Time to Change Gears

Alright, I took time to think about my last post, and I have decided to start a new blog, rather then trying to go upstream by changing GG's Kitchen.  I am leaving all old material up, since it's a nice resource. 

If you want to check out my new project, the (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek title is Culinary Hubris.  It might be a little bare for the first little bit, but please check back often!
Category: 1 comments

Back On The Trail and PCOS

All previous excuses aside, it has been darn hard to get back in the swing of my blog since our move back to CA.  I am very sorry!

While I've talked about how it was a crazy two-part move, my working again, etc.  There's been one more thing that has put a big old wrench in how I run this blog, and led to me needing to pause and think about what I want to do: last winter I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  Now, one might think that with the word "ovary" in the name, the big issue is with reproduction...and for some women, this is true.   Many women have very serious infertility issues with this condition.  Since my partner and I are planning on no more children(or, possibly, no more biological children), this is not a big problem for me.  However, it is an endocrine disorder, meaning that it messes with hormones, and from there can cause all sorts of weird (and often seemingly unrelated issues).

In my case, I am insulin resistant, and seem to have some major issues with carbs(especially white sugar and flour...the latter to the point that I suspect an allergy might be at play as well), as well as some physical issues that can cause me some embarrassment(among other things, male-pattern hair thinning and hair growth other places that women don't usually have issues, as well as bouts of pubescent-level acne).  I have also spent the last nine years, pretty much from the point where I could no longer afford to follow a rather radical raw-foods vegan diet as a college student, overweight, often seriously so.  Nothing seemed to work, including eating very healthy, and exercise often left me sick and in pain rather then energized the way it should. Left to my own devices, I slept all the time. 10 or more hours of sleep and I'd wake up tired--I was that worn out! As you can probably imagine, this was hard to cope with, especially because a common response from others was the assumption that I wasn't trying hard enough, or saying I was sick for the attention.  There were many times when the number of small things (not fitting clothing I did three weeks previously, issues with my hair being particularly limp and lifeless, being tired and even having muscle pain all the time) left me with not enough spoons.  This blog was a godssend.  It helped me stay sane, and kept me moving on days where I didn't want to get out of bed.

Now, here we are...diagnosis, research, major diet changes, medication, and a little over one hundred pounds lighter then I was when I found out I was pregnant with my son three years ago!  I still have bad days...ones where I don't want to talk to anyone, or leave the house.  Those, thankfully, are reducing.  And when I get them, I usually have more resources and reserves to cope.

With this blog, though, I have a quandary.  The Victorian stuff and retro American cuisine stuff I tend to focus on is PACKED with the very things I can't eat, especially white flour and sugar.  It's everywhere!  In the bread and baked goods, in the jam and marmalade and curd.  What should I do?  I literally can not eat those anymore, and let me tell you, that is tough in American culture.  Will it still be GG's Kitchen if I don't do those, or if I focus on healthier alternatives that I, personally, can consume?  While I'm still happy to provide links elsewhere, this would mean a major overhaul of the sort of content I provide.  I would love thoughts and input.

If I were to get rid of those, then the sorts of baked goods I would feature would be primarily wheat-free(often gluten free).  They would rely on other cultures, not Central Europe, U.K., and American history.  I would also look for things that used honey as a sweetener(especially raw or unprocessed), agave nectar, and yes, even sweet-leaf and other more natural artificial sweeteners (nothing creepy like SweetNLow). I'm finding that now that my sweetness threshold has lowered, many mincemeats and raisin fillings require no additional sweetener at all.  I would love to hear input about this.  Please leave your thoughts, if so inclined.

In the spirit of these changes in my life, I would like to share our new go-to trail mix at home.  I've been finding that a lot of mixes use sweetened dried fruit, very cheap chocolate or other candy, and nuts that smell past their prime.  Savory mixes often have little crackers and hydrogenated oils. It blew me away discover just how fast and easy it was to make my own, with exactly what I want in it.  I find that it averages 12 snack backs if you use a half-cup measure, and ranges at around 20-35 grams of carbs, about the same as most slices of bread, but could be higher if you use more fruit, or cheaper quality chocolate.

GG Kitchen "Back One The Trail" Mix

1 lb. Nut mix.  Get something you like, but I've found a mix better then one nut.  If you want them fresh, get raw nuts and either put them in as-is, or roast them in your oven at around 350F for 10-15 min (watch them closely).  Stir often, and pull as soon as you're smelling toasty nuts.  Cool before mixing with the other ingredients, so that you don't melt the chocolate.  You can dry roast them, or toss them in a little butter and salt first(add cinnamon or ginger for a real treat), or even with soy sauce and sesame oil for a savory version.

