Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Allergy warning: This post contains peanuts or peanut products!

I confess, I have been a lazy blogger. Sometimes I just don't have anything to say so I would rather provide quality rather than quantity to your reading experience...

When you choose to go against the grain with your family's diet, it sometimes feels like a job. All labels must be read, you can't grocery shop at just one store if you want to get the best deals and a lot of the food you bring home gets rejected by your love ones whom you are trying to nourish. As if that isn't enough, instead of earning a paycheck, you actually have to pay more! I expected my kids to avoid any illness this year because of their healthier diet, but as I am writing this, I am home with a boy who has been sick for the last five days and had to receive intravenous antibiotics as part of his treatment. If not for this blog, I am sure I would have given up about a month ago and resume the easy way again.

Since I have not given up, I will share with you what I think is the tastiest peanut butter I have ever had. I always assumed that peanut butter was ground-up peanuts and maybe a little salt. After reading the label on my jar of Skippy, I discovered that in addition to those ingredients it also contains partially-hydrogenated oils. This discovery led me to look for a more natural peanut butter. In fact, I made it myself; well sort of. In the bulk food section of Whole Foods, there are about four machines that freshly grind nut butters. Just for fun, my kids made some regular peanut butter that ended up costing a little over $3 for a 16 ounce container. It is delicious on a PB&J, and even better spread between two milk chocolate stars!

The more I have been using the pastured butter from U.S. Wellness Meats, the less I think I need it. It is very salty and seems to be similar in flavor to organic butter. It also is sold in 1 pound blocks which makes measuring more difficult. I gave it shot but when it runs out it won't be gracing my fridge anymore.

Our chickens have been thriving but I must confess they aren't terribly bright. The compost pile is up against a wall and they have been using it to climb up to the top of the wall. I discovered them walking on the wall behind my garden and grew very concerned that they would jump down and eat everything in it again. I shooed them off and didn't see them up there for a couple of days. Since they are chickens, I had hoped that they forgot how to do it and it wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately they did it again today. I came into their area of the yard and found one chicken in the backyard (Maddy who is in the pic) and the other five in the front yard looking into the backyard through the gate. Then when I opened the gate to let them back in, they just stood there like poultry statues. It is a miracle that one of the neighborhood cats did not discover them and I am tremendously thankful. It made me realize the importance of boundaries. In the Bible, God tells us things we shouldn't do. He doesn't forbid these things because He is out to spoil our fun and give us a boring life, the boundaries protect us from doing things that will hurt us or hurt others. Like the chickens, we ignore the boundaries that are there to protect us. Sometimes we are okay, like the chickens were this morning, but other times the consequences are much more severe. I guess chickens and people have more in common than I thought.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Would you like some pesticide with that produce?

I have just returned from a weekend ladies' retreat with my church where I might have broken every dietary rule. Somehow, when you load up the car with six friends and set out on a road trip, you feel entitled to eat whatever you want. For the fleeting pleasure the junk food gave me, I brought home 3 extra pounds and a disgruntled digestive tract. Maybe I would have done better if I hadn't stopped at Tom's Farms on the way there and the trip home!

We have constructed what I lovingly refer to as the "monster chicken fence." This 8 foot barrier has protected my young garden from my young chickens. They tried to find a way in at first but seem to have resumed their previous jobs of picking through the compost pile and leaving "presents" on my pool deck. It will all be worth it when they laying eggs in a few months.

My cookbook for grass fed beef has arrived and I have successfully prepared two of the recipes. One of the secrets to a tender steak is marinading it in unfiltered organic extra-virgin olive oil. Apparently, when olive oil is unfiltered it contains enzymes that tenderize the meat. I was amazed that I could even find such an obscure ingredient but they actually had three different kinds at Whole Foods. It has a great aroma and seems slightly thicker than regular olive oil.

I also received my first order from U.S. Wellness Meats which included free-range chicken breasts, pastured butter, ground beef and a couple of skirt steaks. The pastured butter is supposed to taste better and is the recommended fat to cook the grass fed beef in. The taste reminded me of butter that I used to have when I was a kid. I was almost out of the ground beef from my last order with Grassroots Meats so I purchased 5 pounds from them to supplement because I am not ready to place a full order yet. The author of the cookbook claims that grass fed beef's flavor changes with where the cows are from. For example, cattle raised in Colorado will taste different than cattle raised in Missouri. Since the animals exclusively eat the plants that are available where they are pastured, their varied diet creates different flavors in the beef. I haven't cooked it yet but I am curious to see if it is true.

I believe it goes without saying that the healthier food cost more and yet here I am saying it again! Since I started this, it has gotten easier to pay more and buy less but if you are not interested in a radical food makeover and need some baby steps to change your family's eating habits, check out this slide show which exhibits the foods that contain the most pesticides and chemicals and the ones that are safe to eat when they are conventionally grown. There are many naysayers that will tell you that it is impossible for organic produce to be completely organic and that it is a scam. Since our soils have been saturated with chemicals from conventional farming it may be true but at least these farmers have changed their methods to make fruits and vegetables more nutritious and less artificial. Organic produce has not been genetically modified, takes longer to grow (which allows it to draw more nutrients from the soil), and does not have chemical fertilizers or pesticide residues. If you are wondering if these compounds are safe for you, read the warning labels on these products at your local nursery. These are diluted compared to the industrial-grade versions. Up until about 60 years ago, food was grown with healthier methods but corporate farming has corrupted the system and our food supply has been compromised in exchange for higher crop yields and more profits. Whenever you are able, send a message by purchasing "real food."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

If they weren't so cute...

The other day I was admiring the progress of my garden. My seeds had turned into plants that were beginning to show a lot of promise. One variety of lettuce was actually large enough to start cutting leaves off. After examining its progress, I thought I would snap a few pictures for my blog but there wasn't enough time before I had to pick my kids up at school. I arrived home about an hour later to discover that my garden had vanished! There were a couple of trampled and pecked seedlings left but basically it looked like I hadn't planted anything at all. The chicks ate the whole thing! It was quite the gamut of emotions running through my mind: shock, anger, bewilderment, denial and finally sadness. I knew chickens and gardens didn't mix, but I mistakenly believed that I had more time before they discovered mine. The good news is that there is still time to plant again and they also ate all of the little weeds that were starting to sprout. My husband built a fence around it for me and I am ready for my second attempt. Thanks Jodie for sharing your broccoli rabe seeds with me.

This week I picked up an all-natural turkey breast at Sunflower Market and prepared it in the crock pot using my grandma's recipe. It was by far the best turkey I have had in my entire life. I am not sure if it was the quality of the meat or the preparation method but it was moist, juicy and full of turkey flavor. If you pick up your own, try this recipe out:

1 Turkey Bone-In Breast or half-breast
1 Stick of butter
1 Onion cut in wedges
About a cup of Baby Carrots
Salt, Pepper and Thyme to taste

Place onion and carrots at the bottom of the crockpot. Put pats of butter underneath the skin of the turkey and sprinkle salt, pepper and thyme under the skin also. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Slice and enjoy! It is even tastier if you pour the juices on top of the meat and vegetables before you dig in.

I have finally finished Real Food by Nina Planck and have become obsessed with saturated fats. According to her research, animal fats such as butter and lard are not bad for us, it is the manufactured vegetable oils that we need to stay clear of. It's crazy and goes against what we have been taught our whole lives but if you read the book it makes sense. It is how humans have been eating since creation. Currently I am on a mission to track down leaf lard which is supposed to be the finest for frying and baking. She even cites research that saturated fat speeds up metabolism! If my family starts looking pudgy and sick, you will know that this information was incorrect. Until then, pass me some more whole milk please...

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