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Kitchen Staples: Things I’d Never Be Without for Cooking and Food Preparation

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I’d like to invite you to come into my kitchen for a moment to share some of my staples I’d never be without. These are the foods, products, and appliances/tools we use every day to prepare food and to maintain our health.

Even though everyone has their own set of preferences about what they use in their kitchen, some of these things are universal and often, they can change over time. Here I’ll discuss why these foods are important to me in keeping my family healthy.

The following items we use to cook or prepare raw foods such as main meals and also side dishes or condiments such as home-made salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and for baking:

Coconut oil - I’ve bought various brands over the years including NutivaJungle Products Beyond Organic, and Tropical Traditions. I’ve liked all the brands pretty well, but I think Beyond Organic is my favorite so far. Right now I’m using a northwest regional brand called Aunt Patty’s Extra Virgin Coconut Oil from Eugene, Oregon. We love it, but my son says he prefers the Beyond Organic, which is an especially nice coconut oil. Aunt Patty’s is currently cheaper than Beyond Organic. Coconut oil has many nutrients including some saturated fat, lauric acid, and capric acid which support immune and digestive health, and are also anti-microbial and anti-fungal.

Olive Oil - Depending, we have used various brands. Currently we are using Napa Valley Naturals extra virgin olive oil brand. Our local health foods store carries it and the taste is delicious. This past year we bought a gallon of Chaffin Family Orchards Olive Oil, which we I had been wanting to try for some years, and it’s so tasty! It is fruity and light, and I can use it for making mayonnaise without that strong olive oil flavor dominating the recipe.

Apple cider vinegar - we use Bragg’s organic raw apple cider vinegar. It’s a great all-purpose apple cider vinegar, and it’s the only raw vinegar I have been able to find in our health food store. I’d like to start buying my other vinegars raw, but I’m still looking. I use this for soaking my bones for stock, soaking beans and other foods (occasionally if I make a soaked grain recipe, and if I’m not using whey or lacto-dairy), in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, and many other recipes.

Red wine vinegar - we use Eden Organic and Napa Valley Naturals organic red wine vinegars. The Eden is especially great because it’s a larger size and is always very cheap – about $2.65 per bottle. I use this in marinades and salad dressings, and many other foods.

Cod liver oil - we buy the Blue Ice Royal fermented CLO from Green Pastures. This along with our diet and the fact that we received a great deal of sun exposure last summer and fall before the extreme cold set in, I believe, has really helped to keep all three of us from getting sick this winter (knock on wood). This is the only way I can get my son and husband to take CLO (capsule form). I admit, I have a hard time swallowing the cream form myself.

Sea salt - I buy our sea salt from the health food store in bulk Redmond Real Salt, or I buy various brands depending what’s on sale: we’ve used Celtic Sea SaltHimalayan Pink Salt, or Real Food Pink salt. These are all good quality and include different colors in the salts (a good indication of a variety of minerals), and taste good.

Unflavored gelatin - this is a very healthful and versatile food, and can be used in so many meals and preparations – soups, broths, stews, smoothies, desserts, the uses are simply endless. I buy either Bernard Jensen’s or Great Lakes brands.

Beef tallow - I bought two 14 ounce tubs of it from U.S. Wellness Meats before the holidays last year so I could make pie crust with it. I have frozen it, and use it as needed for a variety of other cooking such as meats and vegetables. I also get beef fat from local farmers regularly and use it in a lot of the cooking we do – soups, stews, refried beans, casseroles, one-pot meals like chili or other meat/vegetable combos.

Lard - we use lard from locally-raised, pastured pork for so many things we eat. I used it to braise meats, casseroles, cook vegetables, in soups, stews, desserts, and many other meals. It is one of our most used staples in the kitchen. Here is my post about the forgotten craft of rendering lard, health benefits, and how to render/where to find pork fat for rendering.

