Sunday, February 19, 2012

Helpful Real Food Cooking Tips

In the past few months I have been reading more and more cookbooks and books about food in general. Some of these books have been duds (The Taste Thesaurus? Blah) but others have been gems. You might be wondering if I have become obsessed with food and you might be onto something. I do like food, A LOT, but cooking? Not so much. Being on the GAPS diet, also known as the "no processed anything diet" requires me to spend a lot of time cooking. You might think that having been on this diet for 16 months! now I would have acquired a love of cooking given the many hours each day I spend in the kitchen but you would be sadly wrong. If nothing else I probably dislike it more. In my quest to make cooking less painful I have stumbled upon a few very fabulous tips that help me spend less time in the kitchen and help me save money to boot.

The first tip comes from a cookbook that I haven't even read yet and probably won't unless the price goes down:

The author of Well Fed offers a thirty-page teaser preview on her website which was so awesome that I was almost willing to pay $30 for the cookbook; almost. What is magical about this cookbook besides its delicious recipes which include, amongst others, chocolate chili? Melissa Joulwan comes from a family of restauranteurs which means she knows how to cook food FAST. Once a week Joulwan does the majority of her food prep for the week, usually within a day of her shopping trip. In two hours she browns ground beef, cooks chicken breasts and sausages,  roasts sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash, steams broccoli and cabbage, chops up raw veggies for snacks, boils a dozen eggs and much more.

As I read this idea it astounded me. In years past I had subscribed to a menu mailer that advocated such weekly prep as this but it didn't really work for me because I didn't like all the recipes included in each weeks mailers. Joulwan, however, doesn't worry about such things as "recipes". She only makes 2-3 real recipes every week. The rest of the time she makes what she calls "hot plates." Basically, she takes what prepared items she has an assembles them into a meal. She decides what flavor she wants (Mexican, Indian, Asian etc.) and then what protein and throws it all together into a skillet and voila! Dinner. The example she gave for a Mexican dinner was to throw together in a skillet a pound of the precooked ground beef, steamed chopped peppers and cabbage and while that was warming up make some "South Western Cumin Lime Dressing" and she had dinner ready in less than ten minutes. This way you get lots of variety and you aren't stuck with the Chicken curry you had planned to make when what you really crave is Mexican.

I have done this a few times and it has worked famously. I wish I was better at doing it but as with every new skill learned, it takes time to change habits and fit something new into the routine. The chopping and steaming vegetables has been genius. I wash and cut up lettuce as soon as I get it so that I can make an easy salad, grate and steam cauliflower rice, and slice a head of cabbage for "noodles." It is so easy just to steam the already wet from washing sliced vegetables until just soft and put in a container in the fridge until I need it. I also like to make up the week's salad dressing so I have no excuse not to eat my greens.

As for working on those flavor combinations to mix together those hot plates? The Flavor Bible is essential! I cannot say enough about how great this book is. The way it is organized is so perfectly aligned with how my brains works. The only thing that I didn't like about this book is its omission of Sherry for cooking.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace had such a lovely little gem of a not-quite-cookbook title that I bought it, not even waiting for it to come to the library. I don't exactly regret my purchase but I since I am not eating grains currently, her grain heavy and Italian influenced cooking tips really did not quite hit home with me. She also has a mysterious "thing" with beets which I cannot comprehend. It wasn't that this was a useless books, on the contrary, her tips for stretching your culinary budget are sound and tasty, but Adler definitely needed to endear herself to me with her unflinching praise of fat to keep me reading until the end. The most useful tip that I found in her book was to use EVERY part of the vegetable. The core and leaves of that head of cauliflower? Edible. Yup. Not every part of plant is edible (carrot tops?) but when you are paying for those throwaway bits it is nice to be able to put them to use. I now use the extra leaves and cores of cabbage and cauliflower to make blended French-style potage soups.

Another trick that Adler taught is to use the cooking liquid from cooking vegetables as a base for soups. Yes! Duh, I don't know why it took me this long to figure that one out. For a while now I have always saved the drippings from roasts to use for soups and they really amp up the flavor; using the veggie "drippings" is much same. 

