Seafood Stew & My Ongoing Path to Wholeness: Part 1

Fish Stew

 

When I make and eat this stew, which I have several times already in the past few months, I feel like I am aligning with everything I want to when it comes to food in my life right now. I am eating something wholesome, bursting with flavor, absolutely nourishing, not to mention satisfying and when I am through eating, I feel good, not heavy and not deprived.

Over the last few months I have changed my relationship with food. This is probably a process that will be ongoing for the rest of my life, but I hope not. I hope to be the woman in the vision I had a few months ago. Sitting at a large table, outside, under a pergola. We are surrounded by hills of farmland and trees. The sun is warm on my skin and I see it glistening over everything. There is a beautiful breeze blowing and the air smells so clean with a hint of wood fire smoke lingering. There is laughter in the air and the murmuring of a large group of people. The table is crowded with family and friends and it is laden with delicious dishes – homegrown fruits and vegetables, succulent seafood, cheeses, olives, cold cuts, fresh baked bread, wine, various kinds of salads and a gorgeous dish of pasta, glistening with the freshest tomatoes and olive oil, the scent wafting in the air. I make a plate for Alba and then a plate for myself and I eat it all, enjoying each bite, savoring each moment.

In my body I feel light as a feather, nothing heavy weighing me down, physically, mentally or emotionally. In that moment I am happy, so happy I could just dance with glee. I feel free and vibrant, utterly alive and primal and full of the love that is in my life.

Over the past several months upon returning home after an extended trip to Italy, I have come to really embrace Italian eating habits and some of the Italian way of life. Before this last trip, I spent the last 3 years battling Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid condition that is currently under control. I was overwhelmingly tired, putting on weight quickly, developing some skin conditions and I was reacting to various foods. In my quest for optimum health, I turned towards the Paleo diet since it is touted as an anti-inflammatory diet that is especially good for autoimmune conditions.

I truly believed this way of eating would help me lose the weight I put on, clear up my rosacea and eczema, give me the energy of someone in their early 20’s and allow me to get super fit and buff again. The idea of Primal/Paleo appealed to me because I never did well as a vegetarian (in hindsight, I think being a low-fat veggie for over 10 years led to some of my health issues) and I liked the idea of sticking to certain foods and not having to count calories. All the books, blogs and articles led me to believe as long as I stayed away from the “bad foods” and ate of the “good foods” I would be at my optimal health. It was a done deal I had this thing beat. I was on my way!

In addition to starting a new regimen of supplements prescribed to me by my naturopath and which actually helped IMMENSLY, I also spent a lot of time eliminating foods from my diet – eggs, dairy, beans, corn, soy, refined sugar, in rotation trying to find the magic bullet to feel as wonderful as all the books, articles and blogs I read told me I would feel. Then when it didn’t, I would beat myself up and try to figure out what I was doing wrong.

I concentrated my efforts in the kitchen on making gut healthy foods – lots of ferments like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and yogurt. I made my own condiments and never ate sugar. I also quit coffee and tea. I took probiotics. I made my own bone broth and ate it often. I ate copious amounts of butter and coconut oil; lard and duck fat made regular appearances on my plate. I ate organ meat, fish eggs and fermented cod liver oil. I soaked my nuts before eating them. I drank raw milk.

But even with all of this, my rosacea continued to flare, my eczema didn’t go away, I gained a little more weight (maybe a pound or so a year in total, but it still added up). I still got tired often and my environmental allergies were so bad, I couldn’t take a sweater out of the closet and wear it without washing it first or my eyes would be so watery and I would become so congested I needed to take over the counter allergy medicine just to survive the day – and then I would beat myself up over that because I am the kind of person that doesn’t ever take things like that, and the cycle would start all over again.

On a recent trip to Sardinia in Italy, I was sitting down at an ocean front restaurant trying to figure out what to eat for lunch. I had just been to an Erboristeria (Herbalist) looking for something to relieve my dust allergy that was making me miserable. The herbalist there gave me a black currant tincture. He also told me to stay away from shellfish and when my gluten allergy came up, he suggested I might want to stay away from dairy as well, because those two allergies can sometimes be linked.

I almost had a melt-down at the table reading the menu. There was all this beautiful food on it that I couldn’t eat – all the pastas, the pizza and the bread. But then there was all the amazing cheeses and of course, being on the sea, tons and tons of shellfish. Since I was trying to be grain free and stick to my paleo diet, I was pretty much living on meat – prosciutto, mortadella and salami in all their various forms, as well as some delicious Sardinian sheep cheese. There was some fruit and yogurt involved in my meals as well, but if I was going to try cutting out dairy again, that was going to leave me with a very boring diet. It was just too much. I was asking too much.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream in frustration. I wanted mussels in marinara.

I remember looking across the table at Roberto and saying: “I feel like a self-flagellating nun in the land of decadence and debauchery”. He ordered the mussels and a glass of wine, he made me eat the mussles. I felt better.

