Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wheat free diet for 2 weeks

I recently tried a 2 week wheat free diet just to see what all the buzz is about. This is a little different (not much) to the sometimes interchangeably used term 'gluten free.' Gluten free is generally referred to by someone with celiac disease - an autoimmune response to certain proteins in grains - most often wheat but also some barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Wheat free is just as it sounds - a diet free of all wheat including 'whole grain' and refined white.

First I needed a little history about why wheat is at the top of many discussions right now:

Common Wheat, or Bread Wheat, makes up about 95% of the wheat that is used today. It started as a cross between 3 different grass species that took place about 10,000 B.C.
Varieties of wheat that have forty-two chromosomes are the most recently evolved and most used types of wheat. All of these varieties have been cultivated by humans (as opposed to growing wild). They are hybrids of twenty-eight-chromosome wheats and wild fourteen-chromosome wheats or grasses. Early bread wheat was the result of the crossing of goat grass (Aegilops) with Triticum turgidum. Modern bread wheat varieties have forty-two chromosomes and evolved from crosses between emmer and goat grass, which is the source of the unique glutenin genes that give bread dough the ability to form gluten.
During the transformation of ancient wheat to common wheat a few important things have changed:
  1. Elevated levels of a starch called amylopectin A - easiest form of amylopectin to break down into glucose therefore raising the blood sugar in the body. 
  2. The new wheat with more chromosomes produces a larger variety of gluten proteins which can contribute to inflammation in the body and more cases of celiac disease.
  3. Proteins in wheat are broken down and converted into shorter proteins called polypeptides which are exorphins that bind to receptors in the brain making you "high" and therefore causing an addiction to the wheat itself.
When processed by your digestion, the proteins in wheat are converted into shorter proteins, "polypeptides," called "exorphins." They are like the endorphins you get from a runner's high and bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, making you high, and addicted just like a heroin addict. These wheat polypeptides are absorbed into the bloodstream and get right across the blood brain barrier. They are called "gluteomorphins," after "gluten" and "morphine."
Read more:
On average Americans eat 180 pounds of wheat per year. If you are not used to thinking about what you eat on a daily basis and actually start adding up what contains wheat you will quickly realize you eat wheat at nearly, or quite literally, every meal. For breakfast we eat cereal, pancakes, french toast, waffles, wheat toast, bagels, biscotti, pop tarts, muffins, scones, all mostly consisting of some form of wheat. For lunch we eat sandwich bread, crackers, croutons, flour tortillas, pasta, pita, pizza, pretzels, and cookies. Dinner is pasta, breaded chicken or fish, rolls, garlic bread, and dessert to follow is cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, cupcakes, or flour based puddings.

Wheat is hard to escape.

When one thing can dominate your diet as much as wheat can, and is so in demand by the global market that industrial farming methods are constantly advancing to keep up, that makes me uncomfortable. And when I start reading story headlines in the New York Times and CBS news like "Modern wheat a 'perfect, chronic poison' " and "Three hidden ways wheat is making you fat" I know I should pay attention.

Wheat free for 2 weeks

For the past 2 weeks I have cut approximately 95% of all wheat products out of my diet just to see how difficult it would be and how I would feel in the end.

I think everyone should be aware of how certain foods make them feel. Many of us suffer from food allergies and intolerances and just learn to live with the complications instead of making the connection between diet and quality of life.

As far as overall health I did not feel any different at the end of the two weeks. Digestion stayed the same, overall mood stayed the same, and energy levels as a whole stayed the same.

What I did notice were the situational changes. Even if I was taking in the same amount of calories I did not feel as tired as I often do right after a meal. I felt as if I was avoiding that 'crash' that often happens at my desk after a big lunch.

I lost 5 pounds over 2 weeks. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that I had to give up morning pastries - I love a scone or biscotti with coffee. I also had to give up evening snacks like a bowl of cereal or some crackers, and I was skipping the breads with soup or a heavy sandwich with lunch. At a birthday party I actually skipped the cake altogether and instead had a 'fun size' (bullshit on the 'fun' part) payday candy bar because it was laying on the table: Impulse eating at its best.

Over the past two weeks I began to really realize how easy it is to impulse eat a very high number of calories when you are used to eating wheat as a normal part of the diet. By skipping this one ingredient and without limiting calories on other foods I was still having to avoid a lot of my normal morning and afternoon rituals. Jimmy Johns was out, Starbucks pastries were out, pizza was out, mac and cheese was out, anything you would consider a fast food of any sort was ruled out.

In conclusion I personally am not convinced that wheat as a whole is bad for someone who is not genetically susceptible to have an intolerance or allergy, but more the exploitation of wheat, be it whole grain or refined white, that is causing us to overindulge in it and increase our intake of calories throughout a typical day quite often without even realizing it.

Wheat, like everything else in life, should be in moderation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Don't forget about fiber

I'm just as sick of the word fiber as you are. Fiber feels like just another health buzz word that generally doesn't mean anything to me and I roll my eyes at when I see it in extra large font on the front of every cereal box in the aisle.

I did however recently find out that fiber is important if you cut it out of most of your diet.

I did a five day morning through lunch juice cleanse recently. This seemed like a perfect solution to many common first world problems I was experiencing; I didn't have time to make breakfast or pack a lunch, and I'm kinda chubby right now so I want to lose a few pounds. Add a brand new juicer to those problems and I was 'cleansing' away - right until dinner time and then eating whatever.

Fiber is used to push things along in the digestive track. If you take most of your daily fiber away and are still adding things to the digestive track, things won't move along as quickly and discomfort sets in.

I have since stopped the morning through lunch juice fast.

Hindsight this seems obvious. The point of a fast or cleanse is to give the digestive a break, not just lose a few pounds by skipping meals and eating whatever at the dinner table. I am still a big supporter of the strict juice cleanse and plan on doing a 7 day cleanse after the holidays pass. I just don't possess that kind of self control to complete a cleanse while everyone else is drinking Holly Nog.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Juicing for breakfast and lunch: Recipe day 5

Beet, blueberry, strawberry,
pomegranate, carrot, apple juice
Today's juice tastes like dirt. A nice big ole glass of fresh compost really. What a way to start the day.

I hate beets, yet I keep giving beets another chance. I keep hoping my hippie juice loving self will overpower that filthy dirt taste that beets have. I swear this is the last time. I swear I will know better next time. Also, too much beet juice can kill you. Something that gross should kill you.

However, in small quantity, beet juice is powerful:

Health Value of Beet Juice

The antioxidants in beet juice provide you with a convenient way to help your body fight free radicals, which damage cells and might contribute to cancer, heart disease and other diseases. Researchers at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom found that a concentrated shot of beet, also called beetroot, juice has high total antioxidant and polyphenol content. Polyphenols act as antioxidants to block the action of enzymes that cancer cells need for growth. Antioxidants from the beetroot shot were more bioaccessible than those from other vegetable juices, the researchers report in the June 2011 issue of the “Journal of Functional Foods.”
Read more:

I also learned that the Omega juicer does not like frozen fruit. Yes, this seems like common sense now. I wanted strawberries and blueberries and it's just not a good time of year to buy them, especially organic. I thought I would try frozen but I more or less just made sherbet out the waste end of the juicer. I was able to thaw the blueberries and successfully use those, but the strawberries appeared to be a mushy mass and wasted.

Today's juice recipe:
  • 1 small golden beet
  • 1 cup of frozen strawberries (that may or may not have been wasted out the juicer)
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 clementine orange my daughter insisted we add
  • 2 organic carrots
  • 1 large organic apple

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Juicing for breakfast and lunch: Recipe day 4

Quick photo and recipe 
Cucumber, carrot, pineapple, green grape juice
Today's drink was refreshing. I really love adding cucumber, it doesn't give any strong flavor but just a crisp refreshing finish. Like summer in a jar. 

Today's juice recipe:
  • 3 large organic carrots 
  • 1 cup organic green grapes
  • 1/4 fresh cut pineapple
  • 1 large cucumber

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Juicing for breakfast and lunch: Recipe day 3

It's Saturday: A day when I usually enjoy sleeping in (well, 7AM) and eating too much breakfast. But I feel good about juicing this morning. I feel motivated.

