Teste Situations

November 8, 2017 in Food, Home

Yesterday was another milestone here on the farm. Yesterday we sent our first lamb to freezer camp. Well, Troy actually did the deed. I was indulged in a state of panic getting product ready for market, as is the Monday norm.

In between filling containers of body butter I glanced out the window towards the barn to take in the progress. Movement inside the barn, then a wheelbarrow tipped out the door, then the sound of the tractor moving towards our water source and the area where we’ve been dressing carcasses. I put down my containers and ventured outside. I’d have been happy to avoid the whole scene, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, and so I went to see if I could help.

There was Troy, standing in front of the lamb that hung from the tractor bucket. I stood alongside him and joined in the stare. At eye level an enormous set of testicles confronted our gaze, and neither of us needed to say anything. Troy had made an initial cut into the belly, but I could tell he was a little thrown off by the dangling participles punching him right in the eye. We’ve slaughtered and butchered chickens and pigs and turkeys. None of those beasts had a set like this. I could hear Troy’s brain going through the motions. Where to cut? How to separate the goods from the goods? My brain couldn’t quite do the math, either.

I walked away and left Troy to Google sheep balls. As luck would have it, our neighbour (who is a sheep farmer and very experienced in these matters) drove by, saw that something was up, and stopped in. Under his watchful eye and instruction the carcass was castrated. Today we cut and wrapped our lamb. One more box of food for the winter – almost 60 pounds, we figure. We didn’t keep the testicles, something else will enjoy them.

Never in a million years did I think a dinner conversation might go something like this:

Him: Next year if there’s a ram lamb we’re castrating it early on. I just didn’t know what to do with those balls, did you see the size of them?!?

Me: Yeah, I wondered how we’d deal with those.

Him: When I was Googling sheep testicles I thought about keeping them. It sounded like they might be good.

Me: Yeah, I don’t think so.

My progressive female self wants to pull out all the symbolism, the Freudian and Jungian triggers, the social significance of dealing with testicles through death and cuisine. My other self wonders what sort of god-forbidden redneck I have become… I not only went through this, I thought it was interesting enough to write about.

In the end I think it comes down to the fact that neither of us feels good about killing things, even if it is to sustain ourselves, but humans are omnivores, and so are the animals that will end up enjoying those balls. We are all just meat, from head to toe, and eventually we too will be eaten by something.

Might as well make a note of it, after all, it might be on the test(es).

 

Homily to the Homely

September 8, 2017 in Food

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 12.09.17 PMWherever there’s spray-free produce there’s also an abundance of ugly produce…it’s a fact. Things often go sideways when you grow without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. A little nutrient imbalance in the soil, a few hungry bugs, and you’ve got a recipe for homely produce.

I’ve always tried to keep the ugly veggies for myself. Consumers are used to the picture-perfect produce found on grocery store shelves, not oddly shaped or bug-bitten goods. The problem with spray free growing is that the perfect looking produce makes up a very small part of what actually comes out of the ground. In order to bring perfect veggies to market, an awful lot more end up on the “we’ll eat what we can and give the pigs the rest” pile.

One of the main reasons I choose to grow spray free is my concern for the environment. Most other spray-free growers will say the same thing. That causes a bit of a conundrum, though. In order to grow without sprays and produce something consumers will buy, a LOT more land has to be planted so that the small amount of perfect produce resulting can meet demand. This means it takes more land to feed people, and that more land has to be cleared for agricultural use. That might still be better for the environment than dousing the earth in pesticides, but it’s definitely not a perfect solution.

In a report released by the US-based National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) it’s estimated that in the USA 52% of produce grown is discarded because stresses such as insects and drought, or damage during transport renders it “unsuitable” for sale. The same report cites examples of  a tomato packing plant that discards 22,000 pounds of tomatoes every 40 minutes during the high production season, and a cucumber farmer who claims that 75% of what he culls is perfectly edible but deemed unsaleable for cosmetic reasons.

The answer? We as consumers need to adjust our expectations. Scientific studies have shown that various mechanisms of stress actually cause plants to produce enhanced levels of some of the disease-fighting nutrients and chemical components that make them good for us. In short, ugly vegetables may actually be much better for us than the pretty ones. As a devout foodie, I’ll be the first to admit that how things look on my plate is important. That said, once an ugly veggie is peeled, chopped, or otherwise prepped, it’s often no different to look at than the beauty queen sitting next to it. Beauty is skin deep, and that goes triple for vegetables!

