Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good Food, Bad Food

Why is food I love bad for me, "junk food" that rots my teeth and makes me fat, and nutritious food so bland or offensive I have to force myself to eat it? That's a question I wondered all my life. I always chalked it up to "The Fall". Part of the curse that plagues mankind, a result of sin entering the world. Good food tastes bad, bad food tastes good.

I'm learning that it's actually not the case. Could it be that our food system is flawed, and that by escaping my own food culture I can enter a new (old, really) way of life where all food, all real food that comes from the ground, preferably from my own yard or else my home town, is both finger-licking good and will keep me strong and healthy?

This new approach does require a shift away from all junk food, some of which I have loved my whole life (Cheetos! and in My Hero's case, Mountain Dew). The switch has been surprisingly
painless, but two factors have helped with that. 1) I've been so focused on learning what kinds of good things I can be eating, and how to make meals based on actual real food, like real potatoes rather than a boxed stuffing mix full of additives and preservatives, that I haven't given much thought to the things I used to eat. And I view grocery shopping as a challenge to see how well I can avoid boxed and packaged foods and stick to basic ingredients like flour and cheese and fruits and veggies. 2) My Hero and I have been faithfully monitoring our weight since late December on our new Wii Fit. It's amazing to me how much an evening of snacking on something extra, especially something from a box or bag, matters immediately. Next morning I can be sure my weight will be heading upwards instead of down. Does each tiny food decision really matter that much? Apparently. So it has been encouraging to note that my home cooked meals from real food are much kinder to my waistline than traditional American fare, even just a frozen pizza.

Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food sheds light on recent research that shows a low fat diet doesn't seem to help prevent heart disease or even obesity. What?? How can something I have been taught everywhere all my life be false? It seems a lot of what we're told about nutrition may be false. At the very least, only a small part of the whole truth. We were told for years to use margarine instead of butter because it was better for us. And now we see that the trans fats in the margarine are actually much worse than the saturated fat in butter. How many years were we steered wrong by that advice? I came away from Pollans's book with a new approach to food. I'm not afraid to cook food in a way that makes it delicious (cook my asparagus in real butter). Fat isn't bad unless you eat too much of it. And for some reason, it hasn't been hard to keep from overindulging in things like asparagus or even rhubarb pie. Well, maybe a little hard in the case of pie, but it's not the mindless eating of an open bag of chips in front of the tv.

Our western diet offers us cheap, convenient food, but the diseases of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are part of the package. These diseases are unheard of in cultures untouched by convenience foods, white flour and store sugar. Our bodies also gain natural defense against cancer by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and meat from animals that feed on green plants.

Still, much of the grocery store produce leaves a lot to be desired. I can't get excited about nectarines that never ripen or hard strawberries. I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and her family challenged themselves to eat only local foods for a year. They started in April when only rhubarb was ripe, soon followed by greens, and lived on food from their own garden, farmers market food, and meat from local grass fed beef and lamb. They also raised their own chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat. This is the other piece to the puzzle. Eating local food when it's in season ensures that fruits and vegetables will be bursting with flavor and goodness, not swallowed with a grimace and washed down with milk. Eating meat from grass fed animals means the meat will contain the nutrients from the plants they ate all their lives rather than contain growth hormones and antibiotics from feed lots.

I have a long way to go, but my feet are planted firmly on this path, and I couldn't be more encouraged by the benefits I have experienced already. I passed up sad, wilted lettuce at the grocery store (yes, my store's produce is worse than most) and found bags of fresh baby lettuce and mixed greens at the farmer's market not a half hour later. Yay!! I have converted some of my favorite recipes to be made from scratch rather than from packaged ingredients, but I'm looking for more recipes and ways to cook starting with the fresh things I find at the farmer's market and can grow in my garden. Every step of progress I make feels like a victory, and I'm paying attention and actually enjoying my food more than I ever have before.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Farmer's Market

Saturday morning I visited the farmer's market. I was looking for fresh veggies. My own first homegrown veggies won't be ready for months...even my peas, which I started in April, have weeks to go before they're ready to be picked. But some people who have been at this longer than I have, who devote their...livelihoods?...to growing food, know how to coax their gardens to produce early.

