Monday, April 30, 2012


The other day my husband and I spotted strawberries on sale for $.75/lb. Around here I never see strawberries for less than $3/lb. but $5/lb. is probably typical. Thrilled, my husband loaded up four flats of strawberries that came to 32 lbs.
Our kitchen table à la strawberries.
As my awesome husband did most of the washing, sorting, and leaf-cutting-offing, I bandied about doing random things with strawberries. I sliced and dried as many as would fit in our dehydrator:

Yum. Mr. D loves this.

This resulted in a jar of strawberry candy. It tastes just like strawberry fruit snacks, which brings me to a point about sweet fruits: They are not vegetables. When I say that most fruits are desserts, I am not exaggerating. I mean that they are on a line with my homemade ice cream - somewhat nutritious but with a non-negligible amount of sugar.
Yes, there are vitamins, minerals, enzymes, soluble fiber, and other good things in fruits. There is also a truckload of fructose. Humans have been breeding fruits to be super-sweet for a very long time; paleo fruit was more like crabapples than red delicious apples.

Obviously we still eat fruit, so do not take me as being anti-fruit. It's just that we should moderate our intake of it, not pile on tons of fruit in a vain effort to improve our health. We probably eat about five servings of fruit per week apiece. I typically eat mine in smoothie form.

This 20-quart stockpot was overflowing with berries! 

I got some great ideas from this old post from Simple Bites. I froze four quart jars of strawberries in simple syrup, flavoring one with vanilla beans and another with my homemade lime peel extract.

Most of the rest I flash froze. I had visions of canning pie filling and jam, until I realized that 1) we have a half-eaten, year-old jar of strawberry jam in the refrigerator, so it's not as if we are jam eaters, and 2) we can just make pie with previously frozen berries and then I do not have to decide now how many pies we are likely to eat this year.

Oh, and I used to be confused when I heard talk of flash freezing. It sounded like freezing something really fast but I could never think of how that was accomplished. As it turns out, flash freezing means first freezing the items individually until the outside is frozen enough that they will not stick together. Then it is time to put them all in a container in the freezer to finish freezing. This way your strawberries, for instance, do not freeze into one giant ice brick of strawberries that requires thawing all of them when you want to use a few. Once flash frozen, you should be able to take out as many or as little as you like and leave the rest in the freezer.

Our huge freezer with things like bones, stock, and flour in it.
Finally, one of our two cats found that she likes strawberries for another reason. Cute little Matilda has claimed herself a spot:

Do you have as much fun with incredible deals on food as I do? What are your favorite ways to eat strawberries?

This post is part of Pennywise Platter and Hearth and Soul Blog Hop.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cheese Muffins and Eating Gluten Free at Work

Being gluten free in the workplace is no big deal, but there have been a few things I never anticipated. The reality of being on a severely restricted diet for the rest of my life has made me think in ways I never did about how social eating is.

Business meetings, in particular, typically revolve around food. This means that when I get invited to have lunch as, say, part of an interview day, there might be a restaurant already booked that has nothing there that I can eat! A sit-down restaurant will probably have something that can be made to be gluten free, but it is absolutely necessary to have a detailed discussion with the waiter about everything, which in turn means that the conversation will at least temporarily revolve around something like surprising avenues for gluten cross-contamination. It is a complex issue that most people know just enough about to know what I am talking about and be curious to hear more. Plus, I feel like I have to explain why I am drilling the waiter on whether he has access to the ingredient label for the garlic powder in the chef's seasoning. I suppose this could be a plus if I am trying to show how detail-oriented I am, right? Eh...this is why even though I am not a coffee drinker, I prefer to meet at a coffee place.

Less uncomfortable but sometimes also a challenge is packing my lunch. There is a hidden benefit to this because homemade food is almost inevitably going to be cheaper and healthier than any other option I have, but I run out of ideas fast! Plus, some mornings I get in a rush and want to grab breakfast on my way out the door. This recipe is good for both problems.

