Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rice To The Rescue

Okayu - Japanese Rice Porridge
Today's post is dedicated to one of my favorite comfort foods.


When I fell in love with Japanese cuisine over two decades ago, while attending a macrobiotic health conference in Santa Barbara, California, I had no idea that it would become my favorite adopted food culture.  When I am feeling under the weather it is Japanese food that I turn to for my remedy of choice.  I don't know what it is about Japanese food, but it has become my quintessential comfort food. When I have an occasional tummy upset, or tension in my neck, what my acupuncturist often refers to as liver qi overpowering stomach qi, nothing hits the spot like a comforting bowl of okayu, or Japanese rice porridge, with a bit of umeboshi plum, which is aptly called Japanese alka-seltzer, or sliced scallion. Okayu, the eastern equivalent to a bowl of oatmeal, is light, bland, and infinitely easy to digest.

As an interesting aside, Sushi rolls, in fact, when I am sick my husband will usually run out and buy a sushi roll for me at Whole Foods Market, a bowl of miso soup, and baked mochi, likewise, all seem to have, what I consider, a near miraculous curative effect.

RECIPE FOR OKAYU - Serves 1 - 2

1/2 c. white or brown short grain rice
4 c. water or chicken stock
1 - 2 inches kombu sea vegetable
small piece of ginger root
1/2 t. sea salt

Rinse rice well.  Place all ingredients in a small crock pot.  I have one from chef mate that I like. Turn the crock pot on low and simmer for 8 hours or over night.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tracing A Food Lineage

With an emphasis on ancestral food culture and "The Perfect Diet" todays post will visit a bit of obscure family food history on my mother's side of the family.

My ancestors on my mother's side of the family hail from Wales and England.  Is it any wonder that I remember my grandparents fondness for fruitcake and custards, and roast leg of lamb?  I certainly wish someone had written down the recipes!  One of the things that the early immigrants and settlers, my ancestors among them, brought with them to this country was their native food culture which they transplanted, as best they could, in the new world, and in the case of my maternal ancestors, who are the subject of today's post, in the arid rocky mountain west.

My great grandfather was a dry farmer.  I don't think that means he did not drink, though he did not, I believe that means he prayed for rain, which, indeed, I am certain that he did!  He and my great grandmother managed to raise a family of eight children together in one of the isolated and lonely valleys of the rocky mountain west.

My grandmother, Mimi, the eldest child, remembers baking eight wheaten loaves of bread each day in a wood burning stove.  I am certain they would be considered poor by todays standard and when times were particularly tough I am told that my great grandparents fed their eight hungry children a dish, known in the food annals of the pioneer west, as Lumpy Dick.  From what I can surmise from my grandmother's rich, and possibly embroidered, descriptions of it, with her Welch love of story telling, along with what I have gathered on the internet (see recipe below) - Lumpy Dick appears to be a sort of hasty pudding, as it were, and if we were to "leap the pond," so to speak, and re-visit their native food culture, Lumpy Dick may very well be a derivative or close relation to a traditional English dish called Spotted Dick.

If you trace the lineage of Lumpy Dick even further, it is my conjecture that it finds its origins in an old relic of medieval cuisine called "frumenty." Frumenty (sometimes frumentee, furmity, fromity, fermenty) was essentially a nourishing pottage made from boiled, cracked wheat that was cooked with milk, eggs, or broth and sometimes contained currants and sugar.

I will go even further in my conjecture, to speculate, with my avid interest in all things fermented, that frumenty, may originally have been a naturally fermented sour porridge.  See notes below.

Those of you who remember Thomas Hardy's novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge" will remember well the notorious dish of furmity served with a slug of rum and the catastrophic circumstance that one dish of furmity set in motion.

Here is a benign and harmless recipe for Lumpy Dick that I found on an internet search and which may or may not be similar to the dish my grandmother ate.

Lumpy Dick

1 egg
2 1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. flour
sugar, honey, or molasses

Heat 1 1/2 c. milk just to a boil.  Break egg into flour.  Stir with a fork until lumpy.  Add enough milk so that it can be poured, lumps and all.  Salt to taste as desired.  Pour the lumpy mixture into the milk heated just to boiling and cook for 15 minutes. Serve in soup dishes with the rest of the milk poured over it and sugar, molasses or honey to sweeten.


When grains are traditionally prepared and allowed to naturally sour or ferment the anti-nutrient factors, such as phytic acid, that are present in the grain and place a tremendous burden on the pancreas, are neutralized and nutrients become more bio-available.  For more information on the importance of the proper preparation of grain and grain products I refer you to Sally Fallon's marvelous article "Be Kind To Your Grains..."

