Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happiness is a Warm Goat Cheese

Hadass and LouiseMaking chevre
 The lovely Louise May (she of chicken-at-city-hall fame) taught a cheese-making class at The Food Studio last night, and I was privileged to attend.

Louise has a herd of goats on her farm that she milks herself, and she demonstrated making cheese from commercially available (i.e., pasteurised) local goat's milk, licensed under the Manitoba Dairy Act, as well as raw milk from her farm, which is not.

The Manitoba Dairy Act prohibits the sale of raw dairy in Manitoba, which is very unfortunate for those of us who would prefer it. A farmer may use it for herself or her dependants, but she can't legally even give it away to anyone else, let alone make a living from it. There are many reasons to consider raw milk far superior to pasteurised milk, which is severely denatured. While I understand the public health concerns, it seems to me that a good inspection policy should be able to shut down any farm that operated in unsanitary conditions. It is quite insane that fast food is legal in Manitoba but raw milk is not. Definitely a campaign to consider once Louise is done with the urban chickens!

In any case, we learned how to make chevre, ricotta and feta, all of which turn out nicely with commercial milk, and mozzarella, which in general does not. We were able to compare the milk-curdling capabilities of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice (the apple cider won in terms of flavour). We learned about mesophilic starter culture and vegetable rennet (not made from baby calf stomach lining, yay).

Gorgeous chevreCurdling milk The Queen of Cheese Making (and source of all the recipes we learned) is Ricki Carroll, founder of the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. She was mentioned in Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful book (and the beginning of my journey into making stuff rather than buying it): Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (affiliate link).

Ricki's recipes are available online, but also neatly compiled into a book, Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses (also an affiliate link). 

Because nothing is ever perfect, I did have one complaint - I would have liked Louise to have given us a handout. With so many different kinds of cheese on the go, it became quite confusing to keep track of what goes into what. While I intend to acquire the book (or download my favourite recipes if I am feeling cheap), it would have been easier to make notes on a handout while they were fresh in my mind.

In conclusion, a lovely time was had by all, there was much laughter and discussion as well as some serious learning. If you are interested in artisanal cheese, Louise's classes are a great way to get into it.

Addendum: Louise's recipes can be found at

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Core of the Matter

Mars Core Structure.Today I had an FMS test. That stands for Functional Movement Screen, based on the Functional Movement System. It's a method for gauging a person's movements, to see if any of them need correcting. The trainer had me do all kinds of motions while he took measurements and wrote down a score on a form.

Well, it was kind of sobering. My score was 9 out of 21, not exactly wonderful. In fact, any person with a score below 15 is apparently prone to injury. I have to say that aside from a chronic frozen shoulder/rotator cuff issue (which was the main reason I wanted the FMS as physiotherapy has done nothing for it) I have not, actually, had any injuries in two years of running and kettlebell training. I suspect that is because I know when to back off.

Anyway, the good news is that I don't have any asymmetries, and I had no zeros, which I suspect means an inability to do the motion at all. I have very little shoulder mobility and favour the sore one, which makes sense, but the main thing is that my core is weak. My lousy balance probably follows from that - in fact, everything probably follows from that. It's not surprising that after three C-sections, two of them vertical, there wouldn't be much muscle tone in that area. But now that ten years have passed since my final surgery, I'm hoping the exercises I will be doing will help restore some strength, even though it is probably a mass of scar tissue inside ... sigh.

Stay tuned as Hadass transforms from wimp to Wonder Woman!!

P.S. The spam comments got a little ridiculous, so I have enabled moderation on all comments (but no CAPTCHAs!). Please be patient ...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

SCD and Paleo and FODMAPs, oh my!

Brussels SproutsA little knowledge is a dangerous thing ... and sometimes more knowledge is not better! I am now getting quite confused. It seems that everything is bad for me, and some of the recommendations are contradictory. What's a girl to do?

I've been doing the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for a few years now, and I have done very well on it, removing grains, sugar and liquid milk from my diet. It has helped me keep my Inflammatory Bowel Disease under control with no medication, presumably by reducing the inflammation in my gut.

Then I discovered paleo. To be honest, the paleo/primal principles have had more effect on my exercise (walking and lifting heavy rather than chronic cardio and machines) than on my nutrition, as I was already eating free-run eggs (and pastured when available) and organic dairy (made into SCD yoghurt which is fermented for 24 hours to remove all the lactose) in my lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. Removing legumes (aside from occasional lentils) seems to have been beneficial. Moreover, I added fish to my diet back in March, ending 18 years of vegetarianism. Bringing mammals and birds into my kosher dairy kitchen would be a whole other tale, worthy of another blog post. Hasn't happened yet.

