Ten simple things to do now to eat better and save money.

Ten simple things to do now to eat better and save money.

1. Simplify and organize your food hub (kitchen & pantry), and stock it with simple storage/freezer containers sized for your refrigerator size and usual meal size, masking tape, and sharpie for labeling placed within easy reach. Maybe add a radio or speaker so you can listen to books or podcasts as you work and make it an uncluttered, peaceful space so kitchen maintenance will become a meditative time you look forward to instead of a rushed and chaotic chore. 

2. Cabbage is your all-season Friend. Cheap, delicious, healthful, fresh in all seasons, and good for so many satisfying preparations. 

3. Start a simple kitchen herb garden and/or grow sprouts. Plants are available now from all the best local growers, and you can often buy plants with SNAP benefits. Herbs and spices add up. When you buy fresher foods of more flavorful varieties, you will find you need few expensive spices, marinades and rubs. 

4. You paid for it, get your money’s worth!  Don’t cut fat from meats before cooking, instead cook, and skim the fat to use for later browning and sautéing. When you buy well raised meat, the nutritional benefits of the meat are also in the fat. There is nothing hydrogenated or highly processed, so it is a nutritional, flavor-enhancing, and budget friendly practice.

5. Select foods for nutrient density instead of portion size or habit. Bone-in skin-on meats, Fruit vs juice, whole grains vs refined flour and processed quick seasoned sides, plain frozen fruit and veg instead of those with added sauces or microveable packages, whole milk dairy vs reduced fat, pastured eggs vs lowest price, local in-season produce and fruits, whole cheese vs pre-shredded, minimally processed vs convenience, more basic staples and less ready-to-cook one-offs. 

6. Select whole in-season vegetables grown locally for flavor rather than shipping and shelf stability, with leaves & stems on. Use said leaves and stems right away. 

7. Maceration. Harness the natural juices from your fruits and vegetables and your crock pot roasts and stretch the value of the purchase. This works best with local items grown for flavor, as they are the most naturally flavorful and juicy, and that juice has nutritional value. And, if you find yourself with some fruit or produce about to go bad, chop them up, add a bit of sugar or salt, and put them in the fridge to release their juices. Later strain them, and use the juice separately for beverages or to make syrups, and you have bought yourself a little additional time to use the produce. 

8. Replace bread, rice, processed side dishes, and pasta with whole grains. Simple farro, pearled barley, wheat, spelt,  and rye berries, all can be used in place of rice for risotto, fried rice, and hashes, or as a cold salad, or side dish. Easily batch cooked and frozen for later, or just keep a container in the fridge ready to go.

9. Invest: if you can, level up with even a small additional freezer to enable you more space for buying meat and produce in bulk. Don’t forget to check for Marketplace/Craig’s List used options. 

10. Make simple jams and syrups. This is easily done with most fruits and many items of produce and replaces extracts in pies and baked goods, ice cream and dessert garnish, enhancer of purchased sauces, and is a great way to make your own beverages, kicking the soda/Gatorade habit. You don’t have to become a depression-era full time canner, just a little here and there alongside your regular meal prep and cleanup goes far. 

 

Produce season is about to begin – you’ve got this! 

Snack attack strategy: Pickled Eggs. The good kind.

Snack attack strategy: Pickled Eggs. The good kind.

To be honest, I was very, very late to discover the joy that is pickled eggs. I worked in restaurants and bars and saw plenty of giant jars of rubbery, bouncy, sketchy ones, and was never tempted. And then I got chickens.

Adapt to the fluctuating abundance of raising your own eggs, and wow. What the supermarket has left out when it comes to categories, flavors and textures in order to focus on extended shelf life and easy transport is a real paradigm shift.

Homemade pickled eggs are perfect because they extend the storage life of good eggs, are delicious, quick, and easy. Good brine can be reused, so when the jar’s empty, you can replenish several times, just make sure the next batch is completely covered with brine.

This weekend odds are good that you’re going to find your fridge crowded with a bunch of hard boiled eggs, and there’s only so much egg salad any person can take. Pickled eggs give you a nutritionally perfect, protein-packed snack on the fly, especially when made wth truly pastured eggs. They make fast and fantastic sandwiches, toppings for salads and hashes, drop into broth,  Deviled eggs are next level made wth pickled eggs, and, if you want to get ambitious, bake some into a meatloaf, or use them to make Scotch eggs.

There’s lots of recipes for brine flavors online too; I’m not a fan of the sweet/sour beet one, though it is popular. I prefer flavors like this, plus bonus for being simple and quick.

I found some fresh takes from this book on options for making full use of my CSA shares last summer, and highly recommend it. At the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, they have 6 copies, go get you one! Now is an excellent time for perusing the library for summer ideas.

