December 30, 2011

New Years Resolutions

Historically, I haven't really done the whole New Years Resolution thing.  My habit, instead, is to take some time praying about the year ahead and ask God to give me a verse or a word to focus on.  Often, I end up with a goal or a theme as well.

But I did make a few practical New Years Resolutions last year; I was reminded of them when I read a recent blog entry of my cousin's in which she reviewed what she'd learned in the last year and listed resolutions for the new year.  I thought it was a great idea, so today I'll share my New Years Resolutions, Verse and Goal for 2012.


1.  Learn to make more homemade household cleaners, body care items and herbal remedies.

I am becoming increasingly aware of how many weird chemicals we allow into our bodies just because some company somewhere made a product and marketed it in such a way that it became a part of mainstream American life without the general public questioning whether it truly was beneficial or necessary or whether it might be harmful.  It seems to me that the more heavily a product is marketed, the more scrutiny the product deserves.  This is certainly true in the grocery store.  Think breakfast cereals, soda pop, margarine.  Lately I'm specifically questioning cleaning products and body care products.  Actually, I've been using vinegar, baking soda and bleach for most of my housecleaning for a while, but I still have toilet bowl cleaner, a couple of all-pupose cleaners, window cleaner and Tile & Shower cleaner and Drano cluttering my cleaning supplies shelf.  Do I really need all of those or are there more natural, more frugal alternatives available?  There are all sorts of recipes online for household cleaners.  This year I want to try some. 

And what about body care items?  I had never really thought about this until I started reading about fluoride.  A lot of the same groups that are passionate about raw milk are anti-fluoride.  I'm not familiar enough with the research yet to have an informed opinion about it, but after years of brushing twice a day, flossing religiously, rinsing with fluoride daily, and still having cavities annually, I've switched to brushing my teeth with a paste of coconut oil and baking soda and  rinsing with a Xylitol rinse. There are all sorts of recipes online for things like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioning rinse and facial treatments.  This year I'll try some.

Herbal remedies are perhaps the thing I most want to research in the coming year.  I absolutely hate giving my generally-healthy-kid-who-has-allergies multiple medications.  I worry about the side effects of taking so many medications together and the long-term health effects of relying on medications.  During her most recent bout with an infection, we were administering seven different inhaled and oral medications daily, plus one topical steroid for eczema.  Each of one them (except for all the useless over-the-counter cough medicines we tried) served a purpose.  I am not against taking a medication when it is necessary, but if a frugal mixture of raw honey and onion is as effective as an over-the-counter cough medicine, I rather trust the one with the familiar ingredients.  And I'd rather build up my children's immune systems with healthful foods, than trust Big Pharma to undo damage that our culture finds "normal."  (End of rant.)

2.  Set aside adequate time for hygiene with my daughters.

Life gets so busy.  And so often I find myself rushing the girls through bath time to get bed time.  Both my kids are anti-hair-combing.  I understand; with wavy hair, I just finger comb my hair.  But kids' hair gets so tangled, that it requires more attention.  Often, I am too busy to care, or I assume that my husband will do it, and it doesn't happen.  I find myself sending my girls to the bathroom to brush their teeth while I go in the opposite direction to get a drink of water or get Grace's medicine for her.  It would be better to intentionally budget sufficient time for a bath, a hair-combing and for applying lotion a homemade lotion bar to my eczema-prone-kid's skin.  It would be better to follow them in to the bathroom to supervise their tooth brushing and to teach them how to floss.  I must remember that these simple tasks aren't automatic, they are basic life skills that must be taught and practiced.  And, if I can get myself out of the nightly-rush mentality, we might find some quality-time in these moments.


Psalm 139:23-24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."

No elaborating here. I just know I am supposed to meditate on it, and I believe that by the end of the year it will have some special significance for me.


Raise Kids who Enjoy Life

This has been a goal of mine since last spring, but I think it's worthwhile enough that I don't need to replace it with a new one just to mark the passing of time.

The first six or seven years of our marriage were so caught up in surviving financially that I think I lost sight of having fun.  In fact, I don't remember "fun" ever really being a priority to me in the past.  I have the type of personality that is more interested in "doing the right thing," "completing the task," and "figuring out the budget."  But in the early part of 2011, I realized that I needed to learn how to relax, to figure out how I have fun, and to intentionally enjoy life so that I can allow my children to relax, to have fun, and to enjoy life.  No huge lifestyle changes, just simple things like not rushing through the details, appreciating simple pleasures and budgeting the time necessary to do fun things.

What about you?  What are your Resolutions or Goals for the New Year?  

What do you do to enjoy life?

December 28, 2011

Bacon-Cashew Caramel Corn

I feel like I should apologize for yet another post that has nothing to do with the Chico farmers market or local food, but I won't, because this caramel corn is freaking delicious.  When you try it, I'm sure you'll be glad I included it here.


For Christmas gifts this year we gave edible gifts: homemade marshmallows and hot cocoa syrup, delicious homemade caramels (flavored with local mandarin peel instead of vanilla bean, or with whiskey), little honey bears and mint-chocolate covered almonds from Borden-Huitt Ranch and homemade caramel corn.  Hopefully everyone liked what they received.  Truly, I enjoyed each treat very much.

A month or so ago a friend posted on Facebook that he'd made Bacon Caramel Corn.  That little tidbit stuck in the back of my mind, and when I needed one more treat for our treat bags, I decided that it must be Bacon Caramel Corn.  I looked online and there were quite a few recipes.  I had decided to use one from Epicurious, one that called for oolong tea to flavor the caramel, but then I realized that the recipe didn't call for butter, and, I don't know about you, but I think caramel corn should have butter in it.  I mean, c'mon, what's popcorn without butter?

So I asked my friend if he had any tips.  He said that he used Paula Dean's regular Caramel Corn recipe, altering it by popping the popcorn in bacon fat, and tossing cooked bacon pieces in with the caramel and popcorn.  I have never been a Paula Dean fan, but he said that it "turned out pretty awesome," and he's one of those people who I trust about culinary issues, so I had to try it.

Yep, it was pretty awesome.  Even without the salty smokiness of the bacon and unique almost-soft nuttiness of the cashews, Paula Dean's standard caramel corn recipe would be wonderful: perfectly buttery, with the caramel integrated into the popcorn enough that you shouldn't get any break-your-teeth-hard gobs of caramel.  Not only that, but it's easy to make.  Unlike the caramel corn recipe I've used in the past, this one does not require a candy thermometer.  You just boil together the sugar, corn syrup and butter, then pour it over the popped popcorn, stirring it to coat everything.  Then you cook it in a low oven for an hour, stirring every fifteen minutes to get that fairly even coat of caramel.  I also appreciate that this makes a huge batch.  It makes all the dirty pots and pans worth it.  Eight quarts of popcorn will fill a lot of treat bags, or make quite a few party guests very happy.  And if you have leftovers, it keeps for at least a week in an airtight container.  (If you include the bacon, some recipes recommend keeping it refrigerated for food safety reasons, but at least as many people insist that it should be fine kept in a cool place.) 

Bacon-Cashew Caramel Corn
adapted from Paula Dean's Grandma Paul's Caramel Corn Recipe with help from Craig Truesdell

1 lb sliced bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 3/4 cups popcorn kernels, enough to yield 8 quarts popped corn
2 cups raw cashews
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup (light in color, not light as in sweetened with artificial sweetener)
1 teaspoon baking soda

Prepare bacon:  In large frying pan over medium heat, cook bacon pieces, stirring occasionally until most pieces are just getting crisp.  Set bacon aside.  Reserve bacon fat. 

Prepare popcorn:  Pour about 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat into a large pot that has a lid.  Turn the heat under the pot to medium-high, put three popcorn kernels in the fat.  Put the lid on and wait until you hear the popcorn popping.  When the three kernels pop, pour in almost one cup of popcorn (or as much as will comfortably pop in your pot).  Replace lid.  Shake pan while the popcorn pops to avoid burnt popcorn and allow steam to escape.  Remove pot from heat as soon as popping slows.  Pour popcorn into a large mixing bowl.  Repeat with more bacon fat and the remaining popcorn.

Measure eight quarts (24 cups) of popped corn into your largest mixing bowl (or directly into your roasting pan, or use two large mixing bowls if necessary), being careful to remove any unpopped kernels.  Add bacon pieces and cashews. Preheat oven to 20.

