Friday, December 13, 2013

Food is Parenting

the other day, while walking down the street, my 5 year old son, henry saw a child eating a neon blue frosted cupcake. as we strolled passed the child I watched his eyes narrow and focus on the glowing cake.  my 8 year old daughter, sylvia saw it too.  as we walked away sylvia said to me, "that was disgusting. have you ever seen blue like that in nature?" I smiled and said "nope."  then henry quickly chimed in, "I want a cupcake like that. how come we never get cupcakes like that?" to which sylvia immediately responded, "oh henry! have some self-respect!"  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.  henry is at that age when laughing makes him feel a bit self conscious because he feels as if he is being laughed at.  so, in order to protect my little man's pride, i smiled ear to ear, put one arm around my sylvia tenderly, and walked on feeling very proud, knowing that my parenting choices were making a real impact and that my children were hearing me loud and clear.   i feed my family the way i do and teach my children proper nutrition because i want them to love themselves, to value themselves and to be able to be of value to others. 

when i became a professional cook, feeding my customers was all about freshness and flavor.  as a parent feeding children, my focus is more on freshness, flavor and nutritional value.  my desire to feed them the cleanest, freshest, most delicious local foods, chock full of vitamins, minerals, live enzymes, love and proper nourishment became my quest from the time they were born.   looking back, i realize that should have been my goal throughout life and that eating the way we all eat now, since the kids have come along, is the way to eat before and especially during pregnancy since that is when we actually start feeding our babies.  creativity is also a key factor and will always remain high on my list since chicken will always be chicken and a potato will always be a potato. it's what we are able to do with those ingredients and the creativity we bring to them that takes them to the next level of excitement by allowing them to express their innate flavor and maximum nutrient values while we ask them to also perform exquisitely in our manipulation, preparation or "theater" of taste.  when we retain this creativity in our cooking, we remain engaged with cooking as an art or a craft. this challenges us or pushes us as the "servantless" cooks that we are in order to find the opportunity in every meal. the privilege in every act of culinary expression we put out on the table.  to please ourselves, our friends and our families with the most sensual act of giving that we can perform on a daily basis - in public.  as you can tell from just this last sentence, i consider cooking, prepping, eating and sourcing clean ingredients to be major, super-important, life giving, life sustaining, life changing, comforting, creative, playful, meditative, healing and more. simply put,  food is parenting.

when i became a parent, nothing became more apparent than the importance of feeding and nourishing. as a breast feeding mum i was reminded, every two hours, how essential this was (my son fed every two hours around the clock for 18 months!).   when you are the primary food source you are enlightened to the primal instincts involved in the growing of a healthy child's body and mind.  the physical and emotional attachment to nourishment is an equal opportunity for both parties to witness the miracle of life and growth as nature intended. following the path of Fresh, Local, Organic and Whole beyond the breast is always best.  my kids know the rule of thumb in our house when it comes to what we eat.  if people have been eating it for 200 years...go ahead, it's all good!  parenting (the verb), comes in many different forms.  we might then ask ourselves what it means to parent. in my eyes, to parent is to nurture, to nourish, to feed, to teach, to lead, to inspire, to cultivate, to raise, to look after, to bring up, to rear, to take care of, to love, to cook, to kiss, to play, to wash, to mend, to shlep, to read, to heal, to be get me?

i have waged major wars with my own parents regarding "treats" that they felt compelled to give to my children that are just not allowed in our family.  they claimed that i was depriving my kids of "kid food" and that it was their birth right to have these things just like i did when i was a kid.  my reply to them is "nope. we don't eat that."  i don't apologize and i rarely give in.  some even say  "but it's just junk food! everybody gets to eat junk food once in a while."  to which i respond, "there is junk. and there is food. we eat food."  as the mother of my children, their birth right is to be healthy, happy, safe and loved.  my job is to make sure they have all that and a bit more.  no where does refined biotech sugar, potentially cancer causing genetically modified corn, cottonseed, canola and soy, antibiotics and hormones from factory farmed meat, eggs and milk ever enter the picture.  the health & behavioral problems that go along with cheap, fast, junk are no child's birthright and every parent's worst nightmare.  as a parent it is our job to protect our children from this stuff.  and it is everywhere.

as a parent i feel there is no greater opportunity to teach our children than through the blessings of food, a medium that always conveys a good old-fashioned, farm raised lesson.  we can teach them how to read by taking them to market, we can teach them math by having them help pay the shop keeper or the farmer for the food and then follow recipes with us. we can teach them agriculture, farming and other aspects of the sciences when we take them to buy food from farmers and then teach them about how our body digests and utilizes the nutrients in our good food.  we engage their social skills at the dinner table whether we are home or at a restaurant and we certainly teach them self respect and self esteem when we teach them how to prepare, cook and eat well via proper nutrition.  we teach them that good food will build a strong mind and body. one that will be able to run, jump, play, think and create.  when sylvia commented about the neon blue cupcake being disrespectful to our bodies, i felt vindicated in my "food as parenting" style and how it is helping my children form their healthy sense of self in this often confusing and toxic world.  

