The Teacup Chronicles

Month: January, 2010

What a Good Egg Looks Like

What you see here is an egg from my friend Jess’s hens. The hens have ample room to run around in the open and are fed a diet of bugs and worms they peck in the grass (in the summertime) and kitchen scraps. Have you ever seen a more beautiful egg than that?

I can still remember the first time I cracked open a real egg (I say real because most of the eggs available to us are raised in  ways that are quite far from natural). A beautiful, gigantic BRIGHT ORANGE yolk was staring back up at me and in my ignorance I thought that there must be something wrong with it. I called my sweetheart into the kitchen and asked him whether he thought it edible, and when he didn’t know, I called my mom to ask her. It seemed no one quite knew what to make of the mysterious orange egg.

But I soon found out that eggs yolks are SUPPOSED to be orange. We think that they are yellow only because we are so used to eating nutritionally devoid eggs from caged up chickens fed on grain. The orange indicates an abundance of beta-carotene and other carotenoids (like those found in orange vegetables like carrots and squash), that the chicken gets into it’s diet  through the consumption of vegetable scraps, worms and bugs. Caged hens fed on grain meal get very little carotenoids (not to mention other nutrients) in their diet, so the yolk is only a pale yellow.

Notice how the egg white is gelatinous and has substance? Another good indication of a hen fed a nutritious diet. The white has an almost greenish-yellow tinge which indicates a high riboflavin (vitamin B2) content.

Take a look at the shell….notice how thick and smooth it is? This indicates the abundant minerals in the hen’s diet.

Notice how plump and perky the yolk is – standing tall against the white? That is something you see only in very fresh eggs (this egg was laid 3 days ago). Eggs in the store often are transported long distances and sit on the shelf for a bit before you get them home to the kitchen. You crack them open and the yolk flattens out in a runny mess – telling you your egg is stale.

Another fun trick to assess the freshness of your egg is to drop it in bowl of cold water. As an egg sits, moisture is evaporated through the shell and an air bubble forms. A fresh egg sinks because it contains very little air, while a stale egg will float to the top because it has a large air bubble.  For the same reason, a fresh egg can be very hard to peel because the white fills up the entire shell and sticks to it when cooked, so that a few layers of white get peeled away with the shell. The contents of an egg that has sat for a week or so shrink away from the shell and make it far easier to peel.

There are a few things that you can’t see in this egg that are also very important.  Eggs that get vegetable scraps, bugs,  and worms in their diet are extremely high in the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (important for brain function, eye health, and countering inflammation to name a few). Jess feeds her eggs the skins of wild salmon in the winter to give them an extra source, and many farmers will feed their hens flax seed to boost omega 3 levels.    A free range, pasture raised  hen’s egg will contain up to 19 times more omega 3 fatty acids than it’s grain fed counterpart, which has very high levels of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.  Yet another good reason to eat food raised in the way nature intended!

If you too would like to eat a REAL egg with a bright orange yolk, look for eggs that are labeled “pasture raised” and “free range”. Don’t be fooled by the words “cage free”,  “organic” or  “vegetarian fed.” All that guarantees is that the chicken might live in a crowded pen rather than a cage, and isn’t fed other ground up chickens.  Better yet, find someone like my friend Jess who raises their own chickens – then you can have the satisfaction of knowing the quality of the hen’s life and the food it was nourished with.  You might even be so excited by the prospect of a good egg that you’ll decide to keep your own hens in the backyard. Crazier things have happened!

PS: If I hear one more person say they can’t eat eggs because of their cholesterol, I think I will scream. Yes eggs have cholesterol, but there is no correlation between eating eggs and increasing your cholesterol levels (there are numerous studies to support this). Furthermore, eggs have choline, which helps promote increased HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind) and reduce LDL,  and are brimming with omega 3 fatty acids that protect against blood clot formation and promote cardiovascular health. What you can’t eat is poor quality eggs from factory raised, caged and grain fed hens that have little omega 3’s and very little micro-nutrients. Eat all the real eggs you want.

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The Deliciousness of Ghee

I must admit that after writing my last post, I have been suffering that very conflict I spoke of between the desire to dream and rest  in the true spirit of winter, and the call to responsibilities that just can’t be ignored. Isn’t that life though? Like all things, we must find the happy medium. So I have been neglecting my ramblings temporarily, though I haven’t been neglecting thinking of you and the ideas I’d like to share. It seems everyday I think of something or experience something that I can’t wait till I have a moment to write about.