I found rhubarb, but I have my own source for that. Then I found fresh fish, so I bought a pound of haddock. I have a baked haddock recipe that's delectable. THEN I found carrots!! I bought a plump bag of sweet baby carrots, a mixture of pale yellow, orange, and tinged purple. The lady with early carrots also had asparagus in large bundles, so I bought some of that, too. And she was giving bundles of chives or scallions for free. I have an aversion to onions, and scallions ruin perfectly good dishes for me; on the other hand, I want to start learning to cook with fresh vegetables as much as possible, so I took a bundle of chives. She mentioned I could cook them with my carrots. Hmmm...maybe I'll try that! And she told me with a smile that next week she may have some greens, if I come early. My heart soared. I love community, where I get to benefit from others' diligence!

Saturday evening I cooked the most delicious meal...maybe my best ever. Baked haddock (cooked in butter and garlic, sprinkled with bread crumbs and seasonings) is always delicious, but I also steamed some of the baby carrots, putting in long slices of chives so I could pull them out after they were done cooking; I only wanted subtle flavor. And the asparagus I had tried cooking for the first time on Thursday after visiting a neighboring town's farmer's market. I looked up on ehow, and watched a video explaining the 4 ways of cooking asparagus: boiling, steaming, roasting, or grilling. Boiling seemed like the easiest way, so I followed the instructions exactly. The result was mediocre. They were edible, but not amazing. I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver in which she raves about how delicious asparagus is. I should have consulted that book first when deciding how to cook it. I went back to read what she suggests, after Thursday evening's supper, and her method is to saute the asparagus in butter over high heat just until the spears turn bright green and the bottom sides are slightly blackened. I resolved to try it that way the next chance I got. So Saturday evening while the fish was baking and the carrots were steaming, I sauteed my asparagus.

It was an amazing meal. Everything was melt-in-your-mouth good. And it was all ready at the same time, which is a big accomplishment for me. I wish My Hero had been home to enjoy it; I had to tell him about it the next day. But my boys and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I ate most of the asparagus, because I couldn't believe how good it was. There was a lot of asparagus, because it's really only good the day it's picked, so I had to make the whole batch at once. Peanut Butter took second helpings of it, too. And both boys asked for seconds of the carrots. It was the first time serving the baked haddock where it wasn't the main focus of the meal. It was almost an afterthought, and after all the asparagus, I didn't have room for a second helping of fish (another first).

I'm hooked on farmer's markets. I'm hoping asparagus season lasts a few weeks more, because one of these days My Hero has to try it fresh from the saute pan.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Some stories should never be told...

So I won't go into detail about what My Hero and I spent our evening doing yesterday, but I think it was one of those ordeals that permanently changed us, at least a little.

I caught Peanut Butter removing items from our basement freezer a few times, and was severe with him that it was not permissible. I don't often let the boys play in the basement when I'm not down there, for a variety of reasons, including that it's not terribly safe (woodstove, chainsaw, chemicals) and that they make a mess of an area that's not terribly organized to begin with, which just overwhelms me.

Our basement has been smelling poorly of late. Yesterday when I went to the basement searching for a bottle of play bubbles I thought I may have put down there, I visited a corner I don't often see, and discovered that who knows how long ago Peanut Butter had removed from our freezer and left out on his play tool bench a package of frozen pumpkin, frozen chicken stock, and, ugh, a freezer-paper-wrapped steak.

There were worms.

That's all the detail I'll go into, but I think, think from the roundness of Peanut Butters eyes when I showed him the mess and expressed my horror, that he understands he is not to remove anything from our freezer ever again.

