#39: eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself

#39: eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself

Crusty, salty home made soft pretzels, hot from the oven.

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Recognize rule #39? Of course you do – it’s from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual.  I don’t know about you, but life is plenty complicated as it is – the rules in this book are just my speed.

“There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking a soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we’re eating them every day. 

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The french fry did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes –  and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they’re so much work.

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The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies, and ice cream.  Enjoy these treats as often as you’re willing to prepare them – chances are good it won’t be every day.”

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I like it. Plus, I can be sure the ingredients are of the quality and provenance I choose.

Soft pretzels are a perfect real food snack for a non-industrial pantry. For lots of reasons.  They’re baked, not fried.  They’re wholesome & filling. And pretty yummy if I do say so myself.

I love this recipe based on one in The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook. Love her or hate her, when it comes to real, good, timeless food, Martha delivers. Really, I don’t know why this book is handicapped with the holiday label – it’s a great reference for any special cooking occasion, all year-long.

This recipe has a secret: poaching the pretzels in water & baking soda for that critical chewy exterior just like the commercially baked ones. Click here for the printable recipe.

I’ll let Martha show you how to twist those pretzels:

Pretzels poached, shaped, brushed with egg wash & sprinkled with salt.

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Stock the freezer with a double batch and you’re ready for anything…

I like to make this recipe all the way to just before baking, freeze the unbaked pretzels overnight in a single layer, then package the frozen pretzels two to a small freezer bag.

Later, you can bake them up straight from the freezer in just 15 minutes for a warm, salty, crusty treat perfect with mustard or cheese sauce.

Fast Food of the Slow Kind… stretching the Food Rules??

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

I’m sure Ms. Esther Simpson is a lovely lady.  Tea with her would be very nice and I’ll bet she has some interesting stories to tell. But that’s not why I’ve been thinking of her for nearly five months.

The reason she has been on my mind since before Thanksgiving is because of her comment on an article titled Is That Really a Heritage Turkey  published in the Atlantic November 22, 2011.

The article is “a quick primer on turkey origins, a discussion of the different types of species and, as you shop for the highlight of your Thanksgiving meal, a bit of advice for finding a true heritage turkey.”

The author, Nicolette Hahn Niman,  raises true heritage breed turkeys herself and in the article clarifies the complicated past of what we call “heritage breed” turkey today.  Anyway, the article is a good read and if you’d like to be sure you’re getting the real deal, is an excellent reference.

But, as always when I’m bowled over by an article in The Atlantic, it’s usually because of the comments. We’ve talked about this before; those Atlantic readers have turned commenting into a form of mean ridiculing sport that I don’t think I’ll ever find acceptable.

Here’s what Ms. Simpson had to add:

And of course, I could not help myself:

Ms. Simpson’s comment wasn’t in the least mean-spirited, but it is a perfect illustration of how smart, well read people are completely blinded by their absolute belief in science and academia compounded by their lack of nuanced connection with nature and agriculture.

Turkeys did not turn themselves into Frankenturkeys incapable of walking or reproducing naturally.  Turkey were hardy, healthy, capable birds with actual parenting skills before people decided they wanted birds with massive amounts of white breast meat.  Turkey  freaks were created by breeders who started fiddling with the dials to satisfy customer demand.

But that fact is apparently either unknown or irrelevant to Ms. Simpson and those like her.  According to them, today’s big breasted white battery turkey in its state of man-made misery is apparently NOT eugenics. But helping the turkey return to its former self-sufficient state, that IS eugenics. Heil Hitler and all.

Eugenics is the idea that one can improve the human race by careful selection of those who mate and produce offspring. Eugenics was a popular theory in the early twentieth century but is no longer taken seriously, primarily because of the horrors of the eugenic efforts of the Nazi regime in Germany.

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Why is this silly exchange still on my mind? Because it is the perfect example of well-meaning, highly educated people believing that farming is something you can learn from a book and manage from a distance.  From her computer screen, Ms. Simpson is in no danger of having to find out how one-dimensional her understanding is.

Again and again we trust ridiculously short-sighted agricultural solutions.  Esther Simpson, like most Americans, believes that the hothouse varieties of livestock we have created,  requiring lots of special feed, care and midwife assistance are the more important varieties worthy of a future. After all, they are the only farm animals most people know.

