Archive for the “Real Food” Category

Many thanks to Richard Nikoley, Tim “Tatertot” Steele and Grace Liu for not only giving comprehensive answers to my many questions about resistant starch, but for taking the time to answer questions in the comments section as well.  I appreciate your dedication, gang.

Speaking of the gang, Richard was the guest host for the latest episode of Jimmy Moore’s Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb show.  Tim and Grace were his primary guests.  I came on at the end.  The topic, of course, was resistant starch.

I started the three-part interview series by saying my next few posts should be filed under Stuff I Got Wrong or Stuff I Wish I Hadn’t Ignored.  Resistant starch was one.  Okay, got that one covered for now.  The other was “safe starch” as prescribed in Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet.

I’ve already explained why I dismissed resistant starch when the topic first hit the media:  the people pushing it were the makers of an industrial corn product that’s used to add a little resistant starch to muffins and other baked goods that are still frankenfood garbage.  They’re still promoting resistant starch that way.

I mostly ignored the “safe starch” issue when it created a buzz in 2011 because I’d given up starchy foods and felt fine.  In fact, I didn’t even watch the Ancestral Health Symposium debate on safe starch until last week.  I say mostly ignored because the one time I commented on it was when Jimmy Moore wrote a blog post and asked for a comment.  I hadn’t read the Perfect Health Diet book, but knew Jaminet recommended a diet that included “safe starches” such as white rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and plantains to avoid a glucose deficiency.  So I made a wisecrack about how my Irish ancestors died off from a glucose deficiency because they didn’t have access to white rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and plantains – none of which are native to Ireland.  (Potatoes didn’t come to Ireland until they were brought from the New World.)  Then I went back to ignoring the topic.

I did, however, start adding sweet potatoes and squashes back into my diet here and there after I read more on paleo and ancestral diets and realized that tubers and other starchy plants have been part of the human diet for a long, long time.  Unlike wheat and other cereal grains, roots and tubers are not Neolithic foods that require farming and processing.  They’re ancient foods that can be (and were) gathered by hunter-gatherer societies.  In the book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, the author cites research showing that humans began cooking meats and tubers hundreds of thousands of years ago.  It was these calorically-dense foods, easily digested after cooking, that allowed our big brains to develop.

So when we talk about Paleo Man with his tall stature and good bones and teeth, we’re talking about a man who gathered and ate some roots, tubers and other starchy plants to go along with his meat and fish.  My Irish ancestors didn’t eat rice or yams or plantains, but that’s not the point (or so I realize now).  Because the truth is, none of us eats exactly what our paleo ancestors ate.  We can’t.  They hunted animals that have gone extinct.  They gathered plants that have mutated or gone extinct.  When we shift towards what we now call a paleo diet, the best we can do is try to eat foods that provide the nutrients they consumed, not the same plants and animals that provided them with those nutrients.  My Irish ancestors didn’t eat yams, but they likely discovered species of edible roots and tubers while digging up the Guinness bushes to make themselves a yummy drink.

With all that in mind, I added small servings of sweet potatoes and squashes back into my diet, but considered them an acceptable real-food treat, not a necessary part of a healthy diet.  I figured I could just easily live without any starchy foods, and perhaps I can … but perhaps some people can’t, and perhaps I’m better off with those foods than without them.

As you know if you saw my most recent speech, I’m a fan of the Wisdom of Crowds effect: when people communicate what they know with each other, the answers bubble up.  In the cyberspace crowd of health-oriented blogs and Facebook groups, I noticed more and more people saying they developed problems on a strict very-low-carb diet – low thyroid function, cold hands and feet, high fasting glucose, dry eyes, etc. – which went away when they added some “safe starches” back into their diets as prescribed in the Perfect Health Diet.  In the same post about safe starches where I made the wisecrack about my Irish ancestors, in fact, Chris Kresser made this observation:

I see a fair number of patients in my practice struggling with symptoms like hair loss, cold hands and feet, plateaued weight loss, low energy and mood imbalances after following a VLC diet for several months. In many cases they adopted this approach to lose weight, which was successful – at least to a certain point. However, others were not overweight to begin with and simply chose to eat VLC because they got the impression that “carbs are bad”, even for people without metabolic problems. I believe many of these issues are related to the decrease in thyroid hormone levels seen on VLC diets.

In cases where there is no significant metabolic damage, when I have these folks increase their carbohydrate intake (with starch like tubers and white rice, and fruit) to closer to 150g a day, they almost always feel better. Their hair loss stops, their body temperature increases and their mood and energy improves.

So I figured there had to be something to it.  Kresser is a brilliant guy and treats a lot of patients.  That’s real-world experience talking.  But he followed with this:

For people that are overweight and are insulin/leptin resistant, it’s a bit trickier. In some cases increasing carbohydrate intake moderately, to approximately 100g per day, actually re-starts the weight loss again. In other cases, any increase in carbohydrate intake – in any form – will cause weight gain and other unpleasant symptoms. A different approach is required for these patients.

As always, there’s no simple answer and no one-size-fits-all approach. If I could leave your readers with one point, that would be it.

I agree completely.  We’re all different.  Some people may need starchy carbs in their diets, other people probably don’t.  Until recently, I put myself in the second camp.  I was doing fine without making safe starches a part of my daily diet.  I never developed any of the health problems people were saying they cured with safe starches.  Cold hands and feet?  Nope.  Dry eyes?  Nope.  Depressed thyroid?  Not according to the battery of lab tests I had when I turned 55.  So I figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and continued pretty much ignoring the safe-starch issue.

