Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vicki Robin and the 10-mile Diet

I recently came across Vicki Robin's blog on her 10-Mile Diet. Her CSA farmer challenged her to eat for one month (September) on what she was getting from her share. Vicki decided to allow any other suppliers within the 10-mile radius, as well as foods from her own garden. She made exceptions for salt, oil, coffee/tea, spices, and lemons. (I made similar exceptions.)

It is fascinating reading.


Deciding to eat within such a small area means that she knows personally everyone who produces her food. A tomato, a beet, a bunch of greens, a wedge of goat cheese: everything has a name attached to it, a person she has talked to, oftentimes a friend or someone who quickly becomes a friend. Barter becomes an important part of acquiring a varied diet.

She knows that the food she is eating was not created in a factory somewhere, or shipped from China, or picked by underpaid and probably illegal farm workers. (By the way, people who complain about the high cost of fruits and vegetables should consider that most of the workers in these crops are Mexican nationals, poorly paid, ill-treated in many cases, working 14-hour days in the sun and dust. If immigration laws are strictly enforced due to public pressure, produce prices will skyrocket and availability will drop precipitously. So be careful what you wish for.)


A 10-mile diet means eating what grows in her area, in season. She lives on an island in Washington State, with a mild and fairly benevolent climate. The foods are fresh, often picked days or even hours before being eaten. They are at the peak of their flavor and nutrition.

Ingenuity is required to deal with a surfeit of zucchini or other vegetable. (The rule on zucchini: either too many or too few. I unwisely planted TWO hills of zucchini; one would have provided enough for us and the neighbors with some extras for the chickens.)

Intensive vs. Extensive Agriculture

Extensive agriculture is what we usually think of these days: vast monoculture fields, very few workers, a full load of herbicides, insecticides, GMO crops, artificial fertilizers, huge and expensive farm equipment, and loads of diesel to power it. And you can think of 100,000 cattle in a feedlot, eating the subsidized commodities that are making them sick (and us sick as well), turning fertilizer into a massive disposal problem. Extensive agriculture is highly capital-intensive: expensive equipment, expensive chemicals, expensive fuels.

Intensive farming is agriculture on a human scale: small farms, plots, even pocket gardens. It requires lots of work and attention from people, and is thereby labor-intensive. This is the way farming has been conducted for 10,000 years, up until the 20th century. Many small growers are organic: they get a higher return for their produce, in return for more attention and care for their crops and the soil. The yield, counted per acre or per dollar or per-anything-else except hours of labor, is much higher than for extensive farming.

In the U.S. these days, extensive agriculture produces dry beans, feedlot and CAFO meat, and grains and all the multitude of industrial food products created from them. If you are eating locally, especially hyperlocally like Vicki, these foods are pretty much out of the question. Your choices come from the intensively-farmed items: fruit, veg, backyard eggs and chickens, hobby honey, the occasional grassfed steer, someone's pet dairy cow.

Vicki found that she was losing weight (good), and that she was REALLY missing grains, crackers, breads, and such foods (painful).
If Jim and I had stayed strict on our 100-mile diet here in Colorado, we would have had to make the same choices as we ran out of stock on hand. As the first year elapsed, we had expanded our range for staples (grains, etc.) to the western U.S. I did enough meal planning inside the 100-mile circle to gain some new insights about how dependent the standard American diet is on cheap petroleum and other resources. We kept the rules in place for fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs (backyard eggs are the best!).


When everything on the table came from her neighborhood, grown or created by people she knows (or by herself), Vicki found that she gained a much greater appreciation for the work involved to put that food on her table. The goat cheese, the onions, the chard, were little treasures, their full costs appreciated. And the essential gift nature of food becomes visible again. We don't MAKE food; at best we make it possible for God/Mother Nature/the soil and all its denizens to give it to us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time for Conservatives to Conserve

And it's time for Progressives to rethink what they mean by progress.

It is very interesting what has happened to the concept of Peak Oil recently. Just a few years ago, it was the abode of the doomers, tinfoil hat people, and the oh-so politically correct. The mainstream just said 'whatever', blithely assuming that if humanity needed something, anything, in whatever quantity, it would always be there for us.

Now, in the last year, by osmosis as far as I can tell, Peak Oil is just part of the daily background of our lives. It has gone from being ridiculed by most to being accepted by most. There are a few outliers who still believe that the interior of the earth is stuffed with oil which is constantly renewing itself for our benefit, but that theory is getting pretty hard to sustain by anything except blind faith.

The drumbeat of upcoming energy scarcity underlies much of what we think and do these days. It's the big player behind the economic woes, the frantic bitterness of political battles, and the quiet paying down of household debt. People are still buying and driving the SUVs and huge pickup trucks, but just as you can feel September's coolness foretelling winter, there is a sense that the summer of energy abundance can't last. Buy and drive now, while you still can.

Or, on the other side of the aisle so to speak, progressives push for CFL lightbulbs, wind turbines, hydrogen power, cellulosic ethanol, and some are even advocating nuclear power plants. But it's too little, too late. Every alternative power source requires big inputs of energy, initially and ongoing. This is the kind of energy that we thought we had in the 1970s, when Appropriate Technology had its heyday, but Good Morning America put an end to it.

Today, while the government is frantically trying to revive the growth bubble with debt, households are cutting down on their debt. This does "depress demand" in a badly-skewed economy where most economic activity is in borrowing money and buying stuff. How can you sustain an economy on little more than consumer purchases and service industries? An economy MUST be based on making things and growing things, thereby creating value. And that economy of making and growing MUST be based on the primary economy of the natural resource base.

Petroleum is called fossil fuel for a reason. It's based on the concentrated sunlight of 500 million years. Humans have burned through about half of this phenomenal legacy in 120 years. The carbon sequestered under the ground from a far hotter, wetter time is being restored to the atmosphere from our tailpipes and chimneys. We've been in a "growth" economy for so long that this highly-unusual situation seems normal to us.

Fossil fuel means we aren't getting any more of it. Fossil water (in the big aquifers) means that when we draw it down, it isn't coming back except in geological timeframes. Basing our agriculture on the use of petroleum and its products and aquifer-based irrigation is kind of dumb in the long run.

It's no use to say that we need conventional agriculture to feed the 7 billion humans today and the 9 billion humans predicted in a few years, when the petroleum feedstock upon which conventional agriculture depends will be running short soon. We'd better figure out other ways to grow food, and soon. An entire generation of farmers is reaching retirement age, replaced by tractor jockeys who are paid so little for their work that their spouses have to work in town to make ends meet.

Let's list just a few of the ways that conventional agriculture depends on petroleum.

  • fuel for the tractors

  • energy and resources to create the high-tech farm equipment

  • fuel for the Haber-Bosch process to produce synthetic fertilizers from atmospheric nitrogen (this process is a HUGE energy hog)

  • energy to find or create and ship phosphates and other agricultural chemicals

  • petroleum fractions and energy to create the herbicides and pesticides

  • fuel to ship the resulting products from vast monocultures to consumers all over the world

  • petroleum to create all that plastic packaging

  • and there are many more ...

Organic agriculture is one of the few success stories of sustainability from the second half of the 20th century. Of course before the 19th century, all agriculture was "organic" by today's standards. Intensive organic agriculture can feed people; it is highly efficient in terms of output per acre and output per dollar invested, and inefficient in output per hour of work (the only measure that modern economists are interested in).

The bottom line is that Progressives need to find a new definition of progress. The future is not bright for economic growth, full employment in highly-paid technological jobs, unlimited medical care for everyone, a college education for every student, and the other ingredients of the "good life" we have come to expect. We need to find our helping hands at the ends of our own arms.

The bottom line is that Conservatives need to stop relying on tax breaks, deregulation, and handouts to the major corporations to fuel growth, and stop trying to streamline government to meet the desires of the rich and powerful rather than the common man. We need to realize that smaller is better, that community matters in the long run, that your neighbors at your back are better than a bunker filled with rifles, ammo and spam.

I am hoping that we can make common cause, that the Progressive and the Conservative can meet over the back fence, trading zucchini and onions, honey and rabbits, knitting instructions and breadbaking lessons. We've all got too much to lose to keep up the pointless power battles that have been distracting us for so long.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What's been happening here

It's been a long time since my last post. My focus has gone off local foods somewhat, and onto a dual quest: lose some weight, and make some difference in my fibromyalgia by dietary changes.

