Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fermenting Change

Autumn is a busy time here on our boatstead. We have been gathering apples, pressing them in our gorgeous cider press for our year's supply of wine and hard cider. I have been canning: tomatoes, tuna, applesauce. And more applesauce. I have dried wild mushrooms and tomatoes. This year we put in a small garden on the top deck, mostly herbs and tomatoes (plus a few leeks that traveled from Kirkland to Oakland and then to us, which is a longer story than I am going to tell right now).

Fermentation is Science for Cooks!

This week the theme is ferments.  Fabulous Ferments, of course! I am conducting a fermentation workshop on Saturday for the members of our new GAPS support group (and anyone else who wants to learn, of course). Starting GAPS is hard enough without struggling to make unfamiliar things like kraut and stocks, so this is where we need to start, with the basics.  When I do a workshop, I always bring as many samples as I can, to demonstrate the possible variety, so I am scrambling to have enough to showcase. Because my ferments have been kind of wacky recently. Well, slimy is a more exact word. Odd, though, that the vegetable matter isn't slimy and the smell and taste are fine. It's just the brine that has the consistency of raw egg whites, which is not a big selling point for most people.

So I am conducting a major experiment: I bought a monster cabbage at Sunny Farms--it weighed over 20 pounds!--and prepared the whole thing by shredding and salting, using my thrifted old-timey cabbage shredder (which looks like an overgrown mandoline, and makes cutting the cabbage in fine threads so easy) Then the fun really began! I stuffed each of five mason jars with the basic kraut mixture, then added a different starter to each one: powdered yoghurt, powdered kefir, a commercial probiotic, liquid whey, and the fifth was left wild, using the lactobacillus naturally present on cabbage. One more jar was also left wild, but airlocked, in a Pickl-It jar.

I have had some success with the Pickl-Its, but we have odd flora on the boat, and they somehow managed to infiltrate the supposedly closed system. I have scalded the jars, sterilized them with bleach (yuck, I know, but I am desperate to get rid of the funky slime). Still I have this ropy liquid I am hesitant to call brine. Which has led me to turning the boat into a laboratory this week.  I think the natives are getting restless, what with the discombobulation in our small floating home. Let's see what the experiment tells us in a few days... Hopefully it will have been worth the mess and disruption, when I have a successful approach to ferments in our marine environment.


A note about starters: I used what was available to me locally, which means I didn't have a dairy-free starter. Those are available online, and I am going to get my hands on some for experiments. Whey (from dripped yoghurt)is obviously a dairy-based starter, but I have always been able to tolerate the small amount that remains in my kvass, despite not doing well on dairy (other than butter, and the newly-introduced homemade sour cream--yay!) Powdered starters are convenient, though they are not perfect. I believe that it is much better to use real kefir grains than any starter, but I neither have any nor am I at all sure how I would use them to ferment something thick like applesauce. Another experiment in my future! When I make yoghurt I use a good quality commercial yoghurt, with no fillers or extra ingredients, as the starter. Using the dried powder starters seemed to be a good starting place for my investigations, as they are reliable, relatively easy to use, something I can teach others to do.

Call me crazy, but when I get on a roll, well, lots of things get done! In addition to the plain kraut, I made one jar with cumin and fenugreek and one with juniper berries and cauliflower. There is a new jar of basic beet kvass (I like it well aged, so have to make ahead), no additions, and a jar of Dr. Natasha's Vegetable Medley. Add in a jar of ginger carrots (from Nourishing Traditions, and four jars of fermented applesauce--two raw and and two cooked, and WHEW!! I am done for now, and am enjoying the array of bubbling jars on the shelf behind the setee.

There are wonderful sites, blogs, and books now devoted to the art of fermenting, but I always come back to Sandor Katz' Wild Fermentation, with a book and blog of the same name. He does an amazing job of introducing many types of ferments, why we would want to make and eat them, and--best of all--he transmits a infectious joy for all things microbial. I encourage any of you who have yet to dip a toe into the world of ferments, traditional and inventive, to explore what "Sandorkraut" has to offer.

Why Ferment?

We humans have more microbes in our digestive tracts than we have cells in our bodies--about five pounds of the stuff! These microbes--bacteria, yeasts, viruses and tiny parasites, come in both beneficial and pathogenic varieties. The beneficial beasties help with digestion, with conversion of various substances we eat to usable forms, and they even manufacture some nutrients that we depend upon (vitamin K is a well-known example). They help keep the pathogens in check, both the ones that reside in the gut, and the ones that show up on occasion--so they are a functioning part of our immune systems.

Unfortunately, there are multiple factors in our modern life that can destroy our microbial friends. The list is long: antibiotics (which do not discriminate between the good guys and the bad), steroids, birth control pills, denatured foods, metal toxicity, multiple chemicals (in foods, the environments, cleaning supplies, etc), and more.

As concerning is the fact that we don't have or take in the microbes that we might have in the past. Babies are supposed to acquire probiotic bacteria as they travel through the birth canal, swallowing fluids from mama, and then through the skin-to-skin contact of nursing and being held. As more babies are born by C-section, and fewer are nursed, and many moms receive antibiotics during labor, many babies start life at a microbial disadvantage. 

In the past we sourced our water from streams and wells, where we gained the benefit of pure water (no chemicals) and trace soil organisms. Our forbears ate quite a bit of their food fermented, perhaps originally owing to a lack of refrigeration, but eventually because people enjoyed and thrived on the changed foods. We developed a taste for all sorts of ferments, things you might not even know were once fermented: soda, yoghurt, vinegar, sausages (such as salami), bread, beer, wine, ketchup, fish sauce, myriad pickles, chocolate, coffee, tea. Just about every culture has a favorite culture! Think dosas and iddlies in India, sauerkraut in Germany, root beer in the USA, tsukemono, natto, and miso in Japan, kvass of all sorts in Russia. I know I am just scratching the surface, but that should give you a sense of the enormous variety in the world of fermentation.

Eating cultured food does not replace the flora we should have gotten at birth, but it goes a long way toward keeping us healthy. Hippocrates famously said that all disease begins in the gut, and now we are finally proving this scientifically. Luckily, though, we don't need scientists to help us shift the balance toward the beneficial, friendly, tribe. We just need to take the offenders out of our lives, as much as we can control, and add the good guys in on a daily basis. In an acute situation, a bottled commercial probiotic can be helpful, but we all need to consume some amount of cultured food to keep the healthy balance we were meant to have. Some folks have even reversed very troubling issues with powerful probiotic foods such as kefir (see Dom's site for one inspiring story).

OK, so these foods are almost miraculous. Will they change the world? Will they satisfy those agitating for various political and economic shifts? Why should we put so much energy into food? I don't have all of those answers, but I will say this: slowing down to make and appreciate real, healing, foods may indeed change your life. It has changed mine. And if our lives change, we may influence some others. We may be able to turn around and help a friend, a neighbor, a relative. We can set an example of a simple and healthful life, which might shift the energy in our social circle. That in turn, can affect a neighborhood, a town, and who knows where the change might end.

It is entirely possible that by helping our microbes instead of killing them, that maybe we might Ferment Change in the world.

All it takes is a head of cabbage, some salt and a jar....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Recipe (and a bit of a rant.)

I trust my farmers. I trust them deeply, else I would not eat the food that I do (and I feed my family with this food, so this is terribly important to me, that I can look a farmer in the eye, go to his or her farm, observe how the animals live).

When I started eating in the manner advocated by Weston A. Price, Sally Fallon, and Nourishing Traditions, some years ago, I had no idea that I would have such gratifying relationships with our local farmers. Over time, they have become Friends Who Happen to Raise Our Food. I believe this is what happens when there is no separation in the form of a grocery store or other middle man. Every week we go to the farmers market. That is beginning of the story. What happens from there depends on the day. We might have intense conversation over whether the cheese is better with or without the rind. About how hot the Big Bomb peppers are. About the best way to prepare beef heart. That may seem obvious, talking about the food.

Soon, though, something else started to happen. If we missed a week, we were greeted with loving concern ("Is everything all right? We missed you..."), there were questions back and forth about kids, about health concerns, about the weather and the economy. We were becoming part of a rich community. Now we hear about sweethearts and weddings, the loss of another farmer's chickens, the immigration troubles of a relative. We exchange hugs, phone numbers, recipes.

And because I trust my farmers, I generally trust their recipes. Tonight I tried something a bit out of my comfort zone, recommended by Fred and Joanne Hatfield of Kol Simcha Farm. Fred and Joanne raise lamb, chickens for eggs and vegetables. They are always ready with a wonderful recipe and the ingredients to prepare it, so when they suggested making a lamb stew Fred remembered fondly from his fishing days, we had to try it. I wasn't too sure about the combination of lamb, cabbage and peppercorns, and I had no idea this dish is a national icon in Norway, but I am game to do almost anything once.

