Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great Article on Simple Changes to "Healthify" Old Favorites

Love a recipe but know it isn't the greatest for you?  Check out this post over on Passionate Homemaking!  These are all great steps and tidbits to help you take one step at a time towards healthier living!

Along a similar vein, but much more in-depth and thorough is the eBook Healthy Homemaking; one step at a time, by Stephenie Langford (Keeper of the Home).  I have it and immediately thought of about 25 people who would love it!

Off to make dinner, speaking of cooking!  I came home to an empty fridge and an overflowing garden! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

San Antonio- the personal side

(note the blueberry-stained fingers)

Jane (2) & Eowyn (21 months) were great friends, when they weren't screaming at each other, of course.

Sweet Ryan playing with a favorite toy

A heart-to-heart

Girl time!

Looking at animal pictures on Mr Aaron's iPhone

We snuck in and captured them talking quietly in Jane's "house"

How did they get to be SO CUTE!??

Matching cuteness down on the Riverwalk.
(I made these matching dresses out of an outdated outfit of my grandma's, and we got compliments all day!)

Jenny & I by the San Antonio canal.  We ate at the Rainforest Cafe-- the BEST place to take kids EVER!
I wish we had gotten pictures of them dancing like crazy in the Rainforest Cafe... it was amazing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Overview from San Antonio

Remember the Alamo!
Eowyn and I are enjoying a visit to our friends the Montgomerys in San Antonio, TX.  Jenny (the Mrs. of the family) and I first became friends through our church's ladies mentoring ministry, called (rather cheesily, I must say) "Spiritual Friends."  Both of us were believers, newly-weds, working women, and newly moved to Louisville from out-of-state.  We also both loved scrapbooking, good books, and chocolate.  Over the next four years (and three babies between us) we spent hundreds of ours together, either at Book Club, church,  watching movies together when our husbands worked late, scrapbooking, or eating, or drinking her precisely-brewed hot chocolate (still don't know anyone who can beat it), or at mother's play group outings.  The last year or so of her time in Louisville we started getting together every Wednesday afternoon to scrapbook/craft while our babies napped.  We got quite a bit done, and managed to discuss everything from child-rearing to Harry Potter to recipes and everything in between-- frustrations and fears, struggles and dreams, and the slap-happy laughing that comes to sleep-deprived moms pushed slightly above the limit of sanity.  Our husbands bonded over computers, Drupal, good food & drink, rock music and a shared alma mater (both are Boyce College grads).

Then she moved suddenly.  I was out of town when she called me with the news.  We'd known this day was coming, but not so soon (isn't that how it always is?).  I hurried home across 4 state lines to help her finish packing and load up the car.  Our families shared a final meal of Moe's take-out on their living room floor amidst the final odds & ends of their former life.

I've missed Jenny a lot.  Eowyn and Jane are 9 months apart, nearly to the day, and have always played very well together (well, when they weren't trying to strangle each other).  And my scrapbooking has suffered.  So when Jenny had the brilliant idea of bringing us out to San Antonio for a week, I could NOT say no!  They have very generously entertained us for the past 5 days, and we have more planned for our last 3!  Here are some pics (clips of childish cuteness to follow) so you can enjoy our Texas Adventure with us!

Eowyn playing with her cloth paper-doll on the flight over.

Practicing for life with triplets? (at a play house called Just Add Children)

Power shoppers

These live oaks are so beautiful in a rugged, twisted way.

Pretty much sweet cuteness incarnate, Ryan (13 mos)

Our favorite way to beat the heat!

VERY typical:  Ryan trying to literally dive in head-first, Jane playing safely OUTSIDE the pool.

Eowyn's response to me taking a picture "No!!!" 

The downtown Riverwalk (I'm a fan!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Second "Frontier" Fave: Raw Milk Yogurt

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on Just-Fruit "Frontier" Jam, here is the technique I regularly use to make our yogurt.  Thank you to my friend Randi for the know-how on this one!  I also referred to Nourishing Traditions, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Internal Bliss and these tutorials (1, 2 & 3).
Step 1:  Get out a half-gallon of fresh, raw, creamy milk from a source you trust-- grass fed and organic are not optional here. 

