week 12: why your turkey choice matters

There are all kinds of new studies out showing that animals are far more emotive–beyond the fight-or-flight instincts that send my bunny hiding under furniture–than we ever imagined. While animal cruelty wasn’t the main reason I went vegetarian years ago, and while I think animal husbandry can be humane, this video is a reminder that our food system is, well, terrifying.

I don’t normally post things like this. They’re horrifying, and I can rarely sit through them. They often have a tinge of moral superiority that I don’t like. But in time for the holidays, and in a time when local agriculture is increasingly accessible, I felt the need to share this video, a look at the industrial system onwhich we have come to depend.

I do not blame the employees. I don’t think that they are patently horrible people. I think that if you are put in a situation where animals are treated like lifeless entities, you find ways to distance yourself, cope and justify that environment.

For this, and for so many other (environmental, health and ethical) reasons, I can’t bring myself to eat meat I can’t source. Was my turkey expensive? Yes. Is it something that everyone can manage? Admittedly not. But we have to find another way, and until those of us who can do better start doing better, it won’t improve for those most in need.

Allow me one more moment of persuasion: We’re used to buying fruit at the grocery that looks just like the fruit it’s sitting next to. We worry about what is breeding in the bruised bits, what’s missing when it’s not shiny, what causes it to be oddly shaped. We won’t eat it. We’re afraid the fruit has become tainted. So how, when looking at the abuse, the damage, the poor health in which these animals do we still see them as a viable, healthful form of protein?

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week 12: preparing for a local Thanksgiving

Next week, Joe & I are hosting our first holiday: Thanksgiving with my parents & sister. I was excited to invite them over & see what it looked like to put together a local holiday meal. I got overly excited & decorated for Christmas a bit this week… Now I’m planning the menu.

Joe & I frequently remind ourselves that each time we buy groceries, we’re buying our beliefs. So, when it came time to choose between a Butterball turkey & a local bird, we did it. All $25 of it. Ouch. Can we get a Butterball for 99 cents a pound at Target? Mhmm. But it comes at another, external cost.

Let’s start here: The Twinkie & The Carrot, with Michael Pollan.

You heard that right: fresh fruits & vegetables are specialty crops. And I’ll be honest: I firmly believe that my local, pastured turkey, and my sharing it–with you and my family–can change this. We can bring public health (and with it environmental heath) back into our diets. We can change the face of demand, which will have to change the face of supply.

But still, how did I, a broke graduate student, justify the expense? By breaking it down.

1. That’s five pounds of turkey. Which is five dollars a pound. A serving size is three ounces. So. 5 lb x 16 oz/pd ÷ 3 oz/serving = 26 servings. Which is less than a dollar a serving. It’ll be dinner, then late night snacks, then turkey salad & turkey sandwiches. Then bones will be boiled for stock. Then the turkey will continue on into more meals. We make use of every bit of it, including the bone (since we opted for the smallest “breast with bone in” option that was available).

2. We don’t buy meat. Okay, we had bison last week. But we buy meat once a month, maybe. So even if we bought this turkey once a month, that’s $300 of meat a year. We’re way under that, and the average American family spends more than double that–over $700*!

3. We’re saving in other places. We have green beans in the freezer, from when they were cheap at market & in season. We buy the large bags of standard organic potatoes instead of the fancy organic potatoes. That’s about $6 for a 5-pound bag. That’s $1.20 a pound. For potatoes–a nutritious, filling food. Ditto with sweet potatoes: organic sweet potatoes are maybe 20 cents a pound more expensive than conventional.

We buy bulk organic carrots instead of the nice bunches of yellow & purple carrots. Are they great, small, local farms? No. They’re big, organic farms in California. But we’re not using chemicals, and we’re not sacrificing on our beliefs. At this point, Cal-Organic is still a necessary part of this “movement.”

We’re sticking with the basics. In past Thanksgivings, with friends, I felt the need to go gourmet. Stuffings with dried berries & imported meats. Turkey stuffed with aged cheeses & wrapped in more imported meats. It. was. expensive. But the essentials of the holiday are not. Carrots. Celery. Onions. Stale bread. Heck, even organic pumpkins are only 40 cents a pound!