It was revisiting resistant starch that finally prompted me to revisit safe starches and read Paul Jaminet’s book.  Why?  Well, it’s all about gut health and the microbiome.  After Richard Nikoley beat me and thousands of other people over the head with a hundred or so posts on resistant starch, I decided to give it try.  Within two days, it solved the one issue I had not just with a low-carb diet, but with every diet I’ve ever tried:  slow digestion.  As I’ve mentioned in several posts, the worst digestion I ever had was back in my grain-eating vegetarian days.  I always had a bottle of Pepto-Bismal in my medicine cabinet and packed the chewable version when I traveled.  Going low-carb cured that.  No more stomach aches, no more irritable bowel, no more gastric reflux – probably because going low-carb meant giving up wheat and other gluten-containing grains.

But the slow digestion stuck around, so I either ate good-sized servings of almonds or swallowed psyllium-husk pills before bed.  That usually did the trick.  But after starting a protocol of resistant starch and probiotics, my digestion has been excellent – better than it’s ever been.  I’m also sleeping more deeply than I have in decades, which is quite a welcome development, since I’ve been prone to occasional bouts of insomnia for most of my life.  I feel clear-headed and alert soon after waking.  Normally it takes two big cups of coffee before I feel truly awake.

That’s when I decided my if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it confidence was misplaced.  Something was broken, or at least far from optimal.  My version of a near-paleo diet was controlling my blood sugar and keeping my weight down, but it wasn’t properly feeding my gut bacteria.

In an email exchange with Richard Nikoley, he told me he first learned about the benefits of resistant starch from Tim Steele.  In an email exchange with Tim Steele, he told me he first learned about the benefits of resistant starch from … wait for it … Paul Jaminet.  Okay, I thought to myself, it’s about time I read this guy’s book.

And so, with apologies to Jaminet for the longest preamble ever to a book review (and for that wisecrack about my Irish ancestors), I’ll explain why I believe it’s one of the best books on nutrition I’ve ever read.

In case you’re not familiar with his story, Paul Jaminet lived on a standard American diet for decades and paid for it with ill health.  His health improved on a very-low-carb paleo diet for awhile, but then he developed other problems – scurvy, to name one example.  So his low-carb paleo diet was better, but obviously still not good enough.  It was the desire to find a perfect diet that inspired all the research that eventually went into the first edition of the Perfect Health Diet book and the Perfect Health Diet website.

Among other careers, Paul Jaminet was once an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  His wife and co-author, Shou-Ching Jaminet, is a molecular biologist and cancer researcher at the Harvard Medical School.  So let’s just say they’re on the smart side of the bell curve and not afraid to delve into the heavy-duty science stuff.  Fortunately for the book’s readers, they explain it clearly.  In fact, I would describe their writing style as relentlessly logical – and I mean that as a compliment.

The relentless logic that underlies the Perfect Health Diet goes like this:  ill health is the result of pathogens, nutrient deficiencies and toxins.  So other than avoiding pathogens, the key to robust health is a diet that excludes toxins as much as possible while providing the optimal intake of all necessary nutrients.  Optimal intake means enough to derive the biological benefits, but not enough to become toxic – because almost anything can become toxic to humans at some level.  Not too little, not too much.

Among many other nutrients, the Jaminets make a case that there’s an optimal intake of glucose – otherwise known as starch.  (Fruits provide most of their calories as fructose, and sugar is roughly half fructose and half glucose.)  As the book explains:

For glucose, as for all other nutrients, our strategy is to find the peak health range – the intakes at which benefits have ended and there is still no toxicity.

That peak health range is the amount of glucose our bodies require on a daily basis — somewhere in the range of 100 to 150 grams. It’s this chapter of the book that started all the hubbub over “safe starches.”  Yes, your body will convert protein into glucose – even if it has to raid the protein stored in your muscles to do so – but the Jaminets argue that forcing your body to meet its daily glucose requirement through gluconeogenesis can eventually cause the health problems Chris Kresser described seeing in some of his patients: slow thyroid, dry eyes, cold hands and feet, low energy, weight-loss stalls, etc.

I don’t believe everyone on a very-low-carb diet will develop those problems, of course.  I didn’t.  But as I mentioned above, I’ve been including occasional servings of sweet potatoes and squashes in my diet for awhile now, plus I usually consume a high-carb Mexican meal on Saturday night.  Perhaps that made the difference.  Or it could just be that some of us are more efficient at producing glucose from protein than others and therefore avoid the glucose-deficiency problems the Jaminets describe.

The point is, just because a low-carb diet is beneficial for many people, it doesn’t mean a no-carb diet is even better.  If the optimal intake for most people is somewhere in the 100 to 150 gram range, which the Jaminets believe it is, then we need to obtain those carbohydrates from foods that also provide nutrients without tossing toxins into the mix.  That’s the logic behind what they call safe starches:  potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro, tapioca, white rice, plantains, yams and sago.  Those are low-toxin Paleolithic foods (with the possible exception of rice) that provide nutrients such as potassium, copper, vitamin A, resistant starch and fiber.

