Your Right to the Health You Created

WordPress Daily Prompt asks:

Daily Prompt: Right to Health. Is access to medical care something that governments should provide, or is it better left to the private sector? Are there drawbacks to your choice?

As usual, my viewpoint on the subject at hand starts out way over in some other galaxy which means I may not really answer that question in the sense in which it was asked. That’s me!

My "pharmacy" at sunset.

Restocking at my “pharmacy” at sunset. Maybe our government should pay for these! (Photo by Patty Allread)

You see my viewpoint of what “health” is has nothing whatsoever to do with the medical establishment. If you are “healthy,” you are not involved with the medical establishment. The medical establishment is where we turn when we have forfeited our claim to health–having worked very long and hard on destroying it–in the hopes they will have some answer to our dilemma.

This is the group that fixes symptoms, not causes. This is the group that for the most part knows very little about how to develop good health. This is also the group that participates in doling out mind-altering drugs to our children, the elderly and everyone in between because they and our lovely government have bought into the idea that life’s every little problem is a mental illness.

The exception, I would say, is the area of emergency medicine. I think this is extremely valuable because, like most people, I don’t know how to set broken bones, sew up torn body parts, intubate, etc. Perhaps the government should pay for more of this type of thing.

We also, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have a right to a little help when we really need it, such as Social Security. Because there are times when a person needs that kind of help.

But in the main, I don’t believe the government’s job is to run our lives. Government does way too much of that already. I’d like our government to administrate itself, protect us and our shores and represent us to the other countries. (Now I’m stepping gingerly through a mine field, so that’s all I’m going to say about the government. For now.)

If I have some aspect of poor health, going to the medical establishment is my last solution. My first and best solution is to understand how my body works, find out what it needs to actually heal and provide that–mostly out of my kitchen. I raised three kids that way and we had very, very few medical visits and medical bills to contend with. (Now I’m promising myself to tell you the story of the parking lot tuna fish sandwich!)

Real health, in my opinion, is our responsibility, not our right. We are so willing to put our lives and health into the hands of others and then whine about the results. Is the short-order cook at McD’s or at the local chain restaurant the person who decides what nutrients and non-nutrients and poisons will go into your body today? Is that who is creating your health? Or is it the manufacturers of all the boxed, pre-packaged and frozen foods in the grocery aisle? Perhaps it is the barista at Starstrucks handing you that fancy sugar latte and ungodly sweet pastry. Is the buyer for any of these restaurants and stores considering your health as a priority or is he/she considering their bottom line? Or maybe it is Monsanto who is directing your path to health, busily modifying your food through genetic engineering. (Government sanctioned, by the way. Has our government shown us it makes good choices regarding our health? I think not. Have you heard the one about how the government arrived at the conclusion that Dairy Food is a food group?)

We have “right” to whatever condition we ourselves have created. And you might be shocked if I tried to explain to you how far that consideration of mine actually goes! So I’m going to leave my statement at that.

I Am My Own Genie

I decided to take up today’s WordPress Daily Prompt: A genie has granted your wish to build your perfect space for reading and writing. What’s it like?

From miles above the Earth my writing space cannot be seen, but I know it is there. You see, I create this space myself each time I sit down to the keyboard to write and because circumstances in my life change day to day and even moment to moment, the space changes too.

Today as I zoom in to get a closer look, I see my room is in the United States on the eastern coast. Oceanside. Right next to the water perched on a cliff with galloping waves racing toward a crashing explosion against the rocks.

maine cliffs

(Photo credit: kenyee)

The year is still quite young–only February third–and it is quite cold way up north here by the sea. So we are inside, my husband and I. He doing his work and I, with my cup of coffee, am about to tend to mine.

Come, let me show you one of my favorite spaces where magic is made!

We will pass through the grand living room full of warm wood and sturdy stone. It’s such a welcoming place but it is for family activities and guests and hosting parties–not for my most solemn and private endeavor.

Let’s go through the kitchen now. It’s beautiful isn’t it? I love all the cabinetry, my fine professional six-burner gas stove; I love how spacious and clean it all looks. Miles of counters, too! How do you like my pantry? It has space for everything and anything I want to keep on hand. And maybe when we’re through touring, I’ll show you my dish collection which I keep in these antique hutches. I love collecting all kinds of dishes and unusual serving items. So much fun!