4. This is a harvest holiday–it’s a meal of the heartlands. It’s the one meal we still all eat seasonally. So, give yourself the freedom to do it up right. Eat the food your community is growing, & be thankful they put the time into growing it. After all, that’s what this is all about.

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week 11: the budget update

We also ordered our turkey breast this week, through our co-op who is getting turkeys from various local farms. I had a bit of sticker shock, then I remembered that (1) we’re living our ethics (2) we’re supporting local farmers and (3) so many ingredients for Thanksgiving will be super cheap. Stale bread, carrots, potatoes… I mean, this is a fall harvest dinner. Root vegetables tend to have really reasonable price tags.

This week, we also made a massive meal that fed us for four days: bounty rice. It’s from my Simply in Season cookbook–a small but mighty book! Bounty rice is simple. Cooked Arborio rice + sautéed chorizo, peppers, onion +  small head of cabbage = simmer for 15 minutes, then stir in sour cream. It’s creamy & a m a z i n g & spicy & comforting.

My family (parents & sister) are coming into town for the holiday, and we’ll be having a largely local Thanksgiving. It’s really exciting to be hosting Thanksgiving & spending time in the kitchen drinking wine & making food with my mom & sister. My mom has taught me so much about food, and I miss the week nights we’d spend watching Food Network while getting dinner ready. My sister has long shown the same passion for baking that I have, so I love getting us all back together for good meals. And I love being able to put our CSA produce to work for more people. Is it the holidays yet?

MENU

Breakfast: homemade toast & apple butter or homemade granola with milk

Meals:
Sat. lunch:
free soup at the Market’s soup tasting!
Sat. dinner: homemade bread & homemade cheese (our contributions to a potluck)
Sun. lunch: pasta with mushrooms, brie & arugula
Sun. dinner: roasted potatoes, turnips, beets, radishes & sweet potatoes with side salads
Mon. lunch: bounty rice
Mon. dinner: left overs
Tues. lunch: bounty rice
Tues. dinner: pizza, in celebration of the POTUS with the Most-us
Wed. lunch: bounty rice
Wed. dinner: eggs & leftovers
Thurs. lunch: bounty rice
Thurs. dinner:  Camembert-eggplant, kale chips & roasted vegetable leftovers
Friday lunch: stinging nettle pizza (but we subbed in other greens) &
Friday dinner: quinoa-kale patties & radish-apple salad

Snacks:
homemade granola bars, chips & homemade salsa, homemade bread with “Nutella”

SHOPPING

CSA (average $30/week)
sweet peppers
a massive bag of apples
radishes
butternut squash
2 large eggplants
3 large tomatoes (!!!)
mustard greens
Russian red kale
loads of turnips

Organic Groceries ($40)
tortilla chips
a pound of local chorizo
large onion
2 large bulbs of garlic
eggs
hot chocolate mix
flax seed
tomato juice
Camembert
almond milk
coffee
sour cream
pasta

Impulse Purchases ($25)
beeeeeeer & that pizza

From Garden
spinach
radishes
rosemary

WASTE

  • used cheese cloth
  • tortilla chip, coffee, flax seed & bulk good bags
  • 3 cups of red beans that spoiled in the fridge, into the trash
  • a container of old coleslaw, also into the trash (due to the mayo)
  • lots of compost
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week 11: filling the freezer

I admit it: I am still too scared to can things. Having glass in boiling water does not sound like a good idea for someone who, for the first time ever, just cooked pasta & rice really successfully. This week. I always over- or under-cook boiled things. Because I think boiling is weird.

But what I’ve learned is there are loads of ways to fill your freezer, to feed you through the winter. Our pantry still has random odds & ends, but I’m not worrying about restocking the shelves with cans of, well, anything.

The key to the freezer is blanching. It helps your summer produce keep its color & nutrients while also keeping it safe in the freezer. Your produce will be ready to sauté or throw into soup whenever you are. To blanch, just

  1. Clean & chop (if necessary–squash, sure; beans, no need) the vegetables.
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Drop in the vegetables; let them boil for 2-3 minutes (or 5-7 if it’s something sturdy, like asparagus). I do this in small batches, using the same water for a lot of veggies.
  3. Scoop out with a slotted spoon & drop into a second bowl of cold water. (I use lots of ice.) Let them sit a minute or two until cool, them put into gallon-sized bags.
  4. Fill until 3/4 full. Let rest on the counter until they’re room temperature. Seal, getting out as much air as possible, and pop them into the freezer.

