Monday, May 31, 2010

Storing Foods for Emergencies

Part of my pantry in progress, Fall 2008

For many years I have kept a goodly amount of foods in my pantry in case of an emergency. (I have been through too many hurricanes and ice storms not to!) However, with my change in diet, the bulk of what I have on hand isn't what I now eat... although in a crisis, it's better than nothing. I have enough cereal grains, pasta and legumes to feed a family of four for 3+ months but I don't eat those anymore.


I do have many jars of home-canned meats and soup stocks, and now a small freezer full of meats. If there's no power for a few days the freezer contents will spoil unless it's below freezing outside and I can secure those foods in a shed, so that's iffy storage. I also have plenty of home-canned vegetables, but the starchy ones like corn are not on my "good for me" list.


I've been looking into what I can store in my pantry at cool room temperatures which will meet my current nutritional needs. One thing for sure, is to can more meat, fish and fowl. I can also make pemmican; it isn't difficult at all, and lasts up to 20 years on the shelf. I can convert some butter into ghee, another easy-to-do task. Properly stored ghee is good up to 10 years. I need to increase my store of saturated fats... coconut oil, lard and tallow. And more olive oil in light-proof tins.


One biggie I want to try is storing eggs. A common method was storing eggs in water-glass. Other methods were eggs stored in a combination of salt and bran, eggs dipped in tallow or wax and covered with flour or bran, and eggs stored in lard.


Eggs will keep in water-glass for about 6-9 months. Even when I have my own chickens for eggs, there will be a period of non-production every year when they moult, so I'd be without eggs even if there is no crisis. I have read many procedures for storing eggs, and water-glass looks like something for me to try. Eggs have been as successfully stored in lard but that takes a LOT of lard. I may try it anyway with maybe a dozen or so eggs just to see. Actually, it may be just as cheap to use lard; water-glass (silicate of soda) costs around $40 a gallon I think, and you dilute it with water 10:1.


None of those measures will work if the eggs are not fresh, and if they have been washed. Eggs fresh from the chicken are coated in a substance that seals the egg air-tight, which is why farmers can store a few eggs (to be used in a week or so) in a basket on a kitchen counter.


I know you can scramble eggs, dehydrate them, then grind them into a powder. I think that would be good to have on hand as a nutritional supplement to add protein to other foods in a crisis, but doesn't appeal to me for breakfast!


Confit
preparation is something else I want to try. We all are familiar with fruit confit (stored in sugar), better known as candied fruit. Meat confit (stored in fat) originated as a means of preserving meats without refrigeration. Traditional meat for a confit included waterfowl such as goose and duck, plus turkey and pork, but other meats are also used.


Curing meats, and smoking meat, fish and cheese is something else I want to learn. Plus, I intend to try a greater variety iof naturally fermented foods this fall.


As I play around with each of these methods of storing foods, I will post them, with photos.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Smiles for a Sunday

8 month old Jonathan hears his mother's voice for the first time, thanks to a cochlear implant.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day


"After the Battle, we lay down our weapons and weep at what has happened."
~Lao Tzu, 6th century B.C. philosopher


Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War), it was expanded after World War One.

The first Memorial Day was observed by formerly enslaved black people at the Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park ) in Charleston, South Carolina. The race course had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp in 1865 as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there.

Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, formerly enslaved people exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and re-interred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard. The work was completed in only ten days.


On May 1, 1865, the Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of up to ten thousand, mainly black residents, including 2800 children, processed to the location for a celebration which included sermons, singing, and a picnic on the grounds, thereby creating the first Decoration Day.


Please make time between the parties this holiday to remember those men and women who were fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters who laid down their lives for this nation. Enjoy the freedom they gave us to have holidays, and enjoy your picnic or BBQ.

I'm taking the weekend off.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Goat Farm

Goats lined up ready for milking

I had the opportunity to ride with a friend up to an Amish community and visit a goat farm last week. What treat!

The farmer raises Saanen and Alpine goats to have fresh milk for a small raw goat cheese-making operation.
The goats seen above are thin due to being suckled by kids, and had just that day been put back into milk production for cheese.

By law, raw milk cheeses that have been aged at least 60 days may be sold by an inspected facility which has their milk tested to be certain it remains safe.


The man was extremely gracious in showing us his small milking operation, the cheese house and the cheese-ripening 'cave' which was a refrigerated room in the block hillside basement of the cheese house. We got to sample a few of the Colby cheeses he makes, and bought a few to take home. Yum!

Just being in the milking parlor while they (his son and daughter helped) hand-milked 2 batches of 20 goats each, and seeing how easily they handled themselves into and then out of the stanchions, took away a lot of the trepidation I have had about getting my own milk goat. If his 40 goats can be so easy in that routine, so can my (eventual) one or maybe two. Of course, mine will be treated more like a pet that just happens to give me milk much of the year!

Some of the kids just weaned that morning...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Modern Hunter-Gatherer, Part 3: Fruits and Vegetables

My Pocket Refractometer


Part 1; Part 2


This is probably an unnecessary post, given that most folks know you can buy better quality fruits and vegetables at local Farmer’s Markets. Of course, better than buying from farmer's markets is home-grown, even if you only have room for a single pot of tomatoes on your balcony.

While I eat (and grow) organically raised fruits and vegetables, I am not a stickler it be “certified organic”. Organic standards legally govern what farmers may NOT put on their crops/fields or feed to animals (pesticides, herbicides), but they do not govern what IS used to increase the nutrient values. (I have eaten a lot of 'certified organic' foods over the years that were nutritionally poor, before I knew how to tell the difference.) The government regulations for becoming organically certified are long and costly, so many small farmers have switched to saying, “No Chemicals”.

Far more important to me is the nutrient-density of fruits and vegetables, which can be easily detected by taste and measured with a pocket refractometer by placing one drop of the juice on the lens and looking at the scale through the viewfinder. There are free downloadable charts on the internet which list the Brix (nutrient-density) for common fruits and vegetables. The charts will show the Brix numbers by kind in columns for Poor, Average (the best you might be lucky to find in a supermarket), Good, and Excellent. (There is an excellent video explaining how to measure Brix here.)

