Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Meals Plans

This is the first Christmas since my daughter was born five years ago that we are not visiting or hosting my family or Mike's family for the holiday. I'm a bit sad in some ways, but glad of it in others. The holiday lead-up has been a slower one, with less external pressure to conform to expectations about when to have decorations up or go visit Santa (missed that one entirely this year thanks to the snow) or getting things done before traveling somewhere. Before December, I was feeling good about not over-scheduling us with holiday activities, though the first two weekends of the month still wound up jam-packed with back-to-back and even overlapping events. A few snuck up on me, like Annabel's dance performance at ScanFair and the German Saturday School's holiday party.

One aspect of our nuclear-family Christmas that I'm especially glad about is having complete freedom to decide on our holiday meals, without interference from or consideration of my parents or in-laws. Because it's just the four of us, I don't feel the need to go overboard with an abundant variety of side dishes and desserts or use conveniences in the name of expediency. Rather, I'm keeping things simple, wholesome, and mostly local, and incorporating my little family's favorites. Here's the plan:

Christmas Eve Dinner
Celery Root Soup
Fennel, Arugula, and Orange salad
Dungeness Crabs
Cookies of Near Infinite Variety

Since the kids will probably not like the salad (well, maybe Luc will, but Annabel won't), I'm going to serve them orange and apple slices in a bed of purple cabbage leaves. I think I'll make the grown-up salad with oranges instead of apples as suggested in the recipe. As tempted as I am to make a dessert, we have so many cookies from neighbors and that we have baked ourselves that dessert seems a little overboard.

It's just now light enough to see outside and it is snowing! again!

Christmas Morning Brunch
Biscuits and Gravy with Apple Sausage
Scrambled Eggs

I have been sneaking off with the kids lately to visit the Clinton Corner Cafe (formerly The Habit, Portland's first internet cafe, where I washed dishes and made grocery runs in exchange for free internet access when I first moved here) and order their biscuits and gravy. They make it with a pork-apple sausage that I'm going to attempt to replicate as a gift to myself for Christmas morning. Hopefully we'll get eggs from our chickens for our scramble, though we may have to thaw them first.

Christmas Mid-Day Snack
Gingerbread House Candy

We made our gingerbread house with this recipe from Diane, a fellow member of the whole grain baking email list, and it was fantastic--construction grade gingerbread suitable for snacking. I like making the house on Christmas day and then having it to munch on in the week or so afterward, instead of half-eaten by Christmas morning. I'm glad I pre-ordered candy from the Natural Candy Store...we would have nothing for the gingerbread house otherwise, with the weather keeping me from shopping this last week and a half.

The snow is really! coming down! I cannot believe it's been snowing almost everyday since December 15th. Crazy. I will have to get some more pictures today and put them up in my spare time. (We haven't wrapped a single gift--and we have to wrap presents that have arrived from the grandparents as well as those from us!)

Christmas Dinner
Roasted beet, Sunflower Seed & Gorgonzola Salad
Baked Potatoes with Butter, Bacon, and Yogurt
Roast Brussels Sprouts
Roast Leeks
Roast Beef
Gingerbread House
More Cookies of Near Infinite Variety
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (that New Seasons gave us for having to make substitutions to our online order) topped with Crushed Candy Canes

No recipes as these are all simple family favorites I do by rote. Again, I'll serve the kids purple cabbage with apples and oranges and raw Brussels sprouts. I cannot get my kids to eat cooked cruciferous vegetables, but they'll eat any of them raw.

Humungous flakes are falling rapidly and in quick succession from the sky! This would be picture-perfect Christmas Eve were in not the tenth day of snow here.

Seriously, I don't really mind it much, and would mind it even less if our mailman would only please please please deliver our Netflix movies. I'm beginning to forget the plot of Battlestar Galactica and while White Christmas (1954), Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (1964) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974...notice a pattern here?) were all shipped days ago, we haven't gotten any mail since Saturday! Whatever happened to
We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever. [Unless you happen to live in East Portland in the early 21st century. Your Christmas packages and sanity-saving DVDs will wait. Forever.]
Don't worry, Mr. Mailman, you'll still get your Candy Cane Cocoa mix. But ya gotta get here before we drink it all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cooking Up a Storm

We have been having a relatively severe winter storm here in Portland. In the 12 years I've lived here, I don't ever recall temperatures this low for so long or seeing it snow everyday for a week. Except for a quick trip on Wednesday to Growers Outlet, our local produce market, I have been home since going out to knit with friends on Monday evening. Stuck inside, watching the snow blow from the east and then the west, I've been keeping warm in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.

For dinner one evening, I brined a pork loin and then roasted it along with some cauliflower, seasoned simply with just olive oil, salt and pepper. A couple days later we put the leftover meat in the slow cooker with some canned tomatoes, green tomato chutney from my friend Harriet, molasses, wine, and oregano, and had lovely pulled pork for sandwiches. There was still some of that leftover and Mike had the idea to use it in a tamale pie. So, we managed three utterly different meals with one piece of meat.

Friday night's fish was pan-fried pistachio crusted halibut with not-so spicy yogurt. This turned out perfectly, crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. I vastly simplified the yogurt, just swirling in a little fresh dill and lemon juice into homemade yogurt. I made fish cakes with the leftovers last night, adding a bit of It's Alive Sea Vegetable Sauerkraut to the mix along with finely chopped celery, homemade mayonnaise, dulse flakes, panko and a couple eggs. I dredged the cakes in panko as well, which gave them a nice crunchy finish with they were cooked.

For lunch one day last week, I satisfied a hankering I have had for pasta e fagioli for several weeks. In the process, I made a triple batch of navy beans and now have two quarts in the freezer for more soups or maybe dip. This morning, I came across this recipe for White Bean & Squash Soup, which I think I'll make next week. While I was cooking dinner last night, I baked two delicata squash and three apples for this curried soup I'll make to go along with grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight. In another pan, I baked a celery root, several small cloves of garlic, and some Yukon gold potatoes for yet another soup that we'll have on Christmas Eve, I think. I figured that baking these vegetable would be easier and perhaps yield a better flavor than simply cooking them in broth. We'll see.

Over in the fermentation department, I finally got a quart of burdock root started. I have no idea if this is going to work, as I couldn't find any recipes. I just peeled the roots, cut them all to the same length, submersed them in a quart jar of salty brine with a little whey and some grated ginger, and kept the jar on the counter for several days. It's now in the fridge and I'll let it sit there for a few weeks before taking a taste. I love pickled burdock root, but the stuff they sell at the Japanese markets is full of chemicals and dyed fluorescent orange (burdock root is white). I also pickled another 5 pounds of beets, using my food processor to grate them instead of grating by hand. Thumbs up on the modern convenience. I was concerned that food processor would grate the beets too fine, but it actually grated a little thicker--more like a julienne, so I'm pleased. The packed jar did get a little mold growth on top while it sat on the counter, which hasn't happened before. I scraped off the top quarter-inch and it hasn't come back. When I bought veggies last week, I picked up a cabbage and some turnips to pickle, plus a few rutabaga to add to borscht next week.

I've done a bit of food gift prep as well. I made candied nuts, candied grapefruit peel, and cranberry-pumpkin-walnut breads. We ran low on sugar, so I didn't get the orange peels candied yet. A neighbor picked up a 5-pound bag of sugar for me at Winco yesterday, but I'm not sure now if I'll get to that before Christmas or not. We may just have them for our New Years Day open house instead.

I tried what the New York Times touted as the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, but we have been only mildly impressed. I cooked one batch immediately and a second 24 hours later and didn't notice any improvement. I do like sprinkling the cookies with salt before baking--salt and chocolate is a favorite combination of mine--but I'm not sure that these cookies are Santa-worthy. Today, I'm going to make more chocolate-pepper-espresso cookies and gingersnaps, which I know will please Sankt Nikolaus, as Annabel insist we call Mr. Bowl Full of Jelly this year.

Annabel and I have invited ourselves over to our neighbor Jill's house this afternoon to help her decorate sugar cookies. I haven't decorated cookies since I was a girl myself and know nothing about making icing or doing fancy piping, but Jill turns out beautifully decorated cookies every year, so we're going to learn from a master. Christmas morning, I'll bake the pieces for our gingerbread house while we open gifts and then we'll put it together after brunch. I ordered candy from Natural Candy Store this year, way ahead of time, so we didn't have to run around at the last minute looking for candy, which is especially fortunate as there's no running around for us with the snow we've got here. A neighbor with an SUV is giving me a lift to New Seasons this afternoon so I can pick up Dungeness crabs for our Christmas Eve feast and a few other provisions. Honestly, though, we have managed quite well with food during this storm. We ran out of milk, but I'm kinda used to working without fresh milk and have found that sour raw milk works as well or even better in cooking and the kids are happy to have yogurt in their oatmeal.

