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.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
So, might I ask how you filled in that blank?? I know what I was thinking as I wrote it. Did you hear a popular, ingrained slogan in your head when you read it? I can even hear the music from the jingle. Or how about ____...the other white meat? These are just popular catch phrases that emerged as part of our foods industrialization, there is so much to discuss in this can of worms. AND, this is what I am not going to talk about today. In our Blog Camp Goes to MIT course we have been doing some heavy lifting. The topics have been difficult, not so much things that any of us were unaware of, but more so, an in depth dissection of the topics that has left all of us feeling a bit battered. So when Julie suggested a little lighter reading before our next topic, industrialization, which I am leading, I was able to exhale. Just what the doctor ordered, a little reset before we move on.
So literally, what's for dinner?? It is a common question and one that we have to answer daily. Not only is there the cultural side, what are our family rituals associated with eating, but then there is the practical side, what to cook each day while maintaining both yours and your families interest. I can tell you that there have been a couple of very helpful things for the latter. Both Pinterest and Facebook have helped keeping the routine cooking blues away. I am part of two dinner groups on Facebook and daily we ask 'what's for dinner?' Everyone posts their meal plan and then there are a vast number of oohs, ahs, and I never thought of that's, and recipe sharing commences. I know there are a lot of folks out there who get tired of seeing their 'walls' or 'feeds' filled with food, consider this;
"But food is never just something to eat. It is something to find or hunt or cultivate first of all; for most of human history we have spent a much larger portion of our lives worrying about food, and plotting, working, and fighting to obtain it, than we have in any other pursuit."
"Food--what is chosen from the possibilities and how much time is allotted to cooking and eating it--is one of the means by which society creates itself and acts out its aims and fantasies. Changing (or unchanging) food choices and presentations are part of every society's tradition and character."
In some cases, food has simply become a means to an end. People will hit the grocery store, purchase something that looks tasty and easy, and never give a second thought to where it came from or how it was produced. Others take one step further and make the conscious effort to utilize the wholesome, healthy advertising on packaged goods in an attempt to make more informed decisions. Still others are even more aware shopping local farm stands, butchers and bakeries for their foods. The one stop shop convenience gone, but more confidence about what is going into your food is worth the extra minutes of traveling. This multiple shop shopping also establishes a ritual to obtaining our food. As an interesting exercise, take notice the next time you are at the grocery store at what is contained in the carts around you. It is very eye opening to the diversity of our food culture.
This summer we moved a huge hutch into the kitchen from our front porch. One of the downsides to our lovely house is a huge lack of storage in the kitchen, the most frustrating being no pantry. This piece of furniture fit perfectly and is now a bursting pantry. With this new availability of space we ramped up our food storage over the summer. We canned masses of produce. What we did not grow ourselves we picked up locally to preserve the taste of summer in these approaching darker months. I then also began to fill the shelves with necessary bulk items, so that I am less likely to run out of things and have staples on hand to make meals without an extra trip. That said, I am not a huge planner in advance. I like to decide what's for dinner based on how I am feeling that day. So, many times I still end up hitting the grocery store daily. There has been a recent study that indicated that those who shop daily tend to eat healthier, though I am not certain how in-depth the study was, it was certainly great justification for my habit.
B and I work together both on the farmstead and in our business, and we take 99% of all of our meals together. With the kids on different school schedules, they each get their breakfast separate, but we are with them in the kitchen chatting about the day...or grunting as my pre-teen may do, she is not much of a morning person and is off to school at 6:30 am. When I introduced our 'linner' last year, it was a big hit and something that the kids look forward to. A good mini meal, that includes a treat. It also aids in reducing complaints at dinner time. Our dinners we eat as a family, we discuss the day and gather around the television to watch some recorded series that we are viewing together. Our first foray into this was watching The Waltons series from beginning to end. Though it may not be ideal to have a meal that is partially plugged in, it is family time that leads to lots of bonding and discussion. Inevitably, when the meal is finished, it leads to each kids snuggling one of us on the couch, which we are enjoying so much right now as those days are surly numbered.
So what's for dinner in our house? Fresh food, consciously prepared with a few mainstays and new ideas added in. It is family time, companionship, learning about what foods we eat and why. It is more than a means to an end, it is enjoying the ritual not only of eating, but gathering ingredients and preparing. So for us--- relationships...it's what's for dinner.
**Above quotes from Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser
Monday, November 4, 2013
This time of year is always a waiting game....a Russian roulette of sorts with our trees. When to do the final mow and leaf composting? When you have six acres to get cleaned up, you do not want to pull the trigger prematurely, only to have to do a repeat a short time later. The ash trees lost their foliage a couple of weeks ago, but many of the maples are still clinging steadfastly to their brilliantly colored leaves. With cooler temperatures and forecasts of snow North and West of us this week, I was beginning to get nervous.
I just love the wind, so when I woke up this morning to the sound of gusting I was excited. When I ran out to take some pictures the trees were already significantly barer than they had been late last night. As difficult as it is to capture the true beauty of the wind with my camera, it is almost impossible to adequately capture the majesty of masses of falling leaves. Just when you are thinking that timing will come down to the wire, Mother Nature swoops in and fixes it! I know what we are doing next weekend!
Saturday, November 2, 2013
The Ingredients to Mead Bottling Saturday:
*A drizzly gray day
*Luxuriously sleeping in until 7 am
*Copious amounts of coffee
*Catching up on the saved bottle sorting in the root cellar
*Listening to the Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground station on Pandora
*Steaming off old labels and sterilizing bottles
*Running to get corks...darned we're out
*Bottling and tasting mead by 11 am...hey its five 0'clock somewhere right!?
Friday, November 1, 2013
1. A secret: I love the holidays. I always go all out, and make the house feel festive and warm or spooky, whatever the case may be. We participate fully in the event, suspending our disbelief wherever possible. But when it's over...it's over. Halloween came down first thing this morning before work, and what remains is the harvest decor that will last through Thanksgiving.
2. Finally: After two full weeks of battling the funk I finally get to meet our latest little tastebud today!
3. Oh Poo!: One of our tasks this weekend is to give the hen house a thorough once over and freshly bed the ladies down for the winter. Fun stuff. Ha! At least the compost pile will be happy!
4. Cured: We cut into our homemade pancetta last night to give it a taste. Oh my! All I can say is there is more curing in our future!
5. Treats: These bar cookies are to. die. for. I am always amazed at how some things that I imagine are difficult simply are not. Take the ten minutes to make the homemade salted caramel for this one! Happy weekend!