Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interesting health development

 A typical shopping trip before starting the from-scratch project

 And after (part 1)

After (part 2)

Interesting early development from the Summer From Scratch project. I have had three episodes of low blood sugar, and that's never happened to me once in the ten years I've been diabetic. It looks like I need to adjust my meds to account for a much lower intake of refined carbs.

These low blood sugar readings are in the normal range for non-diabetics (70-90), but for me, my body reacts with anxiety, trembling, sweating, mental confusion, etc., like it were below 70. My doctor assures me it's just my body flooding with adrenaline because it's not used to being that low. But it feels awful. Ever since I was diagnosed, I haven't been able to get my blood sugar below 130 no matter what I do, with meds, insulin, exercise and what I thought was a decent diet, and I'm usually 180 before meals.

Now, I know those numbers are bad, as is my A1C, but so far, I have absolutely no signs of any complications whatsoever. Not a hint of retinopathy, neuropathy, my kidneys are great, microalbumin levels are great, all blood work is perfect.

I know I absolutely cannot count on this continuing, but it means that I still have a chance to turn this around before things get ugly. And that is a prime reason for this from-scratch project.

I've always had a thing for refined carbs. I crave them, with the same intensity I used to crave cigarettes. My problem was never with soda, chips, candy or sweets. It's white bread, white rice, white flour pasta. My first real problem with weight happened when I went to Paris for my junior year of high school. There was a boulangerie between the metro stop and our appartement, and another one between the bus stop and the appart. Both always had fresh bread coming out of the oven when I came back from school. The scent was irresistable. My French "Mom" got home several hours after I did, and I often went through an entire baguette before she got in.

I also came down with mono right before I left, and had it for a solid year, which meant I couldn't do anywhere near the kind of physical activity I was used to. If I walked three blocks, my glands would swell up and I'd become exhausted. So that and the amazing bread really did a number on my waistline. I got it back down and then some after that (down to a size 2 when I was with Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in my early 20s), and then it's been up, down a bit, up and up, down a bit, and up again ever since. I try to cut back, but it's like heroin. I'm a refined carb addict.

With this project, I can make white flour bread, if I sift out the bran myself from home-milled grain, and I never put white rice in the out-of-limits category. Sugar is allowed, too. So I'm not totally free from temptation. But I'm starting to see the difference in how my blood sugar is, and how I feel, just by not having access to white flour 
pasta or processed foods over the past week or so. Fascinating to see how this will play out.

I did a full battery of lab tests right before I started this project, and will do them again at the end. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 1

The First Day
I've finished purging the pantry and refrigerator of packaged food. What can't be stored for three months is being tossed (though there is not much, as we've been trying to use everything up first). The things that will keep are being put into a large plastic trunk that has a setup for a padlock. Maybe I should lock it. My food cravings can be intense, particularly for white-flour pasta.
Easing into the 100% from scratch pool. I've started a large pot of soup, using the thick, meaty soup bones I got in my split quarter of grass-fed beef from Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma. About an hour in, I'll add sautéed onions and sliced mushrooms, and near the end, I'll throw in some stemmed green beans.  I figure I'll need to always have on hand a few quarts of soup, cooked beans, rice, salad dressing, fresh fruit and lots of vegetables for salad. The more difficult food, I'll tackle in a few days.  Tofu, bread, jam over the weekend...
Dinner is going to be Summer From Scratch 101: Intro to DIY Food. No homemade pasta and sauce tonight. Besides, it's too hot to simmer a wide pot of tomatoes and herbs for hours. Nope, tonight we dine on Flesh-Green Veg-Rice-Fruit. The Flesh will be chicken breasts, pan-seared and finished with shallots, dusted with minced rosemary from the garden. Green Veg will be broccoli, steamed with oregano in the steaming water, and fresh lemon juice from the Meyer lemon tree in the backyard, finished with a bit of butter I made from heavy cream using the Kitchen Aid mixer. Rice: Mixed brown and wild rice, cooked in chicken broth I made up last week, reduced and froze into cubes. Fruit: Seedless watermelon.
We're experiencing hot weather here where I live. I planned to make a batch of muffins for our breakfasts for the next few days, but it's just too hot to run the oven, so I'll do a batch of hot cereal to keep in the refrigerator. I'll try pulsing oat groats in the food processor just to break them up slightly, to make a thicker porridge. I've tried making whole oat groats, but they don't form that satisfying creamy thickness we love about oatmeal.
I'll be honest. I'm scared. I've developed some serious food addictions, specifically to cheese (Cheddar) and white flour products (tortillas, pasta, certain types of bread), and entrenched compulsive eating issues. How is this going to play out? Will I succeed? Also, can I keep up with the enormity of making all this food from scratch? Will I burn out, become discouraged? What if I get sick? So many questions. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rules of the game

Fruits and vegetables: Fresh and in their whole form (no peeled baby carrots, trimmed green beans in a bag, celery pieces, bagged salad, etc.). I can dehydrate, can, pickle or freeze them myself, or make jam and preserves.

