Friday, July 31, 2009

Update on premies, food, and film

The baby goats are improving quickly. At 24 hours of age, the bigger one started taking her first steps, and the little one finally stood. Now that she can stand, she looks even bonier and tinier. The bigger one is trying to stand on her hind legs and look over the top of the laundry basket, but every time she tries, she falls down. Still, we'll have to find another place for them to stay, since it doesn't look like it will be long before she can jump out of the basket.

As you might have imagined, we haven't been following my menu very closely for the past couple days, because things have gotten kind of crazy. I really want to tell you how we've handled it, but I don't have time right now. I did remember to take a turkey out of the freezer, so we can have roast turkey breast for dinner Sunday.

We're getting ready for our screening of "Fresh" tonight at 7:00. We've cleaned out the smaller barn and will be watching it in there. Last night, we went to see "Food, Inc," and I am really excited to tell you about it, but that will have to wait too.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Contest: Guess the littlest doe's weight

As I said in my earlier post, this doeling is the smallest kid ever to be born on Antiquity Oaks, and I thought it would be fun to have a little contest. You get to guess her weight in pounds, ounces and tenths of an ounce. For example, 2 pounds, 8.9 ounces would be a decent weight for a Nigerian dwarf kid, but this little girl is quite a bit less than that. So, tell me what you think she weighs! The winner gets three bars of my goat milk soap, shipped to you at no charge. Also, be sure to include what you think her sister weighs. (Sister's pictures are in the post below.) In the case of a tie, the sister's weight will be used as the tie breaker. So, before midnight central time Sunday, post your guess in the comment section, and I'll let you know the winner on Monday. Good luck!

P.S. If you're reading this through Facebook, be sure to put your guess in the comment section of the blog, not Facebook.

Premature kids and a clueless mama

It's been an exciting morning here at Antiquity Oaks. Jonathan came inside around 9:30 and said that Scarlet was in labor. I was happy for a split second until I realized she wasn't due until August 10. Although she was pen bred, I saw her get bred and marked the calendar for August 10 as her due date. And it's not like the buck sneaked up on her and just got lucky once. She was definitely in heat and was bred multiple times. Of course, there is the occasional goat that has false heats, and goats that have weird cycles, but the only thing I could think about this morning was how we have never had a kid survive that was born any earlier than about 140 days. These kids would be around 136 days.

Jonathan grabbed three towels to take out to Katherine, who was with Scarlet, and I quickly followed. Katherine looked unhappy. She sighed and said, "She pushes, the nose comes out, and then as soon as she stops pushing, the nose goes back in. She's not making any progress, and she's been doing this for 10 minutes."

"Great," I said sarcastically. I stood outside the stall and watched. A minute later, she had a contraction. As Katherine said, Scarlet pushed a little, the nose came out, and as soon as she stopped pushing, the nose disappeared again. The thing that really struck me was that she made no noise and didn't seem as if she was trying very hard. I don't like to intervene in animal's births, and I especially don't like to intervene when they seem so happy. But I couldn't deny that she was making zero progress. I watched a couple more contractions and thought about what to do.

You can't pull a kid out by its nose -- too slippery. I'd heard of people pulling by the lower jaw but didn't want to risk dislocating the kid's jaw if other options were available. I figured I should be able to find the front feet, grab them and pull the kid out, so I went to get the gloves, iodine, lube, kid puller, and other kidding supplies that are so rarely used around here. I hoped that when I returned, Katherine would be drying off a kid.

When I returned with the kidding box, Katherine was sitting on one end of the stall, and Scarlet was walking around as if she were having a lovely day at the park. I would never know that she was in labor if I only looked at her from the front. But there was no denying that she was past the point of no return. The kid had to be born. Scarlet's water had broken, and a nose kept presenting itself.

A textbook presentation for a kid is the nose lying on top of the two front hooves. The hooves come out first, then a nose, then a head, and voila, a kid! I knew the feet were not where they should be, but I didn't think they were very far back. Wrong! Finding the feet was impossible, because the nose was slipping back inside Scarlet about two inches, which meant its shoulders were several inches inside, and the feet and legs were even farther away -- and my fingers are not that long.

By this time, Mike had arrived and I said that I might need to use the extra-long gloves because I was going to have to have my entire hand inside her to be able to find the front legs. I decided to try to find the front legs one more time with my fingers during her next contraction. Well, she finally decided to push like a real mama goat. (Maybe she understood what I said?) She gave one good push, and the kid practically plopped onto the towel!

I started cleaning off its nose, amazed that it was alive. It was so tiny. I didn't even notice that Scarlet was still pushing and a second kid was emerging. Katherine alerted me to this obvious event that was occurring only inches from my hands. I caught the second kid (pictured) and was trying to clean the noses off both kids. I grabbed a clean towel and put it in front of Scarlet's face and quickly placed both kids in front of her, assuming she would help me clean them up.

Nothing. Scarlet did nothing. She looked at me. She looked at the kids as if they were a pair of sneakers. No sniffing. No licking. No little noises welcoming the kids. Nothing. After a minute, she stood up and walked to the other side of the stall.

"What?" I shrieked, wide-eyed, in disbelief. Scarlet laid down. We finished toweling off the kids and trying to resist calling Scarlet a bad name. We sat in the straw chatting and admiring the kids for 15 minutes, and Scarlet never moved from her spot on the other side of the stall. It was obvious she wanted nothing to do with her kids.

I'm assuming her lack of maternal instincts are because the kids were early, and she doesn't have the requisite hormones helping her to bond with them. Her udder is also ridiculously tiny and looks like a goat who might give birth in a week or two. Katherine couldn't even get enough colostrum to cover the bottom of the milk bucket. (See photo.) The second time she tried, she got about a teaspoon, so maybe it's a good thing Scarlet isn't in love with her babies.

What's the rest of the story? Well, I think the kid's small size is what caused Scarlet to not push very hard. It's the smallest kid we've ever had born here. If her big sister had been first in line, it might have actually been easier for Scarlet. As for her giving birth so early, I'm wondering if her place at the bottom of the pecking order is to blame. We've all felt sorry for Scarlet as it seems she is the whipping boy of the herd. Katherine has been feeding her separately for a while because she realized the other goats wouldn't let her have her grain. And when Katherine first saw the nose sticking out of Scarlet's back end, there was another goat slamming into her belly.

We brought the kids into the house, and they are staying in a laundry basket for now. They can hardly stand, so there's no danger in them getting out of there. Kids are normally bouncing around after 20 minutes or an hour at the latest, so these little girls are facing some challenges. We had some colostrum in the freezer, which we're using. They are eating well, and the bigger one has stood up several times, but has yet to take her first steps. The bigger one also has figured out the bottle and eagerly grabs it when she sees it, so she's doing very well considering she could have benefited from another week inside her mama.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mexican casserole with black beans

If you're going to make this from scratch, now is the time to get started, since the beans will cook faster if they can soak overnight. If you've reading this on Thursday morning though, don't panic. Black beans are small enough that they can cook after a two-hour hot soak.

So, sort and rinse two pounds of beans, then soak them overnight in room-temp water, or for two hours Thursday morning or early afternoon in hot water. Cook until done, which will probably be a couple hours. Drain liquid from pot and add the following:

a large jar of salsa (16 to 20 ounces)
1/4 cup chili powder (more if you like it spicy)
2 T. cumin
1 T. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder

Oil a 9 X 13 inch baking dish. Crush enough tortilla chips to cover bottom of dish, and pour HALF of bean mixture over it. The other half of the bean mixture can be put in a storage container, covered, and refrigerated for up to five days or frozen for a few months. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes if beans are still hot, OR 30 minutes if the beans came from the refrigerator. Remove from oven and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese. Serve with sour cream and green onions as garnish.

For more posts on food, check out Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pineapple pork roast

This is a great recipe for busy days, because you can put it all together the night before and stick it in the frig to wait. In fact, I like to put it in the frig the night before so it can marinate. About 90 minutes before you want to have dinner, just pop it in the oven at 350 degrees F.

Put the following in a 9X9 baking dish in this order:
pork roast
sprinkle 1/4 cup brown sugar on roast
pour 1/4 cup vinegar over sugar and roast
spread a can of unsweetened, crushed pineapple on roast and in pan
sprinkle with salt
cover with foil

That's it! Keep it covered when you put it in the oven. After an hour, check it with a meat thermometer, and continue to cook until it's cooked to your desired level of "doneness."

You're on your own with the zucchini casserole, as I am still working to find one that I really love. If you have a good one, please feel free to post it in the comment section.

For more blog posts on real food check out Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Potato salad -- a lost art?

When I read Garrison Keilor's It's time to stand up for homemade potato salad, I thought that people were just lazy sometimes. However, after a friend posted the article on her Facebook page, one of her friends commented that she had never made potato salad in her life. Okay, maybe I'm naive. But as Keilor says, "It is not that hard to make potato salad, people." Never made a souffle or a pate? Okay, I can handle that. But seriously, making potato salad involves boiling water (with potatoes in it) and mixing up a few things. So, Garrison Keilor, wherever you are, this is my contribution to saving the American way of life. Here's my simple potato salad recipe.

The beauty of making your own potato salad is that you can add or omit anything you don't like. I'm not a big fan of raw celery, so I leave it out. But if you like it, go ahead, chop a couple of stalks and toss it in there. This is one of those things that I make flying by the seat of my pants, so you don't even have to dirty your measuring spoons and cups.

I figure about 1/2 pound of potatoes per person or a medium-size potato per person. Peel the potatoes, chop into one-inch cubes, and boil in water until a fork can easily pierce a piece. You don't want to boil them too long though, or you'll have mashed potatoes. Drain the potatoes. (I pour the water into a quart canning jar and save it in the frig for making bread. Potato water does amazing things for bread!)

Put the potatoes in a large mixing bowl and add a large blop of mayonnaise, a little squirt of mustard, a couple cloves of fresh, crushed garlic, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Depending on what's in the garden, I'll chop some red onions or snip some fresh parsley or green onions to add some color. Depending upon my mood, I might boil an egg, mash it, and add it to the mix. If you work away from home, you can make this up the night before, cover it, and put it in the frig.

So, there you go -- potato salad. That wasn't so hard now, was it?

As for the burgers on tomorrow's menu, we'll be using some of our ground pork and homemade buns. We have also used ground turkey in the past. Since we only eat the meat that we raise ourselves, we haven't had a beef burger in a couple years, and it'll be several more years (~2013) before we have it again -- and that's only if Bridget or Molly has a little bull calf in 2011.

Raw veggies make a nice side dish since so many of us have been conditioned to want something crunchy with our burgers.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Veggies from the garden & tomorrow's recipes

These are the vegetables that we picked from the garden today. Guess what we've having with our chicken tonight? Maybe a few green beans. Looks like we'll be canning beans sooner than we thought. That's okay, though, because Katherine loves dilly beans. I can never make enough to last for very long, so we always have to ration them out over the winter.

We're having pancakes for breakfast tomorrow, so here's our recipe, which we have worked on and tweaked for years:

Buttermilk Pancakes
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup flour (whole wheat preferred)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
1/3 cup chocolate chips, if desired

Mix all ingredients together. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle. Flip after bubbles have started to pop. Time-saving note: Dry ingredients can be mixed up the night before, so you only need to add the egg and buttermilk in the morning.

I know it sounds weird to have both baking powder and baking soda, but trust me, the texture of the pancakes depends on it. I've tried using just one, and the texture is icky. Same goes for the buttermilk. You can use plain milk, but the flavor and texture are greatly improved by using buttermilk. We use whole wheat flour, but you can, of course, use unbleached or half of each or 1/3 whole wheat or whatever combination you prefer. If you don't tell your kids (or spouse) that there is whole wheat in them, there is a good chance they won't notice -- as long as you include the chocolate chips. Using chocolate chips also means they can be eaten on the run, since you don't need syrup.

And for tomorrow night's dinner:

Pasta Salad
Mix together the following ingredients in a large bowl:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 T fresh dill or 1/2 t. dried dill weed
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 pound uncooked rotini that has been cooked, drained, and rinsed in cold water
2-3 zucchinis, sliced
1 carrot, shredded
2 green onions, snipped into 1/4 inch pieces

Mix everything together, cover and refrigerate at least a couple hours before dinner. Can be done the night before. This is an easy recipe to cut in half if you're only cooking for one or two, but remember, it keeps in the frig for two or three days.

Feel free to invite friends to join us in our Cyber Celebration of Food, and don't be shy about commenting and letting us know about your challenges and successes.

This week's menu

As promised, here is my menu for the upcoming week. I don't have anything listed for lunches because we typically eat left-overs. I consciously make too much for dinner. For example, Monday night's dinner is quiche. I'll make two quiches, one broccoli-cheddar and one spinach-goat cheese. We'll eat the equivalent of one quiche, and the rest will go in the frig for Tuesday's lunch. We might also make an appetizer to go with the left-overs for lunch. Today, Katherine made spinach-artichoke dip. One day last week, I made zucchini fritters.

It's important to note that I look at my schedule as I'm making the menu, so I can make sure I don't list anything that would not work on any particular day. We normally have pizza every Friday night, but this week, we are screening Fresh, and we've told people they can start arriving at 5 p.m. for a tour of the farm. Instead of having our usual pizza, we'll have a typical British tea at 4 p.m. with sandwiches and sweets.

Side dishes for dinner will include whatever vegetables are ripe in the garden on that particular day. Green onions will garnish quite a few of the dishes, and we'll have salad with some of the meals.

We will also be making dessert to go with most meals. Pudding is a favorite, as well as brownies and cookies, but I don't usually plan them ahead of time. Since dessert isn't absolutely necessary, I just fix them as I have time.

Breakfast: buttermilk pancakes
Dinner: Quiche, pasta salad, bread

B: French toast
D: Burgers, potato salad, zucchini sticks (veggie burger for Katherine)

B: scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns
D: Pineapple pork roast, zucchini casserole

B: biscuits
D: black bean casserole

B: scones
D: goat cheese & portobello sandwiches

B: muffins
D: pizza

B: croissants
D: roast turkey breast, gazpacho soup (cold)

Shopping list

  • potatoes (5# bag)
  • broccoli and/or spinach for quiche (I'll be making one of each.)
  • zucchini
  • carrots
  • portobello mushrooms (1/2 to 1 per person)
  • pizza toppings (green peppers, pineapple, mushrooms, black olives)
  • berries (for muffins unless you're planning to use chocolate chips)
  • additional vegetables for side dishes (if you don't have a garden or if it's not producing enough)
  • lettuce and other vegetables for salads

Dairy section
  • eggs
  • milk
  • sour cream
  • buttermilk (3 cups for biscuits and pancakes)
  • goat cheese (1 to 2 ounces per person)
  • cheddar cheese
  • mozzarella cheese

  • ground meat for burgers (we're using pork this time)
  • pork roast
  • turkey (I'm roasting the breast for Sunday dinner and will use the rest next week)

From the middle aisles of the store
  • rotini pasta
  • can crushed pineapple
  • black beans (2 pounds)
  • salsa (16 ounces)
  • bread (if you're not baking your own)
  • hamburger buns (if you're not baking your own)
  • chocolate chips or berries (for muffins)
  • tortilla chips (check label for artificial ingredients)

Spices and other stuff you should have in the kitchen
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • flour
  • yeast
  • mayonnaise
  • maple syrup
  • brown sugar
  • vinegar
  • butter
  • cooking oil

What's happening for the next week? I'll post recipes at least 24 hours before you need them. Most of Monday night's dinner is accessible already. Just click on quiche and bread (above) for links to recipes. The quiche recipe is for spinach-goat cheese. If you want to make broccoli-cheddar, just follow the instructions and substitute broccoli and cheddar. Most blender jars are big enough to hold double the eggs and milk mixture, so you only have to mix once. I'll post the pasta salad soon, so if you work away from home, you can get that mixed up and in the frig tonight.

Tip for quick quiche: Buy cut broccoli florets and shredded cheddar, and you can have the quiche mixed up and in the oven within 10 minutes.

A new lamb

And now we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you the birth of our newest baby -- a ram from Nita! It's hard to tell from this picture, but he is brown.

I've been gone all week, and Katherine sent me these pictures Thursday after they discovered the little lamb in the pasture.

See you Sunday night when we'll be back to our celebration of food, and I'll post our menu for the upcoming week!

Friday, July 24, 2009

In Defense of Food

The title of Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food, might make a lot of people scratch their heads and ask why food needs to be defended. Pollan quickly makes the case that food does need to be defended, and he makes a great champion. Basically, since corporations have taken over food production, they've been selling us more and more edible food-like substances and less real food. (Don't believe me? Check out McDonald's website and see how many ingredients you recognize as food.) We need to eat real food. Actually, Pollan sums it up in seven words:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

In multiple interviews, Pollan has said that usually when you start researching something, it gets complicated. In the case of food, however, it got really simple. We don't need to be following a diet that's low fat or low carb or one that has lots of oat bran or the proper omega fats. We don't need to talk to dietitians and nutritionists. We just need to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

We don't need to read the nutrition labels on packages. If it has a label with lots of nutrition claims, it's probably not real food. When reading this book, I couldn't help but think of how much an average supermarket has grown since I was a child. As a little girl in the 1970s, I remember going to the two grocery stores in our small Texas town. They were only six or seven aisles, and the produce section made up about a fifth of each one. After you add the meat and dairy sections, only about half the store was left for processed foods. About 40 miles down the road in a small city, the Safeway was more than twice as big. And as I grew up, grocery stores turned into supermarkets and got bigger and bigger.

The sad thing is that they did not get bigger by offering us a dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes or pork from several different breeds of pig. They grew because they had to keep up with the growing number of processed foods that were being developed. And as Pollan points out, our bodies don't know what to do with things that are hydrogenated and ethoxylated, because humans have never eaten such things -- not until the last 30 to 60 years, which is a tiny blip on the radar of human existence. And now we have rising numbers of diet-related diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

It was kind of fun as I neared the end of Pollan's book and discovered I was a subversive. Huh? Yeah! Who'd have thought that cooking would be subversive? He makes a very good point --
To reclaim this much control over one's food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts.

And what these acts subvert is nutritionism: the belief that food is foremost about nutrition and nutrition is so complex that only experts and industry can possibly supply it.

After reading a good chunk of diet books over the past two decades, I had already come to the same conclusion as Pollan. Our great grandmothers probably knew more about healthy eating than today's most learned scientists. Eat a variety of fresh foods while sitting around the dinner table with your family and friends. Take time to chew while listening to your loved ones. They're more important that whatever is on television right now. And since you're not supposed to talk with your mouth full, you'll be a better listener.

Stop worrying about nutrition and start enjoying food.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

But what about my kids? (and everyone else)

So, you know you want to eat better, but you are getting resistance from your children, spouse, or _____. What to do?

First of all, never tell someone they should eat something because it is good for them. That is basically synonymous with "tastes like cardboard" in the minds of many people. It's really best if you say nothing at all, because children generally smell a rat if you say anything positive about food. They figure there must be something wrong with it, since you never say anything good about the food they like.

Second, don't assume that anyone will go from a fast-food diet to salads and tofu in one fell swoop. To get whole grains into the diet, start with brown rice instead of white rice. It looks a little different, but the difference in taste isn't terribly dramatic -- and if you don't say anything about it being "good for you," most people eat it and like it. If you have a particularly tough crowd, bury it in gravy or a sauce. Yes, I know gravy is high fat, but they're getting more fiber in the rice, so it's a wash, and you're moving them in the right direction. Next time, leave off the gravy and just sprinkle a little soy sauce on it.

Don't even think about serving whole wheat bread from the store if your family has been eating Wonder Bread. Most store-brought whole wheat bread tastes like cardboard -- or slightly better. Start with baking bread at home using unbleached flour. You've taken a step towards less processing, and I've never known anyone to object to unbleached flour. Then one day just throw in a little whole wheat -- 1/3 whole wheat to 2/3 unbleached. We serve fresh, hot bread with all our meals when we have dinner guests, and we often have whole wheat or multi-grain bread, and people rave about how good it is. Whole grain breads definitely taste best hot!

Third, sit down with your family and ask what they want to eat. Make a menu of home-cooked meals using their suggestions. If you simply make a meal at home -- hamburger and french fries -- you are using far less ingredients and you can control the fat and sugar. You are not going to ethoxylate or hydrogenate anything, so it will be healthier. You can make french fries with potatoes, oil, and salt, rather than the dozen or so ingredients found in fast food fries. (Don't use Crisco shortening, which is hydrogenated oil.) You can make burgers with meat and natural spices, rather than the 40+ ingredients found in McDonald's 100% Angus burger. (Yeah, I thought 100% Angus meant 0% of anything else, but it doesn't.)

In our family, I try to make sure everyone is responsible for making at least one meal per week. Not only does it instill a sense of pride and responsibility, they're also learning a vital life skill. It's no surprise that so many college students today eat out, since most of them don't know how to cook. And according to my college students, there are a lot of experts out there that warn against "the freshman 15," which is the 15 pounds that the average college freshman supposedly gains in that first year after leaving home. Even if they are living in a dorm and eating at the cafeteria, they need to understand what constitutes a nutritious meal. If they've been responsible for meal preparation for several years by the time they leave home, they are more likely to make wise choices.

If you have a baby or a toddler, you're in a perfect position to instill healthy eating from the beginning. A six-month-old does not need dessert or a snack of cake or ice cream. I've seen people assume that children won't like foods -- including myself. When our oldest was a toddler, my husband handed her a piece of a sweet pepper as I was protesting that she wouldn't eat it. She promptly proved me wrong, and today at 21, she loves raw vegetables.

This brings me to my last point. If your child won't eat something at your house, ask Grandma or another friend to make it for dinner next time you visit. When our children were little, we'd have their friends over for dinner, and they would eat things that they'd never dream of eating at home. I'll never forget the little girl who exclaimed to her mother, "You have to get her sloppy joe recipe, because it is so delicious!" The mom was quite shocked to learn that it was made with tofu.

The bottom line with most of these suggestions is that if someone is really accustomed to a diet filled with artificial flavors, sweeteners, and fat, they are not going to change their habits overnight. Take it one meal at a time, one ingredient at a time, and over the course of a few months, you will be able to make big changes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"The Omnivore's Dilemma"

Finally, I'm getting around to reviewing a book that I read two years ago, although if you're a regular reader, you've heard me quote Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" more than once. In a nutshell, the omnivore's dilemma is answering one simple question: what to eat? The answer for cows and coyotes is pretty simple. They're hard-wired to eat very specific foods. If you're a coyote, you eat whatever is smaller and tries to run away. If you're a cow, you eat whatever you're standing on.

For centuries, culture provided the answer to this question for humans, but Americans have no food culture, and corporations have muddied the field even more. When you think of food in France, Italy, India or China, the choices seem obvious, but when you think of food in America, you think of what? We gave the world McDonald's, KFC, and a host of other fast food corporations that dish out food-like substances with 40 ingredients, lots of fat, and no fiber.

The book is divided into three sections -- or possible answers -- to the question of what's for dinner. First choice is the fast food meal, provided by conventional agriculture. Second choice is organic, which Pollan quickly learns is not as simple as it used to be. Third choice is foraging and hunting.

The conventional agriculture answer to the question is a fast food meal, and it all goes back to corn. The burger comes from corn-fed beef. The fries are fried in corn and/or soybean oil. McNuggets contain corn starch, are breaded with a mixture including corn flour, and may be fried in corn oil. The soft drink and dessert are sweetened with corn syrup. And the list goes on. Although we grow lots of corn in this country, it is not edible by humans. It is either broken down into food additives, fed to livestock, or increasingly used for ethanol production.

The organic answer to dinner got pretty messy when Pollan realized that there was a difference between industrial organic and sustainable organic. Industrial organic would be the frozen dinner at Whole Foods. The sustainable organic comes from the local farmer. Pollan visited both types of places, and after reading about Rosie the organic chicken, I'm glad I've never given in and eaten an organic grocery store chicken. The industrial organic chickens are raised in a manner that is very similar to conventional chickens, but they are given organic feeds and provided "access" to the outdoors during the last couple weeks of their very short lives (less than two months). I'd love to meet the brilliantly unethical genius who came up with the phrase "access to the outdoors" when crafting the US organic legislation. What this means for organic chicken factories is that they open a tiny door in the big building, and since the little chickens have never been outside the building in their entire lives, they don't think about going out now.

For sustainable organic, Pollan spends a week on the farm of Joel Salatin in Virginia. Those of us who are into sustainable practices have known about and duplicated Salatin's practices for many years, and it's great that Pollan brought Polyface Farm into the limelight. Salatin's chickens are put on pasture, and his farm has an open-door policy, so his customers can see exactly what they are buying. They can even watch butchering.

The section on hunting and foraging for food was very informative since I've never foraged for mushrooms or hunted a wild boar. It is, of course, the least feasible meal for most Americans, but it was interesting to me from a historical perspective.

Ever since reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" two years ago, I've been saying that everyone who eats should read this book, and I still say that. Unlike most Americans who think that the government is taking care of everything, I think we are responsible for something as simple as what we eat. And while government might approve of a food additive that was just invented five years ago, who knows what it will do to the human body in 20 or 30 years? It might scare a lot of people even more to know that most food substances don't need government approval.

While this book didn't change a lot about the way we do things, it did reinforce some of my beliefs -- like not buying industrial organic meat. After church on Sunday, a librarian friend (thanks, Renee!) gave me an advance reading copy of the young reader's edition of The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is due to come out in October. It is considerably shorter, although still almost 300 pages, and it has pictures. I especially liked the picture from the Salatin farm, as I always enjoy learning more about how they do things. I also got to see a picture of the inside of a chicken factory. So, if you're not up to reading the full-length Omnivore's Dilemma, I'd urge you to buy a copy of the young reader's edition for your kids or grandkids -- and if you just happen to read it before you give it to them, that's okay.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who's got time?

Homemakers have been searching for ways to speed up meal preparation ever since the first cavewoman decided that she was spending too much time slaving over a hot fire. Through the years many timesaving methods and products have been developed. However, the modern homemaker must evaluate expense in terms of money and time when using them. In the following recipes the cost of the food is more, but the meal is prepared in a jiffy.
Better Homes and Garden Encyclopedia of Cooking, Volume 15 (1973)
Yes, we're busy. But someone once told me that people make time for the things they think are important. That's why I make time to cook. Food and health are important to me. I love good food, and I hate wasting money. Shortly after moving to the country seven years ago, we drove into town one night and ate at a buffet. I suddenly realized that most of the food came from cans or a freezer. Why was I wasting my money? My family could have eaten the same foods at home for about 20% of the price we were paying. I would have only had to open a few cans or boxes and heat up the contents. My then-9-year-old daughter could have done as well. And we had also wasted the gasoline and the time that it took to drive to and from the restaurant.

After that experience I started considering the time issue more carefully. Was I really saving time by eating out? Plenty of nutritious meals can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, which is the amount of time it would take most people to simply travel to and from a restaurant. After you add in the amount of time you spend waiting for your food at the restaurant, you're up to 45 minutes or an hour of wasted time. Instead of spending 30 to 60 minutes fighting traffic and waiting at a restaurant, you could spend that time with your family preparing food.

One of the ways we manage to eat real meals at home is that everyone in our family knows how to cook. My children learned to cook when they were eight or nine years old, and as they get older, the meals get more complicated. Everyone has their specialties -- Jonathan makes a great pasta primavera, and Katherine makes a delicious eggplant parmesan -- but everyone is capable of reading a menu and taking control of a meal when needed. I also have our bread recipe taped up inside the kitchen cabinet where I keep all the baking supplies. This is a picture of our queso blanco with marinara over pasta, and everyone in the family knows how to make it.

Another time-saving tip that I've learned is to double a recipe for a casserole and freeze half of it, or put it in the frig if I know everyone will be happy eating it again in a few days. It doesn't take any more time to double the recipe than it does to make a single batch. Doubling this Mexican turkey casserole is really easy to do. For the second casserole, just mix up everything except the chips, put it in a freezer container, and freeze. On the day you want to have the second casserole for dinner, move it from the freezer to the frig the night before, so it will be thawed when you get home from work, and you can put it in the oven.

When I make homemade bread, I use the Kitchen Aid, and I mix up enough dough for two or three loaves. It doesn't take any more time to mix up three loaves than it does to mix up one. I can make rolls for tonight's dinner and bake a loaf of bread that will be used for breakfast tomorrow morning (regular toast or French toast). The dough for the third loaf can be put in the refrigerator for a future lunch or dinner. Take it out of the frig a couple hours before the meal, put it into the bread pan, let rise, and bake as usual.

Of course, I can't talk about saving time without talking about using a crock pot. Whenever we are going to be busy all morning, I put lunch into the crock pot, so it's waiting for us when we come into the house at noon. If you're too busy in the morning to get it started, you can start the night before. Put everything into the crock pot and put it in the frig. In the morning, take it out, plug it in, and you're on your way out the door. If you tend to be forgetful (like me), then put a sticky note on your exit door that says, "Plug in crock pot," or just "Crock pot!" Here is my recipe for split pea soup, but there are also recipes right on the bag of dry peas that you buy at the store.

The crock pot's logical companion is the bread machine. I used to use a bread machine a lot! Now I have the Kitchen Aid and make multiple loaves at one time, but I do still drag out the bread machine from time to time. If you want soup and bread for dinner, put the soup in the crock pot, and set the timer on your bread maker to be done about the time you get home from work. I used to do this a lot when I worked full time in the suburbs. It's so nice to walk into the house and smell fresh baked bread and hot soup. For more on breadmaking, check out this post from a few months ago.

You can plan meals in tandem with one another. First make an extra big pot of chili for dinner one night. Then the following morning, put potatoes in your oven for baked potatoes, and set your oven timer so they're done when you arrive home. Reheat the chili and serve over the top. For more on baked potatoes and the two dinner concept, check out this post from January.

Just in case you're thinking that this is too complicated, and "My time is worth something," let me add one final thought. I used to buy into the idea that my time was worth something, and then one day I realized that my time was worth exactly what I was being paid ... which was ... um, nothing most of the time. Corporate America really wants us to believe that our time is worth so much that we can't be bothered with menial things like cooking -- and didn't McDonald's tell us in the 1980s that "You deserve a break today," which, by the way, was voted as the best advertising jingle of the 20th century. McDonald's realized that it was not selling great hamburgers -- it was selling a lifestyle. So, unless someone is paying me red hot cash to do something more lucrative than cook (and my other family members are similarly engaged), we realize that making our own homemade food is actually one of the smartest investments we can make in ourselves.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let's celebrate food!

Since the dawn of time, food nourished our bodies and kept us healthy. It made us happy with its beautiful colors, heavenly scents, and delicious flavors. It provided an opportunity for us to connect with our loved ones at mealtime. It filled us with awe as we saw miracles of life unfolding in our gardens, our pastures, and our kitchens. As The New Laurel's Kitchen (1986) says,
[T]here was an unquestioned recognition that what goes on in the kitchen is holy. . . So many mysterious transformations are involved -- small miracles like the churning of butter from cream, or the fermentation of bread dough. In times past there was no question but that higher powers were at work in such goings-on, and a feeling of reverence sprang up in response.
I can't remember a time when I thought of cooking as anything other than fun. I've always looked at it as a creative outlet, just like some people look at knitting or rebuilding an antique car. I only lived in a dorm for one semester in college, and the thing I hated was being unable to cook. That's when I realized that cooking was important to me -- and not simply to feed myself. Not only do I enjoy cooking the food, I enjoy making it look pretty on the plates. It's like creating a work of art. I love trying new recipes and growing fresh herbs. There are so many things in this world that we can't have, but when it comes to food, our options seem infinite. I have a couple dozen cookbooks, which I'll never work through, and now there are millions of recipes on the Web. I'm like a kid in a candy store. But before I get too excited, I'll admit that I know my attitude towards food is unusual.

Today, food is more likely to fill people with anxiety rather than happiness or awe. People feel guilty when they eat too much -- or when they eat something that tastes "too good." If it's good for you, then it probably tastes like cardboard, right? Our food comes frozen in bags or dried in boxes, and it has traveled an average of 1,500 miles to get to our plates. It is quite dead so that bacteria and fungi have nothing to feed upon, and since the nutrition and taste have been processed out of it, food scientists have enriched it with vitamins and artificial flavors. We're too busy to sit down with friends and family, so we grab a quick bite in the car or in front of the television. Should it surprise us that our eating habits are leading to rising rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer?

We have a national eating disorder, according to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006). Every year, we have a new food demon (trans fats, carbs, red meat). We spend millions on diet books. Studies come out telling us to drink red wine, eat more tomatoes, or eat oat bran -- and for a short time, we do it. We are obsessed with eating healthy, yet we are increasingly becoming the most unhealthy industrialized country on the planet. We eat 20 percent of our meals in cars, and every day 1/3 of our children eat at fast food outlets.

They say enthusiasm is contagious, and I hope they're right. My goal for the next couple weeks is to get people excited about food. If you've been reading my blog for long, you know I love food. I love everything about food -- planning, growing, preparing, sharing, and eating. And I'm busy. But food is important to me, so I've figured out how to make time for food, even though I only have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. Since time is one of the objections I hear most often when people talk about eating better, I've decided to address it early in our two-week celebration of food. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the time issue, and next week, you'll see how I actually plan and execute the whole food thing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Piglets arrive

It was a busy day for us. Katherine and I went to pick up four piglets from a farmer downstate who raises them without any drugs or vaccines. One of these little ones will become our pork in about five or six months. A couple of them are reserved for friends' freezers, and one has not been spoken for yet.

Our drive down was pretty uneventful, except I had a migraine and kept thinking that I should have stayed home and sent someone else to pick them up. But now that Margaret has officially moved to Urbana, there are only four of us, and Mike and Jonathan had their own work to do. This is about the fifth migraine I've had this week, and they're probably coming from the arthritis in my neck. That disturbing snap, crackle, and pop sound emanates from my neck when I move my head. Those muscle relaxers are starting to look tempting again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Celebration of Food" starts next week

Although I've never thought of this as a food blog, when you get down to it, it really is all about food -- planning for it, growing it, preparing it, and finally, eating it. This next Sunday, my family will be presenting the service at our church. We'll be talking about "The Spirituality of Eating." When I made the suggestion to my husband, he said to me, "People are going to think that food is the only thing you ever think about." I laughed. He really did have me figured out a long time ago. In 1988, we went on a cruise, and I was emphatic about making it to all the meals and snacks served on board. In exasperation one afternoon, he said to me, "The difference between you and me is that I eat to live; you live to eat." I couldn't disagree. So, I like food. No, I'm more like the food critic in Ratatoulle who said, "I don't like food. I love food. And if I don't love it, I don't swallow," when someone asked him how a food critic could be skinny.

There were times in my life when I just shoveled it in, thinking about nothing more than filling my belly. But as I've grown older, I've become pickier in many ways. For example, I don't like conventionally grown zucchini, because with its thin skin, it absorbs the bitter taste of chemicals sprayed on it. I often wonder how many people would love raw zucchini if they had ever tasted organic.

But I digress. As I've been doing research for our church service next Sunday, I've been reading a lot about people's relationships with food, and it's been interesting. So, rather than forcing our congregation to sit through hours of readings and musings, I thought it would be better for everyone, including my blogpals, if I used a lot of that fodder here on the blog.

Starting next Monday, I'll spend the week writing about food and gratitude, time management, organization, and a host of other things to address reasons why so many Americans don't eat as well as they know they should.

The following week, I'm going to put all the musings into action. I'll post my menu for the week, along with a shopping list. Then day by day, I'll talk about how it all works in real life. After all, you know what they say about "the best laid plans."

I wanted to get this post up early, so that all of you could let me know if there are any particular challenges that you face when it comes to cooking or eating healthier, so I can address those over the next couple weeks. People are often telling me, "It's great that you eat so well, but I never could do that." Okay, why not?

So, what's with the picture up at the top? That was dessert for yesterday's lunch. Although it tasted heavenly, the texture wasn't quite perfect, so you're not getting the recipe just yet. Cooking really is fun -- even when you mess up.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cup of coffee, anyone?

As I sat here this morning, sipping my coffee, I remembered the old days. Back when I was a young adult, I would often drink one or two liters of soft drinks per day. I went through diet and regular stages, sometimes deciding the sugar had too many calories or that the artificial sweeteners might not be good for me. But I always drank a lot of whichever variety. I even went through stages when I drank [gasp] Kool-Aid, because I'd decide that soda was too expensive.

Now, I basically drink lots of water and a little coffee, tea, and wine. Typically, I have hot coffee (sometimes tea) for breakfast, iced tea or water for lunch, and wine or water for dinner. As an afternoon treat in the summer, sometimes I have an iced coffee, or in the winter, I'll have a cup of hot tea. When I saw this article recently, it occurred to me that it is not that unusual to hear about research showing that people who drink water, coffee, tea, and wine realize some health benefits. But I've never heard of any research that showed people who drink soda or Kool-Aid or any artificial drinks realize any outcomes other than being more likely to be obese or overweight -- and that's true even if they're drinking diet sodas. How can you become overweight drinking diet soda with is calorie free? Theories include the concept that people think they can eat more since they're drinking diet soda, as well as the possibility that artificial sweeteners make you crave more sweets.

It's just more confirmation of what Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defense of Food, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." I sort of figured that out about 10 years ago, although I wasn't able to articulate it as nicely as Pollan. One of these days I still need to review that book on here, but as I've heard him say in countless interviews over the past year -- the more you study the topic of nutrition, the more you realize that it is not nearly as complicated as scientists make it. The whole thing really can be summarized in those seven words.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cooking with lentils

When most people hear that we cook almost all of our food from scratch, they think that we must spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Compared to most people, I guess they're right, but we don't spend that much time in the kitchen. After all, we do have a homestead to run, so most of our meals are fairly quick and simple to make. Since they're made from real food, they're also healthy and inexpensive.

Several times a week, we eat beans. Although many beans, like pintos, garbanzas, and black beans, have to be soaked before cooking, lentils and split peas are so small they can cook without being soaked first. This is especially good for those days when I don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, or when I forgot to soak beans ahead of time.

My idea of convenience food is buying a box of spices at the Indian grocery store in Bloomington. I consider it a convenience because it has all the spices I need in one box. I only have to measure one spice blend instead of a dozen individual spices. Last night, we had chana dal masala for dinner, which simply required cooking lentils and rice, sauteeing some onions and tomatoes and adding the spices. It was so easy that Katherine was able to take over after I had to go to bed with a migraine.

Earlier this week, I made a lentil loaf. This recipe comes from The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, 1988. I love older cookbooks because their recipes are made with real foods and don't take much time to prepare. Too many of today's cookbooks either have too many packaged ingredients or take hours to prepare. I have neither hours nor packaged foods, so I prefer the older cookbooks.

Lentil Loaf

Cook 1 1/2 cups rinsed lentils in 3 1/2 cups water until tender. Partially mash lantils and mix with 2 onions that have been fried in 1/4 cup oil. Add to lentils and onions:
2 cups cooked rice
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup catsup or barbecue sauce (we use barbecue sauce)
1 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. marjoram
Press into an oiled loaf pan and spread catsup or barbecue sauce on top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour.

This post is part of my continuing series on cooking with beans. You can also read
Bean Basics, Split Pea Soup, and Pintos: My Favorite Beans.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Daylilies in bloom

I walked around the yard and counted 15 different varieties of daylilies in bloom. As July progresses, that number will grow into 20-something. Here are two that were blooming yesterday.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another view from my toilet

You might recall that a few months ago, I said that my toilet just might be the best seat in the house, because there is such a great view. Well, the view has not been so great this summer, because algae has really started to grow on the pond. After doing a lot of reading about algae control, I finally decided that we should remove as much of the algae as possible by hand. Jonathan actually volunteered for this job. Sounds like something a teenager would enjoy doing, but as he started working, it seemed a lot like mucking out a barn. He initially thought he would be able to simply grab the algae and toss it, but he decided fairly quickly that it would be better to use my idea.

My brilliant idea was to use snow fencing as a net to grab the algae and pull it up on shore. For you non-midwestern readers, snow fencing is this flexible plastic fencing that farmers put up as a temporary fence to create snow drifts where they want them. So, I stood on the shore, holding one end of the fencing, and Jonathan took the other end and walked through the pond. In a few spots he had to swim. It was much more difficult than I expected it to be. I was surprised when I almost got pulled into the pond as he started pulling his end through the water. It didn't help that the edge of the pond was really slippery. We were able to cover most of the pond by pulling the fencing across three different sections.

You can see the pond looks much better after Jonathan's hard work, which took several hours to complete. My contribution was pretty minimal. Now, to get the water clear and avoid future algae blooms, we need to create long barley straw snakes with the snow fencing and empty water jugs as flotation devices. If this sounds way too weird, but you're intrigued and want to learn more about how barley keeps ponds clean, check out this link from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. I hope we can get the barley snakes out there before the algae takes over again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

July newsletter from the farm

Fresh, a documentary about sustainable food, came out in very limited release this spring. Being unable to find any showings in Illinois, we decided to host a screening right here on the farm at 7 p.m., Friday, July 31. We'll be watching the movie in the barn closest to the road. If you've never been here before, you can come at 5:00 for a tour of the farm. Bring a picnic supper and eat under an oak tree. We'll have drinks available for purchase, as well as farm-fresh produce, goat milk soap, and wool products from our sheep.

This Saturday, July 11, we have Canning 101: How to Make Jam at 1:30. Price of $28 includes a quart of u-pick black raspberries that you can take home to eat fresh, make into a cobbler, or can your own jam.

Next Saturday, July 18, at 10 a.m., we'll have our popular Morning in the Life of a Dairymaid class, where you'll meet cows, learn how to milk a goat, and how to make cheese, yogurt, and buttermilk. Cheeses include mozzarella, chevre, riccota, and queso blanco.

We are considering raising more pork for the freezer, so if you are interested in buying a hog or half a hog, please contact me to reserve one. We expect them to be processed around November or December. Price will probably be around $3 per pound plus processing.

As for turkeys -- I'm glad we didn't take deposits! We had one mama hatch nine babies in May, and within three days they had all disappeared. We had another mama hatch nine babies in June, and so far, she still has eight of them. They are in a movable pen, so they get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and grass -- and they are safe from predators. We also hatched two batches of turkey eggs in the incubator, with very little success. Our hatch rate was about 15%. Without dragging you through all the math, I'll summarize by saying that we have about a dozen turkeys that will probably processed for Thanksgiving. If you are interested in a Thanksgiving turkey, send me an email, and I'll put you on the waiting list. Repeat customers will be given first priority. Deposits won't be due until August, when I have more confidence about the number of turkeys we will actually have available.

We videotaped the birth of one of our goats in January, edited it to less than six minutes, and posted it on You Tube. To watch Carmen give birth, click here. We've started an Antiquity Oaks channel on YouTube and hope to post more videos of life on the farm.

Other news – we have a summer communication intern who is working on a complete redesign of the Antiquity Oaks website to put a new emphasis on our educational opportunities. As you know, we've started offering more classes this year. We are working on creating internship opportunities, as well as a membership option. If you have been living vicariously through us and wish you could spend a day or two out here, working in the garden, playing with baby goats (yes, that really is a job), and making cheese or soap, drop me an email.

I hope to see a lot of you on July 31, for the screening of Fresh and a discussion of local, sustainable food.

If you would like to subscribe to our newsletter through Yahoo, click here. You can email Deborah at Antiquity Oaks dot com for directions to the farm or to make reservations. Otherwise, use the comment section for questions of a general nature.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Triplet kids

Yesterday, we went to an early Independence Day celebration at my husband's sister's house, and we returned home to a happy surprise -- Caboose had just given birth to triplets. The kids were all still wet, and only two were wobbling around. Caboose is one of our best goats in both show and milk, and her kids are quite popular. It's not much of a surprise that she had three. She was pretty big, and she usually has triplets or quads. I'm glad she had two does though, because there were several people who wanted does from her. You can see one and a half of the does here. The little buck is laying down behind the girls. I took four pictures, and sadly, this was the best of the bunch. They were all lining up beautifully until I pulled out the camera.

We have five more does due to kid in the next month, including Viola the la mancha, who was bred to a Nigerian buck, so she'll hopefully have little earless goats. Even if they are born with Nigerian ears, though, there are people who want them. A lot of people seem to be getting into dairy goats this year.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Did you say you were busy?

Before I beat myself up too much about not posting, I looked at previous years to see how consistent I was in June. Not good. In fact, I actually posted twice as many times this year in June. It's a sad catch 22 -- I'm so busy in June (and July) that I don't have time to write about all the things I'm doing!

Saturday and Sunday, Katherine and I did soap making and spinning demonstrations at the Pontiac Heritage Days festival. She spun up seven balls of Latte's fiber, which I will be using for my afghan when I get back to knitting in the cooler months. (Don't you just love her 1840s work dress?) I made three batches of soap, including lavender-ylang ylang, lemongrass, and orange essential oils.

Monday, we sheared the rams. Other than Margaret getting whacked in the kneecaps by Rambrandt, it actually went pretty well. Then we moved the sheep from the east pasture to the west pasture. That did not go as planned, but we did eventually get all the sheep over there. The frustrating part was when White Feather decided to take her lambs back to the east pasture. She just won't leave, even though there are no sheep left over there. The two old llamas are staying with her, so hopefully they'll be okay.

We've been busy making cheese and picking mulberries, cherries, and black raspberries. We've made raspberry pound cake, raspberry crisp, mulberry muffins, and raspberry-cherry jam. It was Jonathan's first foray into jam making, and it turned out quite well. Today I also made yogurt and buttermilk, and I made two loaves of multi-grain bread. We'll use one of those loaves to make French toast for tomorrow's breakfast.

The herb garden was in desperate need of weeding, as well as the vegetable garden and the flower gardens, which we worked on yesterday. Thank heavens for this nice cool weather we've been having lately! But we still need to get some more transplants into the vegetable garden. And being one to never quit, I've bought my annual supply of lavender plants to kill. Seriously, every year I buy lavender plants, put them in the herb garden, and watch them die. If anyone out there knows how to get lavender to not die, please let me know. My dill, parsley, sage, rosemary, and lemon thyme transplants are all thriving nicely.

The person who contacted me about becoming a homesteading apprentice disappeared -- never emailed to let me know that she was no longer interested. That was disappointing, mostly because it delayed me from posting an ad on Local Harvest, which I have now done. Hopefully, someone will contact me about that. In case it isn't really obvious, we could use a couple extra hands around here.


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