Saturday, December 29, 2012

This morning at Jamaica Pond

The reports call for snow
They say we should hunker down
I choose to breathe the air
Run fast among the trees
For now, the water is still
The wind is calm
The pond is waiting

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Happy End of the World, everyone!

I notice that despite the predictions, it is a sunny, calm day outside and the world has not come to an end. Huzzah! On top of that, the longest night of the year has passed and every day from here on out will get longer, brighter, and a little more hopeful.

I have to share some good fortune with everyone. The other day, I went to a thrift shop to look for some new-to-me work clothes. I love thrift shops, and not just for the thrift. There's also an opportunity to rescue clothes from being thrown away, saving valuable landfill space. I also prefer to choose to support a charity or small business instead of a mega-corporation producing new clothes in sweat shops.

I found some things that fit well enough and looked okay on: three pairs of brown pants, three brown tops, one black sweater, and one cookie cutter shaped like an apatosaurus (formerly known as brontosaurus.) Okay, I really didn't need the cookie cutter, but it's an apatosaurus! How could I say no?

I wasn't sure about the splurge, as it's the end of the year and with vet expenses finances have gotten even tighter than usual. But I decided to treat myself, and took my things up to the register.

You know how sometimes certain colors of price tags are further discounted? Well, every single thing I bought was half price that day! I spent just over $15 for all those things! They're downstairs in the wash now, and I might even wear some of them home for Christmas.

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you have lots of little magical moments that make your days special too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Beatiful morning!

Okay, it's actually rainy and dismal. But it is a new day, and a new opportunity to make a positive difference in your life! Just because it's rainy, or because it's the holiday season, or any other reason at all doesn't mean you have to abandon your healthy lifestyle choices!

The best way to stay on track with your healthy food choices is to be prepared. Cookies and candy at work tempting you? Be prepared by eating a homemade breakfast and lunch you find nourishing and filling. This morning, I enjoyed roasted kohlrabi, roasted beets, and sunny side up eggs. I'll be at the kitchen for lunch, but we are always well fed there. Nothing but real food, as far as the eye can see!

Naturally, this morning's eggs were laid by chickens raised by real, local farmers. They had the opportunity to get sunshine, which means more vitamin D in the yolks. They scratched for bugs and seeds outside, eating a healthy, natural diet. That translates to more omega-3 fatty acids in the yolks, and a better nutritional profile overall. And of course, happy animals and happy land means healthier food in all sorts of other ways too!
Happy chickens scratch outdoors!

Tempted by sweets? Get more protein and healthy fat in your diet. Don't think of it as depriving yourself of that treat. Think of it as seizing the opportunity to make a better choice!

Weather keeping you in, when you'd rather take a walk at lunchtime? Do what you can. Squats, lunges, triceps dips, and taking the stairs are all good ways to keep moving, even if you can't get outdoors or to the gym. Have a little extra time tonight? Take a yoga class. You will be so glad you did! I had been away from my favorite yoga studio for way too long, and I took a class last night. I feel better in my body and in clearer and calmer in my mind. At the beginning of class, I was frustrated by a shoulder injury that made it hard to use my full range of motion. By the end, I had a lot more freedom of movement. In fact, this morning it's still feeling a lot better!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Farm visits!

Going to visit two different farms this afternoon! How lucky am I to be a locavore chef, that this is how I get to spend my day?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Healthy fermented foods! And a recipe for cultured cashew creme.

Hello everyone!

Today I want to write about natural fermentation. There are so many different kinds of fermented foods and beverages. Of course we all know about beer, wine, cider, and vinegars. Those are all the products of yeast fermentation.

Sourdough breads are also a product of slow yeast fermentation. This makes the grains much more digestible. If you are able to digest wheat or other grains, sourdoughs are the healthiest ways to enjoy them.

There are also fermented soy products. For those of you who are not allergic to soy and choose to eat it, organic, naturally fermented soy products like miso and natto can be much healthier additions to the diet than unfermented soy. I don't consume soy nor do I endorse it as a food, honestly, but if you do eat soy please use only fermented, and certified organic!

Right now I am really interested in lactofermentation. Lactofermented vegetables (and dairy if you tolerate it) can be nourishing ways to add probiotics to your diet. Unlike the breads, beers, wines, and hard ciders which all use yeast, lactofermented veggies are made by bacteria.

Some of the bacteria that create the lactofermentation process produce vitamin K2, which is so important for your health! We all know about K1, the one found in dark green leafy veggies, that helps with correct blood clotting. Yay green leafy veggies! But K2 is just as important! It helps you use vitamin D and calcium. It helps feed all the organs and tissues in your body. You need K2! There is debate about whether the body can make K2 out of K1, then use it. It used to be thought that you could, but now researchers are not so sure whether you can absorb it properly. Best to eat lots of healthy fermented foods with healthy fats for proper absorption to be sure! As a bonus, some of those healthy bacteria from the food will hang out in your gut and help with digesting everything you eat.

