Bone Broth.

Bone broth is a nourishing and cost-effective way to add nutrients to your soups and other recipes that call for broth. But what about the summer? Soup isn’t exactly a good summer meal, especially if you live somewhere that gets above 85°F, so how do you incorporate bone broth into your diet when soup sounds like the most terrible thing you could eat?

Grains. There is some research indicating that the nutrients in grains that have been properly prepared are even better absorbed when eaten with organ meats, bone broths, or animal fats. In the summer time I cook all of my grains in broth instead of water. It adds a nice rich flavor and it’s a good way to consume bone broth if you don’t like the broth itself. Not only that, but it makes your meal more filling for longer.

Potatoes. Use broth instead of milk in mashed potatoes. This also makes mashed potatoes more palatable for dairy-free kids and adults in my experience. And, if you’re like me, broth is less expensive than the milk you’d be using.

Gluten-free breads. Gluten-free bread always needs structural support and sometimes needs a helping hand with texture. Bone broth lends a hand to both of these problems, particularly with pizza crust.

Broth

So how do you make bone broth? It’s super easy. All you need is a stock pot, crock pot or pressure cooker, chicken bones (or any kind of bones), some water, seasonings, apple cider vinegar, and vegetable scraps.

Stock pot: place chicken bones (or other bones), vegetable scraps, and a dash of cider vinegar into the pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low (enough to maintain a slow simmer), cover and let it cook overnight, or two days. Strain and store.

Crock pot: same as stock pot, except put the crock pot on high for a few hours and then switch to low. Let cook for two days.

Pressure cooker: same as stock pot. Make sure all of your ingredients sit below the 2/3 fill line. Lock the top, turn heat to high and raise to the recommended pressure in your manual (mine is 15). Reduce heat to medium to keep the pressure steady and cook for 30-45 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the pressure cooker come down to 0. I don’t remove mine from the heat, I let it cool on top of the burner. You can let it sit for even longer. I let mine cool past depressurization because I have a mondo pressure cooker that cooks several gallons of broth at once. It’s so large that I have to wait or I’ll burn myself trying to strain the broth.

If you get backed up with broth just save your bones and vegetable scraps in the freezer. I cook 3 chickens at a time with whatever scraps I’ve amassed in the time it takes us to consume all of the broth, so there are always bags of chicken bones in my freezer left from roast/boiled chickens.

Broth will keep for a week or two in the fridge and up to 6 months in the freezer.

You don’t have to throw the bones/veggies you strain away if you have pets. Our cats love the eat the skin and I give our dog any bones I can mash between my fingers easily and without any kind of splintering and the carrots/celery/squash cuttings. It makes for happy pets. I’ve also known people who compost the leftover bones/veggies. I throw whatever I can’t give to our pets in the trash, because the compost system we have is a bag on the counter top. That bag gets plenty full without adding animal bones.

To freeze the broth in mason jars: fill pint jars with broth, leaving an inch of space on the top. Loosely cover with the lids and rings and let cool for a few hours on the counter top. Place in the refrigerator overnight (at least) before freezing. Once the broth is frozen you can tighten the canning rings to prevent freezer burn, but leave them loose until the liquid is completely frozen. Do not use quart or half-gallon jars; quart jars have about a 50/50 chance of cracking and the half-gallons crack every time in my experience.

If one of your jars breaks for some reason you can run it under very hot water to take the glass off and then run the resulting block of broth under hot water for a little less than a minute, making sure the water gets all sides. This way any tiny pieces of glass are melted off and go down your sink instead of into your food and you don’t have to throw the whole jar of broth away.

GMO’s.

I’m on vacation in Grand Junction Colorado and then Laramie Wyoming, so this post is sort of filler. I don’t have any decent pictures for it, so I apologize.

There’s a lot of debate about GMO’s on the interwebs. Most of it isn’t friendly. There’s a great divide between people for GM food and people against it. From what I can tell, the two sides are starting from entirely different worldviews: GMO advocates believe in science over nature and those against are firmly on the side of nature. Myself? I think it’s arrogant of us to assume we can force genes into plants (particularly genes of different species) and have no ill-effects.

