The secret of life

The Secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time.  That is the first line of a song by James Taylor.  I love his music and this song, but I think the secret of life is really PEOPLE. 

While we can all count so many examples of humans being really awful to each other, animals, the earth, property, whatever, there are people doing good things too. 

At holiday times we hear all the news reports about good things humans do to be kind and I think we should all make a concerted effort to do more of that all year long.

In a previous blog I mention the two ladies who live down the street from us.  There was a brother and his two older sisters and they lived all together in this little block house which is prone to flooding as it sits in a valley.  I always worried about them.  Gary, the baby of the family, was always putzing in his garage where he had a really nice Corvette, a cool old truck and lots of “toys.”  When I would walk the pups down the dirt and gravel road to their house, we would often meet up and have a nice little chat then I would head back up the hill.  I gave them eggs and lollipops every time I made a fresh batch.  When I was tackling the landscaping around the house, I pulled out a ton of bulbs and they planted them all around their house.

On the visits I learned about their parents, the apple trees they used to have and we talked about the farm and what we were growing.  They love fresh veggies and gave me a huge bag of green bean seeds to plant.  I grew beans and passed them along.

Two years ago in the fall, Tractor Supply advertised that they scheduled a farmer day where farmers would set up their wares in the parking lots and I asked for a spot.  TSC management was THRILLED I wanted to participate in their event.  I told the neighbors I would be there.

It turns out I was THE ONLY farmer to sign up so I chose a good spot outside by the entrance, set up my table and tent and waited.

Nobody else that I told came, but the neighbors did.   They bought a few things, I gave them some things and it was just so nice that they CAME. 

That was the last time I saw Gary.  He died of a massive heart attack a couple of weeks later at the age of 60 and on my next trip to see them I learned the news.  I was shocked.  I asked why they didn’t call me.   I asked if they were alright.  I asked if they needed anything and asked what were they doing for Thanksgiving.  Betty said, “We aren’t having Thanksgiving.”

I said, you must come and spend the holiday with us. 

From then on in earnest I check on the girls.  Neither one ever learned to drive nor marry. I’m not even sure if they worked outside the home.   They were now alone.  Gary was their EVERYTHING. 

I learned they do have a nephew nearby but I have never seen anyone over there so I make it a point to check in and bring them soups and stews and whatnot when I cook and make sure they are ok.  They sold all of Gary’s vehicles and arranged for a service to take them shopping and to doctor appointments.

The girls spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays with us.  They came for my dad’s birthday dinner this year too.  Dad is in charge of bringing “his girlfriends” to the house and depositing them back home safely.  I know he gets a kick out of it.  I was really glad they came to the Fall Festival and it is a pure delight for me to see them smiling and having fun.

At Thanksgiving we were talking about the oil lamps that I collect and one of the gals said they have a bunch of them.

A few days later I stopped in with eggs and they presented me with 15 antique oil lamps and I swear none of them have ever been lit. 

I have them filled with red and clear lamp oil and have been enjoying the warm glow and that delightful smell lamp oil brings to the air when it burns.   They are so beautiful. I just LOVE them.   I can’t WAIT for Christmas day to show the girls.    They have little in property but had something they weren’t using that I would appreciate and they gave.  They GAVE.  This makes me weepy every time I think about it. 

I asked my friends and family for examples of kindness they have experienced or given and I was overjoyed to read some amazing tales from a total stranger being present when my cousin lost her first husband and father of her children to a car accident and was crying in a parking lot.  A man seeing her distress took her hand and said we both needed each other today.  She still remembers that meaningful act of kindness 7 years later.  Others spoke of the kindnesses their family has shown them and the support they get and some mentioned the little things I like to do and give that they have received from me. It is heartwarming.

Recently, I was at CVS and there was an older gentleman with a cane and he had these hearing aids he was trying to get to work.  He was asking the clerk for help but she was busy.  I took them and yelled in his ear that my husband uses hearing aids and I would try to help. 

I found the batteries that would fit and assembled them.  He asked me to put them in his ear.  He told me his friend gave them to him.  I was skeptical that they would work as hearing aids are personal and built to fit YOUR ear and your particular hearing needs, but I put them in his ears as best I could.  Can you hear me better? He looked at me and smiled and said it was ok and went on his way.  The clerk thanked me for helping and it felt good to help.