Once upon a time, I made my own dairy yogurt every week. Sometimes I used pasteurized goat milk, and sometimes raw cow milk, depending on what I could get. I stopped doing this when we went vegan, but I am thinking of trying it again. I'm looking into places to get raw unpasteurized cow and goat milk for yogurt and cheese. There are some in Massachusetts. I'll keep you posted, and then I'll do some posts about dairy yogurt and raw milk cheeses. (I'll also mention which cheeses have a lot more K2 than others - different cultures produce different amounts of it.)

While I was vegan (and even now that I am no longer vegan) I made cultured cashew creme. I'm going to teach you how to do that a little later in this post.

I also love lactofermented vegetables. Sauerkraut is amazingly nourishing stuff. It helps with digestion. It is delicious. It is full of that awesome K2 I was talking about earlier. Real kim chi is also lactofermented cabbage with lots of other healthy seasonings. I'll do posts about how to make both in the future.

But cabbage isn't the only vegetable you can do this with! It is definitely one of the cheapest, but far from the only one. I am going to try making a healthy fermented drink called beet kvass, and tell you about my adventures with that soon too. So many adventures!

For now, here's the recipe (more of a method, really) for cultured cashew creme!

You'll need:

Raw cashews (preferably the really raw sort, where heat isn't used in extracting them from their shells; but the ones labeled as raw in the grocery store will do)
Filtered water
Lemon juice (freshly squeezed and organic)
Sea salt

First, soak the cashews. You can get away with an hour, but I like to soak at least a few hours. This isn't like with other nuts where you really need to soak 8 or 12 hours; cashews are special like that. When you soak your cashews, take your lemons out of the fridge. They produce the most juice when they are at room temperature.

So you soak your cashews, then drain and rinse them. Put them in the blender jar, squeeze your lemons, and add the lemon juice to the blender. How much, you ask? Well, for a cup of cashews you might use the juice of a small lemon or half the juice of a large lemon. It's to taste, and you'll be adjusting it later.

Add a splash of water and blend. Start slow, scrape down a few times, and keep blending and adding a TINY bit of water at a time until you have a thick, smooth, creamy consistency. You want it to be thick like yogurt. It will only thicken up a little while culturing, unlike dairy yogurt. So make it only a tiny bit runnier than you want your finished product to be.

Once you have a beautifully smooth texture, stir in some probiotics or yogurt starter culture. Most starter culture packets contain traces of dairy. If you are dairy-free and/or vegan, use probiotic capsules instead. I like Country Life's Powerdophilus, but you should use whatever vegan probiotics you like that come in a capsule or powder format. I add about three capsules for about a cup to a cup and a half of cashews. Stir it in, transfer to a glass bowl or jar, and cover loosely. Set in a warm place.

If you have a dehydrator and are using it to dehydrate something else, set your cashew creme on top or on a towel inside. (I rarely turn mine above 105, and that's about the temp you want here. Cooler is okay, warmer will kill enzymes and damage these sensitive bacteria.) If you don't have one, just find a warm place. The cupboard above your fridge is a warm stable place. Any safe shelf is fine - just don't close the cupboard or forget where you put it!

Let it culture overnight or longer, up to about 24 hours, depending on how warm or cool your kitchen is, and how strongly you would like it to taste.

Now you can season to taste with more lemon and some sea salt, chill it down, use it in dips and dressings, or whatever you like! To make a ranch-like dressing, add some fresh or dried dill, parsley, garlic, and onion. Add a little more lemon or some raw apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. Let it sit in the fridge for an hour while the flavors meld (it won't taste like much at first if you use dried herbs, but the flavors will blossom and combine as the dressing chills.)

Make an antioxidant-rich curry dip by stirring in some fresh ginger and your favorite curry powder.

You can even add some raw honey or local maple syrup and a little raw cacao powder, and have a healthier and very satisfying sweet snack or topping.

You can also stir this creme into raw or cooked veggie "pasta" dishes, salads and slaws, chilled soups, anywhere you might otherwise have used yogurt or sour cream! For some people, this is easier to digest than dairy. And it's so much healthier than the non-dairy yogurts you can buy in the store. Live active cultures, no stabilizers or fillers, nothing but what you put in there. Nothing but real, honest food. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How we can help

It is a beautiful morning. As I breathe deeply and appreciate the sun, I can not forget the tragedies that have been happening in our communities.

The most recent tragedy was a school shooting in a town near the one in which I grew up. If there can ever be said to be a typical school shooting, this wasn't it. A young man killed his mother, then drove to the elementary school where she taught. He killed twenty children and six adults there, then killed himself bringing the toll to 28 that I am aware of at this time.