Only, when I went to make dinner, I had misplaced the recipe that Joanne had tucked into my bag of lamb shanks and cabbage. A bit of googling turned up multiple recipes for faarikaal the national dish of Norway. (Do we have a national dish? Do I really want to know what that might be?) I remembered a few details (such as a copious amount of peppercorns--I used two tablespoons, and I think Joanne recommended four!) and set out to recreate what our friends had enthusiastically described. A simple braise, faarikaal can be pared down to four ingredients; lamb, cabbage, peppercorns, salt. Easy! And GAPS friendly too! I added some onion and carrot to those four things, filled one of my big Dutch ovens halfway with water and a bit of broth, and set the whole thing in the oven for three or four hours. That's it, nothing difficult. I had four shanks and used 1/2 of a medium cabbage and 3 carrots. The rest is done by eye and taste (meaning that you don't need a recipe with exact proportions, just trust it will work out).

As it happens, I had to go out in the early evening, and by the time I got home, the whole boat was filled with the aroma of faarikaal, warm and inviting. It was so late and I was so hungry that I just served the stew with no accompaniments other than some tart red kraut (yeah, more cabbage, but the tart was perfect with the rich meat and broth. I think lingonberries are a traditional accompaniment, for just that reason). I know you want pictures, but I was way too famished to stop and take any (there are a few at the above link).

So yummy and warming. Just like our friendships with our farmers. It's easy to say that we would be lost without farms and farmers. That must be clear to most anyone who thinks about it for a few minutes. But do most Americans know what has happened to the family farm? Do they know that most of the country's food comes from places that look very little like the pretty little farms in our children's picture books (or on the greenwashed packages in places like Whole Foods)? There's a reason they are called "factory" farms, with a heavy emphasis on the factory part.

This has been weighing heavily on my mind since Michael Schmidt began his hunger strike 33 days ago. Here is a farmer who has spent his life fighting for food freedom, for our right to eat real food, free from government interference, and who has won the loyalty of many around the world for his impeccable integrity. Unfortunately, the government of Canada, where he lives and farms, does not see it that way. He has been raided, harassed, and brought close to ruin more than once by government agencies that don't really care whether he is doing a service to families that choose--freely--to buy his milk. Rules is rules, according to them, never mind that the rules are bizarre, really serving to squelch real competition on the market.

Raw milk politics may seem marginal to many, but this is bigger than raw milk--it is about the freedom to choose Real Food. No one tells me I can't buy raw oysters (for now). I don't have to lie and claim they are cat food (though Mr. Chippy does love his oysters!) No one demands that fish or meat be sold cooked only. Why must we treat people like idiots or babies and force them to buy cooked milk only? Because, for some reason, the milk industry is actually feeling threatened by the presence of cow shares and milk coops. They will claim it is because people have been sickened by raw milk, but if you spend a while on you will see that more people have contracted illnesses from things like lunch meats, produce, and other products of Big Agriculture. I retain the right to eat what I feel nourishes me and my family. And I will go down fighting for your right to do so as well.

Which is why Michael Schmidt is fasting. His demand: a meeting with the premier of Ontario to discuss these matters face to face, with no intermediaries. The premier, Dalton McGuinty, has yet to even say whether he will meet with Schmidt. The demand is not to change policy, just to have a meeting, a conversation. Are we so frightened as a society that we can't honor a request for dialog? I have a hard time believing that a politician could let another man die on his watch, rather than man up and have a discussion with him, no matter how much they might disagree.

There is so much more I could say, but it is late and I am beginning to ramble. Lots of wonderful bloggers have written sensitive analyses of what is happening. If I have time tomorrow I will compile a list (for now, go to the FaceBook page that is serving as a clearing house for support and information: ) I hope that I am being clear though: we have to fight for our freedoms, in whatever way we can. Most of us can not risk our lives with a hunger strike, but might sign a petition, talk to someone, write a letter, attend a rally, or just go buy some raw milk--or oysters, for that matter--just go find some real food and support the farmer who is selling it.

And remember, those farmers, who work such long days to bring us our food...they could be your friends. Start a conversation. Who knows where it might lead?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Velvet Ropes in the Theatre of My Life: Boundaries

I grew up in New York City--land of noise, constant stimulation, non-stop entertainment.

There's a seeming chaos in The City, to the uninitiated. But New York has it's rules, it's order, things that make it negotiable to those who stick around long enough to learn what they are. It's easy to feel overwhelmed if you don't do like the New Yorkers. And one thing New Yorkers do well is lines (queues, in Brit-speak). Lines tell you where to go, and also where you cannot go. This can be very comforting in a hectic environment. Look for the line in a crowd and you can find the way into a popular eatery, or the source of the music, or...

When I was about 8 years old, my grandmother took me and my younger brother to Radio City Music Hall. It was grand--huge, ornate, imposing. The line snaked around the block, defined by heavy red velvet ropes, suspended from brass posts. As we stood in the line, making our way closer to the entrance that would signal our transition from Outsiders to the Privileged Few, I watched people and read posters for future shows. Slowly I realized that I was being watched in return. Passersby would scan the faces in the line, looking for something. Maybe they were jealous, maybe they wanted to take the afternoon to watch the Rockettes and Song of the South (yes! That was the show!) instead of having to hustle off to their next appointment. I am not sure, but I saw that, even behind the velvet ropes, even before walking through the grand entrance, that I was already "other".

The line somehow gave me space, set me apart. I am sure someone has done a study of the science of lines and crowd behaviour, but I can tell you from my little-girl observations that boundaries give us space to see where we stand. If we embrace them, they can define our space, give us breathing room and create order. I am a person who needs a certain amount of order in my life, so I guess it's time I looked at the boundaries I do and don't have in my life.

Because I have been overwhelmed recently.

I can only imagine where I would be if I were not nourishing myself well. As it is I have not had the energy or desire to write. It has taken all of my resources to do the daily tasks and to focus on my family. We have had a variety of our children and grandchildren here, at one point last week numbering eleven people between our two boats. Neither boat is huge, so it's natural that--with everyone cheek by jowl--we have had some frayed nerves. The stress of writing my thesis loomed large on top of it all.

A selection of us took an overnight trip to Victoria last week, a lovely two days in our charming neighbor city across the Strait. The outing was organized by our homeschool group, which provided for a tour bus, a hotel, and various attractions. It was a wholly different experience than we had previously had, exploring the town on foot between the morning and evening ferries. If you ever visit Victoria I highly recommend the Castle and the Miniature Museum--both were charming and great fun. I can't say enough about how beautiful this very European-feeling city is! We are really so very lucky to live in a small town with a world-class city ninety minutes away by water...

I did get a migraine while away, a stark reminder of where I used to be. I was not able to treat it the way I would at home, but did the best I could with the tools I had with me. I think that something in my lunch that day contained hidden MSG, judging from the unpleasant reaction I had. My older daughters collected the makings for ginger tea with honey and lemon from the restaurant at the hotel and the dim sum place where they ate dinner. They fixed in the the room's coffee pot--such resourceful kids! We made an ice pack out of a plastic bag, which I ended up sleeping with. I survived, but I am so glad that such an experience is now rare for me.

Back to the Velvet Ropes (aka Boundaries): I tend to be a very giving person, wanting to help wherever I can. Like most people with this tendency (mostly women, I think) I usually put myself last. I have variously been a teacher, cook/baker, midwife and health educator. And Mom. All of these are nurturing, even feminine, occupations, which are often also poorly paid. Many of you in caregiving roles (paid and unpaid) will recognize the tendency to give even when our personal resources are dwindling.

I lived like that for many years, first as a special education teacher in a residential facility, then in an unhappy marriage, and then as a single mom in midwifery school--finally happy but overextended. It seems I have always had boundary issues. In all of the drama surrounding my divorce, my dad (The Shrink, which he is) reminded me that "you never have to drink the soup as hot as it's served." Which is to say that I am ultimately in charge. I can respond in a situation, as opposed to reacting. I know this, but do not always live it (but The Captain is always ready to hold up a mirror for me, to gently remind me that just because someone says something doesn't necessarily make it true. Deep breath drop the shoulders....)

Even when the stressor is a good thing, as in visiting family, weddings, babies, etc, we can neglect ourselves in a way that leads to resentment, a lack of flexibility, an impaired ability to handle the varying needs and circumstances. It makes me in particular crochety, edgy, almost prickly.  I gather I haven't been much fun to live with recently.

I am trying to do some "selfish" things, to restore balance. I opted out of cooking dinner yesterday, instead shutting myself into my personal space for some quiet time. I also spent a while poking around in one of the local antique/junk shops yesterday afternoon--and found a few treasures! Today I go do laundry, not a glorious job, but it is time alone, so I'll take it gladly. And, after talking with my advisor, I think I will delay my thesis until this storm passes.

