This is a guest post from Heidi of Frantically Simple.
Earlier this week, I had a friend over for brunch.
Disclaimer: I am not as fancy as that might make me sound. I slept late, ended up having breakfast at 10:00, and decided to make it a party.
I made a delicious, cake-like baked oatmeal (found in the Is Your Flour Wet? eBook, FREE if you sign up for the Kitchen Stewardship monthly newsletter HERE) and served it with real maple syrup, freshly picked strawberries and a drizzle of raw cream. While our kids played outside on the trampoline, we ate far more than any reasonable woman would admit to.
It was just oatmeal. But it was that good.
Before my friend left, I made a copy of the recipe and then started making notes on my modifications.
At this point, I realized that my friend was trying not to laugh. Honestly, I couldn’t blame her. It was apparent that I have become one of them: the healthy foods people.
I haven’t always been like this, you know. It wasn’t that long ago that my idea of a healthy breakfast was a fat-free, sugar-free (flavor-free?) brightly colored yogurt. That conversation with my friend really illuminated just how far I have come.
At one time in my life, my family ate out four or five times a week. I used to joke that all the leftovers in my fridge were in take-out boxes. And when I did cook… let’s just say, if I were sharing a recipe with you, step one would probably be: open a can, plastic bag, or cardboard box..
It’s not that I didn’t like to cook. I did. I just had gotten the impression that it was hard.
And it’s not that I didn’t care about my family’s health. I did. But I thought that feeding my family well was really hard. And really confusing.
So you can see why my friend was trying not to laugh. I had just changed so much.
A few years ago, when both my husband and daughter were sick with some kind of stomach-flu, she brought over some chicken tortilla soup for dinner. I garnished mine with the shredded cheddar she had sent with it. The cheese tasted amazing. I wondered where she had bought it, if it was some sort of specialty cheese. I made a mental note to ask her about it.
The secret? She shredded it herself instead of buying it pre-shredded and bagged. It really made a big difference flavor-wise. What a revelation!
For years I had a vague sense of wanting to feed my family better, but I didn’t know how. There were just too many “expert opinions” out there.
Luckily for us, the economy tanked and our income became dramatically reduced. Three cheers for the recession! Our newly limited income forced me to start preparing more things at home.
I was surprised by the incredible feeling of satisfaction I received when I was able to feed my family something delicious brought into existence through my own efforts.
Before long, I was making a new batch nearly every week. My interest in yogurt led me to the book Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages, which not only helped me perfect my recipe (tutorial coming), but also opened my eyes to homemade cheeses and other delights. So far, I’ve made cultured butter, sour cream and ricotta. I have plans to try my hand at mozzarella next.
I began looking at food labels and was confused by what I saw. Why are there almost a dozen ingredients in flour tortillas when the recipe I use only calls for five? Other foods contain such appetizing things like ammonium sulfate, guar gum, monosodium glutamate, silicon dioxide, carmine. What are these things?
On second thought, don’t tell me. I don’t really want to know… I just know that they aren’t really food.
I began reading books about how food is processed in America. They made me sad. They made me sick. I started looking for affordable alternatives. High quality food is more expensive, but often much less so than prepackaged meals. As the quality went up our overall costs came down.
The way I shopped for, prepared, and even the way I thought about food had changed dramatically. Still, I felt fairly normal.
I was becoming more “homemakery”, but had not yet done anything that far out of the ordinary.
Switching to raw milk changed that for sure.
When a friend called me to tell me that she had found a source not too far from our neighborhood, I was nervous. I was a little afraid of raw milk. I knew that in the grand scheme of things, pasteurization was a pretty new-fangled idea, and yet I trusted it.
Before he retired, my dad installed and serviced dairy equipment for a living. I grew up going to commercial dairies. Sure, even the best of them were dirty and smelly, but I didn’t see anything wrong with them. I was comfortable there. I remember a well respected dairy farmer saying, “Raw milk makes people sick. I’d never drink any.”
Still… I had already learned that so many of my conceptions about food were wrong. I decided to look deeper at milk. After doing some research, I felt a lot more comfortable, but I still wasn’t convinced. I needed to call my dad and ask him. A part of me was sure that he would tell me to stay away from raw milk. If he did, I would, and the question would be put to rest.
Instead he asked me some questions.
How many cows does the farm have?
Just one – well, two if you count her calf.
How does she look?
Dad, she is the most beautiful cow I’ve ever seen. A blond Jersey with big brown eyes. She’s really clean too. the farmer bathes her every day before milking.
What does she eat?
Mostly grass, with some grain in the winter.
Have you seen the milking parlor?
Yup. He milks by hand in a barn stall. It’s really clean with a cement floor and a drain.
My dad told me that everything sounded great. He grew up on raw milk and didn’t see a problem with it, as long as the cows were clean and fed right. In fact, he told me that he had been to lots of dairies where he wouldn’t want to drink even their pasteurized milk. Just because it was sterile didn’t make it clean.
I took the leap and officially became one of those weird healthy foods people. One tiny step had led to another. Homemade yogurt to homemade bread to local, organic fruits and vegetables to farm-fresh milk and eggs. I use sourdough. I sprout. I soak. I have a small organic garden. I dream of a larger garden, backyard chickens, my own beehives.
There are areas of our diet that I still want to change.
We no longer eat a whole lot of meat, but what we do usually comes from the supermarket. I’m looking for affordable alternatives.
I have yet to find a whole wheat bread recipe that my husband deems a suitable substitute for store bought.
I still use the occasional bottled salad dressing.
But when I look at what I have accomplished, I am so proud. We eat dinner at home around our table nearly every night – wholesome food that feeds my soul as well as my body.
I think that as a society we have been conditioned to believe that preparing our own meals without the use of a lot of boxes or cans is too difficult for the average home cook. What our grandmothers considered a luxurious convenience, many of us see as the only way. Yet here I am, living proof: if I could change so much, come so far, anyone can.
Just take one tiny step at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be one of “those people” too. You might even find that we’re not so strange after all.
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