Prepare caramel: In medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup over medium heat.  Boil for five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and use a heat-proof spatula to thoroughly stir in baking soda.  Carefully pour caramel over popcorn mixture and stir well to coat.  Transfer caramel corn to a large roasting pan and bake uncovered for one hour, stirring with a spatula every 15 minutes.  Spread on wax paper and allow to cool completely before packaging.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place up to one week.

12/30/2011 Update:  I said in this post that I thought Paula Dean's original Caramel Corn recipe (linked above) would be wonderful, so I thought I'd better try it.  It is wonderful.  Crispy, sweet, just a little sticky.  Vaguely reminiscent of Corn Pops cereal.  The addition of nuts, with their protein and fat, makes it less of a total-sugar-overload, and the bacon really does add a special smokiness to the flavor.  I say, if you're not a vegetarian, the bacon is worth the extra 20 minutes and the pan it takes to fry it.

December 27, 2011

Simple Broccoli Casserole

I used to love homemade mac-n-cheese, but my family prefers the stuff in the blue box, and I have this embarrassing habit of--after eating no less than two helpings at dinner--eating more mac-n-cheese out of the serving spoon while I'm supposed to be washing dishes.  Like multiple serving-spoonfuls.  Creamy, cheesy, carbohydrate-laden with a nice golden crust; it's just one of those foods that I can't stop eating once I start.  This winter, I haven't made homemade mac-n-cheese at all, and I don't miss it, because what I make instead is this Simple Broccoli Casserole.  Think mac-n-cheese, but with broccoli instead of the macaroni.

It's different enough from mac-n-cheese that my kids don't recognize it as similar.  No, "Aw, Mom, why didn't you just make the boxed kind?!"

It's not a carb-overload.  I find that I can stop eating before my third helping.  And, it's a vegetable.  I know I sure haven't eaten my fair share of vegetables with all these Christmas treats in the house.

Simple Broccoli Casserole

Cut about 2 pounds of broccoli into bite size pieces.  If you include the stalk, which I do, be sure to cut off the tough outer layer.  Cook broccoli according to your preferred method.  (I steam it in a small covered dutch oven with about 1/2 cup of water and a big sprinkle of salt for about six minutes.)  Drain thoroughly.

While broccoli cooks, make a cheese sauce:  Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.  Let brown a minute, then whisk in 2 cups milk, a pinch of salt, about 5 grinds of pepper and a garlic clove, peeled and halved. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce bubbles.  Boil and stir one minute.  Remove from heat.  Stir in approximately 2 cups (8 oz) shredded sharp cheddar cheese.  Stir to melt cheese.

Arrange broccoli in a 1 1/2 qt casserole dish or a 8" square pan.  Pour cheese sauce evenly over broccoli.  Bake at 400 until bubbly and golden brown toward the edges, about 20 minutes.  Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

The longer you let this rest, the more it will set.  I generally serve it after about 15 minutes and it's still a bit soupy.  Serve it with toasted buttered bread to sop up the sauce, and a sliced orange to round out the meal.

December 22, 2011

A Handful of Follow Up Items

 Market News:

Remember the Saturday Chico Farmers Market is open on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve this year.  Go support your local farmers!


Thoughts about Christmas

I didn't go to the farmers market last weekend.  Usually we go through a dozen eggs in a week, but last Saturday morning there were still eight eggs in the carton.  There was still a head of napa cabbage, half a head of green cabbage, a bunch of carrots and a large head of broccoli in my fridge's crisper, so, as my husband and kids left town for two days, I decided not to go to the market.  Instead I stayed home and de-cluttered.  Boy, was the house overdo!  I spent all weekend decluttering, with a couple breaks to make candy for Christmas gifts, watch "Psych" on Netflix (while wrapping candies, of course) and to eat a burrito from a taco truck.  It was pretty great.

Oh, and I went with my mother and grandfather to Bidwell Pres for church on Sunday.  I grew up going to that church.  As a kid I loved playing hide-and-seek with my friends in all the Sunday School classrooms.  As I got older, my theology got a little more 'charismatic' and 'evangelical' and I tired of the 'traditional' style of worship.  Throughout our marriage my husband and I have attended multiple non-denominational churches, and we've been fairly content at each one of them, but, my goodness! I was humbled and unimaginably refreshed by singing Christmas carols at church Sunday.  I can't help buy consider why:  1) Has the theology or worship style of the church changed?  2) Has my theology or preferred worship style changed?  3) Does it feel 'normal' and 'right' to me simply because it is what I grew up with? 

And why don't non-denominational churches sing Christmas carols during Advent?  A lot of churches seem to mix modern worship songs with a couple of Christmas carols.  I like modern worship songs, but I would so much prefer to sing Christmas carols exclusively during Advent, and not just the first verse either.  But I digress...

I think all three answers are correct (but feel free to chime in if you have an opinion on that)... The next logical question is, "Am I raising my kid in an (home or church) environment that I want her to think is 'normal' and 'right?'

My favorite parts of Christmas are the Christmas carols that celebrate the birth of Christ and the smell of pine.  Let me re-phrase that: they are the two elements of Christmas that I miss most when Christmas gets busy with picking out perfect gifts on a budget, preparing gifts, working 40 hours a week when it seems like at least half of my Facebook friends are on vacation, watching Santa Claus movies, and carving out time for big holiday meals with family.  It's not that I don't like the other elements.  I just really want time to ponder the lyrics to 'O Holy Night,' and to sing with my kids (at least the first three verses of) 'Away in a Manager.'


 Some Cool Photos of the Market in November

Anyhow, I skipped the farmers market last week.  The farmers market is such a part of who I am that I kind of need that experience every week.  Thinking about the market this week, I googled "Chico Farmers Market" and discovered a really cool blog post by a blogger from Oregon who visited the market in November.  There are a lot of good photos in the post and it's just nice to see someone celebrate the wonderful variety we have at the Chico Farmers Market.  So, if all the hustle and bustle of the holidays have kept you away from the market, check out her post and get your fix.  I'm already looking forward to what I plan to buy this weekend:  some local honey, because we're almost out; some cabbage or kale to put into a post-Christmas soup, some carrots, celery (if I can find some), and a big bag of mandarins to keep the kids happy.


The Organic Pastures Milk Recall

Organic Pastures was out of business for a month due to the recent raw milk recall, but government inspectors did not find any indication that the E. coli outbreak which sickened five children was a result of drinking raw milk.  Raw milk enthusiasts certainly are not surprised. 


Homemade Ice Cream Notes - a new page on the blog

I recently consolidated my homemade ice cream experimentation on one page.  I've really enjoyed finding new homemade ice cream flavors that my family likes, but I don't want to muddy up a blog that is supposed to be all about celebrating farmers market produce with recipes containing store-bought peppermint cookies and root beer extract.  You can find my most recent ice cream adventures, as well as links to recipes posted previously, here.


Re: Edible Gifts

I've gotten a lot of feedback on my recent "10 Tips for Edible Gifts" post.  Most of it goes something like this, "Oh no, just before I read this I delivered six plastic-wrapped paper plates full of homemade cookies to all my co-workers!"

I feel like I should clarify.

When I wrote that post, I wasn't just ripping on former co-workers, some of my tips are from personal experience.  I am not a crafty person and I am not the kind of person who just loves to give gifts, so I hope you don't think I went crazy-Martha-Stewart on you. 

1.) I had a bad experience with a plate of Christmas cookies as a child, so my opinions about Christmas cookies may not reflect other people's opinions about Christmas cookies.  I don't actually remember the experience.  I've blocked it out.  But I think I was about ten years old and the cookies were brought to us by the kid who lived just north of us.  I can only assume that he and his mother had wrapped peppermint cookies with non-peppermint cookies, because, to this day, that is my biggest food-related pet peeve.

2.)  Fancy packaging is more important in situations where you need to make a good impression (ie: a gift to a client or a brand-new sister-in-law) and less important in situations where you're close to recipient or when you've experienced some type of medical hardship.  My grandmother, who is nearly 90 years old, is giving most people on her Christmas list this year homemade Chex Mix.  From experience, I can tell you that she's packaged it in plastic bags, the ones marked "bread bags" with the twist ties.  She figured out years ago that they were the perfect size and shape to funnel in Chex Mix using a piece of waxed paper.  And she's way too frugal to ever buy a ziplock bag.  She'll pass out bags of Chex Mix without any adornment and all her grandchildren (and some friends at her retirement community) will munch on it happily in the days to come.  We know her and we've come to except that holiday Chex Mix.