I've also, as my faithful readers know, become enamoured of lacto-fermentation, fermenting kale, cabbage (with juniper berries, yum), pearl onions and carrots. Everything I read told me that these would be good for healing my leaky gut. Just as an update, I no longer use mason jars to ferment, but bail-top jars similar to these (affiliate link).While not totally anaerobic according to some people, I am not yet convinced of the necessity for airlocks, especially as Sandor Katz, the guru of fermentation, agrees with me.

So, along comes the whole FODMAPs thing and completely destroys everything I've been doing. This awkward acronym stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. I'm not going to go into all the details of these (visit the Wikipedia links provided if you really want to know), but in short, all my favourite fermentable foods should be off-limits to people with leaky guts. This despite the lovely lacto-bacilli they harbour which are supposed to be beneficial to the same people. I have no problem with avoiding lactose, grains and pulses, but to cut out all the stone fruits, cruciferous vegetables, onions, nightshades and fungi leaves me with pretty much nothing to eat in the plant department.

Oh, and then JJ Virgin comes along and tells me that eggs are inflammatory, too.

Please, shoot me now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book review: HOT MAMALAH by Lisa Alcalay Klug

Hot Mamalah by Lisa Alkalay Klug
So here it is: the long-awaited review of Lisa Alcalay Klug's latest book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe (affiliate link).

 Lisa's publisher very kindly sent me a copy of the book to review, so that's my disclosure.

When I first started reading this book, I felt completely overwhelmed. It really reminded me of some Jewish women that I know, and am somewhat afraid of - you know, those loud, bossy, neurotic types. It looked like this book was a handbook for becoming one of those, and I didn't really want any part of it. I argued with the book, with its lovely line drawings and wild typography, its luscious recipes and brazen declaration of female fabulosity.

But then, it started to grow on me. It made me laugh. It reminded me not to take it, and myself, so seriously. It reminded me that every one of those intimidating hot mamalahs in the gym was a daughter of G-d, a human with strengths, weaknesses and her own lovability. It reminded me that having fun is an important part of the human experience, that laughing and crying and being sexy and fabulous and funny and enjoying every delicious morsel you put in your mouth is our birthright as women, whether Jewish or not.

I've been blogging recently about akrasia, about the lizard brain and our tendency to self-sabotage. So many women have trouble with the Imposter Police, the feeling that you are not your true self in your professional persona, that you will be unmasked as a fraud any minute and taken away for impersonating someone you are not. So depressing.

Hot Mamalah is an antidote to this self-doubt. Deliberately working on an image of yourself as fabulous, strong and mistress of your own destiny, whether you follow the cocktail recipes in the book or not, has got to boost your self-esteem in all areas of life. At the very least, you can't brood while giggling your head off at some really preposterous statement. You don't really want to be someone whose "neuroses have neuroses", but you know somebody just like that. At the very least, be grateful you aren't her. How about "You know you are a Hot Mamalah because your hobbies include baking, knitting, eating and impassioned debate." Or "You know you are a Hot Mamalah because sultry, raucous, and nubile describes you ... and your appetizers."

The book is structured in the form of a meal (of course!). Starting with Aperitifs, continuing with Hors d'Oeuvres, through Le Plat Principal to Dessert. Each section contains lists, jokes, recipes and even some thoughtful advice about life, as well as the best kind of handbags to buy.

This is probably a good place to mention the fabulous giveaway at Modern Tribe. Lots of chances to win seriously cool merchandise! But don't delay, the winner will be announced on December 3rd. Also, do not forget Lisa's previous book, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe (also an affiliate link).

In summary, this is a book that will make you love it despite yourself, just like the Hot Mamalah herself. Nu, go ahead and buy it, it couldn't hurt.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

About the Imposter Police

ImposterIt's a funny thing - whenever I mention the Imposter Police, women immediately know what I am talking about, and men look at me as if I have two heads.

I first encountered this concept when I was a student in the Physics Department at the University of Amsterdam. I helped organise a symposium about women in science, and we called it "Stepdaughters of Pythagoras and Archimedes", talking about how many women feel uncomfortable in the sciences, as if they don't belong there. One successful woman scientist mentioned the Imposter Police, the ones who were going to come and take us all away for impersonating scientists. We all knew exactly what she meant. Despite our demonstrated competence, we are sure that we couldn't possibly be as good as those confident guys (who are probably just as lost sometimes, but would rather die than admit it). It's a problem, and while it is probably not entirely unique to women, it does seem to be more prevalent in that population.

