Eating Real Food, Living a Healthy Lifestyle & Maintaining a Healthy Weight ~Guest Post

I am so pleased to be able to share the following guest post with you all from Joelle.  Joelle is a personal friend of mine who is living a healthy active life and eating real food.  Let Joelle tell you in her own words about her "food journey":

If you were to ask me to describe the largest part of my adult life in one word, that word would be: FOOD. Sweet or spicy, hot or cold, salty or savory, as long as it was tasty and dripping with calories, I was a happy camper. I loved to cook it, eat it, feed it to other people. I was a full-out food addict.

That wasn't the case as a kid. I can recall at least once getting spanked for not finishing the food on my plate. I picked at my meals, only eating the bits I liked, and stayed at the dinner table long past everyone else trying to gulp down enough cold undesirables to be excused. I ate the meat out of my sandwiches, ate peanut butter or cream cheese off a spoon instead of on bread, and drank as much milk as I could, sometimes making an entire meal out of the glorious white liquid. I was skinny enough those years to make my German grandmother shake her head and pass me more goulasch; at that great age where you're all elbows and knees, and I loved nothing more than to spend hours outdoors running and playing with my sister.

But like all good things, childhood ended and so did my thin-as-a-rail figure. I'm not exactly sure WHY I started eating the way I did, but somewhere in my early teens I began to eat anything and everything I could get my hands on, as much as I could eat; and so began my slow but steady rise to chubbyhood. I'm sure puberty had something to do with it all, and for about a decade that youthful metabolism allowed for such extravagance. But illness, stress of the adult working world, and just plain aging began to take their toll. Clothes that I loved to wear began to collect dust in the closet, and newer versions, ever larger, took their place. Denial is a powerful force, but eventually it began to sink in: I was getting fat. Not just chubby or full-figured, but 30 pounds overweight and gaining steadily.

This was a problem. Not even counting the self-esteem issues that grew along with my waistline, there were health issues to consider: weight-related diabetes and heart disease run in my family. I am a registered nurse and am deeply aware of the ravages of diabetes; I work with dialysis patients who have lost their kidney function entirely, mostly due to the long-term effects of diabetes. I did NOT want to go that route. I know all the statistics about obesity and heart disease - heck, I'd taught them to thousands of patients over the years, while treating those very problems Yet I found myself returning to the fridge time and again, munching, snacking, driven by a constant need and desire to feed. Dieting efforts were brief and depressing; each time I failed, I recalled memories of my own mother counting calories, drinking diet soda for decades, endlessly trying to lose and never ever succeeding. I was going to end up right in that same rut; to be honest, actually, I was already there.

I want to clarify that I did not eat badly by most standards. Several years ago I decided to ditch city life and dragged a couple of friends along on this crazy adventure in which we purchased a small hobby farm and learned to raise our own food. I baked my own bread, made my own spaghetti sauce, and rarely ate take-out. Sure, I had a sweet tooth, but I also ate lots of potatoes and home-raised meat, though vegetables were not my favorite and usually consisted of corn or green beans. I try to avoid processed food as much as possible; slow changes, but they add up over time. Yet still, at this point in my life I was sick and getting fat. Food was my life, it was the first thing on my mind and I thought about it all day. I cooked and I ate; everything else was incidental.

I had finally given up on the idea of ever fitting into my favorite clothes again, resigned to quietly fattening for the rest of my life, when an article in a magazine caught my notice. I read a lot - city girls don't last long on a farm without a LOT of researching! - and the boast that eggs and bacon can make you not only healthier but skinnier too was an offer too good to refuse. As I read about the idea of low-carb diets, things began to click in my head. Despite the fact that the information went completely counter to modern nutritional wisdom, here was a diet that made sense to me: not a fad of torture and deprivation, but the idea of deeply and richly feeding your body's nutritional needs with dense, tasty, satisfying foods so that your system doesn't constantly drive you to eat eat eat.

No only that, I was attracted to the emphasis on eating Real Food: eating local, seasonal food raised as naturally as possible. Returning to the old food wisdom of cooking with butter and eating your meat, of believing that good food could be tasty too; not pumped full of chemicals and stripped of all natural fats and flavors like much of today's "healthy" offerings. Looking at the end result of fifty years of current nutritional guidelines - heart disease claiming ever greater numbers of us, diabetes and obesity a raging epidemic that's beginning to encroach into the lives of even our children - really makes one start to wonder if we got it wrong somewhere; or at least that you can't be risking much to try something different, even something as different as practically reversing all "rules" of healthy eating.