Three years ago I grew my first tomatoes at this new place, doing everything to insure a healthy organic crop. Well, it was healthy, but to my dismay the Brix barely measured between Poor and Average. Why? Poor existing soil nutrition. On the other hand, my green beans 50 feet away tested Excellent... and so was their taste!

Plants, just like people, need well-balanced nutrition for the best health and productivity. In plants, that is not as simple as just adding NPK willy-nilly. Soils need testing, and the correct nutrients applied accordingly. Additionally, even soils with a great balance of amendments will not produce high Brix fruits and vegetables without sufficient microbial activity in the soil.

Every time you use Round-up, Preen, or any other chemical on or near your garden, you are killing microbes in the soil. Watering and rain readily spread the chemicals, even if you are careful to keep them distant from your food gardens.

If the food you eat is low in Brix, your body will not get all the nutrients those foods should supply. The USDA has data going back to the 1960’s showing significant decrease in nutritional values of common foods over the intervening years, because plants take nutrients (esp. micronutrients) out of the soil and NPK does not put them back. Tomatoes have lost something like 50% of their nutritional value in 50 years.

Today's commercial tomatoes are grown for uniformity in looks, and their ability to be shipped across the country or imported without noticeable damage. Taste is unimportant, and out of over a thousand or more tomato varieties, fewer than half a dozen are grown commercially.

Just because a fruit or vegetable is fresh, locally-grown and chemical-free does not mean it is nutritious. Your taste buds will tell you, and so will a refractometer. I will say that you can bet the local food is safe, though. I cannot remember ever reading about someone getting ill from produce from a well-managed farmer’s market. My local market absolutely forbids anything not grown by the vendor.

Roadside stands could be a different matter, so ask for their sources for the stand owner may not be the grower. There is a produce stand on the old highway near my house, and more than half of what he sells, he did not grow; most is bought by the case just like the grocery stores do, and it could even come from the other coast or be imported.

I’d much rather taste fresh foods before I buy them, and most vendors at the farmer’s markets will let you, especially if it’s something like a green bean or lettuce leaf. In fact, they may be very interested in what a refractometer shows! If it’s tomatoes or melons, they may want you to buy one to test, unless they offer a plate of samples. Still, it’s better to buy just one tomato that may test poor, than a whole sack full before you find out back at home!

Rex Harrill, one of the Brix guru's, said the food quality in grocery stores won't change until a million housewives descend on produce sections armed with refractometers, testing and demanding the 'junk' be returned.

Here are some links to more in-depth articles on obtaining higher nutritional values of fruits and vegetables:
What makes good Brix? Good soil!
The Importance of Microbes in Soil
Understanding Soil Testing
Rock Dust…
(mineral amendments)

There are also some articles I wrote on individual plant nutrients and their interactions
here. (Scroll down on that page to see the list of articles.)

The bottom line is that I can easily hunt and gather nutritious fruits and vegetables locally if I avoid the grocery stores, taste or measure fruit and vegetables for nutrient density, and grow what I can. There are several fruits and veggies which can be stored in my root cellar over the winter, assuring some fresh items all year. Plus, I have plans to build a cold-frame and have fresh salad greens in winter, a la
Eliot Coleman.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Federal Farm Aid Freebies

Photo courtesy of Aunt Owwee's photostream

Two or three years ago, I looked up the farm subsidies for my county, which is an economically poor county having high rates of unemployment and a low standard of living. There were several listed subsidies of over a quarter of a million dollars, and lots more of lesser amounts. Since I'm a newcomer and have no history here, I asked my retired farmer-neighbor about the recipients. He said those folks used to have local dairies and are now paid not to have them.


Frankly, reading the Farm Bill is a nightmare in confusion. However there is a database recently released by the United States Department of Agriculture, and it includes about 358,000 beneficiaries who received $9.8 billion in crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005.

The database reveals
almost three quarters of farm subsidies go to the richest 10% of American farmers, and that the cost to the average American family was over $400 a year! (note: 10% of the richest 'farmers' includes those that are BigAg.) Click here to view the list.

Here are the stats for my state (Virginia) from the above list:

$1.12 billion in subsidies 1995-2006.
• Virginia ranking: 31 of 50

• 81 percent of all farmers and ranchers do not collect government subsidy payments in Virginia, according to USDA.

• Among subsidy recipients, ten percent collected 84 percent of all subsidies amounting to $937 million over 12 years.

• Recipients in the top 10% averaged $13,559 in annual payments between 1995 and 2006. The bottom 80 percent of the recipients saw only $153 on average per year.


Here are some notes I copied about Farm Aid from another blog.
(note: I did not copy all the post, click here for details)

"The proceeds of foreign aid programs are used by increasingly-despotic governments to repress their own citizens and buy more weapons from US manufacturers. The resentment that foreigners feel towards the US government for destroying their local economies – not to mention their personal liberties – emerges as anti-American rhetoric; the US government then inflates fears of terrorism, and further attacks its citizens to pay for additional "defense."

Since they cannot profitably grow and sell "legitimate" crops, farmers in the Third World turn to the production of marijuana, heroin and other illegal drugs. This drives the price of drugs down in the United States, causing increased consumption, which then further allows the government to attack its citizens on the grounds of the endless "war on (some) drugs" – as well as attack foreigners – by napalming poppy fields, overturning governments, or straight-on invasions.


Conclusion


The take-home message here is just as it always is when one examines the results of government intervention in the free market: money for those who don’t need it, violence for those who don’t deserve it, and more power for those who shouldn’t have it, all financed with tax dollars. Ironically, whenever this type of gubmint waste is identified, the response is almost always a hue and cry for more gubmint waste, via oversight, regulation, enforcement, etc.

If a program with specious pedigree – like farm subsidies – can be depended upon to result in people like Texas oil billionaire Lee Bass and former NBA star Scottie Pippen getting a subsidy, the problem isn’t lack of oversight. The problem is that the program exists at all.

Paying a farmer to not grow/grow a crop – outside the "pull" of the market – was stupid the first time some lobbyist thought of it."

