Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Proper Way to Soak and Cook Beans AND My Secret To Perfect Refried Beans

Long before I knew that the quality of a margarita was paramount to the the success of a Mexican restaurant, there was this little place in Memphis called Molly’s La Casita. There may still be a Molly's downtown on Central Ave, though I am not sure if it is open today. We would frequent the Park and Mendenhall location before it shuttered in the early Ninties.

Like the routine loving child that I was, I would always order the exact same thing at Molly's, the Tres Tacos. Three crispy tacos of seasoned ground beef with Mexican red rice and the most ridiculous refried beans imaginable. I can still imagine the taste, but I could not ever find a replacement to them. A nice dark brown color, they were the right balance of meaty and salty. They were ever so slightly pasty but the beans still held their shape creating a balance of texture. They did not reduce to a soupy one note sauce as many lazier restaurants' beans do. Molly's sublime legumes defined refried beans in my mind and virtually all my subsequent encounters with the side dish have been met with abject disappointment.

Recently I have unlocked the secret to these beans, these pearls of protein. Lard.

Yup. Sorry to burst your bubble. You were expecting paprika maybe? Lard is the secret of the best refried beans imaginable. But lard needn’t scare you. It is not any higher in fat than butter or olive oil. And many people are surprised to learn that lard is highest in monounsaturated fats, though it does contain some saturated fat like all fats do. Lard from ethically treated pastured animals is also high in Vitamin D. It is not a fat to be feared. But lard is tricky. Although it is an animal fat many manufacteurers hydrogenate lard to make it more shelf stable. And hydrogenation is bad. So few people are buying and cooking with lard these days that it is much better to render your own. Any butcher could get quality leaf lard for you. I order mine from Lewis-Waite Farm. It freezes well and the rendered fat keeps in the fridge indefinitely. And while my recipe isn’t necessarily authentic (I don’t know, maybe it is! I just kind of made it up), this warm-your-bones side dish is a great accompaniment to a lean meat dish!

Refried Beans
2 pounds of dried pinto beans, or a combination of pinto and kidney beans
Salt to taste (I used around 1-2 tablespoon)
1/4-1/3 cup of rendered leaf lard
Optional sliced onion, garlic, cumin, paprika and black pepper

Stay with me...the following recipe is longer than it needs to be. But I am specific for a reason.

Start by soaking your beans. It takes times. Properly soaked beans not only digest better, allowing your body to access the nutrition better, but proper soaking and long slow cooking helps to de-gas those beans as they work their way through your tummy. The Weston Price Foundation has a wonderful article on exactly how to soak beans called Putting the Polish on Those Humble Beans In it Catherine Czapp schools us on the proper temperature for your soaking water and why that is. I will attempt to recreate that here.

Start by placing a medium sized pot of water on the stove stop, about 10-12 cups. Take your beans and place them in a collander. Wash them thoroughly and remove any dirt, sticks or rocks. Transfer your beans to a large bowl. When the water begins to form tiny bubbles on the bottom of the pot but BEFORE it begins to boil, take the pot off the heat and pour it over your beans. Although the water is hot, you should be able to touch it without burning your hand. If it feels like a comfortable warm bath your water is not hot enough. If your hand burns upon touching the water, it is too hot. By the way, please use your common sense. Please DO NOT stick your hand in a pot of boiling water. I am absolutely not advocating that.

Once you've added your hot water, stir the beans and allow then to soak. Drain the soaking water and repeat the process 3-4 times over the course of 24 hours. After a day of soaking they will feel springy like fresh, uncooked beans.

Drain the final batch of soaking water and place them in a Dutch oven or large pot. Cover them with cold water and put them on to boil. To the pot place add half a sliced onion, one to two minced garlic cloves, paprika and cumin, a good tablespoon of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If I was a better blogger I would have written down all the measurements. But I don't really measure as I cook. Oh well, I will make that as a goal for NEXT year. Let the beans come to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. As they cook you can add more water if you need. You want to avoid a roiling boil or else the beans will cook too fast and the beans will be GASSY! Give yourself several hours to cook them. A crock pot is also a wonderful thing to use to cook the beans slowly. But whenever I use use a crock pot to cook beans I always end up finishing them on the stove top....but more on that later.

When the beans are cooked through and very soft, taste them for seasonings. Add more salt as needed. Remember you can always add more, but you can't take any away. Turn the heat on higher to evaporate any water. The higher boil will also begin to break up the beans. Stir the pot and they will break up more. That is what you can't get from a crock pot. The crock pot gets the beans soft, but it doesn't break them up. That's why I always finish them on the stovetop. When they are the right consistency, kinda pastey kinda spreadable but not destroyed, heat up a good heavy pan. And throw in your lard.

Melt your lard. When it gets hot enough to fry, spoon in your beans slowly. Stir them around to incorporate the fat. Add more water or adjust the seasonings.

And there you have it, refried beans. Meaty. Salty. Amazing with tacos. Not slightest bit vegetarian. Use the leftovers to make chili, or throw them over eggs with hot sauce for fantastic huevos rancheros. Or just eat them over rice with sensual slices of avocados. But please please please whatever you do, don't substitute the fat. It is lard, or it just isn't as good.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food 101 and Real Food Wednesdays and Healthy 2Day Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursday and Fight Back Fridays and Momtrend's Friday Food Link

Monday, August 29, 2011

When Life Throws You A Hurricane, Throw A Hurricane Party!

As you ALL know Hurricane Irene slowly trodded it's way up the Eastern Seabord of the US yesterday. I think it is still hitting Canada. The excitement here in New York City began Thursday when I was with a co-worker who excitedly decided to take Friday off in order to purchase one of the only generators making their way into the tri-state area before the weekend. By Friday there was talk of a subway shut down and I decided that DH and I should get to the supermarket early instead of waiting until Saturday morning when it was forecasted to already be raining.

No one was sure if Irene would be a category 1 or 2 by the time it made landfall in the US. But everyone was sure it was coming. There was no spinning out to sea scenario. And the community responded. Lines at the checkout counters at grocery stores boasted 30-60 minute lengths. The line at Target was equally as long. And the energy in the air was a restrained frenzy. I was certain the the kids had picked up on the emotions wafting in the wind because they were buzzed with unusual excitement, not to mention stubborn crying fits and all out public meltdowns.

DH and I hit Fairway at 3pm on Friday. The parking lot was packed like the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I made a list for my usual Fairway items. I tried not to buy more food than we needed just because I was anxious about the storm. I did not buy eggs and milk or meat because we would be going to the farmer's market in the morning before the storm got too bad. Unfortunately, after we had returned from the store, I got an email from a friend alerting me that all NYC Greenmarkets would be closed for the weekend to keep anyone from getting injured due to falling trees or debris. I was very uspet, and of course I was lacking in milk and eggs. Still, there are other stores within walking distance of my apartment. So DH and I agreed, the 4 pound grass fed pork roast that was taking up way too much room in the freezer was getting evicted, and what better way to weather a massive hurricane than by drinking beer and eating pork tacos with good friends? We had just planned a hurricane party!!

But while the paty was fun, the pork was good and the beer was cold (the tortillas were unfortunately not my best, but at least we didn't run out), I write this post to remind all that our choices in food are subject to our situations and availabilities. I was unable to get my wonderful milk this week. And so I had a decision to make. I could choose conventional milk that had been conventionally pasteurized or I could choose organic milk that had been ultra-pasteurized. I knew my kefir grains would not be able to thrive on UHT milk. And I don't think highly of UHT milk, nutritionally speaking. But I was concerned about the conventional milk. While many dairy farmers do not use growth hormones and some do not administer unnecessary antibiotics, I the consumer have know way of knowing if that is the case for this jug of milk, for me, today. I decided that I would buy both. I bought organic for the kids. One week of UHT milk will not likely hurt them in anyway. And I bought conventional for the kefir and my own coffee. It isn't enough to say 'eat this, not that', different people have access to different foods for various reasons. And I found myself faced with store closures and flooded roads. Sadly, my milk example is trite. How long would any of our food ideals hold up when faced with shortages, hunger or true natural disaster? So we make the best choices we possibly can, with what is available to us.

The storm was not a bust. The rain we got was torrential. And personally I am supportive of the way the city government handled the storm. No New Yorkers were killed during the storm and likely only minor damage was sustained because people reacted responsibly. The eye made landfall around 9am in Coney Island and by 9:45 I saw a strage patch of sun on the horizon in the direction of LaGuardia Airport and Yankee Stadium. Then I watched that patch of sun march up I-87 until it kind of blended in with the surroundings. Creepy.

I haven't left my apartment since 10am Saturday morning. I am itching to get out and so are the kids. What a crazy wet weekend!!

If you got caught by Irene this weekend, what did you do in the storm?

Friday, August 26, 2011

For the Love of Gratitude

Every now and then I like to write a post that has nothing to do with food. We eat and food nourishes us, but we are also nourished emotionally with the love from those around us, the beauty that we see in the everyday world and things that inspire us. Gratitude for all the good things in my life nourishes my soul especially.