The Jaminets mention resistant starch specifically several times in the book.  Here’s an example from a section about the benefits of producing butyrate in the colon:

Although the fiber in cereal bran is harmful, two kinds of fiber seem to be highly beneficial:  resistant starch and pectin.  These also happen to be the types that generate the most butyrate.

“Resistant starch” is starch that is indigestible to human digestive enzymes.  Potatoes naturally come with high levels of resistant starch.  But all starchy foods can form resistant starch after cooking and cooling.  Cooking gelatinizes starch into a form that is readily digested by human amylase, but if it is allowed to cool, some of this gelatinized starch re-forms into resistant starch.

In a later chapter on meal planning, the Jaminets mention that they regularly cook several potatoes ahead of time and then store them in the refrigerator (a habit Chareva recently adopted as well).  That means a good chunk of their safe starch is also resistant starch, the kind that keeps our gut bugs fat and happy.

The Perfect Health Diet is not an invitation to go carb-crazy – not by a long shot.  The book specifically says starches should only be eaten as part of meal that includes plenty of fat to avoid glucose spikes.  Despite being dismissed or ignored by much of the low-carb world (including yours truly) because of the safe-starch issue, the Jaminets are essentially advocating a lowish-carb paleo diet.  It’s just not very-low-carb.  If you followed their advice and were at the lower end of the recommended starch intake, your diet would be roughly 20% carbohydrate, 15% protein and 65% fat.  Is that high-fat enough for you?

My Fat Head fast-food diet was 22% carbohydrate, by the way, with a lower proportion of fat (55%) than the Jaminets recommend.  Funny how I became known as a “fat head” low-carb advocate while the Jaminets didn’t, at least not in low-carb circles.  Of course, my 100 grams or so of starch were coming from hamburger buns and potatoes fried in vegetable oils, both of which the Jaminets advise against.  I guess we could call my experiment The Very Imperfect Health Diet.

So far I’ve been focusing on the safe-starch aspect of the Perfect Health Diet, since that’s the section that caused all the debate in the paleo and low-carb diet worlds.  But there’s way more to it than that.  The new paperback edition runs just over 400 pages and offers advice on the optimal levels and best sources for all three macronutrients and plenty of micronutrients.  The first chapter is titled Why We Start with an Evolutionary Perspective, so not surprisingly, almost everything in the book will have paleo enthusiasts nodding their heads in agreement.  (Mark Sisson wrote the forward for this edition.)

The chapter on grains is titled The Most Toxic Food: Cereal Grains.  (It’s like a Reader’s Digest version of Wheat Belly.  They could have titled it Wheat Is Murder.)  The chapter on vegetable oils is titled Liquid Devils: Vegetable Seed Oils.  Sugar takes a beating in a chapter titled The Sweet Toxin: Fructose.  (Dr. Robert Lustig would approve.)

There’s a ton of good information in the book, but since this will already be a long post, I’ll just give you a taste with some random quotes in no particular order:

Don’t be afraid to eat fat!  Hunter-gatherers flourished on a fat-rich diet.

Too often, experts dole out advice based on unproven hypotheses without ever looking at the scientific evidence from evolutionary selection.  In fact, evolution selected for a certain salt intake.  Anti-salt advice was not supported by reliable studies.

One often hears that glucose is the body’s primary fuel.  That is quite mistaken.  It’s true that all human cells can, if need be, metabolize glucose.  But mitochondria, the energy producers in most human cells, prefer to burn fat.  So in the body, fat is the preferred and primary fuel, except in specialist cells that lack mitochondria or ready access to fat.

Saturated and monounsaturated fats are the safest calorie source – indeed the only calorie source that is nontoxic even in very high doses – and should provide the bulk of calories.  Fish, shellfish, beef, lamb, and dairy fats such as butter and cream are the best animal sources; coconut milk and coconut oil are great plant sources.

Saturated fat improves lipid profiles in two ways:  it increases levels of protective HDL cholesterol, and it makes LDL particles larger and more buoyant, protecting them from glycation and oxidation.

Choline is abundant in liver and egg yolks — foods American eat less than ever before, thanks in part to the demonization of cholesterol… Get choline by eating three eggs yolks a day and liver once a week.

As our Paleolithic ancestors who dominated the globe were characterized by tall stature and healthy teeth and bones and their health deteriorated as soon as their diet was altered, we think it’s safe to say that such a low-carb, high-plant, starch-meat-and-fat-based diet is a healthful human diet.

When the obese try to eat less on a malnourishing diet, they sooner or later become hungry and weight loss stalls or reverses.

The long-term effects of eating less without improving the character of the diet are shockingly bad… efforts to eat less often lead to weighing more.

In their own version of what I’ve termed Character vs. Chemistry in several posts, the Jaminets explain that hunger is the body’s way of saying I need nutrients!  If your diet is deficient in a necessary nutrient, you’re going to be hungry, and eventually you’re going to give in and eat more. Nutrient deficiencies, in fact, may explain why people adopt a particular diet, feel great for awhile, then feel not-so-great, adopt a different diet, feel great for awhile, then feel not-so-great, lather, rinse, repeat.  To quote from the book:

Sometimes people alternate among extreme diets.  They do a low-fat diet, and it works great until a fat-associated nutrient becomes scare and hunger returns.  Weight starts to rebound due to hunger for the fat-associated nutrient.  Disturbed by the weight gain, they shift to the opposite diet – low-carb, high-protein, high-fat.  Now weight loss resumes until they become deficient in some plant-associated nutrient that, on their low-carb diet, they no longer obtain.  Then weight loss stops, hunger increases, and the weight comes back.