My favorite kitchen tip I have actually been doing for years: boil the bones but what I didn't know is that you can boil the snot, erm nutrients, right out of them for a week before throwing them out. Perpetual Broth has become my new best friend and the very best way to stretch that expensive pastured chicken carcass. It is so nice in the winter to be able to have broth for soup available for meals throughout the week and even with a 1/4 tsp. sea salt, a cup of broth is both nourishing, soothing and delicious after a long day. I very highly recommend doing this.

Those are my tips for now. Any that you are willing to share with me?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When It's Time to Change...

Have you ever read something on the internet and thought "Wow. It would have been really nice to have known that a year ago?" Well the last few weeks have been that, over and over again for me. I am still on the GAPS diet, plugging away but I have been making some BIG changes. After 12 months on the GAPS diet I figured that I would be feeling pretty great and that I would be well on my way to recovery. The problem was, however, that I felt terrible. I felt worse. How was this even possible with all the work that I had been doing. So I kept plugging along at it, never understanding why my symptoms never got better and others appeared in their place.

The candida infection never left. It would get worse and then get better but it never totally went away, no matter how low carb I went. I felt tired all the time; depression would creep in at every little disturbance especially foster parenting stress would put me into a tailspin; my appetite disappeared both for food and sex; I got terrible PMS symptoms of incredibly tender breasts, acne and spotting a week before my period; my cycles were irregular;  and I started to put on a lot of weight even though I wasn't eating any more calories. What was going on?

I have been following the Cheeseslave blog for a few years and while I don't always agree with her, I think that I was absolutely meant to read the posts she has been writing recently about what being low carb did to her and it was like reading my own story. I had NO idea that being low carb for too long could be dangerous. Everything I had read, like on Mark's Daily Apple, said that if you stayed between 100-150 carb grams per day, you were golden for life! I was afraid of adding too many carbs for fear of my candida beast and the possible effect on my insulin resistance. It was just easier to restrict my carbs since I had been doing it for so long so I usually stayed somewhere between 50-100 net carbs a day.

Now it is like EVERYBODY, even Paleo/Primal bloggers are coming out with these studies about how being low carb for too long with stress your adrenals. Matt Stone was writing about this long ago but his style can be so abrasive that I generally ignored him. Now, however, I am paying more attention and what he has been saying has been backed up so many times that I think I can say that he knows what he is talking about. 

So now what is my game plan 15 months into the GAPS diet and feeling no better than when I started? Well, number one, I started eating more carbohydrates and more often. To repair adrenals it is best to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, but it is really hard for me to do that on GAPS without spending my life in the kitchen. To boost my carbohydrate intake, in the last two weeks I have added some GAPS legal legumes (split peas and lentils) and I have also been eating more fruit and honey. While the extra carbs do aggravate the candida, it wasn't going away anyway and it doesn't seem to be getting worse so I will press on. I am supplementing with Adrenal Stress End which is a blend of adrenal cortex and some herbs that was recommended by another GAPS blogger in a similar situation. I do not like that it containes Betaine however since it gives me heartburn. I am also supplementing with Magnesium oil, Magnesium Citrate, B-Complex, Vitamin C and Zinc Piccolinate, all of which are supposed to support the adrenals. In addition I started to brew my own Rooibos Kombucha which helps with detoxification and should help with the candida.

Matt Stone recommends overfeeding and a lot of R&R to repair stressed adrenals, but unfortunately for me as a mom and especially as a foster parent I just don't have that luxury. I have been going to bed earlier; a bedtime between 9-10 pm is recommended as well as naps throughout the day (again, that really wouldn't work for me). Stress reduction is a HUGE but the only way I would see that happening is if our foster baby went home, which would make me sad.

So that is what I am doing and where I am at. So far I am feeling better and I am no longer constipated which is what always happens whenever I get stressed. I have been waking up less groggy and without arthritic-like pain in my joints. Those are good signs so far and I am hoping for even greater improvements in the next few weeks.