So I tried it. Out went the sodas, bread, pasta, even my beloved - homegrown! - potatoes. In came the bacon, eggs, sausage, steaks, pork, chicken, tuna and cheese. It took a few days for my carb-driven system to get over the lack-of-sugar shock, and another few weeks before it no longer felt weird to not have all my usual starchy side dishes with meals. But as I stuck to the diet, a funny thing started to happen; my taste changed. Vegetables, long disdained in my household, gained new respect. I began to cherish every bite of those nutritional gems; broccoli dipped in garlic butter became a quick favorite and great alternative to garlic bread. When I did occasionally reach for the carbs, I found a bite or two was enough to make me put it back; it was either too sweet or just not as tasty as I remembered. The real food - vegetables grown in my own garden, milk from my own cows, fruits grown locally and meats raised on grass - took on a totally different level of awesome. The subtleties of real nourishment quickly relegated the fleeting pleasures of instant-gratification carbs and processed foods to the bottom of my food ladder. Sure I still enjoy junk food once in a while; but as a treat, not a staple.

And as far as weight loss went, at first it wasn't anything dramatic: I only lost about 7lbs the first 2 weeks. Then I lost 2lbs the next week. And the next week. And the next week. And EVERY week, like clockwork. For the first time in my life, the scale was consistently moving DOWN; and I was eating amazing food, rich with fat and nutrients, I was feeling more energy and well-being than I had in years. My appetite dropped; it didn't take 3 helpings of everything to fill me up any more. In fact, sometimes I missed entire meals simply because I forgot about them. The weight was falling off of me as if by magic, without even resorting to rigorous exercise.

It wasn't magic of course; it was simply getting my body to do what it was designed to do. By drastically reducing my highly processed carb intake and returning to a more natural diet high in healthy fats and proteins, I basically rebooted my metabolism to do what it should: break down fat as well as build it. The magic was simply in the awesome design of our bodies, and the miracle of giving it the right tools to do what it already knew how to do.

Now I'm not a trained nutritionist, nor am I a doctor. I would never recommend a single diet approach for everyone; everyone is unique and different people have different needs. Additionally, I would never claim that a simple change in diet can solve all health problems; bodies do sometimes just plain break, and need medical intervention to return to health. I've been on that side of health care, and I have nothing but respect for what modern science can do.

But I can tell you this: sometimes what we "know" to be true is just plain not correct. Maybe it's misinformation or misinterpretation of the information, but science doesn't always get it right. Sometimes old wisdom is worth a second glance; sometimes they knew more back then than we know right now. I can tell you that changing my diet - getting away from modern food and dietary wisdom and returning to old-timey ways - changed my life and health for the better. I am fitting into clothes I thought would never again see the light of day. I have lost 28 pounds and 4 dress sizes. I am more active, more energetic, and more respectful than ever at the simple but profound process of nourishing oneself; a process we Americans tend to view as a right rather than a privilege. And the funny thing is, I'm back where I started: picking the meat out of sandwiches, eating (homemade) peanut butter off of spoons and making a glass of milk a meal more often than not. Guess I was smarter about my eating habits back then than I thought I was!

I know most people can't - or won't! - move to the country and start milking cows. Most people will never learn to slaughter their own chickens or can gallons of spaghetti sauce made from scratch. And that's OK! If all of us became farmers society would miss out on some great stuff. But I think the simple life deserves a respectful second chance. Already our society is realizing that produce bought from local Farmer's Markets are often of better quality than the grocery stores can offer, People are staring to take notice. I for one cannot emphasize enough that changing my approach to food has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I'm glad I didn't stick to modern wisdom; I'd be on the fast-track to diabetes and heart disease, ready to take my place amongst the pill-poppers of our society.

No thanks; I'll take my garlic-butter broccoli instead, thank you very much, with a side of bacon.


Dominique Chickens

We welcomed ten new Dominique hens into our flock this week.  These young pullets have just started laying and hopefully will give us some eggs throughout the winter months. 

