Stacking Functions Garden


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Recipe: collard greens and bacon

It’s been a long time since we bought a new cookbook. Nourishing Traditions was our most recent acquisition, nearly two years ago. That book now informs a lot of the cooking that we do, but we don’t make the actual recipes from it very often. We’ve had some hits and misses.

I do not expect to have any misses from Starting With Ingredients. The book is organized in a novel way — pick an ingredient, then see 4-5 recipes where that ingredient shines. This is not exactly a Betty Crocker cookbook — the recipes are very gourmet with a vigorous nod toward traditional ingredients and methods.  Adam made the glazed carrots recipe recently and it called for duck fat. (And we had it on hand, how awesome is that?)

Anyway, here’s a sample recipe that we modified/simplified a bit. Originally it called for pancetta and a variety of greens including dandelion, but we just used collard greens and bacon.  Keeping it simple, right?

Collard greens with bacon
2 bunches collard greens
1/4 lb bacon (4-5 slices)
1 large onion
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Wash, de-stem, and chop the greens. Steam until wilted. Set aside.

2. Fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the fat and set aside. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until transparent. Add the greens and apple cider vinegar, toss to coat.  Roughly chop the bacon and sprinkle on top of the greens. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

We served this over risotto, but I think any simple grain would do.  Anytime the three-year-olds eat greens willingly, I call it a successful recipe.


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Recipe: Grass-fed barbacoa

I have a Chipotle weakness. Adam made his own slightly healthier version of their barbacoa tonight.  Here’s his recipe:

Adam’s Barbacoa
1.5 lbs grass-fed beef short ribs
3 T. neutral oil for frying
3 c. stock (beef or chicken is fine)
1 c. canned tomatoes, with liquid
1 onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tsp. chili powder
3 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Season the short ribs with salt & pepper on both sides.  Heat oil in Dutch oven over med-hi heat. Sear meat on both sides, remove meat from pan. Add onion to pan. When the onions start to soften, add the garlic and spices.  Stir for a minute or two, then add stock and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Taste, then add salt & pepper and more spices accordingly.  Add the meat back in, then place the cover on the Dutch oven and bake at 400 degrees for 90 minutes, checking after 60-70 minutes to make sure it’s not too dry.  (You  could add a bit more stock if it seems dry.)  Pull meat apart with a fork.

We ate this on sprouted-grain corn tortillas with grated cheese, simple guacamole, and lacto-fermented banana peppers. And home-brewed beer!  So good, the kids asked for 2nds and 3rds (not of beer, silly).


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A complete takedown of the USDA guidelines

Interested in nutrition, and the new USDA dietary guidelines?  This is a must-read, study-by-study breakdown of the new eating rules the USDA has decided are good for us.  Here’s a quote that spoke to me:

A recent Dutch study showed that full-fat fermented dairy was inversely associated with death from all causes and death from stroke. A large study of Australians, published in 2010, showed that full-fat dairy appears protective against cardiovascular death. Yet another study, this one from 2005, showed a significant inverse association between full-fat dairy consumption and colorectal cancer. Another study still linked vitamin K2 from full-fat cheeses to reduced risk of death from all causes, as well as a reduction in aortic calcification. And a review from 2009, examining 10 different dairy studies, noted that some types of saturated dairy fat have a neutral effect on LDL, and full-fat cheese—compared to other dairy products—seems to have the strongest inverse relationship with heart disease.

And that’s just the section on whether fat-free/lowfat dairy products are your best choice.  Read the whole thing; it’s spectacular. (via Michael Pollan)


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The Grocery Budget, 2010

(Final harvest, October 2010)

I’ve just completed my yearly review of our grocery budget.  Despite my big goal of reducing our grocery expenses in 2010, we actually increased how much we spent.  #sadtrombone

To review:
Total grocery expenditure, 2008: $7,661
Total grocery expenditure, 2009: $7,609
Average for both years: around $640 a month

Now for 2010:
Total grocery expenditure, including CSA: $8,273
Monthly average: around $665

Yikes, that’s $25 more per month!  How did this happen?  A few reasons off the top of my head:

  • We switched to butter from grass-based cows. Sometimes I make it myself, sometimes I buy PastureLand butter.  Either way, it’s both expensive and tasty. And packed with vitamins of course.
  • We bought our meat mostly in the form of meat bundles from the co-op.  You get nicer cuts of meat, like steaks, roasts, etc., for a lower per-pound price.  When we buy meat off the shelf we tend to just get the cheapest cut we can find.  Nobody needs that many drummies.
  • Started buying more non-food items, like soap and toothpaste, at the co-op.  This is partly to avoid going to Target, and also partly to try and support local merchants.  So, I should really run our Target numbers because we probably reduced our monthly Target bill by at least $25.  There.  I feel better already.

