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Archive for the ‘Personal Story’ Category

A Little Peace of Mind

I’ve been canning for about three years now. During that time, I get looks of puzzlement when people ask me what my hobbies are and I reply “canning”. People tend to relate canning to frugality and most of them have decided that canning just doesn’t save enough money for the time and effort it takes.

I don’t do it for the frugality, though I think I actually spend less on the actual ingredients and tools than I would on buying the equivalents, I do it for a number of reasons.

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Vegetable beef barley soup

Imagine sitting down to a comforting nutritious bowl of soup

For the last week, I’ve been sick.  Coughing and sore throat sick.  Not wanting to cook sick.  The idea of eating isn’t really high on my list, even though I know I need to.

I remember when I was sick back in Los Angeles and married at the time, that my ex-husband (who didn’t really cook) would resort to bringing me Jack in the Box food. It didn’t taste very good and wasn’t really appetizing to me, but I had no energy to make anything myself so I ate it.  Later on, when I lived alone, those were the days I resorted to opening a can of Campbells soup.

So now, how do I deal with illness when I live alone and I’m gluten intolerant and I’m committed to eating real food that is local and traditional?  I plan ahead.

Even though I’m single, you wouldn’t know it from the way I cook.  I don’t cook for one serving.  I cook enough for 2 to 4 servings.  I freeze my leftover meals in single serving portions.  Those are for the nights that I’m either really busy, or sick. So I know that there is usually a variety  of foods in my freezer to keep me going.  Right now I have homemade chicken soup, beef soup, a sausage and collard soup as well as chili.  There is enough variety to keep me satisfied and its easy to defrost something in the microwave and finish heating it in a saucepan.  Little work, lots of benefit.

Its easy to do.  When I am making something, I just make sure that I make more than I need.  I eat what I want for the night, use those disposable Glad or Ziplock containers and freeze meal size portions.  Its also very economical. Much more so than buying frozen dinners or cans of stuff with ingredients I can’t pronounce. (more…)

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Eating is often a social occasion.

Eating is most often a social occasion. When you can't eat what everyone else eats, its a very lonely feeling.

A few weeks ago, I got glutened. It was my own fault, I wasn’t the advocate that I should have been when my boyfriend and I went out to a chain restaurant for a quick breakfast before we went camping. Once we were there, I mentioned to the waitress that I was gluten intolerant and asked that there be no bread on the plate. I ordered what I thought was a safe meal: two eggs over easy, bacon and hash browns. I was hungry, and ate it all. This restaurant specializes in pancakes and advertises that they use pancake batter in their omelets, so I made sure to not order an omelette.) I now think that I was a victim of cross contamination and that they cooked something (most likely the hash browns) on a part of the griddle that they did the pancakes or omelettes on (like I said, my own fault for not specifying a clean grill area). We then drove to the camp ground and set up our tent city (Large tent and a large pop up which acts as our kitchen). Set up takes about 3 hours, which is why we tend to go for longer trips (this one was 6 days).

The next day I woke up to mild stomach cramping. The entire day was spent running into the restroom and trying to convince myself that this was an abberation and that I hadn’t been glutened. By Friday, the stomach cramps were so bad that I had to admit it to myself. I was angry, but mostly at myself. I know that chain restaurants are absolutely the worst for cross contamination, and I still went. (more…)

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Preserved food in Mason jars

I’m a freely admitted control freak. Not in every way, but in a very important way.  I want to know and control where my food comes from.  The more I learn about the food industry and what they actually sell as “food”, the less and less I choose to spend my food dollars there.

About 3 years ago, I decided to embark on an experiment, to see how well I could do buying and eating foods that were local and seasonal.  I decided this in the winter, after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I knew that in order to conduct this experiment, I would have to preserve foods during the summer for winter as well.  I wasn’t going to go as whole hog as the people who wrote the 100-Mile Diet.  I wasn’t going to give up coffee or chocolate and if I couldn’t buy locally, I would try buying seasonally (which meant that winter, I ate a lot of turnips, rutabagas and chard).  I found farms where I could buy grass fed meats, chickens and eggs as well.  I also signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  Most of this however wouldn’t happen in the spring. (more…)

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In August of 2010, I was at a house party in Upstate New York when I realized that I was most likely gluten intolerant (if not celiac).

For the last 10 years, I had followed a mostly low carb diet. It worked and I considered it a very healthy diet for me. Meats, full fat dairy, lots of fresh vegetables, very few starches and no grains were the basis of my eating plan. I felt good on it. I followed this whenever I could, but when I couldn’t (traveling or eating at someone’s home), I didn’t worry too much about it. During the summer of 2010 though, I was traveling much more than I usually did. And I didn’t have control of my food.

I went to Wisconsin for training. The company that provided the training provided breakfast and lunch. You guessed it, bagels, breads, cereals and pizza. Since it wasn’t politic for me to go out on my own, I ate them. Within 2 days, I was leaving the training room every half hour to deal with stomach issues. I just thought I was coming down with something. But, strangely enough the same thing kept happening every time I traveled.

