How to Eat – Sugar, Salt, Fat


Sugar – Just Say No

Pie – holidays only.

I do not subscribe to the low-fat, low-salt method of cooking, although I do agree with the nutrition experts that humans should limit sugar. Personally, I think the current dietary guidelines still allow way too much sugar, and I would cut that even more. And no, I don’t think it matters whether the sugar is raw, organic or any other kind of fancy, high-priced sugar. We eat very little sugar in this house. The average American eats about 130 pounds of sugar a year (which means lots of them eat a lot more than that). That works out to 38 teaspoons of empty calories, cavities, heart disease and diabetes every day. At our house we might go through 25 pounds a person in a year and that’s pushing it. Sugar is addictive and that’s a roller-coaster I’d just as soon avoid. I have also found that sugar winds me up to the point that if I eat or drink anything sweet within a few hours of bedtime, I can’t go to sleep. Most of the sugar I buy ends up in the hummingbird feeders. I do like a little honey – which does have some nutrients in it – in my morning cup of coffee. Occasionally I bake a special treat for hubby or a kid such as birthday cake, but I rarely eat more than a mouthful. By the way, for you dieters out there: if you make sure you eat at least three ounces of good quality protein and a tablespoon of fat at each meal, you’ll find that sugar and carb cravings will pretty much go away within a few weeks.

Grass-fed chuck steak.

Fat is Good

Humans need fat – real fat, like the kind in raw butter, tallow, lard and whole milk from grass-fed cows or the marbling on a steak, also from grass-fed cattle. Little kids need it even more, as their brains will not develop properly without the essential fatty acids found in fats from real food. Cholesterol is so important to your body’s functions that it will manufacture the stuff if you don’t get enough in your diet. The notion that cholesterol causes heart disease is one of the biggest lies ever perpetrated on the public. In fact, people who eat the most saturated fat and have the highest cholesterol levels live the longest (proven in several large, long-running, high-quality studies), despite what medical experts in the US trumpet about how everyone should have statin medications to reduce cholesterol.

Salting Foods

At my house, we add more salt to our food at the table than is considered politically correct. However, we use sea salt, which is very different stuff compared to table salt (less sodium, because it’s not highly purified, and lots of trace elements). Because we rarely eat commercially processed foods, we don’t get any added salt other than what we add ourselves.

Meat and Eggs

These eggs feed us, pigs, dogs, cats and (if hard-boiled and smashed) the chickens themselves.

We eat eggs almost every day and most meals feature some sort of meat. We don’t free-range our chickens, as the bobcats, hawks and foxes would be the primary beneficiaries of that system. Our chickens have large pens in which they can scratch, take dust baths, find insects and get sunlight. In addition to the leaves from the shade trees, they have old hay and straw in the pens. We feed them some grain, but they also get food scraps of all sorts, clabbered milk and chicken cheese (a quick cottage cheese made with boiling milk and vinegar). They also get supplemental minerals, their own crushed eggshells and (very occasionally) a little oyster shell. I’m hedging my bets with the oyster shell, as I’m pretty sure it contains micronutrients that the chickens would not get otherwise. I toss in weeds and garden gleanings. The pigs get a similar diet. The sheep and cows graze our pastures and are fed hay in the winter. The hay may be grass, grass-alfalfa, or a mixed grain hay such as oats, wheat and barley. They also eat a wide variety of weeds, forbs and other pasture growth, as well as poison oak. In addition they nibble leaves from various trees and bushes. This sort of meat is light-years away from the stuff at the meat counter in your neighborhood grocery store.

Barley – almost ripe; see how the heads bend down from the stalks?

The Grain Problem

By and large, I don’t eat many grains. I have learned the hard way that I have become wheat-sensitive as I have gotten older, so my wheat intake is minimal. I have also found, because I keep an eye on my blood pressure, that on days when I’ve indulged in pasta or other flour-based foods, my blood pressure will climb from its usual 120/70 (and often lower) to 150/85 or above. It’s pretty obvious that if I eat grains all the time, I’m going to be hypertensive. There’s also some research out there that indicates modern grains, especially wheat – which has been hybridized to within an inch of its life – is very different stuff from the grains we humans evolved with. If you’re going to eat grains, I highly recommend you grow or find old wheats like Emmer and Einkhorn, or more modern wheats grown at least 100 years ago. Heirloom dent and flour corns are a better choice than hybrids for the same reason. There are still older varieties of barley and oats out there, but it’s pretty hard to find older kinds of rice.

