Friday, November 30, 2007

I Have Jags

I just learned this word while reading a magazine article about a local foodie. A jag is apparently an obsession, or as put it, "a period of unrestrained indulgence in an activity; spree; binge." This seems to describe me quite well - much to the chagrin of many of my loved ones. I get on jags, I collect them, I circulate my jags and give them time to breathe. Like shoes. If I stick with a jag too long, it loses some kind of magic for me, but coming upon a fresh jag (or better, coming back to a pleasurable old jag) keeps things lively.

So, my local-food jag isn't necessarily gone, it's just getting freshened. I'm proud of the local-foods movement for taking the prize as Oxford American Dictionary's Word of the Year. I'm still keeping an eye on where my food comes from, and I'm pleasantly surprised to find that most of the food I buy is already local - as long as I shop at the co-op, the farmer's market, and my CSA, it's quite easy actually. Trips to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or (eek!) Safeway throw the whole local-food thing out of whack - it's nearly impossible to find things made locally and, even when I do, I know that it can't truly count as local because even if the food was made by my next-door neighbor, it's still traveled an average of 1500 miles to a distribution center in Austin or Monrovia or Salt Lake City before coming back to my neighborhood.

But back to my point about jags. Because folks, Mama's got a brand new jag. And it's an old one, one you might remember me blogging about this past spring. But I believe I have finally found my knitting legs, so to speak, after many attempts. I credit Debbie Stoller and her awesome book, Stitch'n Bitch, for me finally understanding how to tangle yarn artistically. And I thank Lisa and Martha for inspiring me.

Reconnecting with knitting has reconnected me with the deep feminine urge to create useful things, and to do it beautifully. And to do it for others. I can't stop thinking of things I'd like to make for people close to me - right now I have no plans to keep any current projects for myself, and this is a really pleasurable departure from my usual narcissism. Thus, I have decided to make as many Christmas gifts as I can this year, given my schedule (in rehearsals for maybe the best play ever and preparing to go tropical for the holidays with Descartes) and how quickly my fingers can work. There will be sewing, baking, slicing, dicing, and yes, knitting. None of it can be displayed here until after gifts have been given out (who wants to spoil the surprise?) but believe you me, my camera will be busy documenting the fun. Isn't it lovely when a gift can bring pleasure to the gifter and the gifted?

What's your latest jag?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Priority Shift

I'm a few weeks into my 100-mile food challenge, and I am nowhere near eating 100% local. But my awareness is growing keen, and for better or for worse, I am ten times more conscious of my food-miles than I was before I started.

Descartes is overwhelmed at work and feeling sick and tired all the time, and I want to help him at least hang onto some health, give him lots of options for quick, healthy foods that he can pack with him, or eat in front of the fridge when he's in between jobs. If I can stave off his recent habit of downing boxes of Cheez-Its, sandwich cookies and pizza, I do believe he'll feel a little better.

So last night after he'd gone to bed (at 9pm) I made a list of foods I planned to buy, and I emailed it to him (yes, I really did) for approval, which he gave. I thought of every good/quick food I could, being mindful of foods he won't eat - like meat or bone broth, or most things containing coconut - and foods I won't buy - soy and sugar. Here is my list:

hard-boiled eggs
apples, pears, oranges, bananas
raw veggies - sliced peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery and carrot sticks, cucumber slices, etc.
cottage cheese, mild cheddar & monterey jack cheese, string cheese
nuts (will be soaked and dried)
smoked salmon (Descartes makes this every year for Thanksgiving and it's delicious! we'll make extra this week)
hummus (homemade)
spicy bean dip (homemade)
corn chips
whole wheat bread
canned tuna/salmon
veggie soups (homemade and packed in single-serving tupperware)
whole-grain crackers

(After much hemming and hawing, I removed "smoothies" because these actually take time to prepare, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, and because the way I make smoothies nutritious drinks (rather than liquid sugar) is the addition of coconut oil, raw milk (yogurt, kefir or coconut milk will also work), raw egg yolks, and both veggies and fruit. This will probably not go over well, since Descartes is still very much afraid of raw dairy and raw eggs.)

Anyway, you can bet I was a happy girl when I got the OK for this list, and I set out today to fill the kitchen with healthy fast food. I quickly realized that this trip would be a real departure from recent trips to the store, in that buying local wasn't going to be my only priority today. So far, if I've wanted something that can't be found locally, I've gone without. But going without for Descartes means leaning back on Cheez-Its and the like. So my priority was 1) local, 2) organic, 3) the best version I could buy, preferably from a small company. I ended up buying probably 25% local (but probably 50% in-state), and maybe 65% organic. All in all, it wasn't my ideal trip to the store, but if I can help get Descartes back on his feet, well, I suppose that's one of my highest priorities.

As I was looking for a picture to go along with this post, I found a cartoon of the earth with a heating pad on its head and a thermometer in its mouth...I wish all my priorities could be happily met without feeling that one has sacrificed another.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Week Two: Getting Better All The Time

This week I spent more time at home, thus more time in my own kitchen, therefore more time preparing food the origin of which I could know and control. This turns out to be a boon for someone who cares where their food originates. On Monday night I made dinner for a plumb-tuckered Descartes: salmon, green beans, and mashed potatoes. The salmon was a pre-commitment buy from Trader Joe's, originating in Chile or some crazy far-away place like that. But the rest came from our CSA or the co-op. To the mashed potatoes I added coconut oil, Clover butter, salt & pepper, local thyme, and both yogurt and cheese from my new raw milk suppliers in the foothills. The result was tangy goodness if you ask me; Descartes isn't partial to the very-sharp cheddar, but I love it.

On Tuesday I learned, while buying an onion at the co-op, how important it is to know the geography of your foodshed in order to stay in it. Was Hollister within 100 miles? Surely, no. How about Malaga? I didn't know. Taking a chance, I went with the Malaga onion...sorry to say, but it turns out Hollister is closer by 27 miles or so. These are times when I could use my Dad's new GPS device, which he has named Bitchin' Betty, both for its coolness and for the annoyed tone that the female voice takes on when he misses a turn..."Recalculating..."

Wednesday was Halloween, and a doozy of a day if you're looking for local treats that a) aren't chock full of high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated soybean oil, and other outstanding food-like substances that just belong in a child's body, don't they??? And b) aren't homemade, since I don't know a single parent who will allow their child to eat a homemade treat from a neighbor they don't know. After much deliberating, I decided not to include Halloween candy in my 100-mile diet challenge...after all, I wasn't going to eat those treats, was I??? (I plead the Fifth.)

Instead I focused on what I was going to eat that night...that afternoon I had picked up my CSA box to find a bunch of radishes with greens intact for the second week in a row. An internet search to figure out clever ways to use radishes turned up an intriguing Radish Greens Soup, which was highly-rated by the one person who rated it. I decided to give it a try - off-the-cuff inspiration from Descartes turned it into a Coconut Curry Greens Soup...delicious. A friend dropped by for a minute, and when he came in he said, "It is your house that smells so good! I can smell it from the street, it smells amazing out there." I was proud. I couldn't resist taking a picture of the finished product. My friend found it amusing that I take pictures of dishes that turn out well (especially since I've recently recovered my camera). I guess I used to think it was weird, too, before I got a blog.