From what I remember from my school days, it was during the Great Depression that US farm subsidies began, and part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, but I don't remember any details. At any rate, I'd bet what the federal subsidies are today is far from the original intent.

I did find this:
Nearly 1/3 ($51.3 billion) of total farm payments from 1995-2005 went to corn, the most prolific US crop. (That seems an unlikely candidate needing public support.) Corn causes significant environmental damage in the growing phase, and more than half the US corn production is used as feed for CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), an industry whose environmental and social depredations are breathtaking.

Added after I wrote the above: Jim Hightower (author), in Thieves in High Places, provides the classic example in billionaire stockbroker Charles R Schwab, the proud owner of Casa de Patos: "1,500 acres of picturesque wetlands in Northern California." Schwab grows rice on the land, not for harvesting purposes but because the rice attracts ducks. Schwab is one of those rich folks who likes to invite friends and clients to go duck hunting.

So Schwab has no intent to harvest the rice, but that doesn't prevent this man with an estimated $4.7 billion net worth from collecting $500,000/year in federal farm subsidies because he does not market the rice. (Data from here: http://www.bradblog.com/?p=7742).

It's now the time of the year when the next year's Farm Bill is being drafted. We'll need to print more fiat money.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chickens and Guineas

Photo courtesy of Just chaos' photostream

I have been planning on raising chickens to supply eggs and meat for several years now, held back only by lack of funds (and a reluctance to visualize hauling fresh water three times a day in the dead of winter).

The only space I have to let them free-range is in the yard where the flower beds and vegetable gardens are. The photo at the top here
shows the exposure of a carrot root by a scratching chicken, and that idea poses a problem for me. I cannot afford to fence off all the garden areas, but I also do not want chickens always enclosed in a pen. To me, that defeats the purpose of having chickens!

I've come across several backyard poultry sites where they tout guineas, either mixed in with chickens, or just the flock of guineas.


Advantages

Guineas are great for keeping down ticks, Japanese beetles and other bugs and at the same time, do not scratch up the dirt like chickens do... thus little to no damage to flower and vegetable gardens.

They make great 'watchdogs'!!

The birds are edible and a great alternative to chickens. The flesh is said to taste slightly gamey but less assertive than pheasant or grouse. The eggs are small but edible, and it takes 2 guinea eggs to equal 1 chicken egg. The positive side of the smaller egg size is there is more yolk per egg, and the egg yolk of any fowl contains the best nutritional values.

Disadvantages

Guineas prefer to roost in trees, making them targets for predators. They also prefer to lay their eggs in hidden areas. However, I understand those traits can be changed by several methods. One helpful tip is handling the keets (babies) many times a day, and training them to come to you with millet treats. That makes them easy to train to a coop and cage at nightfall.


A tall cage around the coop fitted with tree branches inside gives them high roosting places. As for their penchant for laying eggs in hidden places... folks who have guineas AND chickens find the guineas will often lay their eggs in the hen boxes.


Guineas can be noisy, the hens more so than the males because the hens sing. An option is to have all males; unlike roosters, guinea cocks do not fight each other for dominance.


So my current thinking is to start with a half dozen or so males (if I can get just males), until I can afford to make my garden areas chicken-proof. That will get me back in the groove of the responsibilities of keeping domestic birds again, and help rid my yard of bugs, especially Japanese beetles. Guinea eggs are not essential for me; not many people eat guinea eggs anyway as they are more valuable as fertile eggs to hatch. If I have only males in the beginning, I will have time to decide if I want guinea hens, or chicken hens... or both.

If that doesn't work out for me, I can always butcher and eat them!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The White House Kitchen Sticky Wicket

Photo courtesy of foxypar4's photostream

We all know First Lady Michelle Obama is on a
"laudable food crusade in America -- promoting the healthful benefits of fresh, local and sustainably grown nutrition, including produce raised in the world's most famous vegetable garden: that photogenic patch of organic land on the White House South Lawn." (source)

The foods chosen by the White House occupants have been in the news again a couple of times recently. The NY Times carried a story about the pastry chef and Mrs. Obama's stipulations about sweets.

The White House Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses, said Mrs. Obama "stipulated that dessert would be a rarity, not routine, at family meals, and that portions should be scaled down." He is also in pursuit of the perfect pie crust which includes lard and not (partially hydrogenated) vegetable shortening!

However, when a writer for the Huffington Post recently contacted the White House with questions about whether their sources of eggs, dairy products, beef, pork, poultry and other meats were local, sustainable and organic, or if some/all of it was from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO's), Mrs. Obama's press secretary declined to "answer at this time".

I'm sure that would be a political sticky wicket to answer, considering the deep pockets of BigAg. Mrs. Obama is on record suggesting the elimination of processed foods and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our diets. During the 2008 campaign trail, she told The New Yorker in a candid moment that her family had shifted to organic, free of pesticides, petrochemicals, antibiotics and hormones. Yet the track record of our government food regulatory agencies remains poor.

The New York Times reported that Laura Bush "insisted fresh, organic foods be served in the White House, but did not broadcast that information to the public".

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Whup, Had a Milestone and Missed it!

Photo courtesy of Eggybird's photostream

Actual milestones, those which once marked real miles, are a thing long in the past. Yet, we still use the term today to mark auspicious events, whereas in reality, we put up few actual markers for them except perhaps birthday candles, wedding rings and tombstones...

My latest milestone was last week, the one year anniversary of realizing I could spit in my creek and it would become the Mighty Mississippi... thus the
first post of this blog, May 15, 2009. I missed the milestone because it wasn't marked, even on my calendar!

It has been an interesting year, and journey, doing this blog. Judging by what I post, most of my journey may not be so obvious. It has been (and continues to be) a journey towards discovery of self; a letting go of some old baggage, and a realization there is baggage I have no desire as yet to relinquish, though I know I should. (The
should's get us every time, don't they?)

There have been almost 10,000 views (from all over the world) of this blog in the first year, the majority being merely a scant few seconds, perhaps landing here by an accident of a Google search term. There are a few brave readers who have found me quite by chance, and come back often to visit; they share the daily stats with old friends who drop by in support whether they agree with my views or not.