Flag at half mast in Newtown, CT this morning.

Breaking news this morning has revealed no motive.

I am one of the lucky ones - no one I know happened to be hurt or killed. Knowing how lucky I am just amplifies how unlucky some others were. There are 27 families who will never again hold their loved ones who were lost. 20 sets of parents of tiny children who will never see their babies grow up.

If you are able and wish to help the community, here is a story from a local paper that explains how you can help.

If we wish to make sure this doesn't happen again, we have a lot more work to do. Why did this young man snap? Why do we attach a stigma to asking for mental health help? Why don't we have a system in place to recognize and help people who are in such a dark place that violence seems like a reasonable choice? How can we make changes to assure that this won't happen again?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Healing with broths and stocks

Good morning fantastic people!

Did you know that you can make stocks and broths while you sleep, and have a nourishing drink in the morning? Last night, I simmered some broth in the slow cooker overnight. This morning, I strained it out and drank a warm cup to wake my body up.

Then I enjoyed a smoothie made with frozen banana, fresh spinach, and a little raw coconut butter. I blended it with just enough water to make it smooth. Having a little healthy fat with your green veggies helps you absorb all the good fat-soluble vitamins in the greens.

How do I make broths? It sounds daunting, but it is really easy. When you use carrots, celery, and onions in your cooking, keep the trimmings. Not the yucky bits; you don't want yucky stuff in your stock. But the tops and tails of nice, fresh carrots, ends of crunchy celery, and the skins and outer layers of onions that are clean all work beautifully. If you are fortunate to have leeks, use the green part in stock. If your carrots have green frondy tops, pick through, wash, and use all that gorgeous mineral-rich green stuff. Any time you use fresh parsley, keep all the stems in this bag too. Whether you are making a veg broth or an animal bone broth, these veggies come in really handy. Some people use all sorts of other veggies in their broths, but I find that I like the balanced flavor of carrot, onion, celery, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorn in mine.

The stems of mushrooms are great too. Usually I store mushroom stems separately, because I like to have both veg broth and mushroom broth. Put all those trimmings in a freezer bag, squeeze out all the air, and pop it in the freezer. After a week or two of eating lots of veggies, you've got a lot of trimmings!

To make veggie broth, simply dump your collected veggie trimmings and some chopped fresh veggies in a big stockpot, and cover with fresh filtered water. If you don't already have herbs in there, add them. My favorite combo for basic veg broth is to have lots of carrot, celery, and a good amount of onion or leek, a few cloves of garlic, parsley stems, peppercorn, bay leaf, and some fresh or dried parsley and thyme.

Bring up to a simmer. Simmer away for hours. You can simmer on the stove top, or if you'll be away or asleep, use a slow cooker set on low. Cool a bit, strain through a colander then a fine mesh sieve, chill it down or just use straight away.

To make an animal bone stock, add chicken, beef, or lamb bones. (You can also just simmer the bones without the veggies for a less flavorful broth, if that is what you need for a specific purpose.) Leg bones with joints and connective tissue will release their natural gelatin into the liquid as it simmers. Gelatin-rich stocks will gel up when chilled. Broths made primarily with back bones and gizzards with less collagen won't gel up as well, but do have other nutrients. Simmer bone broths even longer than veg broths to extract all the nutrients. You can use the leftover carcass of a roast chicken this way with excellent results too.

For mushroom stock, simply simmer your mushroom stems with lots of dried shiitake mushrooms, some garlic, peppercorn, and thyme (fresh and dried both work fine.)

For Rather Crafty, I make a huge batch of veggie broth every week and use it in soups, sauces, and often as a cooking liquid for grains. When I'm making mushroom-based soups and other dishes, I make mushroom broth.

Since choosing to incorporate some animal foods back into my diet, I find that making stock from chicken and turkey bones is a nourishing way to try to heal my digestive system and my joints. I also feel better about using every possible part of the animal. While I would rather not have to use animal products at all, if my health demands that I do then it feels a lot better to use every scrap. No waste!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Healing, and a resolution

Hello wonderful people!

I am in the process of transforming this blog from a place to announce menus into, well, a blog. I'll be posting recipes, kitchen adventures, and a little about my health journey. Hopefully, my experiences can help others along their journeys too!

As some of you know, I haven't been in the best of health lately. As part of my healing, I have made a resolution: I will choose to be near a body of water almost every day. Walking to work at CeL, I am fortunate to cross the Charles. Walking to JP, I go via the Pond. I always feel better when I spend time in the woods and/or near some water. I'm also noticing that I feel better when I don't work all day, every day. I didn't work yesterday. I rested, I napped, I went for a walk, and it was amazing. Some people only work five days a week, and only eight hours at a stretch! Sounds crazy - I'll have to look into that.  ;)

Today, I only had a few hours of work to do. When I was done, I had the opportunity to go to Wellesley and walk around Lake Waban. I haven't been there for years. It was awesome. Here's a crooked picture I took with my phone:

On the right, you can see Galen Stone Tower. That's where the carillon is. In front of it, the Clapp Library is mostly obscured by trees. On the left, you see the Tower Court dorm complex, including Severance Hall where I lived during my first year.

