Tuesday, October 13, 2009

9 Simple Words

Last night I was browsing the NC Digital Library for books to download when I came across a book called In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The blurb on it said, “Eat food. Not too much of it. Mostly plants.” Eureka! That’s exactly what I decided to do back in August. Eat real food (not fake, processed food), not too much of it, and mostly vegetables. I couldn’t believe how simply my eating goals were stated in those nine words. I promptly downloaded the book and started listening to it this morning on the way to work. Pollan also wrote An Omnivore’s Dilemma which I have heard about but not read. I think that book makes the case for responsible, environmentally sustainable eating. I don’t need to be convinced of either concept but it’s interesting to learn more both. After 8 weeks of eating this way, I feel better. I’ve lost 16 pounds. And I’m supporting family farms.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Love Your Chickens and Buy My Eggs

This is my column for Sunday's (Greensboro) News and Record. It's about A.J., my favorite little chicken farmer. I've mentioned him in my blog before.

Did you know that chickens have ear lobes and their color indicates the color the hen’s eggs will be? I didn’t until I was educated by A.J. Jorsey, an 11-year old chicken farmer from the Reidsville area. I first met A.J. at the Rockingham County Farmers’ Market where I was drawn to his cartons of eggs of assorted colors, shapes, and sizes. They struck me as eggs with character, their colors ranging from pure white to all shades of tan and brown to light green. They run very large to very small. Just looking over the cartons to choose a dozen was like picking out old-fashioned candy from a glass case. Quick to please a customer, A.J. will trade out eggs from one carton to the next. And he’s a natural born marketer. When he pulled out the photo album of 8x10 glossies of him and his chickens Sam, Elvis, Oreo, Ashes, Elmer, Silver, Phyllis, Daffy, etc., I was hooked. From then on, no other eggs would do for our breakfasts. But honestly, with their deep golden yokes and just- laid freshness, they taste better than any eggs I’ve ever eaten.

A.J.’s Farm is 10 acres, a half-mile down a country lane off of a narrow dirt road. His chickens share the land with horses and ducks. There are too many of them to count these days but A.J. reckons he has around 80 or so. They are turned out of the barn each morning in a long, noisy chicken parade to free range all day. In the evening when A.J. finishes his homework, he makes a bee-line for the barn. He feeds them their organic food, waters them, collects eggs, and “gets them ready for beddy-bye.”

“You have to pet and carry around and love your chickens. They lay more eggs if you love them,” he said. While he was away on vacation this summer, his chickens only laid about 10% of the eggs they normally lay. All of A.J.’s chickens with distinctive looks have names. He started with a baker’s dozen of 13 bought from Tractor Supply last spring. In July, his friend Maeren Honacher, also 11, of Madison, went in with A.J. to incubate some eggs given to her by a friend of her mother’s. The two didn’t know what kinds of chickens they were incubating but nearly all hatched. A.J. and Maeren split the chicks, taking 8 each. From there, A.J.’s flock grew. “We’ve made some cool crosses,” he said.

A.J. will sell his eggs at the Chinqua Penn Farmers’ Market until it closes and then go to the Greensboro Farmers’ Market. He usually sells between 15 and 18 dozen eggs per week at $3.00 per dozen but he’ll sell you 2 dozen for $5.00 if you bring back your egg cartons. Ever the businessman, A.J. laments the high cost of egg cartons. “$30 for 100 cartons,” he said. “That’s why I give discounts.”

Although his parents do help out occasionally with the 100 pounds of feed his poultry eat each week, A.J. usually pays for it from his sales. He does all the labor, except turning the chickens out on school mornings. On Thursdays and Fridays, he carefully washes his eggs, puts them into cartons, and labels them, getting them ready to sell at the market on Saturdays. He pays for his own booth and has to sell 3-1/2 dozen just to break even. But he still manages to save some money for things he wants. “The Beatles Rock Band [game for Playstation] cost me 2 weeks of eggs,” he said.

A.J.’s advice to chicken farmers: “Love your chickens.” His advice to everyone else: “Buy my eggs.” Sometimes, wisdom comes before age.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Winter Coming...What are we going to eat?