The kitchen is my practical laboratory where I create what I think is the most delicious food in the world. I love to put on my apron and see what’s in the pantry and refrigerator and go to town making something that is new and that we haven’t had before. I especially love this little area by the window because it affords just the right natural light to photograph my creations! I love my kitchen, but it isn’t where I write. It’s very close to the kitchen though.

My writing space is just through this door. It’s a warm and cozy room off the back of my kitchen. One whole wall is nothing but windows looking out onto the cliffs and the ocean beyond. Sometimes you can see the faraway lighthouse on the horizon and once in a while you can watch sailboats gliding past on their way to the harbor several miles south. It’s too cold to go out there today, but in the summer there’s nothing better than opening the glass doors, sitting out on the deck, with my laptop on the little table, typing away to the rhythm of the rolling waves and sipping a cold lemonade or an iced tea.

The opposite wall draws me in wintertime. There’s nothing like a roaring fire in that huge stone fireplace during a cold and gray February day! The crackling fire is so soothing and mesmerizing. See where my husband has built me a cast iron crane that holds this wonderful dutch oven cooking pot? Now that’s a cooking method!

I guess you could call my writing room my library.  After all, it is lined floor to ceiling with shelves of books. I have a lot of books! And this entire section here is cookbooks, and these are travel books, and over here is fiction, religion on this shelf–lots of categories. One of my favorite things is the heavy wood sliding ladder we built so I can reach any book on the shelf. Just like a real library!

Have a seat on one of my over-sized cushiony chairs; they’re guaranteed to be comfortable. No doubt you’ll feel like Alice herself because sitting in this huge chair, the library shelves loom above and seem to go on forever. The chairs are big enough for an adult to curl up in or dangle the feet from. Everything in the room is comfortable–the warm lights, colors, textures and shapes that fill the spaces. I’ve collected these things from all over the world and enjoy each and every item and the memories they ignite!

Ah yes! Here is my actual writing table. It is just a plain table with space for my keyboard and monitor and for maybe a coaster for a cup of something hot to drink. Nothing else. You don’t even see the computer, do you? No clock, no knick knacks, no papers. Just a plain table and my writing tools. No television in the library. No radio, no CD player. Those are all elsewhere.

Here it is just my ocean, my fireplace, my writing tools. It’s just me and my thoughts, that is all. Those are the ingredients for writing today.

This is the core. Ground zero. Couched within. The library plays a part in the space. The kitchen plays a part in the space. The deck, the house, the cliffs and the ocean play a part in the space. The cold February sky, the gracefully turning planet, the universe. I use them to help create the space.

Though this is one of my favorite writing spaces, there are others. For tomorrow I may linger above the Earth and locate a desert spot–all pink and purple and green and cream and gray. Perhaps my writing space will be in a tiny old Airstream and I will look out onto the desert and marvel at the huge desert sky and inspect the nuances of the barrel cactus flowers that surround my space. And I will again be free to write–just me, my tools and my thoughts.

Barrel Cactus Flowers

Barrel Cactus Flowers (Photo credit: Lon&Queta)

For you see I am my own genie and my writing space is my creation with endless possibilities. I am so lucky to know that!

Basics: Digestion 101

Lindsay and Danny setting a good example.

Lindsay and Danny setting a good example.

“You are what you eat.”

How many times have we all heard that statement? I have heard it most of my life and while in the broadest, most general sense it is true, it is not specifically accurate. Why? Because everything you put into your mouth and eat does not make it through your digestive system and deliver the nutrients to create your new cells.

Let’s back it up for a moment. You eat a food, hopefully chew it at least a little, and down it goes. It is further broken down in the stomach before moving on through your system to the small intestines where nutrients can be delivered to the rest of your body to create your new cells which replace your old cells.

No matter what it is that you are eating, we can agree that it would be ideal if all nutrients consumed can be used for your benefit. But that, unfortunately, is not always the case.

Here are three bottom-line, basic factors to know about good digestion.

Is what you’re eating actually real food?

The main factor is whether you are eating something that your body can recognize as “food.” Your body is programmed to break down, digest and absorb the nutrients of anything it recognizes is food.  Everything else, your body is programmed to safely get rid of as something which doesn’t belong in it.

