Monthly Archives: July 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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So yes, I have finally given in, I began reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. I was skeptical, as I am about any sort of “mainstream”ish propaganda/media. But I have to stay, this book is truly amazing. The book was written primarily by Barbara herself, with educational inserts by her husband, and short stories and recipes by her oldest daughter (her youngest daughter was too young to sign copyright/publishing papers). This book incorporates the humor associated with family life as well as her own funny comparisons and anecdotes, but also really delves deeply into vegetables as their own beings and farm education.

AVM is similar to Plenty, in the many of the chapters are broken up by month or time of year, but differs in the that family has a farm and garden, and lives in a very agricultural part of the country. They also created a type of “rule” as a family that each can have one nonlocal exception. Naturally, the choices were pretty obvious: coffee for hubby, spices for mamma, dried fruit for the oldest daughter, and hot chocolate for the youngest.

I am only half way through, but this book has covered many topics and has really taught me some things I had no idea about; not statistics like 75% of Americans are blah blah, but really important facts and bits of knowledge. Here is a random list of fun things I have learned… I will add more once I finish.

  • “Milk is about 85% water, the rest is protein, minerals, butterfat, vitamins, and sugars (lactose)-which are dissolved in water. When the hold caboodle is made more acidic, the protein solids coagulate into a jellylike curd. When gently heated, this gel release the liquid whey (lactose and water). Traditionally the milk is curdled by means of specific bacteria that eat- guess what?- lactose. These selective bugs munch through the milk turning the lactose into harmless lactic acid, which causes the the curdling. The sugars that still remain are dissolved in the whey. As this liquid separates and is drained off from the curd, lactose goes with it. Heating, pressing, and aging the curd will get rid of still more whey, making it harder and generally sharper flavored. As a rule the harder the cheese the lower the lactose. (139)” Kingsolver continues to explain that by making cheese at home, the amount of lactose can be monitored, therefore allowing Lactose Intolerant individuals to actually eat cheese! Many individuals react to store bought cheese because of the quickness in production and the lactose that is carelessly left in the cheese.
  • Slow Food International has created a program/catalog called the Ark of Taste. The Ark of Taste is basically a catalog of all “heirloom” food and animals at risk of going extinct. So in order to keep them in our beautiful world and food chain, what does Slow Food suggest? Eat them. The program encourages people to grow and raise these animals and plants in their own gardens and farms to keep them in existence, and also to keep them in the food chain. Brilliant.
  • Morels, the spongy looking mushrooms, have a toxin in them to kill red blood cells for those who eat them raw. She suggests soaking them in salt water and then cooking thoroughly, this will eliminate the toxin.
  • Take the time to look through seed catalogs. She found Russian tomatoes that are ready and ripe by June without a green house!
  • Place newspaper in rows of garden and cover with leaves. The newspapers ink is nontoxic and the paper is easily composted. This helps keep weeds down and finds another use for those depressing papers.

There are at least 5 other copies of this book available at the Eugene Public Library.

I recently watched an eye opening and hope filled film on farming and agriculture as well, titled, The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005). This movie had me laughing, crying, huffing, and yearning. In the first scene, the camera views out over a vacant field, a man speaks, beginning his story, the camera pans to a tractor, and on top of the tractor sits Farmer John… in a leopard print leotard and a pink feather boa. “I know I am going to like this movie.” He tells of his families farm, of his adolescence growing up in the summer of love, of his failure as a farmer, as his failure at life, and of his rebirth and regaining of his beloved farm. Without giving too much away, this story is definitely one of growth, not only as an individual but as a society. As a society, we are far behind what Farmer John has done, but we are shifting. Farmer John’s organic farm, Angelic Organics, is most definitely a labor of love. CSA holders put money, time, and hard work into buying land, building barns, and cooperating to create a farm they can trust and be a part of. This is a horrid story about our current food system, yet a beautiful story of community, health, and the grand possibilities the future holds.

I recommend these both to any who would like to feel enlightened about farming and eating locally! Happy Summer!

Orgasmic Cherries, Succulent Berries, and those Silly Dilly Beans

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Before the madness of this last week’s weather, I managed to get out to the orchards again and pick around 40lbs of cherries, 12lbs of raspberries, and after the horrible weather, the blueberry bushes were still kind enough to bare 10lbs of their succulent orbs. Each berry was only around $1 a pound.

