Thursday, February 26, 2015

like buttah

Except it's not just like butter.  It actually is real butter!  I just realized I've never given you a post on how I make butter.  I'm kind of embarrassed to do it, because it's not much of a "recipe," to speak of.  It's just a series of actions with one ingredient that takes about half an hour.

And that half an hour each week is totally worth it to me!  To have fresh, raw, local butter.  At a great price!  (Works out to about $6/lb for me.)

Here's what I do.

Each Monday evening, we pick up our milk from the co-op.  We usually get one gallon of milk, one pint of cream, and one dozen eggs per week.  We bring it home, and I pull whatever cream was left from last week out of the fridge.  I combine it with whatever cream I won't be using for recipes during the week from the new pint.  Usually it works out to about a pint or so of cream altogether.  Sometimes I wait until I have more cream built up and do a quart at a time.  Your preference.  The more cream you use, the longer it takes to curdle, but then you have more butter.  You can always freeze the excess if you'd rather do a big batch at once.

You have a choice at this point.  Do you want:

1)  Sweet cream butter?
      Pros:  neutral flavor, good for baking, can be made with cream straight out of the fridge.
     Cons:  shorter shelf life on the counter, leftover buttermilk is basically just skim milk and cannot be used as an acid in baking (unless you add some additional acid to it, like lemon juice or vinegar).


2)  Cultured cream butter?
      Pros:  slightly tangy flavor, European-style, longer shelf life on the counter, leftover buttermilk is cultured and behaves just like store-bought buttermilk in baking (that is, it acts as an acid with chemical leaveners like baking soda.)
      Cons:  not as good for baking because of flavor profile, the cream must sit and culture first at room temperature.

If you want to culture, it's really easy:  just sit the cream on the counter and leave it for 12-24 hours before you make butter.  Done.  I always make sweet cream butter, just because I prefer the flavor.

So here's how I make the butter:

I put the cream into my stand mixer with the whisk attachment.

I cover the whole thing with a dish towel (or you will splash buttermilk in places you didn't even know existed in your kitchen!).

I turn it on to a moderately high speed (maybe a 6 on my Kitchenaid), and let it whip.

Just leave it alone and let it do its thing.  It will turn into whipped cream,

then it will break and shrink back down,

and finally it will begin to separate into butterfat and buttermilk.

I stop it just one time, after the whipped cream has broken, to scrape the sides of the bowl and be sure it is all incorporated.  For a pint of cream, this stage generally takes about 20-30 minutes.  If you have more cream, it will take longer.

When it's fully broken, you will hear a lot of sloshing in the mixer bowl.  Stop the mixer and strain the butter away from the buttermilk.

Put the butter curds into a large mixing bowl.

Use the back of a wooden spoon to press as much moisture as you possibly can out of the curds.

Spread the butter around the bowl with the spoon and then push it together.  A lot of buttermilk will continue to come out of the butter.  Drain it off into the jar with the other buttermilk.  Really work as hard as you can to get the buttermilk out of the butter, because any liquid left in the butter is what causes it to spoil.  I usually knead the butter with the spoon for about 5-10 minutes.  Some people do this with their hands, but I've found my hands are way too warm and they just end up with melted butter smeared all over them and wasted.

Once you are satisfied that no more buttermilk is coming out, put your butter into a glass dish and either keep it on the counter to use immediately or in the freezer for storage.  I always keep some out so it's spreadable.  I find that the butter will taste sweet and good for 2 weeks in winter, and closer to 1 week in summer.


[This post submitted to Fat Tuesday 2/24/15 and the HomeAcre Hop 2/26/15.]

Monday, February 23, 2015

menu plan february iv

We survived Nashville ice-pacolypse last week!  My Northern and Midwestern neighbors will be chuckling as they read this, but middle Tennessee is completely paralyzed by an ice storm.  School was cancelled all week, roads went unplowed and untreated, the mail was not delivered, and my office was closed for at least two days.  We went sledding and trekking in the ice and snow, and I nearly killed my children a number of times.  We have a very small house and we depend on being able to go outdoors a lot, in order to have plenty of space to roam and play.  Being without all that space for a week, and trapped at home, was pretty hard on everyone.

But we were able to do some amazing home cooking!  I have never been so thankful that I both love and know how to do things like make butter and bake bread.  When we couldn't get out to the grocery store, I was still able to make sure we had plenty of delicious food to eat.

