. Frozen spinach
3/4 tsp. Celery seed
4 tbls. Butter
3/4 tsp. Granulated Garlic
2 tbls.Flour
salt to taste
2 tbls. Chopped onion
6 oz. Pepperjack cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. Worchestershire sauce
1/2 cup vegetable liquor (from the cooked spinach)
red pepper (Cayenne) to taste
1/2 tsp. Black pepper

Cook spinach according to directions on package. Drain and reserve liquor. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat Add flour, stirring until blended and smooth, but not brown. Add onion and cook until soft but not brown. Add liquid slowly, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook until smooth and thick; continue stirring. Add seasonings and cheese which has been cut into small pieces. Stir until melted. Combine with cooked spinach. This may be served immediately or put into a casserole and topped with buttered bread crumbs. The flavor is improved if the latter is done and kept in refrigerator overnight. This may also be frozen. Serves 5-6.

Mrs. William G. Reymond
Adapted from River Road Recipes
(the first volume)

Mrs Reymond, you are probably not be alive today. But I can honestly say, you have contributed to countless holiday memories in my family and others. Seriously, try this recipe. If there is a dish that embodies a family gathering in my mind, it is this one!!

Merry Christmas Y'All!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It Takes Some People a Little Bit Longer...

Most of you that read my blog also read Fed Up With Lunch, a great blog about the deplorable condition of school food in the US. I look forward to reading Mrs. Q's posts every day, and because of her large following, I often find the comments to be highly entertaining. Mrs. Q, an anonymous teacher who has eaten school lunch every day in 2010, has a diverse following. It is clear that some of the commentors are gluten free folks, some are Michael Pollan devotees, some are Real Food people (or Practical Real Food People), some are political about food, and some just love food in general and hate to see it bastardized. And then there are others who I believe follow the blog because they find it interesting. School IS is hot topic these days after all.

This week Mrs. Q made a small, practically throw away, comment about the link between cancer and cupcakes earlier this week in a post about how certain PTA's had been banning bake sales. I don't mention it here to rehash it. I am anti-sugar, I believe that sugar is ruinous to one's health. And while my system was once happy to eat sugar, now even just a chocolate truffle or two is enough to disrupt my energy levels. I still eat sugar and sweet things now and again (more during these Holidays), but I am more conscious of it. And I am more choosy with what sugary treats I eat, and it has become easier for me to say no altogether.

Nope, I am not bringing it up because I want to discuss it further. I bring it up because some of the comments were downright astonishing! Many called Mrs. Q uninformed, and referred to the possibility of a link between cancer and sugar as "ludicrous" or "bullshit". I was disappointed by how many people vehemently defended sugar by saying that there was nothing wrong with ONE cupcake. I suppose I have been living in my nourished corner of the Internet for too long. I have forgotten that most of the population eats an average of 150 pounds of added sweeteners (according to USDA data from 1996), and that translates to roughly 40 teaspoons of sugar every day for every American out there. That is about 4/5 of a cup of added sugar from both sucrose and HFCS combined. That is a hell of alot of sugar. But also, most of the population isn't noticing that their health problems might be related to sugar.

Furthermore, I had a strange experience at my office last week. As we made our way to an outside office event that centered on the Holidays, someone overheard me make a teasing comment to my boss about how he should eat plain yogurt with no sugar, or worse aspartame, if he wanted the full effects of the yogurt's probiotics. After hearing me make said comment, several folks from my office teased me about how they loved aspartame and preservatives. And now every time they offer me some Christmas treat they jokingly tell me that it is organic. They are essentially making fun of me for eating healthy. Whaaaa? I mean, if you haven't met me, I am a bit of a know-it-all. I try hard not to have it come out, but it happens. But I also know that deep down inside, all the changes I have made in my life support me and my health and that might make others feel bad about themselves. People really do bully you because they feel bad about themselves. Mom was right all along.

When I looked for evidence about sugar suppressing your immune system I found alot of people debating it. Most of those who believed that sugar suppressed the immune system cited a 1973 study where they gave test subjects 100 grams of sugar to eat. After some time passed they drew blood from those patients and in a petrie dish they added bacteria to the blood. The white blood cells had a harder time fighting off the bacteria in test subjects who had ingested the sugar. Because this test happened in a lab as opposed to in a real live person, there are those that are skeptical. But Dr Sears, a popular pediatrician and web personality, still believes that there has to be some connection since his office fills up with sick kids just after Halloween. I also believe that there is some connection, because in the last 6 months I have ingested less sugar per day than I have at any other time in my life, and this fall I have had fewer colds, sick days, and I have felt better. It could also be the coconut oil, the grass fed meat and milk, or the greater amount of fat in my diet. Whatever it is, something is working.

Nutrition information is gray. And the results of scientific studies are often vague enough to allow for a variety of different conclusions. And particularly if you do not have evidence in front of you or something that is specific to you, it may be hard to believe something so radical as sugar's ability to negatively affect your health. Also don't forget that major cases showing the ill-effects of sugar on one's health are likely to be suppressed by those who have an interest in selling you sugar. (There were four different links in there in case anyone was interested). But since I have reduced my intake of sugar I have found that my system is far more sensitive to even a few teaspoons. About 30 minutes after eating something with refined sugar (probably more that three teaspoons) I start to feel tired and dragging. If I don't eat meat for a few days I don't feel that way when I go back to it. If I go a couple days without eating veggies (yes it does happen from time to time), when I eat veggies again I actually feel better!! So my reaction to sugar leads me to believe that it has profound affects on the body. You might be able to acclimate to it if you eat enough of it. But does that mean that the problems have disappeared? Or that you no longer notice them?

No, those that defend one cupcake might not have examined the amount of sugar in their own diets. They might not have realized that their 4 pm slump has to do with the soda they drank at lunch. Alot of times people don't realize how much they are affected by a certain food or drug until after they stop it. And even if one cupcake is fine, clearly many folks are eating one cupcake after having three sodas in a day. No individual food is so bad, it matters what kind of food-day in which it was eaten. But there is more attention being placed on soda as being a food to be vilified. Refined sugar is not needed in the diet. We can get all the glucose the body needs from other foods that have actual nutrients attached to them. And don't forget that that 40 teaspoons of sugar came from added sweeteners, not 100% juice, whole fruit, milk, or other foods that already contain naturally occurring sugars. Add in all those things and we are eating a whopping amount of sugar each day.

The body of evidence of fructose and sucrose's role in the rise of obesity is growing. And with more attention being placed on the need to eat more vegetables and nutrient dense foods, someday, those folks who angrily protested Mrs Q the other day will fall in line. We are now in a place where there is alot of doubt among the population about conventional nutritional wisdom, but not alot of studies done to test theories about sugar's effect on the body. And don't forget about an angry Sugar Lobby waiting in the wings to sue you if you publish any scientific data to the contrary.

I might not know exactly what it is about sugar that makes it bad for me. But I have enough bits of information plus my own experience. Our culture is one that relies on scientific studies in order to believe that something is true. But in the case of nutrition and nutritionism, I am not sure that we are ever going to get the study that we are looking for. In the mean time, I follow my gut. That is the closest thing to a traditonal food culture that I have at this point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kombucha, Finally

So by now I have teased you with two different Kombucha posts, but no actual tea. And just now I am finally brewing an actual batch!

I began rehydrating my starter culture about a month ago. Now the process gets to be ridiculously easy.

This week, to make my batch of Kombucha, I heated up a big pot of water on the stove. I then poured the water into a one gallon jar along with 8 tea bags and one cup of organic cane sugar. I have been told not to use whole sugar/ rapadura, brown sugar or honey. The thing that works the best is plain old white sugar. Once the tea has cooled completely (like 12 hours) I then poured my starter in, which includes my culture SCOBI and about two to three cups of kombucha.
Now, I wait. I will try my brew about once a week. As the tea brews longer it will become more sour, more fermented and less sweet. When I find a good ratio of sour to sweet I will stop. That is where things finally get interesting! Sadly, I thought I would be enjoying Kombucha on New Year's Eve. I am not sure if that is going to be possible now given the time. Sigh. Waiting makes the heart grow anxious.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Food is a Socio-Economic Problem, Part Two: How Processed Food Began

Food is a socio-economic problem. The more wealthy you are in the United States, the more likely that you will eat nutrient dense food. Poor nutrient quality food, excessive sugars and overly processed fats are omnipresent in the diet of low-income Americans. That is not to say that every person of meager means is eating a crappy diet of cola and fast food hamburgers. So no need to write me any letters scathing me for being elitist. But being low income increases the likelihood that you will be eating lousy food, simply for financial reasons.

