Thursday, July 19, 2012

CSA week 1: my reintroduction to some very red meats

This is CSA week one: veggies--romaine lettuce, snap peas, beets, asparagus, dill; meats--1 lb ground pork, 2 pork chops, beef short ribs; cheese--Bloomsday (raw cow's milk, aged): bread--rye; anxiety--5 lbs of meat cuts that I've never in my life prepared and some I've never eaten.




The meats were frozen, so I made a toasted cheese and dill sandwich with a lettuce and dill salad.  Then I spent 2 days looking for recipes online.

First family meal: pork chops sprinkled with 1 tsp of lemon pepper each, pan fried in olive oil with conventional red onions. Beat greens, asparagus, and conventional mixed mushroom couscous. First family reactions: pork chops and couscous eaten by all, veggies eaten by adults, quote from husband, "I was really skeptical about this, but you have no idea how happy/excited I am to have you cooking and eating a pork chop. ... Part of me is really mad that you're eating my meat."



Everything I saw online said to cook the short ribs forever, either braising in the oven or crockpot. Jason wanted to use the dry rub we usually use for salmon and smoke them for hours on the Weber Smokey Joe. I said fine, wrap the beets in foil and put them on too. 3 hours later, the food came in: Perfect roasted beets, and inedible meat. It was impossible to separate the muscle from the fat. A couple ribs were wasted in our first attempt to eat them.

The next morning, I put the remaining ribs in the crockpot with a quart of chicken broth. After 4 hours, the meat was perfect. The broth became a rich, dark, hearty liquid that I made into French onion soup the next day with more toasted cheese sandwiches. I used more cheese and dill making omelets. The yogurt went into smoothies, the milk is always drunk effortlessly.


At the end of week 1, we have remaining:  1/2 of the cheese, lettuce, yogurt, and the dill; all of the peas; 2 cooked ribs, and the frozen pork. After week 2, we have remaining from week 1: part of the cheese. Wasted from week 1:  2 ribs we didn't know how to cook properly.  All the rest was [eventually] consumed.

Jason is mildly annoyed that my new meat adventures are culinary successes and his attempt didn't quite work out, but mostly he's happy to have new meats on the table. Next time lets hope we have universal success.

Community Supported Agriculture: A Summer Food Adventure

This summer, I threw in the towel. With 3 kids, 5 and under, I just accepted that I have absolutely no hope of even pretending to grow a garden. There's no tending a garden with an infant around. And even in the best years, we've struggled to get actual food from our garden. Year 1 was especially wet, I planted a lot of carrots and beats and other root veggies, and they drowned. Year 2, we raised ground level by 4 inches with soil, compost, and spent mushroom medium--we had tremendous success with greens that year. Filled an entire freezer with beat greens, but not much else. We tried alpaca manure (amazing stuff!), but that was the year the whole East Coast got late blight and the tomatoes and peppers shriveled away.  The next year, we tried planting the whole garden in an early pea crop. The plants were supposed to be 18 inches tall, and Jason convinced me trellises were unnecessary (OK, I agreed easily. I had an infant). The plants grew to 6 feet tall, the weather was cool, so the pea season was looong, and I picked peas wading through vines like sysiphus pushing his rock up the mountain. 
We've had moderate successes with 1 plant at a time: the beat year, the pea year, occasionally a good tomato week before the hornworm army, or a few zucchini before the stink bugs get them, but we have yet to have a really good diverse season of food. So this year, I'm buying someone else's good diverse season of food. I've joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It's farm direct with an annual commitment to take whatever crops are successful.  I wanted to join one a decade ago when we first moved to Connecticut and lived in a tiny landless apartment, but I couldn't find one. Since then, several have turned up, compiled here by NOFA. The one that really caught my eye is Highland Art Farms.  Last year, Kelly Baker ran it as a meat CSA of pastured, heritage breed beef. Over the winter, she lost her land lease. So this season, she's set out to provide a Whole Diet CSA, aggregating the fruits of others' labors. There are fruits and veggies, meats, dairy, grain, and coffee. She gives the option to mix and match full or half shares. 
I signed up for 1/2 shares of produce and meat, a loaf of bread, 2 gallons of milk, a pint of Greek yogurt, and a cheese, picked up weekly. My commitment signs me up for a big adventure in eating. It's an adventure because I have no way of knowing what or how much will be in my box. It could be a variety of fruits and veggies, or it could be a big box of cabbage. For me, an even bigger adventure is the meat. I gave up red meats 16 years ago. No beef or pork, and only goat or lamb as a rare novelty. I quit eating it for environmental reasons. I learned it takes 100 lbs of grain to produce 1 lb of beef, I learned how unnatural a grain diet is for cattle and how it leads to new diseases like life threatening e. Coli, I learned about the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforests to graze cattle, I learned about overuse of antibiotics and synthetic hormones and other pharmaceuticals, I learned about the damage to the deserts grazing causes, I learned about the constructed seas of hog sewage, and I decided it was time to opt out. I don't want to be a consumer and therefore a contributor to all of that.
So I gave up red meats on the spot and spent about half that time as a vegetarian.  I've been a vegetarian for years at a time, and then a trip to the coast would start me eating fish; Or the difficulty of getting good vegetarian options from my corporate American workplace would drive me to eat chicken.  Since I've been either pregnant or nursing for most of the last 6 years, I've been craving protein. The whole diet CSA offers meats raised in a holistic way, on pasture without pharmaceuticals, so I'm giving it a try. I know, 20 weeks is a helluva try, but I think I'm up for it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wool Dryer Balls

