I've been hankering to get in the kitchen and teach again. It's been a long time coming. Not many people know I got into naturopathic medicine through cooking and baking.
For as long as I can remember, I've been researching diet as medicine and altering my diet as a way of experimenting with the effects foods have on the (or at least my) human system. I think I was 13 when I decided to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Throughout the years, I've been lacto-ovo vegetarian, Ovo-vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic...I've tried South Beach, the Ornish diet, the DASH diet, the eat right for your type, pescatarian, plant-based, paleo, keto... the list goes on.
After undergrad, during what my mother calls my Bohemian years, I began to waitress at a vegan/macrobiotic restaurant in Connecticut. Eventually, I moved up the kitchen ranks to a sous chef and baker. That's where I learned my skills - under the guidance of some recognized vegan chefs who have won medals at the Culinary Olympics (that story for another day).
After a while, I began to work with the patients of a local ND practice, providing them with cooking classes and recipes that were allowed on their various elimination diets. Here, I began what I call "flipping recipes." Patients would bring in favorite family (or comfort food) recipes and beg me to figure out how to make said recipe so that they could enjoy it again. Multiple substitutions and many failed attempts later, I would emerge with a product that was as close to the original as I could make it. Ultimately, one of the NDs, who was a regular at the restaurant, said something to the effect of, "Jeez, Christine, you just need to go to naturopathic medical school." So I did. Back in the day when there were only two naturopathic medical schools in the US. I went to NCNM.
Fast forward through a 2 decade career, during which I was the "Naturopathic Chef" in Tulsa, OK and where I would feed close friends my new recipe experiment in Phoenix, AZ, I'm now cooking again. For all of you along the way who have encouraged me to write the cookbook, I have good news that boasts my advanced behavior: I'm actually writing down the recipes - with measurements (gasp!).
What I've learned over the years, is that there isn't really the one right diet. Our nutritional needs change with lifestyle - my nutritional needs were VERY different when I was running marathons as compared to when I was not - and with age - the nutritional needs of a young person are very different than the needs of a menopausal woman, for example. My patients have less healing capacity than they did just 10 or 20 years ago - across the board! I think there are many reasons for this, but ultimately, diet and the lack of nutritious whole foods make my top 3 list. I say this as a scratch cook. I'm not talking about packaged foods. I have found that our food has been declining in nutritional value (soil is such a big deal). I'm talking about the plants we eat and the animals we eat that also eat those plants. We're just depleted.
My focus is now how to take in the most nutrient dense foods as possible to feed my cells. When I pay attention to this, I feel the difference. When I get lazy about it or my travel schedule ramps up, I find that I fall into the same old rut of not meeting my nutritional needs. This results in brain fog, feeling creaky and puffy and old. The kicker is that this is often insidious and lulls me into the complacency of the well furnished rut. Well, darn it. If it's happening to me and I need to be vigilant, then it's for sure happening to my patients and to the rest of the humans around me. So. What to do. Well, it seems to be time to share my knowledge on a bigger scale. I'll start in my community and write the book along the way.
My cooking classes are at Natural Grocers in Flagstaff. Start on Feb 2, I begin with a class on nutrient dense and keto-friendly soups. Feb 12th I walk you through a healthy romantic dinner for two (with wine pairings), then I offer gluten free sweet and savory pies (including pizza!) late in the month. March finds us getting saucy with recipes and techniques to change up your home menu. Additional classes are in the works, so stay posted! Check the Stone and Sage calendar or the Flagstaff Natural Grocers Calendar for details. Oh! By the way, the classes are FREE!
Winter is coming. I can feel it in the air. Actually, I felt the most subtle of weather shifts in July. I've made it a priority to get firewood in as early as possible. I believe it will be a cold and (hopefully) snowy winter.
Starting the woodstove, our primary source of heat, on a cold and windy winter night is no fun. Kindling is a must and sometimes the stove decides to be stubborn. We put fatwood to good use, but it can get expensive. SO. I've been thinking I'll make my own firestarters. It'll get me out of the office for a walk among the towering pines.
I take a nearby dirt road up the mountain and stop as I find a perfect spot for a walk.
Ikea bag (how many uses do these things have?!) in hand, I begin my walk. It's a perfect day with the hushed quiet of the wind breathing through the pines while the sun plays with the shadows.
As I walk through the pines, I stop to pick up dry pine cones, placing them in my ikea bag. This feels meditative. Not realizing I've been out for an hour, I realize I now have filled two bags full of cones. I walk back to the truck and put the cones in the back seat.