Still, I struggle with this issue. I want to be a giver, but I realize that I have to be full myself to do that. The last few weeks I have also been reaching out to a few friends who really empathize, who are solid and supportive of what I am processing. They also act as mirrors, giving me their perspectives while not allowing me to wallow (too much). I truly appreciate these wonderful people who have taken the time to listen as I said the same thing over and over, seeking a deeper understanding with each conversation. You know who you are, so please accept my hugs and loving appreciation.

Writing may be erratic this summer. I wish it were otherwise, as the writing does feed me as well as you all, but it's another little "selfishness" I need to embrace. I will write as I am moved, as I have things to share. I hope that will be several times a week, but if it's not, I know you will understand that I am taking care of myself and my family.  That I am welcoming and installing very elegant velvet ropes in my life so that I will know where I stand. The theatre of my life is non-stop, but sometimes I am backstage, sometimes I am in the audience, and only sometimes will I be front and center. Thanks for joining me as I define those roles!

Do boundaries serve you well in your life? Do you wish you had more or fewer?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Just a Quick Post...

A full day, but mostly I did laundry--a huge task when you are hauling 5 (now 6) people's clothes and a household full of linens up to the car in a dock cart, which makes me look like a tinker with a hand cart making my way up the ramp.

Four huge washers full, and three hours later, after errands and ferrying kids, I rushed home to make a late-ish dinner from the whole salmon I had thawed really because it was hogging so much room in the freezer. I wish I had taken pictures, but it's always like that when you are in a hurry, no?

The salmon, with tail but minus the head, was about 6-8 pounds worth, way too much for our dinner, so I cut it basically in half, baking the tail end stuffed with herbs, and turned the center portion into gravlax.  I made a salad and some snow peas with browned ghee (a happy accident) and we had an elegant meal.

And now, I am so tired. I am off to bed, as the birthday tomorrow will demand much from us. Much love from the drizzly Northwest...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sane Travel and a Most Perfect Fruit

Gorgeous lychee fruits
So here I am, with my new computer cord (Thank you Apple! My computer is waaay out of warranty, but they didn't skip a beat in getting a manager to comp the cord, a $70 gift...) and therefore the ability to write, but.....well, I am sort of out of the habit. That's sort of how I feel about Intro now too. I have lost the thread. Oh, I am eating totally GAPS, and avoiding things like the bread, nuts and fruit. But I somehow don't feel connected to the process, and I certainly don't feel as connected to the group. I enjoyed the break from so much computer time, but I can see it left me something of a "vox clamantis in deserto" ("the voice of one crying in the wilderness").

I suppose I will just summarize what's been going on this last week. And try to tease whatever messages are there out for me, for us.

Miss Blondina and I journeyed to Seattle last Thursday morning, both to the the Broadway musical Mary Poppins (fabulous!) and to our friends' home, where the daughter was hosting my girlie and her cousin for a birthday sleepover celebration. I packed enough cooked food for the journey--chicken soup, a country pate, cheese and yoghurt (Blondie's), ginger tea--and the makings for a lavish meal to share with our friends. We feasted on braised grass-fed roast, asparagus, acorn squash and a cucumber salad, and everyone but me had my home-canned apricots for dessert. The duck eggs that I brought were for breakfast (asparagus omelets!), and there was plenty for my drive home.

In fact, it was such a successful trip food-wise that it made me wonder why I would ever eat out. I never got sick or developed a migraine, despite many hours spent at a mall looking for jeans (why does no one make attractive jeans for a curvy woman who is not a teenager? I left without the jeans.) Normally, a migraine would almost be a given after countless hours in stores that are too loud, too bright and filled with noxious scents (intentional, like candles and "air fresheners",  and others like shoe glues and other chemicals in the products). Even though I drove home much later than I had intended, and ate my dinner waiting for the ferry, I ended up at home in pretty good shape.

There was a time, when The Bosun was actively racing his sailing pram, that we traveled to regattas with a Crock-Pot plugged into an inverter in the car. We would arrive at our hotel with dinner ready, needing only a salad. We could eat well, even without a kitchen, using a cooler and the slow cooker. This last trip makes me want to re-institute that set-up, or at least to invest in some more great stainless steel thermal bottles, as the two I have were in constant use with the soup and ginger tea.

Weekends are always busy, but we spent the last one getting ready for the arrivals of two of our kids. The Scientist, our oldest daughter, drove across the country in record time, dog and four-year old in tow, showing up Sunday night to a warm, but short, welcome--everyone was exhausted and soon settled down, knowing we have two months to visit. Yesterday, we picked the Writer up at the big airport (yes, that means we have driven to Seattle a crazy amount of times this week, as the Captain has gone twice to drive his parents to and from the airport). Sigh. Now we can rest for a bit. Except that it's The Professional's birthday this weekend. And the Juan de Fuca Festival. And....

Lucky for me, my kids are all superb cooks. That will make this busy summer easier, what with all of the comings and goings of our nine kids (and two grandkids), who will all visit at some point over the next few months. The Writer took dinner in hand tonight--without my asking!--turning out an absolutely amazing pot of oxtails that looked like they were made of burnished mahogany. Add in some pureed cauliflower and a salad, and of course our huge family, and we had a lovely evening. We topped it off with a bag of fresh lychees that the Writer picked in Coconut Grove, near my parents' home, and presented to us along with a bag of mangoes.

Thanks to Baden's insightful post from the other day, I happily partook of the lychees, willing the guilt to sit in the corner. Lychees are one of those amazing ephemeral fruits that don't travel well, are never sold in stores, and are limited to a very short season. The flavor is perfumy, almost floral, and there is a ritual to the peeling and eating that keeps it all in balance. Instead of gorging on a huge amount of fruit, I sat and savored the experience, so rare and special it is. And it seems to have worked--I have no headache or heartburn, despite eating fruit before its formal introduction (this is the second such lapse, and the first did not go well, so I am indeed surprised).

Perhaps cultivating not only balance, but also finding gratitude and pleasure in our moments of "cheating" or making exceptions or whatever you want to call it, perhaps that is what makes the difference. Perhaps our attitude about the treat can predict the outcome. I know that if I feel guilty or stressed, or like I am succumbing to a craving, then I end up feeling poorly in the end. Whether that's from the cheat food or from my emotional state, I may never be really clear. Still, the lychees were a treat I embraced and so far my body seems to be embracing the treat! Not a statistically meaningful experiment, but maybe a tiny bit of insight to add into the mix.

I hope you have had a lovely week while I was away from my computer! Did you have any great insights you would like to share in the comments? They are always welcome and do help other people, so please do join the conversation....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Advance and Retreat

I am typing this with my thumbs on my phone, my comPuter having given up for now. I suppose, because I type reeeeeaaaallly slowly this way, that I will not be saying too much of substance until I resolve this issue. That probably will be on Friday, when I am in Seattle. I am missing writing daily and can Only hope you will bear with me.

Today was a successful "out and about day". Tu and I and several kids were off on an adventure--and we navigated being out and food shopping with no meltdowns (neither kid nor adult!) We both had thermoses of soup, Tu had squash simmered in broth, and I had a country pate I made a couple of days ago. Add in water and Ginger tea and we ate so well that no "treats" demanded our attention. Yay for that!

We also spent a while talking to a friend with Lyme disease about using GAPS to heal fromthe heavy antibiotics his naturopath has prescribed. Just yesterday I was reading about that in Dr. Natasha's FAQs. (I have found it useful to reread them regularly, as certain things only sink in after repetition). We were daydreaming as group about setting up an Intro Retreat to help others get started.

What do you think? Would that be a useful enterprise?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Pleasure of New, Devil's Club and Sock Animals

Let's change our course a bit today. It's Spring, sunny and clear. The birds are happy. The marina is buzzing with activity. Even the air seems new and fresh. Everyone now comments that it may indeed be Summer one day (most people were not so sure last week).

And, I seem to have weirded out my audience with the pig head photos. My apology to those of you with sensitive stomachs; I have stated before that I do not, which can render me a bit tone deaf when it comes to the discomfort of others. So let's take a day for light conversation, as my acknowledgment that some of you were sort of put off by graphic pork porn.

That's a vegetable? Yes! it's a Spring Devil's Club shoot.

Continuing the investigations into all things Local + Seasonal, the editorial staff has decided to do a little review of Devil's Club Shoots, having acquired some at our lovely farmer's market over the weekend. Thanks to Preston of Wild West for finally allowing us to take home enough for the family (more on that in a few moments).

