food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Archive for December, 2010

the MItten

 
 
A Primer
Bob Hicok (2008)

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

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The Real Cost of Real Eggs (And a Potato Frittata Recipe)

 

I remember pretty clearly the first time I saw them: a dozen eggs for 5 dollars.   I had just moved to Seattle, and, wandering around at the University District Farmers Market, my eyes caught the carton and what I then considered to be the ridiculously expensive price.  What could possibly make these eggs worth five dollars when I could find a dozen at the supermarket for one dollar?

A vegan at the time, I didn’t let the question linger in my brain for too long.  I picked up my veggies, probably went to the store and bought a 3 dollar brick of tofu, and let it rest there.

It wasn’t until I worked at a farm that raised chickens – and until this year when I raised my own – that I began to understand a few things:

1.  Not all eggs are created equal.  The pale yellow soft yolks you’ll find in much of the supermarket stock don’t compare to the rich firm orange-yellow yolks of the eggs that come from chickens who have had (and made use of) access to grass, dirt, bugs, veggie scraps, etc

1a. That grass and dirt, the fresh air, bugs and veggie scraps – they’re part of a more varied and healthy lifestyle that animals in a factory-farm setting don’t have access to.  This is at least an ethical issue, to say nothing of the health of consumers and of the environment.  (Food Inc speaks to these issues brilliantly)

2. Raising chickens on a small-scale farm (or likely any scale) is not a get-rich-quick scheme.  The farmers I’ve talked to barely break even on selling their eggs (yes, even at $5/dozen) – and that’s without considering their labor in the costs. I’ll price out our costs in just raising 6 chickens below.

and 3.  Raising chickens is absolutely worth it!  Not only do they provide delicious eggs, but they scratch up and fertilize our soil, and are great pets and companions.

 

But they do cost, in both money and time –

 

And here’s how much, in our case:

6 baby chicks: $18

organic feed: $20/40 pound bag (from Scratch and Peck)

The chicks went through about $70 worth of feed before they started laying eggs (around 5 months).  Once they got laying, they were eating about 2 bags of feed/month ($40/month) and were laying 5 to 6 eggs/day.

So let’s look at one month into their laying:  Just to get them to that point, we spent $88  Adding on an extra $40 for that month’s feed gets us to $128 in the hole.  Let’s say they’re laying 5 eggs/day for that month: that’s 150 eggs, or about 13 dozen.  If we price eggs at $5/dozen (which is what we were paying for them at the farmers market), that’s a $65 value.  $128 in expenses – $65 in eggs: That puts us at $63 in the hole.

If, in all of the following months, we pay out $40 in feed and gain $65 in eggs, we’ll break even in a few months.  Of course this doesn’t take into consideration the infrastructure: our fencing, the chicken tractor we built so that they could cruise our yard, heat lamps, straw, food and water dishes, etc.  And then there’s our time and effort: providing fresh food and water, letting them out, closing them in at night.  How do you price those out?

Some people choose to; some don’t.  I’ve loved having our chickens, and it’s hard to put a price on being able to eat fresh delicious eggs that you’ve raised in your own backyard.  Ultimately, I just think it’s worth it.  And for those still raising your eyebrows at the 5 dollar price-tag, I can’t blame you: I’ve been there before.  But consider how much dense, protein-packed food 12 eggs really is; consider too what else you’re willing to spend that 5 dollars on.

If that doesn’t have you convinced, shell out the 5 bucks and make this:

 

POTATO FRITTATA

INGREDIENTS

1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium sprig rosemary, stemmed and chopped
2 medium potatoes, chopped thinly
5 eggs
1 -2 Tbs butter
salt and pepper, to taste
THE HOW TO
  1. Heat butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Saute onion until translucent and starting to brown.
  2. As the onions are cooking, boil the chopped potatoes until they are tender, but not mushy. (Peel them if you like)  Potatoes should be in pretty small chunks, but whatever shapes and sizes you prefer.  (I cut the potatoes in quarters and chopped them a centimeter thick or so).
  3. Add the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper to the onions and, once incorporated, add the potatoes too.
  4. Cook this mixture for a few minutes; as it’s cooking, whisk up the eggs.
  5. Try to spread the potato mixture evenly over the bottom of the skillet and pour the eggs over top.  The eggs will begin firming up – this should take 5 to 8 minutes.  Turn down the heat a bit if it seems to be happening faster.
  6. After it looks like the bottom has firmed up but the top is still a bit liquidy, turn the broiler of your oven on (this wouldn’t be a bad time to sprinkle some cheese on top if you have some on hand) and finish the top under the high heat – just a couple of minutes.
  7. Enjoy with salsa or hot sauce or as is – the eggs speak for themselves!