After that moment I realized I was the one who was making myself miserable. Yes, I have a gluten allergy, but that’s it. Why was I depriving myself of all grains, beans, sugar, etc. ? I realized that for years now, I had been waking up every morning thinking that I was “unhealthy” and wondering if I really would ever be healthy again. I was identifying too much with my condition and letting it become a part of me. From that moment I knew I had to be the one to take control of this situation. So I started eating gluten free pasta and bread everyday and enjoyed several gluten free pizzas. I even had my first Coke in 20 years (in Italy they are still made with cane sugar). It was cathartic.

JennEatingPizza

When I came home I was determined to lose the weight I had put on over the years, between the Hashimoto’s and my diet. I found a wonderful book Flat Belly Diet! Gluten-Free Cookbook: 150 Delicious Fat-Blasting Recipes! and despite its cheesy name decided to work my way through it. It was tough, because I don’t really believe in diets and calorie counting. But I had also started to believe that I would never lose this weight again. Being in Italy, I talked with someone who had lost 40 pounds. How did she do it? She went on a diet. Was she worried that the weight was an underlying problem to a bigger health issue? No, she just ate too much and needed to rein it in. What a simple perspective! So I decided to try this book, the recipes looked delicious and I was excited about getting some new dishes into my repertoire. Within a month of eating this way I lost 10 pounds. After 2 months, I didn’t stick to the diet, but used techniques and the portions I had learned from the book to keep my eating in balance and have since lost another 5 pounds. Something that even the strictest version of the Paleo diet couldn’t do for me. After 3 months of eating this way, there has not been a return of Hashimoto’s flare ups, which was another concern I had and so I really feel like this is successful for me.

I came to learn that being a food lover doesn’t mean I always have to indulge, nor do I have to prove that all you have to do is eat high quality food in any amount and all will be well. I believe that food quality is still the most important thing, but I learned that I can’t stuff myself everyday and expect to remain at the weight I want. I can still enjoy amazing food, just smaller portions and make sure my meals are really balanced.

That is where this chowder comes in. Although everyone in my family, my husband, my father in law and even Alba, loved the recipes from the book, I felt the need to let my cooking creativity flow again and one day I made this chowder from leftovers and pantry staples. It was touted one of the best recipes I ever made and we have had it often since that first time.

It is full of delicious flavors, lots of wonderful vegetables and absolutely satisfying. I like to enjoy a steaming bowl of this with a nice slice of gluten free bread smeared with butter.

INGREDIENTS:
2 TBS olive oil
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 russet potato, diced
salt and pepper
1TBS turmeric powder
1 cup veggie broth (if not using homemade, I like Pacific Foods Organic Vegetable Broth
1 can organic tomato sauce
½ cup white wine
4 whole tomatoes diced (or 2 cans)
1 can filtered water
1 lb of seafood (fish, clams, shrimp)
2 TBS capers
1TBS lemon juice

METHOD: In a large soup pot heat the olive oil, then add the vegetables, salt and pepper. Once veggies are getting soft, about 5 minutes, add the turmeric and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the veggie broth, tomato sauce, wine, diced tomatoes and wine. Cover pot and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes and other veggies are tender.
Add seafood and continue to cook until cooked through – less time for shellfish and a bit longer for fish. I like to use halibut or cod for this, and I usually let it simmer in the broth for about 7-8 minutes. If you are doing a mixture of fish and shellfish, cook the fish for about 5 minutes and then add the shellfish.
Once all the seafood is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the capers and lemon juice.

Serves 6 dinner sized portions

Practical Paleo: Duck with Cherry Sauce

 

One month ago, today, I started eating Paleo. I guess I should really say, Primal, but I’ll get to that later. My reasons to try the Paleo way of eating (I will never say diet!) are many-fold and something I had wanted to try for a while now. But let’s just say that I was recently diagnosed with a thyroid problem which caused me to put on some pounds in a very short period of time. During that time, I received a review copy of Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle from the publisher. A few months ago I had done a review of Eat Like a Dinosaur: Recipe & Guidebook for Gluten-free Kids by The Paleo Parents, and I got on the publisher’s list. That turned out to be very fortunate for me, because in Practical Paleo, Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, a nutrition consultant, and blogger at Balanced Bites, gives 30-day meal plans for many health issues, including but not limited to Thyroid, MS, digestive health, blood sugar regulation, heart health and cancer recovery.

It felt like fate that this book basically fell into my lap right when I got my diagnosis. So I decided to try it. I thought it would be a challenge. I remember back when I was doing the 4-Hour Body Slow Carb program, it was a struggle. Often I did not feel satisfied after meals and I was craving sugar a lot. I figured with Paleo, and cutting out beans, it would be worse. But I really wanted to try it and see what the fuss is all about. Paleo is touted as being so healthy and life changing by those who love it, and hated with such fervor by those who don’t. I never let other people’s opinions sway me, instead I figure out the truth for myself. Granted, before I started the plan, I ate many Paleo meals throughout the week. Plus I have been used to eating whole foods, since I follow Weston A. Price Foundation Guidelines.