On a positive note, I think our basement will be smelling much better this week.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Baby girl wails and follows me as I help her older brothers make their beds. She pulls herself up using the side rail of the bottom bunk and instead of the usual happy squeals, she cries. I know how she feels, her nose ever producing sticky wet; probably she has the headache I have, too. After a few minutes of spirits eroding, dissolving under the persistent waves of noisy, wordless complaints, I leave the boys to finish their beds, pick her up and make her warm porridge with applesauce. Maybe soothing, comforting breakfast will fill the belly and ease her discomfort. Open mouth, content for the first ten bites or so, then frustration, chubby fist smears oatmeal from her mouth across her face, over her eyes, into her hair.
I began the day with resolve to live today hand in hand with God. My heart in tune with His. Not intensely focused on perfecting my children, just leading them as He leads me. So now, instead of jumping over the edge of sanity, breaking into furious impatience with all of life, groaning my agony, I watch this little life before me and ponder humanity's brokenness.
Her lip curls under in unprovoked, mysterious hurt, her fussing breaking into loud wails, and when she looks in my eyes, her wails deepen, she turns her eyes away in offense, as if I were laughing at her or deliberately causing her pain. Is this the beginning of little girl agony? Emotions inexplicable, unique to us girls, throwing us in a tumult of pain and confusion, physical ailments exasperating over-sensitive emotions? Sticky, oatmeal smeared face contorted in misery is the very picture of us, fallen humanity, irritable, frustrated, inconsolable, so desperately in need of a Redeemer, a loving Father who knows the way things were meant to be, and is preparing that life for us anew, when this broken, distorted one is over.
He gives peace in the midst of this spirit-dulling torrent. It's impossible to ignore these times, but I feel thankful that life is not always this way. Our life holds so many good moments, times when baby girl sits in high chair eating breakfast happily for a half-hour or more, then can be put down to play on the floor and explore, content.
When porridge is gone, I wash her crying face clean, lift her out of the high chair, and lay her down in her crib. She reaches for a blanket to hold against her face and snuggles in as I cover her up. Ahh.
Yes, even the overwhelming, miserable times hold moments of joy when the God of Peace holds my hand through the storm. I just walked on water like Peter. I think I'll keep my hand in His for the rest of the day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

giving thanks

122. A new friend, warm, open, already beginning to feel like a sister. The longing tug to talk with her again.

123. Fine, soft brown hair filling in on baby daughter's head... can it really be so straight? That she might get the straight hair I've always admired on others...

124. Uninterrupted night's sleep to combat yesterday's flu-like symptoms. Three kids, all sleeping soundly all night long (no, wait...memory floats in of a thud and Peanut Butter's sharp wails. That was last night, but My Hero leapt out of blankets and snuggled the little boy back into his bed so promptly that I sighed with relief and slipped back to my dreams.)

125. Christopher Robin's sweet voice lilting into song.

126. Peanut Butter's lisping, deliberate forming of words, determinedly finishing each thought, no matter how difficult or slow.

127. The satisfied look on Peanut Butter's face when he has said something right, and is understood, paired with exultant steps and a nod of his head.

128. The puppy love stage baby Raindrop's in now... how she'll look up from what she's doing to see me watching her, and burst into a radiant smile, followed by shy dropping of head and wiggling of arms, smile turning to bashful grin. How she makes my heart pitter patter.

129. Two boys and a man on a tractor...my two boys and man, smoothing the driveway, hauling rocks and debris, taming our yard.

130. The slosh of cream becoming thud of butter in the jar in my hands as I run and shake together. The instructions said I would hear the difference. Now, many many times later, I do.

131. "As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life." II Peter 1:3 (NLT)

132. Baby girl crawling to us as I hold hurting, sobbing, oldest brother in my lap. How she pulls herself up, near him, as if willing her closeness to cheer him. And it does.

133. Baby girl, showing symptoms of naughtiness, persistently going for the one puzzle piece Peanut Butter has put in place. Could it be she enjoys his exasperation?? My Hero and I call it "The Evil Streak" and both recognize she inherited it from me.

134. "If you need wisdom--if you want to know what God wants you to do--ask him, and he will gladly tell you." James 1:5 (NLT)

135. A new day, full of promise and potential. Thank you, Father, for a fresh start.

136. Coughing, stirring sounds of little ones waking. Babes to pour myself into, to love and teach and train, to practice patience on.

137. An itinerary e-mailed to the inbox, a flight booked for friends from Florida with their twin babies Raindrop's age for a visit to us in early June. waHOOO!!!