Food


I have yet to embrace a 100-mile, seasonal diet.  In this charged, politically-correct environment I live in, this brings out the battle cries for a small amount of folks. And I’m okay with that.

On any major issue, the population usually breaks into 3 categories: 10% are fundamentalist believers, 10% are fundamentalist non-believers, and 80% fall into a nice little bell-curve between the first two stands.

Everyone has their axes to grind, and as the environment becomes a greater social issue, there will be more and more martyrs and blasphemers, and they will go to war, screaming for the end of crazy backwardsness.

And while they are doing that, I’m madly in love with a guy who fell for me back when I was a metropolitan girl, escaping anything that reminded me of my agricultural past. I had expensive clothes, expensive hair, useless pets, and a dream revolving around never seeing poultry or cowboy boots (known as “shit-kickers” where I grew up) again.

Except now I’m reverting back, or at least trying to find a happy medium, because it makes sense to me. My fella is part of the 80% on the green issues. He knows the environment-locavore-seasonal eating-recycling-green-everything is important, but it’s huge, it breaks a lot of his automatic routines, and the fundamentalists turn him off of the whole thing. One side is ignorant, the other arrogant, and he just wants to have a good life where he doesn’t screw everything up.

Standard marketing technique is to play on a subject’s fear and insecurities in order to win them over. But it is against human nature to accept and retain any emotion for a long period of time.

My grandfather was a pastor. He had to save everyone’s soul from the fire and brimstone of Judgement by 1962, when he believed the world would end. On 1/1/63, he realized that God gave us all more time, and we had to be saved by 1966, when fire would rain from the heavens, and…. By the time he was declaring our doom in 1984, no one was listening anymore. Everybody was still sinning, waiting for the conventional end of life to worry about tallying up.

We are living in a place where HBC and Walmart consider themselves local. Where Monsanto has decided to call itself “sustainable” and the words Green and Organic have no real meaning anymore (except in marketing and agendas). We have developed a new term, “greenwashing.”

It’s confusing to stay on top of the trends, the marketing, the research, the whole issue of changing the basics of everything to be what the majority determines to be environmentally sound. It doesn’t inspire learning and changing when the mobs that tell us we must do XYZ, or our children will inherit a cinder and humanity will be lost.  I can’t help but think of the radium water (toothpaste, creams, etc.) that were still promoted for good health even as recently as the 40’s. Do we really know what we are doing, or are we being as good-intentioned as the pilgrim who first planted a worm into the New World soil?

Recycling plastic was a huge leap in the environmental scene, not long ago. Now, the same petroleum products get to pollute several times before being buried.

It’s 1962 again. Or whenever the world is currently going to end. It’s okay, I took survivalist training as a kid. I know how to sauté slugs and chew aspen. I’ll make soap to barter for hides. It’ll be goo-ood living.

Seriously, I’m tired of the guilt-trips, hyped marketing and power-struggles and one-upmanship that is happening with the Green Revolution. No one older than 25 changes their life to be cool, people don’t scare into a new lifestyle, and you can’t guilt them into a lasting change either. No matter how many carrots you eat, if you want chocolate, you will not be sated. It’s not about will control. It’s finding satisfaction.

  • A smaller house means less cleaning and lower bills — perhaps additional money for movies or trips.
  • Buying a box of apples that are fresh and crisp off the tree is a treat that is tasty, and stocking up fresh means months of tasty apples from the box.
  • Dining by lantern for dinner is romantic.
  • Learning about worms, or experimenting with different compost systems, or trying to grow different things at different times, can be a fascinating study.
  • Just slowing down allows us to appreciate the things around us.

(It is shown that a recession in the U.S. actually makes us live better. People spend more time with children, there is less overeating, less stress, more hanging out with genuine friends.)

We really can have a good life, right now.

So, no. I don’t follow an inflexible rulebook regarding foods that I bring home. What we eat and why is a personal choice anyway. I figure, if we pursue a better life for ourselves, our friends, our family, our homes– if we are willing to learn about and appreciate our surroundings and how they occur, we’ll naturally find a sustainable way. I make the best choices I can, and seek better knowledge.

It’s enough to know that a banana, pineapple or orange has travelled so very far to be appreciated by me. And over time, these fruits became a treat rather than a ration.

After enjoying a fantastic bounty of bright red, fresh tomatoes (and canning them) this summer, the pale and grainy tomatoes at the store have lost their appeal.

My fella suggested we buy eggs at a different grocery store, because the eggs he was looking at were thin-shelled and he didn’t think they were quality. They were from Ohio. The eggs he thought were higher quality came from 3 hours away.

The changes happen automatically, not because we’re embracing any challenge or trendy green diet.

We just want to live better. To progress, not to be perfect.

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Photo by Alecsandro Andrade de Melo

Photo by Alecsandro Andrade de Melo

Best if used by.   Use before.    Good until.