The key to long-term weight loss, then, is a diet that provides all the necessary nutrients without an overabundance of food. When you give your body what it needs, it stops ramping up your appetite in hopes that you’ll keep eating and eventually stumble across some actual nutrients.

Darned if that doesn’t make perfect sense.  That’s what I kept thinking to myself as I read the book:  Man, this is all so logical.  It just makes sense.

Like I said, the Jaminets are relentlessly logical. Their own health problems inspired them to undertake a seven-year, relentlessly logical review of the science and design a diet based on unprocessed whole foods, high in fat and low in carbohydrates … but not low enough to create a deficiency that could cause other problems, and with the carbohydrates coming from real foods that provide real nutrients, such as resistant starch to feed our gut bacteria.

Is the Perfect Health Diet truly the perfect diet?  I don’t know, but I was persuaded to move my own diet more in that direction.  I’ll describe what that looks like in a future post.

Meanwhile, I asked Paul Jaminet if he’d be up for a Q & A with the Fat Head audience, and he graciously agreed.  Ask your questions in the comments section for this post.  Put the phrase “Question for Paul Jaminet” at the beginning of the comment so I know it’s a question for him, not for me.  I won’t reply to those comments.  I’ll pick a dozen or so questions and forward them to Paul, then post his answers.

Perhaps you’ll be persuaded to eat a potato smothered in grass-fed butter.

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Several people asked if I planned to take apart the latest “meat kills!” study to make a big media splash.  In case you missed it, here’s part of one of the many, many articles about the study that hit the news:

A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as harmful to health as smoking, according to a controversial study into the impact of protein consumption on longevity.

The overall harmful effects seen in the study were almost completely wiped out when the protein came from plant sources, such as beans and legumes, though cancer risk was still three times as high in middle-aged people who ate a protein-rich diet, compared with those on a low-protein diet.

You just know the vegan crowd loved reading those words.  But let’s keep reading:

But whereas middle-aged people who consumed a lot of animal protein tended to die younger from cancer, diabetes and other diseases, the same diet seemed to protect people’s health in old age.

So there you have it:  meat, eggs and other animal protein will kill you until you turn 65.  Then the same foods protect your health.  Since I’m already 55, I’ve decided I’ll keep eating meat, eggs and cheese and hope I manage to hang on for another 10 years – then I’ll increase my consumption of those foods to ensure I live to age 90.

That contradiction alone – animal foods can kill you until you reach the age at which most people actually die, then protect you – should be enough to convince you this is another piece of observational garbage.

But if you want a more thorough take-down of this idiocy, Zoe Harcomb already wrote one.  Here’s a bit of it (and I’d suggest you read the whole post):

This is a direct quotation from the article (my emphasis): “Using Cox Proportional Hazard models, we found that high and moderate protein consumption were positively associated with diabetes-related mortality, but not associated with all-cause, CVD [cardiovascular], or cancer mortality when subjects at all the ages above 50 were considered.”

i.e. when we looked at the 6,381 over 50 year olds there was not even an association with protein intake and all-cause mortality, or CVD mortality, or cancer mortality.

There was a relationship with diabetes mortality and protein intake, but the numbers were so tiny (one death from diabetes in one group) that this was not considered important.

And that could have been the headline – “There is no association between protein intake and mortality” – but then there would be no headline.

One of those animal-protein foods that will kill you until you turn 65 and then save your life is the humble egg.  I recently received an article about the importance of a nutrient that eggs provide:  choline.  Here are some quotes:

Choline plays a role in multiple physiological systems from all cell membranes to the function of organs like the liver. Choline produces a neurotransmitter involved in memory storage, muscle control and many other functions.

For more than five decades, nutrition science has known that choline is an important compound in the body. However, because humans have the ability to synthesize choline and our diets generally contain significant amounts of choline, it has been difficult to de­finitively show that choline is needed in the diet.

One of the first clear indications that the body does not make choline quick enough to meet the body’s own needs was recently demonstrated. When healthy men were fed a diet which was adequate in all known essential nutrients but very low in choline, the men developed liver damage. This indicates that even though the body can make choline, there is a dietary requirement as well.

Foods especially rich in choline include beef liver, with about 450 milligrams per 3 ounce serving, and eggs, with about 280 milligrams per egg.

So according to the latest observational nonsense, animal foods will kill you until you turn 65 … but at the same time, clinical research shows that choline is an essential nutrient, and the richest sources of choline are beef liver and eggs.

I vote we ignore the observational nonsense and eat our eggs.  That won’t be a problem here on the mini-farm.  Now that the chickens in our second flock have started laying, they’re producing more eggs than we can consume.  I took this picture a week or so ago to demonstrate.

Then a couple of days ago, it occurred to Chareva to check the top level of the barn, which required climbing a ladder.  This is what she found.

Another 60 eggs or so.  Fortunately, with the cool weather, they’re still quite edible.  Oh, and Sara will be taking delivery of 25 chicks soon as part of a 4-H project.  So now she and Alana and Chareva are planning to open an egg stand by the road.

And I’ll keep eating eggs and other sources of animal protein way beyond age 65.

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Hi Fat Heads!