Agrigirl (whose blog I follow and adore) recently wrote a very thoughtful post about how laughter keeps us healthy. Her post reminded me of all the emotional, physiological and psychological things that keep us healthy. Emotional crying actually has health benefits and releases stress hormones and laughter releases endorphins and generally keeps us healthy and happy. Gratitude is something that may not illicit a physical response that has been studied but it's effect on my health is unquestionable.

I have been through a thing or two in my 32 years. I have watched marriages crumble first hand and I have seen true love grow from the tiniest seed. I have seen smart young people grow into amazing adults. I have buried one parent, all my grandparents and a whole separate theoretical career that never blossomed into anything except regret. I have had to work not only hard but smart for everything I have in this life. Yet when I look around all I see are things to be grateful for.

A very dear friend told me once a very long time ago that when you pray to God for the things that you want, always make sure you start off the prayer with some special thanks for all the good things you have. Adding the thanks in all my prayers may have been more for me than for God. Because now when I pray I get to mentally list out all the things I shouldn't take for granted and all the things with which I shouldn't become complacent. I try to start each day out with a simple prayer thanking God for all the good things in my life, and would He please make me strong enough to handle all the obstacles I will encounter in this day?

Recently I challenged myself to keep track of all the things I was thankful for in a day. It takes some time...my family, my home, my job, my friends, my health. Of course those are the biggies. But as I walked through my day I saw all these wonderful things around me, the subway might be late but it always shows up andnthat is no small thing. The guy who 'waters' the street always stops the hose to let me walk past so I don't get wet. My office is a few blocks away from the Union Square Farmer's Market-how awesome is that?! My clients are truly nice people. Our garbage is always picked up on time by our city. I have access to clean fresh foods, virtually anywhere I am in the city.

Having gratitude for the little things in life makes us stronger people, better able to handle it when life tosses us lemons. My heart feels truly grateful when I look outside and see a beautiful clear sunrise. I believe that my feeling grateful for all the life around me makes me happier in the long run. And all that extra happiness keeps me healthy with low blood pressure. And my guess is that it helps more good things happen to me too! I watched an interesting 20/20 several years ago all about luck. Luck, they proclaimed, had alot to do with one's world view. The producers of the show took a few people who identified themselves as 'lucky' and an equal number who identified themselves as 'unlucky'. They asked each person to walk down a half block of a city street while being filmed. The producers had taped a $20 bill to the sidewalk for each person's turn. We the audience watched as each 'lucky' person walked down the street and found the $20. They couldn't believe their luck!! And every single unlucky person walked right on by, not fully understanding why they had been asked to walk down a street for a documentary on luck. Ok, that isn't science. But it is interesting. Perhaps luck isn't luck at all but more a personal willingness to be open to finding the good in this life.

Finding 'luck' or 'happiness' is a greater task than it may seem. How do you go about 'getting happy'? While that concept might be too abstract for most people, it is possible to invest in gratitude. That is even an easy task. Simply list all the things that you appreciate or are grateful. Eventually gratefulness leads to happiness. I am grateful that my kids like me. I glad that my husband is an invested dad, and equal partner in our marriage and parenting. I am happy, even with all our political and social problems, that I live in the United States. This is a special country.

Things truly could always be worse, so look around. What inspires gratitude in your heart today?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

'Losing The Harvest' or 'My $150 Half Green Moldy Tomato'

I was cherrily mix and straining my kefir one morning when I heard Thing 2 reapeating 'Oh No! Domo!! Oh No! Domo!!' over and over again. There is really nothing funnier than a baby saying the phrase 'Oh no!' because usually it is over something trivial and it is rather sweet to see them be concerned over something so small. I thought he was just playing. Perhaps he was having trouble getting his toy trains to stay hooked. But then I saw him sitting on top of the radiator, right next the to our lone tomato that I had recently supported with a quick fix bungee cord trellis. I stopped what I was doing after I heard him continue to repeat 'Oh No! Domo!' a few more times.

I had noticed a few days eariler that the tomato, the only child of our indoor heirloom Abe Lincoln plant was not fully attached to the plant. Though it was not broken off either. I constructed a trellis using some bungee cords to support the fruit lest the weight of it snap the branch. Then I secured the thin branches of the plant to the cords and hung the tiny tomato over the side to keep it safe and supported. It had been 2-3 weeks since we had first discovered the fruit. It had about tripled in size. But it was clear to me that it was not done and it may double in size again before it began to turn red on the vine. I walked over to Thing 2 but I already knew what I was going to see. My once and future tomato was lying on my floor, green and hard.

Thing 2 looked at me with a very sad face. I knew he hadn't picked it, per se. But I suppose the tomato had just been hanging on by a thread. He probably just tapped it and it fell on the floor. I was really disappointed, but how can you be upset with cheeks as chubby as his? I sighed, picked up the tomato and placed it in the bowl alongside our farmer's market and CSA tomatoes on our countertop. I thought, 'At least we'll get to eat this one even if it is small.'

I don't know alot about gardening, either indoor or outdoor. So I don't know the optimal time to pick a tomato. Should one allow it to ripen on the vine? And if so, how ripe should it be? Should one pick a tomato when it begins to turn from green? Either way, I was pretty sure that picking a tomato when it was very underripe was a bad idea. I knew the tomato would turn red if left on the countertop, but I wasn't sure if it would be fit to eat. Or if it was fit to eat, I wasn't sure if it would be delicious.

Since I began the great O'Brien tomato fiasco of 2011, we have had dozens of flowers and all of them have died and shriveled up and fallen off the vine. This was the only tomato that was born between the two plants. I believe that I have 3 or 4 more tomatoes on the way, but boy oh boy they have been slow growing. I don't have alot of faith that any delicious tomatoes will materialize. Overall I have grown a little tired of this grand experiment. It has been alot of work, daily watering, about $150 of investment and a fair amount of feeling foolish as I take an electric toothbush to the flowers to attempt to pollinate them. There has been little, well really no payoff. And now that my only tomato had been tragically growth restricted, I was feeling over the whole thing. I am going to hang in there and keep watering the plant in the hopes that those 3-4 tomatoes do grow. And I am going to try and pollinate the remaining flowers in a different way. And I am thinking of pruning both plants to encourage new shoots. Right now the only new flowers are coming from new shoots. And there is no more room for new shoots to grow. We'll see if this can continue into the off season.

After all my malaise I was even more disappointed to awake one morning and find this...

As my tomato began to turn blushingly red one half stubbornly remained green and proceeded to mold. I weighed two heavy questions, do I eat the red part? Or let this one go? I decided that since this could very well be my only tomato of the season, I had to try it. I couldn't throw the only tomato in the garbage and say I had never tried it!

I cut off the still good red part. Only about a teaspoon of tomato was still good. I cut it in two pieces and..gulp..took a bite. It was pretty good. The mold certainly hadn't affected the whole tomato. The taste was very summery and had the grassy taste of an heirloom variety. But it did have an awfully thick skin. I am guessing that is because it was young and underripe. Overall, not a winner.

Tomorrow I will still water the tomato plants. But, I am kind of counting down the days until winter.

To read the previous indoor gardening posts click here:

The Hanging Garden of Washington Heights

On Flowering Tomatoes and Daughters

And Just Like That We Have a Tomato!

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays and Traditional Tuesdays

Monday, August 22, 2011

Whaddya Do When Your Kid Doesn't Eat?

I keep looking over my shoulder. Because I have been here before.

When Thing 1 was born I got an epidural, much to my disappointment. He came out groggy and lethargic. He had trouble latching. I had trouble keeping him awake for feedings. He slept so much, but only when I had things to do. Whenever I laid down to rest with him he would wake up and howl.

I made every mistake in the book with Thing 1. I tried keeping him on a schedule, rather than nursing on demand. I introduced the bottle too soon. I gave supplemental bottles too often. Nursing and working and pumping all day were really hard. Like evil awful terrible hard. But to my amazement my kid who was always in the 40th percentile for weight and the 90th percentile for height ate solids pretty well. And when he transitioned to table foods he would eat broccoli and corn and even spinach in his 'baby soup', just not much at all, sometimes only 3-4 bites.

When I got pregnant with Thing 2, working and caring for my older son became a true challenge. I was wrecked and pulled in a million different directions. I started relying a little more heavily on the hormone free chicken nuggets and the nitrate free hot dogs and the organic frozen pizzas. Thing 1 was never a GREAT eater. But serving him these processed foods made me feel like I was getting something into him. He didn't like soft mashed foods, he didn't like meat if it was too grainy, certain vegetables he flat out refused. Every meal time was a difficulty. He would refuse to feed himself. He cried and thrashed so badly that we kept him strapped into a high chair until he was three. But I blamed myself. 'If I had offered him better foods he would be eating kale and roasted chicken and sweet potatoes. I served him junk and so he eats junk' I told myself. But being a pregnant mommy, working full time and then bringing home another baby two days after Thing 1's second birthday proved too much stress. I didn't have the energy to clean up our food act.