I drive home and prepare a double boiler using an old pot and metal bowl I had put aside for garden use. I melt paraffin wax with a few drops of lavender essential oil. Once completely melted, I dip the pine cones in the paraffin keeping at least one inch of one end free of wax. I set these out to dry on wax paper. Once dried, this takes overnight as I want to be sure all is really dry, I put the waxed cones in an earthen crock by the stove.
A few nights later, it is chilly enough for us to want an "ambiance fire." Not so cold as to need it, but chilly enough to snuggle on the couch with the cats and lose ourselves gazing into the fire. Life is good.
Some of my earliest memories are of climbing on the kitchen counter to reach the peanut butter and bread, making a PB&J sandwich, and calling out: “Goin' 'sploring, Mom.”
Mom, bless her, didn’t quash my early (or for that matter, later) explorations. She instituted a practical rule. I could go so far as long as I could see the roof of the house. For a 5 year old that was quite a swath. There were three houses on our road and acres of old forest. I’d climb the hill behind the house and wander among the trees. There, I’d find arrowheads and remnants of stone walls from another, long gone generation. Except that they weren’t. Gone that is. The spirit of the place was alive and, for me, profoundly comforting. These woods were my home – the past echoing between us.
I’ve always had a connection to 16th century Colonial America. Somehow, I’ve understood how to doctor using herbs, cook using wood fire, fix using tools from that era. I went so far as to do Rev War re-enactments and quit when they wouldn't let me be on the field as a doctor. I have distinct memories of doing just that.
I experience times of heartache and deep longing for the ancient woods of New England. It’s been more than 20 years since I moved away and that doesn’t dampen my homesickness. I feel it most acutely in October when the leaves are turning, the cold is flirting with the heat of the sun, and the first pick of Macoun apples is cause for celebration.
A decade ago, I assisted Sara with a gem energy medicine seminar. It was autumn in Phoenix. During the workshop Nan (another practitioner) and I were exploring and keeping track of the inventory of gems. I noticed a dark green necklace whose beads had striations of lighter green. It seemed like every time I was in the inventory, this gem necklace was in sight, somehow making itself apparent.
After we finished the seminar, I decided to check out this necklace. I took the necklace out of its bag and held it up to the light, appreciating the patterns of striation. As I coiled the necklace into my palm, I was transported to the ancient woods of New England. This ancient place of lichened stone was surrounded by a cathedral of trees. It was quiet and yet hummed with earth energy. I felt the vibration through my palm and instantly all parts of me synchronized. Any homesick melancholy evaporated. I was there. It was here, in me. Harmonized. It was fantastic. Home.
Wow. Portland is beautiful in the Summer. But what a Summer we've had here. We've experienced record temperatures and acres of forest lost in wildfires. The wildfires have been on everyone’s mind here while national attention has focused on the hurricanes affecting the Southeast US and Caribbean. Locals have been evacuated, highways closed, state and national treasures destroyed or threatened and the worst air quality in the nation affecting Portlanders’ health.
This morning relief came in the form of rain. We woke to a Portland kind of morning - cool, cloudy, and gray with the air heavy with moisture. Rain is on the agenda today! The weather transition is late in coming and offers a feeling normality to the oddly hot and long-lasting Summer.
As we struggle to wake on this gray heavy day, William decides to make GF pancakes. We’ve been in Portland for a couple of months now and since we’re here temporarily, I haven’t made my GF pancake mix from scratch, nor have I made almond milk. We have a great local Co-Op - People’s Co-Op - where I purchase high quality, organic, and local ingredients, including GF organic pancake mix.
William reviews his ingredients with me to be sure he has everything he needs. I forgot to buy cinnamon, so he adds some Golden Milk powder for spice.
2 c. GF flour mix
1.5 TBSP Baking Powder
2 TBSP Golden Milk powder
dash of Salt
He mixes these in a large mixing bowl using a whisk and then adds the wet ingredients.
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 tsp. Vanilla (or more depending on your taste)
Almond Milk (or other milk) to your preferred consistency
It’s a perfect day for the anti-inflammatory effects of the Golden Milk. William is noticing that every injury he has ever had is "talking" to him due to the damp weather. The pancakes are awesome! The texture is light and the spice is just right with pure maple syrup.
After our yummy breakfast, it’s off to the office – our autumn is gearing up to be a busy one . We start traveling this week to launch our gem facial sets and to teach their use both in professional settings and at home. We look forward to seeing you in Salt Lake City, Oregon, Washington, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. Check out our calendar to see when we'll be near you!
