Monday, March 31, 2008

Some Kids Listen

"Some kids clean up their rooms and listen. Most kids don't."
--Annabel, after getting caught sticking her fingers in the jam jar this morning.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Sources for Meat & Dairy

I've longed wished to buy our meat and dairy direct from farmers. When I was a child, my family bought much of our meat from my uncle, who by then owned the family farm my dad grew up on. Annually, we would purchase a side of a beef, a whole pig, and a turkey or two. It was so nice then to go to our deep freeze and get meat out for dinner. Having been there, working alongside my grandparents and parents, while they butchered our pig every year (steers were butchered off the farm), I knew exactly where our meat came from at an early age.

While I still appreciate the convenience and cost benefit of purchasing meat in bulk, more importantly, I want to know that the animals I eat lived well and were harvested humanely, that the milk my children drink is pure and made by healthy, grass-eating cows. I want to pay the real cost of real food and I want to support small family farms. I have been intimidated, however, by the prospect of coping with a side of beef and put off by the inconvenience of driving to the country every week to buy milk. Reading In Defense of Food finally inspired me to get over my objections. Pollan comes across as more hopeful in his latest tome than he did in The Omnivore's Dilemma, reminding us that it is easier than it's been in half a century for regular people to find real food.

I know he's right. I realized recently that I've been striving to eat organic and local for 20 years, since my first visit to an erstwhile farmers market, held on Saturdays in some in Beltsville, Maryland, warehouse. Things are so different today, with places like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods selling organic (though not necessarily local or, despite the latter's moniker, whole) food. More importantly, the Internet has made it possible for those living far from farms to find and connect with farmers and ranchers directly, through sites like Eat Wild and Real Milk. As much as I enjoy the shopping experience at New Seasons, when it comes down to it, I prefer to buy food from places like Rossi's (family farm with a retail "barn" just a mile from my house that sadly went out of business a year or so ago) or Growers Outlet (another family-owned retailer of local produce...when it's in season, anyway). I know when I shop at those places, more of my food dollar is going to the people who grew the food and less of it is going to marketers and middlemen and building fancy stores full of irresistibly merchandised, utterly superfluous stuff. And while I can buy local produce at Growers or at our neighborhood's new farmers market and even grow much of our own, meat, eggs, and dairy are a different story.

Since I am chomping at the bit to make my own cheese, I decided to start with getting a new source for dairy, since I had been buying ultra-pasteurized Organic Valley milk at Winco, which is no good for making cheese. Initially, I just wanted to find a local farmer selling milk from pastured cows that was not ultra-pasteurized. I had heard of Noris Dairy years ago, from Lynn Siprelle, that delivers to homes in Portland. Their prices are competitive with the price of organic milk in the grocery store, and for a few days, I thought I had found the answer. The dumbest thing prevented me from ordering from them and, fortuitously, led me to another path. We don't have a fax machine and that seems to be the only way the dairy takes orders. I called and left a couple messages, hoping to just place my order by phone. After waiting a few days for a call back, I lost my patience and and I decided to try another source. The Campaign for Real Milk listing of raw milk dairies led me to Real Milk PDX, a group that gets milk delivered from Dungeness Valley Creamery, a Sequim, Washington, raw milk dairy. For once, my impatience paid off. I picked up our first gallon of raw milk last Wednesday--at the home of an acquaintance in NE Portland who happens to be one of the people who drives to Vancouver where the dairy delivers its milk--and have been raving about it to anyone who will listen since. It's so delicious--I drank three glasses of milk in 12 hours! I have to admit, I was a little concerned at first about raw milk, but having learned more, I now feel convinced that raw milk from grass-fed cows is safer and healthier than pasteurized milk from grain-fed cows.

That same Wednesday evening, I attended the second meeting of a group of home cheese makers at Foster & Dobbs. While discussing milk sources with some people there, I got into a conversation with another woman who had just picked up her raw milk, from the same home where I picked up ours. She raved about how raw milk cured her allergies after just three weeks. Well, that was all I needed to hear. No more allergies! I've been trying to drink a little bit everyday--not that I mind drinking it, but it's a new habit to establish. So, we'll see if it helps with my allergies. Wouldn't that be incredible? Anyway, I ordered rennet, cultures, molds, etc., from New England Cheesemaking Supply last week and hope to report the results of my first cheesemaking experiences soon.

