Monthly Archives: April 2010

Starting incubating project

After ten years of homeschooling, I’m finally taking on the hands on project of incubating eggs!

Last night we went to a local farm to pick up fertile eggs and rent an incubator.  Weeks ago when I first talked to the kids about doing this, we went back and forth on whether we wanted to hatch duck eggs or chicken eggs.  I was leaning towards chicks, the kids were leaning towards ducklings – they said ducklings are much cuter.  So duck eggs it was.

We turned the incubator on last night so the heat would be up and stabilized by this morning, when we planned to place the eggs in it.  But it was only at 80 degrees, and we realized that there were two plugs that needed to be plugged in, and we’d only plugged in one of them.  We plugged in the second one and after a relatively short while, the incubator was up to 120 degrees – it’s supposed to be at 100.

There’s a thermometer inside the incubator, but nothing to indicate how high the heat is on the knob – it just says ‘increase’ and ‘decrease’.  But how are you supposed to know how much to increase or decrease it?!  I haven’t yet figured it out.  I’m hoping in the morning it will have decreased to 100 degrees, because I really want to get the eggs started.

Along with the eggs and incubator, I ordered some books from the library as well as a dvd.  The books all have a hatching eggs theme, though some are much more scientific and others are whimsical.   All of these were recommended to me by the person who we rented the incubator from and the comments following about the books are hers.  She is very knowledgeable and I found her list helpful as well as her comments, so I’m sharing both here with you.

  • Rechenka’s Eggs Patricia Polacco – this is really about a goose and decorated eggs and the surprise of a hatchling.  The story could lead to a discussion of Russian culture or an art activity of decorating eggs in the Pysanky style or Ukrainian Easter Eggs
  • The Talking Eggs by Robert San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney – beautifully illustrated book set in the Creole South. This is a folktale or a fable with a point about beauty and obedience.
  • I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakite – this book is based on a real life experience and follows the tradition of getting a chicken for loosing a tooth along with the hen laying eggs and sitting them.
  • The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington – the artist has used collage materials to make the chickens. Using a simple body shape and wing shapes, one could follow up this story with scrapbooking paper to make your own colorful flock.
  • Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller – an Easy book that presents a variety of egg laying animals and how the eggs are hatched.
  • An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni – the fun part of this book is that it points up the idea presented in Chickens Aren’t The Only Ones. It also teaches something about how far a ‘know it all’s’ perception and misinformation can lead you down the wrong path.
  • Dora’s Eggs by Julie Sykes – a brightly colored book that takes you through the hen’s finding value in her eggs, and then finding value in becoming a mother.
  • The Chicken or the Egg—Rookie Read About Science – illustrated with photographs, this book has an emphasis on vocabulary building.
  • Where Do Chicks Come From? Let’s Read and Find Out Science Amy Sklansky – really nicely illustrated ‘inside the egg’ progression of incubation.

I didn’t get all of these books to start off, but I did get four or five, and so far I find them to be complementary of one another, not redundant at all.  It takes four weeks to incubate duck eggs, three weeks for chicken eggs, so I have some more time to get the rest of the books while we’re still engaged with this project.

The dvd I got is called Fly Away Home, about a girl who finds a bunch of goose eggs and incubates them herself.  They imprint on her and the movie is in large part about her and her flock of geese.  Totally fiction, but I thought it would tie in nicely.  I find the best time to introduce information is when it ties in with what we’re already learning about, since it’s all naturally being reinforced.  There are two very brief scenes in this that I’ll need to forward past (I preview most movies before I show them to my kids and sit with a remote in my hand whenever we watch something), but otherwise it looks fine.

I’m planning to get fertile chicken eggs on Thursday, and will put them in to incubate a week after the duck eggs go in (the incubator can hold up to 40 eggs)- whenever that will be.  That way they’ll all be hatching about the same time.  I’ll keep you posted!

(This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling.)


Weekly menu plan

Last week I didn’t make a menu plan after Passover ended, and for Weds, Thurs, and Fri, it  felt like the kids were constantly asking for food and wanting to know what we were having for the next meal – I didn’t have an answer except ‘I don’t know yet, ask me later’! Menu planning is a great tool to keep everyone well-fed and happy.  :)

Believe it or not, we haven’t had any chametz yet!  Totally the opposite of those who mob the pizza and bagels stores the night Pesach ends, isn’t it?!  This week I’ll be making some dishes that use flour because I have 1.5 gallons of sour milk to use, and soaking flour in sour milk lends a great flavor and texture to quick breads.  (Realize that I’m referring to raw milk that has naturally soured, not pasteurized milk – which when it goes off is called spoiled, not soured.)

