Wednesday, December 23, 2009

See You in 2010

Due to a little thing called 'Vaction in Europa!!!!', I will be off for a bit. I promise to think of you all here in blog-world often. Indeed, I'll keep my eyes peeled, my ears perked, and my taste buds at 'the ready' in an attempt to soak up all the experiences I can to bring back to you all here in 2010.

Merry Christmas!  See you all in 2010.

My present for you.  A virtual bison steak in all its glory.  I swear, I didn't realize "The Vegetarian Myth" copy was in the picture, but I must say that I like it there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rendering Pork Fat

Pasture raised, Berkshire pig fat from Green Being Farm.

As opposed to this, rendering animal fat is an incredibly easy process. All you need is a healthy, grass-fed source of animal fat and a big pot. Cut the fat into cubes, place them in the pot, and place over a low temperature. You can use the oven on a very low setting as well (for our oven, that's about 180). Stir it up every 30 minutes or so.  When the fat has sufficiently rendered, pour into glass jars.  Store in the fridge.

The rendering state of affairs after about an hour.

It can take upwards of five hours, depending on how much fat you're rendering at once. In the pictures, I was rendering a large amount and it ended up taking about six hours.

Allo lardo.  Voila, it's lard!  I got about 8 jars out of the deal

Why would you want to render animal fat? Well, for one, it's the only stable fat to cook with. Vegetable oils are very unstable and hence quickly oxidize making them a poor choice for cooking (some would say they're already oxidized by the time they're put on the grocery store shelves).  For a multitude of other reasons to include saturated fats in your diet, check out the links below.

Further reading:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Starving in the Supermarket

Photo: Lyzadanger
Every couple of weeks I head into our local, gargantuan grocery store. I'm sure the grocery stores all over the place look pretty similar to ours. Row upon row of food products, glistening their shiny plastic labels and pretty colours under the fluorescent lights. The bakery fans aimed at your face when you walk in so you can get a good waft of the sugars just waiting for you. Frozen food aisles (yes, they are aisles now) offer quick convenience and nutrition to boot. Sauces, dressings, dips, and condiments take up entire sections of the store. Processed cereals beckon your children with their bright, happy labels.  Nutritional claims abound!
This from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S.):
Over the last couple decades, grocery store supermarkets have been facing growing competition for the food dollar. More and more time-pressed people are eating out on a regular basis or buying takeout meals. Also, a greater variety of stores are selling groceries, with warehouse club stores and supercenters becoming some of the biggest food sellers. To compete with restaurants, fast food outlets, and club and supercenter stores, grocery stores have been selling more general merchandise items and providing a greater variety of services to cater to the one-stop shopper. They are also selling more prepared foods, deli items, and food to go. Some provide tables for eating in the store.

Nothing says love like a blob of goo fresh from the microwave.

Grocery stores are getting out of the food selling business and aiming their sites at where the real money is, getting consumers in there to pick up a quick, microwaveable meal or a bag of lettuce they can eat with their rotisserie chicken. We are losing our connection to food at an astronomical rate. We have been convinced that an industry can do it better, that we don't have time, that it's the same thing to buy that bottle of whatever as it is to make it with your own hands. Only, none of that is true.

I always do this mental deconstruction when I look at these packaged foods. For instance, when I look at salad dressing, I visually break it down to all of its raw ingredients and then review how many steps in manufacturing it took to bring that product to fruition. An orange juice company would like you to look at that tetra pack of orange juice and think about oranges and how nutritious they are. The manufacturer wants you to think that the juice in that foiled box is kissed by mother nature herself. If you ever make your own juice, you know that it doesn't last for more than a few hours. So, where's the magic here?

The magic is really just an illusion:
  • Picked oranges arrive at the manufacturing plant where they are sorted, washed with detergents, cut and squeezed by mechanical instruments.
  • Juice to be concentrated undergoes high-pressure steam to heat the juice which then evaporates the water.
  • The pulp is separated from the juice using ultra-filtration and extreme heat pasteurization.
  • The clarified juice is concentrated using heat and reverse osmosis.
  • The concentrate and pulp are recombined.
  • The juice is stored in large metal vats until it is ready for packaging or for use in other food materials.
  • Before using, "flavor packs" are added to the orange juice as much of its flavor and freshness has been lost in processing and storage.  And, no, these flavoring agents are not listed, and by law, do not have to be.
"Not from concentrate" juice is really no better, they have just skipped the step that concentrates the juice and wisely marketed the product to convey the idea that it's somehow premium because it is "fresh".   Unfortunately, that's not the case. Everything else still applies, especially the extra flavorings as "fresh" juice loses its flavor rapidly and the juice still sits for a long time before it ever sees a breakfast glass.  The result is a glass of nutritionally-void sugar with the life pasteurized out of it, and only a "flavor pack" to give you the illusion that what you are drinking is somehow related to that orange you see on the label.

What the consumer ends up with, whether it's orange juice, apple juice, mayonnaise, salad dressing, whatever it is, is the same thing:  a container filled with some denatured substance trying to convince your taste buds that all is well.