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bone Broth


Those of you who followed yesterday's post on the importance and value of fish broth in human health and nutrition will not be surprised to learn that the subject of today's "sister-post" focuses on how to make economical, nutritious, mineral-rich bone broth. For more complete information on some of the important nutritional benefits of fish and bone broth please refer to yesterday's post on fish broth.

I like to keep a ready supply of rich gelatinous bone broth on hand for soup making and general cooking purposes.  Being a thrifty cook I save all of the left-over chicken, turkey, and meat bones, which I keep, separated and labeled, chicken, turkey, beef etc., in plastic bags in the bottom drawer of my freezer, along with all those random scraps of onion, celery, and carrot root that would ordinarily be thrown away.  I make broth fairly regularly, just started a batch this morning, from chicken bones, turkey bones, and a few chicken feet thrown in for good measure. During the holidays when I have goose, duck and pheasant on hand, I add goose, duck, and pheasant broth to my repertoire.  Goose and duck, particularly, make amazingly rich broth and delicious winter soups. Although I find the chicken broth more flavorful than beef broth, on occasion, I get grass-fed beef marrow bones from a local rancher to make beef broth.  Lamb bones make a nice rich broth that is particularly suited to curries.

When the bag of bones is burgeoning and I am ready to make a batch of bone broth I put the bones and vegetable scraps into a crock pot and fill it to the brim with filtered water.  I usually add a dash or two of apple cider vinegar to help extract the minerals.  I set the crock pot on low, and let it simmer for at least 12 to 15 hours and to upwards of 24 hours.  By the time I strain the broth it is so rich in nutrients that it congeals and becomes thick and gelatinous as it cools.

I pour the mineral-rich bone broth into pint-size Mason jars, let them cool on the kitchen counter, chill them in the fridge, then transfer to the freezer. I often pour a little broth into ice-cube trays.  I like to keep a handy little stash of broth cubes in a zip-lock freezer bag for those moments when I need a little bit broth and not a jarful.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Fish Broth

"Good broth will resurrect the dead."  South American Proverb

A good bone broth, a near miraculous food, reduced to its most vital animal essence, holds in suspension all of the liquid goodness of the bones, the whole mineral matrix such as calcium, magnesium, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, and hydrophilic colloids, in a highly digestible form. Fish broth, unlike other bone broths, offers some additional unique and special benefits that are all its own.  Fish broth, made from fish carcass and especially FISH HEAD, which is the secret ingredient, containing the all important thyroid gland, besides containing all the goodness of the bones, as well as DHA, EPA and nucleic acid (DNA/RNA), contains a rich supply of important bio-available iodine and thyroid strengthening substances.


Perhaps the ancient Chinese were on to something when they believed they could rejuvenate ailing patients with a soup made from the thyroid gland.

Likewise, in Queen Victoria's England it was not uncommon for prominent physicians to treat sick patients with raw thyroid sandwiches.

Finally, coming full circle and heading right back to Scotland for more fascinating food-lore and downright food weirdness - enter Crappit Heid. 

Crappit Heid is a traditional Scots dish of stuffed cod head that originated among the fisherfolk of the Hebrides, an archipelago of islands off the west coast of Scotland.  The Scots long reputed for their unequaled strength and robust physicality, sold the more expensive fillets of fish, such as cod and haddock, in the markets, and kept the offal and highly nutritious parts of the fish, such as the thyroid containing fish head and highly prized oily cod livers, that would ordinarily be thrown away, for themselves.

A favorite midday or evening meal among the thrifty fisherfolk, Crappit Heid, which almost sounds like a seafood version of haggis to me, is a washed, descaled, fish head that is stuffed with a mixture of cod liver, oats, suet, onion and seasoning. The head is then sewn shut, poached in seawater or court bouillon made from fish stock and onion, and served with a side of root vegetables.


Consuming fish broth, perhaps in a bowl of luscious clam chowder or miso soup, to my mind anyway, offers a less exotic but far more palatable way to obtain the reputed strengthening and rejuvenating benefits of the thyroid containing fish head.


When making fish broth it is important to use non-oily white fish such as flounder, haddock, halibut, cod, sole, turbot, rockfish or snapper. 