Shabbos – dinner – meatloaf, potato kugel, carrot pineapple salad, fresh salad, sauteed green beans and onions, regal chocolate nut butter bars (dd made this up and used almond flour instead of regular flour; it was pretty amazing and I’ll try to make it a couple more times to see how it is with honey instead of sucanat and reducing the sweetener by half – then I’ll share it with you); l – chicken, chopped liver, napa salad, carrot salad, sweet potato pie, pickles, potato kugel, regal chocolate nut butter bars

Sunday – brunch – amaranth, fruit; d – leftovers

Monday – b – pumpkin bread, apples, peanut butter; l – beef vegetable stew; d – Keema alu (Indian ground beef with potatoes)

Tuesday – b – biscuits, eggs; l – Jamaican pigeon peas and rice; d – amaranth cornbread, chili

Wednesday – b – berry muffins; l – twice baked potatoes; d – homemade pizza, salad

Thursday – b – banana bread, fruit; l – vegetable pilaf with cashews; d – hoppin’ John (black eyed peas and rice)

Friday – b – raisin scones; l – leftovers

I’m seriously considering beginning the GAPS diet for the entire family next week, so this week I’m using lots of ingredients that aren’t allowed on GAPS, like flour, rice, and all the beans that are in my menu  plan.  I’m not confident it will be financially doable on my budget of $600 a month for our family of 11, which is my main concern.  Short term (one month) I can probably do it since I have the nut flours I bought in bulk in the past, but I don’t know if it’s sustainable long term – it will take out all of the affordable foods (eg, grains, most beans, potatoes/sweet potatoes) and I’ll have to increase the more expensive foods (proteins and vegetables) to compensate.  Also, the kids are objecting strenuously to the elimination of raw milk and cheese.  I really haven’t decided yet – at some point I’m just going to have to jump in and do it, and stop thinking about it!

For now, the beans for this week’s menu are soaking on the counter and will be sprouted as soon as they finish.  Before Passover I made 5 gallons of lactofermented green beans and still have another 5 gallons of kimchi, so I won’t need to make any fermented vegetables this week.  I used up  my sourdough starter before Passover, and will get another batch started so I can bake with it later this week.

My garden is doing nicely and I should be able to harvest lettuce, spinach, mache’, and turnip greens this week to supplement our meals.  I’d like to get some more cool weather seeds planted this week, like snow peas, and see if I can get a crop before the summer crop is ready to be planted.   It really feels like time to spring into spring!

(This post is part of Menu Plan Mondays.)


Torah home education and conversion

I received the following two questions within a few days of each other – since they deal with very similar concerns, I’ll respond to them both here.  (I apologize that I wasn’t able to answer these before Pesach, as I intended.)

a) >>I’m writing to ask what the general Orthodox Jewish opinion is on homeschooling. You see, since starting to read your blog, and meeting a homeschooling family in person last year, I’m really interested in the possibility of homeschooling my future children. However, I’m in the process of converting to Judaism, and most people with whom I’ve talked about it tell me that at the time of conversion I’ll have to commit to sending my children to day school and homeschooling will thus not be an option. I was wondering if you knew anything about converts and homeschooling or if you had any any advice or reading material or knew anyone I could talk to about this.<<

b)  I am curious about home schooling as a frum (my translation:Orthodox) family. We are frum and I am actually in the process of conversion. We used to homeschool before we started the conversion process and we miss it terribly. My daughter is doing well academically but she just wasn’t designed for “school.” I guess I am wondering how you deal with the people who think that you MUST send your children to a religious day school. Also are you part of a frum community, are there others that homeschool as well?<<

The Jewish Orthodox community has more to gain potentially than any other community in this country by embracing home education, in my opinion.  I believe that the single biggest stressor on the community is paying tuition for children to attend religious schools, schools which are viewed as an absolute necessity to raising children with Torah values.  However, despite the potential gains in many, many ways, there generally is a negative view of homeschooling in the Orthodox community.  This isn’t reflective of the results homeschooling families have had – the mindset comes from ignorance for the most part – but it does reflect how important the schools are in our communities.

Someone who is converting to Judaism will be asked to commit to living a Torah life and educating their children according to Torah guidelines.  When potential converts are asked to commit to sending their children to yeshivas, I believe it’s important to understand the intent and spirit of the request.  They can ask about other ways that they can honor that intent, such as by home educating.  The rabbis involved in conversion recognize the huge changes the convert is willing to make in his life, and also recognize that a parent who hasn’t grown up with certain knowledge will have a hard time conveying that to a child without outside support, regardless of his level of commitment or desire.  Sending a child to a yeshiva is widely considered the way all children in our community can best be educated in the Torah way.

Now, I obviously don’t agree that it’s the only or best way, and I also believe that educating one’s child/ren at home is fully in accord with a Torah world view.  There are rabbis spoke at last year’s Torah Home Education Conference, and others who will speak at this year’s conference.  I’d strongly encourage you to attend if it’s at all feasible – all of the speakers are Orthodox and you’ll be able to hear rabbis strongly promoting home education.  You can also approach those speaking or in attendance and get feedback about your personal situation.  It will be hugely encouraging to you to meet families who have made this choice and hear how they deal with the concerns of making a non-mainstream choice that tends to be frowned upon.

It is very, very important to have a solid relationship with a rabbinical advisor, someone who knows you well.  This is because if your rabbi understands who you are, what your motivations are, your level of commitment to a Torah life, and knows you are sincere in all of this, he is more likely to be open to dialogue with you about home education.   The rabbis simply want to ensure that your children will be learning what they need in order to feel like members of the community and later give that over to their own children.

I know personally an instance in which a family had been homeschooling their  children for a number of years and one parent wanted to convert (the other was Jewish and had become more observant).  They were philosophically committed to homeschooling and didn’t want to send their children to school as a proof of their commitment to live a Torah life.  This was somewhat a deterrent to the conversion, but the rabbis took lots of time to ascertain the intentions and sincerity of the parents and eventually agreed.  They had the support of their rabbi, which was critical. (To the person who asked question A – email me at avivahwerner AT yahoo DOT com and I can send you the name and number of the rabbi who guided them.)

As far as my personal experience: yes, I do live in a large religious community.  There are other home educating families here, which is part of why I chose this community when we moved here eight years ago.  However, we are very much in the minority and homeschooling still is widely misunderstood.

How do I deal with people who believe you have to send your children to school?  Pretty easily :lol:.  It’s helpful to learn to be an advocate for yourself and that means being able to effectively communicate your position – or choose not to engage in conversation when it will be unproductive.  Though I generally get a lot of positive feedback regarding our choice to educate our children at home, not all homeschoolers share my experience.  It depends a lot on your confidence, and honestly, how you and your kids present.

Just tonight someone called me who I haven’t spoken to for a couple of years.  She told me she recently saw my oldest son (age 16) and he made such a good impression – she “can’t believe a homeschooler looks like that”, and went on to detail some positives about him.  :roll:  Yes, this kind of comment reveals the perspective towards home education of the person speaking.  This particular woman is a teacher in a local high school and as she was speaking recognized how close-minded she sounded, and told me that people like her are very skeptical about homeschooling.  But when people see home educated kids who are friendly, well-behaved, and well-educated, it starts to change their perspective.  (This particular person even said she wants to get parenting lessons from me, lol!)

So to sum up, if you really feel that home education is a path you’d like to explore for your family now or in the future, I don’t think that conversion necessitates giving that up.  It will be challenging – very challenging – to pursue homeschooling in the context of conversion, but it’s possible.


Environmental violations and justice – finally.

Several months ago we received a citations notice for two violations because: a) our outdoor garbage cans didn’t have the lids on, and b) the greenery along our back fence was ‘obstructing’ the alley and therefore presented a safety hazard to the public.

Months ago a big deal was made in our city when new rules regarding garbage came out, and there was a lot of community resistance.   A community official was quoted in a local publication explaining that because too many people put out bags of garbage (ie not in cans) and it attracts rodents, they’re going to be very strict about any garbage left out without a can, but that new rules about garbage cans without lids and quantity of garbage aren’t the focus and won’t be prosecuted.

I have lids for my garbage cans and never, never have left any garbage outside of a can.  I also recycle more than everyone on the block put together (literally – and that doesn’t include all the food scraps I compost), so even though I have a much larger family than just about everyone, I don’t generate a huge amount of waste and I can still fit our garbage into the new smaller requirements.  But I found the clarification of the official reassuring since it’s hard to keep the lids on all the time – in the evening I usually send a child out to be sure the lids are on, but during the day they are often off.  Maybe a child takes garbage out and doesn’t put the lid on firmly after he puts the bag in, sometimes a wind blows and it flies down the alley – that kind of stuff.    When the lid of one garbage can disappeared, I made sure the garbage can was covered each night with a board so that it wasn’t open to cats or rodents.  It was upsetting to get a fine for something technical when we’re not contributing to the problem that the fine is supposed to be addressing.