I have been interested in how we got here. If you read Fast Food Nation then you know the story about McDonald's being started in Southern California by the McDonald's brothers. They had a restaurant or two, were making a good living flipping burgers. And they ordered a ton of ice cream mixers made for milkshakes. The mixer salesman was so intrigued by the large mixer orders that he went down to check the place out and he discovered a gem. Ray Kroc was the mixer salesman and shortly after meeting the McDonald brothers he bought them out. Now I wrote that from memory, and I read the book 6 years ago, so please correct me if I am wrong. But I tell the story because how does something grow from a fun diner you hang out with your friends to becoming the nations largerest purchaser of beef and potatoes? How did they go from being a charming burger stand to a national pariah sickening hundreds of thousands with their low quality fare?

My honest opinion? It wasn't their fault. I cannot blame McDonald's for being McDonald's. And in my mind it isn't even them that is the problem. They are part of the problem, one finger of a national body of problems that is our sickened food culture. But I repeat, how did we get here? How did we go from homemade healthful food to soda and fake food in a mere 100 years? Baby steps, baby steps.

I have been reading an interesting book recently: Something for the Oven by Laura Shapiro. The book examines food in the 1950's, largely from the perspective of the women cooking it, but also with a fair amount of company insight. I admit, when I began reading I had some preconceived notions about how processed food evolved. I thought (as I bet 90% of you guys do) that processed foods like TV Dinners and cake mixes began when our environment began to modernize and consumers began to demand faster products. But Shapiro corrects me. That wasn't exactly how it happened, that is just what the food marketers want you to believe.

In the beginning of the 20th century the average homecook was spending virtually all her food dollar on food that she prepared from scratch. If she lived in the country, she was shopping locally, gardening and canning much of what she grew. She was doing alot of work, defeathering chickens, fileting her own meats, trimming and washing all her vegetables, etc. Major advances in freezing (I'll write about that later) and canning created companies that had vision for America. Food companies realized the potential for their time savers: frozen spinach that was washed and chopped and ready to use, canned macaroni and cheese, complete dinners prepared and frozen solid? Many manufacturers assumed that this would be something that the average housewife could not resist! More leisure time? Yes, please!

But the average housewife did not care for the first processed foods. However in a sea of canned hamburgers and frozen tasteless peas, there were certain stand out favorites. TV Dinners eventually took off, but the average family reported using them for a meal fix. For example she might buy them for the children to be eaten on a night that husband and wife were going out rather than far Sunday dinner or when you had company coming over. Other products also took off, frozen orange juice concentrate, cakes mixes, etc. After reading the book what stands out to me is that the products that took off were products that tasted reasonably good and replaced very time consuming things that most women really hated doing, like juicing oranges and baking cakes. If you think about it, these products are largely unnecessary, yet making them is difficult. I like having dessert at a meal, but if I am too busy I simply will omit it. For a food company, making dessert easy makes it more likely that someone will prepare it (or buy it) at all.

It steamed the early food companies that women looked down upon ready made food like a second class citizen. If you really wanted to show your love for your family, you made a from scratch dinner. You didn't open up a can and just throw it onto a plate. Most women liked cooking above other household duties, and early processed foods took away their most pleasurable chore. And if it didn't taste good why on earth would you accept that? Not to mention that many women experienced guilt in serving food that was so easy to prepare. The food companies knew that these issues were inhibiting sales. So they worked hard on their marketing.

Glamorizing was the tool that food companies latched onto that really helped sales. Glamorizing is what takes time saving into the socio-economic realm. Glamorizing is the art of taking a simple box of cake mix and dressing it up with homemade frosting and fresh fruit, for example. A woman could buy canned soup and add a little cream and voila! A homemade delicacy that required real creative ingenuity! This is where processed foods finally found their niche and acceptance. For the homemaker, the guilt was removed, because she was contributing to the final product. Now a cake mix could be used for company, because the cake could be adorned with coconut, or pecans or whatever! Food companies heavily marketed glamorizing to low and middle income women, because it allowed them access to the other food trends of the 1950's, cooking with wine and cognac or more difficult french recipies, all that were time consuming and challenging. Shapiro states "Glamorizing sounded expensive, but it was utterly democratic".

Once the door had been opened for packaged and processed foods, their rise to the top could finally begin. "As the concept of easy haute cuisine spread from kitchen to kitchen, often via pantry shelf items, it banished the dowdy image of packaged foods and gave them a powerful boost toward the ranks of company cooking", Shapiro states. I have mentioned before that the journey forward then becomes generational. Children of the Fifties remember the special occasions that they ate TV Dinners and they readily served them to their children. Their children of the Seventies and Eighties ate and loved processed foods, however they were expensive. But by the time they had children in the new century, that had changed and now delicious packaged fare was cheap. Not to mention that our lives are now filled with new activities like talking on cell phones and texting and Facebook! Who has time to cook anymore?

And by the time we got to this new century, there were few home cooks left to teach kids how to cook from scratch. My own mother "cooked from scratch" with canned vegetables. She is turning over in her grave right now because I have just told the world that she didn't cook from scratch. But truthfully, while my mother did cook from scratch to the best of her ability, she bought such fine ingredients as Velveeta Cheese and Tater Tots and Crisco Vegetable Shortening. I always had a hot (and usually homemade) dinner on the table every night, but we ate the same way as other middle-class Americans did. With no Internet, we didn't have the knowledge that certain groups of people were starting to see that this fake food was hurting us.

Food is a socio-sconomic problem. It always has been, since the days when being poor meant being hungry, to today where being poor means that you are more likely to be diabetic. Our culture needs to be examined. We seriously need to look at our taste buds, our food policies and our defense of all things drive through and fastfastfast! This is a bigger problem than just McDonald's and soda. It is a cultural issue.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter CSA Share # 2

Oops. I never told you about the start of our Winter CSA share.
I got my first CSA Winter Share the day before we left for Morocco. I got the email from the farm and said "Oh S***!!" We had so much to do, and I guess that picking up vegetables from Ft Tryon Park was one more thing we had to add to the list. Fortunately winter vegetables store well, so when we arrived home 8 days later everything was still fresh and we ate them just like we always would.
The second share arrived today and it consisted of 2 delicata squashes, a netted bag of potatoes, a plastic bag of carrots (and 3-4 of what looked like parsnips), a netted bag of red onions, a plastic bag of leeks, a large bag of apples, some trimmed yukina and some dark red lettuce. and what I think is a sugar pumpkin, though I can't be 100% sure. The amount, just like last month is good for a once a month delivery. Actually last month every single thing got consumed (even the beets!!) I have full faith that we will get to everything before it goes bad.
Okay-confession time: I have been buying alot of out of season vegetables. I assume that they have been trucked into New York from far flung places, and a few might have possibly been flown in. I don't feel good about it, but I am not exactly doing much about it.

I have a couple of rules, I won't buy berries in the winter, because I know that they will either be terrible, gassed to make them vibrantly colored, or they will flown in from South America. And that is too far for me. I won't buy tomatoes in the winter, mostly for the gassing reason. But also because winter tomatoes taste awful. It just isn't right. I have been buying oranges, which technically are in season, but only somewhere far far from where I live. The kids love them and they are a special treat. They especially love the mandarins with the soft wrinkly skins and the leaves still attached. I have also been buying cucumbers and spinach. The cucumbers are probably where I have been feeling the most guilt. Cucumbers have no place in my kitchen right now. They are a true summer food, and the cukes I have been getting are kind of lousy. They are definitely hothouse cucumbers, and they don't seem firm and fresh like my summertime CSA varieties. However, my kids are eating fewer veggies these days. But they both like cucumbers. And they are a good stand in for other more gluten-ey snacks so I will allow them in my fridge this winter.

