The Low Down

The human body is a metabolic marvel comprised of dozens of little systems connecting to create one complex system. Food is the fuel, the input, for the systems. Our metabolic machinery evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to function optimally on select fuels. These fuels were the original, Primal foods of the human organism. Over these hundreds of thousands of years our Big Game Hunting, small prey capturing, scavenging, foraging, gathering, opportunistic ancestors accumulated experience and wisdom about nourishing themselves. The learned to preserve and predigest foods to maximize the quality of their metabolic fuel. Eventually they learned to cook foods without destroying the important nourishing properties of the food, and then they learned to heal the human body with food. Only recently in the human evolutionary experience, have we abandoned all these hundreds of thousands of years of accumulated epicurean genius. Now we fuel our marvelous, complex metabolic machinery with crap invented to create profits for agribusiness. We have become dumb eaters. As we regain our eating intelligence it doesn't make sense to move back to the savannah and put out our fires or climb into our cave and pretend there is a glacier next door. It makes sense to fuel our bodies with all the primal human foodstuffs, prepared and preserved with accumulated ancestral wisdom and served up for the undeniable desires of the human taste buds. Primal, paleolithic food choices, handled according to ancient food ways resulting in outrageously good food.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grown Up Children

We have been busy around here! Nice to get back to thinking about food and preparing some slightly more inspirational foods. So, I've been writing about my own children, who are far from grown. Always be skeptical of people giving parenting advice until you can see the end product. I remember reading my first book about an approach to children's education called "unschooling" and when I realized that the woman who wrote the book had kids only a couple years older than my own I wanted to ask for my money back!! Ditto for someone claiming to be qualified to guide me through childbirth who had never had a kid. Nope. Give me an expert, a wise old soul, someone who has been there and done that, or at least been there and done so many other things it doesn't matter if they've never actually experienced the issue at hand. There are some members of my "elder council" whom I can look to for such experiences. They are all also qualified to tell me if I just used the word "whom" incorrectly. For example, I have an uncle who raised 4 kids. He told me that one of the best parenting decisions he ever made was to put a couch in his kitchen. The benefits of this arrangement should be obvious and I can report, from my admittedly limited knowledge, that his 4 kids are fit, athletic, sane, funny, intelligent and love to spend time with each other and their father. One of them is even a food writer. I have a friend who has read way more parenting advice books than I have and she once told me that communicating with boys is very different than with girls and what the experts say is that boys will talk to you more if you just be with them, instead of actually trying to have a bona fide "conversation". That expert suggested bicycle riding or drives in the car, but my guess is that my uncle's couch-in-the-kitchen did the trick. He did the work of cooking, sometimes maybe his boys just sat on the couch, sometimes maybe they helped, but that seems like a low key, day-to-day chance for "side-by-side" communication. As soon as I get a couch, I'm going to put it in the kitchen.
Another member of my elder council is my aunt Judith who also raised and homeschooled two boys. She is the person responsible for creating an absolute certainty in my mind that sausage and cabbage soup, the most peasantiest of foods, might be the most delicious food invented. I can't make it myself at all, but hers is divine. Her boys are grown men, but recently came home and WENT FOOD SHOPPING with their parents and cooked a Paleo feast. This was sort of an unusual undertaking for them which is just so cool that no matter how old your children are, you can still have an evolving relationship with them and food. The photos are of the Cajun blackened chicken, roasted fennel, beet salad (from this very blog!), and Mulligatawny stew. So I will try to keep all this in mind when my own kids leave my kitchen and experience the world of Mountain Dew and Ramen noodles. They will come back if I am welcoming.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Are these roots poisonous?

This is an example of me feeding lunch to my sons: Oldest: "It looks like you are feeding me roots. Are these roots? How do you know they aren't poisonous roots? What if they poison me?" Youngest: "Did someone serve these as a dessert at your dance?" Me: "My guess is if Sleeping Frog Farm is selling poisonous roots at the Farmer's Market they will go out of business soon. I'm pretty sure those are multicolored organic carrots. What kind of terrible human being would serve carrots as a dessert?" Both sons: "You would." Crack up laughing. But now they are crunching away happily.

