Healthy Food Doesn’t Cost More. It Costs Whatever You Want It To.

I’m beginning to think that the cost of eating healthy is just another excuse used to defend apathy and poor eating habits in America. As a matter of fact, I’d even venture to say that, in general, around the world, including here in America,  the middle and upper class actually have poorer eating habits than those less fortunate. Those eating for survival and nourishment know how to find (and grow or raise)  inexpensive, nutrient dense foods. Eating healthy only costs as much as you want it to. EVERYONE can afford it.

The trick is to seek out foods that are nutrient dense and economical. Get the most for your money – whether you shop at the farmers markets (so doable, with a little common sense and practice) or a large discount super store. When it comes to produce, buy in season. Food is cheaper, more nutritious and tastes better when it’s in season. Don’t forget frozen fruits and vegetables, which are picked and frozen at the peak of their season and usually less expensive than fresh produce. Check the reduced section of your produce department for some really great bargains. If you can get there mid morning, you’ll find the best deals. Broccoli, peas, leafy greens, sweet peppers, squash, tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, cabbage, lettuce,  berries, bananas, peaches, plums, apples, citrus are all affordable (in fact, usually on sale when they are in season). When they are out of season, your budget (and your taste buds) will take the hit.

Buy less meat and refined carbs and buy more beans! Dried beans are the most under rated, most economical, nutrient dense food money can buy. They can easily be served as a main protein at a meal. They are so versatile and easy to prepare – it’s plain crazy. Why Americans don’t eat more beans is beyond me.  Meat and refined carbs, on the other hand, are the least economical foods you can buy and too much of either is not good for you. Buy less and buy better quality. I don’t mean buy expensive cuts of steak or lamb. In fact I suggest very little red meat at all. Pork is a less expensive red meat choice. What I mean by better quality is pastured, grass fed, free range, organic, natural… whatever you can afford. But stick with cheaper cuts or ground meat if you are on a budget. Whole chicken is very inexpensive. You can easily learn to butcher it yourself. As for refined carbs, avoid them entirely. Instead eat small amounts of whole grain versions of pasta and bread. Make them from scratch (especially the sweet stuff) whenever possible. I’ve found recipes that are simple and delicious as well as some time consuming, artisan quality recipes. Cooking from scratch is the easiest way to self regulate consumption. The things that take the longest are usually the ones you should eat less often.

Buy less dairy and when you do buy it, don’t short change yourself by buying fat free or low fat. You pay the same amount either way, but since you are eating less meat, you can use that fat. Rich, full fat dairy products like whole milk and real butter are more satiating and less processed than their watery counterparts. The mantra is the same – buy less, but better quality. Choose more flavorful, protein rich varieties. A little bit of strong cheese goes a long way – sharp cheddar, Parmesan, goat cheese, blue cheese. Save even more by shredding your own cheese. $10 may seem like a lot for a unimpressive  block of Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it will probably last two or three weeks (at least). Cottage cheese is a little milder, but has a ton of protein and is very inexpensive. You can find ways to add it to just about any meal to increase the protein – something else you’ll need more of if you are cutting meat consumption. Greek yogurt is another nutrient dense dairy product that is not only high in protein, but also good for your gut. It’s the easiest way to get a daily dose of probiotics.

Don’t waste money on processed junk foods like breakfast cereals and pastries, snack bars, chips, crackers, sweets, sugary yogurts, boxed meals, frozen dinners, soft drinks (diet or regular), sugary “juice”  and koolaid. There are very little nutrients left in them that your body can actually use and they do more harm than good. VERY EXPENSIVE when you consider you aren’t really feeding your body anything nourishing.

Will work for food! Grow your own. Duh. This is by far the best way to get clean, fresh, local, in season food. Start small if this seems too daunting or you don’t have much space to work with. At least grow your own herbs. My garden is my favorite place to “shop”. Barely puts a dent in my food budget.

