Real Food Part One: Dinner and a Movie

Maybe some of you remember the $5 Food Challenge invitation?

Yesterday was the big day. I admit, I was a little worried. Because of time and money restraints I wasn’t able to go shopping until the day before.  But due to the generosity of friends and being able to go shopping at a new wonderful all local food store, Tomato Tomato, everything came together beautifully!

The Challenge ~ Can we eat a local, real food meal for less than the average value meal ($5 per person)? Do we have to sacrifice nutrient-dense healing food for processed, mass produced pretend food?

How did we do?

People attending: 20

Challenge Food Budget: $100

Actual Spent: $50.73

Per Person: $2.54

~ Dinner Menu ~

Herbed Arm Roast

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Buttered Green Beans

Smoked Bacon Swiss Chard Gratin

Fresh Baked Bread

Local Fresh Farm Milk

~ Dessert Menu ~

 Fall Apple Crisp with Fresh Whipped Cream

Locally Roasted Coffee: Columbia Sierra Nevada

~ Movie Snack ~

Local Stove Popped Popcorn

The biggest challenge was deciding how legalistic I was going to be about the whole event. Does every little thing have to be local? Does it all have to be organic? It is easy to fall into a trap in every ideology, whether religious or worldly, that one must adhere to strict rules and never fall off the path. But the biggest life lesson I am learning is that grace abounds and that allows flexibility and freedom while seeking the heart of an issue.

The heart of this challenge for me was two-fold. First I wanted to bring people together to share in food and good conversation. That is so key to what my family believes in. Second I wanted to offer up fodder for conversation on the food war front. We can only change things if we are making informed decisions. I was excited to share a film that would spur debate and critical thinking that we greatly need right now about our food industry.

Some of my local, real food challenges for this dinner…

I needed butter. I wanted vitamin-rich grassfed butter. There was none to be found. So I had to settle for butter at my regular grocery store and just made sure I picked the most local vendor.

I decided to go ahead and use the spices already in my cupboard…salt, pepper, garlic, etc…and not stress about whether they were local or organic.

Price Breakdown ~

Arm Roast$17.85 (3.50 x 5.10 lbs – Range West Grass Fed Beef)

Potatoes free (neighbor’s farm)

Green Beansfree (neighbor’s farm)

2 Onions$ .96 (Spring Valley Gardens)

Swiss Chardfree (own garden)

Herbsfree (own garden)

Apples$8.74 (4.5 lbs)

8 oz Smoked Bacon Cheese$4.60 (Jisa Farmstead Cheese)

Gallon Whole Milk$6.22 (Burbach – $4 credit for bringing back bottles)

Pint Cream$2.87 (Burbach – $1 credit for bringing back the bottle)

1 lb Butter$4 1lb (Highland Dairy)

Flour –  $2 for 2lbs (Grain Place Foods)

Oats $1 for 1lb (Grain Place Foods)

Popcorn$.49 for 1/3 bag ($1.49 bag – Hilger Agri Natural)

Coffee$3.00 for 1/3 bag ($9.30 16oz – locally roasted at Midwest Custom Roasting Inc.)

   

After a delicious dinner that everyone felt was much more like Thanksgiving rather than a usual evening meal, we retired to the living room to watch the controversial documentary Food Inc. The first time I watched this movie I literally walked out of the theater crying. I was already much more in the know about the food industry then most people I knew yet I was still shocked by what I saw. Having studied much more extensively about food since then, watching it this time just made me very angry. My first viewing left me wanting to change and I did make small baby steps. This viewing left me with a steely resolve that I need to get this food thing figured out for my family. We had some great conversation starting points and I think most everyone left with something to think about.

It was a great night of delicious food and even greater fellowship.

And it gave me much to talk about and share here in this virtual space. So I will be picking my own brain and hashing out thoughts throughout the next couple of weeks in a Real Food Series. Be sure to check back for more discussion and how your family can start making changes.

In the meantime, watch the movie Food Inc. Start reading (your local library is a great resource) and thinking. And check out Slow Food USA and “like” them on Facebook for real-time news stories. Let’s stop pretending that our world is fine and that we don’t need to change. Let’s start taking a real look at food and get back to eating food as God intended it to be.

Want to hear about our night? Listen to my husband on a radio podcast on in-season eating over at Judy A La Carte’s radio talk show.

Crockpot Peach Butter {and my favorite canning book}

I’m a bit sad to see strawberry season pass us by yet peaches are here and I am enjoying sweet juice dripping down the chin summer eating! Seasonal sales of 98 cents a pound beckon. But with so many peaches in house, ripe only lasts so long. What’s a girl to do? Make peach butter. I wanted to last year and decided to give it a go this year.

I used my favorite (ever!) canning book ~ Preserving

This is a Timelife classic…one of those buried-in-the-library kind of books that no one ever thinks to check out. And then you do and a gem is found. I am a visual learner and this book has literally every kind of preserving technique with step-by-step color photographs detailing everything you ever wanted to know. And the back is filled with a plethora of recipes from all kinds of old-time random sources.