The rest of the week has gone fairly well...not perfect, but better. I think I'm getting the hang of this. More soon!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Week One of my 100-Mile Diet

started off poorly...I forgot how many breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings I had scheduled with friends and colleagues. Friday night was date night with Descartes, during which I managed to have no earthly idea where my food had flown in from. Saturday morning was my beacon of light (more later) but by Saturday night I was dining at the local sushi place with a good friend, eating fish that was likely caught in a far-off land, and likely not even caught, but farmed and harvested. Sigh. Monday was dinner with two old friends, at one of those newer theme-chain restaurants (the theme is something like French or Louisianan, but honestly the theme should be the Home of Giant People Who Love Giant Muffins). The rest of the week fared much better, with home-cooked meals and Wednesday's pick-up of our new CSA box - I could have sworn I read somewhere about using pomegranate seeds in a sauce...anyone?

But back to Saturday morning (please note my attempt to keep the farm and its owners anonymous and untraceable - see my most recent post about the growing hostility toward raw milk suppliers in CA). I left early-ish for my first visit to the local farm that would, hopefully, soon be my supplier of pastured dairy, eggs and meat. It was a clear morning, and after an uneventful drive south to Stockton, I headed east on a highway that wound its way through flats, then mounds, then hills and finally rolling, oak-covered foothills of golden grass. The scenery undulated under me as I took in the fresh country air, the Gold Country scenery, and finally the sign that indicated I had reached my destination. Two large, muddy dogs greeted me with a wary welcome, circling me until the farmer called them back to him. He was the only one awake so far this morning, and needed coffee. He called me in. After a half-hour at the kitchen table I knew far more about his work history and health issues than I had intended, and I found the conversation refreshingly slow-paced. "Shall we go visit the animals?" Sure.

Outside the bedroom window I met the cows, calves, chickens, goats, and pig that bed down each night just a few feet from their human stewards. Midnight, Lucy, and others nudged me and accepted my hand on their noses. The pig sniffed my purse for food and left muddy nostril marks. The goats jumped the fence and one another to get to the haypile near a second pen, which holds the steers and geese. "The steers are going to market next's time," said the farmer in a way that was neither nonchalant nor nostalgic. I looked in their faces, determined to keep my eyes open through all parts of this farm tour. As I've said here before, if I'm going to eat meat, I'm going to be conscious of where it's coming from.

We moved back to the house to discuss business; the farmer's wife was up by then, and it turns out she really supervises things around here. These farmers are clearly nervous about the ramifications of selling raw milk in California, and determined to know me before signing a milkshare agreement. A milkshare is just about the only way for these farmers to sell the delicious raw milk, cheese, and butter that Lucy et al produce from the 103 acres they graze from day to day. I was ready to sign, but they wanted me to take home some of each and try it first, so I'll know what I'm getting. Turns out the wife talks a blue streak too, and she proceeded to tell me much of her work history and health issues, many of which led this family to retire from the city to the country, and return to the farming lifestyle their parents and grandparents had taught them. "We're not in farming to make money," the wife told me. "We have this farm so our children and grandchildren will always have good quality food no matter what. You benefit from the leftovers." Fair enough.

I left with a trunk full of food - a gallon of raw whole milk (the sweetest I've tasted), 1/2 pound of raw butter, a pound of the sharpest cheddar ever to pass between my lips (the farmer's wife made it three years ago and has been turning it over once a week since then, to keep it aging), a dozen eggs with deep orange yolks, and a pound of stew beef. All this, plus a promise of raw goat's milk once the goats have birthed their kids in January. My milkshare will be goat's milk, supplemented with cow's milk whenever the goats are dry.

I set out on a country road that winds its way along the edge of the foothills, north again toward home. I took all the historical routes, through Gold Rush town after Gold Rush town, feeling fulfilled and excited about my first local-food adventure. And then, just when I thought it couldn't get better, it got better. I spied a sign for fresh, homemade ravioli, at a little box of a building along the road. I don't know how long Vinciguerra Ravioli Co. has been gracing Jackson with its pillows of goodness, but I bought four boxes to add to my collection of local foods in the trunk.

By the time I got home I was hungry and ready for some yum. I cooked up a box of pumpkin ravioli just like John Vinciguerra instructed - at a slow boil, for only a few minutes so the ravioli don't burst (I only had two casualties). In the meantime I melted some butter with garlic and some sage from my side garden. Tossed together and sprinkled with grated Romano, it was heaven on a spoon. A rewarding end to an adventurous day of food.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Raw Milk in Jeopardy in California!

URGENT: Some serious deception has just taken place in the California Assembly, and Californians who value raw milk (and all its health benefits) need to take swift action to stop it!

Read all about it from Mark McAfee's point of view here, and also check out David Gumpert's excellent analysis here. Then write letters! Send them! And post a comment here letting me know that you did! I'm doing a mailing in the morning, and I'll post once I'm done, too.

Thanks, y'all.

Friday, October 19, 2007

100-Mile Diet

I'm inspired again. Aaaaaahhhhhhh! It feels good. As you can see, I haven't written here in a while; I've been somewhat wrapped up in figuring out what foods don't agree with my body so I could stop eating them. Well, that turned out to be harder than at first it seemed, and took some of the fun out of food for me. As a bit of an obsessive personality when it comes to health and food, I recognized the pattern and decided to cool it a bit. Basically, my body feels happier when I cut down on grains and sugar...big surprise there! It's only what I've been reading for the last, oh, ten years or so. So white sugar is out of my life, except for the 1 cup a month that I need to keep my kombucha thriving. And grains are a few-times-a-week proposition now.

But that's not what has inspired me - I just figured I'd quickly account for my absence. What does inspire me at the moment, is the 100-Mile Diet. I've been very intrigued with the "eat local" concept, but failed miserably at the September challenge set forth by Locavores. I just didn't keep track at all. But I think I'm ready to go there, and commit myself to a 100-mile foodshed as much as I possibly can. Since I live smack in the middle of northern California, I have a fabulously diverse foodshed - I can hit the coast, and I can hit Nevada - so I really can't complain!

So with Samhain around the corner, I set forth my New Year's Resolution: For the next year, I will source as much of my food as I possibly can from within my 100-mile foodshed.

What does this mean? Well, I'm finding out (to the relief of my internal perfectionist) that there is no one right way to do this. Everyone is creating their own version of the 100-mile diet - some making exceptions, some going whole hog, others going a week or a day at a time. So I'm laying out my own personal plan for the next year, and I intend to use this blog to hold myself accountable to it. I'm excited and nervous at the same time! What will this be like? How will I feel if I fail? What will my biggest challenges be? Am I too close to winter to do any canning or freezing prep? Okay okay, enough worries, on to the plan.

HerbanGirl's Year of 100-Mile Food

1. Weekly produce from my new/old CSA. Distance from home: 51.5 miles (pick-up on Wednesdays, 1/2 mile from my office)

2. Supplemental produce from the downtown farmers market on Sundays. Distance from home: 1 mile

3. Milk, eggs, and possibly cheese and beef from a family farm near San Andreas. Distance from home: 71.1 miles

4. Fish and seafood from our local fisherman, Brand Little, available at the farmer's market or co-op. Distance from home: 1-2 miles (Brand fishes off the SF coast: 80-100 miles)

That takes care of the basics - fruit, veggies, dairy, eggs, meat. Then there's the question of prepared foods, ingredients, etc. I really feel so lucky to have so much close to me. Lundberg has been growing rice in my town for decades, and Full Belly Farm grows and sells wheat. Organic cultured butter from Clover is only 80 miles from home. The abundance of crops at Apple Hill is only 50 miles away. We are absolutely surrounded by wine country - Napa Valley and Sonoma to the west, Amador and Shenendoah to the east. We have spices and herbs a'plenty at home, but when they're used up I will have do make do without (sniff) cinnamon, nutmeg, or very favorites.