But I’m not here to talk about the theory and science behind GMO’s. I want to explain why it is that I avoid them.

I have had digestive problems since I was an infant. My mom tried really hard to breastfeed me but it just didn’t work out, so I started on formula. I was always a colicky baby and my parents have plenty of crazy diaper stories they love to share. Ever since I can remember I’ve had brain fog and stomach troubles; up until very recently I thought it was totally normal to alternate between constipation and diarrhea (it’s way not normal, by the by, it’s a sign of intestinal distress).

When my TSH was over 10 at a routine physical I cleaned up my diet and brought it back to normal range within 3 months. I was pretty strict about grains and dairy for a long time. I was essentially paleo but I still ate potatoes and beans.

When I cut the wheat (which is not GMO, just to clarify), the conventional corn, soy, and white sugar (beet sugar is GMO) my health improved drastically. I still had a long way to go, but I no longer suffered from the constant brain fog and my stomach was a lot better off.

These days I’m less strict about what I eat. That being said, I know if I’ve been eating things that are detrimental to my health. Soy is a big one. I do alright with organic soy, but conventional soy gives me a hangover, even in small amounts. I avoid soy on principle because of my thyroid, but sometimes it sneaks in in things like jarred pizza sauce, or something my husband has picked up from the store (which isn’t saying anything about his shopping abilities, he’s just not as concerned as I am and that’s OK).

Corn is another big one. Conventional corn gives my stomach a run for it’s money. Given that GM corn is designed to erode the intestines of the insects it’s meant to ward off, this doesn’t surprise me. I’ve always been sensitive to things I ingest (like caffeine and alcohol or over the counter drugs) so I figure I’m also sensitive to herbicide residue and the BT that’s modified into the corn. It’s not much of a stretch to think that, since I’ve been eating BT corn for the majority of my life, my intestines are a little worse for wear. I know this because when I started my Live Blood Analysis I had two different kinds of undigested proteins in my blood and candida. Both of which indicate intestinal permeability. In my opinion, BT corn was a large part of the cause.

White (beet) sugar is less of an issue, but I do get a sugar hangover the next day if I have a moderate amount. Cane sugar doesn’t affect me the same way, so I use Sucanat for all of my sugar needs barring toffee and frosting. If I need refined sugar I always purchase organic.

So, there you have a super unscientific summary of why I avoid the major GMO’s. There are different kinds, like a strain of rice modified to contain vitamin A those potatoes modified to resist bruising (among others). I’m on the fence about those GMO’s that have nothing to do with herbicides or insecticides. I mean, cheese is mostly produced with a GM enzyme to avoid relying on calf stomachs for the rennet, so GM food is really difficult to avoid.

The bottom line is that the science is not settled -anyone who says this has no understanding of how science actually works, or is forgetting loads of history of science failing to identify problems it created- and there are too many unknowns for me to feel like GMO’s are a wholesome choice for my family. Given my personal health history and the resolution of symptoms when I started avoiding GM food, I’m keeping them off of my plate for now.

Can You Soak Something too Long?

Well, I had a post all lined up for today about making sprouted almond butter. What I had forgotten is that almonds sourced from the U.S. are not raw regardless of what the packaging says. They linked a salmonella case back to raw almonds -which is something that happens far far less than salmonella being linked back to contaminated meat- and they said, “thou shalt pasteurize your almonds!” And almond farmers complied. You can still source truly raw almonds directly from the farmers, or overseas, but anything on your store shelf is treated in some way and cannot sprout. Not to mention the ridiculous price difference. I can’t afford to buy truly raw almonds.

Ho hum.

So I spent a bunch of effort trying to sprout the almonds before I remembered this. I sat there, staring at my almonds (which had started smelling a bit like weed) wondering what I was doing wrong. It wasn’t until I googled it to see if I had messed it up somehow that I realized what had gone wrong.

