Friday, August 29, 2014

No dairy is HARD

Oh cheese, I miss you so much.  You too, 18% table cream.  Sniff.

Aside from that, so far the Whole 30 is going well, 3 days in.  I have been a little cranky from the sugar withdrawl but my children are still alive and I haven't even kicked the dog, so it's not too bad. Tonight I made the Spicy Tuna Cakes off the Nom Nom Paleo site and they were a huge hit with everyone.  Yay!  They really were delicious. I left the jalapenos out of the kids' portions. I highly recommend this recipe as a pretty cheap and easy dinner for anyone, paleo or not.  They were accompanied by fresh (very fresh) bai chou (a Chinese vegetable similar to bok choy) from a friend's garden.  I stir-fried it and added bone broth, a splash of fish sauce (which unfortunately DOES have sugar in it - will read labels *before* adding, next time) and a squirt of lime juice for me, took my portion out, then I added some hoisin sauce and corn starch to make it more rice-friendly for the rest of the fam.  They had rice, I gave myself an extra fish cake.  Yum!

But one cannot live on tuna cakes alone (well, actually one probably could, but when one has to make the damn things, one would get awfully bored - it's not exactly a technically challenging recipe.)  So I have been eating a lot of raw vegetables, high-quality sausage & liverwurst & stuff (thanks, Whole Beast) and fruit.  These are all things I like to eat.  Oh and I roasted a whole bunch of vegetable things (a mix of tomato, cauliflower, eggplant, and peppers) and have been using it in dinner and omelettes and stuff.  Omelettes without cheese are okay.  I wish I could have cheese though.

Twenty-seven more days to go without cheese.  Soon, I will start writing bad poetry to havarti and brie.  I will not post it here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Whole 30 - starting tomorrow

My sporadic attempts to improve my gut flora have done nothing but possibly make me less susceptible to the ill effects of far too much wheat in my diet, so the last few months have been not so good, and I am feeling not so good, and it is time to get serious about this because I just had a birthday and am heading into that age range at which things like heart attacks are not unheard of and would occasion only "well, she was a LITTLE young for it" comments if such were to occur.  So it is time to give up the popcorn and donuts and bread and gin and tonics (sniff) and have a nice little detoxy kind of time.

I think I've mentioned the Whole 30 thing before.  I haven't actually ever managed it - prior to this summer I've had access to really good raw milk and haven't been able to justify divorcing myself completely from dairy.  And there was that time that I was doing really well and then two weeks in found that I was pregnant... so anyway, this will be a first for me.  At least 30 days without grains, legumes, vegetable oil, sugar or dairy.  Good thing it's produce season!  I stocked up today with piles of greens, fruit, cauliflowers, etc.  The Whole 30 now says potatoes are okay (not chips or fries, of course) so that makes for fairly normal dinners around here and the kids and the husband often have different breakfasts and lunches from me anyway.

It'll also be an opportunity for me to resurrect this sadly neglected blog and post some recipes, thoughts, and reviews of the many internet recipes I will be attempting, as I try to avoid one too many boring meat + veg + other veg meals.

Tonight, though, we feast!  I have a brisket roast slow-cooking on the bbq with some alder chips providing a bit of smoke, a nectarine & molasses bbq sauce to go with it on the stove, coleslaw in the fridge and squishy white buns ready and waiting for delicious drippy meat.  And my slightly delayed birthday cheesecake with the sour cherry topping is standing by for dessert.  No recipes, sorry - I just winged it on everything but the cheesecake, and that was made following the instructions on the cream cheese box.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Operation Happy Guts

Oh look at that, another nearly-2 year hiatus from the blog, coinciding with the arrival of another offspring.  Funny how that happens.  Sorry, I just didn't have much to post about.  My life has been very busy, my diet has been somewhat dubious and not particularly exciting or noteworthy, and the blog has therefore languished in the depths of the internet.

The latest spawn is now one year old, though, and it's time to get my rear in gear and do something about my post-partum crap-fest. The basic problem seems to be that I have become incapable of making good decisions, moment-to-moment, about what to eat.  A large portion of my food intake happens because I am feeling tired/crappy/anxious/depressed/actually-happy-for-once and I require something to either ameliorate or enhance the mood hormones (oh hi sugar!!!), or because I am hungry and just grabbing whatever because I might have 15 minutes to eat and I don't want to spend 14 1/2 of those preparing stuff (oh hi crappy sandwich!!!).