It wasn't until much later, when Thing 2 started table foods, thatI realized we needed to make a change. I didn't want to give my 9 month old processed foods. That is when I started the blog. I didn't (and still don't) plan on getting pregnant again and so I was sure that I could keep Thing 2 on a straight and narrow food path.

I am pleased to say that I delivered Thing 2 without the aid of an epidural. I really got the birth that I had wanted, the birth I was unprepared and uneducated to perform the first time around. Thing 2 came out super fat, 10 days before his due date and 9 pounds 3 ounces. He, naturally, came out hungry and latched on right away in the delivery room. Our time in the hospital together was almost like being at a hotel. The staff was supportive and friendly. And I just nursed around the clock with the confidence of a mom who'd been around the block before.

Thing 2 was a fantastic nurser. He maneuvered between the breast and the bottle effortlessly. Pumping at work proved to be no problem. And unlike when Thing 1 was born I had no supply problems. When he switched to solid foods he ate like a champ. And even the switch to solid foods was easy. He ate everything and in such great quantities! Mashed avocado, bananas, beans and rice, finely chopped poultry, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, all fruits. I never had a shortage of things to feed him. I could always take one or two of the elements of our dinner and put something nutritious together for him. And when he started to feed himself he ate most of the same things, but loved my cumin patties and he never minded when I slipped kale into his smoothies. I noticed early on that he wasn't crazy about vegetables and he flat out refused the baby soup. But his love of fruits and berries was good enough for me. What a good mother I was to my good eater! He had favorites and would stuff himself on those items, Thing 1 was never like that. Even with his favorite foods he would never just eat for the sake of eating.

Then it happened, one day right around the time that Thing 2 was 18 months old. He just stopped eating. Ironically it was around the same time that Thing 1 started eating more rationally. So I had the sense that there would be some difficult times even for my good eater. I gritted my teeth, but did things slightly differently.

1-I didn't force him to eat. I figured that if he was hungry he would eat. Unfortunately our babysitter often fills him up with snacks in the late afternoon, even though I have discussed my concerns with her. She agrees but bad habits die hard. And anyone who works knows that a problem with snacks is no reason to fire or reprimand a long time babysitter who truly loves your kids and whom your kids truly love. Besides, he doesn't eat lunch for her and she has a hard time just letting him go hungry.

2-No time outs for food related offenses. It was obvious (to at least me) that Thing 1's issues were behavior related, not food related. He would get time outs for throwing food or purposefully spilling his glass of milk, for example. He would act out with his food. Thing 2 never did any of those things. He just doesn't eat. Even in my most stressful moments I didn't feel like it was right to punish him for not eating.

3-I didn't force him to stay in the high chair. At a certain point he refused to stay strapped into his chair. And so we just got rid of it. The month afterwards was hard. He ran all over the house and still wouldn't eat. I spent more time out of my chair than in it. But that's getting better now.

4-No special dinners. That one goes without saying. I believe that everyone in the family should have the same dinner, but there should be elements in each meal that appeal to each of the different diners. I try to make sure that there are nutritious things on each person's plate that each one will like and eat, even if it isn't everything that is served.

But even with some of these common sense measures, the kid just doesn't eat. And the list of things he will eat is awfully short. Today he will eat hot dogs (the ones I get are from a biodynamic organic local farm), turkey sausage, all whole fruits except blueberries and honeydew melon for some reason, and wheat in general. He will sometimes tolerate Greek yogurt, hummus, nitrate free deli meat and pasta sauces, but those are hot and cold. Oh! And milk. He would drink milk instead of eating all day if he could. This prompted me to think that maybe he was drinking too much milk. So I moved away from sippy cups to straw cups, now he won't always finish his milk. He doesn't always accept the straw cups. And I started reducing the number of ounces he gets in a day. He drinks between 12-14 ounces of milk in a day, so I highly doubt that he is drowning his appetite.And now it is getting worse. His eating habits now seem preferential and purposeful. It doesn't seem to matter if he is hungry, he simply will not eat what he doesn't care for. Last week he ate breakfast, no lunch and no snack and I caved and made his favorite turkey sausage for dinner. He was ravenous. Had I made something else he would have probably gone to bed hungry.

Thing 2 is not unhealthy. His weight is good, so I am not worried about that. Though he has thinned out alot in the last few months as a result of a growth spurt and eating less. But he eats zero vegetables that haven't been pureed and hidden in something and he seems so picky that I am nervous about building good eating habits. I thought I had done everything right. I didn't get lazy and serve him lousy food. But now my weekly dinner rotation is a painful 4 or 5 dishes that I know he'll eat, so I feel stuck in the same rut I was with Thing 1. I don't think it is fair to serve him summer squash and swiss chard pizza with feta cheese when I know he will just starve for the night.

Fortunately though, he always eats breakfast. He will eat my 'green eggs' even if I load them with kale and onions. He always finishes his overnight pancakes. Oatmeal is a fav too. French toast is also a big hit. Usually even if he hasn't eaten in 18 hours I know I can get some protein and fat into him during breakfast.

So my conclusions? Maybe I wasn't to blame for Thing 1's poor eating habits. I did my best by him and got through a particularly stressful time in our lives. I kept him fed and served him mostly good pastured meats. So even though he had a love affair with turkey Bologna, maybe it is time that I stop blaming myself. And again with Thing 1, he eats veggies really well. Today we have moved forward from his standard broccoli and corn. He eats green beans, celery, cucumbers and carrots. He still likes the 'baby soup', and eats whatever I throw into that. Now though I make the broth with pastured chicken feet and he adores it. Maybe I shouldn't beat myself up over his food transgressions, but perhaps I also cannot take credit for his good eating habits. I am simply the cook. I make the food and he chooses what to eat. Perhaps no parent should pat themselves on the back for having 'good eaters', because it isn't really up to you at all. Besides is such a distinction fair to a parent like me who bore such lousy eaters, even though I cook like mad and model such good behavior for my children?

Thing 2 is so young, it is frustrating to see him struggle with eating. It really upsets me to see him refuse foods that I know he used to love. I worry that this is truly who he is. I worry that he will not follow the same pattern as his brother and just work his way out of this. I worry I will be fighting over vegetable consumption for the next 16 years. I get so irritable that he prefers one plate or cup over another. I get so irritable that his choices seem so random. But perhaps it really has nothing to do with me. Dear Lord, please help me to breathe today.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wanna Know My Weekly Grocery Budget?

I probably went grocery shopping every week with my mother until I was 12 or so. I have always loved grocery shopping. A store full of food is like a blank canvas of possible meals. An endless array of choices that combined can create family harmony and culinary art. Oh and uh, there are treats there and sometimes samples. I always really loved the samples and getting my mom an itty bitty cup of coffee with two packets of non dairy creamer when I was a little kid. As a young adult I was too poor to go shopping for clothes so the grocery store became my marketplace outlet. If I couldn't get my fix on pretty shoes I could delight in buying a nice cheese.

I have always shopped with a budget in mind. My mother always did. In the eighties my mother fed a family of four on $80-$100 a week. During the years when my mother stayed home that covered all our breakfasts, lunches (except for my school age brother) and dinners, seven days a week. I am fairly sure that my brother got school lunch, but I think my dad brown bagged it. I don't recall eating out that often. And by not that often I mean a couple times a year. Restaurants were more for vacations and roadtrips. Even fast food was only very occasional. By the time I went to school my mother was back at work though our budget didn't change that drastically. The budget still covered the breakfasts and dinners, but my brother and I were both eating lunch at school. When my mom returned to the workforce, she did not pack a lunch every day, she really loved Taco Bell. Like really loved Taco Bell.

Fast forward to today and my food budget covers a similar amount of meals, well sort of. My food budget covers breakfasts, lunches and dinners for me and the kids seven days a week. I eat both a home packed breakfast and a home packed lunch at work every day. I only buy myself a lunch once every other week maybe. DH eats breakfast and lunch at his office Monday through Friday. Food (and I use that term loosely) is provided to him for free. We all eat the same dinner every night and of course DH eats his daytime meals at home on the weekends. And every week I try to keep to a budget of....oh Jeez...$200. I am a little embarrassed to admit that. It seems like so much money.

That $200 covers all food and drink. It sometimes includes paper products, tin foil, plastic baggies and the like. It sometimes covers soap. I say sometimes because I buy all that stuff at my grocery store, Fairway, and sometimes our bill is right on and sometimes it runs over. I don't like to include it in the number, but truthfully it isn't like I have a separate budget. The $200 does not cover booze. Ha! That'd be a travesty, we'd starve.

