Sometimes, after you've been on the crazy train for awhile, you look around and think to yourself, "Where am I???" I have been on a crazy train ride these past few years and I am looking around my kitchen this morning thinking, "Wow. How did I end up in my grandmother's kitchen?"
The foods I've cooked today have included the usual squash, broccoli, cauliflower, soup, stock, etc.. BUT... today also included a lemon soak for the liver and now I am throwing it into my nearly famous (at least with my friends) pot roast. As I put the liver in the pot I started thinking that I have *got* to tell people about this amazing, nutrient dense food and how it has helped my family's health, particularly ZiZi's language skills.
Liver is the kind of food that makes people cringe. It is the kind of food that only a "mature" parent would bother cooking. Even really knowledgeable Mamas shy away from it. I used to be that Mama. Even after I had read about and embraced the concept of liver, I had not yet embraced the preparation and serving of liver. But these days I am totally crazy for a healthy, 100% grass-pastured beef liver and have turned into a bit of a fanatic.
I first added liver into our diet a couple of months ago. I know, I know... 15 months on SCD/GAPS and I didn't get around to adding in liver until month 13? Do as I say, not as I do (this is a quote from my dad). Liver had long been on my "hit list" of things I should have been doing all along but I have a weekly routine that keeps me sane and I had not figured how to flex the routine to incorporate the liver.
So in early September, I debated (against myself, one of my favorite ways to debate) various ways of getting the kids to eat it. Eventually I just stopped the analysis paralysis and dove in wholeheartedly. I am a 150% kind of Mama.
I went straight to the classic dish, liver and onions. I pulled out a liver that had been in my freezer awaiting the long end of the internal debate. I think it had been there for at least two or three months. I soaked the liver in lemon juice, rolled it in coconut oil, sauteed a heap of onions in coconut oil, and then "flash sauteed" the liver so it wasn't overcooked. To distract the children from the potential awfulness on their plate (this was my first time eating liver too so perhaps I was really distracting myself) we had a special dinner in the family room while watching the Redskins. The Reskins won. Hubby was happy. The kids ate their liver. Mama was happy.
The verdict that day was that it was "okay" from Ani and "pretty good" from ZiZi. Zi had seconds and asked for "that special turkey," AKA liver, the next morning for breakfast. Hm. Perhaps better than "pretty good?" Then Zi went off to school as she usually does and when she came home we took a picnic lunch to the playground.
That afternoon at the playground ZiZi was talking. A lot. She also separated from me completely and ran around like a totally normal kid. I noticed. A fab Tribal Mama commented on how ZiZi was noticeably independent that day. I think her words were, "I've never seen ZiZi play so hard and not come sit on your lap for at least awhile." I reported the news about the liver debut the prior night and we all grinned. For one of the Mamas it was an all-knowing grin (she is GREAT at giving liver to her family). For the other Mama it was a grin of joy watching ZiZi run around. For me it was the grin of a happy and proud Mama.
The following week I added liver to the bottom of the pot when I made pot roast. Another hit! The girls *loved* it this time and ate all of the liver and none of the roast. Which is saying something, because the roast was amazing. Suddenly our once in awhile pot roast was so important it was promoted to "something so good it goes into the weekly rotation." Pot roast now has its own day every week on our food calendar. Only four dinners are so amazing they qualify for this honor, two of them are liver related. I am still accepting applications for the remaining three evenings.
Wouldn't you know it? The day after the "liver roast" I observed the same outcome for ZiZi. Her mood was good and her speech/communication skills were up. I noticed the uptick lasted for about 3-4 days which is about what it had lasted the time prior as well. So I decided to get it into her diet 2x/week so we would be all language explosion, all the time. She is currently working to learn her alphabet sounds and shapes. She works quite hard on each letter so anything I can do to help her in the language department is a worthy pursuit!
Mommypotamus (one of my favorite bloggers) gave me the inspiration for my next liver recipe, a pseudo beef/liver chili. The whole family loved it, especially me since it was perfect for nights that Ani had soccer. So it went into the rotation as well (on soccer Thursday). My experiment is a bit different from the Mommypotamus recipe so I'll post it at the bottom of this note.
So now that we have been eating a lot of liver every week (roughly 1-2 lbs / week for our family of four) I have noticed a few things over time. ZiZi has stopped mixing up pronouns (she / her / he / him) and has had a decrease in "word search" time, where she racks her brain looking for the correct word for some "thingy". She has also recently started asking what various words mean. ZiZi's specialist has told us that the communication disorder will be one of the later autism spectrum symptoms to disappear but that it should happen over the next 2-3 years. With the addition of liver perhaps we may see it disappear a little faster than 2-3 years.
I don't have a neat and tidy study to tell you "why" the liver is doing this for ZiZi. I suspect it is related to the nutrient density, particularly Vitamins A, B12, and folic acid. But who knows? Wish I could point to something for this one so if you find a great study somewhere let me know! All I know is that it is working for her.
For myself I have noticed that I consistently receive a bit of an energy boost the following day or two after eating liver. It is always welcome and helps me keep up with the two cuties. So try it, you might like it (or at least the side effects). Just ease in gently. Grind it up and put it in burgers or try it in a chili. But give it a shot. Especially if you have a neurologically / nutritionally sensitive child you may see big changes!
Mama's Lazy "Chili"
1/2 to 1 lb of grass-fed beef liver, thinly sliced
2 to 3 lbs of grass-fed ground beef
Extra virgin olive oil
Bottle of spaghetti sauce
Crushed red pepper, optional
Chili powder, optional
Step One: Soak the liver
Before cooking with liver you want to soak it in fresh lemon juice for at least 4 hours. According to various sources (Nourishing Traditions cookbook, for one) this will help draw impurities out of the liver and improve the texture. We do this whenever we use liver for any recipe. I am not the best planner so sometimes my 4 hours is a little short and other times it turns into 24 hours. The liver is very forgiving. I soak it in the lemon in a glass dish in the fridge, with a lid on top.
Step Two: Saute onions and liver
Pour some olive oil into a pot (I use my dutch oven) and saute the diced onions over low heat until they are transparent but not caramelized. After they have cooked for awhile you can add the garlic. Then add the liver and let it cook for awhile, stirring occasionally. Once it is starting to cook a bit, begin mashing the liver with your spoon. I usually mash mine into a pulverized pulp or at least into bite sized pieces, depending on what I have time / patience to do. If you have a meat grinder you could grind it prior to adding it into the pot. This would save the mashing step but then you have one more thing to clean up. Your call.
Step Three: Brown the ground beef
After the liver is as mashed as you want it to be add the ground beef, crumbling it between your fingers as you do. Brown the beef in the pot.
Step Four: Dump, stir, cover, wait
Pour in the spaghetti sauce and spices, if desired. I sometimes use a sauce with olives, sometimes garlic, whatever I have or want to try out. We have never been disappointed and the best one we ever had was a Mama's homemade sauce that was acquired on a sauerkraut trade. Stir the mixture well, put the cover on the pot, and simmer for up to an hour.
My girls do not like spicy things so our "chili" ends up being more of a really meaty spaghetti sauce. But it still tastes great. I also throw in veggies sometimes (chopped broccoli or cauliflower, slices of asparagus, whatever). Served over spaghetti squash is also great. Play with this one, it is very forgiving!