Believe me, I hadn’t really anticipated picking 40lbs of cherries, but what girl can deny the lure of such a seductive fruit; so vividly blushing with reds of every shade, so juicy that some even split before being consumed or falling to the earth, even the shape and size makes the perfect most pleasureful experience of slipping it into the mouth and sliding it so smoothly on to the tongue. The shape a woman’s lips make when biting into a cherry and the color it turns those lips can make any man’s toes curl. Needless to say, I was powerless to the heavy branches and  tempting sweet fruits.

Once these maroon little beauties were in my possession I had an even more sensuous job for them: to infuse my alcohols for future late night seducing. The first of my liquor concoctions was “boozy cherries.” Pretty straight forward idea: middle shelf rum (I used the nondark Bicardi), grenadine (for color and sugar), and cherries. I packed the jars full with pitted cherries, filled the cracks with rum (other recipes called for bourbon or vodka), and left about an inch for grenadine. I also put cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans in some of the jars for a little something extra. I canned these for just a few minutes in the pressure canner, though in reading other blogs, I don’t think that was necessary. My mother and I drooled over the idea of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge (or a hot man), and these boozy cherries drizzled over top. Definitely something I am excited to cure my impending Eugene winter blues.

My next boozy idea was cherry wine/mead. I am not sure what constitutes a real “mead” but I did use honey as the sweetener. This is a completely local wine (minus the yeast) and was so easy. Basically, I blanched the cherries quickly to sterilize them, put them in mesh bags (like the ones I use for hops in brewing), added hot water, pectic enzyme (to clear cloudiness), honey, yeast nutrient, and yeast. Put all of it in a clean sterile bucket, waited about a week, removed the fruit, and then put it in a second fermenting jar to await drinking in two to three months.

My mother, so wonderfully, used her mad “thrifting” skills and found/bought me a (currently operating) dehydrator! Might I add, originally 65 dollars and purchased at St.Vincent for 12 dollars. Score! I already finished a batch of cherries and am currently working on some blueberries. The cherries took about 10-11 hours to dry (the instructions said 18-26) and the blueberries should take less time. I also froze some cherries and blueberries for future yogurt parfaits, pies, and crumbles. I think I will go out to Bear Fruit Berries for blueberries so I can try out a new farm and spread the wealth. I am a bit conflicted though because of their use of fungicides, something I need to work out internally (local v completely organic). Many farms in the area are not “certified” because of cost restrictions and previous land use. I may also try the Organic Redneck aka McKenzie River Organics, they are completely organic, but this season has been very difficult for them, so they may have a very small crop of berries. The farm is a little ways out Hwy 126, but the plus side to that is my excuse to eat delicious berries while soaking in the terwilliger hotsprings.

Oh, last fun thing I did, to get in the pickling mood, was make dilly beans. Green beans were washed and cut to the size of the jar. A brine of vinegar and salt was made. The beans were stuffed as tight as possible with dill and a clove of garlic into the jars and covered with the brine. They were then pressure canned at 10lbs of pressure for about 20 minutes. Delish!

Updates soon on books and films! Happy Summer!

Plenty

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Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, written by couple Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, is one of the most interesting and inspiring books I have read in a long time. The basic premises: A British Columbia couple (both freelance journalist) that have noticed a disgusting (my words not theirs) trend in the food market who decide to eat only within a one hundred mile radius of their home for one year. Some other rules apply like: if traveling the individual can bring back food from that area (one of their prized possessions was sea salt from an Oregon coast trip), and if out to a business meeting or on a business trip the individual may eat whatever is offered, but should try to eat locally within that region.

I loved  the way this book was written, it is approachable, accessible, and more realistic than many books of this type I have read. It is not jammed with statistics that we have all heard about global warming and pesticides, it is something more than that. The book is separated by chapters that are equivalent to months. The diet began on the first day of spring, March 21st. Alisa and James switch off writing each month, so the first month was James, then April was Alisa, and so on. It was refreshing to see both sides of the story, and to work through their struggles as a couple completing this “difficult” task. They explained the difficulties: living in a small urban apartment, having to eat potatoes every meal through the rough winter months, the rain, the flour shortages, the environmental damages that hindered their food sources, and they explained the excitements: the taste of every fresh local item they found, the experimentation of meals, preservation, their change of hunger, discovering new food, etc.

This book also made me think about my current eating habits. I had thought I was eating locally, and for the most part I do. But I was more focused on eating in Oregon only, and Washington when I had to. But looking at a map, I realized that Washington could be over 300 miles away at parts, and the Tillamook cheese I often bought is over 150 miles away (not too bad, but still…). This book has further inspired me to search for outlets closer to home and to make food preservation a top priority. But it has also taught me the joy in eating potatoes for every meal; finding new ways to prepare things and savoring each vegetable, fruit, grain, spice, as its own glorious flavor.