It’s hard to change attitudes, but as farmers I think we have some responsibility to ease consumers away from the expectation of perfection. I’m not advocating the sale of rotten, diseased, or otherwise potentially dangerous goods. I AM suggesting that maybe it’s not so bad to put a holey cabbage or a 3-legged carrot on the market table or in a produce box. By educating consumers about the benefits of ugly produce we can cut down on waste and environmental degradation, increase our profit margin and the nutritional benefits of the food we sell, and hopefully steer more and more growers away from pumping pesticides and synthetic fertilizers into the earth. It’s time that ugly gets a little respect.

Today’s lunch? A homely salad, and regardless of how it looks I’m sure it will taste just great.

Meat is Murder?

November 4, 2016 in Food, Uncategorized

WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC PICTURES OF MEAT PRODUCTION THAT SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND OFFENSIVE OR HARD TO VIEW.

Meat is murder? Well, that depends on which definition you use, and which meat you’re referring to.

Murder refers (according to dictionary definition) to the killing of another human. But the dictionary also describes “murder” as “to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously”. I presume that when people claim “Meat is murder”, that’s the definition they’re using.

Moving the carcass from the pig pen

So yes. Some meat, undoubtedly, is murder. And that is exactly why we kill our own animals.

Now, if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, I’m not going to convince you that what we’ve done is right. I am speaking to the omnivores and carnivores amongst us, all who hold some responsibility for the death of animals to produce food. There are 270 other carnivorous species of animal on the planet and 670 species of carnivorous plant, so it’s a wide audience, even if I don’t include my hamburger-loving friends.

A few weekends ago we (and by “we” I mean Troy and I) killed our pigs.

Sides hanging after skinning and gutting

It’s easy to make light of the product of that killing (mmmmm, bacon) for the sake of easing the reality of what we did. But when you’re standing in front of a live animal literally holding a gun to its head, when you’re choosing the exact second that its life will end, and then when the life is bleeding out of it from the slit in its throat, it is anything but easy. It is the hardest thing that a compassionate human being will ever do.

And that is exactly why we do it ourselves.

Death is not easy. Death is not pretty. Death sucks. But every living thing dies, and some things live specifically for the purpose they serve after they die. Many farm animals would never have any life at all if they weren’t being raised for the purpose of producing food. How one lives and how one dies are both important attributes to one’s existence. We believe that if we’re going to eat meat we have a responsibility to make sure that both the life and the death of that meat are as good as they possibly can be.

Removing the organs

It would be easy to load our pigs into a trailer and haul them to the abbatoir, picking them up days later neatly wrapped in butcher paper with no sign of entrails or other telling pieces. The pigs would be stressed by the trailering and the drive, the arrival at the slaughterhouse and the ensuing activities leading to death, but it would certainly be easier for us. (I’m not implying that abattoirs are bad – some of them might be, but there are some that are run by people who care as much about animals as we do). We also don’t fault the many small farmers who use those facilities, as the current food safety system doesn’t allow for meat to be sold unless it’s killed in an inspected abattoir. If you’re making a living selling meat you have no choice but to do it that way.

We raise meat for ourselves, so we can kill it where it was raised. When the time comes, we throw some feed on the ground and as the pigs eat and snorfle in the dirt we put the gun to their head and  pull the trigger. There is no stress, they don’t know it’s coming, they die instantly. There are no strange people, no strange places. Just us, the people who scratched their backs and brought them apples every day of their lives.

It’s the hardest way for us, but it’s the easiest way for the pigs. That is why we do it ourselves, even though we both hate every second of it.

I am not looking for sympathy from the anti-meat brigade. Rather, I hope to give animal-loving meat eaters an understanding of how we can bring ourselves to do the deed. We are the same people you are; the people who always insisted that we could never kill anything, the people who have nightmares leading up to the day, the people who would much rather buy a pound of pork at the farmers’ market so that we don’t have to look it in the eye while we pulled the trigger. In the end, though, food production on any scale is a responsibility to the environment, the animals and ourselves. Knowing how something lived, and how it died, is a part of that process. We kill our own animals because we feel it is the right thing for us to do. It’s not because we don’t care about them, it’s because we love them.

An opportunist hen taking advantage of an easy meal

Every time we kill an animal I am forced to reconcile my feelings about causing that death with my own desire to eat meat. And yes, I will fully admit that it IS a desire, but I also firmly believe that biologically humans are designed to be omniverous. I remind myself that humans are the only animals on this planet who can or will make a conscious decision to eliminate a certain kind of nutrient source from our diet. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. As an animal lover those lifestyle choices would be much easier for me to digest mentally, but animals would still die as byproducts of the production of my food – it would just be easier to tune it out.