Of course, there is a not-insignificant number of times when I eat crap because I can.  And that is what I feel I can maybe tackle now, if I can get my stress level dialed down a little and put my brain in a better nutritional space.  Since I haven't stopped reading about good nutrition and food-health links (just stopped DOING anything about what I read) I'm getting a clearer picture about what constitutes a human being (hint: you're more bacteria than you are human. What's *really* doing the thinking, hmmm?) and the evidence is starting to look good for the theory that at least part of one's brain chemistry is determined by one's gut residents.  Lots of back-and-forth between brain workings and gut workings... and mounting evidence that anxiety and depression, at least, if not lazy-assedness, can be mitigated by improving gut flora.  And while I don't think my gut flora are in dire straits, exactly, I don't think they're anywhere near as healthy as they could be.  Let's just say that evidence to the contrary is presented to me regularly and leave at that for now.  Some people overshare on their blogs, I think it's sufficient to say that my insides aren't coping well and leave it at that.

Thus I launch my new project - Operation Happy Guts - in hopes of reversing (or even just slowing) the spiral of poor nutrition leading to unhappy stress-thoughts leading to more poor nutrition.  This will no doubt be a lengthy process, because despite the fact that bacteria can produce a new generation every 20 minutes, there's like, a billion or so of the little buggers and I'm sure the bad ones aren't going to just pack up and go at the first hint of regular kimchee intake or something.  No, this is going to require systematic, habitual and gradual biological simultaneous warfare and habitat-building. 

I'm going to focus first on the habitat-building and do the warfare later - because habitat-building basically means I just have to eat extra stuff, whereas warfare involves withholding things from the buggies like sugar and refined starches, and I'm probably not there yet.  But I CAN give the good buggies more to work with so that they out-compete the less-compatible buggies and then hopefully the bad guys will stop sending quite so many "sugar is AWESOME!!!" messages to my poor, susceptible little brain.  (This is probably a vast, horrible oversimplification of the nature and scope of the signalling that happens between gut bacteria and neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain.  I am aware of this.  I am also not remotely qualified to try to explain it properly so I'm not even going to try.)  Also I have heard the idea that probiotics work not by filling your guts with good bacteria but by introducing some well-behaved bacteria who then teach the resident ones to smarten up.  (I'm sure this process goes the other way too, so I think you probably have to keep "teaching" them.)

First up:  kefir *every* morning, help the little dude finish off his Treehouse brand probiotics (no I wasn't the one shopping the day those got purchased), and have a dose of lacto-fermented veg with either lunch or dinner.   I will get the kefir on now for Sunday morning, and start a batch of grated carrots fermenting away with just salt and see how that goes.  (There are no good cabbages in the stores now for sauerkraut).  I was going to buy some nice "mild kimchee" in an attractive big jar from a hippy joint on Salt Spring (I'm not even kidding about that - they carry it at Niagara Grocery) but it was $21.99 and really? It's chopped up vegetables and salt and I can damn well do that.  Although I did rather covet the jar.  Maybe next week as a treat...

Over the next few months I will keep track of my adherence to Operation Happy Guts and my moods and food intake.  We'll see how it goes.

(With luck, Operation Happy Guts will coincide with Operation Get The Baby To Stay The Fuck Asleep and I won't be simultaneously battling sleep deprivation AND all the rest of the crap life deals out.  But even if the sleep deprivation continues, I think that improving the situation in The Interior will improve the situation overall.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Food relationships

I hear the phrase "my relationship with food" a lot.  Usually, it's in the context of "fixing my relationship with food" or something similar - undergoing some kind of mental healing so that one can enjoy food without overindulging and gaining excess body mass, or actually enjoy eating without feeling guilt, or something along those lines. (Usually the word "moderation" comes into it somewhere.)  I've gone through those phases, too - the attractive thinking that the problem isn't the food, it's me, I just have to "correct" my thinking and become fully in love with myself and accept myself and de-stress and whatever and magically I will eat appropriate portions all the time and enjoy food an appropriate amount.

The thing is, food isn't a monolithic, homogenous thing any more than people are.  You would never talk about your relationship with people in general - you have relationships with individual people.  Likewise, you have relationships with animals that differ from subject to subject (I really hope you don't have the same relationship with your dog as with the spider in your drain, the cougar in the woods or the deer in your back yard), relationships with different kinds of music, relationships with your clothes, even relationships with different vehicles, kitchen utensils, computers... the list goes on.  In every other aspect of our lives, we accept that there are individuals within groups of items and that our relationships with those items are based more on the individual than the group.

So why the homogenous "food"?  Why the pressure to have the same relationship with a bag of potato chips as with a nice green salad?