And that's just orange juice.  100% industrialized juice.  Here's what Anders Olson, marketing director for Tetra Pak UK recently said when discussing a, then, newly launched  'smoothie' product aimed at children, called, "Happy Monkey":
“The kids market can be one of the toughest to crack, however the fully brandable surface of cartons makes them a good choice for brands wishing to target kids and parents alike. Happy Monkey does a good job of this, with its funky, ‘just for kids’ branding, and parent-pleasing nutritional values.”
"Pleasing nutritional values".  Right.

"Febo" in Amsterdam. Automated food at your fingertips. My sister tried one. I'll spare you the horror of what happened next.

Over the next while, I would like to look at some commonly purchased grocery store products and show you why it's just as easy, and far more nutritious to make it yourself. In the case of basic foods such as dairy, meat, poultry, and eggs, it's all about your local farmer (I know, I say that a lot). In other cases, it's just about remembering that we were here long before the Krafts of the world.  When we eat foods made with our own hands, foods that have been grown or raised with care by farmers that are stewards of the land, we nourish ourselves, we nourish our families, we support our local economies, and we are part of the solution to the growing food crisis.

O.k., enough heaviness.. yeesh!  Any ideas on what convenience food I should tackle first?  I'd love to hear it!

Further reading:

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Better Protein Shake

I happened upon a vending machine, the other day, with plastic bottles filled with flavoured milk.  Gross.  There were all sorts of crazy flavours, meant to make the milk look fun and exciting.  In an attempt to make their product more palatable to a generation used to highly sweetened and flavoured products, the manufacturer loaded up their ultra-pasteurized (read: ultra-dead) milk with sugars, preservatives, and chemical flavour enhancers.  What's left? Definitely nothing of nutritional value.

Years ago, in an attempt to get in some good quality protein (as the fitness industry reminds us we must do), I opted for shake after shake of whey protein.  To be sure, I bought the good stuff, high quality with no sweeteners or flavouring, but I still ended up developing intolerances to the stuff.  In retrospect, I see the folly of ingesting an extract of a whole food.  Today, we stick with whole sources of protein, complete with the entire nutritional profile inherent in that food.  I want all of it:  the vitamins, the minerals, the fat, and the high quality protein.  Everything serves a purpose.

Our oldest daughter, a competitive rower, makes herself a protein shake every morning, after her workouts.  Her immunity remains high, even when under stress from her demanding training schedule and her fitness level continues to improve at a phenomenal rate.  Most of all, she recovers very quickly from intense training.   She has been able to significantly increase her lean, muscle mass while remaining very lean.  I don't attribute all of this to her post-workout shake, what she does with her diet for the remainder of the day is just as important, but the shake is a significant boon to her recovery, giving her body just what it needs while in a depleted state.

Sunshine+grass+cow = foundation of our nutrition-dense shake.  Image: TreeHugger
I hesitate to write a recipe for the shake simply because it's not the measurements that matter most, but rather the quality of the ingredients. We blend about 1.5 cups of raw, pasture grazed milk with 4 raw eggs, a few drops of vanilla, and a teaspoon or so of maple syrup or raw honey.  That's it. We just blend it up like that. We may, sometimes, use organic cocoa in the shake to change up the flavour.  In the summer, we might use some fruit, but in the winter, we avoid it. We also, sometimes, throw in some kefir or homemade yoghurt.

It's so easy to make and far superior to any product touting some miracle result.  The key is to find local producers that are able to provide you with nutritionally dense products from healthy animals.  I would never consume raw eggs from a grocery store, nor do I think that all raw milk is safe.  Just another reason to get out there and meet your local farmers!

Your farmer is waiting:
  • Local Harvest
  • CSA Farms Canada
  • Eat Well Guide
  • Eat Wild
  • Simply 'Google' local farms/biodynamic/grass-fed/organic +farms +your local region.  Contact the farmers and ask if they would have you out to see what they're up to.  Most farmers are happy to show consumers what they are raising and producing on their land.  Some of my most cherished relationships are ones that started out with a simple farm visit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Watering Down 'Organic' Certification

Wild Salmon doing her thing.  Wild Grizzly doing his thing, too.
I was at the grocery store the other day when I happened upon a new display of frozen "Organic" packages of seafood. Our middle daughter was excited to see that there was now organic seafood.. phew! At last! We can all rest easy, organic fish is pristine and much healthier than the regular stuff. Well, not really.  So, I went into another of my mommy-educational-public-service-announcements. My kids love it when I do that. 

Seafood, certified as organic, is farmed seafood. Period. In order to gain organic certification, the seafood has to be farmed. How can you certify that something is organic when it's wild? And there in lies the weakness of certifying or labeling food. I would much rather have a wild salmon, caught in the cold ocean waters than eat a farmed salmon that has been fed antibiotics, has lived in a completely unnatural habitat, been given pellets that make its flesh 'appear' to be that beautiful salmony-colour, has less omega 3s than the wild variety, is loaded with PCBs, and contributes parasites, pollution,  and lice to the wild salmon stock. Oh, they also feed these penned-up fish a little something called 'fish meal'.  Wanna' guess what that's made up of?  Well, in part, it's the farmed salmon's wild brethren, wild salmon.  Nope, I will not support that practice.