Liver – yes, liver. Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, and it should be from pastured sources whether it is beef, chicken, pork, duck or other. Liver can be cooked with onions or concealed in many different meals such as chili, hamburgers, meatloaf, casseroles, soups.  Here are some good suggestions for including this nourishing food which contains Vitamins A, D, E, B12 and B6, zinc, and iron into your meals from Cooking Traditional Foods.

Organic vegetables and fruits - we buy these in season and depending on which farmers are selling and when, locally. In the farmer’s market season, I buy most of my produce from this source and otherwise from my local health food store.

Sprouted nuts - I buy a sprouted, raw nut mix from my health food store. These nuts are not pasteurized or irradiated. It’s important to check with the merchant to find out whether the nuts you are buying are subjected to these processes and to avoid them if they are. I haven’t started soaking or spouting my own nuts yet, that’s next on my list.

Natural sweeteners - although I typically don’t do a lot of baking, this past winter season I did bake much more than usual. I have Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic Sucanat and Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, and Body Ecology’s Lakanto. Sucanat and coconut palm sugar are both great natural sweeteners, and Lakanto is a zero glycemic index, naturally fermented sweetener made from the luo han fruit grown in China. It does NOT feed candida! This is especially important to me because I have had a candida problem for some years – and I know most people have a candida overgrowth, but I’ve really been trying to be conscientious about keeping mine under control because it can keep me awake at night if I am not careful.

Maple syrup - I buy the real, Grade B variety (because it is less refined and contains trace minerals) of whatever is on sale. Currently, we are using Spring Tree and sometimes we buy Coombs Family Farms as well.

Butter - we use Kerrygold. Kerrygold is from grass-fed cows, but they are pasteurized. Kerrygold is not organic, but their farming practices are very clean. I was buying raw, organic butter from grass-fed cows from a fantastic farm in Canaan, Vermont - Baum Farm. The owner, Rob, is really friendly and accommodating. I highly recommend their butter if you can get it.  Read here about the amazing difference between real butter and fake fats such as margarine.

Mayonnaise I have finally had success in making my own mayo! This year I won a stick blender in an online giveaway and used Chaffin Family Orchard’s olive oil, and it turned out great. I have splurged in the past and bought a big bottle of Wilderness Family Naturals to avoid the nasty GMOs and other toxic ingredients in most commercial mayonnaise.

Last year, I bought a small bottle to try and liked it a lot. My husband is not crazy about it, but my son likes it. To save money, however, I’m making it a priority to make mayonnaise again as well as other lacto-fermented foods.

Fermented foods - we regularly eat home-made yogurt, kefir, sour cream, and cultured vegetables. These home-made cultured foods contain much more probiotic (friendly bacteria) than anything you would buy in the store. Read about the amazing benefits of fermented and cultured foods, and how they support digestive, immune, and overall health and well-being. Don’t have time to make these at home? Zukay and Bubbies are both good brands that use real fermenting techniques with sea salt and live active cultures to produce a truly healthy fermented food.

Kombucha – we have started brewing our own, and although we still buy store-bought kombucha, our plan is to step up our efforts to make enough kombucha so that we don’t have to buy much of it in the future.  Even if we don’t get in other fermented foods, we do have kombucha daily. I have had a hard time getting my son to enjoy fermented foods, but he loves kombucha and also lacto-fermented salsa. He will eat home-made yogurt, but not often. It is for this reason that I’ve really had to make certain we have this beverage on hand ALWAYS.

The following are some of our other basic foods we usually have around:

Sourdough or sprouted grain breads - I am finally off GAPS, so I can eat fermented or soaked grains occasionally. My husband and son still eat them more than I do. We normally try not to eat grains except once a week or so. When we do, we buy and BigWood locally-made, organic long-fermented sourdough bread. I haven’t yet started baking my own breads, but my goal is to do this during the new year. Silver Hills breads are mostly organic and are all sprouted. Most of their breads do not contain soy, and their ingredients are very basic and varied – as in, they do offer a nice variety of breads with different grains. Sometimes we use Ezekiel sprouted flour tortillas, but we don’t use them more than a few times a year due to their soy content. I’ve also heard that Ezekiel is now using wheat gluten in their products, and that it is not labeled. Grains do contribute greatly to inflammation, candida or yeast overgrowth in the body, weight problems, auto-immune disorders, and other health issues. Read why grains and wheat in particular might not be the best choice for your health.