The other important point I want to make is this: be frugal. Make the most of ingredients. Use every part and everything that you buy. I am guilty of spending at least an extra $20 to $40 on food that we don’t need. It either gets wasted or it gets waist-ed (usually the latter). I now realize that it’s better to go shopping again if I run out of food, than it is to force feed the surplus to my family or throw it away. Be smart about what you buy and how much you buy. Americans typically consume too many calories anyway (in case you haven’t noticed.) Make stocks with scraps. Stretch expensive foods, especially meats and cheeses. Again save some money and do the work yourself. Cook from scratch. Make your own salad dressings (mind-blowingly easy) and sauces. Add beans often. Hummus (made from chickpeas) is cheap and easy to make, yet rich in protein.

“I don’t have time” is another excuse I just don’t get. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to make a tasty, nutritious meal. It only takes as much time as you are willing to spend. There are tons of books and websites to get inspiration from. You can easily substitute fresh, more wholesome ingredients. Take a more “rustic” approach to cooking. Less knife work (big chunky ingredients), simple ingredients and cooking methods, no fancy presentation. Slow cookers are a good way to save time. This book – Make It Fast, Cook It Slow – is an amazing book full of delicious, easy recipes. (Thanks Monica!) Cooking gets easier the more you do it, so dive in.

Bored with Vegetables?

It’s no wonder “dieting” never worked for me. Even to this day I associate “dieting” with carrots and celery sticks and salads at every meal. The very word evokes images of bunnies munching on lettuce and carrots. Plain, crunchy, bland, boring vegetables. And don’t forget fruit… Apple slices, pears, bananas, grapes… B.O.R.I.N.G. Then, when I started exploring new foods and new cooking methods I realized that the food wasn’t boring. I was just stuck in a food rut.

So what changed? I started shopping at the farmers market and learning about local and seasonal eating. My eyes were opened to a new world of food that I had either never bothered to pay attention to, or I had never bothered to try, or had thought was to complicated to prepare or too extravagant for my taste. The blinders were off and I even noticed and purchased new foods from the grocery store. A year and a half later, I’m still tasting new foods weekly, sometimes even daily and there’s no end in sight. Here’s Linsey taking her first bite of red corn:


Yeah. Red corn. That you eat, not a Thanksgiving table decoration. How was it? Meh. Tasted like corn that’s not quite in season yet – and corn isn’t in season yet around here. So if I can find it again when it is in season, maybe I’ll give it another taste. But it was fun to try. I also found multicolored popping corn in a bulk bin at Healthy Home Market. Can’t wait to try that. I especially love to see the confusion on my family’s faces when I bring home something that doesn’t look like the standard variety.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t like to cook. But I can’t help but wonder how that’s possible if you like to eat. I mean, most of us eat at least three or four times a day. Cooking takes some talent, but mostly it just takes practice, patience and a good cookbook or recipe website like allrecipes.com or epicurious.com. Don’t be afraid to try. Tell your guinea pigs (aka family) to be patient, open minded and supportive. (And if they aren’t, then tell them to shut up and eat.) They’ll learn to like these new foods and so will you. It’s normal human behavior to be skeptical of trying new foods. It’s what has kept us alive for thousands of years. You might have to attempt a recipe two or even three times to get it right, but it’s worth it. I strongly urge you to pay attention to ratings and reviews in the recipe websites. They’ll give you great hints and tell you how to avoid mistakes or make them better. It’s like free cooking school. Just get in there and do it. Eventually, you’ll gain confidence and learn which flavors and cooking methods work and which don’t.

Here’s a list of some veggie dishes we’ve had this week. Some of the recipes are new for me.

Braised Fennel

We had this tonight and it was delicious and easy. Skip the water and just use broth. Fennel is so good for you. Click here to read about it’s health benefits. By the way braised simply means to cook (meat, vegetables, etc) by lightly browning in fat and then cooking slowly in a closed pan with a small amount of liquid (from dictionary.com).

Tonight's dinner: Ossabaw pork chops, roasted smashed potatoes, kale and swiss chard, and that's the braised fennel there in the front.

-Smashed Potatoes

I got the idea for this on Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello. He boiled the potatoes (I used the microwave) and then gently smashed them once with a spoon on a cookie sheet, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned them and then popped them in the oven. I used salt, pepper and chopped garlic. I put them under the broiler until the top starting turning golden brown and then sprinkled them with spring onions after I pulled them out of the oven. It’s so easy and good. You have to try this.

