Archive for March, 2011

Rendering Tallow

I rendered some more tallow this weekend. I got a blob of suet, about a pound, from my grandmother a little while ago because she bought it to feed the birds and they wouldn’t eat it. It’s been in my freezer forever, and since I had to clear out the freezer to make space for more beef, I decided to render.
This time, I decided to use Mark Sisson’s technique of processing partially-frozen suet in the food processor to get small pieces, and then used Ann Marie’s technique to render the fat in the crock pot.

It took about 3 or 4 hours. 3 hours in, the beagle became very interested.

When it was done, I had a bunch of cracklins, which I strained through a coffee strainer in a mesh sieve.

After that, I had just over a half a reused ghee jar full of pale yellow tallow. It’s since cooled to a nice, creamy white color. I used some to brown some ground beef the other night. It’s nice to have tallow again. I highly recommend the crock pot method. I basically just set it to low and forgot about it until I heard sizzling. I did stir occasionally, and I took the lid off at the end to allow the last bits of water to evaporate, but all-in-all, it’s pretty hands-off, and there wasn’t much splattering.
(Yes, I did share some of the cracklins with the dog. He loves me best now.)
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

On Not Obsessing About Hunger

First of all, a warning: If you are squeamish and/or male, you may not entirely enjoy today’s post.

When it comes to food, I’m a pretty obsessive person. I tend to plan my life, and especially my meals, far in advance. I like to plan to make sure that I’ll always have food at my fingertips in case I get hungry. I guess it goes back to my flirtation with hypoglycemia as a teenager, when I would frequently get irritable or irrational when I was hungry, or would even pass out. So I make sure that I always have healthy, real food around me, so that I’m not faced with a choice of hunger or unhealthy snacks.
But really, is this healthy? Is it healthy or natural to always have food to quell the voice inside that says “Hey, I want food?” I would argue no. For so much of our existence, humans have had limited access to food. If I were a peasant working in the fields in the Middle Ages and my stomach rumbled, would I be able to just drop everything and have snacky time? No.
So one of my goals this year is to be less obsessed with food and hunger. Go hungry a little, and convince my body that it’s not the end of the world. Avoiding sugar and refined grains really helps.
And this morning, I found another beneficial practice: Find something else to think about. It can’t just be anything, it has to be something that occupies your whole mind and seems dire, at least at first.
See, what brought this to mind was my run this morning, which I started out already a little bit hungry. I usually know when I’m going to get my period, but lately my morning temps have been a bit erratic, possibly because my thermometer needs a new battery. So I was 75% sure I wouldn’t get my period today, but would probably get it tomorrow. So I went off on a 3-mile run with zero protection, just the layers of clothing I was wearing against the cold. About a mile in, I felt a familiar sensation: Menstrual cramps.
I could tell that I was wrong about my prediction of my period. I just knew that it was going to start momentarily. I mentally went through the layers of clothing, trying to figure out just how much of it was going to be ruined by this. How dark is black clothing, anyway? Is it going to show through? Am I going to leave little tracks? I finally talked myself down about halfway through the run, and just focused the rest of the way on finishing my run despite some pretty annoying cramps.
When I got home, I found I had not started my period, so there was no mess.
I also realized that I was no longer hungry.
After a stretch and a shower, I decided that I could eat something, so I had a dish of yogurt. But I didn’t have any real, physical signs of hunger afterwards until about 10:30 this morning. I’m currently enjoying a cup of pu-erh tea because I’d rather not eat my lunch early, and I feel like my hunger is bearable.
Now, we can’t all have female emergencies all the time when we’re feeling hungry and cranky. But I think this incident has served to show me that meditation is a powerful tool. I didn’t try to focus on not being hungry (“Don’t think of an elephant,” anyone?), but instead found another, completely unrelated topic, to occupy my mind.
Maybe next time I could try meditating on writing my thesis or something.

Quick Meals and a Weekend Brunch

I thought I’d take this Saturday morning to share some of the quick meals, along with my brunch today, which was decidedly un-quick.

Egg Foo Yung is one of my favorite applications for a quick, often meatless, meal. Eggs are fairly cheap, and these omelette/pancake things tend to use pre-cooked veggies, so they’re good leftover vehicles. This one used leftover roast chicken, collard greens, and some sliced onion. Just fry up the onion, shred the chicken, chop the greens, and stir the whole thing into 2-3 beaten eggs with a dash of tamari. Pour into a pan and cook covered for 3-5 minutes, flip and cook until browned.

