Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hi, my name is Liz and I have an autoimmune disease.

There. I said it. I won't say that I've been denying it for the past 5 years, but I certainly have been pretending that it's not a big deal. But it is. It is a big deal. My doctor told me when I was diagnosed 5 years ago that once you are damaged, you're always damaged. I knew he was right, but it's taken me since then to really understand what those words meant. Always damaged.

Over the years my way of eating has changed, and continues to. I started out going for organics, not really understanding why people needed to replace their pizza with gf pizza. But then the realization that this is for life sets in, and you really need pizza. So I then went into eating various gf substitutions, most of which I made myself because they were all gross.

After seriously resisting being "Paleo", I've come to the conclusion that I just need to stop fighting. Sometimes I wish I was that person who can just eat whatever they want in sheer ignorant bliss. But then I stop and think, no, I'm not. I don't want to be that person, I am just seriously jealous of their seemingly rock solid guts. But I've been feeling like I got taken out with last week's garbage for 2 weeks now. And at some point, I had to realize that my body isn't what it was. I can't eat what I could before and not pay for weeks to come.

Always damaged.

It was chilly and rainy here in Raleigh today, so a nice beef stew sounded like a nice way to end the day. Well, I should say goat stew, since I didn't have any beef stew meat. So into the slow cooker it goes!

I put the following in the cooker:
one onion
one green pepper
2 beef soup bones (stock is healing! don't throw away the bones!)
1 lb of stew goat meat
a good bit of salt, pepper and garlic
a couple sprigs of dried thyme
covered with water

Yep, we're that complex around here. Even my son, the picky 7 year old, asked how to make the broth because it was that good.

Sometimes, it's the simple small things that not only taste good, but feel good. Today is that day I stop resisting. I just hope at some point, I can get those words out of my head. I don't particularly like thinking of myself as damaged.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Today has been a very reflective day for me.

On this day three years ago, someone who I didn't know lost her 4-year-old daughter to cancer. I had no idea this person existed or that about a year later I would meet her and we would work closely together and become good friends.

On this day three years ago, my sweet Jillian was 10 days old and in the NICU. We stood over her diligently, hoping that her little brain would kick into gear and the random periods during the day when she would stop breathing would end.

Life is so fragile. It is so strong and resilient, yet so fragile.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Seriously, this whole cooking thing sometimes is just overrated. Coming from me, a foodie, someone who really loves to cook and create... it's a little weird. But recently, I could really just care less what I eat.

But I have to pull through, onward and upward. My kids don't get that luxury, they demand food. Sure they always want a grilled cheese or pizza or some other 'kid-friendly' food that just sounds about as appetizing to me as a piece of cardboard, but of course they know better. So I'm searching around now for something that will inspire. Tomorrow my hubs is off doing guy things with a friend, so we are going to have chicken. My husband rarely eats chicken (it's a bit of a long story), but it's the one protein the kids will usually chow down on.

If I come up with something magical, I'll be sure to share. ;) Till then, suggestions are welcome. Or just well wishes. I'm good with either.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

why does it matter?

There's a lot of talk about GMO's these days. With each side equally as vocal as to why they are right, it's sometimes hard to know what to believe. So I decided to do some research of my own. I have to admit, the whole idea of GMO just sounds slimy, but I can't base something on my gut reaction alone.

I have done some light reading on GMOs in the past. As presented by proponents, it sounds great. I mean, genetically figuring out a way to preserve crops, pretty impressive. To have the potential to keep from losing so much sounds awesome to me, and I'm sure it sounds even better to the farmer whose livelihood depends on it. But at what cost do we splice fish genes in with a plant?

So, I went to the source of GMOs, or at least the most common known name when dealing with genetically engineered seeds: Monsanto. A brief glance of their website could easily convince someone that what they were doing was truly in the farmers benefit. Creating a crop that was resistant to various pests, weeds, etc., thereby reducing the amount of pesticides/herbicides needed, increasing the yields... Sounds good, less impact on the environment, less loss to the farmer. In fact, their motto, if you will, at the about page is: Monsanto Company: Committed to Sustainable Agriculture, Committed to Farmers. And by now, everyone knows the importance I place on sustainable agriculture.

