Archive for the ‘ food and eating well ’ Category

An Evening Reflection on Turmoil

window_boys

We are making our way in New York City this week. After seeing, walking, exploring, as much as three young boys can handle, we seek quiet in a small Brooklyn apartment. Well, quiet is relative. There were snatches of it this morning, as I read that even though I’d walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I could dare to fear no evil.

This afternoon, though, my boys can’t stop rough housing, hurting each other, and making a game of crushing fallen cereal pieces all over the living room floor. I slam down my Chaim Potok novel, storm in to call my boys hellions and demand they clean up the war zone. Oldest son thinks I need to know that the fallen cereal did make the floor look like a minefield.

Clearly. A reason. To ruin. Someone else’s. Apartment.

I ban the electronic devices, cursing them as “lazy games,” and set the boys to work making dinner. They do well. One chops onions, another tomatoes. They stir the lentils, measure out rice.

And on the cleared minefield, we eat.

dinner_together

lentils

Food is thrown across the floor, eventually. And again, we work toward restoration. (And again, and again. How many things were spilled today.)

But my partner in this marriage comes home and takes the boys out to play, and what do I do with this unexpected time of peace, of genuine quiet? How much longer it lingers than I expected.

park

In my hour, I receive word of war zones half a world away. Of children beheaded. Of the advance of ISIS, and attacks between Israel and Gaza. Prayer has never been so urgent. Mind you, it’s not perfect here in Brooklyn—my lover and I startled awake to gunshots the other night. “Maybe it really wasn’t,” he said sleepily. But we both knew it was. We slept anyway, as though the tragedies of the day don’t touch us clear through.

I wonder how it is that peace is restored after the mines are strewn in our fields, after brother-anger flashes through my little boys’ eyes. I don’t have answers to these things—no tidy packages to pull together why the real consternation of my little day doesn’t keep us up at night. We still circle around dinner together, and we say grace, for that’s what it is.

But there are gaps sometimes, like this one, when the whispers come: how do Iraqi Christian mamas fear no evil?

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I’m in My Kitchen… Come on In!

Oh, I love food. And I love how celebration includes feasting. But this Thanksgiving had me chewing on my own food control issues and ingratitude when it comes to feasting. I have places in need of healing right along with my son Ari. As I turned to second pieces of pumpkin pie with near panic, I began to gain solid understanding why Kimberlee Conway Ireton in The Circle of Seasons speaks value into some form of fasting in the dark waiting of Advent.

Because Advent is a season of preparation and penitence, fasting has historically been part of Advent observance, a way to clear away the detritus of the year and create space in our lives for Christ to come.

I love that idea of making space for Christ through fasting. Where there may be grabbing panic in my eating habits — Quick! Cram it down so nobody sees! — there can perhaps be a new emptiness. And that emptiness can turn me to the One who fills.

But there is hardly a shortage of food around our house. Oh, my! We hardly have places to store it all! As I plan and prepare meals and snacks to nourish our bodies between these times of feasting, I am finding a new gratitude in the preparation. It’s probably even more exciting than pumpkin pie.

Do you want to step into my kitchen for a moment? Our woodstove in the living room is warming up the whole place, and I’ll light a candle for you to cut the dark of these December days.  Do you like chai, yerba mate, chamomile tea? I’ll set the kettle to boiling while we take a peek around at what I’ve been up to:

Cortido! (Spicy, Latin American sour kraut) I just got my first batch of this packed into jars tonight, so it can ferment for a few days before it moves to the refrigerator.  When it’s done, it’ll be delicious eaten on salads and sandwiches, or — my favorite way — straight out of the jar. How can such a party in the mouth be so soothing for the stomach?

Sprouts! This alfalfa, radish, lentil, red clover seed mixture has just started sending out tiny little sprouts. Making sprouts at home is so easy, I can hardly say I’ve been making them at all. It’s food so fresh it’s still growing!

Soaked, dried almonds! I used the Healthy Home Economist’s method for soaking and drying almonds, and I’m loving it. Last week I concocted some sweet almonds with honey and salt, and tonight a plain salted batch is drying in my newly calibrated oven. Who knew I could turn my oven into a dehydrator?

