Ch-ch-ch-changes….

Turn and face the strange…

So I blame my son.  He has been kind enough to let us share his sign in for NetFlix and Beloved has been watching documentaries.  Lots of them.  On a variety of subjects, but many of them are about food.  And he is (justly) inspired and eager to try some of these new ideas about eating in our own diet.  Me, I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Raw food, Vegan agendas, making juice, eating 6 times a day.  Good grief.  As I told him, I’m NOT spending my whole day in the kitchen.  Oh and green products for cleaning.  We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Part of the problem is that I do agree with him on a great deal of these changes.  We need to eat organic–in fact, if you didn’t know, here’s the hierarchy for buying your food, especially produce: organic over non-organic.  Local over imported organic.  Local organic trumps all.  Pastured beef, pork and poultry, including eggs.  Organic meats are not necessarily the same as pastured; organic means they can’t pump them full of antibiotics and they’re probably not all piled on top of each other.  Pastured means that animal walked and grazed, you know, like back in the olden days, before industrial food.  In other words, the animal is eating what it was designed to consume, making it healthier and therefore better for you.

Beloved has been a sponge, absorbing lots of information.  Most of it good, some of it questionable, some of it … well, not agreed to.  After much discussion and negotiation, here’s what we’re going to do add, one small step at a time–because trying to add it all at once makes it unsustainable.  And this is about sustainability–both for us, in our habits of eating, and in the foods we eat being sustainable and healthy in their production and (lack of) processing.  We are going to eat more raw food, aiming for 51% of our food (by weight) to be raw or at least not heated above 110 degrees.  This does not include just fruits and vegetables.  We are both very fond of sushi and rare beef (even to the extreme of steak tartar) so there will be some raw animal flesh in our diet.  We have a juicer now (thanks to his mother, who got it as a gift and never used it), so we will make juice out of the vegetables we cannot consume in sufficient quantities to get the nutrition from them, such as leafy greens.  Beloved has a problem with leafy greens because of his lap band surgery.  The idea is to juice the vegetables and then use that as the liquid in the Vitamix blender, adding fruit for a more nutritionally complete smoothie that is easier to drink than one made all in the blender, which has been too thick from all the pulp.

The pulp that we are separating out with the juicer can be used as an additive in cooking, or I can just compost it, so all that rich plant matter does not go to waste!  And we will benefit from all the nutrition that is in the juice, which we have not been getting.  We’re looking more closely now at vitamins and minerals, in addition to things like protein, carbs and fat counts.  We take a multivitamin because we’re not getting all of our nutrition from our food–in fact, no one is.  The food we eat today is nutritionally deficient to the same types of food from 1950.  Why?  Because of industrialization and commercial preparation of most of our foods.  Let’s talk about this for a moment.

99% of all the corn grown in this country is NOT eaten by us.  It’s also not shipped overseas to be eaten by any human.  Instead, it’s processed.  And processed.  And processed.  Into things like High Fructose Corn Syrup, Xanthan gum, ascorbic acid, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, caramel and caramel color, polyvinyl acetate, stearic acid, and so on.  Hundreds of products, not many of them look like food.  But they are IN your food.  If you really want to freak out about corn, watch “King Corn”, a documentary that will make you flip.  And stop eating corn products.  You CAN eat CORN–but it must at least look like what we all think corn looks like, or obviously come from corn, like pop corn, tortilla chips and etc.

Monsanto (http://www.monsanto.com/Pages/default.aspx) is quietly genetically modifying all kinds of foods–and has been for years–without any idea what that will do in the long run.  It’s more about making produce that won’t spoil before getting to market, plants growing to a uniform size with uniform sized fruit or vegetables so that they can be commercially (mechanically) picked and handled.  Like the long stemmed roses you buy, you get one thing but not two–the roses have long gorgeous stems, beautiful flowers…and NO smell.  So these genetically modified foods are also lacking, usually in taste and often in both taste and nutrition.  Most of Europe refuses to have Monsanto products and in fact, Poland has completely banned them–but here in the US, most consumers don’t even know who they are and how very much they are affecting our health.

So let’s look at the average American’s circle of life:
1.  The agribusiness, industrialized farms produce fruits and vegetables that are deficient in many nutrients.  They are sprayed with petrochemical pesticides and weed killers; in fact, some of the plants themselves have been genetically modified to exude pesticides from every surface (which in at least one case has led to human male sterilization after ingestion of same).  They are harvested by machine without regard to optimum ripeness, shipped distances and kept long enough that any nutrition they might have had is generally gone before they are sold.

2.  The industrialized meat production is worse.  Animals are packed together in spaces so small that they must be mutilated (chickens have the top half of their beak cut off; pigs have the tips of their tails removed) to avoid damage from attacks from their neighbor.  This closeness increases the incident of disease, so that 80% of ALL the antibiotics made in the US are given to animals.  It is in the meat and we ingest it, increasing OUR resistance to various antibiotics and we wonder why.  The animals live a life of squalor and torment and are killed in a state of terror, which floods their bodies with all kinds of chemicals, affecting the taste of the meat–and the nutrition it might–MIGHT–have.

3.  This industrialized is sent to factories for further processing into convenience foods, or shipped to your local grocery store.  Either way, when you buy it, you have no idea how much nutrition it really has, what other chemicals it might contain, and what it is going to do to your body if you consume it.  Americans also have no idea what real serving portions look like, so are generally eating way more of this stuff than they are supposed to.

4.  You cook dinner or you eat out.  You try to be healthy by having a vegetarian or even vegan diet, but you’re still buying stuff that is industrially produced.  And then you can’t explain why you feel tired all the time, why you’re always sick, why you’re fat or not losing weight…well, the next bit is going to make you scream!

Everybody lives with stress, right?  What does stress do to your body?  Apart from the obvious things we all know, stress and the “fight or flight mode” we all tend to live under destroys your body’s vitamin C.  NO WONDER we all get sick!  So to counter stress, take mega doses of Vitamin B-3 (Niacin) and MEGA doses of Vitamin C.  I mean mega, above and beyond the RDA, like 2 or 3 times the amount at least.  You CANNOT overdose on Vitamin C.  Large amounts of niacin can cause flushing, like hot flashes from menopause, so go easier with that.  Just try it for a week and tell me I’m not right.

We have found it makes a difference, and Beloved’s sister bought her vitamins on Sunday and then texted him on Monday that she didn’t think it would work that fast.  Just saying.

We had already made the switch to organic and pastured food wherever possible.  Adding raw is less of a problem for me, who was subsisting on veggies in a bento box long before we met…HE, on the other hand, will have to learn to eat them.  Leafy greens as mentioned are a problem; other certain vegetables can be an issue as well so it will be a lot of trial and error to find out what works and what doesn’t.  We’re also looking into spirulina (blue-green algae) as an additive, plus hemp powder and flax seed/oil.  I have discovered that he will eat chopped salads, regardless of what is exactly in them. (Made one with chopped zucchini, onions, tomatoes and an Oriental style dressing).  He and I both will eat summer squashes (zucchini, yellow) that are hot but NOT cooked–so stir fries and barely steamed.  I don’t mind winter squashes (pumpkin, acorn, butternut) cooked and mashed.  I also like root vegetables (turnips, rutabaga, parsnips) either raw or cooked and mashed.  Now I’ll have to figure out how to sauce them to add interest and variety for us to eat them.

We’re eating Raw Revolution bars and prefer the lemon flavored one.  One of them can serve as a snack; two would be a meal.  Probably the single largest change for Beloved will be learning what is really a serving.  He has years of his mother serving a large plate, filled with protein and carbs, with a small little plop of vegetables (that he often wouldn’t eat since she cooks everything until it’s beyond dead).  He’s discovering that 3 or 4 large scallops are actually a serving and that 1/4 pound of salmon is, when presented properly, almost more than he can eat.  (Meat portions should be 3 or 4 ounces or the size of a deck of playing cards).  So we are going to try to live with a more Japanese approach to food: small plates, measured portions, more fish then meat.  (Side note: yes, the fish costs more, but you are buying less.  6 – 8 ounces of good quality fish, depending on what kind and we like tuna and salmon, runs between $7 and $20 per pound.  So even at $10 for 6 – 8 ounces of the most expensive, it’s actually only $5 per person and that makes it incredibly cheaper than buying that same fish if someone else cooks it for you. And it’s healthier.)

