Rest for the Weary

Myla, our daughter, and I took a nap together this afternoon, a rare occurrence as of late. She snuggled right up to me and we both drifted to sleep in a few minutes. How I cherish those moments with my daughter!

I woke up before she did and laid there next to her, watching her and praying for her. How rare it is to see her still anymore! As I laid there praying for her and thanking God for our precious gift, our dog, Scofield, suddenly started barking. Not just a bark, but incessant, nonstop barking. I cringed.

Usually, if Myla is in her crib sleeping, she always wakes up when she hears Scoffie bark.

With each bark, I felt my blood pressure (and temper) rising. What a way to end our peaceful nap! Myla was going to wake up crying now! To my surprise, Myla kept sleeping in my arms. She did not stir, not even once during Scoffie’s thirty minute barkfest. She slept through his thirty minutes of barking and then for another half an hour after that! She woke up peacefully and smiling.

As I laid there with Myla, I could not help but think about how she must feel so safe and loved in my arms to be able to sleep so soundly through all the turmoil and noise going on in our house at that moment. I am her Mommy, her protector; and so it is with the Lord.

When we are resting in the arms of our Saviour, it doesn’t matter if the world is crowding in around us or the enemy is barking hateful things to us. We are safe. We can rest knowing God’s got us wrapped in His arms.

Think about all the times when we try to handle things on our own- blazing forward, doing whatever we think is best. What happens? We usually end up overwhelmed, frazzled, burnt out and exhausted.

Find rest today friend. The Lord’s arms are near and waiting. Curl up with your heavenly Father, and find refuge today.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. – Isaiah 40:11

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

Costs of Industrialized Food

I found the article below when I was shopping for coconut oil this morning. It does an excellent job of comparing/contrasting industrialized food with real food. It also thoroughly explains some of the reasons why industrialized (e.g. processed) foods are so bad for one’s health and for our society. Click the link below to access the article.

“Is Cheap Food Really Cheap? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Food” by Raine Saunders

Happy reading!

Chicken’s in the Air

The air is crisp. The leaves are golden, and chickens, well, most of them are being butchered! It’s fall here in New York and most of the local farmers are selling delicious pastured chickens at your local farmer’s market. Many of the farmers here only raise chickens through the summer because of the harsh New York winters. We’ve started to stock up on chicken because we’d like to have enough to last us the winter.

I’ll refrain (in this blog entry) from ranting about the unsanitary environment that most commercially produced chickens are forced to live in. I’ll also refrain from discussing how this environment affects the quality and safety of the meat. However, I do encourage you to look into how commercially produced chickens are bred and raised if you have never investigated it before.

There are so many labels out there these days. What does pastured mean? Well, for chickens (and beef and lamb) it means that they have been allowed to roam around in the grass munching on plants, bugs, seeds, etc. to their heart’s content. This varied diet imparts valuable nutrients to the meat that we consume. It also contributes to the wonderful flavor of chickens that have been allowed to live in this type of environment. If you have never tried a pastured chicken, I highly recommend it. In addition to its exceptional flavor, it is also much more moist than commercially produced chicken.

I’m not going to sugar-coat the cost of pastured chickens. Pastured, locally raised chicken is much more expensive than commercially produced chicken. We pay anywhere from $2.75 to $3.75 per pound for our chicken. We have to buy the whole chicken too. It is rare to find pastured chicken for sale in pieces (breasts, thighs, etc.).

We typically buy a 4 to 5 pound chicken and are able to get five or six meals out of it. So, if we buy a chicken for $18.75 (5 lbs @ $3.75 per pound), we typically end up spending about $3.75 for the meat portion of our family’s meal. We usually have two roast chicken meals (one regular meal and one night of leftovers), chicken salad for one or two meals, 2 meals worth of chicken soup, and a few cups of chicken broth (not used in the soup) for cooking. We also used leftover chicken in casseroles and pasta dishes.

As I type this, I’m making chicken broth (well, it’s simmering on the stove). I prefer homemade broth to store-bought broth or bouillon cubes. It’s superior in flavor and nutrients. Check the labels on store-bought broth and/or bouillon cubes, most are filled with los of extra preservatives, chemicals and a ridiculous amount of sodium.

Here’s how I usually make my own broth*:

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken carcass and drippings
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 2 to 4 carrots, chopped in fourths
  • 2 to 4 celery stalks, chopped in fourths
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • any spices desired (I usually add a little bit of salt and pepper and a bay leaf)
  • 4 to 5 quarts of water

Put all ingredients in a large pot and let sit for 30 minutes. Then, bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for at least 8 hours. I usually refrigerate it overnight and cook it some more the following day so it simmers for a total of 12 to 15 hours. The longer it simmers, the richer the broth. Strain. Pick any meat off the bones and add back into broth or reserve for some other use. Chill. Any fat in the broth will rise to the top once the broth is chilled. Remove fat (you can either discard it or save it (freeze) for frying). That’s all there is to it. I typically freeze the broth in a few 6 to 8 cup increments for soup and a few 2 cup increments for cooking.

I’ve already had a mug full of broth for lunch today. It’s such a soothing meal. It also works wonders if you are feeling a bit under the weather. If you get the chance to buy or try a pastured chicken, do it! I guarantee you’ll prefer its flavor to the flavor of a commercially produced chicken. Do keep in mind, as with other pastured meats, pastured chicken is leaner and will cook faster than commercially produced chicken so adjust cooking times in your favorite recipes accordingly. Happy cooking!

*Recipe adapted from basic chicken broth (p. 198) in The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook by Shannon Hayes

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday

Basics Continued: Brown Rice and Wheat

So, I promised more information on the staples we have on hand at our house. So far we’ve looked at beans and healthy fats and oils. Two other staples we always have in our cupboards are whole wheat flour and brown rice. Both of which are much healthier than their white counterparts.

We’d love to buy a grinder and grind our own wheat berries (the more freshly ground the wheat, the healthier it is), but we do not have the money for one just yet. We also do not have a local source for wheat berries and buying the berries online can get pricey because of shipping costs. So for now, we buy our wheat flour from a local grocery store.

Both brown rice and wheat flour should be soaked to neutralize the phytic acid in each. Essentially phytic acid prevents key nutrients (calcium, iron, zinc, etc.) in rice and flour from being absorbed. Soaking rice and flour breaks down phytic acid thus making nutrients readily available for absorption.

Brown rice should be soaked for a minimum of 8 hours in warm water and whey, yogurt, kefir or buttermilk (a good rule of thumb is 4 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of whey, yogurt, kefir or buttermilk to 2 cups of brown rice). After at least 8 hours have passed, the bacteria and enzymes present in whey, yogurt, kefir and buttermilk will have neutralized the phytic acid. Cook as usual.

Wheat flour should be soaked in either yogurt, kefir or buttermilk for at least 12 hours (24 hours being ideal). In addition to breaking down phytic acid, soaking grains helps with digestion. Grain is a starch and, as such, is complex, making it difficult for your body to digest. Over time some people develop allergies, such as gluten intolerance and/or digestive problems, which could lead to other more serious problems. This because of the significant effort a person’s digestive system has to make to digest unsoaked or unfermented grains. Grains that have been soaked or are fermented, as in the case of sourdough, are much easier for our bodies to digest.

The amount of yogurt, kefir or buttermilk used depends on the amount of wheat flour desired. It should be close to a one-to-one ratio (1 cup of wheat to 1 cup of yogurt, etc.). If you are unsure about how much yogurt, kefir or buttermilk to use or how to successfully convert recipes to incorporate soaking grains, I highly recommend buying a cookbook with recipes that involve soaking/fermenting grains. It makes the process so much easier! I recommend Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon or Wholesome Home Cooking: Preparing Nutrient Dense Foods compiled by Katie Stoltzfus.

Another alternative to soaking grains in yogurt, kefir or buttermilk is using sourdough. Get a sourdough starter. Feed it (add equal parts water and flour) once or twice a day until you get the amount needed for your recipe and you’re all set. Store your sourdough starter in the fridge until it’s needed again. Sourdough starters can be found online, but you should also ask around. If you have a friend, family member or co-worker who has a starter, you can take a bit of his or hers. Sourdough recipes are also easily found online for all sorts of yummy goodies like muffins, pancakes, waffles, and such.

Soaking our grains and rice has been quite an adjustment for us, mainly because of the prep time. If we want rice for dinner, we have to remember to soak it the night before or the morning of the day we want to make the rice. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times we’ve gone to start dinner and realized that we forgot to soak our rice! Thankfully, we do not do that quite as often anymore. Like most things in the wonderful world of cooking, once you get in the habit of doing it, it becomes like second nature. It does help that we plan out our meals a month at a time (including side dishes) so we can look at the calendar during the day and check to see if there is anything we need to prep for the next day (or next few days).

So, there you have our thoughts and recommendations for brown rice and wheat. Happy cooking!

Healthy Fats and Oils

Did you know that all the various fats and oils that line our cupboards should be used in specific ways? If they are not used properly, they can become rancid (e.g. harmful). When we first started looking into all the different fats and oils, we felt like we needed a chemistry degree to understand how heating up a fat/oil (or not) can alter its composition. The way we use fats and oils can result in many different outcomes. For instance, a dab of butter on freshly cooked vegetables can actually increase the health benefits of that vegetable by making its nutrients more readily available for absorption. On the contrary, heating olive oil past a certain temperature turns the olive oil rancid and ruins any of the nutrients in the olive oil. Consequently, the olive oil (and whatever was cooking in it) becomes quite unhealthy for consumption. Even though fats and oils may still taste delicious when they are cooked improperly, the chemical make-up of the fat or oil is altered in an unhealthy way, making it harmful to our bodies.