This all has me wondering about fish oils.  We supplement with fish oil around these here parts and I trust the source that we get our fish oil from (only wild fish are used).  But, it would be worth checking on sources from which any of you are getting your fish oils, especially if they're listed as 'organic'.

The part that's so bothersome about organic seafood is that people choose it because they really think they are doing something proactive. They believe that it's healthier for them and the environment. They pay more for something that delivers less. 

Don't be fooled by the fish farming industry's latest attempts at convincing consumers that their product is in someway better than wild salmon.  It's marketing, pure and simple.  Unfortunately, it's another step in the wrong direction resulting in the watering down of 'organic' certification.>

Further reading:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Water Buffalo for Christmas

Who needs more stuff?  Here's a couple ideas for gift giving that will truly make a difference in people's lives.  You will even get a snazzy card to send to your loved ones to let them know that you gave in their name.  Sweet.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Problem with Almonds

Soaked and dehydrated Spanish almonds.

Most of you know that all almonds produced in California must now be pasteurized.  That means that all of those delicate little enzymes are blasted to oblivion via high heat or with chemicals (yes, apparently chemical applications are now considered 'pasteurization'). And don't think you can spot these babies in the market! Nope, they are still legally labeled as "raw" even though they simply are not.

If you're looking for raw, enzymatically-alive nuts, I'd recommend looking for almonds grown in Spain.  Alternatively, you may be able to find a California almond producer that will sell almonds directly to you, unpasteurized.

Further reading:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Little Gary Taubes for Your Listening Pleasure

So, I was feeling in need of a little somethin' last night.  I had this craving, a real deep-seated need for... what?  I wandered around my house picking up books and putting them down.  I looked around the kitchen for some project to start.  I did some pushups on the living room floor.  But, still, nothing was hitting the spot.

Then, I caught a glimpse of my beloved on the book shelf - my worn out, dog-eared copy of "Good Calories, Bad Calories".  I realized how long it had been since I had me a good dose of the ingenius, Monsieur Gary Taubes.  It's been far too long.

So, with a cuppa' tea in hand, I sat down to listen to a debate between Gary (we're on a first name basis in my imagination) and Dr. Ronald Krauss.  This is an oldie, but a goodie.  If you haven't heard this little ditty before, I guarantee it's worth thirty minutes of your time.  It's a great introduction to the problems with carbohydrates and the erred demonization of fat.  Gary Taubes for President!

Bettah' with Buttah'

A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has shown a correlation between decreased levels of heart disease and consumption of vegetables only when the consumption of produce is accompanied by fat.

Don't eat your veggies with butter or your berries with cream?  Sorry, no happy heart for you.  Eating low fat?  Sorry, that doesn't work either.  Um, vegetable fat?  Nope, it has to be full-fat, creamy deliciousness, animal products.  Wow, how often do studies actually show that we shouldn't deprive ourselves?

Those fat soluble vitamins and nutrients need fat to be absorbed by the body.  So, there you have it.  Smother that broccoli in butter.  Drizzle ghee on your cauliflower.  Dollop some raw, creme fraiche on your berries.  Or, you could just take my youngest daughter's lead and use ghee as a dip for your cheese.  Yes, even I shudder at that one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More Evidence of Widespread Vitamin A Insufficiency

Why, I do declare, that bison is sticking his tongue out at me! Bison roaming the range, as it should be.

More reasons to eat those grass fed organ meats, pastured eggs, and butter. Vitamin a does not come from a vegetable, beta carotene does. Your body actually has to convert the beta carotene to vitamin a, a process that wanes as we age and, apparently, is genetically absent in almost half of women (I would wager it the same in men and children).

NEWCASTLE, England, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Half of British women lack vitamin A due to a genetic variation, scientists found.

Researchers at Newcastle University in England, led by Dr. Georg Lietz, found 47 percent of volunteer group of 62 women carried a genetic variation that prevented their bodies from effectively converting beta-carotene into vitamin A.

The findings suggest beta carotene may not be an effective substitute for vitamin A for women whose bodies are not able to make the conversion, Lietz said. Beta carotene has been suggested for pregnant women since a 1987 study linked too much vitamin A with certain birth defects.

"Worryingly, younger women are at particular risk," Lietz said in a statement. "The older generations tend to eat more eggs, milk and liver which are naturally rich in vitamin A, whereas the health-conscious youngsters on low-fat diets are relying heavily on the beta-carotene form of the nutrient."

The study findings were published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal and were presented at the Hohenheim Nutrition Conference in Stuttgart, Germany.

Deep, yellow fat on pasture raised animals indicative of high vitamin a content and overall health resulting from the animal eating what it's supposed to eat: grass and living where it's supposed to live: outside in the sunshine.
Further reading on Vitamin A. Why you need it. Where to get it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Vegetarian Myth

Mark, over at Mark's Daily Apple, has written a fine review of Lierre Keith's wonderful book, "The Vegetarian Myth". Whether you're a vegetarian or not, this book is a must read for anyone concerned with food. That, in my opinion, should be anyone who eats.