I found a lot of things that surprised me about eating Paleo. For one, I was satisfied after every single meal. I found the dishes easy to cook and actually taking less time in the kitchen to make than I normally would. Plus the food is delicious and varied (like you don’t eat the same dinner twice for a whole month!). But the most surprising thing about it is that I found myself eating WAY MORE vegetables than I used to, and I am already a big veggie lover. But each day I was surprised to discover how many different varieties of vegetables I had on my plates of food. Shopping for food was focused on produce. Granted, we do have a lot of meat in our freezer, but still, I was pleasantly shocked by the amounts of fruit and veggies I was eating. Paleo is not all about bacon people, in fact we normally have bacon only once a week (on Pancake Sunday). Another surprise was that although I didn’t eat any sugar other than fruit for 3 weeks, I found I didn’t crave it. Until my sauerkraut fermenting away started making the room smell like brownies…but I have found some really delicious Paleo brownie recipes!

After 2 weeks, I went back to the doctor, and I had lost 3 pounds (don’t know what I weigh now, as I have to go back to the doctor to find out. We have no scale in the house). I feel less tired and run down and it feels like I am starting to develop a store of energy reserves. Something I haven’t felt in a long while. I feel more alert. I am never ever bloated after meals. I really didn’t think by limiting all grains and beans, I was going to feel all that different. But I do.

One thing I have not done is cut out dairy products, which is why I mentioned earlier that I should probably say I am Primal as opposed to Paleo. I have tried several times cutting dairy out of my diet and to no effect. It just wasn’t the magic bullet for me. Plus, dairy is absolutely part of my ancestral diet, and isn’t that what Paleo is all about? Although through this Paleo experiment, I don’t eat as much cheese as I used to, and I am only eating sheep and goat milk products on a daily basis. I drink kefir every day, use raw goat milk and often have a little raw goat milk cheese…And on Fridays, as is tradition at our house, we still have gluten-free pizza night, with real local mozzarella (cow), which is a nice treat and hasn’t seemed to bother me at all.

Even Roberto has been enjoying this way of eating, which is a huge shocker! He stopped eating bread and pasta for a little over a week and now he finds he doesn’t crave it anymore. He might have a slice or two of local sourdough bread every other day or so, but he used to eat near half a loaf every day! So this has been really good for all of us.

I have even found on the occasions that we go out to eat; I don’t even really want the grains, I am not tempted by them on the menu. So I always order Paleo dishes, even my sushi rolls (I order without the rice). I have found that this has really cut down on cross-contamination (with gluten) issues. So I never come home with swollen fingers or toes. Another really nice perk.

If you are brand new to Paleo or even cooking and eating a whole foods diet, this book is very helpful. There is a whole section on stocking a Paleo pantry, why everything we have been taught about good nutrition is wrong, a guide to fats and oils, how to eat Paleo at restaurants and parties or on the road, there is also a very detailed FAQ. All sections are super useful and easy to understand for non-scientific minds like mine.

So what about the food? I know that is the most important part. I have already said it is delicious. But here are some of my favorites so far: Spaghetti Squash Bolognese, Sweet Potato Pancakes, Zucchini Pancakes, Lemony Lamb Dolmas, Pumpkin Pancakes ( we have these every Sunday), Chinese 5-Spice Lettuce Cups, Braised Short Ribs with Candied Carrots, and this delicious recipe for Duck with Cherry Sauce. So if you have been thinking about trying the Paleo way of eating, I highly recommend Practical Paleo. Even if you don’t want to go Paleo, but just like good, nourishing easy to prepare, family friendly meals, I highly recommend it! Who knows, maybe you’ll find you love being Paleo, too!

I don’t know how long I will eat this way. I haven’t really gotten to that yet. For now, I am just going to enjoy all the recipes in the book and worry about the other stuff later.

Duck with Cherry Sauce (from Practical Paleo)

INGREDIENTS:

2 duck legs (I have also used duck breast for this recipe, in fact that is what is pictured)
¼ tsp each of dried rosemary and dried sage
½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup frozen or fresh cherries or ½ cup dried cherries that have been reconstituted in warm water for an hour (I used dried cherries, but I think it might be better with frozen or fresh)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

METHOD: Preheat oven to 320 F. Season the duck generously with the spices. Place duck in an oven safe skillet or roasting pan and put in the oven. Roast for about 60-80 minutes until the skin is brown and crispy and the internal temperature of the duck reaches 165 F.

While the duck cooks simmer the cherries with the rosemary sprig in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the shape of the fruit begins to break down. Once the cherries have a soft consistency with liquid around them, remove the rosemary sprig and mash the fruit with a fork, or blend for a smoother texture. Set sauce aside.

Top the roasted duck with the cherry sauce to serve. A lot of fat from the duck will remain. Strain the fat and save it in the fridge for cooking later. It is ideal for roasting potatoes or other root veggies. Serves 2.

Is It Ethical To Eat Meat?