Coconut milk! I really love the taste of commercially produced coconut milk, but it just strikes me funny to be drinking added ingredients like evaporated cane juice and carageenan. So I made my first successful batch with just coconut and water, amazed at how cheesecloth so beautifully strained out the coconut pulp.

Soap! Even though we decided not to eat it, hopefully we can nourish our bodies with the Holiday Spice Soap I made with Isaiah last week. While I confess I started off my soap-making with too complicated of a recipe for my blood, I think it’s going to be okay after all. It’s terribly exciting to be making. soap. It’s all set to curing on my laundry closet shelf.

Whole chickens! The herb roasted whole chickens featured on Pioneer Woman’s website have been knocking my socks off lately. We usually prop up a seasoned whole chicken on a beer can and grill it, which is mighty tasty too, but the combination of lemon, garlic, onion, and herbs in our newly found recipe is to die for. I always boil my chicken carcasses for broth, and these chickens have made the best ever. I love having plenty of broth for winter soups.

Now, you can’t tell me food like that isn’t exciting! For me, it’s a welcome alternative to my traditional Christmas cookie baking marathon. And I just got something like 50 pounds of apples from Azure Standard today, so I can already smell some applesauce cooking in the coming days.

In These Days Before Feasting, Hunger

The plea comes again: “Mommy, I’m so hungry!”

“We just ate,” I say.  I’ve tried this logic a hundred times.  Will a-hundred-and-one flip the switch?

“I’m still hungry!”  He’s desperate, pleading.

Did everything that makes me a mama just threaten to collapse?  What is this trembling and twisting within me?  Is it my heart breaking at being unable to appease this insatiable hunger?

So much of my perceived worth as a mother is wrapped up in this providing, satisfying, this feeding and filling bellies.  And that cry peppering my day accuses:  You are never enough.  You can never fill this need.  I know it’s a warped accusation, but I hear it all the same. I feel a wedge of tears building up inside my throat, and I feel desperate to be what I am not.

“Did you have any water today?  Maybe you’re dehydrated.”

“I hate water!”

I take a deep breath.  “I need you to drink some water before you have any other food.”

“I don’t want water!”

Oh, my son Ari, where do we go from here? I am in panic mode, because I know where things often end up. In his disrespect of my authority, there are consequences. Or if I give food at his first and every request, how long would this go on? Would he eat himself sick? I struggle with how much to control. At times, I may as well stand with lock and key at the kitchen cabinet for all the reproof I spew forth.

When Ari was three, we had him tested for food intolerances, and we were handed a list of over 30 foods to eliminate. I was daunted but determined to prevail and protect. At least with the knowledge of cooking and whole foods, we could survive this two-month protocol toward healing. But after two months, as we reintroduced foods into his par-healed gut, the reactions were confusing and questionable, and we landed in a sloggy bog of what to do next.

I hadn’t understood the allergy doctor’s protocol and the science behind it, so I began to study for myself. The book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) blew my mind, as I learned about healthy gut bacteria, and how, the author purports, allergies and intolerances begin, and how the gut reacts to different types of food. The gentle, grain-free diet — reminiscent of diets of generations long past, before big business over-tinkered with food — looks so hopeful to this desperate mama.

But they are hopes laced with doubts. What if I can’t maintain the diet that’s so counter-cultural? What if the conclusions of the GAPS doctor’s research are wrong? And how can I stand up against the wagging heads of those who must see me as a radical dreamer, or worse yet, someone who makes trouble of nothing? I want to grab them by their shirt collars and hiss between my teeth, “Don’t you know what it’s like to be a mama?”

And below all of these, there’s another barrage of unanswered questions: What has happened in my son’s past that has carved his attitudes toward food? What mysteries still cannot be explained by a look inside Ari’s stomach? I have to keep coming back to the master designer who formed Ari’s stomach and mind, the God who walked with him as a baby before we could even attempt to give him our version of what was best for him.

And the third barrage perhaps strikes harshest of all: Why should I worry so intensely about food in a house of plenty? What do we know of hunger?

I remember what Jesus said on the mount, assuring us of our value as living creatures, creatures clothed and fed by His very hands. Don’t worry, He’s saying. Don’t worry. And what of my responsibility as a mama? It’s a bit crazy to think of not worrying about food at all. But I have to believe that it’s possible for the ones covered by the blood of the man who fed thousands from one small basket of food.  Jesus knows food.