As much as I admire the original 100-Mile Dieters, I don't know that I can succeed at eating 100% within my foodshed for the year. By now I am quite familiar with my limitations and weaknesses, and I would hate to mentally throw away a good idea just because I can't do it All. The. Way. So I'm giving myself five "wildcards" (this is the lingo, apparently) to keep myself sane.

Wildcard #1. Coconut products. These have become an important part of my diet, and they're doing much for my health so I'm keeping them.

Wildcard #2. Salt. There is no natural source of edible salt in my foodshed, but good sea salt is incredibly nutritive and important. So I'm keepin' it!

Wildcard #3. Cocoa. This seems a bit silly considering how little I eat it, and I may regret the choice, but I'm keeping it as a wildcard so I can have my occasional hot cocoa or square of deep, dark chocolate. And I bet when I get to making my own ice cream I'll be glad I kept it!

Wildcard #4. Vanilla. I bake. 'Nuff said.

Wildcard #5. Baking soda. See above.

In addition to my wildcards, which I consider near-necessities, I'll also give myself some permission to not become local-uppity or rigid. I will not turn down any food that is offered to me in hospitality (that comes from Jessica Prentice and I think it's beautifully put). When he makes it, I will drink Descartes' homemade beer without asking where the barley came from. Anything that's already in the house today doesn't count, but I can't replace it when it's gone unless it's local. And when I go out to eat or when I'm traveling, I will do my best but not drive myself crazy.

There. It's set in cyberstone. Hold me to it, y'all!

Now, anyone know a good local substitute for cranberry sauce?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Food Is Fun Again!

Well, my food allergy blood test showed "about as clean as I've ever seen," as my naturopath put it when he called with the results. Tiny reactions to dairy, and no reactions to anything else - even wheat. This is a little bit frustrating on one hand, because it doesn't help me solve my questions about why my body reacts the way it seems to. Can it Descartes insists...all in my head!?!??!!? Criminy, I hope not!

But there's nearly always good along with bad...the good being that I can start adding back some of my beloved foods. I'll keep doing challenges first - eating a food all by itself on an empty stomach and then watching for reactions over the next 24 hours, before adding it back into the diet. I had a glass of raw milk this afternoon as a bit of a celebration challenge, and so far so good. I think as long as I don't have dairy every day, I'll be okay. And what about my GI issues with wheat? Well, a conversation on MDC revealed that the blood tests don't test for intolerances, so I may have to look there next. I also celebrated by making my own mayonnaise today...with real live eggs! Food is fun again! Tonight I think I'll make salmon fajitas to use up the beautiful onions, peppers, and tomatoes we've been getting from our CSA the last few weeks.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

When Food Isn't Fun

I'm on yet another leg of my long journey with food. A couple weeks ago I read this book on the recommendation of a new chiropractor, who told me that I've been eating too many fermented foods (could it be my favorite summer lunch of salami, cheese, olives and pickles?) and that I have some food allergies that are interfering with my digestion and organ functions. Rad! So I'm on Day 12 of an elimination diet to figure out what foods cause reactions. I've also taken a blood test to determine the same thing, and I should have results back in the next few days.

What does all this mean? Well, for the last 12 days (since an absolutely gluttonous weekend including two birthday parties and a wedding) it has meant no dairy, eggs, gluten, soy, peanuts, corn, or sugar. It has meant lots of yummy vegetables, some fruits, and some meat and rice. It has meant that meals out with colleagues or friends have generally veered toward sausage and potatoes with fruit for breakfast, or sushi with salad for dinner. I know, if it has the word "sushi" in it, it can't be all bad! Well, it's been all right. Lemon juice is a surprisingly tasty substitute for soy sauce on my Rock'n'Roll.

But I miss some of the foods that I've been eating a lot of this year, in order to build up a good supply of Vitamins A, D, & K2 and healthy fats before we start trying to conceive a babe of our own: namely, my beloved raw milk, butter and cheese, and the dozen organic pastured eggs we still get weekly from our CSA. These foods have helped me feel healthy this year, although I have carried a layer of fat on my body that appears to be melting away, and which according to the book I read is not fat, but water that the body retains to protect from molecules of foods it isn't digesting well. Which makes me sad that maybe these foods that I love are doing harm as well as good and may need to be minimized or even eliminated. Sure, I'm still taking my cod liver oil a few times a week, and I put coconut oil in where I can, but I've slacked off on the bone broths and I need to pick up some liverwurst to make up for all the vitamins I'm not getting from the surprisingly Standard American Diet this book has me following.

(If you haven't been following this blog so far, and are wondering what the hell kind of food I'm eating and why, visit this website to find out more.)

So, why this post then? Well, I guess I'm having a bit of a rant as I anticipate once again having a limiting relationship with food. One of the most healing aspects of this year of traditional foods, has been that I've let go of a lot of my rigidity and isolation around food. I've felt more free to eat what is given to me with gratitude, to become more connected to the food I buy, and to be much more open and adventurous with what I eat. I feel a joyful relationship to food again, for the first time in such a long time...and I'm afraid that having real live food allergies finally diagnosed will throw all this into chaos again, at least for a while. I have long known that gluten makes my intestines swell and...well, other GI problems further down the tube. I have long known that dairy makes my body puffy and my nose stuffed. (This has been better since I've switched to raw, but it hasn't gone away completely.) I guess I just hoped that someday my body would get used to those foods and stop causing trouble, and that maybe if I supplemented my GI system with the wonderful microbes from lacto-fermented foods and such, that I would be okay. Well, I guess we'll see what ultimately has to happen, and I intend to work very hard to maintain my joy of food, because food is friggin' awesome and so much fun!

If you live with food allergies, I want to hear about it! How do you deal with it, get around it, not let it come between you and your connection to your food and food sources? Whether you do or not, I'd like to hear from you. I could use some advice and propping up. :)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Spirituality of Food

I've been interested in learning about food since I was a junior in high school, when I decided to become a vegetarian. I don't remember it being an abrupt decision; somehow I had gotten a hold of Francis Moore Lappe's classic, "Diet For A Small Planet" and read quite a bit of it. I was disturbed by the environmental damage occurring as a result of animal farming (which I now realize is not animal farming in general, but specifically factory farming), and about the world starvation problems that could supposedly be solved by the worldwide adoption of a vegetarian diet (further reading has convinced me that vegetarianism would not stop world hunger). But mostly I got hooked by the recipe for an open-faced apple/cheddar sandwich, cleverly broiled to melty, slightly singed perfection. I stopped eating meat not so much out of a great conviction about it, but just because it felt good to not eat it.

This winter, after 17 years as a vegetarian of one sort or another (I never could keep all the labels straight), I declared myself an emerging omnivore. I read another book that had a deeply profound impact on me and the way I view food, farming and animal husbandry, and nutrition. I now read everything I can get my hands on about traditional, sustainable, humane omnivorism. Look for a bibliography at the end of this post.

Sure, I feel better. I eat a diet now that consists of about 30-50% of my daily calories from fat, and a lot of that from saturated fat. Unthinkable in our mainstream culture! I no longer fear real food - on the contrary, I am enjoying food more than I ever have in my entire life. I feel creative with it; I feel close to it; I feel deeply fulfilled in a way that I never could have imagined.