As has been happening since the first year, we're still eating local food, and it has become second nature. We buy the high-quality meat from local farmers and ranchers. We have our own eggs (you can't get more local than the front yard). I'm still running the food cooperative, and we get most of our other food there: organic staples from the western U.S., organic produce mainly from Colorado with a few items coming from the western U.S. And the garden has been producing a bounty: lettuce and snap peas in the early summer, now zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes, more than we can eat.

I relaxed the rules a bit during the Spring season: I bought lettuce and avocados from California, and a few other things. I have my CSA membership, and other than that I buy more from the cooperative than from all other stores put together.

So what were my results on the weight loss? Very good, actually. I have lost 37 pounds since January. It has really made a difference in my mobility and reduced my pain. I've given away a box full of too-large clothes. That feels good! My "diet" is mainly low-carb, with a couple of high-carb meals per week. I feel that I can maintain this way of eating the rest of my life. I don't count calories, fat grams, or carb grams, but follow some simple rules.

1. No fast food, no junk food, no added sweeteners including artificial sweeteners.
2. No grains other than rice, and that once or twice a month.
3. Moderate servings of high-quality meat at each meal (3-5 oz), accompanied with a half-serving of fruit and 1-3 servings of vegetables either raw or cooked. I don't avoid the higher-fat cuts, but I keep the serving moderate. I have eggs rarely, and eat small servings of dairy products occasionally, but neither is a staple of my diet.
4. No eating after supper, no snacking between meals, and only three meals per day.
5. We do eat out occasionally; for me it's usually salads. Once in a while a cut of meat with veggies in place of potato or other starch.

And the last part is the oxalates, which I'm fortunate to find out about. I discovered that some people with fibromyalgia react to oxalates in the diet. Their bodies don't dispose of oxalates nicely like other people. This is especially true for those with celiac disease (inability to digest gluten), which I have. Other sufferers from oxalate problems include those with kidney stones, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, and autism spectrum disorders. So there is a lot of energy behind the research on this topic, in particular from the parents of ASD children pressing hard to find solutions to their children's problems. There is a very active Yahoo group called Trying_Low_Oxalates which is worth following if you or a family member have any of these problems.

The lists of low, medium, and high oxalate foods are extensive, and compared to ten years ago are much better researched and more consistent. As a starter, potatoes, carrots and celery are out; spinach, most hardy greens, beets, rhubarb (the high-oxalate queen), chocolate (oh no), the small grains that I was using to substitute for gluten-containing grains (this includes millet, buckwheat and amaranth). Tree nuts (except chestnuts) and peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, all dried beans (except bean sprouts), sweet potatoes, rutabaga, tomato sauce, black tea, most berries, most dried fruits, all gone. Half at least of the recipes I've posted on this blog are out of bounds for me now. Half of my CSA basket I have to give to friends or leave at the farm.

But the payoff is very good. I've been able to start a program of morning walks, which I could never consider before due to the pain. My sleep is better, my weight loss is effortless, my mood is better, my energy is higher. My fingernails have stopped shredding; they grow out so I can cut them again.

Other group members are also dealing with fibromyalgia, which responds pretty well over a period of months or years. It's tougher to make headway on the ASD kids, but people are reporting significant improvements in their child's behavior and verbal abilities.

I feel very fortunate to be putting so many puzzle pieces together now. I take loads of supplements, as recommended to cope with the oxalates and fibromyalgia. The Yahoo group has lots of information on supplements. I sometimes wish I had put it together sooner, but at least with the oxalates, this information was not even known ten years ago. But it's no good regretting the past, and rueing the constant stream of candy, chips, and assorted junk that I ate years ago. I'm finally getting them off my hips!

Local food eating works pretty well with my restrictions. It keeps me honest on the junk and fast food, the chocolate, the nuts. It keeps high-quality fresh foods on our table. A meal of pastured beef (grazed about three miles from our home), lettuce and squash from the garden, and half a beautiful Colorado peach (the best there are): who could complain about that?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just In TIme vs. Just In Case

Just-in-time, often abbreviated JIT, was developed in Japan in the 1990s. Factories, instead of having a large warehouse of parts for their products, ordered just enough parts to keep up with the assembly on the floor. This saved money in two ways: less expensive warehouse space, and less money tied up in parts and supplies.