3/4 lb. chopped celery
1/4 lb. chopped scallion
1 T. sea salt
1 T. black pepper
2 t. fresh ginger
1 t. celery seed
carcass and head of white fish
1/2 onion
6 c. water
1/4 c. parsley

Saute celery, scallion, sea salt, pepper, ginger, and celery seed in butter for about 5 - 7 minutes.  Add the fish carcass and fish head and simmer for an additional 3 minutes.  Add onion, water, and parsley and simmer for 35 - 45 minutes.   Strain through cheese cloth and pour into Mason jars.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting To Know Your Roots

Rutabaga In The Rough

Those of you who read yesterday's post on the value of ancestral eating and getting to know your food roots will not be surprised to learn that the subject of today's post, is indeed, the humble, and often misunderstood and undervalued, rutabaga. The rutabaga, which is essentially an 18th-century invention, is actually a cross between a turnip and cabbage that has proven itself, historically, as a reliable food crop and source of sustenance in times of famine.  The rutabaga, much like the turnip root, can be prepared in a variety of ways. Though I am told that rutabaga greens can be eaten as a leaf green, and can easily identify and am familiar with carrot greens, beet greens, turnip greens and even kohlrabi greens, I have yet to meet or eat, for that matter, a rutabaga green. Which is probably an indication that I have never grown rutabagas in my garden.  Perhaps, there will be a future rutabaga garden project in the works?

The rutabaga is a cool season crop.  Which means that the seeds are best sown in late summer so the plant can mature during the cooler autumn months. Reputed to be easy to grow and with a preference for cooler northern climates, the rutabaga has nourished Finns, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, and Scots alike.


Admittedly, the rutabaga, with its rough tough appearance, is not the most friendly looking root vegetable on the block, but I happen to be very fond of it -  ridged neck, warts, furry roots and all. As you can see from the photo below a peeled rutabaga has a lovely peachy-creamy flesh which becomes darker as it cooks.

A Root That Cleans Up Well

I find the rutabaga very flavorful, exceptionally flavorful, in fact.  Unlike, the popular tuberous root vegetable, sweet potato, whose bland flavor, though admittedly there are those random and marvelously welcome exceptions, I often amend with a dash of spicy cayenne and ground cinnamon, the pleasantly sweet flavor of rutabaga stands all on its own with just a bit of butter, salt and pepper.

 Ready To Boil and Bash

Rutabagas are very popular in Scotland where neeps (or bashed neeps) and tatties (potatoes boiled and mashed) are traditionally served right along side the iconic dish of Scottish haggis. Historically, haggis, which is essentially made from sheep offal - minced heart, liver, lung, oats, suet, and seasoning  - stuffed into a sheep stomach, was a common and inexpensive dish of the poor.  Today modern haggis, and its many variants, even a vegetarian version prepared with pulses and chopped nuts, (a subject for future posts, no doubt), is served in fast-food establishments, deep-fried, as well as in stylish restaurants.

A Nice Dish Of Bashed Neeps

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Perfect Diet Re-Visited

Last week in my post on "The Perfect Diet" I introduce three dietary principles for building and maintaining health and energy.  The third dietary recommendation, and a subject I am re-visiting today, is to eat the foods our ancestors ate.

What is your particular food culture?  What foods did your ancestors eat?


Those of us who are fortunate will easily remember a family food heritage and need only look as far as a grandmother or aunt, with a ready cache of recipes, who are the repository of all the family food ways.  Many of us, though, in order to pick up the dropped stitch of food heritage will find it necessary to go on an investigative food adventure, so to speak, and gaze out into the distant pre-industrial past, to a time before the advent of standardized homogenous food fare, in order to locate their real food roots.  The real food and food preparations of our ancestors, before commercial food processing removed every trace of regional flavor and distinctiveness not to mention food value, are relics of the past that contain the gems and nuggets of generations of food wisdom that we can revive and celebrate today.


My grandmother hailed from the clan Chisholm. She was 100% Scottish.  My father, Papa, a big-boned sturdy man, is 1/2 Scottish.  I am 1/4 Scots. My daughter Carrisa, who is 1/8 Scots, is the one I call our "Scottish Gathering."  She is the one, with auburn hair, blue eyes, and fair, freckled skin, that all the Scottish genes "gathered" in.  She has always preferred a Seattle-like climate, runs for cover when the sun is out, and looks inordinately well in tartan.  Dare I mention, though I hear Scotland is very hip these days, that she would like to drag all of our Scottish DNA back to Scotland - to live and work one day?

So we in this family dig our "sheep and neeps" as the saying goes.  Imagine my surprise when I began investigating Scottish cuisine and traditional foods and discovered that we had already been tucking into quite a number of regional Scottish dishes.  I have always been inordinately fond of roast leg of lamb, rack of lamb, fresh wild-caught salmon, root vegetables of all sorts, berries of all sorts (I grew Tay berries when I lived in Seattle), cream, butter, and oatmeal for as LONG as I can remember.

With the Scots genius for quaintly naming their national dishes who would have known that I already enjoyed clapshot?  bashed neeps?  as well as a variation of rumbledethumps?

I still have cullen skink on my list of foods to try.