Here is the recipe I adapted:

  • 3lb ripe peaches (8-10)
  • 1/2 C water (I used just enough to cover the bottom of my pot…about 1 cup)
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
Put the peaches in an enameled, tinned or stainless-steel pan and pour in the water. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Put aside to cool. Lift the peaches out of liquid, do not discard liquid. Slip off peach skins and remove pits. Puree pulp and measure (should be about 5 cups). For every 1 cup puree add 1/2 cup sugar. Add sugar and 1/2 cup cooking liquid back into puree.

Now comes the part where I adapt the recipe to fit my needs. Who has time to sit at the stove for 2 hours and watch peach puree simmer down? I discovered with apple butter that the crockpot is your friend in times like these…especially in the heat of the summer. I barely just had time enough to simmer the suckers and quick puree. Time to dump them in with the delectable seasonings and let it go till morning on low.

After you wake up in the morning wondering what that funny smell is and quickly run to your crockpot opening the lid to uncover a gooey dark mess that looks like you’ve completely burnt and screwed up the recipe…

Take a deep breath, stir it and scrape the sides. Relax and realize everything is okay. Fill 3 pint jars or 6 1/2 pints and water bath or freeze or, if you’re like me and are planning on using this stuff in yogurt and yogurt pops and oatmeal and PB&J and toast and biscuits, just refrigerate and gift a pint. It will be used up in no time anyway! 🙂

BEAUTIFUL!

Canning No-Chunks, Kid-Friendly Strawberry Jam

Mmmmm…..

I’m sitting here smelling strawberries simmering down on the stove top. There is no other smell like it in the world. I can only describe it as scrumptiously heavenly. The childhood memories it evokes…grandma’s house, strawberry shortcake dolls, summer playtime, childhood foraging…is probably as strong as the deliciousness of the smell. And today it reminded me that I had taken some previous pictures of canning strawberries and forgot to post about them.

My strawberry jam is kid-friendly…by that I mean no chunks!!! You know how texture-oriented kids can be. But the best part about this jam is its versatility in my kitchen. Not only is it good on PB & J sandwiches, biscuits, or morning toast, we also use it on pancakes, in crepes, and as our natural sweetener for homemade yogurt and ice cream. The no chunks translates well to all other applications making them kid-friendly as well. So I’ve tweaked the original recipe which I swiped from the book Jams and Preserves under Classic Strawberry Jam (lovingly given to me as a gift from my mother in law) and have made it my own.

I’m not going to go into all the canning process…you can read about that in any good canning book or visit Freshpreserving.com. I’m just going to share the process of my recipe. And, I must note, this jam is ideally made with strawberries that are locally in season where you live…not the grocery store chain variety. But, I will sheepishly admit, mine are made with the grocery store variety due to price prohibitions. I am taking baby steps to that local, food-sustainable living thing but that is not the baby step I am on. I buy my strawberries when they are in season and go on sale for 99 cents per pound. That makes canning them economically work for me. Canning is cheaper than store bought jam and avoids that nasty high fructose corn syrup…the greater of two evils at the moment. (My cost is about $2 per pint jar. I try to buy my sugar on sale too.) And yes, I know strawberries is one of the dirty dozen yet I also can’t afford grocery store organic variety. So you work with what you have. This I will garauntee  you…it will still be the best tasting strawberry jam you’ve ever eaten! My kids won’t eat any other variety.

Now…on to making jam!

Step 1 ~ Get all your equipment ready to go.

Step 2 ~ Wash your fruit thoroughly. I use about 4-6 one pound containers.

Step 3 ~ Cut the tops off your strawberries (a steak knife works great for this), cut away any bruises, and halve or quarter. I know, I know…what a waste…use a strawberry huller! A) I don’t have one. B) I’m lazy. I put my diced strawberries straight into the pot I’m going to cook them in. One less bowl to wash. Did I mention I’m lazy?

Step 4 ~ Compost your strawberry tops (or let your little ones play garden with them!) and rinse and recycle your containers. (See…those tops didn’t go to waste. They are soil builders…yeah, soil builders!)

Step 5 ~ Dice up (with skin on) into 1/4 inch pieces 2 granny smith apples. This creates natural pectin. Have you seen the price of pectin? Outrageous. With kids we always have apples on hand. You can make your own pectin which I’d like to try some year…not this year. You can also use rhubarb if you have it available. It is the in-season fruit to use but I never have it on hand.

Step 6 ~ Add a splash or two of lemon juice (acidity helps with preservation) and simmer the whole thing over medium heat for about 20 minutes…or until berries collapse. Take the opportunity to clean your kitchen while inhaling this oh so yummy aroma. Or blog like I am. You know…whatever.

Step 7 ~ Blend your berries in a blender, food processor or with an immersion wand. Just a quick blend will do. This helps further mix that apple in with the berries and obliterates the chunks making it kid-friendly.

Step 8 ~ As you add it back to your pot, measure it. Then add 1 and 2/3 cup sugar for ever 2  cups of strawberry liquid gold. You don’t have to be super precise with this part. Ball park it.

