A Re-Examined Life

Canberra girl’s mission to live a more natural, sustainable life.


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Organic Foods – why I want to eat ’em

All Organic - food for thought

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License All organic Food for thought

I have been going on about organic foods a lot lately.  Actually I only realised yesterday just how much I must have been going on about it, as I watched the following scene play out –  my 3 year old son offered one of his crackers to another 3 year old boy, the other 3 year old happily accepted, at which time my 3 year old proudly announced “its organic”.  I’m sure the other boy looked especially pleased to find this to be the case……

So….. given how much I am talking about how great all things organic are,  I thought I would explain the reasons why I think this to be the case.  I also thought it was a good time as, in Australia,  next month we have something called the National Organic Week, which (as I am sure you can guess) is all about increasing awareness of the benefits of  organic products and organic farming.

Fruit salad

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Pink Sherbet Photography 

So back to my reasons for going organic.  Basically, for me, it’s about two things.   The first being about how much nutrition I am actually getting from the foods I am eating.  I had a good rant a couple of posts back about “natural-from-the-start-but-now-basically-artificial” ingredients,  and recently I came across this fabulous little article called “18 Most Sickening Food Ingredients“.  I recommend you have a read, but a couple I couldn’t go past mentioning are, something called castoreum, which apparently will feature in the ingredients list as “natural flavouring”.  This little beauty is extracted from something called the “castor sac scent glands” of a beaver. Apparently this gland is located near the anus.  Awesome.  (Ok, so they do mention in the article that you are more likely to find this particular ingredient in perfume than in food, but still really? beaver anus perfume??).   Another of my favourites is something called “pink slime”.  No I didn’t make that up, that is what they actually call it.  Pink slime is “a product derived from the bits of meat clinging to fat, which are separated out by melting the fat away and spinning in a centrifuge”, whatever that means.  The pink stuff is then treated with ammonia gas to kill the germs and then is added to ground beef as a filler.  Awesome.

So, in addition to trying to avoid eating the natural-from-the-start-but-now-basically-artificial foods, I am also looking to avoid eating things like pink slime and beaver anus extract.  I am also pretty keen to avoid eating chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).

pesticides warning

 

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby Colin Grey

Eating organic tends to help me avoid these types of ingredients.  But unfortunately just because something is labelled “organic” doesn’t guarantee you are buying healthy food, you still need to read the label.  When it comes to food labelling, there are no laws around the definition of the word “organic”, and not all organic is created equal.  There is, however, organic certification, and under this certification there are some pretty strict rules around the way the foods can be grown/manufactured/processed.  But they don’t make it easy for us to be informed consumers, there are a number of different certification bodies, and each of those bodies has their own criteria for certification, AND certification differs from country to country. If you have a spare few hours however, each of the organic certification bodies have comprehensive lists on their websites about what their certification means, so this is useful, providing you have time to read them, and you can remember any of it once you are in the shop trying to buy the stuff.  I did take some time out to have a bit of a read, (well to be fair I took some time out and did some excellent scanning), but what I found is that the Australian organic certification bodies have excellent standards, and appear to me (from my scan reading) to be very similar, if not exactly the same.  One thing that is worth mentioning is that, for food to be certified organic in Australia, it cannot contain any synthetic chemicals or genetic modifications.  If you want to do your own scanning or reading, here is a list of all the approved Australian Organic certifying organisations. 

Organic LivestockThe second reason I want to eat organic food is about the methods by which organic food is  grown and manufactured, and how much nicer it is for nature.  Organic farmers are focused on the health of soil, and creating a farm which is as self-sustaining as possible (don’t even get me started on how cool worms are, Ill come back to those another day).   There is some really interesting information around about soil health, and I only recently became aware that there are a number of organisations out there that whose focus is all about soil health.  One great website I found, that has a stack of useful information and links to other great websites is the Healthy Soils Australia website.

The last point I want to mention (well for now anyway) is around the humane treatment of livestock.   I’m sure we have all seen the appalling ways that livestock are often treated, in particular the horrendous conditions for battery hens,  sow stalls and live exports.  If you want to remind yourself of the types of things that are still going on, check out the PETA website, it is really sad and disgusting.   A more recent issue for livestock is the increasing evidence to show the serious impact that GM feed is having on livestock health.  Here is one such study – The effects of genetically modified foods on animal health.  The organic certification bodies in Australia state that, for animal products to be certified organic in Australia, livestock has to be treated humanely, and are not given growth hormones or generally not treated with antibiotics.  They are given their natural diet and are free to walk around outside doing normal animal type things.