We got our tree and decorations up yesterday. I got into the habit of waiting until the last minute to put up the tree when Annabel was little and I didn't want to hassle with her over pulling decorations off for weeks before Christmas. Now, I just like waiting until the official start of winter before taking down the fall decorations and getting out wintry Christmas decor. I like fall and it seems like it gets a little short-changed with Christmas celebrations starting ever earlier. I'm bummed that we don't have any garland. I had planned on picking some up over the weekend, but the storm put an ix-nay on that idea. Maybe New Seasons will have some today.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Soups from My Imagination & Pantry

I just made a couple soups for lunch without recipes or much planning. The one preliminary was that I had soaked about a cup of wheat berries in water for about 24 hours, then cooked gently in water until softened...30 minutes? I don't know exactly, I was watching Battlestar Galactica (this fall's television obsession) while they cooked. I drained them and then sprinkled olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper until they tasted good, then put them in the fridge for some future use...perhaps a soup or salad? I wasn't sure at the time. All together, it took about 10 minutes of my attention over the course of a day to get the wheat berries ready.

Wheat Berry, Chard, Sauerkraut, & Beef Soup
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks chard, stems chopped, leaves torn
1 pint beef broth
1/2 pint of leftover jar of tomato sauce
half of leftover pot roast, shreddd
1 cup soaked and cooked wheat berries
1/2 cup sauerkraut
salt, pepper to taste

Saute the onions and celery for this recipe and one below until soft. Remove half onions and celery. Add chard stems and saute for a few minutes, then add garlic and saute briefly. Add beef broth, tomato sauce, pot roast, wheat berries and chard leaves. Season, then simmer for 10 minutes, until chard leaves are soft. Add sauerkraut and cook briefly, just until warmed through.

Wheat Berry, Tomato, Sauerkraut & Bean Soup
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint frozen chicken broth
1/2 pint tomato sauce
1 15-oz can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup soaked and cooked wheat berries
1/2 cup sauerkraut
salt, pepper, celery seed, parsley

While sauteing onions and celery in one pan, begin thawing frozen chicken stock in a second pan. When there is 1/2-inch of liquid broth in the pan, add garlic. Add onions and celery from first pan. Once broth is completely thawed, add beans, wheat berries, then season to taste. Cook over a medium flame for a few minutes. Add sauerkraut and cook briefly, just long enough to warm through, but not long enough to softened. Serve!

The sauerkraut was an after thought, but I'm so glad I thought of using it, as it added both taste and texture to these soups. Like other sour foods, it brightened the flavor of the other ingredients, plus it added its own complex flavor. Because I didn't cook it for long, it remained noticeably crunchy. If I hadn't added the sauerkraut, I might have tried a little more balsamic. The kids slurped up the milder bean soup, while Mike and I enjoyed the more sour and complex beef soup. Mmmmmm...good!

Food Storage Inventory Online

As part of the Nourished Kitchen Pantry Challenge, I completed a fairly thorough inventory of most of the food we have in our house. It's hard for me to say how long all this will last. I expect the meat to last about a year from when it was purchased and I think we won't go through all the rice and beans we have stored any time soon. It seems we go through five pounds of cheddar cheese in a little under two months. I know that the 20 pounds of whole wheat flour will be used up within a month.

I have a lot of thoughts about our food storage that I'd like to share, but I must do some Lost Arts Kitchen business while I have these few kid-free precious moments this morning. More later.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Whole Foods Not So Wholesome Attack on New Seasons

Do you shop at Whole Foods? There are many good reasons not to shop there, but here's yet another one. Whole Foods has subpoenaed New Seasons financial records, marketing plans, documents related to plans to open new stores or improve existing stores, and other sensitive information about its business. The Oregonian weighed in on the matter yesterday.

Of course, this outrageously unfair, anticompetitive demand should come as no surprise to those of us who've paid attention to Whole Foods' business practices over the years. What concerns me is that a lot of people out there think that by shopping at Whole Foods, they're doing the "right" thing, buying organic food for their family. Perhaps in some areas of the country, Whole Foods is the one and only choice for those seeking organic food, but I doubt it. Given the way Whole Foods does business, I'd bet that every single one of its stores is within a stone's throw of another, smaller, locally owned health food store or food co-op. You may not know about it yet. It may not be right on your way home from work, but it's almost certainly there. Please, if you shop at Whole Foods, find your local alternative and shop there.

I no longer shop very often at New Seasons. I prefer to pick up produce at farmers' markets or People's Co-op, buy meat farm-direct, and get my groceries delivered to my door by Azure Standard. Still, I'm glad that when I still shopped at grocery stores regularly, I could go to a locally owned natural food store committed to selling local, organic products. After my run-in at Fred Meyers, New Seasons became the only place I grocery shopped for some time. I urge those of you who do shop at Whole Foods to stop supporting the Goliath and give David some well deserved support.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What About Those 10 Meals?

First, I want to remind people that if you haven't already done so, please subscribe to the Lost Arts Kitchen newsletter for discounts on upcoming classes, sustainable food news, seasonal recipes, and more. Now, on with the post.

I mentioned in my last post that my family has about 10 or so meals that we eat fairly regularly and Matriarchy asked me to share what they are. Here's a list plus my usual long-winded explanation about the whys and wherefores of what I do.
  • Roast chicken, usually with roast potatoes or steamed rice and some other roasted vegetables. In the interest of saving time and energy, when I use the oven I try to fill it with multiple items. Often I will cook some things I plan to serve the next day, like sweet potatoes that I'll mash and reheat or beets that I chop up for salad.
  • Roast beef with roasted veggies. The leftover meat is great for sandwiches, salad, or soup.
  • Pan-fried or roasted pork chops, with steamed or roasted vegetables. I have different quick pan sauces or marinades I use with pork, citrus-ginger, balsamic-honey-mustard, blackberry-bbq, etc.
  • Roast or grilled salmon or halibut with roasted or steamed vegetables. We eat a lot of these two particular fish because I can buy frozen fillets in 10-pound boxes from Azure. I am looking for sources of alternatives such as tilapia, cod, and mahi mahi that don't require a trip to the grocery store.
  • Quiche/Bread Pudding/Strata. Eggs and milk and/or cream combined with cheese, veggies, and sometimes a bit of prosciutto or bacon. When I have baby fingerlings from our garden, I just put those in the buttered quiche pan and pour the egg mixture over them. If I decide to make quiche with a crust, I make and freeze extra dough. When I have enough bread ends in the freezer, I make bread pudding or strata. I suppose these could qualify as different types of meals, but they're all pretty much the same with varying types of starch. They all make fantastic leftovers. For a lighter meal with no leftovers, I make frittata.
  • Soup made from leftover roast chicken or roast beef. I make broth with the chicken carcass or using beef bones I keep in the freezer and mirepoix vegetables (that is, celery, onion, and carrots, the classic French combination of aromatics used to flavor stocks, sauces, etc.) I always have on-hand. My family's favorite soup is Chicken-Corn Soup, which practically makes itself it's so quick and easy. The kids love this with noodles and when I have time, we'll make egg noodles from scratch.
  • Twice baked potatoes. I love these and practically lived on them in college. So easy and filling. I wash four russets, sprinkle them with kosher salt while they're still wet, then bake them for an hour or so. When they're just barely cool enough to handle, I scoop out the flesh with a soup spoon, mash it, then add grated cheddar, yogurt, steamed broccoli, asparagus, or some other leftover green vegetable. I put the skins in a glass baking dish, fill them, and bake for another 30 minutes. Another great leftover.
  • Lentil soup, with rice or alphabets pasta. Again, I make a big batch and freeze what's left.
  • Fish cakes made with leftover roast salmon or halibut, with steamed veggies.
  • Fried rice made with leftover meat and veggies (or frozen green beans and corn), a couple eggs, and miso.
  • Pasta with bolognese sauce. I make a big batch of sauce, then freeze it in quart-sized containers so I always have some on hand. If we make noodles for soup, I make enough for pasta night.
You may notice a pattern...almost everything I cook is good (or even better) the next day, uses leftovers, or can be added to something else. All four of us are home for lunch most days and I rarely make lunch--I just pull leftovers out of the refrigerator and reheat them. I say this as someone who used to have a serious aversion to leftovers and still turns her nose up at a lot of things (yuck on any leftovers with green beans). Now that I've figured out how to cook things that can be used in another meal or that actually improve overnight in the fridge, I love leftovers.

I don't rotate through these 10 meals every 10 days. Ideally, dinner each week follows a pattern of roast on Monday, eggs on Tuesday, soup on Wednesday, vegetarian(ish) on Thursday, fish on Friday, Italian on Saturday, and easy or fun on Sunday. Leftovers from dinner provide us with lunch the next day. A hypothetical week of meals would go something like this:
  • Monday: Oats for breakfast, egg salad or fried eggs for lunch if there are no leftovers from the weekend, roast chicken with potatoes and Brussels sprouts for dinner. Bake bread and make bagel dough in the morning. Roast chard for tomorrow's quiche while roasting dinner. After dinner, pick meat off the bones and start stock with carcass.
  • Tuesday: Boil and bake bagels first thing in the morning. Bagels & cream cheese for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, and quiche with cheddar, chard, and prosciutto for dinner.
  • Wednesday: Oats for breakfast, leftover quiche for lunch, chicken-corn soup for dinner. Every other week, pick up raw milk and make Neufchatel cheese and yogurt.
  • Thursday: French toast and bacon (cook extra for dinner), leftover soup, twice-baked potatoes with broccoli and bacon.
  • Friday: Oats, leftover potatoes, roast salmon with cauliflower and wild rice.
  • Saturday: Pancakes with blueberries, fish cakes, pasta with bolognese.
  • Sunday: Big late brunch, no lunch. I'll cook a casserole or start something in the slow cooker early in the day if we're going to be out. If not I'll make something new or special, like sushi!
So, within that framework and those 10 basic meals, there's a lot of possibilities for variety, but I don't have to fish out recipes or buy special ingredients. Anything on that list I could make today assuming I have defrosted or already cooked the meat involved. This is the beauty of having a thoughtfully stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer. I never go to the grocery store anymore at five o'clock in search of some ingredient essential for that evening's dinner. I also don't have to make elaborate meal plans every week before I go shopping because 1) I don't go shopping every week and 2) when I do shop for fresh produce, I just buy what's in season that we like and work it into my basic plan.

During the summer, we grill instead of roast. Like the oven, I tend to fill the grill to capacity and have a plan in mind for using whatever we don't eat that evening for another meal. Instead of soup, I made salad with leftovers. We also eat a lot more raw fresh vegetables during the summer and a lot less meat.

For the pantry challenge, I'm going to experiment more with using vegetables that I've fermented. Think borscht and choucroute garni. I also want to cook with beans more often than I do now. My kids love beans and I do make batches of black beans for them to have for quick lunches (or for Annabel to eat instead of potatoes as she inexplicably doesn't like potatoes), but I haven't gotten into making bean-based meals for the whole family. Anyone have a favorite bean dish to share?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pantry Challenge Preparations

I've been preparing for the December Pantry Challenge I wrote about in a post a few days ago. Next month, we will only spend $30 a week on food. The rest of what we eat will come from our pantry, freezers, and refrigerators. I've done a thorough inventory and stocked up on staples. Earlier this week I purchased 20 pounds of Bob's Red Mill organic white whole wheat flour, 5 pounds of BRM organic whole wheat pastry flour, and 10 pounds of BRM organic unbleached white bread flour, all on sale for $3.99 per 5 pound bag at New Seasons this week. (This is a pretty good deal on BRM flour--less expensive than 5-pound bags direct from Bob's.)

For fresh fruits and vegetables, we have about 30 pounds of apples on the front stoop along with a stalk of Brussels sprouts, 2 pounds of parsnips, 2 acorn squash, 2 delicata squash and 2 butternut squash. I have 20 pounds of Asian pears on order from Azure--they're a bit more expensive than apples or pears, but the kids love them and they keep well. Other than the occasional pomegranate (another kid fave), that's all the fresh fruit we eat this time of year, though I'm looking forward to the end of the month when oranges, especially blood oranges, come into season. I also have 5 pounds of beets (which I plan to ferment immediately), 5 pounds of carrots, and 5 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes on order.

For dairy, we will continue to buy 2 gallons of raw milk every other week, at $10/gallon (crazy, I know, but it's good stuff). I use most of that to make Neufchatel and yogurt. I have 5 pounds of raw milk cheddar and 1/2 pound of Parmesan coming from Azure. We used to keep a greater variety of cheeses on hand, but Azure doesn't carry stinky cheeses like Gorgonzola and brie. I could go get some if I really want it, but I don't find myself craving the more exotic flavors that my palate used to enjoy and I definitely don't relish the idea of going to New Seasons "just" for cheese (as I know much more would wind up in my cart). Rather, I find myself enjoying the simpler dairy products that I make at home: multitasking yogurt, tangy Neufchatel, and irresistible mozzarella.

With that and everything else we have in the house, I will hardly need to buy anything except some fresh green veggies. Just think how much time I will save not shopping during this busiest shopping month of the year. I loved that I hardly had any shopping to do for Thanksgiving and with the money we will save this month on groceries (and I may continue with this challenge in January), we'll be able to afford Dungeness crab for our Christmas Eve feast, something I look forward to immensely.

As I have become less and less dependent on the grocery store, I find that any extra time I spend in the kitchen is well worth not having to drag myself around fluorescent-lit markets full of stuff my family does not need. If I was the kind of person to keep track of such things, I believe I would find that I'm actually spending less total time on food procurement and preparation that I was a year or two ago. Some of that is because I have simplified meals. We don't eat the same 10 things all the time, but we eat about 10 basic meals most of the time, along with some seasonal and meat variations, special occasion menus, and the couple times a year that I made sushi.

What I am most looking forward to next month is planning meals solely around what we have at home. I believe this challenge will push me to greater heights of culinary creativity and to learn more of the ways of my grandmothers, who knew how to prepare meals from leftover this and that and throw together their pantry treasures into satisfying, healthy meals.

Friday, November 28, 2008

T-Day Report

True to form, our plans changed midstream yesterday. Instead of simply roasting our turkey, Mike suggested smoking it. Great idea! The only downside was no roasting pan drippings, so the gravy was kinda weak. I bolstered it with sage, parsley, and lots of butter. The turkey was quite good, though. Nicely done, Mike!

The sweet potatoes were fantastic. I love plain roasted sweet potatoes and don't feel they need a lot of dressing up, but the ginger, touch of maple syrup, and coconut milk were nice additions. I might try molasses next time. I liked the stuffing recipe overall, but it didn't call for any moistening or binding ingredients, like broth or egg, that I am accustomed to using. I had some leftover chicken gravy, so I added that and a couple eggs. Who likes dry, crumbly stuffing?

The biggest disappointment was the green beans. I was totally winging it as the recipe I was trying to replicate is at my mom's house in Maryland and my mom is at her Winter Estate in Florida (this would be a double-wide in a trailer park full of snowbirds, lest you get the mistaken impression that their winter home is a Palm Beach McMansion), so no access to said recipe and I could not find one like it on ye ol' Internet. Plus, the kids were anxious to get out of the house just as I was getting the beans ready, so I totally slopped it together. Literally, I put frozen green beans, half a chopped onion, and homemade sour cream in a 9" x 9" baking dish, tossed it all together, topped with grated cheddar cheese, and put it in the oven with the stuffing and sweet potatoes. Mike, smart guy that he is, said that he liked them. And they were not bad, just too raw on the onions and I should've added some bread crumbs on top for texture. Oh well.

We did go on a nice walk, stopping at our neighbors to wish them Happy Thanksgiving. The kids and I had done leaf rubbings earlier in the day and wrote messages of thanks on them to people on our street. We taped them to the doors of people who were not home and visited briefly with everyone who was home. We returned to a nearly-finished dinner and set the table with the silverware my mother-in-law gave us a couple years ago that we almost never use, plus these tiny "escarglow" candles made with beeswax in snail shells that I picked up at Gossamer, and poured a sparkling riesling from our favorite German winery.

The best part of our meal, which I forgot until I was halfway through my plate, was the cranberry sauce. I didn't get the apple cider for the recipe I had planned to make, so I peeled and chopped two Fuji apples instead. I also added the flesh of the orange as well as the zest. And I spiced it slightly differently, using a dash of cardamom, cinnamom, cloves, and ginger. I accidentally managed to replicate my Granny's cranberry sauce! There's nothing like the taste of food that takes you back in time, is there? That sauce transported me across 3000 miles and 30 years, directly to the steamy warmth of my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother's kitchen. Truly, it was just magical. There's a whole 'nother pint of it in the fridge and I plan to slather it all over my turkey and cream cheese sandwich today.