I have also stocked up on loads of freezer-safe glass storage containers. There are loads of reasons I prefer glass. Glass is endlessly recyclable, while plastic degrades. It doesn’t trap smells. It doesn’t stain. It doesn’t melt or release harmful chemicals in the microwave. Plus, it just looks nice, right?

Now, don’t throw out that water! You washed the vegetables, so there’s nothing gross floating around in there. What you’ve done is start a vegetable stock. Just follow a basic vegetable stock recipe, using this water instead. There are loads of nutrients floating in there–don’t just throw it down the drain.

So, we’ve blanched a lot of beans, zucchini, summer squash. I also was way more conscious this year of buying extra fruit at the farmers’ market to freeze. I just slice it and arrange it on a cookie sheet, then let it freeze solid. Then I put it in a gallon-sized bag for storage. This keeps things from getting all stuck together. (I do the same thing with berries.)

After all of that, there was still lots of room in there. I’ve frozen the herbs we grew this summer in ice cube trays, so that they can be dropped into broths or teas for flavoring. And I’ve started taking half of the soup we make, putting it in a quart jar & adding that to the freezer. It’s great for slow nights, but it also means we’re not getting tired of a soup. We only have to eat half at a time, then if we need more we can grab any of the flavors from the freezer.

Sure, we’ve tried lots of “refrigerator freezing” or “freezer canning,” but I’m by no means an expert on this yet. I say, Google it & find whatever looks good. Every recipe I’ve tried so far has been worth the time & the adventure. Plus, no boiling required! Have fun with it–because you can pick just about anything. And if you can’t, you can probably turn it into jam.

These tactics have saved loads of food from the garbage. It’s awesome–and it means that as long as I remember in the morning, I can grab something to thaw for dinner that night. Lots of effort up front, zero when I get home from work tired & hungry.

What food preservation tips have kept you going? Any favorite recipes to share?

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week 10: the budget update

We’ve been scrambling this week & still have a lot of things to use up–beet greens, sweet potatoes & potatoes (which at least store well), beets… It’s going to be a busy couple of days, but I’m resisting the urge to boil everything, throw it into the food processor and call it soup. I admit it: I am over soup for a bit.

I’ve also noticed that the switch to this cold weather has me wanting to eat carbohydrates (mostly in the form of breads) exclusively. I’ve indulged that craving for the past two days. Okay, all week, which is why pizza was on the menu about four times. Hey, at least this week, it was all homemade. We don’t have a lot of patience sometimes, so what I’ve found is that a no-yeast pizza crust really saves us. We mix: 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1/3 cup milk (any type you have on hand) + 1/8 cup oil (again, whatever flavor you feel like–anything from canola to olive or sesame).

It comes together easily, presses out evenly, creates the perfect size pizza for two people & has a crispy, flaky flavor that’s pretty distinct. Sometimes, I find crispy crusts too cracker-like, but this takes on the texture of a pie crust. Plus, getting a pizza in the oven in less than five minutes makes it taste that much better. Then just grab a beer, turn on the game & wait ten minutes!

This week, I also forced myself to really think about our waste. We filled up the compost bucket three times, & we haven’t thrown any leftovers into the trash this week. But wow. When I really think about each meal, it’s still more trash than you realize.

MENU

Breakfast: massive apples or toast with fair trade “nutella” or homemade granola with milk

Meals:
Sat. lunch:
leftovers from last week
Sat. dinner: homemade cheese pizza
Sun. lunch: eggs & toast
Sun. dinner: sandwiches at Upland
Mon. lunch: potato soup & corn bread
Mon. dinner: roasted garlic cauliflower & salad
Tues. lunch: eggs & toast & random snack things
Tues. dinner: quinoa-stuffed acorn squash
Wed. lunch: potato soup
Wed. dinner: Swiss chard tart
Thurs. lunch: potato soup
Thurs. dinner: more pizza
Friday lunch: I honestly have no idea…
Friday dinner: quinoa & kale patties & roasted vegetables