 

Recently the New York Times was asking for essays defending the act of meat eating. Pop culture, health and news all have made vegetarianism their darling for many years, and the New York Times wanted to hear stories from the “other side”. This is a topic close to my heart and I was encouraged by many of my readers to submit an entry. Although my essay did not win, I still want to share it with you.

First a quick and very timely story: We recently faced the possibility of raising lambs for meat. Both of our sheep, Inga and Iona gave birth to their first lambs in the past few weeks and of course we didn’t know what the sex of the babies were going to be. But we had steeled ourselves for the possibility of males. We knew if we got any males we would be raising them for meat – on a small homestead like ours, we don’t have the infrastructure to raise rams for breeding.

We were blessed with two beautiful baby ewes and I admit we were relieved.

I don’t know how many years of farming it will take for us to not feel that sense of relief knowing that we won’t have to take any lambs to slaughter. I don’t know if that is because we weren’t raised on a farm, or if it just our nature. But what I do know is that if we ended up having to raise lambs for meat, it would have been and ethical solution. Here’s why: (Essay Submission)

Most people are out of touch with the reality of how food gets to their plate, whether animal or vegetable. For me, my meat consumption and how I source it has become a spiritual act – taking responsibility for what I consume and its consequences.

I was a vegetarian for over a decade because I love animals. In my naivety I thought by avoiding meat, I was saving animals. Opting out of the savage and merciless killing of animals that occurs every day on the large feedlots and slaughterhouses of industrial America is something we should all do. But abstaining from humanely raised meat, animal products even vegetables for that matter doesn’t keep you from the cycle of life and death. As a human on this planet, you can’t escape this simple truth.

“Sustainable” and “locavore” are buzzwords held in high esteem these days, a positive trend, yet these movements are riddled with half-truths. We know eating local and in season has the least impact on the environment. What about those of us in northern climates, with a three month growing season? Eating local humanely raised meat is a sustainable and ethical solution. Eating vegetables shipped from large organic agribusinesses out west whose farming practices destroy animal habitats even killing small burrowing animals as well as birds and insects is not. Using unsustainable resources to get those vegetables to us is not. Both systems result in animal deaths, but which is more ethical? The one in which you turn a blind eye or the one you take direct responsibility for? In that light, who are you to decide which lives are more precious?

I have heard arguments that dairy is not a “death food”. With dairy comes meat. In order for you to have dairy, animals must become pregnant and have babies. What happens to those babies? Let’s look at goat cheese as an example. There are many new goat dairies cropping up all over the place, to sustain our taste for this delicacy, farmers must have found a solution for the babies. Female offspring are easy to sell, or keep for breeding stock, males, not so much. With goats typically having twins, that is a lot of potential male babies. So what do most dairies do with males? Compost. Is that ethical? Isn’t raising an animal in love and respect to sustain another life more ethical than throwing it in the garbage? Sustainability means responsibility, finding a place in the system for all life involved in it. Animals, especially those providing nourishing food for us deserve respect, good care and the forethought necessary to make the most ethical decisions for their fate.

Livestock animals have been bred over thousands of years to have certain traits (to the detriment of others); this makes it impossible for them to survive on their own. We evolved together, we sustain each other, and the link between us cannot be severed. Even if we set them all free tomorrow, most would die from starvation. Is that ethical?

Those of us, caring for livestock humanely, live in a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship with our animals. We give them good and happy lives and in return they nourish us. There is nothing more ethical than honesty, even if it is something you don’t wish to face. But in order for us to live, things must die. All life is precious and plays a role in the nourishment of other creatures, from humans to bacteria, so we should meet it in the eye and say thank you.

To read more from me on this subject, see my series on my Homesteading blog Got Goats?(…and sheep too!) called For The Love of Horns and Hooves.

Turkish Eggs and A RANT!

Turkish Eggs: Simple, Healthy, Cost Effective Food. For Everyone.

The world of Real Food has become a very confusing environment lately. In fact, I am having a hard time keeping track of all the changes and frankly getting tired doing so because it all seems to be based on flight of fancy!

There is Paleo and Primal, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, Blood Type diet, Slow Carb, Low Carb and everything in between and everyone is fighting with each other about what you should eat! Some people say avoid carbs (they are in everything from fruits and veggies to grains), others say avoid sugar, even in fruit – or only eat fruit on an empty stomach, or only eat sugar with fat and protein to keep insulin levels in check! So which is it? Lately too, I see the demonizing of olive oil to endorse butter and lard- Olive oil which has been around as long as butter at least and a staple of all Mediterranean diets for millennia. Why can’t we just say they are all good fats? It is enough to make you completely crazy. I don’t believe in cutting out whole food groups. Our ancestors didn’t, why should we? I guess that is why I follow WAPF for the most part, because it is a very balanced diet that makes sense.

For my own example sometimes when I talk to people who are Paleo about health issues, they seem to immediately assume that because I eat dairy, that is my problem and negate all the other eating habits I follow that are virtually the same as theirs. But, I have 100% northern European DNA and because my ancestors have a long history with dairy animals (at least 10,000 years – as this is when cattle were domesticated) our genes actually mutated to be able to consume and digest dairy! So if I want to eat like my ancestors, dairy is going to be a cornerstone of that diet. It is literally my birthright to do so.