So if you are eating chemicalized foods, fake, manufactured food, food dyes, additives, preservatives, synthetic vitamins, inorganic minerals–anything that is not “real”–your body is going to process it as something to get rid of and protect itself from. That includes, by the way,  microwaved food in which the molecular structure of the once-real food has been scrambled into something unrecognizable by the body to be digested! It also could include genetically modified foods.

So first of all, you can’t be what you eat unless you eat “real” food. And second, the quality of the food you put in helps determine the quality of the new cells your body makes.

Are you doing your part when the food goes in your mouth?

My sister used to have a saying that she learned early in her schooling which I considered a funny, old-fashioned idea until I realized the truth of it. She used to say, “Drink your food and chew your water.”

It meant that food should be chewed until it is like liquid and drinks should be well-mixed with saliva before swallowing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you really should chew water but I wholly agree that food must be chewed very well.

This is something I started paying attention to when I first began learning about macrobiotics. Macrobiotics comes from the words “macro” which means “large or great” and bios which means “life.” It can be interpreted as having the largest view of life or simply living a great life. My first teacher was Georges Ohsawa via his book and later on I met and studied with some of the best macrobiotic teachers in the world. It is with them that I learned the valuable lesson of chewing your food well.

Chewing is your part of the job of digestion. Chewing allows food–especially carbohydrates–to be broken down by your saliva. We new students used to count 50 chews per mouthful! It soon became habit and I learned that chewing alone can increase your health, improve or even solve digestive problems and helps ensure that your body will have available all the nutrients you are consuming.

Lucky for all of us, additional chewing costs us nothing but a few moments!

Is your natural defense system in place?

What I mean is, who or what is living in your intestines? We have probably all heard about having “good bacteria” in our intestines. Every commercial yogurt advertisement reminds us that we need it. So what exactly is this about?

There are a multitude of living things that can be found in one’s intestines. The intestines, being long and having a ridged shape inside, provide tons of real estate for these bacteria and yeasts and other things to take up housekeeping. And it is natural to have (and even necessary) certain of these in there–even yeast. These bacteria and things contribute to further breaking food down, helping it move through the lines and also preventing things that don’t belong in the system from getting in.

Some live in the small intestines where your digested food is absorbed into your bloodstream and some live in the large intestines where waste is directed so it can be eliminated. (Such a smart body!) If you have a healthy community of good bacteria taking up space in your intestines, that leaves little or no room for unwanted bacteria (such as those that cause illness and disease) from having a place to live.

Probably I could write (and maybe I will) an entire post about this because healthy bacteria in the intestines has many, many benefits. For instance, did you know that the bacteria called, “acidophilus” produces a very powerful natural antibiotic called “acidophillin?”

My main point here is that eating naturally fermented food (not just pasteurized yogurt with some manufactured “acidophilus” thrown in), such as miso and pickled foods and naturally made yogurt, can provide tremendous help to your body in getting the good nutrition “in” and keeping the unwanted elements “out.”

You are what you assimilate!

This is a much more accurate statement! Assimilate simply means, taking in the food and making it part of the body. Just because you put something you think may be “food” in your mouth doesn’t mean you are delivering nutrients to your body. Some people–whether meat-eaters or vegetarians–can eat and eat and eat and still crave more food.  Why? Because they aren’t assimilating much of what they eat and the cause is usually one or more of the three factors above.

The answer is to eat organic, whole food, chew it well, and make sure your diet includes naturally fermented food which can provide beneficial bacteria. Because you are not what you eat, you are what you assimilate!

Like Quicksand

Well now I’ve done it!

Last week I was perusing my WordPress Reader where I follow my favorite blogs and I decided on a whim to suggest a topic for the Daily Prompt. This is a WordPress feature in which an idea for a post is given and bloggers can use it as a jumping off point for a post. I suggested a topic about rules. Is it true “Rules are made to be broken?” And I prompted, “When have you broken a rule and did you get burned or did it turn out for the best?”

WordPress took me up on the idea today! Only the editor changed it to “Laws” not just “Rules.”

I would like to say here that I fully believe it is wisest and best to follow the laws of the land. Period.

If Daily Prompt uses your suggestion, you are expected to write a post on the subject. Okay then; I won’t break that rule.

English: Warning sign for quicksand in Frederi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So how does my prompt apply to the subject of food and cooking? Health and diet? The field of dietary advice shifts and changes like quicksand. There are thousands of “experts” who all claim to know the best way to eat, the best way to cook, the latest miracle foods, the hottest nutrients, the must-have dietary supplements.

