Feed Yourself First

[ The Granny Plan was originally inspired by a weekly series I wrote back in 2013. I thought I’d share some of the original for new readers … just click thru the links to get a little taste of the book from the linked post excerpts. ]

So now things are humming along. Everyone has veggies for dinner, the kitchen in mostly clean most of the time, there are two good meals on the table for dinner each week and you have your apron and shoes! We are well on our way!

 

Our next step is about keeping ourselves well …

We all work too hard for the most part and far too often we run on empty. You know what I mean. Skipping a meal here and there, staying up too late, having a plan for every hour of the day trying to cram a few more things in. And it all looks absolutely necessary I know … I do most of the same stuff when I fail to stop and think thru the consequences. Maybe it’s just getting older, I don’t know, but the consequences seem to come up a lot sooner than they used too  .

For everything in our lives to work we have to maintain our health. It is the foundation upon all else rests. You know the old saying “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” So this weeks step is about keeping that high on your priority list. We need to feed ourselves first in order to be able to take care of everyone else.

What exactly is feeding yourself first all about?

It’s about eating good nourishing food regularly. Granny served 3 square meals a day and she sat down and ate them too! It’s about including superfoods like cod liver oil in your diet. And about getting enough sleep and relaxation time. Wondering where you’ll find the time for this?

The Granny Plan is unavailable as an eBook at the present time but feel free to read the summarized version on this site.

[ The Granny Plan was originally inspired by a weekly series I wrote back in 2013. I thought I’d share some of the original for new readers … just click thru the links to get a little taste of the book from the linked post excerpts. ]

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How Long Did People Live 100 Years Ago?

“Of course people didn’t live long … the average life expectancy was 40 years”. How often have you heard this quote or something very similar? If you are a watcher of tv documentaries or attended public school anytime in the last 70 years or so you’ve probably heard this several hundred times. Just last night I heard it again while watching Frontier House, the PBS reality show from about 10 years back.  The belief that most everyone in the past dropped dead around 40 is common. People with ancestors that lived to be old generally think the members of their family were just exceptionally long lived.

The story goes something like this: Prior to the introduction of antibiotics and vaccines most people succumbed to an infectious disease prior to or around middle age. Children died at a very high rate. Work was hard and cruel. Food was salty, fatty, monotonous, somewhat scarce and just plain bad for you. Life was short and miserable … Survival into old age was a rare miracle.

This is a myth. We’ve been mislead into believing this by a simple trick of statistics. In actuality life expectancy for a modern adult is pretty much the same now as it was back then. You’d expect it would be much better now with modern medicine but the statistics do not bear that out. What was it Mark Twain said?

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Let’s review the evidence then we can know more clearly just how long average people with decent kind of life lived prior to the advent of modern diets and modern medicines.

The Basic Misunderstanding Explained

The problem is simple really. When the media mention at what age people used to die they sometimes but not always mention that “life expectancy” statistics is the source of their information. Sounds reasonable enough … if life expectancy is 40 then people die on average at 40. Not true though.  We think “Life Expectancy” is a record of the actual age at death but it isn’t. It is calculated using a number of actuarial formulas … it is not a simple average of actual age at time of death. I had hoped to shed a little light on the calculation, but frankly only a mathematician could read the formulas :-). So there is some complexity there. Even if they were a simple average of actual age at time of death these averages would include all deaths from infants just born thru old age just as the “Life Expectancy” calculations do. The high number of deaths amongst infants and small children prior to modern sanitation and antibiotics will skew the numbers so the average is quite low. So if say 10% of babies and toddlers die before the age of 5 that will dramatically shift the average life expectancy downward.

Benjamin Radford at Live Science in this post about how lifespans have been constant for 2000 years explains the misunderstanding better than I can when he states:

Again, the high infant mortality rate skews the “life expectancy” dramatically downward. If a couple has two children and one of them dies in childbirth while the other lives to be 90, stating that on average the couple’s children lived to be 45 is statistically accurate but meaningless. Claiming a low average age of death due to high infant mortality is not the same as claiming that the average person in that population will die at that age.

