Saturday, January 28, 2012

Not a Hippie Thing

       "Timothy will know - " I heard my name as I walked down the hall at work.  (Being a Marine, I go by my last name at work.)

      I took a couple steps back to peek into the office from which I had heard my name.  Three or four of the judge advocates I work with were gathered for an end-of-the-day gab session.  "I'll know what?"

        "What, exactly," one of them asked me, "is patchoili?"

       I supressed a  bit of laughter.  "Why do you think I'd know that?" 

       The answer is obvious.  It has long been established that I am "The Hippie of the Law Center."  I handed over what little knowledge I have of patchouli (which I consider to be a little more tied in with drug culture than the organic, plant eating, food growing, chemical free, pagan-y circles I perfer, but whatever, I did know what it was).  The conversation then went on to much more hilarious topics that I won't be touching on here.  Ok, it may have involved plushies and custom costumes with trap doors... Maybe.

       Over the course of the last year, it has been far from unusual for my coworkers to ply me with random questions about my beliefs and lifestyle.  Always respectfully and out of curiosity, mind you.  The Marine Corps can be a pretty homogenous place, and the assumption is often that Marines are conservative and Christian.  Often, that is exactly the case.  But you also run into exceptions (like raging liberal UU Pagan Marines, ahem).  I find that most of the judge advocates (military attorneys) I've worked with have been much more liberal than the general military population is held out to be.

      Regardless, while many of my fellow attorneys are pretty liberal, they are also, by and large, Christians and not at all what one might call "hippies."  Except me.  The Hippie of the Law Center.

      It is not unusual for me to find myself in a discussion about "crunchy" topics with one or two of my coworkers.  Most often, they want to know about ethical eating and why I feel strongly about it and what I've read lately.  About two months ago, one of them, who I'll call Capt Curious for simplicity's sake asked me to come to his office.  He wanted to show me a video.  He said he thought of me the moment he saw it.  He was totally right, and I LOVED the video:

     This IS me.  Really.  Right up until the point where they decide to actually go to the farm, this is me.  Okay, I've gone to the farms themselves, too, but not in the middle of dinner ;-)  I love Portlandia.  Everything about it.  Especially Dream of the 90's.  I love the 90's just as much as the 80's.  Maybe even more because the style wasn't quite as horrifying.  If you haven't checked out Portlandia, you should.  Love it.  And it totally confirms that MacGyver and I have been right in our continuing desire to move to Portland, OR (though I don't see that happening until the kids are older).

      Anyway, Capt Curious showed me that clip, which I stated was a more accurate representation of me than he probably realized, and we talked a little bit about Food Ethics.  I told him that I don't eat factory meat becasue of the deplorable conditions - both for humane reasons and for health reasons.  A couple other Captains wondered in through the course of our discussion, but the general feel was that no one else had really thought to look into it.  Which I don't hold against them.  That's sort of the status quo in the US.  There is this assumption that mass produced = good, safe, healthy, etc. 

      The degree to which that assumption is wrong is horrifying once you really start to peel back the layers.  The massively negative health consequences of eating large quantities of meat, processed foodsfactory meat, and other common, accepted products are astounding.  And it doesn't end at food - cleaning products, cosmetics (including shampoo and soap), even the materials from which our homes are built, are saturated with toxic chemicals.  But so few people even realize it.  So few people are paying attention.  And really, who has time to pay attention to all of it?  I mean, I'm obsessive about it, and I know I'm only scratching the surface.

      Our system is broken.  Just because something is in the grocery store or nicely packaged in NO WAY means it is safe or should be in your home or in your body.

      And that was what we discussed.  Or, I should say, that was the opinion I gave, to which my co-workers responded with skeptical acceptence.

      Then, a couple days ago, Capt Curiosity approached me as I was milling around outside the courtroom.

      "I saw Food, Inc. this weekend." he informed me with obvious joy, raising his hand for a fist bump (a fist bump?  Really?  If you knew me in real life, you would know how laughable that is.  Maybe just reading this blog is enough to realize I am not really a 'fist bump' sort of person. Then again, none of my coworkers probably are, either... MacGyver laughed out loud when I told him.) 

      I returned the fist bump.  "What did you think?"

      Basically, he was really glad he had watched it, and he wished he had seen it sooner.  He had no idea about many of the serious issues that come into play in food ethics and how much idiocy goes on before food ends up in our grocery stores.  He told me he had decided to switch to only local, humanely and organically raised meat.  I was happy for him.

