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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Little House in the Suburbs

Most girls of my generation probably grew up with some Laura Ingalls Wilder in their lives. Whether it was watching Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert on the television or reading the entire Little House series multiple times, I loved the stories of the Ingalls’ family and how Laura ended up with her Almanzo. I even wanted to name my daughter Laura (I had actually picked out names for all seven of the children I intended to have, but that’s another story).
Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the series, and is touched with more than a little nostalgia for Laura’s early years in Wisconsin. There they had food and shelter and no issues of debt or famine. She describes in great detail all the good things they ate, and how Pa would smoke meat in his hollowed-out tree while Ma cooked up headcheese. Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about headcheese. But it is a post about something else that Ma cooked up from the annual pig butchering: lard.
Another hallmark of my generation is probably the fact that we have grown up with a million diets and the official food pyramid, and lard was always spoken of with a pejorative tone. The saturated fat! The cholesterol! The heart disease you will die from! Of course, now doing research into traditional foods and the real food movement, I find that actually saturated fat isn’t all that bad, and lard is better than hydrogenated vegetable shortening with its trans fats and high level of inflammatory omega-6s. So I put lard on my list of things to try as I experiment with new and different foods and preparation techniques in my kitchen.
But lo and behold, if you look at the store, there will be one lone can of lard on the shelf. You have no idea the conditions of the pig that produced this lard, and pastured pork is much healthier than those grown in conventional feedlots. Furthermore, that lard has been partially hydrogenated to make it last longer. Which means it is just as bad as any other trans fat out there! Apparently the only option is to buy it from a traditional food website or make my own. And since I just found a good source of grass-fed meat that sells leaf lard from pastured animals, I figured it was time.
Last night I chopped up a couple of pounds of smooth, slightly pink pork fat. I took my tips from The Nourished Kitchen (an excellent source for tips and recipes) and cooked it on the stove. It was so simple-cut up fat, place in large pot with a little water, simmer over medium-low heat 3 hours, strain fat and cool. A few hours later I had clear liquid fat with small crunchy bits of cracklins, ready to be strained.  This morning I looked in my fridge and found a jar of creamy lard just begging to be used in my quiche crust.
 
I think the Ingalls would be proud of me.

This post is part of Two for Tuesday, Tuesday Twister, and Fight Back Friday

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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Carnivorous

When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of beef and bacon around. Not that we didn’t like it, or were vegetarian on principle, but between budget constraints and the lowfat diet movement that had its grip on popular wisdom at the time, we hardly ever bought it. Extra lean ground beef and the occasional boneless skinless chicken breast were the extent of our meat choices. If I ever had a steak, it was at a restaurant, and was a big deal.

This pattern has continued into my own cooking and meal planning. I chuckle at frugal menu planning tips like “try eating a meatless dinner once a week”. I have to work to incorporate meat into my planning! And I do want to incorporate more healthy, grass-fed beef and pork into our cooking. I certainly enjoy it, and I know my husband loves it. But the price can be quite prohibitive.

So over the past couple of months I have been researching different sources for our meat. I know that getting pastured or grass-fed animals are going to provide the best nutrition for us, but they are also fairly pricey. Not having a large freezer we can’t order up a whole cow for a good bulk deal. But there are some good options out there, and you can balance budget and quality. They fall into categories of Good, Better, and Best:
Good: Reasonable price, but substandard quality

Central Market: I’ll start here. Most grocery stores fall into the “Bad” category-forget grass-fed, you’re lucky if they have organic or meat not full of hormones and antibiotics. But Central Market is a local chain that has a much healthier selection. I frequently buy whole free-range, air-chilled chickens here at a very reasonable price. But while the majority of their meat is hormone free, it is grain finished, and you don’t have as much exposure to the source of your steak. I figure most major cities have grocery stores of this caliber; if you are stuck in an Albertson’s only land, I’m sorry.

S&L Quality Meats: a local butcher shop that proudly advertises natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat. Prices are comparable to Central Market. They tell you where the meat comes from, but unfortunately that is a couple of states away in Montana, and the meat is grain-finished. The person we talked to there seemed to think that was perfectly fine and that grass-fed proponents were a little snobbish. Well, sorry, but I am going to be a snob when it comes to the health of my family. Still, if I needed something in a pinch, it would be an okay option.
Better: Great quality, high prices
US Wellness Meats: Known on the web for having high quality and high prices. When I first looked at this site I wondered how anyone could possibly eat grass-fed meat on a regular basis unless they had a)no kids or b)a very high salary. We don’t have kids yet but our salaries, while a blessing, won’t support those prices along with our other financial goals.

