Baby On Board

Bread Dumplings in Onion Sauce
Bread dumplings in onion sauce

No, I’m not pregnant.

Recently, for medical reasons, my daughter has decided to join me in eating natural…more natural anyway.  We’re not purists, but we do the best that we can within reason within our budget and situation.  We call what we do the “gratitude diet”.  We eat mindfully and avoid too much food that wouldn’t have been food 300 years ago.  We try to eat like our Ancestors.

For some years, though I wasn’t in it totally alone, it was considered my thing.  My daughter and husband were a hard sell, because my daughter went to school with mostly boys who eat horribly.  If you remember my writing about the accusation by her teacher of neglect for not keeping sugary treats at home, there was also that “do whatever you want and people should love you no matter how much you ruin yourself” attitude that pervades society.  It just baffles me how much they talk of having high self confidence, but at the same time don’t promote self discipline or just sanity.

I’m not obsessive about this.  I just understand that an African and Native American person has to be careful about certain things.  We can die at 40 if we eat wrong…and not even a good death…a horrible death where we’re sick for years and have to have our bodies cut off bit by bit.  No thank you.  If all I have to do to avoid that is eat less sugar, then that’s wonderful.  There is so much else to eat.

With my husband, it was half a scheduling problem and half a cultural problem.  I was trying to feed him a diet that he considers “exotic” and not very pleasant.  He’s a Jewish Israeli of Polish ancestry, and what he needed was basically “schnitzel, ptitim, and a salad”.  It doesn’t have to be literally that all the time, but that is the basic diagram of dinner.  He also needs regular timing enforced like the military.  Giving him too many choices, he didn’t get that I was serious.

Anyway, basically preventable health problems have gotten everyone in the program with me, so I’ve been inspired to write about food again.  Though I am upset that they are having problems that could have been prevented, I’m glad that they are finally paying attention.

Getting a Life

I haven’t been posting much lately, because I’ve been getting out more.  Before going natural, and until my body really began to right itself, the summer heat would keep me comfortably indoors in front of my fan most of the time.  Now, it doesn’t stop me, but I have had to make some adjustments for sanity’s sake.

When you become more active, little injuries and issues that you didn’t have when you were sedentary start to become more intense.  My big two are knee injuries and chafing.

A few years ago, when the size was probably giving me balance problems, I used to fall down the stairs when it was wet outside.  I’ve fallen a few times, but twice I landed on my right knee.  I also used to trip and fall occasionally while walking down the street, and once I hit my knee so hard it was impossible for me to get up.

At the hospital, they did an x-ray and nothing was broken, and in time, the pain went away, though I had trouble with it.  Now that I’ve been walking more though, it hurts almost constantly, especially when I go down stairs.  So I have a doctor’s appointment next month.

…but I can’t stop walking.  I have too much energy, and as soon as the sun starts to go down, I feel like a nervous chihuahua who wants to go outside.

On the chafing, as a busty woman, it has always been an issue, but now, it’s horrible.  I need the breast support, so I have to wear a bra, but it is painful.  Still, my inner chihuahua wants to go-go-go!

Looking back, it’s no wonder I was depressed.  I understand now more than ever the importance of a natural diet, and the deep changes that simply getting enough nutrition makes to ones personality.  I’ve said often that even though I’m only halfway to where I’d like to be weight-wise, if I never lose another kilo, I’ll still feel okay.  I’ve gotten a good bit of my old energy level back.

I’ve also recruited a few offline friends too.  They see my progress, and want to stop struggling to lose or maintain their weight too.

This brings me to another topic, things that make it difficult for people to change.  One huge issue that I come across a lot is family history of poverty.  When people have lived through times of deprivation, they often want to give the kids all the things that they didn’t have growing up.  However, instead of getting them healthy food, they load the kitchen with convenience food and candy.

Occasional treats are fine, but things have to be kept under control.  Parents should be careful what they buy.  There are many things that are great snacks or easily prepared that kids will enjoy very much, but not end up with liver problems or type 2 diabetes.  By giving them too much sugar and processed food, they’re not really indulging their kids.  They’re killing them.

I get an eerie feeling as I walk around Haifa, which has only gotten very unnatural within the past 10 years or so.  I look around and see many young people getting fatter and fatter, and the ones who aren’t fat, looking anemic and smelling funny.

Those of you who’ve been natural for awhile understand what I mean by smelling funny.  It’s that weird fishy, sour, dank, with a hint of synthetic vanillin smell people who eat too much fake food have.  In the winter, it’s tolerable, but in the summer, it can be like a nauseating cloud of garbage odor if you’re in a crowded or enclosed place.

Even worse, the attitudes people have about weight here have gotten worse despite the injection of phood into the grocery stores.  Young people are getting fatter, but expressing more judgemental attitudes about fat.