In the years after 2000, many retail houses and grocery stores followed suit. Wal-Mart is famous for ordering exactly what is bought, to fill the empty spot on the shelves as quickly as possible but little backstock. In groceries, as in factories, JIT means less warehouse space, and less money tied up in products, especially perishable products. The profit margin in supermarket chains is surprisingly small, and they will shave pennies wherever they can find them.

There's a problem with JIT. What if a supply disruption occurs? What if there is a strike, an epidemic, a blizzard or ice storm, a hurricane? A power outage? An oil embargo? Or, most topically today, a sky full of volcanic ash which prevents airliners from flying?

If you haven't seen the news, UK supermarkets are running out of stock on imported perishable produce and cut flowers. In the UK, the markets have been particularly avid for JIT. Most markets have less than three days supply of perishables.

Now, as we know, people in Great Britain won't starve if they can't get baby corn from Thailand, or roses from Kenya, or strawberries from Argentina. But with a relatively large population, and not that much arable land, and especially considering the season, the gaps on the supermarket shelves will be noticeable. Nobody knows how long the Icelandic volcano (I won't try to spell it) will spew out ash. There is the potential of real problems there.

There's an alternative to Just In Time, one which our forefathers and foremothers lived by, which is Just In Case. They understood that life is uncertain. They knew that "unforeseen" weather events are actually common. Emergencies happen at every scale from the individual to the nation.

It was part of the economy of the household to have a stock of foods on hand, to carry them through expected and unexpected challenges. If you didn't put up those apples and plums in the fall, you didn't have any until the next harvest. If you didn't have enough flour and coffee on hand when the snow fell, breakfast was pretty sparse.

With the advanced transportation network of today, we're overconfident, bordering on hubris. How many of us have even the paltry two weeks of food and water in our house that FEMA recommends for emergencies such as pandemics? A serious pandemic could have the stores closed for a couple of months. A truckers' strike could have the stores running out of food and supplies in a few days. A little desperation on the part of the shoppers could clear the shelves in a few hours.

You can apply Just In Time vs Just in Case to more than just food. Just In Time lives paycheck to paycheck. A bill is paid just when it is due. A furlough, a layoff, an illness, and you're behind. Just In Case has economized enough to have some savings stashed away, hopefully enough to carry the family through the emergency.

Just In Time leaves the home at the last possible moment to get to work or an appointment. Just In Case leaves time for traffic jams, a desperately needed stop at the gas station, or the cat dashing out into the street just as you leave the house.

Just In Time hopes that when retirement comes, planned or unplanned, a nice bull market will have made their scanty 401(k) sturdier. Just In Case has put away savings in more than one basket, and is prepared to forgo some luxuries today to avoid poverty tomorrow.

So, take a lesson from volcanic ash, from Snow-mageddon, from ice storms in Missouri, from week-long power outages in New England, from... (you can certainly add to this list from news items in the last couple of years). Be prepared. Just in case, have staple foods on hand, ones you know how to cook, ones the family likes (or tolerates at least). Just in case, have some extra blankets and sweaters. Just in case, have extra drinking water stored. Just in case, have a first-aid kit and know how to use it for common household emergencies. Just in case, have a few cans of chicken soup in the pantry. (If you are sick with a cold or flu, you won't want to run to the store to get it.) Just in case, have some way to cook if the electricity is off for a day or more. Just in case, have at least one phone that doesn't need to be plugged into an electrical outlet, and at least one radio that runs on batteries or by hand crank.

It's a good feeling to have food on hand, to have some simple emergency supplies, to know that you're prepared for the all-too-common unexpected event.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bridging the Seasons with Lactofermentation

This is the time of year that lactofermented vegetables really taste good to us. The only fresh local veggies are stored, and not too many different kinds: potatoes, onions, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, cabbage, garlic, beets, radishes. But we can have fresh cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, salsa, and many more from our lactofermentation jars. They're great on salads or as a side dish. And they have a lot of health benefits as probiotics.

I have posted an introductory paper I wrote on lactofermentation. Check under Blogs and Websites on the right side.

Lsctofermentation does not require high technology. I use half-gallon glass jars, but you could also use crocks. You need high quality veggies, herbs and spices, and salt. They keep for months, up to a year. If you didn't have refrigeration, they would keep well in a non-freezing but cool place, which should be readily available in temperate climates. Lactoferments go back thousands of years in human cultures.

Today I want to celebrate what we've been eating.