Juice recipe for day 3:

  • Entire bunch of organic kale approx. 15 small stalks
  • 2 bananas
  • 5 clementine oranges 
  • 1/2 lime 
When using banana the Omega juicer, the juice comes out much thicker, almost like a smoothy. I'm pretty indifferent to the taste of today's juice - it's not great and it's not gross. No major 'grass' factor. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Juicing for breakfast and lunch: Recipe day 2

Carrot, apple, pineapple juice.
Day 1 went well, it went really well. I had green juice for breakfast, a plain earl grey tea, and green juice again for lunch, with tons of water in-between. By the time I got home and felt like I was starving, I sat down for a pretty reasonable dinner. It felt like my stomach had kind of shrunk during the day, so I really wasn't able to over stuff myself like I tend to (love to) do. 

Whether it was from the nutrients in the juice, or the water that I was finally drinking enough of, I felt really energetic and productive all day.

Day 2 is starting great. For once I woke up and just got up. To be fair I don't really think that had a lot to do with juicing, I think it had more to do with the fact that I drank a coffee at like 7PM and I'm a complete child when it comes to caffeine after 1. Either way it feels good. And it's Friday. The real challenge will be if I can continue to have just juice for breakfast and lunch over the weekend. Social pressure is a bitch.

Day 2 Juice Recipe:
  • 8 organic carrots
  • 1 large organic apple
  • 1/3 fresh cut pineapple
Do you know how to tell if a pineapple is going to be sweet? Pick the pineapple that has the most yellow or gold skin and smell the bottom - a ripe pineapple will smell really sweet! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Juicing for breakfast and lunch: Recipe day 1

I'm back to juicing this morning. Once you go to the grocery and buy four bags of fresh fruits and vegetables you've kinda committed. What the hell else are you going to do with an entire grocery bag of kale and 15 pounds of carrots.

Kale, cucumber, pear,
apple, green grape juice.
Breakfast and lunch today.
I'm taking a different approach this time as an experiment; instead of doing a strict juice cleanse I will be substituting breakfast and lunch with juice and having a normal dinner with the family. I usually feel a bit guilty (er, jealous) when the family is sitting down to eat together and I'm off in a corner sulking because I'm on a cleanse and only get liquid kale (yeh!). However, in the morning when I'm rushing out the door, and for lunch at work, I really don't care what I eat - whatever is fast and there.

I am a big supporter of juicing and drinking it within an hour - the juice has the highest level of nutrients and antioxidants during this time. This was something that was actually holding me back from doing a cleanse the past few months; I just don't have the time in the morning and I'm at work without my juicer in the afternoon. Juicing on demand right now is just not possible.

Well, I'm breaking my own rules. Fresh juice is good for you even if you drink it the next day. Or even after two days. The stuff you buy in the store is months old!

This time around I'm juicing at night before I go to bed and storing it in sealed Mason jars for the next day's breakfast and lunch. This actually solves a few problems for me at once. I suck at bringing a lunch, bread + cheese or peanut butter is typical. Bringing nothing at all is also typical which 'forces' me (yeh, really have to twist my arm) to get Chipotle. Financially and in terms of waistline this is not what I want. I also suck at eating breakfast. Before children I had nice things like oatmeal with fruit, or an egg on wheat toast. I actually cared about my own personal health and hygiene. Now I'm either sneaking out of the house very quickly before the kids wake up so I can get to work at a reasonable time, or I'm spending all morning getting kids ready and out the door because it's my turn to drop them off. Those quiet mornings of checking email and enjoying breakfast were shot dead long ago along with long showers and a clean house.

Anyway. Juice.

Todays recipe:

  • Approx. 10 stalks of organic Kale 
  • 1 large organic apple 
  • 2 organic pears
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1 cup of green grapes
I follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guide when it comes to buying organics. 

This recipe divided perfectly into two pint Mason jars.
I love adding cucumber to juice recipes. It has a very crisp, fresh taste. This recipe was not overpowering at all in terms of that 'grass' taste some green juices can have. Sweet, but not thick sweet. Really a great morning drink. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

What happened to the traditions of Christmas?

I caught myself humming along to Jingle Bell Rock at the grocery yesterday. Then I realized, WTF, it's November 11th, and it's 60 degrees outside. It is not Christmas. I didn't even realize it was a Christmas song until I was half way through it. I felt tricked; how dare you make me get into the Christmas spirit before I'm ready. And then I felt very receptive, or one might say paranoid, to the actions of everyone around me. Almost like the Truman Show when Truman starts to suspect that something is not right.  Grocery stockers were filling the freezer cases with pre-made pumpkin pies. Shelves were being stocked with Christmas themed giant bags of candy. Christmas versions of everything possible were being displayed: Red and green tortilla chips, Christmas themed pre-packaged Rice Krispy treats, boxes of stuffing mix with holiday images, cans of gravy on the first display as you walk into the store. Depression kicked in pretty bad for me at that moment, that pit in my stomach like someone just broke the news that Santa isn't real.

My grandmother used to spend two full days making pies. There would be a table just for pie. Pecan pie, blueberry pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie. Pie was special. Pie was made with love. Pie was made with thoughts of family in mind. How can pie be special if I buy it in the freezer section on sale for $4.99 and leave it on the counter to thaw?

I  know there is the argument, why waste all of that time to make a pie when you can just buy one for the same price? Yes, I agree, time is valuable. Making pie may not be the most exciting thing in ones life. Is that not the point though? To hand someone a homemade pie is to say to them, you are worth my time.

When everything is pre-packaged, pre-made, and in general thoughtless all around you - how can you make the Holidays special?

I challenge everyone this Holiday season to really make something special. Be it a pie, a handmade gift, or a dish to pass made completely from scratch. Let's get back to what matters.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What do chickens need in the winter?

This is my second winter having chickens in southern Michigan. Like most new chicken owners, I was very worried about keeping my chickens warm during the cold winters we have here every year. I read a lot of blogs that said heat is essential, and I read a lot of blogs that said I needed to do nothing even on the coldest of days. Still confused on the topic I decided to take each day one at a time and take cue from my chickens behavior.

My coop setup has a wide open hardware cloth run and two enclosed coop areas. On the coldest of days I assumed my chickens would be bedded deep in their enclosed coop, but time and time again I would go out there to find them huddled on a roost in the open air run. My conclusion: chickens do what chickens want to do. Give them an optional enclosed area to escape a winter blizzard, but most likely they will huddle out in the open air like many birds do all winter long.

Here is my checklist for getting the chicken coop ready for the cold days that are settling upon us:

'Draft proof' the coop

The window, roof, and one wall of my coop setup is just hardware cloth. This is excellent for keeping chickens cool and ventilated in the hot summer days, but too drafty for cold winter ones. Before the real cold days hit I attach some plexiglass to the window, tack on some plywood to the hardware cloth wall, and slide another piece of plywood over the roof. I leave about 2 inches on each side of the roof open for ventilation. I also leave the small hardware cloth windows right below the roofline open for ventilation in the pallet coop. The difference I learned between a draft and ventilation is the number of openings you have in the coop and how they are related to each. Example of a draft would be an open window opposite an opening in the roof - this senario allows air to cross the entire coop creating a breeze. Ventilation would be just an open window near the top of the coop, or a small opening in the roof - this allows ammonia and stale air to escape, but will not create a cross breeze.

Click image to enlarge

Make a water plan

Last winter I made a mistake that cost my rooster half of his comb; I forgot to give my chickens water for a day and a half. I don't exactly know what the relationship is between fresh water and keeping warm when it comes to chickens, but that was the only day my rooster's comb was frostbitten, and it was not the coldest day of the winter by far. During warm months I fill two water containers for the coop and that will last the chickens 3 or 4 days if I forget to refill them in between.  In the winter the water can freeze within an hour of placing it in the coop. The heated water containers seem overpriced so I bought 4 regular plastic ones and just switch them out in the morning and night when the temperatures are freezing. Make a plan early on, something that works with your schedule. A heated water base is probably worth the investment and I may break down and buy one this month to prepare for the cold ahead.