Snacks:
homemade granola bars, apple crisp from a friend

SHOPPING

CSA (average $45/week for the two CSAs)
salad mix
sweet peppers
cabbage
beets
parsley
cilantro
radishes (from both)
Holy Basil tincture
daikon radish
Black Spanish radish
apples
carnival squash
kale
collard greens
honey
Swiss chard mix
2 lb. potatoes

Organic Groceries ($40)
Parmesan cheese
eggs
large can of tomatoes
tortilla chips
almond milk
granola
apples
5 lb. flour
honey wheat bread
pomegranate
butter

Impulse Purchases ($x)
text

From Garden
spinach
radishes
rosemary
tiny baby carrots (from thinning out the rows)
jalapeño peppers

WASTE

  • used cheese cloth
  • plastic gallon of milk
  • plastic bags from tortilla chips
  • plastic container of Parmesan cheese, recycled
  • a Starbucks cup/lid/sleeve, recycled (from a Zen tea with loads of honey :))
  • other random odds & ends from the cupboard that were used up, then had their packaging thrown in the trash
  • plastic bags from bulk goods
  • plastic wrappers from candy & snack-sized chips at work (a bad habit I’m forming)
  • several aluminum cans
  • paper bag from the pound of coffee
  • bottles & cardboard from six-packs
  • recycled leftovers box from Upland
  • lots of compost
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wednesday fail

Yeah, I said it. I failed. It’s Halloween. I’m sick. I’m not drafting a post. I’m drinking orange juice until I throw up & watching Rosemary’s Baby under as many blankets as I can find. The day was something like this.

I am sick. I hate everyone.

But my prof’s favorite holiday is Halloween. DONUTS & CANDY.

And all I have to do at work is some craft projects & research? And the C-boost juice is on sale? And Rosemary’s Baby is streaming online? And my pajama pants are clean?

Livin’ it up.

Happy Halloween.

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reading response: passive aggressive

Back in 2010, when Joe & I were brand-newlyweds, he stumbled upon this NY Times article about a crazy German home style that required no heating. In fact, the home could be heated just by warming your tea water in a kettle on the stove. Here’s a video from the article about the process, and the state of the Passivhaus here in the U.S:

I love what’s said at 1:30:

They said, “What’s the point? Why would you do something different? Because everybody else has six-inch studs. Seems to be fine for everyone else… I said, “It just doesn’t compare.”

Do the homes cost more? Yes. Up to 15-20% over the average home.

Do you make that money back? In spades. The video says that at current energy prices, the Landau family will recoup the additional expenses in 10 years.

The Passivhaus (whose principles are explained in a brief but not thrilling video here) is still an unknown concept in many parts of the States, but why? Because it’s different? Because contractors don’t have an incentive (either governmental or demand-driven) to provide the resources? Because, as Mr. Landau believes, we’re not forward thinking enough? I wanted to get a better handle on the system, one that Joe & I hope to employ if we ever find ourselves building a home. To do that, I thought I’d look at the most common complaints I could find about passive houses.

Complaint 1: There’s no air flow. It’ll get stuffy.

Not true. Here’s a quick overview of the ventilation system. (No worries, this video has subtitles, in case you can’t speak British Accent.)

Complaint 2: It’s a fad–nonessential bells & whistles that won’t last.

Super Not True. As this great video explains, the Passivhaus is rather anti bells & whistles. I love this video. It shows the system they use to test air tightness. It discusses the traditional construction means used, showing that its practices are already a part of our construction & carpentry traditions. It has a positive ending: Can’t build a passive house? Okay! You can apply some of the principles to your next project.

Complaint 3 (and the complaint I initially had): There’s only one design!

As the NY Times video & the previous video from the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) illustrate, there is flexibility in the type of passive home you can build. My favorite so far is the one on PHUIS’s “What’s a Passive House?” page. Just a quick Google image search shows seemingly endless elegant, modern designs build to Passivhaus standards.

PHUIS’s site states that “[o]ver the last 10 years more than 15,000 buildings in Europe–from single and multifamily residences, to schools, factories and office buildings–have been designed and built or remodeled to the passive house standard.” Is America ready to be the next Passivhaus frontier? Is the recouping of additional building expenses tempting enough in the American market? Here’s an article from back in 2009 addressing what’s stopping it’s growth so far, but I think we’re gaining ground on several of these.

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