Bill the Butcher: There are multiple Bill’s locations around Seattle and all are fun small butcher shops with sassy employees and large hunks of tasty meat. They haven’t found a good supplier for sausages (Jer actually pointed out to the guy working the knife that the brand they sell has msg) but their bacon is to die for. I mean, seriously good bacon. I make little egg and bacon breakfast muffins for quck bites in the morning and they are so tasty. Prices here are better than premium retailers, but still more expensive than S&L, because their beef is actually grass-fed. They also have Wagyu beef, in case you felt like dropping a LOT of cash on a big steak.

Sea Breeze Farms: A farm on Vashon Island, these guys do it all. If I was going to farm, this is how I would do it. You’ll find them at farmer’s markets, selling meat, charcuterie, raw milk and cheese, and even wine that they make on their farm. I saw them at the U District market and bought a couple of sausages that they had made themselves, with no chemical additives. The sausages were delicious, and Jer was thrilled. These guys even have a limited seating weekend restaurant with a menu made from their foodstuffs. Great sustainability and diversity on a small farm. Wendell Berry would be proud.
Best: Good quality and good price

Thundering Hooves: Here is my new solution-a CSA for god meat. Grass-fed meat at prices comparable to the good options. Quality like US Wellness, with the local dedication of Bill’s. Unfortunately, they don’t have nitrate-free bacon or sausages (this seems to be a recurring problem, even among grass-fed proponents) but they do carry a wide selection of extras like liver, lard, and marrow bones. You have to order a couple of weeks in advance and go pick it up from a drop off center, but since I plan my meals 1-2 weeks in advance, that’s not too strenuous. Also, when you go pick up the meat they will have extras on sale for 30% off, and you can score some real deals. I just found out that my produce CSA is going to start offering THundering Hooves meat in the weekly delivery box, at a higher price, which is a good option if pickup day is far off and we need something. But if we were going to pay extra, we would likely just go to the farmer’s market or Bill’s and get a fresh cut of something fabulous.

So there you are-the options for someone not in possession of a large freezer. But now that I have done all this research and found a good solution, we have decided to buy that freezer after all. We found someone who will go in with us on the purchase of a cow from a local farm, and my parents are going to take some as well, so come July we will likely be in possession of a quarter side of beef. And the price? With the beef and the cut and wrap fees, it works out to be $2.42 a pound. Yes, that’s right. Less than $3 a pound for grass-fed, locally grown and butchered red meat. I think the freezer is the right investment.

Now I just have to find more good recipes for beef!

This post is part of Two for Tuesday

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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The Color of Our Thumbs

Jer, despite being a video game playing techie, has a fair bit of gardener in him. On a little shelf by our front door there is a small tin of dried rose petals. You might think these came from some bouquet he gave me, or perhaps our wedding, but actually they were there long before I came around. The petals came from roses that Jer grew himself at a house he lived in several years ago. He loves roses and would enjoy having the time and space to grow more again.

I, on the other hand, am not a gardener. Between my allergies and my general bookishness, getting outside and digging around in the dirt never held much interest for me as a child. Just being outside when a neighbor is mowing their lawn is enough to send my head into an allergy fit. My grandma was a master gardener and when my parents lived with her they helped put in twenty raised garden beds in her large backyard. Every summer there would be lettuce and beans, zucchini and tomatoes, fresh out of the garden. I enjoyed the glut of zucchini, but never spent much time helping in the family pasttime.

Now I am more concerned with health, organics, price of food, and sustainability. Despite my desire to live as a black-thumbed urbanite, I have to admit that growing your own food is the best thing to do, both economically and ecologically. So, here I am, my newlywed self, with a patio full of pots holding myriad vegetables and herbs.

My weekend thrill was the first flowers blooming on my tomato plants. I don’t even like tomatoes that much (I love to cook with them, but raw tomatoes don’t float my boat) but I posted on facebook and jumped up and down a little at that first smiling yellow bud. I cried a little inside when my thyme died, and I am praying that my basil flourishes. Every day I go out and look at my zucchini and broccoli, my lettuces and squash. I talk to them like pets: “Hi little guys! How’s the weather?”

To be fair, Jer has done most of the work planting, watering, and tending our mini garden. I figure this is necessary for them to grow, since my skills are quite limited. But I figure that I can use my kitchen skills to make the best use of the goodies that Jer’s garden produces. Depending on how long we stay here in this house, we might do some work on the backyard that will enable us to plant more vegetables next year, instead of being limited to our containers. So many possibilities. But wherever we end up living, I am pretty sure that I will continue to grow good things for use in my kitchen. Who knows, maybe my kids will enjoy it.

So here I am, my posh urban banker self, getting a little glee out of a garden. I think, I hope, that somewhere up in heaven it’s making my grandma smile.

This post is part of the Food and Faith: Local Farms challenge on The Local Cook.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2010 in Things Edible, Things Verdant

 

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Pastured Eggs. You Can Really See the Difference.

I’ve always considered eggs to be a healthy food, never buying in to the whole anti-cholesterol argument against them. The more I learned about hormones and antibiotics in industrial animal processing, the more consistently I bought organic eggs. But then in the last few months I’ve been reading all sorts of articles and blogposts about the benefits of pastured eggs versus standard eggs or even organic “cage-free” eggs.

Unfortunately, the only pastured eggs I had seen around were at the farmer’s markets, and they were $5-$6 a dozen. We eat a lot of eggs (1-2 dozen a week) and when we can get local hormone-free eggs for $2 a dozen (sometimes cheaper if we get some that are almost past their sell date), spending $10 a week on eggs didn’t seem quite feasible. Then my brilliant husband got on craigslist and we started looking around to see if there were any small farms or local families with chickens running around that wanted to share some eggs. Well, we found a couple in Snohomish that was offering pastured eggs for only $2.50 a dozen. Excited at the possibility, I drove out to their place tonight.

The drive from Mill Creek to Snohomish is gorgeous. It takes me past a couple of produce stands and a farmer’s market, winding through the valley with the beautiful mountains in the distance. It takes about twenty minutes going the back way through the farms, but the drive is actually a great stress reliever-I found myself smiling as I passed llamas and signs enticing me to check out the antique stores. I used to detest family drives in the country when I was young (they bored me to tears), but now that I am older and have lived the city life for awhile, I enjoy the occasional trip out to the farmlands.

I arrived at my destination and met Brian and Jill, who brought out two dozen gorgeous brown eggs for me. The eggs were extra large and looked good enough to crack open right then and there. I chatted with them a little about their flock, and experienced for myself the truth that their chickens are truly free range: while we were talking one of their chickens came up and said hello, and then proceeded to scratch and peck at the grass and bugs around us. But the real test came when I got home.

I had heard about the color difference of pastured eggs, of the deep orange color that reveals the higher nutrient content in the yolk. But even so I was surprised when I cracked the eggs. Rich pumpkin-hued centers, larger than standard eggs, smiled up at me from the frying pan. I took it simple for my first try: just a couple of eggs in a pan with butter and some salt and pepper. The flavor was wonderful, and two eggs was incredibly filling, even to my super hungry stomach.

Now I understand. Now I know. I have seen and tasted, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. The Snohomish chickens can provide me with 2 dozen eggs a week for $5, so it works for my budget as well as my focus on highly nutritious, super flavorful, quality food for myself and my husband.

But don’t take my word for it. Get on craigslist or Eat Wild and go find yourself some good eggs. You’ll see the difference.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2010 in Things Edible, Things Educational

 

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Planning is Fun. No, Really.

I tend to be a list-maker and a planner. Previous to being married, menu planning involved sitting at work during a break with a piece of scratch paper, thinking up how many meals I could get from how few items (when you are planning a wedding, you have to be frugal!) and then blazing through the grocery store as quickly as possble to avoid getting ideas while I was there. I was frequently to busy to cook everything I wanted to cook, and ended up out with people most nights of the week, so breakfast foods were my main purchase.

After getting married, I reveled in planning elaborate meals and splurging on large weekly shopping trips. After a couple of months of that, I realized I needed to dial back the food budget. Now that I am working on transitioning to more real food, I find that menu planning is the only way to make both the time and money work. Things need to be soaked, recipes planned around a couple of ingredients stretched into multiple recipes, and enough leftovers created for lunches.

I typically plan the Mon-Fri dinners based on what we get in our produce box, what’s on sale at the store or farmer’s market, and what recipes I have been dying to try. Lunches are leftovers or quick cafeteria salads. Breakfasts are usually some type of premade egg creation or bran muffin-something quick to get us going, followed by a midmorning snack of fruit or vegetable. Weekends are reserved for leftovers and special occasions, and the infrequent cheat meal, like the pizza my husband is at this moment buying. No, it’s not really very good for us. Yes, I am going to revel in it anyway. Splurges are still okay with us.

So, here’s what I have on the list this week:

Monday: Copper River Salmon picked up from Loki Fish at the U District Farmer’s Market this weekend. I’ve got split peas soaking for roti, and also fixins for a big salad.

Tuesday: Mushroom and barley stew, made without the potatoes and corn. Beans are already soaking, and this will be in the crockpot. Since I won’t have much dinner prep, I’ll start a pot of marinara with the tomatoes scheduled to come in the produce box this week.

Wednesday: I got some fabulous sausages from Sea Breeze Farms, also at the market, and will be pan frying those with the marinara that will have been simmering since the night before. We might make a little pasta, or perhaps saute some julienned zucchini or squash.

Thursday: Veggie Stir-Fry, probably in my homemade teriyaki sauce. Ingredients depend on what strikes my fancy at the market (you have to leave some room for adventure). I’m also considering skipping over to the local asian market for some miso and making soup to go with.

Friday: No-pasta lasagna. I’ll have all that marinara, and I have found tons of good ideas online for layering grilled veggies and cheese and sauce. Who needs the noodles?

On Saturday I am picking up our first order from a meat CSA. I can order grass-fed meat from local farms at very reasonable prices that actually compete with the grain-finished stuff I usually buy. I’ll never go back to the antibiotic-ridden, hormone-laced meats from the supermarket, but I was buying meat that wasn’t pastured just to cut down the cost a little. So I am very very excited to see how this meat works out. And putting in the order now means that I already have a few ideas for next week, including chili (with liver meat, don’t tell!) and a nice marinated steak. I also might have found a good local source for pastured eggs at only $2.50/dozen, which is half the price you see at the farmers markets.

So that’s the plan. I’ve got stock simmering from the chicken I roasted last night and beans soaking and I’m feeding my sourdough starter up this week so I can make bread next weekend to take to family friends who just had a baby. I think I will also be making them a quiche. Oh, the fun of planning.

Now off to eat my pizza.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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Low Carb? Not so bad, actually

With the desire to reduce carbs this month I have found myself searching for new and different recipes. While I have never relied exclusively on carbs, a lot of my standby recipes, as well as things that I find interesting, involve pasta or rice or something of that nature. Fortunately there is a huge blogosphere out there with tons of ideas. However, many low-carb sites and recipes are based on a South Beach approach, which unfortunately involves a lot of skim milk and artificial sweeteners. I wanted recipes using real food and traditional methods of preparation.

In my searching I stumbled across Mark’s Daily Apple, the blog of Mark Sisson, who is an author and champion of the “Primal” diet. Primal eaters believe that humans should still eat a mainly hunter-gatherer type of diet, consisting of meat, fish, vegetables, some fruits, nuts, seeds, and perhaps dairy (a further subset, Paleo eaters, also eschew dairy since it involves animal husbandry). They avoid grains and most legumes, as these are foods of the agricultural revolution, and there is scientific evidence to show that eating these foods, especially if not properly prepared, can actually harm you by blocking nutrient absorption and causing inflammation.

Mark and other Primal folks also have interesting ideas about not wearing shoes (my husband with his plantar fasciitis would balk at that) and theories on how to exercise. It’s fascinating stuff, but I am not wholly convinced that jumping in to the paleo diet will be the most sustainable lifestyle for us. Balance is a good thing, and by earning how to moderate our intake of grains and make sure they are soaked or fermented first, I think we will protect ourselves and be able to enjoy all the many wonders of God’s creation.

But, I was able to find some good recipes ideas from Mark and a follower of his, The Son of Grok. He has a recipe for enchiladas that didn’t use any tortillas or chips. I tried it out last night and it was the tastiest thing ever. And the best part: almost everything I used was fresh, organic, and/or local. I think the most processed thing we had was the cheese and sour cream, which comes from Tillamook in Oregon, and they don’t use any hormones (although it would be better if it was raw cheese from pastured cows).

Low Carb Enchiladas
adapted from Son of Grok

Crust:
1 zucchini, shredded
1 egg

Beat egg and mix with zucchini. Line bottom of 8×8 baking dish with batter and bake 10 min @ 350. Remove from heat and add fillings:

Fillings:

1 lb ground beef, preferably grass-fed
1 small onion, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 pasilla pepper or bell pepper, seeds removed, diced
1-2 cups chopped tomatoes (yeah, I removed the seeds from those too. It was a bad day for seeds)
1 c shredded cheese

Brown ground beef in a saute pan, then add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add diced peppers and cook until they start to soften and are fragrant, another 4-5 minutes. If you would like to drain off excess grease, you can. Pour mixture into pan on top of zucchini crust. Then layer tomatoes and cheese over the top. Bake 35-40 minutes until top is bubbly and golden.

Serve on a bed of lettuce, topped with avocado, sour cream, and salsa.

Maybe it was due to our mutual hunger, but Jer and I found this to be an extremely satisfying meal. When eaten with a big salad and additional veggies like sweet bell peppers or avocados on the side, it is just a wonderful combination of meat, veggies, and cultured dairy that makes our tummies and our immune systems very happy. And an 8×8 pan was enough for both us to eat a full dinner and have leftovers for lunch today (which were again, the tastiest thing ever).

Verdict: I could get used to this low carb thing.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2010 in Things Edible

 

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