Lastly, the marbled pumpkin cheesecake didn't marble as well as I would have liked, mostly due to the lack of contrast between the pumpkin flavored cream cheese and the not flavored, but OMG it was really tasty! I added crystallized ginger to the pumpkin-flavored portion, but I don't think it improved the cake overall. The gingersnaps were quite good fact, we had real problem keeping our fingers out of the dough while it cooled to a slice-able temperature before I baked them. I'm not usually a cookie dough fan, but that gingersnap dough was yum! Definitely a keeper recipe and Mike tells me his mom loves ' I have a new food gift idea in mind, too.

After dinner and dessert, I played Uno with the kids while Mike washed dishes. Luc had terrific beginners luck, winning more round than Annabel or me. It was really nice to be home for T-Day this year...there were some stressful moments, like when I was about to start making the cheesecake and realized the beater for my mixer was missing (and still is), but overall, it was a low-stress, enjoyable day of wondrous aromas, terrific tastes, and family fun. Annabel and I went to bed early, like 8:15, and as she tucked in with me, she said to me, "This was a great day, Mommy." Who cares about not-quite-perfect green beans and missing beaters!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My First Thanksgiving

This is the first year I'll host Thanksgiving at my home. I'm excited to start some new food and non-food-related traditions with my family. The menu will be fairly traditional, but the green bean casserole will not have canned cream of mushroom soup and instead of pumpkin pie, I am making pumpkin cheese cake with a homemade gingersnap crust, because I have two pints of cream cheese leftover from the cheese making class I taught last Friday. As I review the recipes, I'm feeling quite pleased that most everything we'll need is already in the house (or on order, in the case of the turkey). Here's my menu plan:
With our pantry, fridges and freezers stocked, I don't have much shopping to do. I pick up the turkey from the Decks Tuesday afternoon at the Moreland Farmers Market, as well as some cranberries. Wednesday morning. I'll make the cranberry sauce, bake the sweet potatoes, steam wild rice for the dressing, and make the gingersnaps. That evening, I'll take the turkey out of the brine, then air dry it in the refrigerator over night. This makes for a very crispy skin.

On Thursday morning, I'll start with the cheesecake, so that can bake before the turkey and then cool while the turkey roasts. That will leave me with the sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, Brussels sprouts, and dressing to assemble while the turkey roasts. They'll go into the oven while the turkey rests, then it'll be time for our first Thanksgiving feast in our own home and for me to collapse in a heap!

Since this is supposed to be a holiday for expression our gratitude, I would like to start some new traditions. Something simple, like going around the table and naming something that we for which we are grateful. While dinner is cooking, I want the kids to work on cards for our neighbors, thanking them for all they've done for us and our neighborhood this year, as well as family and friends. As difficult as things are right now with Mike unemployed, we have felt so fortunate to be surrounded by such supportive, encouraging people.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pantry Challenge

One of my favorite food blogs, The Nourished Kitchen, is hosting a Pantry Challenge for the month of December and I'm going to participate. Our pantry, freezer, and refrigerator are all well-stocked now and copy of the out-of-print Fancy Pantry arrived in the mail yesterday. I am set!

To prepare for the challenge, I need do a more complete inventory than the one I did for a recent post, then I'll need to store up on few things before the end of November. Off the top of head, I know I need to stock up on
  • fresh cranberries, apples, pears, pomegranates, chestnuts, russet and fingerling potatoes
  • Rapadura and organic cane sugar, organic milk powder, chocolate chips, Celtic sea salt
  • white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, white bread flour, maybe white pastry flour
Also off the top of my head, my clean out goals for the month include
  • make applesauce with half bushel of apples on the front stoop
  • making desserts, sauce, chutneys, or jams with fruit that is in the freezer
  • use up frozen soups and stocks
  • render frozen leaf lard
  • make beef stock with frozen bones
  • make hot cocoa mix with cocoa in freezer
The difficulties I foresee are keeping our food budget to $30 per week given that we spend $40 per month just on raw milk. With our chickens on a laying holiday, I'm also spending about $28 per month on eggs--maybe less. That leaves about $13 per week for fresh vegetables, but do think we can manage on that as most of what we buy this time of year, kale, chard, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, are relatively inexpensive.

So, we're on for the challenge. How about you?

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Lawn Is Your Lawn

Richard Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, has planted an organic garden in front of his white house and has started a movement to persuade our next president grow a kitchen garden on the White House lawn. You can join the movement and learn more about it at Eat the View.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Preparing for Winter

First off, Lost Arts Kitchen is officially open for business! While visiting my family in October, I was came up with a name for my new business, wrote a business plan, and built my web site, which is now up and ready for constructive criticism. I will begin offering classes in January, though I may offer a holiday food-gift-making session before then if there is interest.

On to the topic at hand. The New York Times did a piece on root cellaring in its Home & Garden section today. My friend Harriet Fasenfest, a local restaurateur turned urban homesteader and owner of Preserve, is pictured and quoted in the article, which offers some good tips on storing vegetables over winter. We didn't grow or put up nearly as much food as I would have liked this year, but considering my health issues, I'm pleased I was able to do as much as I did. I've been building up our stores with food from local farms, markets, and Azure, and I am glad, with Mike out of work and prospects being slim, that we have a house full of food.

In the pantry we have or will have after today's Azure Standard delivery:
  • 10 quarts home canned tomato sauce
  • 10 quarts home canned peaches
  • 20 pints home canned apple sauce
  • 10 half-pints home canned raspberry jam
  • 10 half-pints home canned strawberry jam
  • 5 pounds black beans
  • 2 pounds lentils
  • 1 pound dry garbanzo beans
  • 50 pounds rye berries
  • 25 pounds wheat berries
  • 12 15-ounce cans pumpkin
  • 12 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans
  • 12 15-ounce cans black olives
  • 5 28-0unce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 18 6-ounces can tuna
  • 5 pounds brown basmati rice
  • 5 pounds brown jasmine rice
  • 10 pounds whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 pound dried cranberries
  • 20 pounds unbleached white flour
  • 10 pounds unbleached pastry flour
  • 1 gallon olive oil
  • 2 pounds tapioca pearls
  • 1 pound milk powder (I use this to thicken yogurt)
  • 1 pound cacao nibs
Most everything in the pantry is organic, local and/or fair trade, except the black olives and tuna. In our "root cellar" (that is, the basement bathroom) we have or will have soon:
  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 5 pounds beets
  • 5 pounds fingerling potatoes
  • 5 pounds russet potatoes
We store alliums in the stairwell to our basement. It's quite dry there.
  • 12 pounds yellow onions
  • 1 pound garlic
Since I'm getting pretty good prices on these bulk produce items from Azure, I haven't felt compelled to buy say 50 pounds of potatoes. I might next month though, just to see how well they last in our cellar. I would like to get fresh apples and pears soon to store as well.

In our freezer, we have or will have within the next couple weeks:
  • 90 pounds grassfed beef
  • 90 pounds pastured pork
  • 50 pounds venison
  • 10 pounds grassfed lamb
  • 5 whole pastured chickens
  • 9 pounds halibut filets
  • 9 pounds salmon filets
  • 10 pounds butter
  • 10 pounds beef bones
  • 2 pounds chicken feet
  • 2 pounds leaf lard
  • 5 pounds cocoa powder (hot cocoa season is almost here!)
  • 5 pounds sunflower seeds
  • 2 pounds pecans
  • 2 pounds walnuts
  • 1 pound almonds
  • 3 gallons blueberries
  • 2 gallons green beans
  • 4 quarts asparagus
  • 3 10-ounce bags cranberries (I plan to can cranberry sauce with these soon)
  • 20 pounds white whole wheat flour
  • several pounds miscellaneous flours and meals
  • several gallons berries that have been in the freezer for over a year that I plan to turn into syrup or jam soon
All of our meat is local. The beef and pork comes from the Deck Family Farm. The chickens come from Deo Volente Farm. The lamb comes from a friend in Happy Valley. The venison comes from my husband's first Oregon deer, that he finally got last weekend after seven years of hunting here. Yay, Mike! He butchered it yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning, he helped slaughter and quarter our lamb from Mary. He and I will butcher that today. We have so little room in our freezers now that we will be selling some lamb to folks in our buying club. We also have a pastured turkey on order from the Decks, which we will have to cook whenever they deliver it because we won't have space to freeze it whole.

And in our pickle fridge, we have:
  • 2 half-gallons sour cucumbers
  • 3 half-gallons sauerkraut
  • 1 quart pickled beets (plus more that I will pickle soon)
  • 1 quart sauerreuben (pickled turnips)
  • 5 pounds raw cheddar
With all this food in storage, plus what we have in the kitchen cupboards, refrigerator and freezer, all I have to do is buy fresh fruits and vegetables every week or so and milk every two weeks. Buying groceries in bulk from Azure and buying meat in bulk direct from local farmers is saving us both money and time, and gives me piece of mind. Come what may, my family will at least have plenty to eat.

