Baby Steps

As I surf the food blogs on the web, I often feel inadequate about my healthy food journey.

I see women who grow and can all the food their families eat. They make absolutely everything from scratch. They never use (gasp) sugar. They don't have any plastic in their homes. And, to boot, they don't spend any money on groceries.

It's overwhelming to read how perfectly healthy they eat. 

(Photo by: OakleyOriginals)

When I feel this way, I'm reminded that some readers of this blog may feel the same way about the food in my house. Please don't. I'm a real person in a modest kitchen who spends a lot of money on food each month!

The way I eat and cook now is a result of years of work and training. I didn't one day wake up and say "I'm going to eat all organic, have a garden, cook everything from scratch, and give up gluten."

Instead, I woke up one day, after my daughter was sick all the time, recognizing that I HAD to make changes in my kitchen to keep her alive. So, step-by-step my kitchen transformed into what it is today: it's stocked with healthy food options that are usually homemade from a collection of kitchen appliances that make my food preparation a little easier. 

And, just-so-you-know, it's not always a glorious place with gourmet food. Sometimes, we eat scrambled eggs with left-over veggies for dinner. Or sometimes, we eat a bowl of granola. On really late nights, we might just eat a bowl of popcorn. And, usually, you'll find the sink or the counter littered with dirty dishes waiting for the dishwasher.

So, wherever you are on your food journey, please remember that every baby-step you take towards healthier eating is awesome! Don't compare where you are in your food journey to an internet blogger; instead, compare your journey to where you were in the past. You're doing great!

Food Prep Safety Tips

Do you ever wonder if you need to wash the pre-washed bag of greens you bought at the grocery store? Or, do you wonder how to best wash your produce?

(Photo by: twistedstringknits)

An article by presents experts' opinions about when to wash what. If you'd like, click here to go read the full article (it's short!).

For those who want the executive summary, here it is:
1. Don't wash meat before cooking or marinating it because you splash and spread the bacteria on it all over your kitchen.
2. Washing produce gets rid of 99% of pathogens, but cooking produce removes 99.9999% of it.
3. The best way to wash produce is to vigorously rinse it under water; using soap or cleaning solutions presents other risks.
4. Dirt and bacteria are still on organic and homegrown produce so still wash it.
5. Produce in a bag labeled 'pre-washed' means it doesn't need to be washed; if you do, you expose it to pathogens.

Now, I know that I can eat the lettuce straight out of the bag!!!!

Defining Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

I don't talk about food allergies and intolerances very much on my blog, but allergies are probably the single most influential factor in my day-to-day life. I will try to spend more time blogging about them to help spread the word about what food allergies are, what intolerances are, and how to cook with them.

There is some basic vocabulary about food allergies that I thought might be helpful to learn.

1. Food Allergy: 
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, a food allergy happens when the immune system over-reacts to the protein in a certain food. The reactions can include:
- a rash, or red, itchy skin (hives/eczema)
- stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing, or itchy and teary eyes
- vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea
- angloedema or swelling
- hoarseness, throat tightness, or a lump in the throat
- wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing
- anaphylaxis

2. Food Intolerance:
There's a lot of conflicting information out there about intolerances. Here's the general consensus, though: if a reaction to the food involves the immune system, then it's an allergy. If a reaction to a food does not involve the immune system, then it's an intolerance. The Australian government's Better Health Channel provides a thorough list of food intolerance symptoms, which include:
- nervousness, tremor
- sweating
- palpitations
- rapid breathing
- headache, migraine
- diarrhea 
- burning sensations on the skin
- tightness across the face and chest
- breathing problems (asthma-like symptoms)
- allergy-like reactions

The best example is a milk allergy verses lactose intolerance:
- a milk allergy is when the immune system attacks the milk protein whereas lactose intolerance is when the person's body doesn't have the enzyme to process the lactose in milk. 
- The symptoms are probably similar (unless the allergy causes anaphylaxis) but the cause is completely different. 

How are organic seedless grapes GMO-free?

While I was trying to get out of a corn maze the other day, my friend and I were discussing GMO crops. Her question was: How are organic seedless grapes not GMOs?

(Photo by: tribp)

Well, it's a matter of growing techniques verses laboratory techniques.

Seedless grapes have been developed by selective breeding, grafting, and specific cutting methods within the grape family. 

Sometimes, it's assumed that because the original food product is altered (after all, grapes should have seeds so this is altering them) the new food product must be a GMO product. But, that's not the case.

A food is genetically modified when a gene from a different species is introduced into the food in question. For example, if a grape had a gene from a lime to make it seedless, then it would be genetically modified.

The best example I can think of is dog breeding. Dogs have been bred over the centuries to create all sorts of breeds of dogs, but they've only been bred with dogs. Therefore, the dogs are not genetically modified, but they are definitely bred. (Please don't ask about wolf dogs because that requires a heck of a lot more theory and history!)

Organic seedless grapes are the same: they have been bred with other grapes of the years to create a seedless grape but not with any other variety of food/plant so they are not GMO.

Make sense?

Outside Magazine's Unschooling Article

Outside magazine's objective is to present coverage on "sports, people, places, adventures, discoveries, environmental issues, health and fitness, gear and apparel, trends, and events that define the active lifestyle."

So you can imagine my surprise when the cover of the magazine teased: "Special Report: Take Your Kids Out of Schools. Why Adventure is the Future of Education."

What???!!! A magazine that has nothing to do with education has a feature article about, not only education, but homeschooling! 

(A habitat made by my daughter & her cousins. A frog, lizard, huge ant, & beetle are all living together in that jar!)

The article presented a reasonably researched, fair account of what is popularly known as Unschooling. Basically, the family works as a team to do the necessary tasks required at their home, encourages their boys to learn through exploring in the woods, through a homeschool group, and through general living while monitoring their boys' reading and math abilities. 

I recommend that you hop over to Outside's website to read the article. It's a very nice representation of why some families choose to homeschool and presents a positive message about the kids who are homeschooled.

Is butter temperature important when baking?

Yes!!! It is very important!

Today, my husband started to make the oh-so-popular breakfast cookies, but he realized part-way into the process that we were out of milk, oat flour, and chocolate chips. So, obviously, he quit making them and waited for me to get home from errand running.

I took over the cookie making later in the day. And, I was perplexed as to why his batter was so different from my usual batter. While scooping out the cookies, I got to thinking that his cookies ALWAYS turned out differently than mine: his are more misshapen and flatter than mine (they still taste great, though).

So, I hopped on the Internet to inquire if it could be our butter temperatures making the batter different. And, it is!! He almost melts his butter, and I use softened butter.

Mel's Kitchen Cafe did a hugely scientific study (meaning she baked a lot of cookies and had to taste them!) comparing softened, too soft, and melted butter in cookie baking.

If you don't want to read her post (which I think you should because she has pictures of her results!), let me summarize:

Perfectly softened butter produces superior texture and shape over too-soft and melted butter.

She has pictures and everything so go check it out!