Book Review: Feeding the Whole Family

I started packing yesterday. I’m hoping to get a few boxes packed every day for mailing to Alaska, since we aren’t planning to send too much home, I think two weeks ought to get that job done. Then we are going to have a giant garage sale to purge everything else, then it will just be a matter of cleaning the house top to bottom. Which will be a daunting task.

Over our few years here I have accumulated a lot of books. I never used to buy books, I would just get them from the library. But while here, I made the conscious decision to start buying books regularly, sometimes even new, to show my support to what might become a dying industry. And to prepare for My Man and my future fantasy home library. His side– political revolution, deep ecology and legal strategy. My side– homesteading books, DIY, a complete collection of Wendell Berry, wilderness writing and cookery.

With that in mind I bought Feeding the Whole Family last year, instead of inter-library loaning it. It’s a great book emphasizing dinner as a meal for everyone, babies, children and adults. I would especially recommend it for anyone starting out with their first baby and wondering what the alternatives are to bottled baby food, and how to approach healthy food with growing children.

I grew up with hippie parents who just mashed up whatever they were eating for me. And yet when I had my own baby, I nevertheless had a panic attack about food rules. That first time around, it seemed so crucial what I feed our babe, and I felt intimidated. Brown rice and carrot purree were both straightforward and I felt fine about them, but she wouldn’t touch them. I struggled to get her to eat anything at all for the first several months. It wasn’t until she got old enough (about 1) that I started to feel confident picking through our dinner for the soft, smooshy parts. And then her desire to eat exploded! She loved food with flavor.

Feeding the Whole Family has a good section on what’s okay to feed babies (more than you think), another section on foods toddlers and children tend to like, and another on creating meals that serve the whole family. Most of the meals are pretty quick, basic, one-pot affairs using whole grains, beans and vegetables. It’s directed towards a beginner level cook, with thorough instructions. Although there are many different kinds of recipes, overall I would call the food style ‘hippie-asian’ with lots of tamari and sunflower seeds.

If you are still reading, and thinking this sounds like the book you need, I have a secret for you. Although this is a great book, I don’t need it. I have this kind of food pretty much internalized, and though I was grateful to read through the baby/toddler section, once was probably enough. So I’m going to give it away! I almost chucked it into the ‘sell’ box, but figured one of you lovely readers could get good use out of it. For the new mama who’s a bit daunted in the kitchen, this is the perfect book.

Leave a comment below telling me why you need this book. I’ll choose out the most deserving/desperate, and then pick randomly amongst you. Bear in mind, this is a used book. But if you are a real reader of this blog, not a giveaway troller, you won’t care– it’s in perfectly good condition.

Yes, I am going to leave this open to my overseas mamas (and papas?) because y’all rock and I want you to join in the fun too.

Begin! (Open until Tuesday, May 1st)

Austerity Fast

November is more than half over. What do I have to show for it? I have been putting some time and focus into my Quiet Riot’s food month, but predictably not as much as I’d hoped. Like many of you, my time is very limited and I seem to put any spare change I have into this addictive blogging endeavor!

I have made the switch to farmer’s market cheese as well as the newly available milk in glass bottles (hooray!) And that good ole’ $16/lb coffee. But since food is my overarching life focus, there weren’t too many changes to make. I mean, there’s always more changes a person could make, but I was doing more or less what I am comfortable doing and can afford. I already buy almost entirely ethically raised meat and dairy, grow a large portion of our vegetables, keep chickens, cook seasonally and efficiently, and minimize waste in the kitchen with Type A fervor. I go the extra mile. Spend the extra (5) dollars.

Only one thing left to do.

Drat.

Self-limitation.

Enter my week-long Austerity Fast, beginning this Saturday. The Fast will be a reigning in of all excess for me. We have such a warped standard these days, it’s hard to figure out what is and isn’t luxury. But since this is just a week long exercise, I want to draw a pretty hard line, this will be the corporate boycott (of one) I wrote about last month. No buying anything except locally produced groceries from the market. Furthermore, I’m not even going to use those Whole Foods groceries which are always well-stocked in my pantry. This means a week of eating entirely local food, which is a little intimidating and also a little exciting. **Note: Coffee is exempt from this and all other challenges. Otherwise I simply would never do it.** We are lucky to have local brown rice available, as well as squash and potatoes, so we won’t go starch-less, plus all meat and dairy, and a great selection of vegetables this time of year. Eggs of course from our home coop. This adds up to pretty plush for a supposedly “austere” diet.