These little stamps on your dairy containers may feel like rigid expirations, but knowing how dairy changes over time will allow you to extend the use of it past the due date.

Sour cream: Sour cream sweetens when it ages. It actually transforms into regular ol’ cream cheese. At my store, sour cream is half the price of cream cheese, so I end up planning ahead and refrigerating the sour cream past expiration. It’s not so great for spur-of-the-moment cheesecake, but if you are a regular baker or just like your morning bagel, it’s a great way to have sour cream for stroganoff and cream cheese for later.

Yogurt: We’ve all opened an old yogurt container and found the top covered with a light yellow liquid. A lot of people assume the yogurt is expired. Mais non! As yogurt ages, the live cultures continue to multiply. These cultures make yogurt more sour, and the liquid that rises is actually whey that separates as the yogurt settles. Draining whey out of fresh yogurt is how companies make the thick European yogurt, often called “Greek yogurt.”

Pour off the liquid (or feed it to your chickens/hog in their feed), and use it for waffles or baking; the sour is an acid that will react with baking soda to make your batter rise. Sour cream coffee cake has a great flavor when sharp yogurt is substituted for the sour cream — which you’ll be aging for your bagels, right?

Milk: Ah, sour milk. Great to replace buttermilk in most recipes, and used in quick breads to react with the baking soda and make everything rise. There are recipes online for a multitude of foods that use sour milk, from pancakes to breaded chicken to cookies. Cook anything that has added sour milk.

Be sure to know the difference between sour and spoiled. Taste it to learn the flavor, as unpleasant as that may be.

In general, milk starts to sour within 6 days of the Use By date. However, this is not conclusive; there are many reasons milk can sour earlier. Use all dairy products before they thicken, curdle, and become discolored. Unless you have introduced special bacteria (cultures) to make cheese, the curdled dairy is not considered safe for human consumption.

As always, keep your dairy products refrigerated in the safety zone (lower than 43 degrees Fahrenheit) until ready to use, and never use anything that smells rancid or has discoloration. It is okay to warm the dairy in the microwave or on the stove just before adding it to breads.

If you have any favorite recipes for sour milk or yogurt, please share them in the comments below!

photo by Phil Beard

photo by Phil Beard

According to Ron Phipps’ latest market report of the American Honey Producers Association, the greater demand for honey in the marketplace, matched with the declining bee population and harsh weather conditions, is fostering the concern that demand for quality honey is growing beyond the supply available. With the poor economy, the high price of honey, and “honey-laundering” (the illegal import of substandard honey watered down with HF corn syrup or containing harmful chemicals),  more people are turning to backyard beekeeping, and selling or buying excess honey at farmers’ markets and various local small businesses.

Many consumers (and even some beekeepers) believe that the grades for honey are unregulated. After all, no one can follow each bee to determine the type of flower where she is harvesting nectar. For all we know, she could be the one buzzing inside a littered coke can. But it is fairly simple to determine quality honey if you know what to look for.

Yes, all honey is not of the same quality, and in 1985, the US Department of Agriculture released the US Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey. Quality is determined with a points system. Points are awarded for the percent of solids, the absence of defects, and the flavor, aroma and clarity in the final product.

Honey ranges in color from water white to dark amber, depending on the age and the type of plants used for nectar. Honey can be darkened over time or with the application of heat. Lighter honey has a more delicate flavor; darker honey has a more pronounced flavor. Depending on the way that the honey is harvested and processed, it can be clear or muddy (with crystals, air, or other inclusions). You can also find honey that contains honeycomb in the jar, like the opening picture above.

All honey types have best uses. Lighter honey is great for adding sweetness in cooking, or to replace sugar. Darker honey is great for syrups and spreads that need a deeper flavor. Honey that is labeled “creamed” is actually muddy with air bubbles, and is great for spreads or candies.

Raw honey is the most common honey available from backyard beekeepers. It is simply strained and bottled, and contains the antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, and other benefits that are lost when the honey is heated. Some people believe that it has a better flavor, and that small quantities of local raw honey will help reduce allergies. Raw honey does crystallize faster, but the crystals will not affect flavor, and will melt back into honey under a low heat.

The process for gaining a US standard honey grade costs a lot of money, and must be updated per batch, making the process prohibitive to small or hobby beekeepers that sell in the farmers’ markets and local businesses. Most small producers do not get their honey graded, but it does not mean that the honey is substandard. Often, it is even more flavorful because it is handled in small batches. In these instances, you can use the US grading guidelines to help you buy the best honey.

All honey should follow the following conditions:

  1. No defects affect the appearance of or edibility of honey.
  2. Flavor is at least reasonably free from smoke, fermentation, chemicals, and other additions.
  3. The appearance is not seriously affected by air bubbles, pollen, grains, or other particles (this condition is not applicable for strained or raw honey).

