Friday, February 26, 2010

Clarifying Food Goals

When I started down the real foods path I had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the surface, it sounded pretty simple. Stop buying processed crap and replace that with natural whole foods. No problem. Well, let me tell you, ignorance truly is bliss.

Anti-nutrients? Phytic acid? SCOBY? Find a local farmer and grill him on pasture raising animals and organic practices. Learn to ferment foods. Learn to like fermented foods. Learn to freaking plan ahead.

Making a commitment to a real foods diet requires not just an ideological shift, but also an actual lifestyle change. It requires more time in the kitchen, at least initially and probably long term. It requires significant changes to one's shopping habits and significant up-front research time devoted to locating real foods. And it requires an ongoing food ethics conversation, even if that conversation takes place only in your own mind.

I have found myself debating the ethics of potential food choices from several angles. Produce is pretty easy. Is it organic? If it's not organic, is it one of the less-sprayed options? Is it local or relatively local? If it's not organic and not local is there something I could substitute?

Meat, however, has caused me some serious mental wrangling. My family eats meat and it doesn't look like that's going to change. I've been vegetarian and it's not for me. My kids have the option, but neither of them seem inclined that way. So, I try to make the best meat-buying decisions I can. And it's not that easy. Local pastured meat is pretty expensive. At least twice, and often three or four times, as expensive as grocery store meat. We have cut waaaay back on our meat consumption (and it was never as high as the "average") lately in order to be able to afford to purchase local, pastured meat. And while I am happy to support local farmers raising animals ethically, I am also more than a little pissed off that the values of the society in which I live have become so skewed that choosing to eat ethically equates to taking a financial hit for those of us who are not in a position to raise all our own food (which, I suspect, is most of us). Shouldn't the norm be ethical eating standards? If it was the norm, perhaps we could all afford to eat ethically.

And then, of course, there's the "eat local" dilemma. At this point in my food journey, I'm shooting for an 80/20 solution. If I can purchase 80% of my family's food from local sources, I'll be happy. There are just certain things I don't see myself giving up. For example, I live on the East Coast and have access to some relatively local seafood. But not Pacific wild-caught salmon. I'm not going to buy farm-raised salmon, so I'll continue to purchase the flown-in variety. And while I can grow and save my most-used spices and seasonings (basil, oregano, and garlic in my kitchen), there are plenty that are not produced locally that I don't see giving up (salt, pepper, vanilla...). I think I will eventually be able to procure more than 80% of my family's food locally; but for now, that's a number I can live with.

For me, the result of these mental food wranglings has been the slowly emerging outline of my personal food values.

1. My family's health and nutrition is foremost. So this translates into an emphasis on nutrient dense whole foods produced without harmful pesticides or other contaminants.

2. By necessity, my budget needs to come in second. But to stay in line with my first priority, this really translates into two possibilities: find less expensive foods that meet the above rule, or reduce our overall consumption. So far, I've done a little of both.

3. My next priority is to purchase local foods in keeping with the first two rules. I do this, incorporating my 80/20 philosophy on the matter. But another part of the "buy local" idea, for me, is to lobby for greater access to local foods. I've been back and forth in my mind about the role of grocery stores in the real foods/local foods movement. But I know for sure that my life would be simpler right now if I had greater access to local, ethically produced foods in my grocery store.

4. My last priority, due primarily to time constraints (but also, somewhat, to budget constraints) is to practice ways of food preparation that allow for optimal nutrient utilization. Mastering these new (to me) techniques is a huge time sink. For now, I can only test the waters and hope to slowly develop competence.

I'm sure other people's priority lists would be different from mine. And I'm sure I left out some important considerations. But for now, I'm comfortable with the way my ideas about food are evolving. This is where I'm at right now. Where are you?

This post is a part of Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Easy Dinner: Salmon, Squash, Spinach

Today, in the course of conversation, I was asked if I had any pictures of the food I've been preparing since starting the 28_day Real Food Challenge. (I'll leave it up to your imagination to determine what sorts of conversations can produce the question "Do you have any pictures of your food?" Actually, let's make a game of it! Post your guess scenario in the comments for a chance to win my undying gratitude.) Anyhoo... the question prompted the realization that, despite starting this blog in order to track and support my goal of shifting my family to a real foods diet, there are, in fact, few photos of food. Huh. I had to think about why that is a little bit, and the answer that came to me is because I've been sort of frustrated in the kitchen lately, so I suppose I haven't been inclined to record that in photos. I mean, seriously, how many photos of "I tried to make.... but this is what it turned out as...." do you want to see?

But tonight I fell back on an old favorite and am gracing you with this riotously exciting photo of it. I love yellow squash, much to the chagrin of The Boy. Don't ask me where this squash came from. I didn't even read the label to find out. Perhaps I didn't want to know. After all, I grew up calling this 'summer squash' and it is hardly summer in this hemisphere. I could eat this stuff all day cooked briefly in a little butter, salt, and pepper.

Spinach is another of my favorite. I will eat spinach almost any way you could think to prepare it. Except, possibly, souffle. The idea of a green souffle just seems wrong to me somehow. I'm not sure spinach is supposed to be that light and fluffy. I think of spinach as a 'workhorse' veggie, so spinach as a souffle seems kinda like putting a dress on a mule to me. But I digress... Tonight's version involved just a little butter and garlic.

The salmon, which I ordinarily would do in a pan but couldn't because the frozen piece of fish was too freaking long to fit in my pan- thank you very much Safeway, I had to do in the oven under the broiler. This recipe really works better in the pan. The salmon cooks on top of a bed of diced tomato with basil, garlic, and oregano (I admit it; it came from a can tonight), black olives, and diced onion. Usually I spoon the veggies over the salmon before serving, but I forgot because I was trying to remember to take the photo and apparently I can remember only one thing at a time. But! This way of preparing salmon is really yummy, so I highly recommend it!

Easy peasy. Just the way I like it. Now how about those scenarios?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grocery Survey Rant

Last night, I received a phone call asking me to participate in a grocery store survey. Initially I told the guy thanks, but no thanks. And then he said "Well, it would help improve your local store..." and I thought to myself "Hmm...what if it really did improve my local store?!" Ten minutes later I got off the phone totally annoyed. None of the questions on the survey had anything to do with issues that actually would improve shopping there for me. It's almost as if Safeway doesn't really want to know what it would take to do better. No, it's far easier to push the employees to improve their end of it- which is the gist of the line of questioning of the survey.

So this morning I shot off an email to Safeway, telling them of my frustration with the survey and outlining my suggestions for real improvement. Because honestly, the employees at my local store couldn't do a better job! The employees are great! It's the lack of selection of real foods that sucks so bad. It's a huge, huge store with nothing to eat inside it! I hope I emphasized enough how bitter I am about not being able to buy wild-caught salmon except in giant frozen packages that won't fit in my freezer, or tiny frozen packages that won't feed my family. How hard would it really be to offer fresh, wild-caught salmon? Seriously.

I think ShopRite will get my next email. They've started carrying pastured beef (yay!) that comes from Australia (huh?!). Two miles out of town there's cattle in the field, but the stuff they're offering is from Australia? According to, that's 9788 miles away. That's the best they can do? Really?

Have you contacted your grocery store about carrying more real food? Did you hear back? Tell us about it!

This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Recipe Is A Finalist!

My recipe for One Quarter Dipping Sauce is one of four finalists in Nourished Kitchen's February Clean Your Plate Challenge! You can check out all the awesome entries and vote for your favorite here.

Gorgeous And Edible...

...and I don't have to do a thing to them.
Forelle pears

28-Day Real Food Challenge- Week 3 Recap

This week has brought its' ups and downs for me in the 28-Day Real Food Challenge. But it has also made me aware of how close to the end of the month and thus, the Challenge, that we are. And the idea of coming to the end of this Challenge makes me a little bit sad. I have found that I really crave the accountability of having to check in each week, and the guidance of Jenny's daily emails, and the comfort of reading about my fellow participants successes and challenges.

After reflecting on the 14th and writing up our Week 2 reviews, we got back to business on Day 15 with primer in SCOBYs or, symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast. SCOBYs are involved in the creation of kefirs (water and milk), kombucha, and ginger beer. I hadn't actually heard of the so-called "ginger beer plant" SCOBY before, so I had to look that up. What I learned was fascinating! Our actual assignment was to get a culture and start brewing. Well, I've been looking for a local source for water kefir grains for a few weeks now with no luck. I did discover bottled kombucha at our "local" (not so local) natural foods store and bought a bottle. The results of that purchase were disaster and my Ode to Kombucha. I would really like to get some water kefir grains, so if you've got an abundance and would like to spread the wealth, please contact me so we can try to work something out!

The lesson for Day 16 was about preparing cultured vegetables at home. I was really excited about this part of Week 3. I like sauerkraut and have been looking forward to trying my hand at making some. But when it came time to prepare my first cultured veggies, I went looking for a recipe I thought the kids might enjoy too. You can check out this post see the Marinara-Style Cultured Vegetables I tried. Yesterday I tasted this experiment. It's definitely doing its thing, but also definitely not done. Also, after I tried it I had a brief but intense headache. I'm not sure if the two things are actually connected or not; but it seems possible.

On Day 17, our assignment was to try our hand at making yogurt at home. This is another assignment I was looking forward to. However, life got in the way of progress this week and I haven't done it yet. I did buy more milk yesterday, so hopefully I can get that going today.

Ditto for Day 18's assignment to make cheese. I plan to try my hand at the yogurt cheese first, after, you know, I make the yogurt.

Day 19 had me worried for a moment when I read that it was about neutralizing enzyme inhibitors in nuts and seeds. While I did buy grains to soak, way back in the challenge, I never actually soaked them. Or flour. Because, well, that requires more thinking ahead than I can generally muster in my fire-to-fire life these days. But I was reassured that nuts were not gone for good when I read that the nasties in nuts can be avoided by ditching the papery skins or roasting. Most of the nuts I use are either roasted or de-skinned. I was a little sad about pistachios until I double checked- yes! Those salted ones with their skins on are roasted.

So, the little high I got from not losing pistachios came crashing down on Day 20 when I read the assignment on soaking beans to neutralize phytic acid. It would be nice, for people like me, if I could soak a huge batch of beans and then re-dry them so they were available when needed. I haven't read anything about doing this yet, but I'm trying to keep hope alive. I have enough trouble trying to get more beans into our diet let alone trying to remember to soak said beans. So if anyone knows if I could soak a large batch of beans and then dry them in the oven (no dehydrator here) for later use, please let me know. My big worries about this idea are the possibility of decreasing nutrients and the possibility of decreasing keeping time.

I'm looking forward to Week 4 where we'll address meats, fish, and broths. These are areas I have struggled with a bit during the challenge. I've learned a lot so far, although I struggle with not being able to improve everything at once. I've had some big challenges in my life outside food this week. They've highlighted for me some of the things I'm really good at, and some of the things I'm really not good at. I hope to be able to incorporate that new enlightenment into my life so that I don't find changes such as this food journey to be quite so hard to adjust to; but in the mean time, I've discovered that when all else fails, I can type a question into the black box on my desk and answers will trickle in from cyberspace. How cool is that?

Thanks again, Jenny, for hosting this Challenge.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Now Resume...

... our regularly scheduled programming. Yesterday's special viewing of "The Meltdown" was brought to you by The Daily Stress of Life in conjunction with the Extraordinary Circumstances That Shook My Foundation. Your regular programming is brought to you thanks to the support of viewers like you.

So. Everything's cool here. Really. Yesterday, not so much...except...

I learned that if I holler into the void when things get rough, some special people will holler back. That's a pretty amazing thing. I am truly indebted to you.

The universe took pity on me too. The library got in touch to tell me that the only copy of Nourishing Traditions in our county system, that I had been at the end of the request line for only days before, had suddenly become available. So I sprinted over there to pick it up before they changed their mind. And I spent a lot of time with that book last night, and today. And now I see why people cherish it.

And then just before I went to bed, I got a reply to an inquiry I'd sent about a "buying club" that operates kinda-sorta close to me that would make raw milk/dairy a possibility. Plus, this club has significantly lower pricing on grass-fed/pastured meats than I have been able to find locally. I love these people already.

Also, a friend recently asked me if I'm a "visual" person and, while looking over the buying club price list, I realized that yes indeed I am. I really like (need?) to see things laid out in front of me. I'm am not so good with abstracts. So, while I'm not sure exactly how this knowledge will improve life, I feel hopeful that it is a clue and a tiny step towards better organization.

I hope your weekend is wonderful. I thank you for your encouragement when I really needed it. Now back to regular programming...

Comment Form Issues

Yesterday, some people (including myself) had trouble submitting comments on my blog. I found that resubmitting after receiving the error message worked to get the comment through. I have no idea why this is happening or how to correct it, but I value your comments so please don't give up! If you just can't get the comment form to work, please email me here. Thanks!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Trouble With Transition

As this post is my entry in Fight Back Friday (generously hosted by Food Renegade), I feel I should warn you that it is written from the position of one who is shaken. If you conjure in your mind the image of a scrawny kid being suspended in the air by a hulking bully, the scrawny kid swinging like mad even though he knows he's about to be pummeled- that scrawny kid is at the point where I feel like I am today.

I shouldn't complain. Because relatively speaking, my family is doing pretty well shifting to a real foods diet. My problem is three-fold: I'm simultaneously shifting to eating real food and learning how to prepare real food, the local foods available to me right now are limited in scope and prohibitively expensive, and I can't afford screw-ups.

Because I never learned how to cook with real foods (with a few exceptions), I don't have a bank of tried-and-true recipes to substitute real foods into. So, every night's dinner is a game of chance. Last night I lost. Again. On the upside, I learned that nobody in my family likes scallops- except the dogs, who like them lots thankyouverymuch. On the downside, dinner's failure left us hungry and unsettled since nobody wanted any more fruit and there aren't any prepared snacks in the house. I need fallback possibilities! It probably sounds dumb to those who've been at this a while. But in my household, every ounce of my time is fought over by the myriad things to be done. I need to learn things that can be done cheap and fast that will be healthy and filling. And don't involve eggs or bacon, since I'm the only one who will eat them. *sigh* How do other single parents make this transition?

I'd really like to buy more local foods. But doing so presents a real dilemma for me. For example, I have in my freezer one .70lb local, grass-fed bison steak. It was $13.99/lb, so my steak cost me $9.79. I am terrified to cook this thing. If I screw it up I will have to beat myself. Twelve ounces of local-ish bacon...$6.79. Local-ish grass-fed but non-raw milk is about $6/gallon. The butter is roughly $5 for half a pound. (And who the heck is buying the $22 pastured chickens?!) If the rest of my bills didn't add up to so much, I would happily pay these prices. But I can't very well stop heating the house, or paying my friggin' property taxes (for which, apparently, I get my driveway packed solid with plowed snow).

Perhaps the most discouraging thing to me right now is the screw-ups. I know this is part of the learning curve. But I so can't afford it. I took a chance on the scallops. They were on sale. I love it when I can buy shrimp on sale. They keep well in the freezer, everybody likes them, and I know what to do with them. Seafood is so good for you, I was hoping to expand the offerings a little. But no. Even at the sale price, that loss stings. Recently, I even screwed up one of my old stand-bys- beef stew! How I managed I do not know. But I do know that $10 of local beef were in that pot and it was absolutely inedible. Surely this is one of the reasons the family cook fell for standardized industrial foods! I don't want to go back to that life, but ooh, the pain of transition.

You're probably wondering, by this point, what's up with the picture at the top of this post. That's what I miss. I miss my garden being open for business. I miss knowing that if I screw-up dinner, I can run out back and come back with a full meal in no time. I miss my garden being full of things I know how to cook (admittedly, because I don't actually have to cook most of what comes out of my garden).

My plan is to keep swinging and hoping not to get pummeled. I would welcome advice from those who have gone before me on this journey. What recipes do you fall back on? What real food snacks are popular at your house? How do you stretch the expensive ingredients? Enlighten me. Please!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tiptoeing Into Cultured Vegetables

One of this week's assignments in the 28-Day Real Food Challenge is to get familiar with cultured vegetables. Looking back, the only truly cultured veggie I can recall eating is sauerkraut. I plan to make some, but I know I'll be the only member of my household to eat it. So, I thought for my first effort, I'd try to find something that eaten by all of us.

After a little web surfing, I found this post about making Marinara-Style Cultured Vegetables. I don't know if this will pass the pickiness test or not, but I decided to give it a whirl. I'll admit right up front that I had no intention of making the quantity this recipe is geared to make. So, I downsized and approximated. And skipped several of the first steps entirely. Here's what I did.

I shredded one beet, old-school.

To that, I added three shredded carrots and one small shredded onion. Why I shredded the onion, instead of just dicing it, I do not know. Shredding onion is neither easy not pleasant. Note to self... I also added the garlic/shallot/basil mix and the dry ingredients. Actually, I didn't have any marjoram so I left that out. And I didn't have fresh oregano, so I added dried.
I mixed the whole mess together, added some whey, and mixed it again.

The mix went into a quart mason jar, with a little extra distilled water since the veggies and whey didn't make quite enough juice. I topped the combination with a clean cabbage leave. It's job is to keep the rest of the stuff below the surface of the brine. If it starts to look like that method is causing trouble, I'll pull it out and try to come up with something else. I've heard of people using baggies full of water, but I'm not sure I want to put plastic into something that is supposed to ferment- so, cabbage leaf it is! Here's the end product.

I'd love to hear what combinations of cultured veggies you have tried, and especially if something was a hit with the kids.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays, hosted this week by Cheeseslave.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sourdough Goof

So, last night I mixed up some bread dough with a dose of Grover, my sourdough. It sat overnight and rose nicely, though not excessively. I wasn't worried because it was progressing the same way the first loaf did and that one was yummy.

Everything went smoothly until about lunchtime when I set it in the oven, under the light, for the second rise. I didn't think to take a picture, but it looked like a normal blob of bread dough.

The kids and I had some errands to run. Just a couple. They shouldn't have taken very long. Really. But there was no parking. And then some yutz parked in the drive lane on a one-way weird shaped parking lot, thus requiring everybody else to back up the wrong way. And then we stopped at the library and got lost in cookbooks. You know, things happen...

So when we got home, this is what was waiting for me in the oven, which wasn't turned on- just the light was on.

I had debated leaving the plastic wrap on it in the oven, but was glad I had because the dough clung to the wrap instead of glopping all over my oven. I'm not really an oven cleaning kind of gal.

So, the decision had to be made- throw it out or throw it in to bake? I knew that long rises made for more sour sourdough. But having made only one loaf before this, I had no basis of comparison. So, I decided to go ahead and bake it. After I trimmed off the dough sliding down the side of the pan. After I did that, I got a better look at the depth of oops I was dealing with.
Yeah, I know... If you're a successful sourdough baker, I'm pretty sure you are holding the sides of your monitor and screaming "Throw it out and run away!!" If only you'd said it sooner! Here's what greeted me after baking...

The Girl was in the kitchen when I pulled this baby out of the oven. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Doesn't that look terrible?
Girl: It kind of looks like flooring.
Me: Can I quote you?
Girl: Yeaaah?...I guess...only if you mention I said it in the nicest way possible...

 Sooo, being the adventurous type (cough), I sliced a piece off . It actually looked pretty good inside.

 But it sooo, sooo wasn't good. It was terrible. Sour enough to make me cry if I forced myself to eat it. Which I didn't do. Because I'm absent-minded, but not stupid. The dogs like it though. I have no idea why. Brain damage maybe, from knocking their heads together all the time. Whatever the reason, they're welcome to it.

I had a little chat with Grover about this minor disaster. He swears it wasn't his fault. That I should have paid more attention to the rise time. I'd like to blame him for this goof. Thing is, I think he's right. We'll try again soon and see how it turns out.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Real Food Gardening Basics: Soil Testing

Soil Testing

For our purposes here, there are three main points to cover about soil testing: how to do it, why to do it, and how to use the test results? We’ll tackle how first.

How do I soil test?

You may have seen home soil testing kits in your local garden center. The quality, reliability, and breadth of these kits can vary widely; so to have confidence in the accuracy of your results, why not let a professional testing lab handle the test for the same money? A web search or call to your local extension office will turn up several lab possibilities. But be sure to compare the specifics of each option. Fees vary, as do actual services performed. For example the labs recommended in my area charge anywhere from $5 to $18 and the specific nutrients tested for vary, but not necessarily in correlation to price! Your extension office may have a handout detailing the specifics of labs in your area.

In order to have your soil tested by a lab, you need to send them a sample. There is a “right way” to do this. When you’ve settled on which lab you’ll use, download any forms you need from the lab website and check to see if the lab or your extension office provides a sample bag. If not, you’ll need a zip lock bag.

To collect the soil sample, follow the instructions your lab provides. But the basic process looks something like this… Dig a slice of soil (plunge the shovel 6-8” into the soil, lift out, set the shovel close behind the cut and plunge in again) from several spots in the area you intend to plant. Mix the soil from all the slices together in a clean bucket, leaving out rocks, plant material, and other debris. Mix it really well so the sample you send the lab really represents the whole area you plan to use. Once the soil is well mixed, measure out about a cup and a half of soil. It should not be wet! If the soil feels like it’s got a lot of moisture in it, spread your sample on a plate to air-dry a bit before packaging it (don’t bake it). If the sample is dry, go ahead and pour it into either the sample bag you were provided or your zip lock bag. Seal the bag and follow the packaging and mailing directions on the form provided by the lab, but be sure to indicate on the lab form that the area you are testing will be a food garden. The recommendations you receive back could be very different if the lab thinks you are testing a lawn.

A short while after sending off your soil sample, you will receive back a report from the lab. Some lab reports are gussied up with colorful charts, but most look like something out of, well, a…laboratory (ahem). To the uninitiated, soil reports can seem as if they require a Chemistry degree to decipher; but honestly, they’re not that complicated.

Different labs may convey the information slightly differently. But all the reports will tell you about the levels of plant-available nutrients in your soils, provide amendment suggestions, and indicate your soil pH. Many will also tell you the level of organic matter in the soil sample, but some laboratories charge extra for this, so make sure you check this before sending in your sample. There may be other information in the report; but for beginners, the nutrient levels, pH, and organic matter readings are probably enough to tackle. Don’t be shocked if your report indicates that your soil sample contained only about 5% organic matter- this is about average. If your sample tests much lower than that, you’ll know you need to beef it up a bit. 

Why should I soil test?

Your soil test report provides crucial information about the ability of your soil to support healthy plant growth. As mentioned in the first installment of this series, most foods humans eat can be traced back to the soil one way or another. Healthy soil produces healthy plants. The benefits continue passing along up the food chain. As a gardener growing some of your own food, you have a prime opportunity to make sure that your food comes from the healthiest soil possible. Your soil report provides lots of information to help you in that quest.

How do I use the test results?


The amendment recommendations for your soil that you receive in your soil report are based upon the sample you sent in and the assumption that you will be growing a food garden. The recommendations will be presented as a number of pounds per thousand square feet. In order to correctly amend your soil, you will need to determine how many square feet of growing area you will be amending. If your plot is roughly square or rectangular, you can multiply the length measurement by the width measurement and be done with it. Other shapes will require a little more work to calculate.

As an example, let’s assume your garden plot is 20 feet by 20 feet. That’s a total of 400 square feet. That’s only 40% of the 1000 square feet your amendment recommendations are based upon. So, to figure how much you should apply to your plot, multiply the amount recommended in your report by 40%. To illustrate, if your report recommends 6.0 pounds of potash, that’s really 6 pounds per thousand square feet. For your 20x20 plot, you’ll only need 2.4 pounds. But remember, your results are based on the size of your plot. If your plot is 840 square feet, that’s 84% of the 1000 square feet; if it’s 620 square feet, that’s 62%.
Once you know how much of a recommended amendment to use on your garden space, you need to decide how you want to apply it. Commercial fertilizers, synthetic or organic, are widely available but are not the only options. A little independent research is in order here to ensure the product you choose is in keeping with your ethical framework.


It is important to understand that pH is a logarithmic and not linear measurement scale. In order to understand it, however, we can compare it to a standard number line of equally spaced marks with the center mark numbered zero, marks to the right of zero numbered in positive increments of one, and marks to the left of zero numbered in negative increments of one ( …,-2, -1, 0, 1, 2…). On our pH number line, we’ll use the same equally spaced marks; however, our center mark is numbered 7 and represents a neutral condition. The numbers to the left and right of 7 decrease or increase by one as on a standard number line, but they represent exponential changes in acidity or alkalinity. Numbers lower than 7 represent relative acidity, while number higher than 7 represent relative alkalinity. To illustrate the degrees of change, we can consider some common materials. If we compare baking soda solution, which has a pH of 8.4, with milk of magnesia, which has a pH of 10.5, what we need to understand is that we’re not really talking about a (more or less) “two point change.” The difference in alkalinity between the two is far more significant. Milk of magnesia is roughly one hundred times more alkaline than is the baking soda solution. If we then compare our baking soda solution (pH 8.4) with common vinegar (pH 2.4), the “six point” difference actually indicates that vinegar is one million times more acidic than the baking soda solution.

Different plants have different preferences with regard to pH; however, most garden crops are happy in the 6.0-7.0 range. Some notable exceptions are found among berries: blueberries prefer 4.0-5.0, blackberries 5.0-6.0, and black raspberries 5.0-6.5. So if you plan to grow berries, consider setting aside space for them outside your regular garden plot.

Soil pH has a lot to do with where you live. For example, much of the Mid-Atlantic has acidic soil, while areas such as Arizona and Utah tend to be alkaline. Reducing acidity is a fairly simple matter of applying agricultural lime. Your soil report will indicate an appropriate amount of lime to use, but remember that it will be expressed as pounds per thousand square feet and do the conversion to determine the actual amount for your plot. Alkaline soil is a little trickier to amend. Alkaline soils often have some limiting factor that needs to be addressed with more care than can be addressed here. If you find yourself with alkaline soil, consult the local extension office or a reliable local nursery for advice.

The importance of pH to gardeners is really twofold. The plants’ preferences are important. But pH also affects nutrient availability. As luck would have it, the same 6.0-7.0 range in which most vegetable patch plants thrive happens to also be the range at which most soil nutrients are most available. Pretty smart plants, huh?

Organic Matter

We discussed the types of matter that make up organic matter in the first article of this series, which you can find here. We will discuss the form that is perhaps most familiar to gardeners, compost, in more depth in the next article in this series- so we won’t go into it now.

Stay tuned… Next up will be compost and composting…

Ode To Kombucha

Oh, Kombucha, what did I do to you?
You were elusive.
But I searched
until I found you
at the distant store
where I chose you
and bought you
with joy in my heart.
The bottle
use caution when opening.
So I did.
And still
you attacked me
on my pants
and sweater
driver's seat
and car floor.
Oh Kombucha
you made me smell bad
like vinegar
and maybe flowers.
You made me
the butt
of children's jokes
and complaints
when I was
from home.
Oh Kombucha, what did I do 
to you?
I wanted to
like you.
you are gross

Sunday, February 14, 2010

28-Day Real Food Challenge- Week 2 Recap

Well! I felt like quite the slacker in the Real Food Challenge this week after a grueling Week 1. This second week was more education, less to-do list. The easier pace was welcome here since we're still adjusting to the changes we made in Week 1.

The lesson for Day 8 was all about fats for high heat usage. The only oil on the list that I've been able to locate is palm oil, so that's what I've been using. At first, it seemed a little odd to scoop solid oil out of a container. But I find I actually like the palm oil. I would really like to try coconut, but have not been able to locate any sold near me.

Day 9's lesson was on resisting GMOs. This is an issue already near and dear to my heart. I had actually already sent in my letters on the GMO alfalfa issue.

On Day 10 we covered fats to eat raw. I'm using olive oil and butter. In fact, olive oil, palm oil, and butter are the only fats in my kitchen right now.

Day 11 brought instructions to bake some sourdough with the starter we started in Week 1. I had already done this the day before and eaten it with the dipping sauce I whipped up. (Oooh, so yum!) The bread turned out great, but the baking method needs a little work.

On Day 12 came encouragement to find real milk. Raw milk is illegal here. I would buy it if I knew who to ask (ssh, don't tell "the man"!); but so far, I don't. I have found local, grass-fed dairy products and feel good about buying them in the mean time. They are wonderful!

Finally, the lesson for Day 13 was about getting your bacteria. We frequently have yogurt and sometimes kefir (milk) in the house. I'd really like to try water kefir, but I haven't found anywhere local to buy some. Ditto for kombucha. I'm the only person in my house with a taste for sauerkraut- but I've been reading about making it and plan to give it a try. So I'm especially excited to find more about this is coming up next week in the challenge.

The 28-Day Real Food Challenge is hosted by Jenny at Nourished Kitchen. Thanks for all you're doing for us, Jenny!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Real Food Gardening Basics

This is the first in a series of articles I am developing on the gardening aspects of real food. These articles are the abbreviated version of what may become an ebook. If you might be interested in such an ebook, please email me here and I'll let you know when it's available.


Food plants grow in soil. Understanding what soil is and how it contributes to food is important for anyone who eats, and especially important for anyone who endeavors to eat real food.

What is soil?

For the purposes of this article, we’re really talking about topsoil. Topsoil is a mix of solids, liquids, and gases in the form of minerals, organic matter, water, and air. The composition of topsoil changes constantly. Water runs in and out and evaporates. Organic matter breaks down and is used up. Healthy topsoil is dynamic.

In addition to these basic ingredients, topsoil is home to vast numbers of living organisms. Some such as moles, earthworms, and insect larvae, are easy to see with the naked eye. But most of the organisms in soil are microorganisms. They include organisms such as fungi, bacteria, and nematodes.

We’ll learn more about the organic aspects of soil when we get to the Compost article. But in the mean time, it is important to understand that all the parts of the soil serve special functions. If you consider the question “Which makes music, the musician or the instrument?” you’ll see that it’s not one or the other- they must work together to make music. I hope to show you how healthy soil is similar. Healthy plants are the product of healthy soils where all the parts are working together.

Soil solids

Soil solids include both mineral and organic matter. They provide the bulk of soil and the medium that holds water and air where plant roots can reach them.

Mineral solids include rocks, sand, silt, and clay and makes up roughly 45% of optimal topsoil. A soil’s texture describes the proportion of specific mineral solids in the soil.

Soil that is predominantly clay is often referred to as “heavy” soil. These soils retain a lot of water and are generally high in nutrients. However, the particles are packed close together leaving little room for air. Clay soils feel slippery or sticky when wet and can bake solid, and even crack, when dry. Amending clay soils will improve water drainage, allow for better root penetration, and improve the soil’s ability to support microorganisms.

The “solution” to clay-heavy soil is to add composted organic matter. Recommended amounts range from 3-8” inches deep across the surface area you intend to plant. This composted material should be dug or tilled into the top several inches of soil; however, going deeper than a shovel’s depth is not necessary.

Soil that is predominantly sand feels gritty and has low water- and nutrient-holding capacities. Sandy soil has the opposite problem from clay soil in that the spaces between the sand grains are too large, allowing water to drain away too quickly and offering little stability or nourishment for plant roots. Amending sandy soils will improve water retention and increase nutrient content.
The solution to sand-heavy soil is the same as for clay-heavy soil: composted organic matter. However, because sandy soil has little nutritive value of its own and poor particle adherence, a greater quantity of compost must be added over a longer period of time. Planning to incorporate a 2-3” depth of compost across the surface area you intend to garden, applied 3-4 times a couple weeks apart might be a good guide. It’s a lot of work up front; but after the initial garden building, maintenance should be pretty simple and pain-free.

Silty soil feels silky like fine ground powder or flour when dry and slippery when wet. Similar to clay soils, silty soil has small pore size and poor drainage. On the soil particle size spectrum, silt tends to fall between the super small size of clay particles and the relatively large size of sand particles. Silty soils are improved by the addition of compost; however, smaller quantities are generally needed than for either clay or sandy soils.

Organic matter soil solids include humus, biomass, and residues and by-products. Humus is organic matter that has completed the composting process and become stable. It is a complex and not yet fully understood substance, yet is vitally important to both soil structure and health. One primary function of humus is water retention. Biomass refers to the living aspect of soil and includes creatures ranging in size from microscopic bacteria to soil-dwelling vertebrates such as moles. The organisms that comprise biomass are responsible for breaking down residues and improving soil structure by creating tunnels that allow water movement and oxygen transport underground. Residues include un-decomposed dead plant material and creature corpses. By-products are substances that some plants and soil creatures release into the soil. Residues and by-products provide nutrients and energy to soil organisms and help hold soil particles together in clumps. Compost produced in the garden is often a combination of these components.

Gardeners rarely have soil composed of only clay, sand, or silt. However, the relative proportions of these materials suggest whether or not a particular garden site needs to be amended to provide better soil structure and if so how. Soil with a good mix of clay, sand, silt, and organic material is called loam. Loam is the gardener’s goal.

Soil liquids

The liquid component of soil is called the soil solution and is composed of water and dissolved materials. The soil solution is where plants obtain nutrients. An important aspect of soil solution is pH.

pH is a scale from 0 to 14 that indicates whether a soil solution is neutral, acidic, or basic (alkaline). A neutral pH reading is 7. Acidic readings are less than 7, while basic readings are greater than 7. Most garden vegetables prefer a pH between 5.5 and 7.5, but it’s a good idea to consult a pH chart regarding the specific plants you intend to grow because, to a plant, that two point spread is sometimes pretty significant. Home pH test kits are available, but pH is also tested as a part of a regular soil test which would also provide information about nutrient content, as well as amendment recommendations. Some garden centers, and all extension agencies, can either provide you with a soil test or help you get one.

Soil air

The air in soil is pretty similar to atmospheric air, with the exception that soil air contains a bit higher concentration of carbon dioxide and a very slightly lower concentration of oxygen. One of the main reasons for this difference is that the soil is teeming with living creatures that take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Because oxygen moves into the soil and carbon dioxide moves out of the soil through tiny pores, the exchange happens somewhat slower than the conversion taking place in the soil. Plants adapted to growing on well-drained soil also require oxygen for their roots to survive.

Why do I need to know this?

Gardeners need at least a basic understanding of the components and workings of the soil because soil is plants’ life support system and every change humans make to the soil affects the health and productivity of the soil and the organisms dependent upon it. Humans are one of those dependent organisms. Most foods humans eat can be traced back to the soil, with the partial exception of things like seafood (although it’s all connected, thanks to nifty things like the water cycle and erosion).

Next up… More on soil tests and composting…

This post is my entry for today's Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Better Sweet Potatoes

Nobody in my house is a fan of sweet potatoes. They are just too darn sweet! But despite the general lack of enthusiasm, I continue to try sweet potato recipes we'll like (or at least eat) because they are so darn good for you. These were so-so with the kids, but I really enjoyed them. The sweet is balanced with spicy and everything is enhanced by a little salt. This just made it to my top two favorite sweet potato recipes- and of the two, this one's actually pretty healthy. I followed Becks' recipe for Chili Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges which you can find here at Delish. She's got better pictures and the full (but still easy!) directions, so go check it out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Quarter Dipping Sauce

 ** If you have arrived here after attempting to vote for this recipe, please check back with Nourished Kitchen as it appears there may be a problem with the voting mechanism. Also, thanks so much for your vote!!**

This is my very favorite way to use olive oil. It's easy, healthy, and addictively tasty. This version has a little heat from the garlic and red and black peppers; but it's a simple matter to adjust for your own tastes. The following recipe makes a small quantity because I'm the only one who eats it at my house; but you can scale up or down both the spices and the oil. Letting the spices steep longer in the oil before use will also strengthen the flavor. Here's how I do it.

One Quarter Dipping Sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt (I use Real Salt)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon rosemary (I used dried today, but you can also steep a twig of fresh for a bit and then remove)
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
chopped fresh basil to taste
chopped fresh garlic to taste

Combine the dry spices in a bowl. Ordinarily, I would use a sprig of fresh rosemary and not add it until the oil was mixed in. But because I used dried rosemary today, I added it with the other dried ingredients.

Next, add in your chopped basil and garlic and toss the ingredients together. This will get the salt working on the garlic and basil. 

Add in the olive oil and stir well to combine. You can use it right away, of course, but the flavors meld together nicely if it sits a little while before using.

If you are participating in the 28-Day Real Food Challenge over at Nourished Kitchen, this dipping sauce goes great with the sourdough bread you can make from your new starter! Enjoy!

This post is my entry in Nourishing Kitchen's Olive Oil Clean Your Plate Challenge and is also my entry for Real Food Wednesdays hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Food Crime & Punishment

I hate to admit, one week into the Real Food Challenge, that I screwed up big time. But I did. It was, after all, the Super Bowl. I allowed each of us to choose a forbidden food to enjoy during the game. The boy chose his weird faux cheese things and the girl and I had Cool Ranch Doritos. This was a mistake.

In my former life I enjoyed this same snack numerous times. But apparently my body didn't and I just never realized it. Now that we've been off the junk for a little while now, my body put its foot down in no uncertain terms.

I had prepared a hearty, real foods dinner. None of us really ate all that much of our snacks. But the little I did have was enough to trigger a really bad time. Shortly after I gave up on the Doritos, I realized that the roof of my mouth was covered in blisters. Huge blisters. Painful blisters. Then, my medication free joints- which had tolerated shoveling snow just fine- kept me awake until, very early this morning when I gave in and took an anti-inflammatory. The joints are mostly over their tantrum tonight. But the roof of my mouth still feels like I just this minute bit down on a way-too-hot slice of pizza. Lesson learned. And let that be a lesson to you! Rating: not edible!

28-Day Real Food Challenge- Week 1 Recap

A few days ago, after stumbling into Sara's blog where I read about the 28-Day Real Food Challenge going on this month at Nourished Kitchen, I moseyed on over to NK and joined the Challenge myself. Little did Iknow what I was getting myself into!

The challenge for Day 1 was to clean the pantry, fridge, and cupboards of all processed foods. I will admit right now that I did not toss everything with processed ingredients because my family is just beginning to change to a real foods only diet and I don't think we'll stick with it permanently if we go cold-turkey and then get frustrated. Also, I just can't afford to replace a lot of food at once. However, I did toss a whole bunch of stuff. The pictures show most of it.

 Much of the stuff I threw out was stuff that has been lingering unused in the cupboards or fridge for quite some time. But others, like the oil and sugar, will be missed. For most of this week, I have been relying on olive oil and butter. I can't find coconut oil locally. But one of the grocery stores has palm oil, so I picked some up today.