1. Lacto Cucumbers. Think pickle barrel dills. The juice is wonderful too, in salad dressings, deviled eggs, and anywhere you want a flavorful tartness.

2. Sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is great raw as a side dish, or baked as a bed under local pork sausage.

3. Dilly Beans. This year I used wax beans, which work just as well as green. They have a lovely gold color. We're on our second half-gallon.

4. Kim Chee. Yes, you can make your own, at a low cost relative to the very pricey bubbly jars you buy at the natural groceries. I just opened the first of our two jars. Wow! The ginger, garlic and chilis add a real wake-up note to bland winter meals.

5. Tomato salsa. It's great to have a real fresh salsa in the middle of the winter from August tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro.

That's what I made this year. Additionally, I get pint jars in my winter CSA shares. This year we got:

6. Pickled beets. Sweet and sour. Nice in chopped winter salads, or as a side dish.

7. Zucchini, onion, and Napa. Nice and tart.

8. Another Kim Chee: a little different flavor, also delicious.

9. Carrot and daikon, sliced.

10. Turnip, onion and chilis. Another Asian-flavored pickle.

That should pep up a tired palate.

You can still make some lactoferments if you have storage roots in good condition. Don't try to use dried-out, shriveled or moldy veggies; they should go into the compost.

And plan to put up some of summer's bounty of fresh beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, and other delights, when the season comes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Support Your Local Honeybee

Most if not all of you have heard about the latest honeybee problem: Colony Collapse Disorder. One day the beekeeper goes out and the worker bees in their tens of thousands are gone, leaving the queen and the honey. One-quarter to one-half of hives are suffering this fate in the course of a year, sometimes even more.

Suggested culprits range from cell phones to Al Qaeda to an alphabet soup of new bee diseases, but the truth is not simple and the remedy is complex. The stakes are high: Almost all fruits and nuts, and most vegetables are bee-pollinated. Cattle forage in the form of alfalfa and legumes including soybeans are also at risk.

I recently read a book: A World Without Bees by Allison Benjamin and Brian McCallum. I highly recommend their careful research and conclusions.

So, what is the cause of CCD? Well, to start with, there are many causes, many factors that make beehives weak. Some are not surprises, but have been with us for decades if not longer. It is the total weight of the factors that brings a bee colony down.

1. Pesticides old and new. Growers spray for insect pests, and inevitably the bees get hit. The neonicotinoids, a new class of insecticides which are low-toxicity to mammals, are deadly to bees.
Even small exposures cause bees to become disoriented and unable to make their way back to the colony.

2. Varroa mites and their treatments. Varroa mites invaded this country from Asia. Asian bees cope with them, but Western bees do not. They are bloodsuckers and rapidly weaken the bees. And the miticides commonly used to control varroa are also weakening to the bees. After all, you're trying to kill a bug living on another bug.

3. Junk food. Bees are fed artificial pollen made from soybeans, and high-fructose corn syrup, instead of sugar which used to be a (poor) substitute for the nutrients found in honey. Junk food for people, junk food for bees. HFCS is cheap, though.

4. Lack of genetic diversity. Queen lines are very inbred now, because it's more efficient for the supplier. Bees are bred for pollination services, mainly, rather than for vigor, wintering capability or honey production. And many commercial queens have mated with one drone, rather than the 14 to 15 that she would couple with on an uncontrolled mating flight.

5. Loads of new bee diseases, mainly viruses that take advantage of the bees' weakened state. Old diseases and parasites are showing a resurgence, including the intestinal parasite nosema, chalkbrood and foulbrood.

6. Loss of habitat. Suburbs are taking over from wild meadows, vast monocultures from mixed farms and orchards, paved areas from wildflowers. Monocultures are pariclarly bad for bees, which benefit, like we do, from a balanced diet.

7. Genetically-modified crops, including crops with their own built-in insecticide expressed in pollen and nectar. Bees are very delicately balanced creatures. We don't know what effects GM crops might have on them.

That is a lot of specific factors. But let's take a step back now, and look at the linchpins of the disorder: globalization and the almond harvest. Yes, almonds!

A few decades ago, U.S. beekeepers ran into deadly competition with honey producers in Argentina and China. The price of honey was undercut so badly that commercial beekeepers could not make a living no matter how hard they worked. Customers would not buy a $6 jar of honey from a local beekeeper when they could buy a $1.50 jar of honey from China. What to do?