Overall we are all eating more meat and more potatoes and rice this winter (uggh, winter hasn't even really begun). I keep trying to make winter veggies, but whether it is pumpkins, squash, leeks, parsnips, turnips or curly kale, I can't find a winter veggie that my kids like. We are traversing a particularly picky place right now. So I am just trying to keep gluten down and whole foods up. So far we are staying on track with getting real food meals on the table and keeping prepared ingredients/ foods at bay. And both the kids are still loving my pumpkin pie smoothies and carrot stick. So they are getting veggies. Thank God for carrots!

If anyone has any kid friendly recipes for winter veggies let me know! I am ready to throw in the towel and just give them three smoothies a day. Only that might undermine the whole "solid food" thing. Ha!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gluten Free Muffins

I have been searching.

I have been turning over rocks in the farthest corners of the Internet, searching, hoping, waiting to find one thing and one thing alone: A gluten free muffin recipe that didn't turn out like this....or this (which isn't even slightly gluten free). Neither of these attempts were consumed by my kids. These muffins were so bad I think they were laughing at me when I turned my back...

I do not have Celiac Disease. I don't technically have a gluten intolerance. I say technically because I am noticing that I don't feel good when I eat 3 or more servings of gluten in a day. Which means I really can't have pasta on the same day that I have a sandwich or else I feel gross, strung out, overly tired, and kind of empty feeling even when I am full of food. I believe that this is my body telling me to stop eating wheat. And since my kids are often cranky, they eat alot of wheat and they are cut from my cloth, it only makes sense that they might have a sensitivity to wheat as well. So I have been looking for some gluten free baking options to diversify their diet. But I didn't care for that particular recipe. Instead I found a different one.

This time I made it right the first time and then altered it the second time! Who out there is proud of me??!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins
Servings: 12 muffins
Preparation time: 10 minutes
1/2 cup
coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon
cinnamon powder
1/4 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon
1/2 cup
pumpkin puree
eggs (or 4 whole eggs and 2 whites...a good way to use up your egg whites)
1 teaspoon
1/2 cup
coconut oil, melted
3/8 cup
maple syrup (about 3 1/2 oz)
1/4 cup chopped walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a muffin pan or line with paper liners.
Sift together coconut flour and spices together.
Whisk remaining ingredients together (except walnuts) in a separate bowl until well mixed.
With a wooden spoon or whisk stir the flour mixture gradually into the pumpkin mixture so that no lumps remain.
Divide batter between 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle with walnuts.
Bake for 12 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Do not over bake as the flour can burn easily.

Okay, I made a couple of substitutions..err..changes. I left out the walnuts, substituted honey for the maple syrup (cause that's what I had), eliminated the cloves and only made a half recipe. But other than that I SWEAR I made it exactly how it was supposed to be made, except that I baked them for 16 or so minutes because they were totally raw at 12 minutes. And do you know what? The kids LOVED them. They ate them up! The recipe made 6 regular muffins and one teeny tiny one, and there was only one muffin left at the end of the day (I ate some too...). So I would say they were a resounding success. I think that the recipe works for two reasons. First off, the inclusion of some vegetable puree. I think the coconut flour sucks up any moisture it comes in contact with, so any muffin recipe has to have a good amount of wet ingredients to turn out a normal consistency batter. Coconut flour is NOTHING like wheat flour. Also I used jumbo sized eggs, because the folks at the farmer's market run out when you show up at 1pm. I had jumbo on hand, so that's what I used. I usually use large eggs, and I don't think that added enough wet ingredients to stand up to the coconut flour. This recipe is really good and it really works.

Two days later Thing One was so excited to have the muffins again he asked if he could stay up late and "help me make them", which is really just three year old code for "play with the faucet in the kitchen sink while Mommy cooks something, anything". My boy is going to be in Sales. I just know it. Just before he went to bed, he turned on the oven light and said "Goodnight Chocolate Muffins".

Here is my ever-so-slightly-altered-recipe:

Gluten Free Chocolate Beet Muffins
1/4 cup Coconut Flour
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cocoa powder
3 jumbo eggs (Or 4 medium/ large)
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tbsp rapadura or rapunzel sugar (whole, unrefined cane sugar)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup of pureed beets

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix all the dry ingredients together, except the sugar. Set aside. In a separate bowl mix all the wet ingredients together with the sugar. Add the wet to the dry and mix until smooth-ish, you aren't gonna get rid of all the lumps. Pour into prepared muffins cups or a prepared muffin tin and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Yeah. Beets. You are shocked that I found a way to finally eat beets. I got more from the CSA in my winter share. I have been staring them down for a month while they sat in my fridge. I was hoping they would have gotten the picture and walked into someone else's kitchen by now. And just look, now I have a recipe in which you can hardly taste them. This is bliss, I conquer Gluten Free Muffins in the same post that I conquer Beets. I didn't see that one coming!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Food is a Socio-Economic Problem

I know this headline is not a news flash to anyone reading.

Last week I discovered a great new blog, The Sweet Beet, written by Michelle Madden, a woman who, much like me, overcame her dysfunctional relationship with food to find that life on the other side is delicious. A friend sent me a link from an article that the author had written for Huffington Post (how do I submit to the Huffington Post??), which lead me to her blog. She had recently posted about eggs. Yummy, Unctuous, Delicious Eggs. I innocently commented on her blog, saying that I get my eggs from one particular farm at the farmer's market, but that I was thinking of looking for a better quality egg. I asked her which farm she bought her eggs.

So she told me that she loved the eggs from Violet Hill Farm, which is only at the Union Square Farmer's Market on Saturdays (when I am not at my nearby office). And she went further to say that she always felt that the farm who grows my eggs has never had knowledgeable staff at the farmer's market. AND that their eggs are graded which means they definitely have more than 3000 hens. I know the eggs I buy are not certified organic, but I always believed that they are raised on a farm that practices low spray only-when-necessary practices, so I have always trusted them to make good choices. Plus, they are $4 a dozen versus $3 at the grocery store, or $8-12 from some of the other certified organic farms at the market.

Now I am a big girl, so even though I was really bummed by what she told me, I can deal. Part of me knew that I should be eating the better organic eggs. Hell, that's why I asked the question. But I am totally maxed out. I cannot possibly spend one more dollar on food. Something else will have to come off the table in order to afford these eggs. And that is when it hit me. Here I am in New York City with all the resources in the world, and even I can't make my food perfect; how is anyone eating clean unindustrial food?

Madden's comments got me thinking about what is the standard that we should be eating. And is access to clean food a civil right? I kind of think it is. But how do we define clean food when we talk about democracy and a body of people 300 million strong? The USDA, FDA and maybe some other government agencies want you to believe that organically raised foods have the same nutritional properties as conventionally raised fare. Never mind that the EU feels differently. But I have noticed a massive difference in my health since switching to organics. I eat less, have fewer cravings, I sleep better and overall feel better and have more energy. My government would like me to believe that my increase in general well being is because I am finally eating the healthy foods they have been recommending for years. But that's not really true since I try to keep my servings of all cereal products to 3 or so in a day and they have been recommending 9-11 servings since the early 90's. I also eat probably almost 50% more fat in a day than they recommend. It all leads me to believe that eating organic matters. This says nothing of other preservatives and chemical conditioning agents that I am no longer consuming because I am no longer eating commercially processed foods.

But even though I go to all this effort to eat clean and locally, there are folks out there like Madden that are doing a better job of it than me. I want to eat 100% clean and local. I want all my food to come from small farms. But between child care and insurance payments and mortgages, I can't shell out any more cash.

I am not being cheap. According to an interesting article from Grist I spend more on groceries than virtually anyone else in the country. Manhattan averages the highest per capita food spending in the nation. Their numbers include restaurants but not booze. But, although my spending is in line with my locality I am not using any of my money in restaurants. Which leads me to believe that I spend more on groceries than virtually everyone else in the country. So, if that is the case, and even I can't afford to eat 100% clean, what about everyone else???

If you believe that conventionally raised food is lower in nutrients but you know that it is cheaper, then do you believe that it is okay that people living in lower socio-economic levels eat food that is lower in nutrients? Is it okay that our food companies aggressively market inexpensive products of dubious nutritional value to those with fewer means? Is anyone else stepping back from all the details to see the same big picture as me? Government farm subsidies, USDA policy and our "free market" has created a class system for health and nutrition in our country. If you distill it further you see, health is something you have to pay for in this country. I always kind of saw it as one of the personal liberties-life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? For some people the lack of access to clean food is getting in the way of their pursuing life at all. And the fact that the government is funding it by keeping corn cheap so it can be made into so many sodas and hamburgers is disgusting to me. Every person in this country should have access to clean food. If this were a conversation about access to clean water, would your opinion be different?