Merry Christmas, all!  

I hope that coming week is filled with whatever it is that you like most about Christmas.

December 14, 2011

10 Tips for Edible Gifts

A rant inspired by too many stale baked goods next to the office water cooler

With most of us on stricter budgets than we may have been in years past, and considering our society's increased awareness of how our choices affect the environment, edible gifts are a good thing... as long as you follow some basic guidelines.

1.  Package all edible gifts attractively.  Appearance is everything.  I understand that taste is super-duper important, too, but what I am trying to say is that presenting a gift nicely makes it more appetizing, and therefore, better appreciated.  Avoid ziplock bags, saran wrap and paper plates.  For candies, use treat bags with sparkly ribbon.  Top gifts-in-a-jar with a circle of fabric, secured with some festive elastic cord.  Be sure to attach a big shiny bow or a fun curl of ribbon to a gift basket or gift bag.  The ubiquitous plate-of-Christmas-cookies can certainly be enhanced by some creative packaging: a nice cookie tin or (for crisp, flat cookies) a clear plastic sleeve (with some pretty ribbon) so that the cookies are packaged as a stack.

2.  Choose upscale or homemade over grocery store varieties.  If you can't afford See's, please don't give a  Wittman's Sampler.  It just looks sad sitting there unopened next to the See's Candy that someone else gave.  If you don't have the time or skill to whip up some homemade caramels or truffles, Trader Joe's has some gift-able candies and cookies in decent packaging.  Oh, and just to be clear, a loaf of nut bread from the discount grocer is not a gift; it's a heart attack in wasteful plastic clamshell packaging. 
$- Trader Joe's Mini Candy Cane Cookies  $$- See's Candy

3.  The closer it gets to Christmas, the more something with a shelf-life will be appreciated.  Sure, the first tin of cookies or tray of candies makes us all feel merry and bright, but we all have our limits.  The closer it is to Christmas, the more likely it is that the gift recipient (and their family or office-mates) are already getting burned out on festive sweets.  Not only that, but if your scheduled delivery is postponed, your recipient isn't stuck with something stale.
$- jam or jelly, pickles or salsa
$$- vacuum-packed coffee
$$$- A nice bottle of the recipient's favorite liquor

4.  Choose something savory.  Again, this time of year people are getting tired of sweets, so choose something savory.  Caveat:  Teachers probably get more chintzy edible gifts than people in other occupations.  Your child's teacher does not want another Dollar Store Christmas mug filled with Hershey's Kisses.  Go savory, go with something with a shelf-life, or forget the edible gifts altogether and go with a gift card. 
$- Spiced nuts
$$-Salami & Cheese

5.  With homemade gifts, include clear instructions for their use and storage.  Hot cocoa mix is an appropriate cuddle-up-in-the-wintertime gift for a lot of people, as long as they know that it's hot cocoa mix and how to use it.  Include nicely printed instructions: "Mix 2 tablespoons Hot Cocoa Mix with 6 ounces hot milk.  Snuggle up and enjoy."  Likewise, that ubiquitous tin of cookies might be appreciated a bit more with a tag that read, "These cookies are freshly baked.  Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container in the freezer up to one month."   Certainly, if something requires refrigeration, make that very clear.

6.  Give a themed food basket.   Even practical items tucked into a bed of raffia in an attractive basket can make a beautiful and thoughtful gift.  If you match your theme to the recipient, it may end up being their favorite gift of the year.
$- homemade canned pasta sauce with a pound of gourmet pasta
$$- A bag of sushi rice, a package of nori, a jar of pickled ginger, wasabi and a couple of sushi rolling mats
$$$- One of my favorite gifts one year was a collection of foods produced in Butte County.  It included a jar of honey, a bottle of wine, a couple bags of flavored almonds, some specialty olive oil, a package of rice cakes and some citrus fruit.

7.  Be aware of food allergies and preferences.  If you give peanut brittle to someone who doesn't like nuts, it won't be appreciated.  If you give something that contains peanuts or peanut oil to someone who is allergic to peanuts the outcome could be far worse.  Likewise, a gluten-free family won't be able to enjoy anything made with wheat or oats.  It's not a great idea to give sweets to a perpetual dieter, salty foods to someone who has heart disease or taffy to someone known to break their teeth.  And certainly, do not give alcohol to anyone unless you have confirmed that they drink alcohol.  In the event that you're giving a gift to people you don't know well, kindly make sure that the ingredients, especially any possible allergens (nuts, dairy, wheat, eggs, shellfish) are clearly and neatly marked.

8.  Budget appropriately.  Edible gifts can certainly be an economical choice, but be sure to budget for the item itself (or the ingredients and time to make a homemade gift), and attractive packaging including a nice tag for labeling. Maybe you saved a lot of money by making homemade honey wine for your friends this year.  Well, here's the thing: most of your friends think the concept of something fermenting in your closet for six months is a little weird, but we might to be willing to try it, if it's packaged in a decorative bottle (widely available online) rather than a re-purposed soda bottle.

9.  Maintain a clean kitchen.  And the appearance of one.  Make sure that your counters and utensils are clean.  Don't make edible gifts while you are sick .  Don't put your child in the position of delivering an edible gift while he/she is sick.  Also, if it is apparent that your cat sat on that plate of appetizers you were planning to bring to a holiday party, just don't bring it.  Your hostess would much rather be greeted with a big hug and a hearty "Merry Christmas."

10:  Make a double batch... or a quadruple batch.  You must taste whatever you make for quality control reasons.  And if it's as delicious as it looks, your housemates will want to sample it too.  Of course, it never hurts to have a few extra items available for last minute gifts, and if you end up not giving them away, it certainly won't go to waste, will it?

December 12, 2011

Raw Milk: 3 Weeks In

 The ninth post in our series about my family's choice to drink raw milk.


Today marks the beginning of our fourth week as raw milk drinkers.  Loyal readers know that I had a great deal of anticipation about how drinking raw milk might affect our diet and lifestyle.  So, three weeks in, what are our thoughts?

Jason loves it.  He has always enjoyed drinking milk, but he is a very picky eater, hating all things gamey, so my first concern about the raw milk was the flavor.  When we tasted it at our friend's house, he said that it tasted like milk and he liked it.  As the whole "raw milk issue" has come up in conversations with friends, he is more passionate about its quality than I am.  He likes it a lot.

Grace likes it, though she hasn't expressed that there's a difference in the flavor or creaminess of it versus conventional milk.  She's had a terrible cough for most of the last month, but I am still holding on to hope that over time the raw milk might do something to improve her allergies and asthma.

Abby is at that two-year-old-stage when the food she gobbles up today she rejects tomorrow.  We had never given her very much conventional milk, but we've been giving her about a cup of raw milk per day and she usually drinks it.

I'm not a milk drinker, but I've been making decaf flavored cafe au laits most mornings.  The milk isn't technically "raw" after it's heated past a certain temperature, but, anyhow, I like them.

I've also been using the raw milk in making ice cream, though I still use conventional or organic cream in the same recipes.  Since a pint of cream costs $10, $12 is about how much it would cost to make a quart of ice cream.  At this point, I just can't justify spending $12 to make a quart of ice cream.

I tried to make raw milk yogurt once.  The recipe warned that it ends up being more of a drinkable yogurt than a thick yogurt, and it certainly was.  After the overnight culturing it looked the same as it had at the beginning of the culturing except that some of the cream had globbed to the side of the jar.  So as not to waste it, I used it as the liquid in a couple of bread recipes.  In case you are wondering, it did not seem to impart any specific flavor.  With this week's milk, I think I'll try making yogurt using my old recipe.  It won't  be raw, but it may be better for you than the store-bought stuff, and since our milk consumption is up to 2.5 gallons a week, it's a good way to use up that extra half gallon. 

Which reminds me, we had started with 2 gallons per week, but the second week we determined that we were consuming more milk than we did when we had the grocery store milk.  Two gallons was not enough and we needed a third.

Three gallons a week cost $104 per month, which is roughly 18% of our monthly food budget.  We've certainly felt a pinch in the budget, but I wonder if part of the pinch might be 1) the anticipation of the pinch or 2) holiday cooking.  I'll revist the finances of this raw milk adventure in a few months.