To add to that was a second fine for vines that had been substantially trimmed less than a month before and couldn’t possibly obstruct the alley.  When I got this in the mail, it left me feeling like there was no way to avoid some kind of fine for something, no matter how hard you try.  I was quite frustrated since it often feels like the city officials are looking for technicalities to catch people on, small violations in the letter of the law even when the spirit of the law is being respected.  It reminds me of when policemen sit at quiet streets with obscured stop signs to ticket people so they can meet their quotas – technically the drivers are in the wrong but it’s not stopping dangerous driving or purposeful wrongdoing.

There is an appeals process, but our past experience didn’t leave us with an optimistic feeling about it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t discouraged enough to pay the fines without trying to appeal them, so I asked dh to file the appeals (something he was reluctant to waste time with after seeing the inner workings of the process two years ago).  Once you file an appeal, all action on your case is supposed to be halted until your case is heard.  Months went by and our case was finally scheduled for today (though we never got the official letter notifying us about it – it’s good dh was on top of it and kept calling them).  In the last months, we repeatedly received reminders about our fines (when dh called the official told him to ignore these since they didn’t apply to us- so why did they continue sending them??), got a threatening letter telling us we were in contempt of something or other since we ignored three reminder letters (called again and official told us to ignore that also, that it didn’t apply to us).  You know the saying ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand does’?  It must have been written with these government offices in mind.

Last night dh told me he had very little hope for the appeals process, since the facts don’t really seem to matter nor how you present your case.  This morning he waited two hours for his hearing, and listened to all the other people there talk about what they were fined for and why.  Everyone seemed to be there for ‘overgrown grass’ and garbage can lids.  Like the person who was cited for ‘overgrown grass’ when the yard was covered with five inches of snow and no grass was visible, another woman whose small yard was covered with gravel and flowers and cited for overgrown grass, and yet another person cited for overgrown grass (it was 4″ long and has to be 8″ or 8.5″ to be legally a problem).  At least I’m not the only one who got fined for things that make no sense (like the game table we had in the backyard that was the source of our fine two years ago).  And the overall sentiment was that no matter what you do, the appeals process in our city almost never works in favor of the person appealing.  Not encouraging.

Anyway, dh finally got in and was shown the first picture of our violation – they take pictures at the time they note the violation and then later show it on a large screen to you.  As the judge read off the citation, she realized the officer who cited us wrote the wrong citation number, so she dismissed that violation.  That was a technicality that worked in our favor and I’m grateful for it!  Then she went on to the next citation, and as she read it and looked at picture of our fence with the ivy growing out about two inches, it was very obvious to even the most casual glance that there was no danger or even anything unattractive or unkempt.  The judge immediately said ‘photograph fails to show danger to public’ and dismissed that also.  Yippee!

We’re so grateful that it worked out so well.  I think it really is dependent on the judge – I don’t think all judges would have responded as this one did.  Almost everyone we’ve spoken to has said they’ve never had a fine waived, and I feel very fortunate.  I’m glad to have a reason to be more hopeful about how our city government operates!


An herbal walk and synchronicity rears its head

What a beautiful, beautiful day I had!

First of all, it’s been gorgeous outside.  I love the spring, which is appropriate for someone whose name means ‘spring’, isn’t it?  :)

Secondly, I went on a guided herbal walk in the afternoon.  Just me, no kids.  It was the perfect weather for something like this – to do something that I love, outdoors, in the season that I love – ahhh.  I literally feel my soul being nourished when I’m outside surrounded by natural beauty.  I had a wonderful Passover but there was a lot of work leading up to it and throughout, and this herbal walk was the perfect balance to help me shift mental and energetic gears before getting back to our regular schedule. It was led by an experienced herbalist at an institute that offers graduate level studies in herbalism.

