Saturday, August 31, 2013

Aspirations of Food Preservation

Getting unexpected free bread is pretty much the most wonderful feeling. Especially when it's from a local bakery that grinds their own grains fresh and uses honey to sweeten it. I guess it's a good idea to stop by right before they close up for a holiday weekend. I paid for one basic whole wheat loaf, at $4.95, and received two specialty loaves free. Cha-ching!

There is something just splendid about free food that can be put up for later use. This morning our pastor's wife gave me green peppers and beans from her garden. The beans we'll eat this weekend, and the peppers will get sliced and frozen. And those gorgeous bread loaves? Yeah, two have already made their way to the freezer.

Joining our CSA, I had envisioned literally swimming in produce all summer long and having such copious abundance that I would have to can/preserve/freeze much of it. In reality, our weekly ½ share received every Friday is mostly gone by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Not to sound like an early American colonist having yet to learn the gift of maize from the natives, but winter is coming, and what will we eat!?

Our food budget is about $200 per month to feed two people. That’s actually less than the SNAP maximum monthly food allowance of $367. I guess if I lost my job and we were down below the poverty line (Dave would have to take a pay cut too for that to happen) we would actually have $167 MORE per month to spend on food if we were on food stamps. Go figure.

A $200/month food budget is pretty difficult to stick to lately, even with the bonus veggies we get every Friday, already paid for (that money doesn’t get calculated in the current budget.) Granted, we are stocking up on healthy staple items right now, like pasture butter, coconut oil, grass fed beef, organic chicken, natural nut butters, etc., but even so, without eating any processed foods, our menu for the week is almost entirely made up of fresh produce. When winter sets in and we no longer have the bounty of the CSA and farmers market, I presume we will turn to frozen vegetables instead.

How utterly macabre.

I’m still inching closer and closer to my goal of canning in the near future. If we get in with the right farmer or hobby vegetable gardener, maybe they’ll take pity on us poor city folk and give us a bushel of tomatoes. I’ve found that it’s pretty tough to come up with a large quantity of tomatoes (enough to make canning worth the effort) from one little cherry tomato plant growing outside our apartment window and the pound of larger tomatoes we get every week from the CSA. 

The lingering awareness of the BPA leached into conventional canned tomatoes from the store is too much for me; can't do it. But the cheapwad in me won' let me spend $5 on one 12 oz glass jar of crushed tomatoes. Give. Me. A. Break. So I guess I'll make a start of canning with what I have.

And oh yeah, I've never done it before. So this will be an adventure. If I succeed and it's a task I find worth the effort/time, I suppose I'll buy one of those huge, 25-lb. boxes of tomatoes at the farmer's market for around $1/lb. and have myself a crazy tomato processing party... probably by myself.


I just found an alternative method to canning tomatoes - great for smaller batches. I'm going to do this tonight and save the whole hug canning event for that large box I'll pick up next weekend.

 Ah, thank you Google, for finding me a lazy solution to my food preserving urges.
(instructions here:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is It Fall Yet?

I had planned on using my weekend to tidy my apartment. It’s just tough to build momentum for cleaning. I need the perfect playlist to get amped up or else I'll just sit on Pinterest, pinning pictures of fall campfires and pumpkins and fantasizing about the coming of Autumn. So far, all I’ve really done is the latter.

But really, why is autumn so wonderful? It signals the end of a season of growth and the entrance into a season of decline and dormancy. The days shorten and the nights grow bitter cold. The wind on the South Dakota plains is chilled again and hints at the icy blasts we’ll endure through the long Midwestern winter. And yet, I can’t help myself. Fall is magical.

I think part of what is so fulfilling about the season is that at the heart of it is the harvest. All the sowing and reaping of summer have ascended to one glorious zenith, and the fields are ready to be stripped bare of all they can give. Orchard boughs are hanging low, weighed down by their heavy ripened fruit. Blazing orange pumpkins are everywhere, and with them, the remembrance of pie.

Autumn is pie season. Oh, glorious pie season. I may be eating clean these days, but I can tell you what, I am going to enjoy cheating on our eating rules by making every kind of fall pie before the season ends. With refined sugar and flour, of course, because if you’re going to have pie, you better have pie.