The Truth About Nutrition

I’m not going to get into a lot of detail about how misled most nutritionists and medical people are when it comes to the American diet; if you’re interested, read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, or check out the Weston A. Price Foundation website. Dr. Malcom Kendrick, Scottish author of The Great Cholesterol Con and Doctoring Data, is another good source for information about food, science, pharmaceuticals and health (especially as it relates to cholesterol and heart disease). Suffice it to say that if you get your nutrition information from the media or conventional sources, most of what you think you know about nutrition is wrong. If you choose to nourish your body with something that comes in a cardboard box or plastic bag, you will be sorry (and possibly dead at a much earlier age than would otherwise have been the case).

Recipe Basics

When you live on a ranch, there’s always more to do than there is time to do it in. Recipes that can take care of themselves, so to speak, or that can go from freezer to oven to table, are much more useful to the ranch wife than something that has to be watched carefully and stirred constantly. Recipes that can be assembled are another ranch wife favorite. I do have a few recipes that the cook must watch and fuss over, but they’re generally reserved for special occasions or winter cooking, when there are not quite so many demands on my time.

Chicken fried in lard.

Ingredients in my cooking tend to be elastic, partly because you never know exactly what’s coming out of the garden on a given day or in what quantity. With the exception of cakes and a few other dishes, in which exact ingredients and careful measuring are important to the final outcome, feel free to play with these recipes to your heart’s content (and if you come up with a dynamite variation, please let me know!).

I also have a few recipes that I consider WTSHTF recipes; foods that don’t require modern ingredients or highly technical tools. These are the sort of thing you might cook over an open fire or on a wood stove when the power is out, for example. I’ve always been interested in how people lived in the “olden days,” and I figure the more I know about such cooking and preservation techniques, the more likely I and my offspring will be to survive a real calamity.

My recipes have come from Lord-knows-how-many sources. If I remember (or even know) where I got it, I will credit the source. After fifty-plus years of cooking, however, the origins of some recipes have been lost in the mists of time.

If you’re my kind of cook, you’ll probably find lots of familiar foods and techniques here. If you’re not my kind of cook, you might want to read along anyway, as you never know when you’ll learn something useful.

Welcome to the ranch wife’s garden and kitchen!

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

Cooking From the Ranch Wife’s Garden

Summer apples, grown on our trees.

A while back, I posted an excerpt from the book I’ve been working on (for the last five years). At the time it was a book about my garden. Now it’s a book about my garden and my kitchen, as the two are inextricably twined. Since I have no idea when I will have enough time to get back to the book, I’ll be posting excerpts here. It keeps the conversation going and allows me more time to do other things – like take care of pandemic patients and feed my own family. Hope you like it!

Power’s out? We can still make butter.

My family cooks (and eats!) Humans have been cooking, eating and enjoying food since Ugg (or more likely Mrs. Ugg, who was always on the lookout for ways to reduce her workload) first tried a little barbequed mastodon that had been hit by lightning or caught in a prairie fire. When you raise your own food, the concept of eating to live takes on a whole new meaning. You don’t, for example, plan a trip just when the asparagus starts to ripen. Missing even one harvest day can change those tender, delicate little spears into rock-hard feathery stalks.

I include a few things in my definition of cooking that might make the purists raise an eyebrow, but I’ve been causing raised eyebrows most of my life, so I don’t intend to start worrying about it now. I include making fermented dill pickles, raw apple cider, home-made pectin, corned beef, fresh sausage and similar delicacies under the heading of cooking. In the days before you could run to the grocery whenever you wanted a meal, the ranch wife had to keep such goodies on her larder shelves or in the spring house. I also consider the issue of managing the stored food supply as a kitchen issue. When you’re storing your potatoes and apples, you’d better check on them periodically to make sure one bad one doesn’t spoil the whole batch. In the process, I’ve learned a few tricks.

Stocking up for winter; fire cider and fermented pickles.

I like to cook and I like to eat (and my figure, such as it is, shows it!). Sometimes that means a salad thrown together with whatever’s in the fridge or a quick stir-fry with homemade plum sauce, and sometimes that means a thoroughly decadent chocolate cheesecake with caramel topping for my daughter’s birthday. There are times when life is completely crazy around here and the crockpot gets a workout on a regular basis. There are others when we have popcorn and a glass of cold raw milk for dinner.

I’m not a big fan of fancy tools unless there really is no other way to do something. Most of my kitchen implements are basics that can be used for a variety of tasks. I’m also not a fan of exotic ingredients that come from far-away lands, with a few exceptions, such as coffee, chocolate and spices. I admit my principles are elastic in this respect. For example, my brother, who lives in Oregon, likes to go deep sea fishing. He gave me a chunk of fresh tuna he’d caught. While I wouldn’t spend the money to go fishing in that fashion, I’m willing to have an occasional treat at his expense. I would not buy fresh-caught tuna, though, as it’s too expensive.

These eggs feed us, pigs, dogs, cats and (if hard-boiled and smashed) the chickens themselves.

