Tuesday, April 30, 2013

farm show treats

Eldest and I have become addicted to farming shows. It started with Tales from the Green Valley two winters ago and moved through Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm and quite recently Wartime Farm. (I wasn't as big a fan of Wartime Farm. Tales from the Green Valley was really my favourite.) Then we discovered River Cottage and recently finished all the River Cottage shows. In the middle there, we found Australian show Gourmet Farmer, which is A LOT like early River Cottage but in Tasmania.

Now we don't know what to watch. So it was a great thrill to discover (thanks Wikipedia!) that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Mr. River Cottage himself, did a few other shows. We're currently gobbling up Treats from the Edwardian Country House, and I'm looking forward to checking out A Cook on the Wild Side whenever we can get a hold of it (it's not on youtube). Pretty much all of the others are on youtube. If you're in Ontario, Wartime Farm is on TVO too. Gourmet Farmer was, ahem, a little harder to get a hold of. Also, be warned that there's a lot of butchering and even some slaughtering on some of those shows. It was a little disturbing in the beginning, but personally, I feel it's important to see, that it's an important reality of eating meat.

Anyone else watch farming shows? Can you recommend any new titles for us?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

not all dairy is created equal, or things I wish I had known

I first went off dairy in December 2011 at the advice of our (long-gone) paediatrician. She said Youngest's problems were likely a sudden, mild dairy intolerance. She didn't actually recommend I eliminate dairy because it was such a mild intolerance but I could see my baby wasn't doing well, so I gave it a try. It didn't make a whole lot of difference to Youngest, although his skin got a little better, but I noticed, after the first week of feeling like hell, that *I* felt MUCH better.

The following February, I connected with a naturopath, because it was clear that Youngest still wasn't doing well, and I wasn't sure what else to try eliminating. She guided me in eliminating pretty much everything. His symptoms all cleared up, and so we carefully tested a bunch of foods that had been eliminated. I was really looking forward to the dairy challenge and I planned a big dairy-stravaganza. I had oatmeal cooked with milk for breakfast and a yogurt-blueberry smoothie for a snack. Then homemade (gluten-free) macaroni and cheese for lunch and the plan was to have it for dinner too. But by the time dinner came around, I was feeling so horribly ill, I couldn't face any more dairy. Youngest also reacted to the dairy.

In the summer, when Youngest still wasn't thriving despite having eliminated all the seeming culprits, the naturopath suggested we try him on cheese and yogurt separately to try to get some more calorie-rich foods into him. We found he could tolerate yogurt but not cheese. Strangely, she didn't suggest giving him butter.

Since then, I have learned a few things about the potential allergens in dairy products, and they are not all created equal. People seem very quick to jump on the elimination bandwagon, but I'm not convinced it's the safest course of action. I know for myself, I tried eliminating everything before I'd given even a moment's thought to how I might replace those nutrients in my diet. I suspect, in as gentle and non-blaming a way as I can, that eliminating all those foods so suddenly contributed to Youngest's malnourishment. It certainly wreaked havoc with my milk supply. So I guess I'm saying I think it's worth considering adding in as much non-allergenic, protein-rich foods into your diet before you start taking away gluten and dairy.

Anyways... here is what I wish I had known when I first started eliminating dairy. I suspect I have a lactose intolerance. Lactose is the sugar in milk. Our family doctor keeps talking about it being a fat, but it is not. I've also heard people talk about how their babies were lactose-intolerant and so they too had to cut out dairy, but that is highly unlikely, as breastmilk is full of lactose. Most babies react to the protein in cow's milk, of which there are two: casein and whey. Most babies who can't tolerate cow's milk, also can't tolerate sheep or goat's milk, but that is not something I have actually tested myself (yet).

Butter is the least allergenic dairy product. It has very little lactose in it and almost no protein. It does have some milk solids in it, which may contain traces of lactose and protein in it that can cause reactions in some people but not usually many. If you can't tolerate butter, unless you have an anaphylactic allergy, you will definitely be able to tolerate ghee or clarified butter (so says my dietician who has a PhD so I trust her on these matters). As I learned recently in Jennifer McLagan's book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, (a wonderful book that I highly recommend) clarified butter is not the same thing as ghee. I haven't actually made either (yet) as butter has been fine on its own for both me and Youngest.

And while I'm on the subject of butter, in case you didn't know, it is an amazing health food. Vegetable oils are devoid of vitamin and the oxidize easily, making dangerous free radicals that can hurt your cells. But butter is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, especially if it's made from the milk of grass-fed cows. I have found a local source of butter and I believe the cows are grazed during the months of green grass. I buy Nutri-Springs butter from the Stone Store here in town, but one day I plan to go out to the farm to pick up more of their offerings. Here is an article from the Weston Price Foundation with more of butter's health benefits. The 'science' that generated the Lipid Hypothesis (the idea that animal fats are the cause of heart disease) was completely wrong. You can google it if you want and read until the cows come home.