I have a gluten allergy and have a hard time digesting grains. So I don’t eat many of them, although the ones I do eat, I eat a good amount of, like buckwheat. If I could eat wheat I would (I can get wheat and spelt locally. But coconut flour, which I love and eat often, is not at all local – so I struggle with that).

I don’t think wheat it is killing the world. In fact, as I have been discussing all over the web in recent weeks, Italians (and likely others, although Italy is what I am familiar with) eat copious amounts of it in the 2 mainstays of their diet – pasta and bread and have a very healthy population. In fact, Sardinians, are some of the longest lived peoples in the world! So how does that jive with the whole wheat as the grim reaper argument? There has to be other factors, like variety of wheat, the co-mingling with GMO crops, pesticides and the like.

Lots of paleo folks out there eat coconut oil and coconut flour, but what caveman was producing those items for their diet? So many questions and not enough answers.

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think anyone does at this point.

So what the heck DO you eat? I eat whole FRESH foods, much of which I raise or grow myself or buy locally. I don’t eat packaged or processed foods or artificial sweeteners. I stay away from GMOs and MSG. I watch my sugar intake and if I have chips or something like that, I make sure they are organic. I make sure to have a balanced diet – I eat from all the food groups. I take care in cooking and preparing meals. I never eat fast food. I eat a lot of fermented and cultured foods to promote digestion and keep my gut healthy. I enjoy my food. I care about where is comes from, how the animal lived or how the plant or grain was grown before it came to my plate. I am a conscious consumer. I think these are all important things, in fact more important that the specific foods you are eating. So long as you are paying attention to the rest you are likely much healthier than the majority of the people out there.

It has come to me that a lot of people seem to treat food habits like religion these days. But the reality is, there is no simple answer, there is no magic bullet. Our world is so toxic these days from chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, additives, preservatives, pollution, etc. that we cannot expect to have the same health that our ancestors did and sometimes we cannot reach optimum health on food alone. Many in the Real Food culture give people the impression that if “you just do it right” you will be a perfect human, free of health issues, as energetic and strong as a superhero, popping out babies left and right, etc. But I don’t think that is reasonable for many of us. Some of us need extra help along the way – supplements and what not and there is no shame in that.

Some of us don’t do well with gluten or a lot of sugar and grains and for a lot of us it is because our bodies need to heal. Maybe in time we will be able to have those things again as part of a balanced diet. So please don’t be harsh with us about our choices, be compassionate, try to help but be kind, many people deal with all kinds of food issues and can easily be triggered by these kinds of arguments over what is “right”. Right for who? For you? Great, go with it, but please stop insinuating that your way is the only way or the BEST, because I can probably find just as many people who say it isn’t for them! Please get off your pulpit, preaching to everyone. There is DNA, environmental factors, stress, physiology, lifestyle to consider in every single person when trying to decide what is best to fuel their individual bodies.

STRESS is the real enemy and stressing about how to feed yourself, one of the fundamental blocks of life will be a struggle every day, several times a day if you can’t come to some sort of peace with it all. Provided that you don’t have an allergy, the stress of this will kill you faster than carbs, dairy or whatever is the taboo food of the day.

What do you think?

I want to finish this post on a high note and give a good example of simple, easy to prepare healthy food. This recipe comes from (but slightly modified) the cookbook Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals. This just goes to show that although I don’t follow a particular diet, that I do find a lot of good recipes in the cookbooks! Plus, the original recipe calls for a dairy product which I find interesting! One thing I will never be is dogmatic about food! I love and adore food, but it is not my religion.

Turkish Eggs (adapted from Primal Blueprint: Quick and Easy Meals)

INGREDIENTS:
¼ cup plain full fat yogurt
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 egg
2 TBS butter
Sprinkle of dry thyme
¼ tsp hot paprika
Pinch of salt

METHOD: Stir yogurt and garlic together and spread on serving plate. Fry the egg in 1 TBS of butter. At the same time in a small saucepan or butter warmer melt the other TBS of butter and add herbs and spices. Turn off heat when butter starts to sizzle and brown. Place fried egg on yogurt and drizzle with butter mixture.

Your Favorite Posts of 2011

 

I really want to take a moment to thank all of my readers and blogging friends for your support this year, both on this blog, as well as through Facebook and Twitter! As social media grows, it seems more of our interactions together take place on other websites, for example my Facebook page and Twitter account has amassed so many followers, I am just astounded and overwhelmed. I have really enjoyed getting to know many of you this way! Thank you!

It is hard to believe another year of blogging has gone by! Getting these posts together every year is always a great look back on all the wonderful food we have enjoyed. I hope all of you reading this also had a great 2011 and are all looking forward to 2012! Here are the top 10 posts from this year. If you enjoy something that I post, please click the “like” button at the top, to “like” it on facebook, also feel free to tweet about it or leave me a comment. This is very helpful to me to know what kinds of posts you all want to see!

