Outdoor Cooking

When it’s hot outside and you just don’t want to be inside cooking, what should you do?

Head outside to cook!

Outdoor cooking is, to many, limited to grilling, but it need not be. I put my camping gear to use this morning and was reminded of just how pleasurable it is to cook outside – even if my kitchen is just footsteps away.

This morning I opted to cook outside because it was beautiful out, and I wanted bacon but didn’t want the house smelling like bacon. So, my tot and I headed downstairs to get the propane stove, and minutes later, we were cooking!

Shown in the photo above are my Coleman one-burner stove, a propane cylinder, a folding wind guard, and a 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet.  (The cast iron skillet is what I use inside on my regular stove as well.)

A word to the wise, though:  if you live in bear country, cooking bacon may bring the bears to the yard!  Yikes!

(That was probably the most exciting bacon-eating I’ve ever experienced.)

What are your favorite foods to cook outside?  Let me know in the comments!

Hiking 101

As a child, I have fond memories of disappearing with a backpack filled with essentials – water, a blanket, a book, and a snack.  I’d make a little nest in the grass and read in the shade of the shelter-belt of trees surrounding my family’s farm.  It was magical – the sound of the birds, the sunlight filtering through the leaves, the absence of my mother asking me to wash dishes.  (Sorry, mom!)

I loved those days, so it’s somewhat surprising that I never got into hiking until much later – four years ago, to be precise.  It was the mountains that convinced me to be a hiker – the only way to get on top of these mountains is on foot, so I set off to see what I could see, and in the process, I fell in love.  Not with the mountaintops, mind you.  I can’t say the summit commands my attention for all that long.  Rather, fell for the journey.  I love the birds and the bugs, the sunlight filtering through the leaves.  I suppose, in some way, I love that it takes me back to those summer days of my youth, escaping the dirty dishes.

If you’ve never been on a hike, it can, at first, seem a little daunting, especially if you haven’t done much of it before, and even more so if you’re doing it with little kids.

So, here I’ll offer some tips to make it easier.  Hiking is, in my view, one of the best, most accessible forms of active leisure (some might call it “exercise,” but I think that takes some of the fun out of it.)  So many recreational activities have high “entry” costs – mountain biking, for instance, will set you back gobs of money, just to get on a bike.  (That’s not to mention the helmet, the shoes, the weird spandexy clothes, the extra mechanical gear, repair costs, etc.)  To hike, you just head into the woods.  That’s it!

But… to make it a more enjoyable experience, it pays to do a little prep work and gather a few useful supplies.  Let’s start with the basics.

First, a backpack.  I have a few packs but the one I use the most is the smallest and least expensive – a very simple, ultra-light pack I bought off of Amazon four years ago (and it’s still going strong).

Another essential is a pair of good shoes.  Yes, you could hike barefoot – or in flipflops, like I have – but I really recommend good shoes.  I saw a child wearing cowboy boots (!!!) on a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains one time, and my heart broke for that kid.  Seriously:  Don’t wear anything with a heel or uncomfortable straps.  And don’t take your kid into the woods wearing cowboy boots!  Any pair of athletic shoes will do fine, so long as you are comfortable in them.  I prefer Keen hiking boots, but that’s just my preference.  Pick what works for you.

Also incredibly important:  Water.  Of all the hiking gear, I’d say decent shoes and enough water are the two most important factors that will make your hike a pleasant experience.  I recommend at least one cup of water per person, per mile.  So, for a two mile hike for two people, a quart of water will suffice.  If it’s hot out, or you’re a thirsty person, pack extra water.  I never thought I’d be the kind of person who bought a special bottle to put water in, but after tiring of the sound of water sloshing in a bottle in my bag, I finally broke down and bought a couple of these collapsible bottles.  I love them, and now I don’t know what took me so long to buy them.  Do not plan to drink water from streams, unless you have some kind of filter.  (For a day hike, you really don’t need a filter – it’s easiest to just take a couple of liters of water and not have to mess with it.  For longer, multi-day hikes, (about which I plan to write a post…) a filter is essential.

Appropriate attire is also important.  By this I mostly mean:  don’t wear jeans.  Jeans just aren’t good hiking attire.  The cotton will wick moisture out of the air, and jeans aren’t sufficiently flexible to let your legs move as you climb.  Other than a prohibition on jeans, anything will do.  I love hiking in merino wool dresses, which a lot of people find ridiculous, but it works great for me.

