Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unjustly Accused

I started writing a blog post with a recipe but got so thoroughly off on a tangent about one ingredient that I decided I needed to just follow the detour signs. I'll return with a recipe tomorrow.

As I learn more about cooking and as I do more experimental eating, and as I get older and more aware of my health and well-being and that of my family members, I find that I believe firmly that the best diets are traditional, whole food diets. The simple unprocessed foods of our ancestors make the most healthful meals.

My little diatribe in yesterday's post about food additives and raw milk was unfortunately not very well thought out and just a spur of the moment rant. What I really want to convey here on my blog is my philosophy that our complex modern diets have brought down a world of disease and that we need to return to simple foods that are as close to their natural origins as possible.

One important group of foods to consider is fats. I have written about fats before but I continue to read and learn more and want to share these great articles with you.

When I am cooking meat or vegetables at a high heat I use lard as my fat. Yes, lard. Lard is a traditional fat integral to the diets of our ancestors for generations. Here is a quote from an informative article called "Taking the Fear Out of Eating Fat."-

Lard is a traditional fat, the mention of which causes us moderns to cringe. Yet lard is a healthy, natural fat. Lard is rendered fat from pork and is mostly monounsaturated. Lard can be a wonderful source of vitamin D. (There is currently a terrible vitamin D deficiency in our population. Low vitamin D levels contribute to the occurrence of cancer which is also epidemic.) Traditionally, lard has been used and enjoyed for pastries and frying potatoes—until the vegetable oil industry took over. Don't be afraid to experiment with lard in your kitchen, it will add lots of flavor to your food.
On a side note, I worked with a client from Mexico who was here visiting her daughter over the summer. The mother was 85 years old, very strong and healthy, and had not one wrinkle on her beautiful face. Her skin was incredible! It was so soft and silky, not at all dry, scaly or wrinkly like the skin I'm so used to seeing with most of my clients. I just had to ask her what kind of fats she eats. Her daughter translated my question to her mother and then replied, "She said she eats mostly lard. I can't believe it! I keep telling her that's not good for her, but she just won't listen!"   Us silly Americans!

The following quote from an article on called "The Truth About Saturated Fat" explains why the processed oils so commonly used- that is polyunsaturated oils such as those labeled "vegetable oil", "canola oil", "safflower oil", etc.- are so bad for our health, especially when heated to high temperatures-

The public has been fed a great deal of misinformation about the relative virtues of saturated fats versus polyunsaturated oils. Politically correct dietary gurus tell us that the polyunsaturated oils are good for us and that the saturated fats cause cancer and heart disease. The result is that fundamental changes have occurred in the Western diet.
At the turn of the century, most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily from butter, lard, tallows, coconut oil and small amounts of olive oil. Today most of the fats in the diet are polyunsaturated from vegetable oils derived mostly from soy, as well as from corn, safflower and canola...

...Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions including increased cancer and heart disease; immune system dysfunction; damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs; digestive disorders; depressed learning ability; impaired growth; and weight gain.

One reason the polyunsaturates cause so many health problems is that they tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture as in cooking and processing. Rancid oils are characterized by free radicals-that is, single atoms or clusters with an unpaired electron in an outer orbit. These compounds are extremely reactive chemically.

They have been characterized as "marauders" in the body for they attack cell membranes and red blood cells and cause damage in DNA/RNA strands, thus triggering mutations in tissue, blood vessels and skin. Free radical damage to the skin causes wrinkles and premature aging; free radical damage to the tissues and organs sets the stage for tumors; free radical damage in the blood vessels initiates the buildup of plaque. 

I have read that the reason for the mix-up in attributing disease to saturated fats rather than to polyunsaturated fats was simply some very bad science early on, -flawed studies- and then marketing, marketing, marketing. There is simply more money to be made with processed foods (often patented) then there is to be made from traditional, natural foods. (To illustrate this, here is a quote from this article on the origin of Crisco shortening- Crisco was introduced to the public in 1911. It was an era when wives stayed home and cooked with plenty of butter and lard. The challenge for Crisco was to convince the stay-at-home housewife about the merits of this imitation food. P&G’s first ad campaign introduced the all-vegetable shortening as  " a healthier alternative to cooking with animal fats. . . and more economical than butter."   With one sentence, P&G had taken on its two closest competitors—lard and butter.")

I started using good lard in pie crusts years ago but as I have learned more through my reading about what constitutes a truly healthy diet, I have added the use of lard into my daily cooking. It adds delicious dimension whenever it is used.  Trained chefs know this, we should know it too. It is also safe to use at high temperatures because it doesn't become rancid and create disease-causing free radicals.