I’ll make apple, pumpkin, cranberry apple, sweet potato, and probably a few more apple. I just need to find friends to share them with so that Dave and I don’t undue all the good we’ve done to our bodies with clean eating by consuming entire pies by ourselves.

Then we have the clothing of fall: big chunky sweaters, coats, boots, scarves, mittens, and those warm little hats that make every hair day a cute one.

We have bonfires! Gathering with friends around a fire and just talking for hours in the early dusk and into the night.

The hunting season begins and David can perform for me his most active role in our frugality: hunting. Since we got married I have gradually turned from merely tolerant of his hunting hobby, to fully supportive. Perhaps it was from reading Happy, Happy, Happy, Phil Robertson’s unlikely manual for frugal living. Perhaps it is just the logic of price—David can get so much meat for the low cost of hunting license/tag fees. Perhaps it is just the result of how untrusting I have become of buying meat from a third party (“grass-fed” and “organic” can mean so little when it comes to big production meat companies,) but I am actually planning on buying little or no meat over the winter. David will hunt rabbits, pheasants, deer, and even squirrel.

I’ll admit I’m a novice when it comes to cooking rabbit, but the two or three meals I made from his kills last fall were actually really easy and delicious. The squirrel, on the other hand… we’ll see if I can manage that.

Thankfully, via Pinterest, I can discover a myriad of recipes for wild game. Last year that was how I got my feet wet, but this year, with more experience and confidence in cooking with small game, I’ll probably experiment with my own recipes.

This is a recipe for Rabbit with mustard and thyme, and it's the one I’m most excited to try with Dave’s first catch of rabbits:

(for recipe:

I am thankful we have the freedom still, amidst The Jungle (intentional literary reference) of our food industry, to still go out and get provision for ourselves from the land. What could be more frugal than that?

And lastly (but not the last thing I love about fall, because to name them all would take a full-length book), to go with the previous reason I love fall, there’s autumn foraging. I need to get the foraging book back I had borrowed from the library. It’s full of pictures, descriptions, and helpful advice for safely foraging for wild edible plants like Queen Anne’s Lace and Sheep Sorrel. 


I’m a total newb at foraging, but when it comes to getting fresh, local, nutritious greens, there is NO more affordable and more nutrient-rich source of it than wild greens. So a-foraging I shall go.

At least I can do that before the onset of autumn. For the rest, I'll impatiently wait.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Common Sense Eating

That whole eating no grains or sugar thing I was telling you about… yeah, that was more difficult than I expected. Dave is still going strong, and feeling better every day, but for some reason, my body was in revolt ever since I eliminated its favorite source of quick energy. I have a fast metabolism, and since my weight isn’t a concern, last week I decided to go ahead and add those grains and fruit back into my whole-foods based diet. I’m still keeping them to a minimum, but mainly just avoiding processed foods, especially those with added sugars/chemicals/hydrogenated fats.

Something that’s been gnawing beneath the surface of my food-lover’s heart since I first started learning so much about nutrition science is that in its base, food is good. God made vegetables AND fruits, leafy greens AND grains, low-glycemic carbohydrates AND starchy ones. I do not believe I am spawned from a cave-dwelling Neanderthal whose evolution never allowed for it to eat grains. I came from Eve, whose children were given dominion over every edible plant. Food is good. Now I just need to focus on eating food not tainted by the muck of big agribusiness.

Michael Pollan (he’s going to end up as my most-referenced influencer on food, I can already tell) helped me figure out what I intuitively knew. Call it good old fashioned, great-grandmother common sense. Instead of getting caught up in the “Nutritionism” of focusing only on the nutrition in food, we instead strive for the more balanced philosophy of gaining nutrition through food; the common sense notion that if your body lacks something, it should eat.

Michael Pollan describes “Nutritionism” as a wide-spread paranoia/obsession Western eaters have about the purpose of food. We break it down into its nutrients and leave out the food itself, part of the reason why processed foods can so easily trick us with health claims like “heart-smart,” and “no cholesterol” . . . as if a denatured, benign food-like substance that has been processed into oblivion can actually benefit our bodies by simply lacking something Nutritioism has taught us to fear, like saturated fat. Scientists think they have singled out the one little thing in a food that makes it healthy, and then supplement processed foods with those nutrients in their isolated form, as if that would be as healthy as eating a fruit or vegetable that God made perfectly equipped to nourish us in one complete package.