Relief, Elation, Hope, Gratitude

I'm relieved that an indisputably fair election has come to pass in the US.
I'm elated to see an African American elected president in my lifetime.
I'm hopeful that a genuinely good man will lead our nation with intelligence, compassion, and integrity.
I'm grateful to everyone who voted, who volunteered on the Obama campaign, and who worked to register new voters.

My faith in our electoral process has been renewed. What a great day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

No Time for Love, Dr. Jones...

Okay, is there anyone reading this blog who gets the reference above? Thankfully, we are living in the glorious age of YouTube, so I can share with you this clip from my favorite movie of 1994, Clerks. Now that you get the reference, I'm sure you feel your day is complete. Go waste some time watching more clips from the movie...better yet, rent it. Clerks was particularly relevant to me in 1994, as I was working as a bookseller. There is no retail worker more convinced of her intellectual superiority over her customers than the lowly bookseller. Randal got it right, though, "If we're so fuckin' advanced, then what are we doing working here?"

Anyway...I don't have time for much of a post. Looking at how long it's been since I last wrote here, obviously I haven't had time for a while. I have been somewhat overwhelmed with "issues" and busy continuing with many of the changes I've written about here. Our freezer is stocked with beef and pork from the Decks, chicken from Deo Volente Farm, and Alaskan salmon and halibut I bought through Azure Standard. I've also managed to stash three gallons of blueberries and three gallons of green beans in the freezer, bearly--the freezer is now as full as it should be as we head into winter. I continue to bake bread and bagels regularly, make raw milk Neufchatel cheese and yogurt every other week, have of gallons sauerkraut and fermented pickles in our second fridge, and have incorporated homemade mayonnaise and mustard into my repertoire. After several years of not putting up more than a dozen or so jars of jam, this summer and fall I have not only canned jam, but peaches and tomato sauce as well. I didn't can a lot--12 quarts of peaches and 11 quarts of tomato sauce--but considering my health issues, which make it painful for me to stand for long, I'm pleased I got that much done. In November, I plan to turn our basement bathroom into a cold storage area, for keeping bulk potatoes, squash, and the like over winter. I would like to figure out a second cold storage area for apples and pears. Onions, I discovered this summer, keep well at the top of our basement stairs, which stays somewhat warm, but very dry. I kept a 10 pound bag of Walla Wallas there for a couple months and only the very last one showed signs of deterioration.

We now have not three, but six chickens! In August, I designed and Mike built a nifty A-frame chicken tractor...that is, a chicken coop with wheels.
Much to Mike's consternation, before he was done building the coop, I bought three pullets, Pike (a Light Brahma), T-Rex (Golden Sex Linked), and Jane Austin Sunberry (Buff Orpington), from a farm in St. Helens. As you can see, we still need to finish painting a few parts of it.
Our other three chickens, Henny Penny, Brownie, and Ladybug, came from my friend Chrissy's mother-in-law, Sue, who was overwhelmed with seven chickens. They're all Rhode Island Reds. Here's Henny Penny.The Brownies, as Sue called them, and as we call them here, too, are laying occasionally, but not always in their nest box. We have found eggs in a brush pile and in a stand of lemon balm. Who knows if they're laying somewhere else in the yard as well. Chicken-watching is a favorite family activity these days and we all enjoy their antics.

Okay, I guess I found the time for a lengthy update afterall! There's more to come--over the next few weeks, I will be getting set to launch an exciting new business venture. No, I'm not going to tell you about it yet! Stay tuned!

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Making Changes, and Not

I have been thinking a lot about change lately...personal change, cultural change, political change. I'm not the only one. Barack Obama is not only promising change, but in banning donations from lobbyists, running a radically different campaign and now, as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, pushing the Democratic National Convention to change fund raising strategies as well. All around, I am learning of people who are changing their habits in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, from riding public transportation to learning how to find and prepare organic whole foods on the cheap. At home, we are making changes, too, many of which I've chronicled here.

During the spring, I attended the Center for Earth Leadership's Agent of Change workshop along with 15 other Portlanders who feel called "to help create a sustainable future." We learned about theories and strategies for citizen-led cultural change, drawing especially from the ideas outlined in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this workshop, having the opportunity to meet this inspirational group and especially Jeanne and Dick Roy, longtime Earth activists and founders of the Northwest Earth Institute and the Center for Earth Leadership. I'm am now an official Agent of Change, so mind your step or I may be forced to us my new secret powers on you!

Change is hard, even when we feel profoundly moved to make a change, even when our collective conscience cries out, "Change NOW!" taking up a new habits challenges most of us. So, how do we do it? When we come to the realization that for the sake of our home on Earth, for the sake of our children's children, or simply for the sake of ourselves, we must make changes, what do we do?

Recently, I learned of the Japanese philosophy of kaizen, which emphasizes making continuous, small improvement throughout all aspects of one's life. Since World War II, this philosophy has particularly informed Japanese business practices and can be credited with the success of manufacturers such as Toyota, but its principals can be applied to our personal lives as well. Reading a recent New York Times article on the subject, I was struck by one passage in particular:
Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’ ” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

As I have been consciously making changes in my family's consumption habits, I have noticed myself thinking more and more out-of-the-box. As I eschew the new, I must come up with creative ways to re-purpose what we already own or can find used. Instead of seeing individual problems that need solving, I find myself examining and continually re-jiggering entire systems.

For example, my husband has been working incredibly long hours for the last six months, which has thrown our whole food system into disarray--the old system, from meal planning to grocery buying to meal prep--was disrupted. For a while, I just reacted to each of these aspects individually, with little success. I slowly began to recognize that the whole system needed adjusting and the changes I've been making for the last several months--planning for meals months in advance rather than a week or two, buying meat in bulk, ordering groceries from Azure standard, switching to even more whole, seasonal, and organic food--have been conscious attempts to make our food system align with our values and our lifestyle. I have had to step outside the conventional system and learn (or in some cases, remember from my childhood) "new" ways of doing things.

Another recent find on making continual improvement focuses on the change a typical American family make do over the next decade to reduce its carbon imprint to zero. (This is a great issue of Yes! magazine, by the way. Note all the other climate solution articles listed on the left side of the page.) According to this carbon footprint calculator, my family's current carbon footprint is about half that of the typical American household, largely due to the fact that neither my husband nor I commute to work. Easy access to excellent local food and our temperate climate help us keep our footprint small, too. I am embarrassed to admit our electricity consumption is 112% of the American average according to the Riot 4 Austerity calculator. Anticipate some posts this summer about our new electricity diet, along with some kvetching about our home's lack of decent cross ventilation.

Paradoxically, while we often find making changes in attitude and personal habits difficult, even the most environmentally conscious among us struggles with not changing to the latest model mobile phone or with letting go of the conviction that only a major remodel to our home will make us happy. Beth Meredith and Eric Storm, the green home designers who wrote the latter piece, came to our home a few years ago when I was convinced that a major remodel was essential to my future happiness. Truly, I did not believe I could survive life with two children and no dishwasher. (Wonder of wonders, I have. Thankfully, Mike took up the bulk of dish washing when Luc arrived.) We have never been able to afford the remodel and while I still really want an automatic dishwasher and a gas stove in my kitchen, and wish my kids could have separate bedrooms someday, I generally find myself feeling grateful for all we have rather than wishing we had more.

So, how can we, as individuals "Save the Earth?" We can make conscious, incremental changes, that stretch us, but don't stress us. We can develop a list of intentions and remind ourselves of them when we feel that itch to buy something new or make major "improvements" that require lots of energy and resources. We can use a few of the 86,400 seconds we have every day to count our blessings. We can't all run for president, reduce our carbon footprint by 90% in the next year, or grow our own food, but we can all start with something small and with our hearts and minds open, reach for something big.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Azure Standard Order This Week

Sorry for the short notice, but I am placing my next Azure Standard order this week. The deadline for ordering is Tuesday, with delivery expected Thursday afternoon. If you want to join my order, let me know and I'll send you the information you need.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fresh Ways with Our Food

As I wrote a few weeks ago, our family has made some changes regarding how much meat we eat and where it comes from. When I first decided to switch to buying only meat from local farmers raising pastured or naturally fed animals, I assumed our meat costs would rise significantly and so I decided it would be best to just eat less. As it turns out, by buying in bulk, we're actually spending less per pound than we did buying meat from Gartner's, our local butcher that sells grain-fed beef raised in Banks, and significantly less than what New Seasons charges for its grass-fed Country Natural Beef from Eastern Oregon. By the time I figured that out, though, I had already gotten into some new meal planning and cooking habits and so plan to stick with eating smaller quantities of higher quality meat.