I split the weekly budget into two parts. I take out $100 in cash and use that at the farmer's market and the other $100 or so I spend at Fairway. At the farmer's market I faithfully spend every week about $28 on our amazing whole milk for 2 gallons, $10 on a big pound and a half turkey sausage, $9 on two dozen free range eggs and $15 on apples and other seasonal fruit. Beyond that it is whatever is in season and whatever I need in the house, honey, broccoli, cream, etc. At Fairway it is much more open to whatever we need that week, sprouted bread, nitrate free ham or salami for the boys, Organic Valley Raw cheese that our boys flip over, wild caught fish, hummus or olives, and of course a weekly bag of coffee beans. What we buy at the grocery store varies week to week. I feel really good about what we buy and eat at this point. I am finally happy in all our products and I feel like we have found some good quality brands. I am happy with how our food dollar is spent.

But, that isn't really everything. I also participate in our neighborhood CSA. That costs us about $500 a year for 22 weeks of vegetables and 10 weeks of fruit. And in addition to that I spend $60-$100 a month on grass fed meat which I order online once a month and pick up frozen. I could buy meat week to week, but I have found that the local grass fed beef that is sold at the farmer's market is slightly more expensive that my CSA connection. I love the quality that Lewis-Waite Farm offers so I continue to shop for them for virtually all our meat. So there you have it, all told I spend slightly over $12,000 a year on food that we prepare at home. That doesn't include any take out that we might order, or lunches that I buy out or going out to dinner with friends. I classify those dollars under "entertainment" because that is what that is for me. To admit to all of that here, publicly, it seems like an awful lot of money.

Over a year ago when Thing 2 was still nursing and eating baby food and Thing 1 wasn't eating much of anything and DH and I were eating passable junk we spent about $150 a week. We bought alot of organic items, but we sought out cheaper options and didn't ask a lot of questions of our food. We certainly didn't look for raw and unprocessed or other buzz words. If I was looking for organic peanut butter I looked for the CHEAPEST organic peanut butter I could find. I wasn't worried about the little yucky additives or added sugar that might be hiding amongst other wholesome ingredients.

So what are we spending an additional 33% of our original budget on? First off, local foods My local milk costs TWICE as much as Fairway's milk. Fairway offers grass fed organic milk, but it is a standard pasteurization method and it is homogenized. And that is fine, but my local milk is low temp pasteurized and non homogenized. I like that. Fairway makes fine milk, I just happen to like Milk Thistle's better. But it isn't just milk. Local meat and eggs and produce all cost 20-50% more expensive when I purchase them at the farmer's market. But when I buy local products my food dollar goes upstate to reinforce my state's local economy. I think that is pretty damn important. So as long as I can afford it, I am going to buy local.

The second thing that has been costing us more money, fat. Choosing to eat more healthful fats definitely has increased our grocery bill. Choosing organic oils has added some considerable expense just as buying pastured or cultured butter has. Coconut Oil is a pricey new staple in our house. But also eating more of these fats just means that we need to buy more of them and that also raises our costs. I am reevaluating that thought process. I am not sure that I really need to eat MORE fat than I used to. I think now that I have gotten the kinds of fat right MORE fat in my diet is just being stored as well, fat. It isn't like I sucked down fat free everything or that I used to be afraid of fat.

And lastly, buying organic has cost us more money. Where I used to buy organic items haphazardly, now I truly search them out. I try to buy organic everything from oils and fat to dried beans to spices. But that has raised the price of our grocery bill considerably. I am still torn on whether I am getting my money's worth buying everything organic. Even the EWG has a guide to what produce you should buy organic and what isn't necessary. But their guide is for pesticide exposure. I am concerned for more than just pesticide exposure. I am concerned about what fertilizers do to the quality of the soil and the quality of the produce's nutrition. I am concerned about farm workers exposure to chemical sprays. I am concerned about the larger environmental impact. While I appreciate the EWG for coming up with an easy guide to avoiding pesticides, it doesn't really cover the whole issue.

So, that is what I spend in a nutshell. It is a lot of money but we really waste very little and there are virtually no treats in the budget. I have gotten pretty good about freezing foods and actually eating them later. The kids do well with leftovers. And while I would love to spend less I worry about trading out the foods that we love, that we believe will keep us strong and healthy with cheaper less nutritious items like grains. And I keep thinking back to my mother's budget. That was 25 years ago and there are still families spending less than $100 a week!! Houses are 4-5 times what they were 25 years ago, even a can of coke costs twice as much. Why haven't people's budgets changed? Well, they haven't because average personal wealth hasn't changed. With the cost of everything else going up while wages remain the same, guess what gets cut? I really don't know how families are spending less than $100 a week on food? And don't say Extreme Couponing. That show is crazy. I don't know why anyone should have 56 bottles of barbecue sauce just because they only cost 15 cents each. That sounds like wasted money to me!

Mortgages payments and rent are the same every month. Phone bills are generally the same too. So are cable bills and car payments. Food is adjustable. And in this age of monthly contracts and payments for everything from Netflix to bank service, food is one of the last things that can fluctuate, that you CAN spend less on in a month when your paycheck is a little short. Yet food is so important. Foodies get flak for suggesting that people spend more on food. They have been lambasted as elitist and out of touch. But I don't think that is what they mean. I think they mean stop buying crazy amounts of crappy food and instead buy less, just buy better food. Maybe the average Joe could spend the SAME amount then but just eat a little less and be a little more healthy. Why doesn't anyone stand up and offer that as a solution?

This post is shared with Real Food Wednesdays, Healthy2Day Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday and Fight Back Fridays and Traditional Tuesdays

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Is It Really More Expensive to Eat Healthy?" or "Why The Food Movement Is Elitist"

Recently a group at the University of Washington asked the question, would it be more expensive for Americans to eat according to the new USDA My Plate guidelines? They examined four particular nutrients that had been called out by the USDA as being especially important to health, potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium. And they calculated different costs for different proposed RDAs.What they found received alot of media attention in the last two weeks. I have read the follow up commentary on the article from everyone from Marion Nestle, Civil Eats and Grist (which is actually the same article as Civil Eats, just at a different host site and with different reader comments). I am rather interested in the similar conclusions reached by everyone who has read the original story.

The University of Washington determined that, yes in fact, it will cost Americans more to eat according to the healthier My Plate guidelines. The program looked at major nutrients and their various RDA's in order to cost out exactly what it would cost. They calculated each nutrient and the cost to have varying levels in one's diet. They determined that it would cost each family about $1.04 per day or approximately three hundred and eighty additional dollars per year to eat healthfully.

I think that such a study is highly subjective. Health, preferred foods and RDA's vary according to the person. What might cost someone and additional $380 might cost another person $100 and another even less. Smaller people need fewer calories so of course their cost increases would calculate to be smaller. Also the study calculated the cost per nutrient amount and didn't calculate a theoretical shopping list, as though someone could purchase 300 mg of potassium as opposed to a pound of bananas.

Everyone from Grist to Marion Nestle agreed that part of the problem is Farm Subsidies. The fact that the government continues to subsidize mainly corn and soybean means that soda and fried foods will continue to be cheap. And anyone knows knows anything about supply and demand will understand that people will consistently choose those unhealthful foods because they are inexpensive and they taste good. What if subsidies were moved to farmers who grew vegetables? If fresh fruits and vegetables were less expensive it is likely that people would buy and eat more of them. Marion Nestle is quoted in a CBS online article as saying "It’s a common misconception that food choices are solely a matter of personal responsibility. People are hugely influenced by the price of food. If you don’t have any money and go into the store to buy some fresh fruits, you might decide that it’s cheaper to have a couple of fast food hamburgers.” I myself have increased my spending rather dramatically since I began to eat a more non-processed diet that relies heavily upon local foods, but I'll write more about that in a separate post.

But what amazed me the most was the comments at all these sites. I rather think the food community is in a bit of denial, or they simply are having an identity crisis over the issues. Comments on the pendulum swung back and forth between some version of 'people should take responsibility for what they eat' and 'healthy food costs the same as junk food'. Really? I mean REALLY?

Okay for all those of you who are slack jawed right now, let me first say that people should take responsibility for how they eat. Much like everyone now knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for you, I don't believe that anyone walking into a fast food joint is under the impression that they are going to get healthy food. People don't think fast food is healthy. But while the government places massive taxes on cigarettes in attempts to get you to stop and additionally individual municipalities launch anti-smoking campaigns, our government subsidizes soda and fast food companies through the Farm Bill. Yup, to most people in the foodie world, this isn't news. But it is so BACKWARDS to me that I can't help but repeat it. And when certain cities like New York have tried to advertise anti-sugar campaigns like anti-smoking campaigns they have been met with harsh criticism. Recently Mike Bloomberg suggested that the NYC Snap Program should no longer cover soda for participants, the media flipped out. The beverage industry flipped out. People cried foul as though making soda an 'out of plan' beverage was degrading and stigmatizing to people already accepting government food aid. But even in the midst of this I keep coming back to the idea that How can we fully blame people of lesser means for what they eat while the government is manipulating food prices by subsidizing unhealthy food to such a great extent? Shouldn't we do to food what we did with cigarettes? Let's educate the public, tax the hell out of soda and french fries and THEN we can talk about personal responsibility. Until then, all this discussion of personal responsibility is just an undercurrent generated by the food industry to keep them in business.

