Our 30 Day Real Food Challenge’s Epic Failure

I told you about a month ago that we were going to embark on a journey of real food.  It sounded absolutely ridiculous that we were perhaps eating more lab created food then natural food.  But we somehow did invite the world of marketing into our pantry and seems we have a lot of boxes, bags, and frozen this and that.  Organic, but still super processed and lots of questionable ingredients.

I have gained five pounds so far.  Oh no, not from the real food, but because not two days in I defiantly remarked, “You can’t tell me what to do!”  To myself.  I instantly became all bent out of shape about having to cook three meals a day and everything from scratch.  I would spend the day baking bread, scones, looking at cracker recipes, mess up my kitchen, and then make Doug take me out to dinner.  We have been out a record amount of times this month.  

Doug had the idea in his head that we were going to have something like smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch, and Buddha bowls for dinner.  Doesn’t that sound amazing?  Delicious, fresh, easy?  I can feel my stomach growling.  Sooo boring.

Let’s say I want tacos.  Well, I have to make the tortillas.  No problem.  Now, real meat or lab created veggie meat?  Okay, cheese or no cheese?  Lord, by the time I am done worrying about all this real food I am down at the Mexican restaurant slurping down a margarita.  I am a rather difficult housewife, it seems.

I am rereading, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  The author and her family embark on a journey of not just real food, but local food as well.  I stood in front of my impressive old pantry shelf filled with jars of staples and realized that not a single thing on it was produced locally.  I also have so many rogue ingredients from trying (or intending to try) one recipe.  I have so many things going rancid.  And nothing in my house is local save for what is now coming up in the garden and the eggs from the coop.

It is certainly difficult to rewire the brain.  Simplifying my recipes is the answer I am sure.  Local food.  Organic food.  In its original form.  Without all the overthinking.  But trying to figure out what to eat without the helpful addition of boxes, bags, and this and that, is actually rather difficult.  I had no idea we were so dependent.  Throw in moral dilemmas of meat or no meat and a tired housewife and you have yourself a predicament and an extra five pounds.

My friend laughs because I am actually a lot better at being healthy when I am not planning.  So, perhaps we are better if we just take one meal at a time.  One little change at a time.  One local food in, one box out.  One more walk around the lake.  We’re doing fine.

A New Food History (the Garden Food Movement!)

20170917_154719Why is it so hard to eat healthy?  I often have wondered this.  I believe it is because as Americans we do not have our own food culture.  If we were from India we would crave curries and lentils and coconut.  If we were Japanese we would crave the tastes of sea weed and fresh vegetables.  We would crave the tastes of our genetic history, of fresh, local produce.  For someone like me, whose family has been in this country for over four hundred years (seriously, according to Ancestry.com no one in my family has come over since the 1700’s!) I have McDonalds and meatloaf to hold dear.  Monsanto lives here.  If it doesn’t have artificial flavors then it isn’t savory or sustaining enough.  It is just bland.  We crave the tastes of our youth!  American tacos, and steak, and canned vegetables!  Just kidding, I never crave canned vegetables.  But I can tell you that the folks that frequent the farmers markets have no clue what vegetables are local.

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Sure, we have regional specialties; fried chicken in the south, and clam chowder in the east, and we have adopted the cuisines of every other nation.  But we haven’t a clue about our own food history because a lot of times folks were just starving.  People of the world just started eating every animal in sight.  We have a genetic disposition for fear of starving or not having enough.

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People that come to America are always surprised at what our serving sizes look like.  One meal at a restaurant could feed a whole family!

That is why it is hard to eat healthy.  We don’t know what that looks like.

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We don’t have our own food history.  We have let big companies take over our food system.  But can we rewire our brains to crave certain foods?  Is it too late to simplify our palates?  I wonder.

It seems to me that a plate full of whole grains; farro, buckwheat, rice, barley, rye, topped with in-season vegetables of varying colors, and topped with a savory sauce of some sort; tomato based or smoked cashew or asian or red chile, would be amazing at every meal.  Inevitably we start craving restaurant food.  It is never as good as what we make at home yet there must be artificial ingredients and flavorings that our bodies crave.  Like it’s the taste of home, or something.

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The gardening season is coming up and I intend to retrain our taste buds!  We are now on a rather strict budget (time to practice what I preach) and we will not be gallivanting around restaurants anymore.  Eating whole grains, vegetables, fruit, seeds, legumes, and nuts help us to avoid the more expensive, processed, nutritionally deplete foods and save A LOT on the grocery bill.  Pastas (homemade or not), homemade sourdough, whole grains, fresh, sauteed, or roasted vegetables from the gardens or market, fresh fruits, roasted nuts as toppings for meals, or made into sauces, or eaten as snacks, seeds added to delicious, crisp salads, and beans and other legumes seasoned and added to meals.  We will create our own food history.  The Garden Food Movement!  Not a diet, but a lifestyle.  The new food history of America.  One household at a time…

All of the above dishes are plant based.  It’s time we take back our health and our food.

To Grow and Forage One’s Own Food

home 4Soon.  Soon now the dark greens of earth will peek through the moistened soil and seek the sun.  Dandelions will unexpectedly be dancing through the grasses.  The mulberries, black and velvet, will stain my fingers as I gather them.  Perhaps the squirrels will leave some walnuts for me.  And this is the year for the plum tree to fruit.

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To forage for food gives a great satisfaction to the spirit but to forage amongst one’s own gardens and land is spectacular.  I can already taste the cleansing lamb’s quarters, the tangy purslane, the scrumptious dandelions interspersed with sweet butter lettuce fresh from the garden.  Just dressed with good olive oil and sea salt, the tastes of spring come forth and fill my body with nutrients after winter’s rest.  Soon.  Soon now.

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I am reading a beautiful book called, “A Year in the Village of Eternity” by Tracey Lawson.  It takes place in Italy, in the village of Campodimele, one of the Blue Zones, where the most active and healthy elders live.

Cibo genuino. Real Food.  Roba nostra.  Our own things.  I let the many Italian words roll off my tongue and take their lessons.  Real food.  Our own things.  Grow an orto, a garden.  In this village they forage or grow nearly everything they consume.  Is it possible?  Last year on our own little third of an acre in town, in soil fit for a driveway, we grew all of our own produce for the summer.  Our first season here with little time or money.  Now we have eggs from our chickens.  We have planted many fruit and nut trees (if I can just keep the puppy from thinking they are sticks to play with!), we are recognizing more and more wild foods, and are growing many more vegetables this year in better soil.  Contadino.  Farmer or gardener who produces their own food.

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I cannot wait to feel the soil in my fingers.  Soon.  Soon.  The season comes earlier where we live now and in three short weeks I will be folding spring crops into the cool ground.  What preserves shall we do this year?  I imagine lilac and lavender jam, stewed tomatoes, crisp fire roasted corn.  We are enjoying our larder these winter months.

To live like this is to be ready at all times, for what you seek or what you want to “put up” may not be there tomorrow.  Herbs must be harvested when ready.  Fruit may be eaten by birds at dawn.  Piles of corn need shucking.  Ah, but I enjoy the work.  I love our evening walks after dinner in the sunlight.  I love the sound of water covering plants and the crisp sound of the pea pod being opened.  Ogni cosa ha il sua momento.  Everything has its moment.

For now I have winter preserving to do so that it is done once the busy season starts.  In my cucina this week dozens and dozens of jars of beans will be put up.  Vegetable broth too.  I still have beans from the garden to shell.  I will check on my vinegars and my kombucha.  I have been resting and a tad neglectful.  But now as each day falls closer to spring, I awaken, don my apron, and get to work.  In campagna, c’ e sempre da fare! In the countryside (or city as the case may be) there is always something to do!

 

 

Beef Bourguignon (homestead style)

Even though we are homesteaders (and make a bit over twenty grand a year) we love really good food.  It’s not just for the rich.  We eat fresh vegetables from the garden, home canned vegetables in the winter, humanely raised and organically and grass fed animals raised by friends or nearby farmers.  We love good, strong coffee (fair trade), and delicious teas.  We love good olive oil and spices.  When you don’t spend money on processed food, you have enough left over to buy (or grow) great food.

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I was anxious to make the Julia Child classic Beef Bourguignon.  After years and years of making the recipe with veggie meat, I was ready to make the real deal with sirloin I had purchased from my friends, Margaret and Krista.  Krista actually goes and visits with her cows every day.  They are well loved and well fed animals.  I looked over the recipe from Julia Child and one from Ina Garten.  I did not have all the ingredients.  The nearest store is thirty minutes away and budget is tight right now (we need to get wood!) so I streamlined the recipe to what I had and it turned out mouthwateringly good.  You don’t have to follow recipes exactly.  You can add or subtract what you like and don’t like.  Add more of something.  Be creative.  I didn’t have any bacon, but I bet that would be great in the stew.  I didn’t want to put in all that onion.  I had dried mushrooms.  It all worked out.  And I had a happy, well fed homesteading hubby.  A glass of rich, red wine goes beautifully with this dish.  Also add a loaf of homemade bread.

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Homesteader’s Beef Bourguignon

2 Tb of olive oil

1 lb. of sirloin cut into inch cubes.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.  Sear on all sides then transfer to a crock pot or a Dutch oven to set on the wood cook stove.

In same pan, scrape off bits of meat and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil

Over medium heat sauté a diced onion and a sliced carrot along with 2 cloves of diced garlic for about ten minutes until fragrant and onion is translucent and just browning.  Add to meat.

To meat mixture add 2 cups of marinara sauce, 2 cups of red wine (good wine, no cooking wine), and 1 1/2 cups of broth.  Throw in a bay leaf and 2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried), plus 1 cup of sliced mushrooms.

Cook in crock pot on low or on wood cook stove for 6 hours.

Combine 3 heaping tablespoons of flour to doubled the water and whisk.  Stir into stew and cook (on high if using crock pot, no heat change on wood stove) for 30 minutes until a little thicker.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bon Appetite!

 

Easy Homemade Goat Cheese

I love the tangy, delicious flavor of soft goat cheese, often called Chevre, which is French for “goat”.  It is so easy to make and yields a lot more than one would get from the store.  It is versatile enough that it can virtually match any dish.  Herbs can be added, thick ribbons of basil, clips of chives, oregano, and green onion, a dash of red wine vinegar or lemon juice, and a good pinch of salt makes an amazing cheese to spread on crackers or fresh baked bread.

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Adding a little more of the whey to create a creamier cheese allows it to be dressed up in Italian seasonings, a splash of lemon juice, and salt, and used in place of ricotta which creates an amazing flavor profile when added to pasta and rich tomato sauce.  I added red wine, Italian seasonings, and garlic to my creamy cheese and baked it with ziti and spaghetti sauce.  Amazing.

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In this one I made it a bit sweeter than I typically do.  It is fantastic with its sweet and slightly sour flavor.  It is wonderful spread on breakfast toast or sprinkled on fresh salad greens.  I added a teaspoon of vanilla salt and poured ginger peach syrup (a failed jam attempt) over the top.  Very good.

You can make this with store bought goat’s milk, or indeed substitute cow’s milk, but we prefer fresh from the goat, raw milk.  Nothing tastes so good as really fresh cheese.

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Pour one gallon of milk into a stainless steel pot.  Heat, stirring often, to 86 degrees.

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Sprinkle on a packet of cultures.  These are the ready made cultures that we need to make a variety of cheeses.  They are available at cheese supply websites but I get ours from the local homesteading store (Buckley’s in Colorado Springs) or the local brew hut (Dry Dock in Aurora) that sells beer and wine making supplies.  Graciously, they sell cheese making supplies as well.

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Let sit for 2 minutes to rehydrate then stir into milk.

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Place a cover on the pot and let it set for 12 hours.  I do this so that it can sit overnight.

