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Mom is ultimate 'local' cook

A Coral Gables mom gives new meaning to home economics -- especially when it comes to cooking. 

Call her a frugalista or a hunter-gatherer (she blogs as the New Hunter Gatherer), Justine Raphael buys local food and uses every scrap.

"I source the food others throw away -- the bones, the organ meats, the veggie trimmings. Whole meals can come from scraps," she said.

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Read Justine Raphael's blog here

Follow Raphael on Twitter.

Read Holly Hickman's blog here.

Raphael, 47, who has been both a midwife and a pastry chef, has imparted her housekeeping skills to her blended family of nine. Five children are grown, living (and cooking) on their own. That leaves Samantha, 7, Ian, 12, Abby, 14, Elizabeth (Eli), 17, and Raphael's husband, Rick Weinert, to help her make everything from scratch, from soup stock to soda pop.

There's more to be saved than money in looking one's soon-to-be braised chicken in the eye, says Holly Hickman, a like-minded Miami blogger.

‘‘The peanut butter scare, the spinach scare, these things happen because of monoculture and a gigantic centralized food system," Hickman said.

A former ‘‘junk-food vegetarian," Raphael says she never connected her chronic sinus infections, fatigue and gastric woes to diet. That changed five years ago when daughter Eli, a longtime migraine sufferer, became severely ill with ulcerative colitis. After intensive research, Raphael overhauled the family's eating habits, adopting a wholistic, wheat-free diet on which she says they're thriving.

Now pursuing an online master's degree in nutrition and health education from California's Hawthorn University, she feeds her family "real food, food that remembers where it came from. We eat a traditional diet, no refined sugar, nothing has a label on it. We eat no manufactured food -- none."

This is the stomach- and soul-nourishing lifestyle she espouses as leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation's Miami chapter. Formed in 1999, the nonprofit advocates a return to the kind of food your great-grandparents grew, cooked and ate.

"I try to get the bulk of our animal food -- meat, eggs, dairy, fats -- from Florida farms," says Raphael. "We know most of the farmers, have a direct connection to our food, and trust that these foods are raised respecting the animals and the environment. These foods are as close to those our forbears would have eaten as we can get."

Not surprisingly, there's no microwave in her kitchen. Instead, there's cast iron cookware from thrift shops and garage sales, and a batch of homemade yogurt fermenting on the counter.

Healthy living and the pleasure of family meals are Raphael's priorities. "We live modestly. We don't spend money on many things considered normal -- cable TV, new clothes every season, a house, eating out. But we spend a lot of money on food and we eat phenomenal meals -- simply prepared, full of flavor and authenticity."

One recent night, the family gathered for a massive pot of chicken soup served with kimchi (chile-sparked pickled cabbage), cheese and a serendipitous creation that might have begun as loaf but morphed into fabulous coconut-flour flat bread. To drink, there was homemade kombucha, a tangy, tea-based beverage.

Seven year-old Samantha made a sandwich with the flatbread and cheese. After some negotiation, she surrendered the carrots in her soup to her brother Ian. Raphael's husband, who's in the flower business, jazzed up his soup with kimchi.

Raphael welcomes the customization, but won't cater to individual food preferences.

‘‘If they can't stand it, they can make something else. They know how how to cook."

Indeed, her kids make their own breakfast and lunch. In the morning, Ian makes himself an omelet while Abby forages for leftovers or fries up some bacon. Samantha is into yogurt, apples with homemade almond butter or her signature mush (pronounced moosh), an earnest amalgamation of banana and nut butter. "You can add other things," she says. "I add cocoa."

"I'm trying to teach adults what I've tried to teach my children." Raphael says, sighing. "Adults are harder."

THE GAPS DIET

Justine Raphael bases her family's eating plan on the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet created by a British pediatrician and the similar Specific Carbohydate Diet developed by a Canadian biochemist. Both ban processed foods, all starches, some dairy products and an assortment of other foods, including soy. Both claim to relieve everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to autism.

Raphael reports "some amazing changes'' in her family's health. Seventeen-year-old Eli, whose colitis was so severe she required blood transfusions, "has grown and gained weight. She looked anorexic before." As for Mom, "I don't get colds anymore; the digestive symptoms are gone . . . My immune system is obviously happy. My husband noticed the same thing.''

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