To all who happen by here for whatever reason: I Thank You, One and All.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Not Yo Mama's Meatloaf


My manual-defrost freezer generally only gets defrosted about once a year and there are always surprise things I had forgotten I had. A box of venison was discovered in this go-round, buried amidst the clutter. One of the items in the box was a pound of venison I had ground before freezing. (The other ground venison was apparently used in the venison sausage I made.)

I searched the ‘net for ground venison recipes and didn’t find any that quite suited me, so this is an original cobbled-together recipe, more-or-less. After all, how original can a meatloaf recipe be? No catsup on top of this one… and it is small because there's just me to feed.

I got to use my Christmas gift hand spice grinder for the first time. I wasn’t impressed with how it ground whole round spices like juniper berries and whole allspice because it couldn’t seem to get a grip on them, but I think it would be just fine for cracked or irregular-shaped spices.

I used a dollop of rum my sister had, which I mixed with a little blackberry jelly, although I would have preferred a sherry or ruby port. In place of the saltines my mother always added, I used organic coconut flour.

Ground Venison Meatloaf as made
2 tablespoons coconut oil (organic if possible)

1 large onion minced (in my mini-chopper
)
1 pound ground venison

½ pound pastured ground pork

½ cup organic coconut or almond flour

½ tsp salt (I always add mine when serving, not mixed in)

¾ tsp rubbed sage

¼ tsp freshly ground allspice

¼ tsp freshly ground juniper berries

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

2 Tbs blackberry Jelly mixed with 2 tablespoons rum

1 large egg

Sliced uncured, smoked bacon strips for topping


Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Sauté the minced onion in the coconut oil over medium-low heat until translucent and just starting to lightly brown. While it is cooling, mix the other ingredients in a large bowl, add the onions, and mix in the egg last. If it seems too moist, add a bit more flour. If too dry, add a bit of cream or milk.


Bake at 325ºF for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on pan shape and thickness of loaf), until it is thoroughly cooked.

Results
You win some, you lose some, LOL. No point in posting only successful recipes, lest someone think I am an excellent cook!

The taste is too fruity, so half the blackberry jelly would have been just right, and the rum added no flavor. The coconut flour didn’t hold it together (I didn’t really think it would, but I was looking for a replacement for crushed saltines), so a second egg? In fact, I’d omit the coconut flour all together and rely on eggs to bind it together, if they would? (I really have no idea because I've never deviated far from my mother's recipe.) The coconut flour added a very fine-grit texture on my tongue which I didn’t much care for…

Later: After eating a couple more slices, I think what it also needs is a sauce that’s tart/spicy/tangy to offset the sweetness of the fruit flavor, making it more of a sweet and sour meatloaf. Maybe a piquant ginger sauce?

Other than that, the taste is quite interesting, but definitely NOT my mother’s meatloaf!

ps: my fur babies loved their little ‘taste’…

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The World is Fat


At the 2 day workshop on
Food and Farm Policy and Obesity at UCDavis in California starting tomorrow, Dr. Barry Popkin is presenting a public lecture titled The World is Fat: Global Dynamics, Causes, Policy Options.

Text from the announcement:
Fifty years ago, there were 100 million overweight people in the world and several billion people who suffered from malnutrition. Today, over 1.6 billion people are overweight and 670-800 million suffer from malnutrition. Popkin argues that the explosion of obesity across the world cannot simply be blamed on too many cheeseburgers. And it cannot be solved by 1.6 billion treadmills.

Popkin shows that widespread obesity is less an effect of poor individual choices than the consequence of a high-tech, interconnected world in which governments and multinational corporations have extraordinary power to shape our lives. (Sound familiar?)


Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., is the Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition, at UNC-CH where he directs the UNC-CH’s Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity. He has published 310 refereed journal articles and is the author of a new book entitled the WORLD IS FAT (2009, Penguin Publishers).


The purpose of the
workshop is to report findings regarding the effects of agricultural and food policies on obesity. In this context agricultural and food policies are taken to include farm commodity program policies and related policies, agricultural research policies, and food and nutrition programs as covered by the U.S. Farm Bill and related legislation in the United States.

___________________________________

I think the workshop is a great idea. Do I believe policy-makers will make any changes as a consequence? Nah. Any changes have to come from within us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

About A2 Goat Milk



Once I got past my resistance to goat milk (merely on the grounds it was unfamiliar), I finally tasted it and found very little difference compared to conventional cow milk. However, goat milk has some benefits not found in cow milk.


The significant differences for me are: fat molecules in goat milk are small and stay in suspension, eliminating the damage on cell structure by the process of homogenization. Additionally, some people who do not tolerate cow milk (the A1-A2 debate?) often tolerate goat milk, which is all A2. It is the preferred milk in most of the world outside the United States.

According to The World's Healthiest Foods, goat milk is an excellent source of calcium, protein, phosphorus, riboflavin (vitamin B2), potassium and the amino acid tryptophan. I am using it to make yogurt, and fresh goat cheese.

Goat milk yogurt makes a wonderful base for savory dips. Simply mix in your favorite herbs and spices and serve with veggies for dipping, or as a spread on crackers. Top sliced tomatoes with goat cheese, fresh basil and drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil on top. YUM!

Making A2 Goat Milk Yogurt


I have switched to pasteurized goat milk (when I can find it) for my homemade yogurt because all goat milk is A2 milk, and doesn't give me the digestive problems of A1 milk yogurt.

I incubate my yogurt in my Excalibur Dehydrator because it's easy to control the temperature. I also incubate my yogurt at a lower temperature than most, and for longer. Another difference is that I use NO powdered/dry milk in any yogurt I make. (Most of it is from China anyway.)


I thought I'd show the steps I use, in case someone is leery of making yogurt, or using goat milk for yogurt. Let me first say it is delicious, and has a slight tang. If you've ever eaten fresh Chevré, you know the tang!

Making yogurt is actually very easy; you just need milk and a starter culture full of active bacteria. Many off-the-shelf supermarket yogurts are 'cultured' in the container after it is sealed, and contain few (if any) live cultures. Look for yogurt for a starter that states it contains live cultures of Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and/or Lactobacillus acidophilus (which is optional but not found in traditional yogurts).