My primary method for reducing our meat consumption has been to only cook it once a week. For the last couple months, that has meant roasting a whole chicken, a beef rump roast, or some other 3-5 pounds of meat for dinner on Monday. We eat as much of it as we want that evening, then I add the remains to salads, soups, casseroles, or sandwiches the rest of the week. We also eat a lot more eggs, legumes, and potatoes. Twice-baked potato, with sharp cheddar cheese, yogurt, and broccoli or asparagus, and maybe a bit of prosciutto or bacon, is my all-time favorite cool weather comfort food.

Mark Bittman wrote a piece in the New York Times recently about reducing meat consumption, with several good ideas on how to go about it. We've incorporated a number of his tips, making rules, buying less meat and more vegetables, and we forgot the "protein thing" a long time ago. And while I have learned to really appreciate all manner of fresh vegetables, I'm still learning about cooking with whole grains and incorporating them into my weekly meal plans. As a kid, I liked having fruit for dessert and want to re-adopt that habit.

Along with reducing my meat consumption, I've also been on a book diet, too, so my trip to Looking Glass Bookstore in Sellwood last week was a special treat. I bought two new cookbooks there to help me learn fresh ways with fresh fruits and vegetables: Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by John Peterson and Angelic Organic, and Local Flavors by Deborah Madison. What I like best about both these books is that they are organized by season. Both cookbooks feature uncomplicated recipes using familiar ingredients most of us have in our kitchens.

Farmer John's has sections devoted to the early, mid, late, and extended seasons, loosely grouped according to leafy, fruiting, rooting, and storable vegetables (though carrots are grouped with the fruiting varieties and cauliflower and broccoli are with the rooting veggies). Each vegetable has its own section, with recipes, storage and handling tips, culinary uses, and culinary partners. Farmer John's is full of quotes from Rudolf Steiner on nutrition and biodynamic farming, plus excerpts from the Angelic Organic CSA newsletter. All the recipes are vegetarian, though some include dairy. This week I'll try Easy Greens with Peanuts and Creamy Choi Soup.

Local Flavors starts with the early spring produce and basically moves chronologically through the seasons, but fruits and vegetables are grouped in families: greens; crucifers including cabbage, kale, broccoli, turnips; the vining cucurbits family of squashes, melons, and cukes; corn and beans (not closely related, but I suppose the connection is that we grow them to eat their seeds); vegetable fruits like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers; roots and tubers; stone fruits; pomme fruits; citrus and suptropical fruits, as well as foods that keep, such as nuts, dried fruits, rice, and honey. Inspired by her recipe for radish butter, I've been making radish sandwiches for a couple weeks. Last week we had Pasta with Peas, Fresh Sage, and Bread Crumbs. Annabel loved gathering the sage leaves and blossom for this...the peas came from our garden as well. I'm trying Stir-Fried Snow Peas with Pea Greens tonight.

What fresh ways with the season's offerings have you discovered lately?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hasta la Vista, Banana?

I've been working on a long, link-filled post for a week or so and haven't posted it, or anything else lately, because I a got stuck. I was inspired to move on and get out of my rut by an interesting piece in the New York Times today about the expected spike in the price of bananas, thanks to floods in Ecuador, rising fuel costs, and a virus that may wipe out the single variety of bananas that is currently grown for the worldwide market. I rarely buy bananas. Personally, I'm indifferent to them taste-wise. Ethically, well, what's to like about bananas? One hundred years of colonialism, oppression, and deforestation for a fruit that must travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to its final destination under refrigeration? Ugh.

I do sometimes buy bananas on those rare occasions when I take the kids to the produce market and they beg me for a bunch. Despite my ethical misgivings about buying fruit from afar, I try to pick my battles with the kids. I've been trying to explain the whole concept of buying local, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to Annabel lately. She's starting to get it, but she still wants me to buy watermelon, now. I've stuck firm on the watermelon and I suppose that one's easier for me because I grew up eating it only during the summer, whereas I've always known bananas as a year-round fruit. (I have often wonder, though, what is the natural season for bananas?) In my youth, watermelon was strictly a late summer, outdoor food, to be enjoyed during backyard cookouts. Strawberries came ready around my birthday in late May and strawberry shortcake was my traditional birthday cake. Well, that and Lady Baltimore cake, but you can't have too many traditional birthday cakes, if you ask me.

My tastes remain rather strictly geared toward what's in season. Recently, while cleaning out our deep freeze in anticipation of having to store 100 or so pounds of beef, I composted gallons of berries, frozen years ago and now freezer-burned and hardened into solid blocks. My husband wondered why we had so many berries we didn't use and I realized that I just don't crave berries out of season and so those bags just sit there in the bottom of the freezer, unused. We froze a bunch of asparagus this spring, when it was coming on so strong we couldn't keep up with it, and I am determined to cook with it soon, because I know come fall, I won't be interested. Next year, we'll try to give more away.

I want my kids to develop this same sense of the seasonality for food; to experience anticipation for asparagus, peas, strawberries, beans, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins; to grow up with palates that know the difference between the fresh-picked and the well-traveled. It ain't easy, though, to convince them to eat greens or asparagus. Just last night, I made a bread pudding with local chard, kale, eggs, sorta local raw milk (I know I shouldn't count Sequim as local, but I haven't found a local raw milk dairy without a wait list), Canadian nitrate-free bacon (uh, we'll be getting bacon from the Decks in the near future), and the crusty ends of home baked bread. Luc ate what I fed him, though he mostly wanted the bacon. Annabel wouldn't touch it and ate a (nitrate-free, from Old Country Sausage) hotdog instead. Again, picking battles. I won't make her eat greens, yet, but I think from now on, I'll stand firm on bananas.

It's a perennial question for parents of young children, but for those of us trying to eat with the seasons, it's even more of a challenge: How do you get them to eat the good stuff? Also, what do you do when they refuse to eat what you have cooked for the family?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Our rhubarb patch looks spectacular this year and Sunday I finally got around to doing some rhubarb cookin'. I made two recipes from The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving: Rhubarb-Ginger Chutney and Gingered Rhubarb Jam with Honey. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with either finished product. The chutney may improve with age and will be fine with pork, but my immediate impression was that it lacked the sweet and sour contrast of a good chutney. The jam is far too sweet for my taste--the honey completely overwhelms the rhubarb and ginger. The kids will love it, though, and the nice thing about making small batches is that we're not stuck with eating tons of something we don't like.

Fortunately, I did manage to make one fantastic rhubarb recipe, which I found at The Rhubarb Compendium, which truly has everything you ever wanted to know about growing, cooking, and even cleaning, with the first of spring's fruity ruby beauties. Continuing with the rhubarb-ginger theme, I made Gingered Rhubarb Apple Crisp, replacing two of the apples with some firm Washington pears I picked up at the market Saturday (which had me wondering just how do they keep those apples and pears so fresh for so long). Well, this was just absolutely one of the best desserts I've ever made. The ginger and rhubarb combination is amazing and the crystalline oatmeal topping added just the right contrast to the soft fruit. We had the crisp for dessert Sunday evening and by lunchtime on Monday, there was only one piece left. I'm looking forward to making it again later this week.

So, we still have more rhubarb to harvest. What else might we try to do with it? Freezing is out, as we're getting our quarter of grassfed Oregon beef on Saturday (!!!) and I'm determined not to add anything to the freezer. Anyone have a good rhubarb jam recipe that shows off its tartness rather than masks it with sugar or honey?

Monday, June 02, 2008

With a Little Help From My Friends

We're huge Beatles fans here at Chez Musser. Sure, my husband and I initially bonded over our mutual love of Led Zeppelin, but when we got married, our processional was Here Comes the Sun (played my brother on acoustic guitar). Now, we have the kids hooked on Yellow Submarine, both the album and movie, and Sgt. Pepper's, which I'm instructed to play, "Loud, Mommy!" in the car. Anyway, thanks, Friends and Family, for helping me get over my funk last week. I received so many kind words and thoughtful advice, from people I didn't even realize read my blog! Thank you thank you thank you!

Amazingly, the day after I wrote about my sadness about the eventual sale of the Musser Farm to developers, I happened upon a copy of the March 2008 issue of Progressive Farmer magazine at my doctor's office, with the headline, "Saving Our Farmland" on the cover. After my appointment, at sat in her waiting room and devoured Losing Two Acres, Every Minute. While I have known that there are organizations out there like Oregon Sustainable Land Trust, preserving farm land on a donation bases, I did not realize that local and state governments are actually buying development rights to farmland, leaving the farming family free to sell the land for agricultural uses. What a win-win deal. Farmer gets to keep his land, while getting some cash (which could be especially helpful for an aging farmer unable to produce as much as he did in earlier years), still leave a legacy for his children, and yet know that the land that sustained him and his family will remain farm land. I'm going to send a copy of the article to my Aunt Helen and Uncle Paul, as they not be aware that a program exists right there in York County. I can't be sure they'll be interested, but it's worth a shot!