Some say we should be vegan (no animal foods or animal by-products whatsoever) and some claim the Paleo diet (which includes quite a bit of animal food) is the way to go. Some people promote brown rice and other whole grains as a basis for a healthy diet while others say we should avoid carbohydrates and gluten.

Really, why does feeding our bodies seem to require so many rules in the first place? Shouldn’t it be easy and simple and . . . natural?

Yes, it should be and it can be if we are starting from a central point of balance. My first and only rule is: Eat real, whole food that has not been chemicalized, genetically engineered, formulated in a laboratory, or extracted from its natural source and greatly altered into something else.

Some of us are starting at a point of great imbalance and it will take a lot of care and perhaps following of rules in order to stabilize. Some have found their balance and know that if they venture away from their “rules” there is no harm done as long as they find their way back again.

And then there’s the subject of sugar, that I so adamantly advised against in several major blog posts throughout 2012. And I meant every single word I wrote! And I follow my own advice.

Most of the time.

So why, in 2013 am I featuring dark chocolate mousse once a month and why was my January mousse made with sugar? And how is that working out for me?

It is too early to say, except that January’s Dark Chocolate Mousse was absolutely divine, though short-lived. We each had our serving of this wonderful dessert and we are looking forward to February’s mousse.

Is breaking this rule the equivalent of “removing the tag from your pillow?” Or does this make me into a food hypocrite undeserving of your attention?

I guess you’re the judge of that depending on your own viewpoint and level of fanaticism when it comes to rules about eating. Believe me there are those who would consider my Quest for Dark Chocolate Mousse to be sheer heresy. But I do not.

One thing I have gleaned from writing this post is that I do not wish to be a “food/dietary” expert so much as I like to show people how I cook using foods that fit into my one and only rule of using organic, mostly unrefined, traditional whole foods. And that the purpose of writing this blog is to express my very personal passion for cooking as an outlet for creative expression.