The one tactic I resort to on a regular basis to get my sons to eat the good stuff is prioritization. I set down the meat first and/or the vegetable or whatever I know will meet with the greatest resistance and I have decided is most valuable in their bellies. I save the sweet potato fries, the fruit etc... until they get some of the less popular food into them. When I was first transitioning Silas to a Paleo-type existence I did it with baby steps, but very little conversation. I will confess to beginning his meat intake with bacon, sausage covered in maple syrup and chicken nuggets. Pick your battle. I wanted protein and fat in him at the start of the day and no grains. Yup, chicken nuggets had breading-they were a baby step. He didn't have to eat it. Like I said he never HAS to eat. But the next time he was hungry the same thing was presented. He threw astronomical tantrums. He went about 24rs without eating. We stayed at home. I knew that I had made a mistake in the way that I had begun to nourish my son and it was a mistake that his future health and behavior depended on me repairing. Giving in to a little boy's nonsense was not an option. This process took about 3 months as I recall. I tried to be as respectful as I could by not expecting him to eat mixtures of things, or soups or cooked vegetables. I stuck with the proteins, fruits and vegetables he accepted most readily. When we went out or to a friend's house I did not worry about what he ate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Silas: wheat-eating monster to Paleo Sweetie

Imagine yourselves invited to a New Year's Eve party in your small New England town by the one other family in town that might have something in common with you. Imagine you go to this family-friendly evening where the lovely Shannon and Andy have cooked the most delicious feast. Then imagine your 5 yr old son looking around at all the food and saying loudly, "There isn't any of MY kind of food here!!" Shannon is now a good friend of mine, but that wasn't a very auspicious beginning. Being Shannon, she laughed and asked him, "Silas, what is your kind of food?" At that moment in time the only things Silas ate were peanuts, crackers, toast, frozen blueberries, apples and cereal. In all seriousness, nothing is missing from the list. I have total familiarity with the situation of a "picky" eater. My oldest son came into the world with sensory integration issues. Food and eating was a total nightmare and his behavior was a total nightmare as well. He was super jolly and happy, but like a whirling dervish or perhaps like a small Barbarian. He could not control himself and I could not control him. If we went to a social gathering of any sort, Silas would race himself, sweaty and red-faced, around until he often actually threw up from the intensity and exhaustion. Those of you who now know my oldest son as someone who prefers not to shift himself at all until the book he is reading is finished, might find this hard to believe, but it was true. All the accompanying issues plagued our family-was I a bad parent? I tried everything. I was too strict, not strict enough, blah blah blah. Everyone had a solution that usually involved something I was doing wrong. Mothers get so used to taking the blame! Finally, a very wise woman said, "Feed him meat for breakfast and no more wheat." I knew instinctively she was onto something, but the idea of Silas eating meat for breakfast was hilarious. Thus began my experimentation with changing the eating of my child. However, I had one advantage that many parents do not. I did not ever "feel sorry for" or "feel badly" for my son. I notice that so many parents turn to jelly when their child is unhappy or struggling. Perhaps I am inherently hard-hearted, but when I know something will benefit my child I do not feel "guilty" or "sorry" for them during their struggle. When I began to change my son's food choices and he flipped out I was not distraught or immobilized with uncertainty. I do not believe my job is to create a situation where my child has their every whim met. I believe it is my job to raise up my kid as strong and healthy-physically and mentally- as is reasonable. If you are confident in your actions do not let a small tantruming person throw you off. The photo is of my son today-relaxed, mellow and totally suitable for bringing to New Year's Eve parties, with his lunch: fish, frozen blueberries, banana slices and baby lettuces with sea salt.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Be Free!!!