I’ve put together the graph below to help illustrate. Now, I’m not a researcher nor a statistician but I spent a few hours searching for data that would help us clarify the problem. First I looked for historical stats on age at time of death. All I could find was “life expectancy” tables for various points in history so the numbers in the graph for 1900 are estimates based on statements from various books and articles. I was able to find good current year age at death records so that really helps. I also included a really unscientific survey of age at death taken from my local papers obituary. This includes age at death for 100 people in 2012/2013. If anyone knows where I can find good stats to replace my 1900 estimates please let me know. 

Historically the number of deaths would be a kind of reverse bell curve with most deaths occurring in the very young and the very old. This chart illustrates the difference:

Now you may ask why the death statistics for infants and toddlers was so high … Good question! For starters, most statistics available for the era were taken in big cities at the turn of the century, places notoriously difficult to live in. The health statistics for adults were also not very good in these places, so children would have been very vulnerable. They were generally taken at large hospitals, places the healthy avoided. The rural areas where things were more traditional, the pace slower, the diet much better and the living more secure, well they didn’t keep records as closely and so tended to not be included in the numbers. There are a few interesting historical sources like this one published in the Journal Of The Royal Society Of Medicine on Victorian England showing that many average english of the victorian era lived long lives and enjoyed better health than modern people do. They were working with medical records taken from 1850-1900 that showed better health overall for this population than in the current British population. source article

Early deaths from accidents and infections roughly equals early deaths from modern diseases

Modern medicine has done a fabulous job of helping people in acute crisis. Like infants born too early, people with acute life-threatening infections, and those in terrible accidents. Access to modern medicine greatly reduces deaths from these causes. What it hasn’t done a good job of however is eliminating heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune illness, the biggest killers of the modern era.  In fact these diseases were extremely rare before modern times, so rare as to be statistically insignificant. Generally the deaths from these modern diseases balance with the deaths from accident and infectious diseases for the most part. The age at death is higher but still far short of a full lifespan.

What about the argument that people just didn’t live long enough back then to develop these degenerative conditions? Well, historically a large percentage of the population did in fact live to a ripe old age without developing any of these conditions. So this argument just doesn’t hold water.

Life Expectancy is lowest for those who are poorer

Always has been … obviously the main reason why people don’t want to be poor! There were populations of people in the past with extremely short lifespans. Generally these folks had little access to fresh clean food and water and were made to work very long hours in very unhealthy conditions. They had very limited diets and thus were susceptible to tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, and diphtheria three of the major causes of death at the time. Those on extremely limited diets developed frank deficiency diseases like pellagra and beriberi in large numbers. They were very susceptible to injury on the job, and if injured received little or no assistance. This included about everyone that worked in large cities, had factory jobs, were miners or railroad workers. It would also include some rural people that had very exploitive working conditions, renting the land they worked from a landlord. People like sharecroppers for instance.  All these people were the poorest of the poor and like the poor in all times and places died an earlier death on average. My Mother used to say of women that died young “She lived a hard life” by way of explaining their early death.

In modern times we talk about these poverty conditions as if everyone in the past suffered this kind of restriction. Not the case at all!  The majority of people lived in settled rural communities with a tradition of local trade. While they may not have had a lot of cash or huge amounts of property they were still basically independent as a community. These small towns and villages were made up of yeoman farm families that produced food and traded largely amongst themselves. 

The majority of the population of North America lived in such rural communities. This is what made the Americas attractive to immigrants. Farm living was widely regarded as the most wholesome kind of living and many made great efforts to attain land they could own outright rather than rent so they could enjoy the benefits of good food, sunshine and a guaranteed way to make a living.

Around the time of the construction of the railroads the independence of these communities began to be eaten away around the edges. These communities began to see a reduction in health as well. Many children from these farms had to go to cities to earn cash money to pay new or increased taxes for the family farm, or for the cash needs of the farm now that the community cohesion was deteriorating. People started to have to pay cash for many healthy food items rather than barter as in times past. Some foods were now brought in from a distance. Food adulteration became widespread, bringing the FDA into existence. This is the beginning of the loss of health Dr. Weston A Price saw in his practice around the turn of the century.