But then I kept poking around on their site, and I looked into their products. Did you know they brand their seed traits? Uh-oh, here comes that slimy feeling again. But then it starts to get complicated... to prevent resistance to their frankenseeds, you have to also plant non-frankenseeds in certain ratios. And to be completely honest, my eyes started crossing at that point. I'm not a farmer and don't want to be. I kill things. But I have complete respect for the people who work hard to grow our food. What it came down to in the end of the ratios of GMO to non-GMO, essentially Monsanto had figured out a way to allow the farmer to plant more of their seeds. Interesting.

So I decided to leave Monsanto's page and surf the internet for GMOs. Most of what pops up is negative, though you still must be judicious in what you decide to believe. I have to say, though, this page caught my eye: The Human Genome Project. This particularly freaked me out: On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious disease such as hepatitis B. Thanks, but no thanks. Also on the list of cons from this page were the potential health impacts, specifically an increase in allergies and/or the ingestion of antibiotic resistance markers. Hmmmm, seems like food allergies are remarkably higher than when I was a kid. I can't think of a single kid I was friends with who had a food allergy. Think this could be a risk when you put animal traits in plant traits or vice versa? Or when you significantly beef up the protein (which is generally what people are allergic or intolerant to) in wheat, corn and soy? Then these foods become cheap fillers so if you are eating a standard American diet (SAD), your are virtually inundated with them.  Oh wait, aren't 2 of those in the top 8 allergens? And not to mention our vegan friends... wonder how they would feel about eating corn with animal genes? It's a bit unethical and at the very least unnatural. I wonder how nourishing food can truly be when it's not as it was intended. Two more cons raised on this page.

But what about the environment? Aren't these crops supposed to require less pesticides/herbicides? Yes. But according to a report published by The Organic Center in 2009, "GE crops have increased overall pesticide use by 318.4 million pounds over the first 13 years of commercial use, compared to the amount of pesticide likely to have been applied in the absence of HT and Bt seeds."  So much for needing less toxic treatments and trying to lessen the strain on the environment. The report also goes on to discuss the resistant weeds resulting from the increased levels of herbicides being used. Some of these weeds can grow big enough to damage farm equipment. But the larger issue is really the long-term effect this increased use of pesticide is going to have on our health. It doesn't simply rinse off of your vegetables. The run-off from these farms goes somewhere. Another report stated that chemicals from a corn farm were found in a nearby stream 6 months after harvest.

GMOs are banned in many foreign countries, and in my opinion, should be banned all together. Honestly, I could write many, many pages on why I think GMOs are going to do far more harm than good. I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself whether this is an issue of importance to you. But for me, I'll pass on the frankenfood.

For more info, check out these links:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

dinner rolls

A few weeks ago I got a call from someone requesting, among other things, dinner rolls.Or something that could be used to make ham biscuits, specifically. Now, my husband has been bugging me to make rolls for about 3 years now. But for some reason, the idea of making rolls was daunting. It kind of scared me, in fact. I thought no way! I can make bread and cupcakes and countless other items, but the skill level to produce a roll, I do not possess.

That was until that call a few weeks ago. I have a really hard time telling people I can't do something. It goes against every fiber of my being, in fact. I doubt myself on a daily basis, but to actually admit that I can't do something makes my chest hurt a little. So, I told her I was sure it could be done. I mean, other people are doing it, so surely I could, too. I told her I would need to experiment, but that it most definitely could be done.

So I had one day to work out this roll. ONE day to get it right! I didn't have any other days in which I would have the time to experiment, so there was a lot of pressure riding on this one day. Lesson learned: sometimes we all need a little kick in the pants to do what we think we can't.

Yesterday, I had just short of 8 dozen of these little rolls, and today if I had to guess how many were left I'd say, maybe 10. Success? I measure it by whether my kids will eat it. They did.

So I'm sharing the recipe with you today. Hope you and whomever you make it for enjoy it as much as we did! Please keep in mind I am sharing this with you as I would make them... writing recipes for others is not exactly my specialty. :)

Gluten Free Dinner Rolls

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups tapioca starch
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt

So, I do not proof my yeast. EVER. I haven't proofed yeast in at least a year. But if this step is important to you, then start by proofing your yeast. Heat the milk to between 100-110 degrees F, then mix with the yeast and sugar and let sit for about 5 minutes.