These are my boys and my fantabulous niece. We stayed at the "Be Free" bed and breakfast in the White Mtns of NH this past summer together. "Live Free or die" of course being the NH state motto, made life in AZ politics an easy transition. My two nephews were there for a bit also. It was a very nice place and the child-less lady who owned it was very kind and tolerant of the child mob. But, we didn't really feel exactly "free". I have total respect for people who do not bring kids to their vacation and would like a little peace and quiet. But kids, even well behaved ones (ruling out complete repression) are boisterous and energetic...and don't always like the "Be Free" breakfast that is served. My kids have been squelched enough/repressed enough or perhaps tucked enough manners into their little selves to avoid totally embarrassing responses to food they don't want, but my niece has neither the age nor inherent inclination to go around pleasing other people. Good girl. Something along the lines of "I don't want that breakfast at all. It doesn't look good." might have been said while her mother is nowhere to be seen-just her aunt. She hopped down from the table and that was that. "Should I make her something else?" asked Be Free proprietess? "No," I said "she is fine. Thank you for offering." Meanwhile all 4 boy cousins were looking wistfully at their plates wishing they were still 4 and could do something similar. It was really pretty funny, but is one of those GIANT MOUNTAINOUS parenting issues. Food and kids. Kids and food. What about kids and Paleo food? What about traditional cultures and food for kids? My next few posts will be on this issue (although I might intersperse some other stuff, like what we had for dinner). I want to first set out the notion that I believe kids are individual human beings and deserve the same respect and contemplation we might give to another adult. Of course they aren't adults and need parenting and so there is a mountain of gray area here, but in terms of forcing kids to eat something they don't want- I am not for it. Each autonomous human being whether young or old should be able to say no to putting food in their mouth unless they have extreme extenuating circumstances like anorexia. As a parent I believe it is my job to purchase WHAT foods will be on our table, and to decide WHEN they will be prepared, but not WHETHER my kid will open wide. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING takes the joy and pleasure and renewal out of shopping, cooking and serving more than fighting and cajoling at the table. I hate it, so why would I do it? Forcing kids to eat what they don't want does not make them appreciate my cooking or have gratitude for the healthy food in front of them or acknowledge how much more powerful I am than they are. It makes them mad. It makes them feel small - not in size. It might make them feel sick even. Or maybe it makes them happy because they had the opportunity to engage in a little battle with their parent which kids LOVE.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are they for holiday decorations?

There is a certain time of year (just before Thanksgiving) when people actually look at the mountain of winter/hard squashes in the grocery store and maybe even buy them to cook. After that squash-centered holiday the winter squashes get passed by pretty regularly as if maybe they aren't really food just ornamental. I sometimes find myself looking at them thinking "too much time and work". What a dumb thing to think. I cooked one up yesterday and it was the best no attention required sort of vegetable ever. Not to mention cheap because no one else wants to buy them! I used a butternut. Chopped it in half, did not take the seeds out and put it cut side down on a buttered tray at 400 for about an hour. I completely ignored it. After an hour I turned the oven off and still ignored it. When I wasn't busy I scooped the seeds out and then scooped all the soft flesh into a bowl, sprinkled in a little nutmeg and ginger and salt and mashed it up.

We had it with salmon cooked in paprika/thyme butter (melt butter, add Hungarian paprika and thyme) and mushrooms cooked in butter, rosemary, garlic and onions.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mamas and Daddys feed your babies good