Almost every time I work with food in our kitchen now, I find myself tapping into a deep soul-satisfaction, a feeling that I'm exactly where I belong and doing exactly what I am meant to do on this earth - break open the secret nectars of nutrition in our food and provide my family with those nectars. Feeding myself and Descartes well and treating the planet, plants and animals with deep respect has become a kind of spirituality for me. The meditative quality of preparing food. The consciousness with which I contact each element in each meal and the gratitude I feel in knowing how this food has reached us and that it blesses us. The quiet joy I feel when we take the time to eat together at the dining table or in the backyard and really connect. (This heightened awareness and reverence for our food makes me want to celebrate it rather than gulp it down in front of the TV, which all by itself is a huge blessing.) I feel like I am training to learn how to provide our baby with excellent health when she or he arrives. Hestia visits me regularly now, in my kitchen chapel, and she whispers in my ear as I chop and sautee, bake and ferment. When I first started this blog, I wrote of my hope for something like this, but I am pleased as punch at how it has manifested. So I say to Hestia, "Journey on with me! Bring me in deeper!" I never dreamed home could be more fulfilling than career, but am I ever glad I was wrong.

***How to be an omni-sustaina-humane-loca-vore: A Reading List***

Essential reading:
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Nutrition And Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price

Recommended reading:
Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice
Real Food: What To Eat And Why by Nina Planck
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
Eat Fat Lose Fat by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon

Next on my list:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver & Steven L. Hopp

Thursday, July 26, 2007

An Honest Chicken

Yesterday I treated myself to lunch at the Co-op, which has a really nice, fairly local and all-organic deli. It's a nice walk from my office, about 15 minutes from door to door, and this summer has been so mild so far (knock on wood) that I could walk it fairly comfortably at 2pm on a July day. I took advantage of the hot bar, which featured Mediterranean potatoes, Spanikopita, creamed lentils, and Greek chicken - everything looked and smelled delicious. As usual, I sat down in the dining room and spread out my current read, The Omnivore's Dilemma, just above my plate so I could read and eat.

I'm nearing the end of the book, and started reading Chapter 18, titled "Hunting: The Meat". In this section, Michael Pollan recounts his first day hunting pigs in the hills of nearby Sonoma County, as part of his analysis of a completely hunted and foraged meal. I felt a little unsure about reading this section while eating, but I figured I could stomach it.

Somewhere around the time he was describing his friend's kill, I looked down to cut my chicken thigh, and the skin, which I suddenly recognized entirely as skin, slipped off the meat, revealing the plump, smooth, white muscle underneath. In a flash, I became acutely, sickeningly aware of exactly what I was eating, in a visceral way that I don't recall experiencing before. As someone who was a vegetarian for the better part of 17 years, and a vegan for some of that time, I've avoided this feeling by abstaining from the practice of eating meat, but at the beginning of this year I decided to become an omnivore again, for various reasons. I'd started out with barely perceptible meat - chunks of beef stuffed neatly away in a burrito, or sausage or liverwurst which has been fairly disguised. But now I had graduated to the kind of meat that is unmistakably animal.

I thought very hard about looking away, putting my fork down and leaving the remainder of the thigh, but this book made me think twice about it; if I'm going to make the conscious decision to eat meat again (which I have), then I'd better be as honest as I could about it. If I couldn't eat this chicken with full conscious knowledge and respect for the animal whose life ended in order to nourish me, then I didn't want to do it at all. So I finished my slice through the flesh and skin, almost bionically aware of each cut fiber, and ate another bite. Strangely enough, I enjoyed the flavor, and felt a strong spiritual gratitude surge through me. I felt that I needed to honor this animal's life by eating every bit of meat that I could cut off the bone; that it would have been disrespectful to be at all casual about what I was consuming; so I cleaned it thoroughly. I also felt grateful that even the last bite felt slightly uneasy. It was the most honest chicken meal I'd ever eaten.

Tonight I felt compelled to write about it, and even as I write I'm surprised by the power and profundity of yesterday's seemingly simple, everyday lunch. I hope I don't forget it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

8 Random Facts

Adam tagged me last week for the “eight random facts” game. The ones tagged must divulge eight random facts about themselves.

The ground rules:

*These rules must be posted before giving you the facts.

* Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

* People who are tagged write their own revealing blog about their eight random facts and post the rules. At the end of the blog post, you choose eight people to tag and list their names.

* Remember to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So here goes:

1- I’ve recently started Irish language lessons. I tried to start learning a few years ago, but the tape/book set just wasn't inspirational so I didn't stick with it. I found a guy in town that teaches one-on-one, plus he hosts a weekly practice session at the Fox & Goose. It's fun and I'm so glad to finally be learning this beautiful language. Go raibh maith agat, a Shéamais!

2- The book I’m currently reading is “The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. Curiously, this book has followed me around for about a year, and even Adam recommended it to me. I finally got it from the library, and I'm not disappointed! I highly recommend it.

3- Before I became a psychotherapist, I was an actress. The two careers are strikingly similar, but probably not for the reasons you first imagine.

4- I have a number of small groups of girlfriends, each of which numbers four women including myself. There's something alchemical that happens at this magic number. All of my girlfriends are amazing, but I must give an extra-loud shout-out to my first and most beloved, my Elements: Pixie, Julie & Barbara Anne.

5- When I bike to work (which goes in fits and starts depending on the weather and my sleep patterns) I've taken to taking my old Hiawatha Gambler cruiser. It creaks when I ride it and the seatpost is a tad too short for me, but I feel so girlish and green when I ride my recycled bike with a basket on the front!

6- Yesterday my mom gave me a pair of practically brand-new Keen sandals. Although grateful, I wasn't impressed at first glance. They seem duckier than even I like, and strange looking - but probably good for light hiking, I reasoned. This morning I put them on for a casual day at the office and I forgot I had shoes on. Now I'll have to remind myself not to wear them every day.

7- I recently saw the film Once and was completely smitten with modern urban Ireland and its fabulous music scene. Another reason to learn Irish and get my butt over there someday soon.

8- (taking a direct quote from Adam's #8) "I’m becoming more and more interested in Slow Food and Locavorism." Me too! I just heard the word Locavore last weekend, but I've been getting more and more line with the principles for the last several years (with a brief detour into veganland). "...we get a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from Eatwell Farm." Us too! I'm really trying to eat more locally and seasonally, and I feel deeply committed to supporting our local farmers as directly as I can. This week's box totally rocked!

Okay, I'm tagging my eight: Pixie, Julie, June, Popeye, Foodie Farmgirl, Joie, Inanna, Todd.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guilt-Free Leisure

I spent the weekend in San Jose with one of my dearest girlfriends, Stacy, and her family. They own a beautiful 1920's home on a double plot in one of the most charming neighborhoods in town, and Stacy has created an absolute sanctuary. I love visiting there for so many reasons, but I'll admit one of them is that I simply love spending time there. The home is cozy and loved-in, and the front door is always open to welcome neighbors who want to chat in the kitchen or stop by for dinner (which has happened almost every time I have visited them). Stacy is a real inspiration to me - a mentor for simple, open-hearted, deep living.