What's that you say? Devil's Club is evil? Armed and dangerous? It's truly the Devil's Spawn? As a sometime hiker, I would have to agree with you there. The huge thickets of spiny plants that confront adventurers on the Olympic Peninsula are intimidating enough, but they pale in comparison to photos I have seen from Alaska. I wanted to show you one of these (amazing, scary, gorgeous) shots, but they seem to all be copyrighted, so you get to Google it yourself--or come visit!

As with many other things in life, though, the looks are just the start of the thing. We have to be more open-minded, or we will end up avoiding some of the most delicious foods, the most helpful medicines, and many interesting experiences. I remember hating beets growing up. Which is truly silly, because I had never tasted them. At the time, new was scary. Later, introduced to beets as a young adult in France, new was exciting, fresh, sophisticated.  This has repeated itself many times over in my life, and is a principle I try to teach my kids. Amazing things lurk in unassuming packages. Devil's club is a perfect example, as both a unique food and with powerful medicinal qualities, including the ability to balance blood sugar.

Always game for something new, we finally brought home a small paper bag-full of the fascinating-looking spring shoots (if you look at some of the online photos you'll see why I bought my first taste of this Spring treat.) Preston was hesitant to let us take so much. At first I thought that was due to having a limited quantity, hard-won at that (really, go look at the photos!) After a few minutes of back-and-forth discussions, I gathered that the real reason he was hesitant is an oft-repeated (but I am not sure ever substantiated) notion that the shoots are somehow "energizing", possibly even euphoria-inducing. I have seen a few comments online to the effect that the bark of the plant is stimulating--mildly so, not like, say coffee. But I have seen nothing that would lead me to believe that the shoots are anything but good eating.

Now that's what I mean by fresh and local!

Which, of course, they are. I sauteed some onion and leek, added the blanched devil's club shoots, and seasoned simply with salt, pepper and a bit of lemon rind. (Many wild greens profit from quick blanching to remove bitterness, though I am fond of bitter, and sometimes to remove strong chemicals that can be irritating. I don't know what about devil's club requires blanching, but I was following recommendations I had read--something I try to do, at least the first time I make a recipe!)

They were a marvelous accompaniment to grilled steak, resembling asparagus tips in appearance and the piney woods in taste. Actually, the first bites were pleasantly resinous, with a faint citrus aroma (before the lemon peel, that's why I added it), but the flavor mellowed as the meal continued. I am not sure if that is due to my acclimation or a change in flavor as the dish changed temperature or "ripened" somehow.

I had the leftovers with eggs the next morning--my favorite  breakfast is greens and eggs (a big thank you to Dr. Natasha, who started me on that path some years ago!) That might be an odd idea for some of you, but having veggies for breakfast, with eggs and/or meat, keeps my blood sugar stable, is delicious and keeps me satisfied for many hours. Try it!

Now, devil's club might not be on your Spring menu, I understand that. But how about real Spring asparagus? Not the year-round woody thing sold at supermarkets, but the Real Deal, found at farmer's markets and in gardens countrywide this time of year. And morels. And things I have already mentioned: nettles and dandelions, chickweed and miner's lettuce. What about Spring lamb? Did you know that lamb has a season? Most of our foods do, but we have become so separated from those rhythms that most of us would be hard pressed to identify the proper season for those foods. Mostly we now see this cycle as one of annoyance: the strawberries we can buy in January lack flavor, there are fewer pastured eggs available during the winter, and the local raw milk supply might dwindle. There are good reasons for all of that, ones we would do well to respect. Instead, we (as a culture)buy the inferior factory foods and gripe.

It doesn't really need to be that way. We can recover the joy of each food, each season, if we limit ourselves to what is fresh and local. Yes, we can have a more joyful eating experience by eating a more limited diet. The way this works is that we eat only what is at it's peak, what is freshest and most lovely in the moment. We can gorge ourselves on tiny June strawberries, knowing that this is the berry in it's perfection. And then we won't see them for another year, a small loss, but with the great anticipation it sets up for the coming return next year. If we treat each food this way, with the restraint and respect to only indulge when it is as close to perfect as can be found, then true pleasure--and health-- await us.

I don't want to belabor the point. If you want a thorough exploration, there is none more eloquent and entertaining than Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If you haven't read it, that's a great place to start delving deeper into the world of local food, and it even has recipes (and a section on turkey breeding so hilarious I almost wet my pants reading it aloud to The Captain...)

Penguin and (unfinished) Platypus went into a bar...
A totally unrelated tidbit about kid's birthday presents:
(Spoiler Alert for my friend the public defender: contains photo and description of your daughter's birthday present. Don't. Say. A. Word.)
Blondina and I went shopping for her friend's birthday present. I thought we'd find something quickly and move on to our other errands. Instead, I had a child near tears, claiming that I always choose the presents, and that I don't like anything she picks out (yup, Large Commercially Produced Plastic Things, or things way beyond the budget are out of the question). I am a pain about kids' presents. I think they should be books or art supplies, if they are not handmade gifts from the heart.

While Blondina worked out her feelings about her ogre mother,  I sat and looked at the books I was interested in (for me, not for gifts). Eventually, she came back to where I was sitting (in a Very Cosy Chair) and glanced at the book in my lap. That's all it took. We had to buy the book. And then we went on an expedition to gather some of the makings of the adorable stuffed sock lovies in the book--socks, buttons, stuffing. We made a bag using this tutorial for a no-sew t-shirt bag. And we made a critter, loosely inspired by the book, to put in it.

How's that for a solution? A book, craft supplies and something homemade. The perfect gift! And the kids are all in love. Now I have to get a copy for us, because last night was a frenzy of searching for old socks wanting to be transformed into new friends.

While talking about making sock animals might be a digression from my regular topics, I want to point out that it's totally in concert with my general goals and ideals: it fosters independence and responsibility, is creative, it's homegrown, it creates joy and community. I would even say that making things by hand even contributes to good health--by reducing consumerism, slowing the pace of life down, and concentrating on something real, with or without friends and family to join in.

Here's to more new things in all of our lives!

What new things are you thinking of trying, either a food or new endeavor? Have you made something wonderful lately you would like to share?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Beasts, Mythical and Edible

Not a mythical beast, but Mr. Chippy checking out the pig head
 (By the way, Blogger was down for quite a while yesterday, and at about the same time, my computer cord decided to stop charging my computer. So I went to bed without writing--my apologies, again! This morning, after talking with an Apple Genius, I got it working. Gonna be getting myself to an Apple store in Seattle next week....)

I could do a whole post on this, but I just want to mention that die-off can be beastly. A vicious beast, at that.

I have had odd moments of it, making me less than fun to live with--as grouchy, tired, unfocused are all symptoms that I have been experiencing. They are such vague effects that it can be hard to pinpoint the cause. So die-off it is. My friend who is just five days into Intro is having the triple whammy dance with the Beast. She is doing Intro with her 5 year old daughter, and the nursling came along for the ride. And it's not been fun so far (is it ever?) I can offer lots of platitudes ("it's only temporary" "these are signs of healing" "many people have the same experience") but while it's all true, that doesn't quell the nausea. Check out her blog and offer whatever advice you've got, because a community makes this all more bearable, don't you think?

I promised you a post on headcheese, so let's get to it!

First of all, I do know that people often hesitate--or even blanch--at the thought of something like headcheese. I am not sure why that is, because some of the same people will happily eat bologna or Spam or hot-dogs. What do you think goes into lunch meats? A bunch of bits and pieces; if you are lucky they are from the same animal. We have forgotten to value offal or "the nasty bits", but we still eat them--often employing the "look the other way" approach (also known as "what I don't know won't bother me" method). If reminded, we do our best "grossed-out" teen imitation. But we still eat hot-dogs (what does "all-beef" mean, anyway? Does that say which parts are in the mix? Nope, didn't think so.)

My biggest pot is still not big enough. Luckily the lid fit over the snout
Headcheese--which is not cheese at all--is one of the best examples of culinary thrift around. It uses parts that are either thrown away, incorporated into pet food or luncheon meats. The whole head is cooked until the meat is falling-apart tender, then cooled. All of the edible bits are chopped and mixed with the gelatinous broth, then set in a large pan in the refrigerator. Pretty much everything except for the bone is edible: the meat, fat, glands, skin, and so on.

Not much to dispose of!
I was literally given a number of pig heads in the Autumn, when a local farmer butchered her pigs. We bought a half pig for our freezer, but none of her customers wanted the heads, trotters or livers. I now have all of that in a freezer locker at the local custom butcher. This is the third batch of food I have made from that amazing storehouse of fresh local food, most of which was a gift (I paid for the livers, which will become pate and liverwurst). Every time I make headcheese (also called brawn or souse) I glean about 15 pounds of food for my family. Did you grasp that? Fifteen pounds of food that costs only my labor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring(ing) Ahead! And Shrimp...