I do not buy lard at the grocery store. I have to special order it from a butcher in Pennsylvania. Lard is such a four letter word these days that finding good quality lard is difficult. Maybe if we create enough demand we can turn this train around.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Do you eat "Iron Fortified" breakfast cereal? You may want to watch this enlightening video...

And in our country we have the ever watchful Food and Drug Administration that protects us from harmful foods and drugs and makes sure that we have laws and regulations so that everything available to us is good for us.


Now think of all the other "enriched" foods on the grocery store shelves, marketed to consumers as "healthy" and pushed by the medical establishment and dietitians as a good way to supplement our daily intake of nutrients like- enriched flour, cereals, vitamin fortified bread products and even fruit juices. Many vitamin fortified cereals come in amazing unnatural (for food) colors and are coated with sugar and yet according to the marketing, parents should feel good about giving their children a beneficial, nutritional breakfast when they serve them.

With foods like these as part of what is considered a "good diet" in America, is it any wonder we have any number of disease epidemics starting earlier and earlier in life? Childhood diabetes, obesisty, ADHD? We hear about it in the news every day and countless dollars are spent on studies to understand why we have these problems.

Isn't the answer right in front of us?

And then what really grinds my oats is that when I want to buy a truly health-building food, like oh, say....raw milk....because of the strong arm of the FDA it is completely unavailable in some states, illegal to sell, and in others, like Oregon, it is very difficult to get. After years of raising goats so that we could drink our own fresh milk, we are now purchasing fresh, healthy milk from a farm that raises hearty grass-fed cows. But that means we have to pay $10 a gallon and bring it in from a farm sixty miles away! To protect themselves from prosecution the farmers have to sell "herd shares" to their milk customers so that the customers actually own a portion of the cow from which they choose to have milk since they supposedly are risking their health by drinking fresh milk. It is ridiculous that a loop hole has to be manufactured so that people can truly have free choices for a healthy diet.

Never mind that human beings have been drinking and thriving on raw, unpasteurized milk since the beginning of time.

The world is messed up.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It must be spring....

....because I need to cut the grass!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Photo Session

When oldest daughter, Katie, and her family visited us during the winter, we made a concerted effort to get some family pictures done. During the last visit, a year ago, we didn't get to take some until the last evening before our son-in-law Nathan was scheduled to leave. It was late in the evening and this was the result.

This time I herded and corralled the kids together on an afternoon during a break in the dismal winter rain and we had some fun with Kris' camera.

Forget about getting seven kids to smile pretty for the camera. It works better to just let 'em be kids.

Altogether now...
But of course, someone's timing had to be off every time.
Just so you know, I think we took hundreds of these to come up with just one decent photo!

But we squeezed in one traditional shot. Here we are-
My Family

Kris, Ted (aka Mr. D.), Pam (aka Clayvessel), Seth, Nathan, Katie, Neal and Alyssa
Little boys in front are Samuel, Peter, Jonah and Baby Evan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Read this.

This is why I have had to turn down two weddings this fall.

Last  year I turned down about a dozen for the same reason.

But it's worth it!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Are You Ready? I'm Not.

The first official full day of spring!

We have some signs of it here. They are wet cold signs though.

Today's sunshine is the first we have seen in weeks!

I'm not ready for spring for some reason. The word "Spring" this year is nothing but a four letter word to me...

...W O R K

I need some more time off, hunkered down in my dusty abode.
I can't yet face the pruning, raking, weeding, seeding, cleaning, and preening that spring brings.

Apparently with every year that I get older, I also get lazier.

Next year....retirement!

Also, there are little indoor projects that only get done during the winter before outside W O R K takes over. My list of these indoor projects is not yet accomplished. I need more time!

Here is one recently finished project. The great part about it is that I didn't have to do a thing!

This entertainment center is a piece of furniture that we have had for about sixteen or seventeen years. All I have is this fuzzy photo to show you how it looked. My dad built this for us as a Christmas gift soon after we moved to Oregon. It served us well as a place to display the television, stereo and electronic equipment as well as hundreds of thousands of VHS videos. The boys used the bottom storage areas as a tractor shed and truck garage during their play sessions. It also made good Hide and Go Seek cover. Over time the door hinges were destroyed and the wood surfaces suffered many abuses.

So this winter we sent this well-loved piece out to friends with impressive wood-crafting skillz to be renewed and restored. Besides getting all new hardware, another set of doors was fitted into the top section. The bruises were attended to and it received a refreshing paint job.  The result:

A whole new look! 
I love it!

Now to keep the boys from hiding out inside of it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wearin' O' the Green

Shamrock- check
corned beef- check
cabbage- check
Irish ale- check
to come- mashed spuds and Irish soda bread...
Irish tunes on Pandora- check

Excuse to eat something extra tasty on a dreary winter day-

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We love her like a red-haired stepsister.

So there's this television show that I have only seen on internet postings of clips passed around on Facebook or reblogged.  It is a show that spoofs and parodies the City of Portland, Oregon, that place where I go to get lost in a maze of highways and bridges or to shop for bargains that are unavailable in my remote little mountain town, or to attend classical orchestra concerts and to buy organic, sustainably-farmed food for my family. Portland is a quirky place. The streets and highways were designed by someone on a bad drug trip; the scenery, with its rivers, hills and mountain sculpted horizons (including Mt. St. Helens) are charmingly photogenic; the culture is, shall we say, "liberal" and decadent; and the food, in markets and restaurants, is simply the best in the country.

This television show, I'm sure, must make non-Oregonians shake their heads in disbelief but for those of us who have been there, we laugh knowingly. We laugh a lot.

As further proof of the validity of that television parody, I offer this page from last Sunday's Oregonian, the living section, an article about a Portland shop that sells fashions -I mean Trashions- called Junk to Funk:
"Portland is an amazing little bubble of awareness. If I were to do this in the middle of Kansas, it wouldn't go anywhere. The rest of the world is not like Portland."

Understatement much?

That woman's hair adornment is made from wine corks and her outfit was made from wine labels.
You can't make this stuff up.

Next, Paris!

Renew, reuse, recycle.

But one area where Portland continually redeems itself is its appreciation for well-made food.
I share that appreciation. And so do my kids.

Especially my oldest son who knows that a way to this mama's heart is through her stomach.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eat Your Heart Out

It pays to have friends who love to cook and are very good at it.

It can pay very well.

One of the bright spots during the last dreary days of winter is our annual (and sometimes semi-annual) evening of indulgence with good friends, great food and friendly conversation.

Our palates were aroused this night with hand-made crackers and cheese sticks served with a creamy goat cheese. Accompanied by lip-licking libations, we were primed to begin on the main event.

The meal started with amazing appetizers: Oysters Rockefeller, prepared on a hot grill on the shell. They were tender and briny. Delicious crab-stuffed mushrooms foreshadowed the main course to come.

The bountiful salad adorned with a delightful garlic dressing featured the very first freshly picked greens of the season- arugula.

The main course simmered on the stove for hours, melding the flavors of spices and vegetables.
Please note the slices of okra floating in the broth. With this meal, this Yankee had her first experience with okra. It was a good one! Do you know what this colorful pot of goodness is?

Served with shrimp and crab and made to absolute cajun perfection!

It was accompanied by hand-made crusty French loaves to sop up the spicy goodness.

Our palate pleasing meal ended with a light dessert- coconut and lime panna cotta served with fresh pineapple.
Our appetites pleasingly satiated, we lingered, enjoying the conversation and company of friends and already looking forward to the next gathering for another memorable meal.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sweet Tart

I did it.

I entered the food52/Martha Stewart recipe contest over at the food52 blog. The theme of the contest is Sweet and Savory Tarts and it is celebrating the launch of Martha Stewart's New Pie and Tarts Cookbook.

I entered my favorite tart recipe, developed during summers of bountiful blueberry harvests- my Lemon Cloud Blueberry Tart. This is the winter version using frozen blueberries. 

You can see (and vote for!) my recipe on the food52 blog here.

Wish me luck! Winning something would be sweet!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greedeep... Greedeep.

Mom! Mom!! We found a GIANT bullfrog down by the pond!! It's as big as my hand!!!
You better grab it before it hops away.


Fine. I'll do it.

What's the matter with you boys? You can hold a lil' ol' frog. It won't hurt you.

No! I don't want to! Yuck!!

Man up, boy! Don't be a disgrace to your kind. It's just a frog.

Ehhhwwww.....okay that's long enough.

Take it away! Somebody take it! Take it!!!

Sheesh. What has our species come to when boys can't handle a slimy lil' frog?

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Day in Venice

Last night I watched a little Italian movie on Netflix. The story took place in Venice and seeing the canals, bridges and narrow "streets" of that unique city took me back to the one day I spent there about six years ago.

This picture looks like I was photo-shopped into it, but really, I was standing on a foot bridge over a canal in Venice one hot July day in 2005.

My middle son, Seth, a violinst, was playing in an orchestra that was doing a concert tour in Austria and Italy. I was one of the chaperons for the one hundred forty (plus) high school kids that had the privilege of playing their music in a few historic cities of Europe.

Our tour began in Vienna and ended in Rome. We went to ten cities in eleven days; the orchestra performed four concerts. This means we hit the ground running and didn't stop to smell the roses anywhere along the way.

It was an amazing and almost overwhelming experience. We saw so much in such a short time it was difficult to take it all in sometimes. This photo was shot at the last concert, an evening outdoor performance at the elegant Terme Tettuccio spa in Montecatini, Italy. I am not a brilliant enough wordsmith to be able to put into words the feeling this mother had hearing her tuxedoed baby boy play Greig and Brahms with his friends under a starry Italian sky. Surreal. I have the photos so I guess it really happened.

We had four large tour buses full of high school musicians and adult chaperons, conductors and tour guides. Seth and I were on separate buses which means I didn't see him very often. Managing that number of people meant that bus groups were not always in the same place at the same time.

After a week of whirlwind travel seeing the sights in Vienna, Salzburg and Cremona, we landed in Venice during the height of the tourist season.
Piazza San Marco has to be one of the most crowded July tourist destinations on the planet. I wonder what it looks like in October? Or March? We hurried through the Doge's Palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs, photographed St. Mark's Basillica, watched a glass blowing demonstration and ate gelato. I was so glad that the previous night, a group of us chaperons had happened on a glass shop during a walking tour of the little town on the mainland where we were lodging. I bought all my glass souvenirs at that shop for a fraction of what the same glass was being sold for at the tourist-gouging Venetian shops.

The tour had scheduled gondola rides for everyone (to be paid out of pocket but for the screaming deal of $25). I opted to not go on a gondola ride in order to have more time to tour the city. Somehow the requisite gondola ride that day seemed like just another must-do tourist activity that didn't really reveal anything genuine about the city.(I wonder how many times a day the poor gondoliers have to sing O Sole Mio at the top of their lungs?)  I decided to continue a walking tour by myself on the less crowded Venetian alley ways. I was slightly worried about getting lost in the maze of streets that seemed to have no rhyme or reason to their layout, but I ventured out anyway. Once I got away from the main streets the crowds disappeared and I was better able to get a closer look at the city known as the Queen of the Adriatic.

Besides being attracted to the brightly colored and sculpted glass I was also keenly interested in the clay crafts of Italy. I was delighted to find this tiny shop on a back street in Venice. I spent quite a while asking questions of the shop keeper about the processes of his craft. I was amused by his Italian way of speaking of the clay "lab-OR-a-tory" where their tiles were produced. I told him that I was a potter and described my "studio" and work. I was intensely interested in how the clay designs were done and he did his best to describe the process to me in his limited English. I was very sad to find out how restrictive the work was. He spent his days working for the family making clay tiles in the labORatory but could only make the designs previously created by his father and grandfather. When I asked if he ever, even during his time off, could make his own designs or follow his own creative musings, his answer was No, no, no. In the end, his description sounded like dull hand production work bereft of inspired expression. Surely there was a fine tradition of craftsmanship, handed down from father to son and pride in the family business but I still felt somewhat sorry for this young man. I did buy a keep-sake tile that I cherish. When I finally left the shop we shook hands and that handsome Italian fellow would not let go of my hand. He was being charmingly Italian but seriously, I think he was bored and it was more interesting to practice his English skills with an American than to stand around in his tiny back street shop waiting for someone to wander in. But I had more of Venice to explore so I wrenched my hand away and bid him "Ciao!"

I remember the meal we ate in the evening at the designated taverna for the tour group- risotto. I ate risotto in Venezia! (And lasagna in Roma).  From a bridge I drank in the sunset over the waters with background music provided by a guitar soloist in a near-by piazza. Can I use the word "surreal" again? In the evening I skipped out on a scheduled Vivaldi concert in a church so that I could do more walking. I was surprised to find out that the streets were abandoned, the sidewalks rolled up and the tourists gone. In the evening light and the absence of a breeze Venice became much dingier looking and quite... smelly. The feeling was similar to walking through a carnival site after the rides have shut down and people have gone home. I know that there must have been sections of the city where the Venetian residents enjoyed some night-life but I wasn't able to locate those areas in my walking tour.

It certainly takes more than one whirl-wind day to see and understand a place but I was happy to get the impressions of Venice that I have and to revisit them with photographs and movies.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Summer Dreamin'

Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining... about a piece of Rhuberry Pie?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Skipping Class

Thursdays are our homeschool cooperative days. Everyone has a class to attend and a place to be, just like those big kid-filled education factories down the street.

There's the reading club...

....the science geeks...

...the sports jocks....

...the foreign language nerds...

...and the home ec homies.

But I prefer to ditch school and hang out with the boys.

We don't care if it earns us some detention...

...because who needs school when you can just chill with the dreamiest boys in town?

But no smokin' in the boy's room.