SO instead of being unrealistic about 2011, how about this: I will just try to hold the line and not increase again this year.  The only major difference coming up this year is that we are discontinuing our CSA.  I was disappointed in the amount of produce we received in our weekly box.  I also have plans for some major garden expansion this year, so we might be able to grow enough of our own to have plenty to eat and still put some by for next winter.

Here are my grocery budget posts from last year: Part 1 | Part 2


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The anti-inflammation diet

The latest issue of Twin Cities Mix has a really great article about chronic inflammation.  Inflammation is associated with all sorts of degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer, so eating foods that fight inflammation in general will help your body ward off its associated diseases.  Here’s a helpful checklist from the article:

  • Eliminate processed foods, including fast food, and consume only fresh, whole foods in their natural state.
  • Try to consume quality protein, complex carbohydrates and healthful fats at each meal.
  • Animal protein should be organic, sustainably raised and from as clean a source as possible.
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate sugar and refined flour intake.
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables rated low to moderate on the glycemic index.
  • Strictly avoid high fructose corn syrup.
  • Eat full-fat dairy in moderation; fat-free and lowfat dairy products have been overprocessed and are not natural foods.
  • Eat avocados and nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and cashews.
  • Use extra virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oil.
  • Strictly avoid margarine, vegetable shortening and products made with partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Consume omega-3 fatty acids daily. Eat salmon, sardines packed in water or olive oil, black cod, or herring twice weekly and take a fish oil supplement on the days you don’t eat fish. Make sure that your fish oil is free of heavy metals.
  • Make ginger and turmeric a regular part of your diet.
  • Drink wine sparingly.
  • Drink tea instead of coffee.
  • Drink six–eight glasses of water per day.

So, looking at this list, it seems that the anti-inflammatory diet has a lot in common with other nutritional advice I’ve read from sources as widely varied as Michael Pollan, Cookus Interruptus, and Weston Price Foundation.  We follow quite a few of these guidelines, but not religiously.  For example, we don’t eat oily fish very often — high-quality sustainably-sourced fish is EXPENSIVE, yo.  But we do take our cod liver oil daily during the winter, and 2-3 times/week in the summer.

Even just loosely following these guidelines for around two years, I have seen some changes in my health.  For example: I suffered seasonal allergies for many years.  I tried many different medications, and none worked great for me, but without them the sneezing was out of control.  I have now gone through two whole summers with few to no allergy symptoms.  Nice.

I will spare you details, but my gastrointestinal tract is also working great now, even though I had problems for a few years in my early 20s.  Those problems inspired me to start exercising and lose 30 pounds, which I’ve kept off for about 5 years now (not counting about one year for pregnancy).

Finally, we don’t get sick very often.  I’m not saying we NEVER get sick, but my kids have never had ear infections or stomach bugs of any kind.  I’m not going to get too cocky about it though, because we only recently starting sending them to a school environment.  It’s likely only a matter of time, at this point…

I would not call myself a thin person, but I definitely have seen other benefits from my attempts at eating healthy.  Now, if I can just find the willpower to lose the final 10 lbs, I’ll be good to go… Resolutions, resolutions.

Here’s the entire article, with more details.

Update, 1/1/2011: So, is this irony?  Poetic justice?  The universe trying to tell me something?  At any rate, less than 5 minutes after I pushed the Publish button on this post, Anneke came down with her first ever true stomach bug.  It lasted about 12 hours, so she’s feeling better now.  The rest of us feel fine so far, but who knows what today will bring.  Funny,  huh?


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Using the whole animal

I was a vegetarian for several years.  I vowed, when I became a meat-eater again, that I would at least make an effort to use the whole animal.  So now I’m taking it to the next level: I bought some chicken feet at the co-op last week.  Why?  Mainly because they add a rich natural source of gelatin to my homemade soups and stocks, and we’ve been going crazy with soup around here lately.  Gelatin helps your body absorb the minerals in the stock.

Considering most commercial stocks and flavorings have MSG in them, now’s a great time to consider making your own.  It’s really quite easy.  And if you decide you want to add chicken feet, you can get them for VERY cheap.  Just sayin’.


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BPA and canned tomatoes

Sorry for the light posting schedule lately; as it turns out, having two full-time working adults in a family really cuts into blogging time.  ANYWAY.