Sprouted flour - we use To Your Health sprouted flour. I keep it in my freezer and use it as I need for baking, pancakes, and various other recipes.

Germinated brown rice - we use DHC germinated brown rice. According to Elements4Health, “Pre-germinated rice (PR) is an emerging health food whereby brown rice is soaked in warm water prior to cooking; the warm bath induces germination, or sprouting, which stimulates rice enzymes to produce more nutrients. One such nutrient is the important brain chemical GABA (PR is thus often referred to as “GABA rice”), and animal studies have shown that a PR-rich diet can improve cognitive function. Other studies have found that PR can also act as an anti-diabetic.” Another great brand we use is Indian, organic, basmati rice is from Heavenly Farms. This rice comes out perfect every time and is easy-to-digest.

Ghee - ghee is clarified butter, which has had all the milk solids removed during the heating process, and thus is easier to digest than other dairy foods. Even those with true lactose intolerance or dairy issue can consume ghee without the same problems as other dairy foods may cause. There are many, many uses for ghee. You can use it just like butter. We use it for cooking meats, fish, poultry, eggs, popcorn, vegetables, in soups and stews, and on bread. We use Pure Indian FoodsPurity Farms, and Ancient Organics - all from grassfed cows and certified organic.

Raw cheese - some years ago we used to buy a lot of Organic Valley cheeses.  Over a year ago I discovered that Organic Valley uses practices I don’t like such as ultra-high temperature pasteurization on their products, have made a requirement that none of their farmers can sell raw milk to their customers, and apparently the cheeses they sell with the “raw” label are not actually raw.  I have read that they are heated up to at least 160 degrees fahrenheit. That’s not RAW!  They have also required that their farmers are not allowed to sell raw milk to any of their own customers, and I don’t want to support a company that places such a low value on real food and being honest.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really any raw cheese locally here in Boise where I live. I have considered making it, but I don’t usually have enough raw milk leftover to make cheese as it usually all gets drank around here. Last year I bought some raw cheeses from U.S. Wellness Meats to try them.

I would often also point out that if you bought two of these packages, equaling one pound of cheese, it was comparable in price and sometimes lower than most 1 pound packages of Tillamook cheese, which is good quality and supposedly from grass-fed cows, but is not raw. We also occasionally buy cheese from Ballard Farms in Gooding, Idaho. It’s a local cheese from cows that are on pasture at least some of the time, and they don’t use any hormones in their milk. However, their cheese is more expensive so I try to buy it less often.

Grass-fed beef and steak - We buy all locally-raised, 100 percent grass-fed beef. There are various farmers from which I buy - Wilsey Ranch in Marsing, ID, Malheur River Meats in Vale, OR, and Matthew’s All Natural Meats in Weiser, ID. For more information about the difference between humanely raised, grass-fed meats, read The Grassfed Meat Challenge: Busting Myths About Meat.

Raw milk - also from a small, private local family farm in Nampa, ID. I make weekly batches of yogurt and kefir with our milk. The results were very satisfactory! Read more about why raw milk has superior health benefits to store-bought and pasteurized.

Chickens and eggs from pasture-raised environments - we have been buying chickens from Matthew’s All Natural Meats in Weiser, ID and eggs from Turkey Ridge Farms from Payette, Idaho. These chickens and eggs are really fantastic. The chickens are a bit expensive, but as I reported in my post about real food not necessarily being more expensive, I can get 3 to 4 meals out of one chicken. Most of the name-brand eggs in our health food store are from factory “organic” and factory “free-range” sources, which I won’t buy. And they cost anywhere from $4 – 5 per dozen. Read about why I’ll take my local, bright yellow-yolked pasture-raised ones, for $4.00 a dozen, thank you very much!