I haven't blogged in 2 weeks but I'm still keeping on with my healthy eating and exercise. Tim and I went to the Rockingham County Farmers' Market this morning. Lately, that's a weekly activity for us. Today we bought some October beans, a new bean for us. I also got a butternut squash with the intention of making soup. I've got to get on Epicurious for a recipe. We bought heirloom cherry tomatoes, green beans, yellow squash, egg plant, and cucumbers. We're still getting okra and tomatoes from Tim's garden and we have potatoes and sweet potatoes left from last week.

I'm a little concerned about what we're going to do when the market closes. We've gotten business cards or phone numbers for the vendors selling meat and eggs. Tim has canned tomatoes and frozen some butter beans from our garden. I guess I'll have to buy frozen veggies from the grocery store during the winter months. I think frozen would be more earth friendly, or at the very least tastier and cheaper, than fresh vegetables shipped for thousands of miles.

Today we bought a dozen eggs from A.J. I asked him and his parents if I can do a newspaper column on him and his chickens so I'm looking forward to visiting their farm. On our farm, our duck coop is finished and it is top notch, very sturdy and well built. The ducks are still in a brooder box on our screen porch. They are actually in their 3rd box. The first cardboard box started coming apart near the waterer and they started eating it. We tried a Rubbermaid container for a few days and it just wasn't big enough. Monday I got 2 more cardboard boxes and put them together to make a new box. The ducks are huge now. I think they're about 3 times the size they were when we first got them and I can tell they're darker colored and started to get some feathers.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lucky Duck

My favorite snack this summer has been a chunked up tomato with a sprinkle of salt. Good thing, because we our tomato basket overfloweth. Tim has canned them a couple of times and this week made a huge pot of spaghetti sauce with home-grown tomatoes, peppers, and shitake mushrooms. Yum-alicious!

The big news for the week is the ducks came in yesterday. The post office called early in the morning and Tim picked them up. They shipped them in a little box, maybe 15” x 15” x 6 or 8” tall with air holes everywhere. They came with instructions, including dipping their bills into their water as they were released into the box so they could find it easily. They ran around, figured out how to eat and drink water, and did a lot of intermittent sleeping. When they sleep, they completely collapse and their heads loll sideways so their box looks like a duck battlefield littered with fuzzy yellow corpses.

I barely stood it through the day at work yesterday, beside myself wanting to get home and see them. And they are adorable (when they’re awake)! In our particular variety of duck, the males have dark bills until they are a few days old. By our count, we have 3 males. We got lucky on the perfect ratio of males to females (1:2 or 3) inspiring the new name for our farm: Lucky Duck Farm. I’ve always wanted to name our place and could never think of one that grabbed me. Lucky Duck grabs me. It’s snappy, descriptive, and I feel lucky to live there. Now, I get to design a logo.

We did have a bit of misfortune, losing one of the females last evening. The rest of the flock seems healthy today so I think she was just a weakling. In fact, Tim did a head count and McMurray Hatchery sent us an extra duck because we still have 10. They must expect some loss. Seems like I read in message boards and maybe even on their site about them throwing in extra chickens with orders. They must do the same with ducks. I have no illusions about naming the ducklings and treating them as pets. Although the ratio of males to females insures that we won’t eat any of the initial flock, there are just so many of them that they look like a swirl of pastel yellow with tiny webbed feet and black eyes. I can’t focus on one, much less name them and figure out who is who.

So that was the week in my little corner of Rockingham County. I plan on getting to the Farmers’ Market early tomorrow to get some more of A.J.’s eggs and veggies other than tomatoes, squash, peppers, and okra (which Tim is harvesting daily from his garden). The weather is blissful and I have a long weekend ahead of me. I’m one lucky duck!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Ultimate Test of Willpower (so far)

I passed up dessert tonight at Bistro Sofia. Yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Awaiting Our New Arrivals

I had my 2nd Yoga class tonight. I felt a little more coordinated than I did last Thursday. I can't go back until Thursday week because of grandson duty Thursday and next Monday. I picked up a Yoga DVD at a yard sale a few months ago and never watched it until yesterday. A lot of the poses are the same as we do in class so I'm going to try to follow along with it every couple of days between classes.