Unbeknownst to me we had already elevated bashed neeps (aka rutabagas), though it sounds like something a hockey player would eat, to a place of honor in the family.  Papa is quite passionate about his dish of rutabagas.  It would be unthinkable for us to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner without the traditional dish of rutabagas at hand.  Only we never knew what to call the dish did we?

I should have known, when my nephew Matthew and his wife Sydney returned from a visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh commending, though I must have lost something in the translation, a Scottish national dish called neeps, that we were on to something.

So for all you Scottish fans out there here is my recipe for bashed neeps.  I hope to post a picture later.

Bashed Neeps

1 pound rutabagas, peeled and diced
pinch of sea salt

Steam the rutabagas until they are tender.  Though the traditional method is to bash the neeps by hand.  I prefer to bash my neeps in the food processor, with a good knob of butter and a pinch or two of sea salt, for a really creamy smooth texture.

I think I need to make a dish of bashed neeps for Papa today.

For an interesting and informative discussion of the traditional Scots diet I refer you to Katherine Czapp's article "The Good Scots Diet" at the WAPF website.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Magnificent Sauteed Carrots

Farmer's Market Carrots

When I brought three beautiful bunches of carrots, purple, yellow, and orange, home from the farmer's market the other day I decided to saute the carrots in a heavy Le Creuset braising pan.  This particular cooking technique is a favorite of mine and results in carrots that are far more flavorful than ordinary steamed carrots.  The sea salt draws out some of the liquid from the carrots and they cook in their own juice.  Don't be tempted to add water because it will only dilute the wonderful, rich flavor. The heavy lid of the Le Creuset braising pan helps retain the moisture and flavor in the pot.  I think you will agree that the results are magnificent.


4 c. sliced carrots
1 - 2 T. grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil
1 t. sea salt

Wash, peel, and slice carrots into the size and shape that you prefer.

Place butter, ghee or coconut oil in an enamel cast-iron skillet and heat over a medium flame.  Add carrots and sea salt and stir.  Reduce heat to low and cover carrots with a heavy lid.  Cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender.

Sauteed Carrots

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Friday, May 18, 2012

What Does My Diet Look Like?

Sockeye Salmon And Plateful Of Vegetables

Though my current diet is fairly simple, keep in mind that my concept of diet is dynamic and is a constant process of refinement and re-adjustment.  Just as I change and my condition changes, so does my diet.

Vegetables - I have found that the ideal diet for me this spring(note that I say ideal for me!) places fresh organic vegetables at the center.  I like my plate to be about 2/3 full of a beautiful, colorful, vibrant array of deliciously prepared vegetables.

Protein - I supplement that three times a day plateful of colorful fresh vegetables with small portions of high quality protein such as organic eggs, fish, poultry, organ meat, and less frequently red meat.  When I first began introducing animal products into my diet (because of nutritional deficiencies) I found local, grass-fed, sustainably raised animal products the most palatable.

Grains and Legumes - I include moderate amounts of properly prepared non-glutenous grains in my diet such as buckwheat (technically not a grain), rice, quinoa and millet.  Every so often I prepare non-glutenous oats.  This morning I made sourdough buckwheat pancakes for a delicious breakfast.  I soured the buckwheat for 24 hours before making the pancakes.  The souring process helps to neutralize enzyme inhibitors in the grain. I eat legumes infrequently.  When I do have a bowl of bean or lentil soup, for instance, I make certain the beans or lentils are soaked and sprouted for easier digestion and nutrient assimilation.

Nuts and Seeds - I usually have a handful of nuts such as pecans or walnuts for a snack everyday.  The nuts are soaked in salted water, to remove enzyme inhibitors, and then crisped in a dehydrator.

Condiments Throw in a side of homemade sauerkraut or artisanal pickles (which I am a huge fan of) and some sea vegetables (a throw-back from my macrobiotic days) and I am inordinately happy.

Fruit  - With the delicious exception of local California grown blueberries, I am minimizing fruit consumption these days.

Healthy Fats - I favor natural fats such as cultured grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado over the man-made hydrogenated fats such as margarine and polyunsaturated seed oils.


70%     Vegetables
15%     Animal Protein
7 - 8%  Complex Carbs - grains and legumes
7 - 8 %  Healthy Fats

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Is Your Food Culture?

In Monday's blog post on "The Perfect Diet" I list three simple food recommendations for health and energy.  Rule number one is to include plenty of whole, unprocessed foods in your diet.  Rule number two is to favor locally raised foods over foods that have to travel long distances.  Rule number three, and the topic of today's post, is to include foods from your particular cultural heritage in your diet.


If you are from Scotland then salmon, oats, potatoes, kale, dulse, rutabagas and small berries such as currants will be staple and familiar foods.  If you are from Japan rice, fish, adzuki beans, miso, tamari and nori will be a regular part of your diet.  If you are from Mexico your diet will favor corn, beans, mangoes, avocados and bananas.  What is your food culture?