Hoo boy! It seems that about a month into serious change many of us get kind of cocky, thinking we've got it a down pat, and therefore start improvising/changing/neglecting the base of what we started out to do. With the GAPS Intro diet that a group of us are doing, and several are blogging about, many are finding this to be true. It's not the overwhelming feeling of the first few days. Instead, we have gotten comfortable, almost in a rut, and tend to either stop there (" 'cause I'm feelin' so great now!"), or add new things too quickly ("I haven't reacted to anything so far, so I'll speed this up a bit..")

And then we find out why it's a good idea to always be slow and methodical when implementing radical change. Boom. Die off, or overwhelm, or reactions from something we can't identify because we added 3 foods in 2 days. So, back to the place where we last felt great, and move forward slooooowly. If I were to start a new exercise program I would do the same thing: work up to my ultimate goal methodically. It only makes sense to allow ourselves to grow into change.

I had another migraine yesterday. Migraines suck, but I learn a lot if I slow down enough to hear their message. I really think these are being caused by tense jaw muscles, despite what my dentist last said. I spent hours during the night focusing on relaxing them and that seemed to help. I am trying to make a new habit, so I will just keep reminding myself, gently, to release the muscles. I know that I will have to be especially kind when I catch myself clenching my jaws--something that started when my bridge was replaced 3 years ago. It seems that I should just be able to stop such an unnecessary and damaging action, but I just find myself doing it--and by then my head is aching.

There were some other possible triggers (including going into Goodwill, where the smell was really strong yesterday), and they do layer, making it more likely that I will react. But the muscular pattern of the headache was the same as the clenching (until the headache settled in my right eyeball for a few hours. I am pretty sure eyeballs are not involved in jaw clenching.)

By late morning I was eating, mostly recovered and had things to do... I stayed home and fairly quiet (no kids!), but did work on a couple of projects, including headcheese, which I will write about tomorrow. This, despite the fact that our mechanics were busy working on the engines, rattling the pans and cups hanging in the galley with their efforts to get them started. Hard to concentrate with that noise and diesel fumes, but the work was mostly physical and easy.

In the late afternoon a neighbor alerted us to a shrimp boat with wares to sell. Yum, the first prawns of the season! The Captain headed over with a bucket and some cash, returning with four pounds of active crustaceans. Chippy really wanted to make the acquaintance of a prawn! He loves it when we have oysters, because he always gets to eat any muscle or flesh clinging to, and to lick the juices out of, the top shells. Blondina also will catch tiny fish for him to eat fresh, so he knows and loves seafood. Why should shrimp be any different?

Of course, when face-to-face, the situation is a little different! Those prawns are armed! (See photo at top of page.) They sport what appears to be a bayonet where the rest of us have noses. Yikes. Chippy was a bit disturbed, even when I gave him one of his own to eat. It's still sitting in his dish, four hours later. Somehow, I think the cat is not impressed by the eating quality of this particular bit of seafood... The rest of us, though, ate every bit, simply boiled and served with seasoned homemade mayonnaise and a fresh salad (which I started eating in the last few days.) 

I love Spring meals! So easy to prepare, the flavors are sparkling, the food is so fresh and nourishing. It is a lovely thing indeed to be able to eat such wonderful food, full of life, and to know that it is healing as well. No suffering, at least as far as meals go, just joy and pleasure.

Baden and a couple of the other bloggers have found that daily blogging is becoming difficult, something I have also been noting. I have never written daily before, and while I really enjoy it, I am finding that sometimes it conflicts with living and the other work I need to do: caring for my family, preparing foods for the winter, working on my thesis. I am going to try to write on the weekdays and take weekends off to see if that's a better rhythm for my life. If you have particular issues you would like me to address, note it in the comments or send me an email. I have a couple of such posts in the works already, and I'd love to do more.

Happy Day!

Any stumbling blocks you have noted in your life? Have you found a solution that works?

Monday, May 9, 2011


Yesterday was full and lovely. I missed you, and writing for you, but it was a late night...

The Professional cooking breakfast with a Smile!

Our breakfast was elegant and delicious--thanks to The Professional's hard work and her crew, 9 year old Blondina and our 13 year old neighbor, The Comedienne. They made me a festive Mother's Day banner and set a sweet and abundant table. Everyone was stuffed and didn't eat again until dinner.
The Blogess nettling, with gloves, but yes, I got stung on my forear
In the afternoon, The Captain and I went on a foraging hike to a nearby park that is essentially a wild ravine, sliced in two by a creek that rushes down from the Olympic Mountains. It is filled with dappled light, the sound of the creek and raucous crows, the smell of green. Other than a few folks with dog,s we were alone. We filled my huge gathering basket with nettles, saw gorgeous trillium, nodding bleeding hearts, salmonberry blossoms, tiny yellow pansies, and one false morel. While it was cool down by the boat, it was balmy on the trail.

I have moved on to baked and grilled meats; though I don't feel a distinct craving for them I wanted to be able to eat more meals with the family. So for dinner we had burgers and all the fixings (see Saturday's post, for the whole menu) and a fun time, before rushing off to see Grandmom and Granddad. It has become a Sunday evening ritual, to watch a movie at my in-laws, share treats, and hang out. I actually am having an easier time not being able to eat any of the treats, than I was when I was eating more widely. I bring a knob of ginger, set my tea up before the movie and sip it all evening long. This keeps me happy and I don't miss things like ice cream and popcorn (before I would eat dates and nuts, and every so often nibble on the popcorn--and I would always regret it).

I don't have brilliant things to say tonight. I am just feeling cozy, happy with where I am right now. I am helping a couple of people work out some food issues and this always gives me something to reflect upon. Then I read this wonderful post by Dr. Campbell-McBride and realized that I should just tell all of you to read it, because I can't say any of this any better. Every time I read something she writes I love her philosophy more and more...Go read it and let me know what you think! (And while you are there, subscribe to her blog).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Honoring Mom (With a Willingness to Make Her GAPS Food)

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in my community!

I was happily surprised by my teen daughter, The Professional, asking what she could make for brunch and dinner tomorrow that I can eat! She listened attentively, verified that she knew how to make each item, made a list, then went shopping with The Captain.

What's on the menu? (I am currently in Stage Four of Intro, so use that as a reference point)


Eggs Florentine (a version of Eggs Benedict with cooked spinach in place of the bread. We have locally raised Canadian Bacon without junk in it, and she will use ghee for the hollandaise)

Baden's Carrot Mousse Cake (p. 132 in GAPS Guide, made without the coconut)

Sauerkraut (for me, at least)

Fruit  (for the rest of the family)

Chamomile and mint tea

Sounds pretty elegant, right?  I am very excited! Dinner will be early and simple, because we are going to my in-laws afterward, to hang out and watch a film together.


Hamburgers (grassfed, natch)

All the toppings:  avocado, onion, lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon, mustard, mayo, pickles (all homemade, but I will only have avocado, mayo and pickles. The whole family is used to no buns after all these years.)

Squash fries for me, potato for them

Cooked greens and onions for me (dandelion?)

Cooked rhubarb? (I am pondering this, as it's really a vegetable, and I like it tart, so could get away with a tiny amount of honey. I would have applesauce to go with it for everyone else.)

My favorite drink with meals is water with apple cider vinegar and a bit of honey. I haven't been having it since I started Intro, so the jar that was sitting already mixed up has fermented more and is like straight vinegar! I may have a bit diluted with water tomorrow. Yum. Can you tell I really like sour things?

The Captain and I are planning to gather nettles after brunch, as I really want to blanch & freeze some for the winter months. I am passionate about nettles! I will probably end up having a lunch-ish snack of chicken soup that I have on the stove, while I process the nettles.

Such simple pleasures, really. I am truly a homebody! Making and eating food with my family, gathering food in the Spring sunshine, phone calls from the older kids, a few cards (and maybe a small giftie) from the kids-in-residence. I have everything I need!

And, just in case there are any curmudgeons out there, holiday haters or whatever, remember that Mother's Day is over a hundred years old, long predating Hallmark commercialization. As a matter of fact, all cultures have some ceremony or day to honor mothers. And why not? Without us, well, you know. Everyone has one! So have a wonderful day, whether you are a mother or not. And give your mother a call, she's been waiting to hear from you...