While the yeast is proofing, in a large mixing bowl combine the sorghum, tapioca, xanthan, salt and eggs. Mix in the yeast mixture and let this mix for about 4 or 5 minutes. I am a big fan of my stand mixer-- if you are using a stand mixer use the paddle attachment.

Here's the tricky part with gluten free bread; getting the right water level. Start with 2 tablespoons of warm water (whatever the hottest that comes out of your tap is fine) and watch the dough from there. When the water level is right, it should look something like this:
It sort of resembles a really thick cake batter. The dough shouldn't be sliding off of the paddle, but it might fall off in a glop or two. (sounds delicious! lol) If you feel like it needs more water, add 1 teaspoon at a time. When you get a consistency that looks similar to this, it's time to make the rolls!

The easiest way to do it is to use some sort of scoop: I used my little spring action cookie scoop, it's about a tablespoon in volume. First, line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Then scoop the dough into whatever size roll you want to make. At this point, you can wet your hands and even shape the dough if you want, ie more square, round, whatever. My batch made between 36-38 rolls.

After you have all the dough on the pan, cover them and let them rise. If I'm not using my oven, I will set it to slightly above warm and let them rise in the oven. If you don't want to do that, just make sure they are somewhere warm.

Let them rise for about 20 to 30 minutes, until they are close to double. Brush with a little melted butter, and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes, a little longer if you are making bigger rolls. Make sure to rotate your trays half way through the cooking process or you might end up with some that are burned on the bottom.  After you take them from the oven, brush with more butter, if desired. Seriously, is there ever too much butter?

But if all goes well, you should have something that resembles these.
And as every foodie knows, someone reading this will make substitutions. I would love to hear what you did differently and how it worked! So please feel free to leave comments.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A few thoughts

I suppose I've been fairly contemplative recently. I just turned 30, and I think any time you begin a new decade, it's easy to take time to reflect on your accomplishments; the things you wanted to accomplish, the things you didn't even know you wanted to accomplish, and the things you forgot about.

So I write this tonight sort of as a laying bare of my soul. As I look back on the past 10 years, I begin by looking at someone that is really only a slight resemblance of who I am today. But that person, going through those experiences, has shaped who I am today almost more than I can comprehend. It's amazing how much can change in just 1 year, and 10 years really almost seems like a lifetime to me.

In the past 10 years I have gone from abundance to poverty. Twice. I have lost my health and regained it. I saw the first glimpses of my beautiful daughter via ultrasound, only to have the doctor say in the next breath that something could be seriously wrong with her. I've come to personally realize the value of hard work and determination. But most importantly, I've come to realize how rich I am when I see my children, with their larger than life personalities;  when I spend a lazy weekend with my 84 year old grandmother;  when I laugh so hard I can't breathe with my mom; and when I remember that my husband is still absolutely my best friend.

Over the past few years, life has sure thrown me some curve balls. Sometimes I thought I was totally going to crack, and other times, it was just another day. Ten years ago I wanted to be a doctor, and  I was going through Duke to accomplish this. Today, the thought of that makes me laugh and cringe at the same time. Five years ago I just wanted to not be sick anymore. One year ago I was wondering if what I was doing was worth it.

As I keep reflecting, I realize that today I am very content with who I am and where we are heading. I have a great sense of accomplishment as I look around at my life. Ten years from now, who knows. Really, who even knows what the next year will bring! But I'm ready for it. I kinda like growing and changing ever so slightly. It's what keeps life interesting.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CSAs Part 2: Meat, Produce and More

So as promised, here is part 2. Beyond the world of produce CSAs, things get a little trickier. When you start looking into buying meats, seafood, and other local goods, it's sometimes hard to know where to begin.

I'm going to look at what I know to be some of the larger CSAs in the area and do some comparison shopping. Bonus for you if you're shopping around.