I have been thinking about something for a long time. Do our representatives not know about our desire for clean food, fewer pesticides and fewer added sugars and chemical preservatives. There has been so much in fighting in the industry over Front of Package labeling, yet the industry always wins on that one. How come our representatives aren't sticking up for the safety of the consumer?

Of course I know the answer. Money. But I have watched while other issues have been aggressively acted upon in the public, like smoking. The tide turned against the tobacco companies and now the government has been tough on them. Fewer people smoke and that is a good thing! But the food companies are trickier because people need food to live. People do not need cigarettes to live. But what if there were more activists that were lobbying for tighter regulation of chemical preservatives? Or lobbying for lower allowable limits of food dyes? Or working hard to change farm subsidies? What if we had more people like us fighting the good fight in Washington? Could we get more accomplished that was actually in the consumer's best interest?

What if a million people marched on Washington to make a statement that we are sick and tired of how our government policies are propping up unsafe food and our current pay-to-be-healthy caste system? Would you come? Would you march? Mobs of angry people do change the world. I would willingly stand up and say I will be person one in my mob.

So I am just putting it out there. I want to organize a march on Washington. I am angry about food. I am angry that no one in our government is doing anything about it. I am angry that the USDA is still pushing a low fat high grain diet even amidst all the science of the last 20 years. I am angry that the National School Lunch Program serves such crappy sugar laden food. I am angry that the FDA waits until a significant number of people die from any additive until it reevaluates whether it is safe. I am angry that the Sugar Lobby is still pushing us to eat more sugar through effective lobbying. I am angry that my own mother died of cancer in a decade where few health professionals saw the link between diet and health. I want a voice. But I don't know how to start. Are their food activist groups that I can join? Is anyone else out there as angry as I am? Should I just give up? I need to hear from you today. Please comment. If the problems in our industrial food complex make you mad, let me know. If you would show up to a march on Washington, let me know. And, if you think I am just being kooky, let me know that too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Very Best Christmas Yet

Bearing children brings to mind visions of excited Christmas mornings complete with mugs if hot cocoa, a video camera and maybe some sledding for those of us who live in a state where white Christmases are possible. What we have actually gotten so far was one year where Thing One sat in his bumbo seat and seemed confused by the whole thing, one year where Thing One ripped open all the presents after some considerable encouragement only to keep playing with his old toys and finally one year where Thing Two woke up in time to practically catch Santa in the act, but Thing One slept until 8:30. When the hell do either of my kids sleep until 8:30? DH and I are ready for a Christmas where the kids are so excited that they can't sleep the night before and they are bursting out of bed at 5am. It is the anticipation and excitement that make this holiday so fun. And as an adult I realize that it is really all about the kids.

Thing Two is still too young. At 16 months he doesn't understand the significance of all this, and well, Thing One doesn't seem to care. We fortunately have kids that are not that focused on stuff. I am not patting myself on the back. This is a quality of a child's personality that either comes as part of the standard operating equipment or it doesn't, at least as far as I believe. Thing One shares reasonably well. He throws fits over toys in the store, but once we leave, he generally forgets. I can't think of a time where he has expressed interest in a particular toy that he wanted me to buy him that wasn't directly in front of him. Now granted, we don't shower him with gifts, we include him in choosing gifts for others and we make sure that he doesn't watch any TV channels that play advertisements. And in general DH and I don't spend alot of time in stores. I get much of what we need online, so the Things aren't totally overexposed to the consumerist mentality. I never thought this would have a down side, our lackluster Christmas.

But I am being contradictory about this. I am fairly religious (And that's cool if you're not) so of course I don't like the consumerist side to Christmas, but I love giving gifts and seeing the happiness they bring others. I guess I always thought my kids would be really into it.

The other week we were driving to visit family in Long Island. The Things love the Christmas music on the lite station, so we were tuning in. Frank Sinatra came on singing Silent Night. I turned to Thing One and told him, "You know that the reason we celebrate Christmas is because Christmas is Jesus's birthday." There is a Catholic school a block up from our apartment building that has a 40 foot crucifix on the side of the chapel. Most likely if you asked Thing One who Jesus was, he'd say "the man on the building". I continued "And Santa loved Jesus so much he wanted to give all the little kids around the world presents, kind of like birthday presents." But then I went one step too far. I added "And just a reminder, Jesus is God's son." That was too much for a three year old brain.

Thing One furrowed his brow and looked very confused. I waited eagerly to answer any question that could pop out of his little brain. He looked up at me and asked "Is Santa Claus God?"

S***. What do I say now?

The holy trinity is a difficult concept even for adults to understand. How is Jesus half man and half god? How can a deity have a child with a human? And what the heck is the Holy Spirit. I am not even going to begin to debate this topic. It is far too complex, and most of you probably don't care. But we all work so hard to keep the season about what it is really supposed to be about! So just imagine it to a three year old, and then throw a Santa Claus into the mix and, Boom! Confusion City.

Fortunately we are finally at an age when Thing One understands the concept of Santa but he is not scared of him (since he is a stranger after all). Thing Two understands less, but his personality is more intuitive. He senses the excitement and has been dancing around the apartment, just as an overflow of his joy, I have to assume. This is the Christmas I envisioned when I found out I was pregnant all those four years ago. God, I was just a kid back then, 26 and clueless. And the forward thinker in me worries a little about future Christmases. Will I be able to afford the "toys" they want in ten years? Will they still be excited about Christmas then? Will they ever deeply understand the significance of this time of year? Will my boys be spiritual naturally? Or will it be me dragging them to church while they try to run away from religion altogether? And then I stop and take a deep breath and remember to live in today. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift and that's why we call it The Present.

This is the very best Christmas yet. Let's keep 'em coming.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Clever Time Saving Tricks!

This is a busy time of year for me at work. Couple that with Holiday Cheer and Holiday Chores and that makes for one tired Mama. But I don't want to throw all my hard work out the window. In the last week I have discovered two things that make my life a little easier.

First off, I have trouble making my pizza crust on a week night because the crust needs to rise for an hour before baking the pizza. I have tried refrigerating it, and the result was kind of gummy and gross. This really gets me because pizza could be such a great weeknight meal. I could chop up all the veggies in the morning, and that night I could crumble the cheese (I have been using a chevre style cheese rather than mozzarella), dust with veggies and olives and voila! It would be dinner on the table in 20 minutes. But with no easy crust, how am I supposed to accomplish that??

So last Friday I tried making my Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (Haha-That was like post number 5 and I am STILL making that recipe!) before I walked out the door in the morning. I mixed up all the flour, yeast, honey oil and water and......I just let it sit on the counter. Anticlimactic, no?

Well, before now I was pretty scared to let food sit out all day. But now that I am more comfortable with cultured food, I know that letting the dough rise all day, rather than the hour called for by the recipe, will just make the yeast flavor more pronounced. DH asked me if the dough was twice the size as normal (he was working late and didn't get to eat it). It worked and I came home to a lovely pizza dough. Thing 1 helped me punch it down and roll it out. I am now getting them in the kitchen about three days a week to help with dinner, instead of just turning the TV on while I cook. Let's hope I can keep up with that. But long story short, the crust was good. It was easy and I will now include homemade pizza among my other weeknight meals.

And secondly, I made homemade beef bone broth in my crock pot. A while back when I made beef broth I did it on a week that our babysitter called out from work. I labored over the pot on the stove all day. I left it running, but fortunately it was a rainy day, so it was no problem to be inside with the kids. What would I do on a normal week?

This time I put my bones, veggies, herbs and vinegar in the crock pot before I went to bed and put it on a low 10-hour setting. The following morning before I left for work I unplugged the pot, then plugged it back in and started it on another 10 hour setting. That night after the kids went to bed I strained all the veggies, squeezed out every last drop of stock that I could get and refrigerated it overnight. The following morning I took the tallow off the top and boiled it down, froze it into cubes. Looking back at the week, I don't feel that I worked especially hard for this bone broth. I didn't wake up extra early to do it. I had the time to get it done. It wasn't especially hard.