As I mentioned, coming up is National Organic Week which runs from the 3rd to the 12th of October (I am so on-board with this organic stuff that I don’t even mind that their week goes for longer than a week 😉 ).  The website has a list of all different activities happening around Australia, I’ll be heading along to this organic gardening workshop in Canberra.

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Make it from scratch – Bread recipe

Bread

I love bread.

If I was to write a list of my top 10 favourite things in the world, on it would be probably be my children (of which there are 3) and 7 types of bread.

And when it comes to making your own bread, there is something completely wholesomely wonderful about it.  It makes me feel like the real deal.

I started making my own bread about 6 months ago, but you can be sure that over those 6 months I have made some pretty bad bread.  Particularly in my endeavour to try to produce gluten-free options, my mum could tell you about the buckwheat loaf/rock I made, and then there was the coconut flour flat-bread which no-one can tell you about, as it was so bad, I had to prematurely put an end to it.  Unfortunately I haven’t yet had any success with the gluten-free options, but I do believe I have mastered the not-gluten-free bread recipe.

As previously mentioned I like to try to keep these processes as short as possible, and one of the most genius inventions of late is the bread-making machine.  However, in my opinion, they should stop making bread-making machines and just make dough-making machines, as bread cooked in the oven, is really much better than bread cooked in the bread-making machine.   For the record, I had read this on many occasions but chose to ignore it as I thought it would be too time consuming to bake it in the oven, however one day I was feeling adventurous and decided to put it to the test.  Turns out it’s true, in fact, oven baked bread even smells better.

As it happens, doing the cooking  part in the oven doesn’t take much extra work.  And I don’t actually do all that much during any of this bread making process, as my former-bread-making-machine  (but now only dough-making-machine) does all the hard work at the start, and then the oven takes over at the end.  I just get to take the glory.

I managed to  pick up my dough-making-machine from the Green Shed in Mitchell, which for those of you don’t know, is a fantastic recycling facility at the Canberra rubbish dump.  They salvage people’s “rubbish” and sell it to people like me, I have found the most amazing stuff out there and they sell it dirt cheap.  All their electrical stuff is tested and tagged for safety and you can test it out at the power point on the counter before you buy it to make sure it works (ok, well make sure it turns on anyway, as you probably don’t want to hang around for the full 5 hours or so that it would take to make a loaf of bread).  My bread-making machine cost me $10, and it seems plenty of people are throwing these machines away, as I see them every time I go to the Green shed.

But back to the bread making……. one other thing you need to make sure of is that you use decent flour.  The first few terrible loaves I made were especially terrible because I just grabbed your basic, supermarket-bought wholemeal flour, not a good idea.  I have since sourced some lovely organic, wholemeal bakers flour (for those in Canberra, they sell it at the Organic Food co-op, and it is dirt cheap at around $3.80 a kilo, you will get about 2.5 loaves out of that), and it makes lovely bread.

Here is how I manage to get delicious 100% whole-grain bread, this recipe is adapted from the Dove’s farm Traditional Wholemeal Bread Recipe.

Now you will actually need some time for this, it takes about 2.5 – 3 hours to make, but don’t let that put you off, the whole process is really simple, and as I mentioned, you aren’t actually even doing much, its more just a case of being around to keep your eye on things.  So you can be doing other things at the same time.

Basic 100% whole-grain bread recipe

Photo (1)

Ingredients

500g wholemeal bakers flour

1 teaspoon of instant yeast

1/2 teaspoon of unrefined salt

1 teaspoon of coconut sugar or honey

325 mls of warm water

2 tablespoons of olive oil

 What to do:

Put all the ingredients into the dough-making machine (apparently not all bread machines are created equal, and depending on the brand, it depends on what order you put the ingredients in, mine requires the liquids first), set it to the “dough” setting and let it do it’s thing.  Mine spends 30 minutes kneading the dough (do real DIY people actually knead dough for a full half hour?!), and then 1 hour rising it.