Quick: what color are pigs? That’s easy, white or pink, right? Wrong. Pigs come in all colors, shapes and sizes, particularly the heritage breeds that are becoming so popular these days. All pigs, even the sweetest, pinkest Wilburs and Arnolds will become feral if allowed to fend for themselves.

Virtually all heritage breed pigs have one characteristic or another that would violate the Invasive species order which is based on how they look – not their genotype or dna

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Yet it has been decided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce what they call the Invasive Species Order (ISO).  What that means is that because of a feral pig problem, in Michigan, possession of pigs with certain physical characteristics automatically makes you a felon, punishable by jail time and a hefty fine. To be perfectly clear, the DNR has the right to kill properly confined animals  on any Michigan farm or private game preserve, arrest the farmer and levy huge fines.

I am in complete disbelief  by the actions that have been taken against pig farmers already.  And especially by the millions of Esther Simpsons in the world who will never comprehend that heritage breed pigs are under unreasonable, unconstitutional attack. Or she will defend the corporate line that this is all for the public good. Or maybe she doesn’t know about heritage breed pigs at all.

Pastured pigs are being enjoyed by diners everywhere as a delicious improvement over  leaner, less tender confinement pork. And the hardier heritage breed pigs are able to live a healthier, more enjoyable life than the standard confinement hog who is selected for uniformity, leanness and fast maturation.

My question is this: Which pig genes are more valuable? The ones capable of reproducing on their own, who still remember how to be good mothers, and are more hardy and self-sufficient?   Or the hot-house hogs in need of intensive management, medicated feed, elaborate infrastructures  and are forced to endure such unpleasant pig lives? Our lack of concern for protecting biodiversity is the worst sort of arrogance. Sustainable Table will explain why heritage breeds are so very important here.

This is not a matter to be ignored. Farmers are being stripped of their livelihood with NO COMPENSATION for businesses that were perfectly legal before April 1, 2012.  It does not matter that their pigs have been properly confined and cared for – it is a species elimination, not a feral pig elimination.

Of course, the Michigan Pork Producers Association is all in favor even though these heritage breed hogs have admittedly caused no outbreaks of disease.  You can read their response to the Invasive Species Order here. At the least, very disappointing. And predictable. Read this excellent article to see how successful Big Pork was in whisking this order straight into effect. Disheartening to say the least.

This article from Mother Earth News offers an excellent and detailed explanation of the situation and the contact information for Governor Rich Snyder, who has the ability to rescind the ISO. The article tells the sad story of Dave Tuxbury who after being served a search warrant, killed his entire hog population; pregnant sows, baby piglets and all.

Even if you’re not a Michigan resident, you need to contact Governor Snyder because Pennsylvania, Kansas and New York are all poised to pass similar legislation.  This has the potential to become very ugly people. Make yourselves heard on behalf of these farmers; they really need to feel your support.

18th century Edmund Burke is a wealth of tat-worthy quotes to live by

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”             ― Edmund Burke

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OK people. You know what you need to do. Ready? GO-GO-GO-GO-GO

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

what kind of future are you planting?

what kind of future are you planting?

I’m kind of excited about a few new things going on around here.  I’ll admit I have never been all that fond of gardening chores.  I think it’s the relentlessness. I enjoy gardening some days, and I find a job well done very satisfying.  And then I’ve had enough for a while.

Today, the garden I slavishly weeded yesterday has weeds. Already. Overnight. Can you think of a better word than relentless? Thankless? Never-ending? Merciless?

Yet, each year something about the garden draws me in a little deeper.  I have threatened to do this for a while, but resisted. Last year, I even went so far as to buy most of the supplies but didn’t get to the project in time.

But this year is the year. I’m leaving the kiddie pool and am headed definitively towards the deep end. Maybe too deep – we’ll see how long it takes before weeds are overtaking even my dreams…

What am I talking about? Starting my own seeds, silly! This year I’ll have veggies you can’t buy at the store… the secret to amazing pickles? it’s all about amazing cucumbers…

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As ambivalent as I am about gardening,  you know what I am wholeheartedly fond of? Good food.

Food from the kitchen garden hooked me.  Get used to it and there’s no going back.  Recipes now begin not at the grocery, but in the seed catalog.  Like the old timers, I’m  starting to plan things I want to cook a year or two in advance – because to have the right ingredients, I have to grow it myself.