I see a bad transition happening around me that I hope to curtail.  Since a few of my friends have gone natural, I hope that this is the beginning of the reversal.  Fortunately here, healthy food is still cheaper than the junk.  I hope it stays that way long enough for us to turn the tide.

Food Fail: Parsnip Leaves

Searching for natural alternatives to “crack in a bowl” (soup made with Ukrainian vegetable stock powder), I set about to find parsnips.  They’re one of the ingredients listed on the packet, and responsible for the unique flavor.

Excited to find some at my local shouk, I peeled them, chopped the root up with the leaves, and put it in single serving bags in the freezer.  I’d heard such good things about what parsnips add to soups, and that they’re good roasted on their own.

Having learned my lesson from the buckwheat experience though, whenever I try a new food, I look around to see if there might be allergy issues.  I found out that parsnip leaves are actually toxic.  You might not get sick from eating them, but after handling or eating them, but when you go out in the sun, you’ll get a rash.

So, the roots are safe, but the leaves are very bad for you.  Next time I’ll know better, but it’s a shame that my current batch is wasted.

Another Tasty Success: Chicken Gizzards in Goji Berry Sauce

Chicken Gizzards in Goji Berry SauceI’ve been experimenting with more chicken gizzard recipes.  This time around, after hearing about what goji berries are really used for in Asia, I decided to give it a go myself.  As it turns out, goji berries are one of the most perfect seasonings for chicken or really any other poultry.  It may be because of the loads of vitamin C in them, but they totally remove any of the funny “this is an organ meat” aftertaste from gizzards.

Many people on the superfood trend eat goji berries like raisins, but be aware that they are in the nightshade family of plants.  If you have CFS, fibromyalgia, or arthritis, or any issues with potatoes or other plants in the same family, stay away from them.  Everyone else who has a tolerance for nightshade family plants should try them though, but sparingly.  They are like tiny, very sweet mild peppers.

Stewed Pupik Was A Success

Stewed Chicken GizzardsThis time around, I tried slow cooking the gizzards, and they came out beautifully.  My husband says they’re just like his mom used to make.

This time, they were more palatable to me.  They were soft kind of like the pearl of the chicken back.  The taste and texture reminded me of that.  If I had my preference though, I’d have let them cook for more than 2 hours because the only thing I didn’t like is that bit of cartilage that joins the two sides of the gizzard.  If they cook longer, that part would melt and become a part of the sauce.

The sauce was awesome.  It was wonderful as it was, but I think with longer cooking, it would have been a good basis for aspic, a Russian appetizer that is like a meat jelly.  Indeed, the sauce did turn into a gel when it was refrigerated.

Next week, since my family likes pupik so much, I’m going to get more and experiment.  If you like dark meat, gizzards are both a tasty and extremely economical choice.  For your money, you get nothing but nice, nutritious meat that can be used for anything you’d use thighs for.  Even better, if you have pets, the pre-cooking water is a great soup to supplement their food with.

Here, thighs are about $5 per kilo, while pupiks are around $2.50 or less.  They’re sometimes on sale for $1.50.  I think they’re so cheap because you can’t just throw them in a pot and go.  They have to be pre-boiled, so people who can afford to, opt for other parts.

It’s okay.  I’ll take ’em.

Found Fat and Pupik Update

Joy of joys, today we found a shop that has and is willing to sell us their pork fat.  I was so happy.  It was very cheap, about $1.50 per kilo.  So now I will never have to worry about where to find fat for rendering, unless they go out of business.

They say they’re not the only ones.  You have to find a place that buys by the side and ask for the internal fat.  If you ask for the fat, they think you want what most other people want, which is the fat back, not the other subcutaneous and inner fat.  So you have to be specific.

The same place has “pupik” (gizzards) that looked very nice, so I thought today was as good a time as any to try them, since now I’ve got the grease to fry them in.  My daughter loved them, and is now devouring them with ketchup like chicken nuggets.  I would eat them on a salad, but much like other chicken nuggets, wouldn’t bother much about them otherwise.  Shai (my husband) said they were too chewy, and not like his mom used to do.

So now I have a quest, but one I don’t think I’m going to like.  I was instructed by every home cooking southern woman I know to always ALWAYS pre-boil gizzards.  Every eastern Asian cook I know says the same.  Apparently, non southern and non Asian folks don’t do that.   I don’t want to think about what it must taste like.  There has got to be some way to be sure to clean off all the gooey membrane and still come out with tender results.

I’m thinking that they must need to be slow cooked.  I hate to call other cooks wrong, but I just don’t see how they’ll get thoroughly clean without the pre boiling.  So with kilo #2 of the pupiks, I’m going to try preboiling, cleaning, and then slow cooking them.  We’ll see how it goes.