See?  Dresses are just fine for hiking!  And tree climbing!  Merino wool is a favorite fabric of mine because of how well it works in both cold and warm weather.  It keeps me warm in cool weather, and keeps me cool in hot weather.  It also doesn’t hold odors like synthetic or cotton clothes do, so even after I get all sweaty hiking, I don’t feel gross.  (Downside:  Merino sheep must subsist on a diet of platinum and gold, because their wool is crazy expensive.)

Check the weather before you go, and see if rain gear is needed.  If so, pack it.  Even if it’s not needed, pack it.  (At least pack an ultralight poncho.)  A lot of people dislike hiking in the rain, but I’ve done a lot of it and find it incredibly pleasant.  For one, no one else hikes in the rain, so you get to have the woods to yourself.  And besides that, the sound of the rain, the lushness of the wet forest, the fresh smells, the softness of the ground under your feet… it’s all just pretty heavenly.

Other necessary items:  Sunglasses, hat, ponytail band, a map of the trail, and tissues (for when nature calls while you’re out in nature).

You may say:  I don’t need a map.  I’ve got my phone!  But trust me… the odds that your phone’s GPS will work when you most need it (whilst lost in the woods as sunset looms) are not good at all.  Print out a map of the trail before you go.  Or, at the very least, take a photo of the map of the trail that’s on the sign at the trailhead.  You may be thinking… “I’ll remember which way to go!”  No, you won’t.  You’ll get to a sign post and think… “Which way do I go?  What color blazes am I looking for?  Where am I?  WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO THAT WISE WOMAN ON THE INTERNETS??????!!!!”  Pack a map.  You will not regret it.

A final necessary item:  Food!  I tend to over-pack food, but I think that’s just fine, and I’ve never had a hiking partner complain about it.  Most hikers seem content with a snack bar, but those never appeal to me when I’m in the woods.  A fellow hiker pointed out yesterday:  maybe it’s the greater connection to the earth that makes me crave “real” food.  And she may be right!  My favorite hiking snacks are apples, oranges, pears, grapes, nuts and seeds, dried fruit (mangoes and figs especially), homemade bread, nice cheese, olives, and dark chocolate.  A favorite picnic food is kale and quinoa salad, which tastes great at room/forest temperature.

Items you may wish to pack, but which aren’t always necessary:

flashlight or headlamp
space blanket or emergency sleeping bag
rag or small towel (I prefer microfiber)
small bag for collecting trash (including tissues – yes, they’re biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean other people want to look at them)
plastic grocery bag (makes a handy and free dry seat when the ground is soggy and wet)

I also keep a first aid kit in my backpack.  Mine contains:

an assortment of bandages
ointment (both an antibiotic ointment and a plant-based healing cream called Goop)
pain reliever for sprains or bruises
small bar of soap (washing an insect bite is the best way to remove the sting)
insect repellent (I use products containing lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which the CDC lists as an approved ingredient.
anti-itch cream (I use a homemade one with plantain-infused oil)
mineral-based sunscreen (look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredients)

To keep the first aid kit small, I put all these things in tiny containers and medicine-sized baggies.  If the kit is small, it stays in my bag.  If it’s too big, I inevitably leave it behind, which does me no good.

Other optional things to pack:

If you have a little one (not yet potty trained), don’t forget diapers and wipes.  A kid-carrier is great, though I tend to let my toddler hike rather than carry him.  (Of course, I’ll carry him if he’s tired and asks me to carry him, but in general, he’s a great hiker and his own little legs carry him for miles!)

Nature guides, little books to help you identify trees, plants, mushrooms, animal tracks, etc., can be very fun and useful on a hike.  Yes, there are apps that do this, but they tend not to work when you’re in the deep woods.

A hammock can be really nice if you want to take a mid-hike nap.

And for a picnic, having a twin-size sheet (thin polyester is lightweight and will pack down very small) is great.

The last – but maybe the most important – thing to take with you is a sense of adventure.

See you in the woods!


homemade toothpaste

Let me preface this post by saying:  if you’re perfectly happy with your teeth and your current toothpaste, then keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you’re looking for something different, read on.

After experiencing some post-pregnancy cavities, I did some research and discovered a book on how to remineralize and heal teeth naturally.   I switched up my diet some (including soaking and sprouting grains), and I added more oily little fishes to my diet, but I’ll confess that I just couldn’t do the whole protocol that is outlined in the book.  (No donuts?  Surely you jest.)