Additionally, our bodies need fat! It is one of the most important components of our diet. The cells in our bodies desperately need the right kinds of fats in order to operate properly. Our bodies have been designed to need fats/oils in order to survive (If you’re not picking up on it yet, I’ll tell you now, I’m not a fan of lowfat diets. Seriously! Have you seen all the chemicals that are in “lowfat” foods? Gross! Plus, whenever I eat something that is “lowfat” I am hungry twenty minutes later so I always ended up eating more food anyways!). Certain fats actually improve the health of our bodies and they aid in the absorption of nutrients and minerals that are in food. This may sound completely contrary to our popular culture, but when our family switched to using healthy fats and oils, Ryan and I actually lost weight. We eat lard, butter, coconut oil, eggs and drink lots of fresh whole raw milk and cream and overall we feel better. We have more energy. So, after much doing a good amount of research on what fats and oils to use and how to use them properly, I made the following cheat sheet that is now taped to the inside of my cookbook for quick reference:

  • Baking: Virgin coconut oil (much better for you and can be used in place of vegetable oil in most recipes)
  • Sauteing: Melt 1/2 desired amount of unrefined/unfiltered extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 desired amount of unsalted butter
  • Frying: Goose fat, chicken fat or lard (unhydrogenated)

The more natural the fats and oils we use, the better/less harmful they are for you if they are used properly. Our family avoids all types of hydrogenated and commercially concocted fats like vegetable oil, margarine, and shortening because the way they are made and processed makes them incredibly unhealthy for you. Plus, we’ve found that once we’ve switched over to more natural fats, things taste a lot better and they fill us up for longer periods of time. So, give it a whirl! Try it for yourself and see what a difference it makes!

You can find unrefined/unfiltered extra virgin olive oil at most major grocery stores. The best place we’ve found so far for goose fat is Amazon (We’ve found it is easier to buy goose fat and use it than finding unhydrogenated lard. So we usually just use goose fat instead of lard.). We’ve been able to find coconut oil at most major grocery stores and health food stores. However, for the best prices on virgin coconut oil buy in bulk online (we’re still trying to find the best price for buying in bulk since there are so many options available).

Be a Thinker

Warp speed. That’s how I feel like most of us live our lives. It’s as if technology has become an extension of our body. Not only are we, as a culture, enamored by it and compulsively addicted to it (how many times did you check a social networking site or your email today?), but I would even argue that technology has even altered the way we think, ponder and truly connect with one another.

Sure, our ability to get ahold of someone instantaneously can be useful and convenient at times, but I fear that, as a culture, we’ve become so accustomed to it that we no longer value (or even have) face-to-face, heart-to-heart, community building conversations and we’ve lost the ever-so-important ability to think for ourselves. Instead, we “Google”, poll a social networking site or text. It’s almost as if we have lost faith in our own ability to discover. It seems as if we think that the answers to just about everything in life are already out there- all we have to do is find them (usually online) or make a decision based on popular opinion.

When we were in Virginia a while ago, we went to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. It is one of my favorite places. While there, I was browsing through some books in the bookstore and found a collection of writings from our founding fathers and other famous historical figures. Reading their works offers a delightful glimpse into these mens’ minds. These men were brilliant. Their writings were not minute by minute or hourly updates about their feelings. They are not a list of simple “likes” and “dislikes”. Instead, their writings are, most often, detailed analysis and responses to the issues of their day.

These men were thinkers. They may have been well read, but they didn’t mindlessly inhale (and believe) all they were reading. They thought about the content and questioned it. They had points. They built arguments. I have to say, the letters they exchanged with each other contained far more depth than most of the essays my students wrote when I was teaching at the college level.

Today “deep thinkers” are labeled and most are isolated in the world of academia or think tanks. Sadly, the rest of us are often too consumed by one form (or multiple forms at once) of media or another to use our brains and think critically about the lives we live and the world we are living in. We juggle numerous technologies to stay connected to everyone, but I would argue that most people are more emotionally isolated (and often more socially awkward) than ever.

I don’t want to end this blog on such a dire note. We are not automated robots. We are not computers. We are people. Turn off the television. Have technology free hours. Limit your use of the Internet. Next time you have a question, think about it. Try whatever you come up with a solution, and give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Experience life with all its ups and downs and moments of quiet and noise. Don’t fill your spare seconds searching for companionship with an electronic gizmo. Spend some time pondering. Have tea or coffee times. Meet and get to know your neighbors and others outside your usual group of friends. Spend time outdoors. Watch raindrops run down your window pane. Cherish life don’t escape from it.

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesdays

Social Media’s Impact on Journalism

We read a fantastic opinion column over the weekend by Times Union Editor Rex Smith entitled “Restraint, even as news ignites.” (click title to access article)

For the past two days I’ve started to write my own thoughts on this article, but, alas, I’ve realized after much scribbling that he does a much better job of explaining things than my scribbling does, so I’ll just let you read the article for yourself and let you form your own opinion about it. I will say this, “Bravo! Hat’s off to Smith for so clearly articulating the impact social media sites have had on professional journalism.” Happy reading!