I’m sure I’ve gone way overboard, but I’ll give it my best. I’m planning things that add pleasure to my winters, are fun to give as gifts, go well with my other favorite things like cheese and charcuterie and in general will add summer sunshine to dark snow-filled days.

And don’t think I’m planting just for myself.  I’ve got a few treats in store for the Ladies too.  Fodder beets and pumpkins anyone?  I can’t wait to dish those out once fresh grass is a distant memory.

This quirky-sweet book, Eat More Dirt by Ellen Sandbeck, has been on my shelves for some time, and it’s always good grazing. I savor a morsel here and a bit there, then put it back and forget about it. I bought the book a while ago, sometime just after 9/11. Who knew then that I would be living on a farm with a bunch of funny bovine Ladies?  Surely not me…

Today, this quote from the introduction really grabbed me, I suppose because it so well explains what’s been happening to me since we bought this farm:

“ We love that which we know intimately.  No lover ever knew his beloved better than a gardener knows his garden.  Learning to love a single small plot of earth is a good start toward learning to be protective of our beautiful little planet.”

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But do I own this farm? Or does it own me? I’ll have to get back to you on that…

This is no kitchen garden – it’s a field! Freshly plowed, ready for disking & soon to be planted with corn, fodder beets and pumpkins plus a few surprises to come…

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

State of the Freezer: Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without

Monday Moo-sings: In which we share random farm happenings, snapshots & recipes

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Can’t imagine a prettier color filling…

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I must say I’m a teeny bit disappointed.  Disappointed because not a single one of you asked about my rhubarb beet tart from St. Patrick’s Day.

Now I really, really need to know; did you not ask because you didn’t notice, or because it didn’t sound like anything you’d want to make?

In case your head has been under a rock, guess what? It’s spring.  Ready or not here it comes it seems. Grass is growing, trees are blooming, and new rhubarb is pushing its way up. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’m not being ungrateful or anything.

The fruit is macerated, the juice is strained, reduced & added to filling after baking

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Obviously I’d better get a move on and empty the freezer of the remains of last summer’s stash so I’ll be ready for the new stuff soon to come. Some of my stash?

One pound of rhubarb nicely chopped & ready to go.  My plan was to make my favorite rhubarb tarts, but I find I’m 8 ounces short of rhubarb.  Conveniently, I have exactly 8 ounces of grated beets. Coincidence? I think not.

While the pies bake, the strained liquid is reduced to a thickened sauce

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I followed the rhubarb tart recipe exactly except for the substitution of 8 ounces of beets for 8 ounces of rhubarb.  Then, instead of the vanilla, I used the zest from one orange.  The cinnamon I could go either way on – I added it this time, next time I think I’ll pass. But the orange was perfect.

the open crust allows the thickened sauce to be easily spooned in & i like the rustic look

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It was a unique and serendipitous hit if I do say so myself; I highly recommend pie as a way to clean out that freezer. I have high hopes about this years’ garden… and the squash and pumpkin still waiting in the freezer.  With a little luck that freezer will be emptied & restocked in no time…

Are you getting excited for summer food projects?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Easter Egg Glut? Pickle ’em!

Easter Egg Glut? Pickle ’em!

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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It’s time. Time for the springtime rituals of Easter baskets & hard-boiled eggs. Like chocolate bunnies, those eggs are everywhere and you can only eat so many egg-y things before either they or you go bad.

So, rather than avoiding waste by being stingy with the single healthy, natural thing in the standard-issue Easter basket, after the day is over, pickle the excess. Pickled eggs will keep for months, make sure none go to waste and add a powerful new culinary staple to your pantry.

I’ve gone through plenty of recipes seeking the perfect blend of simplicity and yumminess and what follows is my favorite. For now.  It’s a forgiving recipe though, so feel free to nip and tuck to suit yourself.

Like all simple recipes, the deliciousness is proportionate to the quality of the ingredients.  The number one most important step is this: start with great eggs. 

I am a believer in the power of the farm fresh, pastured egg. Of course, I’m lucky because my neighbor keeps a big flock of free ranging hens and is a generous sharer. Kind of like healthy mother culture, he gives me three dozen eggs, I return a pint of pickled eggs and my emptied egg cartons and the circle of life continues.  Don’t have a chicken-farming friend? You can find one here.