I am thrilled that both of these things worked. I am always happy to find neat clean and orderly ways that I can pay attention to my health without having my life revolve around food preparation. It already does to a certain extent, so as I add each new thing, I need to find more balance. I never though I would be the kind of person that makes their own stock, and yet here I am. I don't buy bouillon anymore. Not to mention the fact that half the reson I make the broth is for the tallow, which I fry alot of things in now. Using the tallow is so much better for anything beef, plus I know it can handle high heat frying. I feel like I am getting it for free!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dear Tylenol...

Dear Tylenol,

I am seriously hoping that someone within your organization is paid to follow Internet and blogger traffic, so that you will come across my little site. However, if I don't hear from you in a couple of days (my contact info is just to the right), I will most likely contact you.

I never get sinus headaches. But boy, I was brewing one crazy mess of one last week. So strange this headaches was, with no congestion, runny nose or anything else, that I was sure I was experiencing some fluid and pressure problem within my brain. I have to stop searching the Internet unnecessarily. Anyway, By Friday afternoon I was no good at work and I had to step out and get some medicine, which I loathe. I have to be really really sick to take medicine. I am conscious of everything that I expose my body too (please read previous posts). But I felt it was necessary to take medicine that day, so I went to Duane Reade.

In Duane Reade, I immediately looked for your box. I used to sometimes buy generics, but then one day when I was comparing generics and brand name medicines, I noticed that while the brand name allergy medicine contained sorbitol, the generic contained saccharin! I am not cool with saccharin, and that is when I realized that while the medicine or active ingredients are usually the exact same between generics and brand names, the additives are not. And I don't want some of those cheaper additives. So last Friday I picked up your box of Tylenol Cold and Sinus and checked out the back, to see what made the medicine "non-drowsy". I didn't even find out why it was non-drowsy, I was too disturbed by the fact that the medicine contained Red Dye #40, which, (among several other food dyes) has been shown to cause behavior problems in children, is banned by the European Union and was recently the focus of a petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I can't always say I love everything about the CSPI, but in this case they petitioned the FDA to ban the use of six different food dyes all banned by the EU. In 1959, the FDA recommended no more that 12mg of consumption per person per day of these food dyes. In 2007 they upped the upper limit to 59mg. I think perhaps there was a little bit of lobbying involved there. Dear Tylenol, I have alot of issues with food dyes because they make toxic fake food look more like real food. Food Dyes seduce children and trick their eyes to believe that what they are eating is fresh when in actuality it is not. I don't come across food dyes too often because we only eat real food in my house, no colors, no artificial flavoring, no low fat nothing, no preservatives, just food. But you are not a food manufacturer. You make medicines. So my decision to not buy your product was to avoid ingesting even a small amount of toxic and completely unnecessary dye. Ironically, your competitors product, which I did buy, contains Yellow #6, which is also on the CSPI petition. Great, now I am feeling like there are no options for me the next time I get a headache.
Every manufacturer makes dye free medications for children. I try to only buy those. But I can't say I have ever seen an adult medication that was labeled as dye free. Perhaps it is because all the research centers around behavior problems in children. But what are food dyes doing to me that we do not yet know about? Are they carcinogenic? Has anyone ever checked? As someone who's mother died of brain cancer some eleven years ago, I think it is important that be skeptical of every non-food substance that goes into my body. I do it for my two children and I should damn well be doing it for myself.

So please, I am asking you really nicely, is it possible to make these medicines without food dyes? Do you think your consumer will take off-white pills? Is it possible to print your brand logo using a different method? Perhaps embossing it on the pill rather than printing with any dye? People like me are not going away, and I will buy products that are dye and additive free. The only catch is--if you market them as dye and additive free, you better make sure that they actually are.

The Table of Promise

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Few Ways I Am Trying to Ward Off Sugar This Month

Egads. It has already begun. The Holiday decoration have been up for almost a month in Macy's (maybe more), there is a bitter wind blowing through Manhattan, and there are tons of crowds piling onto the B and D trains just so they can get to Rockefeller Center. It is Christmas time in the city, ring-a-ling, hear them ring....

One sure fire was you can tel it is Christmas is that all of a sudden there are piles of candy cropping up all over my office. First I saw a bowl on someone's desk inside a neat office. Later in the week that bowl made it's way out to sit right on top of the storage closet next to my cube. Then in the mailroom I saw half empty gift mugs filled with various chocolates. Next it will be the gift baskets coming in from the accounts that still buy us gifts (as opposed to the other way around) and after that it will be the sugary Christmas gifts between co-workers. And then finally, around the 21st of December, it will be homemade cookies. It tends to always happen in that order in my office. Is it slightly different for you?

I still maintain that I have beaten the Sugar Monster, but this is the first Christmas that I have been trying to eat mostly real food. On previous years, Christmas was a 4-5 week period fraught with tummy aches and sugar shock. I don't typically gain weight during the holiday season, as my indulging is limited to three or four days (and that's not going to kill anyone). But now that I have cleaned myself up and know a little more about what sugar is and what it does to your body, well, I am really noticing how much of it is around me all the time.

So here are a few ideas to limit the sugar in your Christmas, while still enjoying yourself and being able to participate.

* Look at your breakfast. This is usually where sugar sneaks in first for me. Instead of sweetened yogurt, try plain. I also recommend the whole or full fat yogurt, which will keep you more satiated. If you are eating flour/ gluten, breakfast is probably the best place to do it because you have ample time to burn off all that energy. Recently, a dear Eastern European friend told me that some traditional Eastern Europeans typically would have flour foods (even pasta!) only in the morning, for that very reason. I have to respect several generations of culture after all! I would definitely balance out any flour foods with some protein or fat though. This will help you to stay full until lunch and ward off the snackies which usually lead straight to a box of Harry and David's Lemon Shortbread Cookies.

* Be sure to get some protein (and fat) with your lunch. I eat a raw salad almost every day (almost). But if I don't have some fat component, like avacado, and some protein component, like chicken, I find that the salad never lasts me all day. It is that 3-4pm time period when I need a little sugary pick me up.

* Be prepared with some protein snacks. I like to keep nuts around just in case I really need a pick me up. A glass of good quality milk is also a great afternoon snack. Cheese would be good too.

* Don't eat crappy treats. Here is where I am the most passionate. I absolutely think that you should have some refined sugar this year unless you have some real serious aversion to it, or your food religion condones only strict abstinence (my food religion embraces a smidge of sin). However, why on earth would you want to eat the lousy stuff? You have put in so much work making sure that you are filled with filling fats and healthy proteins and nutrient rich veggies, why would you go and eat some crappy Hersey's bar. You should have Teucsher! The whole point about limiting sugar is really about purposeful eating. There is no auto-pilot setting. If food makes you happy, enjoy it, love it, relish it. But don't get into the mind set that you have to eat everything in sight. The space in your tummy (and there is only so much) is valuable real estate. And all those sugary treats should be dolling themselves up to vie for which one is going to get in your tummy. Only choose the best.

* Don't be the sugar pusher. Just because you don't want to be the one to eat the lovingly gifted Whitman Sampler does not mean you should be pushing it on every unsuspecting lady in your office or family. She might not be in possession of your strong will! I see absolutely nothing wrong with pitching unwanted sugar. Wait until January 2nd if you feel you must. But why on earth do you feel that someone must consume something, just because it exists. I consider this slightly irrational thinking. It doesn't matter if it goes to waste.

* Get enough sleep. Since I am currently up way too late blogging about this, I sense the irony of suggesting this. Just make sure you get 8 hours of sleep. You know the drill, hunger hormones, sleep deprivations triggers them..yada yada yada

* Lastly, NO regrets. Now that you have had two helpings of Office-Christmas-Party-Catering-Cupcakes, let it go. I have found that most weight put on in a month will come off in a month if you make the right choices in losing the weight. You know the most brilliant thing I have discovered since I started eating real food? Usually when my clothes start to feel a little tight it is because I have been overeating. So cutting back slightly for a week or two makes that overly full feeling go away as well as making my pants fit better.

No go out there and enjoy Christmas for Christ's sake!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Marion Nestle, Ultra-Processing and Why I Do This Blog

There are special moments when I read articles about obesity and I get this buzzing sense of urgency. Like the problem is so out of control that something must be done! I feel so small and in one corner of the internet, what I want to shout out loud is dwarfed by louder voices. But I can't help but get frustrated out by all the nutritionism misinformation. So many people talking about nutrients and vitamins and protein molecules, like they have even had one post-high-school organic chemistry class (puh-lease). My feeling from the very beginning has been, don't overthink things, eat real food, don't get lost in rules, and enjoy your life.