1/2 lb fruit mix.  I prefer unsweetened fruit, as that's a lot of white sugar getting added.  Raisins, dried pit fruit and apples cut in small chunks, stuff you have dried yourself.  If you can find them, you can even add unsweetened dried cranberries if you have other very sweet fruit and it can be a nice tart tang.  If you want to do a veggie blend, something like Just Tomatoes (including their other veggies) is awesome!

One good quality 2-4 oz. bar dark chocolate, if going sweet(maybe even if you're going savory...chocolate and chilis make a winning combo).  What do I mean by good?  High chocolate content:  Something like Hershey's is mostly sugar and other ingredients...that's why it tastes so waxy.  You want chocolate that would be bitter eaten alone, but the fruit and other ingredients sweeten.  It is worth spending the money, trust me.  And since it's worked into the mix, a little goes a long way.  Something like this , although if you can, looking for terms like organic, sustainable, and fair trade are good for all the same reasons they are for a cup of coffee. 

Other things that could be added sweet or savory:

  • Unsweetened dried coconut.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Cut-up beef jerkey
  • Some sort of seed cluster similar to this over at Mark's Daily Apple.
  • Nori seaweed flakes.

GGKitchen will be back next week!

Ok, folks, it's been crazy around here.

We finally have a new apartment, and will be moving in on Sunday...no more cooking on a hotel mini-range!

New posts coming soon, including a summer tea, book review for The American Girls Handybook, and pictures from Maker Faire!

How to Choose Your Fishmonger

Image via freedigitalphotos.net
Disclaimer:  I grew up inland.  Utah and the surrounding area aren't exactly fish country, unless you have the funding to buy a pole and license and do it yourself.  My grandfather despised fish for that exact reason.  Every now and then I remember my grandmother buying vague cuts of whitefish at the counter at Albertson's (do all Albertson's smell vaguely like old fish?).  It got breaded, fried, and then served with mashed potatoes and gravy, so that my grandfather could pretend it was not fish. 

Up until recently, the time I did spend in coastal areas was with the Big Store mentality, i.e. go to Costco and buy a giant bag of flash-frozen pre-cut identical fillets that were farmed in Southeast Asia.  Nothing wrong with buying frozen fish.  Especially if you happen to be inland or don't cook often enough to go through a fish.  However, there are some scary issues cropping up with farmed fish, especially the stuff from Asia, so choose wisely.

The past couple of years, though, I've been learning about how fish used to be done, when fish meant going to your local fishmonger.  I can thank my husband for this:  he spent two years in Japan, and got used to some insanely good fish.  That meant that the first time we walked into the little Asian market in Japantown, San Francisco, I stood there and stared at the fish counter.  No fish smell.  None. Zero.  It smelled like ocean water in there.  Fish doesn't have to smell like fish?!

The rules:

1)  Fish should not smell like fish! 

If your fish smells like fish, it's old. Nothing you do will improve it.  Whole fish should have bright eyes (not sunken or dull), shiny scales without patchy or discolored places, bright red gills, and smell like the ocean. Fillets should also smell fresh, with no cloudy liquid.  Also, smaller and/or lower on the food chain contains less mercury:  skipjack tuna versus Albacore, for example.

2) It's almost always easier to buy sustainable seafood locally.  Organic doesn't mean much in terms of seafood (since wild-caught is healthier and more sustainable), but Marine Stewardship Council certified does.  You can also check out the great Seafood Watch program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

3) Find a fishmonger or local seafood market.  A real one, not a guy at the meat counter at the grocery store.  Obviously, this is harder to do these days, and it can take some hunting.  Go in (smell the air!), strike up a conversation.  Ask what's fresh that morning, how it was caught, what's in season.  Like most small farmers, bakers, beekeepers and anyone who loves their craft enough to stay small, a good fishmonger will be chatty and enthusiastic if you come in with a friendly and curious attitude. 

Looking for fresh fish in the Bay Area?  Here are some options I'm going to be trying soon (if I'm missing a good one, leave me a comment!).

San Francisco Fish Company

Right off the docks at pillar point in Half Moon Bay. I hear that the Harbormaster suggests calling at around 9am the day you're going to be there to see what's available.  Fishfone 650-726-8724.

Mission Market Fish and Poultry

Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park

Race Street Fish and Poultry Market, San Jose

Many Bay Area farmer's markets also have fish stands...all rules apply!  Good fishing!

Felicia Day Goes to Clockwork Couture

This morning on The Flog, Felicia Day did a Steampunk photo shoot.  Between her and Clockwork Couture's beautiful things (so much fabric envy right now), it was a must share.  

Who is Felicia Day, you ask?

Codex on The Guild.

Previously, the love interest Penny on Joss Whedon's creation, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Obviously, geeky goodness...you will regret it if you don't take a look!