Deep litter clean out

I use the deep litter method and only clean the coops out once a year, usually in late fall. Deep litter allows you to build up the litter in your coop without actually deep cleaning it. It is a method of turning the droppings under and allowing natural decomposition. Good ventilation is necessary using this method, it keeps the bedding dry and allows any ammonia to escape. In the fall I like to take all of the litter out and put it in my garden beds. This is great for the garden and ensures a deep fresh layer of pine shavings for my chickens. I don't get out to check on the chickens as much when the days get dark in Michigan, starting fresh bedding at this time makes me feel less guilty for some reason when I don't get out to check on them every day.

Shovel a path

Ok, this is optional but my chickens appreciated it. When snow finally falls I like to shovel a small path outside of their coop so they have a little room to roam. My chickens tolerated light snow, but wanted nothing to do with the deep stuff. They clucked their appreciation when they were still able to find bits of frozen grass along the shoveled path.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Organic Is Better Than Conventional. Usually. Unless it's not.

Does anyone else feel like this Stanford study is nothing new?

The study, if you have not yet heard, stated that there is little evidence proving that organic foods are better or more nutritious for your health than conventional foods. Is a strawberry called by any other name just as sweet?

The fact is there can be differences in nutritional values in any fruit or vegetable based on climate, soil, water, ripeness when picked, and more. I would assume there are certain situations where an organic food could actually have less nutritional value than a comparable conventional food item depending on conditions of growth and time of harvest.

What should be focused on, and what I'm concerned about, are the long term effects of organic products for the consumer's health during their lifetime, and the effects on our Mother Earth.

There is usually less pesticide residue on a certified organic food product as compared to a non-organic food product; I say usually because not all foods that are grown in an organic fashion are always labeled organic. Many times at a farmers market you can talk with the farmer and they will let you know if the food was 'sprayed' or not, meaning if pesticides were used. The term organic is a very vague term when used to describe a certain food: There is 'certified USDA organic' and there is also the practice of growing a certain crop in an organic fashion, meaning no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but not going through the actual process to be officially certified.

The quality of life for livestock is usually better when raised on an organic farm. Again I say usually because the term organic can be such a vague term. At a large scale level, the minimum requirements to provide a certain quality of life for the animal is set at a higher standard to be registered organic than it does to be a conventional farm. Yes, of course, a small scale family farm that is not registered organic would likely provide a better quality of life than a registered organic large scale farm, but the minimum requirements set a slightly higher quality of life that you can usually count on when lost in the super market aisle (of course I will say usually because there are always corporations trying to take advantage of consumer trust and not living up to the standard).

Also, certified organic food cannot contain GMO. Or at least cannot be known to contain GMO, there is always the likelihood of cross contamination from conventional farming that could cause an organic crop to contain a certain percent of GMO, and a farmer that isn't certified organic does not mean that his crop does contain GMO. See how vague and confusing the term organic is?

Most people who buy certified organic, at least the people I know, are not doing it strictly from the belief that it is more nutritious. I had several 'non-organic' people send me the link to the study out of what I felt to be a 'I TOLD YA SO' moment, but the study was no surprise to me. It has a catchy headline that conventional Walmart shoppers love to read (do they read?) and point and say, 'see I told ya'. I'm sticking with organic, local, pesticide free,  fair trade, or whatever seems appropriate in the situation. Not all organics are created equal, not all conventional foods are created equal. Know your farmer and become his/her friend. They hold the power, they have the knowledge.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Is Peace Tea All Natural?

Peace Tea was pretty popular in my world for about 3 weeks. I guess I should have known it was too good to be true; Peace Tea is only 99 cents, has only 150 total calories for a large 23 oz can, it tastes sweet yet retains the tea flavor, and it is widely available in the cold section of almost any convenience store.

There are so many times when even I get confused by marketing loopholes like this one. The outside of the can is fun and sexy, like Woodstock if it was on a golf course and Bill Murray was there. Doesn't Bill Murray just make everything seem awesome? There are four 'wooden' markers on the side of the can stating that this product is 100% natural tea, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, and no artificial colors. A quick nutrition label check proves there are only 50 calories, well 50 calories per serving but I'm smart enough to do the math and see there are an approximate 3 servings per can which calculates to 150 calories. A little tricky of them to assume either 3 people will share this can, or I will save it for 3 different servings on different occasions and not drink it all at once, but 150 calories really isn't that bad compared to the other options on store shelves.

It wasn't until I had been buying these fairly frequently that I checked the full ingredients label; and there it was - Sucralose. "How can that be?" I asked myself, "the label clearly indicates it's 100% Natural Tea!" Ah yes, loop-holes. 100% Natural Tea does not say anything about the rest of the ingredients, it is only stating that the tea used in this drink is natural. Duh, of course tea is natural. And my presumption when I saw the word "no" paired with "artificial flavors, preservatives, and colors" was that it was saying nothing was artificial, wrong again. I would presume that this company wanted to make a cheap beverage, widely available, that is still low in calories. With all of the 'antioxidants in tea' rage right now, and market demand for 'all natural' products, they buried their sins at the bottom of the bottle.

Sucralose may not be the worst thing in the world, but it is definitely not natural.
Tate & Lyle manufactures sucralose at a plant in Jurong, Singapore. Formerly, it was produced at a plant in McIntosh, Alabama. It is manufactured by the selective chlorination of sucrose (table sugar), which substitutes three of the hydroxyl groups with chloride. This chlorination is achieved by selective protection of the primary alcohol groups followed by acetylation and then deprotection of the primary alcohol groups. Following an induced acetyl migration on one of the hydroxyl groups, the partially acetylated sugar is then chlorinated with a chlorinating agent such as phosphorus oxychloride, followed by removal of the acetyl groups to give sucralose.
Source: wikipedia

I don't really know what any of that scientific mumbo jumbo means, but I'm pretty sure I shouldn't need it to explain to me what is in something I'm drinking.

More proof that the more money you spend on your marketing team, the more likely it is that you're trying to sell a bad product.

Ingredients label for Peace Tea Caddy Shack

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to brine a chicken

Dorking Rooster using a brine solution.
Tender, flavorful, and juicy.
If you do not brine, you should.
I brine, therefore I am.

Brining adds incredible depth and flavor to any cut of meat, but especially to those tough, cheap cuts that are usually hard to work with.

I have cooked approximately eight home grown chickens now, and exactly one of them has been exceptional. I raise Dorkings which are a slow grown, hearty bird with dramatically dark flavorful meat. Each one I have cooked has placed the bar well above a store bought chicken, but only one had me begging for more: a year old Dorking rooster who mistakenly put his spurs up to my daughter and met his fate the following morning. Usually a vigorous rooster of this age would be very chewy and tough. I was worried he would be unpalatable, so I finally tried using a brine. I have had an aversion to brining under the assumption that it would take away the flavor of the meat and instead make it salty. I am a cook who prefers the true flavor of the food, not the mandatory masking of salt and pepper. I wish I did not wait all this time to try brining, the results were remarkable.

I did some research on what brining actually does to the meat, since I can never settle for 'It just works.'

FYI It works like this:
  1. Meat cells contain a concentration of salt.
  2. The brine that the meat is soaking in has a higher concentration of salt than the cells in the meat.
  3. Through the magic of osmosis the concentration level of the salt in the meat cells and the concentration level of salt in the brine attempt to balance.
  4. The water transfers from the meat cells to try to balance the concentration of the salt solution between the cells and the brine.
  5. The water in the cell moves from the cell to the space surrounding the cell so the ratio of salt to water within the cell is at a higher concentration which will balance with the solution that it is soaking in.
  6. This might seem confusing as it appears through basic osmosis the meat would end up dry and salty, however, there is more than just osmosis taking place here...
  7. As water moves out of the cells salt moves in and begins to break down some of the proteins in the meat cells.
  8. Cell membranes are semipermeable and allow both salt and water to flow back and forth freely.
  9. To make things even more complex, larger molecules like denatured proteins and other solutes the meat released by the salt cannot pass through the cell barrier.
  10. So... This transfer of salts and water back and forth 'trap' the larger solutes and proteins until the pressure from holding more solvent equals the rate at which the solvent is moving through the semipermeable membrane, this is the definition of osmotic pressure.
  11. Brining actually changes the state of the cells so they hold more water than they did before, resulting in tender and juicy cuts of meat.
  12. If you brine for too long the meat will taste quite salty, but still edible.
Since I had no prior experience with brining, and I was of course worried this rooster would be too tough to eat, I actually let the bird brine for a week straight. As far as #12 on the how it works list goes, that is straight from experience. Yes the rooster was salty, it was very very tender, but still exceptionally tasty.