Grade A honey is practically free of defects, with a good flavor and high clarity.

Grade B honey is reasonable free of defects, with a reasonable good flavor and clarity.

Grade C honey is fairly free of defects, with a fairly good flavor and clarity.

Honey that has failed Grade C requirements is given a Substandard grade.

The next time you see a honey booth giving out samples, take a moment to try a bit, look at a jar through the sun, and ask the beekeeper about their bees and how they filter or strain their product. Beekeepers are fun and passionate about their bees, and tasting different honeys will help you learn more about the quality.

In general, if it looks good and tastes good, then it’s a good buy. You don’t need a government grade to tell you what tastes good.

Resources:

Seattle PI on honey laundering
Washington State Beekeepers Association
American Honey Producers
US Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey
Federal regulations governing inspection and certification:

With summer heat climbing into the 100s, everyone seems to focus on getting rid of the heat. When we’re hot, we don’t want to think, we don’t feel hungry. We want to stay cool.

Yoghurt, yogurt, youghurt, or yoghourt — however you spell it, this smooth, cool, protein-rich food is delicious on its own or as used in chilly smoothies, rich baked goods, roasted chicken and salad dressing.

And the heatwave we are experiencing provides us with the perfect conditions to make yogurt — with simple ingredients, without fancy machines or monitoring.

Ingredients/tools

Pot: A regular pot for the stove.

Glass jar: Jars should have lids and be sanitized with bleach or boiling water. You can use any size or multiple containers.

Whole milk: You can also use nonfat. For a richer yogurt, add some fresh or powdered cream.

Yogurt: This is the same type of yogurt that you enjoy eating. Make sure that the container states that the cultures in the yogurt are live and active.

Directions

  1. Pour milk or milk mixture into the pot and warm until it is about to boil. Remove from heat. For my yogurt, I used 1.5 quarts of whole milk. The amount of milk you use will be the amount of yogurt that will develop.
  2. Let milk cool to 115 degrees F.
  3. Add the yogurt labeled live and active.This is your starter culture, and it will use the sugars in the milk to multiply and turn the milk into yogurt.In the example pictures, I am using 2 tablespoons of yogurt for 1.5 quarts of whole milk. Adding more yogurt will speed up the process. Do not worry about adding too much or too little.
  4. Pour the milk/yogurt mixture into your glass container(s) and cover.
  5. Place the jar(s) in a warm spot.I keep mine in my office, which is in my attic and reaches 80 – 100 degrees in this heat. Whew! You can also place your jar(s) out in the sun, or in your car, or any place that is very warm. In a pinch, you can use a crock-pot with a light dimmer switch, or wrap the jar with a seed-warmer or heating pad.
  6. Wait 6 – 18 hours.Seriously, go away. Ride a bike. Sleep. Go shopping. It won’t explode or stink or make the cats crazy.Why such a broad range of time? The longer the yogurt is left out, the tangier and thicker it becomes. A thin, runny yogurt is great on granola or cereal. Tangy yogurt is great for adding a zip to chicken, salads, or muffins.This is a great thing about making your own food. You can make it exactly how you like it.
  7. When the yogurt is ready, chill it for at least 2 hours before devouring.Remember to save a few spoonfuls of this yogurt for Step 3, when you make your next batch.

But what to do with your yogurt?

Greek Yogurt/Yogurt Cheese: If you want to make the thick yogurt (usually labeled as Greek or European in the store containers) or yogurt cheese, spoon the chilled yogurt into a square of cheesecloth and suspend it over a bowl in the refrigerator. The excess whey will drip out, leaving the creamy, thick yogurt cheese. Yum!

In the picture above, the container on the right has a small sack of yogurt draining. After an hour, it was like Greek yogurt. I left it there all day, and the cheese was as creamy as neufchatel, with only a hint of a tang. It will be great on bagels or homemade toast.

Smoothies: Add a cup of yogurt to frozen fruit and ice for a healthy, cool breakfast.

Flavored yogurt: Be sure to reserve your spoonfuls for next time before flavoring! Try some of these flavorings in 1 cup of yogurt:

  • Honey: 1 tablespoon honey
  • Vanilla: 1 tsp. vanilla extract + 2 tsp. sugar
  • Fruit: 1/3 cup any chopped fruit or 1 tablespoon fruit preserves
  • Chocolate: 1 tablespoon hot cocoa powder
  • Maple: 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Tomato: 1 tablespoon tomato sauce + dash of garlic salt
  • More flavor recipes at: DVO.com

Baking: Use in place of a portion of buttermilk or cream cheese in recipes. My favorite chicken is marinated in yogurt, breaded and baked with rice. I also add yogurt to bread flour, pancakes, waffles, muffins, and substitute it in any recipe that calls for sour cream.

