Personal Seasoning Blends – Eat Your Bitters

0978ad46cc961d206956e9a0326dcd81The book I have my students reading for our book discussion is The Wild Medicine Solution by Guido Masé which  I am very much enjoying, myself.    It is fun to read something for the first time with them, because we are all discovering its wonderfulness together.   Guido rocks the bitters section in this book and it has really supported a lot of what I  think about in terms of bitters mitigating modern diet and environmental conditions.

I think my first exposure to the importance of bitters came from Jim McDonald who is a veritable font of information on the subject.    His Blessed Bitters is an amazing introduction to the subject, so my purpose in this post is not to explain their importance, but rather to share my ways that I incorporate Bitters into my diet.

As longtime readers know, we cook our own food around here and I am a very large proponent of eating your herbs.   I incorporate them into my food whenever possible because honestly I am not going to remember to take 20 tinctures a day.    So while it is nice to have a  bottle of warming bitters  to be able to tuck in my bag when I am out traveling,  at home I prefer to figure out ways to cook with them.    I also run pretty cold.  So even though the classic bitter greens are a hugely important part of my diet, I need to find ways to warm them up a bit.   I eat eggs and greens for breakfast almost every morning braised with seasonings.  Similarly, if  I make chamomile tea chances are I am going to add some orange peel and fennel to warm it up.   I attribute that bit of brilliance to  Darcy Blue.

One of my favorite ways to get bitters everyday is to put them in a seasoning mix that I make ahead of time and keep in a cute little crock by my stove.

To begin making this  I grind  equal amounts of what I jokingly call na Tríonóide Naofa of Seeds:  milk thistle, nettle and burdock seed.

To that mixture  I add an equal amount of the  warming bitter fenugreek, mushroom powder and a good amount of rosemary.  You can use any mushroom powder you enjoy but my teac10150173279486860her Sean recommended this 14 Mushroom Powder that is just divine and I’ve heard good things of the owner from many herbalists.

To this combination I add long pepper (because it is less drying than black pepper), sea salt,  and oregano in equal amounts.  My purpose is to try to round the flavors out in a manner similar to the way a churna would be made.    You can easily substitute in other culinary herbs  that balance out your energetics.  Perhaps you need more drying herbs?   While not a traditional churna because it is quite heavy on the bitters, I use this frequently to cook with and to season my food.

My Personal Bitter Seasoning Blend Formula

1 part milk thistle seed
1 part burdock seed
1 part nettle seed
1 part fenugreek
1 part dried mushroom powder
1/2 part rosemary
1/4 part sea salt
1/4 part long pepper or black pepper
1/4 part oregano

If you have this made up and easily accessible, it makes it a lot easier to quickly add bitters to other preparations.     For example, the recipe below is the  bone broth recipe I’ve been throwing together, lately.    I drink it as a beverage, use it for  soups and cooking  rice for a quick pilaf.    For vegetarian dishes,  I have been making my garlic-astragalus broth with the seasoning blend.

Bone Broth might be a bit of a misnomer...
Bone Broth might be a bit of a misnomer…
Bone Broth

2 lbs. marrow bones, chicken bones
1/2 cup chopped chicken livers
¼ cup infused vinegar  (I like burdock root or sage)
2 onions chopped
2 cups chopped herbs from the garden
Garlic to taste. I usually use a whole head
½ cup dried burdock root
¼ cup dried seaweed.
¼ cup dried mushroom
3 Tablespoons of your personal seasoning blend
4-6 astragalus sticks

I make this recipe in a very large crockpot.  You may want to adjust the recipe according to the size of your pot. There are many different ways to make bone broth.  I don’t always make it exactly like this. A lot of people like ginger in their bone broth but we are dealing with some dryness around here so I prefer to use copious amounts of garlic.

Place bones and liver (cut up into small pieces) in stock pot or crockpot and fill 2/3 full with water. Add vinegar and let soak in cold water for about at least an hour. 2 or 3 might be better.

Add the chopped vegetables,  dry herbs and spices.   During the winter you can use things like beets, carrots and sweet potatoes.  During the rest of the year I like to use foraged greens and herbs from the garden.  Right now dandelion greens, chickweed, chives and cleavers are all abundant.

Turn on the heat to low and let it go for a at least a day. If you make big batches like this, you can freeze it. A friend of mine freezes hers in mason jars and I think that is brilliant because you thaw out a quart a day and make sure you drink it or use it, every day. I also hate plastic. Just don’t a hot mason jar in the freezer. Wait until the broth has cooled to room temperature to avoid the risk of the glass shattering.

