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Today’s Decadent Breakfast Salad

4 Jun

The garden greens are in full swing, so it’s nothing but salads for the next few weeks if we want to keep up. This morning I’m doing my part by eating a lovely salad of arugula, butteraise, blanched almond slivers, chopped up hard-poached eggs, and shredded nice aged Parmesan cheese. It’s quite nice!


Container Potatoes: Gardening Anyone Can Do

14 May

I’m pretty sure potatoes are the absolute most controversial food when it comes to paleo / primal eating. I don’t eat them every day, but I do eat them. If you aren’t opposed to potatoes, you may be interested to know that they are dead easy to grow. Potatoes are kind of a miracle plant that turns dirt into food even under poor conditions. If you have any yard space at all, you can plant them in the ground. If you have no yard space, though, or want a method that makes for a simpler harvest, read on:

Potatoes grow well in containers

Potatoes grow well in containers

Potatoes are really easy to grow in containers. The down side is that the soil to grow them in and the container itself are usually more expensive than just buying potatoes. This pot is one I have had for a long time, and the potting soil in it is, I’m sure, long since devoid of any organic value. So if you have a container, especially a large one, that has outlived its usefulness, this is a great way to revitalize it. I amended the soil with some compost since we had plenty. There are lots of ways to repurpose other items to use as pots, too, and you can sometimes make your own “potting soil” a bit cheaper by mixing vermiculite/pumice, compost, coconut coir, etc. (although this isn’t always any cheaper than just buying potting soil).

You can buy special seed potatoes, but I rarely do. I started growing these potatoes when several weeks worth of produce-bin potatoes sprouted and I wanted to cut my losses somewhat. As long as you start from organic potatoes that have already sprouted, you should be fine. You can plant each potato whole or you can cut the individual “eye” sections apart.

Plant the potatoes fairly deep. If you have the wherewithal, plant the potatoes in a container that’s only partially filled. As the vines grow, gently cover them most of the way with more soil; this will cause the plant to produce more tubers and makes better use of a deep container.

After a couple of months, start poking around gently in the soil to see how big the potatoes are getting. I like to harvest them when they are still tiny, like this:

I often feel like small potatoes

I often feel like small potatoes

These were washed then fried whole in tasty fat for my dinner Sunday night.

The easiest way to harvest is to dump the contents of the container onto a tarp and sift through until you find potatoes.

You can also let them grow much longer and get actual decent-sized potatoes this way. I have been told and am currently experimenting with, but can’t yet confirm, that you can harvest a round of new potatoes (like these) then re-plant the vines and grow more. If you want to do this, you have to be very careful about digging up and replanting the plants to keep them intact.

Homemade Butter

23 Apr

When I was a little girl, my mom read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to me and I loved them. We made a lot of food together that was inspired by the books, and my mom even sewed me some costumes; I remember a sun bonnet in particular that I think I had her make for me and then refused to wear specifically so that I could emulate Laura. I can trace a lot of my interests as an adult back to these experiences, really.

My love of butter is no secret. Every so often I’ll get the urge to make my own butter. It’s not any cheaper than buying butter, and it isn’t even necessarily more tasty than some of the luxury butters you can buy, but it’s just so fun that I can’t resist. Plus, it’s one of those kitchen tricks that people just go nuts for — if you ever bring homemade butter to a potluck, no one will say “All you brought was butter?” rather all you will here will be “You made butter!?!?!?”

The process is stupidly simple: you agitate heavy cream until the fat clumps together (the butter) and separates from the watery liquid (the buttermilk). Usually when I make butter I either shake it in a mason jar (tip: it works better if you add a well-washed marble) or just use the stand mixer. Once the butter separates, use a very clean tool (traditionally a special paddle) to press out all the buttermilk, rinsing with a little water to get it all out, then salt it and serve however you please. Better butter comes from better cream, so start with the good stuff, and to make it even better culture the cream first. I haven’t really experimented with this yet, but it’s next on my list.