I had almost forgotten how many rhododendrons there are on and near the campus. So very many! Some things have changed on campus, but that is not one of them.

Something that has changed for me this year is my digestion. I have always gone through periods when digestion was easier and periods when it was more difficult. Since July, I have been experiencing consistently very difficult digestion, and it has affected every area of my life.

I've gone through lots of tests. I'm tired of tests. Last week I swallowed a camera. It took pictures of my esophagus, stomach, and small intestine over a period of nearly eight hours. Crazy! Maybe there will be results to discuss tomorrow.

The next round is lactulose breath testing. What does that mean? I have to fast overnight (no water or anything) then tomorrow I will go in and drink a solution of lactulose in water. Lactulose is a disaccharide (double sugar) made of fructose and galactose. I will drink the solution, then hang out in the doctor's office. At regular intervals, I will breathe into a device that will measure hydrogen and/or methane in my breath. This will tell us if there are too many bacteria in my small intestine. The bacteria should mostly be in the large intestine, not the small intestine. If they're hanging out in the small intestine, that would explain the excessive tummy bloat and some other symptoms. It would also mean that there's something we can do to treat this and then I can start feeling better!

So far, things that seem to help include:

Vitamin D
Pantothenic acid
Drinking homemade broth
Taking a day or two off from work
Increasing and diversifying my protein intake
Diversifying sources of fat
Simple meals - Not combining too much starch into protein meals, and not too much protein or fat in meals that contain fruit or other sweets

Things that cause trouble:

Grains, other than occasionally a little white rice (some are worse than others)
Beans, and all legumes (some cause anaphylaxis, and others cause other symptoms)
Too many seeds
Too many nuts
Too many onions at once
Too little protein or fat
Combining protein and fat with fruit or sweets in the same meal
Eating too often. I get really bloated if I eat again within a couple hours after eating a prior meal or snack.

I can't figure out all the factors yet, because I still get bloated after most meals, even some that should be easier to digest.

And here is the hard part, where I have to tell you that I am no longer eating a vegan diet.

I was vegan for two years. There were so many things I loved about it, but here's the thing: I'm allergic to most legumes, highly sensitive to the rest, and I can't digest grains or pseudograins anymore. I've been dealing with chronic inflammation and other issues, and I basically ran out of protein sources. I tracked my diet, and discovered I rarely consumed more than 30 or 40 grams of protein a day. That's just not enough. I had almost no significant sources of lysine, or of a few other essential amino acids. I stopped being able to digest flaxseed, so I had very limited sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. I was worn out and feeling brittle. I was experiencing wild weight fluctuations, completely unrelated to calorie intake. I had muscle tears that weren't healing. I was consistently getting inadequate pantothenic acid. Pantothenic acid insufficiency is not something Western doctors even test for, because normal diets are very rich in it. It's very plentiful in egg yolks, grains, all animal foods, and legumes. It's also plentiful in avocados, which may explain why I craved them so much! But woman can not live on avocado alone.

So I'm again eating a careful omnivorous diet.

It has been a challenging journey to get here; I am sorry if it offends anyone.

Some aspects of my health have been improved by starting to eat fish. Some aspects have greatly improved by including eggs, especially the B-vitamin-rich yolks. I get the eggs from our friends at Stillman Family Farms. I have been out to their farms, and I have met the animals. I know that they are treated humanely and live happy lives. The chickens scratch outdoors. The lambs and calves grow up in pastures with their mothers. They're not fattened up with hormones or antibiotics. If you're going to eat animal products, it is so important to know how the animals are treated.

So that's what's up here in Craftyland. I hope you are all doing well! I hope to be doing well soon too.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Muffin Mania!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bunny emergency! Delivery postponed until Friday.

Hello everyone,

I am very sorry but I have had an emergency and I must postpone the cooking and deliveries this week. I can deliver on Friday. Please let me know if this is ok, and if you need to adjust your order accordingly. If you need to amend or cancel your order, I will understand completely.

Our bunny, Penelope, has been sick. She spent the weekend in the hospital. Hopefully, she will come home tomorrow or the next day. She has great doctors and nurses, and is making good progress. In the meantime, I just haven't been able to spend time in the kitchen to cook this week's food.

I will be able to deliver the same menu to you on Friday, December 7.

I am very sorry for the inconvenience. It's been a rough couple of days!

Thank you for your understanding.

Chef Mary