Please leave a comment and let me know what kinds of posts you would like to see on this blog in 2012! Happy New Year!

 

NUMBER 10: Breakfast of Champions and my First YouTube!


 

Number 9: The BEST Gluten-Free Pancakes EVER

 

Number 8: Drying Apples For Winter Storage

 

Number 7: Raw Avocado Chocolate Pudding

 

Number 6: Coconut Milk Panna Cotta Parfaits

 

Number 5: Musings on Homesteading

 

Number 4: How to Make Kefir at Home…and Why You Should!

 

Number 3: DIY Holiday Gift Series: Dairy-Free Decadent Chocolate Truffles

 

Number 2: Making Yogurt at Home: Filmjölk

 

And your favorite post of 2011: Number 1: Got Raw Milk? Food Freedom Fighters!


DIY Holiday Gift Series: Why I DIY.

 

WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends.

(Venetian Biscotti: see recipe link at end of post)

This is going to be one of those posts. I decided a few years ago that I was literally done with the stress of holiday shopping. DONE. There were some things in my personal life going on at the time that lead me to re-evaluate the whole idea of gift-giving and the true meaning of the holidays- who I spend time with, or effort on and why. Do I spread myself thin and my wallet on people I am obligated to or do I give, truly give something meaningful to those who matter most?

Maybe that sounds trite because I am sure in the frenzy of the holiday season people often evaluate why they are throwing themselves in the fray, literally putting themselves in harm’s way (have you seen the youtube videos of Black Friday stampedes???) and for what, to get some piece of plastic, electronic or otherwise, usually made in another country (taking away jobs from the USA, or your own country, wherever you may live) to give to someone many times under feelings of obligation and with a lot of stress – financial or otherwise because we feel like we have to in order to make someone happy? This was not the road to holiday happiness for me.

(Pfeffernusse Shortbread: see recipe link at end of post)

OK, now I am starting to get all ba-hum-buggy, which is so far from my intent. I am full of the holiday spirit! But really this kind of gift-giving, which inevitably includes hours wandering around shops and shopping malls searching for inspiration, for a gift to give someone I love to show them how important they are to me, was always a fruitless act. These kinds of gifts have no soul. I don’t know where they were made, or by whom, or under what conditions. I don’t know if they are full of materials that might end up harming the person, even on a small level. Is this how I show my love?

This is not to say I don’t have electronics in my house or I don’t enjoy modern conveniences because I do, but the question is, is this the right kind of gift to give someone in this instance? The season of giving is about that – to give of yourself, to show appreciation, love and compassion for your fellow human, not to get caught up in the materialism that really ends up in a pile forgotten with all the other “toys” of previous years. Is all that stress worth it? Roberto and I even stopped giving gifts to each other, and decided instead to spend the time and money just being together, taking a small trip to Quebec (we are lucky enough to be able to drive there!) to enjoy the beautiful scenery, snowshoe and eat really good food together. It is also my birthday in December, so we do 2 for 1! What more could we ask for than a few quiet days together to connect before the hubbub of the holidays?

(Rosemary Herbal Honey and my official taste tester! : see recipe link at end of post)

In that same vein I decided a few years ago, that I was going to either buy gifts locally or handmade from artisans that I could meet, or at least get to know online, talk to them about their products, etc. and I was also going the route of handmade gifts. Treats which are good for my recipients that will hopefully bring them some cheer, a little bit of comfort and joy during the holiday season. Something to nourish the soul, the spirit, something I could make with my own hands, putting my intention into it, intentions of love, gratitude and peace, because really this is the gift I want for my loved ones, near and far.

I decided to opt out of the craziness and share the fruits of my labor and my joy of creating food for people and enjoying every minute of it!

I also had to be realistic about who would be the recipients as well. It couldn’t be a ton of people, or everyone that I know and care about, so as not to overwhelm myself or my wallet because again, this is not what holidays are for. This is the hard part. I have to remind myself constantly of this, that I am only human, that there is only so much time in the day, etc. because I often catch myself wanting to fall back into old patterns of “getting a little something” for someone to show my appreciation. But that is not realistic.

So, I am also a huge fan of the holiday card exchange! Honestly getting a card in the mail from a friend far away is like getting a big hug and is better than any $5 or less trinket they could buy me and I believe my friends don’t deserve another little piece of non-descript holiday trinket they then feel bad about throwing away. In fact some of my favorite gifts of times past have been from relatives or friends that are items of theirs that I have always loved and they gift it to me (what an honor, what love!). Or just time spent with loved ones- good food, laughter and fun times together. That to me is THE BEST gift in the world.

So for this reason, I want to share with you some really wonderful and economical DIY Gift ideas over the next few weeks. Gifts, treats that are truly from you, something you put fore-thought, time, effort and love into. I would be surprised if your loved ones don’t love and appreciate these gifts all the more, even if they are unconventional, and I would bet they will look forward to them each year, something truly special and from the heart.

(Fruit and Nut Drops: : see recipe link at end of post)

To get you started are some ideas from last year! A whole series of cookies!