I know scientists, mostly male, who fit perfectly in their professional skin. They work extremely hard and sometimes get frustrated, but they do not doubt their basic calling. In particular, one scientist told me that he studied physics because he loved it and found it intriguing and worthwhile as a career, and that he did not once pause to consider anyone else's opinion of his choice.

For the rest of us, struggling with the Lizard Brain, that fear of being found unworthy by whomever judges these things can be incredibly paralyzing. Of course, one could ask who gave those supposed judges authority over us in the first place. I think this connects with the akrasia post from earlier this week - quite aside from physical cravings that could be connected to food addictions such as wheat or sugar, or micronutrient deficiencies such as minerals or salt.

I would love to delve into the way women sabotage themselves, put themselves down and deliberately destroy their health. I know that men do all these things, too (heck, the Greek philosophers who coined the term were almost all men), but I imagine that the forces behind the behaviour are different - I could be wrong.

Who is with me on this journey? I would love to hear your thoughts and insights. Especially if you disagree with me!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Greeks called it ἀκρασία

Day 12: ἀκρασίαI first ran into the term akrasia, acting against one's own self-interest, in a post by Mark Sisson. I've had blogging about akrasia on my to-do list for a while, and tonight I finally sat down to do it. Grabbed a chocolate chip cookie before I started writing. Sigh. Paleo, huh.

I have to admit that I found Mark's first article on the subject kind of abstruse and difficult to follow, even though I minored in philosophy way back in the last century.  He talks about free will, the weakness of the flesh, and the interesting concept that we only have so much decision-making strength in a day, that having to make trivial decisions all day long leaves us without the ability to make important ones by evening. A second article by Mark explores the physiological roots of cravings - lack of sleep, lack of certain nutrients, fear of social exclusion. All of these can lead us to toss aside our carefully reasoned choices and decisions and just go with something we know will make us miserable in the long run. I like these ideas,but I think the real answer may lie deeper in our psyche. Not that I claim to have that answer, mind you.

My real catalyst for writing about akrasia, aside from my own regrettable weakness for gluten- and sugar-filled treats that will make me pay dearly at 3 a.m., was a lovely comment that was left yesterday on this blog, on a post I wrote over a year ago - one of my first posts, in fact. It was about fighting the lizard brain, Seth Godin's term for the resistance. the part of our brain that shuts us down and fills us with fear. I think there is a relationship between akrasia and the lizard brain, although I'm not sure exactly how it works. It's something to think about - expect more posts about this in coming weeks.

What do you think, do you sense a connection between self-sabotage and the fear of success? What kind of words do you think we could build to flesh out that connection? Talk to me!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Home-made Cultured Butter!

I am so excited, I can hardly contain myself. OK, I'm a nerd, I admit it. Shoot me.

I made cultured butter that is every bit as good as the organic stuff from Quebec which I purchase at my specialty grocery for $6 a cup or so. I don't normally eat bread, but I had to toast a tiny mini-bagel just to try out this butter. It was scrumptious.

So, what's special about this butter and what makes it cultured? Surely anybody can beat up on some poor defenceless cream. To quote the inimitable Dorothy Parker, you can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think.
Ahem. I think I'm still a little giddy.

OK, so the cultured part comes from the lovely milk kefir grains I was enthusing about the other day. I put them in a jar with some local organic heavy cream and let them work their magic overnight. In the morning I found the most amazingly thick kefir you can imagine. I had to dig the grains out with a spoon, but they seem to have survived the experience.

I put this extra-thick kefir in a bowl, started up my trusty hand-mixer (for lack of a true churn ... maybe someday) and watched more magic unfold. It took a long time, and I had to stop to let the mixer motor cool down once or twice. But in the end, my cultured cream mysteriously separated itself into globs of beautiful yellow butter floating in buttermilk. I squished them together with my hands and put the whole thing in a bowl of ice water (brrr). Rinsing and massaging my butter into a malleable form, it took shape before my eyes. Such a beautiful thing.

Now looking for a good use for my cultured buttermilk ... I will probably make quark or some variant of creme fraiche. Other suggestions are welcome!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The First Snow of the Year - Reprise

Last year I wrote an ecstatic post that included a video from Canadian musician Hawksley Workman. Alas, music companies being what they are, YouTube tells me now that this video is not available in my country. So sad.

This weekend was not exactly the first snow of the year, we did have a few dustings that melted almost as soon as they landed. But this is the real thing - the city got socked with about 30 cm of the thick, heavy white stuff, and it is here to stay until the spring.

It's not fun to drive in or shovel, but it is very, very beautiful to look at. Everything is so quiet, too, with the muffling snow. I walked to shul this morning and the snow came over the tops of my boots! My daughter has been out in the yard a good part of the morning, building things and knocking them down. So much fun.

This is the snow for building - it's actually not very cold, just about -4C on my deck. When the real cold hits, the snow will be too dry. So this is the time for making snow people! I'm sure we will later.

One more thing. With the Internet being what it is, I did find a video that features Hawksley Workman's song. Take that, music company!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Quick Announcement (and language warning)

I dont like CaptchaOK, I don't usually swear on this blog but right now I have to. This picture totally covers how I feel about Captchas. I can never read them and they make me totally crazy.

I've only just discovered I had one on this blog, and I'm really, really sorry. No wonder so few of you commented - how annoying and inconsiderate I must have seemed. Anyway, it is now gone and you can comment to your heart's content. For good measure, I've enabled anonymous commenting in the hope that I don't have too many haters ... or if I do, it'll be the kind I can take as a badge of honour!

Anyway, please comment ... it's lonely talking to myself!

Tell the Truth, All the Time, with Compassion

David Wood
I'm not sure I'm allowed to use this picture of David Wood, but I'm going to do it anyway, and I suspect David will not sue me for it. He's not that kind of guy.

I discovered David Wood via Dean Dwyer, who interviewed him about his remarkable life - growing up in England, leaving school at 15, working as a window washer, then travelling the world for over 10 years before settling in Canada and becoming a multi-millionaire.

David is a "trainer's trainer" - he discovered that his passion lay in helping people lead the lives they want, and that is a quest I am quite serious about these days (heck, I'm fifty years old and STILL not sure what I want to be when I grow up, although I'm getting a better idea thanks to people like Dean and David). I've been listening to his podcast The Kickass Life for a few months now, and enjoying it very much. So why am I blogging about it now?

I got a little behind with the podcasts, what with the holidays and all, and was listening to Podcast number 053,  released on October 30th, while doing my Shabbat cooking yesterday. I was stunned to hear him read out and praise a review that I'd left on iTunes a little while back. It's about 4 minutes in. In particular, I'd forgotten that I'd mentioned one line of his, which had caught Dean Dwyer's attention and also mine. Here it is:
Tell the truth, all the time, with compassion.
 Now, I don't think of  myself as a liar, but you know those casual little white lies we all indulge in - saying we were caught in traffic when we really left the house too late, for example. It really is a trivial thing, but I think it shows a deeper mindfulness to find a way to apologise for being late without lying or being hurtful.

It's also a matter of courage, of taking responsibility for your decisions. If I decide to keep one of my kids home from school because I think they need the day off, I don't say they are sick. I don't hide receipts from my husband and I don't sneak things into my kids' food.

Sometimes life is harder when you decide to tell the truth all the time, but so far I haven't regretted it. My late grandmother was the kind to rub your face in her version of the truth whether you wanted it or not, and that's not what I'm doing. I might choose not to volunteer information if I can't think of a compassionate way of sharing it. But I think it is a great maxim to live by.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On Mothering a Teenaged Driver

Car crashLast week a 17-year-old Winnipeg girl died. She was riding in an SUV with her friends at 1 o'clock on a weekday afternoon, when the vehicle hit a tree. She was ejected from the car and was killed. Her friends were all hurt, and charges have been laid against the 17-year-old driver.

This story would have made me cry anyway - I have become much more susceptible to any sad tale involving children since becoming a mother. But it really hit me in the gut, because my 16-year-old is learning to drive.

He's a good driver, although not yet ready to take his road test. His reflexes and mechanical control of the vehicle are excellent - years of playing video games are apparently good for something. The mistakes he makes are a direct result of inexperience, and he is a quick learner. More importantly, he loves to drive and asks to do it as frequently as he can, accumulating as much experience as possible. These are all good things.

Nevertheless, I am putting my child in charge of a lethal weapon. Right now I sit next to him and remind him to slow down if a light up ahead is about to change, call out warnings if he is drifting in his lane and tell him what to do about obnoxious guys in macho trucks who are trying to get him to move faster than is wise or legal.

But some day soon, he will be out there by himself. I tell myself that he is a good and cautious driver with a healthy respect for the powerful machine under his hands and for the speed limit and seat belt laws. I teach him everything I can so he and everyone around him will be safe. I have to let him go out and learn to be an adult.

But last week, a 17-year-old girl died, and a 17-year-old boy was left with a burden of guilt he can never, ever lose, regardless of what his friend's mother says and how genuine her forgiveness is.

We all cry.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Preview - HOT MAMALAH by Lisa Alcalay Klug

Announcing - the lovely Lisa Alcalay Klug's hilarious new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe (affiliate link).

Another new experience for me - participating in a blog book tour! My friend Lisa has included me in an impressive 80-blog tour to promote her new book.

Lisa is the award-winning author of the well-known book Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe (affiliate link).

I will be telling you more about her and her books when my blog date comes up (November 20th), but in the meantime I want to mention two other important dates: Buy the Book Day on Amazon (November 15th) and a fabulous giveaway at Modern Tribe, from now until November 28th. Lots of chances to win!

I hope you will check out my maiden affiliate links (no idea if they work - do let me know!).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Milk kefir bliss!

Strawberry-infused kefir I know that a lot of people claim that dairy is too Neolithic to have any place in a paleo-style diet - in fact, I have seen claims that anything you can't pull off a bush or kill with a sharp stick does not belong in our diet. Hmm, a little extreme much? While 10,000 years are a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, the fact remains that many people, especially of dairy-herding heritage, are able to digest dairy products into adulthood with no apparent ill effects. Especially fermented products such as cheese, yoghurt and the subject of today's blog post - kefir.

We are blessed here in Canada with a government that does not permit the use of rBGH (or any other hormones, to my knowledge) in the dairy herd, so that is not an issue. While I would love to buy raw milk, unfortunately that is not legally available in Manitoba (time for a campaign, maybe??). I have to make do with pasteurised milk, but at least it is not ultra-pasteurised (another USAmerican food industry innovation we are blessedly spared), and I can get local whole organic milk at my local health food store. It costs an arm and a leg, of course, but it is worth it to me not to have my boys chugging down antibiotics they don't need.

I myself cannot tolerate plain milk, but I do very well with yoghurt that has been fermented for 24 hours, according to the rules of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I therefore decided to experiment with milk kefir, which also ferments for 24 hours.

Milk kefir grains
The main difference between them is the starter - you can make yoghurt from a previous batch of yoghurt (although commercial yoghurt really only has a couple of strains of lactobacilli in it - it would be nice to be able to find more!), but for traditional kefir, you need kefir grains. Those aren't really grains - in fact, they are a SCOBY - a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. If the word seems familiar, I have rhapsodised here before about my kombucha SCOBY. The kefir SCOBY looks much friendlier than the kombucha one, as you can see in this picture. They really do look like grains.

You can make kefir using a starter from the health food store, but those aren't grains - it's a powder that contains dried bacteria and yeast in a specific combination. It makes decent kefir, but it is self-limiting - it won't grow grains, and after a few iterations you will have to put in more starter. It's from the same company that makes the dried yoghurt starter, and the results are similar - decent, but not comparable to using real, live food.

I was fortunate enough to be given some grains by a lovely lady I met in the Traditional Foods Manitoba Facebook group - and if you are interested in traditional foods and live in Manitoba, I strongly recommend joining that group. Such kind, helpful, welcoming people - friendly Manitobans all. I love it. I met her on a Friday morning, and by Friday noon my grains were luxuriating in a jar of whole milk on my counter. I checked them again after Shabbat went out, so about 30 hours later.

I should warn you that the grains are living things - don't expect them to do their best work as soon as you plop them down in a jar of milk. Mine had been sleeping in a refrigerator for a few months, and it took a couple of rounds before they woke up and really did their job. In fact, the first milk bath I gave them smelled downright awful, and I sent it down the sink. But the grains looked a little plumper and healthier than they had when I first got them, so I was hopeful. The same was true of the second bath, but the third one was just divine, especially once I flavoured it with strawberries.

The way I did that is called a second ferment - I strained the grains out of the thickened kefir (you can tell it is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the jar) and put them safely away in the fridge to nap in a small jar of milk. Then I put the kefir back on the counter, with a few sliced fresh strawberries in it, and left it there for 12 hours.

I cannot begin to tell you how awesome my strawberry-infused kefir tasted, especially after it had been chilled in the fridge. I also got all the goodness of a fermented food, with no ill effects - and trust me, I know about dairy-related ill effects.

How about you, have you tried making something new and exciting recently?