Saturday, May 31, 2008


This is Moo the Cow, as he is now known in our family. Annabel named him Moo after I showed her his picture and explained he would provide us with hamburgers and steak soon. She's a little sad about it. I suggested we think of Moo the Cow and thank him whenever we eat beef at home. I plan to print his picture and hang it on the freezer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Azure Standard Order Next Week

I'm going to place my first Azure Standard order next week, for delivery on Thursday afternoon. If you would like to join my order and will be available to come pick up your items by 9pm Thursday evening, please let me know. I'll submit my order sometime Tuesday, so get in touch with me by Monday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

For Years to Come?

This afternoon, Annabel and I got to talking about her namesake, my paternal grandmother, Anna Bell Doll Musser. I have a distinct memory of when I learned Granny's full name. She had a plate commemorating her and Pop Pop's 50th anniversary on a table in her living room, inscribed with her maiden name and Pop's name and their wedding date. I remember thinking that her name was the most beautiful name of any real person that I'd ever known and that Anna Bell Doll seemed an incongruously delicate and girly name for my sturdy, sensible Granny. Somehow, I loved her even more for having this wonderful name. From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Annabel, I knew she would be a girl and early on, before the ultrasound lab tech confirmed for me what I already knew, I also had decided (after consulting Mike, of course) what what my baby girl's name would be. We never considered any other names for her...had she come out a boy, he would have likely spent his first several weeks of life on the outside without a permanent name. She would be Annabel. Pronounced AH-na-bel, with the sensible German spelling rather than the fanciful French spelling, as Mike put it.

So, I was telling Annabel some of this and she wanted to see some pictures of Granny . I have some prints around, but I knew my dad has many old photos up on his web site. I didn't realize the treasure he had put up there and so was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this page of pictures of Musser Farm, in Manchester, Pennsylvania, circa 1942-43.

A little background about the pictures. Sometime in the early 1940s, Christian B. Musser (aka Pop Pop), decided to try contour plowing his small (acreage, Dad?) farm. The US Soil Conservation Service helped Pop figure out how to go from traditional straight furrow cultivation to contour farming and the USDA, bless 'em, filmed the process over a year long period, in an effort to create a bit of pro-contour-plowing propaganda to convince other farmers of the ease and benefits of contour farming. Contour plowing prevents soil erosion and after millions of acres of farmland lost top soil during the 1930s, the USDA began actively promoting the method through the SCS.

I've watched this short film, entitled For Years to Come, many times over the years and am always utterly fascinated watching my grandparents, uncles, and aunts, all so young, smiling shyly as the camera trains on them picking peaches, carrying baskets of eggs or big jars full of summer's bounty up from the cellar. To see these people, whom I have only known in person as "old," animated in the spring of life is such a gift. To see the Musser Farm, now in its demise with my Uncle Paul (who bought the farm my grandparents in the 1960s) turning 80 this year and none of his kids taking it over, in its glorious, beautiful heyday, pleases me to no end. I never knew the farm with such a variety of crops and animals--pastured no less! I spent weeks there every summer as a child, chasing ducks, helping my Aunt Helen sort eggs, and just generally wandering around and exploring. Many of my happiest childhood memories come from that place.

Anyway, I stumbled on this trove of stills from the film on my dad's site and as I sat there looking at these pictures with my daughter, marveling at the primitive yet ingenious tools they used and the abundant beautiful crops they grew, I couldn't help but wonder about their farming practices. Were they organic? Did they compost? My dad has often commented on the rich dark soil we have here at our place and wistfully noted that Pop Pop would marvel at my soil. What would Pop Pop think of my pathetic garden? Maybe he'd be impressed with my asparagus and artichokes.

I think of Granny everytime I can, with her spectacular bursting-at-the-seams pantry. I wish I understood its organization. It seems somewhat random, but I can't help but think there must have been some reason to it. Did she can small batches and just add jars wherever she had space? Did she put jars in the order she wanted them taken back out? Was life just so unhurried then that she didn't need some high level of organization to keep things from getting chaotic? Oh, Granny, I have so many questions for you.

Please excuse me for going on and on about this. (Well, I suppose I shouldn't have to beg your indulgence. This is my blog afterall. I can go on and on if I want to, right?) I'm rather attached to those people and that farm. I miss them all terribly, especially my grandparents. For years I have fantasized about taking over the farm myself, transitioning it to organic, bringing animals back on the land. I know I'll never live on the East Coast again and I'm too old and out-of-shape to take up farming. Unfortunately, with no one in the family to pass the farm on to and the property being worth so much now, it seems unlikely that anyone wanting to farm could afford to buy this valuable bit of land and its lovely old buildings, now surrounded by suburban development and industrial parks.

I've been sick and down for a couple days...we just learned that one friend has bone cancer and a neighbor has leukemia, another friend's company is going out of business, someone stole the catalytic converter off our truck, and my husband's job remains in jeopardy, too. I'm completely wallowing and now find myself falling even further into my pit o' despair imagining Musser Farm being no more. Could someone please send me some uplifting news?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Birthday Thoughts on Being the Change

Today is my 41st birthday! I'm so glad to find myself still growing and learning. You may already know I am hosting Monique Dupre's Introduction to Sustainable Living on a Budget workshop at my home in NE Portland on July 21st at 7pm. The price for workshops goes up to $35 on June 1st, so register soon! Come learn and grow with us!

One of my mantras these days is Progress Not Perfection. I've been making a lot of the incremental changes toward sustainable living for a while...years in fact. I first became aware of and began consuming organic food in college during the late 1980s, but the changes I made then were small. Three years ago, when my oldest was two I began making more intentional and dramatic changes in my family's diet and home life.
  • It started when I removed all the commercially prepared salad dressings from the refrigerator (though we still have a vast collection of other least seven varieties of mustard and several chutneys and curry pastes). I also began to consciously eschew most processed foods--especially those containing any of the many additives my grandmother wouldn't have found in her kitchen--instead relying more seasonal, local, and organic food. I cleansed our pantry of all the processed foods I no longer felt good about feeding to my family.
  • To maintain our new at-home eating lifestyle after the birth of our son two years ago, I began cooking and freezing batches of stews, soups, and sauces and preparing "freezer marinades" in earnest during the last month or two of my pregnancy.
  • Soon after Luc was born, friends introduced me to Nourishing Traditions and Feeding the Whole Family, and I started cooking with more whole grains and legumes.
  • A year ago, I began a "buy nothing new year," which only lasted six months, but I did replace using paper napkins and towels with cloth equivalents. At the same time, I began purging our home of junky toys and anything that I no longer found beautiful or useful. These early de-cluttering efforts impacted my shopping habits and I now think twice before buying anything. I still find myself shopping for entertainment or when I'm anxious, but more than once I have walked away from a shopping cart full of impulses when I realized what I was doing.
  • In August 2007, I began baking all our family's bread and bagels every week. I was too busy one week before Christmas and another time right before Annabel's birthday in April, but otherwise I've been amazed at how easily I have integrated bread-making into our life. It wasn't easy at first and I baked a lot of loaves that didn't rise properly, but now I consistently make decent bread.
  • For the last several months I have been learning about long term food storage, making cheese, and raw food fermentation, though I haven't begun to put what I've learned into practice, but for a batch of yogurt cheese and quark.
  • I continue with my de-cluttering efforts throughout the house and I donate, freecycle, sell, or recycle as much as possible. I am learning more and more ways to keep my "trash" out of the waste stream.
  • I have also been de-cluttering my calendar, keeping our family's outside commitments to a minimum. This is still hard and I find myself over-committed occasionally, but I am getting better at saying "no" to requests for my time--even when an activity sounds fun or interesting. My husband and I now share a Google calendar which helps us keep our schedules synched. Annabel just has two scheduled activities each week, outdoor school Friday mornings and German school Saturday mornings, instead of the five she had a year ago. She still sees at least one friend a week during my weekly childcare swap and we inevitably arrange one other playdate or outing every week. I worry less, though about getting her "socialized" by other kids and spend more time with her one-on-one.
  • Last week I made another step on the path and ordered a whole Oregon grass-fed steer to share with a group of friends. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've reduced our meat consumption by half over the last few months.
  • After a hiccup in the plan to drink raw milk from a Sequim, Washington, dairy, I picked up a gallon late Wednesday evening and hope to have better luck with persuading Annabel to enjoy it this time. She wants to make cheese with me and I think we'll make some raw milk mozzarella on Tuesday.
  • I'm currently now working on my first Azure Standard order. I've been diligently comparing prices with WinCo, Bob's Red Mill, and New Seasons, and Azure Standard has significantly better prices on everything. It's like Costco for those of us who appreciate whole organic foods, but they deliver.
I have listed all these changes not to brag--not at all--but to demonstrate that these changes take time. I know some people are able to incorporate them more quickly than we have. I still don't have the gardening thing down, despite over six years of trying. It's one of my great frustrations--I come from Pennsylvania Dutch farm stock, afterall! We still eat out more than I would like. Each of these changes has come with some failures and frustrations (bread baking day was NOT as happy time here the first few weeks I tried to experiment with using whole grains, for example).