The first one I'll start with is Carolina Grown. They're a pretty familiar group, in fact, a few of my friends are members. They deliver right to your door, which I have to admit is mighty convenient. Price range is $25 to $50, with 3 different boxes sizes to choose from. They offer produce from a variety of NC farms, so you can customize your box, which is also a bonus. In addition to the produce, you can order meat, a variety of baked goods, seafood, and a couple other things. If you hate to go to the grocery store (ME!) this is close to a one-stop-shop. The downside for me is their meat selection. They have a nice selection, however, I am looking for quality, and one of the farms that they deal a LOT with is not exactly one I'd like to support. There are a lot of great offerings through Carolina Grown, however, I don't think it is important for them to only offer the cleanest and highest quality products available. They leave it up to you to separate, which is fine if you want to try to sift through all that. It should be noted, however, that the seafood they offer is top notch!

The second one is Papa Spuds. With this one, pricing is pretty similar, with the smallest box starting around $18 and ending with the higher priced $45 box. They also offer doorstep deliveryThey have a wider offering, including bananas and avocados. While I love both of these, it seems odd to be in a CSA box in NC, though they certainly list the sources for them. They source their products largely from the same people that Carolina Grown does, including their meats. So, I fall back into the same issue, at least as far as the meat goes. They also get their seafood from the same local company, which is superior to anything you will get at a grocery store.

And the last is Farm to Fork Meat. Most of you will quickly realize that is the CSA that I bake for and work with every week. But still, I wanted to compare this one to the two that are more widely known. Here the things I like about this CSA: everything is a la carte. The weekly required spending is $10, which is not hard to do. You don't spend a certain amount of money for a set number of points, which you then have to configure in some random way to make sure you spend them. You spend $10 or $100 dollars and get exactly what you want. Delivery is not doorstep, which is a bit inconvenient, though there are pickup locations in downtown Raleigh, north Raleigh and Cary. There is a delivery service for a small fee. However, what far outweighs anything else, in my opinion, is the screening process that happens before any product is offered to the membership. The quality that the owner strives for is as close to perfection as possible, and if you read the story of why the CSA came to be, it makes sense. If it's not something she would feed her family, it doesn't make it into the CSA. Because of the stringent quality expectations, sometimes there are shortages of meats, specifically beef. Not because it can't be found, but slow grown, grass-fed beef takes time, so sometimes we wait. And last, there's a cap on this CSA. Slow growing, sustainable farms can only service so many people, so you have to draw a line somewhere.

In the end, all of these CSAs offer meat, produce, baked goods, dairy products and a variety of other things. Some deliver to your door, some do not. They are all priced within the same range, but to me, the better value is the better quality. Whatever you choose, I think it's important that we support our local farmers. Why go to a grocery store to buy something that's grown 30 minutes down the road? The odds are that if you buy it at a grocery store, it has already traveled a lot of food miles.

Interested in a CSA? Find out more info at Local Harvest. Read what others are saying and decide for yourself. Just support your local farms!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Looking for a CSA? Part 1

Most of my customers know that I not only bake for a CSA, but I also buy from and work with this CSA. It's always exciting to think about fresh, local produce and meats. As a small business owner, it's also about supporting local, hard-working farmers. And I would lying if I didn't admit that it was mostly selfish; clean, local grass-fed beef and better than organic produce. Who wouldn't be excited about that?

I have a lot of people ask me about CSAs, which one is better or what information I have on a specific one. I suppose it all depends on what you are looking for. So I sat down and compared a few of the more well-known ones in the area. I suppose as someone who works with one maybe I have a bit more insider knowledge, but as a consumer, I still had to look at each one and compare prices but more importantly, quality. Wanna know what I found out?

 So I'll start with produce ONLY CSAs.

The first one I came across is Wild Onion Farms, located in Johnston County. While I personally have no experience with this farm, here are a few things I like: they operate year round, there's no work required (what can I say, I'm lazy! lol), and there's a pickup location in Raleigh. Another thing I like is that they operate using strict organic practices, which provides a superior product and preserves the environment. Two things that are very important to me. They can also be found at a couple of Farmer's Markets. Here's what I don't like: there's an upfront cost between $200-$500. I realize that most CSAs operate this way, it's the support part of CSA. But it can be a bit scary to see that kind of upfront request. However, if you're not buying produce every week or two, it all washes out and you'll have your money for the next go round.