We are also using the European shopping method–although we’re not going quite daily on what we need for that day’s meals, but we will be shopping for less items more often, to ensure that we’re getting fresh fresh fresh!  This serves a dual purpose–aside from getting food, we will have impetus to shower and dress and go out more often.  It’s very easy to just sit around in your robe day after day without realizing that’s what is happening.  So having to go out to forage will be a valuable part of our stated desire to walk more.

I did say that we would talk about green cleaning products.  The documentary to watch for this is called “Chemerical” and it convinced us that getting rid of commercial cleaning products would benefit us, especially me with my fibro.  It’s an accepted fact that housewives have a 54% higher rate of cancer than other groups–because of all the contact they have with those household cleaners.  I was a stay at home mom for 13 years, so I’ve had my share of exposure.  Beloved believes that if we can reduce the chemicals, both in our food and in our environment, we can reduce the inflammations of my disease, perhaps even to the point where I might not require medication and wouldn’t that be amazing?

I will leave it to you to do the Internet research for more information about green cleaning products, but I will tell you what supplies you need, to make your own and you’re going to be shocked when you see how simple it is:

Tap water
White and Cider Vinegars
Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
20 Mule Team Borax (by Dial Corporation)
Glycerine
Isopropyl Alcohol (Disinfectant/Sterilization)
Hydrogen Peroxide (Mold and mildew killer)
Castile Soap (Dr. Bronner’s)
Liquid Castile Soap (Dr. Bronner’s)
Tea Tree essential oil (Disinfectant; kills virus, germs and fungus)
*Optional: Lavender, lemon and/or peppermint essential oils

From those things you can make each product you need to clean everything in your house, including you and your clothes.  I have already begun with a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar as a spray kitchen cleaner.  It does not leave a vinegar smell, which I thought it would, and everything I wipe is amazingly clean and smooth.  I am using liquid castile soap to do the dishes and they are really “squeaky” clean, with no detergent haze.  I am using the borax/washing soda/salt mixture for the dishwasher and putting white vinegar into the rinse aid receptacle.  It’s doing a bang up job.  I can hardly wait to make the laundry soap.

I know I sound like a hippy convert, but…we did just fine back in the day with the natural ways of growing our food and cleaning our house.  There’s too much money in industrial food, industrial cleaners and the healthcare BUSINESS for the corporations to be concerned with minor things like nutrition, sustainability and keeping us healthy.  Far more money can be made if we stay sick than if they cure what ails us.  Fibromyalgia is a relatively new disease, and there are other diseases that we never heard of before the Industrial Age…why is our country, with its ability to grow food, the pollution laws that limit what companies can put into the environment, why is our country filled with sick people?  Have you LOOKED at the size of the medication aisles in any store?  Lots of things to treat your cold or your allergies, but no cures.  Why not?  All this time scientists have had…where is the cure for the common cold, for AIDS, for diabetes…oh, that’s right.  Not enough money is curing, much more to be made in treating.  Have a pill.

So we’re making our choices, one step at a time.  I feel better when I’ve had my niacin then when I haven’t.  I like the idea of cleaning the house with products that won’t send me into asthma attacks (like chlorine does).  We’ll try all the things he’s learned about and we’ll keep the ones that work for us.  And do you have any idea how completely pissed I will be if I could come off of my meds while I am in my own home because my nutrition is correct and I’m not breathing in volatile compounds from cleansers?  If it’s the industrial world around me that’s making me sick?  If it’s the industrial world that’s making all of us sick–and we don’t have to be except that someone, somewhere is getting rich off of it?

Sorry, don’t mean to rant but it’s dreadful to think that somehow there is this conspiracy to keep us fat dumb and happy–and ill.  I can only do what I can for myself and share this blog with you so that you can, perhaps, choose for yourself a better way–not even necessarily MY way, but to know that there are options and choices for how to treat your fibro, things you can do that may make you feel better and isn’t that worth it?  This does require a commitment to being even more hyper aware of what’s going into us, adding being aware of what’s going on around us and generally choosing to live a life that is healthy, sustainable and makes us happy.