Day 2 brought the challenge to choose wholesome foods. Fortunately, I already had on hand quite a few things that fit this bill- whole, organic milk and real butter; fresh fruits and vegetables; olive oil; nuts; and whole meal flours. I've been working on incorporating these foods for some time. My biggest challenge has been to learn ways to prepare these foods without incorporating processed adulterants.

The challenge for Day 3 was to improve your grains by soaking them. The goal is to reduce the effects of the phytic acid present in the grains in order to improve absorption of the grains nutrients. Well, this was a head-scratcher for me as I'd never heard of this before. But it is intriguing and I fully intend to try it! I don't have any whole grains on hand yet and I was too wussy to soak a bowl of flour until I had a better idea of what exactly to do with it. I'll read up on this as I'm able and then give it a whirl. Please feel free to recommend reading material!

Day 4 was my favorite challenge- to start a sourdough starter! Yum! Because I joined the Challenge a few days late, my starter is not ready to use yet. But it is coming along beautifully and smells great! I am a firm believer in the tradition of naming sourdough starters (it's harder to forget to feed something with a name), but I haven't yet settled on a name for mine. Here's what mine looks like now (sorry, picture's a little fuzzy).

The challenges for Day 5- sprout your grains- and Day 6- mill your own sprouted grain flour- will have to wait until I can get some grain. Also, I don't have a grain mill or a dehydrator and they really aren't in the budget. I'll probably try the wet-milled method suggested as an alternative, but I only have a teeny-tiny food processor and no blender. I'll give it a whirl (sorry!) and see what happens.

Overall, I'm happy with my progress this week. I was afraid I might feel guilty for not going cold-turkey on all processed foods as instructed on Day 1; however, I really haven't because I know it would increase my family's chance of failing at permanently changing our diet. It is really important to me to succeed at this, both for our long-term health and for a more immediate purpose. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I have been taking multiple medications every day since then. And it really pisses me off.

Over the years I had become very suspicious that my RA and other health issues were diet related. It wasn't until I read Pollan's nutritionism rant in In Defense of Food that it all came together in my mind. That epiphany felt like an idea that had been trying to fight its way out of the back of my mind finally broke through. My initial goal was to be off RA meds and feeling fine by the end of 2010. But, when one of my meds was due for refilling a few weeks ago, I just said "no more". I had no idea what would happen. When I first started the meds, I could barely walk the pain was so bad. The first few days I was sore, but not awful. But I was changing my diet, drastically, at the same time. I have been amazed by how good I have been feeling already. Yesterday and today I shoveled massive (!!!) amounts of snow and I really don't feel any worse than anybody else who spent two days shoveling. And that's after I gave up the second medicine too. It will be interesting to see how this experiment progresses. Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the 28-Day Real Food Challenge.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snow Day

I took a snow day from posting yesterday due to "Snowzilla." This picture is the view out my front door. All that arrived Friday night through Saturday. The hairy looking mess of twigs to the right? That's a japanese maple that is just hating life right now. The random green bits dead center? My rosemary plant. The two tiny twigs just below and to the left of that red truck? Rose bush, desperately attempting to send up a flare. The snow depth mid-ground to the left of the rosemary is actually how deep it is from the ground up. There was a little drifting, but there's still at least 30 inches of snow out there. I had to force open the back door and shovel a trail to the yard for the dogs. The snow out back is deeper than our golden retriever is tall. I love snow. But man, we did lots of shoveling yesterday!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sourdough Starter

Isn't it adorable? Thursday's assignment for the 28-Day Real Food Challenge is to start or otherwise acquire a sourdough starter. No directions were included so, although I knew the basic idea behind sourdough, I hit the web for instructions. There are lots and lots of instructions out there and no two are the same! Ultimately, I stumbled into this article from Eric at (which, though I haven't fully explored it yet, looks to be a great resource for those who'd like to bake their own bread).
The method Eric demos, in both article and video form, is incredibly simple- but surprisingly includes pineapple juice. The purpose of the juice is to create the right level of acidity in the culture for the yeast to start working. If you are interested in the science behind that- and it really is fascinating- Eric mentions in his post that Debra Wink, the discoverer of this method (a chemist and baker), had sent him an essay on the topic that he would forward on upon request.

I didn't get my starter started until the middle of the day. Even so, several hours later when I stopped by to check on it there was already action. When I initially combined the ingredients, the starter looked similar to the picture above. When I checked on it later, the picture below is what I found. It appeared to have already started fermenting a bit as there was what appeared to be a bit of hooch (alcohol resulting from fermentation) on top. I stirred the mix (resulting in the above photo) and set it back safely on top of the fridge.
Starting sourdough starter from scratch is apparently a pretty tricky thing. The failure rate appears to be high. After reading Debra Wink's essay on the subject I have to wonder if perhaps many of those failures are not actually failures, but rather people tossing the starter before the yeast they want really get going. When not using the pineapple juice method, other bacteria get working before those desired by the bread baker. Ultimately, the initial bacteria turn the starter too acidic for their own survival, paving the way for our yeast to take off. It's an amazing journey that also happens work out beautifully for humans.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cookbook Review: Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals

I imagine that someone, anyone, reading my blog would come to the part where I saw that I never learned to cook and would roll their eyes. The thing is, there's more to it. I can pop open a book and follow directions as well as the next girl (or guy). The problem is that about three out of four times, things just don't turn out the way they were supposed to. Either that or I have a heck of a knack for picking the worst recipes ever. So, I don't buy cookbooks. I borrow them from the local library. Tonight I tried out Tom Valenti's Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals. Let me tell you, this is a winner!

I was in the mood for something special, but something in keeping with my pursuit of living processed-food-free. The recipe I made was Simmered Shrimp Saute with Shiitake Mushrooms and Scallions. The directions were clear. The ingredients were common, with the possible exception of capers. I happened to have some in the fridge, so I was in luck. I didn't keep track of how long it took me to prepare this meal. I would say this isn't a super fast recipe, but also not one that takes a long time to prepare. The longest part for me was peeling the shrimp. If you find peeled butterflied shrimp you are home free. And the taste! Rich with a sophisticated melding of flavors, but not over-the-top. The recipe says it serves four. I divided it between the three of us and it was too much. I would say this serves six.

I suspect this cookbook would be a good one to have on the shelf as a go-to when preparing something special for company or special occasions. But a number of reviewers on said they use this cookbook frequently. If the majority of recipes in the book are comparable in taste and prep time, I might actually buy this book.

28-Day Real Food Challenge

Yesterday, without knowing entirely what I was signing up for, I joined the 28-Day Real Food Challenge hosted by Jenny at Nourished Kitchen. Doing so seemed like a good way to remain accountable right from the start of this exciting yet daunting process of getting my family off processed foods. The challenge is laid out like this:
Each day, for the entire month of February, you’ll receive an assignment that will help you learn about the principles of a nourishing diet including the importance of grass-finished and pastured meats, wholesome fats, sprouted and soured grains and probiotic foods.

That all sounded good, so I continued reading.
Learn how to stock your pantry, how to source wholesome foods, how to reduce costs, hot to mitigate antinutrients naturally present in certain foods and how to improve your diet step-by-step through nourishing, real food. Simple as it is, the 28-day challenge is designed to walk you through a transition into real food one step at a time.

Alrighty then! Where do I sign up?

Well, let me tell you... That first step is a doozy. Jenny has us boldly stepping right off the cliff and into the void. When I read the Day 1 instructions to "remove all processed foods and foods containing those ingredients from your kitchen" I thought of that commercial for some stop-smoking aid where the guy is inexplicably on top of a building contemplating stepping off the roof, and when he does take that step, the stop-smoking aid's manufacturer has kindly made available "invisible" steps that lead him safely to the more stable street level. I started to worry. Who is this Jenny anyway? How confident am I that she really has a series of sturdy invisible steps that will lead me safely back to solid ground? Jenny has clearly been studying corporate America and has mastered the concept of 'first get them hooked- then drop the whammy."

I'll be honest with you; even though my family has already been moving toward a diet free from processed foods, I broke out in a cold sweat before I even opened my cupboard cabinets. Realizing that this challenge has hundreds of other participants, I started surfing their blogs to see how closely they were adhering to this requirement. I found a really mixed bag. Some people are making allowances for spouses, parents, or other roommates.

For me, the issue boils down to two questions: Can I afford to summarily toss and replace these banned foods? and What the heck will we eat until I can replace the banned foods? (We're talking hungry teenagers here!) The answer to the first question is a resounding "No." And the answer to the second question is "I have no idea." So, I was happily surprised to log on this morning and find this advice from Terri at Simply Basic: “Just take baby steps and you will do just fine. Don’t try to change everything overnight.” And that is exactly what I plan to do. Thanks Terri, for the right advice at the right time!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Affair With Real Food

After a night of sleeping on it (okay, right off the bat I’m lying to you: the dog was ill and vocal and nobody was sleeping; he’s fine now, and sleeping, while I’m here trying to force my eyes to stop crossing), it occurred to me that I should give you a better idea what you’ve signed up for.

I am shooting for nothing less that a total overhaul of my family’s eating habits from processed-foods-dependent to processed-foods-free. And I need to do it on a seriously limited budget. That’s a pretty big challenge. But wait, there’s more! I also need to learn to cook. Don’t misunderstand… I’ve been feeding myself and my family for years. I have pots and pans and various utensils and the mess in my kitchen as proof that I actually use them. The problem is that I never learned to cook from scratch. Plus, I grew up in an era of handy-dandy kitchen shortcut products, almost none of which, it turns out, are good for us. I suspect I have a lot of company, judging by my voyeuristic forays at the grocery store.

The magnitude of the change I needed to make started to gel in my mind while reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Clarity showered me from above as I made my way through Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. And the film Food Inc. firmed my resolve. But unlike Kingsolver, I don’t have 40 acres, a spouse, and a best-selling author’s income to support my efforts. And unlike Pollan, I don’t live in the Berkeley/Bay Area “land of food opportunity”.

In addition to money, my plan faces other limitations. My local grocery stores have decent, but limited selections of affordable fresh produce. Much of it comes from far, far away and lacks sufficient taste to warrant buying and eating it. The organic sections are of good quality though uniformly meager. In season, locally grown fresh produce is available, but is of surprisingly slim variety. We do have year-round availability of local, somewhat pricy, grass raised beef, pork, and lamb. Recently, I’ve seen whole local chicken as well- but at twenty four bucks a bird it is well outside my budget. And we have access to expensive but really exceptionally yummy dairy products and eggs.

Since buying my own home, I have been vegetable gardening in season. But I have yet to produce enough produce to have some put by for the off seasons. We’ll work on increasing yields and learning to preserve our harvest this year. But at this point I can’t count on growing all our own produce, or even most of it.

And then there’s time… It’s a really nice thing to be able to open the freezer and pull out individual chicken tenderloins all ready to throw in a stir-fry. But guilt and disgust over the production of that chicken is pushing those convenient tenderloins off my plate. So far, I’ve found no local, ethically raised alternative. As I examine what and how we’ve been eating, I find numerous similar examples of quick and easy ingredients that ultimately are far more costly than I realized, either ethically, health-wise, or both.

Oh, and one last thing… I hope to do all this well enough that my family won’t miss the processed stuff. I want us to enjoy real food so much that we don’t want to go back to our tawdry past. I want to be able to say “Remember when I made that great stew?” and hear back only the groans of delighted remembrance.

Is that asking too much? I don’t think so.

And So It Begins...

Forgive me, dear reader, for hauling you into this messy affair. I just don't think I can manage it alone. The last decade or so my relationship with food has been a shambles. It was an insidious descent, slow and steady, until one day I found myself standing in the grocery store, incredulous at the realization that there was nothing there I wished to eat.

But eat we must, so life continued more or less unchanged as I struggled to make sense of what felt like a lost love. If only I'd been paying attention! The problem was a lost love. I missed the perfect peaches straight from the tree and strawberries still warm from the sun- foods that made even the dullest days of my childhood summers memorable. The complex tastes of a long-simmered pot of stew were long gone.

For years, I wandered glassy-eyed down isle upon isle of box upon box of foods that seemed to all be variations upon the same ingredients, none more palatable than the boxes they arrived in. Industrial food bored me. This frustration was compounded by three things: a rising fear that industrial food did not adequately feed the body; the dawning realization that it didn't feed the soul; and the embarrassing, inexplicable, and frustrating knowledge that I'd never learned how to prepare real food.

So... I set out to educate myself. And now it's time to develop the skills of sustenance. It's daunting to try to make up for decades of missed knowledge. And my recent efforts at preparing real food, sans prepared ingredients, have been hit and miss. Somewhat more miss than hit, truth be told. It would be easy to cut corners. And that's where you come in- accountability. I earnestly desire a happy, healthy relationship with food for myself, and for my children. With you checking over my shoulder, I know I can get there.