A friend of mine has a miniature ceramic butter churn that I’ve been coveting for some years now. At the urban homesteading store the other day (oh, Portland!) I found one of my very own! This size doesn’t come with a dasher (the plunger part), so I had to rig up one on my own with some scrap wood, but today I got to live out all my pioneer dreams:

The finished product

The finished product

Churning butter while waiting for my steak-grilling fire to get ready!

Churning butter while waiting for my steak-grilling fire to get ready!

Future Food: Introducting my Adorable Chickens!

22 Apr

Better Half finally convinced me that chickens would make great pets. Okay, I got some farm fresh eggs from a coworker and they are AMAZING and I want to eat eggs like that every day, so I got on board with the backyard chicken thing. In our city you can have up to four hens. We decided to start with babies because they are ZOMG SO CYOOOOOT! that we couldn’t resist. Presenting for your enjoyment, my future flock:

Butterscotch the Buff Orpington, 5 days old

Butterscotch the Buff Orpington, 5 days old

Henrietta aka Henny Penny the Ameraucana, 5 days old

Henrietta aka Henny Penny the Ameraucana, 5 days old

Jesus* the Barred Rock, 5 days old. (It's pronounced sacrilegiously. The short answer is, she's named Biscuit, but Jesus is a biscuit [it's a Drag Race reference] and I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell and I'm sorry to everyone I've just offended and alienated.)

Jesus* the Barred Rock, 5 days old. (It’s pronounced sacrilegiously. The short answer is, she’s named Biscuit, but Jesus is a biscuit [it’s a Drag Race reference] and I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell and I’m sorry to everyone I’ve just offended and alienated.)

Waffles the Welsummer, 5 days old.

Waffles the Welsummer, 5 days old.

We got “sexed” chicks, which have been determined with 95% accuracy to be female. There is still a chance one might turn out to be a cockerel. This has sparked a lively disagreement between Better Half and I — if we end up with a rooster, I will eat him; this apparently is the Wrong Answer. For now I hope that it isn’t an issue. We’ve also had some lively discussion about what we’ll do when the chickens reach the eventual end of their egg-producing years. The bottom line is, I’m surprisingly non-sentimental about food animals. These chicks are adorable, but some day, they could be food, and that’s okay. (I think this is why I failed at veganism.)


Gardening and Deep Thoughts

9 Mar

Better Half and I worked in the yard all day today. Well, I guess not actually all day, but most of the day. It was awesome! We turned and mixed the compost (and added some more coffee grounds), and I am really pleased to see how well it’s doing. If I would just stop adding new kitchen scraps, we’d probably have a totally usable beautiful compost by now. The pile is finally big enough and I’ve finally gotten the right ratios that it’s actually heating up (I’m sure it helps that the weather has warmed up), so things should speed up. We also did a little pruning, planted some new trees and shrubs, picked up all the supplies for raised beds (to be built and set up next weekend), planted wildflower seeds in the front yard, and worked on our containers. The yard is really starting to come together, which is really satisfying. Plus, I can’t wait to get some edibles going! Tasty food from my own yard, what could be better?

And what could be more primal than doing sustained, low-impact physical activity outside with my beloved and my overly helpful dog? (Who got his entire head stuck inside a coffee grounds bag at one point. This is what we have done to wolves.)