Upsurge in Degenerative Conditions Coincides with the Introduction of Processed Foods

Dr. Price was conducting his research at this time and was able to document the effects of these newfangled foods on populations that had previously ate only their own cultures diet. He was able to show that degenerative diseases became far more common once the processed foods were eaten particularly by the second generation.

Now we can enjoy the benefits of medical care for acute conditions AND the benefits of eating a healthy wholesome diet. We can live out our full lifespans in good health. We needn’t suffer from early death from infectious disease or degenerative modern conditions.  All we need to do is eat traditionally.

Update 4/5/13: I’ve added another series to the chart with actual numbers from 1924. Haven’t found the 1900 actuals but have made some adjustments to my estimate based on the 1924 numbers. I will include the actuals when I find them. 
Sources:  1924 Actual Death Rate, Mortality Stats Table E

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Clean as You Go

[ The Granny Plan was originally inspired by a weekly series I wrote back in 2013. I thought I’d share some of the original for new readers … just click thru the links to get a little taste of the book from the linked post excerpts. ]

Our next step is all about cooking and feeling happy about it.

What, you say? Isn’t cooking fun? Lots of people cook as a hobby and really enjoy it! Cooking real food everyday is bound be be a real joy!

Well, I hate to be a downer but cooking isn’t always fun. And it’s best to talk about that right upfront. Sure, cooking a special meal on a lazy day for people that are eager to eat it is fun. But imagine instead that you are cooking daily for a picky toddler, a harried spouse who is used to restaurant meals or fast food. Imagine further that your day is booked, totally booked. So you arrive home toddler in tow right at the witching hour when toddlers are happy about exactly nothing … they just want to eat! Then imagine that the sink is stacked with dishes from last night and the kitchen in general is a mess. Your spouse arrives home starving and suggests you just order something quick. What will you do?

Most of us don’t have to work very hard to picture this situation because we are living this situation! In the beginning it will be tough to choose to cook and the cleanliness of the kitchen will be a big psychological factor in the choice you make. It’s very hard to walk into a dirty kitchen, clean up the mess and then cook. If inspiration hit you by the time the dishes are done it’ll be long past.

Suppose that instead of leaving the cleanup for later you decide to do it right after dinner? That sounds a lot better, and it is. But if you must return to a kitchen that looks like a bomb went off after you eat your dinner just how good will you feel while cooking that dinner? Or while eating that dinner? You’ll become very susceptible to believing it’s just not worth it.

The Granny Plan is unavailable as an eBook at the present time but feel free to read the summarized version on this site.

[ The Granny Plan was originally inspired by a weekly series I wrote back in 2013. I thought I’d share some of the original for new readers … just click thru the links to get a little taste of the book from the linked post excerpts. ]

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Easy Pizza Rollups

One of our fellow Granny Plan followers was asked by her family to make pizza as her first dish. Now pizza isn’t super-duper hard to make, but there is the issue of the crust. If you’re making the crust yourself it can take a little practice to get it down just right. Plus, it takes a bit more planning to have the dough soaked or fermented and ready for dinner. So while task-wise it isn’t the easiest first dish, taste-wise pizza is so popular it is sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike. So what to do?

Fortunately I have this shortcut that gives you the flavor of pizza without as much prep. This is a pretty easy go-to dinner for nights when there isn’t much time to cook too. We all love it here :-). Now this recipe has more than the 3-4 ingredients I recommend as a first dish, but don’t let that unnerve you. Most of them are just spices that you’ll want to have on hand anyway. So if the family is clamoring for pizza you could make this your first main dish. If not and pizza can wait I’d choose something a bit simpler to start with.