I know so many Mamas like my sisters. Kick a** mothering, hard working and broke a**. It sucks that decent food costs a fair amount of money. There is no doubt about it. I can go into the cheap a**, funky smelling, depressing supermarkets, dollar stores, Big Lots and discount warehouses and buy low cost food for myself and my family. I can fill up two grocery bags in a way that would keep my kids’ bellies full for the week for about $30. Check out my carefully chosen wording, “keep my kids’ bellies full”. That is all I’d be doing. I wouldn’t be nourishing them. I wouldn’t even really be feeding them. I’d simply be filling them up. But the enraging fact is, that in this very rich nation of ours there are a hell of a lot of families buying food at those places just to keep their kids filled up. I’ve written before about prioritizing good food over fast food meals and nice sneakers. I lecture and teach all the time about how you can make good, inexpensive food choices. Most people who know me have heard me describe how the true cost of a gallon of proper, raw milk produced to provide the farmer with a living wage for himself, is about $12 a gallon. I’ve spouted off about what a bargain a dozen local, pastured eggs is if you think about cost per egg and number of meals provided. Anyone who has spent more than a few hours around me knows that I can pontificate relentlessly about how the cost of bad food is much worse than the cost of good food, it just takes longer to hit. Blah, blah, blather. The ugly reality is that sometimes the bank account is empty. The gas has been shut off. The car barely runs. Coffee comes from the gas station instead of Starbucks and it isn’t even possible to rent a movie to watch because the late fees from the previous rental are too much. I have been there, done that and occasionally do it still. It is stressful, sad and f***ing unfair. Most of the people buying their kids’ food at the dollar store work their fingers to the bone every day, but they don’t speak English or they got divorced or their mental health isn’t so great or their education ended too early. Every one of those people has a kid that deserves good eggs. Not one of those kids eating Ramen noodles for dinner deserves that poison. So let’s not get all elitist. Let’s do the down and dirty work of figuring out how to nourish yourself and your kids with the cheapest sh** you can buy or get at the food pantry. Priorities:

1. Good fat

2. Protein from animals

3. Fruits or vegetables

Here are my top food choices for those folks out there who are living the ghetto/white trash financial reality. All my love to you. Hold your head up. You can nourish yourselves and your kids too. If you can swing a Costco membership somehow, get yourself 2lbs of organic butter for $6. This is like medicine. Dispense 2T each day to your loved ones. While you are there get whatever are the cheapest vegetables and fruits. If you can’t get to Costco then get to your Food City and get produce on sale. Get cabbage. Eat a lot of it. Sweet potatoes or yams. If you are lucky enough to live in Tucson I hear that many of the Carnecerias (meat shops) sell lard that has not been bleached and wrecked. Thanks to local rancher Josh, friend of Chris L, for passing on that tip. Get some. Cook in it.

Frozen vegetables are better than canned. Sometimes you can find canned fruit in its own juice (not in syrup) or unsweetened applesauce-these make great treats or desserts. Whole coconut milk can often be had for pretty damn cheap at your corner Asian market. Use it to make soups, sauces or smoothies. Get as much into your kiddos as possible. Throw a can into your blender with some ice and some of that canned fruit in its own juice. Delicious treat. Get a bag of straws from the dollar store and you will be a rock star mama. Get some olive oil if they have it for cheap. Don’t cook with it, but pour it over whatever vegetable you have. Look for sunflower seeds, as unadulterated as possible. You can often get a big bag for $2 or $3 and, if they are raw you can sprout them, or roast and toast them. Finally, get your canned meats. Look for tuna in water (but beware-don’t eat it if you are pregnant or nursing a babe, and feed it once or twice a week to kids). Look for sardines in water or olive oil. Bone-in sardines in water or olive oil are like a magic, cheap elixir. Stock up. Get some Spam. Hell yeah. You heard right. Spam. It will nourish you. It has sustained many an Arctic research team. Goya, Hormel and Libby’s all make a cheap corned beef that is MSG-free and contains protein and fats that you need. Thanks to the 2010 Weston A. Price Foundation Shopping Guide for the canned meat low down. Get yourself big packages of chicken thighs and drumsticks. Cook them up. Save the bones and make a stock for your soup. Go to a market with a fish counter and ask for heads and bones. Make a delicious, live-forever fish stock out of them.

Avoid always: refined carbohydrates (crackers, cereal, cookies, pasta, bread), anything with corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, any beverages besides water, canned/boxed/prepared meals, vegetable oils like corn, safflower, soy and margarine and “snack food”. Know that things will look up for you. Life will get better. Hang in there. Revolt. Don’t sabotage yourself or your family with crap.