Killing does not feel good to me and it never will, but food security feels amazing. With scary things about to happen across the border, with an increasing world demand for intensive agriculture that destroys the environment and our health, with rising food prices and decreasing nutritional content in the products we buy, it feels good to know that I have 3 freezers full of meat and vegetables that came from here and my neighbour across the road. It feels good to know how my food grew, and exactly what went into its production. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why we are doing it. It will be just as hard next year when we do it all again, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, and as the world changes, I suspect a lot more people will be doing the same thing.

Not all meat is murder. Some meat is just doing a hard thing for all the right reasons.

Holy Hot Peppers!

October 4, 2016 in Food, Home

In all my years of growing things, peppers, and particularly hot peppers, have probably been my biggest challenge. For some reason, when everything else was doing well the peppers just never seemed to happen. This year the bell peppers continued that tradition… the plants were big and strong and healthy looking, the blossoms were plentiful, but apart from a few sad looking specimens, my bell peppers really didn’t produce much in the way of fruit. This year I’m blaming the lack of water they received. The 4 varieties of hot peppers I planted, however, went absolutely ballistic.

A plethora of hot peppers might be a challenge for some people, but I had no trouble keeping up with them. I didn’t plant anything super intense as I didn’t think there would be much demand for extra hot peppers at the markets I do. I’ve been selling fresh salsa at market this year, and making that mowed through a ton of peppers. My own affection for spicy foods took care of another pile. Still, when I hauled in a harvest a few days ago. I ended up with a bucketful that demanded more creative preservation, so I started searching for ideas. I’m still looking for a hot sauce recipe that appeals to me and I may just have to develop my own. In the meantime, here’s how I took care of that pesky peck of peppers, and a few other things in the process.

 

Concord Grape and Apple Chutney (Loosely adapted from The Cozy Herbivore)

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. Concord grapes, washed and stems removed
  • 6 cups peeled & diced Cortland apples
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 5  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 3 thumbs of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp. cardamom powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 fresh Bulgarian Carrot hot peppers,  minced ( use more or less depending on desired heat level, you can substitute jalapenos but they don’t have as much flavour)
  • 2 fresh Cayenne peppers, minced
  • 6 Criolla de Sella peppers, minced
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Place grapes in a large, heavy-bottomed non-reactive stockpot and bring to a simmer. Cook covered until the grapes become mushy. Remove from heat and squash grapes through a mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing to extract as much of the pulp from the seeds as possible.
  2. Transfer seed-free pulp to stockpot and stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer.
  3. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about an hour or until mixture thickens and apples break down. Chutney should very thick.
  4. Pour into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe down the rims of the jars and screw on sterilized lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Turn off heat and allow jars to sit in the water for 5 minutes more.
  5. Carefully remove jars from hot water and allow to rest undisturbed on a cooling rack  for at least 12 hours. Test the lids to ensure they sealed properly. Store in a cool dry place for up to one year.

Hot Pepper Jelly

I used this recipe from The Tiffin Box. Some recipes I found called for up to SIX cups of sugar for the same quantity of jelly. Not cool! Anyway, I did make one change to this recipe: I omitted the sweet peppers and used about 1.5 cups of hot peppers (measured before chopping) instead. It IS supposed to be HOT pepper jelly, right? I may regret that decision, but it’s highly unlikely.

Pickled Peppers

I wanted to make pickled peppers so I’d have the hot peppers readily accessible all winter for chilis, curries, spaghetti sauces, etc. I considered drying them, but I don’t have a dehydrator and leaving the oven on for days on end seemed like a waste of electricity. Freezing was also an option, but it makes the peppers mushy, which isn’t appealing to me. (Not to mention that freezer space is at a premium with 3 porkers and 60-odd chickens headed to freezer camp this week.) Almost every recipe I came across for pickled peppers involved using pickling spices, but I wanted to maintain the pure “pepperness” as much as possible. After all, if I’m going to cook with these suckers, adding spice after the fact makes much more sense to me. Here then, is my pared down pickled pepper recipe, designed to preserve, but other than the vinegar and salt ( which are imperative to the safety of the product) not affect the flavour.

8 cups hot peppers
6 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
4 tablespoons kosher salt
1. Wash peppers thoroughly and snap off the stems. I left the peppers whole but you can chop them if you prefer.
2. Pack peppers into sterilized pint jars and set aside.
3. Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
4. Pour boiling brine over peppers in the pint jars, leaving ¼” of head space at the top.
5. Seal jars with lids and rings and process in a water bath of boiling water for 10 minutes.
6. Store at least one week before using. Store up to one year.