Tonight, while I was stirring a pot of ghee on the stove and watching the foam collect on top, it dawned on me what a perfect thing to spread the glory of. What is ghee you ask? To be literal, ghee is clarified butter – butter cooked down until the protein solids separate out and you are left with pure butterfat. In India, they would go a step further  and say that  the clarified butter must be cooked until the milk solids began to brown on the bottom of the pan, infusing the butterfat with a characteristic smoky aroma and flavor that is lacking in the more Western versions.

So what makes ghee different from butter? For starters, it is just pure butter fat. No lactose, no milk proteins. If you happen to be sensitive to either, you will tolerate ghee just fine. Because the heat sensitive proteins are removed, ghee also has a much higher smoking point than butter and most other oils, meaning that it will heat to much higher temperatures before the fat is oxidized and forms cell-damaging free radicals. For the same reason, it can be stored for many months at room temperature without spoilage (a very important virtue in a tropical climate with no refrigeration).

If you are a typical American who has been hammered over the head your whole life with the “fear saturated fat” campaign, you will probably feel a little hesitant to jump right on the band wagon about eating pure butter fat. I have many things to say to put you at ease. First, in case you haven’t heard, the link between fat consumption and chronic disease is a weak one at that (more to come on this soon). See “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review” for more information. Today, researchers are finding that we must look to the type of fatty acid in order to assess the relative health benefit/risk of a food.

So what kind of fat does ghee have in it? It contains 65% saturated fat, of which 89% is comprised of short chain fatty acids, such as butyric acid. Now before the saturated fat alarm goes off, consider what I mentioned about the type of fatty acid, because it is the long chain fatty acids in saturated fat that tend to clog up arteries. Short chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the blood stream and metabolized by cells as a fuel source. They strengthen cell membranes, support hormone production, and have antimicrobial properties that support digestive health and immune function.  Ghee further contains essential omega 3 and 6 fatty acids ina  1:1 ratio, helping to reduce inflammatory mediators that contribute to inflammatory disorders from cardiovascular disease to arthritis.

If you are still feeling ill at ease, you might like to know that ghee has been found to lower serum cholesterol levels by increasing biliary secretions. It also contains ample amounts of anti-oxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin E and carotenoids that protect against oxidation – particularly of lipids such as cholesterol and cell membranes throughout the body (ie in blood vessels, etc).

In India, ghee is used not only as a highly nutritious food, but as a medicinal panacea. It is believed to enhance agni (digestive fire), thus promoting strong digestion and absorption of nutrients – the foundation of good health. It also lubricates the digestive tract and softens the bowel, helping to promote healthy elimination and reduce bloating. It is cooling and soothing to the tissue and can help to heal inflamed gastric mucosa and ulcerations. It also neutralizes and detoxifies poisons, and helps to break down ama (the toxic build up left over from incomplete digestion) so that it can be eliminated.  In the whole body, it is said to nourish and strengthen the tissues – especially nerves, and connective tissue, and enhance life force. Its high absorption rate through the intestinal wall makes it a superb carrier of medicinal herbs and spices, which it is thought to drive deep into the body.

If that isn’t enough to make you drop everything and make ghee, I haven’t talked about the amazing ambrosial flavor it imparts. You might have thought a heaping pile of melting butter on your potato was pure heaven…but you haven’t tried ghee yet. There is nothing quite so delicious and flavor enhancing as a melting dollop of golden ghee. It goes equally well with savory and sweet dishes. And, because it is so flavorful and delicious, you can use less of it than you would butter.

Beyond the kitchen, ghee is used in India as a massage oil to soothe and soften the skin – especially for inflammatory conditions. I have even used it as a facial moisturizer,  finding it leaves my skin lustrous and soft with a beautiful glow. Of course, it is so delicious  to eat that it seems nearly sacrilegious to waste it on cosmetic purposes.

Making ghee is quite simple – you need only a good saucepan,  1 lbs unsalted butter, and a little bit of time. You will definitely want to splurge on a good quality organic butter that is free from hormones, antibiotics and other such additives – whatever is in the butter will be concentrated into the ghee. Remember also that a cow raised on grass will produce milk far richer in vitamins and minerals, and will have a healthier essential fatty acid ratio than those fed grain. I like Organic Valley Pasture Raised butter myself – though it is salted.