Have you heard about these?  They're starting to be all the rage.  Word is that you can stop using fabric softener altogether, and just throw a few wool balls in the dryer.  They're supposed to help fluff your clothes, reduce drying time, and prevent static.  They're especially popular among the cloth diapering crowds (which I'm a part of). 
I've been hearing so much about them, and they popped up on one of those deal-a-day site, so I broke down and bought a set of 3.  Do they live up to the hype?  Well, maybe.  I'm not in a position to sit around and time the dryer or stack up my towels and measure loft.  But in the last month, I haven't used any fabric softener except for when I've washed our microfiber blankets (and those are static factories!!).  Fabric softener can leave residue on your clothes that will take a while to wash out.  So I don't know if it has washed outs and the balls are working, or if it's just softener residue leaving my clothes so soft.  Either way I''m using less fabric softener.
I came across this tutorial for making your own dryer balls on craftgawker, and I decided to give it a try.  I followed the directions exactly, except I skipped the wool roving step at the end.  My yarn was designed for felting, and I didn't want to add another product to the shopping list, so I skipped it.  Besides, I had selected a nice colorful yarn, so the pretty wool roving would've hidden it.  I bought the yarn from my fabric/craft superstore:  Bernat brand Felting Natural Wool, color 94222 "Snap Dragon".
After the first pass through the wash, the yarn was still pretty separate, but I just let them go for a few dryer cycles (the dryer will be their new home anyway), and after a few more tumbles, they became nicely felted together.  SUCCESS!!  You can also add a few drops of essential oils,  The set I purchased was lavender fragrance, yumm.
Was it worth the effort?  Well it only took about 15 minutes to wind the balls.  The yarn cost around $7 for 2.6 ounces, and I made 2 from it.  You could go with as little as 1 ounce per ball, I think.  The set I purchased was around $20 for the 1/2 off deal.  I see them on Amazon for as low as $20 and on Etsy with prices ranging up to $60.  I also find it very satisfying to make something useful, and with 3 kids under the age of 5, its difficult to get anything started never mind finishing, so a 15 minute craft is a dream come true.
One more word of caution, these get lost in the wash easily!  They disappear up a sleeve, or get balled up in the corner of your sheets.  The set I bought was natural colors, beige and tan.  I have already lost a ball that I know was in the dryer when I started it, and disappeared after the cycle.  In the future, I will be using BRIGHT colors.
I've seen tutes for wool felted cat toys, bowls, covered soaps, and this delightful bowl.  I am interested...

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Halloween Costume: Inky the Ghost


For Halloween this year, my 4 year old wanted to be a ghost--a sheet ghost. I think he's been watching too much Scooby Doo. So I've never actually seen anyone do this, but it seemed a) kinda lame, and b)a little dangerous in terms of keeping little eyeholes lined up with little eyes. So I did what any mother does, asked every few days what he'd like to be hoping for a different answer, and started thinking of ways to keep a sheet in place on a little body. Sleeves? Big face hole alla Scream? Cape with Hood? I bought materials and continued my campaign against the ghost.
At the beginning of October, I revised my strategy, and started pushing options via online photo searches. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, a "Hack-Man" app, and some quiet coaxing, was able to morph a sheet ghost plan into a PAC-Man ghost plan. Woot-Woot!!
I still didn't have much of an implementation plan, and the Internet failed to offer up a nice tutorial. But I plowed ahead, purchased Costume grade satin and 1/2 inch foam, then improvised. A small creative miracle happened because the costume is nearly perfect.
Unfortunately for the next frantic searcher looking for a ghost costume, I didn't take progress photos to make a tutorial for them.

Some quick tips:
1 cut a headhole in the center of the foam. (I used 42x24 inches for my 44 inch child)
Cut 4 trapezoid shapes evenly spaced in the bottom edges on either side of the foam.
Cut 2 pieces of fabric with 4 inches clearance on all sides (50x32 for me)
Make eyes. I used 2 CDs offset to make an oval shape for the whites, and a water bottle for the blacks. Both from fleece, zigzag stiched to appliqué to each other then to the satin.
Then sewed the 2 pieces of satin together to make a long tube.
I traced the trapezoid scallop onto one inside out edge of the tube and sewed w 1/4 inch seem allowance, then repeated on the other side.
Turn right side out, stuff w foam, cut headhole into satin w 3/4 inch seam allowance.
Zigzag head hole closed, then cover seam w a tube of robbed knit fabric.
Close stuffing seam.
Sew sides together near edge leaving openings at top for arm holes.
And done.

Oh, and did I mention it's reversible with a white ghost on the inside!?

Too bad this was the year Connecticut called off Halloween because of a freak snow storm 2 days before that shut off power to most of the state for days and days. 

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