Hot Sauce

It hasn’t happened yet. I ran out of peppers after the pickling. They’re calling for frost tonight, so one of today’s chores is to scrounge any remaining peppers from the garden. If the hot sauce actually happens I’ll edit accordingly. If not, next year!

Mustard Greens

July 22, 2016 in Food

1893957_140629062915_00651I love to grow mustard greens. They are easy, tolerating excessive heat, drought, and even the flea beetles that seem to covet them. They are frilly and bright, and one planting yields a harvest that lasts several weeks. At market, however, mustard greens are a tough sell. Most people pick them up, raise an eyebrow, and then put them back in favour of something more familiar.

Mustard greens are members of the Brassica family, which also contains broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. They are ranked high on the podium of healthy veggies; they contain vitamins, chemicals and antioxidants that can lower cholesterol, help prevent cancer, and reduce inflammation. One cup of cooked mustard greens contains over 900% of your daily Vitamin K requirements, 96% of your Vitamin A needs, and almost half of the recommended Vitamin C.

But what to do with mustard greens? They’re actually quite easy to use. Mustard greens are lumped into the group of plants sold as “Asian greens”. As their name suggests, the flavour is a bit spicy – a nice change from the blander greens like spinach and Swiss chard. The smaller leaves work well in a salad ( the bigger ones, too, if you massage them), especially as part of a lettuce mix. The larger leaves are best cooked and work well in soups, stews and stir fries. Mustard greens hold their own as a side dish, too. Serve them up with a little crumbled bacon and a whole lot of garlic. Here’s how.

Sauteed Mustard Greens with Bacon

Ingredients

  • 3 strips of bacon (substitute ground almonds or nutritional yeast for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 shallot, minced
  • 2 bunches of mustard greens
  • salt to taste
  • 1  lemon + zest of 1/2 lemon

-Slice the washed greens into 1/2 inch pieces. Squeeze a little lemon juice on them and toss to distribute it evenly. Let sit for 5 minutes. This process helps to activate some of the healthy enzymes.

-In a heavy frying pan cook the bacon until crispy. Remove from the pan and drain the grease. (If you’re using almonds instead, toast them lightly in a dry frying pan before grinding. Don’t cook the nutritional yeast.)

-Add olive oil and shallot to the pan. Cook over medium heat until the shallot becomes soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook briefly.

-Add the mustard greens and zest to the pan and sprinkle with salt. Sauté stirring frequently, until leaves just begin to wilt.

-Plate the mustard greens and squeeze a little lemon juice onto them. Crumble the bacon, or sprinke almonds or yeast over the greens and serve immediately.

Late Winter “Rustic” Gnocchi

March 21, 2016 in Food, Uncategorized

cookedgnocchiI made gnocchi about 20 years ago, prompted, I think, by a Martha Stewart recipe. After hours of intensive labour rolling them out to perfectly even little ovals and then carefully pressing fork ridges into the dough, I swore I would never, ever make them again. They were good, but the store-bought ones were actually better, and mine were SOOOOO much work. Although I’ve bumped into lots of gnocchi recipes over those 20 years I’ve stuck to my guns and refused to give them the time of day. Until now.

About a month ago we were invited to have a “simple, quick lunch” with friends. I was excited to see steaming bowls of a tomatoey sauce arrive at the table, laced with plenty of parmesan and dotted with what appeared to be… gnocchi? I was right, but they weren’t like any gnocchi in the supermarket or the food blogs. These gnocchi were large chunks of dough quite literally pinched from a roll, the ends gave the technique away. They were uneven, unlaboured, and quite likely the best tasting gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. Rustic. I suddenly had new hope for homemade gnocchi and began planning the day when I could build a stash of the little potato pasta in my freezer.

Last week I came home from market with a rather homely looking buttercup squash. This late in the winter storage veggies sometimes look like they’ve seen better days. Humming and hawing about what to do with the beast, I relected back to all those recipes I’d skipped over for squash gnocchi. A lightbulb went off.

I halved the squash and scooped out the seeds, baked it until it was mushy soft, and then set it aside to cool overnight. The next day I set about making squash and potato gnocchi and managed to put about 12 servings of the pasta in the freezer in just over an hour. Like my friend’s gnocchi they aren’t perfectly shaped and they aren’t pretty, but I cooked some for supper last night, and they are definitely delish. My homemade gnocchi drought is over!