All right, first — about that title…

I’ve used the “Older Brother” moniker since I started guest posting here.  Actually, I started using it when commenting on some of Tom’s posts, and then adopted it as a nom de plume for my posts when Tom started letting me take over The Big Chair while he was off on sundry missions to educate and entertain the masses.  As some of the other family got mentioned, I kind of stuck to it — “The Middle Son” (our Ranger), “The Oldest Son” (you know you love the pizza), etc.

When I’ve mentioned my bride of these past 30 years, it’s always been as The Wife.  But “The Older Brother’s Wife” just sounded kind of flat for a title.  I’ve always kidded that I married an older women, because she was born exactly three weeks before me.  [Being a guy, that's how I remember her birthday -- "let's see, my birthday's the 16th, so 16 from 21 is 5, so then 5 from 31 is, okay -- the 26th! No wait, May has 31 days, she's born in April, so that's 30, minus the 5 is -- the 25th!"  Easy peasy.]  So, when I decided to share a great recipe she’s been making, I figured I had to stick to the system.  Don’t worry, she’s okay with it.

And I’m okay with sleeping on the couch for awhile.

Anyway, I’m just going to come out and say this (you may want to hold onto something) :

Some days, you just don’t want bacon.

….

 

Still there?

I know.  Bacon and eggs is kind of the sacramental breakfast meal for us low-carb/paleo/primal/real food/what-have-you types.  But some days you just want something different.  And I know we make fun of the “V” people who rave about burger-shaped soy crud, and meat-like soy crud, and nugget-like soy crud, and we say things like “you never hear Grok saying he wished someone would make a steak that tastes like tofu!”  but every once in awhile I think I’d just like to maybe have a bowl of cereal.

I particularly liked the granola one with honey and oats from the old guy with the long white hair and funny hat.  I’d have a bowl of that in the morning and think “boy, that was good!  And healthy!  Maybe I should have another bowl.”  And then I’d think, “Man, that was REALLY good.  Maybe I’ll just have one more bowl.”  Then off to work, all fueled up for a couple of hours of work, before starting to wonder how I could be so damned hungry after eating such a big, healthy breakfast.

So yeah, like that kind, but without the metabolic roller coaster getting involved.

Well, The Wife likes bacon and sausage and all, but she doesn’t like it every day.  Plus, she leaves for work most mornings before 7am, and some days cooking just doesn’t seem to fit into the morning schedule.  So she kind of went on a mission to find some other low-carb breakfast options, because you can only eat so much yoghurt.

Some she found were good, some she liked and I didn’t care for, or vice versa, but she hit on one a couple of months ago that the whole family likes.  It’s called “Grain Free Coconut Crunch Granola.” She found it on pinterest, but it came from a nice young lady in Australia with a blog called Brooks Kitchen of Culinary Dreams that focuses on low-carb, low-sugar, gluten-free recipes.

I told a commenter in an earlier post who was hesitant about cooking because of a disaster trying a cake or something that “baking is science, but cooking is art.”  In other words, exacting vs. carefree.  Well this recipe is so easy, I’d put in at the “finger-painting” end of the art scale.

Here’s the ingredients:

3 cups coconut flakes (unsweetened)
2 cups cashews, roughly chopped *
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/3 cup flaxmeal
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup coconut oil
10 drops stevia **
1/2 cup dried mango, roughly chopped ***

We always do the recipe as printed the first time, then play around. We make the following substitutions now:

* 1 cup cashews, 1/2 cup walnuts, and 1/2 cup pecans for variety (plus, it’s cheaper!)
** Splenda — for a double recipe we use 3 packets (about 1 tsp)
*** We use a mango/blueberry/cherry mix from Trader Joe’s

Assemble your ingredients, set the oven at 300(F), and then do a little chopping (just the nuts now).

Here’s what we consider a rough chop:

Once that’s done, mix the first 5 dry ingredients around in a big bowl:

Melt the coconut oil if it’s not already liquid, stir the sweetener in well, then add it to the dry stuff and mix it well (I didn’t forget the mangoes — they come in later).

Dump the bowl onto a parchment covered cookie sheet, and spread evenly (this, per normal at our house, is a double batch):

Put the cookie sheet in the oven for 20 minutes, then pull it out and use a spatula to turn the mix over to keep it browning evenly.

 

While the granola is doing this first 20 minutes in the oven, we chop the mango fruit mix:

 

Check and turn the granola again every 10 or 15 minutes until it reaches your favorite shade of golden brown (probably 2 or 3 more turns, maybe an hour or so total in the oven — remember, it’s finger painting, not rocket science).

Now you take it out of the oven, mix in the fruit, and and let it cool.

 

At that point it’s all over except the storing. Or eating.

 

I eat it like cereal in a bowl with some of Linda’s raw milk; The Wife likes to mix it with Greek yoghurt and take it with her to work; it’s good on ice cream; or just shake some out of the container and snack on it as is.

All the fun, none of the crash.

Enjoy.

Oh yeah, and

Happy Moo Year!

 

– The Older Brother (and The Wife)

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Hi again, fellow Fat Heads.

Tom and Chareva and the girls made it into Springfield this past weekend for visits and the Naughton family Christmas dinner Monday night, before heading to Chicago on Christmas Eve to see Chareva’s family.  Since they’re still traveling, and I had an interesting addendum to my “Yankee Farm Report,” I figured Tom wouldn’t mind if I temporarily commandeered the Big Chair again.