Step 2:  Gently heat the milk to between 101 and 118 degrees F.  You don't want to go above 118 or else you will start killing the enzymes in the milk (thence kind of defeating the purpose of starting with raw milk, though of course it's still going to be better than most milk).  The first time I did this I borrowed a friend's meat thermometer and stopped at precisely 110 degrees, noting how hot it felt on my pinky.  Since then I guesstimate.  It's about the right temp when you stick your finger in and it feels hot-- too hot to keep in for long but not so hot you scald yourself.  The milk should not be boiling or frothing.   I use a wooden spoon to stir it every so often.  The milk heats up rather quickly.

Meanwhile, have your yogurt starter waiting in the bottom of the jars you'll use.  Most sources recommend about 2 T of yogurt as a starter for a half gallon.  I now guesstimate; a bit more or less doesn't seem to really make that much difference.  You do want enough to jump start the fermentation, but not so much that it all turns to whey.

Step 3:  As soon as the milk reaches 110, pour a little into the jar(s) with the starter in them, and stir.  This warms the starter up a bit so it isn't shocked by the hot milk.  Then pour in the rest of the milk.  Stir gently a few times.  Quickly put the jars into a cooler stuffed with towels for insulation.  Leave to incubate over night.  I usually put it in the fridge in the morning so it doesn't get too tangy.

Optional Step 4- Thickening the Yogurt: I usually do this with half of the yogurt if it's too runny-- strain it through a coffee filter in a strainer over a glass bowl for a few hours.  Keep the liquid (whey) and use it in smoothies, soaking grains, baking or as a probiotic supplement (it's tangy and not bad tasting).  The yogurt remaining will be as thick and creamy as you want it to be.  If you let it keep dripping then you'll end up with raw cream cheese (yum!!).  I don't bother dripping the yogurt we use for smoothies since it gets slushed up anyway! :)

My favorite ways to enjoy yogurt are with just-fruit jam in it and a dusting of cinnamon, or with fresh or frozen berries, cinnamon, ginger and raw honey or Grade B maple syrup drizzled on it.  Eowyn is quite a fan as well!

Friday, June 17, 2011

First "Frontier" (i.e. Low-Tech) Fave: Jam

As many of you know, I long for the days of the homesteader, and dream of one day having our own little farm on a few acres of land, growing enough to feed a sizeable brood of people-chicks as well as a cow, a few goats, chickens, a dog or two and a passel of cats.  In the meantime, we have one child, no pets, and a small city lot.  I make up for the lack of mouths to feed by taking in as many guests as possible-- we have several adopted "family" members regularly around our table, and, like my mama taught me, I find great joy in making sure nobody goes home hungry or lonesome.  I also try to do as much "low-tech," DIY as possible.  (I'm even venturing into the realm of furniture and jobs involving... hacksaws, gulp).  If Ma Ingalls couldn't buy it, I don't like using it.  Usually.  The occasional frappucino is an exception.

Slowly I'm adding more and more kitchen jobs to my own bag of tricks (though it's nice to know I can grab them from a store shelf in a pinch).  It started with buying dry beans instead of canned, moved on to getting a little coffee grinder to grind my own grains, trying my hand at fermentation of water kefir, soaking, seasoning & drying my own nuts, and most recently expanded to making my own nut butters, nut milk & nut pulp (and nut milk lattes, yum!).   Two new successes and now-Szrama staples are raw milk yogurt and fresh fruit preserves.  They are SO simple and low-tech that they make me happy, and I thought I'd share them with others since I had difficulty in tracking down precise instructions online.