-Greens

Do not put vinegar on my greens. A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime, maybe. But no vinegar please. I like to saute them with onions and garlic in olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Can’t get any simpler than that. Okay maybe you could add some shredded parm or goat cheese or you could cook them in a little chicken broth or add some soy sauce. Kale and swiss chard are in season now. Early spinach is here or just around the corner.

From my garden - kale and rainbow chard, along with some oregano and spring onions that I used for tonight's dinner.

And that was all from tonight’s dinner. Last night I made zucchini. I sliced it lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick and then soaked it in homemade dressing (balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, shallots, salt and pepper) for about 15 minutes. Then I grilled it (in a grill pan). Linsey raved about it. Brian and I both ended up giving her a few of slices from our plates because what parent says no to a child when they want more vegetables? We also had avocado and mango salad. I roughly cut them into one inch pieces and then squeezed a lime over it and threw in some chopped cilantro from the garden.

Salads don’t have to contain mostly lettuce or any at all for that matter. Use your imagination. I like a little fruit (dried or fresh) and nuts in my salads. Adding fresh herbs can transform a salad to something extraordinary. Quality dressing is a must. I strongly suggest you try making your own. It’s so easy and the taste is superior, so why not? My favorite is one part olive oil, one part balsamic, a little honey (more if you like it sweet, but try to cut back on the sweet stuff), salt and pepper. I put the ingredients in a mason jar and give it a shake. Make enough for the week (or more). Sometimes I add garlic, shallots or fresh herbs. You can use any oil, any vinegar or even fresh squeezed citrus. Use cheeses, buttermilk, mayo, sour cream or yogurt to make creamy dressings. Find healthier homemade recipes for your favorites online. The Joy of Cooking has tons of recipes and ideas for homemade dressings. The best part is that you can tailor dressings to suit your taste and standards.

Make fresh produce the norm at home. Save a few frozen bags for emergencies, and don’t even bother with the canned (maybe some tomatoes, occasionally). To keep things interesting, try new fruits and vegetables every week. Find out what’s in season right now, and start there. Produce that’s not in season will be low on quality and taste. Dig a little deeper in the produce department, but also try to find a farmers market that sells organically grown, local produce. The taste of produce this fresh and clean might surprise you. You should also try growing your own. It’s never too late to start a garden. Produce grows year round. Just search the web to find out what you should plant this time of year in your area. Start with container gardening if you are short on experience, time or space. Again the web has all kinds of info on container gardening. Harvesting food from your own garden then preparing it in your own kitchen and sitting down with your family to eat it feels so innately human and satisfying.

Try new cooking methods and recipes too. Before this journey I used recipes for the main dish and usually steamed veg then added oil or butter, salt and pepper. Steamed veggies are classic, but you can spruce them up with new flavors (pretty much the way you would a salad – vinegar, oil, herbs, etc.). Give roasting a try. Simply toss vegetables in olive or coconut oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees until they start to brown. Mmmm…

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Vegetables are not boring.

10 Things I Use Daily in the Kitchen

Here’s a list of 10 things that I use nearly every day. The astonishing thing is that most of these couldn’t be found in my kitchen prior to 2010. Now I can’t imagine cooking (and eating) without them. What a difference a year makes.

1. Real Food – Fresh, local, seasonal, organically grown fruits, vegetables and herbs from my garden and the farmers market; local pastured pork, chicken and eggs;  local grass fed beef; local, raw, pastured dairy (why raw? read “Dairy”).

2. Cast iron cookware – I just got a cast iron combo cooker for Christmas and a well-seasoned, 12-inch skillet to replace the one I cracked (yes, cracked). I’ll be ordering a grill pan, panini press and loaf pan soon. Safe and the extra iron that’s absorbed by food is a plus. We can use the extra iron in our diet.

3. Stainless steel cookware – Can’t believe there was a time I hated stainless steel – because I didn’t know how to use it. Stainless steel is easy to use, safe and easy to clean. Since I’ve learned to keep the heat down (like you would with cast iron), which is also an energy saver, I’ve never had a problem with burning, scorching or cleaning it. I love how evenly these pans cook (again just like cast iron), especially the skillets.