Dairy products:  Any dairy products we eat have to start from milk or cream. Cream cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, feta, mozzarella, all have to be made by me. The hardest part of the whole experiment: NO CHEDDAR. Cheddar takes months to ripen, and I can't afford a cheese press anyway. No Parmesan either, for the same reason.

Butter: Butter is a special case. I will make some butter myself. It's much more expensive to make it at home than buy it, but I'll do it. However, I will also be using pastured (grass-fed) butter for health reasons, since I haven't been able to find an affordable source of cream from pastured cows. Butter from pastured cows, just like grass-fed beef, is richer in the highly beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins E, A and beta-carotene, and 3-5 times more CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) than grain-fed cows.

Bread, pasta, starches: If we eat it, I have to make it starting from whole wheat, corn, rye, potatoes, etc. Tortillas, rolls, sandwich bread, potato chips, I'll have to make myself. As for corn tortillas, I have to find out if I have the tools to grind up corn soaked in lime to make masa. I can't use my grain mill for that. If I have something that will do the trick, I'll start from whole dried corn. If not, I'll get fresh masa from a place in town. Corn tortillas are one of those things we cannot do without, and we'll be doing without a lot of things already.

Cereal: That's all DIY, I'm afraid. Porridge, granola, etc. Popped corn was a favorite breakfast cereal before boxed, processed cereal came along, and is surprisingly easy and delicious.

Meat, seafood and poultry: Whole, fresh chicken and seafood, since I can cut them up myself. I bought meat to last a long time (a split-quarter of grass-fed beef from Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma), complete with heart, liver, and soup bones. I had the opportunity to buy half a pastured pig, but the beef took up all the space in my chest freezer. So any pork we eat will start with fresh, raw cuts from the supermarket or a butcher. Ham is out (someone else made it, and it takes too long for me to do it at home for this iteration of the project), as is bacon. I will see if I can build a cold smoker to make bacon, but it's really the wrong season for that. Perhaps if I do An Autumn From Scratch...)

Soy products: For soymilk and tofu, I'll be starting with dried soybeans.

Beverages:  Here, there is more leeway, because of the difficulty in, say, picking and drying tea leaves myself. There are certain limits to this DIY food deal. Coffee, tea, beer, wine and mixed drinks are ok. Fruit juice: yep, gotta make that myself.

Seasonings: Salt and sugar are ok, because of difficulty producing these things at home. Honey is obviously ok. Whole spices, not powdered or dried by someone else.

Sauces and condiments: All made by me. Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressing, tomato sauce, chutney, you name it.

Oils and fats:  Since I can't press my own olive oil or extract canola oil at home, oils are ok. I will try to rely more on fats I can generate here, such as butter, chicken fat, duck fat and lard.

Desserts and candy: I nearly forgot to write up a section for this, because we rarely eat desserts, and almost never eat candy. That's not one of my food trouble zones. I have looked into the practicality of making chocolate from cacao beans, and even bought a bag of beans to experiment with. It's extremely difficult to make edible chocolate at home without costly equipment, such as a Champion juicer, as food processors, blenders, mortars and pestles and the like won't work. Thankfully, we don't eat or crave chocolate often, so I'm going to try to skip it for the summer. If someone feels like giving me a Champion juicer, I'll be more than happy to make chocolate from scratch. Otherwise, if we find an irresistable need for chocolate cake or ice cream, I'll buy a chocolate bar. Cakes, cookies, and pies will have to start with whole, fresh fruit, homemade butter or lard,  home-milled and sifted flour,  nuts in the shell, and so on. Ice cream from scratch, mercifully, is easy.

Dog and cat food: That is not part of the project. I don't want to mess with my pets' health, and though I do try to make some human-grade food for the dog myself, with supplements to make it nutritionally complete, they will stick to what they eat now. Besides, the cats, being cats, are intensely finicky.

