Butter Substitute for Baking

In regards to the Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe, one reader asked the question:

Is there a way to substitute the butter for something non dairy? I babysit for a little boy who is highly allergic to dairy and finding dairy free recipes for treats is so hard!

This is such a good question, as so many need to avoid dairy and all margarines are so unhealthy (even organic) because their vegetable oils are fragile are damaged at high heat (over 325).

White and creamy virgin coconut oil

Virgin (unrefined) Coconut Oil is a wonderful substitute for butter, and unlike most vegetable oils, can be safely used at baking and frying temperatures. (You would still want to keep the peanut butter cookie recipe under 320 degrees because of the oil in the peanut butter.)

It is solid at room temperature, but melts at low heat (like if you touch it…very similar to butter). It has a slightly sweet flavor which is a boon for many types of cooking/baking. It can be used 1:1 for butter, but since there is no salt added, you may want to over measure your sea salt in recipes which call for butter.

Tropical Traditions is the premier place to get this good-for-you oil: it’s organic, processed gently, and this family business helps the native people of the Philippines. You can feel good in every way about supporting this company. You may want to try out coconut oil on a small scale before ordering from Tropical Traditions; most health food stores will carry organic coconut oil labled “virgin” or “expeller pressed.” Iherb.com carries one from Jarrow that fits the bill.

You don’t want to get refined coconut oil: read this article on the different processes for extracting coconut oil.

If you are ready to get a larger amount of coconut oil, there is a special buy 1, get 1 deal being offered from Tropical Traditions until August 5.

Experiment Kitchen: Making Cottage Cheese

After making yogurt and kefir from raw milk last week, I felt courageous enough to attempt cottage cheese this week. Actually, it turned out to be a cinch.

I took a quart of raw milk yogurt, emptied it into a clean 2 qt. saucepan, and set it on the stove over medium heat. Stirring constantly, I waited to see a change in the yogurt curd. Here is a picture of the yogurt when I began heating it.

As I was heating it, I kept sticking my finger in it to test for temperature. The instructions I was going off of were word-of-mouth that it should be warmer than bath water, but not boiling. It took less than 10 minutes for the yogurt curd to change into a cottage cheese curd. The yogurt I was using came from the refrigerator, but if it had been from the counter (just finished yogurt culture) then it would have been less time. You can see the picture of the cottage cheese curd.

I removed the pan from the heat, and at this point I had the brilliant idea to be a little more scientific about the whole process and stick my candy thermometer in the pan. It registered 130 degrees. This probably means that the cottage cheese is not technically raw any longer (less than 117 should leave enzymes intact) but it also is a far cry from the “ultra-pasteurization” temperatures which damage and alter the protein molecules of dairy.

After allowing the batch to cool for 10 minutes or so, I spooned the curds and whey into my funnel fitted with a strainer. The whey ran through into the canning jar, and the cottage cheese stayed in the funnel for transfer to a second jar. One quart yielded 3 cups of whey and 1 cup of cottage cheese.

Cottage cheese has a really high protein content compared to other dairy products; 13 gms protein per half cup. It is an ingredient in my High Protein Waffles.

Xylitol: Alternative to Fluoride

Though the average consumer may not know this, there is a significant debate about whether fluoride is good for teeth, and particularly whether it is good for the bodies attached to those teeth. There are highly educated, sincere individuals on both sides of this argument.

The American Dental Association is firmly on the side that fluoride is good for teeth, and harmless to people. On their website fluoridedebate.com, they state that at current water fluoridation levels, fluoride “is not toxic according to generally accepted scientific knowledge.” They further state that numerous studies have been done and “No charge against the benefits and safety of fluoridation has ever been substantiated by generally accepted scientific knowledge.” Most dentists, trained and certified by the ADA, agree with this “generally accepted scientific knowledge.” They will point out to you that fluoride can re-calcify tooth enamel, even when applied to teeth that are beginning to soften/decay. Fluoride is the daily armor, and the last defense, for ADA dentists.

On the other side of the debate, scientists point to studies which link fluoride consumption (whether from water, foods, toothpaste, supplements, and increasing levels in irrigated farmlands) to many illnesses, including alergies, arthritis, low IQ, cancer, and diseases of the brain, bones, thyroid, pineal gland, immune system, kidneys, and reproductive system. Check the Health Effects page of the Fluoride Action Network’s site to read more in depth about the studies which link these illnesses to fluoride. If you check back on the fluoridedebate.com site, you can find that some scientists find that the data is open to other conclusions, or find problems with the data itself, such as lack of controls.