She is also an amazing chef, and a hardcore follower and proponent of the traditional food movement. We spent all our meals at a simple al fresco dining table in the yard, shaded by Japanese maples and redwoods. Meals were made with the freshest, most local ingredients, prepared lovingly and patiently by Stacy and whoever else was chatting in the kitchen, and served graciously and proportionately. I could always see much of the plate (watch out Claimjumper!) yet the food was so delicious and nutrient-dense I never left the table feeling hungry or cheated. I would much rather have this kind of food than the piles and piles served by most restaurants these days. I believe there is some redefining to be done around the idea of value as it pertains to food.

Apart from taking me to and from the train station, we got into the car exactly once the entire weekend, to visit Whole Foods for some ingredients for dinner on Saturday. The rest of the time we practiced slow living...long chats, frisbee in the park, blackberry-picking in the backyard, bee-watching, games with Stacy's daughter, and more chats. It was languid and lovely. I came home determined to create more of that, although I know too well my tendency to get busy in response to that slowness; there is something uncomfortable about it, which I'm trying to work through.

After a nourishing weekend of good friends, good food and lots of fresh air, Stacy sent me home on the train with a bag of wonderful goodies - a sack lunch of gorgeous sockeye salmon, green beans, quinoa, and Caprese salad; two dozen (!) pastured eggs from their CSA (apparently a lot of families were on vacation this week); a jar of sourdough starter, and a beautiful 12-inch disc of kombucha scoby. Fermentation heaven! Today I got my hands on a 5-quart glass jar and tranferred that mammoth mushroom to some fresh sugared jasmine tea. Fingers crossed!

I feel so deeply honored by my friendship with Stacy, one of many deeply nourishing relationships with special women in my life. I count myself incredibly lucky to know her, and to be a recipient of her grace and love. Thanks Stac!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Guilty Pleasure

I am deeply committed to local food, which is good for us on so many levels. Locally grown food is picked at the peak of ripeness, which is also at the peak of nutrient-density. It supports local farmers and contributes to the local economy. And it doesn't have to be transported very far, which lowers carbon dioxide emissions from cargo trucks and the like. My CSA delivers boxes of freshly-picked produce and pastured eggs once a week, traveling a total distance of 9 miles via biodiesel truck to the drop-off spot; I add another 14 miles to pick up said box of freshness. This is the way I like just about all of my food to get to me, and I do a lot of what others would consider obsessive research to find out where my food is coming from, who's producing it, and if they're treating the plants, animals, and earth well. I really enjoy this process of connecting to my food in a very intimate and conscious way - it's fun for me, and helps me keep in touch with what fuels my body.

Every once in a while, though, there is a food that I simply must have. In 2004 I spent two weeks in Scandinavia for a family reunion. While there, I spent a few days in Malmö, Sweden with old family friends. Each morning, they had a wonderfully fresh breakfast laid out: freshly baked whole-grain bread; lettuce, tomatoes and onions; fresh butter and cheeses; muesli and kefir; and Kalles, the traditional Swedish breakfast spread made of creamed cod roe.

Now I know what you're thinking - after reading the words "creamed cod roe" how could you not? I had the same reaction, but I'm a pretty adventurous eater (especially when I'm traveling) and love to try exotic foods. So I followed my host's lead, spreading a piece of fresh bread with butter and Kalles, then topping that with cheese and veggies. It took a few bites to get used to the salty, briny taste, but soon I was hooked. When we got home two weeks later, I made a beeline for the nearest IKEA and bought two tubes of the stuff (along with some other Swedish goodies) to take home.

Three years later, I still make regular trips to stock up. I just love Kalles, and even though it is pretty much the antithesis of everything I generally look for in food (it travels about 5,500 miles to get to me, probably by polluting cargo ship, and sits in a huge warehouse of consumerism) I make an exception for it. These cons aside, it is a pretty healthy food. The ingredient list is entirely recognizable, and it's full of good fish oil and protein. Here's how I enjoy it most mornings:

Fry an egg in butter or coconut oil. Meanwhile, toast a slice of sourdough bread in the toaster or oven. Spread the toast with fresh raw butter, then with Kalles. Top with cheese, then the fried egg. Lettuce leaves and tomato slices go well between the cheese and egg, if you wish. It's a healthy, nutrient-dense, and satisfying breakfast that sticks with me through the morning and well into the afternoon. And it's yummy to boot! Ah, Kalles. How you have won my heart.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Read This Book

Today I finished my latest library book on the way home from a family wedding. Real Food by Nina Planck has gotten me even more excited - I didn't know that was possible - about eating, preparing, and learning about traditional food. The writing is easy and down-to-earth, but the content is absolutely chock-full of information on the health - mental, physical and otherwise - of eating the foods our grandparents ate.

While reading, I looked back at the last three or four weeks, when I have become a bit more restrictive and rigid about my eating habits again. Feeling unhappy about my size and weight, I've tried familiar tricks - going dairy-free and gluten-free - to see if those omissions would help. But I've been down those roads before, and they lead to obsessiveness and isolation for me. Also, they prevent me from really enjoying food for the taste, the texture, the presentation, the moment. Of course, these things don't happen for everyone I'm sure, but for me, absolutely. I don't have serious health issues (that I'm aware of) with either dairy or gluten, although those foods have given me trouble in the past. But I have to wonder if my troubles have been the result of industrialized dairy (pasteurized & homogenized) and gluten (prepared without soaking, sprouting, or fermentation). I don't know the answer, but I don't want to go back to eating in a way that separates me from others and requires me to think about my food all the time instead of tasting and enjoying it!

So I had a grand time today, shopping at Ikeda's Fruit Stand for fresh blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries as well as local, vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh corn. At the co-op I bought fresh raw milk as well as raw gouda and mozzarella di bufalo, and a bottle of commercial kombucha with which to (hopefully) start my own culture. At the local butcher I found beautiful wild salmon and took another stab at 50 cents' worth of fresh liverwurst from a highly regarded sausage maker in San Francisco. Tonight we'll have grilled cedar-plank salmon, corn on the cob, and a beautiful insalata caprese with said tomatoes, mozzarella, and local organic young basil leaves, sprinkled with sea salt, crushed black pepper, and drizzled with Sacramento's very own Bariani olive oil - "stone-crushed, cold-pressed, decanted and unfiltered California extra-virgin olive oil". I wish I knew where our camera was so I could show you how colorful and ripe and delicious this salad looks! We'll enjoy our food with some local red wine, and for dessert Descartes has stuck into the coals a little hobo pack of fresh apricots and blackberries with blackberry jam. Can't wait to dig in!

One of the challenges I took from Real Food was to have at least two different fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. Hence the tomato salad and grilled corn tonight. I'm going to try this challenge for myself over the next few weeks, and see how it goes. Nina Planck wrote that she sometimes prepares as many as four different vegetable dishes at one meal! Even though it's not very summery, my mouth has been watering today for June's Colcannon again...I might have to just go for it even though it is more of a spring dish. Maybe for breakfast???

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Heart

My dear, dear friend Pixie did one, and I felt inspired. So here goes.

Although you'd never know it from the way I live, I actually heart early mornings. When I can actually get up around 6am, I heart sitting on the sofa in the bright, whiter-than-white light with a cup of tea and my journal. I heart crisp white cotton sheets on the bed, which always look and feel so inviting. Maybe that's why I haven't been getting up early - back to polyester I guess! (Never!)

I heart hot musicians, especially brass players because they have great lips.