1603_gnocchi_002Here’s the recipe for my rustic version of gnocchi. You could use any kind of dry orange squash -butternut, acorn, etc., but depending on the moisture content you’ll need to adjust the flour to make a workable dough. If you’re worried that the squash flavour will overwhelm the gnocchi, don’t be. It is there, but it’s subtle, and it made this healthier pasta version just that extra bit tasty, so it’s totally worth the not-much trouble. This recipe is pretty loosey goosey touchy feely. You can add more or less potato, more or less squash. Adjust the flour until you have a soft dough that’s kind of sticky but not unworkable, and then run with it.

Rustic Squash & Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 cooked orange squash (butternut, buttercup, hubbard, etc.), cooled
  • 2 large Russet (or other dry type) potatoes, peeled, boiled and cooled.
  • 1 large egg, straight from the chicken, if possible
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling

1. Prepare a couple of cookie sheets by covering with parchment paper

2. If you have a large food processor puree the potato, squash & egg until it is totally lump free. I have a tiny food processor, so I used my KitchenAid mixer  and beat the heck out of the veggies and egg. Worked like a charm.

2. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, and any other seasonings you may be tempted to grab. Then add the flour 1/2 cup at a time and stir well. Stop adding flour when you have a soft and slightly sticky dough that you can form into logs.

3. Working with a tennis ball of dough at a time, roll it out lightly with your hands on a well-floured surface to make a long log that’s about 1-1.5 inches thick.

4. 1603_gnocchi_001Using a fork dipped in flour, break off 1/2 inch pieces of the log. Roll gently to make little ovals (or don’t)… it’s up to you. You can also roll your fork over the surface to give them those characteristic gnocchi indentations… or not. Again, depends how much fuss you feel like. Either way it will still taste awesome.

5. Place gnocchi pieces on the prepared cookie sheets and freeze flat. When they are frozen solid, divide into baggies of however many portions you choose ( I allow about 15 gnocchi pieces per serving), and return bagged gnocchi to freezer.

6. To cook gnocchi, remove from freezer and let thaw for about an hour. Bring a generous pot of water to a rolling boil, add a teaspoon of olive oil, and then toss in the gnocchi. In about 3-5 minutes the gnocchi will rise to the top of the water, at which point they are done. Remove from the water and add the sauce of your choice. I love to toss them with diced chicken and basil pesto. Yum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peas…and Thank You!

July 24, 2015 in Food, Uncategorized

peasA few weeks ago I started bringing veggies to market along with my soap products. I’m not bringing a ton- we already have great veggie sellers at market, and there are only so many tubs and coolers you can fit in a Matrix. Still, the produce has definitely spiked my market income. After all, people go to markets for veggies first. Everything else is an afterthought, it seems.

Two years ago when I finally took the plunge and went from well-paid employee to floundering farmer, the decision may have been somewhat provoked by midlife crisis. I loved aspects of what I was doing, but my day-to-day existence, immersed in bureaucratic  turmoil and  low morale, was not exactly fulfilling. I knew that food was my passion… not just any food, but clean, local food that has the ability to affect health and economy. My therapist always told me I am an idealist, and armed with those ideals and a stubborn belief that I am capable of doing just about anything I put my mind to, I did what seemed to be “the right thing”. I started growing food.

Ideals are easy to forget when money is tight, the work is hard, the days are long, and the aches and pains are never-ending. I never question that decision, it always feels like it was “the right thing” for me, but I often lose sight of the “why”. It becomes easier to worry about what needs to be done in the moment than to take time to remember why I’m doing it.

At market yesterday I sold a bag of snap peas to a dad and his two young sons. I didn’t think too much about it until I spotted one of the boys a few minutes later from across the square. He was ravenously stuffing those peas into his mouth with a big goofy grin on his face like most kids would gobble a chocolate bar. The choked up feeling that hit me like a Mack truck completely caught me off guard. Watching that kid eat something I’d grown, and watching him really enjoy it… that was worth every blister and frustration I’ve experienced so far. It made me stop and remember what I’m doing, and why.

I hope every person gets to have that feeling I had yesterday at least once in their life. We spend so many waking hours trying to make a buck, but it becomes so worth it when you know you’ve made something more. Weeding feels much less onerous today.

Thanks, kid!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s “Too Expensive”?

July 9, 2015 in Food, Uncategorized

imageOver the past month it seems I’ve been overhearing more comments than usual about the price of food – in particular the price of local and organic foods. Those comments bounce off my radar somewhere between  irksome and downright aggravating, but then I have to stop and remember that before I was in a position to call myself a “producer” I thought the same way.