Bones from animals and birds on pasture - I buy beef bones, ox-tails, marrow bones, and osso buco (Italian for “‘bone with a hole”) from my local farmers. I recently bought a large batch of them and put them in my freezer. Since I’m on GAPS, I eat bone broth every day. Bones are an incredibly economic way to get a lot of nutrition for very little.

I also make chicken stock once a week with the carcass from a whole chicken which I prepare for our family. After I cook the chicken, I immediately place the carcass into my stockpot on the stove to start broth. I always allow my bones to soak for an hour or so (longer if frozen) in filtered water and a couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar to help draw out more of the minerals from the bones. Then I put the heat up to boil and turn down to simmer. I’ve also started making stock with chicken feet, and the stock is super delicious and wonderful. It’s full of collagen which strengthens our bones and supports our skin tone and quality. It’s also noted for being very effective at diminishing cellulite!

I cook beef bones for at least three days, sometimes longer. Chicken bones I will cook for about 24 hours and then if I haven’t used all the broth, I put it in the refrigerator or freezer. Here’s an informative post about the benefits of bone broth. The gelatin effect you will notice after you have refrigerated your stock – especially after making it with chicken feet – is very effective for healing gut issues and resolving auto-immune responses such as allergies caused by conditions like leaky gut.

Stock is an incredibly versatile and nutritious food, and we use it for many things – sauces, marinades, soups, stews, casseroles, chili, stroganoff, and I often add it to leftover meats and vegetables to make them moist and to give some warmth for lunch the next day. My son frequently gets this for lunch sent to school in a thermos.

I have tried making fish stock twice, once with a grouper head and once with a snapper head. I found that both were just as fishy as the other and were not palatable to me for sipping straight. However, these stocks are fantastic for using in fisherman’s stews, clam chowder, or other seafood stews/soups.

Wild-caught tuna and salmon - I have bought Vital Choice canned sustainable tuna once to try it. It’s the best canned tuna I’ve ever eaten! As our financial situation has still remained tight, I won’t be buying more tuna for the time being. But I do purchase wild Alaskan salmon from various butcher counters in stores locally.

Of course now with all the events surrounding the approval of GE salmon, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the future of salmon will be safe.

My son loves tuna fish, so I really want to give him the best quality available. We also love salmon, but this time of year there isn’t much available that is fresh or wild caught in our area…but we recently scored some at a great price from the health food store and had it for dinner last week. Then we made fantastic salmon omelets for breakfast the following day. I do buy Wild Planet tuna from the health food store from time-to-time.  Their fish is sustainably-caught, has low levels of mercury and high Omega 3 content.

The following are kitchen appliances and tools I’d never be without:

Food dehydrator - this is one of my first purchases that has enabled me to graduate to the next step of preparing traditional foods. We bought ours in December last year from Cultures for Health. It’s an Excalibur and I am very pleased with it. So far we have made granola and dried fruit. I am planning to make jerky soon, and some other foods I’ve been learning about in the great recipe book I received with my appliance.

Stainless pots and pans - we have a really nice set of All-Clad stainless pans and pots we bought well over 12 years ago, and they are in great shape.

Cast iron - we have a cast iron pan, but unfortunately we let it sit out with food on it one too many times, and now the enamel has been eaten away. We still use it, but will have to wait to purchase a better one.

Crockpot - our crockpot just stopped working, but we had a Rival, and I recently found out it contains lead in it, so I’m either going to buy something else next time or keep looking until I find a lead-free brand. For broth and slow-cooked meals, I’ll continue using my stainless stock pot.