I believe that we benefit when we choose foods that closely resemble what our ancestors ate.  When I teach cooking classes I often suggest that we take those treasured family recipes from our cultural heritage and update them to a healthier standard.  The traditional foods, eaten by our ancestors, should have an honored place at our table.  The foods eaten by our ancestors nourish us at many levels and create a sense of community that binds us together.  Our bodies, in my mind, are biologically adapted to process and more readily digest the foods our ancestors ate.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Favor Of Local Flavor

Delightfully Purple Cabbage

As the perfect segue for today's post on eating local I, unwittingly, did the most inspired thing.  I had this drop-dead gorgeous purple cabbage that my brother Bret, whose garden savvy and green thumb I justifiably envy, gave me from his garden.  He has the most amazing garden.  He simply sows seeds and they sprout obediently in exquisite profusion.

As I watched him pull the purple cabbage from the soil I knew that I must to do something special with it.  Well did I ever.  I made a purple cabbage sauerkraut.  It is so pretty in the jar that it looks quite royal and jewel-like sitting on the counter.  When I had finished packing and pounding the kraut into the jar I had a smidgeon left over.  I pressed the left-over smidgeon between glass nesting bowls, weighted with a bottle of water, and left it overnight.  I ate the pressed salad with sprouted brown rice congee (subject of a future post?) I had prepared in a crock pot.  The pressed salad was a delicious accompaniment and I was fully satisfied that the purple cabbage had been properly honored.

In Monday's blog post on "The Perfect Diet" I list three simple food rules for building and maintaining optimum health and well-being.  My first food recommendation, to eat whole, unprocessed food, is the subject of yesterday's post.  My second food recommendation, today's subject, is to include plenty of local foods, as opposed to foods shipped long distances, in our diet.


Local foods are real foods, the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meats, and dairy products, that are grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of where you live. 

Whether you have a backyard garden, like my brother Bret, or visit a local farmer's market I think that you will find that local foods are amazing.


When we eat local we eat foods that are in season and at the peak of their perfection.

Foods that are in season are always fresher, more nutritious, and better tasting.

Local foods are the new organic.  Local foods are environmentally friendly because they do not need to travel long distances.

When we choose local foods we support our local economy.

Local foods create accountability and build relationships as we the consumer become acquainted with the people that actually grow and produce our food.

Fresh And Organic From The Backyard Garden

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Value Of Whole Unprocessed Food

Beautiful Farmer's Market Carrots

In yesterdays blog post on "The Perfect Diet" I list three simple recommendations that, in my view, are essential for optimum health and well-being.  My first recommendation is that we make whole unprocessed foods the foundation of our diet.

Whole, unprocessed foods, as opposed to what I like to call "faux foods," are real food.  Real foods are the traditionally raised and prepared meat and animal fats (which contain the highly prized fat-soluble vitamins), fish and seafood, raw dairy products, grains and legumes, vegetables and fruits.  Not surprisingly, these are the very foods that the human race has eaten and sustained itself on for thousands of years.  Unfortunately, the ubiquity of refined and processed foods, laden with unpronounceable preservatives and additives, have become so common place that many of us are tempted to believe that they are just normal everyday food.  Let me dispel that old chestnut once and for all and assure you that for all of the "convenience" of packaged and processed foods their appearance in the human diet is fairly recent and they are a significant "experimental" departure from what has normally nourished and sustained human life.

My first experience with processed food was, not surprisingly, as an infant.  Though I do not remember the episode of making my first food choice I have been told I that when my well-meaning parents tried to coax me into eating processed baby food from a jar (I must have had an uncanny instinct for food even then) that I rejected all offers, locked my jaw, and refused to eat it.  In my own pre-verbal, yet articulate way, I let my folks know fairly clearly that I thought that the morsals of food from their own plate, the scraped apple, mashed potatoes, peas, and bits of meat with gravy, were highly preferable to what was in the "suspect" jars. 

My next significant food moment, and one that I remember well because it changed my life, dates back to my high school days.  During the summer my grandfather began growing a large organic vegetable garden. The produce that he grew tasted like nothing I had ever experienced before.  I enjoyed many meals at Mimi and Papa's house.  My taste buds, trained and educated at their table, would never be the same.  My life was changed.  Organic food was the best food I had ever tasted.  I remember lunches that featured brown rice, cottage cheese, corn on the cob, sliced garden tomato, sliced cucumber, green beans cooked in a little bacon grease, and steamed crookneck squash with plenty of butter.  Did I mention baby beet greens?  Such simple fare but so stunningly delicious.  With that first revelation of what real food could taste like I noticed two things right away, and for a teenager, I might add, that is pretty good.  The food tasted delicious in a way I had never experienced food before.  I left their table with a sense of well-being and noticed that I did not crave my usual sugary afternoon pick-me-up. That was an amazing bit of noticing.