I heart long walks through deep woods, seeing the world through dappled breezy light and being serenaded by wild birdsong. I heart fresh, hot homemade whole-grain bread with fresh butter and jam, Bubbie's Bread & Butter Pickles (the easiest way for me to get fermented veggies into my diet) and lemonade fresh-squeezed from the Meyer lemons in our backyard.
I heart thick, smooth pen ink, musical theatre, evenings with girlfriends, skirts in summer, sweaters in winter, and jeans all the time. I heart little mischief makers with their sticky fingers and faces, and can't wait to have my own.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Refusing To Choose

The last month has been characterized by a sort of emotional/spiritual malaise that has settled on my soul like dead weight. I haven't been motivated to do much beyond what's necessary; nothing has ignited excitement or passion lately. Work leaves me flat, and a bit worried. I've always felt like I had to find THE THING that I'd want to do for the rest of my life, and then do it with absolute dedication and focus. The problem? I have gone through two and a half careers that I loved for a year or five, then lost interest in. Is that happening again? I'm too old to keep changing careers! But I don't want to spend the majority of my week doing something that I don't enjoy...

A couple weeks ago I pulled Barbara Sher's book Refuse To Choose off the shelf. Her books have meant a lot to me over the years; when I was ready to leave acting I didn't know what I wanted to do next, and her books I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was and Live The Life You Love were exactly the books I needed to get my bearing and move forward.

Refuse To Choose is about a particular type of person that Barbara calls a Scanner: a kind of modern-day renaissance person, who loves exploring all sorts of different interests but who often gets bored easily and moves at various rates of speed from one subject (and/or career) to another. All my life I've considered myself flawed because I often become obsessed with something and study everything I can get my hands on about that subject...for a few weeks, or months, or maybe years. Once I've reached a certain level of competency or understanding, I usually lose all that passion and feel restless to find the next thing that will consume me. It's been a source of embarrassment for me, feeling that I can't finish things...that I never stick something out until I achieve mastery...that my life is full of half-done projects...stacks of half-read books...I've felt like a failure in many ways.

This book has turned my perspective on its head! For the first time ever, I don't feel ashamed of this pattern of mine. I don't feel like every interest has to be turned into a career, or that it's not worth delving into if I can't make money at it. That's surprisingly liberating! So I've started doing some things that I enjoy, just for the enjoyment and just for as long as I find them enjoyable. The upshot? Work feels lighter and more interesting, which is a bit of a relief even though I'm also opening myself to the possibility that I work best when I do a few things part-time, creating an stimulating and varied workweek. I feel lighter and more interested in learning just for the sake of it.

So, I'm learning Irish Gaelic, hearing all I can from Glen Hansard, The Frames, and Interference after seeing the sweet Irish film Once last week, making tasty Coconutty Cubes (see recipe below) so I can get my daily dose of coconut oil, writing a bit of a song on the mandolin, and allowing myself to dream freely about trips abroad. Next week I'd like to finally get a few aprons made, and I think I may let my knitting project sit tight until fall, when knitting seems more in season.

Coconutty Cubes
Mix together some coconut oil (get good quality, organic, virgin, unrefined) and some dehydrated coconut with a bit of cocoa powder or carob powder and a dash of sweetener like maple syrup, honey or stevia. Mix well and spoon into an ice cube tray, and leave overnight to solidify. The end-product is chewy and sweet, and in my tray one cube provides about 2T of coconut oil. Yum! For information about the myriad health benefits of coconut, read this!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Back On Track

Our show is finally open, and receiving lots of praise so far which makes us all feel good. It's been an exhilarating and exhausting process - two weeks of intense labor, if you will - and I'm so lucky to have cast and crew who have never tired of making changes or additions to better the show. What more could a director ask for?

But I'll admit, my body and soul need some time off. I literally haven't eaten a single meal at home for two weeks, and am totally off-track of my traditional food commitment. I tried to eat well overall, but still ended up having too much pasta and Jamba Juice. I look forward to cleaning our disaster of a kitchen and getting back to simple meals, lovingly made by me and/or Descartes. I look forward to re-establishing a daily yoga practice and having Thursday nights free again, so I can return to my weekly yoga class with my wonderful teacher. Hopefully it's not too late to plant my summer vegetable and herb garden, which has been completely neglected this spring. I've got to get back to the sewing machine and finish the apron I started for Julie, for her bridal shower. Basically, I've got a huge yearning to get back to domestic simplicity now that the creative baby I've carried for the last six months has finally arrived.

How do you get back on track when life has taken you off into the clover?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Which Jane Austen Character Are You?

You scored as Elinor Dashwood. As Marianne's older sister, Elinor lives at the other end of the emotional spectrum. She rarely reveals her intense feelings and is more concerned with being honest and loyal than having what she deserves. Even though her intentions are pure, she sets herself up for loss by constantly placing other people before her own needs. Overall, Elinor is gentle and rational but is just as capable of radical emotions (despite her withholding them) as her sister.

My close runner-up was Elizabeth Bennet. Elinor and Elizabeth are probably my favorite Jane Austen characters, for their internal strength, intelligence and self-awareness. Another favorite of mine, Anne Elliott from Persuasion, wasn't part of the quiz. Funny that Elinor and Anne are very quiet, sometimes painfully reserved characters while Elizabeth is one of the most boisterous and vocal female characters in all of classical literature, as far as I can tell! This week I've definitely been in the Elinor/Anne camp - so much intense emotion but feeling that there's never a good time to share it...thanks to Descartes and Pixie for giving me space and permission to let it out.

I've been on a bit of a Jane Austen kick lately, so this came to my attention at an opportune time. She created strong women who were still so feminine, so unmistakably feminine! Can you tell I'm a bit preoccupied with femininity? Well, read my first entry if you need to get caught up.

Take the quiz here...and thanks to Pixie for the idea!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

One More Reason I Love IKEA

IKEA has started charging five cents for every bag you use when you check out. I stopped by this morning to get some of my favorite Swedish food and was delighted to see this new policy. Some Americans may not be so pleased, but I've long wondered why we haven't followed the example of the majority of European stores in this way.

I carry cloth bags in my car and use them for shopping as much as possible; and if I forget I try to go without (I'm certainly not perfect about this, but getting better all the time). In most grocery stores I'll receive a five-cent refund for each bag that I bring with me. This makes for a nice incentive (if you know about it) but in most European markets, you are expected to bring your own bag, and you'll be charged a small fee if you need to use the store's paper or plastic.

It's subtle, the difference between a refund and a fee, but nothing wakes up an American like money. Hopefully, stores that make this switch will wake us up to our ability to make a simple choice every day that results in much less waste in our landfills. I think it's neat that IKEA would make such a decision even though it may not benefit the "bottom line".

Would you like to give a shout out to a business that you respect? Post!

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Apron

Oh dear, rehearsals have started for the show I'm directing, and you can see how easily I begin to neglect my other avenues of creative expression! Three weeks away from the blog...hopefully I'll be able to keep up a little better from now on.

The apron seems to be making a comeback - to me it's a symbol of reclaimed femininity, domesticity as a source of yin-empowerment. My mother's generation had to set their femininity aside in order to be heard, acknowledged, and respected in the world of men. They had to fracture themselves somewhat - all grey flannel and pressed poplin at work, cotton and denim on the weekends to tend hastily to domestic tasks. I do not remember my mother in a dress, ever. She was working 60-hour weeks and traveling almost all the time - there was little time for "fussy" stylings. While I am grateful for the hard-won battles of the women's-libbers, I also feel it is my generation's dharma to come back into balance, honoring and integrating the yang-masculine and the yin-feminine energies within us. Oddly enough, I find this integration most visible in current fashion trends - lacy tops, flirty blouses and even dainty short dresses atop rough-and-tumble jeans and sexy heels. But inside as well, something is being reclaimed by us that, I hope, will not so easily be put down again.