And secondly, healthy food is more expensive. Organic food is significantly more expensive! But I understand if you don't want to talk about organics because of their extreme cost. But I was amazed by the rather callous comments I read, particularly at the Grist article. One that particularly was "BS. I eat very healthy, great physical, over 50 and I spend as little as anyone I know on food. Eating well takes effort, not necessarily money. If you have money, it's easier for you to eat well by spending more. But one can eat well for little money if they put more effort into eating well. Problem is everyone eats what is convenient. So, if you can afford to eat well conveniently, that's nice. But if you can't afford to eat well conveniently, then spend time to eat well. That's another kind of inconvenient truth. " While I can't necessarily disagree with him, I caution against this kind of mentality because it feels wishy washy to me. Folks in the food movement have to know that making healthy food cheaper will make help more people eat more healthy food. That is economic law. So if you eat healthy food, and you want more people to eat healthy food, why would you make a comment that sends the message that "everything is fine". If I were a policy maker I would read these comments to mean that no policy changes need to happen. Besides, assuming that everyone can accomplish what you can is short sided and ignorant. I might wake up at 5 am to prep lunches and even start dinner. But do we all agree that everyone should have to do that in order to eat healthy? Should there only be one way to skin this cat? In my opinion for those who advocate for more people eating more healthful food, don't stop until healthy food is both CHEAP and EASY. I sure wish it was easier. Maybe then I could sleep later.

No one is denying that it CAN be done or even that people are responsible for doing it. People on low incomes eat healthy all the time. But it takes work, organization and determination. But policies surrounding food have to work for more than just the motivated few. And denial of this seems rather elitist to me. Our culture is busy and overwhelmed. We work too much and we drive too much and our commutes are long. For the folks who have time to prepare meals or who have the room to grow their own produce, they should! But for the sizable population who live with no access to land to garden or for those who work so much (for whatever salary, big or small) that they don't have the energy to cook in the evening, food policy should work for them too. In claiming that people simply stop complaining and start cooking we are effectively saying that no additional work needs to be done. And I for one have a few ideas about how our national food policy could be changed for the better.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays Real Food Wednesdays, Healthy2Day Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday and Fight Back Fridays

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Something About This Rawsome Thing Stinks And I'll Tell You Why...

I have been captivated by the story of the Rawsome raid in Venice, CA for the last week. The Nourished Kitchen first published a great article detailing not only the details of the case but how one could get involved. Rallies have been staged, protests have been waged.

But something seemed off to me when reading the article.

Since reading Jenny’s account of the raid, I have read several different versions, from the article at Natural News which it seems has been publishing more than a few articles on the topic. Forbes magazine published an article. So did a site called yovenice.com. To recap for those who haven’t heard, on August 3rd Rawsome Foods a raw milk buying club in Venice, CA was raided by armed agents who seized raw milk, raw cheese, raw kefir, computers and $4,536 in cash. They also arrested three people, the owner of Rawsome Foods owner James Stewart, Weston A Price liason Victoria Bloch and Healthy Family Farms owner Sharon Palmer. The raw milk community has cried foul on the raid as the government’s intimidation of raw dairy consumers in the marketplace. The allegation has flown that the FDA wants to limit our food freedoms and the state government of California is trying to force a private buying club into paying state sales tax to which it should not be subject. Every account that I have read has accurately centered around the fact that the 13 count arrest warrant alleges that Rawsome Foods was operating an illegal grocery store because they did not have the proper permits to sell raw milk in the state of California, among other conspiracy charges.

Here is a copy of the search warrant provided by Natural News

It is worth it to note that the sale of raw milk is LEGAL in the state of California. One must obtain the proper permits in order to sell unpasteurized dairy. However the news coverage of this case alleges that Rawsome was NOT a grocery store at all, but a private buying club. The Natural News went even further as to say “they are not a public store. Rawesome Foods is a private member club where members actually own a percentage of the cows, goats and farms that produce the raw dairy.” Rawsome, they say is just the pick-up location. Anyone would agree that if you and your family across town all owned the rights to a little plot of land, any vegetables grown on the land that you formally agreed to split would not be a sale technically. You would simply be co-operative owners. You would all be subject to splitting the maintanence costs, property taxes on the land, investment in the farming operation and any yield that the land might bring. That makes sense right?

Is this a case of the government squeezing your rights as a consumer to freely choose the most healthful food you wish? Is the FDA stepping over your civil rights by intimidating sellers of raw milk? Some things for me…well they just didn’t add up. First and foremost, if Rawsome foods was just a pick up and drop off location, why did they have so much cash? The more I kept thinking about it, I belong to a CSA. I pay a lump sum in spring and enjoy fresh vegetables delivered to me all summer and fall. My CSA has organized a drop off location. It is a couple of folding tables at a restaurant in the park. No one has ever asked me for cash. I send that via mail directly to the farmer. And in my CSA which is private, while I pay for a share, I do not co-operatively own parts of the farm. What kind of business model is Rawsome? The reports aren’t clear. If people joined with a membership fee and then purchased however much or as little as they wanted from week to week, that sounds like a co-operative grocery store, not a co-operative ownership. Still semi private, but a business nonetheless, as far as I understand subject to the tax and licensing laws of the land. I visited the website of this Healthy Family Farms owned by Sharon Palmer. They are truly set up as a private buying club, with a membership fee of between $25-$35 in order to purchase products. Then you simply order what you want from their website. There is not an ‘about’ page where interested people can gain more information. There is no info, location or otherwise, about the farm, and several products listed for sale are noted as coming from out of state. A membership is easily attainable through a fee, making this in my opinion a completely public group. It is simply a more expensive handling fee, just like I pay when I shop at Target.com. My CSA runs a waiting list, and each year you wait 4-6 weeks to find out IF you have been accepted. I don’t just go to an open website and load the CSA fee in my cart.

Of course the most heated debate was about the permits themselves. It is clear that Rawsome did not obtain permits to sell unpasteurized dairy in California. The three were arraigned in court August 9th after being held on bail since August 3rd. So it is clear that the judge feels that a law has been broken sufficient to bring the case to court and not just throw it out. But that debate will continue as details of the case come out. Likely though the case will progress as it is not the first infraction against Rawsome. They were raided in 2010 for similar violations.

My problem with all of this is that it detracts from the larger issue at hand, your right to buy the foods you want to. This meddling over permits and taxes doesn’t do anything to change the fact that RAW MILK IS LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA. All you have to do is follow the rules. There are dozens of states, including Wisconsin, the largest milk producing state in the country, that do not even allow people to purchase raw milk from the farmer at his own farm. The case against Rawsome has a lot to do with how laws are IMPLEMENTED, but I prefer to fight against BAD LAWS. I think there are few mainstreamers who would want to deregulate the food industry. There are enough egg recalls and ground turkey fiascos to go around right now. Additional deregulation isn’t the answer in my opinion. Fair laws in every state that are in place for the consumer rather than agri-business are the answer. I mean, do we really think that there are zero unscrupulous people in the raw milk business? Are all small farmers so honest and true that NOT A SINGLE ONE would ever sell meat from a sick animal? And what happens when demand outpaces supply of raw milk? Will the community grow ever larger with still no scandal or charlatans looking to make a buck off of you?

In fact, The LA Times reported on August 9th that Healthy Family Farms Owner Sharon Palmer “may be considered a flight risk given that in 2000 she and her partner Edward Rostami were arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border as they fled to avoid prosecution for a real estate swindle.” The linked article details how Palmer (allegedly then Palmer-Ross) was sentenced to three years probation for a reverse mortgage scheme targeted at an eldery woman in Malibu. The article states that Palmer-Ross had previously served a prison sentence for the same crime against a Santa Clara homeowner. Palmer-Ross has also according to the LA Times been “arrested while trying to reenter the country with three Mexican nationals in the trunk of her car.”

It is true. There is nothing definite except death and taxes. I don’t try and fight taxes. I am not going to sit here and fight the tax laws that are on the books. If my state says I need to pay sales tax on my ground turkey, so be it. But please don’t let a small group of people who simply are denying the government’s right to govern them make all of the raw food advocates look like a bunch of people on the political fringe. Business of scale indeed do need to be regulated and thanks to all our writing, cooking, word of mouth and passion, the local and raw food movements are a business of scale. Maybe not the same scale as agri-business, but we are getting there. We can't expect to continually escape regulations.

I will fight for raw milk. But I can’t fight for these people if they simply didn’t follow the letter of the law. I will continue to watch as the story unfolds. But it smells a little spoiled to me.

Also see: You Tube Footage of Stewart at Healthy Family Farms.