Celebrations, moderation, and the standard American diet…

Trapolin puts the final touches on our friend's birthday cake.
Trapolin puts the final touches on our friend’s birthday cake.

I feel like I’ve addressed this before, but  I thought this picture was a perfect opportunity to discuss my dietary philosophy.    I have a lot of friends who would be aghast at the amount of sugar and saturated fats in this cake.  Some , don’t even allow their kids to have a birthday cake which I honestly I find to be ridiculous.  The occasional celebratory cake is  not the problem with the standard American diet.  It is our inability to relegate sugar to its proper place in our diet.  The issue lies in daily soda or juice consumption and the additon of high fructose corn syrup to the pounds of processed foods Americans consume, daily.    Also, when people do eat dessert, their serving sizes are far too large.    You would be amazed how many people I can make a cake like this feed.   I also have friends who only eat honey or sugar substitutes.   That doesn’t work for me either.  Honey isn’t really any better for you than organic evaporated cane juice, if you eat too much.      I am also not going to set myself up to be the target of every slimy advertising campaign promoting the newest, greatest sugar substitute.    Excessive sweet is not health producing, regardless of its form.   I wish I could tell you differently, but that just isn’t the way your body works.

Like wise other friends tut tut when I post pictures of breads and grain products.  Personally I don’t  think carbs are going to destroy your health and make you fat.  I think that Americans eat too many of the wrong kind of carbs.   Also,  Americans  don’t soak our grains or ferment them.    There is a reason grandma used to leave the buttermilk pancakes on the counter overnight.     The predigestion of those grains helped rid them of certain elements such as phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors,  that were not health producing.     I truly don’t believe people need to avoid gluten because wheat was bad for us in its traditional form.  But , along with corn, soybeans, and other crop foods, wheat  has been modified in the lab to become something poisonous to our bodies.    Or perhaps, our bodies just can’t handle all the toxins and we are all walking around on overload.  The  impact  genetic modification has had on our food supplies and our health is best left as a topic for another day.

I base a lot of  my dietary beliefs on the fact that I come from a long line of individuals who lived to be damn old eating sugar,  bread and cake at birthday parties.

D0 you know what they didn’t eat? They didn’t eat chemicals.   They didn’t eat high fructose corn syrup, preservatives or petroleum based food additives.    They didn’t eat hydrogenated fats.   There was no plastic in their foods because it was dehydrated, fermented, stored in burlap bags or canned in glass jars.     But my family also skipped a generation and  my parents were kind of hippies.    I think that sort of food preparation has been, for the most part, been erased from cultural memory.   Many foodies out there miss the boat when they tell  young people to eat like their grandma ate.   Because I’ve seen how my husband’s grandma cooks, and I don’t think Franco American Spaghetti out of a can was what Michael Pollan had  in mind when he penned  that recommendation.

There are some things that we try to avoid:

1.  High Fructose Corn Syrup,  Additives,  Preservatives, Food Dyes   Basically if it isn’t a plant derivative, I don’t want to eat it.

2.  Processed, packaged foods that have a shelf life longer than my batteries.

3.  GMO’s ; especially in the form of the grains that I bake with.

4.   Hydrogenated fats

5.  White foods (sugar, rice, flour, etc)    We do use organic, unbleached flour when we bake but I always try to mix it with whole grain flours.

6.  Soy, unless it has been fermented.

Things we try to include in our diet:

1.  Organic food ; especially grains  and legumes in an attempt to avoid GMOs.

2.  Nourishing Beverages; including smoothies,  nourishing infusions,  chai made from nourishing dried roots, and bone broth.

3.  Foods we’ve made from scratch.

4.  Variety —  I can think of many different kinds of grains, legumes, seeds and nuts we have in the house for cooking with right now.    I tend to think we eat far more different kinds of vegetables than your average household does, although I admit I am currently struggling with the kids and their  eating their veggies.

5.  Spices – Since my days of running around renaissance faires, I have know about medieval cookery and its generous use of herbs.

Sometimes though, we cheat and I don’t really make any apologies about it.   I think you are setting yourself up for failure if you are too restrictive about anything.  Failure just leads to feeling guilt and stress.    I don’t need that in my life.

I am pretty sure that there are many ways to eat healthily.  Which diet you choose is not the issue,  what is important is actually taking the time to think about what you eat, how much you are eating and why you eat it.   I don’t think most people do that, and that is what is wrong with the standard American diet.