Most notably cut from my week will be sugar, variety and convenience. I am a sugar fiend. I make most of my sweet-tooth-satisfying treats at home with top quality ingredients, nevertheless I know it isn’t right to eat rich, sweet foods once or twice every day. I hope to write a penetrating post about luxury as standard this weekend, in the midst of my sugar withdrawl.

Variety is taken for granted these days too, I’m sure we’ll be sick of rice by the end of the week. But perhaps most critically for this particular time frame, as My Man’s finals are bearing down on us, will be the loss of convenience. Nix the belovedly quick and easy whole wheat noodles from Whole Foods. Nix the uber-quick snacks of bread, sandwiches and granola– wheat, wheat and oats from afar.

And now, aren’t you wondering how I’ve roped my family into this? I think a lot of concerned mamas face this dilemma. You’ve determined the ethical thing to do, and you are willing to pony up the extra 40 minutes/day to make it happen, but your family’s not remotely on board.

Here’s my tactic, it may or may not be ‘right,’ but I think it’s relevant–

I haven’t roped my family into it, this Quiet Riot and the upcoming Fast are all me. I may accomplish less, true, but it will be without coercion of any kind. For one thing, coercion doesn’t work. Difficult things like self-limitation need to be chosen of one’s own free will. (And no, guilt from behind does not count as free will.)

But more importantly, who am I to say what anyone else should do? Everyone has their own unique thing to offer the world. My Man works on a different plane. We intersect, and that’s awesome. We have lots to offer each other. As Ani DiFranco said, “I know there is strength in the difference between us, and I know there is comfort where we overlap.” And who’s to say this little exercise is even useful anyway? It’s useful to me, and that’s why I’m doing it. But is it really useful to the world at large?

Fortunately, I am queen in the kitchen. Although I am not prepared to refuse my 4yo granola if she insists on it, I hope that by planning ahead and providing rice porridge with cream and honey for breakfast, the entire conflict can be avoided. The burden will lie solely on me, where it belongs, since this is my crazy idea. I hope that, again– with good planning, I can have local meals ready for My Man to take to school so that he doesn’t need to buy a Big Ag lunch out.

That is how women have influenced the world throughout history– covertly, from the kitchen. They’ll never know what hit ’em.

Food Post Directory

Apron Stringz is two years old! Over that time, the content has grown like a nursing baby with knee dimples. While much of what I write is just day-to-day flotsam, I do sometimes crank out a useful and, I feel, enduring post. And I hate that blogs (at least, free ones like mine) don’t support any decent kind of index for these posts. Blogs are ephemeral, meant to be enjoyed hot off the presses, I guess. But it bugs me to no end that our hard work, one week after publishing is more or less lost to the world.

So here is a directory of posts on the wide subject of food. These are all posts with a more practical edge, those that you might reference. There’s an equal number of my more journal-style posts which I have left out, particularly on the subject of gardening. They make an interesting read if you like that sort of thing (and if you read this blog, you probably do) but seemed less in need of reference-able indexing. If you’re going for the journal aspect, try the archives. A few brave souls have apparently read start to finish.

How to Make Home Cooking Work:

Kitchen Efficiency

Real Life Kitchens: Part One

Part Two: The Sink

Part Three: Work Zones

Part Four: Microzones

Cooking Efficiency

Not Menu Planners — solace for the rest of us

Dinner in Real Life

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen — summer cooking

Tools

Cast Iron Cookery

Rescuing and Seasoning Cast Iron

Cast Iron for the Rest of Us — taking care of your pans

What and How to Cook in Cast Iron

Pontification

Caution: Martyr in the Kitchen

Sourcing Good Groceries:

Responsible Consumerism: How to Make it Work

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part One

Part Two

Fair Trade is Fair

A Trip to the Grocery Store — peeping Tom my cart!

Whole Wheat Pasta Rises from the Grave

Punk Housewife Tip: Oil and Wine

Home Food Production:

Gardening

Gardening for the Table

Harvest First, Cook Second

Planning an Efficient Garden — it’s all about follow-through

Self Irrigating Planters Made Easy

Chickens

Just Wing It — build a half-assed coop and get by, if you need to

DIY Chicken Waterers

Egg Shells to Egg Shells

Preserving Local Bounties:

Bringing Home the Basil — how to make, store and use pesto

Monastery Marmalade — scavenged fruit and citrus pectin

Marmalade Redooo — note to self: it is entirely possible to make too much marmalade

Truly No-Nonsense Tomato Sauce

Ghee: Frying Local

Recipes:

Bread

Bread Evangelizing — the perfect cherry-popper bread recipe

Bread Every Day, Part One: Ingredients

Part Two: Techniques

Sprouted Wheat Bread: an exploration

Mastering Sprouted Wheat Bread!