No politics or economics this time, I promise!

Anyway, this past Monday morning, I got a call from Linda — our endlessly patient farm owner where our beef cows and meat chickens are boarded.  It went like this:

Linda: Jerry, you know how you always said that one of your two cows always was fuller-bodied than her sister?

Me: Yeah — Tartare.  What’s up?

Linda: Well, she had a calf last night!

Me: HOLY $%*!

This was not expected news, and complicated from several angles.  When we purchased the cows and brought them to Linda’s, we thought they were too young to be fertile.  Cows have about a 9 month gestation period, however, and when we did the math we figure she must’ve just been bred within a week or so prior to getting her.  Another issue was these are beef cows — they were bought in the late Spring with the initial intention of having them ready to be butchered next Fall, but they were so big that we’d moved that up to probably the end of January. We’ve got four other families cow-sharing on this deal, so that means everyone has to agree on how to play this new development.

The most immediate issue, however, and one that could make the rest moot, was that cows aren’t supposed to have calves in the middle of winter, especially on what was one of the coldest days of this season.  Linda’s husband saw Tartare laying in the field Monday morning and thought she’d died, then saw the calf laying on the ground and thought they were both dead.  Once they figured out both were still alive, they got the calf (and then Tartare to follow) into a barn, but she was very cold, not moving around, and Linda didn’t think she’d nursed, which is critical.

I headed over right away, picking up some colostrum from the farm store in case she was going to need to be bottle-fed.  I was able to hold her up (cold and messy work in my office clothes) while Linda worked a bottle into her mouth, but she wasn’t suckling or swallowing.  At that point, Linda thought it looked like maybe she did have milk already in her, but it was hard to tell.  We got her to lay upright a bit, and I had to leave, but I told Linda I’d come back early afternoon with a couple of heat lamps she thought might help.

When I got back (with The Wife), the calf was stiff and on her side again –

 

We got more heat lamps set up, and I was able to pick the calf up and get the straw under her and around her. She didn’t seem out of the woods, but was moving her head around some more.

 


Linda kept checking on calve and cow, and fortunately the weather warmed up quickly over the last couple of days. The Oldest Son, my brother-in-law, and I went out today, and things are looking much better. The calf is walking around in the yard behind the barn, nursing, and Tartare is watching over her closely.

Everyone in on our cow-share deal seems pretty happy with the unexpected disruption in our beef supply. So far, given that she had a successful, unassisted, healthy birth, it’s looking like Tartare may get a role change from beef cow to breeder.

In the meantime, the reason The Oldest Son and brother-in-law were with me today was because the events of the week switched a “we ought to maybe do that” project into a “we need to get this done NOW” project. There was a hoop structure in the cow’s pasture that the old vinyl cover had disintegrated off of over time. Linda and I had talked about getting a new cover put back on it. Cows are pretty hardy as far as cold temperatures are concerned, but getting wet — from rain or snow — and being in the wind can be deadly. A new calf in the middle of winter introduced a real sense of urgency to the idea.

So we pulled some of the old cover back up —

– which didn’t help much, but it gave our rookie three-man farmhand crew a feel for what we were doing.

Linda had a “new” cover — they’re used billboard vinyls that you can purchase — that the three of us were able to manhandle up and over the structure, then tack down with screws driven through lath strips we wrapped into the bottom seam of the vinyl.

Cows are both curious and bashful by nature, and Linda’s dairy cows and Royale (our more chaste beef cow) kept walking up to the shelter while it was under construction and standing on the vinyl until we’d shoo them away long enough to get a couple more strips screwed down. We were pretty pleased with our work once we got it done…

… And to a cow, add a little straw and this looks just like a Ritz Carlton…

Hope you all had a great Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

The Older Brother

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Greetings fellow Fat Heads!

Tom’s getting ready to educate another batch of university students on The Wisdom of Crowds effect (and hopefully get a good video), so I get to occupy the Big Chair for the week.

Tom gives regular updates on how Chareva and he are integrating their lifestyle with the land they’re on.  I don’t live on acreage, but I’ve been moving along a similar path up North here, starting with buying raw milk and pastured eggs a couple of years ago from an acquaintance — now friend — Linda, who I’d met via Garrick Veenstra, an all-natural, no chemicals, local vegetable farmer (those were some of my first guest posts).  I thought it would be fun to give you an update.  As Tom and I actually communicate mostly through the comments on this blog, we’re not comparing notes often, so I’ve found it interesting how similar our paths tend to run.

First a topic Tom hasn’t really hit on here — what most folks in this country would call “garbage” or “waste.”

A friend of mine who’s also working towards self-sufficiency on his own small property (a few acres) worked out a deal with the produce manager at one of the stores of a large national food chain. He picks up the unsalable produce they normally pay to have hauled off, and has been building a few compost piles on his property.

The thing is, we Americans have been trained to be pretty discriminating about what we consider good food.  Not well trained, just trained.  We won’t buy fruits or vegetables that aren’t just the right size, or isn’t just the right color, or has even a little blemish.  So since we’ve all been trained that only “perfect” looking food is good food (even though that means it’s probably been bred for looks, low cost, and ability to ship instead of flavor), the store employees routinely have to go through and throw out any food that doesn’t meet the Miss America standard of beauty.  Plus, since commodity veggies and fruits tend to be way cheaper than labor costs, the most efficient thing to do is to pitch any carton or flat or bag that contains even a few rejects.