Sriracha Pickled Eggs

From Kevin West’s very fine book about preserving the seasonal harvest, “Saving the Season.”
Servings 12 eggs

Equipment

  • quart jar very clean and sterilized with scalding water

Ingredients
  

  • 1 dozen eggs Go for the good ones - preferably truly pastured
  • 1-1/4 cup white-wine or apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha Hot Chili sauce adjust for taste
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves

Instructions
 

  • Put raw eggs into a pot large enough to accommodate them in one layer, and cover by at least 1-inch of water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and simmer for 11 minutes. Immediately plunge the eggs into a basin of ice water.  Crack the eggs gently, and allow them to rest in the water for about 5 minutes to loosen the shells, then peel*. 
  • Pack the cooked, peeled eggs into a very clean sterilized wide mouth quart jar. You can press them in gently, but to jam too many and push too hard will cause the eggs to split. 
  • Combine the vinegar, Sriracha, salt, and bay leaves in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Ladle the hot liquid over the eggs to completely cover, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put a lid on the jar and allow to cool at room temp, then store in the refrigerator. 

Notes

*Note: if using very fresh farm eggs, it can be a struggle to achieve perfectly peeled eggs. I prefer to use older eggs, and resting the carton on its side will help center the yolks before boiling. 

“Lucy Light; The Shortest Day & The Longest Night!”

“Lucy Light; The Shortest Day & The Longest Night!”

St. Lucy’s Feast Day is celebrated December 13, though since Gregorian calendar reform, the feast day no longer lands on the eve of Winter Solstice as it once did, so the focus on light may feel a little puzzling at first.

I find St. Lucy’s Feast to be a nice advent to Winter Solstice, reminding me to pay attention and  give presence to the significance and power of the shortest day & longest night. Though the worst of winter lies just ahead, the significance of knowing the days are growing longer is a huge lifter of spirit, and truly a yearly event worth celebrating.

To mark a feast day with many food references to sunshine and magic, what could call to mind sunshine more than yellow corn cookies in the shape of the sun? Simple, gluten-free, and virtuous while still being delightful and celebratory.  Plus, simple, earthy, and unfussy.

I am all for a category of sweets that is regular part of a nutrient dense, locally sourced everyday diet, not a shameful guilt-inducing lack of discipline, how about you?

Masa Zaletti (Cornmeal Cookies)

Not-too-sweet but perfectly delicious Italian cornmeal cookies. Vegetarian, gluten free. From my tattered-and-stained favorite whole grains cookbook, "Whole Grains For A New Generation" by Liana Krissoff.
Servings 28 cookies

Ingredients
  

  • 1/3 cup dried currants
  • 1-1/2 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup raw fine yellow cornmeal
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 TBS unsalted butter melted
  • 3 large egg yolks beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Put the currants in a bowl and cover with hot water, let soak until soft.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the masa marina, yellow cornmeal, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the butter.
  • In a medium bowl, whist together the egg yolks, sugar, baking soda, and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into the masa marina mixture and stir to combine. Drain the currants, reserving the soaking water; add the currants to the dough and knead gently in the bowl with your hands until the dough is thoroughly combined, sprinkling in up to 4 TBS of the currant soaking liquid little at a time to make a dough that holds together when you squeeze it.
  • Scoop up a rounded tablespoon-size chunk of dough and squeeze it into a ball; flatten it between your palms to make a 1/4-inch thick round and place it on the prepared baking sheet. (Or, drop the batter onto the cookie sheet and use a decorative cookie stamp to make it festive.)
  • Repeat with the remaining dough, arranging cookies 1" apart. Bake until golden brown at the edges and firm in the centers, about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through so they brown evenly.
  • Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool.
Build a bigger table

Build a bigger table

I have been thinking, even harder than usual, about the affordability of well raised food for those who need it most, the marginalized and low income. And today finds a whole new group of hard working people struggling to put food on the table. Some of us are prospering more than usual, or are maintaining normal, while others are completely devastated.

Honestly? I wish I could simply gift away every single bite of what I raise. This is in fact, a mission driven farm, as much as anything, and the mission is to build a Giving community.  Stories and news features of people waiting in lines for food is seriously killing me. 

At Auburn Meadow Farm, I have always wanted healthful food to be available to the marginalized segments of society. The single parents struggling to access and afford nutrient dense food, those financially struggling because of illness who need clean food more than ever but cannot afford it, or are too ill to even think about cooking. Our seniors, who are seeing their pennies pinched by increased fuel, isolation,  and increased cost of food. So many instances of people in newfound levels of need. 