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays and Traditional Tuesdays

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CSA Pics Week 9: This iPad Has a Crappy Camera

Maybe the final post will turn out slightly better than I expect, but thus far it looks like to me that the iPad camera takes rather grainy images. I guess I will know tomorrow!

This week at the CSA I got two beautiful purple peppers (which is really saying something since I hate peppers), a pound of green beans, two yellow squash, one cuke, two bunches of rainbow chard, a head of lettuce and fifteen peaches. Everything look gorges and the quantity is managable.

WARNING: The complaints are piling up on the spousal front. He misses having a starch with dinner. My secret to getting through my CSA share this year has been making two veggies with every dinner. Dinner is simple in our house, a meat and one or more often two sides. I used to always offer the essential meat, starch and veg, but with the great amount of veggies in the house I have eliminated the starch in favor of another veg. Funny, I never did this in years past and I could never get through a whole share. Perhaps that is the trick I have been missing. I'll freeze or dry a bit, but overall I would prefer to just eat it fresh. I think I can hold off DH's complaining until potato season. He isn't a huge fan of potatoes, he much prefers rice, but I think he will be so happy to eat a starch after 6pm that he'll take what he can get!

What was your favorite item in your box this week?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Recipe: Overnight Pancakes

I have a good go to recipe for pancakes. I posted it back in March. But in an attempt to soak more of my grains, I decided to tweak the recipe ever so slightly. Fortunately the result was way better than the original recipe I was using.

Overnight Pancakes
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
2 cups of keifer or yogurt 2 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of honey
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

Mix the flour and keifer or yogurt in a bowl and allow it to sit overnight, covered. I have been using my homemade keifer, I REALLY recommend it. Keifer is runnier than yogurt. It is more like buttermilk. Which makes it very well suited to cooking. I have used keifer in everything from smoothies to scones to potato salad to these pancakes. Definitely start making your own keifer! There really is nothing to be afraid of.

The next morning, add the remaining ingredients. The batter should be kind of bubbly. Heat your griddle and prepare pancakes as you normally would.

I found this recipe to be lighter and fluffier. The cakes also were thinner which helped them cook faster. I have found that my previous recipe sometimes yielded a thick batter and a gummy pancake. Said pancake took FOREVER to cook. Boo. These were more like what I expect and they use far less of the baking powder and soda than a normal recipe.


This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays

Monday, August 8, 2011

Final Conclusions on Soaking Grains

When I started this blog I envisioned my search for truth in food. I imagined my trying out recipes, some working and some not working. But most of all I saw a community of people commenting and giving me tips of what to look and where to look.

When I posted my article last week, Do I Really Need to Soak My Grains? I was kind of nervous. I even weighed whether I should share the heretical post on the normal Real Food Blog Hops that I participate in. But...over 350 hits later and I think I discovered that I am not the only one who is confused.

Usually when one finds bits of information that seem contradictory it is normal to assume that some are true and some are false. Sorting through the true and the false takes time, but makes sense in the long run. But what happens when there are many bits of information that are contradictory but they are all true? What then? In my opinion you have on your hands a good old fashioned mystery. One must find the one situation in which all pieces of the story are in fact true. I LOVE mysteries. But rarely do they get solved in 48 minutes of airtime like on my much beloved Law and Order. In the case of soaking grains, much of my information was obtained from blogs like mine. I love reading blogs, but one must understand that they are opinion based and usually written by people like myself who really have no academic background in the science on which they write. The only thing that qualifies me to write about food is that I got a '5' on my AP English exam 14 years ago and I think I write a damn good research paper. But even I do not spend the time I need to get the fully researched picture all the time. And I assume that other bloggers are the same. That is why no writer is any better than the sources that they quote. Blogs that correctly quote lots of good articles are sure to rise to the top of their game.

But back to my conundrum. In the case of my soaking grains, what was I to do? Let's consider all the information.

* Substances like Lectins, Phytic Acid and other anti-nutrients reside mainly in the bran of the kernel of grain. These substances keep us from accessing all the available nutrition. These substances can also lead to severe gastrointestinal distress in sensitive people and minor gastrointestinal distress is others.

* Most people, about 85%, digest grains with no problem.

* Rates of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease have risen dramatically in the last 50 years, as have most other degenerative diseases and cancers. This has been proven by testing stored blood from 50 years ago. The rates of potential celiac among the stored samples was far lower than folks living today. Here is the Mayo Clinic article that details where and when the study took place.

* Despite what anyone else might tell you, celiac disease is presently found in approximately 1% of the population. Gluten sensitivity, or a more mild form of the disease, is found in an estimated 10-15% of the population.

* Soaking or fermenting grains for 12-48 hours in warm water, water with whey or an acidic liquid like keifer and yogurt does increases the digestibility of the available nutrition on a grain whether the grain is whole or refined. (I am citing Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon)

* Soaking grains diminishes the celiac reaction in many sufferers. Some report that while they cannot eat traditionally prepared breads they can have 'soured' or soaked version like sourdough, etc.

* Sprouted grains and flours have some of the highest lectin content available because as the plant begins to grow it produces more anti-nutrients that discourage you from eating the plant.

* My great-grandmother and likely her mother and grandmother would never have left a bowl of pancake batter sitting in yogurt overnight on her counter top. Why doesn't the step of soaking (as it is presented today) survive in any recipes? And if the rates of celiac were so much lower 100 years ago, why? Why did so many cultures eat refined white bread daily and not experience the same amount of degenerative disease that we are experiencing today?

* I am not sick. While I have imagined that I have gluten sensitivity in the last couple of years, I only experience symptoms when I eat huge quantities of wheat, like 4-5 servings a day. I am likely just one of those people for whom gluten-free is a fad.


I asked many of those questions in my post last week. And I have to thank everyone who responded and commented and in general just read the post. Everyone who commented helped me gain more insight. And everyone was so supportive! I imagined being railed against for my heresy. But that didn't happen at all. And this wonderful community of people has given me links and suggestions. You all really added value to my search. And I definitely feel like I am not the only one who is confused. I think if more people were confident about the topic of soaking grains I would not have gotten the immediate traffic bump. Clearly people are confused by the contradictory information.

Writing this post has been a learning experience. Honestly, the topic of soaking grains annoys me. I feel a little criticized, like someone is wagging their finger at me telling me that I have been doing it wrong all these years. I have eschewed most store bought bread, yet I keep getting the impression that my additive free, organic, high-quality sprouted bread is still silently killing me and my ignorance...maybe I am over-internalizing that just a tad. Still, how could all of the above things be true? Surely some of them had to be false. Either soaking wasn't worth the effort or I was damaging my gut by eating improperly prepared food. And what about this so called 'traditional preparation'? It is nothing I have ever heard of before I got interested in food...or had I?

Ruth at Ruth's Real Food posted a very interesting post at her blog last week, just when I was open to hearing about proper preparation of grains. Her take was that modern factory produced bread was allowed to rise only 5 hours, not enough time to properly breakdown the grain for digestion. Add to that additives and dough conditioners and food coloring and you have one scary loaf of bread. EUREKA!! This was the missing link for me! I have heard of the modern bread preparation on the wonderful blog Fooducate, they wrote a post about it last spring. And incidentally, they just published an amazing article on gluten and cealic disease yesterday. Thanks Fooducate!My great grandmother surely would have made bread at home and she surely would have allowed it to rise, probably taking all day. This was starting to make sense. Maybe the step of soaking was hiding in all those old recipes under rising time.

I also in the post lamented my inability to find a good online post detailing the process, what do the bad anti-nutrients do, and what does the soaking, fermenting and sprouting do for them? Why is there little good information for an exacter like me? Am I wasting my time soaking? Then my dear friend Sara commented that she had recently read a great post from Mark's Daily Apple that questioned whether traditionally prepared grains were healthy. Mark details exactly what is IN the grains that makes them bad, then he details what different preparation methods do to reduce the effects of the antinutrients. His information is invaluable. Go and read the article. His conclusions? Sprouting does little to mitigate anti-nutrients and gluten, fermentation does a heck of alot more. But the preparation doesn't do enough to make him want to eat grains (he is one of those Paleo People).

Elizabeth also commented that there are such a thing as Overnight Pancakes. And yes, I did find some recipes online. Although mostly these recipes are to alleviate busy morning schedules, the soaking seemed like it would be helpful. But...since they are all refrigerated there is no fermentation. I don't know how much anti-nutrient eliminations these recipes would offer. But you got me thinking Elizabeth (see tomorrow's post).

And lastly to bobsgirl, I hear you. She commented something many of us are thinking "while reading your post I thought about reports from several years ago on how unhealthy the populace has become from eating 'white' bread/flours ..the answer and improved health we were told, came from eating whole grains. My question; how could so many have improved health and less disease from whole grain consumption if there are so many 'bad' things in it for us?" I haven't done adequate research on this, but my bet is that people who are interested in eating whole grains also are interested in eating lean meats and lots of fresh vegetables. Overall whole grains as part of a larger healthier diet might make it look like whole grains were the catalyst for health, but my gut says no. My gut says that if everyone just changed their hamburger buns and pasta to whole wheat and made no other changes to their Standard American Diet that our national health would be largely unchanged.


