Thursday, December 5, 2013
Is it inspiration or motivation, or maybe a little bit of both. I pin, bookmark, and dog ear many a page of great ideas that I want to do. Sometimes, more than others, I get a surge of energy to get it done and it is completely stress free. Maybe because the weather is changing, and we are focusing indoors, or the fact that we had a great rejuvenating vacation or possibly because my focus is on making the house inviting for the monotone gray months. Regardless of the motivator, I am getting stuff done.
I loved the moss spheres that were in the most recent Martha Stewart magazine. Not only a statement piece on the dining room table behind our Nuremberg angel, but it will be a perfect bout of winter color come January. It is a relativity easy project, almost meditative piecing on the bits of moss, and I am going through hot glue like it is going out of style. I think that I am going to try to pound out a handful more to give as gifts. What types of things are inspiring you right now?
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
I decided to try my hand at candy making for a cookie exchange that I am going to tonight. I know, I am a rebel, right? I have never made bark before, so thought that I would give it a whirl. It was surprisingly easy and there are endless goodies that you add to it.
For my first batch I used both Ghiradelli dark chocolate (2/3) and white melting chocolate(1/3). I poured the melted dark chocolate on a parchment lined baking sheet and spread it to about 1/4". Then I dolloped the white chocolate over top and used a wooden skewer to swirl it in. Once done, I sprinkled crushed candy canes over the top and let it cool and harden for about 2 hours. What next? Just start to break it up into pieces. My second batch I just used the dark chocolate and added chopped macadamia nuts, candied ginger and coconut. I did three batches in all and my tasters, the family, are all big fans! I think my next confection foray will be to make some peppermint marshmallows to package with my homemade cocoa mix. What are your favorite Christmas confections??
Sunday, December 1, 2013
A white rose
Taken during our trip to California, it is perfect for stepping off into the giving season of December.
Full of promise
Several years ago I gave myself a challenge, doing an entirely handmade holiday. This year, I am reaching back to that sentiment. I am mostly done with Christmas shopping or at least the planning. Most gifts this year will either be homemade, sourced from local/regional artisans, or may be tools to aide others in doing more for themselves.
The month is off like a flash with sports, meetings, holiday events and appointments filling each day this week. I hope to enjoy every bit of this month and head into the new year feeling that I accomplished all that I needed to this year and start again with a clean slate. Pure, crisp, and full of promise.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
We are very fortunate that we can spend the holidays with each of our families. We made a very important commitment over 20 years ago, that family was an a-number one priority to us. This became even more intensely so when the kids were born and our business moved us further from both families. We try to alternate, and this year we are in California with my family for Thanksgiving, and we will be spending Christmas with B's. It can be hectic, but we have never had a second thought. This dedication to family is something we want our kids to be acutely familiar with and hopefully emulate. A nice byproduct of this is they get concentrated spurts of quality bonding time with each family.
Beyond that we have another special family, that of our friends and support system at home. Any other special days are always peppered with these amazing people. We laugh, cry, cook, eat, joke, listen, wax philosophical and cook some more. I know that our siblings also have similar support groups of family-like friends and these relationships are such a gift for all of us.
I am truly thankful for all of our different families. Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving, full of amazing food, drink, lively conversation (possibly inspired by said drink), and most importantly family of all sorts. xo
**A special thank you to my dedicated readers for all of your support and comments, it appears that I blew past 60,000 hits this week while taking a break. A Happy Thanksgiving to you!
Friday, November 22, 2013
through the car window after last Sunday's epic storms
1. We are headed to CA today to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. The kids have been in full countdown mode for over a week!
2. Trying to wrap up work, home, and school concurrently is at once overwhelming and invigorating. It never ceases to amaze me how much can be accomplished.
3. We are very fortunate that some wonderful work friends help us out on the farm when we are out of town. Thanks so much to Heather and Steff, the chickens and bunnies are grateful, as are we.
4. I hit the big 4 1 last Saturday. It has been so heartwarming the kindness of friends near and far all week long.
5. I always try to post when we are traveling, but much depends on how my iPad behaves. Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving full of family, food and thankfulness.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
What should you do when you glimpse at the calendar for the week and your to do list and panic just a little? Stop everything, glance out of the window and savor the fall light. This can be done any time of day right now with gorgeous results, and functions as an immediate reset.
"Smile, breathe and go slowly."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The industrialization of our food system is the topic we are tackling this week in our Blog Camp goes to MIT class on Food and Culture. Industrialization is not all bad by any means. Times have changed greatly from the days of the small family farm. Though weather cannot be controlled, through trial, error, time and innovation, our food industry has slowly become more controllable. These are natural steps in our evolution, but when have we gone too far? At what point do we reverse progress and begin to drive ourselves slowly toward extinction? Is it when we compromise health while striving for profit? Is it when we become so detached from our food sources, so desensitized, that we cannot treat other animals with an ounce of dignity? All things to think about when breaking the ice of this immense topic.