Nothing more and nothing less.

~~~

So far I have read over thirty entries by other bloggers based on this prompt and found some very personal and moving pieces. I have much admiration for that.

Inspired to Make a List

Inspiration to set a goal can happen anywhere.

Inspiration to set a goal can happen anywhere. (Photo credit: Patty Allread)

I was thinking about lists–such as shopping lists.  Sometimes when I shop for groceries I use a list and sometimes I go free-wheeling through the aisles picking out whatever strikes my fancy. We all know how that can turn out, especially if you’re hungry while food shopping! You might eat all the free samples and end up buying nothing particularly useful or you might discover things that you’d never have put on your list and end up with the makings for a fresh, fabulous feast.

There are all kinds of lists! Each reflects a slightly different character.

BUCKET LIST

Morbid. This is a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” Not my kind of list. I’m not planning for my death, I’m planning for my life! You won’t catch me making any bucket lists as a premise for fulfilling my dreams.

BLACK LIST

Nasty. I cannot condone black lists because each of us has the basic human right not to be discriminated against–including bucket-listers..

HIT LIST

This could be one of two things.

  • Antagonistic. What are you the Mafia? Get a breath of fresh air or take a walk. Sit down and relax. Try developing a more positive viewpoint about getting things done.
  • Admiration. As in your top ten list of favorites. This list can be a lot of fun to make and it’s fun to see what others have experienced and put on their top ten.

CONTACT LIST

Broad. Action pending. It’s everyone you know in a certain category or maybe there is no category and it’s simply everyone you know! It’s fun to grow this list as it shows an expanding zone of influence or reach. And it can go two ways: people you add to your list or people who add you to theirs–like the list of people who follow or subscribe to your blog. (That is a very cool list!)

GUEST LIST

Narrowed down. Put into motion. These are the people you know that you want to know better or become closer friends with. So you’re going to invite them to share an important moment with you or just have fun with you!

TO-DO LIST

Conservative. Nothing wrong with having a list of things to get done. Love checking things off a to-do list! Sometimes you don’t want to rely on being strictly spontaneous so you make this list. The to-do list might show a sequence of actions or it could be completely disjointed.

CHRISTMAS LIST

  • Wish list Hope for the future if it is your wish list!  But it also implies you’re hoping someone else will deliver the goods. Of course, there are those of us who have no problem whatsoever with gifting ourselves every once in a while!
  • Gift list If it is your list for presents you intend to give others, then there is a whole sub-scale here that runs from obligated-to-exchange-with-these-people, to keep-the-budget-in-mind, to wow-it-would-be-so-cool-to-get-them-this-I-just-have-to-work-out-how-to-pull-it-off!

GROCERY/SHOPPING LIST

In control. It could be that you have made a decision to achieve certain goals diet-wise, cooking-wise (like a goal to learn how to make the world’s best dark chocolate mousse), budget-wise, production-wise, etc. You plan what you’ll need to achieve the goal and you also plan to avoid procuring things that don’t help you achieve that goal. Or it could be that you are economizing your time by not forgetting something vital which would cause you to have to return to the store. So you’re armed with a list!

BATTLE PLAN

Clear intentions. Speaking of being “armed,” a battle plan is so much more than a list. It is a reflection of strategic planning directed at meeting a goal. You’ve got your goal, you’ve worked out what it would take to get there, and now you are laying out your tactics–step-by-step–using your battle plan.

NO LIST

Create as you go, moment-to-moment. No itinerary, no agenda, no deadline. Play it by ear. Improvise.

Make it a game and this can be awesome fun and adventure.

Make it a lifetime philosophy and you can find yourself in total apathy with nothing achieved ever.

My Recipe

Convert your Wish List into a list of your Goals, sifting out any Bucket or Black Lists.

Make your overall Battle Plan and incorporate your To-Do, Shopping or Grocery Lists and gently knead.

Continue kneading, liberally adding Contacts.

Keep your Contact List Dough warm, letting it rise. Contacts may double or triple in size. You do this by offering gifts such as visiting, smiling, responding, and being an encouraging friend.

No need most of the time to put these into a Gift List except for Christmas or Birthdays. But a variation could include helping a Contact with an Item on one of their Lists.

Roll out your Guest List and bring your people together.  Find out how they are doing, what they’ve been doing, what they’ve put on their Hit List (the admiration kind)

Use the No-List method according to preference throughout, but not all the time.

If you start to feel apathetic or unproductive, go back to your Battle Plan. This is the time to use the other kind of Hit List and change anything that doesn’t work well for you.

Let us know how it all bakes out!

I Like Vanilla: Confessions of a Chocolate Maven

A DAILY PROMPT HAIKU

Reading the label

Too many ingredients

Give me real food please.

Invented new food

Would it grow all by itself?

Give me organic.

Gourmet recipes

I’m becoming an expert

But give me brown rice.

Chocolate Maven

I’ll show you chocolate mousse

(I like vanilla)

Close up of Edith Elizabeth Norton Pheffleneuson with paint

Nutrition: Your Valuable Ally in the Fight Against Cancer