Lierre’s book is profound on so many levels. I was a vegetarian, then a vegan, then a Nutritionist. I am now leaving that profession to farm. Her book is everything I’ve ever felt, learned, and experienced, written with such eloquence as to leave me gobsmacked. Lierre is able to write with compassion and understanding, bolstered by her incredible intelligence, and fueled thorough meticulous research.

I read parts of Lierre's book to my farming buddy – a guy who has farmed his entire life, raising bison, cattle, and sheep on pasture. He listened intently and nodded his head in agreement to excerpts I read on pastures, grass, soil, ecosystems, and ruminants. He gave the book his stamp of approval with one of his “she REALLY gets it” exclamations. What more do you need to be convinced?

Excerpts can be read on Google Books here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chemical Perversion

Plain ole' baking soda and some vinegar. That's it, that's all you need to clean everything. Trust me.

Bone Broth for President

The one thing I just couldn't do without in my kitchen arsenal is bone broth. I've written about it before, but as I was making some the other day, I just couldn't help myself from marveling over the jars lined up on my counter.

Bone broth has everything going for it, it's the Prom Queen of the culinary world! It's cheap. It's delicious. It's full of minerals and vitamins. It's healing. It's health promoting. It's the base of amazing soups and sauces. It stands alone as a beautiful soup. Bone broth is make-me-feel-better-mommy-magic.

A thick, gelatinous beef bone broth. The gelatin is incredibly soothing and healing, especially for the gut.

Minerals are so sadly lacking in our diets due to the erosion of soil quality which means that the food we eat just simply isn't as nutritious as it once was. Bone broth brings those much needed minerals back into our diets. I make a bunch at once and freeze it in glass jars with a little headroom so they don't explode in the freezer. I use the broth to make soups and stews and emergency healing elixirs for sore tummies or runny noses.

Further reading:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everyone Wants This Kimchi Recipe

sigh... so much Kimchi, so little stomach
They really do. This isn't just any old Kimchi recipe, no sir, this is an authentic Korean Kimchi recipe given to me by my dear friend, Ruby. And trust me, Ruby knows Kimchi. Me? I don't know a lot about this fermented deliciousness in a jar, but I do know that it tastes divine and all of the bubbly, spicy, garlicky goodness we gobble down is teeming with probiotics and enzymes. That's about all I need to convince me that it's worth the preparation time (which really isn't that bad, I promise).

Via Saveur:
The distinctive taste of kimchi is familiar to anyone who has tried Korean food: the crunchy and cool cabbage leaves or chunks of daikon; the chile paste that burns the tongue; the pungent aroma, redolent of garlic and ginger and touched with a hint of the sea. In Korea, that spicy, earthy-tasting dish of fermented vegetables is on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everything in between. I cannot think of a single food from any other country that is half as important to a nation's culinary traditions as kimchi is to Korea's. I have been to French restaurants where there has been no bread basket; I have been to Chinese restaurants where you have to ask for rice; I have eaten Italian dinners that didn't include pasta. But it would be unheard of to sit down to a meal in a Korean home or restaurant and not be served kimchi.

Ruby's Kimchi via Ruby's Grandma via Ruby's Grandma's Grandma.. and so it goes..

  • 2-3lbs Chinese (Nappa) cabbage, chopped up (roughly 2"x2")
  • 1/2 cup Sea Salt (make sure it's non-iodized)
  • 1 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup garlic, minced (I grate mine because I'm lazy that way)
  • 1 cup green onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp raw honey (if you don't mind cane sugar/palm sugar, you can use it)
  • 1 tsp good quality fish sauce (read the ingredients, stick with anchovies/salt if you can get it)
  • 1/4 Cup Korean crushed red pepper (it must be Korean red pepper)
  • unlimited amounts of love (it was written on the original recipe, so I have to include it or Ruby will beat me up).
  • Wash and drain cabbage.
  • Layer cabbage with salt in a large glass/clay container. Place a glass plate on top of cabbage and weigh it down (I use glass jars filled with water). Leave overnight.
  • The next day, rinse cabbage well and drain out excess water.
  • Taste to judge saltiness. You may need to drain more if it's too salty or add more salt if it's not salty enough.
  • Mix all of the remaining ingredients together in the glass/clay pot you used earlier. Use a wooden spoon or gloved hands (the spices are pretty potent).
  • Pack tightly in a clean glass jar, pounding down with a tamper to get the juices flowing.
  • Cover loosely and place a plate underneath jars to catch any juice that overflows.
  • After a day, I tighten up the lid, place the jars in a cupboard or a wooden fermenting bench I have. Leave the jars for 3 days and check. Depending on the temperature and how 'sour' you like your Kimchi, you may leave it longer.. a week, or even a month.
We usually leave the Kimchi out for about 5 days, but in the summer it takes less. Store your Kimchi in the fridge when it's done fermenting.