think about it, what we put in our mouths and into our bodies is the most intimate relationship we have with another organism from the day we are born.  The food we introduce into our inner ecosystems becomes us. our cells, our fuel, our microbiome, our internal and external self.   what we put in the tank will determine our health, wellness and behavior.  and yet most  people do not even know who's growing their food.  most people don't even know what is in their food!  This brings up the very important concept of priorities.  Everyone has their own set or list in their appropriate order.  in my opinion, especially because of the times we are living in - GMOs, rampant allergies, autism, environmental toxicity, Fukushima (anyone talking about this, hello?) - making solid food choices is more important than ever and therefore sits at the very top of our family's list of priorities. as a matter of fact when we travel, i always search out where the cleanest food sources will be when we get there.  we always travel with our own food and this is also a huge lesson for our children. 

When I teach my cooking classes to parents I like to begin the session by asking a few questions to set the stage.  "how many parents spent a lot of time finding your family pediatrician?"  everyone's hand goes up quickly. then i go on to ask, "how many parents spent a lot of time and did a lot of research on a super safe family car, car seat and stroller?" again, everyone's hand flies up proudly and quickly. they all beam, actually. smiles all over the room.  then i slip this one in...."how many parents devoted all of those hours to finding your family farmer?"  at this point the room gets really quiet and they look quite confused.  not one hand (maybe one or two if i am lucky) goes up and i say..."really...i'm so surprised. you're all such amazing, dedicated, hands-on loving parents and you don't know the people who are growing the food you feed your children.  the person or people who plant, grow, harvest, kindly nurture and then humanely kill and healthfully process the beautiful food you and your family eat at least three times a day."  the crazy fact is that to most, this person is a total stranger!  

think for a minute about those people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on high performance vehicles.  i bet you would never catch them putting junk in that tank. it would ruin the machine. and yet, millions allow junk to go into their children's tanks at every meal.  children have never been sicker, more learning disabled and developmentally delayed and depressed than they are today.  why?  because they are malnourished from disrespecting their bodies with junk and calling it food.  this is why i teach cooking. this is why i help parents learn how to feed their families properly.  i used to think that i was a chef and a cooking instructor. now i realize that i also teach lifestyle and self love.  i parent my students who then parent their children via food and proper nutrition.  we must parent those who, perhaps, were not parented properly with food when they grew up.  parenting is also teaching, yes? food is all about the teachable moment. use it.  every meal you cook.  every meal you eat. every time you sit down with your family is another opportunity to be an effective parent. wow. how lucky we are.

by giving children a solid foundation in proper nutrition and modeling good nutritional habits we are teaching them to love and respect themselves. we are raising little people with big confidence. my 8 year old understands that!  my 5 year old will too, i have no doubt.  i also know that as my children grow older they will use this foundation to make good decisions when it comes to situations that might harm them.  i hope that by teaching my children the importance of good food and nutrition they will respect themselves enough not to sucomb to peer pressure that might harm them in the future.  food is parenting in all the best ways -  food is communication. food is nourishment. food is health. food is happiness. food is love. food is community. food is tradition and so much more.  unfortunately traditions are being lost and food is becoming less important.  families don't always eat together anymore. we spend less of our annual budgets on good, real food, and cooking is becoming a lost art.  all the best parties wind up in the kitchen. why?  that is where the hearth is. the soul of a home beats strongest and truest from the kitchen.  hippocrates said let food be thy medicine.  i say that our best hope to heal is through our children. therefore, in my equation, parenting is my soul food and food is parenting.

there is an old expression that refers to something (an idea, a value, a concept, etc) being "in the water" meaning that it is pervasive, everywhere.  parenting, in my opinion, is "in the food."  to raise children well we must feed them well and teach them to feed themselves, with love and respect.  love and respect for self, love and respect for nature, love and respect for others and love and respect for life.  in doing this we will be raising generations of people who honor the natural cycle of life and consider their bodies sacred and worth caring for.  when we really think about what we put into our bodies we realize that what goes in is what we get back. teaching children why we eat fresh, local, organic, whole foods as nature intended and not genetically engineered science experiments will not only grow stronger healthier children but also produce generations of environmental activists, sustainable farmers and gentle souls who care about the planet they live on and the life that inhabits it.  they are smart people who deserve to know that eating well has a huge impact on the world and why. in august i asked sylvia what she wanted to be when she grew up.  without any hesitation she said, "a farmer's wife." i asked her why and replied "farmers are heros. they work hard to grow our food. i want to marry a hero." smart girl.