We literally always have one of three things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or mandarins (in the winter)

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

3)  --soaked oatmeal with raisins, shredded coconut, coconut cream, honey
     --seasonal fruit or preserves

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  If I do any sourdough baking, though, we will use the excess starter to have sourdough pancakes.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  I would love to start messing with water kefir soon.

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  I made some standard old-fashioned chocolate chippers with coconut oil in place of the butter and shortening, and man are they good!  The coconut oil keeps them very chewy.

-- lunch:  I had made a lasagna ahead of time, so we ate lasagna, broccoli, and berries with angel food cake.
-- supper:  it was Stephanie's birthday choices for Family Dinner!  She chose an amazing chicken and sundried tomato pasta, cheesy jalapeno garlic bread, this broccoli (which we made and is SO good). and some kind of unbelievable dessert with cake, caramel, chocolate, bread pudding.  I don't know what was even in it.  But it tasted unreal.

-- lunch:  leftover creamy tomato soup, bread, cheese, pickled beets
-- supper:  lentil curry with basmati rice

-- lunch:  leftover lentils and rice, home-canned pearsauce, kombucha
-- supper:  cheeseburgers on sourdough buns with lacto-fermented dill pickles and sweet potato fries

-- lunch:  our District Clergy meeting from last week was postponed to Wednesday, so I imagine I will grab lunch with some friends/colleagues afterwards!
--supper: fish tacos with corn tortillas, avocado, home-canned salsa, and a cabbage slaw, and lime

-- lunch:  more leftover lentils and rice and a mandarin
-- supper:  pork chops, fried cabbage, roast pumpkin, pearsauce

-- lunch:  tuna salad on yogurt dough crackers, leftover roast pumpkin
-- supper:  I'm making supper for a group of homeless guys that will be staying at a church in the neighborhood.  The kids and I will be bringing a big pot of chili and corn muffins, and some of those chocolate chip cookies I talked about earlier.

-- lunch:  leftover chili and corn muffins
-- supper:  we are postponing pizza night to Saturday since we are taking the meal to the guys on Friday!  I'm excited about trying a breakfast pizza:  sourdough crust, breakfast sausage, cheddar cheese, and eggs cracked over the top.  Yum!

What are you going to be eating?  Any recipes to share?

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday 2/23/15.]

Friday, February 20, 2015

chocolate strawberry jam cake

I've always maintained that I'm not much of a dessert person.  I would pretty much always prefer an additional portion of supper, rather than something sweet afterward.  But Valentine's Day is a day that demands chocolate.  And berries.  And something sweet after dinner.  Vicki and I made these precious chocolate shortbread hearts, drizzled with royal icing and dusted with red sugar.

But those were for her classmates!  So we needed something else for our Valentine's supper on Saturday.  I remembered a cake recipe I once made for my friend Mackenzie's birthday.  It was a layer cake, really lovely.  It called for a rich chocolate buttercream frosting, but I kind of despise frosting.  So I decided to just go with some homemade strawberry jam, both in between the layers and on top of the cake.  I swapped some ingredients from the original recipe to make it more real-food friendly, and also reduced the recipe so that it was only two layers tall rather than three, and voila!  A beautiful, rich, jammy cake that you can enjoy without too much guilt.  It is made with plain old all-purpose flour, so consider it an indulgence.

Chocolate Strawberry Jam Cake
(Adapted from this recipe.)

Sorry 'bout the photo!  A food photographer I am definitely not!
1 C + 3 T AP flour
1 1/3 C sucanat
1/2 C cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t sea salt
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2/3 C buttermilk
1/3 C melted butter
1 1/2 t vanilla
2/3 C boiling water
1/2 - 2/3 C strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter 2 8-inch round cake pans.  Cut two circles of parchment paper and fit one into the bottom of each pan.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sucanat, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt.

Whisk together the egg and egg yolk, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla.  (I just do this in the measuring cup I used for the buttermilk to avoid dirtying another dish!)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir together thoroughly, but don't over-mix.  Whisk in the boiling water.

Fill each cake pan with half of the batter.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of each cake.

When the cakes are done, pull them out of the oven and immediately press down on the top of each one with a clean dish cloth.  This will even out the surface and prevent you having to trim the cakes!

