Friday, September 28, 2012

Let's get personal for a minute

digestive system

  So, where to begin? I suppose I should address why I took such a long hiatus from this thing. Yes, partly due to such a crazy schedule and also a whirlwind ride with the Cheese Professional certification. But too were battles with my own health. Back in early June I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Now, before I explain any further, I just want to make it clear that I am posting this as a way to relate my story and possibly help others, not to fish for sympathy or pity.
  My entire life I have dealt with the pains of a sensitive digestive system. As a teenager, I was too self conscious to speak up about it. As a young adult, I chalked it up to a crazy schedule and stress. Later on, as the gluten free wave struck, I experimented to see if maybe that could be the answer. It seemed that no matter how healthfully I ate, or how fiercely I exercised, I never felt quite right. Always fatigued, always pain, always blah.
  Then in April, I journeyed to Wisconsin not once, but twice (posts on those trips later). During which I consumed very large amounts of crackers, bread, and beer (which I had previously avoided). It was during this time I got very ill. Once again, denial took hold and I assumed I had a stomach bug. But after a couple of months of intense stomach issues, joint pain that kept me in bed for days at a time, and pain that could double me over onto the floor, I knew something was terribly wrong.
  Several hospital visits and a not so awesome colonoscopy later, and the doc said I had Crohn's disease. Hmm...a disease. It is a weird feeling to be told you are diseased. Even stranger to be told it is an incurable disease that will require drugs for life and most likely several surgeries. But I didn't yet feel hopeless.
  For those of you unfamiliar with Crohn's (which is probably the majority of you), it is a an autoimmune disease of the digestive system, which basically means my own immune system is attacking my (very inflamed) digestive tract. Conventional medicine suggests there is no known cause for it, and changing your diet will not affect it.
  This way of thinking of course left me scratching my head. How is it that a disease of the digestive system, that system who's sole purpose is to digest your food, is not affected After my less than compassionate doctor pushed for low dose chemotherapy drugs given in an IV every few weeks, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
  Now, I will admit that this strategy does not work for everyone. It truly depends on how sick you really are. I did accept the antibiotics and steroids they initially gave me after diagnosis, as the pain was so intense that I would do anything to feel better. But I quickly weaned myself off of them and looked for other answers. I spent a great deal of time on both the sofa and my lap top looking for them.
  Enter: the GAPS/SCD diets. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, SCD for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Both are very very similar to one another. The basic idea is to starve out the bad bacteria inhabiting your gut (contributing to all of the nasty symptoms) by cutting out all carbs, refined sugars, and grains, and supplementing with powerful foods and probiotics. Yes, that means no bread, pasta, dessert, potatoes, corn, or beer. The hope is that after a year or two on the diet, the gut, which has been ravaged thanks in part to antibiotics, birth control pills, sugar, even how you were birthed as an infant, will heal itself and regain its "normalcy". In other words, many outside of conventional medicine believe Crohn's (and many other ailments such as autism, ADHD, depression, etc.) is completely curable.
  I myself have been on the diet (I have somewhat combined the two, since they are so similar) for around 4 months now, and I must say, the results are incredible. Just a few months ago I could barely walk, had the arthritis of an 80 year old woman, and had lost over 15 lbs. in just a few short weeks. I have since gained the weight back, had zero pain, and have more energy than I have had in literally years.
  Is the diet hard? Well, at first, yes. Sugar and simple carbs are very addictive for the body, so it screams for them when you deny it. But after a few weeks, the cravings went away. I have found great replacements for what I truly miss (like pizza and tortillas) with nut flours, and relish in what I can have: meat, butter, eggs, wine, most cheeses, vegetables, and fruit. In many ways I am quite thankful, as I am forced to cut out all of the processed crap I knew I shouldn't be consuming anyway. But to feel this good now, it's worth every frustration. While I'm far from healed, I believe I'm on the right path.
  I post this in the hopes that someone else out there that feels the way I did will read this and gain something positive from it. Go with what your gut is telling you, not what doctors want you to believe. There is always hope.

Links I have found enlightening...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


It occurred to me that I have not yet properly introduced the newest member of the farm clan. Meet Charlie, varmit killer extraordinaire.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Homemade Mayo (+ a top secret ingredient)