i treasure the Family2Table moments in my little home.  we say a prayer of thanks, appreciate each other and then talk about our days.  they are the sweetest moments when i feel most alive. sometimes they can also be the moments when i feel the most vulnerable too, because thank goodness, we are human.  in the end i know that communication, nourishment, health, happiness, community, love and tradition - in other words, real food, will heal whatever ails me.  our children and our planet are our greatest natural resources. love, respect and enjoy them! xx

Monday, December 2, 2013

got broth?

i live in nyc where we are fortunate to experience all four seasons in brilliant fashion.  just like that, right on time, mid november, the weather snaps and the cold arrives.  fall now feels like winter and the chill has set into my bones.  bingo! bones. there. i have said it.  a word that sets some folks on edge and others enthusiastically on fire when pertaining to food. in my house bones are a blessing and a friend because they give us "stuff" that no other food can give. nutrient dense broth and succulent, divine marrow.  (if you never saw or read my bone marrow omelette recipe when it was published by sarah, the healthy home economist, i recommend you click here after you have finished this post).  also, my post, skin & bones, on this blog gets into some rather boney good food.

bones are a foundation, a structure, a skeleton, a frame, a sturdy and strong base to build upon.  the broth we make from bones is an elixir to support all of that in order to keep the structure, in this case our bodies (which includes the mind, y'all) sound and healthy.  in it's most fundamental homeopathic approach to feeding or curing like with like....bone broth on a daily basis will supply the necessary amount of collagen, gelatin, minerals, vitamin C and more that we all need to maintain strong bones and vibrant health.  it is also the foundation of hundreds of great dishes and traditional recipes! 

however, over the years, the practice of making broth, or stock, from animal bones has gone out of "fashion" and people have turned instead to packaged broths and stocks from the grocer's shelves to save time.  convenience is king to americans it seems, but at what cost?  in this case it has cost us our birth right.  packaged broth has absolutely no nutritional value. as a matter of fact, it contains chemicals and additives (the product and the packaging) that are actually hurting us and making us ill.  it is no wonder that we are seeing so many people these days with weak and ailing bones - osteoporosis and the wide spread need for hip and knee replacements, etc.  bone broth made from properly raised animals could quite possibly be the key to feeling good and healing from chronic illness.  as a matter of fact broth is such a hot topic again that there is a new book in the works called "nourishing broth" by sally fallon morell and dr. kaayla daniel and i am hoping to contribute a recipe or two to that!  but enough about why this traditionally key food is so powerfully good for us and onto how to make it and use it!

in my little house on the urban prairie our stock pot is put up every week in order to make roughly 7- 8 quarts of delicious, gelatin rich broth.  we put two in the freezer (labeled and dated) for later and consume 5 - 6 quarts a week.  i alternate between beef, lamb, chicken and fish.  i make veal stock every once in a while on special occasions (and that process is a bit different) in order to make either an onion soup, demi glace for steak (in which i melt an other-worldly australian blue cheese on top of a perfectly rare, seared and peppered grass fed rib eye by pouring hot, reduced red wine, mushroom demi glace over it) or a savory base for my famous lentil stew.  all broths are consumed, salted to taste, for breakfast, first thing in the morning by all members of the family.  we have been doing this for years and find that it is an amazing way to start the day.  4 - 6oz. of hot broth is a gentle, beautiful way to start the day and can keep you going for a very long time as far as nutrients are concerned.  we have also been known to drink our broth as bacon and egg drop soup in the morning.  in this case we heat the soup to a simmer, salt to taste, beat 2 pastured egg yolks in a bowl and slowly drizzle into the broth as we stir it in the pot making what my kids call egg noodles.  we garnish with bacon lardons, thinly chopped scallions and sometimes a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and bacon drippings. again, a great way to start the day with a hot, delicious, nutrient dense breakfast.  

when the weather turns chilly, like it is now, i heat and salt the broth in the morning and then pour it into a 2 quart thermos so it is always ready to take the chill off of whomever requires that feeling of a warm cuddle in their bellies.  that's what good broth will do.  a warm embrace from the inside out.  there is an old south american saying that claims that broth can resurrect the dead.  i have never seen the actual act performed but i can attest to the lazarus effect it provides in someone with a bad cold, the flu or just suffering from being plain, flat out, knackered and tired.  bone broth, and meat stocks are the cornerstone of classical french cooking.  every soup, sauce, stock, stew and more are based on well made bone broths and can turn a plain tasting dish into a spectacular star.

if bone broth is so delicious and so good for you then why has it fallen out of fashion you might ask....well, like i previously stated above, todays american likes their convenience.  bone broth is something that takes a bit of time and effort.  not scary effort, mind you. just a bit of patience and preparation and then it couldn't be easier.  as a matter of fact i liken stock and broth making to babysitting.   in order to make a good bone broth you need to source bones from well raised animals who have grazed on pasture, or fresh, wild caught, non oily fish.  once you have located your source you are halfway there.  i always recommend starting at your local greenmarket.  if that does not pan out then your local butcher shop or fish monger will do.  please ask questions about the bones. you want to know where they came from. how fresh they are....etc.  also, if you do get them from your butcher, ask him or her to cut them if they are too large to fit into your pot - this will also produce more gelatin (especially if you are using a cow or pig foot - yum!).  okay, so now you have your bones at home. good work.  you will need a good stock pot - you can do this in a crock pot too - but i prefer the stock pot in my house. i use a 12 quart stainless steel pot.  you choose what is best for you.

5lbs. (give or take) of bones go in, cover with pure filtered water, leaving a few inches at the top.  with beef and lamb i use a combo of knuckle bones and marrow bones.  sometimes i roast the marrow bones first to eat the marrow then use the bones or sometimes i don't. it all depends on how i feel.  i love marrow - and so does my family - so we tend to eat the marrow and use the bones...but cooking the marrow into the soup is fine, healthy and nutritious.  into that pot of cold water and bones i put 2 TBS. Braggs apple cider vinegar and then let sit for 1/2 and hour to 1 hour.  This will leech more nutrients out of the bones and will not change the flavor at all.  then i turn on the flame - med. high and bring it to a boil  while the pot comes to a boil, the water and bones will produce a green/grey foam that will gather on top. these are impurities from the proteins. please scoop this foam or scum off. we do not need or want this.  my general rule in cooking is that if it foams to the top, skim it off - something is looking to be extracted because it is not necessary and floating to the top to say hello and tell you so. take the hint. keep the broth clean.  there.  when all of the scum has been scooped off the top you may add aromatics.  I will add a rib of celery, chopped, a carrot or two, scrubbed and roughly chopped, one onion peeled and quartered and about 10 black peppercorns.  i then reduce the flame and cover the pot.

you never want the pot to boil. you want it to smile.  if a boil is a laugh and a simmer is a giggle...find the smile.  here is a video to show you what i mean.

i let my beef and lamb broth go for 30 - 36 hours. my chicken, around 20 hours and fish, usually 6 hours.  what we notice here is smaller bones, less cooking time, yes?  generally, i will shut the broth off and let it cool. take out the bones and aromatics, then store in glass jars to cool.  when i freeze my 2 quarts (in plastic as i have had too many glass jars explode on me in my small freezer = nightmare) i will cool it overnight in the fridge, take off the fat in one solid piece then transfer to plastic to freeze.  sometimes i will even reduce the broth further to intensify the flavor before i freeze it.  this is a great solution if you have a small freezer and want to consolidate and concentrate flavor.  then you can add water later when you use the broth and expand the volume.

beef and chicken broth are sipped hot at least once a day by all members of my family. fish broth is almost always used for soups, risotto, curries, pad thai, stew and congi for weekend brekkie. lamb broth is the cornerstone of my lentil stew and slow oven roasted lamb shanks seasoned with fresh herbs, orange zest and cardamom seeds.  i highly recommend broth of all kinds for making rice that has been well soaked.  by using broth you are imparting nutritional value (just like in risotto).  finish with good raw butter and fresh reggiano parmagiano and hip hip hooray!

i will stop now because i could go on forever about broth and how wonderful, satisfying, restorative and versatile it really is.  making broth is a meditation for me -- just like parenting (a subtle hint regarding the topic of my next blog, hello).   oh! did i happen to mention that when you make broth your home will smell amazing for hours and hours? it does.......but before i disappear into my little 9x11 kitchen to thaw some bones and fill the stock pot with filtered cold water and pull out the bottle of raw apple cider vinegar, i want to leave you with this thought....good bone broth is an inspiration and an opportunity to create your next delicious, nourishing meal.  when you commit to making bone broth and having it in your home it is like making a commitment to good health and rich flavor.  It is like preparing and storing an insurance policy in your freezer.  when you have the basis, or foundation for good body health and properly cooked dishes ready to go, you have a home that it ready to heal. so get those bones and fill that pot (and email me if you need help) and get that broth going cause it might just be a long winter and when you call your Family2Table on one of those chilly nights, they will certainly smell the broth and feel the lovin' comin' out of the oven. enjoy!