Fresh Hominy Experiments

Today I decided to see what I could do with fresh hominy.  I don’t have a food dehydrator, and it’s not sunny enough this time of year.  Besides, we have too many birds and bats, not to mention the cats, who can easily tear through a screen.  Elecrticity is way too expensive here to dry in the stove.

Up to now, I mainly used hominy I made at home in soups or just fried it.  For tortillas I use flour or masa de harina if I can find it.  Today I tried making tortillas with fresh hominy.

It worked well when I mixed pureed hominy with some wheat flour, but it didn’t work out well when I used just hominy, even when I tried to make them pancakes style.  What I did discover though, is that the hominy pancake batter makes a fabulous dressing/stuffing.

I put a couple of large eggs, 1/8 cup of lemon juice, a teaspoon of gray salt, and a cup of milk in a kilo of pureed hominy.  Then I pre-fried it in a large pan with about 3 tablespoons of fat.  Once it was gloopy like a spoon bread, I added about 2 cups of broth I had because I was stewing some meat today.  It was a nice use of the extra liquid.

Once the liquid was absorbed, I put the whole lot in a glass baking dish, and baked it at 145 Celsius for about 45 minutes.   It came out very nicely, and was a good cushion for the beans, meat, and vegetables.

I’ve noticed that this padding made from pureed hominy sucks up more flavor than regular cornbread dressing.  This is what I’m going to use to make cornbread dressing in the future.  It really does make a big difference.

Small Apples

See, this is why one of my favorite fruit stands in the shouk is the one on the far left corner, right next to the Russian butcher and grocer.  They always have something special there because they don’t only buy from the usual importers and distributors.  They buy from local farms and gardeners as well.

Today, they had piles and piles of small sweet golden and red apples for 2 shekels (less than 75 cents) per kilo.  If only I had canning supplies here, I’d make preserves.  Since I can’t though, I’ll settle for a few weeks of joy while they’re still available.

As if shopping life couldn’t get any better for me today, my favorite dried foods stand now has crispy fire roasted oats.  They’re oats that have been smashed rather than rolled, and then roasted.  It’s the best cereal ever.  One thing I love about oats is that they are a comparitively balanced grain.  They’re 15-17% protein on their own, and this with the starch makes them sticky enough to replace wheat in just about anything that doesn’t need to rise.  They’re also a good thickener instead of straight corn or potato starch.

Crispy wheat in particular means that no sugar of any kind is needed for a trail mix.  Just throw them in with your nuts and dried fruit, and there’s your necessary carbs with no extras.  So I’ll be a happy camper.

Lessons Learned: Buckwheat Allergy

About a month ago, in my ongoing quest to eat naturally, I decided to try alternative grains. I don’t view wheat as a villain, but since I’m of African and Native American ancestry, some grains should be more compatible with my body than others. Since I’ve reduced my carbohydrates, what I get should be digestible and pleasant to taste. In that wheat is kind of so-so and neutral.

So I went to my favorite staple and bulk foods merchant, and got some buckwheat flour. A few days later, I made the most awesome smelling two loaves of bread I’ve made in my life with oat flour, buckwheat flour, and minimal wheat flour. I broke out the butter, and my family and I enjoyed it very much. I noticed though, that it tasted a bit peppery to me. I was warned that buckwheat has a “strong” taste, and I thought this was what they meant.

Four or five bites in though, my lips and throat were burning, and my esophagus began to spasm. After a very painful upchuck, I was still spasming, and I noticed that my skin was starting to itch. I went to the emergency room, and was told that I very likely have a buckwheat allergy.

Buckwheat allergy is not so common in the west, but is more common in Asia, where it is used more often.  Apparently, exposure to sobakowa from pillows and mats can “max out” a person’s tolerance if they have the allergy, and cause extreme reactions when they eat buckwheat, even if they don’t break out from touching hulls or fibers.  This is one reason it can be a surprise.  Someone who has used sobakowa pillows and tatami mats without a bad reaction would be caught unawares when eating buckwheat noodles.

So if you’re introducing new foods into your diet, make sure that you are prepared for the possibility of discovering new allergies.  Have a plan for getting emergency care quickly.

How to Make Druze Pita

I love bread. It’s one of those foods that makes civilization so worth it. The problem is that the body uses carbohydrates like sugar if they’re not properly prepared. So I set about to finding ways to get my bread fix, making it fully satisfying but healthier than the typical selections. Mind you, some of us of African and Native American descent also have a problem with too much bran from certain grains, so switching to whole wheat wasn’t a good option.

