A Problem of Sandwiches

Over the last few years as I have made the transition from rowdy feminist to gracious housewife (no snickering) I have had to let go, painfully, one at a time, of many of my previously adamant conclusions about life. Some things that just sounded so wrong my 20s, I have had to accept in my 30s as the only sensical way forward.

In my 20s I was 100% certain that I would never:

  • separate my whites from my colors, or even own a washing machine for that matter
  • live in a house that had a tv
  • buy a multi-colored plastic toy new from the store
  • and I would certainly never, never pack my husband’s lunch

You can guess where all those conclusions led. I feel like my life overall has been a series of letting things go, but never so much as this whole marriage and parenting proposition. When two people get together and decide to throw everything they’ve got into a singular new venture, the only efficient way to do it is as partners– each person using their own unique skill set to cover whichever end of the workload they are most fit for. Depending on the particular partnership this might mean splitting the jobs straight down the middle, or it might mean designating areas of ability and expertise. In our partnership, like many others, we work toward the same end doing very disparate jobs.

The ‘end’ of course is a happy healthy family. Healthy people need to eat lunch, lunch has to come from somewhere and if I want to have some control over the wholesomeness, ethics and frugality of this lunch, then it needs to come from our kitchen. My Man, despite or because of his righteously brainy nature, does not take the time to make his own lunch. In his defense, the kitchen is decidedly my realm. It always has been, and I know that I do run a fairly intimidating front. I know what’s in the fridge, where it is and when it runs out. Moreover I have extremely strong opinions about everything food related.

At any rate, some time after our move down here to the real world I started making his lunches, which more or less amounted to setting a tupperware of leftovers on the counter next to his backpack in the morning. That worked for awhile, but we often don’t have leftovers and also they require him to take a trip to the microwave which requires an interruption in his studying. I would get livid when those tupperwares came back to the kitchen still full of food now unsafe to eat. Livid, I tell you.

Eventually my mind made the traverse to sandwiches. I know, I know– they are as normal a food as you can imagine right? Why would it take me so long to consider them? Normal as they are, sandwiches have some inherent DIY problems. First and foremost, homemade whole wheat bread doesn’t stay soft more than a day, after that it really needs to be toasted to be good, and even then it’s often too thick and strong for a proper sandwich. And what of lunch meat? Inethically raised meat, innoculated with known toxins, sold for just under a fortune, all for something that tastes so foul? Why? But having been raised in America, I couldn’t really think past lunch meat for a sandwich.

So, it took me a while.

The first fix was the bread. After years of trying to make one loaf do double duty, I finally gave in to making two distinct kinds of bread. I like really dark nubby stuff for my morning toast– thick, dense, wheaty. The kind of bread that sticks to your ribs. Completely inappropriate for sandwiches. I am slowly refining my sprouted wheat bread for the morning toast purpose.

Meanwhile, my cherry-popper bread recipe makes a lovely light, spongy bread that squishes just right. I use about 1/3 white bread flour, often add leftover cooked oatmeal and can never bring myself to add the butter, but otherwise I almost follow the recipe.

The second fix is dumping lunch meat altogether. I get bone-in, skin-on pastured chicken breasts (in my opinionated opinion skinless, boneless chicken is  waste of money) season them and roast for 30 or 40 minutes at 350F. They slice best once they’ve completely chilled in the fridge. (Keep the skin, bones and pan juice for stock!) I was worried that the smaller pieces of this home roasted meat would fall out of the sandwich, but it works fine and tastes so good!

The last fix is the freezer. Because now that you have this good homemade bread that’s only going to get staler, and this good freshly roasted chicken that isn’t laced with preservatives and therefore only lasts a few days in the fridge, you’ve gotta make good on it. Also, who wants to drag out all the sandwich stuff every single morning? I know making food ahead and putting it in the freezer is a totally Betty Crocker thing to do, but get over it! Those 1950s housewives were not stupid, as much as we have tried to frame them so. A freezer is a beautiful thing to waste.

A Few More Tips:

  • If you plan carefully, you can roast the chicken at the same time the bread is baking.
  • Don’t cut the bread until it’s completely cooled, preferably the day after baking so you can get good even slices (ditto on the chicken). Use a serrated bread knife and a light hand so you don’t smash the bread. Make the slices thinner than you might think.
  • Be generous with the mayo. Good advice for life in general.
  • Don’t put any veggies on, they don’t freeze well. You can add sprouts or lettuce when you pull the sandwich out of the freezer every morning, just gently pry the pieces apart and stuff the greens in. They do get a little frostbit, but still add some crunch and freshness. Cheese freezes just fine.
  • I use those filmsy little sandwich baggies that just fold over. If they can be kept track of, they can be washed and re-used. I’m looking for some square tupperware sized for homemade bread.
  • Stack them carefully in the freezer so that they don’t get squashed.
  • A sandwich pulled out of the freezer in the morning and kept at room temperature is just about perfectly thawed by lunchtime, without any worry of food spoilage! Bonus!

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part 1

So now that we’ve determined that shopping at Whole Foods and washing your dog with organic rosemary ginger shampoo doesn’t mean you can check “Being Green” off your list, where does that leave us?

Oh yeah, at the time-consuming conclusion that we need to actually think about what we buy.

Reduce our needs and wants. Make what we can at home. And for the rest, do our best to educate ourselves about the industries we’re supporting with those hard-earned greenbacks.

I think I’d better start by saying a few things about myself. I have been, in my past, super hard-core about not buying bad stuff. Also spent a fair number of days in my youth slain by overwhelming compassion/depression for the world in it’s all its FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition) glory. For better or for worse, the intensity has subsided. I do my best, but I’m a long shot from any ideal.

This post is not intended to inspire guilt, to make you feel lesser, or allow you to feel better, than anyone else. We’re all working with what we’ve got.

Fair-Trade? Who Cares

I think it’s interesting that the organic movement has taken off like a rocket, and even animal rights issues are pretty popular. But human rights? No one wants to talk about it. I mean really, it’s weird. Save the rainforest, but screw you buddy.

How many times have you heard about global warming, just in the last two weeks? And how many times have you heard about chocolate and child slavery? Ever? The US in particular does not want to talk about slavery except as something that we, oh great nation that we are, abolished long ago. Caring people in other countries seem to open their mouths occasionally, but not us.

If you’ve never heard the words chocolate and slavery go together, I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but, here it is. The cacao industry is tops on the list of human rights violations, and no, “slavery” is not an misnomer. There’s a good introduction to the issue at Chocolate Work, and a more detailed and thorough overview at Stop Chocolate Slavery.

So, topping my personal list of Responsible Consumer Priorities is fair-trade chocolate. I have no doubt that fair trade isn’t as fair as one might hope, but it’s a long shot better than slavery!

For more information on the fair-trade principles, check out Global Exchange.

Also important to buy fair trade are coffee, sugar and tea. I’m not sure why it’s these addictive luxuries that inspire some of the most egregious human rights violations. Perhaps because they’re such big industries, worth so much money.

A note on fair-trade versus organic. My husband and I traveled in Nicaragua a few years ago (okay, several) and spent a little time in a fair-trade coffee growing area. It helped me to understand why I would often find one or the other, but not both certifications on the same coffee. The producers, at least in that region, were very small, family farms. The families were dirt poor, to be sure. Absolute poverty by American standards, but doing pretty good by Nicaraguan standards. They appeared to own their own land, which is huge. Anyway, being so small it’s easy to see how they cannot afford to do something like certify organic. And though they very well might use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, I can say that the farms I saw had very natural, diverse plantings (as opposed to giant mono-cropping) which would minimize the need for expensive chemicals.