4. A nice set of dinnerware – Another thing I can’t believe I thought was frivolous just a year ago. I have Corelle’s square, pure white dinnerware and love how it shows off food. Plus, it’s lightweight and durable.


5. Pyrex – DOWN WITH PLASTIC! I’ve replaced almost all plastics in my kitchen with Pyrex. It’s safer, easier to clean and you can easily see what’s stored inside. I’ll be ordering a set of mixing bowls to replace some plastic ones soon.
6. Knife sharpener – The most used tool in the kitchen should be sharp at all times. This sharpener is inexpensive and easy to use. It works better than any sharpener I’ve tried.
7. Good oils and fats –  I use local, pastured lard (why? read “Oh My Lard!”), tallow and butter, organic coconut oil and organic olive oil. I also want to experiment with grape seed, walnut, flax seed, avocado and palm oils.


8. Food and recipe websites, blogs, books, t.v., movies – I regularly use Allrecipes.com, Epicurious.com, EatingWell.com and FoodNetwork.com. I almost always alter recipes to make them more nourishing or to suit my family’s taste and sometimes to use what I have on hand. The reviews are extremely helpful. And here are some of the blogs that keep me going: Cheese Slave, Nourished Kitchen, The Food Renegade and 100DaysofRealFood. My favorite books are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, In Defense of Food, Nourishing Traditions, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, The Conscious Kitchen. I’m on the public library’s waiting list for The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Some shows and movies that inspire me are Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Food, Inc., Fast Food Nation (the movie is cheesy, but delivers the message loud and clear), Super Size Me (I strongly suggest you watch that one), Top Chef, Food Network Channel and where this journey really began – Dr. Oz.


9. Tea – I like it so much that I blogged about it here.


10. Water Kefir – This stuff is so much fun! I love nurturing the grains and experimenting with flavors and ingredients. It’s delicious and nourishing. To find out more read “Water Kefir”. Oh and since posting that blog, I’ve found that it can in fact get very fizzy, just like soda. Though I’m not quite sure how I got it so fizzy that one time. I’m not sure whether it was the amount of time, right ingredients, temperature, etc. Lots more experimenting to do.

Whatcha Eatin?

Some of you may remember my post “Whatcha Drinkin?” People seem interested in what we’re eating. We rarely eat processed foods, which probably accounts for at least 70% of the food found in grocery stores. I buy whole, real foods, local and/or organic when possible, pastured meats and dairy and use the grocery store for things that aren’t available locally like oils, flour, spices, some produce, etc. We’ve cut way down on our consumption of refined carbs.

What we’re eating is… whatever is in season, mostly. So far so good. Except that the kids are already tired of sweet potatoes, and we aren’t even halfway through November. Right now sweet potatoes are definitely in season. I bought some from the farmers market and my mom gave me just a few more… but they’re the size of footballs. I made soup with one of them. I had a small package of free range organic chicken legs in the freezer. (This is the last of the “grocery store” meat left in my freezer. They’ve been in there for over a month, and I’m glad its all gone! Free range is better than conventional, but pastured is best.) If I presented my family with one drumstick each, they’d look at me like I was crazy and think they were going to starve. So… I had to get creative. I boiled them for a couple hours to make a stock, removed the drumsticks to let them cool. I pulled the chicken from the bone and mixed it with some chopped garlic, salt and pepper to add flavor and let that marinate while I tossed the chopped sweet potatoes, garlic, onion, celery into the stock. I also threw in some kale and a splash of apple cider vinegar toward the end. Served it up in bowls with generous portions (wink-wink) of chicken on top. Delicious and hearty.

I’ve included lots of links for recipes and health benefits of particular foods. If the ingredient is highlighted and underlined, it will link you to a web page regarding health benefits.