There are a lot of lunch ideas out there that revolve around sandwich bread or microwaving things. I am not convinced by anything I have read thus far that microwaving actually damages food in a significant way, but it is a possibility, and at any rate microwaved food tastes funny. Gluten free sandwich bread exists, but I am used to doing without bread and regular bread baking is a hassle to me right now. Some things I do pack are pâte and crackers, leftovers like macaroni and cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and smoothies with coconut milk, egg yolks, yogurt or kefir, and a little fruit. I am always up for more ideas!

Cheese and Egg Muffins
Generously adapted from this recipe from Cheeseslave (the original recipe is also delicious!)
4 large eggs
3 T. coconut flour
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 lb. cheddar cheese

Whisk eggs together, then add coconut flour, sour cream, paprika, and baking powder and whisk until there are no lumps and it is completely blended.

Finely grate the cheese. Stir it in. Grease a muffin pan or line with muffin papers, or if you have silicone muffin cups, just put them on a baking sheet. Fill cups about 2/3 of the way; I love my 3 T. large scoop for muffins, which yields 10 muffins per batch for these. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until the centers are no longer runny. These freeze well and I find that four make a decent lunch.

Does anybody have suggestions for packable, nourishing, no-heat lunches? What other muffins do you like that could make a meal unto themselves?

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Pizza

Pizza dough is a tricky thing to replicate without gluten. I have a busy life in which I want to serve pizza once every week or two but I do not care to build a difficult recipe into my meal planning rotation. So, this is not exactly like regular pizza. It's a different animal. It is more delicate, so it can be difficult to eat with your hands and will not make a very thin crust. The texture and weight of the dough itself is totally different. There is no yeast and no rise. You can make it deep-dish or not. It makes leftovers that are good for days.

We love it.

Any recipe I am going to prepare on a regular basis must be reasonably healthy. With dough like this, you run into the complex issue of grain consumption, which is far more controversial than you may realize unless you are familiar with traditional cooking methods or paleo-style eating. Are you aware of the damages grains, especially whole grains, inflict when consumed by humans? Most grains and seeds contain a host of anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, and other food toxins, such as lectins. The levels of these vary from species to species. If you are not interested in digging into the science behind it, just think of it as plants protecting their babies. They cannot run away or bite back as animals do, but they can develop phytotoxins that make their babies indigestible so they provide no nutrients to their predator and just pass right on through, or even chemicals that damage their hosts so that we learn not to eat them if we are smart, such as things that will damage our thyroids, impair our reproductive health, and cause minerals to leach from us.

Remember that just because a nutrient is present in a food does not mean that it is in a form that you will absorb. If you do not absorb it, it does not count!

Enter Nourishing Traditions. This cookbook by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig is the one actual paper-and-binding cookbook I use and recommend. It's full of basic information about traditional cooking, including modern versions of ways people used to prepare grains to make the nutrients more absorbable and to neutralize some of their harmful substances. Now, none of this renders grains 100% benign, but if you're going to eat them then it is important to make sure your grains are at least doing less harm than good.

One such method is using soaked flour recipes. This means that a soaking time is built into the recipe for the flours to sit for 12-24 hours or so in an acidic and, preferably, probiotic medium. This allows some enzymatic breakdown to occur, neutralizing some harmful compounds. This is not a perfect method, but as part of an overall diet that minimizes plant toxins and is rich in absorbable minerals from animal foods, I think it is an acceptable compromise.

I frequently play around with the flour types and ratios in this recipe and find it relatively forgiving. Here I try to include flour options are relatively easy to come by. I cannot guarantee that any particular substitution will work but I can wink and nod and whisper that there's a good chance it will as long as you substitute with a reasonably similar flour and do not let any one flour dominate the mixture.

Serves about 6 when made as a deep dish. It is more filling than it looks! Half a batch approximately fills a pie pan.

Yogurt Dough Pizza
Adapted from the wheat-based yogurt dough recipe in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig
Dough ingredients:
1/2 lb. butter, completely softened to room temperature
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 t. salt
1 t. guar gum or xanthan gum
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup garbanzo bean/chickpea flour or quinoa flour
1/2 cup almond flour or coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch (this is the same as tapioca flour)
1/2 cup potato starch (this is different from potato flour)
*Note: substituting 3 1/2 cups of an all-purpose gluten free flour mix is likely to work as long as it is not a mix designed for making pastry. If the mix contains guar/xanthan gum you probably do not have to add any separately.