For most of this month, I've felt guilty that my husband and daughter were consuming this supposed super-food on super-sugary breakfast cereal.  I mean, shouldn't part of the lifestyle change be replacing worthless carbs and refined sugars with more nutrient-dense, "real" foods?  I an ideal world, yes.  But I am a busy working mom with three family members who all have a deeply ingrained sense of what tastes good, and I need to remind myself that gradual change is better than no change.  I'd love to phase out refined carbohydrates, and to shift to locally grown meats and poultry, but that would require more money and a new set of cooking skills.  For now I'll just appreciate that the ham I bought last night at Trader Joe's* is "uncured" (none of those evil nitrates) and that it is delicious on a buttered piece of (store-bought) ciabatta.


*For a while I had been buying most of our meats at Chico Meat Locker.  The meats themselves might not be local, but at least my food dollars were going to a local business.  Well, the same organizations that tout the virtues of raw milk rail hard against MSG.  Unfortunately, I see MSG (monosodium glutamate) on most of the ingredient labels at the Meat Locker, so this month I bought "uncured" ham, "organic" chicken thighs and "All Natural No MSG" chicken sausages at Trader Joes.  (Yep, those words are in quotation marks because I believe they are nutritional claims that should be researched, not blindly believed.)

December 1, 2011

Some Fun Foodie Gift Ideas

Is it just me or is a paper plate of assorted cookies from a neighbor kind of revolting?  Sorry, but I don't know you well enough to trust your cooking and, c'mon, you put these peppermint cookies in the cellophane along with everything else, so now everything--the gingerbread boys, the chocolate chip cookies and the peanut butter blobs--all taste vaguely of peppermint. Plus, it looks like your kid dropped the plate on the ground during delivery.

Okay, so that little incident was years ago, but I would assume most of us have received questionable Christmas cookies from a well-meaning neighbor, student or co-worker at some point.  Therefore, I steer away from giving cookies at Christmas.  So much of a homemade treat is in the presentation.  Fun snack mix or candied nuts in a pretty cellophane bag with a nice bow or a jar of jam with a nice fabric top. Neatly printed assembly instructions tied onto a Mason Jar of soup mix.  Or a fun gift basket including any of the above.

Gifts that Celebrate Local Foods:

Holiday Pretzel & Nut Mix - originally from David Lebovitz - a slightly spicy, crunchy snack mix, a nice departure from the typical Christmas cookie overload.  Use local almonds and pecans.  Add pistachios or cashews for some textural contrast.

In the past I've given peach chutney, apricot jam and plum preserves, but I didn't end up doing any canning this summer.  Now that the weather is cooler, standing over a boiling water bath canner doesn't sound so miserable.  There are plenty of apples available to make apple butters and things.  Valencia oranges and mandarins are also available in early December, if you want to make marmalade.

Apple Marmalade -  from the National Center for Home Food Preservation - There aren't too many added flavors here, so be sure to choose a variety of apple whose flavor you enjoy.  Pink Ladies, Black Arkansas, Twig and Galas seem to have more complexity than Golden Delicious or Red Delicious or Rome.

Other Sweet Stuff:

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix - Last year we gave this one from Annie's Eats with some homemade biscotti.  This year we're giving a Hot Cocoa Syrup (based on the Chocolate-Orange Syrup) with  homemade marshmallows.  I used Alton Brown's recipe, but subbed peppermint extract for the vanilla and added cocoa powder to the dusting mixture. 

Assorted Truffles: Annie's Eats has a number of truffle recipes.  Last year we tried the Pumpkin Spice Truffles and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles from her blog. Both were well-received, but my favorite truffles were the easiest of all to make:  Peppermint Oreo Truffles.  Just Peppermint Oreos, cream cheese and chocolate.  Total junk food, I know, but tasty!  (Just always be sure to package minty treats separate from non-minty treats).

Caramels:  Again, Annie's Eats is a great resource for gift-able treats.  I've used this recipe for caramels again and again.  This year I also made Salted Whiskey Caramels.  Yum!

Gifts from the Farmer's Market 

I think it's funny when people send those expensive-looking boxed fruit sets, but I like eating fruit, so I don't argue.  Does that mean it would be okay to stick a bow on an 8 lb bag of Noble Apple Orchard's apples and call it a Christmas gift?  Or a bag of mandarins?  Why not?

But of course there are also curds from Two English Ladies, candied or raw almonds and different varieties of honey, dried fruits, pomegranate syrups and marinades, pistachio pestos, olive oil and breads from multiple vendors including Miller's Bake House,Tin Roof Bakery and Borden-Huitt Ranch.  Of course, the Saturday farmers market has a good selection of non-edible gifts as well: handmade soaps, lavender products, candles, aroma-therapy stuff, even handmade chess boards.  Someone--someone craftier than me--could certainly create a beautiful gift basket with some of those things, some raffia and a pretty bow.

What are some of your favorite homemade or local food gifts?

Chocolate-Orange Syrup (Mocha Valencia)

Did you ever have a Starbucks' Mocha Valencia?

I know that in my last post I said that I am not a fan of Starbucks, but that doesn't mean that I haven't spent my fair share of time in Starbucks.  I think it's been a least fifteen years since I saw the Mocha Valencia on their menu (but a quick Google search finds that the Valencia syrup was officially discontinued in 2006).  The only time I ever remember ordering one was in the downtown Chico Starbucks shortly after it opened.  A Mocha Valencia was a mocha with orange syrup added.  I liked the combination, but frankly Java Joe's (later purchased by Cal Java) made a better version.  And the barista at Java Joe's was way cuter than the baristas at Starbucks.  Boy, did I spend a lot of time at Java Joe's "doing homework" when I was in high school.

I was reminded of those delicious orange mochas this weekend when Abby and Grace were frantically peeling mandarins in the kitchen.  Those 10-pound mesh bags of mandarins started appearing in the market a couple weeks ago, and we brought home our first bag Saturday.  They are a little sour for my taste, but I think those girls ate half the bag over the weekend.  One thing I really enjoy about eating locally is how much we genuinely appreciate the first taste of the season of everything.  The first nectarine in the summer, the first cabbage or cauliflower in the fall, the first strawberry in the spring.  The smell of those mandarins was so fresh and crisp and almost Christmas-y, I decided I needed to celebrate them.

Inspired by the citrus aroma and the gingerbread latte syrup I've been making lately, I snagged a couple mandarin peels before they went into the compost, and, using a small knife (I'd use my paring knife if I could find it) I cut off some of the orange rind.  One could also use a citrus zester for this, but I used a knife.  I added the pieces of orange rind to a simple syrup simmering on the stove.  Then I stirred in some cocoa powder, strained out the peels, and viola, I had chocolate orange syrup for a Mocha Valencia.

About 2 ounces of chocolate-orange syrup plus 2 shots of espresso (or 6 ounces strong brewed coffee) and 6 ounces of frothy steamed whole milk equal one creamy, delicious Mocha Valencia.

Chocolate-Orange Syrup
Makes about 16 fluid ounces, enough for approximately 8 mochas or hot chocolates depending on how sweet you like it. 

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Rind (orange part only) from 4-5 mandarins or 2 larger oranges
1/4 cup natural and dutch-process cocoa powder blend -I use Saco's Premium cocoa powder, which is available in most grocery stores.  If you prefer a different brand, feel free to use it.

In a small saucepan combine water, sugar, orange rind and cocoa.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Strain out orange rind and transfer to a bottle or jar. Store in the refrigerator.

David Lebovitz brings up some great points in this post entitled, "Why I Don't Hate Starbucks."  Definitely worth the five minutes it takes to read it.

November 29, 2011

Gingerbread Latte Syrup

I'm not a fan of Starbucks.  I didn't really like it when, living in the suburbs of Sacramento around the turn of the century (that's kind of a dramatic way to refer to 1999-2004), the only place to get a cup of coffee was Starbucks.  Sure, there were a couple of locally-owned places here and there, but if I remember correctly, on my 12-mile commute to work I passed five Starbucks. It was difficult to get past the idea that they might be squeezing out the little guy on purpose.

That said, I have some respect for their business model, that they've grown their business by making their customers feel welcome and at-home in their stores.  I'm sure there are plenty of small businesses (and churches) who have benefited from Starbucks allowing their owners (or pastors) to create a mini-office at a Starbucks table.  I also appreciated the news earlier this year that Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, refused to make any more political donations until lawmakers started working together to get things done (things besides bad-mouthing the the other party, I mean).