My experience with using nutrition to fight cancer goes back many years starting with my macrobiotic studies with Denny and Judy Waxman.  Back in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s there was very big news in Philadelphia about a local hospital executive, Dr. Anthony Sattilaro, whose body was riddled with cancer.  With only a few weeks to live, per his doctors, he began the macrobiotic diet and overcame his disease.  He wrote a book about it, Recalled By Life, and suddenly eating brown rice and miso soup became extremely popular as an alternative treatment for cancer.

I learned how to prepare macrobiotic meals for people with degenerative illness and saw many of them make dramatic improvements that not only greatly extended their lives, but more important they were able to expand their quality of life, quality of joy and outlook.  So I have first-hand experience that nutrition plays a huge roll in fighting cancer.

And now I introduce to you Jillian McKee as my guest blogger!   Jillian has been the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance for over three years.  She is enthusiastic about spreading vital information about complementary and alternative medicine and how it can be used in conjunction with cancer therapy.

Jillian has graciously offered to enlighten us and share a link to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.  (For those who aren’t sure, mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.)

Nutrition: Your Valuable Ally in the Fight Against Cancer

By Guest Blogger, Jillian McKee

Cancer can be a terrifying disease. Those who have been diagnosed should be assured that cancer-fighting technology has improved dramatically over the past several decades, and their prognosis for most types of cancers is far better than it was for their parents and grandparents. Some of this research has lead to the conclusion that some fairly straightforward concepts, such as proper nutrition, can have a significant impact on the outcome of the battle.

Until roughly sixty years ago, little attention was paid to nutrition. Starting in the 1960s, a nutrition revolution took place through the medical world that spread into many aspects of modern life; one simply has to look at how much baseball players and other athletes improved through the 1960s to see this effect. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, studies consistently showed the symbiotic relationship nutrition and cancer treatments had with each other. Today, there is no debate: Proper diet leads to better outcomes.

Some of the results shatter notions of health prevalent in the 1950s and earlier. In the past, meat was valued as the best food to achieve good health and that fruits and vegetables had little effect on one’s health. Today, science has indicated that meat itself increases factors that can contribute to the development and progression of cancer, and cancer patients should take steps to gain their protein through other means. Beans and legumes are a great source of protein, iron and other valuable nutrients that the body uses to fight against cancerous activity and growth.

With a proper mix of fruits and vegetables, cancer patients can ensure that their body has the tools necessary to fight the cancer as effectively as possible. The human body has a variety of techniques it utilizes to prevent cancerous activity, and proper nutrition helps the body to hone these techniques. Further, good nutrition leads to better general health, which allows the body to focus on defeating cancer instead of maintaining other systems. The latest research has emphasized the importance of maintaining a healthy state of mind throughout the treatment process; positive thinking has a measurable effect. Proper nutrition helps maintain this mindset even when the effects of various cancer treatments have a draining effect on the patient.

Focusing on nutrition also gives patents something to focus on while treatment is underway. Too often, patients feel overwhelmed and start to believe that their fate is wholly in the hands of their doctors. By focusing on aspects of the battle that they can control, patients can direct their attention towards areas they can influence. By educating themselves about nutrition and honing their diet as well as possible, patients can feel that they are working in concert with their doctors.

Whether using nutrition to fight mesothelioma cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer or any other form of cancer, patients have a strong influence on their eventual results. By learning how to best balance their nutritional needs and making it a part of their treatment protocol, patients can have a significant impact on their outcomes.

Coffee Man (sigh) My Hero

Coffee for Love

Coffee for Love (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is dedicated to my husband who is a hero in many ways.

I had never really learned how to make coffee.  Until about 2 BS (Before Starbucks*),  I didn’t even like the stuff and never drank it.  But it was about 2 BS when I went away to college and took to drinking a little coffee in the college cafeteria.  My appreciation for coffee grew during those college years (enhanced by caffeine-laden stay-awake remedies) until I graduated and was no longer eating in anyone’s cafeteria.

Back at my parents’ house, my mother, who was always on top of the latest food inventions, was convinced that freeze-dried instant coffee was the way to go.  I didn’t like that at all so I didn’t drink it.  I relied on the local diner.

As a young adult on my own, there were no drive-thru coffee places whatsoever except in the land of Seattle where we heard exclusive brands of coffee could be had in stores built just for that product.  This was in the newspapers.  Where I lived, one went to the corner deli or lunch counter and ordered a cup of coffee.  I drank it, but I still didn’t own a coffee pot.

Fast forward a decade or so and there I am, a mother and a wife and I still don’t know how to make coffee.  In fact, there were several years in there when I didn’t indulge in caffeine of any sort because I was nearly always pregnant and/or nursing a baby.  And there were many years when the only caffeinated drink I would take was a little green tea.