Perfect Whole Grain Biscuits

Breakfast

Homemade Grape-Nuts — they’re just caramelized bread crumbs!

Grrr-nola: Make Your Own Breakfast Cereal and Stick it to Kellog Corp (from the old blog)

34 Times Round and a Recipe for German Pancakes

Bouquet of Choice: A Recipe for Swiss Chard Muffins

Anything But the Kitchen Sink — leftover granola muffins

Slow Cooker Leftover Granola Bread

If You Can’t Beet ‘Em — pink pancakes win major mama points

Leftover Easter Eggs to Savory Breakfast Pockets!

Food to Go (a well packed snack bag = less emergency food purchases)

Chewy Granola Bars

Surprising Kid Snacks — no recipe, just a plug for seaweed

A Problem of Sandwiches

Dinner

Stop Buying Salad Dressing NOW

It’s What’s Fer Dinner — favorite quick meals

Baking Bonanza — home cooking in the real world, plus a recipe for easy lasagne

Good News For Half Beer Lovers — meat and/or mushroom carbonade

Green Tomato and Turkey Enchiladas

Swiss Chard Ravioli

Dinner Deconstructed: Ground Meat Patties, Brown Rice and Glazed Carrots — thorough instructions for beginner cooks

What to Feed Kids When You Really Need Them to Eat — at our house it’s macaroni and cheese’n’fish’n’peas

Sunday Dinner Any Day of the Week — pot roast your local grass fed carbon-neutral meat to melt-in-your-mouth perfection

Value Menu: Whole Chicken — get the most out of your $4/lb farmer’s market bird

Chicken an’ Bisket — my favorite roast chicken and what to do with the leftovers

Of Stock and Bullion (from the old blog)

Making Your Own “Canned” Soups (also the old blog)

Leftover Queen — savory vegetable pie

Empanadas: A Confession

Dinner Every Night: Pasta with Lentils

Not So Goaty Enchiladas

Dessert (which is to say mostly chocolate)

Chocolate: Cures What Ails Ya — the easiest way to stretch $9+/lb fair trade chocolate chips

The Best F***ing Brownies Ever

HOT Hot Chocolate — turn your thermostat down 5 degrees and whip up a batch!

Holiday Baking Party — German Christmas bread and super easy truffles

Food Recycling: Lickety Split Leftover Apple Pie — with the easiest ever pie crust

Flaky Whole Wheat Pie Crust — not the easiest, but so good

************************

Do let me know if you find this index useful, it will help motivate me to keep it updated!

Back to Business: QR Food Audit

[Here is the much awaited (by me at least) continuation of my Home Resource Use Audit for my lil’ Quiet Riot.]

As you’ve probably noticed, food is my thing. Partly because I think food is one of the areas of our lives where we have the greatest possibility for responsible action. Everyone eats, most of us eat a few times a day. Big things like your home’s electricity, water and heating fuel can seem impenetrable, but the changes that need to be made to our food system can be made in little chunks, millions of small decisions every day which add up.

Perhaps even more importantly, we stand to gain the most direct value from our efforts with food. Almost every more responsible food also offers dramatically better health for you and your family, not to mention just plain better eating. Though some of this is surely a personal bias– I love food. I love growing food, I love preserving food, I love cooking food, I love talking about food, I love looking at food, and I love eating food.

When it comes to making those every day changes, I think homemade food is the first step. Moving the preparation of your meals from factory to home kitchen is good for everyone involved. The next step is homegrown. Although lining your front steps with pots of lettuce has quickly become cliche in this new urban homesteading fad, I do think that growing your own is incredibly useful, even if the scale is tiny. As with anything else, doing it yourself is sobering. No amount of reading can teach you the truths about food production that one summer garden will teach you. Namely that it’s hard. When you consider the amount of work you put into each head of bug eaten lettuce, you will begin to understand the incredibility of the supermarket’s rows of perfect heads for $2 each. You will become more flexible to imperfection and more understanding of the high prices at the farmer’s market.

Most of us are not set up to grow a very significant portion of our food, and so sourcing ingredients is the next important step. I have been working on this for awhile, it’s a confusing topic. Local non-organic? Or organic from Whole Foods? What items are most eligible for the inevitable compromise of a low budget?