Since your whole reason for this glut of hard-boiled eggs is probably for the fun of dying the eggs with your kids, you should know it is not necessary to buy white eggs to make pretty dyed eggs. The brown shells will dye to softer shades, although yellows may be a little disappointing. Since most farm-fresh eggs are brown, this is a public service announcement designed to save you from the white battery hen eggs in the supermarket.

Once you have your awesome eggs, please pay extra special attention to the process of hard boiling the eggs. With a little extra care, your pickled eggs will be radiantly beautiful. Like pure sunshine, really.

Neglecting your eggs will create that icky green ring around the outside of the yolk which is a real downer for me.   Of course it makes no difference in the taste, and I’ll still gobble them up, but a beautiful ring-free yolk makes me really happy.

The Secret to Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs:

You may or may not know that freshly laid hard-boiled eggs are difficult to peel. They are – I kid you not. Try to store the eggs in the refrigerator for at least a week before boiling.  If you find that eggs you have already boiled just won’t peel nicely, store the cooked eggs in the refrigerator for a few days and they should become easier to peel.

Or, you may try steaming instead of boiling – this quickie from the always entertaining and informative Alton Brown brings up a few good pointers.  Note: Alton Brown is referring to store-bought eggs, so his advice about the freshness of the eggs is a little off for laid-today eggs from the farm. His tip about centering the yolks is right-on and one I learned the hard way.

I don’t steam my eggs because I really don’t have a good steamer, and I’m about to do three dozen, not four.  So, this is how I do it:

  1. Take the eggs out of the refrigerator for about an hour before starting.  To center the yolks, secure carton lids (a rubber band works well) and place the cartons on their sides. Otherwise, yolks may be too near the egg wall, causing you to break them when you peel the egg – not so good for pickled eggs, but no problem for egg salad.
  2. Use as many large pots as necessary to place eggs in a single layer and cover by at least an inch or two of cold water. Starting with cold water and bringing the eggs to a boil gently will help avoid shocking the eggs into cracking.
  3. I add a teaspoon of white vinegar and ½ teaspoon of salt to each pot.
  4. On high heat, bring to a boil and as soon as your water boils, cover pot and turn off the heat. (I have an electric stove. If you have gas, once the water reaches a boil, remove pot from flame. Turn down to low, return pot to burner and simmer for one minute.
  5. After the minute, remove from burner, cover and let sit for 12 minutes.
  6. While the eggs are resting, prepare an ice water bath large enough to accommodate all your eggs at once. You can use a large bowl, pot or even the sink if necessary.
  7. Remove the eggs using a slotted spoon and submerge in the ice bath to cool.

Peeling your eggs:

  1. Allow your eggs plenty of time to cool.
  2. Set up a bowl of clean, cold water and a container or bowl to store your peeled eggs
  3. I start by gently cracking the egg all over and starting at the wide end. If you’re lucky, the shell will gently peel away from the egg, leaving a smooth shiny surface. Rinse in the water & place in the storage container. Repeat.
  4. If you’re not lucky, the shell will cling to the egg and tear the flesh of the egg leaving a knobby messy looking egg. Still tastes good, but not quite so beautiful. If this is the case, after creating the opening, dip into the water as needed to keep everything moist & slippery. Try sliding a spoon gently under the shell and carefully lifting the shell away from the egg.  Be patient and gentle and you should be successful.
  5. Occasionally, your best efforts will fail. Try tucking the cooked eggs back into the fridge for a few more days and you should have better luck. Or, if you just want to eat the eggs and can live with their funky look, do your best and soldier on.

Pickling your eggs:

I’ve tried lots of different recipes and this is my favorite for both flavor and ease.  I am a huge fan of the pickled vegetables you get in restaurants in Mexico so like to add some carrots, chiles and garlic to my eggs. The pickled carrots are a tender-crisp treat and a colorful addition to whatever I end up making with the pickled eggs.

Click here for a printable recipe

Storing your eggs safely:

I am the first to admit I may be a little too fearless when it comes to food safety. I have been making pickled eggs for some time and had been storing them on a shelf in my basement.   But apparently the National Center for Home Preservation doesn’t share my confidence in non-refrigerated storage. If you’re new to preserving, check out their website and this page on pickled eggs – it’s an invaluable free resource.