P.S. My mom died when I was 15, so I just spend a bit of time on Mother's Day, her birthday, and other special times, meditating on the gifts she gave me. A sort of "mental phone call." I get to feel and express gratitude, even though she is not here. And I call my step-mother and see my mother-in-law (ooh, we got her the prettiest basket of flowers--don't say anything!) so it's a full day of honoring the mothers...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Canary In The Coal Mine

Another slow, grey day. I am so ready for consistent Spring weather! Still, in the grey the blooming flowers were almost electric, and the air was not cold, so the day was pleasant.
After a quiet morning, spent reading (Blondina had a friend over), we went to our homeschool group, which was at a friend's house. After spending a few minutes in the house, I noted a new scent. A petrochemical air "freshener" (oy, that's a misnomer!) type of scent. I pondered for a bit. We were to be there for three hours, a problem for me with that perfumy odor coming from a diffuser I spied in a corner. I decided that the only way for me to stay there would be if that thing were shut off, but I didn't want to offend my friend.

When I worked up the courage to ask if we could turn the diffuser off, she was actually very gracious, shutting it off while explaining it had just been sent to her as a gift. The scent lingered for quite a while, so I made an effort to spend time in other rooms of the house until it dissipated some. This was pretty effective, as I did not end up with a migraine, as I might normally expect. I have been known to develop migraines from being in stores with electronic diffusers. Once I almost fainted in the dressing room of our local Goodwill, because of the scent wafting throughout the store (there is a diffuser on the wall above the dressing rooms).

When a local store has these chemical perfumes in the air I always make it a point to speak with the manager. I try to explain that some people are terribly sensitive to these chemicals, that they are neurotoxins, that my husband has even suggested that I wear a re-breather whenever I shop there. Amazingly, none of the stores will acknowledge that these products are troubling, despite the fact that every time I have one of these conversations, other customers will join in, nodding their heads and sharing their own sensitivities. One employee even told me that she has regular headaches from the scents.

Several places have told me that the products they use are "green certified." What is that supposed to mean? They've somehow "green washed" the petrochemicals??  Some other organization was willing to sign off on them, to look the other way? What I think they are implying is that I should not be sensitive to the poisons they are pumping into the air to cover the dusty or musty smells. They are implying that it is my problem. They have even said that people come to them complimenting the smell!

Obviously, my opinion is quite different.  Long ago, when trying to explain my reactions to such things to The Captain, I told him that I am the proverbial "canary in the coal mine." I am the "indicator species" that shows everyone else where the danger lurks. Yes, it's possible that my history of gut dysbiosis and adrenal insufficiency make me more acutely sensitive, but the deeper reality is that toxins are toxic to everyone. The difference between us is only in how quickly they take effect and how large of a dose will case damage. The question is not whether certain things are poison, it's how much will it take to make you or me sick. To paraphrase Paracelsus, "the dose makes the poison."

One store manager, did, however, offer the use of a re-breather that they keep on hand for sensitive customers. Um, really? You keep a heavy-duty commercial chemical filtering mask around for our use, but the chemicals are not toxic? Somehow it is accepted now to use fake everything--scents, lights (oh, don't get me started on fluorescent lights!), you name it. Our culture is so divorced from what is real that we don't recognize the difference between sweet-smelling poisons and the real scent of flowers.

It often takes the development of major illness before we change our ways. Like the story I read some time ago of a celebrity family that wanted a clean environment for their precious baby, so they spared no expense, cleaned the carpets monthly, used all sorts of products and services. The baby developed life-threatening neurological problems, traced eventually to the carpet-cleaning. As devastating as that must have been for them, I just have to ask, did nobody think about all of the chemicals being put on those carpets? How is that actually cleaner? I am totally baffled by the logic, or lack of it, in modern society.

I do know that some (rare) stores and offices are more enlightened, like our local UPS store that asks all customers to refrain from wearing scents into the store, to protect both their employees and their customers. This is more common in places like yoga studios, and alternative practitioners' offices. It is something I would love to see all over. Couldn't we just agree that putting poisons into our personal environments is a generally unhealthy thing to do? I need to figure out a way to talk to these people, because it's an education that will have to take place one person at a time, eat least until there is mass sensitivity and illness. As in the Romans developing lead poisoning from their aquaducts being lined with lead (they liked the sweet taste! Does that sound familiar?) When a whole community keels over, maybe then we will get it....

So, what to do until then? Well, even rural communities are riddled with toxins (from chemical farming, from polluted air drifting in, from manure pools), so running away isn't really an option. I eat as cleanly as I can, we don't live in a huge city, I try to find joy wherever I can (that's an important healing tool). We avoid plastic, chemical cleaners and personal care products, and any other optional toxic exposure. Some things we can't avoid, like the poisons in our water, so we try to manage that exposure as well as we can (filter the water, for example).

Although I didn't develop a migraine, I did end up feeling woozy and exhausted after my afternoon sojourn. I didn't do anything but sit and chat, so it was clearly caused by the scent. We had dinner plans, so as I prepared for the evening, I really had to figure out what might change the situation, so I could go out and enjoy myself. For a split second I thought about various treats--as a "pick-me-up". Yesterday's post loomed in my head, warning me to be aware, be circumspect. Taking a deep breath, centering, I thought about what mediates these reactions: the adrenal glands. I thought about what feeds the adrenals, and works as a rescue in such situations: sea salt.  I mixed a cup of salt water as I gathered my food for the evening, and sipped it slowly, letting it ground my agitated self.

Yes, it worked. I had a lovely evening, with friends and family, and no one noticed that I was "off" in any way. The Captain had commented on my state after the play group, it was that obvious, but as we headed home he remarked on my miraculous recovery. Amazing what bringing awareness, and a bit of knowledge, to a situation will do!

While this little tool worked for me this time, I still can't support the notion of widespread chemical exposure for the unwilling (and everyone else, too, but please--can't I opt out?) Eventually, my adrenals won't be able to bounce back, or it might be your baby who gets sick or my friend or... People act as it is were normal to spew toxins around wantonly, but it's a recent development.  And the way I see it, is that we are all like frogs in the pot with the heat being turned up. You know, it happens so slowly that the frog doesn't sense the impending doom. If you put a frog into already hot water, it would immediately jump in reaction.

I say we jump out--how about you?


I have not added new food in a couple of days, as I work out the various cravings and sensitivities. I did add my seaweed supplement (a mixture of ground fresh Pacific sea vegetables) sometime last week, but have been erratic about taking it daily. It is a very advanced food, but I use it in helping to support my thyroid, and 3 weeks without it was starting to have effects I wanted to reverse (mild signs of hypothyroidism). In the last two days I have been consistent and committed in taking it, because I really need it, and get good results when I get it in regularly.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spiralling In

I'm not full of wit today (sorry if you tuned in for the turns of phrase...)

It was neither a particularly great nor a particularly awful day. I had moments of craving, of feeling off, and I had moments of energy and "rightness". You know, when things just seem to work. I was home most of the day, not even sure what the weather was doing out there--which is saying a lot, because living on a boat you always sort of "know" what's going on outside, because you are barely separated from it. The dandelion wine needed additions, we bottled the dandelion "homebrew" (a sort of beer, though we use no grain, just dandelions/ginger/sweeteener), and set up the nettle beer (similar, but also has lemon juice and rind). I ran a few errands while Blondina was at ballet, but otherwise it was a simple day.

Simple physically. Not mentally. No major demons to wrestle, I was just ruminating upon the process again. Why am I feeling sort of "itchy" (mentally) and aggravated? Why does nothing seem to satisfy today? I am thinking that it has something to do with this apparent "fourth week die-off" that several of the group doing Intro have noted. Or maybe it's totally an emotional event, a sort of entitlement that comes from having "put up with deprivation". As in, I have lived this long without sweets, treats, cheese, you name it....and now I think I deserve some reward. Something to break the monotony.

Only, I love my food. I don't feel deprived (yeah, I miss cheese, but it's been three years without it, not three weeks). I have variety, richness, comfort. So what drove me to mix hazelnut butter, ghee, cinnamon and honey? And eat way more than a tiny bit? There's a little kid in me that's begging for a reward and I need to find her and have a stern talk!

I felt off after indulging. And guilty, again. This time I decided to fight back: I fixed an equally luscious snack of an avocado half filled with fermented salmon and the onions and lemon from the brine. Which actually erased the weird feelings.

Why didn't I think of the second snack earlier? My mind was pushing toward these new and "edgy" foods, doggedly avoiding any other solution to the gnawing (not hunger, just a weird emptiness). Maybe I was bored and looking for entertainment, or maybe I really did need a high fat snack. Whatever it was, I have to learn to practice a bit of patience and do some reflecting before I go grab something. I need to make an effort to discern what I really need, not just what I want.