In other news, we have the duck brooding box completely set up now, down to water and food, just waiting for the little ducklings to arrive. They could be here as early as tomorrow or as late as Friday. We're both pretty excited even though Tim is acting calm and cool about it.

He's less calm and cool waiting for the bread machine I ordered Saturday from Chef's Catalog to arrive. He was against getting the bread machine because he's doubtful that it will work as promised but I took the chance because the 19 reviews all gave it 5 stars. He wants it to work and he's pumped about trying it, he's just doubtful. I'm optimistic and looking forward to bread costing .60/loaf and being free of preservatives. One more processed food will be eliminated from our diet. :-)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Visiting the Downtown Reidsville Farmers' Market

This is my column for the paper next Sunday so the writing is a little more formal than my usual blog posts.

At the Downtown Reidsville Farmers’ Market, greetings and hugs seem to be exchanged nearly as often as money and vegetables. In the half hour or so I was there, I witnessed quite a few reunions of folks who hadn’t seen one another in a while and just happened to bump into each other while shopping for fresh, locally grown food. I visited on Saturday, August 29, the first Saturday the farmers were in their new location, Market Square. The structure is beautiful, with its heavy timbers supporting a roof that provides welcome shade on a hot August day.

I enjoyed talking to the vendors. Mattie Watkins of Caswell County had nearly sold out of vegetables by the time I arrived around 10 AM. Her family helps her raise a market garden on 7 acres. She offered green beans, patty pan squash, and green tomatoes. I’ve never seen green tomatoes for sale though I enjoy eating them fried. I thought it was a good novel idea.

At the next table down, Jeff Ward, 23, and Amanda Chriscoe, 22, stood out as the youngest vendors at the market. Both work for High Rock Farms, which mainly sells pecans and chestnuts, but also raises and sells blackberries, watermelons, and cantelopes. Amanda goes to school and works part-time at the farm, baking up goodies to sell, such as oatmeal pecan cookies.

Paul Sutton of Reidsville farms only 2-1/2 acres but grows an unbelievable number of crops that he brings to the market a couple of days a week. He has several varieties of apples and is happy to help customers choose the right ones for baking or fresh eating. He raises potatoes, pears, butter beans, peas, peppers, and raspberries, among other offerings. Paul is also a craftsman. I was so impressed with his solid wood step stools made with dowel construction that I bought one. Now our grandson can reach the sink to wash his hands and I can reach the bowls on the top shelf of the cabinet.

Paul said of the turnout on the first Saturday in the new location, “We’ve had some people who are not regulars and that’s good.” Gayle Niemczura of Reidsville, a regular at the market, was looking over his newly dug potatoes. According to Paul, “If you want choice, be early. If you come real late, you get real good deals.”

I met Marie King of Reidsville who was a first time visitor to the farmers’ market. She was making a trip to the post office when she caught sight of the “wonderful looking eggs” at the Massey Creek Farms table. She stopped to buy a dozen to go in zucchini bread she was baking that afternoon.

At the next table, Sue Barber was selling baked goods, pickles, and desserts while her husband sold fresh produce at the table beside her. Sue has 2 certified kitchens in her home where she bakes homemade treats like cheese basil bread. Stacie Dillard of Eden was shopping at Sue’s table. It was Stacie’s first trip to the market. “I wanted to come and see. I’m using my WIC vouchers.” Sue said, “You should have seen my table early this morning. I had stuff stacked up. I’m nearly out now.” Sue told me that customers show up as the vendors are unloading their wares, looking for the freshest food and best selections. “At the old location, they’d sometimes be there waiting for us when we showed up at 5:30 in the morning.”