Yogurt is probably the next least allergenic dairy product, but not all yogurts are created equal. Because it's fermented, both the lactose and the casein are much more digestible. Watch the ingredients though. Many times, especially in low-fat yogurts, milk solids are added back in after fermentation, which means you're getting a whack of lactose and casein without the benefit of fermentation. Low-fat yogurts also have a host of other ingredients, so I always go full-fat. My favourite yogurt, which is also relatively local and available at the Stone Store, is Saugeen Country yogurt. They use whole milk, unhomogenized but pasteurized, so you get little bits of cream that float to the top. Their website is really well-written and informative to boot, so they get bonus points from me.

All cheese has casein in it, I'm pretty sure. I admit I haven't done a ton of research in this area, but harder cheeses have very lactose in them, thanks to the fermentation. Unfortunately, my dear chevre has lots of lactose in it. I spoke to a goat farmer at our market recently, who himself is lactose-intolerant, and he can't tolerate his own chevre either. How sad! I also discovered this from personal experience. But he assured me his older, harder cheeses are tolerable. Which makes me think that all those jokes on Big Bang Theory about poor Leonard's lactose-intolerance are inaccurate. But what do I know? Everyone's different. I'm pretty sure cottage cheese is terrible for lactose but I haven't actually tested it myself or done much research, since I don't particularly miss it.

If I had to do it over again, I would have just eliminated milk and cheese to start, and left yogurt and butter in, since they are good sources of probiotics and vitamins, respectively. I think eliminating whole food groups from your diet should be done with great care and foresight. The dietician suspects that Youngest's intolerances are really secondary; his damaged gut is the primary problem, and gluten, soy and dairy proteins are the hardest for any gut to break down, especially once it's damaged. I think that gut problems are widespread, and perhaps that is the first thing to address, before eliminating foods wholesale. But that's just me.

I've heard a number of people say things like, "It's not rocket science," when talking about nutrition. Having a severely malnourished child, possibly due, at least in part, to my own lack of nourishment before and during pregnancy, gives me a different perspective. I think nutrition IS kind of rocket science. Especially since so much bad science, coupled with heavy lobbying from industry interests and strong marketing and advertising tactics, has pretty much destroyed any food culture we had. In my own family, I would have to go back to my great-grandmother's recipes, at least, to find real food.

So... I hope if you're considering eliminating dairy, or if you already have, this gives you some extra things to think about and some new ideas to try. I definitely think it's a good thing to try to figure out exactly what element of dairy causes you problems, so perhaps you can invite some other dairy products back into your life. I myself am in much happier with yogurt and butter back in my life.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Last year, we didn't really get any peas in our garden. By the time the pods were plumping up, it was too hot and the poor plant turned yellow and died. But the fresh peas we bought from local farmers were so amazing, I am determined to try again. Last Monday it was mild and the sun came out for about an hour when the kids and I were free. So we headed over to the garden plots to see how they came through the winter, and I thought, in a fit of foolish optimism and dark vegetable cravings, why not throw in some beet, chard and pea seeds if it's not too wet? After all, the packets say to plant them as soon as the ground can be worked. The soil was moist but not mushy or mucky (the other big mistake learning opportunity I made last summer when I tried to plant beet seeds in too-wet soil), and we'd even beaten the weeds, so I threw in a row of each. I knew there was pretty good chance it wouldn't work out, so I still have seeds left, but maybe we'd get lucky and have the first chard and beets and peas of the season.

Well... I haven't actually checked on them, because it just feels too ridiculously hopeful, after days of heavy rain and a big two-day ice storm. Surely the poor things have rotted in the ground? Or have they? If anyone with knowledge of these things reads this, please share your thoughts.

Friday, April 12, 2013

surfacing from sourdough

I am no longer suffocating in sourdough! (AND 19 of my celeriac germinated!) On Easter weekend we went to my parents' place and I put the sourdough starter in the fridge and hoped for the best. It was just fine when I got home, so I left it in the fridge and I'm only feeding it about every three days or so. Which is much less expensive and also gives me more freedom in the kitchen, or elsewhere. Truth be told, I didn't really like any of the gluten-free sourdough breads I made. And I had to make so many sourdough buckwheat pancakes and sourdough muffins to keep up with the starter, that I had no room to eat the sourdough bread. I think I will keep the starter, but maybe I just don't need a lot of bread in my life at the moment. The sourdough pancakes are totally here to stay.