I have a very different relationship with a steak or a pork chop than I do with a plate of cookies.  They both look and smell delicious.  But when I eat the steak, I can stop when I'm full and save the rest of it for lunch tomorrow.  (Thinly sliced steak on salad... mmmmm)  The cookies? Not so much.  I know they will be just as delicious tomorrow, but somehow I would rather eat until I feel sick than leave them.

And you know what?  I'm ok with this.  It doesn't mean that I have underlying psychological issues.  It doesn't mean I'm broken, any more than if you're in a relationship with a guy who is super hot in bed but a jerk everywhere else, that there's something wrong with YOU when he's mean to you and you cry.  YOU are the normal one, HE is the jerk.  Likewise, I am a normal person, and cookies are jerks.  Delicious jerks, but I'm not going to crawl back into bed with them just because they're awesome that way.

Now, in the same way that not everyone is susceptible to getting into romantic relationships with jerks, not everyone is susceptible to to cookie jerks (or potato chip bastards, or chocolate bar meanies).  (Some of my ex-boyfriends now having seemingly completely functional relationships with other people indicate that "jerk" is an entirely subjective term, too.)

But if you regularly eat too much - if you finish most of your meals stuffed, rather than full, if you find empty bags of snacks beside you and you feel yucky (or alternately, you go look for more in the cupboard), if you eat when you're not hungry because someone left something yummy lying around, you probably have some unhealthy food relationships in your life.  And like unhealthy people relationships that affect the healthy relationships you do have, unhealthy food relationships affect the healthy (or potentially healthy) relationships you have with other foods.

That's all pretty inevitable in today's foodscape.  There's packaged crap everywhere, and many of us (myself included) are perfectly capable of crafting our own little jerk-asses in our own kitchens.  Some of us have families who can get along fine with cookies, but who consume the friendly, kind and healthy beef jerky we make far, far too quickly unless we hide it behind the booze or at the back of the fridge.

Here's the thing.  If you're *really* healthy - like, you're at a weight that works really well for you, you can do everything you want to do, physically, and you don't have any conditions typically associated with abnormal reactions to food, like eczema, bad acne, extreme seasonal allergies, asthma, type 2 diabetes, loads of cavities, persistent infections, etc. and you can manage your food jerks, then ignore all this.  Otherwise, in the same way that you owe it to yourself to ditch a partner who makes you feel sad or angry or like shit all the time, you owe it to yourself to ditch foods that do the same thing.  It's not you, it's them.  There is NOTHING wrong with getting rid of foods that don't work for you, any more than there's anything wrong with freecycling that toaster that you can never ever set right.  It just didn't work for you.

We have the luxury of having the broadest selection of foodstuffs available to us at any point in history.  This doesn't mean we HAVE to eat all of them.  Some of them mess with your brain, and that's not YOUR fault.  Just don't eat them.  There are plenty of other foods to eat.

I just finished reading a really good book that outlines how to really "fix" your multiple relationships with foods - it's essentially a pretty lenient elimination diet, focusing on typical culprits and explaining the mechanisms by which they can (not necessarily DO) mess with your brain and your body, but goes on to reintroduce foods to see how they interact with you.  The book is called "It Starts With Food" and does a good job of pointing out that there are wide groups of foods that are problematic for large numbers of people, but that everyone reacts differently to stuff and it's worth it to figure these things out for yourself.   It's a good read, well-written and organized.  I highly recommend it if you're not entirely happy with your relationships with foods.  Yes, it means dropping some foods from your diet for a while, but if they're really ok for you, they'll be there when you're done.  It's 30 days, and it's totally worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Yuppiefied" meat

Yesterday I was cruising through the health and fitness blogs and came across a blog written by an M.D. on the use of the Paleo (or Paleoesque) diet for treating diabetes.  This doctor is pretty much all for this, but he trots this out as a description of Paleo eating:
"Fresh, minimally processed food.  Meat (lean or not? supermarket vs yuppiefied?),..."

I've seen this appellation before, but never in a pro-paleo context.   Yuppiefied??? 

What he's referring to is meat that's raised in an ethical, biologically appropriate manner.  And frankly I find it horrifying not only that this is the norm - I've known that for a long time - but that attempts to provide meat in such a fashion are belittled and designated elitist and equated with buying a Range Rover instead of a Toyota.  By people who should know better.