A few suggested toppings:
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups shredded cheese, ideally mozzarella
sautéed onions, peppers, spinach...
cooked diced bacon, cut-up sausage, or other cooked pieces of meat
herbs sprinkled in the cheese, such as thyme

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and yogurt together thoroughly.

In a separate bowl mix all dry ingredients together until uniform. Stir dry ingredients into the yogurt and butter. The resulting dough should be quite thick.

The dough soaking

Cover the bowl lightly with a towel and leave on the counter at room temperature overnight, ideally for 24 hours. This is considered "soaking".

The next day, preheat the oven to 350°F. For a deep dish pizza, press dough into a greased 8"x13"x2" pan. Otherwise, grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper and shape dough as desired.
Or on one of those awesome silicone baking mats!
Dough will be sticky; I use a spatula or wooden spoon, not my hands, for this. Keep in mind that the dough is not going to rise.

Ready for toppings
Remember to pre-cook any toppings you wouldn't eat raw

Prick dough in several places with a fork. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Spread on sauce and add toppings.

Bake about 5 minutes until toppings are heated through and cheese is melted. You can see here we had a lot of my homemade bacon in this one plus herbs and freshly ground black pepper atop the cheese.

Use garlic salt for 2 t. salt and add 1 t. dried basil, 1 t. dried oregano, 2 t. dried parsley, and 1/2 t. ground black pepper to the dough.

How do you like your pizza? Do you eat a lot of grains and seeds? Do you do anything to mitigate their unhealthy effects?

This post is part of Monday Mania, Heart and Soul, Fat Tuesday, Pennywise Platter, and Real Food Wednesday.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Life with Celiac Disease: Diagnosis and Implications

This is the first post in an ongoing series about life with celiac disease. This condition usually starts out with a puzzling array of symptoms that will worsen over time if a gluten free diet is not administered. For many celiacs, like so many people with chronic illness, the process of trying to figure out what is wrong takes years and results in much needless suffering.

I tried to write a brief overview of my experience from the onset of symptoms to my odd diagnosis story to my recovery, but it's too complicated to explain without devoting an entire post, and I don't want this blog to be just about me. Let me summarize in bullet points:
  • Years of atypical, severe, unexplained, worsening, eventually debilitating symptoms
  • The advice of various doctors caused much harm and never helped
  • I cured myself by finally trying a quasi-elimination diet free of some of the most common dietary offenders for a few weeks. No doctor even brought this up as a possibility, though the worst that can happen is a few weeks' inconvenience.
  • I was never officially diagnosed with the disease, though not due to the common situation in which a patient is already not eating gluten and will not go back so any testing results in a false negative (tests can only measure the response to gluten, so no gluten means no evidence of an abnormal response to it).
    • Many people feel much better on a gluten free diet but most of them do not have celiac disease. Sometimes this matters because a person may have a condition that needs to be addressed by more than a gluten free diet or may have a curable sensitivity to gluten and need not commit to a life of going to great pains to avoid it.
    • I still tested borderline positive while on a gluten free diet(!), which means my response was so severe that it took longer to go down than my doctor said was possible. That does not fit the technical specifications for a diagnosis but tells me that I clearly have the disease.
See? Even the bullet-pointed version is complicated. This difficult process is actually typical for celiac disease and many other common chronic conditions that are considered difficult to diagnose. Doctors are wonderful for many things, but they cannot have the same investment in solving your health difficulties as you can. Therefore we need to take active responsibility for our health and, for most of us, the biggest way we affect our health is through what we eat. Many of us who feel healthy now fail to make this a priority or only think of healthy eating in relation to weight management. I think this is a blight on our culture and we are paying for it with our long-term health.