And I really like Starbucks' Gingerbread Latte. There's something about it that just makes me want to melt into the cup.  Other coffee houses' gingerbread lattes seem darker, maybe molasses-y, kind of cloying, but Starbucks' just seems like wintery-spice perfection.  At close to $5 each though, they aren't something I choose to afford more than once or twice a year.

But every year in October the craving hits, so this year (again) I googled "copycat Starbucks gingerbread latte recipes." I found one I like, but the site it came from seems a little sketchy, with weird pop-ups and stuff.  I think this syrup deserves it's own write up, so here it is.

This syrup is not perfect, but it's close.  It doesn't have the cloying molasses flavor of some store-bought gingerbread syrups.  Its flavor components are just ginger and cinnamon, nothing to get in the way or overpower the ginger.  Jason and I like it a lot.  We use about 3 tablespoons of syrup with 2 shots of espresso (or 6 ounces of strong coffee) and enough steamed milk to fill a 12-16 ounce cup.  To make it as close to a Starbucks Gingerbread Latte as possible, and if we're feeling indulgent, we top it with whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.

(If you're craftier than me, you could put this syrup in a nice bottle, tie it with a pretty ribbon, somehow attach the Gingerbread Latte recipe on a piece of stationary, and give this as a holiday gift to a coffee-lover.)

Try it, let me know what you think, and if you've got a recipe that is closer to the genuine article, PLEASE share it in the comments.

Gingerbread Latte Syrup
Adapted from
Makes about 20 fluid ounces of syrup, enough for 10-20 lattes.

2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine water, sugar, ginger and cinnamon.  Bring to a boil. Stir.  Reduce heat and let simmer about 10 minutes. Then let the syrup cool a bit.  Stir in the vanilla.  The ground spices are too fine to strain out with my finest sieve, so I let them settle to the bottom of the pot before pouring the syrup into a clean bottle or jar.  Stop pouring as soon as the ground spices start flowing into your jar.  Sure, you'll waste some syrup, but I'd rather loose a few ounces than have gritty coffee.  Label and refrigerate.  (If I am in a hurry, I pour all of the syrup into a jar. By the time I am making my coffee the next morning, the dregs have settled to the bottom of the jar.  Without disrupting it too much I pour most of the syrup into a clean bottle leaving the dregs behind.)

November 22, 2011

Cauliflower with a Seafood Stirfry

Yesterday before work I dropped off my cooler with its empty half-gallon Mason jars at the drop-off/pick-up point in Chico, which happens to be a chiropractor's office, and, like magic, on my way home from work I picked up my cooler full of fresh milk.  By the way, have you ever lifted two gallons of milk in glass jars with one arm?  It's heavy.  But we are so excited to be drinking local, pastured, not pasteurized, milk.


Last night for dinner we had something similar to this Spicy Cauliflower Over Rice; well, sort of similar, but not at all spicy.

The cauliflower was a cheery peach-colored specimen from Pyramid Farms; one of those wonderful, sweet, earthy things that reminds you that you really do like vegetables after all.  I roasted it in the oven with olive oil and salt and served it with the stir-fry.

Stir-fry two tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass (the less fibrous inner part of the stalk) with a teaspoon of minced ginger and a few cloves of garlic, chopped, over medium-high heat.  Add a couple carrots, some salt, and a sweet pepper, chopped.  Stirfry a couple minutes.  Add half a can of coconut milk, a splash of water, a dash of fish sauce and some soy sauce.  Cover and simmer to soften the carrots a bit.  Add one bag of Trader Joe's Frozen Seafood mix (shrimp, scallops, calamari) and a couple handfuls of chopped napa cabbage.  Cover the pan to cook the seafood, checking for doneness after a few minutes.  If the seafood isn't cooked through, stir and cover for a couple more minutes.  Serve in shallow bowls over jasmine rice and roasted cauliflower.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and a generous squeeze lime.

November 21, 2011

Bean & Bacon Soup

 Serves 4-6.

Navy beans* (1/2 pound) cooked with dill, thyme and sage from the garden, seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic.  In a soup with fried bacon (6 slices), caramelized onion (2), water (3 cups), and kale (1/2 a bunch, chopped).  Seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic.  Finished with a generous pile of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

Fall produce isn't so dreary after all. 

*What?  Navy beans don't remind you of "Lunch Lady Land?"  I think that's my favorite line of the whole song.

November 16, 2011

Signature Apple-Onion Tart

Market News

This Saturday (Nov 19) the generous folks at Pyramid Farms will be donating 100% of their sales to the Heifer Project. If you're not familiar with Heifer Project, please check out their website.  They are a very worthwhile charitable organization that gives livestock and training to families in need in other countries.  Please stop by Pyramid Farms booth tomorrow and pick up some super-sweet organic carrots, butternut squash or tasty greens and know that you're supporting a great cause!

Wednesday (Nov 23) is the last day that the Farmers Market at North Valley Plaza will be open for the year.  So if you find yourself needing persimmons and mandarins for a festive Thanksgiving fruit salad, or maybe some chard for a praise-worthy gratin, head over to the North Valley Plaza 7:30am -1:00pm.


I've been mourning the loss of summer's variety lately.  After all those tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, herbs and nectarines--and don't forget melons, berries and corn--the months of greens and winter squash ahead of us seem kind of boring.  Don't get me wrong, I got pretty excited about pumpkin in October, but as the weather cooled, and the strawberries disappeared from the market... and since the girls ate the last of our refrigerator pickles, I've been a little sad. 

But then I made this tart.  I've made it a few times, but it's been a couple years.  The dough is a bit labor intensive, but the rave reviews that it receives at parties are worth the effort.  The aroma of the apples and onions sautéing in butter is like all the wonderfulness of autumn wrapped up in a warm kitchen. It reminds me of Thanksgiving.  Speaking of which, this would be a great addition to your holiday spread, if you're still looking for a special appetizer or bread.

This tart is a bit involved, but it can be made mostly ahead of time.  If you are already a yeast baker, you're familiar with the process of mixing, kneading, rising (waiting), shaping, then rising again and baking. If you're not a baker; become one, if only so that you can then master this dough and impress your friends with all the wonderful things you can make with it: Chocolate croissants and this tart are my two favorites.

My original inspiration for this was an recipe in "Real Simple" magazine.  Their version, though, called for grocery store puff pastry.  I made it per their directions once, and served it at a Christmas Party in our home. I received all kinds of compliments on it; but, having made croissants from scratch before, I had a nagging feeling that this pastry would be so much better with homemade dough.  So the next time I made it, for a New Years Eve party where all the guests brought an hors d'oeurve and a drink, I dug out my 1986 Edition of The Betty Crocker Cookbook and used the recipe for Danish Pastry Dough.  (Why this recipe isn't in the more recent edition that is my standby, I don't know. It should be.)  Again, I was surprised by how much people liked it.  But what's not to like?  Buttery layers of croissant-like dough, untainted with whole grains (gasp!), topped with apples and onions that taste like everything we love about fall.  Time to bust out the rolling pin!

Signature Apple-Onion Tart

Dough can be made ahead and frozen up to 2 months.  I tend to make a double batch of the dough and freeze half, because once the dough is made the assembly is quick and simple.  (Also, because this same dough makes wonderful croissants, and isn't that a nice thing to have in your freezer?)  If making a double batch, chill the butter in two separate portions, divide the dough into two portions after the first rise, and do all the rolling and shaping in separate batches.  Defrost dough in the fridge overnight before rolling out, topping and baking.  Recipe below is for a single batch.  

Makes approximately 48 hors d'oeuvres-size portions or 24 bread-course portions. (I'd plan for at least three portions per guest.)

1 batch Danish Pastry Dough, see below
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
one medium onion
2 apples, something crisp and sweet such as a Pink Lady, a Honeycrisp, a Gala or a Fuji
a pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or plain yogurt

 Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Roll dough out into large rectangle, approximately 20 x 12 inches, but you can be very approximate at this point. Using a pizza cutter, cut rectangle in thirds horizontally.  You want three long strips. When working with dough that is expected the "puff" always make cuts as cleanly as possible.  Transfer strips to rimmed baking sheets.  (The rim is important, because if you bake this on an un-rimmed sheet, some butter may leak out, drip onto the bottom of your oven and create a little fire.  Nothing that can't be solved with a huff and a puff or a generous sprinkle of baking soda, but not something you want.  Not that I've had this happen before...twice.)  Set the dough in a cooler area of the kitchen while you prepare the topping.

Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat.

While butter melts, slice onion in half from top to bottom.  Slice the halves into thin half-rings, then slice the rings in half. (You should have thin quarter-rings, as opposed to wedges.)  Add onions to skillet and stir once.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, not much.  Let cook a couple minutes, while you prepare the apples:  slice apples in half and remove the core.  Do not peel.  Slice apple halves into thin half-rings, then cut the half-rings in half, so that you have apple quarters, sliced thinly.  Check your onions, stir them. Once they have softened (and maybe just started to caramelize), toss the apples in and stir gently.  Sauté, stirring a couple more times, for about two minutes.  You want your onions soft, your apples relatively crisp.  Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.

Gently brush crème fraiche onto dough.  Then gently spread apple-onion topping over dough.  Bake in 400ºF degree oven until tart has puffed up a bit and the edges are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes before slicing.  Slice each pastry horizontally once, then vertically as many times as you like.  For hors d'oeuvres, I like 2" squares.  If serving as a bread accompaniment to a meal, a 4x2" rectangle would be more appropriate.

Danish Pastry Dough
adapted from Betty Crocker 

1 1/2 sticks cold butter
1 pkg (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour
* Special Equipment: rolling pin, wax paper, a ruler and a pastry brush

Slice butter in half horizontally, so that you have three even pieces. Set all three sticks of butter next to each other on a sheet of wax paper.  Cover with another sheet of wax paper. Use a rolling pin to roll butter into a 6" square.  Refrigerate 1 1/2 hours, until firm.  Butter must be very cold in order to roll correctly in the following steps.

Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, egg and 1 1/3 cups of flour. Beat until smooth.  Add enough of the remaining flour to make dough easy to handle, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface (or switch to dough hook) and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Place dough in lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 hours.

At this point you need to work quickly, but don't stress.  If you need to leave your dough at anytime during the rolling process, stick it in the fridge.  You want the butter to remain cold throughout the rolling.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Use a rolling pin (I like my handy-dandy silicone polling pin, but back in the 80's Betty Crocker recommended a cloth-covered rolling pin) to roll the dough into a 12" circle.  Place the cold butter square in the center of the circle, and bring the edges of circle up over the butter.  Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal in the butter.  You will be left with a  6 1/2" square of dough.

Roll the dough into a 20 x 6" rectangle.  The dough will be stiff at first, but quickly gets easier to work with. If butter leaks though the corners or edges, sprinkle flour generously over the exposed butter and pat it into the dough.  Use a pastry brush to brush excess flour off of dough before folding.  Fold dough into thirds, creating three layers of dough, so that you again have an (approximately) 6" square.  Pinch the edges to seal.

Turn the dough one-quarter turn.  Roll out into a 20 x 6" rectangle.  (See, isn't it getting easier to work with?)  Fold the rectangle into thirds again and seal the edges. 

If you would like to freeze the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it in a Ziplock bag (you need both layers to prevent freezer burn) and freeze up to two months.  Defrost 8-12 hours in the fridge before using.  If you plan on using the dough within the next eight hours, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 1 1/2 hours before proceeding.

Organic Pastures Raw Milk Recalled

Yep, another installment in our raw milk series.

On my way to work this morning I heard a story on Northstate Public Radio (NPR) about raw milk from Organic Pastures being recalled and quarantined after five California children got sick with E coli.  Organic Pastures distributes their raw milk products throughout the state.  Their products are available locally at Chico Natural Foods. 

According to The Fresno Bee, "Although laboratory samples of Organic Pastures milk have not detected E. coli contamination, the state will not allow the dairy to resume production until it meets all sanitation requirements. State investigators and food-safety experts have begun a complete inspection of the dairy."

Sounds reasonable, right?

Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms and author of, among other books, Everything I want to do is Illegal, would surely cringe at the mention of state inspection of the dairy.  He, like some of the people who commented on the Fresno Bee article, points out that government inspection is a product of the industrialization of food  Unfortunately, often government guidelines that are reasonable and necessary for industrial producers, fall unfairly on small- to mid-sized, family owned and operated farms.  In his book he documents an incident when Polyface Farms lost a whole batch of chickens because a state lab report tested positive for salmonella.  Only later did he discover that the lab sample in question had fallen on the floor of the state testing facility before being tested.

Organic Pastures regularly tests its milk and posts its bacteria counts and E coli results on its website.  None of their own tests have shown any E coli.  Sure, those are the farm's own tests.  What would they do if they did find e coli?  I don't know.

Figuring out where a food poisoning outbreak started is an inexact science.  The research is completed by having consumers and parents complete questionnaires regarding what they or their children have eaten in the past few weeks.  (Think about that:  Just real quick, jot down everything you, or anyone in your household, ate yesterday.)  The reason for this shutdown of Organic Pastures is that their milk was the common denominator on those questionnaires for all five families.

I am very interested to see what is reported after the state completes their inspection of the dairy...

Nov 17 Update:  Cheeseslave's post about this brings some clarification regarding the lab testing.


In other news, our cooler arrived safely via UPS yesterday.  Four half gallon jars and a pint jar fit into it nicely, but it would be a stretch to fit six half-gallon jars into it, should we decide to take advantage of that third herdshare that we purchased.  Now, to find ice packs that will fit into it with the jars.
Photo credit:

November 15, 2011

Still Waiting. No raw milk yet.

Another installment in our series on raw milk.  There are quite a few links in here and probably a couple references that should be linked to some supporting evidence.  I don't want anybody on information overload, so I've tried to only include links that I think are worth reading. Special thanks to Rebekah of Eden Natural Health for all the great articles she posts, including two that I've linked to below.

I'm a little disappointed today; because we're still playing the waiting game.  The cooler that we ordered online, that is necessary for transporting our milk from the farm to us (and that was not available locally, except at Wal-mart), is scheduled to be delivered today.  The milk delivery is today, so we'll be waiting another week to try this fabulous raw milk.

I really thought it would be here yesterday, but it hasn't arrived, so at 8:00 last night I felt like I was putting my tail between my legs as I typed a quick email to the delivery gal and let her know we couldn't receive our delivery yet.

As I've been reading more and more online about raw milk and health, I'm just super-expectant.  We've tasted it before, so I know what it tastes like.  And I've purchased raw milk once or twice before from the natural foods store. Of course, I didn't notice any great benefit then, but drinking a quart over the course of few days is different than having it all the time.  I am ready for it to be in my refrigerator and a part of our lifestyle.

Gracie's nasal allergies that I mentioned last week have been exploited by a virus.  The poor kid has been coughing since Saturday night.  We took her to the doctor, who said it was a virus, so no antibiotics are needed.  He recommended that we give her Benedryl at night to control cough and help her sleep, so she's taking that, plus ibuprofen for fever/sore throat, plus the two allergy/asthma medications that she takes daily, and she's taking another medication through a nebulizer for her cough. I don't like all those medicines, but right now they all seem to serve a purpose.  I can't get past the thought though, that if her immune system were stronger, maybe she'd be less susceptible to this junk. ...And also the thought that pharmaceutical companies profit at least as much as big food companies as a result of the industrialization of our food supply.

As a result of reading this article, I've switched out Grace's normal comfort foods (oatmeal, bagels with cream cheese and cinnamon-sugar and Popsicles) with lower sugar, "immune-strengthening" options (miso soup, veggies in homemade chicken broth--I'd add some chicken if we had some--and homemade smoothie-pops made with plain yogurt, coconut milk, fruit* and just a little bit of raw honey.)*  I've also been encouraging her to get some sunshine so that she has sufficient Vitamin D.  I want to increase my own immunity, too, so I've been trying to limit my own sugar and carb intake and to get outside in the sun during my lunch breaks.  I don't really understand the statement, "80% of your immune system is in your gut."  But, doesn't it make since that if our bodies are too busy processing non-essentials and toxins, that there's not enough time/energy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it--and not only that, but not sufficient nutrients-- to process the good stuff into immunity? 