Basic Recipe

A basic brine consists of 1/2 cup - 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water. Kosher salt because it is usually an inexpensive choice.
The brine solution varies depending on the structure of meat and the time you plan to brine.
More salt typically means less time brining.
Place the meat in the solution using a non reactive container (stainless steel, plastic, ceramic...) and keep in the refrigerator, or at approximately 40 degrees for 2 - 6 hours.
Meat should be completely covered in brining solution, rinse meat after brining is complete, and do not reuse the brine solution.

Flavorful Recipe
This is the recipe that I used for a very tough rooster and it turned out tender, juicy, and full of flavor

1 gallon water
1/2 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil

Stir all ingredients in a large non reactive container until dissolved. 
Place the meat in the solution making sure the brine covers all of the meat.
Refrigerate anywhere from 4 hours to overnight, or for a saltier taste and very tender meat you can even leave the meat in the brining solution for several days.

Not much left it was so good! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Free Range vs Cage Free vs Organic Eggs

An egg is an egg is an egg.... or not...

Marketing at its best once again. Words like 'natural' and 'cage free' are being placed on egg cartons with Zen like images making you believe the eggs you are buying are from hens who live a life of desperate housewives luxury.

If the eggs you buy do not have a label indicating otherwise, they are most likely eggs produced in a conventional farming environment. The USDA's recommendation for factory egg production is to give the hen approximately 4 inches of feeding space, hens are commonly packed four to a cage measuring just 16 inches wide. This does not leave the hen any room to spread her wings, stretch her legs, or participate in any natural behaviors. Illness is often wide spread and casualties are common.

Lets decode what marketing labels on an egg carton actually mean:

  • Natural
    According to the FDA the word 'natural' means nothing at all.
    Natural means nothing. Please make no assumptions what-so-ever when you see the word.

  • Cage Free
    The marketing term 'Cage Free' means the hens are not restricted by a cage, but are usually kept indoors in a hen house or other large facility. They are generally allowed to roam freely and have free access to food and water. This is obviously better than the conventional method, however, hens are still often fighting for space of their own and don't necessarily gain any access to pasture or sun.

  •  Free Range or Free Roaming
    This is another term that is not regulated by the USDA. This generally indicates the hen is cage free and has some access to the outdoors. There are no specifications to the quality or size of the outside range, it could quite literally be a small door to a 2' x 2' space that is not even used.

  •  Certified Organic
    This is a regulated term. The hens are un-caged and required to have outdoor access, but again the amount of time or quality of outdoor access is not defined. The feed must be certified organic free of antibiotics, pesticides, and animal bi-products.
    Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are still permitted.

  • United Egg Producers Certified
    This is a laughable certification. All common cruel factory practices are allowed including the recommended 67 inches of space per hen (less than a sheet of paper).

  •  Animal Welfare Approved: I underline the word Welfare because there are other similarly named certifications, Welfare is a key term. This is the highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. Hens are cage-free with continuous outdoor access. Perching access and the ability to perform natural behaviors such as dust bathing are required. Requirements are set for space and nesting boxes. Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the Animal Welfare Institute.

  • Vegetarian-Fed: This is an interesting term to me because I know my chickens get a lot of protein and nutrients from the bugs and grubs they find in pasture. This label indicates that the birds' feed does not contain animal byproducts, which does not directly say anything about the condition of the living conditions. 

  • Food Alliance Certified: A third party certification that requires the hens live cage-free with access to outdoors or natural daylight. Natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing must be able to be performed. Requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes are also defined. Starvation-based molting is prohibited but beak cutting is still allowed. Food Alliance Certified is a program of the Food Alliance.

The Humane Society is a great source of information when it comes to regulations with factory farming and the truth in labels. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Natural Way to Cure a Cold or Flu: Jalapenos

Cure your cold with jalapenos
Photo credit: cjmartin
I will take no responsibility for those who are not accustomed to eating spicy food and attempt this on their own with the result of a very unpleasant bathroom experience the following day. You may want to slowly build up your tolerance to hot peppers prior to trying this cold cure.

For those of you who enjoy spicy food on a regular basis like me, you will find this process not only tasty, but a damn miracle.

I have tried this jalapeno cure on four different occasions now. I am of the solid opinion that it is not coincidence, but a scientific fact that taking in a large amount of hot peppers right as a cold or sore throat is coming upon you, will in fact kill any virus even attempting to hinder your general positive disposition about life.

The most recent case of this cure working was this past weekend. My husband and both kids have had a pretty strong cold for about a week and a half. My husband even had a low fever for half of a day, with sore throat, major congestion in his sinuses and chest, with a deep uncomfortable hacking cough. I knew it would creep up on me at some point. Part of "the cure" (not to be confused with the iconic rock band) is being totally honest with yourself and really understanding when your health is being compromised. I take note of these things by feeling the lymph nodes in my neck, just under my jaw bone, and noting any pain or swelling. Also that familiar tickle in your nose or throat is a good indicator that hell is settling upon you. This is the moment you need to take action.

As soon as I felt the sickness coming on I upped my fluid intake. Iced green tea and water all day long. At least 60 ounces of fluid.  I am also a fan of zicam. Zicam works when taken every 3 hours for at least 2 days. But those two things were not enough. This sickness was created by the devil himself and he was not going away without some sort of fiddle showdown. This was a job for jalapenos.

I bought a jar of the plain pickled jalapeno slices. I placed two flour tortillas in a cast iron on the stove with a thick slice of cheddar on each. Once the cheese was melted and the tortilla toasted I placed them on a plate and spread out approximately 10 slices of jalapeno on each tortilla. I knew it was gonna be flamin' hot, so I put a dollop of sour cream on each one to kill the heat a little.

A box of tissues to my right, and I dove in. I like to eat these as fast as I can so I can get them down before the major heat sets in and I become a crying baby.

I needed a cold glass of almond milk after to cool things off, but I felt amazing "oooohhh it burns so good." The snot was draining out like a faucet and I could feel my throat clear immediately.  It's not necessarily the heat that cures you, because after about an hour your nose and throat will have mucus in it again, but it's the capsaicin in the peppers that has a powerful antimicrobial property that boosts your immunity to fight off the infection. So eating one or two peppers will not give you the long term immunity boost, it will just temporarily clear your sinuses.

I still felt sick that evening, but when I woke up the next day I could tell the cold was almost gone. My nose was clear and my lymph nodes did not hurt anymore. It's been 4 days since I ate the jalapenos, I feel tired this week like my body is working overtime to keep me healthy, but I have had no congestion, sore throat, sinus problems, or fever like my husband and kids have had.

Like I said, this same story has happened about 4 different times now. I feel a major cold coming on while everyone else is sick around me and I hit it as hard as I can. And every time it disappears with little to no symptoms at all.

If nothing else, it's a good excuse to make a pile of nachos for dinner.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Chicken Life Ain't Easy

Buff Orpington and baby chicks
Sometimes I'm not so sure I'm cut out for the life of a chicken owner.

My goal in all of this was to have a sustainable flock; raise a breed that would raise its own chicks and we could take some of those chicks and sell them, keep them for laying hens, or ideally raise them up to put in the freezer.

In theory this works very well, and it is what humans have done for thousands of years. In my own  backyard it seems to be a different story.