I also saw from the beginning of my food evolution that proper eating was about eating unprocessed foods, whole foods. Modern foods bring up a whole host of issues, sustainability, cleanliness and safety, agribusiness and the modern industrial food complex, the viability of small producers, the role of small family farming,the ethical treatment of animals, the health of our livestock, proper nutrition, the civil right of every person to have access to clean, safe, nutrient rich food, gastronomy, obesity, diabetes and other food related diseases, the impact of food related diseases on our healthcare system, the list could go on forever. Food and our food system is SO complex. And many of us Internet nerds (myself included) sometimes get way too caught up in whether something is 100% Whole Wheat or only half white and half whole wheat or if that brand of canned tomatoes is produced by an organic manufacturer that is actually owned by Nestle or Con Agra.

If I could write my own future, I would be an activist and writer to educate people about eating processed vs unprocessed foods. I love fermented vegetables, I love local foods, but when I think about why I started this blog back on May 4th I know in my heart I was thinking about the 70% of our population that is overweight or obese. I am thinking about the people who eat crummy food because the outside of the package says it will help them lower their cholesterol. I am thinking about the people whose insulin system is beginning to peter out because they really don't know that they are eating too many grains. I guess I always imagined that I could help people by spreading the word that one could be a full time mom, a full time employee and still manage to keep your self healthy and navigate the modern food complex. I have tried never to claim that I eat 100% local, or 100% organic, or 100% sustainable. Those are all good goals, and if I can ever attain them, then I am getting there one day at a time. But I hope that this blog will reach people who think it CAN'T be done by someone who has an already full life and bills to pay and friends and family to visit with.

That being said, Marion Nestle has recently written two lovely articles about Ultra-Processing which I think clearly defines the problem. Food manufacturers are first producing ingredients that are so processed that they provide few nutrients, then they are creating products out of those ingredients and selling them back to us, sometimes as health foods. I find that Nestle and the articles she cites clearly explain the issues, and how we are being taken advantage by some major food manufacturers. I think these articles go to the very heart of why I write my blog, because people don't know this stuff. Many people think of Coke and Mc Donald's as processed foods, but what about Cheerios or UHT milk? Most people would put those into the healthy category. There is alot of confusion for sure.

So do yourself a favor. Click on the links and take a look at what she and her colleagues have to say. I wish I could share that link with everyone. Perhaps then they would view a grocery store like I do, a place to be prepared, educated and on the lookout for non-food in disguise.

This post is part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How's My Kombucha Doing?

I wasn't completely blog-free when we were on vacation. I did have a teensy bit of internet access while I was abroad, so of course I viewed my web traffic. And I saw something ODD! My post about Kombucha went viral. Okay, not really viral. But over 30 people shared the story with their friends on Facebook and I got almost 200 new hits over the course of a few days. That is at least a little bit viral. I was startled and excited! And I welcome each and every new reader that found me as a result.

But now it has been a few weeks since I first wrote about my Kombucha. And....what is it doing now? My Kombucha has been sitting on my counter top ever since I published the article on it almost three weeks ago. When we first came back from Morocco it looked and smelled like tea still. But now I see that there are little bits floating around in the tea! Success! My little microbial friends are procreating! And the little bits are not just moving around the bottom where my SCOBI is, but not they are all throughout the mixture.
I admit. I tasted it today. With a VERY clean spoon. And there was alot of vinegar taste to it because, well, it has vinegar in it. But I will be using this current batch to brew another larger, and hopefully tastier batch, so I am not worried. I am just hoping that I didn't break some Kombucha Law by tasting it mid-brew. I admit, I was curious!
I started this bad boy up on November 18th. I figure I will begin the second brew on December 16th. I am already fighting the urge to flavor the first batch. I really need to make at least one unflavored batch. But...Oh!...The possibilities are endless and I am too excited. Pray that I find the strength to restrain myself. In the meantime though I now have a collection of 7 GT's Raw bottles, and counting. I will be able to make up a nice batch once I get this going!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Homemade Shampoo

Yesterday I talked about Argan Oil. Which can be used in place of moisturizers (one ingredient-imagine that!). Today I want to talk about Shampoo. I want to get rid of all our shampoos, because I have come to the realization that I don't really need them.

I google-searched "homemade shampoo" and this site popped up. The site has 10 different recipes for shampoos, and nothing I am doing in this post is anything original. Everything has been taken from them. All the shampoos foam because of the ingredient Castile Soap. I have heard of castile soap--aka, Dr Bronners. But it wasn't until I really looked into it that I understood what it was and why it was different.

Castile soap is a soap that was a long time ago made in a simple process of boiling plant ashes (which contained sodium bicarbonate) along with local olive oil and with a brine. The result was a hard soap that solidified in the boiling water. And many of the impurities of the ashes, like lye, settled out of the finished product. I liked the way this sounded. Modern Castile Soaps have more than three ingredients, but not that many more. And I like the fact that every ingredient is one I know and understand and can pronounce.

Last weekend I purchased Dr Bronner's Castile Soap in the Unscented Baby-Mild variety. I started using it for all my showers and bathing the kids. This soap contains: Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol. I love it! The Potassium Hydroxide is the agent that is used to making the soap come together according to some of the websites I read. And if you even want to go a further step and make your own--I found a pretty cool video of someone doing just that. It shows you step by step how to make liquid soap. Don't you just love the Internet???

So I am sold on the Castile Soap. But what about for my hair. I still feel like my hair needs something a little kinder, like perhaps some oils to help it from getting dried out. I found a nice easy recipe for shampoo from the website I linked to earlier.

For normal hair, or as a base to add your own scents, use
1/4 cup distilled water
1/4 cup liquid Castile Soap - I use unscented, but you can choose your favorite
1/2 teaspoon jojoba, grapeseed, or other light vegetable oil

Mix together all the ingredients. Store in a bottle. Shake before use.This mixture isn't as thick as commercial shampoos - you'll need to just tilt the bottle over your head.
**I am making mine with Argan Oil, because I have a little laying around.

There are several other recipes on that website for shampoos with various essential oils for making the shampoo more vibrant, or soothing. I am very interested to try this. But I get nervous when dealing with essential oils. Though Fariway does carry them, as likely does Whole Foods and the like, they are expensive and I don't want to screw it up. Scents are really my thing. It has been ages since I wore perfume. I also don't want to get an essential oil that I end up not liking. I stumbled upon a really interesting website that sells all manner of wildcrafted and certified organic essentials I do find this terribly interesting. Perhaps one day soon I will overcome my fear of committing to some scent.

Switching to Castile Soap is an easy way to eliminate some potent chemicals from my body. Making homemade shampoo from Castile Soap is one more way to simplify my life, buy fewer things. And finally save money and be less wasteful. If we have everything we need, then why would we lament not having more? Maybe we already have more than we need, but some dust must be wiped away from our eyes before we can see that for truth.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Argan Oil and Why I am Going to Throw Out All My Shampoos

No doubt my recent trip to Morocco changed my thinking. I think every word of every post I put up last week suggested that. I have gone to far lengths to make sure that my food is clean, and pesticide and chemical free as I can, all while supporting local purveyors. Yet so much of what I slather onto my body or clean my house with has not fallen under the same watchful eye. I have changed my cleaning products to Seventh Generation products. Mostly because will deliver these items to me overnight FOR FREE!!