Once the machine is finished, turn your oven onto the lowest possible setting, and then you will need to flour your kitchen bench so that you can roll your dough out of the bread machine tin onto it.  You then need to give the dough a few good punches.  (When I first changed from baking the bread in the bread machine, to baking it in the oven, I skipped this step as I thought it was fairly counter-productive, and a big waste of time. Why would you have your bread rise beautifully in the bread machine for an hour and then punch it back down to a ball of dough?  However, after only partially enjoying a number of really dense loaves, I finally read to the end of a recipe and found that this step helps the bread to become softer and fluffier, and it definitely does).

After you have punched it all the air out of it, gather it up and put it into a loaf tin ( I have seen plenty of complicated explanations on the “right” way to do this, but I manage to get a decent looking loaf each time from just chucking it into the pan), and then put it into your oven, which you have turned on to the lowest heat.  You then leave the bread in there, with the door closed to rise all over again, this time it takes around 40 minutes, but you can just keep checking on it, you will know when it looks like it has risen enough.

Once it is at it’s full size, turn the oven up to around 200° celsius (for a fan forced or a bit hotter if not fan forced), and bake for around 15 – 20 minutes.  I find that the smell of the bread becomes really strong when it is ready, the top of the bread should be light brown, and the loaf should sound hollow when you tap it.   Let the loaf cool in the pan for 5 minutes or so and then transfer to a cooling rack, or just eat the whole loaf right there and then, as this is when it is at it’s best.   As there are no preservatives, this bread is at it’s best the first 2 days after baking, and after that it makes delicious toast.  You can, of course, also store it in the freezer.

I call this the “basic” recipe as the possibilities of what you can add to this are endless, you can add in all kinds of seeds and grains, or mix-up the flour with rye, or spelt or whatever.  One of my favourites (and the picture above)  is to add 2 cloves of garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary and then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.  Delicious.

I am still on the hunt for a fool-proof, delicious gluten-free recipe – do you have one you can share?


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You did WHAT to my food?

Supermarket foods

I have managed to almost completely cut out shop-bought processed food from my diet. It actually wasn’t as hard as i had thought it would be.  What has been harder than I thought it would be, is convincing my 15-year-old that he should remove shop-bought processed food from his diet.  At one stage I almost had him onboard when I had convinced him that I could make a better version of just about anything.  I then went to work trying to find healthy version of the foods he liked.  But unfortunately, I went too hard too soon, I should have gradually eased him into it.  The kale brownies (which seemed like a genius idea to me), were not, in his opinion, better than the shop bought version.  The first day he ate one, he actually coped OK with it, however the next day, as he sat next to the big sunlit window, he caught a glimpse of the “hidden” kale.  That was the end of the kale brownies.  That was also the end of his willingness to try my better-than-shop-bought recipes. I am regularly asked “is there kale in this”?

One of the things that kick-started me into wanting to change the way I ate, was a workshop I went to where the focus was on trying to eat “pure food”.  Pure food being – food in its most pure form – as close to how nature makes it as possible.

Prior to this workshop I had always considered myself to be a fairly “health conscious” shopper.  I am an avid label reader, and would try to steer clear of any numbers, or artificial ingredients.  However,  I learned at the workshop that many of the “natural ingredients” in food,  due to the manufacturing processes they are put through,  end up being something that can’t really be considered to be natural anymore.

I like to think about the “not-so-natural” ingredients in 2 categories.  The first is what I am calling the”artificial-from-the-start” ingredients, these are your artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, and I am sure you’ve heard the well publicised concerns around their impact on our health, so I am not going to cover them today.  The second are the “natural-from-the-start-but-now-basically-artificial” ingredients, and these are what I am going to talk about today.

There are plenty of natural-from-the-start-but-now-basically-artifical ingredients to choose from, but I’m going to cover what I consider to be the “usual suspects”.  These guys you will pretty much find in all processed foods from the supermarket and in a lot of takeaway/restaurant foods.

Hydrogenated oils/Trans fats

Crisco_can_2007.128

This guy is the result of taking liquid vegetable oil and adding hydrogen to it.  This changes the chemical structure so that it solidifies.  Why?  An article on Sparkpeople tells us “Years ago, manufacturers predominantlysed animal fats such as lard, beef tallow, and butter when making baked and fried foods. Later, when scientists discovered that these saturated fats contributed to heart disease and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, food companies started looking for alternatives to these saturated fats. Hydrogenation makes oils more stable and solid at room temperature. This improves the baking characteristics of the liquid oil as well as the taste and texture of the end product. Partially hydrogenated oil provided a good alternative when it came to taste, texture, and stability, and manufacturers started using these oils instead of animal fats.”