This problem coincided with the tremendous growth in California almond orchards. Almonds are a huge cash crop for export. California produces about 80% of the almonds in the world. Almonds are bee-pollinated, and bloom very early. The bees' normal lifecycle includes a winter rest eating stored honey to keep warm. Then in the spring the colony builds up gradually to be ready for the peak blooming season. This won't work for almond growers, of course. They need strong colonies early in the spring. And they need LOTS of them to service the 600,000 acres of almonds.

So 65% of the bee colonies in the U.S. are pulled out of their winter snooze, built up with artificial foods, and loaded on a truck for California. The orchards are packed tight with beehives, two per acre, to make sure every almond blossom is visited. Bees work hard but are malnourished due to overcrowding and only one source of food. Then they are trucked all over the country for other crops, a few weeks here, a few weeks there, until they finally end up at home wherever that is, and the cycle starts again.

Pollination pays: up to $150 per hive. Enough to make ends meet for the beekeeper. But at what cost?

Bees are not little cash cows; they are not industrial machines. If you streamline production with too much traveling, mass-produced genetically-narrow queens, junk food, monocultures, and distorting the natural cycle, bees do not just shrug off the insults and keep chugging. They get tired, they get sick; you could say they get discouraged.

Pesticides are certainly part of the mix, but farmers and chemical companies have been notoriously resistant to ban known bee poisons. The profit motive--let's say the short-term profit motive--rules.

What can we do to save these marvelous creatures? To start with, vote with your wallet. Seek out local beekeepers in your area who do NOT send their bees on pollination tours. Buy their honey, at a fair price for the work involved.

If you have the space, habitat and inclination, get your own beehive. A good friend of mine has a hive in his backyard, with a swarm-captured colony. I have bought my hive and ordered my bees: Minnesota Hygienics, bred to groom themselves carefully and keep pests out of the hive. Should be fun.

The fruits and vegetables that you buy locally (unless you live in the California valleys) support agriculture on a more sustainable scale. In general, do what you can to support habitat preservation, non-GMO cropping, organic gardening and orchards, less pesticide spraying. The future of your food depends on it.

Northern Colorado citizens can contact the Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association for honey, to join, etc.

Readers in other parts of the country can surely find similar local groups. This work is available to all of us. If enough dedicated people work at saving the honeybee, we can do it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Making Your Own

I have recently made tahini (sesame butter) from organic brown sesame seeds from Texas, and it's so delicious I thought I'd write a post of some things you can make for yourself, better and cheaper than what you can buy.

Homemade Sesame Tahini

2 cups organic brown (unhulled) sesame seeds
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees and spread the seeds smoothly on a pizza pan or cookie sheet with sides. Toast for 8-10 minutes in oven.
Remove and let cool 20 minutes or more. Place seeds in a food processor and add the oil. Run for 2-3 minutes, then stop and push the stray seeds down into the slurry, and run for another 2-3 minutes. Makes a little less than a pint. Keep in frig. Does not separate.

This is Delicious! I find myself eating it with a spoon. You could also spread it on bread or crackers, or put a spoonful in chicken soup. I haven't added it to hummus yet, but I'm sure that would work well too.

Rice Cream

You can buy "rice cream", which is a quick-cooking brown rice hot cereal, for some bucks, but making your own is a cinch. I started with organic brown basmati rice (Lundbergs from California). I ran it through my grain mill, set for a coarse flour. If you grind more than a small quantity, keep it in the frig or freezer.

To cook, mix 1 cup water and 1/3 cup coarse rice flour, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, stirring, and continue to stir as it thickens. Then turn heat very low and put a lid on for a few minutes to finish cooking.

You could lightly toast the raw rice before grinding. You could also try the same trick with wild rice (I plan to do that soon), for a particularly luxurious breakfast cereal.

Homemade Mayonnaise

This is so good I haven't bought commercial mayonnaise for years.

1 organic fresh high-quality egg
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Preferably make this in a small food processor with a hole in the lid. The blender is OK but it is hard to get it scraped out when done.

Put egg in bowl of processor, and add the lemon juice, salt, and mustard powder. Have oil measured and ready. Start processor. While running, dribble in the olive oil. As it runs, the mayo starts to thicken, and when you are done, it is nice and thick. Scrape out into a widemouth jar and keep in frig. This does not keep FOREVER like commercial mayo; plan to use in a couple of weeks. It is a lovely pale greenish-gold color and has loads of flavor.

