Sunday, February 12, 2012

Grain-Free Lasagna

This recipe was designed in honor of my six-year-old, who missed some familiar favorites when we started our season of eating sugar-free/grain-free.   It includes enough kale, sulphur-rich vegetables, and bright colors to satisfy Dr Terry Wahl, although it would need a little modification (It contains soft cheeses and eggs) to be Paleo or GAPS friendly.

Grain-Free Lasagna
  • kale
  • 2 medium zucchini or yellow squash, quartered and slice
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 4 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3/4 teaspoon fennel
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons basil
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 4 medium tomatoes, chopped (with juices retained)
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 c Parmesan
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 pound log of mozzarella, sliced length-wise
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Select enough kale to cover a 9" x 13" baking dish twice over.  For me, that's about 10 leaves, but there are large variations in the size of kale leaves.  Remove the large center stalk and discard or compost.  (Don't put it into the stock pot.)  Cover with boiling water and cook until softened, ranging from 5 to 20 minutes depending on preferences.  Drain without retaining the cooking water, and set aside.

Meanwhile saute the squash, mushrooms, onion, and garlic in butter for about 5 minutes.  Add ground beef and cook for 10 minutes or until done, stirring occasionally.  Drain.  (We usually retain all of that good fat for use on our eggs at breakfast the next day.)  Add seasonings and tomatoes.  Simmer, uncovered, until flavors have blended.

Mix cheeses and eggs until well-blended.

Layer half of the kale, 1/3 of the mozzarella, half of the meat sauce, and half of the ricotta sauce.  Repeat layers.  Top with the remaining mozzarella.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until heated through.  Serves 4 adults

Inspiration from Kraft recipes and Hunts.  Linked to Sunday School at Butter Believer, Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist, Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager, Traditional Tuesdays at Cooking Traditional Foods, Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Healthy 2Day Wednesdays at Day2Day Joys, Whole Food Wednesdays on Beyond the Peel, Pennywise Platter Thursday at Nourishing Gourmet, Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage, Living Well at Common Sense Homesteading, Freaky Friday at Real Food Freaks, Friday Favorites at Simply Sweet Home, Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade, Friday Food Flicks at Traditional Foods, and Simple Lives Thursday at Gnowfglins.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The General Rules for Herbs

Herbs have a rich history which goes back to the beginning of time.  Because they have fewer side effects than Western drugs, we tend to think of herbs as being benign.  In actuality, herbs are drugs--nature's drugs.  While many herbs have beneficial side effects, not all side effects are desired.  For example, the same herb that dries up that runny nose will also very efficiently and permanently dry up lactation.

When dealing with herbs, please remember:
  • Each person reacts to drugs differently.  Since there is no one-size-fits all approach to health-care, you need to do your own research to find out what is beneficial for you and your family.
  • Side effects are considerably reduced by using the smallest amount of a drug that gives the desired response.
  • Herbs are not regulated by any federal agency in America.  Once again, you need to do your own research using your own trusted resources.
  • My statements, or any other statement from any other blogger, cannot be construed as medical advice.
Did I forget anything?  Please, feel free to leave your own general herbal rules in the comments below.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To All a Good Night

Want to know the number one health complaint that people talk to me about?  Insomnia.  Now I must confess that I'm no physician, so people don't come to me with every little illness and ailment.  However, there's something about insomnia that causes it to come up in conversation.  Personally, I think it's the fact that lack of sleep makes a person cranky, and cranky people talk a lot.

Of course, there's also the scary, addictive nature of sleeping drugs that makes even the most hardened skeptic seek alternative therapies, such as the ones listed below.

What I'm suggesting is a combination of many different sleep therapies that have worked for my family.  I'd love it if you would leave a comment letting us know what has worked for your family, as well.

Morning Constitutional
After the death of my mother-in-law, I went through a period of depression.  Sleep was elusive and unsatisfying at the time, which probably fed the depression even more.  Eventually, I learned that to keep depression at bay and to provide restful sleep at night it was important to exercise.  In particular, it was important to walk outside.  Walking outside provides fresh air, vitamin D, a wider variety of colors, and time to reflect on the stresses of life, in addition to providing weight-bearing exercise.  (Remember, that weight-bearing means that your body bears it's own weight, not that you're lifting iron.)

Red light at night
Our sleep schedules are supposed to be regulated by the sun.  Sunlight is filled with a full spectrum of light, including blue light to keep us alert throughout the day.  The longer we're exposed to blue light, the smaller the amount of melatonin that our body manufactures.  The problem is that newfangled inventions like light bulbs, some alarm clocks, televisions, and computers also produce blue light, but they are capable of doing so for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  With so much blue light, the body stores of melatonin waste away to practically nothing.