Stir-fries are another great quick meal. This one is ground beef with carrots, onions, curry powder, cabbage, and coconut milk. Brown the beef, add the onions and carrots, add the curry and coconut milk, and then the cabbage and cook covered until the cabbage is tender. Delicious and quick, and the fat from the coconut milk means I can use a little less meat and still have a filling, nutritious meal.

This is my brunch from today. Definitely not fast, but so worth it. It’s Saturday, after all. I fried up some slices of sweet potato in ghee and bacon grease, and served it with a scramble of eggs, kale, and bacon. All washed down with some green tea. Yum!

Disordered Eating and Paleo versus Veg*nism

There’s been a lot of talk about “orthorexia,” starting a while back, specifically targeted at people who eliminate modern convenience “foods” like high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar/flour from their diets. There’s an idea that “any diet that eliminates a whole food group is too extreme” and you should eat “all things in moderation.” People think that people eating a traditional or paleo diet are disordered because they don’t eat (as many) grains, or sugar, or because they won’t just eat a sandwich for lunch.

I say, screw that.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am a recovering disordered eater. Guess what I found? Vegetarianism was the single best method of restricting my food that I found. And it’s not just because you’re limited in your food choices and you have a good reason to turn down food and claim that you’ll eat later. No, the main reason why vegetarianism made starving myself so simple was because it’s so darned socially accepted! No one immediately jumps to the conclusion that you’re out to deprive yourself if you go vegetarian. After all, there are two perfectly acceptable reasons to go: for social reasons, and for “health” reasons. I mean, everyone knows animal foods are bad for us, right? And everyone knows animals are fuzzy and adorable and only a monster would want to kill them, right?
Incidentally, I would ask if any of these “animals are fuzzy” types have ever been in close quarters with a chicken or a pig. Those buggers are nasty. A pig will eat a human if given the opportunity, and I don’t just know this from the movies; a friend of mine fell in the pig pen at the farm near our summer camp one year and got attacked. By a pig. Yeah, just like Wilbur or Babe.
So, now, you have a bunch of people who have a legitimate argument for why their way of eating is healthier, more natural, and possibly even more sustainable than a veg*n diet based on large-scale monoculture agriculture and industrial soy. They eat all sorts of foods that we’ve been eating for thousands of years as humans. But no, because we reject foods introduced in the last hundred years, we get labeled disordered.
And all the while, teeny weeny vegan girls get to say “Oh, I’m a vegan; I can’t eat that” and get away with real disordered eating.
Disclaimer: I’m writing this mostly from a personal point of view, and to show that it’s ridiculous to label real foodies disordered when other restrictive diets are so mainstream. I’m not at all trying to imply that all veg*ns are disordered. If you’re doing it and you’re healthy and you’re not basing your diet on processed fake food, more power to you. Also, “veg*n” is used as a catch-all term for vegetarian and vegan, and is not meant to imply that “vegan” is a dirty word.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

Banh Mi at home, and Pork Liver Pate

Crazy week with no posting last week, but I do have something new to share. I made my own banh mi sandwiches. Banh mi are awesome Vietnamese sandwiches with French influence from the imperialist period. I’ve found a great little deli near work that makes them and I’ve learned to love the combination of creamy mayo and pate. Couple that with the 3 lbs. of pork liver I have sitting in my freezer right now, which I got for free from Lynne Ferguson at Ferguson Family Farm, and you have a recipe for homemade banh mi madness!

First, I made carrot and daikon pickles by jarring up some julienned veggies with a vinegar-sugar-and-salt brine with spices. Yum. Then, I got to work on the pate. The recipe is below, if you’re interested. Most pork pate recipes call for other meat besides the liver, but I used bacon instead. Then, I made homemade mayo. I put the whole thing together on a piece of French bread with grilled marinated beef and some fresh watercress, since my store was out of cilantro. Super-yummy.
I also made a modified version for breakfast by spreading mayo and pate on a fresh roll and stuffing it with carrot and daikon pickles!
Pork Liver and Bacon Pate
4-6 oz. of bacon, chopped
1-2 Tbsp. ghee
12 oz. pork liver, sliced or chopped
1/2 onion, sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
splash of white wine
3 Tbsp. softened butter
Put the bacon in a cold pan and turn the heat on to low or medium-low to render out the fat without crisping the bacon. You want really wiggly pieces here. Add in the ghee, turn up the heat to medium, and move the bacon to the edges of the pan. Add the pork liver pieces and saute until browned. Add the onions and garlic and a generous splash of white wine and simmer the whole thing, covered, for a half an hour or so. Let simmer uncovered to let most of the liquid evaporate off. Let this cool for a while. When it’s cool, process the meat mixture to break up the larger pieces, then process some more with the softened butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 2 cups of pate.
This post is part of Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet and Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Book Review: Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives

I haven’t done a book review on my blog before, but I just finished reading Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution Has Shaped Women’s Health, by Wenda Trevathan, and I thought I’d give some of my impressions. My overall review of this book is that it’s a great read. Just as I think all women should read Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I think this book should be up there, too. It gives insight into the evolutionary basis of certain things unique to women’s health.

The book focuses on reproduction as a woman’s function, which is reasonable. Really, the function of any organism is to reproduce. But it goes into detail, talking about maturation of a young girl, menstruation and puberty, and conception. It discusses pregnancy and childbirth, as well as lactation and early child-rearing. But one of the most interesting things I found was that the book focuses two chapters on the post-reproductive phase (menopause and beyond). While other mammalian females decline in fertility or may even stop ovulating late in life, human females are the only mammal that spends a large portion of her life in a healthy, post-reproductive phase.
Of course, as a young woman, I found the earlier chapters more interesting. Tidbits about the menstrual cycle, such as the fact that the hormones secreted during the luteal phase (after ovulation but before menstruation) of the menstrual cycle can increase energy. The sudden withdrawal of these hormones at menstruation may be one explanation for some PMS symptoms. But post-ovulation, a woman’s immune system is suppressed to keep the immune system from attacking a potential fetus, which is, after all, 50% foreign material.
The last chapter gets a mixed reception from me. After a book that talks about how women in “health-rich” countries have higher hormone levels and how eating more fat can alter hormone-levels to be closer to those in health-rich women, the book’s final admonition for leading a healthy life is a parroting of conventional health wisdom: eat lots of whole grains and veggies and fruits, not too much fat or meat, and wear sunscreen. Kind of disappointing that an author with obvious evolutionary cred hasn’t done much looking at the evolution of human nutrition. Also, a minor complaint, she pays little heed to the practice of women charting ovulation. She seems to think that commercial ovulation kits are a sign that fertility signs are hard to read, when my opinion is that it’s a sign that there isn’t enough education of women about their own fertility cycles.
All in all, however, it is an insightful look into women’s health. The main message is that most of the “problems” that women face are in fact natural, healthy stages in a woman’s life. The best thing that medicine can do is to stop treating women like they are broken in some way, as established medicine tends to treat things like menopause or even miscarriage (yes, miscarriage has an evolutionary basis), and instead treat only the things that really are problems. Also, good nutrition seems to always be good, though we may disagree on what that means, exactly.

Quickie: Pu-erh Ginger Tea

I haven’t had the inspiration to write a new post, but I thought I’d share a new find with you. I’ve recently begun drinking Rishi Ancient Tree Pu-erh Ginger tea. It’s not terribly cheap, but I can infuse each batch twice, which is nice. Pu-erh is a fermented tea product that’s known for its peculiar flavor. Generally, you either love it or hate it.

And I find it delicious. It’s very gingery when you smell the loose tea, but after it’s brewed the ginger mellows to a zingy top note. The main scent that I notice in the brewed tea is a profoundly earth note, almost like fresh, damp dirt. It sounds strange, but it makes for an incredibly smooth cup of tea with none of the acidic notes that can give tea a nasty aftertaste in the back of my throat.
It’s definitely caffeinated, but I find that it doesn’t give me the shakes like coffee does. The caffeine kick comes on slowly, like a warmth spreading through my body, and makes me feel motivated and energetic, not jittery, and I find that it wears off fairly quickly. I don’t crash, but I don’t find myself laying awake at night, even when I have a cup of tea at 3 p.m.
I use 1-2 heaped dessert spoons of loose tea leaves in a tea ball, steeped in about 8 oz. of boiling water. I use spring water, since it’s what’s available at work, but I’m sure filtered would also work. I steep it for 5-6 minutes, then remove the tea ball and reserve it. When I finish one cup, I can put the tea ball in another cupful of water and steep it again for 5-6 minutes. It’s just as delicious as the first.
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.