Eventually the hankerin’ for some coffee returned and it was off to Seven-Eleven for the best coffee around.  $.79 for a huge cup!

One time I got my own electric coffee pot.  I gave it a good effort—trying to make coffee as good as Seven-Eleven’s.  It wasn’t.  It tasted like coffee that could have been this:

Liquid Mud

I tried to make good coffee.  Sort of.  I tried other people’s electric coffee maker coffee too and didn’t like theirs either.  What I really enjoyed was going out or having someone go out to Seven-Eleven and buy it ready made.  I did this for about twenty years having sold my electric coffee maker in a yard sale.

I’m not sure when I came across my first retail designer coffee outlet, but it was probably around 20 AS (After Starbucks) when I started shopping for hot coffee somewhere besides at a gas station.  Starbucks had oozed out from the land of Seattle and had arrived in my neighborhood!

I got into it.  And even though it sounded absolutely CRAZY to think of making coffee and then “watering it down” to make something called an Americano, I got talked into trying it and loved it.  More and more of it.  With extra shots.  I was so hooked and it was costing me a fortune and making me feel like an addict.

Until finally I decided enough was enough.  I was determined to find a coffee pot that even I could make good coffee with.  I deliberated for a couple of years about this–all the while still ordering at good ol’ Starbucks and pooh poohing my old haunt, Seven-Eleven.

Mind you, I had by that time done a LOT of cooking and knew how to make all kinds of healthy foods, teas, medicinal remedies and drinks—but still not too sure how to make coffee.  So I went to my favorite gourmet cooking supply store, Williams & Sonoma.  They had so many coffee makers!  I didn’t even waste time looking at most of them because I intuitively concluded that the best kind of coffee pot for me was a French Press type.  This is the kind where you put the ground coffee in the bottom and pour very hot (but not boiling) water over it and steep it after which you press down on a plunger that sends all the grounds to the bottom and all the coffee is above the plunger and ready to pour.

There were beautiful French Press Coffee Makers on display all filled with whole coffee beans.  Hmmm I thought.  A young man helped me and showed me the different styles and I chose an excellent mid-priced model and asked him how to make coffee with it.

“Simple,” he said, “You put the whole beans in the bottom and pour the water on top and you have to let it sit for a while and stir it a lot so it will make the coffee, then you press down the plunger and it’s ready to drink.”

“Whole beans?” I asked.

Afrikaans: Geroosterde pitte van die koffiepla...

Roasted coffee beans  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I purchased the pot and took it home.  The directions didn’t really say anything about the coffee beans.  “Nah!”  I thought, “That can’t be right.  That doesn’t make sense.”  I was pretty sure you didn’t use whole beans but after all, this is Williams & Sonoma and they ought to know.  I called my youngest son and he set me straight.

So, the upshot of this saga is that the French Press Coffee Maker turned out to be a wonderful way to make delicious, fresh, non-bitter, heavenly-smelling coffee in minutes.  I save so much money and time!  And I can have coffee whenever I want, though I am no longer a coffee addict and don’t overindulge in caffeine anymore.

But about once a week or so, I get a visit from an All-American Super Hero who brings me a ready-made serving of my favorite Americano after he has driven not to Starbucks but to a local coffee specialty store that has the best.  And I always say,

“Coffee Man, (sigh) My Hero!”

(*The first Starbucks opened in 1971)

It All Started When the Pot Called the Kettle Black

Let’s talk dishes, shall we?  By that I mean dirty dishes.  As much as I love to cook, I have an equal and opposite dislike for washing dishes.  I don’t think my husband likes washing dishes either, but since his cooking repretoir seems to be limited to making mac and cheese from a box and putting together a liverwurst sandwich, he valiantly concedes to washing and/or drying the dishes in exchange for one of my good meals.  Fair enough!

Yes, we do have a dishwasher but we rarely remember to use it because when it’s just the two of us it takes days to fill the thing and by that time the bits of food and food juices are totally “set” and the dishes don’t get completely clean.  Unless they are pre-washed in which case—what’s the point?

However when it comes to the pots and pans, that is another story altogether.  

I love my pots and pans.  It’s true!  I have some of the most well-seasoned cast iron frying pans you can imagine.  Had them for thirty-five years.  My pressure cooker that I use to make brown rice has been with me for about that long too and it is fantastic!  And I’ve got some of the best stainless steel, copper-core pots and pans made.  In fact, one of my pots is an All-Clad Copper Core 1 1/2 quart pot that I got for Christmas a few years ago (Thank you Danny!) and I use it sometimes more than once a day.  It is a perfect cooking pot and I don’t ever put it away.  I keep it out on the stove ready to go.

And my knives!  I have some of the best!  I gained an appreciation of good food-preparation knives early on when I studied macrobiotic cooking with an accent on Japanese style.  My teachers had excellent knives that I was impressed with.  I’d never used such big and extremely sharp knives before.  I not only learned how to use them to cut the finest, most aesthetic matchstick, sliced or flower-like veggies, I learned how to sharpen them and keep them in shape.  In fact, I don’t let other people sharpen my good knives—I do it myself so I can ensure they are not weakened or chipped by another person’s pressure or angles.  Or, I sometimes send them to the manufacturer to sharpen.