“…Making jam had taken all afternoon and evening, but the last thing I’d call it was work. It was living. How have we forgotten this fact? The ‘primitive’ peoples knew it. Anthropological studies of the world’s last remaining hunter-gatherers have shown that although they lived in some of the harshest environments on earth, they spent less time working than any typical nine-to-fiver… Marshall Sahlins revolutionized the Hobbesian view of primitive peoples lives- ‘nasty, brutish, and short’- by pointing to studies that showed the average time they spent collecting and preparing food ran from two hours and nine minutes per day to five hours and nine minutes. ‘ The most obvious, immediate conclusion is that the people do not work hard,’ wrote Sahlins. Nor did people appear to dislike such work. The Yir-Yiront of Australia, for example, did not distinguish linguistically between work and play…” 

Check out their website and see where your hundred mile radius is.

Orange four ways

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Finally just got through the 25lb bag of oranges I brought back from my California trip. The first (most simple) thing I did was, of course, juice about half my oranges (orange way #1). I was thinking about freezing some, but with this beautiful hot weather we have had, I don’t think it will last past the week. I saved the orange peels from the juicing and decided to make candied orange peel (orange way #2):

  • Boil whole pieces of orange peel
  • Let cool, scoop out white membrane inside
  • Cut into desired size (usually strips)
  • Boil again in, basically, a simple syrup mixture; just enough water to cover the top of the peels and about an equal portion of sugar.
  • Strain (saving the liquid) and toss the peels in, you guessed it, more sugar.
  • Spread the peels on covered baking sheets (or whatever you had, I ran out and used broiler pans and pizza pans) and let sit until dry and crystalized

Simple as that. Even easier, you know that liquid you saved? Now its gonna be orange syrup (orange way #3):

  • Reheat the boiling mixture an add about half the amount of liquid in orange juice (so 4 cups of liquid=2 cups of orange juice, 6 cups liquid= 3 cups oj, etc)
  • Put in jars and leave 1/2 inch head space and process in boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes.
  • If not canning, syrup keeps for about 10 days.

The last way I used my oranges (#4) was in marmalade. I am not sure if I did a “true” marmalade because about half the recipes I read called for a 36 hour recipe time. I think it involved a lot of softening of peels and such. I took about 12 oranges, peeled and removed membranes and boiled them with water, sugar, lemon juice, pectin, and some finely chopped peel (for a little tang). The pectin I used, Pomona’s Universal Pectin, has  the added mix in of calcium water so that not as much sugar is needed in the “jamming” process. The pectin comes from citrus and is preservative free. It seems like a pretty good buy, though it is from Massachusetts… I plan on making my own pectin eventually, but for now I would like to get comfortable with the whole process before throwing in another task.

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Operation Orange a success!

I went out to Detering Orchards two days in a row and picked about 14lbs of strawberries; half I froze and half I tried making some strawberry honey jam. The “jam” tastes really good, but I realized that it is crucial to use the correct amount of pectin. So instead of jam, I have some sweet preserves. They will still be good for adding to smoothies and making wonderful french toast topping.

Next up, pickling! Happy Summer!

First Attempt Canning = Success!

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I, Megan French, have finally preserved something. The process was not nearly as tedious and exhausting as the books and generation Y have made it out to be. I only canned about 6 pints though, so maybe when I get to my 25lbs of oranges it will be different. I decided to just keep it simple this time and do plain ol’ carrots, no salt, no nothing. Except, I did add a little lemon juice, because I was freaked out about the amount of acid I should have. But have recently realized that it is quite unnecessary because (a) i hot packed them, so that means I boiled them before canning, and (b) I used a pressure canner, not just a hot water bath. So next time, no juice.

Canning Process:

  1. Scrub/Wash vegetables.
  2. (Do not worry about peeling) chop, dice, leave whole, vegetables.
  3. Boil vegetables for 3-5 minutes, you dont want them too soft, just “sterilized.”
  4. Pack jars to recommended amount (this is a pretty good website: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/pm1044.pdf)
  5. Fill with boiling water and leave headspace
  6. Can in pressure canner at recommended pressure for recommended time.

That is basically it. And now, I can eat local veggies all winter long! Going out to Detering Orchards today to pick some Strawberries (and maybe some Zucchini). No spray, less than 10 miles away, $.99 a pound. Driving today, but once I know the way, hopefully I can bike out to the farm. Happy summer!