Success with these changes, I have found, is finding a system that works, attaching the new habits to old ones, assessing what's working and what isn't, tweaking the system, and trying anew. It took me six months of baking bread and making bagels separately every week to figure out that I could bake bread and make bagel dough on the same day (the bagel dough ferments overnight in the fridge). Now, I only have to pull out all my flours and grains and wash my bread mixer once a week. Duh! I can't believe it took me so long to figure that out! I'm sure there will be some issues with this big order of beef and my first few orders from Azure Standard, but I'm also sure I'll figure out ways to make it all work for our family.

I spent my 20s and 30s being an activist but now I find myself more satisfied with making changes at home rather than trying to change the rest of the world. I feel like that's all that I can do these days and maybe that's not enough, but at the same time, I do believe I'm doing exactly what I should be doing. Afterall, I have the next generation watching what I do, very intently!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Calculations and Ruminations of All That Is Grass-Fed

After weeks of research, mulling, querying, and more mulling, I have figured out where to get our meat for the coming year. I decided to buy a quarter of beef and a side of pork from Deck Family Farm near Junction City, located west of Eugene. I hope to go in with friends on those purchases and now just need to get confirmation and deposits from all the people who said, "Yeah, great idea!" when I suggested getting shares of a steer and hog. I'll also be getting a lamb from local writer and homesteader Mary Rosenblum and I just ordered six chickens from Rebecca, who organized a large order of roasters from Deo Volente Farm near Mulino. Later in the year, I'll order a turkey from the Deck family.

When I last wrote about finding pastured local meat, I was still not sure how much of everything I should order. Figuring out how much of a steer our family is likely to eat within a year led me to deciding to make some fairly radical (for us) changes to our eating habits. Usually, we eat meat at least once a day, at dinner time. Lunch often includes meat too, though breakfast rarely does. I know eating so much meat is not sustainable, both in terms of our food budget and planetary resources. I also found trying to calculate our annual meat consumption overly taxing and decided it would be easier to reduce and simplify--my mantra with just about everything these days. So out of both altruism and laziness, I decided to limit myself to cooking meat for the family to just once a week. For about six weeks now, I've been doing just that, cooking a rump roast, pork loin, or whole chicken at the beginning of the week and then using the meat variously--in sandwiches, soups, salads--throughout the week. This has been working out well for us. We're eating more eggs and legumes and while I haven't been keeping any tallies, it seems like I'm spending less on food lately at the same time everyone else seems to be complaining about spending more.

Here is how I arrived at the various amounts of meat to order for our family for a year. The typical steer yields about 195 pounds of meat per side, roughly 65 pounds of steaks, 65 pounds of roasts, and 65 pounds of ground beef. Half that amount, 97 pounds, will more than suffice for our family for a year. That's about five pounds of roasts or steaks and 3 pounds of ground per month. Currently, average American beef consumption is about 60 pounds per year. I estimate that our kids each eat about one-sixth of whatever meat we cook and that my husband and I eat one-third each. If we limit our beef consumption to what we eat at home, my husband and I will eat half as much beef as the average American over the next year.

The typical whole hog yields about 144 pounds of meat, including three pounds of feet, five pounds of head, and 23 pounds of back fat. So, minus the that stuff we wouldn't eat, a side of pork would have about 60 pounds of meat that we would eat. If we again assume Mike and I would each eat a third of that total, our annual pork consumption would be less than half the current American average.

Whole roasted chicken is such a favorite at our house and again, we can feast on the remains for the whole week. I brine the bird overnight, air-dry it in the fridge all day, put butter mixed with salt and pepper beneath the skin, fill the cavity with garlic and a quartered lemon or orange, then roast at 500 degrees for an hour or so (usually less). Although any chicken cooked with this method will yield crispy skin and succulent flesh, I can really taste the difference between pastured chicken and conventionally raised birds. Even the organic, "free-range" chicken from New Seasons isn't as tasty as the pastured ones we've gotten from Abundant Life Farm.

We get a dozen or two eggs a week from my friend Chrissy and her in-laws and I've decided to go back to getting raw milk from the Portland Real Milk network. I stopped getting it for a month or so because Annabel says she doesn't like it, but when I pick up our order next week, I'm going to put it in a container from the store and see if she notices the difference. I think her reaction wasn't to the taste so much as the unfamiliar container and a wee bit of contrariness for its own sake. Some days, whatever I like, she does not, and such is the nature of five-year-old girls.

That's all on the pastured meat, dairy and egg front! I'm so pleased to be saying goodbye to mystery meat and hello to real, live farmers and their fantastic offerings.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Joys of Decluttering

Wow! I have been decluttering our bedroom for a week or so and after a big push yesterday to get the closet cleared of everything that I didn't want in there* while my kids were at a friend's for our weekly childcare swap, I am really beginning to enjoy the benefits of a less cluttered space.

This morning, I let Annabel look through my closet--one of the first times I've ever allowed her to because prior to this week, it had been so full I didn't dare let any curious child even peek inside for fear of the mess that would get made, the purposely hidden (yet forgotten) items that would get found, and so forth. All day, I have felt a small wave of relaxation every time I saw the warm glow of the wood surface of my dresser, no longer covered with dust or piled high with my children's out-of-season or outgrown clothing, digital camera, tape gun, ugly hair ties, and broken toys, but displaying a small collection of pretty containers and momentos. I found myself putting things away in the closet, because I knew I wouldn't have to see grocery bags of outgrown children and toys, staged for delivery to the consignment store or shelter and the boxes of unsorted items from the all areas of the house, hidden there during some rushed clean-up before a party.

I realized today that opening that closet always reminded me of this seemingly insurmountable task of organizing my whole house. Recently, I decided to break down the job of organizing my whole house into manageable tasks and have managed to complete the first major one on time and under budget. There are only five rooms upstairs and five rooms in the basement: master bedroom, Annabel's (and someday Luc's as well) room, bathroom, kitchen, living/dining room are up and Mike's office, the laundry, utility room, craft/guest room, and second bathroom are down. I decided to attend to some major task in each room, plus the hallway, front entrance, patio, carport, and sheds, every season for the next year. For example, in both the bedrooms, I'll de-clutter the closets in the spring, underbed storage in the summer, prepare outgrown and unwanted warm season clothes for consignment and donation in the fall, and de-clutter the dressers in the winter. As another example, in the kitchen, I'll de-clutter the base cabinets, the island, and the fridge this spring, the upper cabinets, counters, and freezer in the summer, the wine cabinet and built-in this fall. By winter all areas of the kitchen will have been de-cluttered and I'll just have ongoing maintenance de-cluttering and cleaning to do.

This evening, I was tossing a ball down the hallway for the kids in some game Annabel made up for us and realized that I was not worried about them running into my bedroom and knocking over piles of clutter and laundry in baskets or tripping over stray shoes. I think this is where serenity comes from--knowing that I don't have to worry about things getting broken, lost, and strewn about or try to shove aside that nagging sensation of undone work. For me, this is the goal of de-cluttering. It's serenity.

Funny thing is, after all this work in my bedroom, I still cannot find my favorite pair of pants. I don't remember where or when I last wore them, but they've been missing for over a week now and I've done the laundry twice since. My house is more organized than at any time since I moved here--particularly my bedroom, where most of my other garb spends its time when its not on my body and to a lesser extent our laundry room, where it usually spends the rest of its time off. Where in the world are my brown velour pants?

* There is still excess, unwanted, never-t0-be-worn-again clothes in our closet, including one large plastic shoebox of neckties, at least half-a-dozen ill-fitting dress shirts with ring-around-the-collar, and some ugly sweaters, which should not be hanging in the closet, but laying in someone's (already overfull) dresser or underbed storage. Those neckties, shirts, and sweaters are not mine.