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Welcome to The Dirty Sifter! Sounds kind of fun-don't you think? Here you'll find a mixture of things that keep my mind busy, my kitchen dirty, and my life full. Along the way, I hope to share food that will energize you, tidbits about my life that will make you laugh, and my journey with food.
Here's is a little about me: My name is Annaliese, I am a Wisconsin native, hailing from Brooklyn. I love to run, cook, bake, eat, read cook books, watch old movies and marvel at all things vintage-especially kitchen gear and gadgets. Growing up where I lived, the population was small, about 800. The roads did not have yellow or white lines on them. There weren't rules to be broken. There were no buildings-except houses, farms and sheds scattered along the rolling fields. There were no trends to keep up with, and there wasn't a shopping mall in sight! Our idea of fun was running around the yard and the fields-winter, spring, summer and fall. My grandma, mom, aunt, and occasionally greenhouse helpers of my mom would look after "the kids"-me, my sister and my cousins. We all grew up together on my aunt and uncle's dairy farm and my mom's greenhouse. Seriously, I think it was the best way for a kid to grow up: always making messes outside, playing in the dirt, walking bare-footed through fields, throwing mud and rotten tomatoes from my grandma's garden at things we shouldn't. My grandma fueled the family on a daily basis with Wisconsin home cooking. You know-the food that is now trendy in many Madison restaurants (but lacking the flavor, love and staying-power of food prepared by a real Wiscsonsin grandmother). A daily ritual for us was noon-time "dinner": a time for the "men" to fuel-up for their afternoon and evening milking, and kids to eat to fuel their growing bodies. Local and family-grown produce, home canned goods, farm-raised meats, free-range chickens and eggs, and fresh dairy were the staples of our diet. We rarely ate food that wasn't produced at or close to home. Our family was always busy-there was always something to do, and preparing food to fuel our busy lives was no exception. There were daily and seasonal favorites and traditions-many of which still hold true today. I hope to share some of these with you in my own unique interpertation: plant-based, sometimes vegan and always vegetarian.
My love for food was fostered my whole childhood, so it was no surprise that during my middle school years, I decided that I wanted to work with food. When my parents divorced, my dad's new house had cable. This was a big deal for a kid who grew up with only 3 channels, and very limited TV watching! I remember staying up at night, watching the Food Network, and dreaming of how wonderful it would be to make food all day long-espeically baked goods and pastires. My dreams of going to school for pastry arts and baking turned into a passion for food science. Many food preparation classes, several certifications with the state and private companies, three internships, two years in the food industry, and one undergraduate degree in Food Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison later, I found myself again in school, learning more about food. In January 2016, I graduated with may Masters in Food sceince. I specifically researched dairy proteins in caramel. Yes, caramel! It was certainly a challenge to work on dairy proteins while eliminating dairy from my diet but this experience fostered an even higher amount of respect for those hard-working and passionate small midwestern farmers. Dairy is a complex food, both in the farm and in the lab. So let me be clear: even though I do not consume dairy on a regular basis, I do NOT reject dairy produced by passionate and responsible dairy farmers. Not all farming operations are evil in how they treat their animals, and not all farming operations are conducting irreponsible practices that destroy our environment. I think that is a very important point to spread accross the plant-based and vegan food community.
My journey with vegan food started three years ago. The two years leading up to the transition to graduate school from a high-stress food industry job was mentally and physically exhausting. My two-years working for a well-known food company had completely drained me: I was over-worked, over-critical of myself from being crticized by my boss and constantly compared to others. I was commuting 45 minutes one-way to work, and not nourishing my body. I was constantly in a rush, running late, and something was always going wrong. After a draining day, I would leave work, and go straight to the gym for at least an hour, or hit the road for a long run in efforts to de-stress. Even after all that intense exercise, I would look in the mirror at the end of the day and think "I am not good enough". I rarely saw my family and friends, even after I had moved from another state to be closer to them! It was stressful, de-moralizing and detrimental to my health. I was constantly dehydrated, and skin was almost always broken-out. My hair was thin, I had dark cirlces under my eyes all the time, I wasn't sleeping well, and I suffered from chronic constipation. I was seriously in a bad place, was not loving myself, and was constantly anxious. And what's more: I felt guilty and was angry about working for a company that was supposed to nourish the minds and bodies of consumers, but was bascially draining the life out of me! I still find this disturbing and troubling. I most certainly did not work my tail off for several years in college to be another drone in the messed-up corporate food system of America.
Still, after returning to school to start my graduate studies in August 2013, those feelings of un-rest, guilt and anxiety lingered. I struggled for a few months, wondering if I'd ever feel "normal" again. This rut transcended my work ethic, my exercise, my relationships with others and my food. And let me tell you, the cold and dark winters of Wisconsin did not help the situation! Cold, pessimistic and confused about life, my sister unknowingly stepped in. Isn't that what big sisters are for?
In January 2014, my sister introduced me to a food blog that changed my life. It was all about vegan food-and how to find your "glow" again. At first, I thought "...but how will I live without cheese? Milk? Ice cream? Yogurt?" and "...but how the hell can you make baked goods without butter and eggs?". I did some soul-searching: did those foods really make me feel good? Did they truly energize me, or am I eating them out of tradition and habit? I wrestled with that fact that a plant-based diet meant giving up (or at least limiting at first) many of these foods that I grew up with, and foods that my family takes pride in producing, and foods that play a part in making Wisconsin what it is-the Dairy State! During this thought process, it never really occured to me that vegan food could help me manage my stress, my well-being and my attitude toward life. After experimenting for a few months, I found myself feeling "good" again: I was sleeping better, I was less anxious, my energy levels were coming back, my chronic constipation was improving, and my skin was also improving. And even better-eating a lot of food was a good thing to do! I felt proud of the food I purchased, prepared and put into my body. This most certainly produced a sense of security and happiness that eminated to other areas of my life. Compassion, patience, and ability to be in-tune with my body developed, and is still developing. Prioritizing my health and well-being went hand-in-hand with nourishing plant-based food. The phrase "you are what you eat" really sunk in! I also started to persue behavioral-based therapy in 2014 to better my mental and physical well-being, and to help undo some of the habits and behaviors I developed while being under immense pressure and stress in 2011-2013.
I have no doubt in my mind that plant-based foods help me get back to "myself" again. I realize that this journey is an on-going one, a work-in-progress each day. It will never be perfect, and it will be difficult at times (giant fruit and cheese platter at the holidays, anyone?) But, I am continually inspired and energized by reading the blogs and the journeys of others on a plant-based diet, and I truly hope that my stories and recipes do that same for others who are on their own journeys, regardless of diet or lifestyle! And speaking of, I think it important to realize that the food mantra of one person may not be the right fit for another.
Not going to lie, I caught myself in a trap comparing myself to others who identified with the plant-based, vegan food labels for a perod in 2015, and looking back, this really stressed me out! After re-evaluating and determining what as best for my health and body, I decided in late 2015 to re-incorporate organic, locally produced (and when possible, free range, cause you know...chickens cannot be free-range in the snow...) eggs into my diet and cooking. There are several reasons for this, however, I won't bore you with those here! Bottom line: do what works for your life and your body, but try as hard as you can with the resources to have to be responsible about your food choices. For me, this means a plant-driven, produce-focused diet, hence the term "plant-based". I would say 95% of the foods I consume are plant-derived, wtih the other 5% coming from fermentated foods (hey bacteria! Yeast!) and responsibly produced eggs.
But really, we're all in this together, and it is never too late to love yourself, your local food community and the earth. I encourage everyone to think critically about where their food comes from, how it truly makes you feel, and what resources are used to produce that food. I sincerely thank you for taking time to stop by my little corner of the online world!