Namaste, and I hope you find what makes you happy!

 

 

You Are What You Eat…So What Are You?

Let’s talk about food.  In fact, let’s start with one food in particular.  Corn.  Not the sweet crisp yellow stuff that you eat in the summertime, as part of the family barbecue.  Not the creamy yellow stuff you add to lime beans to make succotash.  Not the brown kernels that you heat and make into popcorn.  Nope, we’re gonna talk about industrial corn, stuff that you can’t even eat just picked off the stem.  That should be your first clue that this is something that is not good for you.

In order to have this conversation, I’m going to ask you to watch a movie–this movie: King Corn  (No, really, I mean it.  You NEED to see this to understand the rest of this blog.  Please go watch it and then come back.  I’ll be waiting.)

(As we have this conversation, I have included a couple links to some sites for information that you should click on to get a better idea of why I am even going on about industrial corn.   Industrial corn is the term I will be using to differentiate it from truly edible corn.  Industrial corn is BIG BUSINESS and health is not anywhere on their list of concerns–they only care about the profit margins.)

Corn is all around and Americans eat a lot of it without even realizing what they are actually ingesting because industrial corn doesn’t look like corn at all.  It’s in our meat, salad dressings, candy, drinks…60% of what we eat is industrial corn.  (Remember that percentage from the hair sample testing on “King Corn”?)  What’s even more frightening is that there are more than 4,200 different uses for corn products, and more are being found each day.  BIG BUSINESS has a completely selfish reason to keep finding new uses for their industrial corn–to increase their profit margin by keeping the demand for the corn high, high, high.

It would be very hard to find things to eat that don’t have corn in them.  That sugar free, no calorie lemon drink has no lemon in it.  The sour taste is ascorbic acid–made from corn.  Xanthan gum?  What the hell is that–sounds more like some science fiction ingredient than what it is, a thickener for things like syrups or spaghetti sauce.  There are even an impressive amount of things that aren’t even food that have ingredients derived from corn!

The one particular corn product I would like to really focus on is High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS.  It’s in so many things I can’t even begin to tell you what they are–although I did find a pork sausage that listed HFCS as an ingredient.  Why the hell was there HFCS (aka “sugar”) in a meat product?  My husband and I have completely cut it out of our diet at home; eating out is a bit more difficult to manage the absence, but we do try.  We have discovered that if we do eat more than just a small amount, we end up with migraines that would kill a horse.  And there’s an interesting study out that suggests eating corn syrup makes you dumb.  Not to mention the weird feeling you get in your mouth after eating or drinking something with HFCS in it.

The corn industry (read: ConAgra, Corn Products International, Corn Refiners Association and so on) will try to tell you that corn syrup (high fructose or not) is “just like sugar”, and that “your body treats it the same way”.  Ask any diabetic if that is really true.  Your body doesn’t really know how to handle HFCS and it overproduces insulin to handle it–which is a good way to become diabetic.

The part of “King Corn” that really frightened me and led me to make the changes to my diet that I have is the part where they talk about the cows.  It takes about 3-4 years to get a calf up to market weight for butchering.  If that same calf is fed corn, corn byproducts, sillage and so on, all corn based…it will get to market weight in about a year.  BUT if they don’t slaughter it within a narrow timeframe, it will develop massive ulcerations in its stomachs and die.  Yes, die…from eating corn.  Cows aren’t made to eat just corn, and certainly NOT industrial corn.  80% of the antibiotics in the US go to animals–partly because of this business model of feeding industrial corn to the “meat units”–not even treated with any dignity or considered a live being at all.  Just a number on a ledger page, part of the money you can make.

Guess what?  Chickens don’t eat corn exclusively either.  They eat bugs and greens as well if allowed to forage on their own (the term is “pastured” rather than free range; “free range” may just mean that you’ve got 100 birds in a 4 by 4 square foot area, rather than each one in a cage that allows little more than stretching the neck out to peck corn.  Don’t even start me on chicken farms, it’s disgusting and you’d give up your KFC or Popeye’s faster than lightspeed if you REALLY knew how your fried chicken lived its life.

