Archive for December, 2006

Wood stove cooking: garlic eggs.

Eggs on the wood stove.

I like cooking on the woodstove—it agrees with my sense of frugality and my natural laziness.

We finally had a quiet morning after weeks of holiday visiting, it’s snowing out and the stove is going . . . just the right time for garlic poached eggs.

You don’t have to have a woodstove—you can do them in the oven. Here’s the basic idea:

Put a drizzle of olive oil in one heat-safe cup for each egg you want to cook. Chop some garlic (or onion, or whatever) and divide it between the cups. Crack an egg into each cup, and drizzle some more olive oil on the top. Salt and pepper too.

Now get a pan just large enough to fit the cups, put a dish towel in the bottom of it, arrange the cups on the towel, pour boiling water into the pan until it reaches at least halfway up the cups (careful not to get water in the eggs) and set the whole thing on the woodstove or put it in a 350 degree oven. Check it every once in a while—it’s done when a white skin forms over the yolk. It usually takes about 20–25 minutes on my stove, so it’s something for a slow morning.

And the eggs are so good. With real bread, or with a spoon.

(That’s some beef broth cooking in the pot next to the eggs—been on the stove two days now. Likely soup tonight. To make beef broth, follow the directions for chicken broth, but brown the bones for 40 minutes or so in a medium-hot oven first, and simmer it longer than chicken broth—at least a day.)

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Grass fed beef tastes good.

So the guys at our local butcher shop have stopped carrying much grass fed beef because they say it doesn’t sell. I’m not surprised, since every time I ask to buy some, they tend to put it down—apologizing that it isn’t more marbled. And if they don’t have any grass fed, they say “Well, why don’t you try this cut, it’s pretty lean.” They don’t get it at all.

Low fat is not the point. Trendiness is not the point. See, not only does grass fed beef have better fat than grain-finished beef, grass fed beef just tastes better.

Butchers: you need to get beyond the visual grading system that judges meat solely on fat marbling. Take some home and eat it. Then stop apologizing for the way it looks, and start telling people how it tastes!


Food sensitivities vs. bad-food sensitivities

Food sensitivities are in style now. Gluten/wheat and casein/dairy are the most commonly cited offenders. I have a suspicion about this: most people feel better when they eliminate wheat and dairy from their diets because most wheat and dairy products people eat are just plain bad food.

I don’t doubt the existence of food sensitivities. I have several herbal clients who have clear negative reactions to gluten and/or casein in any form. For them, scrupulous avoidance is the only choice. But I think there’s a difference between a true food sensitivity and the universal sensitivity to bad food. And to help determine that difference, I’ve added some elements to the tried-and-true elimination diet.

The old-time common-sense approach is: if a food makes you feel bad, don’t eat it. An elimination diet is just a fine-tuning of that sensible bit of advice. These are the elements of a traditional elimination diet:

For at least 3 weeks, avoid all potential trigger foods. (I like to develop a list of potential trigger foods based on an individual’s health status, ancestry and dietary history. The most common trigger foods are: dairy, wheat and other gluten grains, corn, soy, rice, eggs, citrus, fish and nuts.)

At the end of the month, reintroduce the foods one at a time, carefully observing possible reactions. (Each food needs to be eaten in quantity on two occasions, separated by 2-3 days in order to “prime” the immune system for a potential reaction.)

To this sensible system, I add the following:

In addition to avoiding potential trigger foods during the elimination and testing period, avoid all foods on the bad or sketchy food lists. And when you reintroduce the suspected trigger food, reintroduce it in the healthiest form available (e.g., if you suspect wheat, reintroduce it as long-fermented sourdough or levain-type bread rather than pasta or quick bread).

I suspect that using this system, quite a few people who feel they’re sensitive to all wheat (or dairy, or corn, etc., etc.) might find they’re only sensitive to the bad or sketchy forms of the food in question.

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Sketchy food.

Last time I wrote about straight-up bad foods—foods to avoid if you possibly can. Now I need to tackle sketchy-but-sometimes-unavoidable foods. This is more nebulous territory, which is why I’ve been avoiding writing this post for days.

Sketchy food is not as clear-cut as bad food because it affects different people in different ways. Some people can tolerate moderate amounts of refined sugar, for example, but other people can’t tolerate it at all. So my list of sketchy foods is really a list of foods to be aware of, foods to be careful with, and definitely foods to avoid if you have unresolved health problems.

Suspect #1: Heavily refined and processed foods.