This is all pretty technical, and I won’t try to recount for you the many studies or facts related to this debate; you would to better to read this at the source. I am convinced that fluoride is toxic by the following:

Fluoride in Drinking Water came as Hazardous Waste

Only calcium fluoride occurs naturally in water; however, that type of fluoride has never been used for fluoridation. Instead what is used over 90 percent of the time are silicofluorides, which are 85 times more toxic than calcium fluoride. They are non-biodegradable, hazardous waste products that come straight from the pollution scrubbers of big industries. If not dumped in the public water supplies, these silicofluorides would have to be neutralized at the highest rated hazardous waste facility at a cost of $1.40 per gallon (or more depending on how much cadmium, lead, uranium and arsenic are also present). Cities buy these unrefined pollutants and dump them–lead, arsenic and all–into our water systems. Silicofluorides are almost as toxic as arsenic, and more toxic than lead. (From Fluoridation: The Fraud of the Century.)

Thyroid

Up until the 1970s, European doctors used fluoride as a thyroid-suppressing medication for patients with HYPER-thyroidism (over-active thyroid). Fluoride was utilized because it was found to be effective at reducing the activity of the thyroid gland – even at doses as low as 2 mg/day (a common total consumption level for those drinking fluoridated water). There is concern that current fluoride exposures may be playing a role in the widespread incidence of HYPO-thyroidism (under-active thyroid) in the U.S. (From http://www.fluoridealert.org/health/) Since Hypothyroidism runs in my family, and I am currently being treated for this condition, I have decided to avoid fluoride completely for myself and my family.

Liability Cover Up

In reading through arguments on both sides of the debate, I find that the best the ADA can come up with is to question the methods of study, point to studies which were funded by those making a profit from the sale of silicofluorides, and to state that fluoride safety is just “accepted scientific fact.” I look at this as a grand cover up . . . after all, what kind of liability would the ADA have for so many health problems, potentially even thousands of deaths, were they to face the facts in regards to the health effects of fluoride?

Xylitol to the Rescue

OK, so at this depressing point, I’m pretty ready for some good news. And we do have it. Xylitol, a natural sugar, even produced by our own bodies, can do that same amazing thing that fluoride can do: re-calcify tooth enamel. It tastes great (it’s a natural sugar, for crying out loud), and it’s easy to get into our diets: toothpaste, mints, gum.

Speaking of gum, studies consistently find that school children who are given Xylitol gum to chew reduce their incidence of cavaties, even if their other dental health habits are poor or non-existent.

Even if you aren’t as convinced as I am that fluoride should be avoided completely, the great facts on Xylitol should convince you to make sure this IS in your toothpaste on a daily basis! (Read Toothpaste: the Quest for Fresh, Clean, and Non-Toxic for my reviews on several natural toothpastes.)

While you’re at it, start chewing Xylitol gum: our favorite is the Spry gum, which comes in a tub of 100 pieces. Cinnamon and Peppermint are both yummy. (Read Iherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 offIherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 Off if you haven’t already discovered this great place for good prices on natural products.)

French Onion Soup

Mmm . . . what could be more comforting on a dreary winter evening than a bowl of cheese-encrusted French Onion Soup? Made with a base of homemade Beef Bone Broth, it’s also a immune boosting, gut healing, blood and bone building elixir. The addition of steak is optional: I landed on it as a great way to use day-old steak, and my husband loves finding hearty meat in his soup!

4-5 yellow onions, sliced
3-4 shallots, sliced (if unavailable, use an additional onion)
5 T. butter
1 quart strong beef bone broth, tallow removed
2-4 cups water
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 bay leaves
day-old steak, sliced thinly against grain, or shredded roast (optional)
1-4 tsp. unrefined sea salt (see note)
crusty bread for topping, artisan soudough or french bread is good
sliced cheese for melting, such as Havarti, Jack, or Gouda

Melt butter in a large heavy enameled dutch oven. Add sliced onions and shallots, stirring to coat with the butter. Cook uncovered over Medium-High heat for 15 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes with a wooden spoon, or until onions have turned a dark brown as they caramelize. Cover and cook another 25 minutes on Medium-Low, stirring occasionally. Onions will shrink during cooking.

Add broth, water, thyme, bay leaves, pepper, meat if desired, and half of salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves, and add salt to taste (see note). This soup has a lot of sweetness from the carmelized onions, so I like it best when I’ve salted just enough for my tongue to tell me “savory” rather than “sweet/bland”. (Since the homemade broth isn’t pre-salted, you may be surprised by the amount of salt it will need.) I can not overemphasize salting correctly, as this brings out the delicate onion/shallot flavor, bringing it from frumpy to fabulous.

Set oven to Broil. Toast bread, unless it is the ends, then slice into 1 inch strips. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, and top with toast slices, then top with sliced cheese. Place bowls on top rack of oven and leave door open slightly so you can watch them; they are ready when cheese melts and bubbles, with light brown edges.

Serve straight from the oven to the table; warn your family of the hot bows and set potholders at each spot to protect your table top.