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In the morning line a colander with cheesecloth.  To help keep me from cussing I use clothes pins to secure it to the sides of the colander as I pour.  I have a pot beneath the colander to catch the whey.  This will be used in bread baking or to add a bit more liquid to my finished cheese if desired.

Pour the contents of the pot through the cheesecloth and catch all that fabulous cheese.  Tie the cheesecloth (I use clothespins to secure) and either attach it to the side of the pot to drain (as shown here) or tie it and hang it from somewhere to drain for 4-8 hours depending on how dry you want your cheese.  I like 4 hours.

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At that point, I refrigerate the whey, place the cheese in a container and start seasoning.  Enjoy!  There are beneficial enzymes in goat cheese that are important to our digestive health.  Goat cheese spread on crackers or fresh bread, a glass of wine, and a book beneath a tree.  One of the great pleasures of summer!

Desperately Seeking Fresh Vegetables (and a fine Brussels recipe)

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I stared at the dusty jars lining the warped shelves in the basement.  They still feel like a blessing but at the moment were seeming more and more like a curse.  I swear if I have to eat one more jar of green beans…or peas…or corn…or beets…or…

I understand that hunger doesn’t care.  If I lived before grocery stores, out on an old homestead, or if I didn’t have a hundred bucks to spare, that food would be tasting real good right now.  But it is late February, too early for anything fresh, and my mind was dreaming of food that has not even been planted yet!

We have been fabulous at eating seasonally.  We ate almost all the potatoes, lots of carrots, onions, jar after jar of items I preserved, frozen vegetables and fruits.  I have been creative.  I have added fresh herbs from the windowsill.  We ate all but one pumpkin.  I need a radish.

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We picked up Maryjane and Emily (You know your life has changed when going to the health food store in town is the highlight of the week.) and off we went to Vitamin Cottage.  The pretty rows of product lulled us into a sense of summer and freshness.  I caught sight of the Brussels sprouts, as large as two golf balls side by side, and giggled like Gollum finding his Precious as I loaded up a bag.  I did a little jig in front of the ruby red orbs of radishes.  Maryjane held a piece of broccoli she had snagged as her mother walked by the green trees (what my kids used to call broccoli).  Emily pointed out various mouthwatering vegetables as we told the baby how she is going to love vegetables.  Doug walked over with crisp apples.  We put kale in our basket, Roma tomatoes, boxes of salad.  Large grapes for fresh chicken salad.  Long, elegant leeks to go into humble potato soup.  We felt like royalty.  Everything was organic, but I do not know where it was grown.  Certainly not around here.

I woke up yesterday and cut up two radishes even before the coffee was made.  I sprinkled them with a bit of smoked sea salt and popped them in my mouth.  I smothered a few with butter.  They held the crisp edge I was looking for.  They are not near as good as the earthy, spicy radishes that will come out of my garden beds in a few month’s time, but they were very suitable for a long winter of mushy green beans.  (Which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.)  Last night we had salad with homemade croutons and the melt in your mouth giant Brussels spouts.

Soon we will be back to frozen eggplant, and gelatinous peas (which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.  I need to repeat that so y’all aren’t tempted to not start canning.  It is great, and it is really fun going to the grocery store in the basement.)  I just needed a taste of spring.  I’ll be saving up for a green house!

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Melt in Your Mouth Brussels Sprouts

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in the “Vegan Soul Kitchen” by the great Bryant Terry.  He would be disappointed in me for the addition of bacon.

Fry up two slices of bacon, drain on paper towel and when cool, break into small pieces.

Drizzle pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of bacon drippings.

Trim off the end and cut in half a bunch of Brussels sprouts, enough to fill your skillet with a single layer of halves face down.  About a pound.

Sear for four minutes or so until nice and slightly blackened.

Add 1 cup of rich broth.

Cover tightly and braise over medium high heat for 12 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of white wine (I like Chardonnay) and a few tablespoons of lemon or regular thyme, fresh preferably.

Continue braising for five minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.  Top with bacon.

I would show you a picture but we ate them too fast.  Sorry.