Today Ryan & I have been Mr. & Mrs. Szrama for 10 entire months. Wow. Time sure can fly and stand still at the same time! In honor of our "monthiversary" I made a breakfast "strata" (putting my Joy of Cooking book to great use!), which is something I've never done before. It was also to put the cream cheese I'd just made --for the first time!-- to a yummy use. :) Thinking about how much excitement I got out of making cream cheese, and how easy it was made me think about different "tricks" and nuggets I've learned these 10 months of managing my own home... I think that several of them are especially helpful and healthful, so I figured I'd celebrate this monthiversary online by listing 10 tidbits-- one for each month of marital joy. :)
p.s. I feel really cheeky, posting tips which women who have been married & cooking FAR longer than I have might read, so I state first of all that these ideas come from people far more educated and knowledgeable than I am!
1. Switch from margarine to butter. Yep-- if you don't do anything else for your family, do this. With the exception of specifically organic and/or NON-hydrogenated shortenings and margarine, margarine is one of the WORST things you can put into your body. They aren't made from real food, actually... not even bugs will eat it, and mold won't venture near it! (1) While this article would state that all saturated fat is bad, which I'm in the process of researching & questioning right now, it definitely states that FAKE fat is worse!! I saw a tub of margarine labeled "0 trans fat" yet with hydrogenated ingredients... I have NO CLUE how that isn't false marketing. Learn from the bugs & mold and STAY AWAY from margarine!! Coconut oil is a great non-dairy substitute for butter, if you need one.
2. Put my crock pot to good use and cook my own beans. I've learned how to buy the cheaper dried beans, then cook them up myself instead of buying canned beans. This saves on cost, waste (no cans) and nutritional cost! It gives me a chance to pre-soak the beans with vinegar (or another acidic fermenter, like buttermilk, yogurt, whey (2), or lemon/lime juice) in the water, which makes them more digestible (less gas-producing!) and therefore more yielding up of nutrition. Cover the beans with water, pour in 2 T of your acidic medium, and let soak overnight (at least 6 hrs). Pour out rinse water, rinse, then proceed as usual. The crock pot comes in super handy because the beans don't have to be watched, won't boil over and won't burn to the pot like I seem to doom my pan-cooked beans to do...
3. Soak my grains, starting with oats. This is something I'm learning about for the first time, although looking back I see that it's been something I took for granted-- all Maseca cornmeal, which I'm used to making into tortillas or chuchitos (Guatemalan fare) is pre-soaked in lime-treated water. Many oatmeal cookie/muffin recipes also call for soaking the oats in buttermilk for an hour before throwing the rest of the batter together. (3) Anyway, it's easiest to soak the grains we eat whole and as alone, like oats or millet in my gluten- free house. I'm learning to soak my flours...but amn't really sure how best to do that so don't want to comment. If you cover your oats with water and 1-2 T of yogurt, whey, buttermilk (even cider vinegar isn't bad if you have nothing else), and soak 'em over night, they're ready to cook into oatmeal the next morning! This makes oats go from being really hard on your digestive system to really great on it! NB: I have started combining the flours with the water (or milk) called for in a recipe, again along with the fermenting agent and leaving them overnight, then proceeding with the recipe as usual, and have so far had good results. Converting the more complicated recipes seems a little more challenging, though...
4. Switch to glass instead of plastic whenever possible. A recent article in Time magazine finally pushed me to stop re-using my plastic water bottles, and to instead switch to re-using glass ones, which can be washed in the dishwasher very easily. [Drinks that you buy in glass bottles: Fuze, the non HFCS sweetened energy-drink, or Starbucks Frapuccinos. Mason jars work fine, too.] Nalgenes are also out... Stainless steel is just as safe as glass. Also, re-using glass jars (ex. salsa, mayonnaise, some dressings, peanut butter jars) for food storage is ecologically WAY better than even recycling those glass jars, and they don't absorb odors or colors like plastic ones do, don't interfere with the food chemically like metal bowls can do, and by some accounts are safer toxin-wise (especially when heating and cooling of food IN those containers is concerned). (4) Related: purify your tap water with a simple carbon-filter, especially if you want to extend the life of an air purifiers or humidifier!!!