The farmers’market in Market Square at 307 S. Scales Street is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from May until November, 6 AM until 1 PM. But get there early for the best selection!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Belly Breathing

I went to my first Yoga class last night. I don’t bend the way I used to! And the extra inches on my thighs and roll of fat on my abdomen got in the way on some of the poses. So I just did the best I could and kept on going, knowing it will get better as I get thinner and more in shape. A lot of life is like that: do the best you can and keep on going. I liked the class. The instructor (Tabitha at Murphy Street Yoga in Madison), flows from pose to pose effortlessly and talks her students along. I was out of whack with my breathing but she says it will come and the important thing is just to breathe. Yoga requires belly breathing, opposite of what I (and I think most of us) do normally. By the time I spent an hour stretching and focusing on breathing and did the relaxation part at the end, I felt so de-stressed. I went to bed at 10 PM and slept so well last night. Who needs Ambien? Doctors should prescribe Yoga before bed instead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

12.5 Pounds Down! Much More to Go...

My new lifestyle isn’t about losing weight. I choose honey over Splenda because eating naturally is more important to me than cutting calories. But I do expect exercise and my consumption of vegetables instead of processed foods to ultimately get my weight back to a healthy level. I hadn’t gotten on the scales since my doctor visit on August 6, when I had bronchitis for the 2nd time in 2 months. This morning, I bit the bullet and stepped up there again. It’s been 20 days since that horrible day of peak weight and 2 weeks since my birthday when I resolved to live healthy for myself and the planet. The scale told me that I have lost 12.5 pounds. I stepped off it, wiped my eyes, stepped back on. Yep, 12.5 pounds. I went downstairs and asked Tim if our scales were right. His weight varies little so he knows if the scales are accurate. He said they were within a couple of pounds. Which way? He doesn’t remember. Oh well, does it really matter? The point is, I either weighed at the doctor’s office holding my dog Bill (silly thought but he does weigh about 12.5 pounds) or I’ve lost a chunk of flab bigger than a 10 pound bag of potatoes. I know this kind of weight loss will slow drastically and that most of it was probably fluid but I’m OK with that. The important thing is to feel better and live better. Tonight, I’ll check my blood pressure and see if it’s looking a little better.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Duck Hardware Issues Resolved

My ten Welsh Harlequin duckings will be here next week. I chose that breed because the American Minor Breeds Conservancy lists them as "critical" and they are good all around ducks for eggs and meat from what I've read. The males look like mallards in a snow storm, mallard markings with white flecks. The females are less showy (naturally) and are a buff color with some darker markings.

I've spent a considerable amount of time researching ducks so I'll know what to do when they get here, besides ooohing and aaahing over how cute they are. I scored two free large cardboard boxes from Lowe's in Reidsville that I'm going to duck tape together (ha, get it? yes, I know it's duct tape but I couldn't resist). The little quackers will live on the screen porch for 6 weeks until they get their full feathers. They must have a light to keep them warm and I just found instructions for a homemade version tonight online, solving my last big "hardware" issue. Tim already has some kind of light bulb with a cord. What we have to do is use an aluminum turkey roasting pan with a hole in it to thread the cord through. It will be the shield that directs the heat downward on the ducklings. Now I need to come up with a feeder, feed, straw bedding, and waterer. I've seen all those items at Tractor Supply but I want to check prices at Big Apple and Southern States before I buy. The food will be most important. The food at Tractor Supply is non-medicated but it's a dual purpose food for chicks and ducklings. I'd prefer food strictly for water fowl, organic if at all possible. My ducks will be free range and forage for a lot of their own food. I'll only pen them at night to protect them from foxes and other critters.

Did you know baby ducks without mamas should not be allowed in water for several weeks? The mama ducks oil the babies and make them waterproof. Babies don't have the oil gland to do that and can drown or get chilled.

Kenny Shelton is going to build our duck house. He built our house addition two years ago. We are not builders and Kenny definitely is. What would take us several weekends and probably come out crooked will probably take him one weekend and be a duck palace they will be proud to live and lay eggs in. Duck houses don't have to be tall since they sleep on the ground rather than roost as chickens do so duck houses are pretty small and economical to build in comparison to chicken coops. I've picked out a fairly flat spot (not many of those on our land) between the pond and the house so it will be convenient for both us and the ducks. It will be awesome to gather eggs from our own ducks next spring!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rockingham County Food Makes Front Page of News and Record

There was a great front page article about Rockingham County's upcoming online ordering system for local food in today's (Greensboro) News and Record. http://www.news-record.com/content/2009/08/24/article/virtual_farmers_market_in_the_works Pretty exciting stuff for us to make the front with color photos of chicken eggs!

