"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Treasures: Good King Wenceslas

I'm to the point where I hesitate.   Majorly.   Before any given homeschool purchase.  Even if said purchase is something as innocuous and non-space-guzzling as a book.  And the longer I homeschool the more wary I become of recommending "things"- any  "things"- to any one.  I'm a minimalist, to be sure.  Plus there are only so many slots in any homeschooler's library!  And I think we all hold our wallets just a little tighter these days. 

So when I call something a treasure, I don't do it lightly.  Let alone a book!  Books.  Books.  Books.  There are so many.  Good ones.  Bad ones.  Sometimes I think I'll write one but then every time I go to Barnes and Noble I get sort of sick looking at the sea of books... only a small fraction of which are worth anybody's time.  Too many books.

We have a treasury of Tomie de Paola'sw Christmas books which we lovingly display and read each Advent.  We don't need any more Christmas books!  But I couldn't walk by this one.  I had to stop and look.  Then I had to read it.  Then, well, I had to have it for our collection; despite all my misgivings, I just couldn't pass this beauty up.

The book tells the story of St. Wenceslas with exquisite illustrations.  And his story couldn'y be more apropo  for the children of our time.  I don't want to tell you the story in case you've never heard it.  But King Wenceslas embodies the spirit of giving in a concrete way that really sinks in for children.  So if you only buy one Christmas book this year, may I be so bold as to say, this should be it! 

God bless, and happy reading.

Good King Wenceslas

"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers.  My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.  There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." 
~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, November 12, 2012

NOT-So-Ordinary Pork and Beans

"Worries go down better with soup." 
~Jewish Proverb

Soup weather at last!  I made this soup in honor of an organic, free-range pork roast we're trying out from a local farm, but any old pork roast will do.  It's a great way to stretch the meat for a hungry crowd.  Or substitute extra seasoning and 2T extra virgin olive oil for the roast for a yummy and vegan- but still very rich- bowl of soup.

3 lb pork roast
2c black beans
1c brown rice
2c chopped carrots
1c chopped onion (or leave it in a solid half for flavor if your family hates onions- I do this then John Paul and I eat the onion whole)
2 t sea salt
2 t salt-free seasoning mix of your choice (mine is just the cheap stuff from ALDI)cajun seasoning is a good choice, too
2 4" strips of kombu
2 Tablespoons seaweed flakes (wakame, dulse, etc.), optional
10c boiling water
Start with the beans and rinse well.  Pork is usually paired with white beans or split peas but I prefer black beans with pork.  Well, with everything, really.  Black beans are delicious!

Adding kombu to the soup means you can use plain water and it turns into soup stock while the soup cooks.  Way easy for the lazy cook like myself who doesn't plan ahead.  (Actually, I had 6 cups of good chicken stock in the fridge when I made this but I had forgotten about it.  Sheesh.)

 Now, follow along closely: dump everything into a crockpot and walk away.  See my half onion floating?  It enriches the soup, but no one has to eat it.  Fine with me!  I love to eat an onion like this, and so does Johnny.
"This is every cook's opinion -
no savory dish without an onion,
but lest your kissing should be spoiled
your onions must be fully boiled."
~Jonathan Swift
 Come back 8 hours later:
 Voila!  Really yummy soup. 
This recipe  approved by my pickiest eater

Lots of crock pot recipes actually do better on the stove where you can brown or saute ingredients separately.  This recipe doesn't really need it, though.  Why?  Well, truth be told, it's the pork fat.  In case you haven't noticed, pork fat tastes good.  Really, really good.  It's hard to screw up recipes involving pork fat. 

"I would like to find a stew that will give me heartburn immediately, instead of at three o'clock in the morning."
  ~John Barrymore

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Elderberry is in; Echinacea is out...

Guess what?

Recent 'for real' research shows that echinacea doesn't work for your cold.  Or for cold prevention.

Say what???

 Yep.  True.