Note: different salts have differing amounts of saltiness. Unrefined salt (usually grey, red, or another color because of the minerals still in it) is less salty than refined salt, which has additives (including aluminum -yuck!) for dryness and easy pouring which give it a harsh or bitter flavor and dextrose sugar to cover this flavor. Unrefined salt is the better choice, but you will need to adjust the amount you add according to taste. If the salt you use is the moist coarse kind (such as the wonderful Course Sea Salt from Trader Joes), wait a few minutes after adding salt to the soup pot before tasting. Since it has large salt crystals, it takes a little longer for it to dissolve; it would be easy to oversalt it in haste.

Creating a Recycle Center

It suddenly hit me: I wouldn’t pile trash on the counter waiting for a chance to take it to the garage. I have a kitchen trash can for it. So why am I still piling my recycles on the counter?

Here’s a picture of my counter, cluttered with recycles: Root Beer bottles, newspaper, ziplocks box, butter box, vitamin bottles, etc. I hate clutter, and I too often have chucked “small” pieces of recycling (junk mail) in the trash because I just wanted to be done with it.

And here is my under-sink area, which I thought was fully used, until I realized what a necessity a recycles bin is. I was storing flower vases under there, stuffed with plastic shopping bags for lining bathroom trash cans. The vases I moved to a high shelf, and the bags I consolidated.

Then I rearranged my cleansers and garbage can, and my new recycle bin fits perfectly! The rainbow stripe decoration on the reused shipping box is complements of my two artistic children (6 and 4 years).

Here is my newly efficient garbage and recycling center! New habits, new way of life.

Cloth Wipes for Diapering

Of all the baby care products which I believe commonly give the most toxic exposure to babies, disposable wipes top the list (it’s a close contest with lotion/chemical sunscreen).

I had carefully chosen every natural shampoo, soap, and lotion for my first two babies. So imagine my horror when my third baby was 6 months old and I finally turned over the Huggies wipes to read the ingredients. I discovered a list of chemicals I wasn’t comfortable with, including methylparaben, which I knew to be highly associated with breast cancer. And, whereas I only bathed my babies once or twice a week (thereby minimal exposure to baby shampoo), I wiped this concoction on their genitals several times a day! (Note: don’t be fooled by the “Natural Care” line from Huggies . . . the addition of Aloe and Vitamin E hardly makes up for the all the chemicals still in them.)

I looked into “natural” wipes, and these are an OK option if you can afford the price. I still buy Earth’s Best wipes or Seventh Generation wipes from luckyvitamin.com for keeping in the diaper bag.  But I felt that these would be too costly for daily use, and on the raving recommendation from a friend, I plunged into cloth wipes.

Actually, I plunged into cloth diapering, but that is the subject for another post. Even with a paper diaper, cloth wipes are a huge step away from chemicals for your baby. And it’s really simple.

  1. You’ll need to obtain the wipes themselves. I purchased organic cotton flannel wipes, which are just a piece of flannel with the edges serged. A friend made nearly the same thing by zig-zagging inside a pinking-sheared edge, cut from an old receiving blanket. That is far more economical than the $1 each which I paid. I have 12 of these, and they work better than any disposable wipe I’ve tried, including Huggies with their thick texture. I also have some polyester terry “baby washcloths” in my stash . . . I don’t think they work quite as well, but I already had them, so they are a fall back. My latest addition has been Kissaluvs Terry Wipes, which are amazing for messy diapers. The thick cotton terry loop really does clean up really, really well. I have 6 of these. The number you need on hand will depend on how many you use per change, and how often you do laundry. With roughly 24, and doing laundry every 2-3 days, I’ve never run out.
  2. You’ll need a way to wet the wipe. When I first started with cloth wipes, I tried loading them into the old Huggies tub, and spraying them down with my wipe solution. However, they tended to get sour in the bottom of the container before I could use them. Now I keep the dry wipes in a stack at the changing table, and either wet one in the sink with warm water, or squirt one in my hand with my wipes solution. (I’ve also heard of spraying the bum directly.)
    I make my solution in a squirt-top bottle (most moms will have that peri-bottle that came home with them from the hospital) with water and lemon witch hazel. I fill the bottle nearly full with water, then squirt a little witch hazel in the top, shake, and the whole thing is a smell-great cleansing solution. (Note: witch hazel feels great on healthy skin, but if your baby develops a rash/broken skin it could sting; in this case, go to something more mild, like natural baby wash/shampoo in the water, or just plain water.)
  3. Since you aren’t disposing of these wipes, you’ll need to launder them. If you plan to use cloth diapers, process them right along with them. If you are using paper diapers, then rinse poopy wipes out in a utility sink before adding them into the load with underwear. To keep things sanitary, I wash our family’s underwear separate from kitchen towels and napkins. The underwear load (which would include your wipes, and any other baby clothes which have succumbed to a wet-through or blow-out) should have an initial wash cycle in cold, with half the detergent amount. This is to wash out the fluids/solids still on the fabric. Then a full wash cycle in the hottest water your machine will set for, with half the amount of detergent, and a scoop of oxygen bleach for sanitation. Line dry in anti-bacterial sunshine, or in the dryer on hot.