I take pride in the care of my cookware and actually don’t mind washing these so much .  I wash my knives and immediately dry them and store them most of the time.  I am willing to tackle stuck or burned food (yes, it happens sometimes) on the bottom of a pan. Just last night I started popping some popcorn and turned away from it just long enough for about half of it to burn and stick to the pot.  It was a stinky and ugly sight!  But this morning it is all back to beautiful.  There is something very satisfying in restoring a well-loved item back to its clean and proper condition—at least in my experience.

I have come to believe that the quality of your cookware is fairly important just like the quality of your food is important.  For someone who dislikes washing dishes, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just get some good non-stick coating cookware and be done with it.  Nope.  Don’t really like that stuff.  I know the technology of non-stick has changed over the last couple of decades, but I personally don’t like the idea of a chemical coating on the inside of my cookware. That is because non-stick coatings contain highly poisonous chemical substances and can release very harmful gases and particles when heated during cooking.

Today in a typical store, you will see many, many non-stick brands of cookware and the marketing and advertising of these will have you think that you are living in the Dark Ages if you don’t use them.  While I’m sure they are convenient in the short run, I am absolutely positive that in the long run they are detrimental to the health of you and your family.  And honestly, if you’ve got good-quality cookware and the right tools to clean them, you will not have any trouble at all caring for your pots and pans.

I also don’t use aluminum pots and pans.  Aluminum is not something that should go in your body and you have the same problem with aluminum in that it can leech into your food.  Aluminum is a soft metal that can scratch and dent easily.  Annodized aluminum is harder, darker and less porous but can still scratch and dent if you’re not careful.  Many brands of cookware use aluminum as an inner layer to take advantage of its light weight and ability to heat up fast.  I would say this is fine as long as the aluminum is on the inside, and not on the cooking surface.

Even stainless steel—depending on the quality—will have a mix of metals in it so you should be aware of the composition of any cookware you’re buying.  Scratched and dented  stainless steel pots can also leech unwanted metals into your food.  Many people feel enamel-coated cookware is a good and healthy choice and I can agree with that.  But you still have to care for it so it is not scratched.

So no matter what you are using, it all comes down to how you care for it.  I say, get the best quality you can, avoid chemical non-stick coatings, and avoid aluminum.  Get yourself some excellent Japanese-style cooking knives—they will make your food sing!  Give your knives and cookware some love and TLC.  And if the pot starts calling the kettle “black,” send them both to the sink to be washed clean!

What type of cookware do you like best?

Shop Your Local Farmer’s Markets

The growing season is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and soon we will be able to get freshly picked, locally grown foods!

Copley Square Farmer's Market

Copley Square Farmer’s Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best things you can do to improve the nutritional value and taste of your cooking is to venture over to your local farmer’s market or roadside stand and buy fresh, locally-grown produce.  Your local natural food store may even feature local food growers and producers.  Mine does and they usually have special weekend events where you can meet and talk with these local growers and ranchers.

I would much rather make the acquaintance of the people who are actually growing and raising my food than suffer a distant, from-my-wallet-to-your-cashier relationship with a huge mega-supermarket conglomerate food chain.  I am much more interested in supporting a local grower and seeing that my dollars go into his/her hands rather than having my food dollar pay for transportation, packaging, marketing and warehousing my food—all of which contributes to reducing the taste, freshness, safety and nutritional value of that food.

There has been quite an increase in farmer’s markets over the past decade or so.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, operating farmer’s markets have increased by 17% between 1994 and 2011.  One resource I found quoted Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the USDA, saying, “There’s a yearning for the 99 percent of Americans who are no longer connected to the farm to reconnect.”  Check here for the entire article which includes tips for locating truly organic food at these markets.  http://www.mnn.com/money/green-workplace/stories/farmers-markets-spur-job-growth-new-report-finds

That is good news and it reflects a demand for fresh, locally-grown food.  In a economically stressed environment it is refreshing to see this food marketing niche showing such healthy growth.  (Pun intended!)

For both experienced and budding cooks, preparing fresh, locally-grown foods has the big advantage of creating great taste without much effort.  We’ve all probably had the experience of picking or buying fresh-picked corn on the cob at the height of its season in the summertime and taking it home and cooking it same day.  Can’t get any sweeter!  And we’ve all probably had the experience of buying same corn and storing it for a few days in the refrigerator and then tasting the disappointing starchy corn that results from letting it sit.  No comparison.  Fresh-picked corn wins!

The same is true for all vegetables and other food products.  When you buy it fresh and prepare it right away you have superior taste as well as superior nutritional value.  That alone makes it easier to create incredibly delicious food without breaking a sweat.  And I’m all about making my cooking life cooler and easier in the summertime!

Do you frequent a farmer’s market?  I’d love to hear what you find there and how you like it.