Sean is spending the night tonight so Tim made a kid-friendly dinner of local angus burgers, our first time eating the beef we bought from Sandstone Farms. It was very good, made all the better by just-picked heirloom tomatoes. Dinners at our house are very meat-centric so I have to go heavy on veggies, fruits, and grains for breakfast and lunch. Although Tim loves to raise his vegetable garden, he doesn't really like to eat veggies. Strange but true.

I'm now watching Scooby Doo with Sean and having a glass of Chateau Morrisette cabernet. It's made in NC but isn't the closest winery to us. I bought this wine during a shared birthday weekend with Shanda, a friend since the 4th grade, and Cecil, her husband. It's a nice, drinkable (read: not too tannic, fruit forward) wine but I'm sure it's too expensive to be drinking on a no-special-occassion Monday night. That's the good part of my buying wines on a vacation-- I have no memory of the cost of each bottle. I'd like to drink local wines since there are a couple of wineries within 20 miles of home but the prices are so high. I know start-up costs are steep. At this point, I don't think there is a good answer to finding reasonably priced local wines for everyday consumption but this calls for more research and more wine tasting :-).

Allergies kicked my butt after hanging around the pond all afternoon yesterday but I am beginning to notice a difference in the way I feel. I've also been taking my vitamins, (especially D, Alison), on a regular basis. I feel less tired and I'm sleeping better. I'm also making it up to the 4th floor without stopping now. Oh, I still pant and gasp for air, but I can keep moving all the way to the top. My lunch time walks pep me up for the afternoon. While I walk, I'm listening to The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand on my MP3 player.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy Chickens Make Happy Breakfasts

This morning I had scrambled eggs for breakfast but they weren't just any scrambled eggs. They were fresh from AJ's chickens, bought at the farmers' market yesterday. AJ is an incredibly cute boy about 10-years old who had a table full of eggs, all sizes and hues, and a scrapbook with photos of his beloved chickens. I can't remember them all but Elvis and Phyllis Diller were memorable and had "hairstyles" like their namesakes. The eggs were fresh and buttery tasting, with rich yellow yolks that colored the cooked eggs. I felt inordinately happy eating breakfast this morning and thinking about AJ and his hens.

We also bought some grass fed lamb from Massey Creek Farms. I thought I was going to have to drag Tim away from his conversation with Bill McCollum of Massey Creek Farms as they discussed people they knew in common and who was related to who. Mrs. McCollum promised to email me recipes for a ground lamb dish her grandchildren love. The lamb and their fresh farm eggs are also available at Twin Oaks Shell Station across from the Hospice facility on Hwy 87/704. Good to know.

We bought nearly fat-free ground angus beef and cubed steak from Sandstone Farms at the market. No growth hormones were used in production. The beef is raised on pasture with a little sweet feed given as a treat to get the cattle to come to Frank Bray when he calls them up. We're still looking for a source for local chicken and pork.

We picked up a basil plant from Running Pine Herb Farm that we topped to use last night in a mozzarella tomato salad that we made for a dinner with our friends Katherine and Will. The tomatoes were Tim's heirloom Marglobes and Rutgers. I also used tiny pear-shaped yellow tomatoes from a farmer whose name I didn't get yesterday. They were mild flavored but added to the color and presentation of the salad. We bought a cheese-making kit and had intended to make our own mozzarella for the salad but ran out of time. This afternoon Tim made his first batch and it's delicious! Based on what the grocery store charged for fresh mozzarella, it's less expensive to make our own and we know what's in it. I'm looking forward to having another tomato mozzarella salad tonight.

It's such a pretty day today that I spent the afternoon floating around in our pond, one of my favorite Sunday afternoon activities in the summer. My exercise today was swimming and peddling the peddle boat around. No one ever said that exercise can't be fun.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Internet Eating

I hadn’t been out to lunch since I started my new program and I was getting cabin (office) fever. Even though it meant blowing my lunch hour walking routine and throwing my exercise requirements into this evening, I escaped the building with my friend Peg. We decided on Panera Bread. Before we left, I got on the website to check the nutritional information of my various lunch options. I’m not counting calories in my new lifestyle, but since I was going to eat food someone else prepared, I wanted to know what I was putting into my mouth (stomach, thighs, butt, etc). I was amazed in a bad way at the calorie and fat content of most of their delicious, seemingly healthy sandwiches. The salads and soups were better but some still had quite a bit of fat. That got me to thinking about how many calories and fat grams I was allowed to eat according to dear old Uncle Sam.