Industrial meat production should be criminalized.  Yeah, it'll make meat more expensive.  Oh noes people might have to eat ALL the bits instead of just the steaks!!! Oh noes no more 12 oz chunks of meat on a plate!!!! I am all for meat consumption, but most people simply eat too much.  And yeah, it'll wipe out a massive market for subsidized grain.  Bummer that.  Maybe we could grow actual food on all that land previously occupied by heavily fertilized grain monocrops - after we restore it by sensible rotational grazing for a few years to rebuild the soil.  Hey, let's stop those stupid grain subsidies, too - subsidize VEGETABLES - you know, those things that are actually good for people to eat? 

It really, really bothers me that the food system is SO messed up that even people who know better consider decent-quality food to be not only less affordable but less necessary.  It's disturbing because everyone who cares about food, nutrition and health ought to care a LOT about how food is produced and distributed, and how food policy is made.  Accepting the status quo - that quality meat is only accessible by those with the economic means and social connections to procure it - doesn't help anyone.  Millions of people are suffering from calorie surpluses and nutrient deficiencies and doctors of all people ought not to be labeling a potential solution as "yuppiefied", and those who can and do choose to spend their money on quality meat rather than supermarket swill need not be belittled for making that choice.

And honestly - the price difference between the pasture-raised meat in my freezer and the stuff that Costco churns out is not that great.  I need to do some actual comparisons, but my suspicion is that the difference would turn out to be, on a monthly basis with MODEST meat consumption, approximately the same as what it costs for full cable TV service.  Priorities, people, priorities.  I don't wanna hear about how you can't afford good meat if you've got cable TV.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Musings on the dairy farm

This is going to be a bit of a ramble.  Sorry, I don't have any real recipes to post at the moment. 

I've started working a few days a week at the farm that hosts our cowshare. (In case you're unfamiliar with it, a cowshare is shared ownership of one or more cows.  This is mostly to get around the fact that it's illegal to buy or sell raw milk in Canada.  You may, however, drink the milk straight from your own cow - so if you want raw milk, you have to own a cow.  Since cows tend to produce far more milk than one family needs, it makes sense to share cows among a few families.  Thus, we own a few bits of 3 cows, and we share them with 20 or so other families.  We get a gallon of milk a week.  As we're not heavy milk drinkers, that's plenty for tea, kefir and the odd warm milk and honey before bed.)

I really like the farm work.  I love the cows, of course - they have interesting personalities and are gentle and peaceable creatures.  But more than that, I love the rhythm of the days.  Wake up, have a nibble and start work right away, work for a few hours and take a break for socializing, coffee and a bite to eat.  Go back to work then stop for a communal lunch.  Post-lunch is for resting, puttering work, personal projects, time with the kiddo.  Then it's time for dinner.  After dinner, more work! Cows need milking twice a day, at more or less twelve hour intervals.  Then a bit of reading to wind down, then bed.  Days at the farm are full but not hectic - there's a measured pace to everything (you can't rush a cow, or heat milk too quickly for cheese or yogurt), an order to everything, and constant seasonal change amid a structure of reassuring sameness. 

Ginger and Nell, the two purebred Jerseys.
While we were out this week, the second cow had her calf.  The calving was uncomplicated and smooth, and happened right after the morning milking.  Rowan, my daughter, got to see the new calf still all slimy, before it even managed to stand up.  We all watched as the new calf took her first wobbly steps and found her mama's teats.  It was lovely.
Canela with her new calf
The next day, the calf was to be separated from her mother.  As a mother, my heart hurts for both the cow and calf.  But as someone who has been around these cows for years and who has read a great deal about dairying and talked to many people involved in it, I understand the necessity.  Calves grow quickly and will consume more milk than they need - dairy cows being bred to produce far more than is "natural".  This particular cow, Canela, is half Hereford (beef cattle) and half Jersey.  She carries the genes for producing vast quantities of rich milk, and the genes for fast, heavy growth.  The herd administrators kept her first calf with her, hoping she'd be able to foster the other calves as well.  No such luck - she pushed them off and wouldn't let them suckle.  HER calf, on the other hand, grew so fast and so big that there was concern for her health.  Canela's teats fared poorly, with the calf favouring one side, the other became infected. She's still a bit lopsided from the ordeal.

It's risky, keeping a dairy cow (or even a cow with dairy genes) and her calf together, so they're separated for good reasons - not only because of too-fast growth for the calf, but if you're trying to milk as well, the machine, hand AND calf mouth all together are really hard on the teats.  But cows are mammals, like us, and they have instincts and feelings about their offspring.  Canela is probably extremely sad, pissed off, and angry right now.  She will get over it quickly, within a few days, but the emotions and stress are indisputably there.  Most people don't think about this, when they drink milk.  It's considered food appropriate for most vegetarians (vegans aside) as it's produced without loss of life.  Except that's not strictly true, either.  Cows need to calve in order to produce milk, but the calf is essentially a by-product. Canela's calf will live until November, when the grass stops growing, and then she will be slaughtered and butchered and eaten with gratitude.  Calves in commercial dairying operations are not so lucky.  Some are slaughtered as veal, some are raised for beef.  Few will have the luxury of as much pasture as they want, individual care and attention, and even a name as the calves born at our farm will.