White sugar and white flour are the obvious ones here. Too much of these bleached-out “carbs” can send you into Syndrome X territory. But let’s not forget that ubiquitous over-refined and processed of “health foods”: soy. (Soy milk, soy cheese, soy meat, isolated soy protein powder, etc.) I’m always suspicious of newly-invented industrial foods, and soy products are no different. Touted as miracle foods when they were introduced, there’s increasing evidence that all of these processed soy products could be hazardous. (Canola oil is another invented industrial food. Originally called LEAR oil—for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed—Canola was bred from Rape, which produces high levels of toxic erucic acid. Canola oil still contains low levels of the toxin, and I don’t think there’s any reason to eat it when there are plenty of good oils out there.)

Suspect #2: Unfermented grains and beans.

In traditional diets, grains and beans are usually fermented—through overnight soaking, wild yeast leavening, partial sprouting, etc. Fermentation makes the cooking process shorter, but it also changes the chemical makeup of the beans and grains, making them much easier to digest. (Yes, I know this applies to a huge swath of American food: pasta, crackers, cereal, etc.)

Suspect #3: Pasteurized dairy.

Raw milk contains enzymes that make it significantly easier to digest than pasteurized milk. Raw milk also contains immune-supporting proteins that are denatured by the pasteurization process. For more on raw milk, check out the Campaign for Real Milk. (Higher temperature pasteurization is more damaging to the proteins, so ultra-pasteurized milk is especially sketchy.)

Suspect #4: Grain-fed meat and dairy.

So, when cows (or sheep, or goats, etc.) eat grass, they produce healthy fats. When they’re fed grain and soy and their ground-up compatriates and who knows what else, the fat they produce is not so good for humans. You can’t always tell what the animals ate when you’re looking at a label in a grocery store, so you might have to do some detective work. For meat, look for “grass fed” on the label. For dairy, check out the dairy scorecard.

All four suspects are pretty much everywhere. Like I said before, I’m not into food fascism—but if you’re working with serious unresolved health problems, eliminating these sketchy foods is a good place to start.

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Straight up bad food.

So I need to define “bad food” for another post I want to write. It’s going to be painful (I’d rather talk about good food) but here goes.

First, we have nasty things that really aren’t even food to begin with:

  • artificial flavors
  • artificial colors
  • artificial fats (olestra)
  • artificial sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame, splenda, etc.)
  • anything hydrogenated
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • synthetic preservatives (sodium benzoate, nitrates, etc.)

Then we have genetically modified foods (GMOs). If you want to avoid them, you have to make sure these ingredients are organic or labeled GMO-free:

  • corn (corn syrup, corn starch, maltodextrin, etc.)
  • soy (soy oil, soy protein, etc.)
  • canola
  • cotton (cottonseed oil)
  • dairy (see below)

Other foods that are sometimes GMOs: potatoes, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, Hawaiian papaya, flax, sugar beets & rice. (Check out the Sustainable Table‘s genetic engineering page for more information.)

Next, we have the poisonous results of treating animals like inanimate objects:

  • commercial / factory farmed meat, eggs and dairy

(In this case, local is best—know your farmer. There are “organic” factory farms too. The new Certified Humane label is helpful, as is the Cornucopia Institute‘s dairy scorecard.)

Whew! That was a lot. And I’m just warming up. But this is a natural place for me to take a break. The above are “foods” I try to avoid—and advise my herbal clients to avoid—at all costs. Next: bad foods you really should be aware of, but can’t always avoid. (I’m not in favor of food fascism. I’ll post on that later.)

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Good quality ice cream is healthier than high-sugar yogurt.

So yesterday I was standing in line at the Co-op next to a very pregnant woman who was pining after the amazing local ice cream in my shopping basket. She was buying some high-sugar yogurt shipped from the other side of the country. She said she was “being good.”

Thing is, I think her body and her baby would have appreciated it if she’d been “bad” and eaten the ice cream instead. First of all, the milk in her yogurt wasn’t organic and likely came from grain and soy-eating cows in a large factory-type milking operation. My ice cream was organic, and the milk came from a Guernsey herd right up the road that’s grass-fed most of the year, with farm-made silage and hay in the winter.

The difference in fat-quality between grass-fed and grain-fed beef and dairy is well-documented. Grass-fed animals produce milk and meat that’s higher in omega-3 and other essential fatty acids. I wonder if she was taking an omega-3 supplement with her grain-fed yogurt?

And the sugar thing. Her yogurt had 36 grams of sugar per cup. I don’t know exactly how much sugar was in my ice cream (its small producer isn’t required to do nutrition labeling) but I can make a guess. It’s significantly less sweet than, say, Ben & Jerry’s—one of the reasons I like it—and B&J’s Organic Vanilla has 32 grams of sugar per cup.

So. My ice cream was higher in omega-3s and lower in sugar than her yogurt. The only thing the yogurt had going for it was its live culture—and I know a great local pickle company that could help her with that.

Good food. It’s good.

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