St. Walburga's Day

From the blog Logismoi. Full article there discusses Walpurgisnacht and Dracula mythos.

Happy May Day!  I've found something new this year...I've often heard the term Walpurgisnacht used to describe the night before May Day...it's traditionally a time in Northern and Central Europe (most often it would seem in Germany, Norway, Estonia and Latvia) when big bonfires are held, and parties thrown.  Most of these traditions date back to the Europe's witch hunt era, and the feel is often similar to Halloween--a date six months later.  In Bavaria it's know as Freinacht, and pranks are played as well. 

Saint Walburga traveled from England to Germany to proselyte sometime around the year 748 A.D, and became a very powerful and influential Abbess.  She was known for healing, and even after her death was said to have a healing "oil" rise from her grave(the reason for the flask she is often shown carrying). 
Oldest known image of Walpurga, from the Hitda Codex.

In addition to the flask, she is sometimes shown with a book to represent her writings, as well as heads of grain.  The story often goes that she fed a starving child using only three heads of grain, however this tale seems to be a later addition.  There is some fascinating evidence that the Saint became a stand-in for an older Germanic grain goddess, taking on the role of "protectress of crops"

This is the point where it gets complicated, though, since the older goddess is often only referred to as Walpurga.  She is often linked to the Wild Hunt in this form;

"Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain." (Rochholz,Drei Gaugtinen (Three Local Goddesses), 1870, p. 26-27)

For more such quotes, linked to a pagan perspective, this article on Frigga's Web is excellent.     Many Asatru and similar groups now honor Walpurga because of this mixed history.  For more about May Day celebrations, and traditions such as maypoles, the may queen, and the U.K. tradition of Morris Dancers, go here.   

Who is Nellie Bly?

 Alright, not a food related person today, but one of my personal heroes of the Gilded Age.  This is an amazingly capable, strong woman, who deserves to be known, especially by those who have a thirst for adventure.

Born Elizabeth Cochrane on May 5th, 1867, Bly's father died when she was six years old, leaving her mother to care for a total of 15 children.  She moved to Pittsburgh at the age of 16 to find work, and dreamed of becoming a writer in an era when women who worked outside the home or the very narrow fields of nursing or teaching were often ridiculed.  Opportunity came by chance when at 18 she wrote a passionate anonymous response to the columnist Erasmus Wilson, who wrote for the Pittsburgh Dispatch as "Quiet Observer".  The paper was impressed, and placed an ad, requesting that she come forward, and giving her a nom de plume based on a popular Steven Foster song.

Such a domestic sentiment to try and temper her outspoken nature followed the early portion of Bly's career.  As she attempted to draw on her own experience, writing articles about conditions in tenements, and the difficulties faced by factory worker and maids, she pioneered many features of modern investigative journalism, going undercover and taking jobs herself, rather then simply relying on speaking to others.  Despite this groundbreaking approach, her work was often left in the middle of the society and garden section, the only place a select few women journalists had a voice.

In September of 1887, she managed to join the staff of  Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World, the beginning of her most amazing adventures.  She raced around the world in 72 days, beating all similar records set by men, exposed shady lobbyists, and covered the plight of unwed mothers.  She contrived her own arrest on larceny charges and reported her experiences being strip searched and spending the night in a coed jail, and interviewed controversial figures such as Susan B. Anthony and famous anarchist Emma Goldman

One such stunt which is particularly important in my mind, is the work Bly did to raise awareness of the plight of those who were considered insane.  In going undercover on Blackwell's Island, she entered the world of The Yellow Wallpaper, long before an understanding of issues such as anxiety disorders or  Post-Partum Depression.  While today psychological issues are still often poorly understood, and can still carry stigma, contempt, and fear, she courageously documented women who were wrongly imprisoned due to language difficulties or disabilities, or even due to something like disagreements with male family members.  While anxious but nonviolent to be admitted, and perfectly sane once inside, she was dismissed by doctors, threatened by nurses, and documented pest-filled food, cold, disease.  Here articles can be read in book form here under the title Ten Days in a Mad-House, and I would strongly recommend doing so. 

Authors like Nellie Bly remind us where we have been.  That only three generations ago, four at most, women could be imprisoned as mad simply on the word of their male relations.  We could not vote or run for office, and even if widows like my great-grandmother were prevented by social stigma from getting a better-paying job then the brutal life of a laundress.  In a divorce, the male spouse would keep whatever the woman had brought into the marriage, as well as the children, and have complete say over his wife's assets while married.  Women like Bly, Susan B. Anthony, and yes, even controversial spitfires like Emma Goldman are WHY we now have the rights we do.  Many women in the world still do not, and it's important to remember that, and not go backwards.  We stand on the shoulders of our great-grandmothers. I only hope I can live up to standing on the shoulders of the likes of Nellie Bly.