BREAKFAST:

  • Pumpkin pancakes and waffles – Click here for the recipe. I used whole wheat flour, instead of all purpose, and buttermilk, instead of plain.
  • Stone ground grits using Grateful Growers pastured pork sausage, fresh veg from the farmers market (usually sauteed leafy greens of some sort, mushrooms, onion and sometimes tomatoes) and a combination of whatever cheeses we have in the refrigerator
  • Sausage gravy – Click here for the recipe (I don’t use maple flavored sausage. We were in a hurry and I didn’t have time to make biscuits, so I just served it on toast.)
  • Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey and sometimes granola. I miss my summer berries, so I decided to try it with pumpkin. I mixed in some pumpkin puree, cinnamon, allspice and a little ground clove. Pretty good! The flavor reminded me of Pumpkin Cheesecake, but it was a little thin. I’ll be having that for breakfast for awhile.
  • Breakfast burritos – using pastured eggs, cheese, chili powder and sometimes pastured bacon, sausage or even deli meat (ugh… in moderation and without, or at least as few chemical additives as possible – Dietz & Watson’s turkey is what we have at the moment) all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla
  • French toast or scrambled eggs – using local pastured eggs (not conventional free range or organic or “vegetable fed” – a term I dislike for chicken and eggs, since chickens are not vegetarians by nature. They like to eat bugs and it’s good for them.)
  • Cold cereal – in moderation
  • Fresh Fruit – always, one serving with breakfast.

LUNCH:

  • Leftovers
  • Sandwiches
  • Whatever odds and ends we can find, like granola bars, fruit, veggies, yogurt, etc.
  • The older girls eat from the school cafeteria, which I’m not a fan of, but we’ve worked out a deal. They have to make healthy choices. They can choose the main entree, but they have to eat it with two whole fruits or vegetables on the menu. No yogurt parfaits, canned fruit or those jello-fruit thingys. They have to drink plain milk and can only buy dessert once a week. I occasionally check online (Paypams) to make sure they are holding up their end of the bargain. Other than a few mishaps, they’re doing great. The biggest problem with school lunches is that most kids usually choose the junk on the menu (of which there is plenty). Luckily in our case, the kids are making good choices – and they’re learning a great lesson to boot.

DINNER:

  • Roasted pork chops on a bed of chard, topped with balsamic braised leeks and served with… sweet potatoes and green beans; or Korean style pork chops with white sticky rice (a treat) and kimchi.
  • Roasted chicken (at least once a week) with whatever veg we have in the refrigerator
  • Soup – using whatever ingredients and broth I have on hand
  • Vegetable stir fry with brown rice
  • Delicious homemade ravioli stuffed with leftover roasted chicken, spinach, ricotta, aji dulce peppers and parmesan cheese (served with homemade marinara)
  • Veggie pizza with homemade dough

Meals I’ll be making: roasted chicken, chilli, halibut and more ravioli, using leftover filling that I froze.

Our menu changes every week, which is fun for me. It’s so easy to find a good recipe these days. I use allrecipes, epicurious and the food network all the time. I usually change it a little to fit my taste or use what I have on hand. I also substitute healthier ingredients whenever I can. I use whole wheat flour in place of all purpose and always substitute bad fats like canola, vegetable, corn, etc. for good ones like coconut oil (my favorite, great moisturizer too), butter, olive oil and lard (yes, lard). Sugar can sometimes be cut out completely, or can usually be reduced by a 1/4 to 1/3 without sacrificing flavor (especially if you’re palate is used to less sugar). I try to use “super foods” whenever possible, instead of nutritionally average ones. For instance I prefer a salad made with spinach rather than lettuce. Asian sweet potato instead of the usual orange ones. Greek yogurt in place of regular yogurt. Honey, maple syrup, sweet fruit instead of refined sugar. Full fat dairy (more on this in my next post) instead of low fat. Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.

We learn as we go and it’s taken about 9 months to get here. And we’re still learning, so our food philosophy is constantly evolving. I’m always  looking for a new recipe, a new food, a new technique to try. I’m inspired by the food itself and the many bloggers, authors, media, food shows, new paper articles… the farmer’s market. It’s the best way to ease into and keep up this lifestyle without getting bored or complacent. Some may say ignorance is bliss. I disagree. Especially when it comes to food. I’ve been there – and I can tell you with certainty that this is so much better!