      "You've been won over to the hippie side."  I told him.

      And that is when he balked a little.

      "Well," he said, "I don't really see it that way.  I mean, I think wanting to know where you food comes from, being willing to do the research before making decisions doesn't make you a hippie, it just makes you responsible."

      Huh.  Apparently I'm not a hippie after all...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dear Shampoo, You're Fired

      Natural, organic, crunchy, ethical living can be sort of a slippery slope.  When I was in Law School, I cut out bleached carbs, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.  Gradually, I started switching to a diet that emphasizes veggies above all else.  This was all for health reasons.  When I became a mother to Punky, I further cut out most juices and junk food except for on special occasions.  The more I read, the more I tweaked our diet, removing processed junk and "non-food," adding whole foods, etc.

      Then I got pregnant. 

       I started reading even more.  A lot more.  And I started to slip.  It wasn't just processed junk that had to go, but also pesticides and hormones.  One lecture on food ethics and Fair Trade/Equal Exchange became a necessity.  Factory meat was quickly banned from our house.  Now it was not only about health but about responsible stewardship of the planet and treatment of the creatures on it (including other humans).  But they go hand in hand, the ethics and the health.

      As it turns out, the simpler, healthier foods also have the least negative impact on the environment.  But my focus was mostly on food.  Sure, we switched to mostly "green" cleaning products, but I wasn't nearly as "into" it as I was with food.  I had switched to vinegar and borax to wash Flintstone's diapers because I was told it worked better (it does), and had switched out a lot of our other cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda, citrus, etc.  But I wasn't "on a mission" the way I am with food.

       Then I found out about the conroversy with Aveeno.  I was partially shocked.  Carcinogens and toxic chemicals in baby wash and lotion?  Then again, I've always wondered what half the stuff in those ingredients lists was.  Why was I shocked?  Obviously, because I am fully integrated in a culture that takes these products for granted. 

        I immediately went out and got Flintstone a simple, green baby wash.  I started shying away from all the goo-type bath products our bathroom is overflowing with.  Luckily I don't use many products at all.  As a teenager I learned that the more harsh products you use to wash your face, the more oil it produces.  So for a long time I've only washed my face with water.  I DID use lotion pretty often under the (faulty) assumption that I was taking better care of my skin by doing so.  I went out and bought a jar of organic coconut oil, which works great.

       But there was one bottle (or, I should say pair of bottles) I found myself reaching for every other day:  Shampoo and Conditioner.  And these, of course, contain all the same pointless toxic crud as the rest of it.  And they come in plastic bottles that, even though we recycle them, create more waste.  And I have been known to spend quite a bit more for fancier versions that promise things I know they'll never do.

       I've been having so much success with switching out cleaning products and making herbal remedies, it suddenly seemed obvious that I should be able to do the same with bath products.  A couple quick Googles, and I had more information than I had ever hoped for.

      So, about a week and a half ago, I fired my Aveeno shampoo and my conditioner.

      I read tons of recipes and articles about going "No 'Poo," which is the very unfortunate name of what is a growing movement of hippies brilliant people who have caught on to the fact that grocery store shampoo is actually a pointless waste of money which is actually bad for your hair.

      By far the most common recipes to replace shampoo and conditioner are baking soda and apple cider vinegar (ACV), respectively.  You mix the baking soda with water, about a tablespoon to a cup, which you can adjust to suit your needs, rub it into your hair, and rinse.  Boom, no shampoo.  Dirt and oil gone.  Follow up with ACV mixed with water, about 1/3 cup to a cup ratio, again adjusting to your needs, pour into hair, let rest for a few moments if desired, and rinse.  It detangles and imparts shine without adding anything to your hair.  There is no residual vinegar smell.

      In the beginning, I got a little fancy with it and blended my baking soda mixture up with cucumber, but I didn't like the idea of having to keep my "not shampoo" in the fridge (or putting something that cold on my head in the shower!), so now I'm onto just the baking soda and ACV, though the cucumber did work well.

      I haven't shampooed my hair since 2011.

      Now any article you read on this will point out that for the first couple weeks, your hair can get a little greasy.  This is because shampooing every day (or even every other day like I did) actually programs your scalp to produce more grease (just like your face, DUH!).  Once your scalp realizes it's no longer under attack, the amount of grease it produces drastically decreases.  I've read many blogs by women who have been shampoo free for a year or more and only need to use the baking soda/ACV rinses once a week because their scalps produce so little grease.