The lovely Greek yogurt I use has
L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophilus but no L. acidophilus. I have read not to use any cultures containing any strain of Bifidus because it can overpower other bacteria in the all-important gut. I strongly suggest an unflavored, unsweetened yogurt as the culture; it doesn't matter if it is low-fat. I only make full fat yogurt, and I like to think a full-fat (whole milk) yogurt for a culture is best even though I have had success with non-fat Greek yogurt as a starter culture.

I sterilize some half-pint canning jars and lids, and all my utensils and let them cool before I begin. I keep the yogurt starter culture unopened until I am ready to add it, as there are live microbes unseen in the air and even on our skin.


Heat the milk
slowly to prevent scorching. I heat to at least over 165ºF and no more than 185ºF. Do NOT boil!


Below: The heated milk is chilling, down to just about 110ºF. If the milk is too warm when the culture is added, it will kill the good bacteria in the culture. My tap water is cold enough that I don't need ice in the bath.


Below: I have added the culture to about a cup or two of heated and cooled goat milk. I do this so I can use a whisk to be sure I have evenly distributed the thick Greek yogurt used for the culture. I failed to do this once, and had lumpy yogurt!


Below: my half gallon of goat milk, plus the container of Greek yogurt used for the culture, made 9 half-pints.


Below are the filled 8 oz. canning jars in the Excalibur, ready to incubate. The jars sometimes seal (like in canning) but that is not a necessity since yogurt must be refrigerated after it has thickened. I heat the unit for half an hour or more, checking temperature. I prefer about 110ºF - 115ºF, and a 12 hour (or more) incubation. If temperatures are too low, it won't thicken; temps too high and you will kill the microbes.


One further step is not shown here, and that is straining through cheesecloth after 24 hours. Goat milk yogurt tends to be slightly thinner than cow milk yogurt and I like a thicker yogurt, usually. I find by straining a bit of the liquid off, I can accomplish three things.

One is that I get a thicker yogurt. The second is if I strain some of it even longer, I can produce a lovely spreadable fresh goat cheese. And lastly, the strained-off whey mixed with 9 parts water makes a nourishing 'treat' for the microbes in the soil around my vegetable plants!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

'Growing Concern' over US Beef

No, not concerns over the beef that is always recalled when E. coli or salmonella contamination is found, but for the other contaminates in beef that isn't recalled!

USA Today reported the recent audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General shows 'growing concerns' over beef containing pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals sold to the public. The testing is run by the USDA's FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) which also tests for dangerous pathogens.


From the USA Today's
story:
Even when the inspection service does identify a lot of beef with high levels of pesticide or antibiotics, it often is powerless to stop the distribution of that meat because there is no legal limit for those contaminants.


In 2008, for example, Mexican authorities rejected a U.S. beef shipment because its copper levels exceeded Mexican standards, the audit says. But because there is no U.S. limit, the FSIS had no grounds for blocking the beef's producer from reselling the rejected meat in the United States.


"It's unacceptable. These are substances that can have a real impact on public health," says Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Food and Water Watch, a public interest group. "This administration is making a big deal about promoting exports, and you have Mexico rejecting our beef because of excessive residue levels. It's pretty embarrassing."


Sounds to me like yet another reason to eat local, organic grass-fed meat!

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Want Meat!


For the last 20 or more years, meat (lean meat) has been only a small portion of my diet. The bulk of my foods have been cereal grains, legumes and vegetables, with meat/fish generally as often as not as a side dish or flavoring in a stew or beans. I would guess that probably half my main meals (dinner) seldom contained as much as a full serving of meat.

This new diet protocol has changed all that, and I am now eating some kind of pastured meat (beef, lamb, pork, or fowl and preferably somewhat fatty) or fish 2-3 times a day. Actually, fish plays only a very small part in my diet because most of the available fish is mercury-contaminated. I could eat wild salmon once or twice a week, but not at $20 or more per pound; however, sometimes I can get rainbow trout from the cold, clear creeks in our local forested mountains. I currently get the good fish oils (like omega-3's) from supplements.

More than once lately I have 'heard' my mother's voice (in my head) telling about my eating habits as a small child sitting in a high-chair. She said I'd bang my spoon on the high-chair tray repeatedly, emphatically hollering, "I want meat! I want meat!"

I am getting accustomed to more meat, and I really like it. However, I need to learn to cook a wider variety of meats because the same few things day after day gets boring. Additionally, I can feed myself for a less money if I purchase a half, or a quarter, side of grass-fed beef/lamb, etc. at a time, and freeze it. There are cuts of meat that will be included in bulk orders which I seldom, if ever, cook, and they have a higher nutritional value than the muscle meats we find in the stores. There certainly will be a learning curve, LOL! Grass-fed meats tend to be less marbled, and are better cooked long and slow. I see lots of braising in my future!

I have eaten goat, but it was years ago in a Mexican restaurant and consumed with a lot of margaritas so I can't really say I know what it tastes like. I can get local grass-fed, organic quail, rabbit, partridge, duck and turkey in addition to chicken. I can also get grass-fed beef liver, heart and tongue, neither of which have I eaten in many, many years. I'm still looking for sheep sweetbreads. Sweetbreads in a cream sauce served over a puff pastry shell was a favorite dish my mother loved.

Lately I have been reading how-to's on making a variety of pates, terrines and rillettes, and ideas for a smoker. I've made venison sausages without nitrates, but haven't made any smoked sausages, bacon or hocks. I also want to do some cured meats. I feel confident I can make really good pancetta for far less than the $10-14 per pound online.

When I finally receive my meat orders start making some of these items, I'll post recipes and photos.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Ice Men Passeth

Photo courtesy of Paleontour's photostream

Finally the
Ice Men have passed, and it should be safe to put out my tomatoes.

Who are the Ice Men? Tradition in the Appalachians says the last cold spell is Blackberry Winter, but according to The Farmer's Almanac, in Northern Europe they celebrate three feast days, May 11, 12 and 13, as The Ice Men, or The Three Chilly Saints, and they know to watch for a late frost at this time.