Hillbilly Produce, Super G Mart, Harris Teeter and… Food Lion

I drove all the way out to Hillbilly Produce just to buy chestnuts this morning (they’re so yummy and good for you)… and they were sold out. The guy I spoke with said they probably weren’t going to get anymore in. Boo hoo hoo…  This is about the third time I’ve been here and I’m still not impressed. But I did buy 3 pie pumpkins for $5 and some more Grateful Growers pork chops while I was there. I was bummed that I missed out on the chestnuts.

While I was pulling away, I decided to check out the international food market, Super G Mart, across the street (where Bi Lo used to be). Several people, including my Korean mother have mentioned this place to me several times. I’m so glad I finally went!! Maybe it was meant to be… the first things I noticed was that they had chestnuts! They are the Asian variety I think because they are much larger than the ones you’ll find around here. I bought a huge bag of them – probably around 3 or 4 pounds. I’ve already roasted a few (in the microwave) and they are yummy. So I got what I was searching for, just in another place.

I walked in without a cart or basket thinking I was just going to look, but after my fingers and arms started cramping from carrying so much stuff, I decided to grab a basket. By the time I left, my forearm was sore from the weight of the basket and my fingers were cramping from carrying stuff that wouldn’t fit in the basket. Next time I’ll be sure to get the shopping cart.

The produce selection is pretty amazing. They have most of the standard stuff plus lots of exotics. They had my favorite Asian sweet potatoes (which are actually yams, I think and also really good for you) so I stocked up on bunch of small ones – perfect size for snacking. They taste much better than the standard sweet potato and are better for you. You should definitely try them if you find them in an Asian market. I also scored a couple of 2 quart sized, Low Sodium Kikkoman Soy Sauce on sale for $8.99 each. I picked up some enoki mushrooms and organic, non-gmo tofu. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten these mushrooms, so this is my “something new to try” for the week.

Tofu is something that I’ve eaten once or twice before. Even though this was a staple in my house growing up, I’ve never really given it a fair chance. I think my mom puts in her egg rolls (which I love, as does anyone who’s ever tried one), but I can’t really remember trying it any other way. I’m sure I must have as a child. Maybe that’s when I formed my unfair opinion about it. So it’s another food (like the eggplant) that I’m going to give a second chance. I don’t know how I’m going to use it yet.

Harris Teeter made me very happy today. I was out of milk, so I had planned to use some Organic Valley coupons there this morning. I decided to check the sale add before going and it’s a good thing I did. They were super doubling coupons! So all of my $1 off coupons were now worth $2! I got 4 half gallons of milk for $3 each, 2 small containers of heavy whipping cream for about $0.35 each and 2 bricks of cream cheese $0.59 each!! I also grabbed some of their eggnog. There was no coupon for that, but I couldn’t resist the thought of sipping a nice warm cup of eggnog (with a little spiced rum) with all this cold rainy whether we’re having. I also picked up some Lara Bars for $1 each (usually $1.50). I highly recommend these. They only have a few ingredients and no added sugar. My two favorites are the peanut butter and the cashew one. The fruity ones (apple and cherry) are pretty tart – too tart for my taste. I got Seattle’s Best Cinnabon coffee for $4 after vic savings and coupon and Starbucks coffee for $6 after coupon.

Seventh Generation products were also on sale. Some of them weren’t worth the small savings, but the detergent was on sale for $9 and I had $1 off coupons (but not subject to doubling). I also picked up the paper towels, toilet paper and automatic dish washing gel. The bonus is that more seventh generation coupons were generated when I checked out. I’ll be going back for more tomorrow probably.

Oranges and tangerines were on sale too. They are in season now and taste so good! I’m sure my kids will be happy to know that we have something besides apples in the house. This should hold us over until the clementines show up.

I forgot to pick up ginger root for dinner tonight, so I decided to run by Food Lion because it was convenient. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in there. I got the ginger, but also wanted to see if they offer any of the products that I usually buy these days. Nope. Not one. I couldn’t easily find any organic produce (though I just gave it quick look). Didn’t see any eco-friendly/safe cleaning products, though I do remember buying Greenworks there before. Food Lion, you guys need to get with the program. If this is your usual grocery store, might I suggest you step out of your comfort zone and venture to a Harris Teeter at the very least. This might be a good first step into a healthier lifestyle.

Holidays on Whole Food

First – It’s almost Halloween, so here’s a little treat: Organic Valley Dairy Coupons and Free Apples from Earth Fare and more Earth Fare Coupons.

I can’t believe Halloween is two days away. It seems fall just arrived. Then again, yesterday at the elementary school, there were leaves on the floor. You know fall is in full swing when leaves are blown and tracked inside buildings. This is my favorite time of the year!! I absolutely L.O.V.E. the holidays. I’m the one who starts listening to holiday music on November 1st, the one who almost can’t wait for Halloween to be over so we can get on with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Spending time with family, good will, holiday decorations and preparations, the music and traditions… I get goosebumps thinking about it!!

The next few holidays are centered around food, so of course this excites me! I’m looking forward to holiday cooking and baking with real food. But it does lead me to wonder how am I going to stick to my whole food, non-processed, no conventional meat, low sugar and refined carbs lifestyle at potluck family dinners? I was thinking of buying a free-range turkey from the farmers market, but changed my mind when I figured up the price. At $6.00 a pound, that’s about $120 for a turkey. I might spring for this once a year, if I knew that it’s superior quality and taste would be appreciated by someone other than me. And if it were served with equally fresh, local vegetables and sides to honor the bird.

It’s really a bit odd how cheap whole turkeys are in the stores this time of year – $0.49 or even $0.29 per pound. A conventional 20 pound turkey will only set you back about $6 to $10. (If you have 10 to 15 guests, that’s $1 or less per person for the main protein.) Isn’t that just a bit strange? Especially considering the costs of feeding, raising and processing, packaging, storing and transporting a turkey? It’s life and all of the resources used to get it to your table is priced at $6 to $10. Really?

So what’s a whole-foods girl and her family to do at family gatherings? I’m not sure yet, but I’m open to suggestions. I know I’ll probably eat very little meat and dessert and try to pick out the most “whole-some” foods offered. I’m not sure whether the temptation will be too great. I don’t really miss that sort of food. I’m more worried that I’ll feel obligated to eat (or at least plate) the offerings so as not to offend anyone or draw attention to myself. The rest of my family, especially the girls, will eat with reckless abandon and take full advantage of the processed, sugar filled cornucopia. I wish I could say I have a plan for that, but I don’t  – yet.

I do have a plan for Halloween. I’m going to buy as much of their Halloween booty as they are willing to part with. I’ll conveniently remind them that they’re going to need money if they want to go see the new Harry Potter (coming out November 19th). We are usually pretty strict about how much they are allowed to eat daily anyway. (Between Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter, our candy bowl never runs dry around here.) So limiting what they do keep, won’t necessarily be a problem.

But as for the rest, I’ll just take it in stride. I’m not the least bit worried that our new food philosophy will take the happy out of the holidays. The joy from it will easily overshadow little hiccups. We’ll cross each bridge when we get to it. While I would like to say my kids will make wise choices, they probably won’t. They’re kids. It’s my job to do that for a few more years…

KYFT 2010

This weekend the girls and I, and a few of our friends, visited seven farms during the the Know Your Farms Tour. Twenty-seven local farms participated. Saturday we visited three: Birdbrain Ostrich Ranch, Grateful Growers Farm and Lewis Farm/Carolina Cattle Co. The ostrich farm was our first stop. The little guys were so cute. We sampled some ostrich meatballs. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but ostrich is nothing like the poultry I’m used to. If someone had told me I was eating beef, I would’ve believed them. Lewis Farms was more fun for the kids. They fed hay to the horses and there was a hayride tour.

The highlight for me on Saturday was visiting Grateful Growers. If you’ve read any of my earlier entries, you probably know that this is who I buy pork products from at the Matthews Farmers Market. It was nice to visit a farm that actually provides food for our family, and it was the only one we visited this go round. Linsey was very excited when she recognized Natalie from the market. I though we’d just be seeing a lot of happy pigs, but it turns out they grow other things as well for their own consumption: chickens, turkeys, mushrooms!! We ate lunch from their Harvest Moon Grille concession trailor. The GGQ (Grateful Growers pork barbecue) was good, but the pork burger with sriacha aioli and cheddar cheese on a homemade yeast roll – was devine! It would have been even better with the tomato. Haleigh ordered it without. This place has been highly rated (and not just by me), so if you’re ever in uptown Charlotte, hunt this orange concession trailer down!!

On Sunday we visited four farms that were really close together: Hartsell Farms, Bame Farms, Wild Turkey Farms and Landis Gourmet Mushroom (which is actually in an old cotton mill). We saw Fainting Goats, Belted Galloway Cattle and Gulf Coast Sheep (all endangered breeds) at Hartsell Farms. This is where I realized I had never really tried lamb before. I wish I’d though of it before we left and bought some while we were there. As soon as I figure out how to order some local, humanely treated lamb, I’m going to attempt cooking it.

Bame Farms was a small operation. The girls enjoyed playing with the antique corn sheller and grinder, but this is not the type of farm I want to support, at least until things improve for the pigs. I was really disappointed at how they were treated here. The pen was too small and the entire thing was just one large muddy mess, which I’m sure included the pigs’ own waste. This is better than a CAFO on a factory farm, I guess. But the chickens that we saw on the entire tour had better living arrangements than these poor pigs. I’m not saying that pigs should be treated better than chickens. However, this farmer claims that he grows the pigs to around 150 pounds (although they can get much larger). At best, that’s about 145 pounds more animal than a nice sized chicken. These guys need way more room to run than chickens do.

There were at least two faucets with water trickling out constantly and the pigs were completely covered in this dark mud/urine/poo mixture. (I’ll admit that the pen didn’t smell as bad as it looked.) The pen was no more than 10′ x 10′ and only about 3 feet high. It was covered, so the pigs wouldn’t have to worry about getting too hot. But pigs are smart and playful and enjoy running around every now and then. That was clear on every other farm that we visited. I wonder if these poor guys ever have the chance to set their feet on dry land (or whether some of them could even walk at all). Moving around in that gooey muck can’t be easy. If I remember correctly, they are fed mostly corn, which is not good. One of them appeared to be sick or injured. When asked about the pig, the farmer said he didn’t want to take it to the vet, because he feared they’d tell him to put it down. I’m not sure if he was looking out for the pig or his investment, but the pig should have been isolated from the others at the very least.

Wild Turkey Farms in China Grove was my favorite, by far. When I dream up an ideal, sustainable farm, this is pretty close to what I imagine. Everything they do here is done with care and respect for the animals, the environment and the consumer. The are even Animal Welfare Approved. All of the animals were pastured. The pigs live in huge, uncovered pens with a couple mud holes and ark shelters. There is plenty of grass under their feet. The cows roam in a huge pasture. While on our hayride tour of the farm, we could see them at a distance, relaxing under the cool shade of some trees, along with some protection – a llama (a couple of dogs also help with this). According to the farmer, llamas are extremely territorial and can sense an intruder from much further away than the cows can. They are also pretty fierce toward unwanted guests. The chickens also had nice sized pens on the pasture. The turkeys pen was a little smaller, but I’m pretty sure it’s due to their frailty. According to two different farmers on the tour, they are more difficult to keep alive and one of them isn’t planning to raise them anymore.

When one of the guests asked about slaughtering, which can be a touchy subject, the farmer didn’t flinch. The slaughtering company was in North Carolina and is family run. Based on what I had seen and heard so far, I believed him when he said it was a company he could trust to do the job with respect. I am considering ordering meat from this farm just to show my support for their high ethical standards. Standards so high, that some of their own family members and other farmers have given them a hard time about it. (Haters!)

The $25 that we paid for the ticket covered as many people as we could fit in one vehicle for both days. What a bargain. This annual tour will become a tradition for us. I highly recommend it, especially if you have kids. Even if you don’t care about the food aspect, this tour is such a fun learning experience.

Happy Grateful Growers Piglets

By the way, did you that NC is second only to Iowa in pig production, and that Smithfield is the nations largest pork producer. I wonder how Paula Deen feels about CAFO’s… Anyway, I won’t get all political on you, but if you’re interested in knowing how poorly these pigs are treated or how the waste is affecting the water supply, read this (please click the link), or do you own research.