*Note: not all of my DIY food gifts are gluten-free, since my recipients are not gluten-free. Another thing about gift giving is give what you think your recipients will enjoy, not necessarily what your dietary restrictions are. That said, all recipes are using whole food ingredients.

Pfeffernusse Shortbread (Gluten, Sugar and Egg Free)

Venetian Polenta & Sesame Biscotti (Gluten Free)

No Bake Fruit and Nut Drop Cookies ( Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free)

Assorted Biscotti

Lavender Limoncello La Befana Stars

Herbal Honey

* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!

Food Freedom Fighters

GOT RAW MILK?

As I write this, it has been almost 40 hours since I consumed anything but raw milk and water. I am still alive. No stomach pains, no headaches, no indications to tell me that this hotly debated food item has damaged me in any way, the fact is, I feel completely nourished and as normal as I would any morning at 10:30 AM. I am not starving for food, but getting hungry, I have normal amounts of energy and I am in a good mood. From all the anti- raw milk campaigns out there, you would think at this point I would be in a hospital bed somewhere, or at the very least, having a case of the runs. I even had dental surgery yesterday, so I guess I did in fact consume Novocaine, but even with all that, I am feeling A-OK.

I took a little break, and am now eating some lunch, my first meal since the fast. I had to think a little. Fasting for ideological reasons is something I have never done before and I wanted to understand for myself why I felt so compelled this time. I am no stranger to activism. I have been to numerous protests in my life, I have gone out of my own comfort zone to assist and to help those who are fighting their own battles and needed help with chores and daily life . Being an activist, especially when you are fighting for your life and livelihood is a full time job because without your life and livelihood, well, you can take it from there in your own head. In the past I have been an activist for large global issues, and issues that impact others strongly, although not much direct impact on me. But this time, with raw milk, it really hit home.

Dear friends of ours are raw milk (among other things) farmers and I drink their milk every day. If that wasn’t enough of a reason to get involved, there is also this crazy idea, a dream of ours to produce and sell dairy products, like cheese, and fresh dairy, like yogurt, kefir and buttermilk, things that have been nourishing our bodies for the past several years, and which we rely on heavily for our continued health. But you know what? I am scared to death to begin a business like this in the US. Land of the Free, my… I have had to ask myself many times these past months, is it worth it? Maybe I should just make it for our own consumption and not sell it to others. I don’t want to do jail time over cheese and milk, as so many others have. Artisan products, like raw milk cheeses and other products have been under attack by the FDA for months here in the US. If you don’t believe me, check out this, this and this.

In a world where small family dairies can be put through that, and yet cigarettes are sold at every gas station, GMOs are not labeled despite the fact that 80% of Americans are asking for labeling practices, where ground meat is sold in stores with ammonia in it and Cargill can poison thousands with salmonella contaminated food, and yet remain in business with a slap on the hand, and a VOLUNTARY recall, all the arguments about raw milk laws and safety are “udderly” ridiculous and completely unconvincing. It is about money friends, not safety. Who benefits from not allowing people to eat healthy nourishing foods but large food corps, and dare I say pharmaceutical companies gaining off the sickness of our nation. I am sorry but the masses are not sick and overweight and getting diabetes from drinking raw milk. It is also about our freedom and health. To read more about these discrepancies between small farms and large food corps and “food safety”, this is a great article.

“The Cargill recall and Rawesome raid provide a glaring example of the problems with our food system. Cargill had known that its factory had salmonella – it just hadn’t reached actionable levels, they thought. One person died and dozens became ill before Cargill initiated a voluntary recall.Compare that to what happened at Rawesome, [where] not one person has ever claimed to have gotten sick…the government came in with armed officials, confiscated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of food, and put three people in jail.” ~ Judith McGeary, Esq

I am an empath. It is all too easy for me to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, so often times people may think I get too emotional over certain subjects, especially when they don’t involve me, directly. But I don’t see the world that way, to me we are a holistic whole. Each little issue a microcosm of the whole. My reality is I see no difference between a man I have never met, Michael Schmidt, and our friends down the road who feed us, care about the health of others and do the best they can to supply healthy foods to their community, providing a service, a labor of love. They have family and friends that support them and many customers. They are just like Michael Schmidt. When we stand up against one person’s injustice, we stand up for all of those we love and care about.

So who is Michael Schmidt? Michael is a dairy farmer in Ontario, Canada. He has been providing safe and highly nutritious raw milk to informed buyers who have consented to purchase his product. The Canadian government has made it illegal for him to sell the milk and he just entered his 4th week of a hunger strike (consuming nothing but water). All he wants, a personal one-on-one chat about raw milk policies in Canada with the Premier, Dalton McGuinty. One talk and the strike will end. Michael has been fighting with the Canadian government for years, and it has come down to this. All he wants is to be heard. The people of Canada have rallied behind Mr. Schmidt, calling out to Mr. McGuinty to speak with him. Isn’t this why we elect officials, for them to execute the will of the people? I think it is time for Mr. McGuinty to do his job.