As far as finding local sources for the rest of our animal related food: We're getting about half of our eggs right now from my friend Chrissy, who has three chickens and is presently overwhelmed with eggs. I feel so lucky to have a ready source of local eggs! Next year, I would like to get our own chickens, fulfilling a dream I've had since I first heard about urban chickens in 2001. (I gave up on this particular fantasy with the birth of my daughter, but now I know so many families with young children and chickens that I can see it's doable.) I am still researching sources for meat. One of the big questions I have had about buying a side of beef is how much of everything is there? It's one thing to say that the hanging weight of a half a beef (that is, the weight of half a steer carcass, before being trimmed of fat and bones) is about 300 pounds, but just how many rib eyes come with that? I learned here that a side of beef includes approximately 25% waste, 25% ground beef and stew meat, 25% steaks, and 25% roasts. I'm pretty sure we won't eat 225 pound of beef in a year, even if it was all rib eyes. I asked Chrissy if she'd be interested in going in with us on a side and I'm excited that she'll be joining me this new venture! Now we just have to figure out just exactly where to get our beef. And our pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey.

In my next post, I will relate my new meal-planning strategy, based on the calculations I started doing as I tried to figure out how much meat we should buy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Our Weekly Bread

I make bread once a week now, usually Tuesday or Wednesday. Pictured above is yesterday's production, which turned out pretty good despite this week's "whoops," forgetting to add two cups of water until I'd almost finished adding all the flour. (There's a whoops almost every week, some make me cus more than others. I got through yesterday's whoops cus-free, though it did get kinda messy.) I make enough dough for four sandwich loaves, but I only have two loaf pans. I make two sandwich loaves (each with two pounds of dough--yes, I weigh it!) and then get creative with the rest. My husband like hoagie-style rolls, so I usually make a couple of those for him. I like bread with melted cheddar cheese, celery, sesame, and poppy seeds, so I make a couple "cheesy sticks" for me. Sometimes, I make a braided loaf, to take with us to our friend's weekly potluck or to give to a neighbor. If we're going to have young friends over that day, I'll make pretzels for the kids to enjoy. Lately, I've been experimented with crackers...I roll out the dough as thin as I can, sprinkle it with kosher salt, cut it into squares with a pizza cutter, and bake 'til golden.

Annabel and Luc don't get interested in what I'm doing until it's time to shape the risen dough. I give them both a small amount of dough, a big pinch of flour, they get out their rolling pins and do what kids do with dough. The little ball of bread in the far left of the picture above is Luc's handiwork. I don't know what happened to Annabel's piece of dough. Here's my current recipe for multigrain bread:

5 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons evaporated cane juice or sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup vital wheat gluten
1 cup 10-grain cereal
2 cups whole wheat flour
8 cups unbleached bread flour

Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar in one cup of water. Whisk together and allow to proof while you get the rest of the ingredients measured. Mix wheat gluten, 10 grain cereal, whole wheat flour and 2 cups unbleached flour in a bowl. Put yeast mixture, remaining 4 cups of water, sugar, and butter into mixing bowl with dough hook. Add flour mixture to mixing bowl and mix until incorporated. In the bowl you used to mix the flours together (which should now be empty), mix the remaining 6 cups of flour with the salt. Begin adding this flour and salt mixture to the mixing bowl 1 cup at a time, waiting until flour is incorporated before adding the next cup. Continue to mix until the surface of the dough is smooth--no more than 10 minutes total mixing time or the bread will become over-kneaded. If you feel unsure about things at this stage, take the dough out and finish kneading by hand.

Put kneaded dough in a large bowl. Note the size of the dough ball. Cover with a damp dish cloth, piece of plastic wrap or wax paper. Set bowl in a draft free spot and allow to rise until doubled in size, about one hour, depending on the temperature. Gently punch dough down and divide into whatever size batches you want to bake. As I mentioned, I bake two-pound sandwich loaves. If using a loaf pan, butter pan before you begin shaping the dough. If you will be baking on a sheet pan, cover the pan with parchment paper (I use Beyond Gourmet Unbleached Parchment Paper, which I am able to reuse multiple times for baking bread).

Shape dough and let rise again for 45 minutes, until doubled. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes, until crust is golden brown. If you feel unsure, stick a thermometer in the underside of your loaf. This bread is done when the center is 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Put bread on a rack to cool. I store mine in plastic bags (which I reuse, over and over again, of course). I freeze one loaf and find it is perfectly good a few days later when thawed.