I was ecstatic to see one of my Dorking hens sitting on eggs a month ago. She stayed in the nest box all day and didn't come out, I knew this meant she was broody and would sit on those eggs until they hatched. After the hatch she would then, in theory, raise the babies with no help what so ever from me.

I was even more excited when a week later my Buff Orpington went broody. I carefully tucked the eggs I wanted to hatch under each hen and tried to leave them alone the best I could to do their mama hen thing.

Chicken eggs take exactly 21 days to hatch, on the 19th day I thought it would be best to move my mama Dorking into a safer, more ground level coop to hatch and raise her young. I carried out this operation late one night assuming she would be less likely to freak out since they cannot see well in the dark. I put a hand towel over her head, carefully handed her to my husband, and slid out her entire nest from the nest box. I quickly and carefully arranged her nest in the other coop and my husband gently set her on the nest. She freaked out. She ran around the coop and ended up perched in the corner of the coop completely away from her eggs. I rushed around and got a light ready for the coop thinking she simply couldn't see her nest and was confused. The light helped; she came down from the perch, ate some food and then sat on her eggs. The mission was a success. I checked again in the morning before I went to work and she was still on the nest keeping her eggs warm. After work I ran out to check on her one more time and of course, she was perched in the corner of the coop, her eggs were cold and she seemed to want nothing to do with them. As a last resort I moved her nest back to the original nest box she was sitting in and she went to them immediately. I was relieved, but it was short lived. She gave up on the eggs by the next morning and the entire batch of 12 eggs she sat on for 19 straight days was ruined. I felt terrible.

I kept my hope with hen #2. I did not move her, I did not touch her, I stayed as far away as possible and let her do her thing. I learned my lesson with the first hen. I was surprised when I saw a baby chick at the 17 day mark. And another arrived on day 18. By day 20 I saw 4 baby chicks. I set up a little ramp with some food and water at the bottom and closed the coop area off so the other hens or rooster would not bother them.

First 2 baby chicks to hatch, still in the coop with their mama

On day 21 I rushed to the coop after work to see if she brought her babies down the ramp and I could finally get a good peak at their fuzzy little baby buns. Peering through the dusty window into the dark coop I could see and hear that she had brought them out of the nest box. I opened the drop down side to see how many eggs actually hatched; there were only 2 eggs remaining out of the 10 she was sitting on, but there was also one dead chick left in there. I assumed it had died of natural causes or maybe was suffocated and I was not too worried. Upon opening the big door to get a look at the chicks I saw another dead one on the floor and realized something was wrong. All the baby chicks were running around the coop and the mama was frantically chasing one around. And then it happened; before I realized what she was even doing she killed a third baby chick right in front of me. Flashes of my childhood overcame me and I saw the classroom pet rat eat her own baby rat with no warning signs at all and the blood splattered on the aquarium was permanently engraved in my mind.

I ran for my husband, together we got the mama out of the coop and collected the babies. I had to set up an emergency chick cage in the garage and set them up a little home with a heat light. The poor things chirped and chirped looking for their mama and the mama wandered around the yard obviously lost and disoriented. The whole situation broke my heart. We had to bury 2 unhatched eggs and 3 dead baby chicks.

I'm grateful to have 5 great looking baby chicks safe in their new garage home and I'm trying not to worry about the future if another mama hen goes broody. I haven't decided if it takes a certain kind of person to live this life, or if you become that person after the experiences you go through.

Baby chicks huddling to keep warm

Are you my mother?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Navigating the grocery aisle: 6 easy steps to eating better

Nutrition labels, ingredients, packaging, GMO's, BPA's, high fructose corn syrup, yellow lake #5, what does it all mean?

Making the transition from ignorant bliss to a health conscious consumer can be intimidating. You may know nothing more than the simple fact that you want to eat better. So where do you start?

Follow these 6 steps over the next 6 months to gain a better understanding of food, lose weight without counting calories and regain control of your physical and mental health. 

Step 1: Decoding Ingredients

You may think you know what you are eating but you are in for a not so pleasant surprise when you begin understanding the ingredients list. If the product has a long ingredients list or anything you're not sure on how to pronounce, avoid it. Look for a safer alternative.

Wikipedia offers a full list of food additives, but here is my short dirty list of ingredients to avoid:
  • Food dyes: Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6 and Caramel coloring
  • Artificial sweeteners: Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Saccharin and Sucralose
  • Hidden trans fats: Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Propyl gallate
  • Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Mycoprotein (Quorn)
  • Potassium Bromate
  • TBHQ
Labelwatch and Fooducate are both easy and effective tools that I use on a regular bases to decode ingredients and also as a way of comparing similar products that might be a safer alternative.

Step 2: Understanding Bisphenol-A (BPA)

Something you won't see on the ingredients list is the presence of Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is an epoxy used to line food and drink cans. It is a weak endocrine disruptor, which can mimic estrogen and lead to negative health effects.

It is found in canned goods, soda cans and in some plastics labeled with the #7. BPA is being linked to obesity, cancer, diabetes and a number of other health problems. Several companies have promised to convert their can linings into a BPA version, but to this date only a few companies offer canned goods that do not use BPA in their lining. If you are not sure if the product you are buying is BPA free, it is best to find an alternative.

Frozen foods, foods packaged in glass jars and foods packaged in the Tetra Pak cartons (similar to a paper milk carton) are all BPA free.

Step 3: Avoid Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO, GEO, GMF's)

Another thing in your food that won't be listed (as if understanding what you're eating isn't hard enough) is Genetically Modified Organisms; also referred to as Genetically Engineered Organism's or Genetically Modified Foods.

I had heard a lot about GMO's and even sought out information that could explain in an easy to understand way (think Dummies here) what they are and why they're bad, but it wasn't until I read this Mother Earth News article that I grasped the concept and got on board to avoid GMO's.

In short, Monsanto and other devil like companies have found a way to change the DNA of a plant or animal so it will do something in its favor. For a cow this would mean producing more milk, for a plant this could mean producing its own bacteria or pesticide to kill insects, or make it tolerant to withstand being drenched with pesticide without compromising production levels. This may actually sound like a very promising practice but scientists are finding there is evidence that consuming GMO's does indeed have ill effects on health:
Professor emeritus Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “there is evidence that [Bt] will impact directly on human health through damage to the ileum [the final portion of the small intestine, which joins it to the large intestine] … [which] can produce chronic illnesses such as fecal incontinence and/or flu-like upsets of the digestive system.”

Read more:
Products using GMO's are currently not required to be labeled, so it is very difficult to know whether or not you are consuming genetically modified foods. So far, products certified as organic cannot contain GMO's and some companies who are not certified organic have added a label informing their customers that their product is GMO free. If you are not sure if your favorite product is GMO free, contact the company directly for answers.

Step 4: Understanding the word organic

The organic certified label is not meant to trick you into buying a more expensive product nor is it a gimmick for soccer moms to feel better about themselves. This label was meant to meet a basic requirement for what can be considered an ethical choice. Is it abused sometimes? Yes. Is it the best choice all the time? No.

You can count on organic labeling to provide you with the following:
  • A product free from artificial colors and artificial flavors
  • A product free of unnatural preservatives
  • A product free from high fructose corn syrup
  • A non-GMO product
  •  Produced without synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers
  • If it is a meat or dairy product that the animal had some access to pasture
I try to adhere to the dirty dozen and clean fifteen list of produce to know when to buy organic and when conventional will do just fine.

When in doubt, choose organic, but the more educated you are you will be able to determine which is a better product whether or not it has been certified as organic.

Keep in mind that just because something is not certified as organic it does not mean that it isn't following organic standards or higher: It is very costly to become certified organic and maintain that certification, many small companies cannot afford or do not wish to go through this process.

Step 5: Know your farmer

Local, in season produce is the most nutritious and often the most affordable. Grass fed beef, pork and free range chicken is not only the best tasting, it is also more nutritious than grain fed livestock.

This step is by far the most ambitious step: taking the initiative to reach out and ask questions to the farmers in your area and making time to shop at the farmers market will seem exotic at first, but empowering and nostalgic in no time.

Most local farmers will not be certified organic, this does not mean they do not produce what you would consider an organic product, it simply means they have not gone through the certification process.