Active responsibility, though, is not reliance on WebMD, Dr. Oz, the USDA, Dr. Weil, or other quacky or fad-driven sources rife with conflicting claims and shoddy logic. I am sorry to say that just because Oprah says something does not mean that actual facts of nature conform to her will. When the government agency promoting the expansion of American agriculture markets starts telling you what to eat because their panels voted on what is most nutritious, run the other way!

I often hear people complain that healthy eating is futile because what is considered healthy changes every couple of years. This, however, comes from relying on shoddy advice. There are many things we do know scientifically that simply have not permeated our culture (e.g. saturated fat and cholesterol consumption is not associated with cardiovascular disease or other negative health outcomes), but it is true that there is very much that we do not know about nutrition. Intellectual humility is necessary for us to be honest with ourselves. For those gaps in our knowledge, however, we have many thousands of years of human history to go on. Have superbly healthy people eaten the way you do for hundreds of years? In any ways that they have not, are your deviations supported by exhaustive scientific research? If you do not know, then aren't you gambling with your health?

Do you have or do you know anyone with celiac disease or a similar chronic health problem? Were there any issues with figuring out what was wrong?

Are you convinced that good nutrition is really important? Do you eat a truly healthy diet most of the time? If not, what challenges would you have to overcome to do so?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tender, Juicy Beef - Delicious and Dirt Cheap?

Tongue doesn't have one of those fancy euphemisms for what part of a cow or steer it is. We in the United States live in a squeamish culture ignorant of much about food. We often aren't very open-minded about new foods but would rather chow down on fast food chicken nugget mystery meat! Most of us here in the United States prefer tenderloin steaks, such as a nice filet mignon, to eating organ meats.

Incidentally, do you know what tenderloin is? How can I be delicate about this? It's a muscle by the colon and assists in the excretion of feces. We could have called it toilet names instead.

But so what? It doesn't actually touch any cow pies and it's delectable. As is tongue - don't worry, you won't eat the outer skin that touched the cow's food, only the muscle that helped it along. Just like a tenderloin.
Yep. It's at least a foot long and looks like, well, a tongue.
There's another great thing about tongue in many areas. 100% grass-fed, humanely treated beef can be much more costly than factory farmed products. Even plain ground beef runs nearly $5/lb. around here. I've looked into bulk buys of, say, 1/2 an entire animal, but even the best deals I've found amounted to at least $5/lb. when I calculated how much edible meat I would really end up with. It's a fantastic deal if you care about the fancy cuts that can run up to $20/lb., but we wouldn't buy those anyway.
What is frugal is buying some of the unpopular cuts. $1/lb.! They're practically giving away these chunks of top-quality beef from pastured animals. Oft-neglected cuts like this are a terrific way to eat a meal with ample meat for less than $1 per person or be doubly frugal by stretching the meat for more servings. We eat a tongue about twice every three weeks. One is enough to stuff ourselves at dinner and have great leftovers.
For reference, this is an 8-qt. stockpot and it's only a little bigger than it needs to be.
I've only ever cooked tongues one way. It's so easy that I haven't bothered to figure out other methods because this way the skin peels off easily afterward. I have no latent desire to spend time cutting away tongue skin, thank you very much, when this way takes ten seconds and no effort.

1 beef tongue, preferably thawed but frozen will do
filtered water

Put tongue in pot and cover with water. Bring to a gentle simmer and leave it, covered, on low heat for at least three hours. About six hours is ideal, in my experience. It will probably float as it's a fatty cut; I try to keep it lodged underwater. Remove with tongs or a fork and rest on a plate to cool for ten minutes.

You'll notice there is both an obviously tongue-shaped portion plus a base which looks like gristle. Do not throw away the base! It's the best part. It gets similar to roast beef when cooked long enough.

There's also no need to throw away the water remaining after the tongue is cooked unless it grosses you out. I like to skim off any floating residue and use the rest in stock.

Once the tongue has cool enough that you won't burn your fingers, peel off the outer layer of skin and throw it away. It should be very easy to remove. If it isn't, the tongue probably did not simmer long enough.

That's it! You can simply slice it and eat it. It does have its own distinctive flavor, but it's not unpleasant the way liver is. The meat is exceptionally tender.