I don’t know how I lived before Al Gore invented the internet ;-). With a quick Google search I found out that the Recommended Daily Allowance for non-lactating, non-pregnant women (neither label has applied to me in more than 20 years) is 2000 calories and 65 grams of fat. To lose a pound a week, that 2000 a day has to be cut by 500 calories to 1500. Losing two pounds a week requires a cut of 1000 calories a day, splitting the RDA in half. Or alternatively, those calories would have to be burned.

Now that I knew what I was dealing with, I went back to the task of lunch selection. I chose to get ½ of a smoked turkey sandwich on sourdough and ½ of a strawberry poppy seed salad for a total of 320 calories, 12 grams of fat. Having done the analysis, I was able to enjoy a nice lunch with a good friend and no side order of guilt. My only issue was that the salad dressing had some kind of fake sweetener in it which tainted an otherwise gorgeous array of lettuce, fruit, and pecans. Next time, I’ll ask them to leave the salad dressing off. Or go back go Google.

Tonight I’ll replace my lunch hour walk with a stint on the rowing machine that I bought two years ago and have used twice up till now. I knew I’d use that thing…eventually.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rockingham County will be getting a local food co-op!

Today I signed up to start Yoga classes on 8/27, alternating Thursdays and Mondays every other week to work around our schedule for keeping our grandson, Sean. I’m taking Yoga from Murphy Street Yoga whose owner, Tabitha, is very involved in the local food movement in Rockingham County. She told me the group is getting their non-profit status and will soon be opening a food co-op store where we can buy locally produced food on an expanded schedule. So, if we get busy around the house and miss the farmer’s market like we did last Saturday, we can still get local food that week. I’m so excited!

I’ve been feeding (pun intended) all this life-changing info to my husband Tim a little piece at a time so it will seem less like I’ve gone off my rocker. After 27 years of marriage, he’s well acquainted with my obsessive streak but, in our house, food is his domain. He grocery shops, he cooks, he grows the garden, he home cans, etc. So, when I go messing with his kitchen, I have to tread lightly. Of course, he grew up on a farm, growing most of what they ate and trading eggs for milk, so it’s not like I’ll have to twist his arm. I just worry about asking him to give up his grocery store circulars and coupon shopping. For Tim, saving money on groceries is practically an Olympic sport. Today’s “teachable moment” came this morning came while I was packing my lunch. I showed him the ingredient labels on both canned soup and canned tuna. Canned soup has modified food starch and unpronounceable things in it. Canned tuna has tuna, water, and salt. He understood and agreed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Breathe. Repeat.

Hard to believe but I didn’t eat enough today. I worked through part of lunch and didn’t take time to chop up the cucumber and tomato I brought to go with my chicken noodle soup so I owe myself more veggies tonight. But I did take time to walk for 20 minutes and even included a couple of circuits down to the first floor and back up the steps to the fourth. I’m still getting winded but not as bad. Progress!

Work was very stressful today with a lot of impossible production deadlines laid out before me. I chewed my way up the ladder at one steel mill and am still getting no results on late shipments. So, I took deep breaths and tried to go Zen. I will not allow stress to affect my health. Breathe. Repeat. I called and left a message for Tabitha at Murphy Street Yoga in Madison (392-3430) to check out the class schedule. I need Yoga for both stress relief and flexibility and I might as well get it locally, same as my food.