People, we all need each other.  There are animals that need adopted and my husband and I talk about how we could never volunteer at a shelter as we would bring them all home, but we can do more and we SHOULD.   We can brighten someone’s life, help people load groceries into their car, be patient, consider what may be happening to people and give folks a break once in a while.  We can pay a kindness forward and connect with people, give them some time, LISTEN to them.  Sometimes it just takes a minute, a gesture, a touch on the shoulder to make a difference.  It is a finite time we have on this earth.  Let’s make the best of it.

I am teaching my Little Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters to pick up a piece of trash when you see it, place things back on the shelf that have dropped, do something to HELP others and the planet!  I think by showing up and being a positive person we can inspire ourselves and others.  Let’s do it!

To eat or not to eat, that is the question.

To me, food is life.  

Since the beginning of the world and life on our planet, we eat to live.  We eat because we are bored, we eat for comfort, we eat as members of our communities at fairs and festivals.  Many times throughout the year for all sorts of occasions, we gather with family and friends and EAT.   We eat special foods or fast for religious reasons.  Food is a huge part of our lives. Do you attend meetings for work or groups that you belong to?   Inevitably, food will be available. 

We are in the throes of holiday merriment now and overindulgence is the rule, not the exception.  As I write this blog, I am also working on the list of ingredients I need to purchase and prepare for a event I am catering next week.  Food is on my mind pretty much all the time!!!!

So, what kinds of food should we be ingesting?  Do you find the bombardment of commercials, news reports, documentaries, books, the news, magazine articles, food and travel networks and cooking shows espousing their ideas contradictory and confusing?  I sure do.

Food is very important to me.  I plan my gardens and crops carefully, tenderly tend to each plant hoping it reaches a delicious and nutritious end, and feel sad when things go wrong.    After the plants are done producing, I save seeds to help propagate the next crop.  I am always seeking new plants to grow and I rely on our bees to pollinate pretty much everything.  As a cook I care deeply about what I prepare for myself, loved ones and clients alike and am always interested in what the newest science might be saying about the type of diet to which we humans should be subscribing.   

I have read many books that discuss what we eat and why we should avoid certain foods.  For me it started with Wheat Belly by William Davis MD and that book pretty much convinced me that the wheat we consume now is not the same wheat with which our grandmothers baked bread.  The wheat that most of our commercially produced food is made from has been genetically changed.  While in some cases, there is a good argument for GMO foods, in this case the truth seems to be that wheat as we know it, is a fast producing, disease resistant dwarf wheat which has led to all these celiac issues. 

So, after reading that, I started looking for sources of ancient grains and for the most part avoided traditional wheat products.  I had stopped eating cereal years before. 

Then my friend Amy gave me a book called Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and I was entranced.  Read that book too.   Both books really delve into what we eat, how foods are produced and explores ideas of what we should consider is food.

We all know that if you want to be a healthy person, you should eat less (or no) processed foods, we know it.  Yet, 75% of the grocery stores are filled with packaged crap and new “foods” are being invented every day to keep up with the demand we have for JUNK.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have eaten A LOT of that crap in my life.   I still walk by Kraft Macaroni and cheese or Poptarts (Cherry or brown sugar and cinnamon were my favs) and remember EXACTLY how they taste.  I enjoyed the heck out of those things but now I care more about what that stuff does to my body that I just can’t eat them anymore and I will encourage you to avoid such items as well.

About 18 months ago we watched a show on Netflix called The Magic Pill.  At the end of that program we decided to make some big changes to what we ate.  The gist of that show boils down to a few simple things.  Mainly, that SUGAR IS EVIL.  If we took only one thing from that show, it was that cancer cells need sugar to reproduce.  You eliminate sugar from your diet, you WILL be healthier.  Of course all the sugar consumption in our country has resulted in an epidemic of public health problems, diabetes being the main one. 

Basically, they were touting the Ketogenic diet which recommends 70-80% of your daily calories come from animal or plant FAT, eating an adequate portion of protein (fist size) and the rest of your foods should be plant material.  They were of the opinion that we should concentrate on low carb veggies and limit fruits and with this diet, we could heal our bodies and reduce symptoms of autism, cancer and more.  It was REALLY convincing.  Basically, you are training your body to burn FAT for energy instead of the mass quantities of sugar Americans consume which creates insulin resistance.  Stop consuming the carbs (sugar) and you will train your body to burn Fat for Fuel, a book by Dr. Mercola.  I read that book and his cookbook and several others on the keto diet.  It is truly fascinating. 