Dominiques are also known as Dominickers or Pilgrim Fowl.  The latter is a historical reference to the breed that originated in America with the Pilgrims.  It is believed that the birds descended from chickens brought to America by the Pilgrims.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy gives the following information on their origin and history:

The Dominique chicken is recognized as America’s first chicken breed. The exact origin of the breed is unknown, although their initial creation may have involved European chicken breeds and later in its refinement, some Asian varieties. The name of “Dominique” may have come from birds that were imported from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today known as Haiti) and which are thought to have been used as part of the development of the Dominique breed.
Barred chickens with both rose combs and single combs were somewhat common in the eastern United States as early as 1750. As interest in poultry breeding increased, attention was given to develop uniformity in chicken breeds. Early names of these fowl include Blue Spotted Hen, Old Grey Hen, Dominico, Dominic, and Dominicker. The breed was widely known on the eastern coast of the U.S. as the Dominique.

The Dominique was plentifully bred on American farms as early as the 1820’s, where these birds were a popular dual-purpose fowl. In 1871 the New York Poultry Society decided that only the rose combed Dominique would become the standard for the breed and the single combed Dominiques were relegated to and folded into the Plymouth Rock breed – popular in New England, created by crossing large, single comb Dominiques with Java chickens. Dominiques were never used commercially, and the breed was eventually eclipsed on the farm by the gradual shift to the larger “Plymouth Rocks.” In 1874 the Dominique breed was officially admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.

The Dominique enjoyed popularity until the 1920’s at which time interest in the breed waned due to the passing of aged, long-time Dominique enthusiasts and breeders. The breed managed to survive during the Great Depression of the 1930’s due to its hardiness and ease of up-keep. By the end of World War II as industrial poultry operations began to take a foothold in the U.S., the Dominique once again experienced decline. By 1970 only 4 known flocks remained, held by: Henry Miller, Edward Uber, Robert Henderson, and Carl Gallaher. Through the effort of dedicated individuals the remaining owners were contacted and convinced to participate in a breed rescue. From 1983, following published reports on the breed by ALBC, until 2006, Dominiques steadily rose in numbers. As of 2007, it has been observed by the breed’s enthusiasts that numbers are once again beginning to decline, as old time breeders of Dominique age and are no longer involved with keeping and promoting the breed.

The Dominique is a medium-sized black and white barred (otherwise known as “cuckoo” patterned) bird. The barred plumage coloration is also referred to as hawk-colored and serves the Dominique in making the bird less conspicuous to predators. The Dominique sports a rose comb with a short upward curving spike that is characteristic to this breed. The males average seven pounds and the females five pounds. The Dominique’s tightly arranged plumage, combined with the low profile of the rose comb, make this breed more resistant to frostbite than many other breeds of fowl. Dominiques are also known to adapt well to hot and humid climates. Historically the close feathering of this breed not only protected the birds in cold weather, but provided ample material for the pillows and featherbeds of their owners.

 They are considered a dual purpose bird, raised for both their meat and the eggs that they lay. (The birds weigh approximately 6-8 pounds when mature and lay between 230-275 eggs a year)  In recent decades as the Cornish and Cornish X birds have set a new standard for meat birds and birds such as the Leghorn and Sex Link chickens have set a standard for egg producing birds, the Dominiques have been rejected.  At one time, they almost became extinct, but thanks to recent interest in heritage birds, they have made a come back and are no longer on the critically endangered list but are now listed on the "watch" list with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. 

Often confused with Barred Rocks, Dominiques are in fact different. The Dominique has a rose comb and the Barred Rocks have a single comb.

Rose Comb

Single Comb

(Illustrations courtesy of University of Illinois Extension)

Dominique photo courtesy of Harvest of History

Barred Rock photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Barred Rock has a more distinctive barred pattern in their plummage than the Dominiques.
Dominique hens are an easy going bird, good foragers, and tend to be good mothers.  They are  a welcome addition to our flock!


Turkey Talk

The subject of my blog post today will be turkeys.  While I admit it would be better suited to save a turkey post until the month of November, I am just a little bit excited and couldn't wait!

I have been trying to include a new species to the farm each year.  (Last year it was the hogs.)  This year I just about let time slip completely away from me before I added the new farm members. 