Easy Home-ground Flours

Even with an underpowered grain grinder, millet and buckwheat flour are very easy to make. Millet flour turns rancid rather easily, while the grain itself keeps very well, so it makes sense to grind only a couple of weeks of supply at a time.

My favorite quick gluten-free pancake uses equal parts homeground buckwheat and millet flour. For one person, beat one egg, stir in 1/3 cup each of buckwheat and millet flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and milk, buttermilk or yogurt to make the batter thickness that you like. Cook in hot skillet or griddle, with melted butter or home-rendered lard or olive oil to keep it from sticking. (I stopped using Teflon pans two years ago; the smoke is toxic, and eventually bits start coming off in the food.)

I like these pancakes plain or with a little fruit jam, though I suppose you could use maple syrup. Just don't use the cheap high-fructose corn sweetener version of syrup. That stuff is not good for you, promoting insulin resistance.


Make these with backyard apples, farmer's market apples, or good store apples that are unwaxed, if you can find them. Leaving the skins on (for red or reddish apples) makes the sauce a yummy pinkish color instead of gray. Once you've made your own applesauce, commercial doesn't taste that good.

Wash apples, cut into quarters, and core. Cut out any bad parts or bruises. Put in your pan, and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water (depending on size of pan). Bring to boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to lift bottom slices to the top. Let cool a few minutes, then put through a food mill. This is a wonderful non-electric gadget you can get at a kitchen or hardware store. It catches all the skins and seeds.

Depending on how sweet or tart your apples are, and your taste, you could sweeten a little with honey or sugar. You can add a little orange zest, or a little cinnamon or nutmeg.

Applesauce can be frozen in wide-mouth pints, or if you make a big batch you can water-bath can the jars for 15 minutes (see the Ball Blue Book of Canning for details). If you have a fruit dryer that has "fruit leather" trays, two cups of sauce make a nice rollup.

You could make this with some apricot or peach slices too, or your favorite berry, like the commercially-available sauce. I haven't done this, but it's worth the experiment.

Home-Rendered Lard

First, don't use commercial lard which has so many preservatives in it that it keeps out of refrigeration for months.

Start with fat scraps from high-quality pastured pork, preferably organic. Locally, I get mine from Rocky Plains store in Loveland.

Cut fat into small cubes. Place in a kettle, and heat slowly, stirring occasionally. As the fat melts out more and more, slowly turn down the heat. The first few times you go through the process, check the temperature with a kitchen thermometer. You don't want it to get above 220 degrees (230 at a lower elevation).

Eventually there will be loads of very tiny bubbles coming to the top. With a slotted spoon press the scraps against the side of the kettle, to press out more fat and liquid. (Your whole purpose is to drive off the liquid, so that you end up with just the fat which will keep very well.) You'll be done when those little bubbles get fewer, and the temperature gets up. After doing it a few times, you'll get a feel for it.

Pour through a metal sieve into a bowl, then pour that into pint jars. What's left in the sieve are your cracklings. They are Delicious! You can put them in cornbread or bread, decorate scrambled eggs with some bits, or eat them with a spoon (oooh, decadent!). Not a low-fat delicacy, for sure. Keep the cracklings in the frig or freezer. Once the lard cools, put it in the freezer.

You can keep a jar on the counter for weeks with no sign of rancidity or off-taste. It is a good high-temperature cooking oil, and makes wonderful pastry. A well-fed pastured pig's fat is mostly mono-saturated, with a lipid profile pretty close to olive oil. Lard will keep far better than polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower, soy, or corn, which can get rancid shortly after opening the bottle.

Don't do this with industrial pork fat, ugggh! You won't like the taste anyway. As is true for many other foods, when you start with the best-quality ingredients, you get excellent taste and nutrition.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Green in the Winter

I have not been keeping up with the incoming cabbage from our CSA. It's about the only locally-produced green thing around, so I need to do something about that. Green is compelling in the winter, surrounded as we are by white (lots of snow this winter in our region) and the browns of winter vegetation. Fortunately, cabbage pretty much waits patiently for me to get around to it.

How local is the following for us? Pretty local, actually.