Pop the cakes into the freezer for fifteen minutes to cool.

When they come out of the freezer, release them from the cake pans.  Stack one cake on the bottom of a cake stand or plate.  Put half the strawberry jam on top of it.  Then stack the other cake upside-down on top of the first, so that the bottom of it is on top.  Spread the remaining strawberry jam over the top of the cake.


[This post submitted to Fat Tuesday 2/18/15, Real Food Wednesday 2/19/15, and the HomeAcre Hop 2/20/15.]

Monday, February 16, 2015

todd: 21 months

So many updates on Todd!  I skipped last month because I was deep into a very intense two-week Doctor of Ministry course.  So double the fun today.  :)

His language is getting so good.  Short sentences are happening now, and I really feel like we are communicating.  It's weird for me to think that Vicki was 25 months when Todd was born, and she and I could speak really clearly to one another at that time.  It felt like Todd wasn't getting there as quickly, but now it seems that in four months we will be in the same place as I was with Vicki.  Never have had to worry about language with either of my kids in the least.  We are talkers, and they got it from both sides.

The biggest news in Todd's world in the last two months is his first haircut!  Aside from one time that Vicki got a little chunk with her scissors when I wasn't looking, Todd had never had his hair cut.  We went to see my sister over the New Year, and she said it was time.  So we popped him in the bathtub and got out the clippers . . . and he did great!  I thought he would be freaked out, but he was cool.

And doesn't he just look like a big boy now!?

This was from our first (and only) good snowstorm in Nashville this year.  Todd was loving eating the snow.  I think he got some dirt, too . . . 

At a Superbowl Party, sharing a hug with his sweet friend Avery.  Already a ladies' man.

They handed out these hilarious foam crowns at both his and Vicki's schools for some reason . . . he loves wearing it.  

Enjoying the playground at our neighborhood school on a glorious warm and sunny day.  He made friends with this sweet little girl, too.

His firetruck was his favorite Christmas gift, by far.  He rides it around and around Memaw's house.  I tried to get a picture of him with his driving goggles, but no luck.

This is a great age.  He's still very much my baby, but he is quite independent, talkative, and engaged with his surroundings.  Can't wait to see what next month brings!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

menu plan february iii

What's up, world?  We are just chilling over here.  No big happenings, which is just fine with me.  It's good to be calm for a little while.  I am ready for spring, though, and the advent of nice fresh green vegetables.  Eating locally and seasonally gets hard this time of year, when the main vegetable staples are potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, squash, turnips, onions, and so on.  There are only so many ways to eat cabbage!  A spear of tender asparagus will taste so good in late March.  :)  And our annual strawberry-picking trip at the first of May is just the best.

We literally always have one of three things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or mandarins (in the winter)

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

3)  --soaked oatmeal with raisins, shredded coconut, coconut cream, honey
     --seasonal fruit or preserves

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  If I do any sourdough baking, though, we will use the excess starter to have sourdough pancakes.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  I would love to start messing with water kefir soon.

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  This week, we are still eating up the chocolate cake I made for Valentine's Day.  Yummmmm.

-- lunch:  salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, mustard greens gratin, sourdough rolls
-- supper:  Family Dinner!  We are bringing an old favorite - cabbage and noodles.

-- lunch: leftover cabbage and noodles, kombucha
-- supper:  black bean tacos with homemade tortillas, taco seasoning. cheese, home-canned salsa, sour cream, and shredded cabbage salad

-- lunch:  we have a District Clergy meeting, so I will probably grab lunch with some colleagues/friends after that
-- supper:  chili & cornbread (and making some extra to take to our dear friends who are in need - pray for them if you are into that kind of thing!)

-- lunch:  tuna salad, crackers, cut-up veggies
-- supper:  sesame-soy salmon fillets, rice, steamed carrots

-- lunch:  leftover black beans and tortillas
-- supper:  we are eating with our sweet friends the Allens.  I think we will bring bread or salad or some such.

-- lunch:  leftover something
-- supper:  margherita pizza on a sourdough crust with homemade mozzarella (and skip the basil since it's winter), roasted pumpkin wedges

-- lunch:  tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread with lacto-fermented pickles
-- supper:  pork ribs, mashed pumpkin, roasted turnips, cabbage slaw, cornbread

What's happening in your kitchen this week??