5. Make my own chicken (or turkey or beef) stock -- the sheer efficiency first attracted me: I found recipes which told me to cook chicken, then throw away the broth formed, and then add chicken bouillon cubes or canned stock ....not only did that seem awfully round-about, it was downright funny! Why not kill two birds with one stone (heheh no pun intended) and boil the chicken and KEEP the broth? Then, there's the economical aspect: here's a way to use ALL the chicken, and still get something out of it-- quite compelling for a limited food budget. Chicken broth + veggies/lentils + rice = tasty, filling, and a nutritionally complete soup that's cheap too. Add some garlic bread and you've got a meal. Lastly, the nutritional benefits are astounding. We all know the phrase "chicken soup for the soul"-- let's not forget where it came from! For centuries, sick people drank bone broths to recover from their illnesses; now modern science reminds us that it WORKED! Making my own bone broths is easy, and I'm proud to say that my latest results had lots of flavor & nice jelling action. I was very proud of myself, but I don't think Ryan fully appreciated it. :) (I even skimmed off the fat, and rather skeptically used it to cook with later on...and was floored by the results. SO TASTY!!!) Here's how.
6. Admire the possibilities of eggs ...and know how to stretch them! Eggs are a great source of protein, vitamin A, enzymes, and even anti-cavity agents! They are a wonderful renewable animal product, and great alternatives to meat at dinner time. Omelets make great dinners; you can throw in loads of veggies that are hard to eat otherwise. A little scrambled egg in stir fry rounds out the dish nicely. What about egg-cheese-tomato-lettuce sandwiches, especially toasted? One of Ryan's & my favorite dishes is a zucchini-feta-gratin, which has been a winning meal every time we've shared it with company. Again, its protein component is eggs. (If you're worried about cholesterol, maybe this will help.) So if we enjoy making eggs the "meat" of our meals, I have to try to stretch the dozen in baking. Some egg-replacers that have worked well for me (all personally tried): 1 T white vinegar; 1 T flax seed meal+3T h2o; or for 2 eggs: 3T h2o+2t bk. powder (mix until fizzy)+ 3T oil.
7. Give thanks often for cinnamon and garlic-- These two little spices are amazing!! I love the taste, but they're also powerhouses of help to us Cursed humans. They can aid just about any ailment. Read up on cinnamon here if you want, but if you don't want to, know that they are WONDERFUL at killing candida yeast. Anyone struggling to get re-balanced after a round of anti-biotics, or bad yeast infection, double dose by putting cinnamon in your yogurt. It cured me after 2 years of struggle, all at once... amazing. It also stabilizes blood sugar, making the consequenses of a sweet treat far less devastating. Cinnamon-honey toast can actually be sort of healthy!!! :) Garlic is a tremendous antiseptic, heavily used in WW1 when penecillin was too recently developed to keep up with the demands of the war. Not a single case of gangrene was reported when garlic was applied. It's also helpful if taken at the onset of a cold...and a variety of other things. Dude, if it can fight gangrene, it can fight anything!! It's also great as an expactorant. We eat a lot of garlic-- last night Ryan said I'm addicted. :) I will say that Ryan has not been sick since we got married, and has had a far later onset of allergies than most years... maybe it's the garlic?