And really, that’s what this (and following blogs on lifestyle) is about: knowing WHERE your food comes from, HOW it’s handled, and WHAT it’s fed.  That includes the plants–are they organically grown, or industrial units to be gotten to market in the shortest time possible from germination?  What kind of pesticides are used?  What kind of treatments are used to make them appear ripe (like picking tomatoes green because they can be handled rougher and then gassing them to make them turn red)?

What we eat is literally killing us–as a nation, Americans are becoming more obese (fattening up on the hamburgers made from the cows fattened up on corn?) and diet-related diseases like diabetes and gout are on the rise.  Heart disease is also increasing in men AND women.  Children are being diagnosed with high cholesterol.  Other countries don’t have these issues because they aren’t using industrial corn and industrial corn products.  Just us.  We need to educate ourselves and take control of what goes in our mouth.

I can’t tell you how to do it for yourself, but I can tell you the changes my husband and I have made.  I will also tell you that my beloved is a large man and he has lost almost 75 pounds or so over the past 2 years eating this way.  I have also lost 50 pounds myself.  Without exercising and without feeling deprived.

First and foremost, you must understand this: a diet is not something you do to lose weight.  Your diet may help you drop pounds, but the truth of the matter is, a diet is what you eat.  That simple.  Your diet is what goes in your mouth every day, the food that you consume for each and every meal (and snacks!).  To be healthy, you need to have a healthy diet.  Without going into details for specialty diets, such as those for heart patients or diabetics, let’s talk about how you can make healthier choices for your meals.

READ THE LABELS.  Let me say that again: Read the freaking labels.  Understand what you’re reading.  RDA is Recommended Daily Allowance and isn’t really accurate, but it’s a good starting point.  Carbs means sugar.  You probably want more protein than carbs–especially since most women do NOT get anywhere near the necessary amount of protein in a day’s eating.

Scientific explanation: You eat protein.  Your body goes, “oh, good, nutrition” and digests it into its nutritive parts, fueling the various systems.  Very little actually gets made into fat.  You eat carbs.  Your body goes, “Oh good, sugar.  I can store this for later” and promptly turns it into fat.  BTW, every fat cell has a blood supply, which is part of the reason losing weight can be so hard–and once you’ve got those fat cells, they are yours forever.  (Barring actual surgery to remove them.)

Read the list of ingredients, which are in order from the item that is the highest percentage in the food down to the least.  HFCS usually shows up within the top 5.  BAD.  Also, if what you’re eating has more than about 6 or 7 items, or if most of them are polysyllabic gobbledygook, then reconsider buying/eating them.

EAT FOODS IN THEIR PUREST FORM.  That means that you should try to eat things as close to their natural state as possible.  Limit the amount of processed foods you eat and you automatically cut out things like HFCS and salt.  Industrialized (processed) foods have to have something in them to make them taste good and it’s either salt or sugar (or HFCS).  Buy organic because frankly, organic foods taste like your brain thinks they do and will satisfy you quicker and in smaller amounts than the same thing in industrialized food.  It’s sort of like the roses you get from the florist–in order to get those long, long stems and the beautiful colors, something had to go and it was the aroma.  Industrialized food has to give up something to be able to be mass produced, packaged and stored, handled by machines in an assembly line fashion–and it’s usually the taste.  They try to mimic or replace it with chemical additives, but because it’s not natural, your body is not satisfied completely until you’ve overeaten, trying to get that taste.

LIMIT THE “WHITE” FOODS.  This means switch over to whole grain versions of bread, rice and pasta.  Don’t eat potatoes; have yams or sweet potatoes–or some of those gourmet purple potatoes instead.  Generally, the whiter the food, the more processing it has been through.  You’d be surprised at the weight you can lose just giving up white.  Oh and this includes sour cream, mayonnaise, cream and yogurt (which is surprisingly high in fat) or anything made with them that is predominately white or light in color.  And yes, it means ice cream.

ORGANIC FOODS ARE USUALLY HIGHER QUALITY.  They take a little more time and care and I repeat, taste like what you think they should.  They are also usually handled by humans and are not mass produced.  Higher quality means that even though they cost more, you can actually eat less and be more satisfied, both on the tongue/palate and in the stomach.  However–when buying, get organic over non-organic but buy local over imported organic.  The difference for pastured/grass fed meats is amazing.  Also get organic eggs–they are just so much better and since the chickens are catching some bugs in their grazing, the protein count is higher.

With the growing demand for organic food items, there is an corollary increase in the availability of those foods in all kinds of stores, like WalMart, Target–even Costco and BJ’s wholesale stores!–and your local grocery store.  Farmer’s markets and local butchers are still a good source, but you can have organic without living out in the boonies.

THERE ARE GOOD ORGANIC PROCESSED FOOD CHOICES.  Target carries a line of products from “Archer Farms” which are organic and very tasty.  Trader Joe’s markets have all kinds of processed or semi-processed foods available and I haven’t found any that I do not like.  We also shop at the local Asian market and while a lot of things are (obviously) imported, we read those labels and choose things that don’t have HFCS or MSG.  We both also prefer the fact that imported sweets aren’t quite as sweet as the American versions.  (A matter of personal taste, but still worth knowing.)

HALAL MEAT IS AN ACCEPTABLE SUBSTITUTE FOR GRASS FED / PASTURED MEATS.  Halal is the Muslim version of Kosher; the animals are treated humanely while they are alive (given the right things to eat) and then are killed in a peaceful way.  An animal that dies peacefully doesn’t have all the stress chemicals coursing through its body as it dies–which does affect the quality of the meat.  So if you can’t find organic, look for a Middle Eastern store that carries meat in your area.

PORTION CONTROL IS VITAL.  Measure it if you can’t eyeball a portion.  You should eat meat servings that are about the size of a deck of cards.  NOT the Jumbo Gargantuan Hamburger O’Death.  If you’re eating quality meat, that deck of cards is sufficient to satisfy your taste buds and fill your stomach–which by the way only holds about 2 cups.  Even chewed, that’s not really a lot of food at one time.  Theoretically, you should eat from 4 to 6 SMALL meals each day–and when I say small, I mean like half a sandwich, 1/2 cup of nuts, an apple…a 4 ounce serving of protein (that deck of cards thing again).  You can eat just about all the vegetables you want as long as you’re not dragging them through fat (sour cream, mayo or yogurt based dips and my personal bete noire).  Be careful about fruit because it’s still got a lot of sugar–but it’s fructose, not HFCS and your body knows what to do with it.  Buy containers to portion out your meals; use compartmentalized plates–and the largest section is for vegetables.

When you go out to a restaurant, the minute they deliver your meal, divide it in half and ask for a to go box.  Put one half into that box and set it aside.  Then you may eat the rest.  Try to find places that are doing the “farm to fork” and organic on their menu.  Again, it’s a little pricier, but well worth the knowing you are getting a truly nutritious meal.  Surprisingly, one of the fast food places has started putting grass fed beef into their hamburgers–yes, Burger King is really trying to use fresher, more local ingredients.  The “toppers” are a good way to get some decent protein, even at a fast food joint–just remove the bottom part of the bun and eat the rest to cut down on the carbs.

SATISFY YOUR CRAVING.  If you are really jonesing for one particular thing, even if it’s in the “bad” list–has HFCS or is high in fat, salt or whatever–then have it.  Have a small portion of it.  Don’t try to find something else to eat because that won’t satisfy your desires and you’ll end up eating lots more trying to assuage it rather than admit you want a slice of Pizza Hut pizza and just eating that one thing.  Try not to have cravings very often…and if you’re eating foods that are better choices, I believe you will find that you don’t want industrialized food as much.

Remember that injunction against ice cream?  If you really gots to have it, then get organic or high quality ice cream (like Hagen Daz “5 ingredient” flavors) and portion out the correct amount.  Did you know that one of those little buckets of Hagen Daz or Ben  Jerry’s is actually FOUR servings?  And frankly, some of the HD flavors are so intense and rich, you just can’t eat much of it in one go.  We actually get ours from the local dairy bar, from local cows that are grass fed.  The ice cream is soooo rich and heavy, one scoop is almost too much.  That’s a good indicator of quality–how much air is stirred into the product versus how much product you are actually getting.  And watch out for the evil HFCS and Xanthan gum.