So what's a mama to do?  Well, don't throw out that echnacea tincture just yet!  Turns out echinacea really works on infected flesh, but the tincture needs direct contact with the infection- which makes it perfect for your sore throat!  I was skeptical, but recently had the good luck to come down with an awful sore throat.  I tried using the ecninacea-cinnamon tincture I make as a gargle- straight.  Knocked a serious sore throat right out in just three doses.  Nice!
Random pic of world's cutest baby

I first heard this 'herb news' from my doctor.  He trained in Germany so is pretty hip to herbal healing, for an MD.  He went on a tirade about echinacea in my first appointment with him, which was so surprising, I didn't counter.  Instead I came home and, in my next 4 minutes of spare time, tried to find these new studies.

The book Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria (provocative title, eh?) is where I found it.  (An excellent book, but not light bedtime reading.)  It gives a fascinating history of the herb (well, fascinating to an herb-nerd like me) and also lays out the most up-to-date research on echinacea.  Most of which, big surprise, was not conducted on this continent.

So.  Apparently echinacea's use is very new, in the grand scheme of things.  And while many German physicians use echinacea, they tend to use fresh juice.  I'm not sure I've ever even considered juicing fresh echinacea, and I've never seen it for sale anywhere!  So that's pretty key when looking at studies on the herb.  Water infusions (tea) of echinacea have shown in clinical trials to be pretty useless against active infections (something I've long suspected), alcohol preparations (tinctures) have a different action, and fresh juice does somehting altogether different.   

What gets confusing, thoough, is that while echinacea apparently won't get rid of your cold, or prevent a cold, it does 'work' as a tonic.  A tonic is an herb that will build up and strengthen your system over time, but shouldn't be what you reach for first during active infections (when you are actually sick, right now). 

Clear as mud, right?

Here's what might actually be helpful to remember:

-echinacea is still good
-Echinacea Augustafolia is medicinally useful, while Echinacea Purpurea (much cheaper) is not as powerful (just look on the label, it will say the variety)
-go for the tincture
-use it like a vitamin, not a medicine, unless you are applying it directly to infected or potentially infected flesh (it's cheaper in your natural first aid kit than lavender essential oil, anyway!)
-don't take echinacea continuously- during cold and flu season, a typical regime is 5 days on, 2 days off, or 2-3 weeks on, 1 week off
-elderberry does work well during colds

Save money by making your own elderberry syrup:
Elderberry Syrup How-To

Random pic of world's cutest baby

"Nobody seems more obsessed by diet than our anti-materialistic, otherworldly, New Age spiritual types.  But if the material world is merely illusion, an honest guru should be as content with Budweiser and bratwurst as with raw carrot juice, tofu and seaweed slime. "
~Edward Abbey

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Venerable Vitamins

I'm not here to convince anyone they need vitamin supplements.  (Herbs might be another story, since in other cultures "herbs" and "food" are mostly synonomous.)
random pic of world's cutest baby
So if you feel good, have plenty of energy and resiliency, rarely get sick, and are satisfied with your overall health, you probably don't need extra vitamin and mineral supplements.  And my sister was telling me recently that a Swiss study has found supplemental vitamins are purely placebo.... 

I know that I feel better, get sick less often, get well faster, and handle life better on my carefully designed supplement routine.  How did I figure it out and where did I start?

I started with Marilyn Shannon's Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition .  I started with the vitamins she recommends, but during my last pregnancy I had to experiment to find something that wouldn't make a reappearance 10 minutes later... eventually finding a raw whole food vitamin supplement: Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Prenatal 

And while I use several different supplements for myself and my little people, I would scale back to just the kids sugar-free chewable multi and my raw prenatal if I needed to keep the cost as low as possible. 

It can be confusing and annoying to try and figure out if the ingredients in a given vitamin bottle are causing as much harm as good, and it's not as fun for some people as it is for me, so I'm sharing a list of 'clean' vitamins with you today.  The vitamins are all for sale at Iherb.  I shop there if I'm not buying locally because their prices are always between good and awesome.  (And if you buy anything from them, yes, I get a miniscule referral fee.  Like if 100 people bought something, I could probably get a cup of coffee with it....)  Do use the code in the link for $5 or $10 off your first order! 
Bread with Honey's vitamin and herbals recommendations for cold and flu season

And check out the bubble bath on my list, too.  If you are trying to keep chemicals away from your little people's bodies, chances are you don't give them bubble baths.  Or, you pay astronomical prices for natural health food store stuff.  Iherb sells Nutribiotic's bubble bath for a crazy-low price and it is a bath time staple around here.  We love it.

