Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Amazing Cranberry!

This morning’s paper had a feature on all the amazing things you can do with cranberries in terms of decorating. They are beautiful, but it seems a waste, since their real power lies in what they can do for you physically. I love cranberries. Their sweet tart flavor makes just about any dish more interesting.

I eat dried cranberries every morning in my yogurt. And I don’t just eat them because they taste so good. They are also one of those super foods, full of antioxidants. Their ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity – say that three times fast) score is 9,584. Compare that to blueberries (which get all the good press) score of only 6, 552. They beat them by a mile. A higher ORAC score means the food is more of an antioxidant.

And that’s not all. How about cranberries for infection fighting? You bet. The antioxidants in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, help prevent bacteria like E. Coli, the leading cause of bladder infections, from attaching to the cells in the urinary tract.

Fresh cranberries are the most powerful, but dried and juice also give you the benefits. But remember those forms usually give you added sugar. Cranberries alone are pretty hard to take – so sour they make you squint. But if you make your own cranberry sauce, you can control the amount of sugar you put in. And it’s incredibly easy to make. Here’s a recipe I like from Cooking Light magazine:

Cranberry Sauce

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup fresh orange juice (about 2 oranges)
¼ cup water
1 ½ Tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 12 oz package fresh cranberries
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes or until mixture is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Discard cinnamon stick; cool completely. Yield: 14 servings (2T each)

See? It’s crazy easy. If you like more orange taste in your sauce, you could add orange rind. And I’ve heard of adding white zinfandel wine as part of the liquid.

Fresh cranberries freeze well and they keep up to a year. So stock up this month because now is when cranberries are in season (at least in the US) and usually on sale.

I like to make cranberry sauce and freeze it in 2-3 cup batches in large yogurt containers, but it can also be canned. I’m going to give that a shot this year. I bet it’ll look gorgeous in the jars.

Want some other ideas for working cranberries in to your diet - pop them in to blueberry muffin recipes in place of blueberries. Use cranberry juice as the liquid in smoothy recipes or simply add it to your kids’ apple juice. I buy dried cranberries that have been sweetened with apple juice instead of sugar. These are delicious as a snack or mixed in to granola or cereal in them morning.

And here’s some of the ideas published in the York Daily Record this morning:

String cranberries with popcorn to trim a tree. (they used dental floss as the string! Be sure to leave garland on when you put your tree out for the birds after the holiday.)

Pour cranberries into a glass bowl, then accent with a candle pushed into the center. (simple, anyone can do this, even me)

In a clear glass snifter, float cranberries and tea lights in water. (love this, I might just shock my family by actually producing a center piece this year)

Create napkin ring by stringing cranberries onto thin wire and wrapping several times around folded napkins. (A lot of work for a short-lived purpose, but might give your kids something to do while you prep dinner)

Layer cranberries and fresh holly leaves in a vase and fill partway with water, then add a bouquet of flowers. (Very Martha Stewarty – will definitely impress especially with white roses or some other white flower)

Cover a foam ball with cranberries using pushpins to hold them in place. Add a ribbon at the top for hanging. (This sounds gorgeous, but a crazy amount of work and my big fear is that it would attract the fruit flies that won’t seem to die this year and are still circling my kitchen.)

If you want to see pictures of how cranberries are grown check out There are a few pictures of cranberries growing and a bog in full bloom They are beautiful and amazing. I’d love to see them in person!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nothing Free About Free Range

I ordered our turkey last week from the same Amish stand where I got a wonderful fresh turkey last year. This was supposed to be a quick errand. Stop in at the market and order another turkey, 18 pounds. When the sweet little Amish woman in her bonnet asked if I’d like a “free range” turkey this year (for just a dollar more a pound!), I was dumbstruck. Here I was, all along, thinking that my fresh Amish turkey was already pretty much “free range”. I couldn’t imagine the Amish cramming hundreds of turkeys in to a turkey house to fatten up on chemical laden foods while stepping on each other and fighting for air. I assumed (and we know what assuming does to you and me) all Amish turkeys had humane living conditions. I assumed that cute little children in black suspenders and straw hats chased them around the yard, much as my children take pleasure in herding our chickens. So, I was stopped in my tracks by the Amish woman’s question.