Here are a few questions you can ask your local farmer to learn more about what kind of produce, meat or dairy product they are offering:
  • If you want produce that is free from pesticides ask if they use 'spray' in the crops and also have them specify if anything was applied to the surface of the fruit/vegetable. Let the farmer know you are looking for something that is completely pesticide-free.  
  • If you are looking for 'free range' or 'grass fed' meat or dairy products, ask the farmer how much of the diet of the animal is grass and how much is supplemented as grain. A grass fed or free range animal will have the majority of their diet consist of pasture. Hogs and chickens do require some grain as a supplement, but should be given daily access to grassland or pasture.
  • Most farmers at a market reserve antibiotics for animals that are truly sick and not used as a tool for growth. Have the farmer explain his/her method for when antibiotics are used on their farm. 
  • Understanding the terms Heirloom & Heritage:  "Heirloom and heritage refer to traditional varieties of plants and animals that have been developed by farmers over years of cultivation and breeding.  These varieties, passed down through generations, have unique colors, textures, and flavors that may not be found in factory-farmed products.  Frequently, both heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds of animals are not considered fit for mass production because they produce smaller yields and are more delicate."
    Information provided by: The City of Ann Arbor,, Glossary of Market Terms  

 Step 6: The Colorful Plate

If your plate is always brown, tan and white, you're not getting enough nutrients.

Try to plan your meals to include a wide variety of foods for a balanced diet; the more colorful your plate, the more nutrients you will be taking in. Shoot for the rainbow here people.

If you are having pork loin for dinner make sure you balance the portion size out with some bright orange steamed carrots, a green salad with shredded purple cabbage and creamed cauliflower with garlic on the side.

Eating healthy is not always about counting calories and scanning nutrition labels for fat content. Once you establish a healthy relationship with food and a complete understanding of what you're taking in, your body will settle into its own natural weight and you can feel comfortable in your own skin.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Removing iron stains from a toilet, the eco friendly way

When life gives you lemons... scrub your toilet
Photo credit: brad montgomery
I had an entire sunny, warm Saturday all to myself. No kids, no husband, just some lazy dogs soaking up sun in the backyard and the sound of chickens clucking somewhere off in the distance. Judging by the title of this post, you can make a pretty firm judgement about how exciting my days off are. But when your 2 year old comes in and says something to the effect of "it smells like pee in here" you know you are well past the socially acceptable span of time between bathroom cleanings.

I always promote the use of natural, chemical free cleaners; I just had never been convinced they actually worked for tough situations.

I had always used harsh chemicals in the toilet bowl. We have a lot iron in our water and it stains the toilet within a few days after cleaning it. It is nearly impossible to scrub off and to be real honest I have been doing just 'bare minimum' cleaning since the arrival of my second daughter back in August. I had tried vinegar, baking soda, non-toxic all natural cleaners and nothing touched the iron stains in the toilet. I've tried hand scrubbing, brush scrubbing and letting the cleaner soak for a few hours. Nothing. The only success I have had in the past getting the toilet clean and bright white was to use some sort of iron removing harsh chemical spray and scrubbing the living hell out of the toilet with gloves on and a little green dish srubbie. I probably don't have to explain what level I feel at socially when I'm on my knees scrubbing stuck bits of god knows what off a nasty toilet bowl with just a stupid little green scrubbie. At least the noxious fumes of the cleaner gave me a bit of a free buzz while I was down there.

In steps the miracle of lemons and salt. I had a half of a lemon drying out on the counter for no apparent reason. I glanced over at it on my way to tackle the filth that had taken over my bathroom and thought I'd give this whole eco-cleaning thing one more shot. I had heard that lemons were a main staple in eco cleaning because of the acid, and using a coarse salt was supposed to create an effective scrubbing action.

Gloves on, lemon in hand, I squeezed it a little to get the juices flowing and topped it with a heavy shaking of coarse sea salt. I had already dumped a big bowl of clean water into the toilet to make it do that magic thing where the water goes down but doesn't refill; the toilet was pretty much empty while I was cleaning it. I took the salted side of the lemon and used it to scrub the slime/iron/calcium that had built up in the bowl. "Are you kidding me." With minimal effort a small portion of my toilet was actually white. White! "Are you kidding me?!" I had not seen a white toilet bowl in about year. I had pretty much given up on it and let the iron win this battle. "You have got to be kidding me." My dog had come in at this point and was staring at me wondering who I was talking to.

It did take some elbow grease in a couple of tough spots, but I just kept re-salting my lemon half and scrubbing away. That dried out half of a lemon was the only lemon in the house. I can imagine the task would have gone even better had the lemon been fresh and if I had more than one so I could swap them out as they wore down. It was pretty ragged looking lemon in the end.

I have no 'before' pictures of the said toilet. I had no hope of a simple thing like lemon and salt actually working like it did, so I had no ambition to get out my camera before hand. When it was all done, I actually took 3 pictures of the toilet it was so damn good looking.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meijer needs to offer BPA free canned goods

As a Michigan resident I am proud of the Michigan based company, Eden Foods, for being a pioneer and leading the industry in BPA (Bisphenol-A) free canned goods. I know I've sang their praises more than once and I'm not trying to raise them up as some sort of golden god, but what they're doing just makes sense. The FDA is undecided about the safety of BPA, pretty much everyone who has tested BPA has found it harmful or at the very least, not desirable. There is a way of making can linings that are BPA free, so why isn't everyone making cans that are BPA free?

Anyone living in Michigan, or the surrounding states, know about Meijer. Meijer is a big step up from Walmart; they treat their employees pretty well, almost every Meijer I have been in has been clean and well organized, the produce is fresh and there are a lot of options for a shopper to choose from. I am even impressed at how my local Meijer has slowly but surely expanded its organic selection and now offers a pretty great organic line of their own.

What I am disappointed about is the fact that my local Meijer used to carry Eden Foods products and has since taken them off the shelf. I am left with no BPA free canned good options. This might be understandable if we were in any other state, but here in Michigan we have an excellent company that I would presume to be more than willing to put a whole line of BPA free options on the shelves. Not only would this give shoppers a choice if they want to pay a few extra cents, it would also support another Michigan based company and Michigan jobs.

Here is the Meijer contact page:

And here is a quick message you can send so Meijer is aware that its customers are concerned about BPA in their products:
As a concerned shopper, I insist upon a BPA-free alternative for canned good linings. Let your shoppers make their own choice; provide a BPA-free brand on all Meijer shelves. Thank you.
  Even just 10 messages in one day will raise awareness about the need for BPA free products, and it will only take 1 minute of your time.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Healthy is not a woman eating cereal in yoga pants...

adj \ˈhel-thē also ˈhelt-\
: enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit : well 
Why do so many people let marketing and advertising ploys tell them what healthy is? Guess what, that 30 something white woman with perfect skin and a veneer smile sitting in yoga clothes on her living room floor enjoying diet smart cereal probably more than she enjoys sex has likely never actually eaten a bowl of whatever cereal she's promoting. She's a paid actress and doing a damn fine job convincing the American public that she in fact got that amazing body, skin, teeth and hair simply by over enjoying that bowl of obnoxiously crunchy cereal. That commercial in combination with some fancy lettering on the cover of the box and a prescription style checklist of 'ingredients' like high fiber and whole grains leads you to believe that you are making the best choice of your life by purchasing this cereal and eating it every morning.  If a company has to spend millions to convince you the product is healthy, there is a really good chance it is not a good choice at all.

Taking the step to decide for yourself what is healthy is very empowering. If you really care about your health and the health of your children or loved ones then read the ingredients list and know how to read nutrition labels. Education is the most effective weapon anyone can have to fight obesity.

The grocery aisle is a scary and confusing place. It has taken me years to learn the technical language of the ingredients list and I am still confused from time to time. Thankfully there are many resources that can help you navigate your way through the artificial jungle and help you make healthy choices.