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

new england clam chowder

It's been a nice cold snap!  In general, I think that people in Nashville are sort of wimpy about the winter.  Growing up in Kansas gave us a very solid winter season - tons of snow, bright crisp days, the whole nine yards.  In fact, the year that Vicki was born, we had just had our final blizzard in Topeka a few days before she came . . . in April!  Winter in Nashville is not as severe (which is good, because the second there is ice on the road, everyone forgets how to drive), but it's also not as beautiful.  It's mostly gray, kind of rainy, and a little depressing.  But this latest cold front has been lovely.  Freezing air that smacks you in the face the second you walk outside.  Blue skies with nary a cloud in sight.

I actually love winter because I am always hot.  I sweat a lot.  Winter is the only season each year that I feel relatively comfortable all the time.  And it's the only time I really enjoy drinking hot beverages (aside from coffee, which really should be its own food group in my daily diet) like tea or cocoa, and eating lots of warming soups.

Clam chowder has always been a favorite of mine.  The creamy texture, chunks of potatoes, faint salty background from bacon, and bits of chewy clam - yum.  We made a pot last night and dipped sourdough rolls into it, although I know that oyster crackers are more traditional.  I meant to also make a massaged kale salad to go alongside, but I forgot.  And no one complained!  This is a very nourishing and nutritious soup:  homemade chicken stock for lots of minerals and collagen, clams for tons of iron (more per ounce than beef!), grass-fed milk and cream for fat-soluble vitamins.

I always use canned clams because we are landlocked and finding fresh clam is not worth the trouble or the price.  But if you are near the coast - by all means!  Use fresh clams.  You would need between 3 and 4 pounds of fresh unshelled clams to yield 13 oz of clam meat.  Just steam them until they open, allow them to cool, pick the meat and save the juice.

New England Clam Chowder
3 oz bacon or salt pork (we used cured jowl from our recent half-hog purchase), sliced into 1/4" pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
2 6.5 oz cans of chopped clams in clam juice
1 C chicken stock
2 1/2 C peeled, chopped potatoes (3-4 medium russets)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t ground thyme
1 C milk
1 C cream
2 T flour (use sprouted if you prefer)
salt and pepper

Serves 4-6

Place bacon pieces in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Allow them to crisp and render until they are totally done.  Remove them to a plate and leave the fat in the pan.

While the bacon is cooking, open the cans of clams and drain them, reserving the juice.  Measure the juice and make sure you have one cup.  If not, add water or more chicken stock to make one cup.  Set clams and juice aside.

Place chopped onion in hot bacon fat.  Allow it to cook for 7-10 minutes, until totally soft.

Add clam juice, chicken stock, potatoes, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme to the pot.  Bring it up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook until the potatoes are tender (15 - 20 minutes).

While the soup is simmering, whisk together milk, cream, and flour.

After potatoes are tender, add clams as well as the milk/cream/flour mixture.  Allow it to come up to a simmer.  The flour will begin to thicken the soup slightly.  Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with warm sourdough rolls or oyster crackers, and pass the bacon bits you saved from the beginning to top the bowls of soup!

[This post submitted to Fat Tuesday 2/10/15, Real Food Wednesday 2/11/15, and the HomeAcre Hop 2/12/15.]

Monday, February 9, 2015

menu plan february ii

Ah, Valentine's Week.  Am I the only kid who was so bugged when the other kids in elementary school called it Valentimes Day?  I'm still irked about that 25 years later.  Anyway, we have some fun stuff in the works for this week.  Both kids have parties in their classrooms, and Vicki and I are going to make some cookies on Wednesday to take to hers!  We already made paper valentines for Todd's class.  (Todd colored, Vicki cut.)

This is a cute idea too, huh!?  Anything can become Valentine's themed with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.  :)

Enough about Valentine's Day.  On to the food!

We literally always have one of three things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or satsumas (in the winter)

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

3)  --soaked oatmeal with raisins, shredded coconut, coconut cream, honey
     --seasonal fruit or preserves

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  If I do any sourdough baking, though, we will use the excess starter to have sourdough pancakes.  Also, this week we have delicious bacon from our CSA, so I've been making bacon to go with our pancakes or eggs and toast, as well.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  I would love to start messing with water kefir soon.