Easy Pizza Rollups

Yield

6-8 Servings

Prep Time

20 minutes

Cooking Time

20 minutes

Difficulty

Easy

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Pork sausage or Ground Beef
  • 8 Tortillas
  • 2 cups Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • 1/2 Onion
  • 1 Green Pepper
  • 1 Can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Refined Coconut Oil (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Basil
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • 1 tsp Onion Granules
  • 1 tsp Garlic Granules
  • Salt to Taste

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut up the half onion, pepper and pepperoni.
  • Next let’s get the filling ready. Brown some ground beef or sausage in a skillet. If you’d like you can reserve a little of this in a bowl as a topping. Add the tomato sauce to the skillet along with the spices. No need to cook for long … the flavors will combine nicely in the oven. Just make sure the sauce is reasonably thick. And if you’re meat is lean as mine was add a tablespoon of refined coconut oil. Always looking for ways to sneak a little in ;-).
  • Put a little meat sauce and grated cheese on a tortilla as shown in the picture. Then roll it up and place it against the side of the pan. Keep going till you’ve a) used up all the tortillas, b) run out of sauce, c) run out of pan space.
  • Now we’re ready for the fun part! Spread the remaining cheese over the top. Then place your toppings. You can use whatever toppings your family likes. The ones in the ingredient list are my family’s favorites.
    Pop the dish in the oven for 20 minutes. The first time you make this keep an eye on it since oven temperatures vary. We’re shooting for a crisp tortilla … hotter makes this happen.

This disappears pretty quick with just 3 of us so if you have a larger family you might want to double the recipe so there is more to go around :-). One thing to watch for is the quality of the tortilla. In the past I’ve tried some brands that didn’t come out crispy at all. Right now I’m buying some from Natural Grocer’s that are no-fail. If you have trouble try to find a different brand. The less processed the better.

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Our First Main Dish

This week we crank up the kitchen machine!

A kitchen is kinda like a machine. One that isn’t being used regularly is stiff and creaky, one in constant use becomes like a well oiled machine. Things come into the kitchen like ingredients, water, energy and things flow out … finished meals, snacks and dirty dishes. A kitchen without a good system is like a machine that isn’t carried for. It clogs up with dirty dishes, unused and unwanted gadgets, food that goes bad, ingredients for recipes no one ever has time to make, and of course just general mess. Or in the case of a kitchen that’s never used at all … you know, like the beautiful magnificently equipped kitchens you see on tv right before the owners of said kitchen go out for dinner  . That kitchen is like a machine that has seized up through sheer lack of use.

If your kitchen sounds anything like these don’t despair! We’ll start out with the very basics of turning the crank on your kitchen machine to get things going. This week is part about attitude and part about cooking.

Take Charge of your Kitchen!

First we need a daily reminder that we are in charge of our kitchens and that what we are doing is urgently important! That reminder is wearing an apron and shoes in the kitchen. I’m channeling Flylady here I know, but this step matters a lot though it sounds kinda petty at first. At least that’s what I thought when I read Flylady’s admonition to get dressed to your shoes. Sure, it’s about comfort in the kitchen and protecting your clothes. But more importantly it’s about attitude. The shoes will help keep you from getting tired. The apron will be the uniform that will remind you of your new professional title “She Who Cares About What This Family Eats”.

The Granny Plan is unavailable as an eBook at the present time but feel free to read the summarized version on this site.

[ The Granny Plan was originally inspired by a weekly series I wrote back in 2013. I thought I’d share some of the original for new readers … just click thru the links to get a little taste of the book from the linked post excerpts. ]

 

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A Guide to Picking Recipes for the Absolute Beginner

Is this the stuff of nightmares for you? You spot a mouth watering recipe on Pinterest. It’s from scratch, a real, real-food recipe so you’re pretty excited! Your gonna make this one yourself! You go to the store, get the stuff, come back and start working but that beautiful recipe turns out like this:

Pretty discouraging, huh? We’ve all done it! In fact I shared one of my recipe fails in this post with the successful healthy white cake post coming one week later 🙂 . (Sorry ladies, but I lost those posts!)

The question is, if you’re new to cooking from scratch just how do you minimize these kinds of epic failures?