I did some research and detailed my own grocery decisions last year in this little series:

Responsible Consumerism: How to Make It Work

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Part 1

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Part 2

A Trip to the Grocery Store

Going back over those posts I saw that I was only spending about $400/month on groceries. My average now is $5-600. Part of that is that we had a freezer and pantry full of wild game and fish brought from Alaska, and now I am buying all our meat at the farmers market (can’t afford fish), but I don’t think I spend more than $80-100/month on meat, the rest I fear is due to the ever increasing list of what we consider “essentials.” Juice for example, I used to buy once in a while as a treat, now it’s a staple. During this Riot, I hope to pare that list back down.

At any rate, on to that audit, right? I had piles of grocery store receipts saved from three (non-consecutive) months and a pretty good estimate for what I spend at the farmer’s market (I always go thinking I’m going to spend just $30, and almost always spend close to $40). Putting a dollar value on our eggs was easy, but I really pulled the garden vegetable dollar amount straight out of my ass.

I counted everything from Whole Foods as “industry organic.” Although they actually sell quite a bit of non-organic stuff (watch those labels!) I am pretty specific about my purchases, why pay Whole Wallet prices for the same stuff I can get at the regular grocery store?

I didn’t add the restaurant expenses into the percentages, because much of what you pay for at a restaurant is service, which seems not applicable to this resource-use study. But leaving it out seems wrong too, especially since it’s most certainly industrial food. I think for the coming months, I will add it into the percentage calculation, but at one third the value. When you spend $15 on dinner, it’s probably not more than $5 worth of food, right?

So, as you can see, a little more than 60% of our diet is industrial organic from Whole Foods. All industry organic is not equal, by any means, and I have done some research. I buy almost exclusively Organic Valley dairy (dairy is a large portion of our grocery bill), based on this Cornucopia Institute report, I do believe Organic Valley has an honest organic standard, whereas I wouldn’t trust Horizon and the other biggies farther than I could throw them. OV’s milk says it’s from “Southwest Farms” which is at least moderately regional. I assume the rest of their dairy line, and everything else I buy from WF, has plenty of miles under it’s belt by the time I bring it home. As well as the copious packaging.

I often waffle back and forth between the local non-organic dairy from the farmers market, and the Organic Valley dairy. Because of having kids, I mostly settle on organic. Pesticides, and all toxins, accumulate in breast milk, and particularly concentrate in the fat. I believe butter is one of the most important things to buy organic. Especially when kids are involved.

However, there is a new vendor at our market, who is about to start selling (non-organic) milk in glass bottles, and I don’t think I can resist that. I hate those big plastic jugs piling up in my consciousness. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been buying plain old crap industry cheese and I intend to switch to farmer’s market cheese even though it’s (deep breath) $12/pound. And I don’t want to hear any more comments from any readers in Wisconsin who can get 5 kinds of local cheese for $6/lb. Go away from me with that information.

As far as the garden goes, the flush season is upon us here in southern Louisiana but I am sadly behind the curve. Remember my earnest decision to actually follow my garden plan this season? Well, given the events of September 2011 in our particular household, I missed the boat. Late September and early October is the time to be in the garden in our climate, and I was anywhere but. I killed a whole flat of starts, and was too late with planting the next. I will still have a fine garden this fall, I’ve got green beans, cucumbers, peppers and collards coming on now, and broccoli, cabbage and beets on the horizon. But I have missed my chance for peas, potatoes, brussell sprouts, onions, leeks and carrots. Thankfully, “spring” planting starts here in January (!!!), so I have one more chance at this New Orleans gardening business.

Thank goodness.

Prosciutto e Melone: A Garden Update

Don’t get excited. I am not eating prosciutto e melone. I’m not, and it’s a tragedy.

Fourteen years ago, I spent a month in Italy with a dear, similarly food obsessed friend. We ate our way from Roma to Venezia, with a detour to the ridiculously picturesque Cinque Terre. We worked on farms where they milked sheep and made Pecorino, we sucked fallen plums off the ground, we discovered fruits we had only ever seen dried and packaged, we discovered in fact, everything we had ever eaten before, and how it could taste.

People talk about Italy with an obnoxious nostalgia. I know. But there’s nothing else one can say. Food in Italy is obnoxiously good. Everything down to a can of tuna blew our minds. We ate at cafeterias with better food than most American restaurants.

Everything about Italian cooking threw me on my head. They hardly did anything. They love their food, that is well known, and so they take care with it. But what I hadn’t realized was just how ridiculously simple the preparation can be when you start ingredients that good. There were several epiphanal moments, but perhaps the one that has haunted me most is the proscuitto e melone.

We were working on a farm, picking and washing vegetables for market all day. Towards evening they fired up the outdoor wood oven to make pizza. I’m sorry, this is going to get absurd, but it actually happened this way. We sat at a big wooden table, outside by the oven, drinking wine from a local vineyard. The sun was setting over the rolling farmland with that light, the hazy orange stuff you see in old European paintings. The farmer’s father, a stately old Italian gentleman, came out to join us. He had brought a large platter of home cured prosciutto and fresh melon. It seemed such a strange thought to my Alaskan mind, meat and cantalope…? But holy christ was that some kind of food. The prosciutto meltingly, ethereally rich; the melon weepingly ripe, sweet but complex like wine. The unlikely combination surely a gift from god.

And I’m sorry to say this, but you simply cannot make this divine “recipe” in the United States. Because it all depends on the quality of two ingredients that you simply cannot get. I have never liked any of the prosciutto I’ve eaten here, it has a strange bitterness to it. And the melon. Is nothing like that melon.

I didn’t know melon (or tomatoes, or peaches) could taste like that. I had hoped moving down here, I would rediscover those flavors. Thinking it was heat and freshness that produced them.

Sadly, I’ve been vastly disappointed by the farmer’s market produce here. Tomatoes taste slightly better than the ones from the store. Peaches, ditto. Everyone here raves about the peaches. I’m sorry. They’re very good… They’re just not…… My mind is not blown.

Then it must be the varieties, I decided. They are just planting the standard grocery store varieties. Small, local, fresh, but still hybrid commercial varieties.

And so my little Alaskan soul ordered the heirloom seeds, combing the catalog for any hint that the resultant melon would taste like those luscious, complex Italian melons. I planted the seeds in little pots. I mostly remembered to water the pots. I transplanted them lovingly, two to my garden at home, two to my community garden. I hoped with my heart, but not too much. A judicious hope.

The plants at home made two melons. Both were riddled with bug holes and I had to pick them before they were fully ripe. They were edible.

In the community garden I had another two melons growing, seemingly escaping the bugs. One of them grew huge and today when I went to water, lo and behold it was ripe! It “slipped” from the vine when I picked it up! Oh copious joy! Oh heart of my heart! Oh prosciutto where are you?

I put the enormous melon into my bag with some little eggplants and yet another load of red marconi peppers. I hurried home. I ran inside for a knife. I drooled in anticipation.

You already know the end to this story, so what’s the point. I might cry if I have to spell it out. Let’s just say I am saving my money for a mid-life crisis trip to Italy.

Dinner in Real Life

One of the subjects I really wanted to delve with this blog, and one of the books I fantasize about writing, is How to Be a Home Cook. I don’t mean how to make a bechamel sauce or caramelize blood oranges. I mean how to put healthy food on the table and into your family’s belly, day after day after day.

macaroni and cheese'n'fish'n'peas, a toddler fave. With whole wheat noodles, mama's happy too.

There’s a million cookbooks out there, and I’ve yet to find one that really covers the subject. Maybe they used to write them, back before housewifery got put in the doghouse. Now the only kind of cooking that’s cool to do is weekend-brag-cooking. Loads of books can walk you through taking all of Saturday to create an impressive 5 course dinner for eight (adults only), they’ll tell you just what to drink with it too. And I don’t mean whether to get your water out of the tap or the Britta.

But what about the cooking we do every day? Every. Single. Day. Breakfast, quick before it’s time to go. Lunch of foraged leftovers. Dinner– shit is it already 5:00?!

The shopping lists, the balancing thrifty with responsible, the kitchen layout and pantry storage, the bare minimum tools, thawing in the morning to cook in the evening, taking everyone’s appetite into account, starting meals with what you’ve got instead of the other way round, trying to make the same old ingredients taste new all over again, using up everything before it goes bad, and importantly, how to keep your spark alive under the day-to-day weight of it.

In any revolution, the mundane, basic changes often get lost under the big, fun, showy changes. You know I’m all for gardening, preserving the harvest, crafting punk goodies of any type. But at the base of it all should be the simple, understated and vastly underestimated task of cooking wholesome food for your family every day.

I wrote about my own style of cooking some time back in the post Not Menu Planners. Basically, open the fridge and see what needs using. The only problem with so rarely following recipes is that I easily get stuck in cooking ruts. My spark sputters. A fridge full of gorgeous garden produce and wholesome groceries, and all I want to do is order pizza.