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  This week, I made a lemon-lime sherbet that is so ridiculously easy it seems impossible.  I love a good citrus frozen dessert.

-- lunch:  grilled pork tenderloin, roasted broccoli, baked sweet potatoes, macaroni & cheese, biscuits
-- supper:  Family Dinner!  We are having Indian food and it's our turn to bring appetizer, so I made some cucumber raita and bought some veggies and naan to go with it.

-- lunch:  at Panera for a business meeting.  I've been loving this Cobb salad.
-- supper:  bacon, cabbage and egg noodles

-- lunch:  leftover chicken and noodles from last week
-- supper:  Shrove Tuesday!!  Pancakes and sausage are the traditional fare for this night.  :)

-- lunch:  me and my girl are taking a field trip to Radnor Lake with her Encore class.  I'm thinking we might do a special lunch somewhere on the way back, just the two of us.
-- supper:  meatloaf, roasted broccoli and turnips

-- lunch:  going out somewhere with my dear mentor and buddy from our Staff-Parish Relations Committee
-- supper:  sweet potato and onion hash with fried eggs over top and sausage patties

-- lunch:  leftovers!
-- supper:  bacon cheeseburger pizza (this is one of my favorites!  Sourdough crust, tomato paste, cooked ground beef, cooked chopped bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, sauteed onions and mushrooms, and I like mine with a little homemade sauerkraut or chopped dill pickle on top after it gets done baking.)

-- lunch:  going to do a beef and cabbage stew along these lines, but with some tweaks
-- supper:  our special Valentine's Dinner!  We will have steaks, baked potatoes, spinach (or greens, depending on what we get in our CSA box that day) gratin, Caesar salad, and a chocolate cake with strawberry jam filling (I think I will skip the frosting and just do whipped cream on top, and maybe also just do two layers?  I'm not sure.)

What will you be eating this week?

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday 2/9/15.]

Thursday, February 5, 2015

how i weaned off my antidepressant

Y'all have been so kind in responding to my last post about why it was the right choice for me to take an antidepressant.

Here's what I feel like pretty much all the time these days.  :)

And sometimes even like this!!

Prior to taking one, and even while I was taking the sertraline, my primary concerns were twofold:

1)  Dependence.  I'm not interested in chemical dependence of any kind, be it illicit or prescribed.

2)  Muting of natural feelings.  I was worried that I would feel like a zombie, or that my natural highs would be as blunted as my natural lows needed to be at that point.

#2 ended up not being a problem at all.  I felt calm and placid, but I was still able to laugh riotously or be brought to joyful tears by something beautiful or touching.  So, I no longer have that concern for myself.  I know that others have had the problem of emotional numbness, but it's important to remember that each body and brain has such individual chemistry that a lot of this can only be ascertained by trial and error.

#1 was what eventually brought me to the point of wanting to taper off the medication.  I wanted it to be a short-term help, until I got organized with an arsenal of natural remedies that could support my emotions.  So, while I was taking the sertraline, I researched and researched.  I consulted with my herbalist.  I talked to my doctor.  And this is what I came up with:

1:  Exercise/Sunlight/Fresh Air

Endorphins are not a joke!  They are your body's best natural drug.  I started the Couch to 5K program when Todd turned one in May, and I haven't looked back.  I have slacked off some and had to start back over several times, but the benefits of jogging are huge for me.  It's both physical and emotional:  I feel really good about myself for doing something positive for my health, and I have the actual physical boost of the endorphins.  I have to do pretty vigorous exercise to get a good rush.  I like to exercise outside as much as possible.  Nice fresh air and natural light also help me feel balanced.  I try to jog three times a week and take the kids for a good long walk twice a week.  I'm wanting to get back into a weekly yoga class as well, and I'm looking forward to hiking with the kids once Todd gets a little bit older and more steady.

2:  Balanced Diet

I won't say too much about this one, except:  a lot of sugar and junk makes me feel like crap about myself, and just like crap in general (again, both a physical and an emotional effect).  These are the dietary principles I strive (somewhat imperfectly) to follow, and I try to emphasize protein and fat over carbs.  I try not to get crazy about it, but I know I feel better when I eat better.  I have been posting weekly meal plans for awhile, if you're interested.  Too much caffeine makes me irritable and sleepless, as well, so I try to limit to one cup of coffee per day, before noon.