So here’s why chemical, antibiotic, hormone, steroid, and abuse-free food costs more, and why you should dig deep and buy it, despite the price tag.

The easy answer is that it costs more to produce food without syntheimagetic chemical assistance. If bugs decide to make lunch out of a crop, the easy way out is to spray the heck out of them with poison. Often you can apply the pesticide once and the problem disappears for the rest of the season, but even if the infestation requires multiple sprayings, it’s a heck of a lot less time-consuming than the alternative. What’s the alternative?

Hand picking.

Non-spray growers have a limited tool kit for dealing with bad creepy crawlies, and hand picking is near the top of the list. While organic pesticides do exist, so do studies that show these may actually be more harmful in the long term than conventional pesticides. The only way to get rid of bad bugs and have absolutely no impact on the good ones is to pick them off the plants, with your fingers, one by one. Last year I picked hundreds (if not thousands) of squash bugs and cucumber beetles. It takes a lot of work. Covering plants with agricultural fabric before the bugs become a problem can save a lot of trouble, but then there’s the problem of monitoring for maturation so the plants can be uncovered at just the right times to let good bugs come and pollinate. Then everything gets covered up again, hopefully before anything bad gets in.

Diatomaceous Earth is another popular way to combat bugs. It consists of fossilized algae shells ground into a fine powder, and it’s abrasive to some bugs, cutting them as they crawl over it when dusted onto their favourite plants.That dusting is also labour-intensive; in order to be effective, leaves must be dusted top and bottom, and the DE has to be reapplied every time it rains.

imageSuccessfully growing produce without harmful pesticides require good soil- in other words, soil with an appropriate pH level for the particular crop in question, soil that retains moisture but also drains well, and soil with lots of nutrients. This miracle soil is easily attained by pouring on chemical fertilizers. Unfortunately, such fertilizers are often highly acidic and therefore kill the bacteria in the soil that help make nitrogen available to the plants. Organic fertilizers take longer to feed the plants, and are required in higher quantities to achieve the same results. Organic fertilizers are usually things like manure and kelp – things that take time to compost before they can even work as fertilizer. Unlike synthetic chemical fertilizers, however, organic fertilizers actually help to build good soil rather than simply providing an instant growth hit. Building good soil, like everything else about organic and no-spray growing, takes time.

imageAs if the intense labour required to grow no-spray food weren’t enough to raise prices, there is also a much higher rate of discarded product when growing without chemicals. When pesticides are implemented all the potential bad bugs (and most of the good ones) are killed, so there is no opportunity for an insect to cause blemishes or damage to the produce. Ugly produce doesn’t sell, so if bugs have the slightest opportunity to cause blemishes, that food will likely end up in the garbage instead of shopping carts. For this reason, a lot of organic and no-spray produce never makes it to the table, even though it’s perfectly good and nutritious food. I was told of a local broccoli producer who discards up to 60% of their crop each year because it doesn’t look perfect and the chains won’t buy it.

The typical supermarket peach is like a person who’s had a little too much plastic surgery. Sure it may look good, but those looks come at a cost (not a financial cost so much as a cost to the environment and personal health). Looks aren’t everything, especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately we’ve been conditioned to believe otherwise. The local no-spray peach that you get at a farmer’s market may not be as pretty, but it will likely taste fresher, every insect in a 5-mile radius won’t have died to put it in your basket, and you’ll be able to eat it without wondering what other things you’re ingesting at the same time.

Why is it that a plastic clamshell of “Spring Mix” lettuce which traveled from California or beyond, can easily fetch $6 at the grocery store, yet if someone at a farmer’s market asks $3 for a head of no-spray lettuce, pulled from the ground that very morning, they are accused of trying to rip the consumer off? With a shelf life of about 2 days before slime starts setting in, California should be paying us to take their lettuce. I have bags of greenery in my fridge that I harvested over a week ago and they still look as good as the day I picked them.

Yes, buying locally produced products costs money. Buying anything costs money. The difference is that the money spent on local products goes right back into the community instead of getting transferred to California or Mexico. If people supported the small businesses in their communities they might not have to fly to Alberta to get a job. They might not have to ask why rural economies suck. They might not have to wonder why businesses are closing and forcing them to drive further and further to get what they need.