When oil is hydrogenated it creates trans fats.  Trans fats are BAD!!!  There is not even any debate going on about this one, everyone is in agreement, trans fats are dangerous to your health.  Well actually to clarify, there are naturally occurring trans fats, however the research on these shows that “they may actually reduce the development of many chronic diseases“, so it seems that it is just the man-made ones that we need to worry about.

If you do a quick internet search on trans fats you will find plenty of information, one article I found interesting is called “why are trans fats bad” from Marks daily apple.   But basically, our bodies do not know how to digest, or process the trans fats. One of the big risks to our health is that trans fats not only increases your “bad” cholesterol, it also decreases to your “good” cholesterol, which (as I am sure you are already aware)  can lead to heart disease.  I was shocked to learn that heart disease currently kills 1 Australian, every 12 minutes.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

800px-GEM_corn

This guy is the result of taking corn, turning it into corn starch, mixing it with some crazy enzymes to make corn syrup and then mixing it with more crazy enzymes to increase the amount of fructose. Why?  Another article on Sparkpeople tells us “HFCS is a desirable food ingredient for food manufacturers because it is equally as sweet as table sugar, blends well with other foods, helps foods to maintain a longer shelf life, and is less expensive (due to government subsidies on corn) than other sweeteners.”

There is plenty of information on the internet about the concerns of HFCS, but one article worth having a read of is Dr Mark Hymans “5 reasons high fructose corn syrup will kill you“, I think the title says it all (not to freak you out or anything).  But basically, HFCS is a man-made chemical and current research into the effect on our health suggests that it may upset the human metabolism, raising the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Additionally, researchers say that HFCS chemical structure encourages overeating.  Overeating is a serious issue in our society with recent statistics showing that 3 out of 5  Australian adults, and 1 in 4 Australian children are overweight or obese.   These levels are on the increase, and obesity is linked to more than half of the premature deaths in Australia.

And lasty, most (possibly all?) HFCS coming out of America is made from genetically modified corn (I’ll get to GM ingredients shortly!).

Refined Grains

Wheat,_rye,_triticale_montage

These guys are the result of taking a whole grain and removing the 2 most nutritious parts of the grain, so that it is no longer whole. Here is an explanation from from  Joy Bauer  – “Whole Grains contain three parts: the bran (outer layer), endosperm (middle layer), and germ (inner layer). The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of the grain; they contain concentrated amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. During the refining process, however, the bran and germ are removed from the whole grain. The endosperm, the part of the grain that is left after the refining process, is primarily composed of starchy carbohydrates and is low in nutrients. Some nutrients, including iron and a handful of B vitamins, are added back to refined grains and flours during manufacturing (hence the term “enriched wheat flour”), but these represent only a fraction of what is initially removed from the grain. For these reasons, refined grains do not provide the same health benefits as whole grains.”

Research shows that if more than half of the grains you eat are refined, instead of whole grains, you increase your risk of abdominal fat, heart disease, diabetes and overall mortality.

GM ingredients

download

These guys are the result of taking food and changing the genetic material (DNA)  in a way that doesn’t occur naturally.  In my first ever post I suggested watching a documentary called “Genetic Roulette“, I would once again suggest you watch it!  In addition, here an article which outlines some of the associated risks of eating GM foods “10 Scientific studies proving GMO’s can be harmful to human health“.

Currently in Australia the only GM crops we are producing are cotton and canola, however we import a wide range of GM foods which include soya (check the ingredients of your processed foods for something called soya lecithin), corn, potatoes and sugar beets.  GM foods are meant to be labelled in Australia, however there are a few exceptions.  Where the GM foods are highly refined, such as cooking oils, starches, chocolate and baked goods, there is no requirement for labelling.   Where foods which are made in bakeries, restaurants, or takeaways are not required to disclose the use of GM foods.  Where foods are made from animals which have been fed GM animal feed, for example cheeses, yoghurts, or the steak you buy in the supermarket.  Lastly in Australia companies are allowed to have 1% GM ingredients in the food without labelling it.  You can read more in the “SBS Factbox: GM foods in Australia” article.