 


Pumpkin Curry Soup with Cornbread

This meal accomplished all kinds of amazing feats: It put a huge dent in the massive squash my neighbor gave to me a couple of days ago.  It was my first trial of the Painted Mountain dry corn we grew this year.  It used two of my favorite kitchen tools – the immersion blender and the grain grinder (gifts from Neil’s mom and my parents).  AND it managed to capture what is, to me, the essence of a perfect Fall meal.  Something that warms you from the inside out – creamy, just a hint of spice, y.u.m.  These are both slight adaptations on great recipes from 101 Cookbooks and Mark Bittman.

PUMPKIN CURRY SOUP



 

INGREDIENTS

1 medium sized pumpkin or winter squash

coconut oil (or butter or olive oil)

1 small onion, chopped

3+ cloves of garlic, chopped

1 can coconut milk

3 Tbs+ red curry paste (to taste)

water

salt and pepper

 

The HOW TO
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°
  2. Chop the pumpkin into small chunks and roast in a baking dish with a little oil or butter for about an hour, or until the pumpkin is soft.
  3. Once the pumpkin is soft: In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in coconut oil until onions are translucent.
  4. Add pumpkin (skins and all if they’re thin enough), coconut milk, and curry paste.
  5. Add water slowly, pureeing the soup as you do, until you reach a desired consistency.
  6. Keep on low heat, letting the flavors meld, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Adjust curry paste levels if you need – I wanted a little extra spice, so I added some Sriracha hot sauce to my bowl.
  8. Enjoy!

But what’s soup without something starchy to sop it up with?

PAINTED MOUNTAIN CORNBREAD

 

INGREDIENTS

1.5 C  medium grind cornmeal

.5 C  whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp salt

3 Tbs sugar (optional)

1.5 tsp baking powder

1 – 4 Tbs butter*

2 eggs

1.25 C milk

 

*the amount of butter you use is up to you; I used 4Tbs and it gave the bottom and edges of the bread a rich – and obviously buttery – taste and browned everything nicely.  You can certainly get away with using less.

 

The HOW TO
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°  Put the butter into a 10 inch cast-iron skillet (or an 8 inch baking pan) and put into the oven until the pan is hot and the butter fully melted (browned is fine).
  2. While the pan and butter heat, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix together well.
  3. Beat the eggs into the milk until they’re fully incorporated.  Then pour this wet mixture into the dry ingredients.
  4. Pull out the skillet and pour in the batter.  It’s a strange sensation to pour it into the little butter pond you’ve formed, but don’t worry – you’re doing the right thing!
  5. Smooth out the top if you need to, and pop that puppy back in for about 30 minutes, or until the top is nice browned.
  6. Serve with soup, maple syrup, or nothing at all.  Enjoy!

It’s a long road to cornbread …

 


Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving 2010 (Photo Credit: Bob)

 

 

I’m thankful for this group of people (and the many who couldn’t make it), for the snow that blanketed the farm that day, and the conversations and food we warmed ourselves with inside.

I’m thankful for old traditions – and the opportunity to create new ones.

I’m thankful for my health – in mind, body, and spirit – and the health of my family and friends.

I’m thankful that my family and I remain connected despite the distance that separates us.

I’m thankful to the state of Washington, for 5 incredible years that have been utterly transformative and introduced me to friends I will keep for a lifetime.

I’m thankful to Neil for, as he put it, “sharing small spaces with me,” for support that extends way beyond what I often deserve, and for a shared love of simple pleasures.

 

What are you thankful for?