Saveur magazine has an awesome Kimchi article in their November issue that highlights other types of Kimchi commonly eaten in Korea. Alternativley, I will be the happy guinea pig and try some of them out. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Snack

What I ate:
Why it's good:
  • Animals raised outside on pasture provide us with essential vitamins A and D - critically missing elements from industrial animal products.
  • CLA from those same grass-eating animals.
  • Low carbohydrate = less glucose ravaging through the body = less inflammation = increased immunity = healthier people
  • Happy gut bacteria from the fermented veggies.
  • Appropriate amounts of protein and fat results in a steady blood sugar throughout the day for satiety that lasts for hours and hours.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good to the Last Mouthful! Grain-Free Granola

I do declare that this granola is really, really yummy. I don't make it that often because the nuts and seeds are pretty expensive, it's a little high on the carb count for my liking, and my children and husband just devour it in days anyway. Still, it's so darn good, that it's nice to have every now and then as a healthy treat. We like to eat our granola with homemade yoghurt, but a good glug of raw milk is pretty wonderful too.

Please just use this recipe as a guide. You can't really go wrong here. Try adding different types of dried fruit, some dried ginger if you like it, or different nuts and seeds.

  • Approximately 4 cups of organic crispy nuts (soaked and dehydrated)
  • 2 cups of various seeds (I like Chia, Flax, Sunflower, Pumpkin and/or Sesame)
  • 3 cups of unsulphured, dried coconut
  • 1 cup of finely chopped unsulphured, organic dates
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 - 2 Tablespoons of organic cinnamon (it's worth sourcing "true cinnamon" if you can)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of raw, organic honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
Having a jar of crispy nuts at the ready makes life a whole lot simpler.
  • Soak seeds (not coconut) in water overnight. In the morning, lay them on a parchment lined cookie sheet in a thin layer. Dry them in a low temperature oven (as low as your oven will go) for a few hours, stirring them around every now and then. I usually do a bunch at a time like this and freeze some for another use. Set aside when completely dry.
The seed mixture after everything has been dried and the coconut has been added in.
  • Toast coconut in 200 degree oven, stirring often. It doesn't take coconut long to turn golden brown so watch carefully to prevent it from burning.
There's a fine line between 'golden brown' and 'hideously burnt'. Trust me on that one.
  • Place nuts and seeds in 200 degree oven until just warm.
  • Mix seeds, nuts, and coconut together in a large bowl and drizzle with honey or maple syrup while everything is still warm.
  • I use my hands to really get in there and rub the sweetener in so it's well dispersed. This also helps infuse the food with your love.
  • Throw in your dry fruit, spices, and salt.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings. Allow mixture to sit in bowl, stirring every now and then as it cools down. It will feel 'damp', but this will change as it dries.
  • After a couple of hours, put in an airtight glass jar.
  • This granola will keep for a really long time if you don't have granola-maniacs in your house. If you have extra, please send some my way.
I like mine extra-milky.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stuffed and Starved

Click on the above image to hear Raj's audio presentation.
, go grab yourself a tea or something else that will force you to sit and immerse yourself in this wonderful audio presentation given by the genius that is Raj Patel. Raj wrote the brilliant book, "Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System". In his book, Patel examines our broken food system, one that leaves half of our world's population starving and the other bursting with excess.

While I'm discussing audio, I'd like to pass on one of the treasures that lives in my iPod. Deconstructing Dinner is an amazing radio program that discusses food issues, sustainability, and the real world challenges, successes, and developments on a local and global scale. The show is packed full of insights and a knowledge brought forth by it's amazing cast of contributors and the simple fact that the good folks at Deconstructing Dinner (in the words of my favourite farming couple) really get it. I mean, they Really Get It. You can download the shows or listen right now, here.

From the Deconstructing Dinner website:

The media plays a key role in keeping Canadians informed, however, Deconstructing Dinner believes that the most important stories about our food supply are not receiving adequate attention. As a result, we are rapidly losing sight of the most fundamental part of our lives - feeding ourselves.

There are countless groups, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, businesses, individuals and various levels and branches of government that are pushing towards creating more sustainable food systems. Yet to date, the media has played a minor role in tying these people together and broadcasting this important information to the people that matter most - you!

Deconstructing Dinner reports on current issues throughout the world of food, with a primary focus on local, regional and provincial issues. The show is not restricted to only current affairs, but probes into the processes and actions to which we have all become so accustomed throughout our daily routine, and "deconstructs" them to achieve a more discriminating awareness.

Delicious, Grain-Free Crackers

I love these crackers, they make my life a whole lot easier. I know, it's a cracker. What in the world has happened to my life that a cracker can make it easier?! Motherhood.

You can put anything on these babies: nut butter, cheese, meat, homemade cream cheese style spreads, or even just a pat of raw butter or ghee. They're cheap and simple to make and great to have around as snacks for the kids (or the big people). They're loaded with all sorts of nutritional goodness and easy to load up with any sorts of spices or veggies you like which easily adds tasty variety. You don't need a dehydrator, your oven on its lowest setting will work, but a dehydrator keeps the temperature lower, which, in turn, keeps those wonderful enzymes intact.

A wee pat of raw butter and a sprinkle of sea salt is divine on these powerful little crackers.