CORN.  Only eat corn that is as close to its natural state as you can: corn on the cob, frozen or canned corn, hominy, pop corn, corn chips, corn meal…not the processed and industrialized stuff made from corn.  If you are able, get heirloom corn which has a larger protein germ than the hybridized versions of modern corn, which have a larger starchy part.

You spend time and effort picking out a car, a house, jewelry.  Those are only things.  Your health and well being have no price, no way to improve them except by the choices you make about what goes into your body and how you live your life.  Making better (different) choices for food can open up a whole new world of taste and satisfaction, maybe even start you cooking new foods and learning new cuisines, which makes for some wonderful dinner parties.  Improve your food choices and improve your health.  Be a knowledgeable and discriminating consumer and be good to yourself.  And those you cook for.

Namaste!

The Chef, the Bistro and Amazing Food

This is the story of how I fell in love with Black Bear Bistro.  (www.blackbearbistro.com)

Black Bear is located in Old Town Warrenton, right on Main Street, across from Iron Bridge and next door to Molly’s Pub, down near the courthouse.  The first time I went there was after I had met my beloved and he took me.  We had Lobster Mac’n’Cheese, French toast made from Great Harvest bread (Great Harvest is just down the road from Black Bear), and other things I can’t remember now, only that they were awesome.

Living in Manassas meant that we didn’t go out there very often.  One time when we went, Paul asked Todd (Eisenhauer, the chef) what bribe it would take to get his curry recipe.  Todd just grinned and said, “Let me get a pencil and some paper” and proceeded to give it to us.  He actually SHARES his recipes!  Most chefs do not, and in fact would be horrified if you asked for it.  And just so you know, it’s amazing curry.  He actually does several different kinds–and this was his yellow curry, served on a bed of rice with a choice of meat.  And what meat!  Paul got it with beef–pieces of beautifully grilled flesh, laid on top.  I took a bite of this meat that hadn’t gotten any sauce on it yet and couldn’t believe the taste.  When Paul tasted it, he said, “It’s fruity” and that’s when Todd (who was walking past) told us that it was grass-fed beef.

I blame him for the fact that the only kind of beef we buy now is grass fed.  It’s sweet, it’s tasty–and even though it costs more, it is worth every penny.  For one thing, you don’t have to eat as much.  And for another, it’s healthier for you, since there’s no corn in it.  It’s always better to eat something that has fed on its natural foods instead of being given something that will kill it.  (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the documentary, “King Corn”.  It will make you sick and make you switch to organic, grass-fed, pasture-fed…in other words, back to what your meat was eating before he corn industry came along.

Paul and I had no problem agreeing on going out to Black Bear after our wedding, for the celebratory feast.  When we wanted to order champagne–and explained to Chef Todd why, he told us that the splits he had weren’t that good, so he’d open a bottle of the good stuff and sell it to us by the glass.  He brought the bottle to the table and sabered it open–cut the top off the bottle with a knife (well, okay, so it wasn’t actually a sabre) which was impressive.  And by the time dinner was done, he told us that he was paying for the bottle.  Not only a good chef, but a very nice man.

I called my daughter during our wedding dinner to tell her that we had gotten married (the ceremony was Paul, the minister and me.  VERY small wedding).  While I was talking to her, I happened to look up and see Todd walking by.  I said to my daughter, “The chef has just gone by in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey….with the number 75 on it.  Do you know whose that was?”  Well, she’s a little young to know about Mean Joe Green, so I told her.  And then I told her, “And the jersey is SIGNED.  And the chef is wearing it like a regular shirt!”  She asked me to knock him down (gently) and take it–since she’s a Steeler’s fan.

When we moved out to Bealeton, Black Bear was on our way home from work in Manassas.  Oh, the torture…having to stop in Warrenton for dinner.  We started going  regularly enough that most of the staff knew us by name—and we knew theirs as well.  The menu changes each quarter, for as Chef Todd so eloquently says, “It’s local.  If it’s not local, it’s from Virginia.  If it’s not from Virginia, it’s from the East Coast.  If it’s not from the East Coast, it’s from the US.  If it’s not from the US, it’s not in my kitchen.”  He also has a very, very vegan/vegetarian friendly menu, so even though I gush about the organic grass fed beef, he does have more than one choice for those who eschew their meat instead of chew it.