Eating your pickled eggs & carrots:

xPickled Egg Sandwichxxxpaired with Green Beansxxand vinaigrette slaw

My favorite ways to eat pickled eggs:

  • Pickled Egg Sandwich: slather a slice of good, toasted white bread with mayonnaise (gold stars for homemade bread AND mayo), slice a pickled egg on top, toss a few of the carrots & chile on top and season with a good grind of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Sliced or crumbled over salads & grains: any green salad can benefit from some nice slices of pickled egg. Or, crumble some pickled egg on top of rice,  pasta or cooked vegetable dishes.
  • Egg salad:  try making your favorite egg salad dish with pickled eggs instead of plain hard-cooked for a zingy change
  • Topper: Chopped pickled egg on top of potato, tuna or chicken salads, veggie dishes and dips
  • Sandwich topper: Slice a pickled egg onto a meat sandwich. Really kick it up a notch and top it all with crunchy vinaigrette slaw.

All Right-ey. Now that you know you can cook your eggs all at once and store them ready to eat for months, there’s no reason to hold back!  Dye all the eggs you want and enjoy this handy way to amp up the flavor and protein content of your meals.

What’s your favorite way to eat pickled eggs?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

The St. Patrick’s Day Party Never Ends: Creamy Corned Beef Spread

The St. Patrick’s Day Party Never Ends: Creamy Corned Beef Spread

Have I told you yet about my other mother,  Darina Allen?  Of course, Darina Allen doesn’t know we’re related, so shhhh; let’s keep it right here.  But really, who better to eat with on St. Patrick’s Day weekend than “the Julia Child of Ireland” herself?

It pains me to imagine, but if I could only have one cookbook, I think it would have to be hers.  Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best – Over 700 Recipes Show You Why;  well, the ridiculously long title tells the whole tale.

The Allens live on a beautiful 100 acre Irish farm with a herd of Kerry & Jersey cattle, laying hens, a kitchen garden, plenty to forage, and a famous cooking school. Darina can teach you all about foraging, how to amaze your friends by making stuff like butter, ham, rose syrup, separating cream after you’ve milked the cow yourself and a gazillion beautiful things made with eggs warm from the hens. It is the real, old school, farmstead deal.

Of course, I’m looking at my menu, and have to laugh because while the meal (and my life) is totally inspired by Darina Allen, the corned beef recipe is actually from Michael Ruhlman and my favorite cabbage recipe is from Tyler Florence.   I know. But the traditional Irish boiled potatoes and the Irish Soda Bread are straight from Darina’s book.

Corned beef with mustard sauce, traditional Irish boiled potatoes, braised cabbage & Irish soda bread...

A good Irish meal is one that is not particularly cheffed up.  It is more about the very fresh, very flavorful ingredients, prepared simply but with care.  And the dairy products need to be first rate. I’m not kidding – go for the really good butter like Double Devon if you can find it, or Kerrygold, Organic Valley Pasture Butter, or Plugra. One or all will surely be found at most modern grocery stores these days. Even better, if you have some local farmstead butter, well, lucky you.

Don’t balk at the price if you’re not in the habit of buying good butter. The rest of the ingredients in this meal are pretty cheap so go ahead and splurge; you’ll still come out ahead. You owe it to yourself to at least know what butter is supposed to be.

Then, if you think it’s overrated and that you’d rather have some soda or Cap’n Crunch instead, at least I can rest knowing you’ve made an informed choice.

I know that while my meal was lovely and the day beautiful, you’ve been pounded with corned beef, cabbage and green stuff all week. It’s a new week now, and time to move on to something else.  Except for one thing; all that leftover corned beef.

Last year, for St. Patrick’s day I made corned beef tongue and corned beef hash.  This year, I went the tongue route again, but still, while the flavor is great, I just don’t enjoy the texture. The hash worked well because the meat was cubed & crisped with potatoes and carrots.  But that’s so last year.  This year, I decided to go for corned beef spread. Click here for a printable recipe.

The unmistakable taste of corned beef and grainy mustard in a creamy spread.

And I’m glad I did.  Grinding meats to use in sauces, spreads, fillings, sausages and such is an invaluable way of stretching meat as far as it can possibly go. All while concentrating the meaty flavor exponentially.

Do you have an especially good way to put a bit of minced meat to work?