The basic recipe is modeled, loosely, on what I do, but by all means, experiment with flavours you like. The recipe is pretty much foolproof. As long as you have the flax seeds in there to 'gel' it all together, you really can't go wrong.

Ingredients (organic and local is always best, if possible):
  • 3 cups raw, whole flaxseed
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup black sesame seeds
  • 1 cup raw parsley or cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 cup random shredded vegetables (I will sometimes use grated carrot, sliced green onion, grated beets, grated ginger and garlic etc... whatever you like)
  • 2 Tablespoons kelp powder
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Eden Wasabi powder to taste (optional)
  • Put the seeds in a large bowl with 1 tsp of sea salt, and cover with water, Soak for 6 to 8 hours. You will notice that the flax will continuously soak up the water. Just stir in more to keep the seeds submerged (about 1/2 an inch of water above the level of the seeds). By the end of the soaking time, your seeds will be plump and have a gelled consistency.
  • Add all of the other ingredients to the seeds and stir well. Clean hands do the best work here.
  • Spread the mixture out on parchment lined cookie sheets if using your oven. You want to spread the future-crackers out thinly. They should resemble the thickness that you want your crackers to be. If you're using a dehydrator, the same directions apply, only, of course, you are using the appropriate trays.
  • Put your oven on the lowest possible temperature (110 degrees is ideal, but if your oven doesn't go below 150 degrees or so, that's o.k.).
  • Dry for 3 or 4 hours, remove the trays and score into the size of crackers you would like. Return tray to oven or dehydrator to continue drying. It may take up to 8 - 10 hours to dry the crackers. Near the end, you can speed things up by breaking them along the scored lines and flipping them over to completely dry out the bottoms.
  • The crackers will be completely dry and crispy when done. There should be no moisture of 'chewiness'. Allow to cool before sealing in glass containers. These will keep for at least a month or two, although even when I make double batches around here, they're gone in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

War in the Country

CBC's, The Current, did a fantastic expose on the decline of the family farm and Agriculture Canada's support for the growth of factory farming. Whether you have an interest in farming or not is irrelevant. If you eat, you need to hear this. Our ability to feed ourselves is developing into one of the most impending crisis of our century. You can listen to the entire broadcast online or you can download it here.

From CBC:

War in the Country - Part One

There's a war in the country, according to Thomas Pawlick. He's an author and journalist who says the family farm is under siege from corporate agriculture, government policy and indifferent urbanites. At stake is the quality of our food and the foundation of life in rural Canada. We went to visit Thomas Pawlick at his farm in Eastern Ontario to talk about his new book, The War In The Country and dropped in on a couple of farms that represent a new face and new hope for family farming.

War in the Country - Part Two

We continued our conversation with Thomas Pawlick, author of the War in the Country ... a book about the decline of family farms and rural Canada. We spoke with him on his farm in Marlbank, Ontario.

War in the Country - Pellerin

Well, Laurent Pellerin has been listening to our discussion of the family farm and rural Canada. He's a hog farmer near Trois Rivieres, Quebec. He's also the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and in that capacity, he represents the interests of factory farms and small family farmers alike. He joined us from Ottawa.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday Morning Snack

Although I don't eat sweet stuff very often, every now and then I get a hankering for some sort of deliciousness. Today was one of those days. I spent the morning in the woods taking pictures of the beautiful fall colours. It was nice to come home and warm up with a hot cup of tea and a relatively healthy treat.

Beautiful Ontario on a cool fall morning.
I've made this muffin recipe a few times now and it's pretty much disaster-proof. You can use the base of the recipe, omit the carrots, add whatever else you may like (lemon and poppyseed is yummy) and voila! It's a grain-free, refined sugar-free, lower carb treat that still manages to be delicious, moist, and nutritionally dense.

What I ate:
  • Grain-free carrot muffin
  • Organic, real Earl Grey tea with raw, organic cream and a teensy bit of raw, organic honey
Why it's good:
  • The muffins are made without grains, just a very small amount of coconut flour.
  • The muffins also have all sorts of healthy fats from the organic, extra virgin coconut oil, the ghee, the soaked and dehydrated, organic walnuts (the soaking removes anti-nutrients that interfere with digestion of the raw nut), and the pastured eggs.
  • The 'cream cheese' topping is made with homemade yoghurt which is high in beneficial, probiotic bacteria.
  • The organic Earl Grey tea is high in antioxidants and studies have shown that it's actually good for the our lub-dub hearts, but more importantly, it tastes divine. The raw cream is just my way of saying "I love you". Make sure to check your Earl Grey tea for real Bergamot oil. Cheaper teas offer 'flavouring' instead of the real deal.
  • A cup of tea and a little muffin after a fall walk in the woods fills my soul with gratitude for the abundance in my life.
Carrot Ginger Muffin Goodness
(adapted from Elana's Pantry)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry or 1 teaspoon fresh ginger
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup ghee (or softened butter)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1/4-1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup soaked and dehydrated walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dates
  1. Sift the coconut flour into a large bowl. Stir in all of the other dry ingredients.
  2. Blend the eggs, oil, ghee, maple syrup, and vanilla in a blender until well mixed.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until mixed.
  4. Stir in carrots, nuts, and dried fruit.
  5. I prefer to use unbleached, parchment paper type muffin papers, but if you are placing your muffins directly in the muffin tin, grease first with ghee or coconut oil.
  6. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of your tin. Makes 2 dozen muffins.
  7. You can easily split this recipe in half if you would like to make less. These muffins freeze very well in case, like me, you relish the ability to just grab a few out of the freezer whenever company may show up (or you just decide you deserve one).
For the 'cream cheese' style topping, simply drain plain yoghurt for a few hours in cheese cloth. Directions can be found here. To the drained yoghurt, blend in some butter, a spot of honey, and some lemon rind. Spread the topping on the muffins once they're good and cool. That's all there is to it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grain-Free Human