Because of my grandfather's vegetable garden and the organic gardening and prevention magazines that he introduced me to I began to become "food aware" at a fairly early age.  I began to read labels and select foods that did not have preservatives or additives in them.  I began to seek out meats that were raised without hormones.  I began selecting whole grains instead of refined flour products.  I began to cook for myself.  Each baby-step, each infusion of whole, unprocessed food brought immediate and noticeable improvements in my health and well-being.

For a thorough and informative discussion of the value of whole, unprocessed foods I highly recommend reading the preface and introduction to Sally Fallon's cookbook "Nourishing Traditions."

Check out Carrisa's dramatic before and after shots 8 months into eating whole, unprocessed foods.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Perfect Diet

Bok Choy, Flowering Broccoli, Amaranth Greens

Despite an ongoing fascination with Traditional Chinese Medicine I do not necessarily advocate that we all adopt an Asian style of eating.  The principles I have learned in my study of Traditional Chinese Medicine are universal.  They can be applied to a variety of cuisines and regional food styles.  I like to look for opportunities to apply the teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine to my own western cultural experience.  Initially while I study and familiarize myself with the traditions and food ways of another culture my diet often mimics that culture.  Not only is there the adventure of trying new foods and food preparations, but I find one of the best ways for me to learn something is to experiment with it.  As I continue to learn, eventually, a fuller or more authentic dietary practice emerges and when taken to its fullest creative expression that practice will have a universal application and potentially wear many faces.

I do not advocate one diet or food style for everybody.  There really is no "one size fits all" when it comes to diet and how we choose to nourish ourselves and our family. Diet is a personal choice. Similarly, the foods that work for us at one phase in our lives may not work indefinitely.  Think food sensitivities and food allergies.

My Dietary Recommendations

The one thing we all have in common, when it comes to diet, is that we benefit when we eat whole unprocessed foods.  When we seek out the finest freshest foods available our health and energy improve dramatically. 

Secondly, I believe that we all benefit when we seek out local foods.  Local regional foods not only support the local economy but they taste better and are more nutritious than foods that have traveled long distances.  When we eat local foods we eat foods that are in season. 

Finally, I believe that we benefit when we choose foods that closely resemble what our ancestors ate. Besides the comfort and community we derive from food culture, our bodies, seem to be particularly adapted to process and more readily digest the foods eaten by our ancestors.

In case you have not already guessed - there is no perfect diet.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

When You Are A Skosh Better

Today's post is dedicated to optimism.  I LOVE Papa's attitude.  Each day when I ask him how he is doing, rather than giving me a laundry list of complaints, Papa focuses on the bright side of things and tells me that he thinks he is a "skosh" better.  If he is not a "skosh" better then he is a "mouse-foot" or "half a mouse-foot" better.

Not only have I enjoyed Papa's quaint vocabulary but I find the kind of optimism he shows in the face of illness down right irresistible.

What I have noticed most as I have observed Papa's recovery over the past few weeks is that Papa's appetite and digestion improve each day. There is definitely a correlation between Papa's ability to eat and digest wholesome food and his recovery from illness.

That is one of the reasons I have placed so much emphasis on preparing foods that are light, nourishing, and easy to digest.  I do not want to overtax Papa's digestive system and overburden him when he needs all the energy he can get for healing.

Protein, which is vital for maintenance and repair, is classically one of the harder foods to digest. Protein-rich foods are particularly problematic for those that are digestively challenged such as the elderly or those recovering from illness and surgery.

The first day I cooked for Papa I brought him a bowl of beef stew which I made with local grass-fed beef and organic vegetables.  I noticed that he could not swallow the meat.  He would chew on it and spit it out.  As Papa's dietician and cook I was challenged to find a way to make the essential nutrients found in meat more bio-available during this time of convalescence.  I referred to Paul Pitchford's tome "Healing With Whole Foods" and re-read the section on dietary suggestions for vitality in the elderly.  I revised my cooking preparations accordingly and with very good effect I might add.  I began preparing soups and broths and pureed food for Papa.  Soft cooked eggs were also well tolerated.  Eventually as Papa grew stronger he graduated from broths and purees to soups that had chunks of vegetables and bits of chicken or turkey in them.  I have been careful to prepare small digestible portions of protein that are served to Papa in a warm and soothing broth or soup.

Last night I made him a bowl of Thai green curry prepared in a nourishing broth of coconut milk and homemade chicken broth.  He enjoyed it very much.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

We Are What We Eat - Or Are We?