So now, after reading all these posts, what do I do? Do I soak? Not soak? Do I worry? Do I throw caution to the wind? Well, I think it is yes, maybe, no and sort of.

I do think after reading all this information that it is worth it for me to try and soak my grains more often. I have...gulp...started a sourdough starter. Which is a huge step for me. And I am not sure if my marriage can handle more jars on the countertop. (Haha, just kidding). But seriously, I have two jars of kombucha, keifer, a jar of fermenting pickles and now a sourdough starter sitting on my counter? My husband thinks I am a loon.

But...I agree with Mark from Mark's Daily Apple, reducing grains is one of the best things you can do for your health. They are not really a fantastic source of nutrition and they crowd other healthier things off the plate. And I think we waste alot of time and energy grinding our own flour and hemming and hawing over 'whole this' and 'organic that', when our time would be better served adding another vegetable to our dinner plate daily, eliminating overly processed oils and sourcing grass fed meat. Reducing grains is not a small thing or a 'little tweak' to the Standard American Diet. Reducing grains is what helps people get OFF the SAD. So if I forget to soak the flour to the pancakes that will be my only grains in a day? Screw it. I am making pancakes anyway. And if I feel like having croutons on my salad lovingly made from in house baguettes from my dearest Fairway Grocery Store? Screw it, I am going to enjoy my croutons.

BOTTOM LINE: If grains are not a huge part of your diet, and you generally take care to properly prepare them, don't feel guilty about eating some unsoaked muffins. Save your worries for what is going on in Washington and on Wall Street.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays

Friday, August 5, 2011

This Post is Officially Delayed

Buying an iPad sounded like such a good idea....such a great treat!!

I picked out a snazzy white one with an orange cover. I had the Apple people set it all up for me and I walked out with an amazing excitment.

That excitment was tempered by the fact that it didn't connect to the internet later that day. It was temepered even further when I got home and it still wasn't connecting. I was getting downright pissed when I spent almost an hour and a half on the phone with both AT&T and Apple until finally a very nice supervisor came in and fixed the problem.


Anyhow...this blog is NOT coming live to you from a new iPad because it is now way too late. And 5am will be here too too quick. So I am crying technical difficulties until I can get back online.

Eat well and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meet Jolene Galbreath, PhD

What if you needed a doctor? What if you could choose a doctor that had the same values as you? Someone who believed that whole foods were the best medicine? What if your doctor could give you top notch breastfeeding advice from both professional and personal experience? What if you knew that your doctor had had a VBAC at home because she believed that was the best choice for her and her family? What if this doctor also had a degree from a very well respected medical college like Kings College of London? What if such a doctor was winding her ways through the halls of medicine right now, but because she was an adult, a mother, she didn't qualify for most traditional student loans. What if there was a way that you could help such a doctor?

Meet Jolene Galbreath. I met Jolene in 1993 during my first year in high school. She was in the grade ahead of me and we became friends. I was always impressed with Jolene's drive, trustworthiness and honesty. She worked very hard in school (much harder than I did) and her grades were stellar. Upon graduation she found herself in the United Kingdom and went on to receive a PhD in biology from the University of Leeds. She and her husband, David, have two young boys. The first was delivered by cesarean section and the second was a VBAC homebirth assisted by a midwife because Jolene believed that if she went to the hospital, she would end up with another c-section.

Her experiences giving birth and caring for her children have made her realize that the medical profession is where she belongs. She believes that access to health care should be equitable and affordable to all. I rather agree. Denying care or giving lower quality care to someone who has fewer means is ethically wrong. Yet it happens every day. Between aggressive modern obstetrics that relies upon medical intervention, poor breastfeeding instruction and support, and venomous self serving formula companies, there are many obstacles for women to overcome when they bear children. And not every pregnant woman is educated enough about her options to navigate such a path and make a choice that is truly her own. Jolene felt that studying traditional western medicine was her opportunity to add value to an area that could desperately use some.

Recently Jolene and her family moved from Aberdeen in Scotland further south to Bristol. And even more recently she was accepted to the Kings College London as a medical student. She will begin commuting from Bristol to London every day to take her classes. Her plan is to write a book about being a wife and mother and non-traditional medical student for others who may be considering a similar path. Having children should be a labor of love or an added layer of experience and responsibility to one's life, but they should not be permanent road blocks to any mother.

Jolene has started a blog to document her journey, White Coat, Bluestocking. Being an older non-traditional student, she is ineligible for most grants and student tuition loans. While she has secured her tuition money through her own networks, she is currently searching for funding for her extensive commute. Like any smart working mother, she is planning on utilising the commute time to work on her studies and to write her blog and book. As an equally driven woman, I am very impressed by her drive, desires, vision and constitution.

Through a link on her blog, she has set up a page at Crowdfunder. Jolene is looking for 8000 pounds for her studies. The program is 5 years long and this should cover her commuting costs. With Crowdfunder, you can pledge large but also small amounts, 10 and 20 pounds if you please. BUT...Crowdfunder only releases the monies if the goal has been reached. Jolene currently has over 6500 pounds to go, and 40 days to do it in. I felt that given her commitment to limited medical intervention and natural living, I wanted to do everything I could to get the word out about her case.

Take a moment today to check out Jolene's blog and hear her story in her own words. Please donate if you are able, or share on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine if more doctor's were like Jolene? Imagine if you could go to the doctor without apologizing for deferring a shot, or not feel bad for investigating and asking questions? Think of all the times you have been seen by a doctor that didn't listen to the whole story of what was the matter, or simply wouldn't listen. Jolene is the kind of person that can make a difference in other's lives. She is smart and capable and she has natural ,non-processed values. That is the kind of doctor that I want to say is my primary care physician. So please, if you are able, help.

I asked Jolene to say a few words about where she has come from, where she is and where she is going...

In between the two boys, I became involved in the National Childbirth Trust As a consequence of our difficulty accessing good help with breastfeeding, I decided that it was an area that I could give back. Because I firmly believe that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing (even more so when it is coupled with good intentions and a bit of survivor syndrome), I decided that I needed to do this properly and I started training with them to complete a diploma in breastfeeding counseling (with the University of Bedfordshire). I have nearly completed the course and will continue to volunteer with them.

My interest in maternal and fetal health has grown out of my background as an evolutionary biologist and parasitologist, my feminism and my personal experiences. (Whenever I think that perhaps I'm not needed in the system, I visit a blog like 'My OB Said What' or 'The Unnecessarean' or any on the state of the NHS and I realize that I'm just what's needed).

I think that my scientific qualities give me a level headedness and competence while my empathy and sense of self allow me to hear the patient and to be comfortable with the idea that they own their health. I think that paternalism (and perhaps kyriarchy, but that is something I am not yet educated enough in to explore fully) is particularly prevalent in the delivery of health care. I am certain that I think that this is common for many patients, but particularly women and minorities. Clearly, I think that benevolent paternalism is a poor method of healthcare provision. But, I ramble.

In Aberdeen, I shared a community garden with another amazing and inspirational family. At this point, we started moving away from just buying organic veg boxes and whole foods because they were touted as healthy to paying more attention to issues of sustainability as well. It has also, honestly, been great for us and the kids to grow the food that we eat. We're on our second lot of chickens (the first were served as our going away meal when we left Aberdeen-that may be too much information :) ) and the boys love feeding them scraps and collecting their eggs.

At the moment, I think that I will head into the Ob-Gyn /perinatology world. I would love to work in perinatology. My interest is in how the 9+9+9 months surrounding the birth of a child affect both the mother and child's lifelong health and well-being. I also think that I would be an able surgeon and that surgery would match well with my skills and personality. It would be an opportunity to have the best of both worlds.

I think that there is so much evidence that this 27 month period is very important, to the extent that your mother's in-utero experience will influence your development. Amazing stuff. I would love to run a unit someday where people (patients and staff), biology and evidence are respected. I think that the three are not at odds; perhaps they are only at odds with the funding models :)

Of course, it depends very much how the boys cope with my training and on the positions that are available when I graduate. I am by no means limiting my interests at this point! If the strain is too great, then I will become a general practitioner specialising in women's and children's health.

Thanks Jolene! I truly hope that we can make this happen! And thank you guys for reading and helping!

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays

Monday, August 1, 2011

Do I Really Need To Soak My Grains?

Several weeks ago now I had the pleasure of staying up until an obscene hour with an old dear friend and talking like a couple of girls who didn't have to wake up at 6 in the morning with four kids between us. I love food, MS loves food. We both agree that the best food is real and non-processed.