Next time you think a spray-free cucumber is a rip off, think of me on my knees between rows of plants surrounded by hundreds of beetles which I’m squishing between my fingers, one at a time. Think about how many hours you’d be willing to do that to avoid blasting your plants with poison. How much would you be willing to pay NOT to spend time doing that?

Probably more than the price of an organic cucumber.

 

 

Tipsy Tourtière – a new tradition?

December 27, 2014 in Food, Uncategorized

  • imageTourtiere is one of those things that I never heard of before moving to Nova Scotia. I’m sure it probably has its place in the French regions of Newfoundland, but where I grew up, just outside St. John’s, Christmas Eve (like Good Friday) is a fish holiday. It didn’t matter  how the fish ended up on the plate, but it was always cod, and it was always served with some form of decadent fat that would likely seem over the top to any come-from-away who found it on their plate: fish and brewis with pork scrunchions, boiled salt cod and potatoes with slabs of butter melting over the works, fried cod tongues or fish cakes, crisp on the outside and salty on the inside. Not to mention a fresh loaf of oatmeal brown bread, also slathered in butter ( and in some cases, mollasses). The tradition followed me to Nova Scotia, and until this year, salt cod was a Christmas Eve given.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been tempted by Tourtiere. It’s often crossed my mind, but it seemed inappropriate to make it for any occasion other than Christmas Eve, so it just never happened.

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Look at that meat… Ground beef and ground pork. Mmmm. “The other white meat” doesn’t look so different from beef when it comes from happy pigs with a vegetable, fruit and grass-based diet!

Now things are different

The only salt cod readily available in this neck of the woods is actually labelled “salt fish”. Not sure what kind. I’ve used it in the past and it’s just not right. The freshly ground pork and beef in our freezer just seemed like a better choice. And so It was that I finally set about figuring out how to make Tourtiere.

I’ve heard lots of stories about bland Tourtiere and I was seriously concerned that picking the wrong recipe could mean this would be my first and last meat pie escapade. Because I know lots of great cooks, I turned to Facebook for tried and trusted recipes from my friends. Usually I can spot a good recipe a mile away, but be ause I had no idea what tourtiere was supposed to be like, I didn’t trust myself to figure it out. Lots of great suggestions resulted from querying my friends, along with a few annecdotes, but I still had a problem. All the recipes were different, and making a choice seemed impossible.

I took the only logical course of action. Playing on the fact that Tourtiere appears to be a concept rather than a set-in-stone recipe, I decided to take what intrigued me from each of those recipes and make my own. My friend Jane proposed a recipe using eggs and cream beaten with a little hot sauce. Christa’s recipe used both beef and pork, which is what I wanted, and Heather’s recipe, like Christa’s, used savoury, cloves and cinnamon. Savoury and Christmas are synonymous on The Rock, so I knew my recipe had to have it.

imageAlthough I’ve always made my own pie dough ( and I’m pretty good at it, too) I’ve recently discovered a product that may end my pastry-making days. I’ve spent my past year at farmer’s markets selling next to a lovely gal named Donna. Her product called Doe T Go is a ready-made pie dough that knocks my socks off. You can manhandle it ’til you’re blue in the face , thaw it, freeze it, thaw it again,and it still comes out flaky and wonderful. It’s so easy and affordable that it’s just not worth making my own anymore. I stocked up on a few packs of Donna’s dough before the holidays, and that became the shell for my Tourtiere.

imageThe  meat pie that resulted from all this research and madness was well worth the trouble. Whether or not it becomes a tradition in our house may very well depend on the availability of real salt cod in years to come, but I guarantee I’ll be making this again, even if Christmas Eve isn’t the instigator.  Here’s the recipe, with love from  a bunch of my friends and me. Feel free to adapt to your tastes (but remember that the savoury is non-negotiable).

*As a side note: I had to add a tablespoon of olive oil when frying the meats, as ours had no fat whatsoever. I didn’t include the oil in the recipe because I suspect this isn’t a problem most people will encounter.

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1 stalk celery,finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp. summer savoury
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp  ground cloves
  • One double crust 9-inch pie shell

Method to the Madness

-In a large skillet combine the pork and beef with the onion, garlic and celery. Sautee until meat is browned and crumbly and onion has softened. Drain excess fat.

-Add savoury, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper, mix well. Remove pan from the heat.

-In a small bowl whisk together the cream, egg and hot sauce. Stir into the

meat mixture. Allow to cool

-Pour meat filling into pie shell and top with second crust. Cut vents into the top crust.

-Refrigerate for at least an hour.

-Preheat oven to 450. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 and bake for a further 25 minutes.