I have some non-mainstream ideas about food and health, this blog is proof of that. I sincerely believe that eating minimally processed foods that conform roughly to our best guess of an ancestral hominid diet is the best choice for optimal health. That said, I also, in moments of deep honesty, believe that the real reason contemporary Americans are so unbelievably unhealthy has a lot less to do with the half a Snickers bar I ate earlier (it was awesome! worst paleo blogger ever, but whatever!) and a lot more to do with the fact that most of us really and truly just sit around all day. I feel like I’m fighting the good fight when I manage to find activities, like today’s yard work adventure, that are physical without being overwhelming, natural, intrinsically motivating, fun, productive, and don’t feel like I have to take away from my normal routine to “go out and exercise” (I also can’t wait to go running tomorrow, though, so obviously I like both approaches). This kind of exertion is the heart of wellness. I wish that everyone had the time to pursue something like this, and I get really sad when I think of how much privilege is inherent in my ability to putter around my yard for a day.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. When I was young, I was an ape, living purely by instinct and emotion. Adolescence brought fierce tribalism and a rudimentary grasp of tool use. My earliest adulthood was spent wandering the wilds, learning every bird and bug and twig and leaf and bud. Now I find myself settling, taming. I’m no longer nomadic. Agriculture calls to me. I seek stability.

How will this trend continue as I age? Will I fall in love with automation in middle age, finally embracing the industrial revolution instead of metaphorically flinging my wooden shoes into looms? When I am an old woman, will I eat packaged processed food and believe it to be the best idea anyone’s ever had?

…Okay, that last one, probably not.

We’ll see.

How I got here: my journey so far

16 Feb

Warning: Long, personal, rambling.

I’ve always been fat. Well… maybe not always. I’m willing to concede that there might have been a brief window in between when I was a typically chubby toddler and when I became a genuinely tubby kid, but I don’t remember it and I can’t find any conclusive proof. In any case, I’ve been fat as long as I can remember. I was the big girl in elementary school, the big girl in middle school, the big girl in high school, the big girl in college, and I remain a big woman. There were times when I agonized about my fat more (middle school) and times when I embraced it and lived my life to the fullest regardless of my extra insulation (college), and my relative fatness has fluctuated, but this blanket of subcutaneous lipids has always been here.

It’s funny — both my parents are skinny. Like, really skinny. Like, I’m pretty sure I weigh more now than my parents did combined when they got married. Okay, I’m not actually positive of that, but take my word for it that I do not come from a long line of heavy folk. I am like the cuckoo chick in the wren’s nest. My weight probably causes my parents more grief than it causes me. (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, by the way, chill out. Nobody looks at me and thinks MY GOD WHO RAISED THAT BLIMP.) I know they both love me “no matter what” but they’ve definitely made it clear that they “just want me to be healthy” and “are concerned about me” and all those other lines that us fat people just totally love hearing from our skinny loved ones.

I’ve never really dieted. I would occasionally embark on various absolutist I WILL EAT HEALTHY FOREVER AND ALWAYS!!!1! campaigns (nearly always stemming from my parents), but they never really stuck. For a brief period around my sophomore year of high school I succumbed to pressure and started tracking everything I ate, weighing myself religiously, exercising like a fiend, and limiting my caloric intake, and I did manage to lose weight. But anyone who has ever been fat, especially a fat teenager, knows that anything you don’t do for yourself never sticks. I didn’t exercise because it gave me joy or track what I ate because it helped me feel in control; this was a joyless and frenzied time overall.

So we’ve pretty well set the stage for when I went away to college and lived on my own for the first time: food freedom! No one watching and judging! I’ll show you mom and dad, I’m going to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s and then go have waffles! BWA HA HA!

I got fatter in college. I also started learning to love myself, fat and all. I dipped my toes in the fat acceptance waters. I read wonderful studies debunking much of what we are told about obesity. I graduated college, started working, got even less active, had even fewer motivations to eat well, got even fatter, didn’t really care.

This is the part where in a normal fat memoir I’d talk about the moment when I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me, or broke down in tears when my doctor told me about the grandchildren I’d never see, or some crap like that. But this isn’t that kind of story. This is my story, and I’m kind of weird. My moment when everything changed came when I won second place in a hotly contested medieval costume contest. I was so proud of myself! I had tackled this huge undertaking, making everything from my socks and shoes to all the parts of my hat. A friend helped me draft a dress pattern from an extant garment, and helped me figure out how to adjust it so that it would actually fit me, given that medieval people were skinny and I am not.