One thing I did do, though, was switch my toothpaste.  I tried (and loved) Uncle Harry’s Toothpaste, which made my mouth go “WOW,” but the cost was a tad steep:  about $11 for a small jar.  But still:  my mouth said WOW, and when I ran out of it and switched back to my old toothpaste, my mouth said:  “This is not wow.  Stop this nonsense and get the good toothpaste.”

So, I read the ingredients and researched homemade toothpaste recipes, which helped me determine the proportions, and I’m pretty pleased with the result.  (So are my teeth and gums!)  If you are a kitchen/beauty alchemist like I am, you may already have most of the ingredients on hand.  If you don’t, I recommend you just get some of Uncle Harry’s.

In a 4 oz. mason jar,* combine:

2 tablespoons bentonite clay
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
2 teaspoons xylitol
2 teaspoons calcium carbonate powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed powder
5 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops spearmint essential oil
1 drop oregano essential oil
1 drop myrrh essential oil
1 drop frankincense essential oil
1 drop eucalyptus essential oil
1 drop tea tree essential oil
optional: 1 teaspoon colloidal silver

Add filtered water (very slowly, as it doesn’t take much) and stir until the powders come together to form a paste.  Brush as usual.  You can dip your toothbrush right into the jar to apply the paste to your brush, as the essential oils in the toothpaste are strongly antibacterial.

* Please don’t put the paste in a plastic jar, as the essential oils will degrade the plastic.

Feel free to switch up the ingredients to make it work for you – i.e., if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, note that some of the essential oils aren’t recommended.  And please note that most of the oils aren’t safe for kids under the age of 6.

Since I’m not a dentist, please, do your research and find out if this is right for you.  Some dental providers may balk at the idea of a fluoride-free, dirt-based toothpaste, and others will cheer you on.   Do what works for you and your family.

Have you tried to remineralize your teeth?  Did it work?  Please let me know about your experience in the comments!

Herb & Garlic Polenta

This is the perfect base for Sprouted Italian Beans & Greens, or a ragout, or garlicky greens, or pretty much anything you want.  I like polenta right away, all creamy and soft, and I love it left over, too.  I transfer leftovers to a pan and refrigerate, then cut into squares and pan-sear in a bit of ghee, butter, or coconut oil.

To make this recipe, I soak the corn in lime-water, which helps to make the niacin in the corn available.  (This is how corn was traditionally consumed – and, as it turns out, it’s a lot healthier that way.)  You might be able to find pickling lime at a Mexican food store; if not, it’s available on Amazon.

To make the lime-water, put 1 inch of pickling lime (it’s a white powder) in the bottom of a quart mason jar and fill the jar with filtered water.  Shake the jar and let it sit until the lime settles on the bottom of the jar and the water looks pretty clear (at least an hour).  Then, to use the lime water, don’t shake the jar… just pour clear “lime water” off the top.  Pro-tip:  Label the jar, or, if you’re like me, in a couple months you’ll see it in the pantry and wonder… what the hell…?

Once you have the lime-water ready, soak the corn.

1 cup organic polenta or corn grits (available on Amazon,  but there is a much better price at Thrive.  You might also be able to find organic polenta or grits in the bulk bins at some grocery stores.)
1/4 cup lime-water (see directions above)
3-4 cups filtered water (enough to fill the jar)

Soak the corn for 7-12 hours.

To make the polenta, pour the corn and soaking liquid into a pan (I love using this cast iron dutch oven) and add another 1-2 cups water (or healing bone broth, for extra nutrition and yum).  Bring to a boil and then turn the heat to low.  Stir frequently.  Add:

1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs (I like this mixture)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon Celtic Sea Salt

The polenta will be cooked in 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how soft you like it).  When it reaches the consistency you like, scoop into dishes and top with:

1 tablespoon grass-fed butter or olive oil
grated cheese (optional)
whatever else your heart desires

Here it is, plain but creamy and delicious:

If you have leftovers, transfer them to a pan and refrigerate, then cut into squares and pan-fry in butter, ghee, or coconut oil to crisp up the outside.

Thrive is a grocery delivery service that I’ve used for several years and love.  They have better prices on a lot of the nicer brands, and they ship right to your door.  If you subscribe up using this link, you’ll get 25% off your first order, and I’ll get $25 in free groceries.  Win – win!

Just do one thing

As a health coach, two questions people ask me all the time are, “What should I eat?” and “What diet should I follow?”  This makes sense: everywhere we look, we see new diet fads, new ways to lose weight, new ways to identify ourselves by what we eat.  You can’t host a dinner party anymore without fielding concerns from people about how they’re paleo/keto/vegan/raw/gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free/high-fat/low-fat/all-carb/no-carb/no-fruit/all-fruit/anti-nightshade/subsisting-on-air-and-sunshine-and-occasionally-vodka.

That last one is made-up.  (Probably.)  I know someone who lived happily for a year on just ice cream.  She may or may not have been me.  (She was me.)

And here’s the thing:  the question of what to eat isn’t easy to answer.  Humans are omnivorous, which means we can eat pretty much anything, and different cultures all over the world eat dramatically different diets and do just fine.  Consider that traditional Inuit people eat lots of blubber and almost no carbs, whereas the traditional Japanese diet features lots of white rice (carbs) and very little fat.  And here’s the rub:  people eating either of these traditional diets tend to be healthy!  My grandmother grew up eating bacon and butter and cream and, at 92, was still living at home and tending her own garden.

So what are we supposed to eat?!?

Most research on nutrition suggests that eating a traditional diet – that is, one that your ancestors ate – will keep you healthier.  Most research also suggests that eating a modern diet – that is, one filled with processed convenience foods – will make you sicker.

As a good starting point in figuring out what to eat, I really like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, a book that offers out a number of helpful guidelines to use in deciding what to eat (and what not to eat).  Some of my favorites are:

Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food

Avoid products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients

Avoid products that contain more than 5 ingredients

Avoid products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce

Avoid foods you see advertised on television

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves

Eat animals that have themselves eaten well

Eat well-grown food from healthy soil

Make water your beverage of choice

Eat meals

Don’t become a short order cook

Fill half your plate with vegetables

Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods (fruits, nuts, and vegetables)

Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don’t


While that may seem like a lot of advice to follow all at once, here’s the deal: you don’t need to.  Just pick one thing that you can change – something that seems both manageable and sustainable – and start there.  Then, after that becomes your new norm, pick one more change.  As you start to shift to healthier eating patterns, your body will shift too, and it will become easier to make healthier choices.

Do I recommend drastic dietary shifts to my clients?  No.  Why?  Because every diet has an equal and opposite binge.   You can deprive yourself of the junky foods you love for so long… until eventually you cave, and then you feel bad, and feeling bad makes you eat more junky food, and suddenly you’ve lost all the progress you’d made.  So I encourage my clients to focus not on drastic, fast change, but rather to take the slow and steady approach.

So, my answer to the “what should I eat?” question is this:  The only diet I advocate is one that’s 90 percent healthy, 10 percent vodka ice cream.  (Kidding!  You get to pick your poison.)  This is the 90-10 diet, and it doesn’t require religious adherence, nor does it require you to eat eat just pineapple for weeks on end.  You don’t even have to give up donuts.

Shout-out, by the way, to Mr. Bob’s Donuts.  I love you, donuts.

See?  All things in moderation.  Even donuts!

Since I recommend a moderate approach to dietary change, does this mean that I think people doing keto or paleo or sunshine-and-vodka diets are wrong or stupid?  No.  (Well, maybe my ice cream diet was unwise.)  If you’re an adult and you think that the keto diet might help jump-start healthier living for you, by all means, do it.  But if you think that a 3-day juice fast will solve all your problems and make you lose (and keep off) 15 pounds, you’re delusional.

Real change is change that lasts.

So pick ONE healthy thing.  And do that thing.  Not for a month, but forever.  Pick a thing you will be content to do forever, and start doing it.  Right now.

And if one day you forget to do that one thing, it’s not the end of the world.  You can just start anew, every day, and do that one thing, until it becomes second-nature to you, and you won’t have to think about it.  Then pick one more thing.

The little choices that we make every single day matter.  They add up to how we live our whole life.  So pick that one thing, and let’s get started.

What will be your thing?  Let me know in the comments!

And, as always, if you think you might benefit from a guide to help you transition to a healthier lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to schedule a free health history consultation.  Email me at upstreamhealth.jill @ gmail.com (minus the spaces) to set up an appointment.