Lest you think this is all about raw milk, let me tell you, raw milk is the tip of the iceberg in the land of food freedom and food freedom fighters. It is about upholding that right which is yours, inherently to consume the foods you want. Raw milk is just the hot topic these days; it is the issue on the battle field. Last year it was NAIS (National Animal Identification System) and the Food Safety Modernization Act and maybe next year it will be fighting Monsanto on the issue of saving seeds. When you see all the “food” in the grocery stores, products lining the aisles full of additives, preservatives and chemicals, and these products are sanctioned by the government and regulatory branches, it just tells you that the government cares very little for the health and safety of the people. When you see them going through such pains and efforts to destroy small farms and businesses, you begin to understand what a threat they see these farms and food producers to their bottom line. This is not about safety, it is about money.

I don’t want to hear one more word from the government about world hunger until they start letting farmers feed people again. Most farmers sell GMO corn and soybeans, that don’t even feed people, mostly because they can earn a better living wage, and there are not so many restrictions. That is unimaginable.

It just makes you think…We just returned from a family trip back to Roberto’s Homeland, Sardinia. Sardinia is in the midst of a beautiful revitalization. The government wants people to continue sheep and goat farming; the government encourages young people to continue its ancient traditions and livelihoods. There are programs, and monies given to people who want to start a farm, take over an old one, and make cheese and other farm products or to start an Agro-Turismo. Look at that in comparison to prospects here in North America. Places where you need teams of lawyers, and armed guards (well maybe not that extreme yet) to make farm fresh products and sell them to your neighbors, friends and community without ending up in jail.

I really don’t want to get into all the legalities, because at the end of the day feeding yourself, growing food, and choosing what you put in your body is our birthright and we have been executing that right for millennia. It is an inalienable right (not a privilege)as a human being that should never come into question. Sometimes our government officials forget this, and so we have to be there to remind them and defend that right, lest they try to take it away. What you choose to eat has nothing to do with government, and clearly it shouldn’t as they have done a great dis-service to us where we have allowed them power. Many of the things they do regulate and approve for human consumption, like food and drugs kill people every day. Raw milk does not kill people every day.Even if that were not true, and all food they approve is safe, sometimes laws need to be changed. Raw milk laws may be out-dated. They started in a time where more and more people moved to cities and brought their animals to the cities too, and sold milk in open air containers in filthy streets. Maybe these laws need to be re-evaluated before people start losing their lives over outdated laws.

And if you think raw milk is not safe, check this out: “Using government figures for foodborne illness for the entire population, Dr. Beals has shown that you are about thirty-five thousand times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk,” click here for the rest of the article .

Keep fighting the good fight Micahel! We support you! We have your back!

GoodBye Irene…Hello Autumn

 

It has been a very humbling few days for us, here,  in the wake of tropical storm Irene. We have been reminded once again that Mother Nature is a powerful force and once she gets rolling, no one, no human, no machines, no technology can stop her. Living in Vermont, we have been getting a lot of heartfelt and concerned messages about how we weathered the storm, and I am happy to say that we were extremely lucky and are all OK.

The animals, homestead, buildings, and even the garden came out of the storm with no damage. We are very grateful to have been spared and at the same time feeling devastated  for our fellow Vermonters who were not as fortunate. It broke my heart watching videos of  Irene’s  devastation in Wilmington, a town we lived very close to 5 years ago – the river rose so fast and most of the town was left underwater. One woman was even swept away by the rising waters while her boyfriend could do nothing but watch.

I got a message from my best friend Liz, who weathered Irene in NYC, she was feeling really sad about Vermont when she heard about all the terrible flooding here. Through her visits to see us, she has come to know Vermont as a friendly yet hard-working place, full of mom and pop stores where people talk to you like you are a human being with smiles on their faces. Yes, that is Vermont, and because this way of being is so akin to the people that live here, it means that those in need aren’t going to have to look very hard for a helping hand.

I have to say though, as Irene was bearing down on us, and state officials were telling us to prepare for the worst, I was so thankful for all the canning and preserving I had done throughout the summer. I was thankful to the garden, and to the chickens, both for eggs and meat. This is the first time we actually really NEEDED to be prepared for something major, and it was nice not having to worry about that, on top of all our other preparations.

I was also thankful for social media – through facebook and twitter (amazingly we did not lose power!) I was able to keep tabs on the storm and what was happening in our local area. We heard about evacuations in nearby towns at midnight yesterday morning – and learned about a website where we can see all the road closures in the state. Vermont Transportation Agency officials stated that every major road across the state has some kind of damage, and many town roads are facing much worse.

So on that note, as Autumn is starting to make itself known here in the North Country, I am going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging during the month of September. There is a lot going on and life is sort of taking over at the moment, which right now is definitely a good thing. Especially in light of terrible events that have happened over the last few months, I am concentrating on slowing down a little and spending time with family. It is all good stuff, so nothing to worry about. I have arranged for some of my favorite bloggers to fill in for me in my absence. I know you are going to enjoy their posts, and I will be back with new blog posts in October!