If you don’t know what it is you don’t know, then how can you pick a good recipe to follow that you’re likely to be successful with?  Step 2 in The Granny Plan has you picking a recipe to make for dinner … but how do you do that when you don’t know a hard recipe from an easy one?

Let’s go over a few guiding principles that can help ensure success!

Stick with recipes with Common Ingredients

Choose recipes with simple ordinary common ingredients for the most part. It’s much tougher to start making real foods with substitute ingredients like coconut flour for instance. The properties of these substitute ingredients can be very different from the item they are replacing and are often tricky to deal with. Stick with the basics. Stuff Granny would have had on hand and leave the more difficult substitutions for later, if you want to do them at all.  If it contains ingredients that wouldn’t have been available in a 1930 general store skip it for now.

Choose Recipes with Minimal Ingredients

Some recipes have an ingredient list as long as your arm! Avoid these for the most part. While I’m sure many are delicious it’s trickier to remember if you added the ginger or the cinnamon yet when you have a loooonnnggg list of ingredients. This leads to forgetting ingredients entirely or doubling them up. This is how you end up with stuffing that positively reaks of sage … confession, guilty ;-). Plus, you need to have a fuller pantry to be ready for these recipes making keeping the kitchen ready for cooking tougher.

Stick to the Recipe!

I know it’s hard to imagine now but the ultimate goal of Granny cooking is to get to an experience level where you no longer need a recipe to manage in the kitchen. Until then though stick to the recipe! You can think of recipes as a sort of kitchen training wheels designed to help ensure your success. After you repeated the recipe many times and mastered it you can start to make adjustments.

So in choosing a recipe pick one you don’t need to make any adjustments to. Don’t pick something with eggs in it if you know little Johnny can’t eat eggs. Pick something without any eggs instead. Leave learning how to do substitutions for later.

Choose Recipes with Minimal Monitoring

Avoid recipes that have you standing over the stove stirring for 20 minutes straight. Avoid recipes that require you do something critical at just the right moment, say when the onions look just a certain way, or the top of the dish feels spongy, or, well you get the picture 😉 . Ideally pick things that can be made quickly or can be left to cook slowly on their own for a set amount of time. 

Some things are Much Harder Than Others – Save Them for When You Have Experience

Many of the things we’re avoiding here aren’t a problem for more experienced cooks. Still, they often avoid these kinds of recipes because they require a greater degree of attention than the average household cook can give on any average day. So maybe they’re saved for the holidays or slow cozy days at home where the extra cooking can feel relaxing.

Basically, avoid making things that are viewed as moderately difficult to really hard. Avoid cakes, souffles, aspics, croussants, sourdough or bread in general and pastry too. Absolutely avoid baked alaska, paella, and beef wellington, as if you had thought about making them 😉 .

You’ll find the ideas in this post helpful when working thru the steps in the book The Granny Plan. In it Granny will walk you thru 12 babysteps to building a strong kitchen routine that makes everyday home cooking possible.

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It All Starts With Buttered Carrots

Today is the day …

Today we start practicing step #1 of “The Granny Plan”! We’re all ready to dive in but before we do let’s take a moment to consider what we’re working to achieve with this plan. I think there is a little confusion about what we’re working for … some think we’ll be learning the fundamental dishes of real food cookery, or that the plan will be so very detailed that it won’t be a good fit your specific situation. Nope, not the case. Let’s consider what “The Granny Plan” is and isn’t about.

What “The Granny Plan” isn’t

Just to be really clear about what we’re working on here, we are working on habits. Routines. Making the whole thing as mindless as driving is to you today. Remember when you were learning to drive? How complicated the whole thing was! How could anyone do this everyday? Without wrecks? It took sooooo much concentration. But before you knew it you were whipping in and out of traffic, talking with friends, listening to music, all without a hitch. “The Granny Plan” isn’t about specific recipes, or must-make-dishes and exactly how to do them. Sure we’ll cover a few basics here, but for the most part I’ll be directing you to try some of the recipes you have stashed away that your family will like, or to make something you already make more often. We’ll be working on the routines that keep you ready to cook mostly. And routines that make the family happier with that cooking.