You’ll notice that I don’t add any comments about what a particular recipe will serve. I find that many recipes vastly under- or over-estimate people’s appetites. The other thing is that real food, as opposed to the stuff that comes shrink-wrapped or in a box, is much more filling, so odds are you’ll eat smaller portions. Because my recipes use real ingredients rather than prepackaged convenience foods, there is normal variation between, say, the size of the potatoes or peppers or how wet the sour cream is, which affects the consistency of the batter. When your ingredients are home grown, you might be using the small potatoes that aren’t big enough for bakers, so you need 10 instead of four. And since much of my cooking is sort of made up as I go along, the final outcome can vary from one time to another. If you use bacon instead of sausage for breakfast burritos, for example, you’ll probably have fewer burritos because the sausage is bulkier. If you use potatoes instead of cooked rice, ditto. Soups and stews are another good example, as is any dish that incorporates leftovers. Ballpark, most of these will serve four to six people. If something really makes a lot, I’ll note that.

I also tend to cook by eye and feel, as many experienced cooks do. While there are some recipes I won’t tinker with – cakes are probably the prime example, as a cake needs precise proportions – with most others, I’ll adjust. I made some zucchini bread the other day, for example, and I could tell that I had more zucchini than the amount called for in the recipe, which meant the batter was wetter than usual. So I cut back on the fluid (soured milk in this case) and added a little flour.

A lot of what I serve isn’t really cooked in the traditional sense of the word, especially in summer. When it’s still 100 degrees at 8 PM, cooking has little appeal. After rummaging around in the garden for things like cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and radishes half an hour before dinner, the best thing to do is just wash, slice and serve. Really fresh, tasty vegetables like that are much better as is – although you might add a little salt. When the blackberries are ripe, who wants to make a cobbler? Pour on a little raw cream and add a spoonful of raw honey.

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

Older is Better

The old stud is 34 this year.

I realize that a statement like “older is better” flies in the face of the norms in our youth-obsessed society. The reality, however, is that youth is sadly overrated in many cases. And “modern,” for which read “recent inventions,” often has short-term advantages with long term (and very negative) consequences. Take plastic for food storage. Yes, in comparison to glass it is less likely to break if dropped. But it leaches nasty chemicals into the food, stains easily and despite the hype, cannot really be recycled. Here are some examples of older is better.


Have you ever had the opportunity to compare the wood in an older home with modern lumber? If so, you’ll notice that the older wood is much more fine-grained, with dense, narrow growth rings. In the past, builders used old trees that were near the end of their life spans or that had just died. The lumber was heartwood, from the center of the tree. It was stronger and, because it was so dense, did not readily absorb moisture. Modern lumber is what’s known as spring wood, from trees hybridized to grow fast. It is more susceptible to rot and more likely to break when subjected to strain.

Bricks, Mortar and Concrete

Rain backed by wind is easily driven into brick walls; even more so with the brick veneers of modern homes. Older masons used a soft brick that would absorb the water before it got inside the wall. Once the rain stopped, sun and wind would pull the moisture back out, reducing the chance of mold and mildew. Made from lime and sand, older mortar was softer than today’s premixed materials, which meant walls were more flexible. Older mortar also absorbed water into tiny cracks and become soft – as it dried, the cracks mended into a solid surface again. Concrete (Portland cement and various aggregates such as sand or gravel) contained a higher proportion of Portland cement, which meant it lasted longer.

Heirloom Plants

Yeah, yeah, I know – you’ve heard me say this lots of times. Heirloom fruits and vegetables typically taste better. They often ripen over a period of time, which gives the busy ranch wife the opportunity to process smaller batches in between other tasks. Since they are genetically diverse, you’ll get a crop no matter what the growing year is like, and they gradually become adapted to your garden conditions. And of course, you can save the seeds for next year’s crop.


Old tools would last – literally – for hundreds of years if well-maintained. They were better designed and less likely to break. Gene Logsdon talks about the difference between older and modern hoes in this post. The points he makes can be applied to a multitude of other old-fashioned tools. It was a lot easier to keep chisels and other blades sharp when they were made of good-quality steel. In the days when the blacksmith ruled, the smiths hammered (forged) high carbon steel into a strong, durable surface.

Animals and Poultry

Obviously, really old animals don’t have the endurance or strength of a younger beast. But compared to a two-year-old, a horse of seven to ten usually has more common sense, knows how to use its weight and is less likely to become injured. Horses are not fully mature until the age of six or seven (brains and bodies) which is one reason why race horses break down so easily. Older chickens have demonstrated their ability to lay and survive illness. Raising chicks from these hens improves longevity and hardiness in the flock.

And don’t even get me started on New Math and the Common Core…

Posted in Random Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment