Monday, January 30, 2012

His Goodness 1

All my good stories start out with "once upon a time..." This one is no different, I suppose. :) Once upon a time, before I was born, my grandpa bought a brand-new motorcycle. It was the original Honda Goldwing, which set the bar (defined a new genre?) for all forthcoming "touring" motorcycles. It was 1975, and it came in two colors: cherry and teal. He got the teal one.

He and Gigi toured all over the place. Roadtrips to visit relatives, scenic trips to the mountains or coast, camping or bunking with others... One night the fog was so thick they couldn't see any of the freeway except for the white line along the shoulder. They inadvertently took a rural exit, and didn't realize that until they were very lost! 

Fast forward to 2005/6ish. Grandpa had divorced Gigi more than 15 years before, and was living five blocks away from her. His subsequent wife had passed away, and that same Goldwing that he gave my brother and I rides on was rotting away in his backyard. It was leaning (lying?) over and a large shrub or small tree had grown up through the front forks. It hadn't run in ages, but Hubby laid eyes on it one afternoon when we were visiting, and he and Gramps made a deal.

Hubby would come back with his pickup one day and carry the bike 2 hours to our place where he would work on it over the winter and try to get it running again. Gramps would pay for the parts and supplies, and would then take one more ride on it, to say goodbye. When he was ready, he would sell it back to us for the total price of all the parts. He would win; getting a beautiful old bike roadworthy again, getting to take one last ride if his replaced hip held out, and we would win; getting a chance at a lovely motorcycle (which Hubby wanted so dearly), an 'heirloom' of sorts, and at a great price.

Well, that winter Hubby worked on it. I kept Gramps supplied with letters and updates, and he'd send $100 checks so we could pay for the next needed part. Hubby changed out fork seals and cleaned out the old gas and replaced wires and tubes and parts and things I don't understand at all. He added the horns that Gramps had never installed, and left the 'fog lamp' - what was actually an old aircraft landing light - where Gramps had put it on the fairing.

Spring came, and the bike was running. Hubby 'test drove' it to work and back several times, and soon Gramps - and my uncle and some others - came to retrieve it. We watched with bated breath while Gramps got on and rode out the driveway alongside my uncle. "Well, now we wait!" we thought. My uncle intimated that he'd be surprised if Gramps could ride it at all, let alone all the way home, and that we should expect to hear from him soon. We'd saved up some money...

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Two Dinners

Sometimes it's amazing for me to realize I've been on this food "journey" for almost six years. I know this because tells me I ordered all of Joel Salatin's "how to" farming books on September 8, 2006. I built my first chicken house around that time, and our first 'animal' - turkeys - were raised and processed that year, from spring until fall. I also got some pigs (and transported them long-distance in my Camry's trunk. Good times) that November.

Sometimes I don't realize all the changes we've made until I think back to something, or run into the "Standard American" meal in some fashion. This actually greatly encourages me (and I hope, you!). What once was a conscious decision, sometimes a sacrifice, is now not even thought of.

Here is an example of a common meal, in two formats. It's the same meal, but it's completely different food.  The menu? Tacos!

Rainbow Salsa?
Around here (and this isn't necessarily 'authentic' Mexican food, but what seems to be fairly normal) it will look like this:

Hamburger, seasoned with 'taco seasoning'
Refried beans
Corn tortillas, semi-fried (and/or flour tortillas)
Lettuce, shredded
Cheese, grated
Olives, sliced
Sour Cream

This meal can go two ways. The first is probably more convenient: You get standard ground beef from the store (a high-risk e.coli product from cattle in toxic environments eating corn, soy, chicken feathers/guts, and antibiotics, with a hormone implant) and brown it with a packet of taco seasoning (which includes "modified food starch" and MSG). You warm up canned refried beans (which include 'yeast extract' - which is another name for MSG). You fry your corn tortillas (made from genetically-modified corn, being linked to fertility problems, allergies, organ damage, plus environmental toxicity) in vegetable oil (made from canola, corn, soy, and/or cottonseed oil - every one of which are genetically modified and HIGHLY refined using chemical solvents/deodorizers/etc). Your iceberg head lettuce doesn't offer much in nutrition; whether or not any pesticide residue outweighs its nutrients is debatable. Does anyone wash iceberg lettuce? You sprinkle on the cheese (probably made from cows injected daily with a genetically-modified hormone, rBST to up milk production. It also ups mastitis infections and bacteria/pus in the milk, and shortens the cow's lifespan. If your cheese is pre-grated, it may have sand, starch, and/or mold inhibitors to keep it loose in the bag, and 'fresh.' (?) ) and sour cream (ditto on the rBST issue, and possibly 'thickened' with starch or carageenan). Your olives and salsa are probably canned, and your guacamole might be pre-made in a little plastic container (which I shockingly know very little about) or perhaps you bought avocados and stirred in a little packet of 'seasoning' (see the above commentary on taco seasoning).

This is normal food, believe it or not. Most people consider this 'healthy, homemade' food, not junk or fast food (I did, at one point). We do this day after day, punctuated by learning problems, behavioral challenges, visits to our doctor and routine pharmaceutical helps. [Note; of course not ALL problems can be laid at the feet of what we eat. However, after seeing astonishing changes in our own family based on a shift in diet, I believe it plays a part.]

The good news is that you don't have to pummel your body and your brain with this kind of stuff all day every day. And you can STILL have tacos! :) You just have to come at it a little differently.

You brown your grass-fed beef (which was probably produced not far from your home, includes only ONE set of bovine dna (hehe), has less bacteria, no hormone implants, no antibiotics, and has a lot higher ratio of Omega-3 fats to Omega-6. This is heart-healthy stuff!) with a powdered spice mix (we use Oregon Spice Taco Seasoning, but you can make your own or just check labels when you buy). You toss a ziploc of frozen pinto beans (which you prepared in bulk weeks or months before, soaking 24 hours before cooking to increase mineral availability and improve digestibility) into a pan and cook them down with some extra virgin olive oil and salt and seasoning to taste. You fry your organic corn tortillas (no GMOs allowed in organic products. Periodic testing helps ensure this, though cross-pollination is an issue) in virgin coconut oil (super high in medium-chain fatty acids which are anti-microbial, anti-viral, and increase metabolism in some people. Lauric acid is one of these, which human milk is high in). You use organic romaine lettuce or microgreens or young spinach to add a bit of crunch, and sprinkle on raw cheddar cheese (or perhaps a grass-fed cheese, or at the least a brand that informs "made with milk from cows not treated with rBST). Your sour cream IS cultured (soured) cream and therefore includes beneficial probiotics. Your olives and salsa are as close to 'real food' as you can get (nothing weird in the ingredients) and maybe you even make your own fresh salsa. You mash up a fresh avocado with actual spices, and maybe toss in a little lemon or lime juice to help keep it green.

Not exactly the spice mix for taco seasoning...
Do you see how same - and yet how different - this is? I don't even think about it until we're at a restaurant and I realize that seasoning tastes different, or the guacamole is weird. I didn't go into how it's prepared, but there can be differences there too. Teflon? Aluminum? I don't think teflon is very common in restaurants, but my local restaurant supply sells giant aluminum stock pots, pans, and baking sheets (I actually have baking sheets from them, but I line them with parchment paper or a SILPAT mat for cooking or baking on them). These things can be dangerous in the wrong conditions (teflon at high heat, for instance), and while not technically 'food' or 'additives,' certainly can have an effect on health.

What changes have you made to ensure you're eating what you think you're eating? If you take it one step at a time, what is your next step? Have you been able to keep the changes you've made so far?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Granny's Treasures I

You may remember my Granny passed away last June, at 93. I was asked for a 'list' of anything (not already assigned/taken) that would be precious to me, and in October we were able to bring things home. 

These were high on my list. I'm not even sure what I would call them. They're small bowl-things**. The small round ones are mostly in the pastel colors you see, and some are shorter and wider than others, which have a more tapered bottom. There are also a few oval-shaped bowls, including the green one you see here.

There is also a 'normal' green bowl Granny used to serve me her little homemade pot-pies in. Yum..

They all have a nicely embossed floral motif, and I use them for everything. Small servings of goodies for the kids, a place to put my tea bell, spoon rest, even as lunch or dinner servings (in the oval ones).

Granny used to put my little pot pie under the broiler to brown up the crust. They're oven-safe, but I haven't put them in my oven yet. Maybe I could make little cupcakes? :)

I believe there are 5 oval dishes (2 green, 2 pink, and a blue) and about half a dozen or so of the small ones (no green among them). There are also some small brown ones, in both the wide and tapered styles:

They have the most beautiful robin's-egg-blue on the inside. The photo doesn't look quite as brilliant as they seem in real life. :)

A friend of mine thinks these dishes and others like them (Granny also had some smallish bowls that had a handle, almost like a measuring cup, but in the same color/material as the pastel ones above) came in  Quaker oatmeal. Much better than what they put in cereal boxes today, do you think? :)

This site says they were made from the early 1930s to the mid 1940s. If you click to the 'page 6' link on their page, their is a neat ad for some of the (purchased; not oatmeal-prize) products.