I found my first adult apron at Anthropologie (a store that I love for its absolutely feminine take on even the most mundane clothing) a few months ago, and I wear it whenever I can. I plan to make a few aprons this year, to give to the women in my life. I hope they find their aprons imbued with the same soft power I have - the power to get done what needs to get done, without setting aside a little flounce and lace here and there.

What makes you feel your feminine power?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

My Antiques Collection

At some point in my youth my mother decided I would collect music boxes. Actually, I don't remember if she chose that completely on her own or if I indicated at some point that I wanted to and she ran with it. When I was young, it seemed that everyone in my family collected something - it was seen as a part of your personality, and an easy tip for gift-giving. So throughout my childhood and teen years I received music boxes of all sorts, eventually honing in on those that played show tunes to match my love of musical theatre. There's one that plays "The Impossible Dream" and another that tings out "Hello, Dolly!" By the time I left home to strut my stuff on the Great White Way, I'd outgrown my collection so they drifted into the back of my mind, into a box in my parents' garage. Recently I came across them and wondered what I should do with them. Even though I don't want to keep a collection of music boxes, they've become somewhat sentimental to me.

I've never really understood the collector's mindset - what compels someone to collect hundreds of tiny Hummel figurines, or porcelain dolls with spookily vacant faces, or antique cookie jars? I don't have any judgment about it - actually I think it's kind of neat, but I've never felt the pull to have one of my own. I often wondered if there was anything I would someday grow to love enough to start a collection.

Last week a friend of mine taught me how to knit. We met at this yarn shop and spent some time perusing the miles and miles of gorgeous yarns from all corners of the world, spun into dizzyingly beautiful skeins and stacked in racks that rose above our heads. Although there were thousands of choices, I knew as soon as I felt the soft nubby chenille yarn in shades of plum, lavender and charcoal that it was to be my first project. Giddy and proud, I bought my first skein and set of needles, and we went back to her studio for the lesson. She was patient and encouraging - a great foil for my perfectionist and judge; they could barely get a word in edgewise with her positive coaxing! I learned the stitch, very slowly and clumsily at first but then with growing ease and comfort. We chatted about all sorts of things until it was time to go.

That night I sat knitting, and thinking about the "hobbies" that feel most important to me now - gardening, cooking, baking, sewing, knitting, slowing down - and I thought to myself, maybe this is my collection. I'm collecting antique skills, special tasks passed down from woman to woman for centuries. They speak the ancient feminine, the womanly arts that have kept families clothed, fed, and nurtured for so long.

These skills have been dying over the last century, since industry and convenience became more desirable than true craft and patience. I've grown up in a generation that largely doesn't know how clothing gets made, or food or the beautiful decorations that fill Target and Ikea. I forget that once upon a time people crafted their own, and grew up knowing how to do it because they had to. We don't have to anymore, but perhaps we should. The pendulum is swinging back to center. What were once cast aside as limiting and demeaning women's work in the feminist era are being reclaimed as links to our long feminine ancestry. As I stitch or knead or mend or tend, I am enlivening ancient knowledge.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Leeks = Love

Springtime is peeking through the stormclouds here in Sacto, leaving me a little giddy as I browse through the produce department. I'm in love, and it tastes soooo good. Leeks are the very color of spring - fresh, light, sunny green in the middle, tinged on either side with snow-white and deep black-green. They have a sweet, earthy, unmistakably springtime flavor that I can't stop putting in my dishes. Quiche, soup, omelets, and this: an easy Spring Vegetable Pie based on MaryJane Butters' BakeOver dish.

In a castiron pan I sauteed leeks, garlic, kale, mushrooms, and a pear in butter for about 5-7 minutes, then stirred in pre-cooked butternut squash. I sprinkled grated cheddar on top, then laid a rolled-out crust dough on top of that. Stuck it in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes, turned out onto a cutting board and sliced in after a few minutes' rest.

The taste was wonderful! Don't get hung up on the pear - it was an awesome addition, but you can combine pretty much whatever you want - veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses. An easy, elegant one-dish meal.

What food says SPRING to you?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dig In

I've had a weekend that has been both exhausting - driving 4+ hours a day for four days - and rejuvenating - visiting with this beautiful woman and her fabulous family for a few hours here and there. We shared so many wonderful things each of us has learned about sustainable gardening and farming, traditional nutrition, natural mothering, spirituality, healing our mother wounds, and of course the occasional diatribe about poo. All in all a satisfying way to spend the weekend, and I'm so grateful!

My friend and I are both pretty avid bookworms, and as usual our conversation included lots of talk about what we've gleaned from recent reads. Here's a list of books both she and I are currently contemplating for various reasons:

MaryJane's Ideabook * Cookbook * Lifebook
I bought this over the weekend and am now looking for a free hour to read about baking, stitching and mending, and how a girl can run a farm.

Gaia's Garden
We may landscape our tiny plot of land this summer (.09 acres!) and I'm definitely going to buy this book in preparation. As my friend said this weekend: If you can't eat it, use it for medicine, or support your ecosystem with it, why plant it?

Nourishing Traditions
A wonderful reference in support of real, whole foods. The author is very knowledgable and extremely passionate about her message. Some find it overwhelming, and I've read that this book carries the message in a kinder, gentler, but no less powerful way.

The Omnivore's Dilemma
I have yet to read this book, but have heard so much about it and recently watched two hours of lecture and panel discussion with the author on UCTV (the University of California system's television station). Nearby UCDavis chose this book for this year's Campus Community Book Project - it's basically being taught university-wide in classes of all kinds.

Hygieia: A Woman's Herbal
My friend is a wonderful healer - and if you come down with any malady while in her care you will be well-tended! I woke up this morning with a UTI and she was all over it...she pulled down this book and this one and got to work. I'll have to get these soon.

I work a lot at scaling down my life - Descartes and I regularly go through the house trying to figure out what we can do without. But of all my possessions, books are the hardest for me to let go of. Who knows the psychology behind that, but I generally don't just read a book once and put it on the shelf - they are my constant companions, sources of wisdom that I can turn to again and again. This week I'm going to dig in and dream a little, about a life I wish for my future - a life with a little more land and the ability to grow more of our food, get back to sewing again and let the dogs (that I don't have yet) run across our fields each day. I'm going to dig in and see what fresh wisdom I can find in my many paper-and-ink friends.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sourdough Starter Pt. 2

How could something look so right and smell so wrong??? Well folks, sadly my first experiment with making my own starter has gone rotten. Not sour, as I'd hoped, but quite beyond it. Yesterday I opened up the bowl to feed it and got confirmation from Descartes that things were not as they should be - he pinched his nose and left the house as quickly as he could, tossing over his shoulder the words I already knew - "That stuff ain't right!"

I spent a good three hours on the internet last night trying to figure out if my starter is indeed a goner. Not only did I find that there are about a million ways to make starter, but also that there are many differing opinions about what starter should smell like. "Soury-beery" was my favorite. Alas, "it should smell sour, not bad" came up too often for me to pretend my starter was okay.