There are 4 things to consider when buying food at the grocery store: 
  1. If it doesn't have a label it is good for you. Keep the dirty dozen and clean 15 in mind when choosing produce, but for the most part fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good choice and you do not need a label to prove it.
  2. Daily nutritional requirements. Yes there are all natural, organic choices that just exceed your daily nutritional requirements. Read the nutrition information and take note of the suggested serving size. I tend to scan first to the calorie count, then to sugars and finally to sodium. Some fats are good so don't shy away from a product just because it isn't fat free, it should all contribute to your overall daily nutritional requirements as part of a well balanced diet.
  3. Actual ingredients list. If you stop at the nutrition information you're still missing a lot of key factors when deciding if a product is healthy or not. A diet coke may check out ok as far as nutrition labels go, but is a terrible choice for your overall health. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with potentially dangerous sweeteners, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors and avoid these at all costs.
  4. Everything in moderation and balance. Too much of anything is never a good idea. A wide variety of nutritious foods will give you the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy and strong.
An app to help you along the aisle

Fooducate iPhone App
I know there are several apps now available to help you understand nutrition labels and translate ingredients and I will be honest I have not tried all of them, but I am very fond of this one. Fooducate goes beyond just reading labels and helps you decode the advertising on the front of the box with warnings such as "'Natural' is an unregulated term!" or "Look out! Not 100% whole grain." You can also view comments that other people have submitted about the product and add products to your own grocery list. Fooducate gives me resources and information on controversial ingredients like BHT which is an additive used as a preservative. This app will also recommend products that are similar to your choice but may have received a higher overall grade. Best of all it was free.

Eating is all about choices and does not have to make your life miserable. There is always a 'clean' alternative to the junk food you love the most. Educate yourself.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Juice Cleanse

Papaya, spinach, lemon and orange juice.
Juice Cleanse Recipe.
Everyone has heard of a liquid diet or juice cleanse by now, with exception of those having permanent residence under a large rock. With most buzz words or fads there are misinterpretations and misuse of the intended benefit.

Juice cleanses are for overall health, not a weight loss plan or quick fix of any sort. The crappy news about life is achieving what you want takes work, time and commitment. A juice cleanse is just a part of the overall healthy lifestyle.

This was supposed to be a happy motivational piece so I'll stop being Debbie Downer and get on with it already...

Yeah Juice! A spring juice cleanse is as necessary as spring cleaning your house.  During the cold months you tend to eat more bread, starch and meat in an instinctive hibernating behavior to 'survive.' So just like your house builds up dirt, dust and an unidentifiable funky smell during all of these months being cooped up indoors, your body also has been fighting to rid itself of stored fats laced with all sorts of toxins we take in on a regular basis. Most of us are used to eating fresh greens and veggies that are in season during the warm months and even into fall, supermarket produce mid-February just doesn't have the same appeal or nutritional value. As soon as the spring weather hits I'm ready for a cleanse.

The cleanse itself is meant to give your digestive track a break and for your body to take in a significant amount of plant nutrients over just a few days, this in turn helps clear your digestive track of anything that may have built up and to flush toxins that have been stored in your fat cells. Everything in life needs a resting period and your digestive track is no different. During this time it is very important to take in the daily recommended amount of water; at least 8 glasses.

To clear up a common misunderstanding about a cleanse; it is in no way related to anorexia or anorexic behavior. It is to be done during a short period of time and never taken to excess. Since you're taking in a lot of nutrients your body never thinks it's 'starving' like what can happen when you go without eating. Your body will actually begin to use its fat reserves, instead of store more fat like what happens when you go without eating, and with the fats that are flushed out many toxins that are stored within them will be stirred up in your body as well. The importance of water is crucial; as toxins are stirred up you need to flush them out or there is the possibility of becoming sick. 

How to start a juice cleanse:

Mentally prepare.
Haters gonna hate, but I like to start by mentally preparing myself for the cleanse at least a week in advance. Going without solid food is not easy. I have no line of bullshit that I can give you to tell you that it is. So prepare yourselves people.

Do oranges get any more beautiful?
Heirloom navel oranges from
Whole Foods
Find the best produce.
This is the one time that I will insist you go as organic as possible. If it is not organic, wash it well and peel it. We're trying to get toxic buildup out, so putting in a glossy coating of wax and pesticide is obviously counter productive. There is still no fresh produce available where I am at in the world, but I trust Whole Foods and spent the big bucks to make sure I'm getting quality ingredients.

Think outside the box.
The box holds us in fear of things like adding celery and kale to an apple pear juice. Raw foods in juice form taste significantly different from the cooked mush versions we grew to hate at an early age. Adding a few stalks of kale to a juice consisting of apple, pear and lime will change your world. It is important to not just drink fruit juices during your cleanse, you want a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you're taking in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Think things like raw beets, carrots (surprisingly sweet), cucumbers, kale, spinach, papaya, zucchini, lemon, ginger. The possibilities are endless and the results are usually nothing like you imagined. You're friggin juice cleansing, no reason to hold back now, step over fully into the hippie world.

I'm not going to list a bunch of recipes here because they are all over the internet - just search for something like juicer recipe or juice cleanse recipe. Today I will tell you  I had a papaya, spinach, lemon and orange juice for lunch.
Green juice but it tastes so good!

Drink a lot of water.
Before, after and in between your glasses of juice you should be drinking water. If you feel overwhelming hungry or light headed drink a large glass of water and you will be surprised how much better you will feel. Again, 8 glasses people. Very important.

Smooth move.
Literally. You want to make sure you're regularly 'going #2' to make that as clear as I possibly can. Even though you are not eating solid food, you will continue to go to the bathroom fairly regularly, if not more at first. Smooth move senna tea every night before bed will help to keep things moving. 

3-5 days.
I have found the most benefit when I do the juice cleanse for a minimum of 3 days up to 5 days and then ease off of it and gradually move back to solid foods. I usually plan out a breakfast, lunch, dinner and one or two 'snacks' in between. Yes were still talking about juice and have not moved onto exciting things like steak and potatoes. I juice enough for a tall 12 oz glass for each 'meal' and maybe around an 8oz glass for an in between snack. Your body will actually tell you if you need more or less as long as you're drinking enough water in between.

Easing off of a cleanse.
Trust me, if you rush back into Funions (wtf are those anyway?) and fried fish you will feel like someone punched you in the gut for no damn good reason. It hurts. You're going to want to start with things like non juiced fruit and vegetables, rice, oatmeal, maybe work into some toast. By day three after your cleanse you will be eating more regular again. See how your body handles what you put into it as a sign of how to proceed. This is the time you want to analyze what you eat and make changes to your diet. Think of it as starting with a clean slate and you now have a choice of how you want to eat and the lifestyle you want to live.

Here's the witchcraft part that you can only relate to after you have done a cleanse. Think of it like the Seinfeld episode were Elaine and George both give up sex. All of a sudden George can think clearly, he's smart, he's moving ahead in life. All the time he usually spent thinking of sex he suddenly has free to use for bettering his life. Elaine didn't fair so well, but I think we are all 'Georges' mid cleanse; you suddenly have all this free time and energy because your body is not using as much energy to process solid food and you already know that dinner is just going to be a big glass of juice that takes 5-10 minutes to make and drink instead of up to an hour. I find myself more appreciative of life, of what I have and what I am capable of. Instead of thinking about how much it sucks when all your friends are eating fried chicken, burritos, Big Macs or someone happened to bring donuts to the office that day and everyone seems to be enjoying them a little too much, think of how much power you have. Juice cleansing is not for the weak minded.

The Do's and Dont's.
This is intended for someone who is in a state of general good health. You should never cleanse when you are pregnant or nursing, with a heart condition, diabetes or any serious illness. Everyone is different and everyone's body will react differently. During your cleanse try to take life easy, set aside some time for meditation or if you are not comfortable with that try to at least engage in a few quiet moments during the day since your mind will be clear and you will be relaxed.

Also, my chickens loved the leftover pulp and scraps. Toss them in your garden or outside your window for the birds and wildlife to enjoy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why your dollar is so powerful

Complaining makes us feel better about our actions. By saying, "Yeh, sure, I really hate that most restaurants or grocery stores don't care more about where their meat comes from," we are letting those around us know we're aware of it. After all we're not neanderthals. By verbalizing our complaint we are left feeling as though those around us have more respect for us because we would buy better meat if they offered better meat, but in the meantime we will continue to eat what they offer if we have to.