When I asked for survival tips the other day, y’all offered up the jacket potatoes and fried rice suggestions, both of which are beautifully simple yet for some reason, I hardly ever make. I realized I need to break out some. I started a new discussion over at Homegrown about good, easy, healthy meals, but I know you’re not all signed up over there, and I certainly don’t want to be the one to lure you into more computer staring. Nevertheless I don’t want anyone (and their kitchenbrain full of good ideas) to get left out. So leave all your family’s secret non-recipes for good home cookin’ right here in the comments.

For some of my faves, check out this old post It’s What’s Fer Dinner. And, even though it’s considered winter fare, I just have to mention pot roast, which is the ultimate in easy, delicious food.

Empanadas: A Confession

Very few people understand what it’s like to be addicted– obsessively, compulsively– to cooking. It’s rough. I’m not joking.

For example, what should I have been doing at 4:00 yesterday afternoon? Should I have been taking down the laundry and folding, picking up the drifts of junk and sweeping the floors, or otherwise restoring some order to this whirlwind of a house? Yes. Should I have been packing boxes for our move, a mere 6 days away? Absolutely. Should I have been putting a pot of brown rice on the stove for a simple, wholesome dinner to top with some sauteed greens and fried eggs? That would have been a reasonable plan.

But no, what did I suddenly get a hair up my ass for? Empanadas. I had a beautiful bunch of Tuscan kale from my garden, and it spoke to me, oh whispery siren’s call. It said, ‘Cook me with the ground lamb from the farmers market and some potatoes, stuff me into some oily dough and fry me to flaky perfection….’ And I was helpless to the call.

Those of you reading this who don’t cook might look through the many posts on food and cooking and be impressed. How can she cook so much with two little kids? You might wonder. But I am a victim. A slave to my own whim and taste. You think it’s funny, but I’m actually really truly not joking.

Maybe victim is too strong. There are some goods in it for me. Part of the addiction comes because I find cooking so soothing. Especially now that I’m a mama. So long as I am solo in the kitchen, cooking is like a balm on the cracked lips of my day. It’s so relatively predictable, controllable. Note, I say relatively. I’m no freak, my food often comes out not as I expected. But it mostly comes out. I mostly have an edible product at the end of an hour of cooking. Something moderately delicious to show for my work.

The same cannot be said about all one hour periods in my day.

Sometimes I cook purely as a means of keeping my head above water, my survival mechanism. It keeps my sanity. And that’s good, I don’t begrudge it for that.

But other times, I just really really want to make empanadas, and no amount of rationalizing can stop me.

I think a lot about you mamas who didn’t get any scrap of job training. I mean, I was a blank slate as far as the kids were concerned, and I’m no housekeeper we all know. But at least I could cook. I’ve been cooking since I was 14. I’ve cooked in every kind of situation, from campfires to restaurant kitchens. I know how to make food good, and I know how to make food fast.

This is not to brag. Almost the opposite. I just want to say that if this were not true, if cooking were an anxious, bewildering chore for me, I sure as hell wouldn’t do it. I cannot even fathom learning to cook while having small children. It would be the contrary to my ‘balm.’

So, it’s with a bit of hesitation that I am going to share with you my empanada recipe. This recipe is for those of you who, like me have a borderline psychotic addiction to cooking, or for anyone who has enough free time to relish the process without addiction. This recipe is not for those of you who feel overwhelmed by the task of feeding your family, who feel like you are drowning in the kitchen. I mandate that this recipe must not inspire guilt in anyone! Homemade empanadas do not a better housewife make. You can get these same foods onto your table in half the time if you just forgo the indulgent wrapping and frying of the pastry crust. Leaving you an extra hour to accomplish other good-housewifely duties, such as for example maintaining even a modicum of cleanliness in your home.

Lamb and Kale Empanadas, for those who can’t help themselves

Fry up about a pound of fatty burger. If you’re burger is frozen, like mine was, just dump it in the pan with plenty of oil, pile 3 medium sliced potatoes around it and put the lid on. Cook over low heat, stirring every few minutes. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder and plenty of black pepper. When the burger has all been crumbled and cooked, and the potatoes are just barley soft, throw on one big bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped small, 3 or 4 stout green onions, sliced, and several cloves of minced garlic. Stir over medium heat until the kale is vivid green and tender. Remove from the heat and let cool.