So, on our farm we harvest honey from our bees and tap maple trees.  That is ALL SUGAR.  They are natural forms of sugar but sucrose none the less. 

I am a major purchaser of sugar.  You may not know this but I am the Sugar Fairy and I make all kinds of lollipops and confections.  I don’t consume hardly any personally, but I am a pusher for sure.  I wondered if I could still make all these sugary treats for others when I wholeheartedly believed we shouldn’t be eating sugar.

By eliminating most things that contained or broke down in the body into sugar, I learned a new way of cooking.  I experimented with cheeses and almond flour and learned to make a really convincing pizza crust.  We did try the cauliflower recipes too but NO ONE was fooled into thinking that was PIZZA.  My husband’s acid reflux disappeared with keto and as men will do, he dropped 30 pounds like INSTANTLY.  I stopped drinking wine which is sadly all sugar.  I learned about Stevia, erythritol and xylitol and could use those to sweeten items so we never felt we were missing out on treats.  I can even make a grain-free cookie that will knock your socks off. 

As with anything, 21 days of doing something makes it a habit so now when we are being strict, I just avoid most carbs and never feel deprived.  If eating out, there are tons of low carb and keto-friendly options and if I am given bread, I take it home for the dogs or chickens.  My weight is really good and I feel healthy.  We eat a lot of vegetables and in my opinion, we have a healthy diet.  I control the food in the house and we eat REAL food.  I am proud of this. 

Recently though, several of our friends from different camps started talking about another Netflix show called Gamechangers.  I knew it was about a vegan diet and purposefully didn’t want to even see it as I could see no reason to not consume meat, dairy and eggs.  I mean, pretty much the whole reason I wanted a farm is because I wanted chickens.  I LOVE my girls and their eggs which are amazing tasting. 

Last fall we bought a half a grass fed cow from farming friends in Erie and have LOVED the meat. We are almost out of that.  The freezer is almost empty!   

Right now, it is hunting season in PA and Mitch has been hunting deer on our property for almost a week now.  I’m reading a book on raising Dairy Goats and had dreamed of making my own cheeses. I mean, we are pretty entrenched in animal products around here!

But we watched it.   

While we aren’t elite athletes which this show featured, the report was compelling.  The scientists, researchers and doctors all had extremely good arguments for why we should not eat animal products.   Besides the environmental issues which are real, it seems like our bodies would be healthier if we gave up meat and dairy.  Maybe we should consider this.

We talked about how it COULD work.   We are taking a trip to Europe for the new year and I fully intend to imbibe in Portuguese foods which will include wine, cheese, seafood and more, but  we are thinking when we get back that we will start with dairy.  Slowly we can eliminate the cream, cheese, cheese and did I say CHEESE?  This is going to be a hard one for me.  With keto, my snacks are nut butters and cheese with almond crackers.  I currently have at least 7 kinds of cheese in my fridge. 

On the plus side,  maybe we can have oatmeal again but use almond milk in it.  Hmmmm….  Maybe or would we just keep with the no grains and eliminate dairy too?  That sounds so restrictive and would that be sustainable?

I personally don’t HAVE to eat meat.  While I enjoy a few gyros a year, I could stop eating meat.  I did it once for almost a whole year and it was a Primanti’s sandwich that brought me back.  Corned beef egg and cheese…..  fries on the side please! 

Anyway, so Mitch has agreed we will start with the dairy and finish off the beef in the freezer and then stop the meat. I think this will be hard for him. 

I am ordering The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100.  I saw this featured all week on the Today Show.  This National Geographic researcher went to different parts of the world where people have excellent health and longevity and learned what they ate.  I am pretty sure it is mostly a plant based set of recipes so I will approach with a good attitude and report my findings.   

I believe the plant based eating thing will indeed become A THING and you will be seeing this everywhere. 

If any of you try it, please drop me a line and tell me your experiences. I am attending the school of life which is continuous learning.  I’m up for any new knowledge on all things food. 

Eat eat eat and bee healthy!  😊