**A little research is calling these wider ones "custard" bowls, and the tapered ones "ramekins."

Friday, January 20, 2012


Dealing in my RealFood Underground, as I call it, I often end up with boxes... Boxes with potatoes, or apples, beef, etc -- and most of the boxes are reused from the original manufacturer. I had this on the counter, full of apples, for a day, and then I noticed the label:

Aw, so wholesome.
"Wholesome Farms." Don't you love that? And look at that beautiful picture of a farmstead with the sun rising (setting?) in glory, it just screams "Nature!"  Wholesome nature, at that. Ah, bliss...

But wait...

Oh my...!
What is this fresh crop from "Wholesome Farms?" Liquid Whole Eggs. That's enough right now to make my decision. Liquid whole eggs? Don't whole eggs include the shell? How do we liquify the shell? Hmm..  Oh, I know! Citric acid! Bingo. Yummier and yummier, yes?

But we aren't done with this "Wholesome" bounty yet - we're gonna pasteurize (cook? irradiate?) these dissolved-shell-liquified-eggs AND homogenize them - after all, we don't want dissolved shell sinking to the bottom, or yolk forming a top layer... ew, no, THAT would be gross... (?)

For a final dose of "wholesomeness," look at the packaging information... This.. crop.. comes in BAGS. I don't know about you, but nothing says "wholesome" and "farm" like something packaged in a plastic bag [and liquified, pasteurized, homogenized, dissolved]!

Would you eat this product? DO you eat this product? (I have no idea what is done with it. Scrambled eggs schools? Omelets at restaurants? Maybe used in baked goods?) Would you eat other 'wholesome' foodstuffs "dissolved, liquified, pasteurized, homogenized, packed-in-bags?" How about chicken? Thaaaat sounds tasty.

Know your food. Know your farmer. Don't trust a cutesy name and logo - obviously it doesn't mean much...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Table

Where has the time gone? I've ignored this blog terribly for far too long. I turned 34 over the weekend. My girls are getting so big! It is supposed to snow today, for the first time all winter, basically. The cattle are doing well, the chickens (I think) are doing well (it's hard to count them), and we're starting to get more eggs after their solstice sabbatical. :)

This is a project I've wanted to share. I got a table last summer at a garage sale for $25 from some Mennonites. It was about 3 feet wide, and 8 feet long, homemade, and with a surface layer of formica of some kind; that plastic-ey wood-looking stuff so many tables are covered with. It only had it on the top though, so I thought I might try to 'refinish' it.

The underside of the top is plywood, and the legs are just 2x4s with routered edges. It had been stained with something, as you can see in the photo where I haven't sanded below:

During the sanding stage
The top, of course, was the formica and I didn't know what was below it. The edges of the top were soft-grain wood (like the 2x4s), maybe 1x2s. There was a groove routered along the edge of the laminate surface, and the 'corner' of the 1x2 wood was slightly rounded.

As it happened, the good people I bought it from delivered the table to my front yard while I was at church one evening. It sat out that night, and the next day in the sunshine that dark faux-wood really heated up. Hubby and I were able to take flat tools (paint scrapers?) and begin to separate the laminate from the table. That was quite a job; contact cement works really well. 

At that point we could see there was 'real wood' (not plywood) as a table surface, but it was covered in layers and bits of the rubbery contact cement. I made several phone calls to my friend (who did our countertop redo a few years back) to get expert advice, and on his recommendation I bought a cheap Random Orbit Sander.

[sidenote: Random Orbit Sander, where have you been all my life?? Over 33 years I limped along, wishing, wondering if there wasn't an easier way to sand the many things I've sanded, and NO ONE told me about you! I love you!]

Following his instructions as to technique, grit coarse/fineness, etc, I managed to clean up the top of the table. I completely sanded off the sharp edge/groove at the edge of the tabletop, making a softly rounded edge to the whole thing. I realized shortly that the wood was all quite soft. Probably pine, or whatever your local lumber store stocks for building projects. One board in particular is even softer - it's the darker-toned board in the photos below. The feet were quite banged up, so I sanded and rounded parts of them too. The top appeared to be 1- or 2x6 boards, laying lengthwise. There were a couple deep holes/gouges that had bored down through the laminate surface, but I just chalked these up to character. Once I had it sanded and cleaned of all sawdust, I used a satin finish polyurethane on the top and legs (I ignored the underside of the table). I believe the top has four coats, and the legs 2 or 3 coats.