Those Three Chilly Saints are St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius. "In some regions, the lore goes on to note that rain will fall on feast of St. Sophia, marking the beginning of planting season. For this reason, May 15 is referred to as “Zimna Zośka,” or “Cold Sophia” in Poland."

Whatever this time is called, I know from experience not to put out tender vegetable plants until after May 15 here in the mountains. Additionally, it is still the dark of the moon and good planting time doesn't start until May 16 this year. Isn't that convenient?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Modern Hunter-Gatherer, Part 2: Eggs, Fowl

Photo courtesy of samiebill1's photostream

(Read Part 1 of this series here.)

'Hunting and Gathering' the healthiest eggs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and other fowl can be very daunting even in a rural lifestyle, and much more so if you are an urban dweller on a short budget.

Why?

Let’s start with eggs. Sure, you can buy eggs at most grocery stores that are labeled “cage-free” and some might say “Omega-3 enriched” but are they nutritionally any better than the other, cheaper eggs stacked next to them? Frankly, they are all battery eggs, only the marketing strategy is different. They do not provide substantially better nutrition than the cheaper eggs, so save your money.

In the case of eggs advertised as omega-3 enriched, there are small amounts of O-3 in some feeds that include corn or soy, or maybe a handful of flax seeds thrown in a huge batch. There are no USDA requirements for minimums. Either way, they do not contain the amounts of omega-3 in pastured eggs.


Photo courtesy of steve p2008's photostream

Eggs advertised as ‘free range’ or ‘cage-free’ simply means that they may be crowded several thousand to a pen, with one small door to an outside concrete patch, like above. Most never see grass. Here’s what I do NOT consider free-range although they are marketed as such.
Click here for Video. (These are turkeys in the video, but the caging is the same as chickens.) Here are some real free range birds: Click here for Video.



Nutrition in eggs:

Mother Earth News published a great nutritional study of true free range eggs compared to official USDA data for commercial eggs. The results varied from farm to farm, of course… no two farms have the exact same soil fertility and greens growing.

The average free range egg results vs. commercial eggs showed:

* 1⁄3 less cholesterol than commercial eggs

* 1⁄4 less saturated fat than commercial eggs

* 2⁄3 more vitamin A than commercial eggs

* 3 times more vitamin E than commercial eggs

* 7 times more beta carotene than commercial eggs

* 21 times more omega-3 fatty acid than commercial eggs


Not only are we what we eat, we are also whatever it is that what we eat eats, too. If we eat commercial eggs, we get some of the antibiotics and other drugs that have gone from the chickens into the eggs, and if their nutrition is poor (cheap feed) can the eggs be any better?

Because I live in a rural area, it is fairly easy to find free range eggs, especially at the farmer’s markets. However, I’m very picky because of my thyroid. If the chickens are fed supplemental grain, I want to make sure the grain contains no soybeans. (Soybeans contain goitrogens, which impede thyroid function.) I also want to know if the chickens are allowed pasture that is sprayed with herbicides and pesticides (I avoid those eggs as non-organic), and whether the grass is enriched by growing in good soil.

I know for a fact my egg supplier has some of the best pasture around. He tests the grass with a refractometer, and adds what the soil needs to increase the Brix. I am willing to pay more for those eggs, too. Over in the next town, I can buy free range eggs for almost half the price of Richard’s eggs but they come from several sources and I don’t know what they are fed. They are certainly far better than commercial eggs, and I will buy them when Richard has no eggs.

It is more difficult to find pastured eggs in the winter due to moult, and that varies somewhat with breed, and when they were born. Typical pullets may lay for 11 months before their first adult moult when they cease production for 3 months. Excellent layers moult for a shorter time than poor producers, and day-length (and temperatures) affects laying.

For urban dwellers: I have seen pastured eggs offered online that can be safely shipped. I'd also suggest you try to get a local store to stock pastured eggs, but that may be difficult. The co-op links below may offer some suggestions.

Richard (Moyer Family Farm) not only grazes his chickens on that great grass, he grazes his ducks and turkeys there, too. I bought my Thanksgiving turkey from him, a heritage breed called Bourbon Red. They are leaner in the breast than factory turkeys but higher in nutrition and much tastier. These are free range turkeys: click for video. This year he is raising more duck eggs (which are higher in nutrition than chicken eggs), hence more ducks. I hope he will have duck to sell later.

Note: Two to four billion pounds of poultry feathers are produced every year. Most are ground up as filler for animal food.

Buying free-range chicken and other fowl
As I mentioned in part 1, I see Coleman Natural and Coleman Organic chickens in most health food stores. Their labels say “NO Antibiotics, NO Added Hormones, NO Preservatives…EVER. Always Vegetarian Fed.” Frankly, that doesn’t tell me much. (Besides, they had a major recall not long ago. That always worries me.) How will I know if the chicken is high in Omega-3 from grass, or if it is high in Omega-6 because it was fed vegetarian grain and soy products instead of grass and forage?

Fortunately, most farmer’s markets usually have at least one vendor of processed (often frozen) pastured chickens, and occasionally other fowl. Also much grass-fed fowl is available online (mail-order) from many sites. A good site to locate a source near you is Eatwild.

A dozen or more farmers in a several county area near me raising grass-fed meat and fowl have just started a co-op. Their prices are considerable lower than health food stores, and I see they have local suppliers of beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, and rabbit. I already have an order placed!

They are part of a larger, national independent co-op group. You may find one near you
here.

Just last week I bought a small chest freezer (7 cu. Ft.) for under $180 with a $20 rebate coming. (I also had a 10% off coupon!) I will start to stockpile chickens and other fowl because buying in season and in quantity is cheaper.

To that, I will be adding beef, pork, lamb and fish.
I found pastured summer butter (higher in omega-3) on sale at Whole Foods yesterday and bought a supply to freeze since it is seasonal. I already opened one package and it really IS butter-yellow. The difference in taste and color to commercial butter is amazing, like the yolks of pastured eggs vs. commercial eggs!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Really Yellow Butter!