3:  Good Sleep

I am lucky in that I have never had trouble sleeping.  Unless I have too much caffeine in the afternoon or evening (see above).  But I do try to be in bed by ten or eleven each night.  Also, magnesium before bed helps me relax (see below).

4:  5-HTP (or St. John's Wort)

This was the single biggest supplement help I took while weaning from the antidepressant.  5-HTP is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin and melatonin in the body.  When you take it, you're basically giving your body more of the raw materials to make the neurotransmitters that lead to balance.  I took 50 mg twice a day, morning and night, for well over six months.  It's important NOT to take 5-HTP while you are still on any SSRI medication, as it can seriously mess up your brain chemistry to have both going at once.  St. John's Wort is another good herbal option (but is not one that I took), however, it's important to note that you should not take 5-HTP and St. John's Wort together.

5:  Vitamin D3

Basically, what can't Vitamin D do?  Your body uses it for everything.  Immune system, creation of hormones, regulating neurotransmitters.  There is a reason people get more depressed when the sun (the main natural source of Vitamin D for our bodies) is out less during the winter.  Vitamin D deficiency has definitely been linked to mild depression.  I take 5000 IU (5 drops of 1000 IU per drop) daily.  I just had my Vitamin D levels tested, though, and despite that level of supplementation, they were still borderline low!  So I've gone up to 6000 IU per day and am being retested in a few weeks.  It's important that you take D3, as it is best absorbed by the body.

6:  Fermented Cod Liver Oil

Really, this could be any fish oil.  The omega-3 acids in fish oil have a direct link to raised serotonin.  I choose to take fermented cod liver oil because it has a bunch of other benefits too.    Actually, the whole family takes it!  Here's my method on how we get it down, because it doesn't taste great.

7:  Magnesium

I'm a huge fan of magnesium - and did you know that most of us are deficient?  Particularly if you take supplemental calcium, you are probably lacking magnesium.  If you feel anxious, exhausted, have muscles spasms, cramps, or twitches, you probably need more magnesium.  And it's really not going to hurt you to take it.  (I used to get eyelid twitches all the time before I started taking it.)  Magnesium has been used to treat major depression.  It works on the neurotransmitter level by guarding the neuron from excess calcium and glutamate, which are excitatory and can eventually cause cell death.  It also reduces stress and brings on a feeling of relaxation.  I love to drink it at night before bed.  It makes me feel all warm and soft.  I take this brand, which tastes absolutely delicious as an added benefit.

8:  Kava Kava  

This was given to me by the herbalist in case of extreme irritability.  Kava kava is a root that has been used in the South Pacific for centuries.  They make it into a drink and take it ritually.  I just take a little bit of powder in water.  This is not to be taken regularly.  I have taken it maybe two or three times.  It gives you an immediate feeling of relaxation and being kind of "blissed out."  It works on the central nervous system, and as a muscle relaxant.

9:  Skullcap

Skullcap was recommended by the herbalist as well, and she mixed me up an herbal tea of skullcap, motherwort, and passionflower, with rose petals and lavender for flavor.  Together, we named my blend "Letting Go," which I think is really beautiful.  Skullcap is great for anxiety, and that feeling of wanting to crawl out of your skin.

10:  Motherwort

Motherwort is an herb that helps you feel safe and secure (like sitting in your mother's lap).  It does not numb your mind or cause sleepiness, just a release from anxiety.

11:  Passionflower

Passionflower is the final active herb in my anxiety/depression-reducing tea.  It's good for that feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious because you are exhausted from the demands of life.  I get that feeling a lot.  :)

Those are the best tools I have encountered for helping quell my natural anxiety, irritability, stress, depression, and feelings of being overwhelmed.  The ones I take daily are fermented cod liver oil, Vitamin D3, and magnesium.  I also incorporate exercise, fresh air, sunlight, good food and drink, and good sleep into my life daily!  I take my herbal tea sometimes, when I feel stressed.  The kava kava is for very acute moments only.  The 5-HTP I would probably start again if I began having extended feelings of being low and depressed.

I know that this post is long and involved, but I hope it can help someone who is ready to transition to a more natural way of managing your moods.  Believe me, I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking pharmaceuticals to manage depression.  But I know I was wishing I could find a more concise place that all of this was listed when I was ready to try something different.  Love and peace to you all!