       I am currently right in the middle of the "greasy" phase, and you know what?  It's not nearly as bad as I had feared.  Granted, I wear my hair up in a bun or french twist for work every day, so it doesn't really matter much if it's greasy, but I DO have bangs, so if there's grease there, you can see it.  Maybe it's not as bad for me because I wasn't shampooing every day when I made the switch?

       I have already noticed a change in the texture of my hair.  I have had SUPER baby-fine hair my whole life.  It has always taken me GOBS of product to get my hair to do anything.  Already, after just a week without shampoo, my hair feels fuller, the strands feel thicker and healthier, and my hair is noticably more managable.

      This weekend I let my hair air dry (as I pretty much always do), but instead of drying into it's usual sad, stringy, "please do something to me now" state, it dried into these nice, flowy, loose waves.  With no product in it at all.  I can't wait to see how it looks in a couple weeks!

      Needless to say, I am now totally on board with this whole "no poo" thing.  Still NOT on board with the name, but I'll just have to deal with that.

      I will try to update you all in a month or two to see how it goes.  I know anyone reading this is now thinking, "Yes, that's all well and good, but I want to SEE it."  Of course.  But when I DO take pictures, I'm usually the one behind the camera, so for now, this is the best I can do.  I will try to get a better picture of my hair (like, with it actually down) this weekend.

All I can think is how much I do NOT look good at this angle :-)  But it's the only picture I currently have of my shampoo free hair.  Enjoy.

      Added bonus?  This was one of my Project 52 goals!  BAM!

      For more information, I found this blog very informative.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Holiday Ham

      When I found out the family was coming for Christmas, I was very excited.  I immediately called Boo to talk about what they wanted to do while they were here.  I also asked him what he wanted for Christmas dinner.

      "Dangit!"  he exclaimed.  "I didn't even think of that."

      "Mom made the best honey ham for Easter, and I was really excited about having one for Christmas, but I guess that won't be happening at YOUR house."

      Now, I have to say that when Boo stayed with us for about a month last summer, he had no problems with the food.  He was actually surprised by how much he liked my cooking and the "hippie" lifestyle.  That said, he still snuck hot pockets and pizza rolls once in a while when the kids weren't around.

      I reminded Boo that while we rarely eat meat, we are not vegetarians.  We are Ethical Eaters.  We eat meat when we can get it from a local, humane source, and we only eat it a few times a month because humans aren't meant to eat meat every day.  And I just so happened to know of a [somewhat] local pig farm.  I assured Boo the ham would be better than any crap you can get from the store, and set out in search of a cut of meat and a recipe.

      I played a little bit of phone and email tag with the couple who own the farm I planned to get the ham from, with the woman insisting to me over and OVER again that a fresh ham from a farm is NOT like a store bought ham.  Of course.  A fresh ham is not cured.  It is not pumped full of chemicals, nitrates/nitrites, sodium, fillers, and dye.  I understood completely.  That's why I was putting so much thought and research into the recipe.  But still, EVERY time I spoke to her, she reminded me that this ham would taste more like a pork roast than a grocery store chemical ham.  It actually got rather annoying after a time.  But the man I spoke to on the farm was far from condescending, and their pork was all humanely raised and well worth it.

      So one afternoon in December, I packed up the kids and made the hour and ten minute (one way) trek out to the farm to pick up our ham - which, by that point, I was starting to call "Boo's ham."

      I'm sure a 3 hour round trip might seem like a lot for one cut of meat, but I look at the bigger picture:  The drive wasn't for the meat itself, it was for what the meat represents.  It was for meat free of artifical hormones, antibiotics, and toxic chemicals (and YES, the meat in the grocery store - even some of the "organic" meat, contains TOXIC chemicals proven to increase the risk of brain cancer in children; why the EFF would anyone eat that?).  It was for meat from pigs that were raised humanely, allowed to roam and play, and live.  Because not only do I avoid putting toxic chemicals and additives into my body or feeding them to my family, I also avoid taking the products of cruelty and suffering into my body or feeding them to my family.

Punky with the happy cows on the farm.  THIS is why I won't eat the cruelty laden garbage from the grocery store.
      So we drove out and picked up the ham.  I also picked up some sausage and chorizo.  I'm sure we'll be going back there sometime around Ostara (Easter for you Christian and/or secular types) because all the meat turned out delicious.

      Now for the recipe.  I cobbled this together from a variety of different sites and recipes.  There are two steps to it, brining and baking.  Brining is necessary to obtain a "grocery store-like" honey ham taste.  We had a 3lb ham.  All amounts are estimates, and should be adjusted for taste.  You will need more of everything for a bigger ham.

      Brine Ingredients
  • ~ 2 liters cola (I suggest a pop made with real sugar like Pepsi Throwback.  High fructose corn syrup should be avoided, and diet soda or pop with artifical sweeteners should NOT be used).
    • Yes, I used this much pop in my recipe.  My goal was flavor.  Since this was a holiday meal, I wasn't quite as uptight about sugar as I usually am.  Plus, the brine is ultimately discarded and there were plenty of veggies served with the ham.
  • 1 - 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 head of garlic, crushed/minced
  • 6 Bay leaves
  • 6 tbsp freshly ground pepper
      You'll need a big enough containter to hold the whole ham, completely submerged in the brine.  I used the crock from my crock pot.  If your ham has skin (ours didn't), slice the skin in a cris-cross pattern.  Put about 2/3 the pop in the pot (be sure the pot isn't going to overflow when the ham is submerged).  Dissolve the salt in the pop.  I actually used half kosher salt and half sushi salt, which is nearly the same, because I needed to reserve some of the Kosher salt for another purpose.  I also found that I lost patience with stirring before the salt was fully dissolved, but it seemed to work out perfectly anyway.  Once the salt is dissolved, add the garlic, pepper, and bay.  Stir.

      Submerge the ham in the brine.  Add the remaining 1/3 of the pop if necessary to cover the ham.  Cover the ham, making sure it remains fully submerged.  I placed a small cup on top of my ham so that when I placed the lid on the crock pot, it pushed the ham down under the brine.

       Leave the ham in the brine for about 2 days, turning it at least once to ensure even flavoring.  I think mine was in for closer to 2 1/2 days, but be careful not to leave it in too long or it will - I'm told - ruin the meat.

      Baking Ingredients (Glaze)*
  • 1 can pineapple rings
  • 1 jar marichino cherries (the pineapple and cherries are NOT necessary unless you're married to MacGvyer or someone like him)
  • Handful of whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp sage
      I have to admit this is not the glaze I originally intended to make.  This glaze more or less just happened when certain parties decided to *ahem* help me in the kitchen.

      After taking the meat out of the brine on the day you're going to cook it, let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.  Rinse breifly and pat dry.

      In the meantime, pour only the juice from the can of pineapple and the jar of cherries into a small saucepan.  Stir in the cinnamon and sage.  Simmer gently and allow the juices to reduce to the desired syrupy consistancy.  You may add water and a little honey if you have a bigger ham and are worried about the amount of glaze, but this was more than enough for our 3 lb ham.

      Preheat the oven to 325.

      If your ham has skin, it should already be scored in a criss-cross pattern.  If not, score it now.  In the corners where the lines cross, insert the cloves.  If you live with MacGvyer (or someone with similar tastes), use some of the cloves to pin cherries to the ham.  Place pinapple rings around the cherries.

      Bake the ham uncovered for about 25 minutes per pound, ensuring that the core temperature reaches 160 degrees fahrenheit using a meat thermometer.  About 30 minutes before the ham is done, pour the glaze over it and continue to bake uncovered for the remainder of the time.

      For best results, let the ham sit for a few minutes before carving.  Serve with plenty of fresh, healthy Farmer's Market veggie dishes!

A delicious, completely ethical, holiday meal.  Made extra classy by Boo's Miller High Life.

      The ham this year was a HUGE success.  Everyone loved it, and it was a near perfect replication of the flavor of the "store bought" hams Boo loves.  The flavor of the cola was somewhat detectable, which was by no means a bad thing, but next time I might try a brine without pop in it.  Maybe using honey or pineapple juice.

      One final Ethical Eating Plea:  Please DO NOT use this recipe if you cannot obtain a humanely raised ham.  I do not promote meat eating in general because so many people think nothing of purchasing meat from wherever they can get it at the cheapest price they can find, regaurdless of the sickening and deplorable conditions in which the animals suffer.  This is why I don't typically post meat recipes even when we eat meat.  If you don't care enough to find a humane source for your meat, please don't use my recipes.
*  This glaze was delicious, but far from healthy.  There are a lot of other delicious sounding glaze recipes out there in internet land that might not be quite as syrupy as this one.  Then again, when it comes to a glaze for a special occassion, sugary isn't too bad.  At the very least, I might leave out the marichino cherry juice next time because of the artificial color (or find cherries without the artificial color!).