One great traditional use of tongue meat is to shred and season it for taco meat, a.k.a. "tacos de lengua". We typically eat it as a simple meal with green salad and potatoes.

What do you do to keep food costs down without compromising on nutrition? Do you/would you eat tongue?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Questions about Nitrites & Home-Cured Bacon

Concerns about nitrites and nitrates in cured meats - bacon, hot dogs, etc. - are big in the real food world and have been for several years. Mainstream brands are including options that do not list sodium nitrite on the label, and you get to pay slightly more to get somewhat less bacon.

I am hard-core about eating nutritious foods. I do various and sundry weird things to increase the nutritional value of the foods we eat and I spend devote a lot of time to it. I pay extra to get far healthier versions of many ingredients, most notably pasture-based animal products. And I never did the "nitrite-free" thing.

Wait - aren't nitrites converted into nitrates and supposed to cause diseases? They're additives and so they're, like, bad and stuff, like, right?

I think it's smart to be anti-additive as a general rule of thumb, but that it's a bit quacky to be anti-additive in certain cases. This is one of those cases.

For purposes of discussion, I'm lumping nitrites and nitrates together a lot, because they interconvert by bacterial action in the body, so stay with me. The first and biggest reason I didn't "upgrade" to the "all-natural" stuff in this case is that those products almost always contain nitrates under the guise of celery powder or a similar additive. What's the point of avoiding nitrites by eating nitrates?

That leads me into my second reason. Cured meats contain negligible amounts of nitrites/nitrates in the context of the foods you eat and what is in your body. Not only do various vegetables, such as beets, lettuce, and the aforementioned celery, contain hundreds of times as much nitrite/nitrate, but your saliva is an even bigger source! According to nutrition researcher Chris Kresser, whose blog I highly recommend, you get 70-90% of your nitrite/nitrate exposure from saliva and about 93% of the rest from vegetables.

My third reason developed when I ate bacon that actually was uncured and nitrite-free. This means it wasn't bacon at all but sliced pork belly, and it tasted like...pork. It was like eating a thin slice of fatty pork chop. There's nothing in the world wrong with that, but when you're expecting bacon, it's a really lame experience. Trust me.

As it turns out, purported benefits of nitrites/nitrates are coming into the news cycle, and to be honest I never quite understood what the evils of them were. They can be converted into nitrosamines, which are a bit mutagenic and carcinogenic, but that's par for the course. You know all those antioxidants in fruits and vegetables? There's also evidence that eating the actual fruits and vegetables causes net oxidative damage, but I bet you're smart enough to know that's not a sufficient reason by itself to avoid produce. There are plenty of isolated compounds you can find in foods that show benefits or detriments, but that's not how we eat. What matters is the effect of the food itself and that's a topic for another post.

So what do I do for our bacon? I make our meat purchases from a pasture-based farm. Eating pigs that have spent time outdoors in the sun, eating decent food and allowed to behave naturally, is much more nutritious than eating abused pigs in confinement fed food they are not adapted to eating. The fatty acid profile is excellent in pastured pigs and pastured pig fat is second only to cod liver oil as a source of vitamin D. However, pastured bacon can easily run $9/lb.! That is crazy talk.

Then one day I saw pork bellies for sale at a much more decent price per pound. Bingo. Once I had some of that evil sodium nitrite in my hands, it was time to do it myself. You can do various flavors and with the next pork belly I get I'll probably slice it into several pieces and do each a different way.

Real Home-Cured Bacon!
Recipe closely adapted from here.
pastured pork belly
for each pound of pork belly, include:
1 T. coarse salt
1/2 t. pink curing salt - do not mix this up with regular salt as it does have safety precautions you should follow, since nitrites/nitrates are dangerous if you accidentally ingest a ton at once
1 T. maple syrup (or brown sugar, white sugar, honey, etc. if it goes with your seasonings)

add additional seasonings as desired - suggestions given in amounts per pound:

  • 1 T. ground black pepper, 1 crumbled bay leaf, 1-2 smashed cloves garlic, and 1-2 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 t. ground nutmeg, 1 t. ground cinnamon, 1/4 t. ground cloves, 1 t. molasses, 1/4 t. allspice
  • 1 t. coriander seeds, 1 t. fennel seeds, 1 t. caraway seeds, 1 smashed clove garlic

Skin the pork belly if it isn't skinned already and you don't want to eat pig skin. I imagine you don't.