Not only did I enjoy the walk and the weather and learn some new and interesting things (eg that I should be using much larger measurements of herbs for medicinal purposes than I currently am), I also met a couple of women there who were had a similar perspective to me regarding health and wellness.  Have you ever had an uncanny feeling that things are being orchestrated just for you?  That was how I felt today.  The timing in meeting them was really incredible, and I was taken aback that out of the three people I ‘happened’ to chat with, two provided me exactly what I needed right now.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking for a while now about becoming certified in some way to offer nutritional/health/wellness services.  Nutrition and wellness are topics that I love learning about, and have been using my spare time to continually build on my knowledge base for years.  I was researching a particular graduate program last night that had a strong appeal because of its rigorous science based foundation, and this morning was feeling particularly frustrated and despairing, not seeing how it was possible for at all for me for the next few years. And I was sent these two people just hours later to encourage me!

The first person I spoke to mentioned that she’s beginning exactly the program I was considering in the fall!  I’ve never met anyone who attended that university at all, let alone this exact program (it’s in another state, but they have distance learning options combined with the requirement to travel there at one point towards the end).  She gave me a lot of helpful information about it and other alternatives.

The second woman is already offering the kind of services I’d be most interested in providing, and she gave me some very helpful feedback on certification.  I love learning new things, but I’m resistant (to put it mildly) to the idea that I’d have to sit through years of classes where information is given over that I believe to be inaccurate and even harmful just to get a piece of paper stating that I know something (which is what would be involved if I pursued certification as a registered dietician).  Her perspective was very valuable and encouraging to me, since it helped me reframe my expectations and beliefs surrounding this.

There was so much synchronicity involved in the short time I was speaking with these women that it was like a direct message from G-d.  I really, really needed some outside perspective from people who ‘get’ where I’m coming from.  I haven’t come to any conclusions but I’m feeling a lot less pressured to squeeze more hours into the day than I have, and more optimistic and relaxed about the possibilities!  And I brought home some mugwort seeds to plant in my garden.  :)


Berry Breakfast Quinoa

This is a light but filling breakfast, suitable for Passover or year round!

Berry Breakfast Quinoa

  • 1 c. quinoa
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 c. berries
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. coarsely chopped nuts (you can toast them in butter or use as is)
  • 1 – 2 T. honey, optional

Rinse quinoa well, drain.  (If you want to soak it, put it in a bowl with water and 1/2 t. apple cider vinegar and let sit covered overnight on your kitchen counter.  Drain and then proceed as follows.)  Put quinoa in a pot over medium heat, and cook about 10-15 minutes, or until quinoa turns golden brown. It will pop as it turns golden brown.

Add milk, water and vanilla to the pot of toasted quinoa.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and cook for about 10 or 15 minutes, until liquid is all absorbed.  After turning heat off, let it stand another few minutes.  Stir in cinnamon, berries and toasted nuts. If you like, you can add the honey at this point.  This can be served warm, or served cold almost like a breakfast cereal, with milk over it.


Three Color Vegetable Kugel

We made this kugel for the first time four years ago.  At that time, I was in my ninth month, and had just finished turning over the kitchen for Pesach (Passover), when I went into labor two weeks early.  The baby was born (at home, as planned), and after the kids finished holding and cooing over him (that took a couple of hours!), my older daughters (then ages 9 and 11) asked me for the list I had prepared the night before.  On it, I had made lists of food we’d need to make for the shalom zachor if we had a boy, as well as other Pesach foods.

They went right into the kitchen and together with their 12 year old brother, got busy cooking for our shalom zachor that was held the next night, and continued to do the cooking for the bris, which was held in our home the first day of Pesach.  They did an incredible job – I didn’t do anything but answer questions when they periodically came in to my room to ask about how to prepare something.

This was one of the dishes they made for the bris – it’s not only visually appealing, but everyone who tasted it loved it!  I slightly adapted the recipe from Passover Seders Made Simple, by Zell Schulman (she uses margarine, matza meal, egg substitute, and sugar).  It’s a little labor intensive since each layer has to be prepared separately, but I maximize the time spent by preparing several times the recipe – it’s not much work to make a much larger recipe than to make just one.

Three Color Vegetable Kugel

  • 1 lb cauliflower, steamed until soft
  • 1 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cooked until soft
  • 1 lb carrots, sliced
  • 1 lb yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 c. orange juice
  • 12 oz broccoli, chopped and steamed until soft (spinach is also good)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1/4 t. tumeric
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 1/2 T. potato starch (or arrowroot, if you’re not making it for Passover)
  • 6 eggs

Put carrots and yams in a pot with the orange juice and a cup of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until soft.  Drain.

