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Posts Tagged ‘food’

We did not have much of a garden in 2012 – everything kind of conspired against us.  Me being hugely pregnant, Baby M’s birth being so traumatic, his allergies (and constant screaming), and that big storm in late June that knocked over an awful lot of our little plants.

 

However, we did manage to harvest a significant amount of carrots (maybe forty or fifty pounds) about the same of potatoes, and a lot of onions (we planted 500 sets).  In the autumn, we bought some cabbages, beets, and turnips in bulk, and also we picked up some pumpkins and spaghetti squash from the farmer’s market to round out our winter vegetable supply.

 

In 2011 / 2012, the root-cellared carrots were done by mid-February.  This year, however, we’re still eating them from our root cellar.  Some have rotted, and the texture is not as crisp as when they were harvested, for sure, and there is some fuzz on some of them – we peel them now, instead of just scrubbing them – but we ate some in our soup tonight, and they are still entirely edible.  The potatoes are also fine, and the cabbages as well, though you have to peel off several layers of dessicated leaves to get to the good stuff.  The beets, like the carrots, are softer, but still edible.  The squash is fine.  Squash lasts forever.   Some of the onions are starting to sprout, but the rest are still as good as the day they were harvested.

 

The difference between this year and last year, for the carrots at least, is that we managed the humidity better.  Last year, some of the carrots got dried out quite early in the year, and got too dried out and bitter to eat much earlier than they should have.  Others of our storage carrots last year were too damp, and rotted early, as well.  This year, we kept the carrots in a plastic Rubbermaid tub, with a plastic bag draped over top, which we adjust when we’re down there – pull it off a bit if things seem too humid, or pull it more closed if things look like they might be drying out.  It appears to be working quite well, considering we’re still eating last September’s carrot harvest, on May first.  While the root cellaring books I have read suggested storing them in damp sand or sawdust, we haven’t found a good supply of either of those things, and are happy that our rigged system appears to suffice.  I am quite delighted to be eating our own local produce, eight months later!

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Spaghetti squash is amazing stuff.  It seems to do well in our difficult zone 2, low-rainfall garden, without additional irrigation.  A few plants yield more squashes than we eat in a year; last year, we got something like 20 squashes off 3 plants.  This year, nothing did very well, due to being planted late, flattened by a major storm, and barely weeded (if at all) through the summer; however, we still got a few squashes off the sole surviving plant.

 

The other thing that impresses me about spaghetti squash is it’s staying power.  We just, and I mean just tonight, disposed of the last of last year’s squash.  Squash we harvested approximately 13 months ago, and left sitting in a spare room through the winter and the heat of summer, with no special attention whatsoever.  In fact, I guarantee they were not in ideal conditions for any part of that storage, really – too humid for part of the time, and too warm for the rest.  We threw the last two in the chicken coop; one had soft spots, and the other had seeds sprouting inside, plus was going soft.  Mostly, we had been keeping them around just to see how long they would last, at this point.  However, we cooked and ate one about a week and a half ago, and it was fine.

 

Spaghetti squash is easy to cook; just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake it, cut side down, for an hour and a half to two hours (for a large-ish squash) until the flesh is soft.   Then, you can use it like spaghetti – the flesh pulls apart in spaghetti-like strings, hence the name.  Another option is to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff it with something tasty (we usually use leftover spaghetti sauce, cut about half and half with cooked rice), and bake it cut side up for about the same amount of time.

 

I have to say, I highly recommend this one for Canadian Prairie gardens; easy to grow + tasty + long storage life = a winner in my books!

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Washing, peeling, chopping, and bagging fifty pounds of mangoes gives a girl a lot of time to think.