Put the pork belly in a 2-gallon sealable plastic bag or a wide, shallow nonmetal container that has an airtight lid. Mix all of your curing and seasoning ingredients together and rub them all over your pork belly. Seal your container of choice and put it in the refrigerator for a full week. Yes, sadly, bacon requires patience.

After the week, take out the pork belly, rinse off the seasonings, and pat it dry. If you are blessed with access to a smoker, smoke it! If not, put it on a baking sheet in the oven at 200°F for 90 minutes or to an internal temperature of 150°F.

Now it is ready to slice or dice, fry, and eat. However, it is very difficult to slice when warm, so it is advised that you refrigerate it again for several hours. If you don't have a meat slicer to get it nice and thin, my preferred method is to slice the belly into chunks the width of my food processor opening, freeze them somewhat, and slice in the food processor.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Pennywise Platter at the Nourishing Gourmet.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Eating Liver

As I mentioned in my last post, my palate remains hard to please. I'm not alone when it comes to liver, though. Most people have to brace themselves and many can't seem to get it down at all. One exception is my husband, who can eat pan-seared slices of beef liver as if it's going out of style.
Which it has. I wish I knew the stats, but liver consumption has doubtless plummeted in the U.S., thanks to the besmirching of its nutritional benefits and the lack of reason to eat the dang stuff for pleasure. Considering that both modern analysis and the traditional practices of healthy cultures agree that liver from a healthy animal is just about the most nutrition-packed, toxin-free thing you can put in your mouth, that's a serious shame. In my kitchen I follow the custom of serving liver at least once a week. Once kiddos arrive, liver will be among their first foods.
This is more easily said than done! Seriously, I do. Not. Like. Liver. It tastes strong in the wrong ways. It's gelatinously mushy undercooked and toughens easily as it cooks. Tricks like soaking it in lemon juice or vinegar before cooking make no discernible difference to me. Other ways to make liver palatable have helped but I still had to force myself to eat it. Very recently, though, I made a liver dish that was good. Force myself to eat liver? No need! I am so particular about good nutrition that this made my day.

I won't lie to you or lead you on, fellow liver-haters - my liver salvation still has an offal flavor that prevents it from being delicious the way, say, ice cream is delicious. You probably won't be knocking each other down in line to get more than your serving or two per week, but there is some enjoyment in it. This is amazing to me.
I made, of course, a pâté. I had tried one before with moderate success but it would end up sitting forgotten in the back of the fridge. I could eat one cracker spread with it, but consuming several ounces per week was out of the question. It was easier to cut liver into bite-size pieces using scissors, boil for two minutes, drain, and douse in homemade ketchup, alternating bites with a nice side such as herbed mashed potatoes. That and relying more on naturally milder chicken liver than beef liver was the best I could do then.
This was it. I had bookmarked it last August but never made it, probably because I tended not to have an extra pound of bacon around that I was eager to hand-dice. Now I have packs of diced bacon around. The barely-tolerable liver was starting to wear even on my husband's palate of steel. Chicken livers were thawed in the fridge. It was time.
Contrary to my customary behavior, I changed very little in the recipe, mostly just cutting it down to fit the amount of liver my farm packs per bag.
Chicken liver and bacon pâté
1/2 lb. diced bacon
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 lbs. chicken livers
8 T. butter
generous pinches of salt and ground black pepper
1 generous T. dried parsley
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When browned, add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is soft and caramelizing. Add livers and cook until barely firm; as they cook, gradually add the butter, 2 T. at a time.
Transfer the skillet contents to a food processor. Add salt, pepper, and parsley. Pulse several times to get a coarse paste. Scoop into three mini loaf pans or, I assume, one medium loaf pan.
Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Turn onto a plate, prying out with a knife if needed. Serve with rolls or crackers, plus extra butter and perhaps cheese slices.