I have been asked (so very, very many times) why I don't eat grains. In fact, when people find out I don't, I am usually met with confusion or sometimes even hostility. We sure have bought into the idea that grain is important for our health, haven't we? You know, the "staff of life" and all that jazz. I find it difficult to put my anti-grain sentiments into little sound-bites of information when there's a multitude of reasons our family doesn't include them in our diets. These reasons include environmental (the destruction of entire ecosystems for mono-cropped fields) to health (grains are loaded with anti-nutrients that cause all sorts of mischief with our ability to absorb minerals and vitamins).

Mark, over at Mark's Daily Apple just wrote up a great little ditty, nicely summarizing our stance on living grain-free.

Further reading:
  • If you're interested in learning more about the factual science about what our bodies require for health and how we got so far off the mark with our public health policies, I highly (highly!) recommend Gary Taubes book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories". Gary Taubes is genius (I might just have a wee little crush on his brain...shhhh...).
  • Lierre Keith's book, "The Vegetarian Myth", is a brilliant look into the environmental, ethical, and health implications of eating a vegetarian/vegan diet. More than that; however, Lierre's book allows the reader an intimate look at a wounded world, hungry for her grasslands and woodlands, swamps and forests. Earth has been stripped of her complex ecosystems in order to grow mono-crops of GMO grain and legumes. "The Vegetarian Myth" is a profound, life-changing read and, I say, it should be mandatory reading for all those intent on saving the world by filling their plates with grains. This book is amazing. Amazing!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Avoiding the Post Halloween Sugar Coma

Our youngest daughter had a Halloween party at school today. That meant plates of cupcakes, fresh from the box, topped with blobs of hydrogenated icing, candy galore, and weird balls of pink taffy stuff. Blech.. The thing is, from a kid's perspective, this stuff looks pretty good.

I always try to give my kid's an alternative to what their class is eating in celebration of whatever event may be going. More importantly, however, I educate my kids on why I'm not giving them those foods, what those foods do inside our bodies, and what the foods they are eating are doing to contribute to their sharp minds, healthy bodies, and stable emotions. All of our kids probably have more knowledge on nutrition than 90% of the adults I speak with. It's important, to us, that they really understand 'why' so they can be empowered to go out there and consume foods that make them strong and vital.

Shelly, over at This Primal Life, has a great, simple (5 ingredients!), primal recipe for Almond Butter Pumpkin Brownies. They're good, I promise (I tried them last night). We don't eat roasted almond butter so I substituted that with ghee and homemade soaked walnut butter. Yumma Yumma in my Tumma.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting Oil from a Vegetable

I was taken aback, the other day, when I had a friend ask what vegetable oil is best to cook with. I mean, it's not that ludicrous of a question if one's source of information is radio sound bites, but this was one of my posse! This girl has endured my rants for years. I must have forgotten to give her the vegetable oil rant (or maybe she's just mastered the art of zoning me out). It got me thinking that there's probably a lot of people out there still confused about vegetable oils and whether or not they're healthy.

Vegetable oils are a highly processed food product. The raw oil, very delicate and unstable, and thus prone to oxidation, is extracted using chemical solvents. The lengthy process of taking this Omega 6 fat (something most of us don't need extra of, thank you very much) and turning it into that giant, plastic tub of oil on your supermarket shelf is nothing short of chemical mischief.
Upon arrival at the factory, the vegetable slurry, wannabe oil, is extracted with the petroleum derivative, Hexane. It is deodorized, bleached, dewaxed, treated with high heat and extreme pressure, and if it's lucky enough to be hydrogenated, it's processed with toxic Nickel catalysts.

By the time they're done with the delicate oils, there is absolutely no nutritional value left in that jug. On the contrary, what you have is a rancid, chemical-laden, nutritionally void bottle of refined oil that actually burdens your body. Add to that the fact that an extremely high percentage of vegetable oil crops are GMO. And there it sits, the toxic oil on the shelf, soaking up the estrogenic plastics from the jug it's in. Just waiting for someone to plop it into their basket and give it a nice, warm, home in their damaged arteries or maybe their fatty liver.