It is crystal clear that generations will starve waiting for the Powers That Be to create workable programs all Americans will agree upon.  What is inspiring me at the moment is those people who are just sitting down, having an idea, and going out, face to face, and doing it.

Person to person, eyeball to eyeball. Simple solutions.  Why not us?  So, here’s what I’m thinking. A direct, person to person, extension of understanding, solidarity,  and hope. 

How it works:

  • Priority is on seniors, those struggling due to health issues, single moms struggling to feed their kids, and our seniors. 
  • All meats donated are USDA processed, top quality goods – no cast offs. 
  • Update:  Square gift cards are apparently a bad approach for this. Sorry if I confused you, but I’ve gotta go outside and tend the beasts, so stay tuned. I will create a Venmo or other simpler account for this purpose.  If you have already donated, no worries, I  kept track and will forward the money to the new account.  Redeem it with the code BIGGERTABLE, and those funds will be used to gift Auburn Meadow Farm meat to those struggling from economic hardships brought on by COVID.
  • Auburn Meadow Farm will make the most of your dollars by filling the need according to a discounted price scale. 
  • Accountability and transparency – this is a simple idea, finding its legs. A donations newsletter seems to be the most effective way to communicate our progress, though obviously I do not wish to violate anyone’s privacy.
    I would love also to donate meat to an organization capable of turning the meats into cooked meals, easier for those lacking kitchen facilities and time, as a collaborative project.  If you are that organization, reach out. 
  • The first meat will be ready to distribute in January, but funds now to pay for butcher and distribution fees will help kick this off faster, and enable us to go further. We have plenty of pork coming in January, and with enough help, we can be filling pantries by the end of the month. 
  • And, if your food bank or church is in need, and you are able to accomodate frozen meat safely, that is an avenue we can pursue as well.  If you know of someone or something, let me know.

I hope you love this idea as much as I do, and if you would like to work with me to help solidify it into a regular thing, let’s talk!  We need kind and helping hearts on the ground and I can’t think of a better goal for 2021. 

 

 

Galentine’s Day

Galentine’s Day

I was a bit eye-rolley about this idea at first.

GAL is one of those words that feels silly and stilted to say, and in my head, is always heard in Ethel Merman’s voice. I mean, I love my female friends, I love candy and wine, lipstick and treats, but Galentine’s was looking like one massive Hallmark consumption fest and a gathering of all things giggly and girly.

Not knocking giggly and girly if that is your real thing and it brings you joy. But to me, a good Galentine’s Day would head for the woods with chain saws, or a hike, plant some stuff, or build some fence, and/or a good bonfire cum/table groaning with loads of home-made potluck treats. Or a get-together helping a GAL friend with any daunting project she can’t quite manage to launch by herself.

My Galentine’s Day would include some sharing of Galentine dreams and some #NoMercy commitment to birthing those shy, secret plans we GALS hide in the back of our hearts, and always seem to put last, behind everyone else’s laundry and chauffeuring needs. 

Then, the word GALENTINE started to grow on me, Ethel and all.

Looking back over the last decade of my life, the part where “normal” began to fall apart, it is absolutely one hundred percent true, it was my female friends who saved me from drowning.

Though we each had busy lives, and didn’t spend much time Galentine-ing it up during our everyday, married, kid schlepping lives, it did not matter.  When the need was real, it was those GALS who showed up, ready to work when I was overwhelmed and could not see what to do next.

When I was mowed over after my husband’s heart attack, we had three busy daughters at home, and I ran my own demanding business, it was my friend Debbie who cooked – I am not exaggerating – trays and trays of foods, thoughtfully planned for Bill’s new dietary needs, so I could mix and match and keep my family fed for weeks without needing to go to the store.

I also remember the day I was part of a group of GALS helping my same friend Debbie load up all her stuff and move her out of the house she had poured her heart into and into a rental the next town over.  The power of that group of women, each pitching in hard with their unique gifts, moved mountains that day.

Obviously, Debbie Galentines like a boss.

My friend Becky was there during the darkest days of my marriage helping keep the business alive and well and keeping me focused on the unpleasant tasks at hand.

More recently, when I was overwhelmed after losing family and a good chunk of my farm resources, it was my friend Shelly who showed up and helped me move all my freezers and plow through my paralysis, and begin to set up a new normal.

After my divorce, having to adjust to losing so much, my friend Jenny went out of her way to open her home to me, and include me in her days. For a while, the warm, rich, friend-filled dinners spent at Jenny’s house were the only real human balm for my sore spirit.

I could go on, but you get it.  And I am not the only one. When the chips are down, and the days go dark, it is your girlfriends who bring you back.

So, a day to celebrate that life force is only right and good.  And if you find you are without Galentines in your life, I would recommend you get to work finding some. ASAP.

I could not love you GALS more.