As more and more people jump on the "whole foods" bandwagon, it's important to look at what whole foods are and why we think they are good for us.  I'd never thought of milk as a "processed food" before, but pasteurization and homogenizing are processing.  Not only that, as a society we've been convinced that some or all of the fat should be taken out of milk to make it good for us.  But the Weston A Price Foundation and other raw milk enthusiasts say that any of that processing makes for a lesser quality product.  There's even research demonstrating that it's not saturated fats that are bad for us, it's the chemical reaction that happens in processing.  Raw milk and raw butter, they say, are entirely different products than their pasteurized counterparts.  Many of these people say that plant oils may be more dangerous than animal fats.  There are even groups of people who think of raw butter, which sells for upwards of $12 a pound, (and butter oil, a supplement) as a healing food.

So I am excited to see what happens once we switch over to raw milk.  Will our health improve, or our energy level increase?  And I'm interested to see how our lifestyle changes.  Will we understand the need to eat grass-fed meats, and therefore, somehow, find room for them in our budget too?  Will I want to start juicing vegetables or get passionate about raw foods?  (There are lots of enzymes in them, you know.) Or will we be sorely disappointed and decide that the cost and hassle of an extra weekly errand just aren't worth the benfits?

I am so ready for the anticipation to be over and the reality to set in.

*Next year someone please remind me to freeze some strawberries.  I'm sure the organic frozen strawberries at Trader Joe's might be more healthful than local, "no spray" berries (which won't be available again in farmer's markets until May),  but they don't fit into our theme and lifestyle.  Still, apple smoothies aren't nearly as good as strawberry smoothies...  Maybe it's time for us to try spinach smoothies?


Sick of these posts about raw milk?  This weekend I made my Signature Apple-Onion Tart, which I haven't made for a few years, and I was reminded of how much people rave about it.  It's a perfect addition to a spread of holiday hors d'oeuvres.  I promise to post the recipe soon.

* Update November 17, 2011:  This whole "less sugar" deal: we're gonna have to wait on making any changes to our diets.  Most of our grocery money for the month has been spent, so I don't have the time, energy or money to make this change right now. And Grace, who's feeling a little better, but is still coughing incessantly, isn't liking broths and stuff.  She wants carbohydrates.  So this morning, when she asked for waffles, I made The Joy of Cooking's waffles, and I didn't even swap out whole wheat pastry flour for some of the cake flour.  Yes, we ate them with syrup, and not some healthy "whole" maple syrup; nope, just plain ol' Mrs. Butterworth's, high fructose corn syrup and all.

November 9, 2011


The fifth in my series regarding our Raw Milk Adventure.  To see previous posts, click on the "Raw Milk" label at the end of this post. 

Jason ordered our milk cooler online yesterday.  The estimated delivery date is November 15, but we are hoping it arrives a day early, because next week's milk delivery got pushed back from Monday to Tuesday.  The couple who does the deliveries will be out of town Monday.  Readers, please understand that I am not complaining, simply highlighting the need for flexibility when entering these kinds of agreements.  If we get the cooler Monday, we'll be able to drop it off Tuesday morning and we'll be drinking raw milk Tuesday evening.  (And by "we" I mean Jason, Grace and Abby.  I don't drink milk, except in coffee, but I'm really looking forward to making a gingerbread latte with this milk.  It's been awhile since I had a Starbuck's Gingerbread Latte, but if memory serves me correctly, add whipped cream and nutmeg and this is it!)

The expectation is kind of intense (in a weird I-probably-care-too-much-about-my-food kind of way).  Gracie has such bad eczema right now, that her school called me Monday and told me to take her to the doctor to be sure it wasn't something contagious.  I took her to the doctor, and indeed, it's the same eczema that she's gotten the last few years at this time.  The doctor gave us a prescription for some cream, which seemed to relieve the itching much more significantly than whatever he'd given us last year.  He gave us the same recommendations we've been (mostly) following: use Dove soap, use unscented moisturizer liberally, bathe less than once a day.

I think of our family as fairly healthy overall, but we do have a few medical issues.  In addition to the eczema, Gracie has asthma and allergies (fairly unspecific allergies to pollen, mold, dust and grass); she takes medicine daily to control them.  Evenso she's experiencing significant nasal symptoms lately (running nose, itchy eyes, itchy skin).  She's also mentioned that her tummy hurts fairly frequently in the last few weeks.

I can't help but wonder if the raw milk might relieve some of these issues for her.

I've also had a bit of a stomach and a headache off-and-on for the past couple weeks.  The headache seems to be getting less frequent, but the stomachache creeps up most mornings.  I wonder if the probiotics in raw milk will have a positive effect.  In warmer months I tend to eat yogurt and granola for breakfast a few times a week, but as the weather's gotten colder I haven't been eating yogurt.  Maybe that has something to do with it.  Despite my best efforts at brushing, flossing and flouride rinsing, almost every time I go to the dentist, he finds a cavity.  Some research I've read says that drinking raw milk might attribute to better dental health.  After paying $1700 for a root canal this week, I am intrigued. 


Interested in learning more about raw milk?  Here are some links I've found interesting:  At first I was skeptical that the information on a website called "Raw Milk" would be biased.  It certainly is, but isn't that the case with any controversial topic?  It's very difficult to find unbiased information.  What I appreciate about this site is that it uses footnotes to link to all its reference material, so you can easily do some clicking to see if you feel their references are reputable and do more research on the topic.  (The article I linked to above regarding raw milk relieving allergies is one that this site links to.)

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense  Apparently natural foods stores, co-ops and farmstands are being raided because of the precarious legal standing of raw milk.  This consumer group is a resource for consumers, farmers and sellers of raw milk and other products.  Good information about the health benefits of "real" milk and the economics of "real milk" (raw milk from pastured cows).  "Based on data in a 2003 USDA/FDA report: Compared to raw milk there are 515 times more illnesses from L-mono due to deli meats and 29 times more illness from L-mono due to pasteurized milk."

Sharable: The Shareable Food Movement  Another article about the legalities of local foods.  Thanks to Chris Kerston of Chaffin Family Orchards for posting this on Facebook. 

The federal government  -to be fair, here's the counterpoint.

November 8, 2011

Cabbage and Brats

Fennel (one bulb, sliced) sauteed in butter, then braised in just a little water with cabbage (half of a huge head, sliced), three small Yukon Gold potatoes (halved and sliced as thinly as you can manage), a couple carrots (sliced), and one pound of smoked Bratwurst (sliced into coins).  Quick, satisfying dinner for those nights when it is already cold and dark when one gets home from work.

November 6, 2011

Raw Milk: Some Practicalities

Part Four in my series on raw milk.  To see the previous posts, please click the label "Raw Milk" at the bottom of this post.

This raw milk experience, by the way, is kind of frustrating.  While I am excited to be able to give my kids local, raw, healthful milk, it would be easy to be discouraged.  You see, in most states raw milk is somewhat illegal.  In California it is legal to buy and sell it, but it’s not an easy thing to do.  Sure, there’s one brand of raw milk available in natural food stores, but, if I remember correctly, a half gallon costs about $10.  Since the company’s distribution is so large, it’s not as local of a product.  Most people in the United States who buy raw milk buy it directly from a farmer, either on the farm, through a buying club or through a herdsharing agreement.  
I'll recount the process we've been through so far.  Please bear in mind (especially if you happen to be the nice couple who delivers the milk) that my goal is not to complain, but to educate people who might be unfamiliar with  the process.
We heard about the milk and decided we wanted to try it.  Our friend gave us an email address for the couple who run the deliveries to Chico.  I emailed them and told them we wanted to try it.  The wife emailed me three separate documents: the advertised special (Buy before October 31st and get additional shares for $1 each) and detailed instructions for the delivery, as well as a note that said that if we wanted to try it before agreeing to the herdshare, we’d have to ask our friends for some.  