Did I want free range? Well, of course I did. But then my skeptical self starting taking over and I began to wonder if these noble looking Amish people were just taking advantage of the ignorant “English” people who shop their market. No one ever calls the Amish stupid. But a line was forming and I needed to make a decision, so I considered the facts. It’s Thanksgiving and this is the only turkey I buy each year, and even more importantly, this is the year my husband is certain he can beat the Germans! So I sprung for the extra buck and next week I’ll pick up our free range turkey who I presume is flitting around the range as I write this.

We have a collection of friends and relatives that numbers upwards of 20 people most holidays. Everyone pitches in and brings something, but we share the turkey preparations with some dear friends from Germany. This has become our tradition ever since we introduced them to the concept of an American thanksgiving the year we met them. They bring a deep fryer and we make a spectacle of the “great turkey drop” each year and the kids ohh and ahh as the turkey is ceremoniously lowered in to the pot. (see picture) As the years have gone by, a quiet competition has developed between my husband and our German friend. Sadly, my husband’s oven roasted turkey is good, but never quite as good as the deep-fried one. Maybe it’s the spectacle. Much is determined by expectations.

I returned to the Amish stand because last year’s turkey cooked up deliciously and it was the closest we’ve come to beating the deep-fried bird. My husband is determined to cook a superior bird. He schemes for months, changing his plan regularly. He reads helpful articles my mom sends his way about cooking the perfect turkey and he surfs the net looking for a recipe for the perfect bird. Seems a bird injected with spices and dropped in to boiling peanut oil is hard to compete with. But last year’s bird came really close. It was delish.

The plan this year is to smoke the turkey, literally. Over the weekend we had a practice run with the biggest chicken my little Amish lady could come up with. It was enormous and after slowly cooking it at a very low temp in the oven, it was smoked over hardwood, chemical free chips and turned out spectacular. I’ve never tasted a moister chicken. So now the challenge is to replicate the results with a turkey.

Much is resting on the turkey I ordered, so I’ve been reconsidering my bird ever since. I even did a little research on the internet. I wondered if beyond price, there was any difference between a “free range” turkey and the frozen butterball mass you pull out of the grocer’s freezer. Of course, the difference between the two depends completely on who you ask. I tried to be discerning and opt for sites that didn’t have a stake in the outcome.

Turns out turkeys are a sensitive issue. Some people get pretty worked up about the taste of a “heritage” turkey and others are simply not going to pay “a hundred bucks” for a turkey that doesn’t taste any different. Nutritionally, I couldn’t find a whole lot of difference, at least when it comes to the actual turkey meat. I did learn that a butterball is not just turkey. Its ingredients list states that it contains: “turkey, water, salt, modified food starch, sodium phosphates, and natural flavorings”. There are plenty of companies that sneak MSG in to their products by calling it “modified food starch” or “natural flavorings”, so I feel somewhat justified in my decision to steer clear of the store-bought variety.

Of course I lean towards the bird that was treated humanely, as we work hard to provide our own birds with luxury accommodations and I can tell when those birds are happy and content or miserable and grumpy. I’m sure that affects their ultimate taste (oh, let me have that one, I’d hate to waste valuable time finding a study to back me up).

There was one fact I read that gave me pause. Several sites stated that free range turkeys are leaner and should be cooked slower. And free range birds have more dark meat. Seems the traditional bird is bread to have abnormally huge breast meat and, as a consequence, these birds can’t really move around much. Physically they can’t free range, even if they were given the option. Hmmm. Now I have to figure out how to break the news to my hubby that I may have handicapped him from the start this year.