I had effectively ruined two pounds of almonds. Almonds are not cheap, so I was determined to see if I could salvage them. I washed them all very thoroughly and popped them in my dehydrator. They dehydrated for a little more than 24 hours. Then I roasted them. They still taste weird, so I don’t think I’ll be using them for almond butter. I might just bury them in the garden.

I did this to quinoa two days prior as well. I made the mistake of leaving the successfully sprouted quinoa in a bowl on the counter overnight. When I dumped it out on the tray for drying I noticed that the bottom of the bowl was bubbly and some of the sprouts were really long. Not only that, but it smelled like I had just lit up a joint. I’m totally serious. I have no idea why, but soaking things too long makes them smell like weed. If I had to guess at it, I would say that there’s some kind of mold or something to blame. However, you can’t wash it off.

So if you find that your nuts or seeds smell like cannabis, you’ll have to toss them. I haven’t found a way to successfully salvage them. I tried drying the quinoa but my house just smelled like I was a pothead.

How Can it be Gluten Free?

GFreeToday I’m writing about the America’s test Kitchen book How Can it be Gluten Free?. If you’re thinking about going gluten free, or you already are, this book is a must. There are bread recipes, biscuits, cake, all kinds of cookies and sweetbreads, different cereals and tips on how to cook the best pilaf, quinoa or otherwise.

I find a lot of the content online for free, but I still recommend grabbing a physical copy because it’s super handy to have it in your kitchen for reference.

I do have a few bones to pick with it though.

First, many of the recipes call for vegetable oil. I’m not 100% but I think some of them call for canola oil specifically. Vegetable oil is terrible. I’ll write a more comprehensive post explaining why in the future. I actually have a bottle of canola oil in my pantry that I only use for polishing wood furniture and oiling my oven door hinges. I do not consider it food. This is only a minor setback though, because it’s pretty easy to substitute coconut oil or olive oil depending on whether what you’re making is savory or sweet. Sometimes I even just use butter. Because butter is better.

Second, these recipes do not take proper grain preparation (soaking/sprouting) into account. I have had some success in soaking the cakes and the chocolate chip cookies, but some of the recipes, like bread, don’t lend themselves to soaking. You could get around this by sprouting your own brown rice and then grinding it into flour, but you can’t sprout white rice and the majority of the flour mix is white rice.

Otherwise the recipes in this book are fantastic. I was making bread for a while using the basic bread recipe and even hubby liked it. I even had success making a sourdough starter with the flour blend and I got a good number of sourdough loaves out of it that were good by gluten free standards, but hubby asked me to just make regular bread after a while so I stopped that. But know it is possible.

One of my favorite things about this book is that there is an explanation of all the things they tried before landing on a really successful recipe. They explain why certain things didn’t work and why others did. You could use this book to help create your own gluten free recipes for this reason. There are also really helpful tips and tricks that would never have occurred to me otherwise. Like using psyllium husk powder – something found in the supplement section of your health food store – for structure.

Be forewarned: if you have a nut allergy there are a handful of recipes that call for almond flour (the pizza crust being one of them) for texture reasons. However, you might be able to get away with oat flour or some other flour that has more protein than rice flour.

Overall this book is amazing. My husband, who loves bread and cookies, approves of the majority of the things I make from this book. The chocolate chip cookies are my new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and the sugar cookie recipe is to die for. Not to mention the chocolate cake recipe. The book is worth the money just for the desserts alone. That being said, I never knew I could like quinoa as much as I do until I followed the pilaf and porridge directions in this book. The main point I’m trying to make here is that I highly recommend it despite my misgivings. If you’re determined you can get around the two things I listed, and most of the stuff in this book is meant to be a treat anyway, so indulge yourself!

Spring Breakfast Muffins (GF)

IMG_20150513_173913I have been gluten free for a little over a year and a half. I started avoiding it on account of my thyroid, and I still avoid it because it still makes me feel less than great the day after I eat it. I do better with it now than I used to, but I do even better not eating it at all so I generally avoid it if possible. My dad got me an amazing cookbook for my birthday: The How Can it be Gluten Free Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. I was going to talk about it today, but I made these muffins two days ago and they’re amazing, so I’m sharing the recipe instead.