One of the things I like about the sourdough way is that it splits the labour. You spend a few minutes before bed mixing some starter, flour and water for pancakes the next morning, leave it in the oven with the light on overnight and then add fat, eggs, sweetener, salt and some baking soda in the morning before cooking. You mix some starter with oats and flour and just enough water to make dampen it all after breakfast, and then during naptime that afternoon or after dinner, you add other stuff to make muffins. There's a pleasant, slow rhythm about it all. I adapted my favourite banana bread recipe first to be gluten-free then to be sourdough and they're ok. Pretty nice I guess. Moist with a nice texture, although slightly cakier than I would prefer.

Baking has a reputation for requiring absolute precision but I have found that is not true if you loosen your expectations a little. If all you expect is something that is mostly like a muffin and kind of sweet, it's very easy to meet it, and you can take a fair amount of liberty. The last batch of muffins I made I measured the oats, sourdough starter and flour, butter, brown sugar (approximately) and eggs - oh and the baking powder and baking soda (the sourdough probably does add leavening but not enough to fly solo. I just sub the starter for a cup of the flour and half a cup of the water in the recipe). But I didn't measure the pumpkin (probably a cup and a half) or vanilla extract (probably a tablespoon - I made the extract myself last year and it's pretty weak) and I added a whole grated carrot just because. And they came out fine. I did warn a guest that they were a bit odd, but that was more because of the sourdough thing.

I've been exploring the sourdough thing because I'm thinking about only eating soaked or soured grains. My youngest has two extra teeth crowded on top and late last fall we noticed a few dark spots on the most crowded. It must be tooth decay. And one of his teeth is chipped and just today I noticed there is less tooth than yesterday or the day before. Given his nutritionally-deficient past and foods we are avoiding, it just makes sense to me that there is a dietary cause and potential cure. My googling led me quickly to Cure Tooth Decay, but I was skeptical. Then Owlet mentioned it and the diet they adopted. Last week a mother in the homeschool group mentioned that she loved the book and was two months into its most extreme program and she had already noticed a big difference. She lent me the book and I'm nearing the end. I hope to write more about it when I'm done. In the meantime I will say that it's VERY compelling. And as much as I shy away from 'extreme' diets that seek to cut out whole groups of foods, I think I shy away a lot more from dental surgery on my young toddler. One of the things I like about the book and its suggestions is that it is not dogmatic. It encourages you at every turn to do what feels right to you, and the website has testimonials from people who didn't go whole hog but still saw major improvements.

I will say that if we do adopt (more) major changes to our diet (now that we've mostly normalized the last year's changes), I will develop a strategy and add in new foods before removing any. If I had to go back to last spring and do it all over again, I don't know if I would jump on the elimination diet and identifying intolerances. Our dietician suspects that Youngest's intolerances are really secondary, because his gut was so poorly it just couldn't digest gluten, soy and casein - the hardest proteins to digest. We're back on corn now -- I think that was a nonstarter all along, but tomatoes seem slightly iffy. It's also possible that eliminating those foods so suddenly, without getting comfortable with their replacements could have made his deficiencies worse.

Anyways... I don't think I will eliminate grains totally but I may prepare them all better to make them more digestible. And I may try to eliminate refined sugar but I think I very much want to keep honey and maple syrup in my life. But first it's time to add lots more vegetables.

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Here is my favourite banana bread recipe. If you make muffins instead of a loaf reduce the baking time by at least half and possibly more depending on your muffin holder thingie (I don't want to say tin since there are so many other materials).

Banana Oat Loaf 

1/2 c butter or marg
3/4 c brown sugar
1 c rolled oats
1/2 c hot water
1 c mashed bananas (3-4, the riper the better, I never measure)
3/4 c chopped nuts(optional)
2 eggs beaten
2 c flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (I usually reduce this a bit)
I add chocolate chips as well (3/4 c-1 c? I just eyeball it)

Place soft butter, sugar, oats, hot water, mashed bananas and nuts in large bowl. Stir until well blended. Add beaten eggs. Beat until well blended. Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt; add to first mixture all at once and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.(if desired) Spoon evenly into greased loaf pan. (9 x 5 x 3 inch) Bake at 350 degrees about 65 minutes or until done. Remove from loaf pan, cool on rack. Let stand for a few hours before slicing (If you can wait that long).

I've also used grated zucchini, carrot, often with some applesauce, grated raw beet, grated apple, pumpkin puree and squash puree in place of the bananas.

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I haven't forgotten about my giveaway. I was hoping to have more than one person enter, and that's kind of why I didn't give a deadline. Feel free to enter now if you're interested. Oh -- and the only entrant so far wanted to know what a schmeck is. Schmeck is actually a verb. It means to taste really, really good.