Green pepper--CSA, home-dried

Lard--home-rendered from pastured Colorado pork

Tomato sauce--home-canned from local tomatoes

Vinegar--made by a friend from our own apples

Salt and pepper--salt from Utah, pepper from somewhere else

Romanian Braised Cabbage

1 head (about one pound) green cabbage, slivered (use a knife or a kraut cutter if you have one)
1 good-sized onion, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil or home-rendered lard
1 green pepper slivered, or use 1/2 cup dried green pepper slices
2 Tbs tomato paste, or 1/4 cup tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs cider vinegar

Bring a pan of water to the boil, add cabbage, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Drain. In a skillet, saute the onion and green pepper pieces in the oil or lard for 5 minutes. Stir in the drained cabbage. Continue to saute, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Mix tomato with 1/2 cup water, stir in, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the vinegar.

I used the cabbage as part of a dish I "invented" last night, roughly based on 1. what we had on hand, 2. the popular 7-layer Mexican-food appetizer.

Tex-Mex Concentric Platter

Each person gets a plate of their own.

Meat: choose from a wide variety: leftover turkey or chicken, stewed lamb, browned ground beef, browned sausage, ???. The first time we used turkey, the second time beef. Season the beef, if you use it, with a little salt and chili powder.

Beans: here you need to be prepared: sort and soak 1 cup pinto beans overnight, then bring to boil in fresh water and cook 2-3 hours until nice and tender. We always try to keep a dish of cooked beans on hand in the frig. Refry your cooked beans in a little oil or lard, with a little added salt, crushing the beans into a nice slurry. Stir and cook until somewhere between runny and stiff--just thick enough.

Greens: Here is one good thing to do with that Braised Cabbage above. It really adds to the dish. Or you could have finely sliced lettuce or escarole, or mild sauerkraut. I'd suggest the cabbage, especially for winter.

Condiments: Your choice; you could use a wide variety. I used lactofermented salsa I made last summer from local tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. You could use other chunky salsa if you like. Also a little grated cheese. Other possibilities: guacamole or avocado slices, sour cream, sliced olives, sliced jalapenos (some like it hot), finely sliced onions or scallions.

Assembly: Have everything ready, refried beans, meat, etc. Make a ring of refried beans on the plate, leaving room at the center for the meat, and at the edges for the greens. About 2" wide, roughly. Then spoon meat into the central well, and lightly spoon some cabbage or other greens into a thin ring outside the beans. Sprinkle with cheese if desired, then some salsa, and other condiments as you like.

Other Ways
We're eating low-carb much of the time, and this is a lovely, nourishing low-carb meal. You could dip sturdy corn chips into it, or tear off pieces of flour tortilla, or load up soft warm corn tortillas with the contents of the ring. You could make the beans ring a little narrower and put another ring of cooked brown rice. You could serve it as a dinner (as we did), or put it out for appetizers with appropriate dipping material.

How local is this dish for us? Colorado pintos, beef raised 3 miles away, CSA tomatoes, onions, peppers, cabbage (fixed as above), local turkey or chicken, pork from the neighboring county.

Dessert for this meal was home-canned peaches from last summer.

Here are a couple of other cabbage dishes, from India. Spices, of course, are not local, but have been traded by human societies for millenia. Serve as a substantial dish beside meat, or dal (lentils) for vegetarians.

Cabbage and Potatoes
1 lb cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
3 Tbs cooking oil or ghee
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp each cayenne pepper, ground cumin and ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate, or 1 tbs fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in large skillet, add mustard seeds and heat until they start to pop, then add onion and saute a few minutes. Add the potato pieces, and cook stirring for 5 minutes. Then add the cabbage and the rest of the spices and salt, stir well to mix, and cook uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check seasonings; soften the tamarind concentrate in a little hot water, and pour over.

Variation on a theme:

Cabbage with Yogurt

1 3/4 lbs cabbage, cored and sliced 1/4" thick
1/4 cup vegetable oil or ghee
3 tbs black mustard seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 small dried hot pepper, seeded and torn into small pieces
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced 1/4" thick
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
1 cup plain yogurt, gently warmed but NOT brought to boil

Heat oil, add mustard seeds until they pop, add pepper, coriander, cabbage and onion. Stir well, then add salt. Cover and cook over low heat 6-8 minutes. Then stir in grated coconut. Pile the cabbage into a bowl, stir in the warmed yogurt and serve.