Saute the onion and garlic in oil and saute until the onion is translucent.  If you have a food processor, process the cauliflower and 1/2 of the cooked potatoes together until somewhat smooth; if you don’t, then mash them as well as you can with a fork or potato masher.  Add 1/2 the sauteed onions and garlic, cumin, tumeric, and 1/2 T. potato starch, and process a little more.  Add 2 eggs to the food processor and process for 1 minute, then add salt and pepper to taste.   This will be your first layer – pour it into loaf pan (9 “x 5 1/2″ x 3”) lined with parchment paper or make sure it’s greased well.  It should fill the pan about a third of the way; smooth the top.

Now take the cooked carrots and yams and put them in the (rinsed out) food processor.  Process, then add cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add 2 eggs and process again.  Add 1 T. potato starch, process.  Pour this mixture on top of the potato mix in the pan, and smooth the top again.

Rinse the food processor container again.  :)  Put the steamed broccoli, the remaining half of the cooked potatoes, and the other half of the sauteed onions and garlic into the processor, and blend.  Add 2 eggs, process for a minute, then add 1 T. potato starch and salt and pepper to taste.  Pulse one more time.  Pour the broccoli layer on top of the carrot layer and smooth it evenly.  Now you’ve finally finished with the food processor and can wash it and put it away.  :)

Cover the pan of kugel lightly so that it’s still open at the edges (you don’t want it to brown on top but you don’t want it to steam, either), and bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.  This refrigerates well, and should be sliced and reheated before serving.

I don’t usually buy any exciting spices for Passover since I know I won’t really use them, so when I make this for Passover, I don’t use cumin, tumeric, or nutmeg.  It’s still delicious!  Just be sure to add enough salt and pepper so it won’t be bland.  Also, if it seems like you need more thickener for any given layer, you can increase the potato starch – if that’s necessary will depend somewhat on how well-drained your veggies are.



Nutritional value of quinoa

On Passover, since grains, legumes and most seeds aren’t eaten, the repertoire of foods available to cook with becomes drastically limited!  Since one grain-like food that is allowed is quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), many people who wouldn’t otherwise consider using it will be adding it to their menus in the coming week who don’t usually use it, so I figured it’s a good time to share some information on its nutritional value!

Quinoa has been around for at least 3000 years, a traditional staple in South America, though it hasn’t become well-known in the US until the last fifteen years or less.  Despite it’s similarity to grains as far as cooking properties go, quinoa is the seed of the goosefoot plant, and related to spinach, beets, and Swiss chard, which is why it’s okay to eat on Passover – it’s technically classified as a vegetable.

Quinoa is high in protein, calcium, and iron, a decent source of vitamin E, and has a few B vitamins.  It has an excellent balance of the eight essential amino acids that we need for tissue development.  Quinoa is also a great source of iron, and is actually one of the best sources of iron from plant-based foods.  One cup of dry quinoa provides almost 90% of the USDA iron requirement!

Like most other grains and seeds, it has a significant amount of phytic acid, which means you will fully benefit from the iron when it’s soaked properly and the phytic acid is neutralized.  To break down phytic acid, you need several factors: warmth, acidity, moisture, and time.  To soak a cup of quinoa, pour it a bowl with 1 T. of apple cider vinegar (for acidity), 1 c. of water (moisture), and leave it out to soak (time).  Ideally grains should be soaked overnight, but even soaking for an hour or two in a warm place will be beneficial.  I’ve always left my grains/nuts/seeds/legumes to soak at room temperature but several months ago read that it really should be left at a much warmer temperature than that to be most effective.

Quinoa has a bitter coating, so regardless whether you choose to soak it or not before using it (I don’t usually soak quinoa), it should be rinsed in a strainer that has very small holes (or all the grains will rinse right through the holes) to wash the bitterness off.  Quinoa can be used in a variety of ways, in savory pilafs or sweet dishes like the  quinoa pudding recipe that I shared last year.  General guidelines for cooking are to use two cups of water for every cup of quinoa, and cook in the same way you’d boil or bake rice.


Letting go and enjoying what is

Before I get to the main part of my post, I have to mention that I added some important information to my post last week about liver and toxins, but realize that most of you won’t know to go back and look at it.  There’s interesting information in this article, and one of the most important points I wanted to be sure you saw is the following:

“One of the roles of the liver is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons); but the liver does not store toxins (emphasis mine). Poisonous compounds that the body cannot neutralize and eliminate are likely to lodge in the fatty tissues and the nervous system. The liver is not a storage organ for toxins but it is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.”