From reading sites about glycemic index, and how the body processes grains, I learned that they should be fermented before they’re eaten. This alters their chemistry so that their GI is lower, and the sugars break down slightly, and become more digestible. People in Africa and the Mediterranean, as well as Japan, have been doing things like this for aeons. One group with a very tasty fermented dough recipe I’ll reveal to you today are the Druze. You can read about their fascinating culture here.

They make a special “pita” that isn’t like the pita pocket bread most folks are used to seeing in the west. In fact, almost every ethnicity in the middle east has their own kind of pita, and some even have more than one.

Druze pita are similar to what Americans may think of as “wrap” bread. If you get the genuine thing, it’s about the circumference of a large pizza, and very very thin. It is even thinner than a tortilla. If you put them in a plastic bag right away, they’ll be soft, but if you leave them out, they become nicely crispy. As crips, in my opinion, they’re better than potato chips.

Before we get started, I’ll let you know that there is an art to it. You probably won’t get perfectly round, uniformly paper thin pitas until you’ve been practicing for some months, or weeks if you do it every morning (which you might). If you follow my instructions though, you and your family will enjoy the practice pitas very much.

First of all, you need to make sure you have the things you’ll need to prepare this special bread.

A wok or other convex shaped pan that can take heat on the inside. The reason for this is that you will be turning that over so that you have a dome on which to “throw” and cook your pita.

You should be using a gas burner. You can’t do this on an electric stove.

Your wok should be able to rest securely so that the fire is more or less under the center of it. Because of how heat is channelled through a wok, it’s not so important if it’s a bit off. Just make sure it sits there securely.

Wooden spatula. It’s the same wooden spatula you’d use if you were cooking things on the inside of the wok. You’ll need this to slide under and lift your pitas without burning your fingers.

A round (unused) seat cushion. That’s right, a seat cushion. This will help you to stretch the pitas out, and to throw them on the pan fully spread out. If you don’t have one, or you don’t think you can keep it out of the household circulation of seat cushions in the laundry or something, you can instead use a large plate covered with a lint free cloth. You’ll need to tie the cloth securely around the plate. It will not work as well, but it’ll do in a pinch as a stretching surface and “throwing” guide.

Now, the ingredients.

1 kg. wheat flour
1/2 cup corn or potato starch
2 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp. cream of tartar
lukewarm water

Reserve about a cup or cup and a half of the flour for the kneading.

Sift all of the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.

Add enough lukewarm water, while squishing it together with your fingers, until you have a somewhat wet ball of dough. Once you have enough water in, continue to squish out any major lumps.

Spread some flour over the counter, and turn the dough out onto it. You may have to do some scraping off the bowl and your fingers.

Knead the dough, adding flour as you go, until you have a pretty firm ball of dough that is somewhat dry and “heavy”. If you need to add more flour than you reserved, do so.

Put the dough in a food safe plastic bag, and squeeze out as much air as you can. Don’t seal the bag right up against the dough though. Give it some room to rise a little.

Now for the fermentation: put the bag of dough in a bowl in a warm but not too warm place for an hour, or put it in the refrigerator overnight. On top of the refrigerator is usually perfect for the hour.

When you are ready to start making your pitas, have ready your surface, some flour, a small roller, and your covered plate or cushion. Then heat your upside-down wok. The heat needs to be high or as close as possible without being nuclear.

Take about a half cup or palm sized ball of dough from the bag, and roll it to make it somewhat spherical. Then mash it flatter between your hands, and even more flat between your fingers.

Slap it down onto your floured surface, and then turn it over and slap it down again. This will help spread out the flour, and get the dough “conditioned” for stretching.

Mash the dough down even flatter, using brisk striking motions or just pressing firmly but quickly. It depends how familiar you are with say, pizza making. If you are, you’ll know the right “touch”.

Using the small roller, roll from the center of the patty of dough outwards. Rotate it a little, and roll out from the center again. Rotate and roll, rotate and roll, and on and on until you have a fairly thin, tortilla like circle of dough.

Gently transfer this onto the plate or cushion. Most like to do this using the back of their hands to avoid tearing it.

Pick up the cushion, and gently, a little at a time, stretch the dough over it. You want a large disk of dough that is not quite as big as your overturned wok. If you make it too big, it will hang off the edges.

Now, take the cushion with your dough, and plop the dough onto the very hot wok.

Once it is bubbling, it is basically done, but if you’re new at this, there may be some wrinkles, or your edges might be a little thick. Slide the spatula under the pita to lift it, turn it over, and then flip down the edges so that they touch the pan. You might need to press here and there with the spatula.

The cooking barely takes a minute, so be watchful, or you’ll burn holes right through it.

When it’s done, slide the spatula under it, and lift it. Put it on a plate and eat it.

These are usually served with labane, zaatar, and other middle eastern foods and salads.

Now, here’s a video I found on Youtube of an expert at work.