The other day I wrote about my concept of the "health onion", that peeling back of layers as you dig deeper, discarding superficial symptoms and homing in on the meatier issues. I have another way of looking at the whole idea of healing, one that Susun Weed lays out eloquently for us in Healing Wise. At the beginning of the book, she describes what she sees as the three major traditions of healing (Scientific--"trust my machine", Heroic--"trust me", and Wise Woman--"trust yourself"). The Wise Woman path is not straight, rather it spirals:

The symbol of the Wise Woman tradition is a spiral.
A spiral is a cycle as It moves through time.
A spiral is movement around and beyond a circle, always returning to itself,
But never at exactly the same place. Spirals never repeat themselves.
The symbol of the Wise Woman tradition is the spiral.
The spiral is the bubbling cauldron.
The spiral is the curl of the wave.
The spiral is the lift of the wind.
The spiral is the whirlpool of water.
The spiral is the umbilical cord.
The spiral is the great serpent.
The spiral is the path of the earth.
The spiral is the twist of the helix.
The spiral is the spin of our galaxy. The spiral is the soft guts.
The spiral is the labyrinth.
The spiral is the womb-moon-tide mobius pull.
The spiral is your individual life.
The spiral is the passage between worlds: birth passing into death passing into birth.
The path of enlightenment is the spiral dance of bliss.
The symbol of the Wise Woman Tradition is a spiral.
Twelve is the number of established order.
One step beyond is thirteen, the wild card, the indivisible prime, the number of change.
Walk a spiral, you will inevitably come to the unique next step, the unknown, the thirteenth step, the opportunity for change, the window of transformation.
The thirteenth step creates the spiral.

 Taken from the Weed Wanderings Archive, which has excerpts from the book

One of the reasons I love Dr. Natasha is that she is a Wise Woman, despite her training in the scientific and heroic traditions. She believes that we can heal ourselves and our families. That we can use food to heal. That we can trust the messy and mysterious process. "Walk a spiral, you will inevitably come to the unique next step, the unknown, the thirteenth step, the opportunity for change, the window of transformation." YES! When we face the unknown, work with it, hang in there, we have an enormous opportunity for change.

Did you notice the idea that a spiral returns to itself but is never the same? It is the same with waves, constantly moving in a similar pattern, but never exactly the same. As it is with snowflakes. With the movement of the seasons, with...everything. We spiral through our lives, touching similar moments to ones in the past, but never repeating exactly . As soon as we have something figured out, the ground shifts a bit, circumstances change. And then what we "know" is not there either. It has changed too, and the moment is now an opportunity to keep paying attention. Which, in reality, are all moments.

I can't promise that by paying attention, creating awareness, we will vanquish all cravings--and every other human ill. Instead, I suggest that being in a state of awareness is the only way to avoid what I did today. Which was to numbly go along with the Next Bright idea. I wasn't focused or clear, I was on automatic. Awareness is the opposite of being On Automatic. It is fully being present on the path. And as I do see that path as spiral, so I know the opportunity will arise for me to revisit how I deal with yucky feelings, cravings, and so on.

That's a good thing. I get to do it again! And this time, with awareness. If not, if I forget, guess what? I get to do it again. With awareness. Or not. My choice. But I do know how it will turn out whichever choice I make. I can give up the guilt and realize that I choose which fork of the path to follow, and I can own the results.

My treat tasted really good. I enjoyed it. I think my odd feelings were produced by the debate going on in my head, not by a reaction in my gut. And it caused me to think hard about being either deliberate or reflexive in my actions, so that's a positive outcome as well.

Funny enough, my dad's been telling me this for years: "Pay Attention!" It's been drilled into me (one of the joys of being the daughter of a shrink) so I guess I fight it. If I wasn't careful in the kitchen, it was due to not paying attention. If I bumped into something.... You get the idea. Another way he phrases it is to "respond" thoughtfully, instead of "reacting" in a situation. Same idea: pay attention! (and act accordingly).

Someone please tell me though, how do I get the The Shrink's voice out of my head? It's high time I replaced it with my own!


How do you stay aware? Does that help you to be more successful in taking care of yourself?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Golden Day

Thanks so much for the kind comments, on and off the blog!

I had a fabulous day in the sun, on the Tribal Edge land. I gathered wild greens, cooked a wonderful lunch and watched the kids revel in the day. Not much more to say than that!

The sun on Jimmy-Come-Lately Creek, on the Tribal Edge Land in Blyn

Lunch was omelets filled with sauteed onions and nettles. On the side: sauteed mixed greens with a bit of bacon (dandelion, baby dock leaves, chickweed), cumin/lemon sauerkraut, fermented salmon, avocado. We also sipped an infusion of lemon balm and nettles. Really, could a lunch be more amazing? Eaten in the sun and the breeze, with friends and birds and butterflies....

I added roast meat today, in the form of chicken. Another fabulous meal! GAPS is no restriction, just an excuse to try new foods... We had sugar snap peas with bacon fat (the good stuff, without junk in it, of course) and a vegetable dish of yellow squash, tomato, morels, leeks--so very yummy!

Today I feel great, despite my dentist saying the appliance hadn't caused my migraine. Back to the hormone theory, which is probably the "horse" in this situation. I am getting good training in being flexible, in leaving dogma behind. It really doesn't matter too much what caused it, because they are now fewer, easier to treat, and I think that they will go after menopause, from listening to others' experiences.

And now, off for a much needed evening with The Captain. I hope your evening/day is full of love, sunlight and laughter!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bumps in the Road

I skipped posting yesterday. I missed writing, but was grappling with a nasty migraine. The shakiness hasn't quite gone, but I do want to quickly share my thoughts.

I have been getting migraines since I was about 22. Over the years I have eliminated any food triggers I could identify (not foods really, but additives: MSG and sodium metabisulfite, and all sulfites to some extent). When I stopped eating wheat almost nine years ago, I became less sensitive to other things. I believe there is a multiplying effect when we are exposed to multiple irritants, at least that was the case for me. None of the foods implicated in causing migraines have ever seemed to be trigger foods for me.

Now the main causes are my hormones (and I am peri-menopausal, so that's pretty unpredictable these days!) and my jaw muscles. For the last year, I have been working with a local holistic dentist on my TMJ and other jaw muscle issues. The last two migraines I have had seem to be related to this work. Which is both awful and wonderful--something is changing, and I can almost watch it make a migraine! I can feel how different my bite feels today than it did a few weeks ago, and I am sure this is the main reason I developed that 14 hour headache.

Yes, it feels good to identify the cause of a problem. But that does not make it go away. I have seen my chiropractor this week, and that helps me to feel better, but what I have is an entrenched pattern that doesn't really go away with adjustments. I can only hope that the bite guard will eventually be successful and that my body will stop protesting the retraining!

In the meantime, I ended up doing a couple of non-GAPS (at least, definitely non-Intro and fairly advanced) things to help me through without medication. Chocolate. Chocolate seems to help my migraines (it could be the magnesium, and it could also be that theobromine has a magic to it. For the record, caffeine does not help my migraines at all.) I also have some herbs that help, so I use what works. It's better for my gut than the large amounts of ibuprofen I have taken in the past... I also use cold washcloths on my head, and I eventually got into our hot tub to relax.

I felt guilty, though, as is I were letting myself and you all down. Silly, when I am wrestling with the beast, I know, but there it is. I had to talk sternly with myself through the whole night and day of pain. Doing what works, and what will keep me from the intense nausea and vomiting I sometimes experience, seems a sane choice. Still, I mourn my "textbook" experience of Intro.

I noted today that Baden has also been dealing with some similar issues--those of choosing to do what works for onesself, even while in Intro, and of forgiving ourselves for "not doing it perfectly".  Baden and I, and perhaps a few others, are doing Intro this time as a sort of re-commitment or tune-up. We have done it before, and therefore have some idea of what our particular issues might be. So if we write that we ate______ (whatever that might be) that does not really mean it's advisable in Intro, especially the first time through.

And that is partly why I feel so bad, because I want to set an example, a path that others can follow as they struggle with their own issues. And, while I don't think that carving my own solution is bad in and of itself, I feel that it muddies the waters a bit, making it harder for others to discern what to do in a sticky situation.

As Baden also describes, I was wrestling with whether to say anything, whether to brush this little indiscretion under the rug. I do believe, though, that you would rather hear about my struggles honestly described, not prettied up for your benefit. I can only hope that it helps to hear that I am not so stoic and perfect, that I couldn't endure a 14 hour migraine without some relief!

I did finally add the nut butter to my pancakes, a small amount on two different days. I think that is fine, as I would have expected heartburn as a first warning sign, and that didn't happen.  So I am on Stage 4, and I have added olive oil--so nice to have! I made a "salad" of cooked beets with lemon and olive oil, along with Moroccan spicing, which was wonderful to eat and to share! Next up: Roast meat and juicing. I think we will have roast chicken tomorrow, so that comes first. I'll let you know how it goes...

Hopefully you are still with me, on this bumpy journey. Please do let me know if there are any topics you would like me to address! I would love to have this be a more interactive process...