“The Granny Plan” is about getting the basics down

I’m a amateur hobbyist guitar player. And I love to read  . Something that James Taylor’s brother Livingston Taylor wrote in his book Stage Performance comes to mind here. He urged all performers to stick with the level of playing they were VERY comfortable with on stage. Most beginning performers do the opposite, trot out the hardest thing they know in an effort to impress the audience. Then they’re nervous, mess up, act embarrassed and alienate the audience. When a performer sticks with the basics things are easy and the performance is smooth, the audience loves you for your easy confidence and familiarity. Same thing when learning to cook regularly. Sticking with the basics first, then slowly venturing out into new territory brings your audience on board with this whole real food cooking eat at home thing. Often we think we need to replicate restaurant meals or make something so good they’ll just have to rave about it to get them with the program. But we have no practice at it, it gets messed up, they pick at the meal or worse complain, dinner is exhausting and stressful, then we don’t feel like cooking and they don’t feel like eating  . Next dinner everyone wants to order pizza and we give in exhausted from the struggle of it all.

Truth is Granny didn’t make elaborate meals everyday. She made basic fare everyday with a few special dishes thrown in from time to time to spice things up. We need to learn to mindlessly make the basics. When we can do that, we’re ready to add the spice.

On that note lets get started with this week’s lesson!

It All Starts With Buttered Carrots …

We’re going to start out slowly with just one small task. I know you have the energy and enthusiasm right now to take on so much more but I’m going to ask you not to. Trust me that one small task is the best way to start. I don’t want you to flame out by overdoing it or scare the family with too many changes at once.

 

The Granny Plan is unavailable as an eBook at the present time but feel free to read the summarized version on this site.

[ The Granny Plan was originally inspired by a weekly series I wrote back in 2013. I thought I’d share some of the original for new readers … just click thru the links to get a little taste of the book from the linked post excerpts. ]

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What Makes a Diet Good? The Final Five Principles

Your grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents knew what a good diet was. They knew it through and through without even the slightest shade of a doubt. A good diet was what people always ate. A good diet was about plenty of wholesome food. Good health was about more than just a good diet though. It was also about healthy living. Over the past few weeks posts we’ve talked at length about the details that made up the diet our grandparents recognized as healthy and how that diet differs from a modern diet, whether it’s average or perceived as healthy. Today’s guidelines are mostly about that part of health that granny would have called clean living.

[Read more…]

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Chicken Cacciatore Soup

I’ve been on a soup jag lately. Must be the end of winter here in Texas that brought it on. I love soup and make it through the summer months but it is so much more delicious in the wintertime! This soup is one I make once or twice a month for a little variation on our usual chicken rice soup. My sister made a fabulous chicken cacciatore when I was a kid … a very fond memory. I came up with the recipe as a way to enjoy those flavors, but with the convenience of a fairly quick soup. My big sister’s recipe had a day long cook time, but this soup takes about 40 minutes of pure cooking time, where the cook doesn’t need to do much.

Chicken Cacciatore Soup

Yield

4-6 Servings

 

Cooking Time

30 minutes

Difficulty

Easy

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Chicken
  • 1 Cup Rice
  • 4 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Can Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Refined Coconut Oil
  • 1 tbsp Basil
  • 2 tsp Oregano
  • 2 tsp Onion Granules
  • 2 tsp Garlic Granules
  • Salt to Taste

Instructions

  • Cut up the onion. Cut up the chicken if needed.
  • Place onions in the pot with the coconut oil/chicken fat. Add the chicken if it’s not pre-cooked. Cook on high heat till the onions are slightly translucent and the chicken is cooked thru.
  • Pour in the broth. Add the can of diced tomatoes. If you have pre-cooked chicken add that now. Bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down to a simmer. Add the spices. Cover the pan. I like to let this cook for about 20 minutes or so. This will reduce acidity in the canned tomatoes and help the flavors blend.
  • Add the rice. Ensure the liquid covers everything well. If there isn’t enough to cover just a some water.
  • Let cook on low heat for about 20 minutes. Add salt to taste.

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