I put a pear and apple chutney on the table to go with it, just in case. We didn’t need to use it -this Tourtiere was yummy all on its own.

Reconciling Pigs and Fall

November 10, 2014 in Everyone Else, Food, Home, Uncategorized

imageIt’s that time of the year. A few leaves still cling to the branches, afraid to make the jump. Night pushes its luck each day, seeing how much more darkness it can get away with imposing. The temperatures fluctuate from nipply to sweaty, but only because it’s impossible to know how to dress. Autumn is well underway and it won’t be long before the first snowfall insists we are done for the year.

The garden has been stripped. Aside from a couple of rows of lettuce that I planted last month and a handful of scrappy leeks, the only things growing are weeds. Good intentions dictated that cover crops would fill the spots where veggies used to thrive, but other priorities such as barn renos and seasonal craft fairs slammed that window of opportunity shut. I’d feel bad had procrastination been the culprit, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Likewise, our planned riding ring construction and walipini dig will probably move down the list to become next year’s projects. Soon the ground will freeze, rendering earth-related projects difficult to impossible.

The things that have to happen before winter comes knocking are not as daunting as they were, but there is one thing we have to take care of that I’m not looking forward to -the pigs must go to freezer camp.

In the spring, in keeping with our ideals, we purchased two bottle lambs and two piglets with the idea of raising them to market weight and filling our freezers with meat. The sheep got off lucky. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to keep the ewe for breeding. Once Troy named her Stella, she was pretty much off the hook. Chopper (as in “lamb chops”) was freezer bound until a woman came by interested in purchasing him as a stud for her own flock. Knowing we could buy lamb from John across the road, we took her money, saved ourselves the hassle, and decided it would be just as acceptable to fill our freezer with meat that was just 150 meters less local but raised on the same principles as ours.

The pigs, however, won’t be so lucky.

I think it’s ok that I’m having a bit of a hard time reconciling the fate of Edgar and Mitchell. I’ve gotten to know them a bit, despite having made efforts not to get attached. I remind myself that they’ve had a good life, eating bucket after bucket of apples and treats from the garden; moving from one fenced spot to another again and again, digging for grubs and pulling up roots until the once-grassy spaces look like bombs went off. I remind myself that the whole reason they came here to live was so that we could know what we are eating, and what it ate. The difficulty in knowing that the animals who will feed us have enjoyed their time on this earth is knowing that you’re ending that animal’s happy days rather than ending the suffering of a feedlot beast. Irony at its most brutal.

It’s an irony that’s made me reconsider my dietary choices more than once. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and frankly, my body didn’t react well. But the big picture takes into account so much more than the life of an animal ( or person). While a boatload of studies exist showing that a vegetarian diet is less harmful to the planet than one that includes meat, I’ve yet to see one of those studies that takes into account how that equation changes if the meat is raised sustainably in one’s own back yard. It’s mostly assumed that meat comes from a huge industrial farm, and fair enough, most of it does. On the other hand, there are also studies showing the negative impacts of monoculture farming ( a method that has taken over the veggie side of industrial farming). It’s a method of growing things that depletes the soil quickly, throwing off the balance of natural insects and micro-organisms in the process. As a result, the soil and plants need more help to grow – more fertilizers, more pesticides, and more water. Not to mention the fossil fuels that go into processing and transporting vegetarian protein substitutes such as tofu and TVP. It doesn’t take much fuel to transport my grass- fed pigs, chickens and turkeys from the fields to the freezer.

No matter how much I work through the hows and whys of food production, however, my final thought always comes down to biology and evolution. We have canine teeth. We evolved as omnivores. It only seems natural, then, to eat meat, and so I choose to raise my own, and eventually send it to slaughter. Call me what you will, an ethically- minded consumer and producer or a selfish, murderous asshole. Just know that my decisions are not reached without contemplation and some pretty heavy soul searching.

Before winter comes blasting in, pigs will be converted to pork chops and hams, and those last leaves will take the plunge. With a woodshed more than stuffed, and freezers loaded with turkeys, chicken, lamb and pork that we’ve produced ourselves, there will be comfort in knowing that we are prepared to make it through the darker months. In the spring, new piglets will likely arrive, the garden (now twice as large thanks to the pigs) will be readied for another round, and the cycle will repeat itself. This is the path we have chosen. Will next year’s killing of the pigs be any easier for me? I hope not. This life we’ve bitten off is as much about appreciating what it takes to make food as it is about the actual making of it. The heartache and discomforts are all part of that appreciation. I’m okay with that.