The next one I found is Smith's Nursery Doorstep Market, which operates out of Benson. What I really like about this CSA is their locations. There are plenty in the triangle area, and even beyond. Ranging from Rocky Mount, Clayton and even as far as Wilson, they have definitely made it convenient for people to get fresh produce. There is a $10 yearly enrollment fee, which pays for boxes, processing, etc., otherwise the price ranges from $20-$55, depending on what size box you choose, any add-ons. On the down side, I thought the pictures they posted of their boxes looked pretty scarce.  They use conventional methods to prepare the fields, though they do not spray directly on their produce.

The next veggie CSA I came across is with Double T Farm, located in Garner. While they are not organically certified (this is a VERY cost-prohibitive process!) they practice organic methods. There are many pickup locations in the Raleigh area, making it very convenient if you live in Raleigh. You can also pick up from the farm or a location in Morrisville. Their share prices range from $350 during the winter to $$675 in the summer. The nice thing is you can pay in installments, so it's not quite so daunting. They also encourage visitors on their farm, which I really appreciate.

And last is The Produce Box.This is essentially an affordable, doorstep delivery service. Delivery is during the growing season, so the service is just restarting. Price ranges from $17-$28, depending on size and whether you choose to go organic or not. Members pay weekly, which is always helpful when trying to work on a budget. Here's the thing with TPB, since I deal directly with farmers, I have heard of some unethical business practices happening. I'm really trying to remain objective in comparing CSAs and not share my opinions, but a CSA is supposed to support farmers, not encourage unethical treatment of farmers. That is all I will say on that matter.

Part 2: CSAs that offer meat and produce.

**These are just a few of the ones I found. There are many more, you can find more info at Local Harvest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time to pick back up

For some unknown reason, I've had the uncontrollable urge to blog again. I think when I first started I was so unclear on what exactly I wanted to do. I look at this blog and I was all over the place!! I knew I wanted to give to the celiac/gf community in some way, but clearly I was unsure how to do it.

Over the years, I have learned so much about what I'm doing, ways to eat not just better, but healthier. I've been gluten free almost 5 years, and I feel like this journey is never ending. Not in a bad way, always learning.

So I'll start by addressing a question some of you have asked me: Did I complete the Whole 30? What were my thoughts, and did I cheat?

YES! YES! YES! I completed my Whole 30! Can you tell I'm proud of myself?? :) Seriously, I did complete it. I didn't cheat... unless you count a piece of gum that I chewed while on a run. I suppose if you are an absolute purist, then I cheated. I'm ok with that.

I went into the Whole30 addicted to sugar, drinking a couple of glasses of wine almost every night, and pretending like I wanted to start exercising again. What I learned was invaluable. I learned that my body is extremely sensitive to soy. I learned how to eat breakfast without making myself feel sick; something that in my life I had not been able to figure out. I learned that I didn't need wine in the evening, that the reality was I wouldn't miss it, and that alcohol+my stomach really don't get along too well. I tried things I had never tried... some of them I feel I will not try again, but hey! I'm not worse for trying it, right? And I decided I really did want to exercise, so I stopped talking about it and did it. At the end of the 30 days, I felt better than I've felt in a long time. And yes, I lost weight. Not that I know how much... I didn't weigh myself before or after. That was not my motivation, but an awesome benefit.

My thoughts? The Whole30 is a bit extreme, but sometimes, that's what it takes. It takes something extreme to make you decide to change your habits. But it only lasts for 30 days, and in the whole span of life, 30 days really isn't that long. And in the end, I learned a lot and felt a lot better. Will I eat 'Paleo' the rest of my days? Probably not. At the core of who I am, I cannot wrap my head around an evolutionary diet. I cannot be convinced that some tribesman somewhere in the middle of the jungle wouldn't eat a potato or other tuber that grew from the ground. But I do believe we are a culture of people who eat far more starch than necessary, with most starches coming from nutrient-dead food.

I believe very strongly that our food system is severely flawed, and choose to use my precious food dollars buying local, sustainable, grass-fed as much as I possibly can. I absolutely believe it matters what you eat. I will lean toward what is termed 'Paleo' simply because of the focus on whole, clean foods, meat that way it was supposed to be (not ecologically or health destructive), and the avoidance of 'fake foods'. Because I undoubtedly function better eating that way.

I would recommend the Whole30 for anyone, especially if you are feeling like your health needs a boost. It is a challenge, but sometimes you have to work for what you want.