Photo property of WayTru
So lets think of the scenario where everyone stops buying meat from companies that don't care about the quality of the animals life that they are offering. This includes restaurants, fast food and grocery stores. All of a sudden there is panic amongst shareholders and CEO's. The message is sent loud and clear that the customers are demanding a change. The message was not even a word spoken, it was simply the absence of that $10 bill you usually spend on lunch or dinner. Fact: Without paying customers the business will die.

Lets think of the scenario where everyone continues to buy meat and either complains under their breathe or doesn't take notice at all, much like what many of us are doing now. The company receives the message that the customer is ok with how the business is being run since they are steadily selling their product. You obviously would not support purchasing a laptop that has never and will never work correctly or meet your needs, so why are you buying meat that does not meet your moral standards in life and would otherwise be an unacceptable product?

It is not just fast food that is selling cheap meat. It's your local grocery store that is offering chicken on sale for .99 cents a pound and you think this is such a great deal that you stock up your freezer and brag to your mom. It's your favorite restaurant chain offering rib bites as their featured appetizer and slow cooked ribs for some quirky 2/$20 date night special. The point is if you do not ask where the meat came from that you're happily guzzling down with your favorite 16oz Bud Light on tap, then you're likely eating something that was once living in unsanitary and unacceptable conditions, fed a steady diet of antibiotics and GMO corn and never once saw the light of day. Swallow that little bit of info down with your watered beer choice.

You can start by asking. And then place your vote with your dollar. You will be amazed how much power you actually have to change this.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Egg yolk peritonitis: Diagnosing a sick chicken

My pretty hen before she got sick
It seemed ironic to tend to one chicken with so much care considering so many of her brothers and sisters went by the way of my husbands knife. But this hen was not on the time line, she was not supposed to die. This hen was a beautiful Red/Colored Dorking with an excellent temperament and a nice short, stout body type; I had big plans of hatching her eggs this spring to start my own little backyard breeding project.

Around three weeks ago when I went out to collect the eggs, within the pile was a mess of yolk. I did not think much about it, assumed an egg broke, cleaned the mess and carried on.

Two weeks ago I noticed my favorite little red hen looking quite plump and waddling. At the time I was happy to see this, to me it meant she was really filling out and her chicks in spring would also grow to be short plump birds.

Five days ago my husband called me at work to let me know my favorite hen was just sitting in the backyard and not moving much. She had walked from the coop to under the porch like all the hens do when they're let out, but she later walked back toward the coop and then just sat there. She let my husband pick her up which was quite unusual; shes a friendly hen, but not so much as to let us pick her up.
I did a quick Google search and my initial conclusion was that she was egg bound meaning she had an egg that was stuck and for some reason she was unable to pass it. I asked my husband to bring her in and make her a steam house to loosen the egg. He set her up in a dog crate with blankets covering most of it, a humidifier under the blankets and a heater on high in the entrance way. It reminded me of the steam room at the gym, but smelled much more like sweaty feet, well I guess that steam room smells like sweaty feet too.

A 'steam house' in an attempt to help what I thought was an egg bound hen:
Dog cage covered in blankets with a red heat light and humidifier

When I got home I went right to inspect her. She was standing up in the cage, head moving around and still curious. Her tail feathers were pointed down and upon further inspection her vent (nice word for butt) was messy and her pelvic area was swollen and felt mushy, not at all hard. Having no previous experience what so ever and relying only on Google searches, I still was not certain what was wrong with her so I continued to treat her for being egg bound.

Tail feathers pointed down, head hanging, all signs of sickness
Symptoms of a hen that is egg bound are:
  • lethargic
  • solitary
  • stopped laying eggs
  • pelvic area may be swollen
  • pelvic area will feel like a hard mass, or you can actually feel the egg that is bound
  • may have lost interest in eating and drinking
  • ruffled feathers
An egg bound hen will die if the problem is not addressed quickly. I knew this and gave her a 20 minute warm bath since the steam room wasn't helping. Putting the hen in a warm bath of water up to her vent is supposed to relax her and help her pass the egg. Other than clean her bottom, this seemed to do nothing. My daughter thought it was hilarious to give a chicken a bath.

A warm bath may help and egg bound hen
I ran back to Google to search for what else could be wrong with her. What was so frustrating is that so many chicken illnesses and diseases have the same symptoms or the information about the illness says that symptoms vary from chicken to chicken. It seemed impossible to find any answers.

I started to worry about Coccidiosis, a common parasitic disease of poultry which affects the digestive tract.

Symptoms of Coccidiosis are:
  • ruffled feathers
  • lethargic
  • head drawn back into shoulders.
  • a chilled appearance.
  • diarrhea 
I really was hoping this wasn't the case because that means the rest of my birds could possibly have been infected. She fit the symptoms, but that didn't explain her swollen abdomen. has a list of common chicken illnesses and treatments which is very helpful when starting from the beginning and diagnosing a chicken, it is part of a series called The Essentials of Tending a Sick or Injured Chicken. I referenced this material several times as I was looking into things that could possibly go wrong with a chicken. I actually googled that phrase, but it pretty much just brought up chicken recipes.

When I really started to put all the pieces together and put a lot of thought into anything that seemed strange over the past few weeks, egg yolk peritonitis started making the most sense.

Egg yolk peritonitis is the presence of yolk material in the coelomic cavity, meaning that the egg is not taken up by the oviduct but is instead deposited into the abdomen. This causes a mild inflammatory reaction because the yolk material spreads through the air sacs and over the abdominal organs. If no bacterium is present then this condition is not always fatal and all yolk material will be eventually be reabsorbed. The more common form is septic egg yolk peritonitis. The yolk material is contaminated with bacteria and causes a severe inflammatory reaction throughout the abdomen and is almost always fatal.

Symptoms of egg yolk peritonitis include:
  • loss of appetite/anorexia
  • weakness
  • depression
  • respiratory distress
  • lethargy
  • fluffed feathers
  • yolk-colored droppings
  • swollen vent and/or abdomen (the swelling feels spongy to the touch)
Symptoms can come on suddenly or over the span of a few weeks. A hen that lays soft shelled, no shelled or strange irregular looking eggs are susceptible to egg yolk peritonitis. Now that I have this information I know I saw the warning signs when I found the egg yolk while collecting the eggs: It didn't occur to me that there was no broken shell and I didn't even think a shell-less egg was possible. The signs were also there when she started waddling and looking 'plump.' When I actually inspected her she was very thin and mostly bones; the look of fullness came from her fluffed feathers and swollen abdomen.

Trying to make my hen comfortable during her last days
There is no commercial treatment for this disorder. If you have the money and the bird is very valuable you could try treating with antibiotics if the disease is diagnosed in time, but results are mixed and the outcome is generally not good. Surgery to remove the yolk is possible if it is caught in time, but again may not help in the end.

Since I could not justify paying a vet for a procedure that likely would not work, all I could do was make my little hen as comfortable as possible. I kept her in the entrance way in a bin of shavings. I offered her plain yogurt and cooked eggs which she ate most of the first day, but lost interest the second and third day. I put some apple cider vinegar in her water hoping for a miracle, but she wasn't drinking anymore after the first day.

Her breathing became more labored and she moved less and less. Once it became painfully obvious she would not recover my husband took her out of her misery while I was out and gave her a proper burial.

I was glad I was able to make her more comfortable in her final days and to relieve her of her suffering before she was too far gone. I cannot stress the importance of knowing signs of illness in your flock and taking all of the clues into account when making a diagnosis. It is important to watch your flock on a daily basis to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary and the overall health of your birds looks good.  Because I was not aware of signs of danger (shell-less egg laid, fluffed feathers of a hen, waddling) I caught her illness when it was too far gone, had I caught it sooner a vet may have been able to intervene and save her life. I have to keep reminding myself it was just a chicken.