In August, my boyfriend and I were at a house party in upstate New York. Breakfast was breads and jams, lunch was pizza, dinner was okay. By Saturday morning, I again was spending most of my time in a restroom. As I was dealing with some of the worst cramping I ever experienced, I started thinking about how much I had been sick this summer and started putting two and two together. “I’m most likely gluten intolerant”.

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In the last four days I’ve thrown away 5 cups of milk that I was trying to make into the holy grail of low temperature, raw milk yogurt. I’ve been making yogurt for number of years very successfully. Up until about a month ago I was regularly making yogurt with a locally produced milk I bought at Whole Foods which while pasteurized, was not homogenized.

My basic techniques for making yogurt has been to heat 4 cups of milk up to 180° remove the saucepan from the heat and cool down to 100°. After that I inoculate with a half a cup of previously made yogurt and let it sit in my yogurt maker for 12 hours. This has worked successfully for many years and I’ve never had a problem making yogurt this way. Occasionally, I’ll have to replace my starter, usually with a small container of organic, plain, whole milk yogurt from the store. But this is becoming harder to find.

I routinely strain my yogurt to make it thicker. I do not use dry milk products to make it thicker, instead I strain it to remove the whey. This makes a thicker Greek style yogurt. I save the whey from the straining to use when I lacto-ferment. There are various claims that dried milk powder can be bad for you, but the jury is still out. However, since I tend to try to stay with food in as natural state as possible, dry milk powder is not on my radar so I don’t use it.

With the raw milk, I did not want to heat the milk so high, effectively pasteurizing it. Raw milk contains many beneficial enzymes that are destroyed during high heat processes. So I tried, boy have I tried.  (more…)

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Patrons of the Hollywood Farmers MarketI grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, a fairly typical child of the early 70’s. My mom, a child of the depression, was much more interested in the price of food, rather than the quality of it. I can’t blame her, most people didn’t know the difference. She wasn’t very fond of cooking, so we had the same quick and easy meals over and over. I didn’t know there was another way of making fish other than batter fried until I moved out of the house.

Growing up in Southern California, I had no idea of the idea of seasonal eating. Everything was seasonal. If I decided on a recipe I wanted to cook, the ingredients were usually at the super market, no matter the time of year as well as our year round farmer’s market in Hollywood. (Think artichokes in winter).

Sometime in the late 80’s I found a book at my local Mrs. Gooch’s (a healthy grocery store soon bought by Whole Foods), it was called “Nutrition”, a pale yellow, almost text book that really talked about the problems with eating processed foods and advocated eating what I would now call, “real food”. I remember the pictures in there were some of the one’s in Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. It made a huge impression on me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the book anymore and since I can’t remember the author, I can’t get another copy. (If someone knows the book I am talking about, please let me know).

In the late 90’s, I was somewhat overweight and failing to lose it. My husband at the time and I went to Las Vegas where his family was. While there, we went to dinner with his brother and sister-in-law. They told us they were on the Atkins diet and could only go to a steak house. No problem there. I saw them order a steak with a side of broccoli and realized that the diet wasn’t as unhealthy as thought. I started on it, and lost 25 pounds. It was at this point that I realized that I needed to do 90% of my shopping around the outside of a store and not through the aisles.

In December, 2001 and I moved from Los Angeles to the Washington DC area. I remember my first visit to a supermarket and how appalled I was at the lack of fresh vegetables. Coming from Los Angeles, I was very much used to eating fresh vegetables at all times. I finally found a Whole Foods market, and while they had a much better selection, their prices were really high. I found myself buying frozen and canned foods, but they had additives and I wasn’t very happy.

In 2005, I moved into my own place, a townhouse in Germantown, MD. I’m very close to the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, which means I’m near a lot of farms. In 2008, after picking up Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals , I knew that even buying my food from Whole Foods wasn’t the healthy panacea I had originally thought.

I started reading, a lot. This was winter, I started researching CSA’s and farms and farmer’s markets. I bought a freezer. Then I impatiently waited for Spring to arrive. Unfortunately spring arrives in March, but food really doesn’t come out here in quantity until mid May. So I waited a long time, and wow did that first strawberry taste good.

In August of 2010, I realized that I was most likely gluten intolerant, I stopped eating gluten (which was a mistake) and in January of 2011, my doctor chose to test me. I had to start eating gluten again for a month and was sick for not only that month, but 2 months after that (which is why going off gluten before getting the test was a mistake). This has added a new layer of food and health that I’ve had to learn about.

Since that time, I’ve worked on only eating what Nina Planck calls “Real Foods”, foods that have been around for a long time. I’ve found sources for grass-fed meats, pasture raised poultry and eggs, raw dairy and fresh vegetables. I’ve learned preservation techniques and used them extensively. I’ve learned so much along the way and while there is more to learn, I want to help others learn as well.

I invite you to share this journey with me. I plan on using this blog (as well as my facebook and twitter accounts) to share recipes, nutrition information, food related activism, and help for those with dietary restrictions as well as my journey to a holistic health degree.

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