Living off grid in the high altitude desert requires creative watering solutions. As I prepped the raised beds, I pondered how I might create a system to water the sproutlings that wasn't labor intensive (hauling buckets of water), reduced the evaporation issue we have (incessant wind), and would keep everyone watered if we were out of town (we require flexibility).
I've used plant nannies before and they work well in many instances, but their narrow "stakes" don't provide enough surface area for water transfer to the sproutlings' roots and the 750-1000 ml bottles I reuse for this purpose don't offer enough water to last for days of watering needs in the desert.
I did some research and came upon the Permaculture Research Institute. Wow! What a resource. They have an article on ollyas, a traditional application of unglazed clay pots used to efficiently water plants in arid climates. After reading the article, I began to find ollyas at local gardening stores and online. They're beautiful and they're expensive. I suppose if I was buying 1 or 2, I'd buy them. I needed many (remember the 200-ish seeds I planted?) and simply couldn't afford them.
More thinking and research and I found Global Buckets. These kids inspired me to make my own ollyas - I call them Ollies. It's an easy project and, if you have a family, a well-suited kid project.
Terra cotta pots of whatever size you like
I love using compost in my garden. I've had great compost scenarios and - I'm not gonna lie - I've also had smelly, gross messes. When we moved to the cabin, I began researching compost systems I could use in our off-grid location. I wasn't sure if the kitchen compost container would be stinky because we didn't have AC. I also was concerned about the outdoor compost bin that needed to "cook" because we have so many critters. I didn't want to attract bugs, mice, or larger critters like deer, antelope, or elk. We had a male mule deer just off our back porch last winter, so I know they think they own the joint (rightly so, I might add).
Because I cook from scratch so much, I generate a lot of compostable materials. Most counter top compost containers are too small for my weekly compost needs and I don't want to have the compost hanging out on the counter drawing flies. Without chickens or goats (maybe next spring!) to eat the scraps, I need to be thoughtful about the time it will take for the compost to break down. And because we travel, I need a system that doesn't require constant tending. Hmmmm...
Enter the Bokashi Bucket. With it, I have a 3-stage system that works for me.
Stage 1 - scraps go in the small compost container on the counter.
Stage 2 - when that gets full, I transfer it to the Bokashi Bucket that lives under the counter. It's an anaerobic
system, so it isn't stinky. The activator enzyme mix fuels the composting process and generates the compost
tea. I can access the tea whenever I need it by using the spigot at the bottom of the Bucket. The
Bucket is big enough to hold scraps for about 2 weeks.
Stage 3 - when the Bokashi Bucket gets full, I transfer it outside to a large air-tight compost bin that continues
the anaerobic composting process. This breaks the compost down pretty quickly and I have usable compost
in 4-6 weeks.
I really like this system. I've been using it for 4-5 months now. No odors in the kitchen (even the cats ignore it). The Bucket is lightweight and easy to take outside to drain the tea or to transfer the compost to the larger bin. So far, no smells or issues with critters of any size trying to get into the outside compost bin as it's tightly sealed to support the anaerobic environment. As far as the flexibility to travel, we're good to go! When we were out of town recently, we returned and just picked up where we left off. As my grandmom would say, "No fuss; no muss!"
I am not a patient women.
The seeds have sprouted. They have been transplanted into 4" peat pots. You know this. What you don't witness is the amount of time I look, talk, and coo at the sproulings sitting on the window shelves in the kitchen. I'm ridiculous.
The high altitude desert is not an easy place to grow things. Many things are against me: intense sun, scarcity of water, poor soil, incessant wind, high altitude, swinging temperatures, insects, small critters (mice), medium sized critters (rabbits and hares), large critters (deer), extra large critters (elk). You get the idea.
I decide to prepare things so I can transplant the sproutlings outside. Raised beds (check). Plan for watering using passive, active, and redundant systems (check, check, and check). Things to protect from and deter critters (check and check). Soil and enrichments (check and check).
The weather is still a little dicey. It’s been warm during the day, but another cold front is supposed to move in. The sproutlings are hardening. The wind sees to that. I decide it’s time to transplant.