I think that making the decision to buy organic or free range or sustainably grown comes down to the issue of trust. I’m paying extra because I believe you when you say this turkey was raised free range, without antibiotics and hormones. Because really, there’s no way for me to know this and there’s no federal agency that’s checking up on a little Amish Farm that sells to it’s surrounding community. So I just have to trust that I’m not being snookered. And what if I am? Well, I guess that’s just the price I pay to help keep our countryside rolling in buggies and windmills.

2009 Turkey Drop
I don’t think my dilemma over the price of free range turkey is unique. We are all making this decision on a less complicated scale on a daily basis. There is much we must take on faith. We will make ourselves nuts if we insist on absolute certainty before we make a decision. There comes a moment when you have to just follow your heart, or your gut, or the coin toss.

Many times the media and our society and maybe personal experience teach us that you can’t trust anybody. I personally think the world is a little too scary when you no longer trust. I’d rather err on the side of being a sucker than a skeptic. There’s very little we can ever be sure about when it comes to choosing what to eat. It seems there is a scientific report or internet site that can promote or refute just about anything you come up with. So it comes down to learning all you can, trusting you instincts, experience, intuition, and maybe, your neighbors. I don’t know who runs the Butterball operation, but I do know my turkey’s grandma and she’s seems honest enough.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Fresh is YOUR Milk?

I received the following e-mail over the weekend. Not only did I take heart in the fact that at least one person is reading (and enjoying) my rantings, it also inspired me to investigate the local possibilities once again.

Hi Cara ~

Just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying your blog..... each and every entry! You give so many useful tips on how to create a better life for our families and I share your tips often with the girls at work.

One of the new things we are doing that has made me very having our milk delivered to our home each and every week. We have an adorable milk box (see pic below) and instead or getting mass produced milk at the store, we now have a local farmer deliver our DELICIOUS milk to our front porch. His dairy farm has been in business for over 50 years. We live in the suburbs so I never dreamed I could get my milk delivered like my Grandmother did!! He even delivers our FRESH milk in those great glass bottles (pic below).

The milk is organic and his cows are not dosed up with horrible drugs of any kind. When you call the farm to order the milk his adorable wife answers the phone and it rings right into their living room :) He is always on our front porch by 6:30AM every Friday and it truly warms my heart to hear him clanking those glass milk bottles. And the best part! (drum roll please) the milk is actually LESS EXPENSIVE than in the store. His half gallon of 2% organic is $ my market it was $3.50.

And most importantly, I am supporting a local business! I have told all of my neighbors and more and more of us now have our milk home delivered. Thought you would enjoy this and perhaps you can even remind people on your blog that they should do some local research to see if they can get their milk delivered to their front porch! The taste is so superior to that of the store brand. Lew and I cannot get over how delicious FRESH milk is!

I live smack dab in the middle of dairy country. How is it that my friend, who lives in the suburbs of upstate New York, can get wonderful home delivery milk and I can’t? That’s the thing about this buy fresh, buy local food movement – it’s dependent on local economies and local demand. If the people near you are willing to support it, business will boom. Maybe my area is slower coming to this because so many people are farmers or wanna-be farmers. Or maybe it’s that they’ve moved up here to escape the city, but are so far removed from farm life that they’re afraid of unprocessed products.

I don’t know the reason for my areas unwillingness to embrace locally grown whole-heartedly, but it just about kills me that my kids go to a school in sight of farm fields, yet the school doesn’t serve any local food. Everything comes from the big distributor, nothing comes from the local farmer. This seems backward when our message to our children should be that the healthiest food they can eat is whole food, grown close by. “Fresh” vegetables and fruit trucked in from the distributor, who had it trucked in from a supplier half-way across the country is not nearly as healthy, it’s already lost plenty of its inherent nutrients. The healthiest food is grown and harvested and eaten locally.

And then there’s the whole argument for supporting local businesses. It’s in all our best interests that local businesses do well. When local businesses fail, the local community suffers in terms of home values, tax base, and jobs. When we support our neighbors, we are also supporting ourselves (and many times, our health).