Today has  been a pleasant and relaxing day.  Dh took the day off and took the older six kids on a hike, and the three littles enjoyed spending time with their grandparents.  This is the first time we did something like this (usually the littles go with us), but everyone appreciated it.  It’s different hiking with three children under the age of 4 along!  The hike ended up being hugely fun for everyone, and the trip to their grandparents also ended up being very fun for the littles, so it worked out well all around!

I didn’t end up going along, since my breathing has been challenging since Monday (erev Pesach).  At that time, my kids wanted to vacuum but didn’t realize the wet-vac needs a filter installed before using for dry vacuuming.  So a lot of dust that they vacuumed up ended up being spit back into the air, and though I was two floors above where they were vacuuming, and was napping when they did it, I woke up from my nap coughing hard.  I have a dust/mold sensitivity which when activated (very infrequently happens) affects my respiratory process, and since then it’s been hard to breathe normally.

I’m glad to say that this hasn’t been the slightest bit of an issue for months, since the camping trip.  But I guess a lot of spores were stirred up in the air and unfortunately, my herbal remedies and vitamin C were ‘sold’ for Passover and I couldn’t access/use them.  Physically I haven’t been feeling great these last few days but as with everything, there are positives.  Not being able to do what I usually do (because I couldn’t breathe deeply enough to do much) means that I’m being given the opportunity to let go and accept whatever happens around me.  We had guests yesterday and usually I’d be embarrassed to have so many things piled on the kitchen counters, but I wasn’t about to nag my kids about it when they were already doing so much to help.  So I couldn’t do anything about it but practice acceptance! Letting go is important thing to learn – you can’t have too many opportunities!

My kids and dh are nurturing of me and continually ask what I need and what they can do for me.  My mom was here for the first part of Passover and though I really didn’t want her to see how badly I was feeling and be worried, she realized it anyway (and despite my assurances that it wasn’t a big deal was very, very worried) and was also so loving and helpful.  Though I don’t like to inconvenience my family, it’s nice to see how much people love you.

Another positive is that I had a quiet house today when everyone went on the hike.  I spent most of the time sleeping (since I couldn’t sleep until 4:30 am because of breathing issues), but when I got up enjoyed a super long hot shower (trying to loosen whatever is stuck in my lungs) – my shower lasted until the hot water ran out!  Then I did some reflective reading and writing, and enjoyed being able to relax without feeling like someone was waiting for me to be available for them.  It was very nice to take the time to feel quiet and centered inside.

I’m confident that soon whatever toxins got trapped inside will soon totally be out of my body – I’m feeling significantly better tonight.  This situation has been a good reminder to appreciate the healthy body I tend to take for granted, and also been a wonderful chance to focus on enjoying the unique opportunities that have arisen!


Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

I feel pretty strongly about the importance of high quality food as it affects our health in so many ways.  And when I learned that the first episode of Food Revolution, which was shown on Friday night on TV, could be viewed online (search at if you’re interested), I figured it would be interesting.  Since my ds16 was still awake, he watched it with me.

The theme of the program is that Jamie Oliver, a British chef, goes to Huntington, WV – the fattest city in the US to bring some change to the school lunch program in a particular district.  Since I have nine children, avoid virtually all processed foods, and believe that we all benefit from cooking from ingredients in their natural state, you’d probably anticipate I would embrace every aspect of this program.

Here’s the basic rundown of the first part of the program (101) – it opens with him showing his disgust of the food the kids are served and expressing that to the women who work there.  Then it shows a local pastor preaching about the importance of good health expressing support of Jamie in his goals.  Then he meets with an individual family (all obese) – this was the  best part of the program, in my opinion and I’ll write more below.  He then meets with the woman in charge of the school foods, gets an agreement from her for a week’s trial to prepare his healthy food in a local school, and prepares a healthy lunch that is mostly refused by the kids.  A newspaper article in the town appears in which he seems to have made some negative statements about the towns inhabitants (which he claims were taken out of context – knowing that this frequently happens with print media, that’s likely), he then gets all teary-eyed about how hard he’s trying, and then the episode ends.

I honestly was irritated within a few minutes of the program beginning when I heard how dismissively Jamie was speaking to the women who worked at the lunchroom, preparing the foods for the kids.  He spoke down to them and had an condescending attitude that anyone could pick up on – and then acts like, ‘poor me, these ladies are so mean to me’.  I thought that all the women who worked in the cafeteria were pretty tolerant of him considering how he was speaking to them – I’d have been less pleasant than even the toughest of them was if spoken down to like that, and felt they were unfairly portrayed as defensive and negative.