We enjoy taking our friends and family to Black Bear.  Each time, we are rewarded with yet another meal that proves our enthusiasm and verifies our opinion.  The ribs…oh dear gods, the ribs….either on a sandwich or as a (half) rack for dinner.  Let’s put it this way, they run out of ribs on a regular basis.  Get there early if you want ribs.  Chef Todd apparently has one of the fire gods on his side, because the ribs defy human explanation.  Smoky, sweet, still juicy, like the ribs you’ve dreamt about…but in real life.  Not too heavily sauced, perfectly fall off the bone done…something to be experienced because the words do not manage to describe them adequately.

Of course that’s true about pretty much all of the menu at Black Bear.  Smoked crab and cheese dip…lobster mac’n’cheese (which the chef took off the menu for a while because he was “so tired of making it all the time”—popular just a little?).  Probably the only thing on the menu that neither Paul nor I like is the Andrew’s Bacon Habenera Sauce.  But neither of us likes habeneras, so you’re on your own for that one.  Chef has a sausage supplier that is fabulous…and because they are handmade, there can be a little difference between them from one visit to the next.  And he’ll give you that supplier’s business card so that you can go buy a boxful of your own.  Even the honey he serves is local (from an apiary just outside of Culpeper, about 35 miles away) and it’s name is Wicked Bottom–and it’s RAW honey.  Almost time to buy some and begin eating a tablespoon of it every day to help with the allergies.  Oh and they also sell the Wicked Bottom lotion bar–it’s a solid lotion, beeswax, shea butter and I don’t know what all else, but Chef swears by it and I am finding out that he’s right.  Anyone who is washing their hands as often as a chef…and still has nice hands, no cracked skin…must be using something good.

Chef does the cooking, but doesn’t do the baking (he can bake, says he…he just doesn’t want to).  So the desserts are made locally, also organic and farm fresh.  Amazing desserts…flourless chocolate cake; white chocolate cinnamon mousse; pies of all sorts.  One time, Paul got the sweet potato pie for his dessert.  Now Paul is a Super Taster.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supertaster) So when he describes food, he uses some of the same terms you might when tasting wines.  And this sweet potato pie, while earthy and sweet and the crust was nice…was hitting all of his taste buds except for one part of his palate.  We had a lively discussion with our waitress about what could be added to the pie to hit that spot.

Oddly enough, his parents were taking us out to lunch the following day…at Black Bear.  So I got up that next morning and went shopping.  Buying local or organic, I got the ingredients for the results of the discussion we had had the night before.  I made a ginger-lemon caramel sauce, adding finely chopped organic Granny Smith Apples and pecans just after the caramel formed so that the apples would not be soft.  Paul tasted it and agreed that it was just right but for one thing: black pepper.  Yep, it needed just a dash of pepper.  I added it and he declared it “just right”!

When we got to Black Bear, I asked our waiter if the the Chef was in–and when I found out that he was, asked to have him come see me with a piece of the sweet potato pie in hand.  Chef Todd found us at our just desserts…and so he tasted the pie naked, and agreed that it needed “something”.  I put some of my apple chutney (can’t think of a better descriptive name) on it…and the chef ate it.  Then went back for seconds.  Success!  I held out the container with the rest of the chutney and he (accurate word here) GRABBED it from me…and ran off to the kitchen, clutching it and saying as he left that anyone who ordered the pie that night would get this on it.  (And a few weeks later, we were in and mentioned it to our server who told us that the staff in the kitchen were wondering where that came from and that it did, indeed, go out on the pie!  I am very proud that I made something that he considered good enough to serve to his customers).

And one last story: we finally got to take Liz, my daughter to Black Bear just last week.  We stuffed her full of good, good food (and a grapefruit mimosa!  Better than orange mimosas, from fresh squeezed and organic grapefruit…omgnommy!)…and when Chef Todd came by, we introduced her to him–and told him that she had said I should take his Steelers jersey.  He laughed and said that yeah, he wore it.  What was he supposed to do, hang it on the wall?