One of the greatest challenges while recovering from illness, whether chronic or acute, but particularly chronic, is getting ample nutrition when digestion is all too often sub-optimal. Interestingly, I place aging right along side the processes of illness because aging is a chronic long term condition that, likewise, is challenged by sub-optimal digestion and assimilation.

Through the miraculous process of digestion the body transforms the food we eat into energy that it uses to heal and maintain itself.  In fact, abundant nutrient assimilation correlates with abundant health and the energy to live life fully.

One of the most debilitating challenges facing the elderly and those recovering from illness is that they often live in chronic energy deficit.  Ironically, some of the most nourishing and nutrient-dense foods, the very foods that would most benefit the ill and the aged, ARE often the most difficult to digest.

As we are, ultimately, not what we eat, but, what we digest, assimilate and absorb today's post will focus on how all of us, but especially those that are aged or recovering from illness, can begin to optimize digestion and assimilation. 

1.  Relax before meals. 
2.  Be grateful for your food and give thanks.
3.  Never eat to the point of fullness.
4.  Train yourself to enjoy small frequent meals.
5.  Avoid eating late at night.
6.  Prepare foods that are well-cooked.
7.  Eat small amounts of protein in broth or soup.
8.  Eat a little fermented food for probiotic benefit.
9.  Restrict cold foods and raw fruits and veggies.
10. Avoid too many food combinations at once.
11. Avoid refined sugar and processed foods.
12. Chew food well. 
13.  Be aware of potential food allergies.
14. Take a gentle walk after eating.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Food For The Sick And The Elderly

Pureed Root Vegetables Soup
Since I have been providing love and nourishment for my father during this time of healing and convalescence I have been paying very close attention to what foods and food preparations agree with him and benefit him most.

For all of us, but especially the elderly, or those that are bed-ridden and convalescing from illness, or recovering from surgery, it is important to prepare foods that are light, nourishing, and easy to digest.

Digestion takes an enormous amount of energy. Even a young and healthy person experiences the occasional energy slump following a heavy meal. Think of Spain and the afternoon siesta.  Think of Thanksgiving and the traditional post-prandial somnolence.

My goal has been to provide Papa with foods that are sufficiently nourishing without overtaxing him and compromising energy for healing and recovery. As Papa's chief cook and dietician I have made a few mistakes along the way.  Even though deviled eggs sounded like a good idea initially and are one of Papa's favorite foods - the deviled eggs that I made for him (with fresh homemade mayonnaise and homemade creme fraiche) immediately upset his stomach and made him feel queasy and unwell.

Most Beneficial Foods For Papa

homemade chicken or turkey noodle soup
vegetables blended with homemade chicken broth
homemade applesauce
soft cooked eggs
soft vegetables (yams, sweet potatoes, squash, peas) 
rice or risotto cooked in homemade chicken broth 
root vegetables pureed with grass-fed butter
miso soup with some sea and land vegetables

During the most critical time of Papa's healing, when he could hardly chew or swallow, homemade broths and soft cooked eggs became invaluable.

As Papa grows stronger each day so does his appetite and his capacity to digest.  Papa has always been an eager eater.  It is good to see him begin to relish and enjoy his meals again.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Comfort And Nourishment In A Bowl

Papa's Chicken Noodle Soup

When my father, who we affectionately call Papa, is under the weather nothing hits the spot for him like a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup.  When Papa underwent chemo treatments two years ago we discovered that homemade chicken noodle soup was the ONLY food that tasted good to him.  I came to appreciate the value of my homemade chicken noodle soup when it remained his favorite meal even while he battled chemo-induced nausea.  Conveniently, it was the only food that he never tired of.


When I make a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup for Papa I pack it into individual glass jars. The recipe makes about 4 - 5 glass jars full.  Each glass jar holds a Papa-size bowlful of soup.

Chicken Noodle Soup Packed In A Jar

When I take dinner to Papa in the evening I pack one jar of chicken noodle soup in a brown bag and stash it in his fridge for the next day's lunch.  As Papa faces further cancer treatment and recovery it is good to know that I can so easily provide him with both comfort and nourishment during his convalescence.

Chicken Noodle Soup - Labeled And Ready To Be Re-Heated


Chicken Noodle Soup

2 generous sized chicken breasts or several legs
8 c. filtered water
2 carrots, diced small
2 stalks celery, diced small
1 c. chicken meat diced into little cubes
1 c. rice noodles
1 T. sea salt

In a large pan, bring water and chicken breasts or legs to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 - 40 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and set in a large bowl to cool.

Add carrots and celery to the broth and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.  While the vegetables simmer remove skin and bones from the chicken and cube up enough meat to make one cup. You will have some left-over meat which you can reserve for future use.