When we returned from our October trip, and my final layer had cured for a week or two, we hauled it indoors. It's HEAVY. And we buggered up the top somewhere along the way. :] But it's situated in our dining room, and I LOVE it. For $25, plus about $20 in materials (not counting my New Tool which I should've had already) I have a table that REALLY works.

Even if I have to shout for Hubby to pass the salt...

Loooonngg table
 The dark pinkish strip is the extra-soft wood. Due to the sanding, it wore down a little quicker than the rest, so it now serves as a 'trough' of sorts - anything spilled tends to go along it instead of off the edge of the table. Works for me!
I love the knots and color variations
 It's already additionally dinged-up from pencils and forks and other childhood weaponry, but as a family table, I'm not worried about it. I can always refinish it, or add another layer of polyurethane if necessary, and it's not like I'm out $700 if it's utterly destroyed. :)

Friday, January 06, 2012

This Wasn't Me

My aunt sent me this via email. I have no idea if it's true, but she decided it looked like something *I* might try, and she wanted to dissuade me from the idea, preventatively...

Why We Shoot Deer in the Wild

(A letter from someone who wants to remain anonymous, who farms,
writes well and actually tried this)

I had this idea that I could rope a deer, put it in a stall,
feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat
it.  The first step in this adventure was getting a deer.

I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do
not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one
will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while
I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be
difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head
(to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.

I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my
rope.  The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed
well back.  They were not having any of it.

After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up - 3 of them.  I picked
out a likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the
feeder, and threw my rope.  The deer just stood there and stared
at me.  I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end
so I would have a good hold.

The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell
it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation.  I took
a step towards it; it took a step away. I put a little tension
on the rope ... then received an education.

The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just
stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are
spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.

That deer EXPLODED.  The second thing I learned is that pound
for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt.  A cow
or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope
and with some dignity.  A deer -- no chance.

That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled.  There was no
controlling it and certainly no getting close to it.

As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the
ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not
nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined.  The only
upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other

A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick
to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up.  It
took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly
blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head.  At
that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison.  I just
wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope.

I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its
neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere. At the
time, there was no love at all between me and that deer.  At
that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that
the feeling was mutual.

Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I
had cleverly arrested the deer's momentum by bracing my head
against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground,
I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a
small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility
for the situation we were in.

I didn't want the deer to have to suffer a slow death, so I
managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the
feeder - a little trap I had set before hand ... kind of like a
squeeze chute.  I got it to back in there and I started moving
up so I could get my rope back.

Did you know that deer bite?

They do!  I never in a million years would have thought that a
deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when ... I
reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of
my wrist.

Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse
where they just bite you and slide off to then let go.  A deer
bites you and shakes its head -- almost like a pit bull.  They
bite HARD and it hurts.

The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to
freeze and draw back slowly.  I tried screaming and shaking
instead.  My method was ineffective.

It seemed like the deer was biting and shaking for several
minutes, but it was likely only several seconds.  I, being
smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by
now), tricked it.  While I kept it busy tearing the tendons out
of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that
rope loose.

That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the

Deer will strike at you with their front feet.  They rear right
up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder
level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp.

I learned a long time ago that when an animal - like a horse -
strikes at you with their hooves, and you can't get away easily,
the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an
aggressive move towards the animal.  This will usually cause
them to back down a bit so you can escape.

This was not a horse.  This was a deer.  So, obviously, such
trickery would not work.  In the course of a millisecond, I
devised a different strategy.  I screamed like a woman and tried
to turn and run.

The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run
from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance
that it will hit you in the back of the head.  Deer may not be
so different from horses after all (besides being twice as
strong and 3 times as evil) because the second I turned to run,
it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not
immediately leave.  I suspect it does not recognize that the
danger has passed.  What they do instead is paw your back and
jump up and down on you while you are laying there crying like a
little girl and covering your head.

I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went
away.  So now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring
a rifle with a scope - to sort of even the odds!

All these events are true so help me God,

An Educated Farmer

After laughing and appreciating the well-written tale, I responded to my aunt: "Yet another reason why grass-fed is healthier!"