Pyrex, glass, and ceramic baking dishes - I have some of the original Pyrex baking dishes and mixing bowls from my mother (pre-1960) that I treasure and use often, plus a few ceramic baking dishes as well. I know the newer Pyrex aren’t supposed to be as good quality, so I’m grateful to have the ones I do. The glass probably isn’t as safe, but they will have to wait to be replaced until sometime in the future when funds allow.

Mixer - I own a Kitchen Aid hand mixer which I normally only use for desserts which I make infrequently.

Cusinart Food Processor - we’ve had ours for years and it’s great for so many uses, including chopping up nuts and vegetables for culturing, slicing potatoes for breakfast and casseroles, stews, etc.

Cuisnart Stick Blender - I won this stick blender on a giveaway this past spring. I was so excited! It’s been super handy for making mayonnaise. Home-made recipe coming soon!

Omega Big Mouth Juicer I was excited to bring this addition to our kitchen, and we use it for juicing. It’s very powerful, and is easy to assemble and clean up.

Goals for the future:

I’m actually very pleased with my progress of learning about and using traditional foods in my kitchen. But, there’s still some thing I want to do. I will continue to look for bacon, hot dogs, and sausage without nitrates and other chemicals. Those have been hard to find – as well as local cheeses that are raw and without chemicals/hormones/antibiotics. Although raw is not an absolute necessity, the other requirements are and I’m going to continue to search for them. I want to start cooking with organ meats, that’s not something I’ve yet tried. I need to just do it!

My wish list would include: kitchen tools such as a grain grinder, a nice mixer (I like Bosch and Kitchen Aid), and I’d love to buy some Le Crueset cast iron as well as more ceramic or stoneware.

What are your kitchen staples? What items can’t you live without? Are there some you occasionally, but that you wouldn’t use any other alternative because you believe in the health value of what you choose over something else? What is your wish list for items you currently don’t have but wish you did? Please share!

This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival. 

Activism Green Living Healthy Living Toxin Alert!

Spring Cleaning and Wellness Tips in the Home

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The last vestiges of winter are still hanging on – and so are colds, flus, and other illnesses. Two weeks ago, there were record numbers of kids out sick at my son’s school. Of course, even though we all know children are not known for their sanitary or careful habits, I also know the food they are eating plays a big part in all this.

I’m disappointed to see a lot of processed, packaged foods in children’s lunches at our school. Over the course of the years, our lunch committee has made concerted efforts to try to educate parents about healthier, real, and homemade alternatives for lunch meals.  I’m certainly not criticizing, I’d just love to see parents more motivated to send nourishing foods with their kids every day, especially since it has such a profound effect on their ability to stay well. But, I know habits are hard to break, so we’ll just have to keep on gently pushing things in the right direction.

Aside from eating well, there are other easy and natural things you can do around your house to keep yourself and your family well. This guest post today from Barb Schuetz from Whole and Then Some demonstrates some easy, natural things you can do in your own home to prevent illness from spreading from person-to-person. I hope these tips are helpful and easy to implement in your busy life. Thanks Barb!
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Cleaning while ill is usually one of the last things on my mind, but I do try to make certain exceptions to help prevent the rest of my family catching my bug, or visa-versa. Honestly, it’s sometimes hard to remember because I haven’t really been sick for a few years. This year, however; has been downright ridiculous. I’ve been down and out with
one thing or another this whole season, I like to think that it’s a reboot to my immune system and I’ll have another few years sick free ahead of me.

These are also some good things to keep in mind when spring cleaning after a sickly winter. I want to quickly touch on one thing that bothers me: the use of chemical antibacterial petroleum products, and in excess. I do not condone this practice and I do not believe it to be a healthy one. That being said, there are other antibacterial type products one can use, while ill or in special situations and we’ll talk about those products.

Obviously, your best get-well buddy will be nutrition. Aside from real, whole, nutrient-dense foods, when you’re sick, a good-quality probiotic comes in handy and plays an important role in instances when you happen to be doing a lot of hand washing, and possibly using a lot of essential oils.