"In its complexity and sensuality, nature invites exploration, direct contact, and experience.  But it also inspires a sense of awe, a glimpse of what is still "un-Goggleable"... life's mystery and magnitude."
~Kim Payne, Simplicity Parenting

"Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?"
  ~Author Unknown

"I take a vitamin every day.  It's called a steak." 

~Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick, Kicking & Screaming, 2005, spoken by the character Buck Weston

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Halloween Hangover, anyone?

Is there such thing as a sugar hangover? 

Well, let's see... 

Alcohol and sugar act similarly on your system, creating a blood sugar high followed by a blood sugar low.  If you don't stop the cycle, you crave more and nothing else appeals to the palate.  Overindulgence in either pulls water from your cells (dehydration), though with sugar you get simultaneous dehydration and bloating- know that feeling?  Both tax the immune system and prevent your body from fully utilizing available vitamins and minerals.

So in my opinion, yes.  Halloween Hangover is real.  And it sets you up to reach for those candy leftovers again and again (especially at about 10 am, 3:30 pm, and 9 pm).  Right up until a few days before Thanksgiving when they run out.  And after that, 'the holidays' take over. 

January 1, everyone's holiday adrenaline crashes.  Bodies realize they've been running on fumes for at least 6 weeks, and cold and flu season sets in with a vegeance. 

Wow, Maureen, thanks for painting the most wonderful time of the year with such bleak strokes!!!

While other mommy bloggers are laying out plans for homemade Christmas cards and tree ornaments, hand-knit scarfs for everyone on the block (and their dogs), and recipes for artery clogging, brain-fog-inducing treats, I'm drwaing up battle plans to defend your little darlings from invading viral forces.

So, fellow mothers and health-food freaks, here's the plan:

1) Throw out any remaining Halloween candy.  You can utilize a magical falsehood we like to call "The Sugar Fairy."  You leave aaaaaaaall your extra candy on the front porch at night and she flies by to pick it up before sunrise.  She takes the candy to her home in the woods and uses the sugar to spin snowflakes for the upcoming winter.  (We do this the night of Halloween and there's no more candy.  They get 10 pieces each.  This year Rosie and Isaiah didn't even make it through their 10 before choosing to stop due to feeling sick.  John Paul, on the other hand, ate all his and had a wild night.)

2) Remember that Vitamin C you stocked up on after reading my last post on whooping cough?  Utilize it.  You might not believe Vitamin C therapy is for real- bully for you.  But I've seen it work too  many times to scoff.  I don't use high levels of Vitamin C on a regular basis, but in high-stress situations, I don't hesitate.  ("Holiday diets," ie moose tracks, candy canes, and sugar cookies, are a nutritional stress on your body and its reaction is the same as to any stress: increased need for Vitamin C and increased production of stress hormones.)  The protocol is simple.  Take it and give it to your little people until you see loose stools, then back off a bit.  A gram is plenty to start with for wee ones; increase from there.  An adult under stress might need 10 grams or more before seeing loose stools.

3) Take your own homemade dessert to any and all functions you attend between October and January.  Apple Crisp is my little people's favorite.  Some all natural "soy whip" might be in order if I need to distract them from the mountains of brightly-colored crap also on the table.  (Recipe forthcoming, io prometto.)  Worst case scenario, you didn't bring your own dessert, eat a big healthy meal before you eat 1 or 2 servings of your FAVORITE THING- cheesecake or death by chocolate in my case.  Carry mint tea bags or really strong peppermints or brush your teeth after that to help you limit your sweet intake. 

4) Herbs and vitamins.  In a perfect world, all our nutrition would come through our totally balanced, mostly raw, fruit-and-veggie-ful diet.  In the real world, we need an insurance policy for 'sugar season.'  That's why I'm extra careful with vitamins and herbs during the winter months.  And there are, apparantly, a plethora of winter months up here in Nebraska.  *Sigh*.

Come back by tomorrow and I'll have a list of my favorite ready-made herbal and vitamin products up for you.  That is, those of you who procrastinated and didn't make up multiple batches of elderberry syrup and rasperry-licorice-cinnamon tincture!

"Buddy: We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup!"
-Elf, the movie