Let my diverge for one moment. I LOVE If you have never ordered from the site and you have young children, you need to know about this. If you live in New York City and have a doorman, then even more reason why you need to know about this site. is located in NJ, and I believe they ship from Pennsylvania (forgive me if that is wrong). They ship every diaper (regular and cloth), wipe, cream, ointment, etc under the sun. But they also ship formula, baby food, sippy cups, bottles, breast pumps and all pump accessories, pacifiers, clothes, vitamins, toys, books and other various baby gear. You name it these guys have it! Recently they opened a sister site that sells the same vast variety, but of soap items. From them I have gotten all my Seventh Generation dish soaps, dishwasher gels, laundry detergents, etc. But the BEST thing about them is that they offer free shipping on any purchase over $75, maybe even over $50 now. And when you are buying diapers, your orders are all more than $50. But it gets better-the free shipping always gets to me the very next day. So if I get close to running out of diapers, I can always count on to get me what I need before I am running to the pharmacy down the street with sleepy children in hand just to get some before the damn place closes. (Those of you who know me personally have heard my proclaim my love for this website. But for those of you who haven't, this is completely truthful, unsolicited, unpaid, etc. No one has given me any incentive to say any of this, though I am not opposed to Thank You contact info is right there on the right hand side bar *winkwink*). Yes, you might get a slightly better price on some items by shopping at Costco. But when I factor in the $10 worth of tolls, plus gas and membership fees, I am not saving a dime. Besides, I don't have to go anywhere to get these all important baby items from I even do my Christmas shopping with them every year....sigh...True Love.

Anyway, back to my regularly scheduled post. I began to realize that my shampoo and facial moisturizers, the soap I use on my skin and the soaps I was using on the kids are all conventional and contain a bazillion ingredients-many of them I cannot pronounce. And they are expensive. What's up with that?

When I was in Morocco, my dear friend MS introduced me to Argan Oil. Perhaps you have heard of it? Or perhaps you have heard of the high end Moroccanoil products? Moroccanoil is a specific company that produces salon products that contain Argan Oil (among more conventional ingredients). Argan Oil is the oil that is extracted from the kernels of the Argan Tree. The Argan Tree grows in Morocco mainly and perhaps only a few other places in the world. The kernels contain a pit that when pressed, release an oil that is very high in good Fatty Acids. In Morocco, people have been cooking with the oil for hundreds of years. They also use a more refined version of the oil for use in soaps and hair treatments, and even directly on the skin itself. See the breakdown of the Fatty Acids by percentage (taken from Wikipedia)

Fatty acid

I did pick up some Argan Oil while I was in Morocco (wouldn't you?). The stuff here in the States can go for as high as $25 an ounce, or more. So of course it was a coup to be able to get fresh Argan Oil for a fraction of that price. Since I returned, I have been using a drop of it on my face every morning and evening in place of facial moisturizer. My skins looks great. I also mixed some Argan Oil with Coconut Oil (probably one part Argan oil to 3 parts coconut oil) and poured that mix over some dried rosebuds that I also got on my trip (see picture above). That mix of oils smells coconutty and rosey, it is really lovely. I have been using that mix on the dry skin on me legs and well as directly on my hair before I go to bed.

I have really really curly hair. My curls did not manifest until I was about 13, before that my hair was just wavy and would get easily tangled. I had noticed that my hair was very frizzy and unkempt when I was about 11 or 12, but I never though anything of it. I thought I just had lousy hair. I did not know that one's hair could simply...change. But change it had. I realized when I was a freshman in high school that if I did not blow dry my hair but rather let it air dry, it would curl. But it took years to refine the process of washing and applying product until my hair was not a frizzy mess. Now my hair is much healthier. I am using sulfate free shampoos, conditioners and products. Curly hair is usually very dry. My hair is rarely ever shiny because it is so dry. The sulfate free shampoos (and only washing once a week) have helped, but I have mostly just accepted that my hair would be dry. But now it is all different! In using the oil in my hair, I will just dip my fingers into the jar and massage the oil into my locks. Not too much, I don't want greasy hair. But just that little bit at night before I wet and style my hair the next morning has helped immensely. In the span of one week, my hair has truly never looked healthier. It has never been so tame, and my curls have never been shinier. I have a ways to go. But I really recommend this. If you can't find Argan Oil, Coconut Oil by itself would work just fine.

But, that bring me back to my first thought...If I can use Argan Oil on my face, why do I need expensive facial moisturizers. And if I don't need expensive facial moisturizers, what about body lotion? And if my shampoo is full of chemicals and drying agents....maybe I don't need that either? Wow, I just saved myself over $100 a year by cutting all that junk out.

Tomorrow, I will expound on the soap issue. I found Castille Soap, and I believe it will change me even further....

Friday, December 3, 2010

Whole Foods Beer and a New Me

Did you know that Whole Foods sells BEER? Well, ok, that is not really news to anyone. But I was surprised to go into WF yesterday and see beer being sold on tap. For $3.99 (I think) you can buy a 32 oz growler with a metal wire top and they will fill it up for you with one of five different local brews. Next week I'll bring it back and they will refill it for just $4.99. Truly, $4.99 is not such an amazing price for 32 ounces of beer. But the idea that there will be less waste because I will simply reuse the bottle. Also this gives the priceless benefit that I won't have to cart out all my empties for the neighbors to see what a lush I am. Aaah, the joys of apartment living. I love the idea that this is local beer too. I am just beside myself on this one!

On a separate note, there were other things that I needed at Whole Foods yesterday. I returned from vacation with virtually nothing in my pantry, and had some car trouble and couldn't even do a good shopping when we returned home. So we have been "coasting on fumes" since we returned. We ran out of butter, olive oil, sunflower oil, milk and COFFEE! Egads! But in doing my shopping I really contemplated what I needed rather than what I wanted. And I probably saved $10-$15 just buying only getting what I needed. Strange, it is such a simple concept, buy smaller containers and only get things that you will use until the next time you go shopping. I might be able to save enough to put my kids in college. Whew!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What is Poverty?

Our trip to Morocco was a real game changer for me. I am seeing the world in a totally different way now than before I left. I expected to fly across the ocean and see some really beautiful things that would leave me breathless. I expected to see some special craftsmen that would inspire me. What I saw instead was thousands upon thousands of people living simple traditional lives. Lives that were uncluttered by many modern “conveniences”. And the irony is not lost on me that in the US, one of the wealthiest countries on the globe, I am trying my damnedest to lead a life that is closer to what they experience.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, our second day in Morocco we all traveled to Fez. Fez is a bustling and vibrant community. There was everything you could possibly imagine you would ever need, blankets, butchers, vegetables and fruit, cheeses, oils, olives, dishes, wedding crafts, shoes, clothes. All manner of special little shops were just smushed one on top of another. Some shops were 100 square feet or maybe smaller. In the area of the medina that handled fabrics I saw huge piles of sheep skins that were waiting to be spun into yarn. Next door, a 6 foot loom waited to spin the yarn into cloth.

The famous tannery in Fez is another example. There is a large tannery located within the medina. Skins will be soaked for 4 days in a mixture of lye and water and pigeon droppings to bleach the skin and remove the hair. Then the bleached skins will soak in vats of vegetable dyes for days or weeks until the entire skin is desired color. Then the skins are dried and conditioned and then used to make everything from wallets and purses to jackets and shoes. We went to a gorgeous pottery factory too. Local clay is mined from the hills and then brought back to the factory to soak in water to soften it up. A potter then spins the clay into dishes or bowls or tagines, whatever is desired. Then it is fired, painted and refired. Up until recently, when there was concern for clean air for the workers, the pottery was all fired in kilns heated by burning olive pits. Talk about recycling! These are three good examples of craftsman taking what is found in their local community and creating something useful with it. These craftsmen and those before them have been doing things the same way for centuries. There is a tradition of craftsmanship in Morocco. And the process has changed very little.
I never realized how much my life was dependent on the industrial complex. It seems like almost everything we consume, slather onto our skin, wear, etc, comes hermetically sealed in plastic or is made in a place with heavy equipment. Most things are made by “craftsmen” who couldn’t make their products without heavy automation and equipment. Automation and machinery has turned manufacturing into something done by an unskilled workforce. But these craftsmen in Morocco seemed to make astounding goods out of virtually nothing, some old sheepskins, rocks that were just laying around in the local hills. These are talents that must be learned and honed. I had tremendous respect for these men.

That brings me back to my original questions, What is poverty? What does the word poverty really mean? What pictures does it evoke in your mind? Before my trip to Morocco I imagined poverty to be a state of financial inadequacy or not having enough money. I have heard Morocco described as a third world country, so I expected to see some interesting things while I was there. But I did not expect the viewpoint change that I actually experienced. Because so many people living in Morocco are poor by the Western definition. They may only live on a few dollars a day. But I saw markets filled with local people buying. I saw food everywhere, and it was not tourist food, it was local people’s food, oranges, buckets of olives, dried dates and figs tied into long strings, meat and round breads. I did not see people that were disenfranchised. I did not see people wandering around not knowing the shopkeepers, and even those begging seemed like they just happened to ask me because I was so clearly a tourist, not because they set out to beg for money that day. I have no doubt that the government keeps some major visible areas “clean” in this way, we were in a major tourist area. But overall my sense was that this was a community where no one fell through the cracks. Families took care of one another, and all people would find some food during the day, and everyone had access to water through community wells (just don’t drink the tap if you aren’t a native).