Photo is courtesy of aMichiganMom's photostream

Wow! I'm learning new things everyday, and some are visual treats as well as taste treats. Butter is one of them...


I know the yolks of free-range hens are much more yellow (even to almost orange) compared to factory eggs, and of course that is reflected in taste and nutrition. What I didn't know is that the same is true of butter!


I had the opportunity to buy some butter (on sale!) from grass-fed cows recently, and when I opened it to add more butter to the last bit of conventional butter in the butter bell, I was surprised by the richer yellow color long before I got to the delicious taste. There really IS no comparison to conventional butter! This particular butter was also what is called 'spring butter', made when the cows are munching on new grass.

New grass produces higher amounts of Vitamin K1, which the cows turn into the Vitamin K2 our bodies need to interact with Vitamins A and D (and also calcium) for tooth and bone strength and development. You can read more about Vitamins K1 and K2 here. Cows pastured on spring grass have milk (thus cream and butter) that also has higher levels of anti-oxidants, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), plus higher Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

The spring butter I bought is a US product called
'Pasture Butter' made by Organic Valley, and it is also a 'cultured butter'. That means the pasteurized cream has a bacterial culture added (like yogurt) which allows the bacteria to change some of the solids into lactic acid (improving flavor) before it is churned into butter. When making butter from raw milk cream, the addition of a bacterial culture is not necessary, as it will 'sour' (or clabber) on its own from the bacteria in the cream if left in a warm spot, although some folks prefer to use a culture anyway.

Since most butter made in the US has less butterfat content (min. 80% by law) than European butters which can be 86% or more, I also bought 2 different imported brands to try:
Lurpak from Denmark, and Kerrygold from Ireland. They are both quite wonderful, but outside my budget for ordinary use (although I'd buy them in a heartbeat if I could afford them.)

The Kerrygold is grass-fed and the Lurpak doesn't say; the Lurpak must be cultured because they advertise it '
has a delicate subtle lactic taste' and the Kerrygold doesn't say whether it's cultured. Either way, both stand head and shoulders above standard American Dairy butters, as does the Organic Valley Limited Edition Pasture Butter.

There are a couple more grass-fed butters I want to try the next time I have a few extra bucks. One is Anchor, from New Zealand, and one is Pastureland, made in Minnesota; both are available online. I just found another one today, a cultured butter with 86% butterfat from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery.

Of course, at the very top of my list would be local butter made from raw milk from grass-fed A2 cows!

Note: toxic compounds like pesticides, mercury and dioxin in plant soils and water accumulate in the fats of non-organic meats and dairy, so please avoid them wherever possible.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Biodegradable OR Compostable Plastic?

Label on container says, "This container is made from corn and is 100% compostable"

What's the difference? Plenty!
I didn't think there was any big difference, but there actually is.

Biodegradable
Products labeled 'biodegradable' will break down over time by the action of microorganisms, but they may create methane (a greenhouse gas) and they may contain toxins.

Compostable
Products labeled 'compostable' must be able to break down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass at the same rate as paper. Furthermore, they should not produce any toxic materials and should be able to support plant life. Compostable products are usually made from plant materials. Because the term biodegradable has no real enforced legal definition, compostability is more desirable.

I just bought a tube of water-clear 16 oz. food containers made of PLA for freezing seedless raspberry purée so I can sell it, and the containers are compostable, not just biodegradable.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a material made from lactic acid. The lactic acid is made from dextrose by fermentation; the dextrose is made from corn starch, and corn starch is made by corn plants from carbon dioxide and water.

PLA's are used to manufacture single-serve cold containers (although some companies make hot beverage containers), like drink cups, serving 'plates', and food containers. However, they are not widely used because the cost can be 15% higher than the cheap plastics we see along the roadsides. I have no idea what beverage containers cost in fast food bulk buying, but as a consumer I can buy 12 oz. compostable cold drink cups for less than a penny each. A 15% increase in container cost would affect corporate profit margins, but just think how it would benefit our planet!

Caveat
Decomposing PLA's requires a compost pile containing microbes, moisture, air and heat. They will break down in as little as 45 days, although usually a bit longer in backyard composting because our heaps tend to be smaller and not as hot. They will not break down in long, cold composting, nor landfills. It is recommended that compost piles contain no more than 10% PLA's for the most effective composting.

I'm glad to say there is finally a corn by-product I can feel good about.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Longevity and Diet

For the past year I have concentrated heavily on my family genealogy, and now have over 20,000 names in my database going back to before 1700. One of the things I have repeatedly noticed is the longevity, and how it changed over 300 years.

During the 1700's, my family members routinely lived well into their 90's and even a few over 100. The exceptions were men killed in battle or hunting accidents, women in childbirth, and the occasional accidental death of a child. This trend persisted through folks born in the early 1800's up to about 1830. Those born after 1830 began to show somewhat shorter lifespans, maybe only into their mid 80's, and those born after 1880 seldom lived much past their mid 70's.


There were exceptions, of course. But the majority followed that pattern and I always wondered why.


My research into the historic diets of humans indicates a strong correlation to shorter lifespans as processed foods came into our diets, and that is supported in my own family history. Family members who were Pennsylvania Dutch ate a high animal fat diet (meat, butter, milk, eggs) along with their garden vegetables, and put up many gallons of fermented vegetables for the winter. They lived the longest.


Sugar was seldom part of the diets much before the Civil War (it was available, just expensive) except for fruits, berries and occasionally honey. Cereal grains
were a portion of their diets, but generally in the form of fermented (sourdough) breads (or fermented as beer and whiskey), and slow-cooked cereals, although grains were not nearly as high a percentage of diet as after 1900.

I suspect the vegetables they ate were considerably higher in nutrient density solely because the soils back then were not abused and depleted of vital minerals. Because they depended on the land to support them, I believe they were good stewards. Their water was clean, clear potable water; the air was clean, and the soil healthy. There were no grocery stores full of junk foods and food additives. They ate Real Food.


(Some of my family were coal and zinc miners. I do not include them here as they lived in a horrid environment and lifespans were often curtailed by the mines.
)

As more of my family moved to cities for work, their diets changed. My mother was born in 1921. My grandparents stopped owning a cow by the time my mother was 5 or so... farms in the dust belt were becoming non-productive and my family moved away. However, I can remember as a child about 1946 going across a field to an aunt's house to fetch a jug of milk from the ice cold water in her spring house in Kansas.


Many of my mother's generation lived into their 80's (including my mother) but they were not necessarily 'healthy' and drugs kept them going.
How many folks do you know over 80 who do not take a handful of meds every day? In earlier generations there was almost no heart disease, no cancer, diabetes... they died of old age, not dis-ease.

The current interest of some of us to get back to healthy nutrition gives me a glimmer of hope for the sustainability of mankind.

ps... I found an interesting chart of US Presidents, longevity, death, and diet here. The doctor who wrote it makes the same correlation between longevity and diet as I do. (Scroll down a bit on the page, the chart stands out.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Diminish garden weeds naturally

Here's a great garden tip:

If you plant rye (as a mulch) between the garden rows and keep it mowed, the allelochemicals that leach from rye residue prevent weed germination but do not harm transplanted tomatoes, broccoli, or many other vegetables.

Allelopathy refers to a plant’s ability to chemically inhibit the growth of other plants. A good example is the black walnut which prohibits many things from growing under or around it.

Rye is one of the most useful allelopathic cover crops because it is winter-hardy and can be grown almost anywhere. Rye residue contains generous amounts of allelopathic chemicals.

When left undisturbed on the soil surface, these chemicals leach out and prevent germination of small-seeded weeds. Weed suppression is effective for about 30 to 60 days. But if the rye is tilled into the soil, the effect is lost.



Monday, May 10, 2010

My Weight Plateau, or Body-Fat Set-Point

Photo courtesy of tibchris' photostream

I have been on a plateau with my weight for about 15 days now, with zero change in my food protocol. Weight-loss was not the goal, but it should be a large by-product, and it has stalled. After reading dozens and dozens of research papers online, I think I am beginning to understand some of the 'why'.


The human body has some amazing built-in abilities, one of which is the normal regulation of body-fat. What we consume is either burned for energy or stored for later energy use as fat. That system of regulation monitors our body-fat 'set-point' much as a thermostat on your heat/AC monitors the temperature and adjusts accordingly. When we have adequate stores of fat, that system tells us to eat less (few hunger pangs, and feeling fuller on less food), and conversely, to eat more when our body-fat storage is low, such as after lots of physical activity. There are many players (like insulin) that are part and parcel of this regulation, but I only have a general idea of how they work together.

When our bodies get out of whack from any number of reasons, the body-fat regulation suffers. One of the players is the hormone Leptin, which is made and secreted by fat cells, and it affects energy output and food intake via several neuro-endocrine pathways. Leptin's job seems to be reducing appetite and stimulating fat burning.

The more body-fat I have, the more leptin in my bloodstream, which should be stimulating fat-burning. So, why do I have an excess of body-fat? Well.... it seems I probably have built up leptin resistance over time with my previous food habits. That old diet of foods my body was not designed to handle caused (among other things) some inflammation. Not the kind of inflammation you can visibly see, like when you hit your thumb with a hammer or your ankles swell, but an internal (and probably widespread) inflammation.

Some of the inflammation is probably in my intestines, where they have had to deal with all the anti-nutrients I have eaten in the last several years. (The inflammation cause could be considered stress... dietary stress or cellular stress.) Inflammation raises the levels of insulin which cause my body to make more fat cells. My body has a response to stress-induced inflammation: my adrenals produce a hormone called cortisol, which fights the inflammation. However, cortisol also increases belly fat. Sigh.

The effects of inflammation have no doubt affected many of my body systems, including hormonal balance... and in particular, my thyroid. Fortunately, I do not seem to be insulin-resistant as far as I know, which could have led to diabetes. It's hard to say what may have developed (besides weight-gain) had I continued that disastrous way of eating.

I believe the food path I was on has built-up my leptin resistance slowly, over the last several years.
Recent studies suggest high HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) increases leptin resistance. High levels of triglycerides also are thought to build leptin resistance. Mine are probably high (or were when I started this protocol several weeks ago) since triglycerides are made in the liver from any excess sugars that have not been used for energy. The source of these excess sugars is any food containing carbohydrates, but particularly refined sugar and grains.

What can I do about it, short of medical intervention? For one thing, keep eating Real Food. Eat the foods that can counter this kind of inflammation that is linked to fat gain. According to my doctor, good fats are top of the list, and those are mostly saturated fats... meat, bacon, egg yolks, cream, butter, cheese... but no regular milk because of the sugars.

It is imperative I get more omega-3's into my diet (and fewer omega-6's), which means grass-fed meats only, eggs from pastured hens, some fish high in O-3 like salmon (but not much ocean fish because of mercury), and leafy greens.


For now, my doctor has me on almost zero carbs to see if we can get past the leptin resistance just by giving parts of my system a rest, and giving the balance of my system a highly nutritious diet. I have to be absolutely sure I get about 10,000 IU of natural Vitamin A daily, and 4,000-6,000 IU Vitamin D daily. One third of my D comes from a high-vitamin fermented cod liver oil in the form of D2. I supplement at lunch and again before bedtime with 2,000 IU's of D3. The cod liver oil also has almost of the 'A' I need.

Other foods to eliminate entirely for now are ALL grains (even soaked grains), ALL sugars and ALL legumes. I really thought it would be hard to give up sugar, as I have been a sugar addict. I thought the half-teaspoon of sugar in my coffee would be the worst to eliminate because it was first thing in the morning after an all-night fast, but the real cream I can have instead replaced the satisfaction (and energy) of sugar without the problems. It has actually been easy to give up sugar. Giving up bread was very hard for the first 2 weeks, but the craving is almost gone. I love fresh, warm Old World breads or a good sourdough slathered in butter!

My intuition, my Guides/Angels, and my doctor all tell me I may get past the leptin resistance in another week or three. Regardless, I AM feeling lots better, even though I know I must be still shedding toxins.