Monday, August 30, 2010

Manic Monday Munchies: The Farmers' Market

Eggs from our Farmers' Market
Last Saturday morning, the Wacky Wicketeer and I finally checked out the nearest Farmers’ Market. It had recently moved from about eight miles away to only 2-3 miles away, so we had no excuse as to why we hadn’t been there yet (other than the fact my darling husband likes to sleep until
We were on the hunt for meat and dairy products mostly, because we already have weekly deliveries of local, organic, fruits and vegetables from Farm Fresh to You. Sure enough, we found local, organic, pasture-raised chicken, beef, eggs and cheese. The only things missing that I needed were milk and yogurt. However, I am planning a visit to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, where I’ve heard I can find local milk and yogurt. We also happened to find some fresh, shelled, raw walnuts and pistachios, and a gorgeous hanging geranium plant for our backyard. It was a great time, with the ambience of people chatting and getting to know their food-providers, and even live music in the background.

Geranium from our Farmers' Market
So why go to the trouble? First of all, it’s really not much trouble. Even before we were trying to eat anything organic, much less organic and local, we would make trips to both Bel-Air and Costco every 1-2 weeks for groceries. Now, our produce is delivered to us, so about every two weeks, I’ll go to the Co-op for milk and yogurt, and the Wacky Wicketeer and I will have a Saturday morning date browsing the Farmers’ Market. But what if I need more food suddenly, for guests, or something? Then I just drive an extra five miles to the Davis Ranch stand in Sloughouse. Or, I take something out of the freezer, or make an extra trip to the Co-op. By the way, I’m no longer buying frozen food. Instead, I freeze some of what I get from the farms, for when it goes out of season, or if I happen to need extra. When you are eating local food, you actually observe its seasonality.

That brings up the second reason we are becoming sort of “locavores”. Food tastes so much better when it is in season, and appropriately ripened. What’s more, because it hasn’t had to travel thousands of miles, it didn’t  require genetic modification, or preservatives-leaving it in its pure state, as God and Mother Nature intended-naturally delicious (not to mention nutritious).

Local Wine
Our third reason is health. Our health and the health of our planet. The environmental savings when eating locally is obvious. It means your food didn’t have to use the petroleum required, and create the resulting
pollution, to travel from thousands of miles away. Moreover, we help to preserve biodiversity by not requiring our food to be genetically modified so that it can last longer. There is also an immediate benefit to our own bodies-we no longer have to strain our liver and kidneys, among other things, in digesting additives and preservatives. In addition, think about the recent recall of eggs due to salmonella poisoning-because I bought my eggs from a local farmer with a small flock (I even got to see pictures of the hens wandering around their pasture outside the barn), I wasn’t worried if my eggs were part of the recall. There is a lot more to this, but I’m not an expert on it (yet), and it would make this an even longer post.

The fourth reason is one that doesn’t occur to a lot of people. When you buy food grown and produced locally, you are doing a better job in supporting your local economy. A farm is a business, just like a restaurant or clothing shop is a business. Buying your goods from local businesses instead of national chains generates close to three times the money for the local economy. (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver, p. 149.)

Coinciding (but maybe not so coincidental) with our foray into locavore life, I’ve been reading a related book, called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. I highly suggest you read it, no matter where you live, whether urban or rural, and no matter whether you are a vegetarian or at the carnivore end of our omnivore spectrum. It gave me a new appreciation for our family farms and farmers and their struggles, and it’s important that we have our eyes wide open to what exactly it is that we put in our bodies every day. Moreover, find a farmers’ market nearby, and make it a date or family outing to check it out. You may be surprised at how close one is to you. Here are a couple of websites that may help:  (United States and some Canada) (California)

You can also find local co-ops that have a local store, permanent stand, or deliver direct to your home or business. Many of these farms often give tours. For example, Farm Fresh to You offers tours of their farm, Capay Organic, the second Saturday of the month. You can find similarevents and tours at

Of course, we still have our weaknesses that we don’t buy entirely locally: Feta cheese, chocolate, tea, and decaf coffee are big ones. And we’re still figuring out how to get bread made from locally-grown grains, among other things. But we love the changes we’ve made so far, and intend to do more to bring our family’s focus back to the garden and kitchen. This change to local eating has also come with a focus on cooking, and less pre-packaged, quick-foods. We are inspired by this quote from Ms. Kingsolver:

Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they’re missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven. The choreography of many people working in one kitchen is, by itself, a certain definition of family, after people have made their separate ways home to be together. The nurturing arts are more than just icing on the cake, insofar as they influence survival. We have dealt to today’s kids the statistical hand of a shorter life expectancy than their parents, which would be us, the ones taking care of them. Our thrown-away food culture is the sole reason. By taking the faster drive, what did we save?
(Animal, p. 130.)