This morning I gave some consideration to sleep as part of my new healthy lifestyle. I need to get more of it so I’m setting a curfew bedtime for myself of 10:30 PM, effective tonight.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Success, Failure, and (Nearly) Endless Possibilities

Yogurt success! And it was really very easy and quick. Instead of using a yogurt maker, I tried the suggestion of putting the warm mixture in a cooler but that didn’t work. After 3 hours, it was still liquid and not warm anymore. So I poured it into glass jars, put them in a hot water bath, and stuck it in the oven that had been preheated to its lowest temperature and immediately turned off. The next morning, I had 4 cups of yogurt. During this process, I read the ingredients on the Greek yogurt that Tim had in the fridge that I used for my starter culture and it didn’t have all those nasty artificial ingredients in it so my yogurt making was not truly necessary. I just need to avoid the diet kinds of yogurt and go for the real stuff. But, using 1 quart of organic milk to make 4 cups of yogurt only cost me about $2.19 plus a little for the ½ cup of starter so I figure homemade costs me about half the price of the store bought yogurt for about twice as much finished product. Saving money is good!

Bee failures. After picking veggies from the garden Saturday morning, Tim checked on his bees and discovered a catastrophe. Two of his hives have been wiped out by wax moths and hive beetles. He still has one healthy hive that he will try to split next spring but he’s pretty down. He’s been keeping bees for about 5 years now and every couple of years, just when it seems like things are going well, he loses bees.

With the discovery of the bee problems, we didn’t have time to make it to the farmers’ market this weekend. But last night, I checked out www.ncfarmfresh.com. It looks like we’ll have no problem getting our meats locally, farm direct. Free-range chicken, grass fed and finished beef, and pasture-raised pork are all available either in our county or one of the adjacent counties. When the freezer runs low, we know where to go.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Natural Flavor

My birthday wore me out but I couldn’t sleep that night. I don’t know if it was due to all the sugar consumed in two helpings of birthday cake and ice cream, or the excitement over my new healthy life resolution and ordering the ducks. Despite going to bed last night at the unusually early time of 9 PM, I turned off my alarm clock this morning and went back to sleep, waking at the terribly late time of 7 AM. I took a five minute shower, neglected to straighten my hair, grabbed a container of Light & Fit yogurt and a handful of almonds, and ran out the door. I (thankfully) made every light and missed the swell of on-time traffic, getting to work with just enough time to park in the farthest spot from the building instead of the first row. And I walked up the steps to my 4th floor office instead of taking the elevator, for the first time in a long time. I had to pause at the 3rd and each landing thereafter to catch my breath but I was feeling pretty good about my start toward healthiness.

Until I read the ingredients in my breakfast yogurt, that is. Modified food starch, fructose, kosher gelatin, vitamin A palmate, malic acid, etc, etc. The only thing listed as natural in it seemed to be natural flavor but I question that. If the flavor was really natural, wouldn’t it just say orange juice, since it’s orange yogurt? The container is a number 5 plastic which is not recycled in these parts so I tossed it in disgust. I went online and got a recipe for homemade yogurt which seems simple enough to make, stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought organic 2% milk and organic yogurt for my starter. Tomorrow morning, it’s yogurt making time.

I walked for 20 minutes during my lunch hour after consuming a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with some very questionable ingredients in it. Looks like this healthy lifestyle is going to prohibit processed foods. I don’t want to waste food so I’ll eat the stuff I have on hand and start looking for easy recipes to replace my grab-and-go provisions.

Here’s the yogurt recipe I’m going to try (from 101Cookbooks.com):
4 cups of fresh, organic 2% milk
1/3 cup of powdered milk
1/2 cup organic yogurt (this will be your starter)

Making yogurt begins with milk. Readers of 101 Cookbooks will not be surprised with the advice to buy organic milk that is fresh as possible. Slowly heat the milk on the stove over low-medium heat.
At this point you can choose to add powdered milk. Powdered milk creates thicker yogurt that takes less time to ferment. It's optional if you are using whole milk or two percent. Some skim and one percent milk include added milk proteins which make the product taste less watery and behave the same way as if you added powdered milk.
For your first batch we are going to go with two-percent milk plus 1/3 cup of powdered milk. This combination of milk with the powder will produce a delicious, basic yogurt.
The most tedious thing about making yogurt is watching the milk get hot. You need it to hit 170 degrees, but not have it boil. So you want to pay attention to the pot and have a thermometer at hand. Once you've hit the target temperature, remove from heat and then wait for the milk to cool. Unless you put the pot in the refrigerator it will take some time to cool to 108-112 degrees.
If you are using existing yogurt as a starter, have it handy in a cup. When the milk is cooled to the proper temperature, mix a small amount it in with the yogurt. This will break up the yogurt and makes blending it with the rest of the milk easier. Once you add the starter, the milk can be placed in the pre-heated yogurt maker for four to eight hours. Refrigerate before serving. Makes one quart.