I have been contemplating this great grandmother common sense I want to have—the kind where new trends in nutritional thinking don’t toss me about like a wave on the sea—and I think I’ve pretty much got a handle now on how I’m going to eat. But I’ll probably benefit from writing it all out anyway, so here it is:

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules are pretty darn good, and I will probably stick to them for the most part.

When I really crave something, I’m going to indulge that craving with moderation, not deny myself and make that thing an obsession. That’s just silly. I’m going to enjoy life, and part of that is enjoying really delicious cookies.

Bread/carbs are not the enemy. I’m going to make bread at home when I want bread, but I’m going to use the freshest, most wholesome grains I can get. And you know what? I’m going to add a little sugar, because it’s wonderful.

I believe in butter.

I’m going to eat fresh fruit as often as I like, as long as it was not grown thousands of miles away.

Food that is supposed to be fresh but had to be picked green and then shipped thousands and thousands of miles to get to me, ripening through the addition of ethylene or because it’s just old, is not fresh food. Plus, it is more costly than the fresh, local foods I can get in season. The cost is higher for my wallet to buy produce from New Zealand, and the cost is much higher to the whole economic and natural system.

I will eat as much dairy as I like if it is whole, organic, pasture-raised, and even better if it’s raw.

Four words: Olive oil & Sea Salt

And lastly, some more food Rules my great grandmother would have approved:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Christianity and Enviromentalism

Who ever said that environmentalism and Christianity can’t go together harmoniously?

In my efforts to simplify my life, appreciate what I already have, and be resourceful with a little as a way to give thanks to God for the “enough” of His provision for me, I’ve suddenly found myself caring WAY more about the environment, renewable energy, and sustainability. I didn’t see that coming, but it makes so much sense. When I am consciously seeking to be resourceful and not waste what I have, I both become more thankful in general, and more desirous that the system in which I live uses the same restraint.

The earth God gave us is such a marvelously self-sustained system, created specifically to support human life, and we are becoming completely disconnected from it.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve ate exclusively from the plants and trees in the Garden of Eden, a paradise only God could have orchestrated. Then we had the Fall, Man was separated from God and the Garden, cursed to work the ground and labor to recreate the life-giving bounty he had once known in Eden. But when I read Genesis 3, I don’t see merely a curse and an end to the provider/dependent relationship between us and God through the earth, I see grace. We are thrown from the perfection of commune with God in the garden as a consequence for sin, yet God still gives us the ability to glean sustenance from the earth. He didn’t say, “You’ve sinned against Me, so now you have to eat dirt for the rest of your miserable life.” No, He gave us a remnant of Eden; He gave us food from the earth, and a Savior to restore our former relationship with Him.

When God created the earth and its creatures, He called them good. He declared that His creation was something worthy. Then He created humans in His image, giving us the job of caring for the rest of creation. If we, as Christians, are not even MORE passionate protectors of the earth and proponents of a system that provides food from the free resources God in His wisdom constructed (solar energy feeds the grasses, the grasses feed the animals, the animals feed both us and the grasses, and the system feeds itself) then how can we do what Micah 6:8 instructs?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

In the Old Testament, God gave Israel specific instructions in their farming practices that would enable the poor of the community as well as the livestock to have food to eat.  

Leviticus 23:22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’” 

And in Deuteronomy 25:4: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain."

In contrast, we have now set up a system that denies real food to the poor (fast food and processed foods are what they can afford to eat), and forces animals to deny their created instincts and natural aversions and live crowded in their own filth, never seeing the sun, and eating waste instead of grass. Why? Greed. Because this system produces more profit.

This big industrial system is going to collapse. It depends on more oil to exist than will last or stay affordable. It's already not affordable--look at the debt load of our government. God gave us the sun for FREE. And what really gets me is that the bigger and cheaper we make our food system, the more people starve all over the world, and the more difficult it is for anyone without money to find real food.