 

I was thinking about why, exactly, I would wash, peel, chop, bag, and freeze fifty pounds of mangoes.  On top of twenty pounds of blueberries, and as many sweet cherries, plus the peas, and the beans and peaches and other produce that’s still to come.  And the canning and dehydrating and cheese making and all the rest.  One friend asked if I was getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

 

It’s not about the zombie apocalypse.  Honest.  There are a lot of very vocal, very well-armed people on some of the forums I frequent, who are waiting (somewhat impatiently) for the collapse of society and ensuing zombie invasion.  I don’t really get that attitude.  First, I like modern conveniences like, say, medical care, running water, and sewer systems.  Secondly, I’m not that fond of guns.  Besides that, society in my particular corner of the world shows no signs of imminent collapse, thank goodness.  I like my neighbours.  I’d hate to see them shuffling up my driveway with arms suspiciously raised out front, clamoring for brains…

 

I do happen to like having control over what I eat.  When I dehydrate mangoes, I know that no chemicals made their way in.  Same with making my own jam:  fruit-pectin-sugar is okay; fruit-flavor-color-glucose-fructose-preservatives is not really my cup of tea.  I like growing organic peas and carrots and potatoes; these are things that will be made into baby food for our little guy, not to mention nourishing ourselves.

 

I am also cheap.  I like things like blueberry smoothies, and at $2 per pound (what I paid for the ones I froze myself), I have no problem making blueberry smoothies three times a week.   At $7+ for 600 grams, blueberry smoothies would be rationed for special occasions.  Jam is five bucks for a little jar of the decent stuff, these days; chokecherry and crabapple jelly cost me about fifty cents for the sugar in an eight-pint batch, plus a couple of enjoyable hours of picking and canning.

 

I like to be ready for various eventualities.  I keep a well-stocked pantry, which saves on time and gas for last-minute runs to town for forgotten ingredients, saves us money (by buying in bulk), and gives us a cushion for those times when the paycheque, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite stretch to the end of the month.  More than once, I’ve had to rely on the pantry when I was unable to work for periods of time, and I think unemployment is something everybody could potentially face at some point.

 

We also have things like an epi-pen to treat severe allergic reactions, even though neither of us has a life-threatening allergy.  A few of our friends do have serious allergies, though, and we’re a long way from the hospital.  We are not, however, armed to the teeth awaiting a zombie invasion.  We occasionally get accused of survivalism, which, to be honest, isn’t really our cup of tea.  Too much emphasis on guns and zombies, and not enough on gardening, canning, milking goats, and hanging out with the neighbours.

 

While we are not survivalists, I do buy into the philosophy of preparedness.  I think there are plenty of legitimate reasons to have a few extra things on hand.  Things like flashlights, candles, a couple of sleeping bags, a jug or three of water.  A wind-up radio.  Extra food.  A camp stove.  A first aid kit.  You know – basic supplies for run-of-the-mill emergencies.

 

So far this year, we’ve been through a couple of minor power outages, a medical issue causing my inability to work for a couple of months, being snowed in for a couple days, that big wind and four-day electricity interruption, and a boil water advisory.  But no zombies.  We’ve got fifty pounds of mango in the freezer, now, and there’s still hope for the garden.   For the likely scenarios for emergencies around here, we’re fairly well prepared.  For the Zombie Apocalypse, not so much…

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On Food and Pregnancy

“You are what you eat.”

 

I’ve always kind of known that food and health are inter-connected, but it has never been so obvious as the last few months, since I have been pregnant. We normally eat pretty well; we cook mostly from scratch, bake a lot of our own treats, and generally tend towards home-grown, whole wheat, organic, and the like.  However, that has always been balanced by an occasional (or not-so-occasional, depending) trip to A&W or some other fast-food joint, the odd store-bought cake, and sometimes even pop, chips, and cookies.

 

If I eat those things now, however, I suffer.  I mean really, really suffer.  Heartburn so bad I end up throwing up in the middle of the night, or just plain old nausea that lingers for hours.  Greasy fast-food burgers, I can understand, but we got a fresh black forest cake from the store last week, and that was just as bad.  Same deal with even a lot of supposedly “good” restaurant food; I am down to about two places in town we can go for a special occasion without running too big a risk of being ill for the next day or two.

 

What’s even sillier is the range of stuff I can eat, as long as we make it here at home.  Chili?  Sure.  Pizza?  You bet.  Refried bean burritos with spicy salsa and gobs of sour cream?  Bring it on.  Pancakes and bacon?  Anytime.  Grease, spice, whatever; if we make it here, it does not seem to bother me.  And yet, some brands of cranberry juice kill me.  I just haven’t figured out what the ‘forbidden’ ingredient is…some artificial color, maybe?  Glucose-fructose (high fructose corn syrup)?  I just don’t know.

 

I’ve been eating pretty healthily throughout the pregnancy; breakfast is usually organic yogurt with fruit, or cottage cheese, and I snack so much on raw fruit and vegetables that I am currently probably the only person I know who actually gets ten servings a day.   My big ‘splurge’ is my evening smoothie, made with frozen fruit, milk, and a bit of sugar.   Or popcorn, made on the stove.  And, with restaurant food being out of the question, my lunches and suppers are mostly ‘good’ stuff like chili, spaghetti and meat sauce, soups, stir-fries, roast veggies, and the like.  I do admit, I eat a fair bit of chocolate, but that does not seem to bother me at all for some reason, and everyone needs a bad habit or two!

 

There are several other pregnant ladies where I work, and some friends and family as well, so I have had a lot of opportunity to compare my pregnancy to other folks’ experiences.  I have to say, I’ve had it easy.  Really easy.  Enough so that I am almost embarrassed to answer honestly when people ask how I am feeling, because mostly, I feel great, and that’s not the answer folks seem to expect.   My morning sickness was a couple months of feeling queasy, which was easily remedied by snacking on fruit and veg.  There’s been no swelling, headaches, back pain, bladder issues, constipation, mood swings, or other major misery.  The heartburn has all been self-induced, by eating ‘forbidden’ restaurant or store-bought stuff that I knew I shouldn’t be eating.  My biggest issue has been pelvic pain, but even that is only if I sit in the wrong sort of chair for too long, which makes it manageable, as I can trace a cause, and do something to avoid it.

 

Now, having said all that, yeah, I’m still pregnant; there are some odd aches and pains, sometimes, and I don’t have my usual level of energy.  In fact, my stamina has gone completely out the window.  I get the weirdest dreams, and I have to make sure I pee every time I enter or exit a building with a bathroom, or I end up regretting it five minutes later.  I don’t bend so well (it gets hard to breathe), and planting the garden is harder work that it really ought to be.  Still, though, for being this big, and this late in the pregnancy, I don’t have much to complain about.

 

When I say stuff like this to other pregnant ladies, or mothers (especially folks who’ve been pregnant two or three times), I keep hearing “wait until”.  Wait until you’re 20 weeks, you’ll start swelling.  Wait until you’re 30 weeks, your back will start acting up then.  Wait until you’re in your third trimester, you won’t be able to eat a thing without heartburn.  So far, they’ve all been wrong.  I’m well into my 35th week, and still waiting for all the major misery that I’ve been threatened with.  Maybe I’m just exceptionally lucky, but I was braced for a whole lot worse than this, especially considering my age and the terrible shape I was in when I got pregnant in the first place.

 

Hubby is convinced that how we eat has a lot to do with how good I’ve been feeling.   I have to say, I tend to agree with him.  Between all the good stuff I’ve been shoveling in there, plus the lack of stress from having Hubby at home and dealing with the majority of the work, I think I have had a lot of advantages that have made this whole pregnancy business much, much easier than it might have otherwise been.

 

Wait until I’m 38 weeks, though, I’m sure I’ll start suffering then…

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Well, another new month, another fact-finding trek down to the root cellar!

 

As of today, a few of the potatoes are starting to go a little soft, but the majority are still firm and basically perfect.  Potatoes are amazing.

 

The beets are mushy, and pretty much done.

 

The cabbages are still firm, but have developed some white mold on the outermost leaves.  They are still fine to eat, once you peel off the few outermost layers, however.

 

The onions are still fine, but there are not many left, and we will be running out soon, despite our efforts at conserving.

 

The pumpkins all went mushy in the last couple of weeks, though the spaghetti squash are still going strong.

 

We are starting to go through the canned fruit more now, as we’ve run out of frozen.  It got to the point that I am now buying any fruit that is on sale at the store, and chopping and freezing it, as I still want my smoothies, but I struggle with paying $7.50 for a little baggie of frozen peaches.  Unfortunately, this totally blows our local eating thing; the six pounds of strawberries I cut up and froze last week were from California. This is not going to stop me from doing that, however, or from buying other long-distance fruit (fresh or frozen), as I am not willing to run any risk of compromising baby’s health over a matter of principle.  We will plan better (or at least put more fruit in the freezer) this summer and fall, and chalk this up to a lesson learned.

 

I don’t imagine we’ll have much left by next month, but I sure am curious how long those darn potatoes are going to keep on keeping on for…

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How to Eat Real Food:

 

1) go to the fridge

2) take out a carrot

3) scrub the carrot

4) eat it.

 

Okay, okay, it’s not as simple as that.  But it doesn’t have to be much more complicated.

 

I normally eat a lot of whole grains and vegetables, and usually cook from scratch.  A couple of weeks ago, I was sent on training for work, though, and was forced to eat my lunches at restaurants.  All of a sudden, I had terrible heartburn, all the time.  Like sleep-sitting-up heartburn.  I know heartburn is common during pregnancy, and just figured it was another new symptom to contend with.  Except….

 

Except that a week later, after reverting to my normal eating habits, I don’t have heartburn anymore.  Even after eating a (home-made) refried bean burrito with sour cream, extra cheese, and super-spicy salsa.  I can have a cup of coffee in the morning if I want.  Chili doesn’t make me suffer.  It appears that I am safe, as long as I avoid restaurants or pre-packaged crap.  Not too difficult, for me, and better for my (and baby’s) health anyhow.   I wish I knew what was in those soup-and-sandwich lunches, though…

 

In discussing this with friends, though, I get the usual refrain:  “Oh, that’s awesome, but I don’t have time to cook”.  Or, “It’s too expensive to eat healthy like that”.   Not to put too fine a point on it, but bullshit.  This is a real pet peeve of mine.

 

I’ve been doing this for, oh, more than a decade.  Creeping up on two, as a matter of fact.  My mom cooked like this, as well, even as a single working mom raising two kids.  It’s not that hard.  Nor that expensive.  It’s just that people hear that, then start to repeat it to themselves, without ever really checking the math.

 

There are a couple of secrets that make it cheap and easy to eat real food.

 

1) Cook lots

2) Use meat as a seasoning, if you use it at all.

3) Eat seasonally

 

 

Cooking Lots

 

When I cook, it is usually in my stock pot.  It’s a big pot – it probably holds a couple of gallons.  I rarely fill it less than halfway.  It takes almost the same amount of time to make a pot of soup for twelve as it does to make a pot of soup for four.  So, in a household of two, I cook for twelve, then I cook much less often.  When we were both working full time, I normally cooked a big pot of soup or chili on Saturday, a big pot of pasta on Sunday, and something simple and easy like stir-fry or pizza or veggie burritos once or twice during the week.  It worked out to cooking every other day, or less.  The other days were leftover days.

 

Those big pots of stuff I cooked on the weekends would be divided in half – half went in the fridge for leftover days, and the other half were portioned out into lunch-sized containers, which I took to work and re-heated in the microwave.  I was always eating a week or two behind my cooking dates, so I was having chicken soup and spaghetti and meat sauce for lunches, even though that week I’d cooked beef stew and chili for the weekday meals.  I had plenty of variety.  Based on my co-workers, who spend about ten dollars (on average) for lunch, I figure I am saving around $200 per month on lunches alone.  That makes it pretty easy to justify buying organic apples and yoghurt, and also makes me wonder how people can possibly think that it’s ‘too expensive’ to cook from scratch.  Most of my meals probably cost a buck or two per serving, tops.

 

Use Meat As Seasoning

 

Yes, it is going to cost you a fortune to cook from scratch at home, if you expect to eat steak or roast or boneless skinless chicken breast at every meal.   But that’s not necessary.  In most of my meals, a pound of ground beef would serve at least ten or twelve.  For instance, when I make chili, I use easily double (maybe triple) the amount of beans that most people might, and no-one ever notices.  Not even my (then) hardcore carnivore husband.  Likewise, when we make shepherd’s pie, we add 50% vegetables (peas, carrots, onions, corn) to the meat, then smother it in potatoes, making a pound of beef stretch into a large meal.  In my favorite vegetable chowder soup recipe, I use about six strips of bacon in a pot of soup that would heartily feed a dozen people.  Meat does not have to be the main attraction.   In fact, meat may not even have to put in an appearance.  Probably half of our favorite meals are vegetarian.  There are dozens of pasta recipes that use no meat.  I love to eat roasted root vegetables served over couscous.  Refried bean burritos make regular appearances on our dinner table.  We do eat steak, but rarely.  When $5 worth of ground beef makes ten or twelve servings, it’s pretty hard to argue that cooking healthy meals at home is expensive.

 

Eat Seasonally

 

Last week, when I went to the grocery store, I noticed that blueberries cost almost $5 for a little clamshell package with maybe a handful of berries in it.  Back in August, I was buying them for just over a dollar a pound.  Right now, carrots, apples, and cabbage are cheap, and strawberries, spinach, and watermelon are expensive.  Guess what we’re eating lots of right now?  Of course, having had a big garden, we’ve got lots of ‘winter veggies’ in our root cellar, but that is also a good measure of what’s seasonal here at this time of year.   For us, eating seasonally means root veggies, cabbage, and squash in winter, and peas, green beans, and corn in the summer.

 

Of course, you can get around this, too, if you’re willing to invest a bit of labor.  In the fall, when the sweet corn was ripening, we bought six dozen cobs from a guy down the road.  We brought it home, blanched it, cut it off the cobs, packaged it in one- and two-cup bags, and froze it.  I think it worked out to something like 40 cents a cup, for local, probably organic, sweet corn.   Now, in the dead of winter, we’re making corn chowder with it, and it’s fantastic.  I have no idea what a bag of organic frozen corn costs these days, but I’ll bet it’s not that cheap.  We also froze a lot of blueberries back in August, which we use to make smoothies now, in the middle of winter, rather than paying that outrageous price for fresh ones.  It does take some time – that corn took the two of us most of an afternoon – but that’s a trade-off we’re happy to make.  It was an afternoon of chatting and laughing, despite the work involved.

 

This is not rocket science, but a lot of people have never done the math for themselves.  It takes me as long to slap together a stir fry as it would to run out for fast food, even when we lived in town – I can whip up a decent meal in half an hour.  It often takes me longer to think up what I’m going to make than it does to actually cook it.  Now, I’ve been cooking from scratch for a long time, and practice makes it all go faster.  I remember Hubby taking for-ev-er to chop an onion back when we first started dating – he was out of practice.  Now, it takes him seconds.  Even accounting for that extra time, though, it was more economical, in time and money, for him to make spaghetti at home than to go out for a pizza.  It makes me shake my head when someone tries to assert that cooking from scratch is too time-consuming, or, worse, too expensive, to bother with.

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Since our post about slaughtering the chicken, and in conversation with friends, I’ve been asked a few times if we will go vegetarian in order to avoid future gory encounters.

 

The short answer is no.

 

The long answer is much more complicated.

 

I want to preface this post by stating that I have spent a fair portion of my adult life eating mostly or completely vegetarian.  I have a number of friends and family who are vegetarian, and that’s a choice people make for their own reasons, which are, by and large, no business of mine.   I completely respect that.

 

Having said all that, we’ve decided, after the last eight months of keeping livestock, gardening, and observing our local environment, that, for us, vegetarianism would be completely hypocritical.

 

You see, to be vegan in northern Saskatchewan, with any hope at all of being healthy, we would have to import a lot of food.  A big lot.  From a very, very long ways away.  There are not too many vegetables that are in season in Saskatchewan in January – pretty much whatever stores in the root cellar this long, which, in our current experience, amounts to potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, squash, and maybe cabbage.   We might be able to keep apples that long, if we found the right variety, which we haven’t, so there would be no fresh fruit at all.  The rest of a local vegan diet would consist of wheat and beans, basically.  You would, at the bare minimum, need a supplement to address deficiencies in vitamin D and probably at least some of the B vitamins, and likely also calcium, as the most calcium-rich veggies, such as spinach and broccoli, are not locally available in the winter.  So, your options are either processed/chemical supplements of unknown origin (the ingredients might have traveled a million miles; there is no way to know), and/or 2,400 mile meals.  That’s pretty hard to justify.

 

Okay, so, why not eat eggs and dairy? We’ve already got the goats and chickens, and that would do a long ways to solving the vitamin deficiencies.

 

That’s where the hypocrisy, for us, comes in.

 

I really only realized this after we started keeping chickens.  You see, in order to get 25 hens to lay our eggs, we ordered 50 straight run chickens.  Roughly half of our chicks were hens, and the other half were, of course, roosters.   Now, we could have ordered only girl chicks, but the same number of roosters would still have been hatched, overall.  What do you do with those roosters?  Keep them as pets?  Let them fight amongst themselves until they maimed or killed each other (and they will, we’ve discovered)?  If we were vegetarian, those roosters become, in essence, useless.

 

Further, hens only really reliably lay well for a few years, then need to be replaced.  Again, though, 50% of the new hatchlings will still be roosters, plus you’ve still got your old roosters, and, now, your old hens.  The population would just grow and grow, and it wouldn’t take long before you were feeding a couple hundred chickens to get a few eggs.  Environmentally, that has a lot of potential for disaster, too – it would not take long to exceed the carrying capacity of our land, especially when you factor in the goats.

 

You see, in order for a goat (or cow, for that matter) to give milk, she has to be bred.  Meaning, she has babies.  Goats typically have twins, and, statistically, half will be boys.  So, suddenly, you are more than doubling your goat population every year, just to keep getting milk.  And half of that population can’t give milk.  Sure, you can sell some off, but people want girl goats a lot more than boy goats…they want milk, too.  So again, you have a problem with excess useless boys.

 

So, even if you are eating free-range, pastured, grass fed, humanely raised eggs and dairy, you’re still an accessory to the killing of all those extra boys that were necessary in order to produce your food.  For us, we’d rather tackle the issue head on, and ensure our meat is humanely raised and humanely killed, and deal with our own emotional ramifications, than being involved in exactly the same thing, but without really thinking about it or addressing the issue.

 

Now, I must have known this on some level – I mean, it’s basic biology, right?  However, it really did not hit home until we were deciding whether or not to order more hens this spring, a conversation which necessarily included a discussion on how many roosters we could really eat in a year.  Then I suddenly realized that we really can’t have eggs without also eating chicken.   So, although we had kept the vegetarian option in reserve, just in case we really couldn’t stomach killing our own livestock, it is clear to us now that it’s not really a viable option for us.   So, omnivores we shall remain, if occasionally guilty ones.

 

 

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