In the spirit of eating seasonally, Eowyn & I recently picked a bumper crop of local strawberries-- juicy, sweet, and red.  Along with pies, strawberry ice cream and plenty of strawberries & cream, I sliced & froze a gallon for smoothies, then tried my hand at jam-making.  The following technique is a result of a plea for help on FB, and I am indebted to my friend Megan for the knowledge.
Just Fruit Jam
Step One: wash your berries. Aim for a mix of very-ripe (sweet!) berries, moderately ripe berries, and a good many underripe (still have green tips) berries.  The less ripe, the more natural pectin they contain.

Step 2: Cut the berries in half and bring to a boil.  I left mine on the heat about 30 minutes, stirring almost constantly.  In the mean time wash and sanitize your glass jars.

Step 3:  Boil your lids & rings.  Keep them boiling until you slap them on the jars.  (I used a few standard metal lids for giving away, but mostly used reusable plastic Tattler lids.)

Step 4:  Prepare your hot water bath.  You need to have enough water boiling to cover 1" over the tops of your jars, and there needs to be something keeping the jars off the bottom of the pot.  I used my pasta insert and it barely fit in 6 jars & their water.

Step 5:  Pour the cooked fruit into the jars, leaving about 1" headroom and wiping down the rims.  Put a lid on top and a ring screwed on securely but not as tight as it will go.  Immerse the fruit into the hot water bath and boil for 10-15 minutes.

Step 6:  Pull jars out and allow to cool over a 12-hr period.  Their lids should all sink in, indicating an airtight seal.  If one doesn't, refrigerate it and let it be the first one you eat!

Step 7: Admire! Ta-Da!! I did a second batch with mulberries and a few crisp apples cooked with the strawberries.  My thought was that the mulberries add sweetness and the apples add pectin, so we'll see how the texture between the pure strawberries & mul-straw-apple berries compares.

EDIT:  It's been a few months, and we've popped open and enjoyed two VERY YUMMY jars of this jam!  THe mul-stra-apple jam is very "normal" in texture, quite sweet, and very yummy.  I loved finding chunks of fruit in it, but some folks may want a more uniform texture-- I'd suggest using a potato masher (boiled to sanitize) right before putting the fruit into jars.  Still haven't tried the just-strawberries yet.  Will update when I do!

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Few Good (GAPS) Meals

These are meals we've either eaten or that I have planned for this coming week.  I've used Internal Bliss, the cookbook that came with the GAPS book, Nourishing Traditions, and recipes I've adapted for GAPS-friendliness (substituting almond meal for breadcrumbs, things like that).  When we've had company over (which has actually occurred quite frequently, and Ryan's parents were here for 8 days!), I usually added a garden salad and garlic bread, and E & I just didn't eat that.

I'll do it this way-- rather than listing out each meal as a meal, I'll just list the main dishes, sides & desserts separately.  Especially in the first 2 weeks, I rotated the same few dishes quite a bit.

Main dishes: 
-- baked salmon (lemon, garlic, paprika, sea salt, pepper, olive oil),
-- roast chicken (butter, fresh herbs from the garden, sea salt & pepper) baked with veggies (carrots, broccoli, onion, celery, and squash)
-- beef-broth soup
-- Jean's Meatloaf with homemade tomato sauce
-- spaghetti squash "noodles" with fresh tomato sauce
--meat (chicken, duck, pork loin) roasted with veggies (broccoli, carrot, onion & carrot)
-- nut pancakes (made with pumpkin, eggs & peanut butter) spread with chicken or tuna salad (onion, celery, homemade raw mayo, dill weed, sea salt, garlic powder, lemon juice)
-- almond crust sausage pizza
-- ommlettes (bacon & cheese, cheese, sour cream & veggie...)
-- eggs & bacon or sausage (Eowyn's favorite)
-- smoothies!!-- two favorites have been "pumpkin pie" and "peanut butter"-- now that we can eat fruit the variety is endless
-- curried chicken (also curried beef) with carrots, onion, broccoli & zucchini-- SO GOOD!
-- Mexican-style green salad (greens, tomato, salsa, cheese, sour cream, beef bologna)