I have been wanting to raise turkeys for some time but have been intimidated because I have heard they are hard to start.  I was able to find two juvenile turkeys and brought them home being told they were Royal Palms.  It didn't take me long to realize that they didn't look exactly like Royal Palms.  While their conformation said they were Royal Palm, their coloration spoke differently. 

A friend saw a photo of the turkeys today and asked me if they were "Calico".  I had never heard of a Calico Turkey before and began to do some research which led to some very interesting information.  Upon seeing photos of other Calico Turkeys (also known as Sweetgrass Turkeys or Ronquière if the turkey is known to be of more ancient heritage),  I am pretty sure the two I have are Calico Turkeys. 

I took the following information from Porter's Rare Heritage Turkeys:

In 1996 a few tricolored birds appeared out of a Heritage Bronze flock in Big Timber, MT, at Sweetgrass Farms. These birds had a heavily marked royal palm pattern with chestnut red. The name Sweetgrass was put on this strain of tricolors.

The Sweetgrass genotype is (b1b1cgcg) Black winged bronze based with Oregon Gray (aka Palm genes) They breed 100% true to color/pattern.

The Ronquière is obviously an ancient breed of turkey and quite interesting (although the American counterpart is not so ancient).  I found information on this breed from the Association for Promotion of Belgian Poultry Breeds
Origin : The Ronquières is a very ancient native turkey breed of which the first evidence goes back to the sixteenth century, only a few decades after the discovery of the turkey in America by the Spaniards. This breed owns its name to the village of Ronquières nearby Brussels where this turkey was bred on a large scale since the eighteenth century. However at that time this breed was already kept in every part of Belgium. The two World Wars almost eradicated this turkey. Only the ermine variety knew to survive in Germany by the name ‘Cröllwitzer’. It was only at the beginning of the nineties that by coincidence an authentical very small breeding stock of other Ronquières varieties was recovered in the Campine region of Belgium. Meanwhile all the original varieties of the breed have been bred back from this breeding stock without any crossings with other breeds.

Characteristics : The Ronquières is not a heavy turkey and doesn’t produce a large quantity of meat but its meat is of very high quality. The Ronquières exceeds every other turkey breed by its vitality and its fertility. The hatching results are remarkably high compared to other breeds. The hens lay very good a brood easily. They are very good sitters and excellent mothers. The poults grow up without any problems.

Appearance : The Ronquières is a primitive light turkey of which the toms weigh 9 to 10 kilos and the hens 4 to 5 kilos. The head is remarkably bluish and has only few carunculs. The beak is bone-white with a bluish base. The shanks and toes are always white. The plumage always shows a number of breed-specific characteristics that are present in every variety (except the white). The primaries are always darker than the secondaries and show a typical ‘stippling’. The quills are always pale in color. All the other feathers tend to show ‘penciled’ markings (like the dark Brahma) and a very fine white edging follows the black edging of each feather.

Varieties : The Ronquières is the only turkey breed with more varieties, no less than five. Besides the self-white, there is the ermine which shows a fine black edging on each feather, and the yellow-shoulder which is identical to the ermine except for the brownish yellow path on the shoulders and the saddle region. The fawn has a yellow-fawn groundcolor with a very fine almost invisible black edging and the partridge has a grayish brown groundcolor with a heavily contrasting penciling. The toms of this variety are much darker than the hens. Very remarkable is that the poults of all these varieties hatch with near white down.

Several of these ancient varieties are known under another name in different countries. In Germany they have the Cröllwitzer (ermine) and Krefelder (partridge), in France the Tricoloré du Colorado (yellow-shoulder) and in the U.S the Royal Palm (ermine) and Sweetgrass (yellow-shoulder). All these varieties are quit recent and none of them already over 100 years old. All the Ronquières varieties are much older and were pictured in very old photographs and paintings. The oldest painting with a Ronquières turkey goes back to Antwerp in 1566 !

‘The Four Elements: Fire.
A Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the Background’
Joachim Beuckelaer
(active 1560 to 1574)

Photo courtesy of Period Food Link.

Do we have the Calico breed of Turkey?  I will let you be the judge.

Regardless of what we have, we are enjoying Tom and Henny very much and plan to allow them to breed and hopefully hatch out some of their eggs in the spring.