For me, I have no reservations about keeping dairy cows the way we do, breeding them, taking away their babies and drinking their milk.  It sounds heinous, to be sure.  But we're responsible for these beings, and in the form in which they exist, this is what is best for them.  They aren't a product of nature or God - they're a product of human ingenuity and an unspoken pact our progenitors made with theirs.  We give them protection, food, freedom from disease and - in the case of our cows - a long, healthy, frankly pampered life.  We also ensure that some of their genes survive, by keeping the best of their offspring.  In return, we ask for their milk and their less-perfect offspring.  From a cow's perspective, it's probably a fair deal.  Left to their own devices, dairy cows as a subspecies wouldn't survive.  Our ancestors, probably out of necessity, bred creatures who simply produce too much milk.  It's up to us to treat those creatures as well as we can, make them comfortable, wanted and useful, and be grateful for them.  The same is true for nearly all our domestic animals, it's just the details of their keeping that differ.

I can understand not wanting to partake of dairy products once you comprehend exactly what goes into their production.  Indeed, large commercial dairies are far crueler and less healthy for the cows.  I'm not condoning them.  But I would hate to see a world in which a partnership like we have with dairy cows had vanished.  It's not an easy relationship, and it certainly raises some ethical questions.  It's that unease that makes the relationship worthwhile, I think.  The ability to shape our environment - all of it, plants, landscape, animals - and turn almost anything into a tool, is what makes us human.  It's what we are.  Using dairy cows is only slightly different than using vast tracts of land for a single crop, using a net to catch lots of fish at once, subverting entire ecosystems to grow rice, or any other activity of food production.  There are no humans anywhere who don't alter and pervert natural processes, simply to live. The first human to choose which wolf pup to keep and the first human to pull out one plant to give another more room to grow, put us on this path. The right and wrong of that isn't as important as simply being conscious and aware of it, and to keep our part of the bargain in mind. (I'm not sure commercial dairying operations do that. Those cows don't exactly have long lives free of disease.)

Being part of a small-scale dairying operation forces me to face head-on some of the ramifications of being human, and for that I am gratefully uncomfortable.  It's a discomfort I can live with.  I don't think I could say the same if I were working at a large-scale commercial dairy... or, for that matter, a large-scale technology firm that used resources without any sense of a compact or agreement with their sources, and was only obliged to make more money every year than the year before it... but that's a whole 'nother article.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Actually very tasty grain-free cookies

I had lunch with a friend the other day and she mentioned that she'd started making vegetable cookies for her kids.  I think my response was along the lines of "And they eat them?" but when she described them I realized that they were actually a really good idea - largely sweet potato, with some non-grain starch, a small amount of sweetener, spices, and a binder.  I had some sweet potatoes lurking in my cupboard so I gave it a whirl.  (This friend is somewhat like me - "There's no recipe, it's more of a method...")

The first batch was... well, let's use the term "experimental" rather than "failure".  My child actually liked them though, so I set about improving them and I think I've hit on a grain-free treat that's worth eating.  (Unlike, for example, the gluten-free hamburger buns that have surfaced at some of the burger bars in town.  Those are vile, and I'd rather skip the bun entirely or just take the grain bloat for the day.)

Here, then, are cookies that are not terribly unhealthy.  They won't make you thin, and they're probably not super-awesome for you if you're diabetic, but they won't do your kids any harm unless they eat them right before dinner and spoil their appetites.

3 small-med sweet potatoes or yams, cooked, peeled and mashed.  (Bake or microwave, don't steam or boil)
1 3/4 cups almond meal
1/2 cup potato starch
1/3 cup honey (you could use less)
1/2 cup butter
1 large egg
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or more if it's been in your cupboard for a while - don't skimp on it)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
dash vanilla extract
pinch salt

Cream butter & honey together.  Add egg, vanilla, spice and salt and mix thoroughly.  Add almond meal, potato starch and baking powder & soda and mix well.  Add sweet potatoes and mix until combined.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes, then drop in spoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for about 25 minutes at 350F (or until browned a bit and obviously done.)  Makes somewhere between 1 and 2 dozen cookies depending on how big they are.