Have you ever gone into an endeavor with full enthusiasm but stumbled in your execution? How did that make you feel? What did you do about it?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April Showers Brought....Dandelions!

Happy May Day to you all!

The Captain and I had a rare day to ourselves, and it was the warmest and sunniest day this spring, so after breakfast we made plans to harvest our favorite weeds on a friend's property. We had planned to gather dandelions and nettles, to make beer, wine and put greens in our freezer, but the dandelions were so outrageously gorgeous, that we concentrated on them. I did collect a bag full of chickweed when I came across some, but otherwise we restrained ourselves--a good thing, because it took a couple of hours to process what we harvested and I am not quite done yet.

Our friends have several acres in a slightly more rural area, close by, but outside of the city limits. They have a horse and chickens, and every year they put in a lovely garden. We help--by weeding! We get food and they happily see the "pests" removed. A great deal for all concerned.

Their little girls helped me gather the blossoms, while The Captain dug the plants with roots still attached. We filled a bag with maybe 12 quarts of flowers. And my large gathering basket (3 ft high, with backpack straps) was filled to the top with the plants.

At home, we set up a cleaning station on the finger pier (where we have a work table), pulled the unopened blossoms off the plants, cut off the roots, and washed the mud off of everything.

The roots will be tinctured as soon as I get some vodka. I may end up with years' supply of dandelion root tincture. Yes, the fall is a better time to gather roots, but for me the best time is when I will actually do it. Today was the perfect day.

The buds are supposed to be good eating, so they went into the fridge. I think there may be a whole quart of them!

I started a couple of pots boiling, one for the beer (following a recipe in Susun Weed's Healing Wise) and one for blanching the greens. After cooling the greens in a bowl of cold water, then draining, I packaged them for freezing. Wild greens for the dark days of winter! I keep meaning to do this with nettles. Maybe next weekend...

Here I am sorting blossoms for dandelion flower cordial. The blossoms are macerated for a couple of weeks in alcohol--Susun Weed calls for vodka, but I am using some of our apple wine that came out very strong, 18% alcohol, because we used champagne yeast. The mixture is sweetened (I use honey) and becomes a delicious--and medicinal-- aperitif. It's a digestive, relieves pain, and can even help depression! A good thing to have on hand...

One of the more wonderful sensations today was sticking my hands into the bag of flowers, well over an hour after they were picked, and feeling the heat of the sun in the bag! It was startling and a sweet reminder of working in the bright sun and cool air.

By tradition, dandelion wine is made with blossoms in the spring and rests in its bottles until Winter Solstice. Last year we made only a handful of bottles (we ended up with five after a minor explosion cost us two...this year we will wait longer to bottle!) and when we opened the first one on the longest night of the year, it was like having a taste of liquid sunshine. We can thank those April showers I guess!

What do you do to celebrate Spring? Do you put food by?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nobody Likes A Zealot: How To Help... and Keep Your Friends

Usually, when I attempt to explain why my family eats the way we do, I am met with blank stares, confusion or even disbelief. A rare few grasp that what I am talking about is a diet filled with fresh, delicious food, heavy on the fats and ferments, and groan with pleasure. Only when I am talking to those already in the know do they understand why. Why would I craft a diet that flies in the face of all we have been taught by doctors, nutritionists, media and government agencies? Why would I celebrate broth, sauerkraut and butter? Why is there no cereal in my home?

Today I read a fairly straightforward article that explains why. You could give it to your mom and she might begin to see what you have been getting at during all of those heated conversations. The author, Ari LeVaux, doesn't go into any depth, rather he gives a tour of various theories of how the microbes we live with affect our bodies, lives and minds. He gives a rough sketch of ways we have changed our relationship to those microbes since the industrialization of the food supply, and points to some research on ways to address our dwindling beneficial gut population.

The article even mentions GAPS! Which is fabulous for our efforts to help more people, no? Alternet is not totally mainstream, but, according to their "About us" page, they get 3 million monthly visitors. That's a lot of eyeballs potentially reading this article. So get ready, because the questions are going to fly...

Beyond articles that take a complex subject and break it down into simple nuggets that we can feed to the skeptics around us, what else can we do to help our friends and family find the health we are pushing toward? I wrestle with this a lot. I can't make anybody see "reason" the way I see it. I have come to this point through many health challenges, through much reading, conversation, and experimentation. It has been a years-long process. Why should I expect anyone else to care with the same passion about the odd information I am trying to pass along?

The Captain says it's a bit like proselytizing about religion. People either have none (and don't want any, thank you very much!) or they have one that suits them just fine. Why would they want the one that comes from some stranger? Or even from a friend? I mean, it's just too personal. You'd think I was telling people how to have sex sometimes, from the horror on people's faces when I suggest that the food they are about to put in their mouths is not really food at all. OK, I don't really do that (I don't want people to hate me--then they wouldn't listen at all). But talking about people's food is a lot like talking about how they relate to G-d or their partner.

Which means: tread very carefully. Be kind. Show a lot more than you tell.

The best way to help others, therefore, is to get healthy yourself. Take care of what you need, do the experimentation on your own self (and your family--they are fair game...) When you are radiant, or at least much healthier and happier than last year (or last week!) the skeptics may admit that it works. At least for you. Keep after it though, because there's nothing like a real live example to convince people that something has merit.

If you are far enough into your journey that you have energy, in addition to your enthusiasm, consider being part of a support group, online or in the flesh. Use your knowledge to help others who are looking for assistance. That's important! It's a really successful form of activism, because we can channel our zeal into a forum where it will be useful and productive. These people want to hear what you have to say, they are hungry for it. Many successful groups depend on mentors, anything from La Leche League to AA. If you feel strong--and grateful enough about the solution you have found-go be a mentor to someone in need.

You've got a friend or family member who is truly sick? How do you approach that? First, with respect (and a healthy dose of trepidation). Find out if they really want to change, if it's bad enough that they are willing to do some (temporarily) unpleasant things. It's no use forcing broth down Susie's throat if she won't do an enema if necessary.

I know that sounds harsh. How about we substitute a different scenario? In this one, we are helping an alcoholic friend whose life is devolving into a shambles. We help them arrange for time off, bring healthy meals and sit for long hours watching movies together. When we go home for the night, another friend brings a bottle to share. And this goes on... Even if we sleep over, somehow the alcohol shows up, is hidden or they drink the mouthwash.

Can you see what I mean? If it's my bright idea, there will be no follow through. It's like the old joke: "How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but he really has to want to change..."  It's the same with diet. No one will change unless they want to. Really. Unless they are miserable, as when an alcoholic "hits bottom", they will not do what we suggest. And even then, they may do it half-heartedly, relapse, founder a bit, try again, and so on.

When I was in midwifery school, one of the things I learned was not to want an outcome more than the client wanted it. They might have said emphatically that they wanted a home-birth, but in the end, some women feel safer in the hospital. I might have been hired to help a woman breastfeed successfully, but if I pushed the issue, I might find to whole effort backfiring. I learned that the best midwives "sit on their hands". They watch, they wait, they support. They do not insinuate themselves into someone else's motives--yes, even though we are hired to help, we still must let the woman choose what she wants at each moment.

And so it is with diet. "Watchful waiting" is a great guideline. Observe, and support if the time is ripe. This is not to say that you can't share your personal successes. On the contrary, that may be the only thing that will help someone else--as I said above, personal example is the most compelling tool we have. Rather than trying to convince, just be you. Share your food: invite people over or bring your yummies to a potluck or the office.

I do want to add that if you are dealing with a sick small child, or possibly a family member who is so sick that drastic measures are about to be taken, well, then none of these guidelines apply. We must do what is necessary in extreme situations.

To summarize, help others taste the approach to food that has changed my/your life:

1. Do your own work: Take care of yourself, get healthy.

2. Share your success. (Tastefully) show it off a bit... Make a fabulous meal for friends.

3. Support the people who are clamoring for the help--become a mentor.

If, after following the above steps, you still want to tell the whole world, you could do what I am doing: start a blog, get a degree in nutrition, teach workshops.

But don't say I didn't warn you....


By the way (as she shares some success on Day 20),  I am starting stage 4 of Intro, though I skipped the nut butter part of the pancakes, owing to a bit of intuition that told me to wait a bit on nuts. So far, so good--no major reactions, and the vertigo seems to have cleared up. I never got the family cold beyond some congestion and a sore throat. Funny enough, as my sore throat cleared I noticed that my tonsils--always enormous, fleshy and nodular in appearance--have shrunken to almost normal! This is huge for me, something I have always seen as odd, and now I can see that my immune system was really always on high alert. I will be thrilled if I end up with normal tonsils--and a normal immune system, that can rest when it's not facing an acute illness. Amazing!
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