Free Range, Cage Free and Organic Dairy

Animal products are next on my own list. This one has multiple persuasive arguments. For one, there is the animals themselves, subjected to the very worst slavery imaginable. I doubt I need to explain much about this to anyone reading this blog. But if anyone needs convincing a quick search on “factory farms” ought to do the trick. Many people become vegetarians, but continue to eat dairy. Although I can understand making priorities (obviously), to me dairying is every bit as cruel, and involves plenty of outright death as well.

If the animals’ rights are not enough to sway you, consider that consuming hormones and antibiotics on a daily basis is like signing yourself up for one giant science experiment. Maybe it will turn out to be no big deal….? Fats are big carriers and concentrators of chemicals, so to me this means that butter tops my dairy list.

I am not qualified to say much of anything on the commercially available humane meat subject. Until last August, I’d always lived in Alaska, and limited myself to wild meat and fish. When we moved here I came bearing two gigantic, fifty pound coolers full of salmon and moose. Not to mention 9 cases of home canned same. I was not about to be without my good proteins! Especially since I was about to give birth and knew as a nursing mama I’d want to eat lots of meat, and that my little growing daughter can hardly get enough fish.

But I am fairly sure that seeking out a local farm would be far, far superior to anything you could buy at the store, no matter the certification. This would doubtlessly take some research, but that’s the whole point.

I do have to interject a little tirade here. Whole Foods, full of lots of organic everything, and boasting a big, aesthetically pleasing meat counter that makes you want to lay all hesitations aside and trust that they’ve figured it out for you, has almost no organic meat, let alone free-range or grass-fed. The first time I went over to peruse their selection, I was shocked. I kept going back and forth, every item had a nice big sign telling you all about how natural it was, no hormones, no antibiotics, no additives, blah, blah, blah. And I have no doubt that most people who buy meat there assume it is organic and free range. Both my mom when she was visiting and, last night, my husband have said “Isn’t everything they sell organic?” No! Oh, that really pisses me off. Only about half of their products are organic, but I’m sure many of their customers allow themselves to be misled.

Anyway, the gist of that is, don’t trust big business! They’re going to try to pull the wool over your eyes every chance they get.

However! Dairy is one thing I have looked into, because I use a lot of half and half for my coffee, butter for my baked goods, and milk for my daughter. I had assumed, based on my big business distrust, that all those regular names at the store were about equal. But since Organic Valley was a bit more expensive than Horizon or the O Organics brands, I thought maybe I’d better look into it. I found this great rundown of dairy companies by organic watchdog Cornucopia. I was pleased to find that although the latter two brands did in fact get the very low ratings I was expecting, Organic Valley got a four (out of five). “Excellent.”

Yesterday when I looked up this list again (the first time was in Cordova) I was pretty interested to find that the Whole Foods brand ‘365’ also got a four. Hmmm, maybe they’re not as bad as I’d thought. Or they just have to worry more than say, Safeway, about their customer base looking into things.

Though I went for years without it, I’ve lately become more and more dependent on cheese in my life. In Cordova I ordered a lot of staples through a bulk foods company (more on that later) and would often order 10 pounds of cheese at a time, and freeze it in 1 lb blocks. That worked great, and the price was pretty good. Otherwise, for some reason, organic cheese at the store is super expensive, and I am ashamed to admit, it’s one of the things we’ve been buying non-organic since the move. I do have my MIL send a block of Tillamook whenever she sends a package. I’ve heard very good things about Tillamook, from people who’ve lived in the area, and been to the factory. It is farmer owned, for whatever that’s worth. Not organic, and probably not free-range (I’ve never seen free-range cheese, or dairy at all), but possibly an improvement on standard commercial factory farm dairy…? It doesn’t take much!

By the way, the “Organic” certification does include a minimum of animal care requirements. Nothing to write home about, I still choose free-range over organic if I have to choose, but it’s something.

Now, how’s about vegetables?

Coming Soon!