The Power of Giving

Helping others feels good. But this takes it to a whole new level. Cami Walker, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, followed the advice of a holistic health educator to give one gift a day for 29 days. Then she wrote a book about it – “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life.” I just read about her and the book here.

It’s all about how the act of giving – “stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else,” as Cami puts it – has changed her attitude and consequently helped her cope with a difficult disease. She is more mobile and less dependent on pain medication now. And she credits it to the power of giving and positive emotions.

Pretty cool. But wait, there’s more. The article goes on to suggest that self-centered people have a higher risk of heart disease. OK, exaggerating.  More like it points out a correlation between the severity of one’s heart disease and the amount of time spent talking about oneself. Still, interesting. One obnoxious talk show host who speaks in third-person comes to mind. Tyra, taken a stress test lately?

That was negative. I’m going to go do a random act of kindness now to balance.

Cami’s 29 days has sparked a movement and a web site:  www.29gifts.org/. There’s also a store. That’s quite a lot to come out of just a few simple acts of kindness.


Rules to Eat By

These days you can’t walk down the grocery store aisle without seeing a food product that’s touting some sort of nutritional benefit. Be it calcium-fortified waffles, Splenda with fiber, or a box of Froot Loops with the “smart choice” check mark – you have to ask yourself, Really? We’re inundated with crazy messages about food. It’s overwhelming!

That’s why Michael Pollan, writer and food advocate, wants to get back to our roots. Aside from marketing and the food pyramid, what guides our judgment of what’s healthy? Our cultural knowledge should keep us on track (i.e. the little things passed on from mom and dad or that we just learn in passing). Whether you realize it or not, we all have little rules that we eat by. These rules shape our understanding of food, nourishment and health. Pollan says: “…culture still has a lot to teach us about how to choose, prepare and eat food, and this popular wisdom is worth preserving — perhaps today more than ever, in this era of dazzling food science, supersize portions and widespread dietary confusion.”

So, he’s working on a book to keep our collective cultural knowledge of eating from slipping through the cracks. Pollan gathered thousands of personal rules about eating and calls it a “collection of genuinely useful and nutritionally sound examples of popular wisdom about eating.”

As a taste, the first 20 are published in the NYT’s magazine.

A few of my favorites….

“You don’t get fat on food you pray over.”

“Avoid snack foods that end with the “OH” sound in their names: Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, Hostess Ho Hos, Etc.”

“It’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”


Talking Stocks

With all this rain we’ve had in Dallas (day 5 now), all I can think about is my bed and soup. Where are you sun? Oh, how I miss you. I will say though this cooler weather and Monday night football has me ready for fall. Leaves changing colors (in states where that actually happens). Sweaters. Pumpkins. Boots. And Soup.

Last weekend Ross (boyfriend and guinea pig) and I drove to Austin. We do this just about every weekend it seems – drive 3, 4 or so hours to Austin or Houston for a wedding and/or UT football. It’s good quality time together, which lately I’ve spent reading to him from recipe books. He says he likes it, but he’s lying. He’s really just trying to stay awake and hearing about beef stew and chicken curry beats Glamour.

Last weekend we got to the chapter on stocks. His financial mind wishes I meant those kind of stocks, but no, this was soup stocks, as in broth – the real deal made with animal bones, heads and feet. Mouth watering yet? It sounds disgusting and a little disturbing, I know. Believe me the thought of purchasing cow knuckle bones and then boiling them makes me want to cry. But this is what people actually used to do back when nothing went to waste. For thousands of years people did it. Then bullion cubes and Campbell’s soup came around and these ancient methods went out the window. And so did the minerals, gelatin and health benefits that came with them.

I read all of this in Sally Fallon’s cookbook: Nourishing Traditions. It made sense and we were curious how one makes a true stock (well, I was at least. He was driving and didn’t have much choice).

So we went on to read about how to make beef stock, and this is how the conversation went:

Me: (reading) … About 4 pounds beef marrow and knuckle bones, 1 calves foot, cut into pieces (optional), 3 pounds meaty rib or neck bones, 4 or more quarts cold filtered water…

Ross: Do you think they sell those at Whole Foods?

Me: I don’t think so. Maybe behind the butcher’s counter?

Ross: (mocking) “Yes, I’d like 2 chicken breasts, 4 filets, a whole chicken with the head – no feathers, and a calves foot. If you have some hooves throw those in there too.”

Me: OK, maybe China Town?

Ross: Keep going.

Me: (reading) 1/2 cup vinegar, 3 onions coarsely chopped, 3 carrots coarsely chopped, 3 celery stalks coarsely chopped, several sprigs of fresh thyme tied together, 1 teaspoon dried green peppercorns crushed, l bunch parsley…

Place the knuckle and marrow bones and optional calves foot…

Ross: Wait, nothing is optional. If we’re making this we’re going all the way.

Me: Um, OK…. (reading) in a very large pot with vinegar and cover with water. Let stand for one hour. Meanwhile, place the meaty bones in a roasting pan and brown at 350 degrees in the oven. When well browned, add to the pot along with the vegetables. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan, add cold water to the pan, set over a high flame and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen up coagulated juices.

Ross: You’re going to need a witch hat.

Me: (reading) ….Add this liquid to the pot. Add additional water, if necessary, to cover the bones; but the liquid should come no higher than within one inch of the rim of the pot, as the volume expands slightly during cooking. Bring to a boil. A large amount of scum will come to the top…

Ross: Mmmm, I love recipes with scum.

Me: (reading) ….and it is important to remove (the scum) this with a spoon. After you have skimmed, reduce heat and add the thyme and crushed peppercorns.

Simmer stock for at least 12 and as long as 72 hours.

Ross: Three days?!

Me: (reading) Just before finishing, add the parsley and simmer another 10 minutes. You will now have a pot of rather repulsive-looking (laughing) brown liquid containing globs of gelatinous and fatty material. It doesn’t even smell particularly good.

Ross: Boiling hooves. I bet that does smell good.

Me: (reading) But don’t despair. After straining you will have a delicious and nourishing clear broth that forms the basis for many other recipes in this book.

Remove bones with tongs or a slotted spoon.

Ross: Wait, you don’t strain it or anything. Gross.

Me: (reading) ….Strain the stock into a large bowl.

Ross: Oh.

Me: (reading) Let cool in the refrigerator and remove the congealed fat that rises to the top. Transfer to smaller containers and to the freezer for long-term storage.

Ross: Seems like a lot of work for some broth.

Me: You use it to make soups, stews, sauces and lots of other dishes in this book.

Ross: OK (laughing), I can’t wait to see you with a calves foot.

For more on stocks and full stock recipes (chicken, beef, fish), see Sally Fallon’s article.