When the vegetables have simmered for 20 minutes add 1 c. of cubed chicken meat, 1 c. of rice noodles and 1 T. of sea salt.  Simmer an additional 10 minutes.

Variation:  For variety I make the same soup with turkey.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Lacto-fermentation - The Pick Of The Pickles

Iceberg Radish Pickle

Last weekend I prepared four bottles of pickled vegetables to shore up a dwindling supply.

Yesterday, when I prepared a Japanese style breakfast, replete with miso soup and sauteed vegetables, (only the ubiquitous white rice was conspicuously missing) I decided that it was time to sample the vegetables I had pickled.

The Taste Test

Sauerkraut - The sauerkraut, spiked with caraway seed, was crisp and had a fresh pleasing flavor.   I have been making sauerkraut for a LONG time and the thing that I find intriguing about sauerkraut is that no two jars ever taste alike.  Each batch develops a unique subtle flavor that is all its own.  Because the sauerkraut was so fresh it lacked what I call "depth" and so I decided to move this jar to the back of the fridge where it can ripen for 6 months or so.  Yes, you read correctly. If I can keep my hands off it that is.  Six months is not a long time in the life of a pickled vegetable.  In fact, the flavor of pickled vegetables will become better and richer with age.

If you recall from a blog post or so ago I was just finishing up a jar of pickled kale stems vintage 2010.  Those last kale stems were actually the best of the whole batch.

Iceberg Radish Pickle - These elegant slender radishes are a long time favorite of mine.  I think they have a delicate beauty all their own.  I find a jar of pickled iceberg radish particularly pleasing to look at. The flavor of pickled radish stands on its own without additional flavoring or spice.  This jar, made with farmer's market produce, will not last long.

Pickled Turnips - This was a new recipe that I tried for the first time.  I usually pickle turnips just like I pickle iceberg radish - simple and without accoutrement.  This time I sliced beet root and onion into the batch along with the turnip.  I got the idea from Sally Fallon's cookbook "Nourishing Traditions." The result was surprisingly good.  The turnips had a pleasing hint of onion and were crisp and fresh tasting.  The vibrant rosy color is pleasing too.

Pickled Beet - I am inordinately fond of pickled beets.  These beets are baked in an oven for three hours before being peeled, sliced into matchsticks, and packed into a jar.  Spiked with dried cardamom seed, the result is magnificent, the flavor rich and complex.  One of the most amazing things about this recipe for pickled beets is what happens to the brine.  Not only are the beets transformed by the fermentation process, but the brine is transformed too.  The brine becomes as thick and syrupy as jam.  I have never seen that happen before.

In case you are wondering I don't have a favorite.  I like them all.

More detailed instructions for making pickled vegetables can be found in Sally Fallon's cookbook "Nourishing Traditions."  

Japanese Food Tip For The Day

Incidentally, getting back to our Japanese food theme, pickled vegetables are a natural condiment and accompaniment for brown or white rice.  The beneficial bacteria in pickled vegetables help our bodies digest starch more easily.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Japanese Breakfast Food

Miso Soup

Miso Soup, which is the hallmark of a traditional Japanese breakfast, is one of my favorite soups. Though miso soup, in its most simple form is essentially warmed broth with miso paste dissolved into it, I like my miso soup prepared with lots of vegetables in it.

One of the secrets of making delicious miso soup is a starting with a good broth.  The Japanese prepare a special broth for miso soup called dashi.

Dashi is usually made with riboshi (dried baby sardines) or katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Since I did not have those ingredients on hand this morning I decided to make a delicious vegetarian version of dashi using only dried shiitake mushroom, kombu, and sliced onion along with a splash of tamari and mirin for flavor.

Once the dashi broth was prepared I strained off the vegetables and discarded all of them except for the shiitake mushrooms.  I sliced up the shiitake mushrooms and reserved them.  I chopped up carrots, bok choy and wakame.  I put the shiitake mushrooms, carrots, bok choy and wakame together in the pot and simmered them until they were tender.  Then I ladled up a bowlful of the soup and dissolved the miso paste right into the bowl.  I like to add the miso paste to each individual bowl of soup.  The reason I do this is so that the live enzymes and beneficial bacteria that are present in the miso paste will be preserved and not cooked away.

I served my miso soup in a stoneware bowl.  There is something about the tactile quality of stoneware, as I cup my hands around its warm surface, that I find particularly comforting.  I use chopsticks to pick up the bits of vegetable.  Chopsticks are a great way to slow down the eating process and train ourselves to savor the moment.

For breakfast this morning, and it was a cool foggy morning I might add, I enjoyed miso soup with chunks of chicken served on a bed of sauteed vegetables (handy left-overs from last night), and an assortment of homemade artisanal pickles.

Miso Soup

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