Jesus asked His disciples to take the miracle-food and pass it around.  With what was in front of them they fulfilled their responsibilities. What Jesus asks me to do as a mama is always in light of my larger calling to let Him be the provider for my children.  I struggle to hold my authority and responsibility with an open hand — an open hand ready to receive the miracle of healing and nourishment that I cannot force into reality. I pray for open eyes to see our daily cornucopia. For even with my handfuls of questions, we are handed basketfuls of provision — food and drink and energy and new mornings — and they strengthen us to keep walking forward.

Wild Land

This year’s summer tied me to the land here more than others have.  Could it have been the scowling at New Zealand apples taken as slaves to the opposite end of the earth?  Or the skipping through the farmer’s markets to the rhythm of the bluegrass?  Could it have been the hands in my own garden soil, vegetables growing in spite of me?  Or the apples by bucketful tasting like my first summers alive?

No, it was by the creeksides I discovered the true fruit of the land — the wild ones who persist because they are grateful themselves.  The tangle of native plants were christened: sumac, hackberry, riverbank grapes.  An unfamiliar tingle of grapeseed on my tongue gave me the beginning of true wealth.  I welcomed friendly lamb’s quarter, pushing high into seed for next year’s planting.  The named shot forth because they belong here.  We are both here now, and it is necessary we intersect our lives.

Freeways pave over life that has already been rooted here, as we humans announce our presence.  Weeds of color fly by car windows on our way to happy take-out, automatic living on the cheap.

But the wilds aren’t cheap.  They’re free.  They did not call forth objection to be plowed underfoot, but silently remained where they could to continue to give forth nourishment and vitality.  They humbly raise hands to the heavens and shoot forth in profusion where unharnessed.

Home Birth: My Favorites in the Postpartum Season

Welcome to the last round of my favorite things about home birth!  Okay, most of my postpartum favorites don’t deal with home birthing in particular, but I’m trying to make home birth a comfortable household term across America, you know, so the more I say it the better, right?  Home birth.  Home birth, home birth, home birth.

Shoot.  I’m losing my edge.  It must have something to do with it being 10.30 at night while two audio tracks are playing at once in the living room and I’m a wee bit tired from breastfeeding at regular intervals at night for eight weeks running.  I am not complaining, I promise you: I love it.  Well, all except the two audio tracks playing at once.  And maybe being tired isn’t what I’d order off a menu, but I am a happy mama.  Ready to hear my secrets?

1. Encapsulated happiness

Soooo…  I’m eating my placenta.  Yes, I just said that.  I haven’t had the guts to tell many people about my secret to postpartum happiness.  I didn’t want to gross anybody out, you know.  But then I figured, hey, the gross-out factor for things is always highest the first time, right?  If I’m willing to be the bearer of this news, then every time you hear of placenta use from here on out, the more mainstream it’ll sound.  Doesn’t that just make you feel better already?

To be honest,  placenta ingestion is on an upward trend, according to my bit of  personal research anyway.  My midwife estimated that last year, ten percent of her clients took their placentas in pill form; this year, it’s 50 percent.  This isn’t a new thing, by the way.  Dig around the web and read articles like this and you’ll learn how other cultures have been honoring and using the placenta for centuries.  It’s fascinating.

The placenta is loaded with nutrition and healthy hormones, and it’s especially known for helping combating postpartum depression as well as helping the body heal after childbirth.   But I wasn’t really craving it prepared as a steak, you know?Instead Rachel prepared the placenta similarly to the technique described on the peaceful parenting blog:  she steamed it, dehydrated it, and then Kyle and I packed placenta powder into empty capsules.  Taking two capsules a day for the first three weeks, and one capsule every day for the three weeks after that, I don’t think it was coincidental that my postpartum season has been so blissful.  I love how Lindsay from Passionate Homemaking describes how bonded she has felt with her newborn in her blog article this week about the benefits of placenta encapsulation.  Like Lindsay, I had a few weepy days, all on days when I had forgotten to take my placenta pill.  I’m telling you, ladies: sometimes being crazy pays off…

2. Open hands

Accept help. Period.