Admittedly, while I just preach about real food of the mostly non-chicken nugget variety, MS really lives it, organ meat and all. Living abroad in a country where most milk, meat and vegetables are grass fed and organic by default because the local farmers are too poor to buy feed and fertilizer, MS takes non-processed to the max. It is quite inspiring. MS is quite versed in soaking her grains and flours but as we talked, I lamented my inability to soak my own grains. I understand why one soaks grains, to make them easier to digest. But every morning I wake up ready to make some baked oatmeal (or mmmmmm oatmeal blueberry muffins) only to realize that I have forgotten to soak the oatmeal the night before. I know I could just go ahead and proceed, but I really want to try the soaking. It seems exotic to make soaked flour pancakes. And many texts have lead me to believe that there are no redeemable qualities to unsoaked grains. They are all gut damaging, blood sugar spiking beasties.

But, I have some issues with the idea that grains are useless unless soaked overnight. It just doesn't all add up to me. If soaking grains is so traditional, how come it doesn't survive in a single recipe that I have come across? Everyone still soaks dried beans because just cooking them from their hard state takes forEVER. And if you want to try it for shits and giggles, improperly soaked beans will make you quite the gas machine. Sadly, I have that issue everytime I eat beans in a restaurant. Just about every restaruant out there cooks their beans too hot and too quickly. And while they feel edible on your tounge, they will leave your bowels (and possibly your personal pride) ravaged. But while soaking beans is pretty common from Maine to Mexico, I don't know of any great grandmother that left flour mixed in yogurt sitting on her countertop overnight. Please, my great grandmother had probably never heard of yogurt. And yes I have heard stories about Quaker Oats long ago coming with the instruction to soak the oats overnight. But never have I heard of a text confirming such a story with some first hand account. This soaking thing is really a new concept to me.

I am NOT being difficult, I promise. I just wonder why I haven't heard of the traditional practice of soaking flour until now. The whole premise is that soaking whole or ground grains (better known as flour) in warm salt water or an acidic liquid like keifer, yogurt or even just water with whey sort of pre-digests those nasty lectins or antinutrients and phytic acid found in grains. These antinutrients are substances within the grains that inhibit you from digesting all the nutrition that the grain has to offer. This phenomenon is a defence mechanism of the plant. The seed does NOT want you to chew it up and digest it. It gains nothing from that. So the plant gives us a reason to not want to eat it at all so that it's seed can stay intact. When you eat the grain, it upsets your tummy a little and you get little if any nutrition. This is quite true of raw grains. You would never eat a grain raw, gross. It is worth noting that these antinutrients are found in the bran, which has been removed from white flour. White flour has easily been produced since the mid 1700's, so it is possible that any recipes that included soaking have long been lost (see my post A Brief History of Refined Flour). But the truth is...I don't know. The typical Western diet is not high in these lectins and phytic acid because the typical Western Diet is not high in WHOLE grains. White flour doesn't need to be soaked because it does not contain the bran, which contains the problem antinutrients. So no research has really been done here.

But while you might never eat a raw grain, what does regular ole' cooking do for grains? I certainly don't get an upset tummy from eating a slice of bread made from flour that has not been soaked. The collective opinion is that standard cooking renders some of the nutrition in whole grains available, but not all. Soaking your flour in some acidic medium is said to render more if not all of the nutrition available because the antinutrients are 'pre-digested'. BUT...my biggest issue is, no one seems to know how much nutrition we are really getting with either preparation method. Are you digesting only 30% of the available nutrients of the unsoaked grains and over 90% of the soaked variety? Or are you getting 80% of the available nutrients of the unsoaked grains and 95% of the soaked ones? Does anyone actually know? (By the way, that is not a rhetorical question, if you do think you know, will you please comment?? I am truly interested.)

All I am saying is that I have had a hard time remembering to soak my grains and an equally hard time quantifying how much this soaking will benefit me. And if I didn't obsess about these pithy details, why on earth would you read this blog?

Then recently, to add to my confusion I recently read a blog post from another blogger (who I cannot find now) that explained that the calcium found in fermented dairy products inhibits your ability to digest the nutrients found in flour. This blogger suggested that one should soak their flour in only warm water with a little salt. Then to add even more feul to my fire, Dr. Mercola recently published an article that stated that sprouted grains had some of the highest lectin content out there. He was challenging the notion that sprouting or soaking grains is really worth it. He states, "The sprouts of grains such as wheat, maize, and rye are increasingly being consumed as health foods, and are also used for the production of dietary supplements. However, sprouted wheat actually contains the highest amounts of wheat lectin (WGA)—which is responsible for many of wheat's ill health effects! And that's not all. These sprouts (wheat, maize and rye) also contain benzoxazinoids (BAs). Benzoxazinoids are part of the plants' defense system against pests, and are actually toxic components..." Dr. Mercola does admit that there isn't enough evidence to state that sprouted grains are actually dangerous. And I will continue to buy sprouted grain bread.

Add to these articles, author Rebecca Wood recently published an article in her interesting monthly newsletter that came largely to the conclusion that I have. In her great article Best to Soak Grains? Wood details why one would soak their grains but also the textural changes that grains will undergo as they are soaked. Oatmeal left to soak overnight become more gummy and soft. Some people may love such a texture, others not. Wood states that there are many great reasons to soak one's grains, all of which I have mentioned here. But she also says, "Possibly the advice of some contemporary food writers to soak all grains, seeds and nuts—and even their flours—is a tich overboard. There’s no precedent for soaking almond flour. Taking one bit of information (soaking is best) and carrying it to a time intensive and new-fangled extreme has a fundamentalist ring to me."

It has occured to me that to obsess over the proper way to soak grains may be missing the point. Many of us have been guided to traditional foods because they offer a way to eat intuitively. For me, shunning processed foods has helped me to eat more nutritious foods, but also to stop obsessing over numbers and nutrition panels, Vitamin D content and antioxident availability. I know that when I eat non-processed whole foods I can trust that the natural combinations of vitamins will be right in order to help my digest my food. When I choose whole milk that has been only minorly pasteurized I know that there will be enough fat to help me absorb the Vitamin D. Whole foods have evolved over time to have the most natural chemical structures with nutrients that work together. When we isolate individual vitamins and take them in excess, such as in supplements, we might find that they may not work as well, or that our bodies don't absorb them at all. Worrying about soaking, or becoming preoccupied with the VERY best way to soak one's grains to make them as close to 100% digestable as possible is actually just as obsessive as worrying about saturated fat and counting calories. In eating whole foods I should be able to simply trust that the food is right. Or that it is just as it should be.

Soaking does render the grain more easy to digest. But while soaking grains may be good, unsoaked grains aren't a waste of your time. If you do not suffer from some compromised digestive disorder and you are not a candidate for the GAPS diet, your gut can digest cooked, but unsoaked grains and flour, it just doesn't get as much nutrition from them. And I don't buy into the idea that the vast majority of the population has a digestive sensitivity to grains. Numerous websites all agree that only about 15% of the population is sensitive to the most allergenic grain, wheat. And every now and then I come across a blogger that tells their mass following that wheat is bad for everyone. That is so not true. If you have some health problems wheat intolerance and digestive health is worth considering. But if you are healthy like me, wheat is probably not causing you any trouble at all.

That being said, grains, even soaked grains should not be the foundation of our diet. Regardless of whether it is wheat, rice or corn, two servings per meal with some extra in between isn't a good idea for just about everyone. I feel best when I have 1-3 servings of grains per day. They give me some great energy, so no grains often leaves me feeling tired and unenergetic. But too much makes me feel run down and strung out. Soaking may be good for the digestability, but it doesn't transform grains into something that you should be eating all day every day. Grains simply have their place in our diet behind protein foods and fresh vegetables. So I will try my damnest to soak my flour and oatmeal. But when I forget to soak my flour the night before, I will probably still wake up the next morning and make my muffins.

Also read : Soaking Grains, Healthbanquet.com

Gluten Sensitivity, Wikipedia

UPDATE, August 4th, 2011: I just read a very interesting post at Ruth's Real Food. She mentions the rise of Celiac Disease in the last 50 years, and she quotes an actual study, something I appreciate. Ruth mentions that factory produced bread is given less than 5 hours to rise, when traditional sourdough is given 12-24 hours or more. I get that. Rising times are techinally soaking times. Perhaps that is the missing link in my thinking? Even basic bread recipes from the last 75-100 years that include little packets of yeast include 1 or 2 lengthy rise time that can equal 8-12 hours. While my great-grandmother wouldn't have left pancake batter sitting on the counter top, she would have allowed bread to rise twice before baking it. I don't believe that yeast is the devil, but I do think factory produced bread isn't worth the money spent on it. Maybe it is the rising time that is the key?

More food for thought....

UPDATE AUGUST 11th, 2011: My wonderful readers and commenters gave me so much to think about that I have written a follow up post. I bring it all together in Final Conclusions on Soaking Grains.

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays and Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays