Saturday, October 31, 2009

Holidays, blogging, eating, and soap

If you live in the U.S., today isn't just Halloween, it's the beginning of the crazy holiday season. For the next two months, we'll be thinking about food and parties and food and gifts and food. Did I mention that we tend to eat a lot of food in the last two months of the year? As you know, I love food. I'm starting to think about what I want to bake for the holiday season this year. So, you'll be seeing a lot of food posts in the next couple months.

But before we bid adieu to October, I thought it would be fun to have a little give-away. If you'd like to have three bars of my goat milk soap, just leave a comment letting me know which October post was your favorite -- or what you missed and want to hear more about. And I'll try to keep that in mind and not talk too much about food in the next couple months. I'll choose the winner randomly, and you can choose either the animal soaps or the Christmas soaps. Let me know if you need unscented. Otherwise, it will be a mix of fragrances. And be sure to leave your comment by midnight U.S. central time Monday. I'll announce the winner Tuesday on the blog, so be sure to check back and see if you won.

I make square bars of soap for most of the year, but at holiday time, I make some pretty soap in molds, mostly for gifts. If you were thinking of buying some of my soap for gifts this year, and it's more than a few bars, be sure to place your order by mid-November. If I have to make more soap to fill your order, it has to dry for a month before it's good to use. You can place your order through my website, and don't hesitate to email if you have questions. There's an email link on the Ordering page.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yes, pigs are omnivores

Trust me, you don't want pictures with today's post.

I always think that I want to know everything -- and I really mean everything! But every now and then I learn something first hand, and I think, you know, it was really okay not knowing that. Such was the case of the pigs and the chicken.

Before I ever thought about getting pigs, a neighbor said to me, "You don't want pigs. They'll kill your chickens." I didn't think much of it at the time, because I didn't want pigs. We'd been vegetarians for 14 years, and I was perfectly happy with my goat cheese and fresh eggs. But after we ate a chicken and then a steer, I started to think about bacon. Well, there's only one way to get bacon -- pigs.

So, I searched all over Illinois for Tamworth piglets that weren't vaccinated and drugged up, and I found a farmer two hours away with weaners to sell -- that's what they call feeder pigs that are weaned and ready to be "finished." Geez, it's nearly impossible to explain this without a bunch of jargon. Okay, I bought two piglets that had just been weaned from their mother. And that's how we got into hogs.

Anyway, our first pigs were practically perfect in every way -- even by human standards. Looking back on it, they weren't very piggy. They didn't root up their yard. They ate the grass. They were even so sweet tempered, I hated sending them down south. I wasn't even sure that I would ever want to raise pigs again, because it was tough at the end to send them away. But then the meat arrived, and it was delicious. The chili reminded me of the what I ate at the local Mexican food restaurant where I grew up, not too far from Mexico. So, we did pigs again.

Each batch had its challenges, but just when you think you've got something figured out, life throws you a curve ball. Of course, that was my mistake -- thinking that we had this pig thing all figured out after five years! So, two days ago, Jonathan comes in and says, "Mom, I think the pigs killed a chicken."

"What? Why?"

"One of them is running around with a chicken foot in its mouth."

Okay, as horrified as I was at the thought that they'd killed a chicken, I was even more disturbed to think that a chicken was flapping around out there with only one foot. If he'd told me he saw a dead chicken, I'd have been content to live with his report. But I didn't want some poor bird out there suffering, so I pulled on my coat and went to see what I could see. It wasn't pretty. The chicken was quite dead and not resembling any chicken that I'd ever seen before.

But, why? Why did they kill her? I've always thought that if I kept my animals happy, they wouldn't do things like that. Well, the roosters were the first to prove to me that I could not make them happy. No, the only way a rooster is happy is if he has about 15 or 20 hens all to himself. Then he's happy. If there are too many roosters -- therefore not enough hens -- the boys start killing each other. Why can't they just get along like the hens do? But I digress . . .

Okay, back to the pigs. We've raised a dozen pigs now, and not one of them has even looked at a chicken cross-eyed. The chickens, being free-range, can go into the pig pen whenever they want. Normally, they even eat corn along with the pigs. So, I just don't understand why these pigs would decide they want chicken for breakfast one day. I'm leaning more towards the idea that they did it for sport, since their feeder had plenty of food in it, and they didn't even eat most of the chicken. I hate wasting food.

Just when I was thinking that maybe we'd try raising a gilt (girl pig) again and have babies -- I'm reminded of our one and only experience with that, and it wasn't pretty. Maybe we should just stick with getting weaners every summer and finishing them in the late fall or early winter. Having pigs for six months a year is challenging enough.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stop the insanity!

I'm borrowing today's title from a 1993 anti-weight-loss book about weight loss, an industry that has always been about extremes. I'm sad to see there is a segment of sustainability heading in that direction. According to Publisher's Lunch, we will soon be able to read
W. Hodding Carter's WITHIN OUR MEANS, in which the author and his family of six aims to live on their actual yearly income instead of the more than three times that amount they have been, growing their own food, raising chickens and goats, hunting and fishing, converting their car so that it runs on French fry oil, chopping wood to fuel a stove and giving up luxuries like coffee, wine and processed foods . . . .

Of course, we all know that we only have two choices -- a life of total excess or complete deprivation, where we can't even have a cup of coffee. Seriously . . .

Okay, in case you want to know more about the author, here is his announcement to the world from February about his great plan to spend a year living within his budget. I am not at all against living within your means, but it doesn't have to be about deprivation and killing your own supper. People living in the suburbs and cities are perfectly capable of living within their means. It actually costs us more to raise our own chicken and turkey than it would to buy it at the store, especially when they're having those loss-leader sales for 59 cent a pound turkey in November. Last time I ran the numbers several years ago, it was costing us about $3 a pound for our turkey -- but we're not doing it to be thrifty.

It is also not cheaper to have chickens for eggs. You really can't compete with factory egg production. Carter says the kids will be able to sell extra eggs and keep the profit. If he sticks with that plan, it's going to be a long time before those kids see any money. Pullets cost about $2 each X 25 = $50 + $15 shipping = $65. Feed is around $10-15 a bag, and the chickens will go through six to ten bags (depending on how much access the chickens have to the outdoors) before they even lay their first egg. And if they got their pullets in the spring, they won't get many eggs at all that first year. Again, we don't have chickens because it's cheap; we have them because I won't eat factory-farmed eggs. Even before we moved out here, we bought eggs from a small farm near us where the chickens ran around freely.

So, I've read a few of his posts. He writes well, of course. He is blogging for Gourmet. His posts are interesting. I'm just annoyed at the way this is presented. And why are so many people being presented as celebrities and experts after doing something for one year? And why does it have to be so extreme? Someone just told me about No Impact Man, the book and the movie. Colin Beavan decides to live a life of total deprivation in New York City, dragging his wife and toddler along for the ride. According to the film's website:
It means eating vegetarian, buying only local food, and turning off the refrigerator. It also means no elevators, no television, no cars, busses, or airplanes, no toxic cleaning products, no electricity, no material consumption, and no garbage.
I am completely in favor of reducing the amount of energy we use. We keep the thermostat at 63 F in the winter to save energy, not because my husband loves the feel of my icicle nose against his cheek. But a lot of these extreme actions are meaningless. Fine, he turns off his refrigerator, but I'm sure he's buying some foods that have been in someone's refrigerator. And my refrigerator is the thing that allows us to not eat out as much as most Americans. It doesn't take any additional energy to make bigger servings at dinner, and then I can save the leftovers for my husband and daughter to take to work and school the next day. If you don't have electric lights, you're using oil lamps and candles, and I have a hard time believing that's better -- especially if you're not vigilant enough to get non-toxic candles and oil.

But I digress. My point is that no one takes these things seriously, which is sad. We all lose, because people look at this type of thing as a publicity stunt. It's just a gimmick to make money, write a book, or produce a movie. It's not the way real people live. They've lost the opportunity to educate people about important issues. These two men are being paid to live an outrageous life for one year. It has nothing to do with promoting sustainability or frugality, and it has everything to do with the voyeurism to which Americans seem to be addicted. Someone in publishing once told me that books follow television, so it shouldn't be surprising that after a decade-long diet of reality TV shows, we're seeing books in the same genre. Supersize Me had some great information in it, but I knew very few people who would even consider watching it. Most people just said it was stupid and unrealistic. No doubt people will respond to these two books the same way, even though they probably have some good information hidden beneath the manure and the glitter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Foodies have a song!

Someone once said that to have a movement, you have to have a song. Well, now we have our song! About a week ago, I heard Million Dollar Nile's, "What You Don't Know," a song that basically sums up everything people need to know about their food -- and what's behind the subversive eating movement. The song talks about corn -- how it's in pretty much every processed food in the supermarket, how it's fed to livestock that can't digest it, how sugar and fat are subsidized by the government (through corn), and how it's leading to all kinds of medical problems.

I got so excited about the song, I played it for everyone in the family, and then I thought, why stop there? And besides that, we had a few questions that I really wanted to know the answer to -- and I thought that you, my real-food-loving readers, would love the song and want to know more about the band that came up with this amazing idea!

Band members Matt Swanson, Dan Stonington, and Nicole Comforto agreed to be my guests on Antiquity Oaks today, so in addition to answering my questions below, they're graciously agreed to drop in a few times in the next 24 hours to answer your questions!

Deborah: What inspired you to write this song? Have you read Michael Pollan's books or seen "King Corn"?

Matt: During the summer of '08 my wife and I spent two weeks kayaking in Glacier Bay, Alaska. After long days of paddling through the wilderness, we would kick back on the beach, cook a leisurely dinner, and read out loud. The book of choice was Michael Pollan's “The Omnivore's Dilemma.” In packing meals for the expedition, we had of course been concerned largely with weight, bulk, and cost, and thus had ended up with a disproportionate number of dried soup and stew mixes made by Bear Creek and the like. So as Michael Pollan launched into a critique of the industrial food system, one of us would follow along on the breathtaking lists of ingredients that adorned our discarded 'food' packaging. It was a horrifying experience--there were regular shouts of disbelief as Michael revealed yet another disturbing secret of the food industry. Each progressive ‘Progresso’ meal became harder to stomach, and the unbelievable dichotomy of pristine wilderness mixed with the daily ingesting of polysyllabic corn derivatives made a deep imprint in both of our minds. The song “What You Don’t Know” shortly followed our return home from this trip.

Deborah: That's so exciting that Omnivore's Dilemma made such a difference in your life! You mention a lot of health conditions in the song that are caused by a modern diet. Did any of you have health issues that served as a wake-up call?

Matt: I think we’re all fortunate to be young and relatively healthy, but just looking around it’s hard to miss the manifestations of our national eating disorder (as Pollan coins it). Obesity is the most obvious and prevalent affliction. One line of the song goes: “We’ve got diabetes and we’re chronically obese, from all this high fructose and all this subsidized grease.” I think this gets to the heart of the matter. By subsidizing the corn and soy industries so heavily, we’re driven to astonishingly low prices on such ingredients as high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil. Soda, fast food and other such low cost/high calorie foods are a logical outgrowth of such subsidies. The people who truly depend on such cheap options are in the low-income bracket, where obesity is most rampant. Thus, this becomes an issue of social justice, and I believe that what is happening is wrong.

Deborah: You have a long list of multi-syllabic ingredients that are in food. Are they all derivatives of corn? Did it all come from a particular label, or did you just pick a few random ingredients?

Matt: They are indeed all derivatives of corn which I tracked down on a corn allergy website. On it a woman by the name of Jenny Connors has assembled an extensive list of ingredients to be avoided by those with corn allergies. From this huge list, one can assemble most of the packaged food products sold in the supermarket.

Deborah: How has the song been received? Do people know what you're talking about? Do they care?

Matt: The song has been quite well received, and we often hear people referring fondly to “the corn song”. With the explosion of farmer’s markets and local, organic producers, this has been a really hot topic, and I think people appreciate our humorous portrayal of what can be an overwhelming and disturbing issue. In fact Michael Pollan himself came across this song and featured it recently in his newsletter.

So yes, I do think people know what we’re talking about, and they care deeply. We may be preaching to the choir at this point with our progressive-minded fans, but we’re hoping to broaden our audience and extend this message to more and more folks. In fact, to expedite this process, we are donating all the proceeds from our CD to non-profits focusing on sustainability. Here’s how it works: Anyone can go to our website, buy our CD for $10, and then nominate an organization that they think should receive the money. We’re hoping to start a ripple effect with this, so that lots of people get to enjoy our music and we get to donate a sizeable sum to a good cause. It’s a win-win (especially since we all have day jobs) so help us spread the word!

Deborah: Gladly! What's your diet like? Any tips for people attempting to navigate the food jungle and eat healthier?

Dan: Grow your own! One of my favorite lines from Matt's song is "if you really like organic then don't make it transatlantic" - so true. This summer for the first time in several years, I had a housemate with an avid green thumb. Nothing quite beats the convenience, health, and deliciousness of coming home after a busy day, being hungry, and needing to only skip into the backyard for a head of lettuce, a tomato, some kale, and strawberries. Add a bit of goat cheese and dressing and you're set for a fresh dinner salad.

Matt: I second that completely. The summer after our fateful kayaking adventure, we turned every inch of our backyard into a garden, and we’re still harvesting mountains of produce from it. I like Michael Pollan’s distinction between industrial organic and small scale producers. We’re often faced with the dilemna of buying organic produce from some mega farm in California versus non-certified produce from uncle joe’s farm down the street. I’m a big fan of local. Also as you move up the food chain it gets even dicier. Terms like cage-free and free-range can be really misleading, as it really means ‘access to a tiny plot of daylight that animal never really goes to’: I say if you can find a local livestock producer and have them slaughter an animal for you, then stick it in the freezer, that’s the way to go for meat eaters. And why not get your own chickens for eggs?

Nicole: I was lucky enough to be raised by a vegetarian health-nut father. I didn't appreciate his insistence on carrots instead of candy bars until I was in college and realized one day that junk food had no appeal to me. Since then I think I've found a good balance between eating healthily while also enjoying the occasional indulgence. I think that the first step to eating well is to find a regular source of good local produce (whether it be your garden, a farmer's market, or a produce delivery service) and then start experimenting with new produce. Soon you'll find new dishes that you love and start carving healthier foods.

Deborah: What's your favorite healthy food or meal?

Nicole: There are so many to choose from! Lately if I'm in the mood for something quick and healthy I'll saute up whatever vegetables I have around with cashews, organic chicken or tofu, a little sweet chili sauce and spices, and serve them mixed in with rice noodles.

Matt: My favorite breakfast: Homegrown red potatoes, sautéed up with fresh green onion, and garlic from the garden, served with eggs from backyard hens, and topped with salsa from garden tomatoes and chilis. Okay, I’m drooling now…

I'm drooling now, too! Okay, while I'm cleaning off my keyboard, you can listen to Million Dollar Nile's song. Just click below:

And remember, if any of you have questions for Seattle's greenest bluegrass band, just give 'em a holler in the comment section.

For more posts on real food, check out Real Food Wednesday and Fight Back Friday!

Sick lambs

While we were separating the sheep into their respective pens Friday, I realized that two of the lambs had poopy butts. I was puzzled. In six years, none of my lambs has ever had diarrhea. "Usually, diarrhea in goat kids means coccidia," I explained to Mike, "but I can't imagine where the lambs would have gotten it." Then it clicked.

I am not that old, and I have absolutely no symptoms of menopause, except for this one little thing. Now if only I could remember what it was. Hmm . . . oh, yeah! My memory has been terrible the last few months! What was I talking about? Oh, right, lambs with diarrhea. I checked my records and realized I had made an incredibly huge, stupid, possibly life-threatening mistake. The sheep had just spent three days in an area where bucklings had been pastured only three weeks earlier -- bucklings who were moved to the barn to be treated for coccidia!

I thought they had been off that grass for at least a month or six weeks. I guess time flies around here. We practice rotational grazing to keep internal parasite loads down, but my stupid mistake did just the opposite. Three weeks is the absolute worst time to move animals into an area, because that's how long it takes internal parasites to hatch, so there was a brand new batch of parasites just hanging out on the grass waiting for a ruminant to come along and eat them. (They're microscopic, which is why we can't see them, and they don't get chewed up.)

In addition, coccidia is a single-cell organism that causes diarrhea and then death by dehydration, if not treated. No one has even really given me a good number on how long it takes coccidia to be eradicated from pasture, so I really should not have put any sheep or goats on that grass again until next year. How could something so simple and obvious escape me?

Mike and I picked up the two lambs, which were not hard to catch as they were laying in the shelter. Mike took the little ewe because she was older and heavier. I took the little ram, who is two months old. He didn't feel too heavy as we headed towards the barn. About 100 yards later, I leaned against a dog house to catch my breath. At least every minute the little ram seemed to feel some obligation to kick as if he were trying to escape. My panting and gasping sounded like a marathon runner at the finish line as we finally reached the barn five minutes later. I can't believe I used to carry around a wiggly, 15-pound baby all day, but the last time I did that was 16 years ago, so I guess I'm out of practice.

The good news is that we have not noticed any other sheep with poopy butts, and these two seem to be on the mend. After the first day of medication, they were pooping little logs, and yesterday they were pooping pebbles again. Today will be their last day of medication, and they can rejoin the flock.

And I just realized that little ewe needs a name. Her mother is Ophelia, so I was thinking something else from Shakespeare. Any suggestions? Life doesn't seem to be very good for her so far. In addition to getting coccidiosis, she also ripped out her ear tag, so it looks like she has a double ear.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rams will be rams

After Mike got home from dropping off the two sheep at the processor Friday morning, we all headed back to the pasture to take care of more sheep business. First, we had to separate the rams from the ewes. Yeah, I know we're about a month late. We haven't seen any ewes in heat yet, but that doesn't mean much. To make sure we know what we don't know, we're keeping the ewes separate from the rams for at least two weeks. In other words, if any ewe gives birth five months from now or sooner, we'll know that we have no idea who sired the lambs. At least, we're hoping we can keep them separate. We had so many accidental breedings last year in spite of our best efforts. If a ram senses a ewe in heat, it sometimes feels futile to even attempt to keep them apart.

We have livestock panels as gates between the two pens, and knowing that a ram can bust through not only one, but TWO, we've added some reinforcements. We put a four-by-four post across one, and we put an old metal t-post across another. We knew just where to put it, thanks to Teddy. As soon as we locked the gate behind him, he rammed it with his head, so that's where we put the t-post. He hit it once, and I guess it didn't feel too good, or he realized it would be a losing battle. In any case, he started hitting the gate below the t-post. I don't think he'll make any progress because he can't seem to get up much steam before hitting something that low.

I am happy to report that the boys and girls are still in their respective pens, although Teddy is not a happy ram. He pretty much spends his time pacing the fenceline, looking for a weak spot. He doesn't seem to care that he has the company of two other rams. In fact, he's downright nasty to them and rebuffs their attempts to socialize. I remember clearly from last year, when we tried to keep him apart from the girls, he took out his sexual frustrations on me. After four years of being my sweet Teddy Bear, he had a go at me and gave me a couple of nasty bruises on the kneecaps, so I will not be turning my back on him again!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hickory nuts, acorns and pigs

When Jonathan went to collect acorns from the big oak tree in the front yard earlier this week, he came back with an empty bucket. Between us and the squirrels, they are all gone. We do have other oak trees, but they're out in the pastures. We'll have to start collecting those now, but I'm amazed and impressed that the pigs have been feasting on acorns for a few weeks already. They've also been getting some corn, but the acorns have definitely cut down on the feed bill, and we have several large bags saved to ration out over the rest of the fall.

We also have a couple of hickory trees in our front yard, and I looked around the ground to see if I could find some hickory nuts for the pigs, since they are also a good source of nutrition. Unfortunately, I only found about a dozen. Shagbark hickory trees are on Slow Food's Arc of Taste, and the nuts are very tasty, although small, which is why they'll never be a big commercial product in this country. None of our hickory trees look all that healthy though, so I also wonder if they are just not very hardy.

Moment of serendipity: I'd never heard of mast-finished pork until this summer, and then a couple days ago, I received my newsletter from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving heritage breeds of livestock that are in danger of extinction. (They're the big reason we moved out here!) Anyway, right here on page 5 is the cutest litter of piglets, and the caption says,
The characteristics of the Tamworth reflect the breed's centuries of selection for an outdoor life. Pigs of this breed were expected to find their own food, especially mast (or acorns) of oak and beech forests. Long heads and impressive snouts enable these pigs to be efficient foragers. Long, strong legs and sound feet give Tamworth pigs the ability to walk for considerable distances.
Our Tamworth pigs are pictured above, eating acorns.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The lamb who lived

It was a busy, blustery morning Friday. First, we had to catch a ram and two wethers to take to the processor. Since we're trying to keep our flock around 20 sheep, we butcher wethers as yearlings. And we finally decided that it was time to call it quits for Albus, a ram with horns that have been trying to grow into his skull, well, forever.

He was a year old the first time we cut off a couple inches from the end of one horn that was headed towards his jaw. We cut off a couple more inches the second and third year. Then last year, his other horn became problematic. This year at shearing, we couldn't fit a finger between his horns and head, so the decision was made to butcher him after his fleece had grown out enough to make a nice pelt.

A lot of shepherds would have butchered him as soon as they realized his horns were going bad. After all, that's not the type of genetics you want to pass on. We were still new to sheep and homesteading when we first faced the problem with Albus, so the idea of butchering him was something that we were not quite comfortable with yet. But each year, the horns grew thicker and closer to his head, and the job of cutting them off with a saw became more difficult and a little scarier. Cut too far into the horn, and you hit blood vessels. And it's a little nerve wracking to use a saw near an animal's eyes.

Even though I felt comfortable with the decision to send him down south, I found myself choking up as Mike put him in the trailer. Perhaps to make myself feel a little better, I gave him some hay for the trip.

As I looked at the gray wether in the pasture, I noticed his wool was parted down his spine. That happens when it rains. And I saw the most beautiful silvery blue fiber. We only have two gray sheep in our flock, one that is much darker and one that is much lighter. After Mike and Jonathan caught the black wether and put him in the trailer, they asked me which other yearling was going. Whether I was feeling a little guilty about Albus, or whether I was so seduced by the gray wether's gorgeous fiber, I said, "That's it. I changed my mind about the other one. Just take those two."

Pictured above is the wether who now needs a name. Maybe Lucky?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let's talk turkey

I've been sitting here with my roasted turkey breast, gravy, baked sweet potato, and hot, crispy bread, trying to figure out what to write about for Fight Back Friday. I haven't baked anything lately, other than bread, and I shared that last week. I am not going to talk about the fact that my son made chocolate chip cookies a couple days ago, although it is very rewarding to teach your children to cook. And although I've been thinking about starting my holiday baking, I haven't started yet. What could I possibly write about?

Sigh. Hold on while I grab another piece of this heritage turkey breast. It is really delicious. Seriously, it is way better than the broad-breasted turkeys that we raise. Holy smokes! This is the most delicious turkey I've eaten in years. Hmm. That sounds familiar. Oh yeah, John from Milwaukee said the same thing to me a couple years ago after he bought one of our heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. Even though we raise heritage turkeys, I haven't had one in a couple of months, because last year we raised a few broad-breasted for customers who wanted naturally raised turkeys, but they wanted one in the 20-25-pound range, and our heritage turkeys just don't get much bigger than about 16 pounds. We did have an 18-pounder once, but I'm not making any promises based on an Arnold Schwartzeturkey. But I digress. The last couple turkeys we had were broad breasted. The big boys are good, but they just don't compare to the flavor of a heritage turkey. We are only raising heritage turkeys this year, a decision that makes me very happy as I savor the amazing flavor of this turkey.

So, what exactly is a heritage turkey? Well, it's a turkey that can fly and mate naturally. Yes, I am saying that supermarket turkeys cannot fly, and they cannot mate naturally. (If you want me to be blunt, yes, they are all the product of artificial insemination.) Big Ag has developed a turkey with a breast so large that it can't lift its body off the ground to fly like a real bird. And its breast is so big, the male can't get close enough to the female to breed. Talk about unsustainable agriculture. These birds would be extinct in one generation without the help of humans to reproduce. Since they're big and lumbering, they also can't protect themselves from predators. It's all about $$$. Americans like white meat, so Big Ag is just giving the people what they want -- more breast meat. As one man said, "Who cares about turkeys' sex life," when I told him about the origin of supermarket turkeys.

Heritage turkeys also happen to come in a rainbow of beautiful colors, but that's just gravy. Supermarket birds are all white, because you can't see any pin feathers that might break off under the skin. If a feather breaks off under the skin of a black turkey or a bronze turkey, it looks dirty, and American consumers can't handle it. Between you and me, if you ever were to get a heritage turkey, and it happened to have a feather or two under the skin, just take your tweezers and pull it out as if it were growing on your eyebrow.

But color does not make a heritage turkey. There are broad-breasted bronze turkeys; and there are midget white turkeys and white Holland turkeys, which are heritage breeds. The white heritage turkeys are really small though, which is why we've never raised them. Every now and then I see a small farmer advertising broad-breasted bronze as a heritage turkey, and that just ain't so. There is also a standard bronze turkey, so some people could be honestly mistaken about what they're raising. Although there is not a legal definition of heritage turkey, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy has defined heritage by the above criteria -- can fly and can mate naturally. Those big boys can't fly or mate naturally, regardless of what color their feathers are.

Okay, I am trying to resist the urge to slurp up this gravy. It looks like cream cheese frosting and is so tasty! I made it with the pan drippings and flour and goat milk -- that's it! I think this turkey might be especially tasty because he was a year old. He was hatched last summer and was much too small for Thanksgiving. We should have butchered him for Easter, but we didn't get around to it until summer. We took all four of those boys to Arthur and had the Amish do it for us. The sad thing about those supermarket turkeys is that they're practically babies. A 10-pound turkey in the supermarket is probably 2-3 months old, and a bird just does not develop any flavor in that short amount of time. It's the same thing with the chickens, but that's a post for another day.

You do have to know a little about cooking to deal with a year-old bird. You can't just roast the whole thing or you will do some serious dental damage trying to eat a drumstick. You can roast the breast, but the legs and thighs will need to be cooked in simmering hot water for a few hours. I only cooked the breast tonight. I'll do the legs and thighs in a couple days for casseroles and soups. One of the things that people love about heritage turkeys is the dark meat. People just rave about the dark meat. Even I like the dark meat. It's the color of milk chocolate, so maybe that has some mental effect on me?

So, what am I going to post for Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday? Turkeys? Nah. There's nothing to it. A spring-hatched turkey roasts up beautifully for Thanksgiving. I just pop it in the oven at 300 degrees until the internal temperature is about 160, and then I make the gravy by whisking together the dripping and flour (equal amounts), turn up the heat in the skillet and add milk until it reaches the consistency I want. (I like it pretty thick.) But this is hardly cooking at all. Tonight I baked some sweet potatoes and a loaf of that bread I mentioned last week. Even the "undomestic goddess" could handle this.

If you'd like to get a heritage turkey for Thanksgiving, it might be too late for this year, but you can always call farmers in your area. I'd suggest that you check out the list from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They have a PDF on their homepage that you can download. I used to recommend Local Harvest but can't do that until they clean up an issue with the pictures some of their producers are using. I contacted them a couple months ago to complain that some people say they're selling heritage turkeys, but the pictures are clearly broad-breasted. The pictures are still there, which is very frustrating. A heritage turkey does not look like Dolly Parton, regardless of how you raise it. The breast bone is at least visible in the center of the breast of a heritage turkey; usually it's more prominent than the meat. And if they claim to have heritage turkeys over 20 pounds, I'm going to be asking a lot of questions.

I'm not even getting into the whole "free range" issue. (I can't believe some people call birds free range when they spend their whole life in a building.) That's a huge benefit of buying local -- you can visit the farm and see how the turkeys are raised. That's the simplest advice I have for you on that issue.

Well, look at the time. I've gone on and on about heritage turkeys and still don't have any kind of recipe for Food Renegade. Well, if you head on over to Fight Back Friday, I'm sure you'll find plenty of recipes and food chat from other bloggers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goats in fall

After today's earlier disgusting post, I feel like I owe you one. I went out into the pasture and the woods, far from the nasty beetles and took a few pictures of the goats and the beautiful fall colors.

This is Star, the first goat I ever milked. She provided us with a lot of milk our first couple years out here. She is 10 years old now and enjoying her retirement. That little doe in the background is her daughter from a year ago.

Here's Hercules, my la mancha wether. (La manchas don't have ears. They're born that way.) He's the sire of my two la mancha does, but I just couldn't let him remain a buck since he proves the adage that, "for goats, fences are merely a suggestion!" He got in with my little Nigerian girls multiple times. Luckily, no one wound up pregnant, because that could have had a tragic ending.

And here's Annie. She's two years old. I just took a picture of her because she planted herself in front of me as I sat down on a thorny limb that was hiding under the leaves. Yeah, that hurt.

It was a lovely day to just sit and watch them munch on leaves.


There is really only one thing on my mind right now. We have been invaded. It's like living in the midst of Hitchcock's The Birds, except it is Asian beetles. They are covering my house, my barn, and even me when I venture outside! This is an insect plague of Biblical proportions, seriously. You see the picture there? They are covering the entire house like that! I tried to take a big picture, but you can't see the bugs when I get too far away.

These bugs have no sense of personal space, and I don't mean that they invade the two or three feet of space around my person. No, I mean that they land on my nose, in my eye, and even fly into my mouth if I should foolishly open it for any reason. They look like orange lady bugs, but it becomes obvious fairly quickly that they are not the sweet little bugs that we knew as children, the ones that had poems and books written in their honor. These suckers bite -- hard! And they stink! And they leave their foul odor wherever they land with their stinky little feet.

They are completely covering the outside of the house, so whenever someone opens a door, they enter. As you approach the house, they swarm around you like bees on honeysuckle, and at least half a dozen, perhaps even a dozen, will land on you to hitchhike into the house. If only I'd known that they are attracted to white houses, I'd have chosen a darker siding! The USDA Fact Sheet tries to emphasize that they eat aphids, but seriously, this is overkill. I can't imagine that we have this many aphids in the area to keep them all fed.

So, while other people may have been enjoying the beautiful weather yesterday, I was flicking, flinging, and slinging these beetles as I attempted to get tulip and daffodil bulbs planted. And I still don't have my garlic in the ground. So, now I am hoping for a really hard freeze. Until then, we'll be living with these annoying pests flying in our faces, our hair, and our house.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Our knight in fur

It seems like the only time I mention Sovalye is when the coyotes are getting our animals or when there is a problem with him. That's a lot like the people who never give a business feedback unless it's bad, so I figured I should give him some credit for doing a great job lately -- and without getting himself injured. (knock on wood)

Sovalye is Turkish for "knight," which seems appropriate since his job on Antiquity Oaks is guarding us and our animals. He weighs 115 pounds, which is on the small side for an Anatolian, but he still outweighs any predator that comes our way. Between him and the llamas, we seem to be keeping the coyotes at bay. (knock on wood)

He recovered fully from his torn ACL last spring, but as he approaches five years of age, I'm starting to think about getting a puppy that can start training with him, so that the puppy will be ready to take over when he's too old to guard the animals any longer. Should I get another Anatolian or a different livestock guardian breed? Or should I get another English shepherd like Porter, who is supposed to be an old-fashioned, all-purpose farm dog? Although I'm a little excited about the prospect of another dog, I'm also really worried about making a bad decision, but that's a post for another day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How they've grown!

You think human babies grow fast? Animals on the homestead change on a daily basis. I can hardly believe that these New Hampshire pullets are only five weeks old! To see what they looked like last month, click here.

They're still inside because they need the heat lamp, especially now that it's hovering around freezing at night. I haven't spotted any obvious cockerels yet, but there always seem to be a couple when you order pullets. We'll probably keep one or two roosters, but any more than that, and we'll be having fried chicken in December. New Hampshires are supposed to be excellent dual purpose birds (productive egg layers and hearty meat birds), so we'll probably hatch some eggs next spring to provide us with meat and a few young layers.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A happy ending

Someone told me that your eyes heal faster than any other part of your body, and I'm thinking she's right. The doctor today told me that my eye is about 80% healed, and my vision is already at 20/25 in that eye, which is much better than Wednesday when my left eye couldn't read any of the lines on the near vision chart with my reading glasses!

The doctor took the contact lens out of my eye, and when the numbing drops wore off about an hour later, it once again felt like I had something in it, but it wasn't anything like the pain I had on Wednesday. I have to remind myself that there is nothing in my eye, and rubbing it won't help.

The worst part was that the ER nurse was a little overzealous with the dilating drops she put in my eye before I went to the ophthalmologist office. My eye was still dilated today, which made light exposure painful. I spent all of yesterday in my bedroom with the shades down, and I put on sunglasses when I went into the dining room, because it's very bright in there.

As someone said in a comment on my last post, it's a good thing I didn't talk myself out of going to the ER. Even after they'd flushed my eye with an entire liter of fluid, they weren't content until they'd checked the pH of my eye to be sure it was back to normal -- in other words, they checked the pH to make sure there was no lye left in there. That's not something I could have done -- would have thought to do -- at home. And having the contact lens in my eye for the last two days made the whole thing a lot less painful. It really did work like a band-aid on my eyeball.

I'm glad that other soapmakers and future soapers have seen my last post. Hopefully, you'll remember it and will always use eye protection when you get anywhere near lye. Mike and I went out to the barn today where I was making soap when all of this happened, and we both had a whole new respect for the lye. As you can imagine, I left quite a mess out there, because I just dropped everything and ran when the lye got into my eye. But my vision is way more important than a few extra minutes of clean-up later.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Soapmaking accident

Earlier today (technically, yesterday, since it's after midnight) I broke two cardinal rules of soapmaking. I was distracted, and I wasn't wearing eye protection. I had to leave the house at 1:00, and it was 12:45. I had already mixed up all the oils before having lunch, so I only had to mix up the lye solution, add it to the oils, mix, and pour. That didn't sound like such a big challenge for 15 minutes, right?

Unfortunately, I chose a fragrance that tends to make the soap seize, meaning it turns the soap into mashed potatoes, and you're supposed to pour when it's the consistency of a runny pudding. And instead of pouring into my long, rectangular molds, I was pouring into Pringles cans, which meant I had a pretty small target. The soap was getting thicker by the second and coming out in clumps and plopping all over the edges of the cans, so I leaned over to see better, and PLOP! SPLASH! The mixture was in my left eye!

I screamed and ran straight to the sink and stuck my head under the faucet. I couldn't hold it there for very long, because it's just kind of weird to hold your eye under running water. I have a room out in the barn where I make soap, and I was alone, so I realized I needed to get help, which was in the house. Adrenaline is an amazing thing. I have never run so fast, and if I was winded, I didn't even notice. I got into the house and was screaming to my son Jonathan (the only person home) that I got lye in my eye. I tried to stick my eye under the kitchen sink, but it wasn't working as well. I got a syringe (no needle) and laid down on the guest room bed and tried to squirt water in my eye, but it was not easy. It was excruciating when I tried to pull my upper lid up and squirt water there. I went to my laptop, which was on the dining room table and googled, "soapmaking lye eyes," and immediately saw an article written by a woman whose toddler spilled 2/3 gallon of 40% lye solution over his entire body. I hadn't read much when I looked across the dining room table and out the window. My beautiful pond was blurry, and my distance vision has always been better than 20/20. That's when it clicked. I could be blind in that eye if I didn't get all the lye out, and I told Jonathan that we needed to go to the ER.

Information on lye safety always says to flush the eye for 15 or 20 minutes and get medical attention. I never quite understood why you did both. Well, now I know. Both are necessary! As we were driving to the hospital, I was doing the math ... 12.75 ounces of lye + 26 ounces of goat milk + 88 ounces of oil = 1% lye. That's not so bad. I probably don't need to go to the hospital. (My husband corrected my math this evening -- that's 10% lye!) Well, as Jonathan drove, it started to feel like there was something in my eye, so while one side of my brain said 1% lye wasn't a big deal, the other side disagreed, and luckily I didn't tell Jonathan to turn around and go home.

When we got to the hospital, another patient was at the triage window, but I piped up and said, "Excuse me, I have lye in my eye - L - Y - E - lye." Someone immediately said, "Through here," and took me straight to a room. Within a couple minutes, a nurse had asked me about drug allergies and put a drop of something in my eye to numb it. She then placed a giant contact-lens-looking thing in my eye, tucked under the upper and lower lids. There was a tube attached to the middle of it, and the other end of the tube was connected to a liter of fluid. The nurse informed me that they would need to flush the entire liter through my eye. If this sounds painful, well, it was. I was wrapping my ankles around each other, squeezing my hands together, pressing my shoulders in the bed, and telling myself to relax. I knew I was hyperventilating, because my hands were tingly, and I was dizzy. The numbing drops would only last for about 200-300 ccs, and then I'd need more numbing medication, so we had to remove the lens thingy, add another stingy drop, and put the lens thingy back in and start over again. I told the nurse, "The last time I had this much fun, I got a cute baby at the end."

She laughed and said, "This time you're just getting a bill." She was very nice. She kept telling me I was doing a great job and was really tough. She even looked at Jonathan and said, "Your mom is really tough." Yeah, I thought, she probably tells that to all her patients, but it sounded good to me at the time.

The doctor came in after the eye was flushed and asked me what happened. When I explained to him that the lye was already mixed up and I was pouring it, he said, "So, really it's just like you got soap in your eye."

"No." I took a deep breath. "Let me explain to you how soapmaking works." Then I proceeded to explain the whole process and said at the end, so it's probably about 1% lye -- which he did NOT correct! He just said, "Well, it's still a pretty caustic substance."

I can't even begin to tell you all the things they did to me after the eye was flushed. I lost count of the different drops they put in it for all the different examinations, but the vision in my left eye was not good. At the end of the exam, the doctor said that there was "significant damage" and he wanted to call an ophthalmologist.

I went from the ER to the ophthalmologist's office, which was half an hour away. I laid down the car seat and put on sunglasses, which didn't help, so I put a towel over my head. They had dilated my eye, so light increased my agony. Jonathan asked if it was okay to drive 75, and I said, "No. I'm not dieing. It doesn't really matter how fast you get there."

At the ophthalmologist's office, they repeated a few of the exams. The doctor dictated a lot of incomprehensible non-English words to his assistant, which sounded really bad. I asked, "So, I have a chemical burn on my cornea?"

"Yes." He told me about a couple different options and said the best one was to put a contact lens in my eye to protect it from my eyelid. I have to laugh because my mother always said, "Never say never!" Well, I really figured it would be safe for me to say that I'll never wear contact lenses, but apparently not. I am sitting here with a contact lens in my left eye. He was right -- it feels weird, but it feels much better than my eyelid scratching my eyeball every time I blink. That was horribly painful.

I have antibiotic drops for my eye, as well as drops that he described as "like ibuprofen drops," which are for pain and swelling. I'm also taking extra-strength Tylenol, which I'm surprised seems to help. I know when it wears off after about six hours. It also helps with the headache that's probably just a result of stress.

So, I learned some really valuable lessons today! After six years of soapmaking, I had become much too relaxed about the fact that I am working with a caustic substance that can do serious damage. I get splatters on my skin every now and then, and it's not a big deal. It burns, I rinse the skin, put vinegar on it, which neutralizes any lye that didn't get rinsed off, and that's the end of it. Getting it in your eyes is a very big deal. (Of course, spilling a lot of it on your skin would be a very big deal too.) The doctor said my eye will probably heal, but we'll know more when I go in on Friday to have the contact lens removed.

If you're a soaper or if you ever want to make soap in the future, PLEASE wear eye protection! I feel unbelievably stupid. As the ER doctor said, no one expects to get in a car accident, but we wear our seat belt just in case. Like I tell my children, they're called "accidents" because we don't do them on purpose!

Both doctors said that I averted a lot of damage by flushing my eye immediately. So, if you do get lye or a lye solution in your eye, irrigate it as much as you possibly can, then head straight to the ER! But if you're wearing your eye protection, the odds of getting lye in your eyes is pretty slim. My entire ordeal could have been avoided if only I had been wearing goggles.

And the really weird twist to the story is that I was supposed to teach a soapmaking class last night at a local community college. Obviously, the class was canceled. I'll certainly have a lot more emphasis on safety when that class is rescheduled!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bread for busy people

I found this recipe when visiting the King Arthur website a month ago. I love their flours, especially the unbleached bread flour and the white whole wheat flour. (It's made from white wheat instead of red wheat.) If you want to learn to bake bread, the KA website is the place to go. They have some great recipes, and they have helpful people to answer your questions when things don't go well. In fact, I enjoy reading the Q&A as much as the basic recipes, because it helps me to avoid problems.

I played with refrigerator dough a lot this summer, and this recipe pretty much removes any objection to "I don't have time to bake bread." You mix up several loaves at once and store the dough in the frig for up to a week. The KA recipe credits Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day for their inspiration, but I originally found a refrigerator dough recipe in one of my old cookbooks, so this is not a new concept.

When I make this bread, I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the dough hook, and I keep adding flour until the dough is not sticky. In the book, the dough is very sticky, and they say the dough is less sticky after you refrigerate it, but I don't have the patience to refrigerate dough before using it, so I need it to be workable within a couple hours of mixing it up. I've continued using it for five or six days, and it still worked fine.

This concept is so great because you can make fresh bread anytime you want it. My husband and I were home alone one day, so I pulled off just enough dough for two rolls and baked them for our lunch. We've also used this for pizza dough. After two or three days, it takes on a delicious sourdough flavor, which is nice, because you don't have to deal with a sourdough starter, but you still get that great sour taste naturally.

I've seen bread recipes in the past that had no sugar or fat, but I never had the courage to try them, assuming they would be bland and dry. After seeing the French bread recipe in French Women Don't Get Fat, I decided to give it a try, and I loved it. It's my new favorite bread! It's hard to believe that only four ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast) can yield such delicious results, but it's true.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love them cows!

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my cows? I go out to the pasture, call their names, and they come running. It's actually a little scary, so I make sure there is always a fence between us, just in case they have trouble putting on the brakes at the last minute. They love their alfalfa treats, but they also love scratches under their chins, on their necks, and on their backs. As Irish dexters, they are about as tall as they'll get, which means their back is level with my waist.

Can you believe how long Molly's tongue is? She's wrapping it around the alfalfa cube in my hand. Their tongues are really rough, like giant cat tongues or sandpaper.

Isn't Molly a pretty girl! She'll be a year old in December. Unlike Bridget, she is polled, which means she'll never grow horns. I'm planning to get a polled bull, so most of our calves will also be polled.

Molly is still a little more shy than Bridget. It's incredibly hard for me to get a good picture of Bridget because she is in my face constantly when I'm in the pasture with them. I had to snap this photo really fast, before she got too close again and I got another blurry photo. Bridget will be a year old in November. They can calve anytime after they turn two, and they're pregnant for nine months, so over the winter I'll begin the search for a boyfriend. After they have their calves, we'll begin milking them, so we can start making butter, sour cream, and some cow milk cheeses.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Your food and your lifestyle

Eating out has a lot to do with your lifestyle, and we rarely say, "Hey, let's eat out tonight." For one thing, we're 15 minutes from the nearest restaurant, and it's not that great. Unfortunately, the small-town restaurants serve mostly frozen food that they've thrown in the fryer or canned stuff that's been merely reheated. I don't buy that stuff to fix at home, so why should I pay three or four times as much to have it served to me in a restaurant?

An unexpected benefit of moving to the country is that it caused us to really think about eating out. When we first moved out here, there were times when we would decide that we were too tired to cook, and we would all pile into the car and go out to eat. After a few disappointing meals at the nearest town, we even drove 45 minutes to the little cities to eat at better restaurants. It didn't take us long to realize that it was ridiculous to spend 90 minutes driving to and from a restaurant for dinner.

A few decades ago, eating out was something that people did for special occasions. It was something that they pondered. It wasn't just dinner. It was special. That's the way I view eating out today -- and I grew up eating out at least five times a week. Yesterday, I talked about eating fast food, which is what I do at mealtime when I'm in the little city 45 minutes away shopping or taking care of other errands. And yes, we eat out when we travel, which we do more often than one would think. A week ago, we delivered goats to Tennessee, and I'm delivering goats to Missouri soon.

On our way home from Tennessee last week, we stopped at FlatTop Grill in Champaign, IL, for dinner. It's a chain of restaurants in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin that serves stir-fried veggies, meats, and tofu. You walk through a buffet line where you put your favorite vegetables and rice or noodles in a bowl, then add a sauce or two (there are a couple dozen from which to choose), decide which type of protein you want (beef, chicken, tofu, etc.), and then you hand it to the cook, who stir fries it while you relax at your table. It's a little challenging to find out exactly what's in the various sauces, (although they do have allergy info available) but you basically have a wide variety of fresh, real food available, and aside from the sauces, you know exactly what you're eating. I was also impressed during our visit to the Champaign restaurant that they've added a couple of organic wines to the menu, including a very nice Reisling that I really enjoyed.

Other than traveling, the only reason I really like to eat out today is to experience a food that I can't fix at home or to discover a new way to prepare foods at home.
We sometimes eat out to celebrate a special occasion, like a birthday or an anniversary, but we only eat at restaurants where we really love the food. My favorite restaurant in Bloomington, IL, is Destihl's, which is locally owned and has a "Down to Earth" philosophy, which includes buying products from local farmers, using LED lighting and paper straws, and sending the spent grains from beer making to a local dairy farm to be fed to the cows, whose cheese they use in the restaurant. Their food is delicious. Yes, their food is more expensive than most restaurants, but I don't mind because I love their food, I can't duplicate it at home, and I'm happy to support a business with their philosophy. And we only eat there three or four times a year.

No doubt it's harder for some people to break the fast-food addiction or the urge to eat out often, because it's terribly convenient if you live in a city. It's terribly convenient. But when I lived in the suburbs, no one ever suggested that maybe we shouldn't eat out so much. In fact, when we talked about eating out only once a month to save money, one of my friends was shocked that we would attempt such a feat. So, I'm here to tell you that it can be done, and there are a lot of benefits to eating at home more often.

You're bound to eat healthier if you're cooking for yourself, because you know what's in the food. When I found a muffin recipe last winter, there was no way I was going to use the amount of butter suggested. But if I had eaten a muffin from that recipe in a restaurant, I would have had no idea that it was so unhealthy. And even though I altered the recipe to make it less of a cardiology nightmare, I don't make those muffins more than a few times a year.

You'll save a lot of money if you eat at home. I can't believe some people don't get this. I complained about the KFC $10 meal challenge a couple months ago, but I could fix a lot of different meals that would cost less than $10 for four people, including a salad, soup, entrée, and even a dessert. At least five of the menus on this page would cost less than $10 to prepare. The pork roast and turkey breast would cost more, but it's really healthier to eat meat only once or twice a week, and there are less expensive cuts if you aren't growing your own meat. The first year we moved out here and were still eating a vegetarian diet, our food bill went from $10,000 a year to $6,000, and most of that drop was a result of eating at home more often.

If you have a job that requires you to eat out often with clients, you're on your own. You'll have to do your own research, figure out what are your healthiest options at the restaurants you frequent, and exercise some self control when it comes to ordering the less healthy options. It might also mean that you'll have to find a couple restaurants with healthier options.

I really don't think it's a problem to eat healthier. It can be a challenge, but it's not insurmountable. Like Thoreau, we are not hermits. (He visited local taverns and towns regularly while living on Walden Pond.) We go into town and even travel to cities on a regular basis. And we're not perfect. We do our best to plan and do a little research so we can make good choices, but sometimes we wind up with a less-than-perfect meal. We eat, we move on, and we try to plan better next time.

For more posts on food, check our Real Food Wednesday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Yes, I eat fast food

Once people get to know a little bit about me, they invariably ask, "Do you eat at McDonald's?" If you've been reading my blog for a while, you probably know the answer to that question is, "No," even though I've never mentioned the fast food chain before today. Not eating at McDonald's is just as astonishing to some people as the fact that I milk my own goats.

There was a time when I ate salads and french fries at McDonald's, but they proved to be less-than-ethical in the 1990s when they said that they no longer used lard in their french fries, so vegetarians could eat them. A few years later, it came out that tallow was an ingredient. So, they traded pig fat for beef fat. While some vegetarians decided to sue the fast food chain, it made me realize that we are responsible for what we put in our mouths -- and whom we trust to feed us. In the end, it was one of the experiences that led us to Antiquity Oaks.

After learning that we don't eat at McDonald's, there is usually a quick list of questions: "Do you eat at X, Y, or Z?" and "Do you eat out at all?" and ultimately, "Where do you eat out?"

First of all, you have to realize that although I'm no longer a vegetarian, I only meat whose history I know, which means that I don't eat meat from restaurants. When I eat out, I'm basically shopping like a vegetarian and looking for places with good vegetarian options.

My first choice is Chipotle. In fact, I visit their website when I travel to see if there will be any Chipotle restaurants on my trip. Why do I like them so much? Because I think every restaurant should follow their model. They buy sustainably-farmed meat and rBGH-free dairy products. Rather than looking for the cheapest way to do business (they have the highest cost in the fast-food industry), they look for the best -- best food ingredients and even the best wages for people who pick the tomatoes for their restaurants. They use romaine lettuce instead of iceberg, and 100% of the pork and chicken used in their restaurants is drug-free and humanely raised. So far 50% of their restaurants serve beef that has been sustainably raised, and they're working to find enough suppliers to make that 100%. No, I don't eat the meat at their restaurants. Their vegetarian black beans are great in all of their entrée choices, and I just don't feel a need to eat meat very often. The food in their restaurants is also fresh, not greasy, and delicious. Seriously, they serve freshly made guacamole!

If a Chipotle is not available, I will eat at Panera, but they are a distant second to Chipotle. There is a good variety of soups and salads, and it is one of the healthiest options out there in the fast food category. Unfortunately, they use a variety of ingredients that you don't find in a real kitchen, such as dough conditioners and artificial flavors. I find it annoying that they advertise making their breads from scratch. My definition of "made from scratch" is that every ingredient can be found in a real kitchen, yet I've never seen a jars of mono- and diglycerides or polysorbate 80 in the grocery store. And they're definitely not using fresh ingredients in their soups when the potatoes include sodium acid pyrophosphate as an ingredient. Yes, they are better than the fast-burger joints, but you can still do better in your own kitchen.

But what if there is no Panera or Chipotle to be found? I will settle for Subway, which is available as readily as a McDonald's or Burger King. We all have our challenges in life, and low blood sugar is one of mine. If I don't eat every five or six hours, I will get the shakes and start to feel really crappy. A couple decades ago, I managed to make myself pretty sick by refusing to eat when nothing suitable was available, so I've come to the conclusion that eating at Subway is better than nausea, dizziness, shaking hands, and a headache, especially when I'm driving. That's not a very good endorsement, but it's the best I'm going to give a restaurant that has one of the longest lists of nasty ingredients I've seen on bread. This is what you're getting in their Italian white bread:

Enriched flour (wheat flour, barley malt, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, sugar, contains less than 2% of the following: soybean oil, fermented wheat flour, yeast, salt, wheat protein isolate, wheat gluten, dough conditioners (acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides, ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, potassium iodate, amylase [enzymes]), sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, lactic acid, sulfites, mineral oil.

Mineral oil? Seriously? It's a petroleum product! I wouldn't put it on my babies' bottoms 20 years ago, and I certainly don't want to eat it. I didn't even know it was legal to put mineral oil in food. I get the 9-grain wheat bread, although it's only slightly better. (At least there's no mineral oil in it.) I find this rather interesting since the most delicious bread I make at home has only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The fresh vegetables are, at least, fresh, and the provolone cheese is real cheese, so you can get a fairly nutritious meal. I just don't understand why they have to put so much crap in their bread when it's supposed to be baked fresh daily. I'm sure my bread even costs less to make.

I'd like to think that there are more healthy options out there for us when we're away from home. What are some of the places you've found?

This is Part I of a two-day post on eating out. Tune in tomorrow for sit-down restaurants and how to break the addiction to eating out.

For more posts of food, check out Real Food Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Goat fun

I had this brilliant idea to take pictures of the two bottle babies wearing my bichon's T-shirts. One says "Spoiled" and the other "High Maintenance," which is absolutely accurate when talking about Joy the bichon and the bottle-baby kids. Unfortunately, you can't read what the shirts say, but you can see how crazy the little doelings are about their bottle. They each started with their own bottle, but Hester drinks faster than her sister, so when her bottle was empty, she decided she just had to have some of Pearl's milk!

"Hey, I want that! You got more milk than me!"

"No, I didn't! You're just a piggy! You drank yours too fast! This is my milk!"

"Maaaaaaaa! Maaaaaa! She got my milk!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Update on everything

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. Jonathan and I just returned (yes, about an hour ago) from a road trip to Tennessee. We delivered eight goats to a family from South Carolina that is starting a herd. They seem like a very nice family, which I am much more sensitive about since discovering that a couple of my goats most likely wound up in someone's freezer a couple months ago.

Speaking of those kids -- nope, never did receive a response from the buyer letting me know that my kids are happily living on someone else's farm. I'm trying not to seem like a crazy-neurotic as I sell kids now. I am really stressing the, "CALL ME if you have ANY problems, questions, thoughts, whatever. I really don't mind!"

The pigs are still happily munching on acorns that are picked up daily. We have five 50-pound feed bags full of acorns in storage, and we've only harvested from one tree. We really should have been weighing them. They say that a mature tree can produce a ton of acorns -- yes, literally 2,000 pounds -- and I'm starting to believe them.

I never did hear back from the people who carded and spun my wool, so at this point, I guess I'll never know the contents or origins of some of this yarn, which is sad, because I love knowing the entire history of my yarn. I'd at least like to know if the skeins contain 100% llama, Shetland wool, or a blend of the two. They could have at least said, "Gee, we're sorry. We really screwed up." But no, the only response I received when I sent them the detailed list of yarn was this -- they said that I was charged for 19 pounds of spinning, and if I received more than 19 pounds of yarn, I should send them $15 for each additional pound of yarn that I received. I was more than a little annoyed that they obviously didn't read my email very carefully and that their main concern was that they might have under-charged me for spinning yarn that wasn't even mine.

Since the weather has recently turned cold and rainy, I still haven't planted my garlic. I went out a couple weeks ago to plant it, but Mike was using the good shovel for fence work, and since we hadn't had any rain in about three weeks at that point, I couldn't break the dirt with my little hand spade. Then it rained . . . and rained again . . . and rained again . . . and it's supposed to rain all day Tuesday. If I don't get this garlic into the ground in the next couple weeks, it might be better if I just wait until spring, although they say the cloves won't grow as big if they're planted in spring.

I am happy to say that I am still victorious over the chickens! Woo hoo! Yes! They are still ignoring the flower beds at the gate. Now if we could just get up a couple of fences to keep them out of the front yard, I would be a happy flower gardener. They completely killed, pulverized, and decimated the mums I planted in the front yard.

The baby chicks
-- New Hampshire reds -- are doing very well. We've had zero mortality, which is exciting. Speaking of poultry, the Thanksgiving turkeys are also doing well, although after all the eggs and poults hatched, we have only 10 in the home stretch. Final tally on losses was about 60 eggs that didn't hatch and 40 poults that died from a variety of causes (from predators to poison) within the first week of life.

The reason you haven't seen any pictures lately is because Katherine left the camera under the oak tree when she was picking up acorns a week ago, and it's had a few problems since then. Mostly it's been refusing to take more than one picture without being turned off and on again. We are hoping for a full recovery, but you know electronics can be persnickety.

I've had some requests for posts on soap making and bread making, which I will write soon, although I'm not saying exactly when, because that never seems to work out. Speaking of food, though, Katherine welcomed us home with homemade truffles and snickerdoodles. Now I have to get to bed, so I can get up bright and early Tuesday morning and grade papers before teaching.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Food, oh, food, where have you gone?

I just received an email requesting donations for a local food drive. The problem is that they are not asking for food. They are asking for the stuff that Michael Pollan describes as "edible food-like substances." Here's the list of requested donations:

Mac & Cheese
Instant Potatoes
Hamburger Helper
Tuna Helper
Cake or Brownie Mix
Stuffing Mix
Pasta Mix
Soup Mix

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you can hear me squealing, gasping for air, fanning my face, and reminding myself aloud to breathe! Where do I even start? Do I start with the fact that everything on the list is void of fiber, Vit. A, protein, Vit. C, etc? Do I start with all the sugar (or artificial sweeteners) and artificial colors that can cause problems for children trying to concentrate and sit in their seats at school? Do I even bother to mention the fact that almost nothing on the list will even fill up a hungry belly? Seriously, they want soup mix?

This is such a huge issue that I don't know if a single blog post can do it justice, but I'm going to give it a go. I'll start by saying that I am not an ogre who thinks that poor people should just starve. But we are not doing them any favors by giving them junk to eat. First, it's bad for them. (I personally do not consume a single item on the list.) Second, every item on that list is overpriced, because you could make a similar dish from scratch for about 1/4 to 1/2 the cost, which I do. Third, when the recipients do have more money, they'll waste it to buy more edible food-like substances (EFLS) because they think it's good for them. As someone just said to me yesterday -- I kid you not -- "They wouldn't give it to us if it was bad for us."

It should not surprise you that I disagree with Big Ag's assertion that world hunger can be solved by GM crops. Hunger can be eradicated by better distribution and education. Several "experts" have said that we already have enough food to feed everyone, but there is a problem with distribution. If you have ever worked at a grocery store (or talked to someone who did), you know how much fresh food gets thrown out on a regular basis. You'll hear a similar story from people who work at restaurants. Servings are obesity-sized, and many people don't take home left-overs.

When I went to the composting seminar in February, a man with a professional vermicomposting business said he picks up trashed produce from the supermarkets regularly to feed his worms. He said he quickly learned that there was a big difference between something that was not salable and something that was not edible. A store gave him an entire shipment of apples one time because they weren't shiny enough. The produce manager said people wouldn't buy apples that weren't shiny. (You know they're only shiny if they're waxed, right?)

In the documentary, Food, Inc., they follow a lower-class family through the drive-through of a fast food restaurant as they buy dinner for their children -- and then later at the grocery store when they tell the youngest that she can't have a pear because it's too expensive. The family in the KFC $10 meal challenge has the same problem with understanding the value of food. And this is where education comes into play. People need to be educated about food, cooking, and even gardening. This is not a new idea.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Instead of giving people EFLSs, why don't we volunteer a couple hours to teach a cooking class at a homeless shelter? Or a class on making menus and budgeting for food? Until our church started talking about selling its current building, I was thinking that it would be a great service to have a community garden, where people from shelters could learn how to garden and get fresh produce at no cost. When I lived in the Chicago suburbs, I remember a garden at one of the jails. It was a coveted position for inmates to be allowed to work in the garden, and one woman was quoted saying that she was planning to start a garden when she was released. There have to be better ideas out there than giving people boxes of empty calories. What do you think?

To see more blogs about real food, check out Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.


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