Do you have any favorite yogurt tips or recipes? Please comment and share!

You do not need to buy, build or store a food dehydrator, screen, or any fancy set-up to dry your herbs and seeds. If you drive, you already have the perfect gadget for drying spices!

Take your harvested spices and place them loosely in paper bags, folding over the ends to close them. Place these bags in your car on the little shelf beneath the rear window. Your herbs will be dry in no time.

As a plus, your car will be scented by the herbs until they are dry. Win-win!

In my family, we celebrated the process of growing up. Birthdays were benchmarks to adulthood, earning us new perks and responsibilities. As I grew, I knew that Age 13 would herald Wearing Makeup, and Age 16 meant receiving a Birthstone Ring. I’d seen my older siblings arrive at these achievements, and eagerly awaited my own birthdays so I could catch up to them.

When I turned 11 years old, I was old enough to own my first pocketknife. It was a chunky camp tool with extra attachments ranging from a fish scaler to a fork and spoon. With that perk, I was given the responsibility of making bread.

Our bread was both a staple and a treat. We could smell when it was almost done, gathering near the kitchen and visualizing the golden top opened by a knife, steam rising as we slathered butter over the soft interior. It made even borsht night bearable.

I’d been cooking for 3 years already, but bread was a big deal, reserved for an older child. My mother didn’t use a recipe, teaching me as she had learned. After pulling out the big, silver bowl, she showed me how much ingredients to use, how to test the proper water temperature, to create the dough, time the rise, and bake the bread using sight, touch and smell.

I learned that you can put anything in your bread. But a basic loaf is composed of only four ingredients:

  1. Liquid
  2. Yeast
  3. Flour
  4. Salt

These simple ingredients work together. The flour, when wet, forms strings of protein, or gluten. The yeast takes sugars and moisture from the wet flour to multiply and produce gas. This gas inflates the strings of protein, making little pockets. When you bake the bread, the strings harden, creating the crumb — the small holes you see in the inside of the bread. The salt not only adds flavor, but it also inhibits the yeast, so the protein strings can form slowly and be stronger, creating fluffier bread.

Try it for yourself. In a large mixing bowl, place:

1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons of yeast (bread machine, commercial, active-dry: it doesn’t matter here)

Wait 5 minutes. The yeast is absorbing water and expanding. This is called “activating” or “proofing” the yeast. After 5 minutes, you’ll see a lot of it has sunk to the bottom. The yeast still floating is poofy. This yeast is ready to roll.

Add 2 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

All-purpose, high-gluten, “bread flour” — each will give you a traditional flavor for your first loaf. Use white unbleached flour here. 100% whole grain breads use an adjusted recipe. If you want to add the nutty flavor of rye or whole wheat, substitute 1 cup of the heavier grain for 1 cup of the white at this point.

If you have a table mixer with a dough hook, you can use that. If you are mixing by hand, use a sturdy butter knife or the handle of a wooden spoon to mix.

Add additional flour 2 tablespoons at a time.

How much flour is enough? The dough should be elastic, not stick to the sides of the bowl, and feel only slightly tacky on your fingers.

Knead 10 times.

To knead, flour your hand and press the dough down in the center of the bowl. Lift one side of the dough and fold it toward the other side. Press it down. Lift one side again. Only 8 more to go!

Cover the bowl and wait for it to double in size.

This is the first rise. Depending on what type of yeast you used, this could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Gently press down on the dough with your fist to get the air out.

This is called “punching down the dough.” Be gentle. It’s not a boxing match, and the dough is actually very nice when you get to know it.

Roll the dough out of the bowl into a greased bread pan
—or—
Shape into a log and place on greased cookie sheet.

Wait until the dough has doubled again.

This is the second rise. Usually, the second rise is slightly faster than the first.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Bread is done when the internal temperature is 200 degrees.

Remove the loaf and let it cool 5 minutes. If using a pan, turn it upside-down on a cutting board and prop up one edge an inch or so with a utensil or cutting board. The bread will fall out when it has cooled enough. Don’t worry; the inside will still be hot enough to melt butter.

This plain recipe doesn’t make the most interesting loaf, so feel free to experiment. A few suggestions:

  • Add 1 room-temperature egg and 1 tablespoon sugar to the water/yeast mixture to create a richer loaf.
  • Substitute warm milk for 1/3 of the water for a moist, airy loaf.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil or warm butter for a rich, smooth texture.
  • Fold in dried fruit, cinnamon, cheese, oats, or seeds right before you start kneading.
  • After forming the loaf, spray oil on the top and sprinkle rosemary and Celtic sea salt over the loaf. Try other spices on top. Or honey, thinned with water.

Have fun experimenting, and don’t be afraid that you will mess it up. Even “mistakes” taste delicious. You may even find a signature recipe that you will call your own.

Mmm. Now I’m hungry — I’m off to make more bread!