Like everything else I cook, I used the recipe in the book as a guideline and made a bunch of substitutions. Sometimes this fails spectacularly but mostly it works out alright. This time I ended up with a delightful muffin that wasn’t too sweet, but perfect for breakfast. Especially with a nice pat of butter on top. I used the blueberry muffin recipe in the book and made adjustments for the different fruit.

All I can say about this recipe is, “I need a strawberry patch, ya’ll.”

Gluten Free Strawberry Rhubarb Breakfast MuffinsIMG_20150513_164308

11 ounces (1 3/4 cups plus 2/3 cup) gluten free flour blend
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 cup sucanat
1/8 teaspoon powdered stevia
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 cup sour heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup rhubarb, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup strawberries, cut into small cubes
extra sucanat for sprinkling on top

  1. Mix the flour blend, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum together in a bowl, set aside.
  2. Combine the melted coconut oil, sucanat, vanilla and stevia in a mixer bowl and mix for a minute. Add the eggs and the cream and mix until well combined.
  3. Using a rubber spatula, stir flour mixture into the egg mixture until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain, about a minute. Fold in the fruit until evenly distributed. The batter will be thick and stiff, similar to cookie dough.
  4. Cover tightly and let rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°. The rack should be in the middle position.
  6. Grease a muffin tin, or line with paper liners, and scoop the dough into the cups. I used a cookie scooper.
  7. Sprinkle sucanat over tops and bake until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 16 to 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
  8. Allow the muffins to cool in the muffin tin on a rack for 10 minutes before removing.
  9. Enjoy.

A thing to note about gluten free baked goods: the refrigerator is not your friend. Refrigeration will make your baked goods dry and dense, so it’s best to avoid it. If you make these ahead, just let them cool completely after removing them from the muffin tin and put them in an airtight container on the counter. Mine seemed better the next morning, actually.

Sprouting and Soaking Grains.

Last week I wrote a little about phytic acid and sprouting/fermenting grains in the context of the paleolithic diet. Today, I’m writing some general tips and instructions for how to sprout and soak grains. Soaking grains is like fermentation shorthand, I think you’d have to leave the grains for longer to achieve true fermentation. Soaking is a good first step.

Something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of implementing this (or any change to your diet/lifestyle, really) is to try one thing at a time. Take it slow: it gets overwhelming really fast. It has taken me almost 3 years to get to where I am now and I had a serious motivator in the form of hypothyroidism. I am really reluctant to put synthetic things in my body, so I sort of jumped in with both feet in an effort to avoid needing synthroid even temporarily – not to mention that taking synthroid for postpartum thyroiditis (which is what I probably had) could potentially increase the likelihood of needing it for the rest of my life and I was so not down with that. I’m also selectively super stubborn and that helped me stick with it. Although I do eat grains again I am completely gluten-free and I try to soak and sprout as much as I can.

On to soaking!

Soaking is usually done overnight though there are a few exceptions: according to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon cashews shouldn’t be soaked overnight because they are a softer nut that has already been steamed (yes, even the “raw” ones) to neutralize the urushiol which is a resin that is toxic, and the result will be unpleasant. However, I have seen plenty of Raw Food recipes calling for cashews to be soaked overnight so I suppose it’s really your call.

To soak grains properly you need a large bowl, preferably glass; cloth for covering, cheesecloth, muslin or a kitchen towel all work; grain to soak; enough water to cover the grain; an acidic medium such as vinegar, lemon juice, whey (the yellow stuff that you sometimes find on top of yogurt). I have used water kefir and kombucha and I seem to get good results with those. Alternatively you can use another grain that is high in phytase which is an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid like rye or buckwheat. The catch to this method is that since phytase is an enzyme that is susceptible to degradation as soon as the grain is milled into flour  you’ll need to use freshly ground grain for this to be most effective. Here is a great article explaining some of the process.