For the purposes of this discussion the assigned readings focused on Steve Striffler's book Chicken the Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food, as well as a couple of other food animal related articles. I delved in further with my research in light of a number of issues that are in the forefront right now. Though I will mention grains sparingly, they are also an important element worthy of their own focused attention. Let me begin with a little history from the dawn of massive production.
Hearkening back to our food and power discussion, the industrialization of chicken began during World War II. Prior to this, it was a by-product from egg layers on family farms, and only just becoming more mainstream with some mid-size family producers. A program was introduced during the war called the Food for Freedom program. In this program "the government encouraged consumers to eat eggs and chicken in order to leave more 'desirable' sources of beef and pork for the troops." Before Tyson became a household name, there were a number of sizable producers most famously Delmarva Farms. Beginning in the 1920's, they were the first farmers to raise chicken solely for meat. There are multiple levels involved in raising poultry for market; the growers to raise them, feed suppliers, processors, and finally refrigerated transportation. These smaller, by today's standards, farms worked in cooperatives to try and manage growing demands. Once Tyson, a farmer, entered the picture he took the idea of vertical integration to a new level and managed all components of the production. As smaller farmers could no longer compete, this consolidation of the food industry ultimately turned them effectively into slave labor, at the mercy of large corporations paying little to them yet profiting handsomely themselves. "Imagine if you went to get a job in a plant and the supervisor said, 'sure, we'll give you a job cleaning up chicken guts, but first take out a loan for $200,000."? Who would do that? Well, that is what they say to growers. And we do it! We take on a big debt in order to finance the houses and equipment. Once you have the debt, you are trapped. The only way you can make payments is by raising more chicks. If you complain too loud, Tyson will just stop bringing you chickens..." This has been going on now for generations.
Though the above is one example of a system that shows us the beginnings of a growing industry, fast forward to present. It is no longer profitable enough to do the work here, now we must outsource. The USDA recently "gave the green-light to four chicken processing plants in China, allowing chicken raised and slaughtered in the U.S. to be exported to China for processing, and then shipped back to the U.S. and sold on grocery store shelves here." Really??? Is that cheaper? Not only are we shipping to a country that the FDA is concerned about its ability to make wholesome dog foods and treats, that in the recent past poisoned thousands with tainted infant formula, but also what is the environmental impact, talk about food miles. Ridiculous. I know that the USDA assures us that these are inspected plants. These maneuvers are all for the sake of cutting costs on our already low cost food. Maybe some of those deep pockets should be offering subsidies to offset our out of control healthcare costs. They certainly can afford it, as much of their profit is ultimately coming at our expense.
So lets get into the real nitty gritty of this for me. Health. We have made amazing discoveries in medicine. But isn't it a shame that many of these advances are to treat or reverse self-imposed problems? Obesity, diabetes, some types of cancer, certain allergies which are all increasingly becoming a side effect of how we have industrialized our food. It is a bit ironic that much of our industrialization comes in the guise of food safety. Some things have changed over time as we learn more, for example arsenic is not commonly used in feed any longer as a de-wormer. But we do use large amounts of antibiotics to prevent or manage disease in overcrowded herds, and steroids to hasten growth in order to get animals to market in record times. They say there is no true effect to the consuming public, sound familiar? I believe that was also once the stance of the tobacco industry.
Here is an analogy. As a mom who breast feeds knows, you have to be careful with what you eat. Some of those elements are passed on to your child. So if you have a big pot of lentil soup, you may find that the baby is gassy and fussy overnight. There is a popular adage 'pump and dump'. If mom wants to go out with a couple of girl friends and have a drink or two, she will pump and dump later on, so she does not pass on the alcohol to the baby. We make these conscious efforts to do what is best for our child. So, think about it, the vast amounts of medication that our food animals receive, or how grain crops that have been genetically modified so that they can produce a high yield and be pest resistant, over time traces of these substances will end up in our systems. As we are exposed over years, it builds up and adds up. The steroid Zeranol, used widely in the beef industry has been linked not only to breast cancer but also precocious puberty. This is a real phenomena that we have created. It was somewhat shocking to me to see a number of girls that my daughter was in school with begin menstrating in the 5th grade. The rule of thumb is that your cycle begins two years after the first development of breast tissue. So that would make female reproductive development beginning as early as third grade! I was shocked when my kids had the dreaded 'family life' series in fourth grade, when I was growing up it was in sixth grade. As I learned, there is a reason that the lessons are coming earlier and earlier. At least based on our locale, kids are beginning to hit puberty two years sooner and in one generation. I mentioned at the beginning that we are evolving, but I am not sure it is a direction that we want to see our evolution going in.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the steroid exposure is the overuse of antibiotics. Martha Rosenberg's recent article quotes that "Each week the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) finds dangerous antibiotic levels in animals that include penicillin, neomycin and 'sulfa' and 'cipro' drugs, many from repeat violators." It is well known that with excessive use of antibiotics organisms will ultimately develop resistance to the medications. This is why it is such a concern in human medicine. Antibiotics have been life savers, what will we do when none of the medications are effective? In September the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a threat report "We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era" The title alone gives you the gist of what is going on. Really scary stuff. Mark Bittman's recent article was the most startling to me. It discusses an outbreak this past September in Costco organic rotisserie chicken sold in San Francisco. A number of people were sickened with a salmonella strain which was "virulent, nasty and resistant to some commonly used antibiotics." Beyond that, "Costco cooks its chicken to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, a margin of error that the company believes renders the chicken safe." Are we now seeing strains of salmonella that can survive even beyond our cooking standards?