I start the process by preparing the raised beds. After settling the moisture barrier, I put stones in the bottom of the raised beds to hold heat and water. I then layer straw over the rocks as it will reduce the amount of soil I need to use and it will compost down over the season. I enrich the soil with organic mushroom compost and compost tea from my Bokashi Bucket. Then I put my homemade ollas in place. Then everybody gets transplanted. To offer additional protection from critters and the elements (sun and wind), I use sun cloth. The plants are so happy - the squash and melons are starting to flower and the peas are already producing little pods! I'm cautiously excited - things are going well, yet harvest time is far away. Eek! More patience!
The time has come to transplant some of the sproutlings outside. I am very excited. We are tricking out the raised beds for passive watering and prevention of critter invasion (more on that to come).
Today I am transplanting the tomatoes and peppers. The peppers are looking perky. I know they are young enough to need a bit of extra heat and protection as we continue the long transition to Spring. I find the empty 3 gallon water jug I put aside when it cracked from freezing.
William has attempted to throw it away with every dump run, but I have managed to save it each time. And each time he says, “What are you planning to do with that?” And each time I tell him. Now, I enlist his help to realize the new potential of the cracked jug.
I ask him to saw off the top of the jug at the “shoulders,” retaining the handle. He does and hands the decapitated jug to me while looking skeptical. I flip the jug over and position it over the peppers. Et voilà! A mini-greenhouse for the peppers.
He laughs and shakes his head at me. “Frickin’ brilliant. What’s that called again?”
“Right. Cloche, but no cigar.”
Because I planted 200 seeds. In my kitchen. For food. I guess that with attrition, if I yield 150 seedlings I’ll be happy. One hundred-fifty isn’t that many. I mean, really.
I’ve watched over the years as the number of backyard gardens diminished. In my younger years, I didn’t think much about it. We always had a garden when I was a kid. I was part of a community garden in undergrad. In my early adult years if I didn’t have a garden, a friend or neighbor did and I was welcomed to play in the dirt.
Over the years, and with with many moves, my gardens became a collection of houseplants. Every spring I’d lust after the plants and flowers in gardening stores and in magazines. I tried a garden when I moved to Phoenix. I truly didn’t understand the strength of the sun in the Southwest. Things not only died; they petrified. I began living vicariously through the smart folk at the Farmer’s Market.
Fast forward a decade or so, we now live off-grid in Northern Arizona. And while I have come to appreciate the strength of the sun, I am learning about the stress of altitude, wind, and the short growing season of the high altitude desert.
My near 200 seeds have sprouted and have enough of a root system that it is time to transplant them into 4” peat pots. It’s still too cold to put them outside, so they take up more (and more) space on the kitchen counters. Things become more complicated when I buy some flowering plants and we have a series of freak snowstorms landing them, also, on our kitchen counters. Adding insult to injury, I need to go out of town and leave William with the responsibility of keeping everyone watered – and protected from our wily garden munching cat, Hops.
Poor William. My ex-military guy who likes, if not needs, to have everything “squared away” is working very hard to be ok with the kitchen-turned-greenhouse.
I get to Washington DC and am at the conference when I call William. He sounds out of breath and tired. After asking him what he was doing, he confesses that he is working on a project. In my mind I scroll through the projects we had discussed prior to my leaving. Pretty much all of those projects require the help of another or many more supplies. He is being secretive. He answers obliquely or changes the subject as I ask questions.
This goes on for a while and he finally admits he’s working on something for me that’s a surprise. Something not on the project list. Something he has created from scratch and it’s really cool. He’s proud of himself. I can’t stand it. I need to know. I ask nicely; I negotiate - no dice. I plead and wheedle. He relents by texting pictures.
He’s built shelves into the kitchen windows for the sproutlings. The shelves are gorgeous! He’s made them so I can pick up the entire shelf to bring the sproutlings outside to begin to harden them. I can very easily bring them back inside for the cold night. And he might say, best of all, we get our kitchen counters back!
William isn't feeling well. He is suffering mightily with allergies - worse than usual. What's blooming? Any major change in diet? Is it the altitude now that we're no longer in Phoenix?
"Honey, stop asking."
He's curled up on the couch under blankets with kittens draped across him. I do what makes sense to me: give him space and cook him food.
We have an organic roaster chicken - our lazy dinner courtesy of Whole Foods. We dug into it last night and I decide to cull the meat and use the carcass to make homemade chicken stock. I imagine an anti-inflammatory, herb-forward chicken soup to nourish my man by decreasing inflammation and down-regulating his system. Yes, in our house, food is medicine.
Dr. Christine Girard is a physician and educator. Prior to medical school, she worked as a sous chef and baker at a vegan, macrobiotic restaurant. She lives off-grid in Northern Arizona.