-- carrots julienne
-- roasted mashed carrots (with sea salt & cultured cream... wow)-- so sweet they taste candied!
-- cream of brocolli soup (homemade stock, cultured cream, broc & onions)
-- grilled cheese apples  (SO good!!  just slice apples, top with cheese, and broil/toast/bake!)
-- kale chips of various flavors
-- steamed broccoli with garlic & herbs
-- jalapeno cheese buscuits
-- hazelnut & seed crackers
-- real (lacto-fermented) saurkraut (cabbage & carrots) & pickles (just salt, water, peppercorn & pickling cucumbers)
-- zucchini sauteed in tallow (yum!)-- Eowyn adored these and ate them like chips
-- fresh fruits & veggies like always  (including the first lettuce from our garden!)
-- apple sauce with liver (Eowyn alone eats this... and she loves it.  I am not quite so brave.  I do intend to learn to cook and like liver, though... soon.)

-- nut pancakes (made with pumpkin/squash, eggs & peanut butter)spread with butter & all-fruit jam or maple syrup
-- strawberry ice cream, coconut ice cream (coconut milk, cultured cream, raw milk & maple syrup)
-- strawberry-rhubarb custard pie (the crust was the trickiest, but I managed & will post a recipe soon); also blueberry-rhubarb custard pie
-- mulberry crumble
-- dried fruits (I'm starting to make my own in our dehydrator)
-- "Lara bars" (the easiest "cookie" ever, and the best way to sneak nutrition into your diet
-- hazelnut milk latte
--  stewed apples (apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger & butter)

If anyone wants any particular recipes, feel free to ask!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

GAPS Intro

Many of you know that Eowyn & I (and, when he eats with us, Ryan) are on a long-term diet called the 'Gut and Psychology Syndrome' diet, or GAPS diet.  Its goal is to heal the gut, in four ways:  (1) giving it a "break" from anything hard to digest during the Intro stage, (2) replenish the bacteria ("gut flora") necessary for proper digestion, immune function, overall and mental health (3) starve off opportunistic yeasts & harmful bacteria ("bad gut flora"), and (4) provide foods rich in healing properties and nutrients.  It's been used to successfully treat many types of chronic conditions, from dyslexia to autism (ASDs) to epilepsy to acid reflux.  Quite a tall order for a diet, which is why those who go on it expect to stick to it for at least 18 months- 2 years, longer for long-established problems.  Properly-prepared gluten-free grains may be reintroduced if desired after that point (2ish years) in addition to GAPS-approved foods.

So what kinds of foods hurt the gut?  First off, SUGAR-- so no refined sugar in any forms, and limited natural sugars (in the earliest stages of the Introduction diet dried fruits & most fresh fruits are eliminated).  Also grains, raw fibrous veggies at first (until the gut is mostly healed) improperly prepared beans, nuts & lentils, and anything processed (no MSG, no artificial flavorings, no propa-hexa-muta-gora-bora-bora... you get the idea).  Fertilizers, pesticides, and other remnants of commercial farming make their way into foods and upset guts trying to heal, so as much as can be bought organic should be.  The fresher the better, too!

What heals the gut?  Lots of bone broths & stocks, fermented foods (saurkraut- which I HAVE learned to like, natural pickles... AMAZING, yogurt, kombucha, kefirs of all kinds), ginger, coconut & natural, whole-food fats (ghee, butter, tallow, lard, olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, and cream once dairy is introduced).  While pasteurized dairy is not allowed, raw milk & cream, and fermented dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, pima cream & most cheeses are encouraged.  I've had fun learning to make my own of most of the above-- thanks to modern appliances, most is REALLY easy!  (For those familiar with Weston A. Price's work, or with the Whole/Traditional Foods or Slow Cooking movements, it's like a WAPF diet without grains and most beans, with extra emphasis on fermented foods.)