To make, just heat the butter in the saucepan over low heat. It will begin to foam prodigiously, and you will need to continue to simmer it for another good 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally. After 15 minutes or so, the foam will begin to settle on the bottom of the pan, and will form a nice golden crust there. The ghee at this point will be clear, smell like movie theater popcorn, and will make a slight cracking sound instead of the sizzling it made before. Turn the heat off, and pour carefully through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a glass container (not plastic). Let cool and then cap. You can store at room temperature for 4-6 months if you are diligent about using only very clean utensils to dip into it with.

If you want to experience the benefits of ghee without cooking it yourself, a good source is Ancient Organics, made from the dairy of grass fed organically raised cows (ancientorganics.com).

Use your ghee to flavor grains, beans and vegetables, as a cooking oil, spread on bread, as a topping on popcorn…the list goes on. The possibilities, as always, are only limited by your imagination.

Dreaming in the Depths of Winter

Hello friends! I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season…

As for myself, I am finally finding some much needed time for quiet and reflection after a hectic but wonderful week spent with friends and family. I have traveled from Vermont to Michigan and back again with some lovely memories created in between. But its good to be home. I’ve been enjoying the constant snowfall over the past week here in Vermont, draping the entire world in a heavy blanket of sparkling white snow. Driving home at night, the lights twinkle warmly  in the windows of the houses and a curl of gray smoke travels up and out of every chimney. Everything seems enchantingly ideal.

What I love most about this time of year is the sense of quiet and peacefulness that permeates through my being. Laying back in the snow in the shelter of the woods with the snowflakes dancing gently around, the world seems so deeply content and at peace – so profoundly quiet. All thoughts and cares seem to drift from my mind and being present in the moment seems suddenly so effortless.

Yet, life interrupts. It can be hard to maintain the deep restfulness of the earth in our day to day scramble as human beings. I wonder at times if that plays into the heaviness of spirit that can manifest in winter – our desire for reflection and slumber  is so at odds with the busyness of our lives. Of course, there is also the lack of sunlight to contend with…

But whether you are willing or not, winter cannot help but beckon you  inwards to the place of dreams and visions. All life around us has retreated, the warmth and light of the sun greatly diminished. All things seem lifeless. But look again. While the world might appear to us barren and desolate, the earth is actually impregnated with life, winding roots protected deep within her warmth and shelter just waiting for the the thaw of Spring to burst forth new life and be reborn.

Copyright Catherine Hyde

We might follow their example. While we wait for the light and warmth of the sun to return, we too can seek the warmth and shelter deep within ourselves. We can beckon to the call of winter to rest and replenish ourselves, let the light and warmth of your spirit hold you  so that come spring, you have the resources and strength to flourish and grow.

Winter, then, is a time for meditation. A time to rest with your feet up by the fire and feel held and protected by your interiority. Many people use the word “cozy” this time of year – which is just perfect. We all desire the simplicity of warmth and shelter – a space for us to be safely held while we slumber and gather our strength for the year to come.

It is so easy to avoid yourself, and to become caught up with the constant need to move your energy out into the world. But we all need a chance to move our energy back in – to recharge our batteries and let our spirit hold us for awhile in that place of slumber, vision and dreams. So while the snow is falling and the fire is warm, I invite you to dream, to envision what sort of things you would love for the world to provide you over the coming year, to plant the seeds in your mind of what you might like to someday harvest.

And, most importantly, beckon to the call of winter for self reflection. Now you can rest and reflect on the past year. Take the time to truly ask yourself if your presence in the world is akin with who you are, how you would like to be?  Are you letting the constant output of energy and busyness of life separate you from your core, from the gifts of your spirit and the creative force of your life? One day, I stumbled across a question in a magazine article that asked,

” How would you like to be present in the world today?”

It was as if someone had awoken me from a dream. To realize that my experiences didn’t have to define me as much as I defined my experience  – to reclaim the responsibility for my presence in the world – felt exhilarating and empowering. I have made it a new habit to ask myself this question each day. And what I have often realized is that the way I have existed in the world has been in sharp contrast to the way I would consciously choose to exist – so often my mind is clouded by negativity, worry and self doubt that I forget to be the kind, motivated and loving person I would like to be.

So take the time to reflect – who you have been, who you are, who you would like to be. What you would like to manifest in your world. What experience of life you would like to possess. We are not the onlookers of our existence, but the purveyors! We must simply step forward and create the intentions we would like, see possibility and life where before we saw none.  Look for the light within yourself, and you will find it.

I wish you all the very happiest of years, and I hope you will find yourselves full of inspiration and excitement for the unknown twists and turns of the year to come. May you find the time to let your dreams and creativity find you, and may the light of your spirit warm your existence and thaw the cold of winter so that spring might come to you again.