So I'm throwing it out this morning and, on the advice of many in the blogosphere, I'm going to get myself an established starter. If anyone can help me out in this arena, please let me know! Otherwise, I think I'm going to buy one of the old American starters (some have been continuously fed and distributed since the 1800's!) and fill my house with a smell that will not drive Descartes into the yard.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sourdough Starter

In case you want to try your own, here's the recipe for sourdough starter and bread. It's Sally Fallon's recipe from "Nourishing Traditions" - I so highly recommend that cookbook!

You need: rye flour (8 cups), cold filtered water (about 8 cups), cheesecloth, and two gallon-sized bowls. This recipe makes 3 quarts of starter.

Mix 2 cups rye flour and 2 cups cold filtered water in a gallon-sized bowl. Cover with cheesecloth tightly secured with a rubber band. I put a tea towel over mine, and taped it down...hope the fabric is loose enough to let the bacteria and yeast in! Place the bowl in a warm place in your kitchen or, if you live in an unpolluted area, you can try it outside although I think you want to keep it kind of warm so winter might not be the best time to do that. I'm keeping mine on top of the stove.

Every day for a week, move the starter to the other clean bowl and add 1 cup rye flour and about 1 cup cold filtered water (enough to make it soupy). Cover it up again and let it sit. By about day 3 you'll have a bubbly, frothy soup. This is a good thing.

By the end of the week you'll have 3 quarts of starter - 2 quarts for baking bread, and 1 quart to make another batch of starter (add a cuppa flour and a cuppa water each day for a week to get another 3 quarts). If you don't want to use it right away, refrigerate it.

When you are ready to bake bread, use 2 quarts of starter and mix with 2 1/2 Tbsp coarse sea salt and about 1 1/2 cups cold filtered water. Mix it up, then add flour to the tune of about 13 cups. Sally Fallon says spelt flour is best, but I bet any flour you like will be fine. She also says the dough will be sort of soft and easy to work.

After the dough is mixed and kneaded for about 15 minutes, set it in loaf pans (3 big or 6 small) or shape them on a baking sheet, cut the top, cover and let rise for 4-12 hours (depends on the temperature in your kitchen). Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Voila!

(I'm kind of new on the blogosphere - please let me know if putting someone else's recipe up is a no-no!)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bacteria Soup Makes Things Better

I'm in a funk. Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor, to quote an old standard. What's wrong? Nothing, exactly. Just a lot of old junk surfacing and needing acknowledgment. My poor boyfriend! (I think I'll call him Descartes on this blog) I'm snarky and angry and easily ticked off. But I'm learning not to shy away from these feelings, because they just can't continue to be pushed down any longer; I need to feel, express, and release them finally. It ain't fun, but it's real. Eckhart Tolle says that these feelings are the pain-body taking over and feeding on my misery, and that conscious observation will start to take its power away. Robert Ibrahim Jaffe, MD said in one of his talks that expressing feelings is crucial to regaining health and freeing the heart to be more loving. Hm. Have to see what works best for me now.

Descartes is a very creative cook (and an all-around very cool guy). He can take pretty much any combination of ingredients from the fridge and cupboard and make a great meal. For this I am grateful, and I may share some of his cool non-recipes here.

The bright spot in my day: I'm currently nurturing my first batch of sourdough starter. I think this is the coolest thing - harvesting bacteria and yeast in my own house to make something delicious. How weird is that??? Whoever thought of such a thing? But I'm hoping to have a big bowl of bacteria soup by the end of the week, with which to make some delicious bread. I think I'll bring a loaf to my dear friend Pixie who we're visiting this weekend. I know a good dose of bread and Pix will cure any funk I'm in. I'll post the results of my starter later in the week.

What lifts you up when you're down in the dumps?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Herban Garden

We live in a heavily shaded neighborhood in the heart of the city. It provides me a bit of the best of both worlds - I can walk or bike most of the places I need to go in town, but live "in the forest" as my nephew used to say. I mostly enjoy the trees, although the sycamores release these nasty little pollen burrs that stick in the back of your throat, gently choking you for most of the afternoon if you forget to shield your face during yardwork. Still, the tall, mature trees break up the concrete jungle around us and remind me how well nature and civilization can comingle if each is given due respect.

As an often frustrated amateur gardener, a downside of all this shade is that it's darn difficult to grow anything besides ferns and what's a girl to do when she wants to grow some food?

Last summer I discovered a sunny patch of beauty along our driveway - it's a long, thin strip of cement with an even thinner ribbon of earth, formerly choked with jasmine but recently cleared in preparation for house painting. I laid fresh compost and peat in, mixed it up and headed to Capital Nursery to choose the right mix of plants - a giddy pleasure of mine equal to school-supply shopping - for my edible garden.

I planted lavender and rosemary, along with alyssum in between to fill things out. The nursery also had some beautiful wine barrels that I brought home. One I filled with other herbs such as sage, basil and parsley, and the other with three varieties of heirloom tomatoes. One last pot billowing with thyme rounded out the planting.

I feel really proud of this little garden! During the summer we had beautiful fresh tomato & basil salad; autumn dealt us butternut squash with fresh sage butter, and last week I was able to have fresh herbs for homemade soup - in the middle of winter! As you can see, my kitty took to it as well.

Where have you found your little piece of edible earth?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Bowing Down To My Domestic Goddess(es)

I'm constantly intrigued and a bit surprised by my own pull toward the pleasures of nourishing old-fashioned food and down-home domesticity. I was raised in the heyday of the Women's Lib movement, by a mother who shed her domestic life licketysplit for a high-powered advertising career, and taught me volumes about how to make it in the working world. Her advice did not go unheeded - with my own successful business and fulfilling work, I have never shied away from the challenge of making a damn good career out of what I love to do. It has always been my area of greatest comfort and experience, while the tub went uncleaned for years at a time and the fridge was stocked with Trader Joe's packaging and takeout leftovers.

But I have heard the siren call deep in my belly to slow down and bury my hands in the the soil (and products of the soil). I remember in high school watching "Flashback" with my mother and being inexplicably, psychotically aware of a deep need to bake bread right then and there. Had I ever actually baked bread before, I would have known not to start such a project at 11:30pm (and if my mother knew this secret wisdom she should have told me). But no matter, I mixed and kneaded that bread with fervor, woke by my alarm at 2-hour intervals during the night to punch down the living cushion of dough, and rose at 6am to set my inaugural loaves to the fire. Although the initial product better served as doorstops than sandwiches, I never forgot the primal satisfaction of that experience. It has surfaced again over the years, though my drive to succeed in business has usually taken the front seat while baking, gardening, spring cleaning and homekeeping have been relegated to the trunk.

That is, until recently. Over the last year I have found myself journeying to feed this deep, primal place inside, answering the cry of Hestia, goddess of hearth and home to be expressed through me. She doesn't want to wait any longer, and I feel the time is ripe to embody her more and more. What this looks like, I can't be sure just yet. It does involve more bread-baking (which has improved greatly since 1989) and more...the making of traditional, whole, nourishing foods...the satisfying freshness of sun-dried bedsheets...the addition of homegrown rosemary and thyme, and in the summer, tomatoes and squash...the enjoyment of nurturing our family as it grows...the deepening of my conversations with Gaia (earth), Hestia (home), and Eileithyia (motherhood)...and probably other gifts that I can't even imagine.

All of this, humbly submitted in posts about adventures in homemade marmalade, cat poop in the garden, and tips for how to clean way-overdue bathtub grout. I'm not at all sure how this blog of mine will turn out, but it seems like a fun way to chronicle my journey home. Thanks for witnessing and joining me.