I posted in August about our crazy weekend of canning tomatoes.  Because we buy organic tomatoes, and because our CSA delivers them right to our door, we save very little money canning our own tomatoes vs. buying canned tomatoes at the store. So why go through the effort?  One reason: BPA.

Bisphenol-A, which many different plastic products contain, has been shown to have some worrisome side effects, especially on fetuses and children, because it mimics the hormone estrogen.  Canada was recently the first country to declare it toxic.  (Has Canada ever considering annexing Minnesota?  I’d be all for it.)

The United States’ own FDA is also concerned, but I am skeptical that they will ever do anything beyond encouraging industries to try and find a replacement.  (They prefer to merely ask them, really, really nicely.)

The big brouhaha a couple years back with BPA was its use in infant bottles and linings of infant formula cans — many of those brands now offer BPA-free alternatives.  But what many people didn’t realize was just how prevalent this stuff is — nearly any can of food that you buy in the grocery store is lined with BPA.  Even store receipts are printed on BPA-coated paper!

Some applications of BPA are probably worse than others.  Canned tomatoes are very acidic.  Canned garbanzo beans, not so much.  Yet, right now none of the organic canned tomatoes for sale at my co-op are in BPA-free cans.  The only glass-jarred tomato products are the strained tomatoes and tomato paste from Bionaturae.  (And those travel all the way from Italy, good grief.)

Here’s another thing to consider: even home-canning is not perfect, because the lids of canning jars are also coated with BPA.  But I’m taking a “less harm” approach here — the tomatoes, as they sit on my shelf for the next few months, are not in contact with the lid at all.  So it’s not perfect, but still better.  Right?  I hope so, because that was a lot of work.

Update, Nov. 8, 2010: Here’s yet another article that I came across this morning.  Basically, a consumer group found unacceptable BPA levels in a bunch of different foods.  Two things to note: this article is one year old.  The U.S. is still only requiring “voluntary” efforts from the food industry.

Update II, Nov. 30, 2010: Now a new study looks at BPA’s effect on adult immune systems. The study also looked at triclosan’s correlation with allergies in children.  Triclosan is another common chemical found in all sorts of things (such as anti-microbial soaps).

Update III, April 4, 2011: Yet another study. This one measured BPA in people’s urine; after only three days of switching to a diet of freshly-prepared organic food, they dropped 66% on average!

The cooks were instructed to avoid contact with plastic utensils, and nonstick cookware and foods had to be stored in glass containers with BPA-free plastic lids. Researchers even told food preparers not to overfill the containers so the food wouldn’t touch the plastic lid.

Microwaving in plastic was out; so was using coffee makers with plastic parts. Coffee drinkers got their morning coffee from French presses or ceramic drip models.

I switched to French Press quite some time ago, but didn’t even think about the plastic implications. I did it for the taste, naturally.  Anyway, check out this study, the most convincing one yet, in my opinion.


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The Coming Famine

Here’s another book to add to my list: The Coming Famine, by Julian Cribb.  Mark Bittman reviewed it for the NY Times today.  Basically, Cribb contends that we’ve reached peak food production (along with peak oil), and warns that our food system could collapse without major changes.  From the review (emphasis mine):

He proposes subsidizing small farms for their stewardship of the earth, and paying them fairer prices for production; taxing food to reflect its true costs to the environment; regulating practices that counter sustainability and rewarding those that promote it; and educating the public about the true costs of food. “An entire year of primary schooling” should be devoted to the importance of growing and eating food, he suggests.

An entire year of home ec.  Yes.  Read the whole review here.  My library doesn’t have this book in their catalog yet, but I’ll be watching for it.

Update, 8/26/2010: Apparently this topic is really gaining steam.  Here’s a review of another book about essentially the same thingEmpires of Food by Evan D.G. Fraser looks at the food systems of empires that failed, such as the Roman empire, and draws parallels with today.  So much reading to do…

Update, 8/27/2010: Gaining steam, speeding up:  The Atlantic Monthly’s round-up of stories related to this topic.


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Promising signs

Marion Nestle of Food Politics and Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times both report on a presidential panel’s advice on avoiding endocrine disrupters.  As Nestle reports, there is some controversy about it, but I say the more controversy the better, as long as it gets people talking about all this.  Here’s a sample piece of advice from the presidential panel:

Ideally, both mothers and fathers should avoid exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

So, we should avoid most shampoos, soaps, deodorants, factory-based  meat, non-organic produce, um… let’s see, what else…  The very fact that our government has actually noticed this now indicates just how serious the matter has become.