Here also is an article which talks about some of the types of foods are being genetically modified, 10 foods which are currently genetically modified, my favourite being the “lemato” where they crossed a lemon and a tomato 🙂

So these four, as far as I am concerned, are your main offenders.  It is pretty common that you will get all 4 of these guys at once in a lot of the processed foods available at the supermarket.

So get stuck into making your own foods!  It’s totally doable!  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, if I can make the majority of my own foods, anyone can 🙂

Food recipes that I have been making are on their way 🙂

 

 

 

 

 


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1 Million uses for Citrus peel

800px-Citrus_fruits

My poor 15  year old son is having a bit of a hard time adjusting to our new way of life.   In fact, it would be fair to say, he thinks I’ve gone completely mad.  One thing that is bringing him new-found confusion, is trying to distinguish between what we now put into the compost and what we now keep to use.

Example number 1, my beautiful organic lentils which I had been soaking overnight – thoughtfully and unsalvageably added to the compost bin.  When I told him that he had thrown out my dinner he said “but how could that NOT be compost, it sure looks like compost, I can’t believe you are eating compost”.

Example number 2 – my mum has kindly been keeping her orange peels for me, and on the way out of her place the other day, I asked said son to take the container of orange peels out for me.  He very helpfully threw the orange peels in the bin on the way to the car.  These could be salvaged, and so I made him salvage them.

We are now having a daily chat about what is, and what isn’t compost, but there are still casualties.

As I am now doing my best to eat seasonally (something you will be hearing more about later), we have been eating stacks of citrus over winter, which of course means stacks of citrus peels.  But when I started my (beautiful) compost pile this year (yep, you will be hearing more about that one too) I read that you shouldn’t put too much citrus in the compost.  I was sure there must be something you could use the peel for, and was super excited to find that there is actually a million different things you can do with it.  Ok, so a million is probably stretching it a bit, but there are plenty of ways and as we are now entering into spring, I wanted to share this while there is still some fresh, local citrus around.

In my search I found an article I liked on The sprouting seed called “30 ways to use orange peels” which has a variety of ideas for use in food, beauty products, and around the home.  Apparently if you rub yourself with fresh orange peels you can even deter mosquitos (the only problem with this one being, there aren’t usually too many mosquitos around when oranges are in season, but at least you will can be prepared).  Another article I liked is “25 uses for lemon peels” from the DIY natural website, lots of cleaning ideas in this one.

I haven’t had a chance to try out all 55 of these suggested uses yet, but I have started drying all my citrus peel in anticipation.  I just laid them out on baking paper for about a week and they dried beautifully.  One thing to note here, if you intend to use the peel in food or drinks,  make sure you use organic citrus,  and try to remove as much of the white peel as possible so that you don’t end up with a bitter taste.

Here are my little beauties so far….

Dried Orange Peel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the most genius of ideas, as far as I am concerned, I found in a fabulous book I borrowed from the Library called “Homemade” which is a Readers Digest Book.  I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book as it has (the title tells us) “702 ways to save money and the earth”, and some of the ideas are so simple, its crazy.

But the genius recipe I am talking about today is called “citrus disinfectant”  and it can replace the citrus orange cleaners you may buy from the shops.  This one is so simple, you may not even believe it.

Citrus Disinfectant Recipe (adapted from the Readers Digest Homemade book)

Here are some I have on the go…

Citrus Disinfectant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients:

Orange peels – as many as you have.

1 recycled glass jar

white vinegar

 What to do:

You literally just grab your orange peels, you don’t need to worry about doing anything to them, and put them into the glass jar. You want the size of your glass jar to be so that the orange peels fill it nicely, then pour vinegar over the orange peels until you fill the jar all the way to the top. Put the lid on and put the jar away somewhere for 2 weeks.  Over the 2 week period, give the jar a shake every couple of days or so.  And at the end of the 2 weeks, strain the vinegar from the jar and pour into a spray bottle and add some water.  Depending on what you are using it for, will depend on how much water you want to add, it’s basically up to you as to how you like to use it.   One of the other cool things about this is, because you are basically pickling the oranges, you don’t have to worry about the shelf life .  So you can make stacks of it during orange season to last you through the non-orange season.  You can also make this with any other citrus you like lemons, grapefruit, or a combination.   One of my clever work colleagues has just made some from blood oranges.

The readers digest book also suggests that you can deodorize a room by setting out a small bowl of the  undiluted citrus vinegar.  Genius.