I started thinking about what poverty was. If you don’t have any money, but you get the things you need for daily life, are you impoverished? If you have just enough food, but not an excess for your mental comfort, are you living in poverty? If you always have clean clothes to put on, but maybe they are simple and you don’t have a different dress for every day of the week, are you impoverished? If you can get to work by walking or taking the bus, but you maybe can’t afford to fly away on vacations, are you impoverished? I have in my life, been way too hung up on having the “right” pair of shoes, or having a little extra food in my fridge just in case I get hungry, nevermind that I never do. Last week I saw thousands of people doing just fine, leading happy and contented lives on far less money than I live on. They had far less stuff than I did, and they seemed to be more free to take life as it comes. Think about it, how many of us have bought, say, dishwashing detergent weeks before the old box ran out, just in case you needed more. But the store always has dishwashing detergent, and you could just go out when you ran out of the other box! Do you see? If you have spent that money on detergent when you didn’t really need it, imagine how many other things you are buying that you don’t need! Is it possible that with all our wealth in industrialized society we really are just purchasing things that we don’t need and that don’t add to the quality of our lives? If we are not increasing the quality of our lives, what’s the point?

Poverty has a new definition to me. It is not about money, but rather about not being able to connect with the things you need to sustain your life. In the US that may mean that you are an unskilled worker, unable to get a job that pays you enough to buy the things you need. Here in America, you need money to obtain everything, food, shelter, etc. This is a situation where a person might become disenfranchised, or unable to connect with basic goods and services within their community. In Morocco, it may mean a woman who is widowed and cannot easily find work or trade because she is a woman. There are disenfranchised people within all communities. But I think it is the disenfranchisement that is my new definition of poverty, rather than assigning a simple dollar value to it. People can be poor in all kinds of way. Yet they can be rich is all kinds of ways too.

I have spent a lot of time and energy looking at food. The food I eat, the food I serve, food as it is in my community. But I think I also need to examine the “stuff” in my life. I think I might be able to find a greater sense of peace by doing less, buying less, having less. I must remember that my local store is always open, I live smack dab in the middle of a major consumerist city. I will always be able to get what I need. I don’t have to buy extra nonsense just to have it around the house. My kids will do just fine with fewer toys. I can wear last year’s shoes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I am not going to sit here and say that life is better in Morocco, or fall into the pitfall of blasting American culture. I love my country, we are a great country. We have established freedoms that set the groundwork for allowing all people a base standard of living. Our legal system grants people dignity, and it should be upheld. We do the best we can having a diverse population of people from all over the world as opposed to one ethnic background of people who all believe the same thing. But we have some things we can work on. There are problems within our culture. We can be spoiled. We have narrow definitions of words like “clean” or “safe”. A lot of the time we think we are better than other folks on the world stage. We have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when It comes to things like litigation and regulation. And the poor in our country struggles as much as the poor in any other country. I learned last week to be very thankful for all the blessings I have in my life. I have been given great gifts. I must cherish them, and never focus on the portion of the glass that isn’t full. In this way we can all be rich.

This Post is part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Real Food Thanksgiving in Morocco

One of the greatest blessings of our recent trip was to spend Thanksgiving with our dear friends MS and MC and their children. Because this is their first Thanksgiving abroad they were especially anxious to have a taste of home.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of them all. I love the food, the smells, the family. I love that it is a whole holiday all about being grateful for the bounty of this life. I cannot think of a better reason to take a couple days off work than to celebrate all the things that we have to be thankful for. I am reasonably religious, and so this tradition truly touches my heart. So many of the blessings of this life are given to us. Even if we have worked hard to make them grow and blossom, we were once fortunate enough to be given the tiny seed by something more powerful than us. So we should give thanks and know that we are not islands, but rather receivers of many countless daily gifts. I love that Thanksgiving is our culture’s way of taking time out to voice our thanks.

Our friends decided that since we were coming they would host a proper American Thanksgiving. They invited some friends, a dear French couple who had seen a Thanksgiving episode of Friends which spurred their desire to experience a proper American Thanksgiving, another French couple, and another American couple who had been living abroad longer. But as is normal for all good plans, the second French couple had to bow out at the last minute and a Peace Corps family ended up taking their place because their own plans fell through. It just isn’t Thanksgiving without accepting all to the table. So there we were, a big group: two Americans, four American ex-pats, two French and two Moroccans, plus three three year olds and three babies.

Our dear friends value real food in the same way we do, so there was never a doubt that our meal would be cooked from scratch and prepared with local ingredients. Besides, it is very hard to find processed ingredients in Morocco (or completely impossible). MS arranged with a local meat shop to order a turkey, which apparently can be procured, and are even common in the countryside. I actually saw one walking around someone’s yard as we drove back from Fez. Sides included cornbread and sausage stuffing, a highly altered version of my family’s famous creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffed mushroom, some homemade cranberry relish (thanks to the store at the American Embassy) and a little runny gravy cooked up at the last second. Please forgive me if I have forgotten something. I am still battling some powerful jet lag.

Desert consisted of an apple pie, a pumpkin pie and pumpkin custard for the gluten free folks. First of all, the pumpkin pie was made from the biggest pumpkin I have ever seen in my life. MC went to the Medina to get pumpkin and bought 10 kilos from a man who literally would just cut part of a pumpkin for you. So he only brought home less than half the pumpkin, but it still weighed over 20 pounds. Seeing it was intimidating! The flesh was so orange and flavorful. I have never had a pumpkin pie that was made from fresh pumpkin before. The flavor was far more intense. The apple pie was simple, apples and lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon and a little bit of rapadura sugar in a whole wheat crust. But when we bit into it, everyone asked if we had added rose water to the pie. The apples were so fragrant it was as though the orchard had been planted next to a hillside of roses which infused a floral scent into the fruit. I have never tasted anything quite like it.

But it wouldn’t be a true Thanksgiving without a couple of screaming kids. My Things had started to really struggle with food by Thursday. Thing 1 had not eaten any dinner Wednesday night, not even one bite. I think he had only had a couple of bananas and a piece of toast during the day, so he did not have the energy for a house full of guests. He played with the other kids for a while, but just before dinner he began to sulk and yell. I knew we were in for a fight. Both the kids put up such a fight that DH and I ended up in the kitchen with our screaming Things, me with tears streaming down my face from the desperation. Big crowds are hard enough for Thing 1 without the added pressure of unfamiliar faces. Add to that an unfamiliar country and food and it was a recipe for disaster. But having them so upset was also horrible for me because we were in a house full of people we didn’t know (except for our dear friends), people who had never seen our Things more gentle sides. I hate to think that adults will dislike my child, or that we will be “that family”, but there we were. And of course I really wanted all these new people to like us!! I was very embarrassed at my kid’s behavior, it was fueled by their not having eaten well during the day and all that came to a head as soon as everyone sat down to dinner.

Thing 1 never did eat dinner. In fact, though he has never made quite this much of a scene during Thanksgiving before, he has never actually eaten Thanksgiving dinner. Crowds make him crazy and it is very difficult for him to concentrate enough to eat. He eventually melted down into a little puddle and DH had to take him into a back bedroom so he could calm down. He fell asleep at 6pm. Thing 2 had a hard time too. He is regularly a wingy baby with a lot of complaints about your average everyday situations. He was very grumpy through dinner and also did not eat a proper dinner, but he did manage to eat some bread. What a frustrating evening! Every year I look forward to sitting down to a lovely dinner on Thanksgiving. This year I did not get to do that until after both my kids went to sleep. But once I did, the food was delicious. And thoroughly American. The food the company and the setting could not have been lovelier. I just do hope that our new friends were able to forgive our children’s behavior and see it for what it really was-a couple of tired kids on a long vacation a ways away from the comforts of a familiar home.

As for me, that day in Morocco didn’t feel much like Morocco at all. It was American through and through.