For the dough, whisk together 3 cups white all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/2 Tablespoon of salt. With a wooden spoon, mix in 1/2 cup of oil and 1 cup of tepid water. Add more water as necessary to make a medium soft dough. Pinch off golf ball sized pieces, round off, and set on a floured baking sheet. Cover with plastic and let rest 30 minutes or until you have a window of time with no little kids underfoot. I’m all for even the tiniest kiddies helping, with simple cooking projects. But ‘help’ with this one will make you crazy.

Roll each ball of dough out to an 1/8 inch thick, using plenty of flour to prevent sticking. Stuff, fold and crimp into half moons. If you’ve never made a stuffed pie before, G**gle it, I’m sure there’s good instructions out there.

These are great baked. But they are traditionally fried, and even though nothing else about this recipe is traditional, I happened to have some leftover palm oil from an emergency doughnut making session a few days ago. So I fried them and they are little nuggets of deliciousness.

That doughnut emergency was not for me, but for my budding little food addict 3YO who was having a really rough day and wanted to make doughnuts more than anything.

The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

But then again, origin is not destiny?

Time will tell.

A Trip to the Grocery Store

On my way home from a big stock up trip to the store yesterday, new double stroller loaded down with fifty pounds of groceries, I had the idea that it’d be fun to give y’all a Peeping Tom view of my actual real life consumer habits and compromises.

This is the bottom cargo area of our new stroller. Purty roomy, eh? I also had a big bag slung over the handlebar.

Even though I was already half an hour late with dinner, I spread my plunder out on the table for y’all to peep. Keep in mind this was a Whole Foods trip. I do also shop at the Winn-Dixie occassionally for onions, yeast, and a few other things which just aren’t worth getting at WF. Also important to note is the fact that we are meat eaters, but notice no meat in the pile? That’s because we brought all our own fish and wild game with us from Alaska. Not that that’s the ecologically sound thing to do, better would be to source local good meat and fish. But, that’s what we did. And I don’t regret it. Anyway, it means that our grocery bill is significantly lower than if we had to buy responsible meat.

This represents $121 worth of food. I’ve been spending about $400/month on groceries, to give you an idea. We do eat out about once a week, plus a stop or two at the bakery. About $200 for those luxuries. Makes a total of $600/month for food. Not too bad really, for a family of three (or four if you count my nursing appetite!) eating mostly organic, free range and fair trade. But you’ll notice almost no pre-prepared foods in my grocery haul. That’s an essential factor. To answer the original question (although we do buy ice cream frequently here because the little fridge freezer doesn’t get cold enough to use the ice cream maker), we can afford to eat organic because instead of buying the organic pre-prepared thing, I buy the raw ingredients and make it at home.

So here it is, a typical trip to the store:

From the back left corner we have,

  • milk Organic Valley. I had been buying the local dairy milk, but although it’s surely better than regular commercial milk, it’s not any little family farm, it’s a big company, not organic and though they say they pasture their cows “when the weather is appropriate,” who’s to know? I’m torn on this one. A toss up. The Organic Valley milk does say it’s from “Southwest Pastures.”
  • whole wheat pastry flour organic because that’s my only choice. It is pretty expensive compared to the other wheat flour, but if you’ve ever used pastry flour, you know you can’t go back.
  • plain whole wheat flour non-organic. $3.50 if I remember right. That’s one of my compromises. I did try the King Arthur wheat flour, and it made a better bread, but I’m going to try just adding a bit more gluten and see if it makes this cheaper flour as good.
  • sugar ouy vey! I have gone back and forth and back and forth (literally) between the “dried” cane sugar in the bulk bins which is not fair-trade or even organic but a much more whole, healthy food than this cheaper but fair trade but bleached white sugar. What’s a girl to do?! They do have a fair trade “dried” sugar, but it’s in a teeny little bag and four times as expensive! I think I might continue to put the healthy stuff in the granola because it’s the Toddler who mostly eats that. Then use the responsible, nutritional disaster sugar for the desserts that mostly us big already fucked bodies consume…
  • just to the right and in front of that sugar is a big jar of molasses (FT and OG) which I am thinking I can add back into the white sugar in hopes of recovering a trace of nutrition.
  • coffee we’ve been getting the bulk Whole Foods brand of coffee. Fair trade of course. It’s $10/lb, which is quite a lot compared to the big Costco bags we used to get, also fair trade. But doubtlessly more responsible, right? Maybe? Oooo, they just started having “coffee cards” and when you buy five pounds of bulk, you get a pound free! That there is my fifth pound! Woo hoo! Next one’s on them! Hey, $10 is $10.
  • honey non-OG, but…. this is as far as I know, a great place to compromise.
  • maple syrup. From their bulk barrel. Always expensive, but so, so good. And good for you!
  • a can of enchilada sauce. There were two, but one went straight into dinner. We have a lot of home canned meat. A great quick meal for us is canned meat mixed with enchilada sauce and layered between corn tortillas. Takes about ten minutes to throw together, then while it bakes I make up a Mexican slaw with cabbage, onion, grated carrot and cilantro if I happen to have some. Dress with lemon or lime, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. Oh, so yummy!
  • that big mysterious bag dead center is cornmeal, organic. When I can remember I bring my own bags for bulk stuff. This bulk cornmeal was way cheaper than the prepackaged stuff, but make sure to check prices ‘cuz this is definitely not always the case. I’ve got to write this out for myself, because I always end up traipsing back and forth from the bulk bins to the baking products side, comparing prices.
  • salsa. Not organic. Not much to say about that.
  • cheese. Not organic. I mentioned my cheese conundrum earlier.
  • butter, yes, organic. And I even resisted the Horizon brand which was on sale for $4 (this OG Valley was $6) because of the previously mentioned Cornucopia Dairy Review.
  • Bengal Spice tea. The Toddler’s latest thing is tea parties. I let her pick her own box, and not surprisingly she chose the Tiger Tea.
  • spring mix. Organic. Spring mix is one of my fairly frequent treats to myself. I’d just as soon not eat a regular lettuce salad, even if it’s decent leaf lettuce. There needs to be some flavor to those leaves! Fortunately, WF sells it bulk, by the pound. Unfortunately, this probably means they throw a shit ton away.
  • golden beets, apples and oranges. When I go grocery shopping, I usually have “vegetables and fruit” on my list. Doesn’t matter so much what kind, I like almost all of ’em. I look to see what’s on sale. If it’s cheap it’s probably in season, or they ordered too much and are trying to get rid of it so they have to throw less away. Either way, I’ll take it. When you compare prices, consider how much of the thing is actually edible. For example, these beets are almost entirely edible, whereas asparagus you throw about 1/3 the weight (therefore cost) into your compost bin. The apples are one thing I buy almost exclusively organic. The oranges were non, but they are lower on the list, plus you peel them. They were also on sale, for $1/lb…

(If you’re wondering why the proportion of veggies in my pile of food is small, it’s partly because we get veggies at the farmer’s market often, and also because I use a lot of frozen veggies. Frozen veggies are ever so gauche, but in my renegade way, I like to champion their cause. Consider this:

  1. For your health, the veggies are frozen relatively quickly after picking, unlike the “fresh” veggies which could have suffered weeks or even months of sitting around. Vegetables aspirate (breathe) and lose nutrients the longer they sit. Of course, something is lost with the freezing too, but it probably about equals out.
  2. For your pocketbook, they are usually about between $1 and $3/lb, depending if they’re organic or non. This sounds like fresh veggie prices, but since there is no waste, they are actually cheaper. Some things like spinach are lots cheaper.
  3. For your time, there is nothing quicker and easier than dumping a bag of frozen veggies into the pan. And when you’re a mama, there happens a lot of Moments where it’s all you can do to get food on the table, and if the vegetable kingdom is present, in any form, you get a gold star.)

Now, back to the conversation at hand.

  • just to the left of the apples is a bag of hard red wheat berries. I adore that Ezekiel sprouted grain bread, even though it’s always stale and dry from the store. I’ve long envisioned what a fresh loaf would taste like. A few months ago I made my first attempt (failed at 100% sprouted, but made some great, nubby 10%) and then life got a little crazy, and I had to table to idea. Well, I’m ready to try again, and I will keep you updated.
  • to the right we have a very long story, that I just don’t have time for right now. Whole wheat pasta. Suffice to say, if you hate the stuff like I did, don’t give up! Keep trying different brands. It apparently does not have to be mushy, pasty and otherwise disgusting!
  • Lastly we have eggs. I try to get farmers market eggs whenever I can, though they’ve often sold out by the time I get there. With eggs there’s less to guess at. Just taste ’em. If the yolks are pale and the flavor mild, they’re penned up. If the yolk are deep yellow and the flavor good, they’re decently kept. If the yolks are orange, and the flavor so rich it’s almost meaty, you’ve got some happy hens. The “free-range” certification by the way does get them out of cages they can’t even turn around in, but it doesn’t exactly give them free range by any normal person’s standards. But, if all you’ve got for eggs is the store, it’s the best you can do.

Okay! Holy Crapporama! This post took me three days to finish. I’m ready to move on.