How, as Christians, are we engaging with this problem? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tasting Summer: Black Bean & Tomatillo Taco Salad

I love summer’s abundance. So many good gifts of flavor. When I wasn’t denying myself the "convenience" of processed foods, I didn’t rely so fully on what was in season and readily available, and thus I didn’t know what each week of summer really tasted like. Now, with the help of our amazing CSA, every week has a distinct flavor. And since we paid for it months ago, every Friday’s bounty of produce feels like the proverbially-unattainable free lunch.

If only the produce lasted longer than a few days. We usually eat all of it before the weekend is over.

Today I’ll give you a tiny glimpse into what food prep is like for me now. About half of the items used to create this lovely black bean and tomatillo taco salad with avocado dressing were from our CSA.

From our CSA: kale, beet greens, white and red onions, hot peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos.

From the pantry/fridge: cilantro, lime juice, avocado, olive oil, salt/spices, organic whole-milk yogurt, and Trader Joe’s Black Refried Beans (all natural)

We so enjoyed this salad. The mix of beet greens and kale as the salad base was hearty and filling, taking well to the flavor w h a c k ! of avocado/tomatillo. I might use whole black beans tossed in lime juice and cilantro, or whole pinto beans next time.

For the tomatillo salsa, I boiled the tomatillos until they sort of cracked open and became soft at the touch of a fork, then poured out some of the liquid, mashed them into the remaining liquid, and let them reduce to flavor-packed perfection. If I had more time to kill, I wouldn’t have lost one drip of the liquid, but let it all simmer and just increase the reduction time, thus locking in more flavor.

I whipped this up in about 45 minutes, which yes, did take longer than I’d like for one meal to be prepared, but it was mostly chopping, and waiting for the tomatillos to reduce, so I imagine the time could be slashed if a couple people worked together.

I'm going to give Dave the role of sous-chef next time.

 Black Bean Tomatillo Taco Salad with Avocado Dressing              
*All natural
*Grain Free
*No added sugars (very low on the glycemic index)
Serves 2
Approx. prep/cook time: 45min

For the Tomatillo Salsa:
3 small tomatillos
Sea Salt (to taste)
½ a hot pepper, chopped
Stems from the cilantro (whole)

For the Dressing:
1 avocado
2 Tbsp good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt (to taste)
1/2 Bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small hot pepper, chopped, seeds removed if desired (I like to keep about half the seeds for a little kick of heat)
1 lime, juice -about 1/4 c.
Some cooking water from tomatillos

For the Pico De Gallo:
Two small onions, minced
3-5 small/medium tomatoes, chopped
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juice –about ¼ c.
Sea Salt (to taste)
½ tsp. cumin (or more, to taste)
2 garlic cloves, crushed/minced

For the Salad:
1 large bunch kale/Swiss chard/beet greens or any mix of hearty greens you prefer, chopped into ribbons, ribs removed
1 can Refried Black Beans (I like Trader Joe’s brand because they don’t use gross additives and it’s seasoned with sea salt)

For topping (optional):
¼ c. plain whole-milk yogurt (organic)
Grass fed organic fresh cheese, such as cotija or queso fresca (I didn't have any organic options on hand, so we went cheeseless.)
Lime wedges

Divide chopped greens into two medium/large serving bowls and set aside.
Place tomatillo salsa ingredients together in a small sauce pan, adding enough water to almost cover the tomatillos, and bring to a boil. Let cook over medium-high heat until tomatillos crack open. Drain about 1/3 of the water (save it for use in dressing.) Remove cilantro stems with tongs and discard. Continue to cook, crushing tomatillos with a slotted spoon, stirring occasionally, until liquids have reduced and the sauce has thickened to desired consistency. Remove from heat.

Warm up the beans on the stove top on medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 min or until hot.

Prepare dressing by combining all ingredients except water in a blender. Gradually add the extra water from the tomatillo reduction, pulsing between each addition, until the dressing has thinned to a creamy/runny texture for pouring.

Prepare the pico de gallo by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Taste it, adding more cumin/salt if needed.

Now pour some avocado dressing on your greens and toss. Top with beans, tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, plain yogurt, and cheese if desired.