I wish I could address dough shaping now, but I've run out of time. It's an important aspect of making good bread and shouldn't be overlooked. I will try to take pictures as I shape my dough next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring's the Thing

OH, thank the gods it is almost spring! Between my emotional state most of the winter (that would be anti-social, depressed, and uh, let's just call it moody...Mike probably has another name for it) and the kids' cabin fever, it was starting to become rather stifling indoors. After two years of not having much of a garden, I'm especially excited to be getting out and working in the garden. We didn't put in much in 2006 because with Luc being a newborn (oh, and me getting all caught up in breastfeeding activism), I wasn't up to planning and planting. (I do all that, Mike does the weeding, grass eradication, bed prep, compost turning, and well, lots else.) Last year, our newly toddling number one son constantly ran out into the street, making it next to impossible to get any work done. This year, he's only heading for the street 43% of the time, and usually there's some impetus, like a neighbor outside or someone walking their dog, that gives me a heads-up that he's about to make a run for it. He and his big sister have actually been somewhat helpful in the garden, though never for long.

So, we've gotten a fair amount of work done outside in the last couple weeks, though I am still feeling a bit behind. What gardener doesn't? We've cleared last fall's leaves out of the bed, spread lime (yes, I know, I shoulda done that in the fall, but it's done now, so give me some slack), thoroughly weeded the asparagus bed and covered it with steer manure. Two weeks ago, I planted peas, carrots, and radishes. I staked the peas with branches that fell from the sycamore in our front yard and am pleased with how my little branches look "planted" in the freshly sown bed. This is the first time I've been satisfied aesthetically with a staking method, though we'll have to wait and see how well it works in practice. Mike has also begun working on the grass that constantly encroaches into the beds. His plan is to cover the alleys between the garden beds with cardboard and cover that with wood chips from our yard. You can see where we've already got one alley covered in the picture above.

The radishes we planted began to peek out a few days ago, though I couldn't get a good picture of them. This week, I want to plant a row of Rose Finn Apple potatoes outside and get tomato seeds started inside. Rose Finn is our family's favorite potato, a fingerling that has excellent flavor and stays firm when boiled--perfect for potato salad. We're going to try growing from potatoes we dug up from the garden last year (which grew as "volunteers" from potatoes left behind when we last planted them in 2006). I also plan to pick up another couple rhubarb plants at the nursery when I get tomato seeds. And there's a daphne I bought last year blooming in its pot that really deserves to be planted forthwith! So much to do and I always feel like we have to make the most of every not-pouring-rain day we have in February and March. The last few weeks have been remarkably dry, though of course, Mike or I had to get sick during some of the best days we've had for gardening. Oh well. We're still ahead of where we were this time last year.

One last thing. Notice the sign in the picture? I just found out last week that Parkrose is getting a farmers market this year! Hoo-ray!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Crafty, or Just Crazy?

So, in the last six months or so, I have tried out several new crafts and some have become bad habits.
  • Waldorf doll making--I made five dolls as Christmas gifts for my kids, niece and nephews. Here's the one I made for Annabel. I also made several small (3" and 4" tall) dolls as angel ornaments. I want to make one of these for Abba's birthday.
  • Wee Folks doll making--Never finished any, didn't like wrapping embroidery floss around pipe cleaners so much. Also, these dolls don't stand on their own and that annoys me. (Yes, for an additional $2.50, one can buy wooden feet that would help them stay upright, but I'd already lost interest.)
  • Needle felting--OMG I love this! So sculptural! I have made two very respectable hummingbirds (one went to my dad for his birthday, the other with go to my mother-in-law for hers), a lovely robin, with nest and eggs, some Easter eggs, and itty-bitty chicken eggs for a small chicken I sewed with wool felt.
  • Hand piecing--I am currently working on a doll quilt. I enjoy this--it goes a lot more quickly than I would have thought and is much more portable than machine piecing.
  • Embroidery--I took a class a couple weeks ago and found a lot of inspiration in some Japanese embroidery books the instructor brought for us to look through. I subsequently went to Uwajimaya with my friend Chrissy for the sole purpose of buying Japanese embroidery books. Found one I especially's called Needle Work and has designs for herbs and flowers and I just love it. Deciphering books written entirely in Japanese has been interesting, to say the least. Now I want to take up silk ribbon embroidery as well.
  • Finally, last Saturday I took a "make a pioneer era dress in a day" class at Newell House with master dress maker Kim Demlow, owner of Lavender's Green. Soon, I'll be able to volunteer at Champoeg Park's living history events.
I feel conflicted about all these new crafts. I'm enjoying them, but feel I should focus on one, say for more than a week at a time? There's a part of me that feels like I am making up for lost time, learning all these skills now, when I "should" have learned to embroider, hand sew, and make simple dresses as a child or adolescent. In fact, I did learn to embroider when I was younger, but as I recall, I gave up in frustration over French knots.