Our reasons for eating locally-grown goods are many and complicated. But doing so is not. The act of local eating is simplicity at its best and yummiest.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Manic Monday Munchies: Feta Cheese!

For this Manic Monday Munchies post, I decided to tell you about one of my all-time favorite single food items, Feta cheese.

The “feta” cheese you see at most grocery stores in the U.S. is not genuine Feta, for two reasons. The first is that it’s not from Greece. Of course, to many Greeks, this is the most important reason. But it’s an unfortunate part of our reality that it’s better for the environment, and more practical, to buy cheese that’s made closer to home. I’m not saying it’s the same. The Feta cheese from Greece has such a distinctive flavor, it’s like eating candy. (Can you tell that I’m drooling just thinking about it?) I’ll admit I usually buy the imported stuff (from Mani Imports).

It’s the second reason that really irks me. That is, the “feta” I’ve been able to find that’s made in the U.S. is made from cows milk. Genuine Greek Feta is made from sheep’s milk, sometimes with a little goat’s milk blended in. The difference in flavor between cow’s milk and sheep’s milk is like night and day – the cheese made with sheep’s milk is much sharper and richer in flavor, even slightly acidic. Sheep’s and goat’s milk is higher in calcium, vitamin B, and proteins than cow’s milk. Moreover, to get the correct color and texture from cow’s milk, chemical processes are used. So much for eating a natural food! These chemical processes aren’t necessary when Feta is made with the correct milk.

“Feta is crumbly in texture and white in color. Feta is traditionally sold in glass jars, although modern packaging techniques have become more commonplace. Feta needs to be covered in brine at all times otherwise it will dry out and mold fast and needs to be refrigerated at all times.” (

Here is one Feta-producer’s description of how they make Feta cheese:
“Curd is molded in large round forms, which are hand-turned frequently as they drain. As the whey drains, the cheese-crafter adjusts timing to perfect each form's texture. After skillful dry-salting, wheels are placed in birch barrels for aging and preservation. There they sit in a 7% brine solution that originally allowed farmers to preserve their milk in the hot Mediterranean climate. Today that brine gives feta its characteristic tang.
By the end of the four-month maturation, a wonderfully creamy, rich, complex flavor is fully developed. ... Its traditional method of production contributes to its full taste, natural aroma and pure white color, properties which have established Feta over the centuries as a unique natural cheese of Greece.
Enjoy this premium feta in a traditional cheese pie, over eggs, stuffed into squash blossoms, or even fried. Or just relax with a slab of feta drizzled with olive oil and garnished with fresh oregano.”

Feta has been designated by the European Union as a product of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the origin being Greece. “According to the Code of Foods of Greek Legislation, Feta (Φέτα) is produced either from sheep milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk, in the regions of Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, Sterea, Peloponnese and Lesvos Island. It must be allowed to mature for at least two (2) months in wooden barrels or metal containers, covered in brine.” (

These days, most Feta cheese is made from pasteurized milk. In fact, I have yet to find one sold in the U.S., imported or otherwise, that isn’t. (My guess is that U.S. laws require it all to be pasteurized, but I don’t know for sure, so don’t quote me on that.) This is important to me because of the general rule of not eating soft cheeses when pregnant. Since I’ve been pregnant twice, I was worried about following the no-soft-cheese rule and having to avoid another of my favorite foods. However, if the only reason to avoid soft cheeses is the lack of pasteurization, which used to be common but isn’t anymore, then I could eat pasteurized Feta, right? I still haven’t received a satisfactory answer to this question, but when I do, I’ll come back to the subject and let you know.

In the meantime, I’m going to be right here with my plate of Feta cheese, a little hummus, Kalamata olives, and a glass of wine. Opa!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Due Date: Our Story of Blessing and Loss, part 1

Today is the day my first baby, Athanasios, was due. If I had the healthy, normal pregnancy that we expected, I would have been giving birth to my first child this week.
This is a difficult day, and week, for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad it has finally come to pass. It feels cathartic, like now it’s time to turn a new page in our story. So, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to go back and share the details of our infertility and miscarriage journey thus far.

Since the last time I posted specifically about our TTC attempts and our IUI protocol, etc., was almost a year ago, I thought I would briefly review the protocol that I started to describe there, and then get on telling you about the rest of the journey. If you need reminders about what certain procedures, medications, etc. are, head back to the August 20, 2009 post. And if you need to get caught up on the whole history of our TTC journey, read the July 30, 2009 post.

Last August we started a medicated IUI cycle that included me taking Clomid on CDs 3-7. Side effects that I had from it included hot flashes, bloating, headaches, and blind spots (like stars you see when you get a concussion or a migraine). I have heard from other gals that mood swings are also very common, and the doctor warned me that the Clomid could thin out the uterine lining and decrease cervical mucus (which is an important fluid present around ovulation (“O”) that helps the sperm swim through the cervix and into the uterus).

