Tag Archives: food

ReBooting The Recipe Machine

Next week I’m on hiatus, so there’ll be no posts. I’ll return the following week.

In the meantime, I am working on collecting recipes I want to give a try when we get home. I realized that I’d fallen off trying new recipes for a variety of reasons, and thsi has led to some pretty blah meal plans over here. I’ve been busy, neither of us is ever home to start cooking before 7-8PM during the week, and at least 3 nights a week I can’t even consider eating dinner until 8:30-9PM because I teach high-intensity classes in the evening and my stomach just isn’t okay with food for at least an hour afterwards.

But, reading all my friend’s awesome food ideas (and especially SwirlSipSnark’s wine & food pairings) reminded me that I do love to cook, that we do love to eat, and that I’m stuck in a food rut that I need to pull myself out of before I have to call a a tow truck.

You’ll see some new recipes here, hopefully, in the next few weeks after I return, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy making them!

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“Winning” the “War on Raw Milk”

We need to focus here, people. I don’t actually care what your personal beliefs are in terms of the health benefits of raw milk, or the health risks of pasteurized. I don’t care what religion you are, or if you think you’re child’s teeth will be better, or if you believe it cures various diseases. You know why? Because in the fight to legalize this food product, those things simply don’t matter. They’re diversions, they’re sensationalist, and they’re hurting our chances of winning.

What!? That’s outrageous!

No, it’s not. It’s a fact. Regulators don’t give a damn about nutritional value. If they did Mountain Dew(TM) and PopRocks(TM) wouldn’t be legal.  Consumables are not regulated because they are more or less nutritionally valuable than something else. Or, if they’re nutritionally valuable at all. They are regulated on safety for consumption.

When people start talking about anything as “miraculous,” whether it is or not, people stop listening. Me included, actually. Sensationalism makes people supporting the cause look uneducated, uninformed, superstitious, and generally a bit crazy, even if they’re not. This is not a recipe for winning over your Congressman, folks.  And, even if there are studies backing your beliefs, we’re back to the first point: no one cares.

Great, So What’s Left?

Reality. Stop debating on points that don’t matter, and start debating points that do.

1. Scientific facts. The government’s own data shows raw milk is quite safe by any standard used. Foods are not banned unless they are demonstrated to have a certain degree of risk, which raw milk demonstrably does not have.

2. Regulation and disease testing is already possible and economically viable, and done quiet effectively in countries like Europe.

3. The very real dangers that were present when raw milk was first banned no longer exist or are easily managed by testing and regulation, therefore the ban no longer needs to exist.

4.  Other foods, shown to have far greater health risks to the public are legal and widely available.

Leave it at at that.

We do not, and should not, argue about health benefits or nutrition. Adding noise to this argument takes away from the easily understandable, provable, reasonable points. It makes it easy to dismiss us as a “radical” faction of foodies who just don’t understand what we’re talking about. It diffuses the point, which is that there’s no reason it should be illegal instead of simply well-regulated.

Stop wasting energy on things that are beside the point. Focus. Remove your personal feelings, and stick to the facts. We can’t fight Corporate Ag with money, so we need to fight them with reason and clarity.


Gardening! It’s the Thought That Counts.

We are very lucky to have awesome landlords who let us till up (actually, helped us till up) about a third of our backyard for a garden. It happened late last year because they hadn’t realized we wanted a garden, and we hadn’t realized they’d be okay with us doing something so dramatic. This meant we didn’t have time to do our own starters, or even plan much, though it all turned out well in the end. Who can argue with fresh heirloom tomatoes right out of the backyard, right?

This year, we obviously know it’s coming and can be a bit more ambitious. This weekend, we put together our seed order from seedsavers.org, and I’ve started figuring out how much we can reasonably grow and put by. Our garden space isn’t big enough to feed us entirely, but it can go a long way towards supplementing our food budget and our health. This year, we also have access to a greenhouse with warming mats to start our seedlings! And, speaking of seedlings, it’s just about time to get some of them started. By the time our seeds arrive, it’ll be perfect.

So what are we growing, and why? I’m not going to go into the planting schedule yet, as I’m still working on the rotation schedules so we can garden in all seasons; but, here’s what we plan on harvesting in what season (obviously, some of these will start in one season and carry through to another, weather depending):

Spring: Greens (spinach, various lettuces), peas. With luck, blueberries from my potted plants!

Summer: tomatoes (several varieties), beets (these will be interval planted for continuous harvest), carrots, some greens (shade planting), leeks (late), radishes.

Fall: Beets, leeks, turnips, radishes, carrots, sunchokes, Australian Butter and Thelma Saunders squashes, kale, second planting of peas, fall crop of lettuces, tomatoes.

Overwinter in the ground or harvest late/cold storage: leeks, kale, carrots, spinach, squash, beets, turnips, green tomatoes, winter radishes, and sunchokes.

We’re doing all heirlooms, and as much organic as we can get our grubby little hands on. This is a far more ambitious undertaking than last year, but I think the payoff will be worth it. We elected to do high-yield varieties of squash and peas, and the sunchokes are also high-yield as a general rule. Our goal was to do a lot of fresh diversity in small quantities we can eat at harvest, and larger quantities of limited “staples” so we have enough to actually be usable for a good part of the winter. Some things, like squash, only get better with storage (to a point, obviously), and so we are really looking forward to these. Some things, like sunchokes, store just fine in the ground (and, in fact, are made better by freezing); so, we can have the produce without taking up all of our rather limited cold storage.

We’re also going to move some of our “cold storage” around next year. Squash prefer slightly warmer, drier temperatures than, say apples; so, we’re going to store them in another area. Our once concern is that our cold storage won’t be cold enough, which has actually been a problem this year. While I appreciate the warmer winter both from a personal stand point (I don’t like the cold much, hence I moved south) and a financial angle (our heating bills have been about half what they were the last few years), it is taking a toll on the apples. We’re going to have to sauce them out soon.

I spent a lot of this weekend going over two of my favorite books: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, and Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. There is a bit of modification that goes on for us, since both books (especially the latter book) is written with the general assumption of a colder climate than Virginia generally has. The hardest part of cellaring here isn’t, as in the north, the worry of freezing–it’s the worry of spoilage due to warmth.  But, both books are very useful for anyone who is interested in putting up food. The Root Cellaring book in particular is a great resource for cold storage methods (did you know hard squashes need to be cured before they get put into cold storage?), duration food can be expected to last, what you should and should not store together and why, and all kinds of other neat stuff.

I’ll be doing a layout and schedule soon, and I’ll post them here. I’d love to see your gardens, your planning methods, and your storage hopes and dreams, too!


Eating Well, Sourcing Foods, and What Can We Do?

Thadd and I had The Talk again. We have versions of this talk quite often, really: What can we do to eat and live a more healthful life?

It’s not as easy to answer as it sounds. Some days–most days, in fact–it feels like we here in the US have very limited control over many of the things that impact our health.  From the water we drink, to the food we eat, to the air we breathe. Every day in my research for clients, I find more things that pose serious health risks to myself and those I love, and often those things are very, very difficult to get away from: the pipes that are used to bring water into our home, for example.

Everyone has their limitations. We rent, and will have to do so for the forseeable future due to the need to move for Thadd’s schooling. We live, therefore, on a budget that also must support his school. We live in an area that isn’t terribly progressive; and, while there is abundant farmland, the products of it are often difficult to acquire or limited in scope. Most farmers here do not plant year-round, even though the climate is suitable, and we have only a small space for our own garden.

There are other challenges, but we do our best to work around or mitigate them. We do have a small garden (which I desperately need to get out and harvest again–our beets are getting overgrown), we order our meat in bulk, we preserve as much food as we can reasonably store. We continue to look for ways to do more.

On the up side, we have some advantages: space for food storage and a deep freezer, a small backyard and awesome landlords that let us have a garden, a rural community that does grow at least some of it’s own food, local farmers who take pride in what they do, a growing community awareness of local food, and a significant other that is also passionate about local and healthy foods.

I would love to hear the challenges and advantages others have, whether they’re personal, geographical, financial, or another -al I haven’t thought of here.


Wine Me Up and See Me Go!

No post today, because I’m hoping you’ll wander over to one of my favorite blogs, SwirlSipSnark, and read the guest post I did about Lovingston Winery’s Pinotage vertical tasting! While you’re there, check out the rest of their blog, too! If you’re in VA, and if you’re into wine or local (or both), it’s a must-read!


On the Menu: A Seasonal Busy

Does life ever get less busy? No, not really. The type of busy just changes. This past week, we got the summer garden all cleaned up, this weekend we got the early and mid-season tomatoes pulled out, and this coming week I’ll be planting some more seeds for greens. There’ll be a garden update post soon, including a new garden critter. In theory, there’ll be pictures, but in reality that’s going to depend on if I can find my camera cable (yes, I lost it again. No, I have no idea how I keep doing this).

Charlotte has, seemingly, moved on. She took her web down and moved out the night after we pulled the tomatoes up, and I suspect there just wasn’t enough cover for her. This makes me sad, but I am hoping she’ll return next year to take up guarding my tomatoes from aphids and grasshoppers.

Between all this outside prep, my cat having major surgery which went less-than-ideally, and all of life’s other nuttiness, life’s stayed busy. I realize this is what life is like for us almost always, it’s just a different season and so we’re busy with different things. And, as our business changes with the season, so does our menu. You’ll see more baked foods, more winter root vegetables, and lots of soups. In a few weeks, kale, beets, turnips, and other winter fare will make it’s way into the rotation as the winter garden comes ready.

Dinners

Sunday: Cannelini au Gratin, with Roasted Olive and Grapes. This got pushed off from Saturday (we made homemade pizza and watched Star Trek: TNG instead. Hey, we’ll do whatever we want with our weekly date nights, even if it is completely dorky!).  The grapes and olives are roasted with fresh rosemary from the garden and balsamic vinegar, and pair beautifully with the main course.

Monday: Vegetarian Lasagna. To save on energy and time, this was baked along with Sunday’s dinner. This is my special recipe, and the veggies this time will include spinach, red onions, and peppers.

Tuesday: Split pea and Ham soup. Thadd forgot to make this last week, so it’s getting made this week.

Weds: Tofu Stirfry. Twin Oaks tofu with eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, and green beans over brown basmati rice.

Thursday: Tacos. I’m not sure why, we just really wanted these this week. We’ll mix our grass-fed beef with black beans to stretch it, and use our fresh salsa from the last of the tomatoes and hot peppers from the garden.

Friday: Leftovers. We’ll need to clean out the refrigerator!

Saturday: Rustic cabbage soup and homemade bread. This version of cabbage soup has white beans, potatoes, and lots of cabbage in homemade stock. We’ll be using up the turkey stock on this. We love this soup, it’s incredibly warming and hardy.


A Dinner from My Nephew: Wild Rainbow Trout

My youngest nephew is quite a fisherman. He lives several states away from me, though, so I rarely get the chance to eat his catches, something I lament regularly. I try to fish with him whenever I get back home, and if I had him around, I’d fish a whole lot more here in VA. I’ve watched him grow up with a fishing pole in his hand, a proud smile on his face with every catch. He’s gone from randomly tossing a line in the water at age 5ish to an accomplished, seasoned fisherman at the ripe old age of 17 (how did that happen–man, I am getting old fast!).

Last time I was home, he sent me home with a cooler of frozen, vacuum packed rainbow trout, venison, and wild pork (yep, he and his brother also hunt!).

When we pulled the first package a couple weeks ago, they were beautiful:

We wanted to grill them, so I stuffed them with onions and herbs, and put them on skewers, then rubbed the outside with olive oil, salt, and pepper:

And onto the grill with fresh sweet corn and homemade ciabatta bread:

We put them right over the hottest coals for about 7 minutes a side. Don’t forget to brush the grill with oil first, or they’ll stick and that’s just a mess you don’t want to have to deal with. They came off the grill perfectly, with crispy skin and fully-cooked, roasted meat:

To top off this all-local meal, we sliced tomatoes and basil from the garden, then topped with some local feta cheese:

At the end of the meal, all that was left were the bones:

I can’t wait to make more of this fish. It was beautiful–nutty, smokey, no fishy flavor at all. It was even better because it was wild-caught, responsibly, by someone with a passion for what they do. Thanks, Josh, for the fish and the memories that go with it.

And now, I need to find a place to fish that doesn’t require a boat, because I really miss this kind of fresh fish. My current fishing holes aren’t so productive.