Cyndee’s e-mail inspired me to begin bugging some local dairies once again about the possibilities of home delivery. I would encourage you to pick up the phone or bring up your search engine. I was surprised to find that there were more possibilities than the last time I investigated two years ago. If consumers create a demand, suppliers will meet it. Basic economics. We can change the food system in the US. It does not have to be about processed food and mass marketing, we hold the power. Remember that. If you want to learn more about changing our food system check out the film Fresh.

Just googling “home delivery milk” and your city or state will bring up plenty of hits. But you can also try:

Note: If you live in the Southern York County vicinity and would like to participate in home milk delivery (also cheese and other dairy and meat products) from a local dairy with hormone free, grass-fed cows (Apple Valley Creamery), please let me know ASAP. Please ask your neighbors and friends. We need at least 25 customers to create a viable weekly delivery route.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blind Chickens, Blind Consumers

I’ve been thinking lately about how far removed we are from our food. What’s brought this to mind is the fact that I now have a blind chicken living in its own personal hutch custom built and attached to the garage. When this chicken survived its horrendous attack by the other chickens, my first thought was – Sunday dinner! I’m sure you’re shuddering. But really, we have 31 other perfectly good chickens and here is just one more chore waiting to happen. Why shouldn’t we butcher it? My children have lots of arguments for saving the life of “Kernel” (named after the ill-fated Popcorn who was carried off by a hawk), none of which amount to anything more than “how could you?”.

When I mention my disappointment to friends, they ask, “Could you really kill it?” I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve never had the opportunity. But I’ve been thinking that if I’m going to eat meat, I really should be able to kill the animal that supplied it. We all should. Don’t get me wrong – I think it would be incredibly hard. I’m certain I would have nightmares afterward and shed plenty of tears in the process, but I also think that morally I shouldn’t be eating meat if I can’t do the deed.

Not that long ago, everyone killed the animals that supplied the meat for their dinner. My father-in-law likes to horrify us all by demonstrating with a waving arm how he killed chickens back in his day. After watching the movie, Food Inc., I was convinced that we needed to raise our own chickens for meat. I explained, carefully, to the kids that these chickens would be so much better off than the chickens in the film. They would live happy, carefree lives right up until the moment we butchered them. No dice. I haven’t given up hope, though. They are petitioning to let our two broody hens hatch the eggs they have to be pried off of each night. I’m willing to make a deal here. But they haven’t yet decided that the joy of watching the girls hatch our own chicks would offset the final end for some of these precious chicks.

How many of us really know what we’re eating? We’ve become so far removed from creating our own food that most of us have to look up how to boil an egg or make a pie crust. Our grandparents could do these things in their sleep. I can’t help but wonder how the waistlines of Americans might be effected if they had to make all their own foods. If we ate only what we created with our own hands from ingredients purchased whole or grown ourselves, I bet we’d lose some serious weight. Maybe I should create a diet, called “Made (and Lost) From Scratch”.

Recently I came across an article with a quiz in it. It listed the ingredients in the average breakfast cereal, cracker, cookie, and bread. Then it asked the reader to identify which was which. It was impossible. In fact, you wouldn’t even recognize the group of ingredients as any food because most of the lengthy list would have been hard to pronounce. I love this quote –

“If you are what you eat and you don’t know what you’re eating, do you know who you are?” (anonymous)

It’s funny, but it’s also a very poignant comment on the state of the average person’s diet.

The next time you’re shopping, pick up your favorite box of crackers or cereal and take a look at the ingredients. Do you know what they are? Cause if you don’t, you’re gambling your health (and possible your life) on the trustworthiness of some huge manufacturer whose main consideration is how much you’ll pay for said product. You’re also banking your life on our government’s ability to regulate the food industry. They wouldn’t allow companies to sell something that would endanger your health, right? Of course not, just like they wouldn’t allow you to have a mortgage you can’t afford. Or allow an oil company to drill miles deep in the ocean with no safety net.

Be smart and remember, we truly are what we eat.