Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Catalogues are Coming, the Catalogues are Coming!

Imagine my surprise this week when I opened my mailbox to see my first seed catalogue already there. And it's not even winter yet!

It was from High Mowing Seeds, a seed farm in northern Vermont that specializes in heirloom and organic seeds. I thumbed through the pages and made out my order - popped it in the mail two days later. My theory is if I get my order in early, I will get first dibs on seeds that are sparse.

The next day, the Pinetree Seeds catalogue arrived. Pinetree isn't an organic seed source, but they did have a tortilla press in the back, and I've had my eye on one of those for a few months now (after the disasterous attempt at making corn tortillas by pressing them between plates).

So, the grass may still be green, and the days somewhat balmy (where IS the snow?), but the seed companies are getting their sales pitches out to us early. So much for waiting until the cold, snowy, grey days of February to curl up with the seed catalogues. I suppose I could wait, but with my housekeeping skills, that would probably mean losing the catlogues!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Word about Fats

About a year and a half ago I started eating meat again for the first time in seventeen years. I gave up meat back in the '80s because of how it is "produced" and all the extras (hormones, antibiotics) that were added to it, but with the advent of grassfed meats, and the ability to purchase "local" meat, I have added meat back into my diet.

My meats come to me via FedEx, once a month, from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) just north of the Blue Line (the line on maps that delineates the Adirondack Park). The farm is 8 O'clock Ranch, and they work as a cooperative with a couple other neighbor farms. From them I get a mixed bag (box, actually) of meat, mostly pork, but also beef and lamb. I'm on the economy plan, so instead of prime steaks, I get mostly the lesser cuts, like roasts, stew meats, and a lot of sausage. I'm not really a sausage person, so I have a freezer quite full of sausages. If you'd like to try some, stop by and I'll load you up.

Once or twice a year, though, I ask Kassandra to send me some lard. Yes, lard. Leaf lard, to be exact, which is the prime lard found around the kidneys of the pig (lard comes from pigs, by the way). This fat comes in strips and chunks, which I must then render (cook down) before using.

Now, I know for a lot of folks "lard" is a four-letter word. Thanks to a clever marketing campaign after WWII, lard became persona non-grata in the US. However, real lard, leaf lard, non-hydrogenated lard, is actually good for you (and me). How is this possible?

Fat is essential in our diets. Here's a partial list of what fats do for us:

* when eaten as part of a meal, they help slow down food absorbtion so you can go longer without feeling hungry;
* they carry fat-soluable vitamins (A, D, E, and K);
* they are essential for converting carotenes into vitamin A;
* they are necessary for the absorbtion of many minerals.

Prior to the 1920s, when animal fats featured prominantly in the American diet, coronary disease was uncommon. After WWII, with the advent of vegetable oils and fats (Crisco), heart disease soared. This also coincided with an increase in our intake of refined sugars and processed foods (And, my personal favorite, food "products" - what the heck is a "food product" anyway? Give me good old-fashioned real food any day.).

Studies (e.g. The Framingham Study, an similar study in Britain, and the US Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trail) have shown that intake of animal fats, cholesterol, et al, decreases the rate of heart disease. It's the consumption of processed foods and sugars that are detrimental to our health.

But not all fats are created equal.

Butter, especiall organic butter that is minimally processed (not mixed with veg. oils, chemicals or water), is very healthy.

Beaf fat (suet and tallow) is full of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3 are very important, but most people have way too much 6 and way to little 3) and CLA (coagulated linoleic acid). The latter is responsible for increasing metabolic rate, increasing muscle mass while reducing fat, decreasing abdominal fat (woo-hoo; I'm all for that!), strengthening the immune system, as well as reducing risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

Lard and bacon, in their natural form (non-hydrogenated, preservative-free) are ideal for many recipes, and are good for you.

Olive oil is also good for you - extra virgin, organic, cold or expellar pressed. Unfiltered olive oil makes a good meat marinate all by itself.

Fats to be avoided include:
* margarines
* Crisco
* anything hydrogentated
* canola oil (who knew?)
* cottonseed, soy, corn and safflower oils

Now, I know that a lot of folks will never go back to eating the healthy fats, for they have become convinced that they are BAD. That's what an effective marketing campaign will do for you. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get people to understand that fats can be (and are) good for you.

But don't take my word for it. You can read about the good fats at the following websites:

If I could, I'd add chickens and maybe even a cow to my organic garden. Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood that doesn't allow livestock. So, the next best thing to raising my own is getting my meat from a local source that focuses on grassfed, grass finished livestock. If you want to take control of your food, you might want to look into it for yourself and your family, too.

Holy S#@*, Batman!

At last! A pile of manure has appeared in my yard!

Forget the diamond rings and fur coats, mister - a load of manure and I'm a happy camper!

It's only taken about two years, but someone finally heard my plea (okay, my grousing) and came through for me.

I promptly filled the wheelbarrow with load after load and spread it on five of the beds I have dug and weeded. There it will rest for the winter, allowing the critters in the soil to do their thing before the ground freezes, and again after it thaws in the spring. By late May, these beds should be ready for planting. And hopefully this year, with the addition of manure, greensand, rock phosphate, and even some wood ashes from my woodstove, I will have conquered the sour smell that wafts from the soil in these particular beds.
Five down; thirteen...nope, make that go. Plus the new plot to prepare next spring.

All we can do now is hope that there are no seeds in this manure that will sprout next year. Wishful thinking? Probably, but hope spring eternal.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

They Aren't REALLY "Fruit Flies"

First off, it turns out that the wee buggers you and I and the rest of the free world thought were "fruit flies" are actually something called "vinegar flies." Apparently "fruit flies" are found on ripening fruits in the "field", which in many cases is actually in the tropics. They are the bane of fruit producers.

Vinegar flies are the bane of home owners who brought fruit into the house and didn't eat it fast enough, and then put it in their worm bins, only to find later they have given the little beggars a perfect community in which to live.

I've been chasing vinegar flies about the house now for three or so weeks - since the great Worm Bin Debacle. I cleaned the bin and followed all the directions for ridding it of the pests (it's an on-going project). But still the kitchen was swarming with tiny insects. So I went to Phase Two: vacuuming the insects multiple times a day.

Have you ever actually tried to suck up vinegar flies with a vacuum cleaner? If they are clustered on a cabinet door, it's not too much of a problem, but once they launch themselves, you just look ridiculous trying to chase them down, waving the vacuum hose in the air as the flies drift from point A to point B and beyond. You might think you got a lot of them, but leave a light on and return to the kitchen, oh, ten minutes later, and you will see just as many as before taking a leisurely rest on your walls, cabinets, and light fixtures.

So, I decided, as a last ditch effort, to go with the old-fashioned method of trapping them: I put a bit of ripe banana into a bottle with a narrow neck. I set the bottle on the windowsill near the worm bin (the only available spot in the kitchen - the maid's been on holiday, again). Suddenly, there were no more vinegar flies on the cabinets and walls. Could it be I had actually sucked them all into the vacuum cleaner? No - I looked at the banana trap and the bottom of the bottle was coated with many many flies (dare I say hundreds?). Some were deceased, others not, but at least they were contained and no longer decorating my kitchen! Voila!

Long story short, if you have vinegar flies pestering you in your kitchen, stick a bit of very ripe fruit into a bottle with a long narrow neck and set it aside. Soon your fly problem will be under control, without the need for purchasing toxic chemicals or expensive (yet decorative) traps. It's cheap, non-toxic, and, most importantly, it works.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Finishing the Harvest

Ever so slowly I am getting the last bits of my garden's harvest put where it belongs. The last giant zucchini was presented with a flourish to my parents a couple weeks ago ("that's not a zucchini; it's a baseball bat!"). The lettuce that finally decided to grow, all of three inches tall, was pulled and placed in the compost bin. The spuds are bagged and in the basement, as are the many braided ropes of onions.

But the carrots remained in a bucket on the porch. I brought some in, scrubbed, peeled, blanched and froze them, but many more remained. Concerned they would go soft dehydrating there on the porch, I brought them in a couple weeks ago, with great intentions of getting them "done." A load was placed in a second bucket and soaked in water to help loosen up the caked-on dirt...uh, soil...for a week. Knowing full well that I wasn't getting to them any time soon, I drained the bucket and dumped them in with their compatriots, which were also sitting in water. I finally drained that bucket, too, and placed all the remaining roots into the smaller container - a foot and a half deep, and over a foot wide.

Every night I'd grab a handful of the orange roots and add them to the dog's dinner, and sometimes in the morning a carrot or two would end up in my omelet. But the bucket's contents were not noticeably shrinking.

Until the day I grabbed a carrot that had fuzzy white stuff growing on its top. MOLD! If I didn't get my act together, I could kiss all these carrots goodbye!

So, Sunday afternoon found me sitting on the living room floor with a peeler, two bowls and my bucket of carrots. All but the smallest (and the ones that went squish) were peeled, then washed, chopped, blanched and frozen. How is it possible for all those carrots to shrink down to only eight quarts in the freezer? Must be fuzzy math.

Now I have to do the pumpkins...