The Animals Inside You

Circle shows the original area of eczema (plus some on the underside of the wrist). If you look closely near the point of the arrow, you can see the little bit that remains.

Circle shows the original area of eczema (plus some on the underside of the wrist). If you look closely near the point of the arrow, you can see the little bit that remains.

As a rancher, I tend to talk a lot on this blog about our animals. However, some of the most important animals in our lives actually live inside us. Yep, I’m talking about your gut flora or microbes — those tiny bacilli that (whether you realize it or not) actually rule your life. Gut flora affect your digestive system, of course, but they also affect your brain, your sleep, your immunity and your weight.
The human gut microbiome — which is what the scientists call it — has been found to directly or indirectly influence diseases such alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome. The enzymes the bacilli secrete can cause nerve damage, especially when you don’t take good care of the little beasties. They may also cause inflammation throughout the body, and inflammation seems to be at the root of many chronic problems such as heart disease. Although much of the research has been done in mice or other animals, there are plenty of implications for humans.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the gut microbiome is its effect on the immune system. Simply and briefly put, food intolerances can cause damage to the structures in the intestine called the villi — tiny little finger-like protrusions where the nutrients you need are absorbed. Once the villi are damaged, your body allows proteins to pass into the villi that it would normally keep out, causing the immune system to try to protect you. Your body responds with conditions such as eczema, asthma, psoriasis and other auto-immune problems. The other thing that tends to go along with this is taking antibiotics, and I had a course of those last August for a bladder infection that just wouldn’t respond to alternative therapy (my main standby).
So what all this means is that you may be able to treat many of these conditions by healing your gut. To do that, you need a healthy gut microbiome. Enter probiotics. In addition to the probiotics that come in a bottle, you’ll find probiotics in lacto-fermented foods such as yogurt and fermented veggies. I recently had an eczema flare, after at least forty years of no problems. Although I don’t eat wheat because of gluten-sensitivity, I had not realized that gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance often co-exist. And I love my raw milk butter, cream, cream cheese, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. So, after a little research, I stopped all milk products and started taking probiotics twice a day. The eczema isn’t gone, but it’s 90 percent better after about six weeks. My findings indicate that after at least two months of an elimination diet like this, if all of your original symptoms are gone, you can try reintroducing small amounts of the offending substance.


Photo Credit:

I can’t wait to have cream in my coffee again!


Posted in Food, Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old-Fashioned Cooking: Short Ribs with Onion Gravy


In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Some recipes are clearly winter fare. When the night-time temperatures are in the 20s and the north wind is howling, it’s nice to know that you can come inside to this dish after spending hours breaking ice in the water troughs or feeding the cows. It’s also a nice frugal recipe, designed to make use of those bits of the cow that have chewy meat, extra bone and collagen, which means long, slow cooking. To really appreciate the gustatory nuances, you want short ribs from a grass-fed beef at least two years old. Older animals may not have super-tender meat, but they have considerably more flavor. The combination of sugar and vinegar in this recipe may seem a little odd, but it makes for a tangy, sweet/sour gravy.

Short Ribs with Onion Gravy
3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs, cut in serving-size pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 cups sliced onions
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons vinegar

Brown ribs on all sides in Dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add 1 cup sliced onions and 1/2 cup water. Cook covered in 250 degree oven for at least four hours. Check occasionally and add a little more water if needed. Check for tenderness by sticking a fork in a couple of ribs; it should slide right in without sticking. Transfer ribs to heated platter; keep hot. Pour pan juices into a 2-cup measure. Skim off fat and return 2 tablespoons of the fat to pan. Add water to juices to measure 2 cups. Cook and stir sugar into reserved fat until browned. Add remaining 2 cups of onions; cook, stirring constantly, until onions are tender. Blend in flour and cook at least one minute; stir in reserved 2 cups of pan juices and the vinegar. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbling. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve with the hot ribs. Brown rice is a good side for soaking up the gravy.

Posted in Farms, Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Two Minds


Real home-made butter is one of the perks of having a milking cow. It makes the early mornings and late evenings, the hauling of hay, the cold fingers in winter and the sweat in summer well worth the effort. To have butter, however, one must churn the stuff. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort. In fact, you can have butter by dropping a clean marble in a glass jar with some cream and shaking for a while until the butter separates. However, it does take time, and I’m often short on that, so in my usual I’m-efficient-because-I’m-lazy fashion, I’m always looking for the best way to do the task.
I have three options for making butter: the big Kitchen-Aid mixer, the food processor and the old-fashioned hand-cranked Dazey butter churn. I prefer to eliminate the mixer right off. Although it does the job, it’s almost impossible to keep it from making a big mess due to spattering cream and buttermilk. So I switch back and forth between the other two options, trying to decide which is the better choice.

Time: the food processor takes about five minutes to turn cream into butter. The Dazey takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Temperature: temperature doesn’t seem to matter as much with the food processor. Although, if the cream is really ice cold, it will not turn to butter until it’s warmed quite a bit. With the Dazey, however, I need to make sure the cream is between 50 and 55 degrees in summer and 55 to 60 degrees in winter. If the cream is too cold, I can turn the crank forever, and nothing happens.

Quantity: I can make almost three times as much butter in the Dazey churn — about two cups.
Mess: It can be hard to gauge the amount of cream I pour into the food processor; if I get it wrong, it will trickle down the center fitting and get all over the housing. It’s also harder to pour the butter and buttermilk out because the center blade falls off. The Dazey is easier to wash by hand, which is how I do my dishes.
Quality: I haven’t found any difference in butter quality from either method.
Effort: The Dazey definitely takes more physical effort. On the other hand, it’s useful for keeping small children occupied when they want to help in the kitchen.

Other: Although you can step away from the food processor for a few minutes while it churns (not an option with the Dazey), you better not get distracted, because it’s so fast, it will be finished before you get back. They both take up about the same amount of cabinet or counter space. I can always use the Dazey when the power is out.

Most of the time, I use the Dazey, primarily because I can get more butter out of one churning. Since the total time — set-up, churning, clean-up — is about the same, I’d rather use the method that has the biggest payoff.

Posted in Farms, Food, Health | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments