Saturday, January 30, 2010

One More Reason To Know Your Rancher

I had a chance to listen to Michael Pollan talk about his new book, Food Rules, thanks to my blogger friend over at Thy Hand Hath Provided. She posted a link to a radio interview at wbur.org. While talking, Michael mentioned a fact that was on the movie Food, Inc. that I had forgotten about until this radio cast. (Was it Food, Inc. or The Future of Food? I can't remember anymore. I've seen so many food documentaries lately, I'm starting to get them mixed up!)

So what's the scoop? Well, meat producers are now taking the worst scraps of left over beef, the parts that use to go in cat food and dog food, and they have learned to treat it with high levels of ammonia in order to kill anything that could possibly be living, mainly e.coli. It's actually called 'Pink Slime' by a USDA staffer, with a texture like that of cottage cheese, yet it smells like window cleaner.

What are they using this for? Your hamburgers. I'm serious! They are using this as filler in 80% of the hamburgers served in fast food chains.

And why are they doing this? To save a few pennies. Now the question remains... is it worth it to you to have cheap food?

Photo of my great-grandfather, Albert, on a trail drive from
South Texas to New Orleans and Alabama in July of 1909.
He's the handsome cowboy on the right!

Get to know your rancher. Seriously.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Switching to Grass Fed Beef

Over the last two years, my family finally began to make a switch from eating conventionally meat products to grass fed beef, free range chicken, and wild caught fish (along with game meats which had been a part of our diet for a while). As part of an eleven year journey, this was one of the few areas we had not yet committed to making a total change. Not because we didn't like these products, but because of the cost. Let's face it. This isn't cheap stuff we're talking about. If it were, we'd all have probably switched ages ago!

Photo: churl

I think the last concern for cost gave way when my husband and I watched the Future of Food and Food, Inc. Any remaining doubt quickly vanished. Although I knew most of the facts presented in the movies prior to viewing them, it's easy to deny something that is just a fleeting thought on occasion. After all, it couldn't really be that bad, could it? Now that I've seen it? Well, that certainly made it more real. And I did learn some new stuff as well.

Yes, the movie producers probably sensationalized some portions of the documentary, but any one point was just about enough to seal the deal for me. The issues that put me over the top? The fact that cows are designed by God to feed on grass. This keeps their stomach's acidity at a natural level while corn raises the acid level and creates issues for the cattle much like heart burn for us. A rumen with the proper pH level is healthy and can better fight intruding bad bacteria, but when fed a grain diet, mostly genetically modified corn, their natural abilities to fight off certain bacteria are destroyed and they develop diseases which they wouldn't have it they were eating grass. (Hmmm... ever hear of a beef recall because of e. coli?) Because they develop things like e. coli meat producers can only continue to supply us with grain fed beef with the use of lots of antibiotics. I wonder when these antibiotics will no longer work? What will happen to our beef supply then? Certainly I don't want to eat beef with e.coli, but would this even have been necessary if they were fed grass instead? Doubtfully.

And then there is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease. Animals fed another animal by-product run the risk of contracting BSE. Those fed grass aren't eating an animal by-product so their risk is zero. I like that statistic.

Interesting Facts:

 Did you know that grass fed beef is higher in beta-carotene (vitamin A)?

• Did you know that grass fed beef is lower in saturated fats?

• Did you know that cattle fed a diet rich in omega-3 grasses have meat that is higher in omega-3 fats?

• Did you know that grass fed beef is 4 times higher in Vitamin E than grain fed beef?

When Buying Grass Fed Beef:

• Organic does not mean grass fed! And grass fed, does not mean organic.

• Organic could mean it was fed grain products, but must be non-genetically modified and organic.

• You can find beef that is both organic AND grass fed is you wish.

• Grass fed beef will not have as much fat throughout that will marble the meat.

• It has a little bit different taste and is very lean!

• Marinating grass fed beef with an acidic item such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, wine, etc. You can add other ingredients as well, but an acidic marinade will help break down the lean muscle tissue.

•Other ways to make it tender include pounding with a meat mallet, piercing it with a fork or other sharp instrument, and using a vacuum sealed container along with your marinade.

It is important to know something about your rancher when buying beef because there are other things to consider, like what part of the cow are they using to make ground beef, are they breeding and raising their own cattle from birth, as well as other practices. Perhaps you can't know everything, but it is a good idea to try to get as much information as you can. All the better if you can visit their operation and see first hand happy cows.

Tips for Switching To Grass Fed Beef:

 Make some calls to your grocer, do some internet research, talk to vendors at the farmers market, or ask friends where they get their grass fed beef. You can visit Eat Wild for a list of ranchers by state that raise pastured animals.

• To keep within your budget, consider limiting beef to one or two nights a week. The rest of the week, rotate between chicken, fish, venison (if you can get it), and vegetarian meals.

• Eat smaller portions. Think of it as another "side dish" if necessary rather than the bulk of the meal.

• Get to know if and when your beef source has sales. Once I was able to get a lot of beef at half price because the vacuum seal on the bags wasn't perfectly air tight. The meat had always remained frozen and I trusted my source. Needless to say, I stocked up!

• If you are just starting your food journey, don't start with the beef. Begin with making a switch to whole grains, eliminating high fructose corn sugar, or even sugar! These less expensive changes will encourage you to go forward with more changes.

• If you are truly ready for a change to grass fed beef, make a family commitment that when eating at home, you'll stick to the plan even when it gets tough!

• Switch just one meat product for a couple of months. Later switch to another, such as chicken, and then even later, to wild caught fish. This will allow your budget to change gradually.

Be sure to comment below with any other tips you can share for other readers! This food journey is best walked with lots of encouragement from friends!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Menu Planning for In-Season Eating

Yes, I'm on a food kick right now. It started when Jayme, over at Tales From the Coop Keeper, inspired me to organize my recipes. I'd been frustrated with this for a while because almost all my recipes were in a file folder and it had expanded to over 5" wide. Downloaded from the computer, torn from magazines, or formated on a computer program, I used these recipes regularly, but they were not very accessible. (As usual, I forgot to take a before picture of my file folder! How convenient.)

Jayme had an ingenious idea to use several notebooks with each holding different types of recipes. You know how I like notebooks! And I did have one that housed recipes. But it wasn't big enough. So, I set about sorting all those recipes so that they would fit into 5 different notebooks (at least for now - I may have to go to 6 or 7 notebooks when it's all said and done).

For covers, I downloaded some favorite photos, most of which are Michelle's lovely photo art from Give A Girl A Fig (thanks, Michelle!). She has an awesome knack for capturing still life through the lens of a camera. Soon she's going to have some of these available in her Etsy shop in the form of notecards. I can't wait!!

Next, I started inserting dividers. Actually, I still need to get some more of these, but I did get a start. Within each notebook are several categories. For Main Dishes I have chicken, turkey, beef, fish, etc. In the Vegetables notebook, I have one for each vegetable that I like to cook with (a few are going to be grouped together, like greens). And so it goes throughout the remaining notebooks.

Also, in the Vegetable book, I added a list of in-season vegetables by month. This handy reference allows me to know ahead of time what might be coming in my box from the farmers. It can also tell you what to look for at the grocery store. Often you'll find the in-season produce is less expensive, looks better, and hopefully is somewhat local. This particular chart is from Southland Farmers Market Association which is in Southern California. If you want to view this list, click here. But it would be best to find a list for your area in order for it to be really helpful.

Last year, I started retyping some of my favorite recipes using Mac's iPages program. I just love things to look... lovely! Each time I cooked a recipe that my family wanted to have over and over again (what my husband calls "a keeper"), I just quickly sat down after dinner and retyped it and added a few pictures using the pre-made template on iPages. I think they came out looking great! They certainly inspire me to cook. Here's a couple of examples:

Of course, I still have some just printed up from websites like Food Network and my favorite, Recipezaar. I just punched a hole and added them as well. You can see I make notes on these to remind me of substitutions or changes, ideas to try, and how the family likes it.

Once the recipe binders were set up, I spruced up my Home Management folder that I use. This is where I keep my menus, billing information, a printed copy of the family calendar (I use Google Calendar because it is free, easy to use, and my husband can view it from work and it send him reminders!), schedules of routines, etc.

Inside, I added a pocket for recipes that I will be using for the week. I won't keep them all in there, but new recipes or recipe cards will go into this pocket. It also will house notes for the week such as invitations I don't want to forget. I may add a plastic sleeve to keep these two items separate. We'll see how it goes.

And finally, my new menu planning page. This is what I really want to talk about today and what I'm most excited about!

When you eat produce from the grocery store, you pretty much can eat whatever suits your fancy for the week. But, if you are eating local, in-season foods like I discussed yesterday, then it's a whole different ball game. You can't just open up a cook book and say, "Hmmm... that looks good. We'll have Asparagus on Tuesday." Nope. You eat what you get. (My daughter likes to say, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit"). Actually, it's a treat! But it does require learning to plan in a different way.

On my computer, I quickly came up with a page to help me get my brain together to make an actual plan for the week. Since I live out in the country, I can't be running back and forth to the store for one or two ingredients if spinach ends up in my produce box and I want to make a certain soup with it. And if my garden is producing eggplant this week (I wish!), then I need to eat eggplant maybe two or three times in different ways this week. I've tried flying by the seat of my pants, but dinner is usually late since I'm trying to decide what to make and I'm frustrated if I don't have a couple of ingredients I need.

Update: For a free download of this Menu Planning Guide... 
(Click here and it is located at the bottom of that page)

As you can see from above, the form has a column for what is available for the week (AHO Produce Box - I can change this to "Garden" in the summer). Next, are some boxes with the days of the week followed by a space to write a grocery list. I added Breakfasts and Lunches because I usually need a reminder to eat certain things at those meals. My mind is usually a lot more focused on the evening meal, but we do eat three meals a day. Also, when I'm planning items for the grocery store, I inevitably think of an errand I can run at the same time.

When I start to plan, I begin by writing down all the produce I have on hand or will have. Then I start looking at recipes. This is why I added dividers to my Vegetable recipe binder so that I could quickly see all my recipes that use eggplant or whatever item I'm planning to use. Next I add the recipe to the column, glance through the recipe and see what I'm lacking, and write it on the grocery portion. Now, I might get those items at my local Organic Farm, but none-the-less, I write them here. I don't have a tear off page to take into the store, but since I'm eating locally as much as possible, there isn't a huge list. I can easily transfer this or remember it (NOT!). Actually, I jot it on a paper to stick in my purse or I email my husband at work to pick it up.

I don't want to bore you with a bunch of details, but I think you get the idea. But what I do want to drive home is how easy this has made the process of actually planning with in-season foods. I need a plan, I can't function without a plan,... I love a plan! Can I hear an amen?

Making big changes in a family's food journey can be so disrupting that we give up. No need for it to be so! Eating in-season won't allow you to plan a month at a time, but you can plan ahead enough to keep your kitchen running smoothly.

I hope this helps more of us stick to a commitment to eat locally produced in-season foods. Ciao!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eating In-Season

Well, I've already added to my book list for 2010 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover at the recommendation of several blog readers. And I must say, I love it! Barbara is a clever and witty writer who has landed on a topic near and dear to my heart - eating local, in-season produce. The catch: her family vowed to eat nothing else for a year!

Okay, I'm not doing that - yet. But, I am trying to eat more and more locally raised foods and stick to those things that are fresh and currently in-season. And for four good reasons:

• What better way to "be prepared" than to learn to eat what is naturally in-season?

I'm sure you're thinking I've lost my marbles. How could eating in-season possibly make one prepared? When I say this, I'm thinking of the home gardener that has learned to raise produce and animal products, for the most part, year round. It's a life skill. We need to learn it because it could prove to be a survival skill someday. Sure a crop can fail, but typically all the crops don't fail at once. And I'm not saying that we should eat exclusively in-season and local. Just a lot more than we are. We aren't in survival mode right now (at least my family is not), but if we should ever find ourselves in such a situation, gardening and eating in-season is the only long term solution that I can reasonably see most everyone doing. (For more information on year round gardening, see Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman in my Amazon store.)

• Food fresh from the ground is at it's peak, both nutritionally and aesthetically, not to mention the flavor!

You know what I'm talking about. That tomato from the grocery store doesn't even begin to taste like a home grown tomato. Once produce is picked, it starts to loose it's nutritional value. How can we possible compare the vitamins in a green bean that is eaten two hours after coming off our own vine with green beans picked and shipped for 5 - 10 days. Even in optimal storage conditions, it begins to break down. Yes, I home can some foods, but this is always second best with the exception of things like tomatoes which increase in lycopene. I'm no expert in the field of food science, but tell me... does this make sense? After driving through Oregon, I saw tons of commercial hothouses growing tomatoes, many hydroponically. They're not even using dirt, for cryin' out loud! That just ain't right. Which brings me to the third point...

• Logically, it would seem that God planned it that way for a reason.

God made us out of dirt and created us to eat food that comes from the dirt - either directly (like a carrot) or indirectly (like a cow that eats grass). That's where this all starts. In the dirt. Thirteen mineral nutrients which are necessary for plant life. I know many of us take supplements that increase our calcium intake or whatever else we are lacking, but just like I mentioned before, I feel this is always second best to eating foods that are rich in these nutrients. Scientist are always discovering something new in the natural world around us. Years ago, vitamins were the rage. Then phytochemicals were discovered and they became the new thing that was "essential". What's out there that we still don't know about? I have no clue. But you can be sure of this... if it's something we need, God put it in the food because He knew we needed it and I believe He created them to work together. Scientist are constantly learning that for certain vitamins to be properly absorbed by the body, they must work in harmony with other nutrients, minerals, or vitamins. And let's face the fact that there is no fountain of youth, but there is life sustaining food that will nourish us for the time that God wants us here. Sadly, we're squandering His gift to us because of convenience and our insatiable demand to have what we want, when we want it.

• Eating food raised close to home allows you to eat it when it is fresher, keeps local businesses and farmers in jobs, and means less cost in transportation fees as well as gasoline usage.

For a couple of years now, my family has been getting a produce box from some "semi-local" farmers in the San Joaquin Valley (Abundant Harvest Organics) as well as a very local organic source, Tangleweed Farm. Our milk comes from two sources, Organic Pastures, which is in the San Joaquin Valley, and a friend who raises goats. Our area has a lot of fruit orchards which provide apples, raspberries, ollalaberries, cherries, and such. We eat venison my dad hunts, or chicken and beef from a farm and a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley and we raise our own eggs. Now, this isn't completely local since the Valley is about 40 miles away and it stretches quite a way up the state. But it's closer to home than we were eating. And I have met several of these farmers personally and have visited with them to know their philosophy and desire to help others eat good, healthy food. If I wanted, I could meet more of them because they have names that I read every week and they are accessible. They're not part of a mega-corporation.

Please don't think I'm in sunny California feeling pretty smug and proud of myself. I am glad about the changes we've made and I'm extremely thankful to be blessed with options that allow our family to eat this way. But each region has it's own strengths and weaknesses. For example, there aren't a lot of grains grown in California like there are in the mid-west. I have to buy my grain through a co-op that ships it around first. And what about the maple syrup in the north east? Or Salmon in the northwest. Each area must be researched and investigated.

Once a friend asked me how long I had been on my food journey. Food journey? I hadn't really thought about it that way. But the more I contemplated the question, I realized she was right. I was on a food journey! A journey that would take time to create lasting changes that would become permanent and natural for our family. It has taken 11 years to reach the point where we are today. It didn't happen over night. And we certainly haven't arrived! The next step: growing almost all of our own food most of the year, raising meat chickens, and getting our own goats and bees. I can't wait!

Tell me about you're food journey and if you've considered eating in-season year round. I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chicken Boycott

Okay, I just got back from the grocery store a little while ago. I don't go in very often anymore, but I was craving a spinach salad and I had everything but eggs. Can you believe it? I have 10 hens and no eggs! Yes, I know that chickens molt, but all ten at once? This is why I keep several different breeds; so that they hopefully would molt at different times. And no, they aren't even showing signs of molting; some already molted before Christmas. For whatever reason, the "girls" are not wintering over as well as they have in the past. Perhaps they are getting a bit spoiled in the Hen Hilton and think it should be located in the Bahamas or something.

Anyway, back to my story... I go into the store to get just three items - one of which is a dozen eggs. First, I had to search for some that were organic. This is California for cry'in out loud! Where were the organic eggs? Finally found one kind that was organic hidden way in the back and I go to put them in my cart. Daughter #1 grabs my arm and says, "Mom! Do you know how much those are?" Yeah, around $4 I'm thinking...

No longer.

Can you believe they were $5! I decided I did't really want egg on my salad after all and left without them. (It's two hours later and I'm still hyperventilating! Does anyone in the USA pay $5 for eggs at the store - other than at Whole Foods, I mean?)

Now, I don't mean to complain. And I really appreciate that farmer who is bucking the system and going organic. He isn't getting rich, I'm sure. But, hello there! I'm going broke!

California is raising 12.8% of the nations total agriculture products and ships another 10 billion dollars worth of ag products to 156 other countries. But can we afford our own stuff? Apparently not.

If I had any question in my mind that my hens were worth the feed I purchase, I am now totally convinced. A bag of organic lay pellets is running me around $24, which I thought was high, but if I get 5 dozen eggs from one bag of feed, I'm at least breaking even with what the grocery store is charging. But... nobody's laying. Girls? Girls!!

No comment.

Well, all I have to say is somebody better start earning their keep!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Food Journey

• Would you like to change how your family eats, but you're new to the whole idea of moving from a standard conventional American diet to one that is healthier for you and your family?

• Are you looking for direction to navigate your way through a journey to a healthier lifestyle?

• Are you interested in learning new ways to shop, grow, and prepare foods?

• Do you want to live closer to the land and eat real, living foods?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be ready to begin a personal Food Journey...

FOOD JOURNEY Definition:  a personal commitment to seek out living foods that not only nourish the body, but brings about greater health and vitality; to move away from dead, processed foods toward meals that are prepared from simple ingredients known to be life sustaining; an individual plan that meets the needs of one's family to slowly bring about a permanent lifestyle change in regards to food consumption.

I've written several posts that will get you on your way. And since a Food Journey is best taken one step at a time, I've listed the posts in order below that would be easiest to follow.  Be sure to check back to this page from time to time as I will continue to update it. 

Please feel free to email me or leave a comment on my blog! I'd love to hear from you and the path your journey is taking you. It's always more encouraging to walk this kind of path with friends!

Blessings on your new adventure!

Disclaimer: Please note that although I am passionate about nutrition and healthy living, I am not a medical practitioner, registered dietitian or certified nutritionist of any kind. My personal journey has led me to read and research many things I write about, but I am not licensed to counsel anyone regarding medical matters and therefore should not be held responsible for any decision or action that readers might take involving their health. If you have any health issues at all, it is advisable that you seek the counsel of a medical physician or other licensed practitioner that you trust before making a lifestyle change. My writings are strictly to encourage each individual to do his or her own research and take responsibility for their health.

Photo Credit: Danilo Rizzuti


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