An interesting twist is that red light doesn't interfere at all with the production of melatonin.  Back in the day, the hunters and gatherers only hope for artificial light came from the red light of a fire.

So try these two ideas for a better night's sleep.  Turn off the TV, computer, and any errant light bulb that you come across off after dark--or at the very minimum, an hour before bed.  Instead, light candles or set some fires to get your evening's work done. (Note: setting your homework on fire does not get it done any faster.)

Secondly, buy a sleep mask for deeper sleep.  (I got mine at a big box discount chain for only $10.)  Be prepared to sleep late in the morning, since the sunrise won't disturb your sleep one iota.

The sounds of sleep
Another easy adjustment to make to the bedroom environment is to condition the sound.  White noise generators provide ambient sound to mask the things that go bump in the night. 

One of the reasons that I like the idea of white noise generators is that they've tested very well.  In fact, studies have shown that white noise generators are as effective at helping people to sleep as over-the-counter sleep aids, but without any side effects. In another study it was found that infants were three times as likely to fall asleep with white noise in the background as they were with normal night noises.

White noise generators can easily run from $50-$100.  I prefer the cheap fan that cost me only $10.  Those who know anything about engines will tell you that the cheaper engines make the loudest white noise, so feel free to skimp liberally.

Everybody's favorite
Melatonin has become the favorite darling of those looking for a little all-natural mellowing, and with good reason.  Since the body manufactures it's own stores of this hormone, it plays nicely with most prescription and over-the-counter medications.  Take the smallest dosage that your body responds to about twenty minutes before bedtime, with an optional second dose just as you turn in.

I've never found studies that corroborate this, but in my own experience too much supplementation with artificial melatonin can cause you to fall asleep well only to awaken in the middle of the night.  I personally go easy with this one.  I use melatonin only when I'm having difficulty falling asleep or when my body doesn't seem to know when bedtime should be, only at the lowest dosage that my body will respond to, and only for a few nights at a time.

Melatonin overdose can have serious side effects.  It can mess with the liver, testosterone levels, and neurological systems.

Out cold for hours
While melatonin is helpful for falling asleep or resetting your internal clock, I turn to herbs for difficulty staying asleep.  I tend to make my herbal concoctions fluidly, sometimes adding every ingredient and sometimes omitting one or two that don't feel right at the moment.  Whenever dealing with herbs, please keep the general rules in mind.

My basic recipe is:
Sometimes I will mill the whole lot for 10 seconds after combining them.  Sometimes I leave them whole.

I add just a little bit of water to partially rehydrate them before adding either alcohol, to make a tincture, or glycerine.
  • 80 ml water
  • 120 ml vodka or vegetable glycerine
 Choose an alcohol-based tincture if you're looking for a highly effective, shelf-stable product that will last for months (in a cool, dark location).  It's also a good choice for those who are sensitive to sugars (or have weak enamel).

Choose a glycerite if you're concerned about giving alcohol to a child or if you need something prepared in a hurry.

To make a tincture, put your herbs, water, and alcohol into a 1/2 pint Mason jar.  Screw the lid on tightly.  Alcohol tinctures need to be stored in a cool, dark location for three weeks before they're ready.  Some recommend giving the bottle a good shake every few days or so.  When the time is complete, strain off the herbs and discard.  Store the alcohol in a 4 ounce amber bottle in a cool, dark location. The healing properties will stay in the alcohol for at least a year.

Glycerites are similar in manufacture.  Put your herbs, water, and glycerine into a 1/2 pint Mason jar.  Fill a small saucepan with water.  Put a dishcloth in the bottom of the saucepan and set the Mason jar on top.  Simmer the herbs for 3 hours.  Strain off the herbs and compost them.  Store in a 4 ounce amber bottle in a cool, dark location.  The healing properties will stay in the glycerine for months.

Keep in mind that the herbal brew above is a neurological depressant.  Do not use it continuously.  Some recommend taking it on the weekdays, and leaving the weekends au naturalle.  I prefer to take them for only 2-3 days before taking a night off.

Actually, I go through long periods of time anymore where I don't need any herbal help at all.  I pray that you find deep, healing sleep, as well.

Linked to Sunday School at Butter Believer, Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist, Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager, Traditional Tuesdays at Cooking Traditional Foods, Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Healthy 2Day Wednesdays at Day2Day Joys, Whole Food Wednesdays on Beyond the Peel, Living Well at Common Sense Homesteading, Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade, and Simple Lives Thursday at Gnowfglins.