Fortunately for me (or unfortunately for my friend if you want to look at it that way), there’s a small trailer park behind the treeline of his property, and it’s inhabited with a few of those type of people who start calling the health department, fire department, police department, village president, and anyone they can think of whenever someone does something weird — like building a compost pile on their own property.  This helps keep themselves from thinking about why they don’t have jobs, and live in a trailer park.  Everything he’s done, including building his compost pile, is by the book, and there’s a couple of hilarious stories there, but he got tired of the nuisance and asked if I thought Linda would be interested taking the loads for awhile to build up a compost pile at her farm so he could get a break from his neighbors.

Plus it was getting to be a bit much for his small property, anyway.  So he’s been dropping it off at her farm once or twice a week, taking one home for himself once in awhile, and on my weekly run to Linda’s for milk and eggs, I swing by my buddy’s office, swap vehicles, then go do the pickup and head for the farm, unload, check on the chickens and cows (getting to that shortly), then swap back on my way home.

How much of this “waste” are we talking?  Well, here’s a picture of my buddy’s pickup truck after we’ve unloaded most of one run at Linda’s farm…

 

… That’s a big Chevy truck and the bed holds four rows across, five deep and three high, so anywhere between 50 and 60 of those boxes’ worth.  Maybe 5% has fuzz showing by the time he picks it up, maybe 25% is overripe, 20% blemished, 20% wilted, and 20% looks OK.  The other 10% is gorgeous — it was just hanging out with a few bad apples!

That’s one load from one of several stores in a medium-sized suburban community, and he has to pick it up at least three times a week to keep up.  Of food that we Americans call “garbage,” but a single load like this would start a food riot in probably 85% of the world.  Makes you want to cry.

After we untie the plastic bags, we dump the produce, put the plastic in a pile for the garbage, then were breaking down the cardboard boxes and either burning them or hauling them off.  Then after my buddy mentioned that the cardboard boxes were great dry matter for the pile (duh!), we started throwing them back on.  It looked like this (this is probably two loads)…

I finally — three months in — figured out that if we put the first box we’ve emptied right on top of the pile and then empty the next box box right into it, then pull out the plastic bag (then rinse, lather, repeat), we don’t have to break them down, they stay in place, and it cuts the time to get everything unloaded in half.  Hey, I’m not stupid.  I’m just slow.

We normally let it build up for a couple of weeks.  Linda moved the coop for her pastured egg chickens next to the compost pile and they love poking through it.  They especially go for anything with seeds in it.  It’s made a notable difference in the eggs Linda gets from her chickens, and they were already way superior to a store bought egg before they had access to the compost heap.  And yeah, the guy in front of the picture is named Einstein…

Every couple of weeks, my buddy swings by with his small tractor and dumps some wood chips from a huge pile Linda’s had aging for a couple of years onto the fruit and veggie pile, mixes it and mounds it up.

[n.b., Fat Heads: having friends who own trucks and their own tractors is way better than owning your own truck and tractor.  I also have a friend who owns a pontoon boat.  If I can find a friend who owns his own plane, I'm set!]

A few weeks later, it looks good enough to play King of the Mountain on (that’s The Grandkids, who’ve you’ve seen here before)…

That’s beautiful soil for next year’s garden beds.

Moving on, a few weeks before Tom reported their chicken house building project, I was taking delivery of 50 meat chickens and setting them up in an old construction trailer converted to a brooding house/coop at Linda’s farm.  When we first got our two cows onto Linda’s farm to pasture, I’d asked Linda about raising some meat chickens.  The original idea was to keep them on the cows’ pasture in one or two “chicken tractors” somewhat like Chareva’s chicken house, but lighter construction, and then move them around every couple of days.  Cow pies to a chicken are like Pecan Pie to us.  They scratch them up for the bugs, spread the piles better for the soil, and it drives both chicken and cow parasites nucking futs, disrupting their breeding cycles.  That’s the true Joel Salatin model, one of my favorite authors and something of an icon in the real/local food movement.

Linda’s sister, who now lives off the farm, suggested that we rehab the old construction trailer, which she’d set up as a coop a few years earlier while she lived there and kept several dozen egg layers.  The “almost done” nature of the trailer, and the late start we got made it a pretty easy decision.  Linda does the daily feeding, watering, and general keeping an eye on the chickens, I bought the chickens, buy the feed and supplies, and we’ll share the “bounty” at processing time.

I got 25 Freedom Rangers, which is a hybrid bred strictly as a meat bird.  That means they grow fast, and there’s no interest in their egg-laying capability since they get to the roaster long before they’d be ready to lay eggs.  Since they’re a hybrid, even if you kept some with the idea of hatching your own supply, they wouldn’t be the same.  Unlike America’s commodity meat chicken, the White Cornish Cross, the Freedom Rangers were developed to the French Label Rouge Free Range standard, which means they do well on pasture and aren’t plagued with the health issues common to the Cornish Cross.