I really had to wonder what his goal in dealing with them was – it seems to me he got their backs up against the wall and made them defensive from the get go, which could have easily been avoided. I was wondering if he had the ability to effectively communicate the importance of healthy food, but when he got together with the family and I saw he certainly can be sympathetic and understanding one on one.  It’s a shame he didn’t take time to meet with the women who worked in the cafeteria and educate them from the beginning, treating them with respect and honoring their desire to feed the children they are responsible for good food, would have gone so much further – every one of them seemed willing to try something new and I’m positive if approached differently could have been very helpful allies for him in getting his ‘food revolution’ going.  I kept trying to push the thought out of my mind that it was set up like that purposely to create interest in tv viewers.

When he got together with the family, he prepared all of their typical food for the week, and put it on the table in front of them at once.  I thought that was a powerful way to bring home to them what kind of garbage they were eating all day, and the mother’s emotional response showed that it hit her viscerally that what she’s feeding her kids is killing them.  Then it showed him speaking to the extremely overweight 12 year old (over 300 lb), who shared about being bullied for being fat, and poignantly got across how hard it is to be a fat kid, and he expressed how he really wanted to be thinner and healthier.  That’s the reality for so many kids in this country.

Jamie went on to cook them a ‘healthy’ meal from scratch, but I wasn’t extremely impressed with the food, though it was loads better than their typical diet of processed foods.  White pasta with salad and sauce – no protein, no high quality carbohydrate, and to be nitpicky, he sauteed the garlic in olive oil (which isn’t heat stable and shouldn’t be cooked).  Anyway, a family that unhealthy would be better off with his selection of food, but he seemed to be a proponent of low fat/high carb cooking, which I’m not a fan of.

He then met with Rhonda, the head of the food programs, who was very willing to give him a chance.  Actually, everyone there seemed willing to give him the chance to see what he could do.  He was told (reasonably, I thought) that his food had to conform to the government regulations.  He made some delicious looking chicken drumsticks and brown rice (never would I have thought it a good idea to start offering brown rice as the first new option for kids who are used to processed garbage :roll: – he could have made oven roasted potatoes or something more familiar), and seemed to conveniently ignore that he needed 2 starches for his meal to fit into the mandated structure.  Okay, I think the rule about two starches is unhealthy and idiotic, but he agreed to work within the rules that everyone else had to follow so why was he bowing out of his side of the bargain in the very first meal? Again, I was left wondering how much about this was for tv – it would have been pretty easy to have prepared healthy versions of familiar foods (eg – whole wheat pizza, homemade chicken nuggets made from real chicken meat without all the preservatives) and to have eased the kids into healthier foods.

I was surprised that the kids were offered a choice between his healthy meal and the typical school pizza.  The vast majority of kids will stick with the familiar and anyone who knows kids could have predicted the outcome – that most kids chose the unhealthy foods.  My kids all enjoy healthy foods but if I gave choices of: a) fresh raw whole milk or b) pink strawberry pasteurized/homogenized milk; a) whole wheat sourdough bread or b) Pillsbury cinnamon rolls; a) a fresh apple or b) canned fruit in syrup – how would they ever have a chance to develop healthy tastebuds?  I’m confident that all kids can learn to enjoy healthy foods, but the choices offered have to be between two healthy food choices or no choices at all.

There were some other ways he interacted with people of the town that I thought weren’t appropriate and he didn’t express himself authentically, which affected how he was viewed by those who could or should have been his allies.  It’s hard for me to overlook his personal behavior – to me, character is very important, and having a worthy goal doesn’t make bad behavior okay.

Setting aside my negative feelings about some aspects of his personal interactions, generally the show is positive:  it showed the kind of garbage kids are being fed by well-intended people, food that meets government guidelines.  It shows how much food is wasted every day in schools.  And I think that it indirectly showed that people are serving this kind of food because they simply don’t know it’s bad for them.  I thought it was telling and sad that the six year olds asked to identify fresh vegetables couldn’t accurately label them – my three year old could easily identify any of what was shown.  Clearly the issue isn’t just what kids are being fed at school, but what they’re eating at home as well – it’s all the same kind of processed foods.

My ds thought that Jamie had a dynamic and engaging personality, which is true.  All in all this was an entertaining and enjoyable program, and I think that Jamie Oliver has a true passion to help improve the kind of food people are eating.  Taking on this project – to transform the food lunches in the school system in Huntington, WV – is a great goal and has a lot of positive ramifications.   I hope he’s successful; any step in the direction of improving the food that people are eating is a good step!