O.K., so get on with it you say. Here are some products, recipes and tips from my home to yours:

Sol-U-Guard is an amazing (and oh so wonderful smelling) cleaner made from thyme oil. I’ve gotten it from a friend that’s part of some sort of buying club but a Google shopping search turns up some leads. Here are some links :
Safety for Your Home
Melaleuca Products
RM Barry

BioKleen Bac-Out is one of my favorite not homemade products that I actually keep on hand year round. I do have dogs and it’s natural enzyme power is great for odors. It’s also great for freshening up upholstery, say, on a sick couch….. and I use it on pillows while sick- they take so long to wash and dry it just doesn’t make sense to do that umpteen times so in between changing pillow cases, I give the pillow a good spritz with Bac-Out.

Vinegar. I can’t say enough about vinegar but I’ll try to control myself. When I’m ill, I keep my toothbrush in a cup of white vinegar and then replace my toothbrush once I’m well. No sense trying to get better while putting the sickies right back in your mouth from the last time you brushed. A newly discovered vinegar love: citrus vinegar. We’ve been going through a lot of citrus this winter so the peels have been going into big jars and topped off with white vinegar and left for a couple of weeks. The results make for a fabulous wood cleaner but also a nice base for my homemade antibacterial spray and wipes. Recipes to follow.

Thieves oil is something new to me this year. It’s a revamped version of a combination of herbal oils used by thieves in the times of the bubonic plague to keep themselves plague-free. I’ve made my own to use because, well…let’s face it: frequent hand-washing gets tired and if you’re constantly blowing your nose, coughing into a tissue, etc., you can’t possibly be washing your hands as frequently as you’d need to for it to be effective. And if you did, I pity your hands. So here’s the version of an anti-bacterial product that I feel o.k. about using when I’m sick. Especially when I’m sick and visiting someone in a hospital or hanging out in a public place where a lot of sickies are very present. I feel like I should be clear though that if my immune system was in tip top function, I wouldn’t use any antibacterial, even when visiting such places:

To make my thieves oil :I added 10-15 drops of each cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils to a reused 2oz amber bottle and topped it off with grapeseed oil (you can use any carrier oil you like, even olive). I take this everywhere with me, even throughout the house.

Surface cleaning is important when you think of everything you touch; doorknobs, faucets, light switches, phone, remote controls, refrigerator handles, milk jug/jar and other food containers, tincture bottles, steering wheel, mouse and keyboard, etc.

To make my homemade disinfectant spray I filled a spray bottle half and half with citrus vinegar and water and added 10-20 drops each of the thieves oils. I give it a good shake before I spray because the oils will float to the surface. I don’t always wipe this away, sometimes I’ll just go through at the end of the day and spray knobs, handles (don’t forget the toilet flusher!), faucets and anything else that can just be sprayed. Remotes and phones can usually tolerate a light spritz on fine mist. Otherwise I’ll use a wipe, which are also great for when you’re away from home.

To make my wipes I poured some of my spray into a baggie, added just a drop of mild dish soap and mixed it up a bit. Then I added folded paper towels and sealed up the bag.

Air quality is important to me. I’ve never cared for literally sealing up a house in winter (which is just what happens in WI). I was so thrilled once we switched to wood heat exclusivley because it allows us to stay warm AND open a window if we’d like because we can achieve a high heat that lingers. On days that it’s not bitterly cold and windy and I have to woodstove cranked, I’ll crack a window or two for some fresh air exchange. I understand this isn’t as easy for everyone. Thankfully, some are able to get air purifiers but also having a bunch of houseplants is nice.

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Want more information?

My home medicine cabinet – what I use to remedy ailments

Embrace and perfect your home-keeping skills

Natural housecleaning carnival – Passionate Homemaking

Baby steps: going more natural, one cleaner at a time – Keeper of the Home

Food for thought: why is bleach bad for me?  – Kitchen Stewardship

How to clean legally (SCD) – Kat’s food blog

My home medicine cabinet – what I use to remedy ailments