Saturday, January 19, 2008

lesson: don't trust a package

Does anyone really think that those "Health Check" logos are meaningful? Honestly, if you think you're eating "healthy" but you're buying packaged stuff and *trusting* claims that it's good for you without actually reading the ingredients, you deserve to be ripped off.

Healthy food DOES NOT COME IN A PACKAGE. End of story. Just try to think up something in a package that's actually good for you.

winter salads

Salads and winter have never gone together well for me. I've always been completely happy to be salad-free between about November and April. Maybe March if it's sunny. But salads have always been kind of a summer thing - light, crunchy, cool... not what one needs on a cold and blustery January day.

At least, that's what I thought. Then I started on this no-starch-no-sugar thing and had to get creative about lunches when a certain someone took all the leftovers to work for lunch on a regular basis. No starch means no bread which means no sandwiches, which have always been my default lunch. So, a couple weeks ago, I caved and bought a bag of salad greens from Dave's farm, and I discovered that salads CAN work in winter.

The trick is that they have to be seasonal, and they have to be challenging. Dave's salad mix is made up of stuff that's still growing at this time of year, and it's picked fresh every day. It contains much chewier greens in winter than it does in summer, and they all taste a lot stronger. Especially the arugula, which takes "peppery" to a whole new level. Yowza! I could eat a plate of those greens with a yummy dressing containing lots of mustard, and maybe a spoonful or two of sauerkraut, and be content. But that's not exactly a balanced lunch, so I supplement. We usually have some sort of leftover meat, roast chicken or sausage or beef or something, so I slice some of that into my salad, and grate some of Dave's amazingly wonderful fabulous oh-my-god-that's-the-best-carrot-I've-ever-eaten carrots in, and slice a hardboiled egg and put that in, and maybe some pickled whatever that's hanging about in the bottom of the fridge, some cheese if we've got enough, some tomatoes if I've been naughty enough to buy them, and some fruit, just for contrast - usually half an apple or pear. And I made some delightful pesto the other day with wild fennel and chickweed, so that goes in the dressing along with mustard, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a touch of honey or maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt. Today I had smoked salmon and I threw some of that in instead of cheese.

Now these are salads I can totally get into, even if it's freezing outside. The spicy greens warm me up, the protein keeps me full and the zing from everything else is just, well, dressing on the salad. (The phrase "icing on the cake" seems sort of really wrong there.)

I think the key here is that all the ingredients are SEASONAL. Tough, chewy, spicy strong greens are what's growing right now, so that's what really works for me right now. I tried using some more "standard" grocery-store organic spring mix but it wasn't as satisfying, and I just didn't want a salad made out of it the next day.

Obviously, if you live in a place where there's no way in hell that there are any greens growing at this time of year, then you're just going to have to respect your body's desire to steer clear of raw green leafy bits. I think that our bodies, if we listen to them carefully enough, do provide some clues as to how we can feel good in the environment we're in... and on the west coast, the environment provides fresh greenery you can eat and enjoy at this time of year. Give it a try!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I know I mentioned kefir a while back, but recently there's been some call for a sort of guide-thingy to show what it is and how it works.
Milk kefir grains can be used in cow milk, goat milk, or soy milk - theoretically any milk that has sugars and protein. It's a symbiotic colony of yeasts and bacteria, and all of them are good for you. Over a period of about a day, the grains feed on the milk, and in the process they thicken and flavour it. Kefir can help regulate your digestion, and it tastes great in smoothies.

Here's what the "grains" look like. The jar pictured is a pint mason jar.

So you dump the grains in a jar, add milk, and let it do its thing. To use the kefir, you remove the grains from the jar - they float on top, so I just pick them out with my fingers, keeping track of how many there are, transfer them to a clean jar and fill it with more milk. Theoretically. This worked great for me in the summer, but when I returned from vacation it seemed my grains were suffering from some unheard-of kefir illness, and they wouldn't work properly. It turns out that they just didn't like the cooler weather - my kitchen was running at consistently about 25-28C over the summer and that's the temperature they like. I solved the problem by sticking the jar in the oven and leaving the oven light on, although I recommend some visual cue (like a piece of paper taped over the oven control) to remind you, otherwise you might cook your grains by mistake. I've had a few close calls!

When it's done, your kefir jar should look like this. This jar is slightly atypical in that the whey layer on top is not usually so pronounced - I shook the jar when it was a little far along and trapped the grains under the top layer of cheesyness, creating more coagulation at the top and thus more whey. But that's not important. The important thing to look for when deciding if your kefir "worked" is the little pockets of whey at the bottom of the jar. This means that the coagulation has reach the bottom of the jar and your kefir is nicely thickened. If you leave it longer, those pockets will get bigger and the coagulation will become more pronounced until you have a jar with just a cheesy layer on top half and clear whey on the bottom half. There's nothing wrong with this, it just tastes a little strong. It's still completely edible.