I checked out the farm's Facebook page and Googled the farm.  Nothing of interest on Google.  Twenty pictures of cows eating grass on Facebook.  And a couple pictures of cows being milked, of the farmer, of a couple cats.
So we did.  We tasted it, counted the cost and decided to go for it.  On October 31st, the last last day of the advertised special, four days after we’d originally found out about it, I called the couple to tell them we’d like to join.  They seemed a little put out that I was calling on the last day. It was delivery day, afterall, but I called in the morning and figured they could just sign me up when they got to the farm that day.  
The husband explained the whole process that was outlined in the email in greater detail.  He told me to buy the jars at True Value and the cooler at Wal-Mart (no can do, we don’t shop there, and, frankly, we’re always surprised when we meet natural food, locavore types who say the do shop there, but I digress.  I'm sure we have plenty of inconsistencies in our ethics, too) or Big Lots and to get ice packs.  The cooler has to have soft-sides, no wheels and it must have a zippered pocket on the side for the payments.  Everything needs to be clearly marked with our last name in permanent marker.  Have the cooler with the jars, and an extra set of jars with a box to hold the extra jars while they are at the diary, at the drop off point in the Chico by 9:00 Monday morning, with two separate checks (one for the farmer, one for the delivery).  Now the checks are supposed to be in sealed envelopes (another thing to buy, since we don’t tend to keep envelopes onhand), with our signature across the seal.  It takes the couple who does the delivery all day to get to the dairy farm in Cottonwood, unload the coolers, switch out everyone’s jars with those the farmer has filled with milk, repack them into the van (“It’s like a puzzle, you know, getting them all to fit and be accessible for the three seperate drop off locations.”), and drive back to Chico and then on to Oroville. I should be able to pick up my milk any time after 4:00 at the drop off point in Chico.  Of course, sometimes, there's a delay and they aren't on time.  The lady was going to email me the contract that night.  My understanding was that I needed to get it back to them first thing in the morning.  
I checked my email that night, no contract.  I checked it the morning. Nothing.  So I sent her an email asking about it.  I got an email back that said they’d needed sleep last night (which I totally understood; it was Halloween, for Pete's sake and they'd been doing milk delivery work all day), but there was no contract attached to her email. About a half an hour later I got an email back from her with the contract.  

I immediately completed it and emailed it back. 

She emailed me back informing me that I wasn’t supposed to email it to her.  She explained that she and her husband have nothing to do with the contract.  That’s between me and the farmer, I am supposed to put it in my cooler next week with my check for the herdshare and the first week's milk. 
No problem.  (But I don’t understand why her husband had made it seem urgent the day before.)  

Later that day I got an email about the cream.  Did I want it every week or just sometimes on special order?  
Just sometimes, I’d like to try it the first week, and then I would let her know.  
To get it just sometimes, not weekly, I would need to place my order the Wednesday before the delivery (five days ahead of time).  Making cream, she wrote, is a very involved process, so the farmer only does it on weekends.  It would be difficult to get it the first week, because my extra set of jars weren’t at the farm yet... But she could loan me one, but she’d expect a replacement for her jar with my full set of jars on Monday...   Oh, and be sure to wash your jars; the farmer won’t fill unwashed jars. 
Is a standard Mason Jar okay?  Her husband had been very specific about buying the milk jars at True Value Hardware and about the jars fitting in the coolers and the coolers fitting in the van, so I didn’t know if I needed a special type of jar. I wondered if I could use the two pint-sized Strauss cream bottles I had sitting by my backdoor waiting to get taken back to the natural foods store for the deposit money, but all I typed was, “Is a standard Mason jar okay?”
Well, that’s fine, but you only get a pint of cream in it. (I had talked to my friend and read the contract, so I knew that.)  I’m not sure whether you mean a mayonnaise jar, a canning quart jar or a canning pint jar. 
At this point I was a bit frustrated.  Maybe I hadn’t been clear in my email, but it just seemed like there was too much information in those three Word documents (five if you include the contracts), those numerous emails and our phone calls, for me to still be unclear on details. 
I waited a couple days before emailing back:  "I hope you are having a nice weekend.  I have not been able to procure the cooler and ice packs yet." (Jason had looked for the cooler online, the only store that carried it locally was Wal-Mart, so we'd waited until we purchased the jars at True Value, which ended up being standard half-gallon size Mason jars, so that we could get their dimensions and order an appropriate sized cooler online.)  "What I will do is drop off my first set of jars and the contract this Monday and then (hopefully) begin milk delivery the following Monday."

She emailed back that she'd already put in my cream order.  Did I want to cancel it?  She reminded me that the soft-sided Coleman cooler is available at Walm-Mart and ice packs are available at the Dollar Store....

I’m writing this simply to communicate what a process this is.  Buying raw milk from a farm is absolutely nothing like jumping in the car, driving to the market and picking up a carton of milk.  It’s completely different.  Why? Because the consumer is dealing with individuals, not corporations.  A corporation can fairly easily have someone on the clock 24 hours a day waiting to sell me milk, but individuals have schedules and other commitments and time constraints, so we all have to work together to make things work. That’s what being in a community is all about.  It’s a hassle indeed, but it’s refreshing to have individuals taking responsibility for each other's food.  

November 5, 2011

How Raw Milk is Like Marriage

If "Are Local Foods Worth the Cost" was the first in a series on raw milk, this, I suppose, would be Part 3.  If you have no interest in raw milk, feel free to skip it, but be forewarned, they'll be at least a couple more posts before this series is over. 


I've been thinking a lot about food and politics lately.  Frankly, it’s overwhelming.  Well, not necessarily overwhelming, but at least frustrating.  So many people spend their whole lives eating whatever they eat without thinking about it, and I feel obsessive about it.  It's not like, “Is this gonna make me gain weight?” Though I do sometimes have that thought; it's more like, “Is this an ethical food choice?”  Kind of a heavy question to have weighing in your mind. 

The more I shop at farmer's markets, the more I dislike supermarkets, and yet I still spend money there.  I’ve chosen to vote with my dollars by taking some of them away from supermarket chains and “Big Ag” to farmers and local businesses.  Shopping at the farmer’s market was never a big deal to me.  I mean, it’s something I feel passionate about and truly enjoy, but it’s never felt like a sacrifice.  Now we’re stepping it up a notch by choosing to buy local, raw milk directly from a farmer.  Somehow this decision seems almost as intense as marriage. I know, that’s a little dramatic.  But bear with me:  

  • It’s a sacrifice.  We’ll be spending considerably more money on milk, and therefore less money on other foods or other things.  

  • It’s kind of a life-or-death issue, or at least the FDA wants us all to believe that it is one.  They--and Big Ag (the two are well-connected)--put a lot of money into telling us that unpasteurized milk is unsafe.  On the flipside, natural food enthusiasts, who’ve been drinking this milk for years, say that it’s somewhat of a superfood, that it’s enzymes and micronutrients are left intact, while those in pasteurized milk are destroyed; that the probiotics (“good bacteria”) in raw milk are beneficial--no, “essential"--to digestive health and many other aspects of health, relieving symptoms of allergies, asthma and eczema among other things.  These enthusiasts deny the low-fat trend of the 90s and say that the nutrients in raw milk are in the fat, and so raw milk should be enjoyed whole, or even in some cases, fortified with extra cream.  They say that it’s not saturated fats that are making Americans overweight and sick, but vegetable oils.  This is such a shift in dietary advice that it seems life-changing to me.  Kinda like marriage. 
We are going to start with two gallons of raw milk a week.  Because of the special the farmer had though, I bought an extra share of milk and a share of cream.  I don’t have to buy either one on a weekly basis, but I've purchased the additional herdshares, so that option is available to me. Cream is $10 per pint and milk is $7 per gallon.  

  • I just wonder, once we try it, and we get accustomed our two gallons a week, are we going to experience and believe those things that the natural food "fanatics" believe and experience?  Will Gracie’s itchy skin and asthma be somewhat relieved?  And as we become more educated about the benefits of raw milk will we want to stop buying commercial cheese?  Will we see the connection between what we eat and our health more clearly, so that we buy less junk food?  Will we start buying only raw milk cheese?  Will we start making our own cheese and yogurt?  (I made my own yogurt during summer a year and a half ago, but as the weather got cooler the temperature was not ideal for yogurt culturing, so I got out of the habit.  We’ve been eating a lot of Mountain High Plain yogurt since then, which is not raw or organic, but it is from cows not treated with rBST and it contains no fillers or sweeteners...  See?!  Every food choice is analyzed in my mind.)  If we do start making our own cheese and yogurt, that’s more money spent on milk and cream and more time in the kitchen.  It’s kind of a lifestyle change.  I mean, I’ve always had some weird, hippie, “natural” leanings (some more obvious than others), but making your own cheese seems kind of like a lifestyle change,  doesn’t it?  Am I destined for a life without junk food, without any refined grains at all, without hair products, wearing clothing made only of organic, sustainable hemp fibers?  
See what I mean?