Are we in effect creating our own super-bugs, and doing it ultimately in the name of food safety? I do not claim to know the answers, or how to change anything overnight. How to appease our need for true food safety may very well come down to breaking up the big ag monopolies, lobbies, giant feed lots and crops that yield amazing quantities per acre. And moving ourselves back toward our roots of smaller local farmers producing high quality healthy foods. More expensive for the consumer? Probably. But do the long term health implications cost us more in the long run? There are some interesting facts on where our consumer food spending has gone over the last few generations below. Maybe a lesson in conscious more balanced eating and smaller portion sizes would be a great one to learn. Is the answer just to stay ahead of the curve by advancing medicine quickly enough to manage all of these self-induced maladies? That should not be what we settle for, I certainly am not for my family.
For some interesting reading, aside from the articles linked in the text check out:
How family spending has changed
What America Spends on Groceries
Want a Better Food System? Then Get Your Hands Dirty
A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic
USDA Plan to Speed up Poultry-Processing Lines Could Increase Risk of Bird Abuse
Modern Wheat is the Perfect Chronic Poison
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Last weekend was perfect. The weather was crisp, sunny and almost 50 degrees on Sunday. It was our big clean up weekend. This year we were able to tag team the clean up, with me on the new tractor, letting it do all of the work and B on the old one so it could come behind and suck up what was pre-chopped. I can't tell you what a difference the tractor has made to getting things done efficiently around here. We managed to get all of the leaves up and put into the compost this year, and we did it in about 6 hours, where in the past it has taken two full weekends and we still could not get it all up.
The girls got new bedding inside and out of the hen house. And the inside clean up was added to the towering compost pile, which was already heating up just hours after the piles started being layered on.
The dead berry canes were all pruned out and cables added for support to all of the beds. Things just seemed to run smoothly under the crystal clear blue skies.
Even the fountain on the front walk looks picturesque when winterized!
The last thing we did was line the driveway with the winter markers, and it is a good thing too....
because twelve hours later this happened! We only got an inch and a taste of some very cold air. In our recollection, this is the earliest snowfall since we moved here twelve and a half years ago. It will be interesting what this winter brings, though we will happily bask in the predicted 50 degrees again this coming weekend!
Friday, November 8, 2013
1. Man this time change has thrown me for a loop! I am thrilled that we have sunrise before 7 am but dark at 4:30 has me wanting to seek my pillow by 8pm!
2. With lots of wind and rain this week, we are headed into a weekend of massive leaf clean up and composting. At least it is supposed to be beautiful out this weekend....our first chance of snow is as early as Tuesday!
3. B started a master swim class with a friend last week, it has me feeling like I need to get myself back to the gym...maybe will help with added energy during the darker days of winter.
4. This week, also inspired by the thoughts of being indoors more, I began to do a re-arrange and re-organize. What is old is new again as I moved around pictures and knick knacks to give the house a fresh feel.
5. Don't you just love this fall light? I am so taken by the sunrise warming the ice crystals from last nights frost.
Linking up with Nancy at A Rural Journal
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
This year has been the year of ferments and cures. We fermented pickles, squash, dilly beans, mead, wine, and now we are vinegar making. After several weeks of feeding, B now has an established and happy vinegar mother. Our goal is to utilize our wild grape wine, and age it into something similar to a balsamic vinegar. The flavor of the starter is already both sweet and rich. We may even get a small oak barrel to age it in.
I love that B is fearless and willing to try anything. Foremost he is an information junkie, and researches thoroughly to find the best ways to tackle new adventures. An important thing when homesteading, is trial and error. I have to say the process is a lot of fun!
I think the vinegar might just be a great accompaniment to our home-cured meat project. After a few days of using it, our pancetta turned out delightful. It has a sweet, salty and peppery taste on its own, then becomes quite salty when cooked. It is perfect for soup or pasta bases. We are in the process of getting a whole pig for the freezer from a local farm. B plans on expanding our charcuterie, a term he has grown quite fond of saying, into other areas; coppa, prosciutto etc :) The more we find that we can do, and what we will utilize will aid us in decisions as to what animal expansions we may do in future. I think that the most surprising thing that we have found out is really how easy so many of these things are. Similar to cooking, creating anything from scratch is not necessarily hard to do, it merely takes time and patience. A great lesson; good things come to those who wait.