That was my moment, right there: making that pattern work on my body was hard. I realized that I wanted to sew more, and that sewing is easier when you’re smaller.

I should have warned you there wasn’t going to be anything profound in here. It turns out that I decided I wanted to lose weight because, at the age of 26 and of my own initiative, I discovered vanity. That year I started using My Plate, I tracked my caloric intake and expenditure religiously, and I lost 35 pounds.

During the next year, I joined Weight Watchers. I liked the social aspect of it, and the cutesy rewards system, but the reliance on processed food and especially artificial sweeteners grossed me out. I lost some more weight, probably another 15 pounds or so.

It was during this time that I started to seriously investigate eating paleo. I have a dog whom I love dearly, and I feed him a raw species-appropriate diet. I started to ask myself why I fed the dog an evolutionary based diet and didn’t feed myself one. I read more about it and jumped in with both feet. I wasn’t too strict about carbs and I fell off the wagon periodically, but I became more active, based my diet around meat, fat, vegetables, and fruit, and started to feel healthy in a way I had never previously experienced. I took some flak from my friends and my Better Half for my use of terms like “neolithic antinutrients” and “suboptimal MUFA to PUFA ratio”– I was definitely a strident convert.

I lost another 10 pounds, but very slowly. Mostly what I noticed was all my clothes suddenly fit differently. I believe that much of my initial weight loss was muscle weight, and during this period I was able to reduce my body fat further while rebuilding lost muscle, but since I don’t have a system for tracking my body fat percentage I’ll never know for sure.

The summer of maximum paleo awesomeness was also the summer my sweetie proposed. I was hip deep in water, had just finished eating a bag of raw coconut macaroons, and wearing Vibram Five Fingers at the time. Too much sexy 😉

Fall rolled back around and things were still going pretty well. But that winter and spring were an incredibly rough time for me. The short version is, work was really, really, really stressful. And I did not rise to the occasion, health-wise. I stopped eating paleo and started drinking and eating junk food again. I gained a good 15+ pounds, which totally sucked. Even though my weight loss had gone in bursts, I was always really proud that I had managed not to gain back any weight even when I wasn’t losing weight either, so this really hurt. I made a brief foray into jogging during this time, and was starting to really feel like a rockstar about it, but somehow managed to get prickly heat rash (IN JANUARY IN OREGON OH MY GOD MY BODY IS DEFECTIVE) and was actually told by a doctor to hold off on running. Suck fest!

I left my job. I got married. I was still not serious about eating well. I gained weight on our honeymoon. My weight fluctuated by about 5 pounds but mostly stayed steady. I was now up a solid 20 pounds from my lowest. I got a new job. I love my new job. I discovered that I’m gluten intolerant. I went on a gluten free junk food eating marathon between Thanksgiving and mid-January. I looked at myself and said “What the fuck are you doing?” and vowed to get back on track.

But I still don’t know what “on track” means for me. I’ve started running again (I’m doing Couch to 5K) and I love it. Once the weather warms up I’m looking forward to having more chances to get outside and move. I’ve really been struggling to track what I eat every day, but I have been steadily (if slowly) losing weight. I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of eating meat, fat, and vegetables, but I’ve also noticed that since I started running I really have been craving carbs more than usual. I do indulge in moderate gluten free treats more often than I probably should — for example I recently figured out how to make genuinely amazing homemade fritters — and I’ve been eating rice more than I used to.

I guess I want this story to have some kind of amazing solid ending, like, “And that’s how I lost 120 pounds and regained my health and never ate macaroni and cheese again.” But I don’t think my story goes that way. I think the reality is I’m healthier than I have ever been by a wide variety of measurements, and I might be ready to learn how to do something totally new for me: moderation. Can I be a six-days-a-week cavegirl? Can I have gluten free macaroni and cheese for dinner without it causing me go on a cookie binge the next day? I don’t know.

I guess what I’m saying here is stay tuned, because this story is far from over. I like to think I’m just getting to the good part.

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Gebhard's Blog

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