Because of the last couple of side effects from Clomid, the next drug was Estrogen, or Estradiol, which I took on CDs 8-12. The bloating continued, but the other side effects subsided. Starting on CD 11, I had to use an ovulation predictor kit (“OPK”) first thing in the morning, and as soon as we had a positive result, call the clinic and go in for an intra-vaginal ultrasound (“IVUS”) to see how big my mature follicles were and how thick my uterine lining was, and from that, predict how close I was to O. We also had to abstain starting on CD 9 until the insemination, so that my dear husband (AKA “the Wacky Wicketeer”) could build up a good store of soldiers before making his deposit! They start you on CD 9 in case you have to get the IUI on CD 12, so that you have three days of storage, but I didn’t O until CD 14 (as usual), so it was a long time, I tell ya! And mind you, those days are your most fertile, so for the previous two years, that had been prime baby-dancing time! What a switch…

On CD 13, I had a positive OPK, and we went in for my IVUS. I had two good, mature follicles and a nice uterine lining, so then I was injected with a form of HCG, AKA, the pregnancy hormone. This injection is commonly called a trigger shot, because it is supposed to trigger O. It also means that for a period of time, you could get a false positive on a home pregnancy test (“HPT”), because you had the very hormone it tests for injected into your system. The Doc then told us that the Wacky Wicketeer would need to be back early in the morning and make his deposit, and two hours later would be my second round with the IVUS, to make sure everything still looked good and see if I had O’d yet or not, and then an IUI.

Late that night was one of the most painful I’d had up to that point. My ovaries felt like they were going to explode! Sure enough, when I returned the next morning, I had already O’d. So, we had just the one shot at IUI.

After the Wacky Wicketeer made his deposit, they took the soldiers, “washed” them, to get rid of dead and useless ones, and then gave them a special vitamin solution to swim around in on their voyage.

Now, my turn. The tiny room we were in already contained me, the Wacky Wicketeer, the RE (doctor), and the nurse. As I’m laying there with my feet in the stirrups, all pride gone, into this sardine can walks two more people - a lab tech, with an assistant in tow. The lab tech is carrying what we’ve all been waiting for – the troops have arrived! In her hand is what looks to me like a two-foot long straw. It was labeled, and she very formally read our names from the label, and we said, yep, that’s us! The RE then took the straw from her, and the lab tech and her assistant left. Whew. A little more breathing room. That’s when the RE, having already used the speculum on me like a regular gynecological pelvic exam, inserts a catheter connected to the straw through the vaginal canal, past the cervix, up into the uterus, and aims as close to the fallopian tubes as he can get, so those little soldiers have a shorter swim. It wasn’t real painful, just a little weird, and I had a little cramping start when it passed my cervix, sort of like mild menstrual cramps. It took a couple of minutes (seemed like an eternity to me!), and when the RE was done, he set an egg timer for 10 minutes, and said I could get up, dressed, and go when the timer went off. Oh, and that we should boink like bunnies that night to add to our chances!

Not that night, but the following night, I started taking a prescribed compound vaginal suppository nightly. It was a compound that was primarily intended to deliver progesterone, to support a possible early pregnancy, and make sure I didn’t start menstruating earlier than I should. The suppositories are messy, so you take it right before you go to bed. I was instructed to take it until either my period came, or I had a blood test that showed I was negative for pregnancy, at least sixteen days post-IUI.

Normally, good ol’ “Aunt Flo” (or “AF”, as the TTC community so quaintly refers to a woman’s period) arrives on CD 26 or 27 for me, not 29 like for the “average” woman. This would have been only twelve days post-IUI for me, but the progesterone prevented my period from starting normally, so I took a HPT. OK, I took several HPTs. They were all that dreaded BFN (big fat negative)! But, just in case, hope beyond hopes, I had to continue waiting another four days, then went in for the blood “beta” test. (I have no idea why they call it a beta test.) Of course, it was negative.

So, our first IUI was a failure. It was also very stressful. Not having gone through the process before, and, at the time, not understanding everything I was supposed to do, or why I was supposed to do it, but being the sole person responsible for making sure that everything happened at just the right time – whew! Add the hormones to that mix, and you can imagine. And everything else in life doesn’t just go on hold because you’re going through this, either.

The toughest point for me was getting the negative home tests, because I knew at that point, that it hadn’t worked. After the blood test confirming that we were NOT pregnant, I stopped the progesterone, and AF showed up three days later. My first instinct was to give up. But my determined Wacky Wicketeer would have none of it. Ultimately, it was an easy decision to take a month off before we would try IUI again.

Come back soon for my next post, which will pick up with our second IUI cycle – when we were blessed with our first pregnancy, and lost our first Angel baby, Athanasios.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Pastitsio!

Some pics from making pastitsio for the Greek Festival. It's a complicated, layered, Greek dish and we make 40 pans for the festival! No pics of the finished product, though-still needs the bechemel sauce.