Anyway, it is a learning curve, and many people get about a month into the diet and get super bored.  If you're used to cooking a lot of grain-based meals it's definitely intimidating.  Eowyn & I went through the six-step Introduction Cycle in 2 weeks, which is kind of the minimum suggested.  While both of us had warning signs of imbalanced gut flora-- for me, my Celiac's disease, bad morning sickness during pregnancy, recurrent ear infections (3 in as many months after 20 years without them) and the beginnings of renewed yeast imbalances (urg, after being free for 4 years!!!) were signs.  For Eowyn, signs that my bad gut flora had been passed on to her (through delivery and subsequent breast-feeding) were severe enough acid reflux to be prescribed medication (HUGE RED FLAG IN BABIES!!!), and food reactions (to blueberries, to peanuts, to wheat, to who knew what).  What's motivated me?  Well, the recurrent ear infections were getting annoying, and my doctor was about to refer me to an ENT, because "adults aren't supposed to get ear infections."  While regular chiropractic care was keeping the fluid draining enough to delay infection, I could still feel the fluid in my ears all the time.  Also, if I do get pregnant in this coming year, I'll do ANYTHING to avoid morning sickness, and ANYTHING to try and pass on GOOD gut flora to my next baby!! 

I highly recommend Dr McBride's book Gut & Psychology Syndrome, for anyone interested in nutrition, mental health, learning disabilities, and child-rearing in general.  Actually, truth be told I think all moms should read it.  In our generation, it's become normal to be prescribed anti-nausea medication during pregnancy and to need to either radically change your diet while nursing (no dairy, no chocolate, no peanuts, etc) or give your baby Prevacid for 5 months, and food intolerances or learning disabilities in kids are ubiquitous.

Next is a list of meals that have worked for us, lest anyone think we are starving (and for anyone who's on GAPS and would like some fresh ideas!).

PS- so far, Eowyn has shown NO reactions to any of the foods she seemed to react to before!!  She's eating all sorts of nuts, including peanuts, all berries, and hasn't had red cheeks or diaper rash at all!  Praise the Lord!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Imagining Grief

Kind of as a follow-up to the post I wrote a few days ago, here is a link to an insightful blog post (by Molly Piper) on the value of imagining another's grief as a way to attempt to enter into it with them, instead of just saying "I can't even imagine," and walking off.  (Thank you, Mary Scott, for the lead!)

I'd also like to clarify and say that I DO definitely think there's a time and place to share our griefs.  I don't think we need (or want to) tell everyone we see, even at church, just how we hurt and why.  Though there is room for that -- like in my pregnant-woman-illustration-- and it does breed humility and honesty as Ashlea pointed out in the comments (please read hers-- it is really good stuff), I was thinking of closer circles of friends, such as a church small group, family member, or best friend. 

Personal bent-  my best friend, already long married, was grappling with infertility (and the difficulty of being a "seminary widow") while I was bopping along as a college student.  She still shared her pain with me, and I did my best to enter into it and try to encourage her (and pray hard that God would give her a child!), through poetry and Scripture and silly socks and all the things that good friends do together (like almost setting the kitchen on fire making falafel).  Later, when she miscarried, I did my best to listen and to assure her that God was still good, remembering what had most comforted me in my own 'dark night of the soul.'  I found it so encouraging that she said my words actually were exactly what she needed to hear, not because "I'd been there," but because I'd known pain, and I know the Comforter.  In our own church small group we don't break up singles and marrieds, nor those with kids and without them (we do often split up guy-girl), and it's really sweet to hear people praying fervently on behalf of others for pain and hardships they've never personally experienced-- the healthy young mom praying for the ailing older woman; the married woman praying for God's guidance for a single girl struggling to know her role & future; the college kid praying for the mom at her wit's end with two-year-old tantrums. 

So please don't misunderstand; I think there is HUGE need for sensitivity and consideration, and I do NOT mean to say that every stay-at-home mom should call up her single friend and moan to her about how hard it is to stay home every day, when she knows that that's exactly what her single friend wants more than anything in the world.  I do mean that if her friend loves her, then she will ask how she is doing, and in that moment it would not be wrong for the tired mom to be honest

Ok, baby crying... gotta go!  Please, keep the comments and interaction coming!