Not wanting to buy a yogurt maker, I’m going to try these reviewers’ methods:

Reviewer Tom:
What I've done for years is to place my milk and cultures in a large glass jar with tight lid and set in inside my large pressure cooker pot with warm water up to the top of the jar at a temperature slightly warmer than 112 degrees, and heat the oven briefly, then turn it off, before going to bed. I like my yogurt tangy, but you could leave it in for a shorter period of time for a milder taste.

Reviewer Anonymous:
As far as the incubation, we just put it in a pyrex bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and put it in a picnic cooler overnight. Worked great.

I’ll report on my preferred method after I’ve tried both.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fat, Fifty, and Unfit

Have you ever had this happen to you? You’re bopping along through your life, doing all the day-to-day busy tasks, working at your job, having a little fun here and there, and bam! You turn 50. Or 40 or 60 or some other such birthday ending in “0” that closes the book on an entire decade of your life. Well, it happened to me on August 12. Although it felt like a sneak attack of old age, it wasn’t entirely out of the blue. I’d been ticking off pages of the calendar for the past 49 years, 364 days. It might not have surprised me but it did get my attention and cause me to stop and think about my life up until now, what I’ve done, and what I want to do.

When I think back, I can almost outline my life by decades. My 20s were spent getting married, establishing a home, having a child. My 30s were given over to my career. I went to college and worked hard to get a better job. My 40s were spent seeing a bit of the world. I went to Maine, California, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, several Caribbean Islands, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. There are still a lot of places I’d like to go but I’m becoming a homebody as I get older.

Maybe you’re a long-range planner that has a 5 or 10 year plan for your life. I’m not. But this week, a series of events has led me to believe I need to get with a program. First, I got bronchitis for the second time in 2 months. When I asked my doctor why I keep getting sick, he questioned whether I eat healthy, exercise, and wash my hands often. 1 out of 3 (hand washing) is not good odds. Also, while I was at the doctor’s office, they weighed me. I already felt awful and saw no need to make things worse, but they insisted. I can’t believe how many pounds I’ve put on this past year. Unlike my age, I won’t reveal my weight but I will say I asked for a recount. On top of frequent sickness and unhealthy weight, my blood pressure was border line. Fat, fifty, and unfit is no way to live.

I’ve been listening in my car to Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, advocating the use of healthy, locally grown foods. She isn’t a vegetarian, but the meals described in the book are very heavy on the vegetable and fruit portion of the food pyramid with a healthy amount of whole grains thrown in. I’ve long thought locally grown foods are better for us on many levels: taste, nutrition, safety, economy, and community. But I’ve never really focused on eating the way I know I need to eat. Lately, my breakfast has been a pack of nabs grabbed on the way out the door, eaten in the car while listening to a book on healthy eating. And exercise is something I’ve done in fits and starts but never made a regular part of my life.

This year, for the first time, I’ve made a birthday resolution. I’m going to start eating the way I know I should and add some exercise into my daily routine, even if it’s only 10 minutes of walking. My 50s are going to be the decade I get healthier before I fall completely apart. In the process, I’m going to try to do it in a way that’s healthy for the planet. I’m going to eat all the veggies my husband Tim grows and buy others from the farmer’s markets in the county. I’m going to quit eating artificial and white sugar and instead use honey from Tim’s bees to sweeten foods.

For my birthday present to me, I ordered a flock of Welsh Harlequin ducks. We’ll soon be gathering fresh duck eggs and will occasionally have organic, free range duck for dinner. In the next few months, I’m going to incorporate small changes in my daily routine to make myself healthier. I’ll be blogging about my progress and my duck flock. I’ll share tips on fresh locally grown and prepared foods, good places to walk, exercise classes in the county, and anything that generally furthers my goal of getting healthy while doing my part to keep the planet healthy.