The other 25 are Plymouth Barred Rocks, a heritage breed that is as close as it gets to what your grandmother might’ve had running around the farm. They free-range pretty well, and are a solid “dual purpose” bird, meaning they can be raised for meat and/or eggs. Unfortunately for this group, I’ve already got an egg supplier! Here’s what they all looked like a couple of weeks ago, at around 2 1/2 months…

They all were the same size and two days old when I got them on September 12th, but the reddish Freedom Rangers are now a full third bigger on average than the Rocks.

Although these birds are destined for the dinner table, we feel our part of the bargain means they need the opportunity to (to quote the aforementioned Joel Salatin) “express their chicken-ness.”  Keeping them in a coop (even though they’ve got lots of room) and giving them only store bought fed without ever getting to scratch for bugs in the fresh air and sunshine would just make me an extremely small scale Tyson.  Not what I’m going for.  So, on days when it’s not brutal weather, Linda lets them do just that…

 

If you’re in it as a business, breeding so a bird grows to processing weight (around 6-8 pounds) in about 90 days for the Freedom Rangers vs. 120 day for the Rocks means you’re buying 25% less feed and turning your inventory that much faster, too.  By comparison, the commodity market darling Cornish Cross, pathetic as they can be, are ready to process in 6-8 weeks.  So you (or a customer) has to be ready to invest twice as much time and feed to get a Freedom Ranger, and even more for a true heritage chicken.

We do now have, however, a not major but at least minor offset to the feed disadvantage.  Remember that compost pile we diverted from the Great American Waste Stream?  Well, hey, chickens were the original homestead garbage disposal…

So as we unload each delivery, Linda and I separate out as many apples, squash, ears of corn, pomegranates (boy, do they LOVE pomegranates — almost all seeds!), etc., as we can and then she gives those to the chickens in the morning before putting out any of the store bought feed.  It cuts the feed outlays almost in half!  At around $15 for a 50# bag, that adds up when they’re now at a size that they can easily go through two bags in about 4 or 5 days if they’re only getting the feed.  They’re also be happier, healthier, and should be tastier.

Now that this whole group is coming up on 90 days, we’ve decided to process a small “practice” batch of 4 or 5 of the Freedom Rangers this weekend as this is all of ours’ first experience (Besides Linda and myself, The Oldest Son and a friend from work have volunteered for duty).  We’ll probably process the rest of the Freedom Rangers the next week, and then wait a few more weeks for the Rocks to get to processing weight.  You can pay to have the birds all processed for around $1.50 each, which isn’t bad, but the time and travel cost (about 60 miles each way) make it pretty pricey for anything under a hundred or more chickens.  Another reason we committed at the beginning to processing at least the first batch of 50 birds ourselves was that, although we know it’s not something to enjoy, it seemed to be the most honest way to show our respect for the birds, and so that we’ll better appreciate what procuring our own food really means.

(I was thinking of using that experience in a later guest post, but then Tom beat me to it last week after Chareva was “hot-rodding” their chicken house around the yard!)

I know I’ve been a little wordy, but one more quick update.  The cows (Tom and Chareva are in on half of one of them) have been doing really well and growing through what up until recently has been a pretty mild Fall and Winter.  Here’s Tartare…

And this is Royale…

I’d read about an idea that’s been gaining some attention in the grass-fed beef circles — fodder. The idea is that you soak grain seeds for a day, then spread them in trays that will drain, and water them daily for about a week. Seeds only need moisture and a bit of light for the first week or so of growth, which end up around 7 to 10 times the weight of the original seed.  You’ve probably been fed fodder at some point in your life, although on the menu it’s called “sprouts.”

It’s more nutritious than hay, and cheaper since you’re getting a lot of added volume for a little water and time, so livestock can be supplemented or even fed mainly fodder over the winter and maintain or even gain weight. Linda, who’s incredibly patient with my tendency to get enthusiastic about ideas where I think of it, and then leave the most of the work to her, has got a trial system started.  You can see about half of the setup here…

Each shelf is started a day after the prior shelf of trays, so you end up with a rotating daily supply. The cows are starting to look forward to their daily ration (and the chickens go nuts over the leftovers). This means we’ll be able to wait until the end of January to get the cows processed. That’s good because although they’re already at a good weight, the custom meat processing operations pretty much shut down to anything other than deer during the December/mid-January Illinois deer hunting seasons.  This way we’ll be able to keep adding weight up to processing time.

Whew, if you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. Up next, for those of you who are interested, and fair warning if you’re not, I’ve had a major epiphany and intend to elaborate on how Obamacare could quite possibly save the entire health care system, radically improve the health of most Americans (who weren’t already among us Fat Heads, that is), supercharge the economy, and restore our liberty. I’ve even already thought up a bumper sticker:

“Let’s just get it over with –
Vote Democrat!”

Catchy, huh?

Cheers!

The Older Brother

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Here’s a holiday treat I’ll share before turning the blog over to The Older Brother for the upcoming week.  It’s eggnog I make for the girls.  (I’ve been known to enjoy a bit of it too.)

Our chickens haven’t been producing many eggs lately, so we used pasteurized eggs.  Otherwise the raw yolks would worry me.  That may be an unfounded fear, but I’d rather be cautious when feeding my kids.

Anyway, the recipe:

  • 4 eggs yolks
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Dash of nutmeg or pumpkin spice
  • Sweeten to taste.  For me, that works out to 1/4 tsp. liquid Stevia.

Mix it up and serve.  Given the ingredients, this pretty much a meal in glass.

The girl with the eggnog mustache approved of the latest batch.

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