8. Stick with non-non-stick. Pans, that is. Yes, the main danger comes when EMPTY non-stick pans are heated. And if you accidentally scrape through the lining with a metal object. If it's that easy to screw up, or that controversial, I'm sticking with stainless steel until I work up the nerve to get a cast-iron skillet. Right before I went to register for my cookware, my friend Ed Watkins told me never, EVER to get the non-stick stuff. Since he's been a chemist for 30+ years, and is very suspicious of anything "health-food-sounding" (it took him years to give up gluten, for instance), I believed him, and have learned to cook that way...and how to clean up when I still don't put quite enough oil in there. :)
9. Invest in local, raw honey. Not only is it a great way to help your local economy-- that farmer you buy it from is an actual person, with bills to pay and probably a family to feed-- it's also a far healthier sweetner than refined white sugar is. The key phrase here is raw. Once it's heated, all the valuable enzymes and glyconutrients are killed, and you're left with sucrose, just like sugar. When it's local to your area, it's a great way to immuninize yourself to the local allergens, reducing the misery of allergy season. Local honey is far more likely to be raw, and also far more likely to be affordable than raw honey you find in WholeFoods or the local health store. Look around at Farmer's Markets, and little shops...ask around; you'll probably find someone who makes a little extra income keeping bees. [Ryan & I LOVE Dr. Orrick's honey around here!!] Last honey plug: I just read a column in Parenting Magazine encouraging parents to give their tots a T of honey to soothe a cough/sore throat, instead of cough syrup, which isn't proving very good for small children.
10. Love vinegar -- this stuff is amazing. My grandmother gave me a book on vinegar as a wedding gift that has been downright inspiring! You can use it to make eggs creamier, or even replace them. It helps hard-boiled eggs be easier to peel, and draws out the nutrients of bone marrow in bone broths. It helps grains & beans ferment, and when combined with baking soda in recipes, it makes baked goods rise (often elusive for us gluten-free chefs). Use it in milk to replace buttermilk in a pinch. A little brown sugar, olive oil & salt, and you've got an emergency salad dressing. It's an effective counter disinfectant and bug deterrant (kills cockroaches straight up), and can be made into a solution that pours right into your Swiffer mop. Raw cider vinegar in water makes a tonic that I found to really helped me clear out sinus congestion, and amazingly it settles stomachs instead of aggravating them (even though it's an acid)-- it isn't even bad tasting! What else can it do?
(1)"No matter how unsaturated the oils are that go into margarine, they are made more saturated by the very process that turns them into a harder spread. Most brands of margarine do not disclose the percentage of saturated fat they contain, and even though they contain no cholesterol, they still stimulate your body to make cholesterol when you eat them. [...] Butter is basically a natural product, and its fatty acids are structurally similar to the fatty acids in our bodies. The heat and chemicals used to transform vegetable oils into margarine change fatty acids into unnatural forms that may be most unhealthy to eat." (--Dr. Andrew Weil, Univ. of Arizona College of Medicine, "Margarine Vs. Butter")
(2) How to make whey: take a carton of whole-milk plain yogurt, one with live active cultures in it (organic from raw is best). Line a colander/strainer with a clean dishtowel, and place over a bowl. Dump the yogurt in, cover it, and leave it dripping at least a few hours in a warm room. The drips are whey, which should be refrigerated in a glass jar when they're done dripping out. Tie up the dishcloth over a wooden spoon (so it looks like a hobo sack) and set it over a pitcher overnight to get the last bit of whey out. What's left in the cloth is cream cheese-- lower in all the bad stuff and higher in good bacteria than Philadelphia's for sure!! [Here's another woman's attempt to explain the process.] It will keep in the fridge for about a month. The whey will keep for 6 months.
(3)"Grains require careful preparation because they contain a number of antinutrients that can cause serious health problems. Phytic acid, for example, is an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound. It is mostly found in the bran or outer hull of seeds. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss. [...]Other antinutrients in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness. [...] When grains are properly prepared through soaking, sprouting or sour leavening, the friendly bacteria of the microscopic world do some of our digesting for us in a container, just as these same lactobacilli do their work in the first and second stomachs of the herbivores. " (Weston Price, "Be Kind to Your Grains")--all this except the gluten part was news to me, though I'd tasted the wonders of pre-soaked rice before and was amazed. I highly recommend reading that article.
(4) "Plastic containers may seem convenient, but they can leave your foods exposed to "plasticizers," the chemicals used to shape your storage items." (Sandra Foschi, "Save Your Spread")