Suppose you buy organic, unrefined, cold-pressed oil from a health food store. These oils are extracted the old fashioned way, with a large press that squeezes the oil from the plant without the use of heat or chemical solvents. Oil of this type should also be stored in dark glass bottles to avoid oxidation. This type of oil is far superior to the commercial variety, but it is still a vegetable oil and, thus, should not be cooked with. It is also high in Omega 6 fatty acids so it should be used sparingly in the diet, more as a trickle for flavor here and there. Stick with extra-virgin, organic olive oil if you're looking for something to make your salad dressing with. Don't even bother with corn, soy, canola, or any of the other vegetable oils.

For cooking, saturated fats, stable under heat, are your best bet. Choose fat sources from healthy, pasture raised animals. Some good choices include tallow, ghee, lard, suet, extra-virgin raw coconut oil, grass-fed raw butter, and rendered fat from any grass fed animal including ducks, chickens, ruminants, and wild game.

Further reading:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Check that Chocolate

Soy lecithin via Orison Chemicals.
Soy lecithin, a common emulsifier used in food products, both organic and conventional, is allowed to be used in organic products even though the lecithin itself is not organic. Lecithin is difficult to find in organic form, or so it was when organic legislation was drafted up. The good news is there is an organic lecithin source now, the bad news is that it's so cheap to use the industrial source, and outdated organic regulations still allow it so nobody bothers. Let's let the great Cornucopia Institute explain further:
Take a look at the bar of organic chocolate in your desk drawer or the carton of organic ice cream in your freezer, and you'll likely see a little-known but very common food ingredient: lecithin.

Unless the ingredients list specifically states "organic soy lecithin," the lecithin was processed from hexane-extracted soybeans, which are also likely to have been genetically engineered and sprayed with pesticides in the fields-in organic food.

Currently, food manufacturers can legally add conventional soy lecithin to organic foods.

To be labeled "ORGANIC," and to carry the USDA organic seal, food has to be made up of 95% organic ingredients. The only non-organic ingredients are ones that are unavailable organically and cannot make up more than 5% of the product.

When the organic standards were developed in 1995, organic soy lecithin was not commercially available. To encourage the growth of the budding organic industry, the organic standards included a list of conventional substances/ingredients that were not available organically, and could be added to organic foods. Organic soy lecithin was not available, so lecithin made it on the list. But times have changed.

Over the years, one pioneering organic company has not only developed a truly organic soy lecithin, but has invested in the ability to supply the organic version to every food manufacturer that needs it. Organic soy lecithin is not extracted with the use of hexane, a neurotoxic and polluting solvent prohibited in organic production. And the organic version always comes from organically grown, non-GMO soybeans (genetically engineered ingredients are also banned in organics).

Now that organic lecithin is commercially available, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert citizen panel that Congress set up to decide these issues, now needs to determine whether to recommend removing lecithin from this list of conventional substances that are allowed in organic foods. This is the first time in organic regulatory history that an ingredient has been petitioned to be removed from the National List.

The Cornucopia Institute urges members of the organic community to tell the NOSB members that you support the removal of lecithin from 205.605 and 205.606. If lecithin remains on the list, food manufacturers have no incentive to opt for the truly organic lecithin, and many will continue to put hexane-extracted, conventional lecithin in your organic foods-it's cheaper.

There is more at stake than simply the type of lecithin you can expect to find in your organic foods in the future. The regulations need to adapt, by removing lecithin from the list of allowed conventional substances. If the regulations do not change when companies innovate and develop new organic ingredients, why should anyone bother investing in the expensive research and development that gives rise to the availability of new organic ingredients?

We need to send a strong message to the NOSB members and the USDA that we stakeholders in the organic industry expect the regulations to change with the times. And change should be in the interest of organic consumers and innovative organic companies.

It might just be time to give your favourite organic, chocolate the once over (or any other organic prepared food you may buy). Personally, I avoid soy in all of its permutations, but it may be worth giving the manufacturer a jingle to find out the source if you're having a really hard time tossing it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Breakfast

What I ate:
  • Pastured, organic egg
  • Pastured, organic bacon
  • Organic apple clafoutis
  • Homemade, raw goat milk yoghurt
Why it's good:
  • Pastured bacon brings you all the joy of bacon without the guilt of supporting industrial agribusiness confinement operations. Again, fat with vitamin A, and the overall heightened nutritional profile, from animals that have been raised on grass, in the sunshine.
  • The apple clafoutis was a take on a recipe I found on Elana's Pantry. We don't eat grains so this is a nice tart, similar to a pancake without the flour to knock us into a sleepy coma. It's made with eggs, raw goat milk, vanilla, and maple syrup that we purchased from our friend who produces the most wondrous, local, maple syrup. If you try out Elana's recipe, skip the agave in favour of raw honey or maple syrup.
  • The goat yoghurt is a tasty way to get some much needed probiotics into our guts. We aim to get some good bacteria in every meal, usually through kefir, different types of yoghurt, or fermented vegetables.
  • Most of all, our meal was good, as in 'goooooood', because it tasted delicious and I shared it with my lovely family on a slow, rainy Saturday morning. It was one of those mornings with no agenda - nothing to do, but sit and chat, sipping warm tea while the rain pitter-pattered on our roof.