Step 9 ~ Simmer again for 15-20 minutes. Skim off the scum. This helps the jelly to be clear, not cloudy. I don’t know if this is kosher or not but, yes, it is okay to lick the scum spoon. It tastes heavenly and why let a good thing go to waste?

Step 10~ After about 15 minutes check temperature with a thermometer. If it is just at 220 (setting point) then you are ready to can. You can do the gel method test but I’ve never been good at this and ended up way over-cooking my jam so I just stick with a concrete temp. Allow to cool on stove top about 10 minutes and skim again.

Step 11 ~ Ladle into jars with a canning funnel. Make sure to wipe rims clean and check for air bubbles. Lid jars with new lids…learned this the hard way! Although, I’ll be checking out these new reusable canning lids soon! If you have a jar that is only half full then allow that one to cool instead of canning and use first (refrigerate).

Step 12 ~ Water bath can in boiling water for 10-15 minutes (start timer after your water comes back to boil when putting jars into the water).

Step 13 ~ Turn off heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so. Take out with canning tongs and move to cooling rack. Allow to completely cool before putting away. Remember to check for proper sealing. If one didn’t seal right, just stick that one in the fridge and use first.

This makes between 2-4 pints.

Step 14 ~ Enjoy for lunch on fresh homemade bread and stirred into plain yogurt. Use again on biscuits at dinner because it was so good that you thought that making breakfast for dinner was a good idea. Plus, you were too tired after canning to think of a clever dinner.

Homemade Baby Food

It’s that time again. Little guy is getting bigger and his appetite is increasing. Time to start  putting aside some baby food.

Sure, I could go to the store and pick up some food. Seems pretty cheap in a jar. Seems to be nutritionally sound…just some fruits and veggies, water, and ascorbic acid. They even carry the organic stuff so why not?

I’ve done both ways, to be honest. And, yes, it’s easy and convenient to go to the store. But it’s also easy and OH SO MUCH CHEAPER and nutritionally fresh to do it yourself at home. The easiest way…work it into what you’re already doing in the kitchen.

Making supper for the family? Throw on a pot of extra veggies for the baby.

Doing dishes at lunch? Simmer down some fruit for the baby.

Passing out bananas at breakfast? Mash down a half for the baby.

Easy as pie.

  • Cook your veggies or fruit how you would normally. (They say steam is the best but I don’t have a steamer so boil, simmer or roast it is.)
  • Season with just a touch of salt or cinnamon…not too much. (They say no seasoning…baby doesn’t know anyway. But you DO want him to like it right? Have you ever tasted green beans without salt? Yuck. Just no butter or fats yet.)
  • Strain.
  • Puree in a blender or food processor with just a touch of the cooking liquid. Really pureed for 6-9 months. Still a bit chunky for 9-12 months.
  • Cool for about 15 minutes.
  • Freeze in ice cube trays.
  • Store in labeled freezer bag.
  • Thaw in fridge or reheat in microwave.
I also add a bit of baby cereal to my recipes after it has cooled. This adds that little extra carbohydrate and saves me from having to feed him two things.
And for you newbies out there…
Here is a fabulous site called Nurture Baby with everything you’ll ever need to know.
Homemade Green Beans for Baby ~ 
  • 1 16oz bag frozen green beans = $.87
  • Makes 7-14 portions = .12 cents for 7 portions
Store-bought Baby Green Beans ~
  • .59 per jar = $4.13 for 7 portions
Now just think of the savings when you upgrade to the number 3 jars!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal ~ Fortified Goodness!

How to get a nine-year-old, always super hungry, growing boy who hates oatmeal to eat his oatmeal?

Why with chocolate, of course!

The thought came to me serendipitously while making No-bake Cookies. I had already been thinking about and experimenting with using more blackstrap molasses as a natural iron supplement in my baking. So oatmeal was already on my mind as I had made it using this potent old-fashioned goodie. But as I was baking cookies I thought, “If you added cocoa powder and peanut butter to your morning oatmeal, wouldn’t that taste similar to no-bake cookies?” Hmmm…

And, woila, it does! Even better, he loves it and asked for seconds (this coming from a boy who would rather starve then touch oatmeal).

But the best part is this ~

By making it with cocoa powder, blackstrap molasses, and peanut butter, I actually fortified it with all kinds of goodies!

Now most everyone knows the good-for-you properties of peanut butter but have you ever looked at the label of cocoa powder? ONE TABLESPOON yields 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein and no sugar! Now combine that with the 1520% of your daily iron, calcium and vitamin A, magnesium, copper, and potassium from ONE TABLESPOON of blackstrap molasses and you’ve got yourself a heaping bowl of nutritional brain food for the school day! And the peanut butter with a touch of cream (or whole milk) adds just enough fat to satisfy until lunchtime.

Here is my recipe which fed me and five children with a bit to spare.

  • 2 1/2 cups oats
  • twice the amount of water

Cook to desired consistency. Then add ~

  • 2 T cocoa powder
  • 2 T blackstrap molasses
  • 2 T peanut butter
  • a touch of cream or milk
  • sugar to taste