If people offer to bring meals, let them.  If someone asks to come visit and hang out with your boys so you can take a nap, say yes.  If your husband tells you should hire someone to help around the house, bite your tongue and, um… strongly consider it.  You may want to be a superwoman — all blissed out on your postpartum happy pills — but superwoman just isn’t your role in the domestic duties department.

3. Freezer meals

Of all the nesting activities that claimed my time, food preparation was the most worthwhile.  I’ve decided that when you’ve got three little boys to love on, cooking goes way down on the list of priorities.  But you want to feed your family well, you know?  So I started packing the freezer during the summer, and I got serious about it.  We actually had to buy a deep freeze after I got everything made.  Curious what we’ve been eating?

Chicken noodle soup

Chicken pot pie with homemade biscuits

Black bean burgers

Black bean-quinoa burgers

Beef enchiladas

Lasagna

Chicken and brown rice casserole

Falafel, pitas, and hummus

Spinach quiche

Spelt-raisin bread

Zucchini bread

Chocolate chip cookies

Food.  It speaks to my nursing-mama heart.  Food with little to no preparation time?  Now we’re talking.

4. Cloth diapering

Well, I wouldn’t say washing out poopy diapers is one of my favorite pasttimes, but you may as well save a load of money and a chunk of landfill by using some cute cloth diapers.  Face it: doing laundry isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if you can have a positive attitude about it.  We started out with prefolds and Thirsties diaper covers, followed by an older used model of the BumGenius one-size pocket diapers, but there are plenty of viable options out there these days.  And while I’m doing diaper laundry, it’s no more work to use squares of old colorful t-shirts (edges don’t fray so they don’t need hemming), sprayed with water laced with lavendar and tea tree oils.

5. Activity packs

I haven’t had much of a creative brain since the birth, so I’m happy I spent the time packing up an array of projects for my bigger boys.  I did much of the supply preparation before the birth, and now it’s easy to pull out projects like these:

Pinwheels

Funny face pots

A blend of dry beans or colored rice

Kaleidoscopes

Sponge toys

Hot rocks

Funnels and hoses

Orange birdfeeders

6. Baby-wearing

While I was waiting for our son Ari to join us from Ethiopia, I read all I could about attachment in childhood.  I discovered so much research on how holding a baby, especially with skin-to-skin contact, is crucial in bonding.  And that year, I fell in love with the Moby wrap, and I fell in even deeper love with Ari.  Ergonomical and comfortable, this baby carrier is a must-have for me now.  Newborn children need their mamas, want their mamas, change so fast.  I think Amber from The Run-a-Muck would agree; she recently posted a heart-wrenching but sweet article on baby-wearing.  Why lug around a car seat, more than double the weight of a baby, when you can keep your hands free and your baby nurtured?  Ray is a beautiful person; I’d rather keep him close.

This post is the last in a series on my experience with home birth.  Other posts in the series:

When life happens, hold it closely.

Home Birth: Some Natural, Everyday Miracles (Part 1)

Home Birth: Some Natural, Everyday Miracles (Part 2)

Home Birth: My Favorites in Pregnancy

Home Birth: My Favorites in Pregnancy

Let me just say I love being pregnant.  I feel voluptuous, sexy, full of purpose.  There’s this moving being within me, depending on me and shaping me.  For all my worries about the conception and survival of the baby, it’s out of my hands.  I am undeservedly inhabited by life, and it feels utterly sacred.  So, if there is any excuse to celebrate this hope-filled season, I want to find it.

On the other hand, birthing at home, in the way that I experienced it, could not have happened without some serious preparation during pregnancy.  I’m not saying it could not have happened at all, or even that it could not have been a fulfilling experience.  However, I do believe the absorption of reliable information, good nutrition, and healthy activities played a huge part in how birth played out for our family.

So whether it’s for the purpose of celebrating life or cultivating life through educated choices, pregnancy deserves special attention.  It’s an excuse to live life differently — more fully, more beautifully.

I won’t write you an exhaustive list, but here are some of my favorite ways to do just that:

Read books (and watch movies)

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin — Half birth stories and half information from one of the most seasoned midwives around, this book is a great, safe place to start exploring home birth.
  • Birthing From Within, by Pam England, CNM and Rob Horowitz, PhD — Wandering from the common how-to guide, the authors help mamas (and dads) prepare for birth through art, journaling, meditation, and other creative means.
  • Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, by Sarah J. Buckley, MD — Written by an Australian OB who chose to have her own children at home, this research-loaded volume is priceless.