To soak your grain you simply combine the grain with the water and acidic medium to the tune of 1 tablespoon acid per cup of flour. If the recipe you’re making uses buttermilk as liquid (like pancakes or waffles) feel free to use that, but know that the presence of calcium will reduce the amount of phytic acid neutralized by up to 50% in some grains. So, while it’s counter intuitive, adding a dollop of yogurt or milk kefir does more harm than good (whey is debatable as well). I’m not sure about using dairy to ferment grains and the impact that has on phytic acid, but my hunch would be that if you left it long enough you might get comparable results to soaking with something like vinegar or lemon juice if you don’t mind sour foods.

I use just water and salt for soaking legumes, but I do know a couple people who use vinegar or some other acid.

Sprouting is very similar in that you start by soaking the grains overnight but you’re just using water. There are all sorts of grain sprobeansuting kits and pieces of equipment you can purchase, but I just use a bowl and a strainer with a cloth to cover in the summer when fruit flies are a problem. Basically you soak your grains/legumes overnight and drain them in the morning. Rinse and return them to the bowl to sit. Every two hours or so put them back in the strainer and rinse, also rinsing the bowl, then stick them back in the bowl. In 12 hours to 3 days you’ll start to see sprouts on most grains/legumes. Quinoa takes the least time to sprout in my experience. Usually there are sprouts on the majority of the grains by mid-day after soaking.

Sprouting grains activates the phytase enzyme so souring them after sprouting will remove even more of the phytic acid content. I haven’t done this yet myself, but I  plan on giving it a shot soon and I will certainly write about what happens!

And there is my crash-course on soaking and sprouting grains and legumes. I hope it was helpful!

Paleo. Is it Really the Diet of Our Ancestors?

I am reading two fantastic books right now. Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel and A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tony Sandage. Both of these books focus on what our ancestors ate (and both are fantastic so far). According to these two authors and at least one person on the internet grains have been a part of our diet for a long, long time. So, what does this mean for the paleo diet? Is it a fraud? Not necessarily. Though our paleolithic ancestors most likely ate grain, they ate it in a far, far different way than we eat it now.

Grain helped humans shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled way of life. Something that allowed people, for the first time, to have free time. This fostered all kinds of advances in society and technology like writing and even bureaucracy (lol). The catch here is that grain was always consumed sprouted and fermented. Beer was a staple foodstuff even being used as currency. According to ancient documents the workers who built the pyramids in Egypt were paid with beer and sometimes bread. That has nothing to do with paleolithic humans, but it’s a really interesting factoid.

Sprouting and fermenting grains unlocks the nutrients they contain which are otherwise unavailable to our bodies. Whole grains are the worst offenders in this case as they contain all of the phytic acid and lectins. This includes nuts. So that paleo nut butter? You’re not getting everything that the nutrition label says it has to offer. You’re not even really eating it the way a paleolithic person would have eaten it.

Luckily, sprouting and fermenting grain is super easy, it just takes some time. In my opinion grains that have been sprouted/fermented taste much better so I am quite happy to ferment them or sprout them. I haven’t combined the two methods yet, but I will. I’m also very strongly considering investing in a grain mill.

All of that being said, I am of the opinion that the paleo diet is another fad diet. I say that with an immense amount of respect for the diet itself because it helped me turn hypothyroidism around and improve my health in general. There are merits to “eating like a caveman” for sure, but I think it’s a bit hasty to cut out all grains for the rest of your life because a diet that claims to be what our ancestors ate told you to. The important thing to know is how to properly prepare grains to gain the most benefit from them and the least harm.

It just goes to show you: in this day and age you really, really, have to sift through all of the information available to find the truth. Yes, humans were hunter-gatherers exclusively for a long, long time. But the cultivation of grain increased our intellect and gave us a more stable life. Are grains the villain they’ve been made out to be? Absolutely, in the form that we are consuming them. But once they are properly prepared, grains are not the enemy.