A long, hot summer, entirely from scratch

Like many of you, I love to cook, but I still rely on processed foods far more than I like. Many people never cook at all. Children can't identify raw fruits and vegetables in their whole state.  We have become almost completely reliant on processed and prepared food, which is available almost anywhere we go. These food products are specifically designed by food engineers to be as palatable and literally easy to swallow as possible, to make us eat more than we should, more often than we should.
Taco Bell says it best: we're becoming a nation that embraces the notion of Fourth Meal. 
The food industry would  have us all become Hobbits, eating breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper -- all made up of food they have prepared or cooked for us. 
They have persuaded us that we don't have time to cut up our own vegetables for a salad anymore. We need to save time. Save time! Save time so we can watch more TV. Save time in the kitchen so you can spend it online instead. (Yes, it's true that many people are starved for free time because of their jobs, hellish commutes, or children. But cooking a quick meal from scratch can take as little time as is needed to microwave a frozen dinner.)
This cannot continue. 
It's time to rediscover the kitchen, and relearn how our food is made. We need to wrest control over what goes into our bodies from businesses that deliberately encourage compulsive overeating, and food as entertainment or self-medication.
For some time, I've committed small acts of food-industry resistance,  making yogurt, soymilk, bread and pasta from scratch. But it's not enough. I'm too caught up in this machine that pumps out highly palatable, readily available processed food. It's taken a terrible toll on my weight and my health, and many of my friends are struggling with it too. There is absolutely a place for processed foods, prepared meals and prepped salads, and trying to make all one's food from scratch is an absolute luxury. But the food industry has gone too far, and I'm going to push back -- hard.
I'm in grad school getting my MFA in fiction. I already do all the cooking (very much by choice), and make breakfast and lunch for my husband to take to work (also entirely my idea). And we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, with an astonishingly rich and thriving food culture, where one can find sushi-grade raw fish, teff berries to make Ethiopian injera, and some of the finest fruits and vegetables on the planet. 
I live in a unique place. I love to cook, and I know how profoundly rewarding cooking from raw, whole ingredients can be. So I have a rare opportunity to do something utterly mad.
How mad? This summer, from summer solstice to fall equinox, I will make every single thing my husband and I eat at home and work, entirely from scratch.
Here are the rules of my game: I have to start from whole, raw foods in their most natural state. If it is remotely possible for someone to make it at home, I have to learn to make it, or go without it.
I am allowing myself to use salt and sugar, because of the sheer difficulty of trying to make sugar, and because I've learned it's dangerous to make salt at home, because the process of concentrating salt water into table salt also concentrates any heavy metals or toxins, and testing of the  water is really expensive.   Tea, coffee and oil go into the exempt category, too. Pressing oil takes costly equipment, and even roasting coffee requires some tools that I just can't buy, having already spent what money I had for all the other expenses of this project.
I will buy whole poultry and fish because I can cut them up myself. I bought a split quarter of grass-fed beef, which they cut and wrapped for me. I'd have been game to try to cut it myself, but that option was not available, and again, that requires a whole set of spendy tools, and I'm doing all this on a very low budget. I had hoped to acquire half a pig, but the beef took up all the room in my chest freezer, so I'll have to rely on grocery stores or a butcher for cuts of pork. Sausage, I'll make myself though.
Whole grains and dried beans are permitted in this experiment, but no canned beans or milled grains.  I will use my grain mill to make flour.
Fresh, whole fruits and vegetables are what I'll work with, not canned, dried or frozen. My rules do allow me to can, dry or freeze them myself.
Dairy products must be made at home from fresh milk and cream. Yogurt and ice cream are surprisingly easy to make, and I've made both many times. Making butter shouldn't present much of a learning curve,  but cheese... that is going to be rough. Any cheese we want to eat, I''ll have to learn to make. Mozzarella and soft cheeses such as feta or chevre are relatively doable at home, but we won't be having any Cheddar or Swiss cheese over the summer. It takes about three months to make Cheddar, and my summer  experiment will be done by then. Also, I can't afford a cheese press.
Condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup? I'm going to have to learn how to make these. Salad dressing, seasoning pastes, bbq sauce, beef jerky, peanut butter, jelly, pita bread, crackers,  bagels? All from scratch. I'll be learning how to home-cure olives,  make tofu starting from dry soybeans, and any number of things I take for granted now.
I won't be making the wine we drink, although I have made wine in the past.  I will try my hand again at making all-grain beer, but that too takes time, so I'll consider that an optional event.  
If I find myself craving a hot dog on a bun with fries, I can have it... if I'm willing to mill wheat to make the buns, grind pork and spices, and stuff it into casings, and slice and double-fry the potatoes.  How will my compulsive food cravings react to this process of DIY food preparation?
Please come along on this food adventure with me. I'll really need your support and encouragement to make it work. I've created a Page on Facebook (A Summer From Scratch), and a Twitter feed (@SumrFromScratch). I hope you find it interesting.