Well, I am forced to focus on the dress making for now. We are supposed to get as much done as we can before the group meets again on March 22nd for the second and last class. I hope to at least get my fabric cut out and determine if the bodice will fit me correctly (there's a question as to whether the sleeves will fit my, ugh, flabby arms). After that, I will need to get working on Abba's doll, if I'm going to finish it by her birthday. Oh, and she'll want a dress like mine the moment she sees me in it.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Snack Attack!

Healthy, minimally processed snack ideas came up somewhere recently (I tried to recall where, but alas, I cannot). I no longer buy packaged snack foods, except for occasional bags of locally made tortilla chips and boxes of graham crackers (which I am determined to make at home...I even have the right flour). Right now, there are no packaged snacks in our house. Wow. I had to think about that for a minute--I hadn't realized how completely we have dropped the habit. I buy nuts, seeds, dried fruit in bulk. When the kids come to me wanting a snack on the run, I usually give them a bowl of dried fruit and nuts. Lucasaurus likes pretzels, too, and I buy those in bulk as well.

We make "Sweetie Pies," little granola cookies baked in the bottom of a muffin tin, so they're kinda pie-shaped. These are messy but fun to make with the kids, as they can smoosh the butter, oats, sugar, honey and mix-ins like dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and coconut, together in a bowl.

Another delicious and healthy snack we enjoy is fruit salad with yogurt and honey. It takes a few minutes make, but we've developed a bit of an afternoon ritual around it. This time of year, we indulge in citrus and other "fruits from afar" so fruit salad is oranges, baby bananas, kiwi, plus local apples, local walnuts (cracking them is part of the ritual), local honey, and Nancy's whole milk yogurt.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are a daily part of the kids' diet. These days, they're eating oranges and apples. They also like peanut butter on celery, which was one of my favorites as a kid and something I find helps me get through those afternoons when I'm feeling peckish. I also stopped buying those "baby" carrots a while back and now just make carrot sticks whenever we need them. I store them in a glass container with a little water to keep them crisp, though that's probably not necessary as they're eaten within a day or so.

Recently, we tried peanut butter on toast with dried apples. As I kid, I use to top peanut butter on toast with marshmallows, and I swear, those dried apples tasted far better than marshmallows! Also, I made crackers during last week's bread-baking session. They turned out okay--a little tougher than I expected, I think I should not have cooked them as long as I did--but they were still delicious when spread with cream cheese. I'm going to continue experimenting with those and also make some graham crackers soon.

Snacks are more of a sit-down affair than they use to be. I still allow a little grazing, but I try to have one "formal" snack time a day. It's nice to sit at the little table with the kids have short and easy dining experience with them.

Friday, March 07, 2008


I have a number of wishes when I reach for food in the supermarket (rarely), natural foods market (occasionally), locally owned and operated discount food chain (bimonthly), year-round or seasonal farmers' market (weekly). In no particular order, I wish for quality, locally grown/harvested, minimal processing/packaging, freshness, fair price (that is, fair to my family's budget and fair to producers). Here's how I handle the juggling match currently:

From WinCo
  • bulk dried apricots, cranberries, apples, and raisins
  • bulk flours, sugar and cereals for baking (I believe much of these come from Bob's Red Mill)
  • Organic Valley milk
  • Tillamook cheddar cheese
  • Nancy's whole milk yogurt
  • store brand cream cheese
  • mozzarella, fontina, asiago, parmesan from who knows where
  • canned tomatoes, tomato juice
  • beef bottom round (roast for sandwich meat)
From Grower's Outlet
  • fresh, seasonal vegetables
  • fresh, seasonal fruits, plus citrus, kiwi, tropical fruit during winter
  • local nuts
  • pasta, dried legumes, sugar, salt (I think this stuff comes from Bob's Red Mill)
From New Seasons
  • Niman Ranch (northern California) ham
  • salsa verde with green olives
  • whole organic chicken
  • "natural" buffalo, beef
  • cheese
  • wine
From Bob's Red Mill
  • flour, yeast, sugar, salt for baking
  • oats and other whole grains for baking
  • local hazelnut syrup, raspberry syrup
  • lunch!
From Gartner's Meats
  • pork sausage, pork loin, pork ribs
  • beef steaks and roasts
From From Old Country Sausage (nearby family-owned German market)
  • uh, sausage
  • Fleiskasse
  • cheese
  • German potato salad
  • jarred sauerkraut, pickles
  • mustard
From Lily Market (nearby family-owned Thai market)
  • fresh Thai produce...eggplants, cilantro, lemongrass, etc.
  • canned coconut milk, canned soup
  • jarred curries
  • green tea ice cream
Changes we've made over the last few years:
  • making all our own bread, bagels, rolls, etc. (started last September)
  • buying vegetables that grow in our region
  • buying local fruit, except for the intentional exception during winter, when I buy citrus, kiwi, and occasionally other tropical fruit
  • buying organic milk, local cheese, butter, and yogurt
  • eliminating heavily processed foods (meaning: anything I can't replicate at home)
  • buying pasta, dried fruit, flours, pretzels, nuts/seeds in bulk
  • buying from locally owned businesses (even if everything they sell isn't local)
  • eating out less
Changes we're making this year:
  • growing and preserving more vegetables and fruits
  • using our food dryer for the first time since we got it six years ago!
  • planting fruit trees in the fall
  • buying local organic milk and butter (probably from Noris--I love the idea of home delivery)
  • making our own soft cheeses
  • empty freezers of all old stuff, fill with local meat, home-frozen produce
  • cooking with whole grains and legumes more
  • eating less meat, more eggs
  • eating out even less
  • learning to cook even more simply
Changes for the future:
  • rabbits, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and maybe a goat
  • putting more of our property into vegetable and fruit production
  • making hard cheeses
I can't at this moment place an exact figure on how *much* more produce we will grow and preserve this year, though it won't be hard to do more than we've done the last two years. I would like to have, at a minimum, 30 quarts of tomatoes, plus some dried tomatoes. I'd really like to have enough tomato juice to get through the year (about 50 gallons to have enough for breakfast 5 mornings a week). I want to try canning in small batches, multiple times a week, rather than spending a whole weekend making canning several dozen quarts at a time. I think small batches will suit our lifestyle and our current equipment better.

Recently, I realized that one thing that's kept me from purchasing a large amount of meat and freezing it is that our freezer is full of stuff we will never eat! While I've been decluttering throughout our home, the freezers are still quite cluttered. Also, there's a problem with the two basket-drawers that no longer hang properly, but simply collapse onto the floor of the freezer/the bottom basket. This summer, before the first bag of berries goes in there, I am tossing all the old freezer-burned junk! Same with the freezer in the kitchen. What the heck is in there, anyway?

Something else, that Mike has helped me realize, is that I overdo when it comes to dinner prep. I have this notion stuck in my head that dinner should be this elaborate combination of meat, starch, and vegetable, and despite him telling me he doesn't expect a big dinner, for a long time, I still felt like I haven't done my job if dinner didn't meet this outdated standard. I've already done some simplifying, to be sure. Generally, I roast or steam vegetables. The steamed ones we eat only with a bit of salt and butter or Bragg's Aminos. The roasted ones, I toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper before putting in the oven. Meat is usually roasted, comes from the freezer already prepared (think frozen coq au vin, bolognese sauce, etc.), but if I don't have something out of the freezer, or my feet are hurting too much for me to stand and prep dinner, we often resort to take out, because just suggesting to Mike that he make fried eggs for us all seems like I'm asking too much (which is ridiculous and Mike's generally happy to pitch in with cooking). But, I've been looking at other people's meal plans and seeing they are even simpler, with less meat, less dishes and getting inspired to make some changes. So, I'm going to use our crock pot more, concentrate on learning more one-pot meals, and more egg dishes that don't involve making pastry (frittatas are my favorite, but I've been kind of a one-trick pony, making only smoked salmon-cream cheese-asparagus frittatas).

I am glad to have taken the time to do a little inventory of where we're at and where we're going. We'll re-evaluate our goals and make some adjustments, of course. Where are you at with eating locally and seasonally? What changes do you want to make this year or further into the future?