Documentaries:

  • The Business of Being Born — This documentary exploring the dichotomy between America’s birthing styles started my journey in thinking about home birth, and was significant in opening Kyle’s mind to it, too.
  • Orgasmic Birth — I enjoyed this inspiring look into how birth can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience, rather than a notoriously agonizing one.

Drink red raspberry leaf tea

Red raspberry leaf tea strengthens and tones the uterus for labor, so by the third trimester, I was drinking a quart a day.  It’s so refreshing over ice — my summertime pregnancy staple.  I ordered a whole pound of the loose-leaf tea from the Bulk Herb Store.

(In general, food was my medicine during pregnancy, so much so that I ditched prenatal vitamins.  I listened to my cravings for protein and calcium in particular and felt whole and healthy as I approached birth.)

Take time for life-giving activities

  • Nature walks — We have this wonderful wooded area in Manhattan that I call The Stone Tables, as it’s scattered with nearly century-old slabs of stone set up for tables and benches.  This forest was the place I went to talk to God and inhale His grace during my pregnancy.  I recommend finding a favorite outdoor place and making it into a temple or retreat.
  • Prenatal yoga — Yoga stretched and balanced my body and made me feel lovely, even into to the last week of my pregnancy.
  • Birth art — Whether I was visualizing and illustrating the birth itself or processing heart issues, birth art became so helpful to my inner life during pregnancy.  It doesn’t have to be good; it’s just amazing what comes out of a pencil or paintbrush when you give yourself a creative means by which to express it.
  • Meditation — This was a new one to me, so I just started simply — closing my eyes and focusing on the thought “Jesus loves me” or something similar.  Meditation gave me quietness in which to hear God and also gave me an appreciation for the calmness in between labor contractions.

Get henna tattoos on your belly!

A week before Ray was born, some of my favorite people came to my home, spoke gracious words of vision over me, and helped paint my ripe and pregnant belly with henna.  We were inspired by these amazing henna designs.  It was so fun and beautiful — no ceremony or huge agenda.  The henna belly party was really just an expression of all the ways I had hoped to celebrate pregnancy and honor God for the ways He was working in my life during that season.  It was a party with wonderful, nurturing people; there was a spread of perfect food and good music; and I pulled out my big round belly pulsing with baby kicks from a little boy about to see the light of day.

Now it’s your turn:

What are your favorite ways to celebrate pregnancy and prepare for childbirth?

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This post is part of a series on my experience with home birth.  You’re welcome to check out my other posts:

When life happens, hold it closely.

Home Birth: Some Natural, Everyday Miracles (Part 1)

Home Birth: Some Natural, Everyday Miracles (Part 2)

i interrupt this silence with an important message…

Church lasted half an hour today, and since we were fifteen minutes late, it lasted fifteen minutes for us.  Pastor Pete preached on love — the kind of love by which people will know we are disciples of Jesus.  We didn’t know it was coming, but at the end of his message, Pete asked our church to help fill the local food banks.  Metrocrest Food Pantry was full at the beginning of last week; today it is empty.  There is need.  And the body of Jesus Christ — we are the need-fillers. 

Ushers handed out a little paper, mapping out nearby grocery stores and a list of most needed items at the food bank.  We all huddled together and said, “Break!”  And then we were commissioned to storm the local grocery stores to shop for the people who can’t afford to shop for themselves. We’re taking food to an empty parking lot, where trucks are sitting until mid-afternoon today, being loaded up to take the food where it needs to go.

About ten area churches partnered with ours in this effort to feed the hungry.  It is not only our church, but the Church.  The hands and feet of Jesus do not keep themselves within the walls of a church building, or even within the walls of a denomination.  Tonight, we are praising Jesus together.

I just had to tell you because I had this surge of excitement to really be part of feeding the hungry right now.  Not next month, or next year, when I’ve gotten my act together and my theology on giving all straightened out.  But now, together with my brothers and sisters.

I wonder what it would look like for the Church in every city — big and small — to break out their wallets and feed the hungry, on the count of one… two… three.  Would it endanger hunger itself?