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?

November 4, 2011

Pumpkin Ice Cream

 Adapted using Ben & Jerry's Sweet Cream Base.  Makes 1 quart.

Two farm fresh eggs, whisked like crazy.  Three-quarters of a cup sugar added slooooowly while whisking.  Rest that arm, then whisk in 3/4 cup milk (I used 1%, because that's what I had), followed by 1 1/2 cups cream, 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, a dash of cinnamon and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.* Oh, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Whisk well.  Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

The pumpkin-spice flavor in this is fairly light, a good backdrop for some broken molasses-ginger cookies, some buttered, toasted pecan halves and some minced crystalized ginger.

*Is it just me or does nutmeg accentuate the eggy flavor of custard-based desserts?  Think Grandma's Custard Pie...  If you're turned off by eggy custards, you might substitute ground ginger or a little extra cinnamon for the nutmeg.

November 3, 2011

November Garden Inventory

In Bed #1, the bed that we had planted about a month before that crazy hailstorm, we replanted some leftover seeds.  Our dill plant and one start (I think it's either cauliflower or kale) were the lone survivors of the hailstorm.  Grace did the re-planting, so I'm not completely sure what was planted, but here is my guess: carrots, lettuce, parsley, cilantro and radishes. 

In Bed #2, we harvested "the last" of the potatoes.  I put "the last" in quotation marks, because I thought we'd harvested them all a couple months ago when we cleaned up the bed, but apparently we hadn't.  Potatoes might be a difficult crop to get rid of.  Not that I want to...  We moved the chives to the end of the bed near the row of garlic chives, and we planted the rest of the bed with onion starts that we purchased at the farmers market: 50 red onions and 50 Walla Wallas.

From Bed #3 we harvested our lone pumpkin; it appears to be a Blue Hokkaido Pumpkin. We left the thyme in the bed and planted the rest with about 80 cloves of garlic.


Besides a few herbs, there's nothing at the edible stage in our garden right now.  I'm thankful for the herbs we do have, though.  Chives and garlic chives add freshness and color to dishes and Jason used some thyme and sage last night to season a roasted chicken.

When I plant herbs in the spring, I always have visions of harvesting them, drying them, and storing them in cute little spice jars to be used to flavor foods or make herbal teas.  Unfortunately, life gets ahead of me, and I rarely take time to actually dry them.  But wouldn't that be a fun and frugal holiday gift?  Little jars of home-grown dried herbs?

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks so.

In any case, (hint hint) I can't seem to get a good crop of rosemary or mint.  Or lavender...  Wouldn't any of those be great packaged in a little glass jar with a pretty ribbon and many a corresponding recipe?  Christmas is coming!

November 2, 2011

Seafood Stew with Kale (or Okra)

Oh, how I wish this had a different name!  But I don't have time to look up the definition of "bisque" or "chowder," both of which would sound more appetizing than "stew," right?

Oh, well, this is one recipe that you really should make.  Of course, it's not for "if it's comes from the sea, it's not for me" types (you know who you are), but if you like seafood, you'll like this.  With a mildly spicy tomato broth, it's perfect for a cool fall evening or a wintery night.

Seafood Stew with Kale (or Okra)

This is heavily adapted from a cancer-fighting cookbook I picked up in a library in Kansas City a few years ago.  I don't remember the name of the book, but it's a recipe I've made quite a few times since then, so it may not be very true to the original.  Anyhow, if there's a secret to the flavorful broth, it is in cooking the onions with the balsamic vinegar.   

Choose two or three types of seafood for this stew, and please include medium-sized, raw, peeled and deveined shrimp.  Other seafood that works well here: halibut, red snapper or other white fish, calamari rings and small scallops).  Add that which will cook slower first (thicker fillets require about eight minutes).  That which will cook quickly, add right at the end (2-3 minutes for shrimp or calamari rings).  Don't worry about cutting fish into bite-size pieces, it will flake apart nicely when it is cooked through.   

Don't allow a lack of fish stock to keep you from making this recipe.  I usually use water.  If you'd like to make shrimp stock with your shrimp shells, you certainly can.  Simply simmer the shells with some garlic in salted water for twenty minutes, then strain.

This broth can be made ahead and frozen.  After completing Step 2, let broth cool, then freeze.  To serve, simply bring broth to a simmer and continue with Step 3. 

Lastly, and this is important: Serve with crusty bread and good butter or, if not that, oyster crackers. Serves six.

Olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion, sliced into thin wedges
3 cloves garlic*
red pepper flakes*
1 teaspoon dried oregano* 
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 (28 oz) can good quality crushed tomatoes or a similar amount of homemade tomato sauce

3 cups fish stock, shrimp stock or clam juice (optional, see Notes above)
1 large bunch of kale, ribs removed, leaves cut into 1" by 2" pieces
       or 1 pound of okra, sliced on the diagonal into large bite-size pieces
2 pounds of mixed seafood (see Notes above)

1.  In a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat, saute onion in olive oil.  Season with kosher salt and black pepper.  When onion has softened, add garlic and a generous dash of red pepper flakes.  Saute a minute more.  Pour in balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid has all but evaporated. 

2.  Add crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce and water or stock.  Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.

3. Stir in  kale or okra.  Season with salt.  Simmer, covered, another 5-10 minutes until vegetables are almost cooked through.  

4.  Add seafood, keeping in mind that thicker fillets will require a longer cooking time than smaller items. If needed, add more water to cover seafood.  Cover the stew while it simmers.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.  Ladle into big soup bowls as soon as the fish is cooked through.  Serve with crusty bread and softened butter.  

*omit garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano if using a tomato sauce that contains these or similar seasonings.