[This post submitted to Fat Tuesday 2/3/15, Real Food Wednesday 2/4/15, and The HomeAcre Hop 2/5/15.]

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

why i decided to take an antidepressant

Preface to all of this:  I am exceedingly grateful for the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals.  There is absolutely no shame in taking them, and if you are feeling very blue and having trouble functioning, you must get yourself to a doctor or therapist and get it sorted out!  There are even places that will do this for free!  No need to soldier through misery without availing yourself of the help that is easily within reach.

It's been no secret here in the blog or in my life that my family went through a hard time around the time Todd was born (and probably the year before and the year after).  I feel like secrecy and shadows and hiding are a big part of the problem, and are a huge component of addiction, so I have decided that I will be honest and forthright in discussing all of this.

Given the circumstances, it will surprise absolutely no one that I went into some pretty hard-core postpartum depression.  My main symptoms were uncontrollable weepiness and equally uncontrollable rage.  Sounds like a party, huh!?

Yup, pretty much.

I had taken my kids and gone to my sister's on the fifth day after Todd was born, so she could help take care of us.  We stayed for five or six days, and decided together that I needed to get some medical and pharmaceutical help.  When I returned to Nashville, I visited my family doctor and was promptly placed on a 50 mg daily dosage of sertraline (Zoloft generic).  This was deemed the most breastfeeding-compatible antidepressant, and since I had never taken one before and had no history with these medications, it seemed like the best place to start.

I started the sertraline the next day, along with my daily routine of placenta pills and domperidone.  And . . . within a day or two . . . I.  Felt.  Awesome.

Seriously, it worked like a charm.  The best way I can describe my affect is one of things being in proper perspective.  I have a tendency to get overly bent on little details, and have trouble ordering things in my life from "least important" (let's say . . . canning marmalade this weekend) to "very important" (let's say . . . eating properly and drinking enough water).  With the sertraline, things seemed to fall very naturally into their right places.  I felt even and calm.  Vicki Jo's tantrums no longer rattled me.  Todd's crying just meant he needed something, not that I was a crap parent.  The weeping and the rage evaporated.  I felt great.

I decided that I would re-evaluate whether I wanted to be taking the antidepressant after Todd was older - closer to his one-year birthday.  And I did have one side effect:  weight gain.  Boo.  However, weight gain might also just be a side effect of life for me.  Not sure at this point.  It might also be all the food I eat and the exercise I don't do.  Just sayin'.  Also, I was worried about dependency.  I didn't want to spend the rest of my life taking this medication.  I didn't want my neurotransmitters to be permanently adapted to the SSRI.

I believe it was around March of last year when I decided to begin tapering.  Todd was about nine or ten months old.  I felt confident that with some natural helps (which I will be detailing in my next post!), I could handle going off the sertraline.  I consulted with my doctor, just to be sure, and got the go-ahead.  I tapered over the next couple of months, going very slowly.  Two weeks at 25 mg, two more weeks at 12.5 mg, and finally two weeks taking 12.5 mg every other day.  And then I was done!

My birthday!  I was really feeling quite good after the taper at this point.

I have not had another serious bout of depression since tapering off the sertraline.  I am slightly more irritable, but my moods are nowhere near as labile as they were when Todd was first born.  I'm glad that I had the experience of taking it, and I would not hesitate to take it again if I faced another dark time.

Next post I will tell you how I got off the antidepressant - with food, exercise, and natural supplements.  Stay tuned!

Monday, February 2, 2015

vicki jo: 3 years and 10 months

Not too many updates on my sweetest girl this month.  She is rocking and rolling.  She is wheeling and dealing.  Her newest thing is fast-forwarding through certain segments of her beloved "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" (the "Mouseketools," for those of you who are in the know), because she says they are "disgusting."  That cracked me up.  Maybe you had to be there.  

Showing Bubba how to get Mickey on the iPad while snuggled up on the couch.

They have been obsessed and begging to go in the carts with cars at Kroger.  Mostly so they can swipe candy from the low shelves when I'm not looking.

This is about as much snow as we ever get in Nashville!  But we enjoyed the crap out of it and even made some snowballs.

She had her second hostess day at Encore.  Grandma went with her this time since I was all tied up with my D.Min. program.  She loved it.  We also made frozen bananas dipped in chocolate for the snack!