  What is southern food without mayonnaise? Not much if you ask me. Unfortunately, it also gets a very bad reputation in the health food world. But fat really shouldn't be as evil of a food as we make it out to be. Our bodies cannot function without it, even the saturated stuff. The beauty about making your own mayo (which is so incredibly easy by the way) is that you control every aspect of what goes into it, and you can seriously ramp up the nutritional value that you just won't get from the grocery store.
  There is much debate over which fats are good and which are bad, and while we have been taught for years to believe that all saturated fats = bad and all mono/polyunsaturated fats = good, that may not necessarily be the case. I won't launch into a lengthy explanation about it, but you can read one here.
  When making your own mayo, you can incorporate the highest quality ingredients such as pastured eggs (which also impart a lovely yellow hue), your choice of oils, flavorings, and amount of salt. The texture is also much smoother and creamier, which is never a bad thing. Now, I have made mayonnaise many times before, but my next two tricks (courtesy of Pinterest) are brand new. And awesome.
  Trick #1: The addition of whey
  If you make your own yogurt or cheese, you will no doubt be left with the remaining liquid known as whey. You can also strain whey from store bought yogurt if you don't. While it is great to use in everything from biscuits to smoothies, it is also quite helpful in mayo. By adding just a small amount and leaving it out for a few hours, the whey will culture the mayo, allowing it to keep for several months as opposed to a couple of weeks. It also boosts the amount of gut friendly bacteria, something the majority of us sorely lack.
  Trick #2: Using an egg yolk when disaster strikes
  I would love to tell you that every batch of mayonnaise I have ever made was a creamy dreamy success, but that would be a bold faced lie. I have been left with broken mayonnaise many times (typically when I use machinery as opposed to a good old fashioned whisk for some reason). Usually I would just stow it away in the fridge and occasionally whisk in some warm water to kind of sort of bring it back to its original glory. But if you really want to save the day, just add an egg yolk to the bottom of a bowl, and slowly drizzle in your sad little concoction then whisk like mad. Voila, creamy dreamy success.
Homemade Mayo
1 large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp dry mustard or Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fine sea salt + more to taste
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups oil (I use 1 3/4 cup sunflower oil and 1/4 cup olive oil)
2 Tbsp of whey
Combine the egg, yolks, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, honey, and salt in a bowl with a whisk or blend in your food processor.
Slowly whisk in the oil, drop by drop at first, then gradually in a slow stream until you get an emulsion.
When all of the oil is blended in, add in the whey.
Give it a taste and add more seasonings if needed.
Let your mayo sit out on the counter for 7 hours before putting into the fridge.
It will last about 2 months in the refrigerator.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cheesepalooza: Fresh Chevre


  The second Cheesepalooza challenge (and first for me) was fresh chevre. Having been a cheese monger for forever now, let me quickly clear up a couple of things. First, the "r" in chevre is silent. I know I know, those crazy French folks. It is not related in any way to any American car companies. It is pronounced "chev". Secondly, chevre is not the only goat cheese out there. I blame celebrity chefs and cookbooks for this. It really bends me out of shape when I read a recipe that calls for the generic term "goat cheese". It is not the 1980's anymore, there are many many more styles out there now. You can make just about any type of cheese there is with goat's milk, and sheep too for that matter. And yes, you can milk sheep.
   Ok, my rant is done. Onto fun things. So chevre is a fresh (unaged) mild cheese made from goat's milk. In fact, the very word chevre is French for goat. It is also a very easy cheese to make in case you were wondering. It involves nothing more than fresh milk, some cultures, a little heat, and a little patience (cue Guns 'N' Roses song). I started with a gallon of lovely raw goat's milk, heated it slightly, added the cultures, and let it sit out overnight (Not in the fridge. Those added cultures go straight to work in the milk, turning lactose into lactic acid, and preventing the milk from spoiling). In the morning, I ladled the curds into cheesecloth and hung it neatly from my kitchen faucet. After draining for about 6 hours, I smooshed in some salt, and that was that! Easy as pie. Mine came out a tad more crumbly than I like, so next time I will drain for a shorter period of time. But the end result was delicious. Lactic, bright, and smooth.
  So far I have used it mainly for salads and eggs (like the scrambled eggs pictured below with a gorgeous heirloom tomato), but it would be great in everything from mashed potatoes, to mac and cheese, to ravioli filling. And it freezes quite well too. This is a great cheese to try if you are thinking about taking the plunge!

Scrambled eggs, heirloom tomato, chevre

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The farm

I promised farm photos, and here they are.

the farm
the farm
the valley
view of the valley
112 year old (colorful) farmhouse
the ridge
I think a little cheese cave belongs up there...
small barn
little barn
old barn
old barn
misty morning
foggy view
Sequatchie Valley
more hay
our first hay
farm stud
resident farm stud
I'm in love!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A triple dose of the cheesy stuff

 The results are in...I passed! After a month of agonizing, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I feel very honored to carry the title of Certified Cheese Professional.
  So in continuing along with more cheesy goodness, a Facebook friend turned me onto yet another year long blogging challenge called Cheesepalooza (not hosted by the same bloggers as Charcutepalooza, but the name pays homage to them). Unfortunately, I missed the first challenge of the Year of Cheese back in August, which was fresh ricotta. Luckily I have made ricotta several times, so I don't feel too bad. This month the challenge is fresh chevre, which I plan to make this week. I am lucky to have a couple of sources of wonderful raw Nigerian Dwarf goat milk, which is very high in delicious butterfat, perfect for cheese making.
  Mary Karlin's book Artisan Cheese Making at Home is the guide for this year. And once again, this is a book I have very much been wanting to buy. I am really looking forward to making some aged cheeses in my own kitchen. I have a great little retro refrigerator that I have been dying to fashion into an aging chamber. Stay tuned for recipes and photos!
  And last but not least, as I am sure you all are feverishly preparing for American Cheese Month in October (you are, aren't you?), make sure to get up to Music City for yet another year of the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival. It is promised to be bigger, badder, and tastier.